Sunday, October 05, 2014

Deep conceptual questions are rarely solved "directly"

Someone just posted an interesting old conversation between a younger Witten and his colleagues particle physicist Abdus Salam, astrophysicist Dennis Sciama, and local physicist Paolo Budinich

At the same moment, I was just planning to explain what's wrong about the whole attitude to research that is exemplified e.g. by Sean Carroll's text
Ten Questions for the Philosophy of Cosmology
Carroll writes down 10 "big questions" – usually not very good ones, I will answer most of them below. But independently of the precise choice of the questions, there exists something more important and seriously flawed in the thinking of Carroll's and many, many others – something seriously defective about their whole conception of the "scientific method".

It seems clear that the method according to the likes of Carroll – and their papers reinforce this point – has the following stages:
  • start with a "new" philosophical idea you've heard somewhere
  • convince yourself that it is deep, and write increasingly verbally sophisticated and persuasive articles making others to believe that it must be great and deep
  • just write the breakthrough papers showing that the idea may be used to calculate everything in a branch of physics more accurately and at a deeper level
You know, the problem is that this algorithm never works – or at least almost never works. Progress in physics, including the most conceptual breakthroughs, follows different lines.

That's why breakthroughs in physics almost always occur very indirectly, after the heroes have tried to solve seemingly more concrete, down-to-earth problems. As Witten said at the beginning of the video above, quantum theory began with Planck's successful phenomenological interpolation fitting the curve of the black body radiation. The idea of energy quanta (photons) actually arose out of that research, along with some initial wave-particle duality insights and the "analogous" description of the electrons' motion.

So the birth of the quantum theory was indirect and low-key, you could say. As Witten said, the birth of string theory was analogously low-key: Veneziano just constructed a particular function of the momenta, the scattering amplitude for the pions in his not quite well-motivated theory of the strong force. This Veneziano amplitude played a very analogous role as the Planck's curve, and the rest of string theory was actually sprouting out of this low-key seed.

I would actually argue that Newton's discovery of the laws of gravity and mechanics were analogous to Planck's, too. He decided there had to be some more universally applicable laws and was interpolating the existing knowledge about the motion of moons etc. and the existing knowledge about the motion of apples etc. on the Earth. This interpolation was very analogous to Planck's interpolation between high frequencies and low frequencies emitted by a black body. There are lots of other examples.

Einstein's discoveries are often presented as an example of breakthroughs when great philosophical principles lead to the great physical theories "directly". It's possible to present them in this way. However, what I find important is that unlike e.g. the postulates of quantum mechanics, none of these principles was really "new" relatively to properties of well-known theories.

What do I mean? The special theory of relativity is based on two postulates: First, the laws of physics have the same form in all inertial frames. Well, this postulate was true in Newtonian physics. It was not only true; it was appreciated as a principle (already by Galileo). The second postulate says that the speed of light was the same in all frames, regardless of the source and the observer. One could have extracted that from the Morley-Michelson experiments. Einstein didn't need those. He has really extracted it from Maxwell's equations. They clearly imply that the light speed is independent of the source. Einstein also made the modest leap that the speed is independent of the observer. It was just a stricter version of the first postulate, anyway. If a train is moving uniformly, we can't distinguish its state of motion from the state at rest – because (or if) there is no "wind". Einstein figured out that this "smooth experience in the uniformly moving train" could have been violated by an "aether wind" or other relativity-breaking properties of the medium in which the light propagates. That was enough for the rest of special relativity to sprout.

General relativity also added the equivalence principle, a pattern that was known and even Isaac Newton was appreciating it as an unexplained hint of some extra knowledge. The inertial and gravitational masses are the same; the effect of gravity and the effect of inertia are empirically indistinguishable. In combination with special relativity, it was enough to construct general relativity.

My point is that in these cases when "philosophically flavored principles" were apparently in the root of the new key physics discoveries, it was old principles, not new ones, and the key discovery was about taking them seriously and/or interpolate in between them. We could also say that all these huge advances in physics were due to some "unification" (special relativity unifies/reconciles mechanics and field theory, general relativity unifies/reconciles special relativity and the law of gravity, quantum field theory unifies/reconciles quantum mechanics and special relativity, string theory unifies/reconciles quantum field theory and general relativity). And the "unification" is always a form of "interpolation" – so it is analogous to what Planck did when he wrote down the right formula for the black body curve.

The big breakthroughs don't ever germinate out of a new bold philosophical principle. New insights in physics are produced either by known inconsistencies of the existing theories or their deviations from the experiment, or from a unification/interpolation of the known laws. And if truly and conceptually new philosophical principles (such as the postulates of quantum mechanics) ever emerge along with the new theories, it's always "truly new principles" that haven't been "awaited" by any philosophers – and in fact, these philosophers then often have problems with the new important principles for decades if not centuries.

There are other ways to see why "Carroll's scientific method" is defective. I said that he first decides what the "big philosophical principles" are and then he refines them to make their depth more persuasive. But the whole second step is just about fooling himself – and others. Whether the new philosophical principle or proposition is any useful for progress in science is already known before the second stage – and more convincing ways to describe it can't change anything about the potential! If the principle were any good, one should switch directly to the step 3 and use the "great" new philosophical principle to deduce some radically new yet quantitative physics knowledge. To make the real revolution in physics. It's not happening which is a great piece of evidence that the initial principles are no good regardless of the amount of hype that they are receiving.

The actual principles underlying the future revolutions in physics are therefore almost certainly different than what people can just easily imagine or guess and they won't be guessed "directly", just like they were not "guessed directly" when the quantum theory or string theory were being discovered. The work on the amplituhedron may look technical but it's very plausible that it will exactly lead to some of these totally new principles. To repeat some "lore" and "superstitions" that almost everyone has heard is no helpful for progress in physics.

The principles that will emerge in (or stimulate) the future physics breakthroughs will either be so "conventional" that people could welcome that "we have always known that" (the relativity principle is a historical example); or they will be so new that they will force us to revise our whole language and they will render the current philosophical questions meaningless (like all questions secretly assuming classical physics were rendered meaningless once physics switched to the quantum mechanical framework).

Let me make these points a bit clearer by discussing the 10 "deep questions of Carroll" in some detail.

In what sense, if any, is the universe fine-tuned?

Phenomenologists have some well-defined formulae for the "degree of fine-tuning" in a quantum field theory. As long as we talk in a well-defined framework, this question has been answered. If the question is supposed to suggest that there is some "better measure" of fine-tuning, it is a wishful thinking that moreover brings nothing new. Of course that everyone who uses some "measures of fine-tuning" knows that there could be other expressions for this benchmark and they could perhaps be better ones.

But at the end, all these quantities describing the amount of fine-tuning are guaranteed to have a temporary life, anyway. The degree of fine-tuning is calculated within a particular class of approximate theories. If one knows the exact theory and can write it down, the most invariant definition of fine-tuning drops to zero. There will still be events and properties in the Universe that occurred due to coincidences – we already know that such things exist. And the quantities that the deepest theory treats as calculable will be exactly calculable, and therefore adding no fine-tuning at all. There is some reorganization of knowledge that every new and deeper physical theory including the final theory brings with it and this reorganization of knowledge cannot be summarized by a single benchmark.

Even though the talks about fine-tuning are presented as very deep in religious and philosophical discussions, they are just technical tools in fundamental physics, tools that don't seem too mysterious. Most typically, fine-tuning and naturalness has been discussed in relation with the "surprisingly low" mass of the Higgs boson (relatively to the Planck scale etc.). People may guess – and collect empirical data – about "what kind of a cause" is responsible for the unbearable lightness of the Higgs' being. The answers have often been polarized to "SUSY-or-technicolor-like" technical explanations vs the anthropic principle. Maybe that this "polarization" holds a key to something. But in the final theory, the Higgs mass may be a rather composite, non-fundamental question that may have a rather messy or combined explanation or an explanation looking nothing like the proposed "templates" of explanations.

So it's very likely counterproductive to persuade yourself that there can only be two "major answers".

There are some questions about coincidences. These days, the density of visible matter, dark matter, and the cosmological constant are comparable to each other. Is that a coincidence? Here, the answer is actually completely known. Unless the cosmological models we use are "totally wrong", we know that these quantities weren't comparable in the distant past and they won't be comparable in the distant future. So a claim that these quantities "have to be" comparable because of a universal law of physics may be easily falsified.

If there is an explanation why they're comparable during our lives, it's an explanation involving the dynamics of life and things that life needed to develop. So these explanations clearly have nothing to do with fundamental physics per se – they're composite exercises in biology and similar disciplines. Many claims that "something is of the same order" may be shown to be equivalent and some of these equivalences may be interesting, striking, or surprising. But all of those will depend on some "non-fundamental physics" or other branches of science.

Moreover, I would say that even at the level of "several numbers", seeing that three largest contributions to the energy density in some segregation scheme – visible matter, dark matter, dark energy – are comparable shouldn't be seen as surprising. From a perspective, you may view it as a great example of naturalness where it works. The ratios of the three largest contributions to the energy density are of order one. That's great because it's natural for such ratios to be of order one! Of course, one must acknowledge that this argument is a bit demagogic because the percentages of baryonic matter etc. at a particular moment long after the Big Bang aren't terribly fundamental – they parametrically depend on the age of the Universe which is taken to be a rather arbitrary number ("now") – while "true naturalness" says that the "truly elementary parameters" are of order one.

When one combines these two criticisms, I think it becomes pretty obvious that the observations about "cosmic coincidences" cannot hold any key to directly unlock some great insight about fundamental physics. They are partly inevitable, partly natural, and they may be fundamentally violated and the fact that some of these things approximately hold "now" (during the existence of this life on Earth) is a messy question depending on lots of messy things in biology and elsewhere.

How is the arrow of time related to the special state of the early universe?

It's not related at all. I have explained this elementary point of undergraduate physics about 500 times but Carroll is just way too hopeless a moron. The only relation is that the early Universe is an example of an "initial state of physical system". But the right physics arguments and causes explaining the arrow of time – the second law of thermodynamics and related insights – work totally equally for any macroscopic physical system – a large or smaller one – in any period of time. The "whole Universe" doesn't play any privileged role among them whatsoever and there is no relationship between the laws of thermodynamics and model building in early cosmology.

Deeper laws of physics may tell us what the "right" initial state of the Universe actually was (the Hartle-Hawking state or something much fancier playing a similar role). But just the general fact that it was a low-entropy state is made necessary by the laws of physics as we know them.

What is the proper role of the anthropic principle?

The anthropic principle isn't really a principle; it is a "lack of principles". There is no coherent well-defined definition of "the anthropic principle" that would be viable as a principle to learn something about physics. Instead, the anthropic ideology is leading people not to search for new principles in physics (and to abandon some well-established ones, too).

More well-defined "incarnations" of the "anthropic principle" span a wide spectrum of claims and ideas, from vacuous and useless tautologies to "rules of thumb" telling you that you may want to "bias your thinking" in a particular direction to completely unjustified speculations that some portions of physics will see no progress (no new old-fashioned laws allowing us to calculate more things more accurately). These are totally different claims and have to be carefully distinguished while the anthropic ideology seems to be all about the obfuscation of the differences between these claims (much like the "climate change" ideology and others). If a theory may be used to derive that life never arises (or that anything behaves differently than we observe – any contradiction), then the theory is falsified. That's nothing new and nothing else than falsification, the basic procedure in the whole scientific method. In practice, physicists won't use the "existence of life" as a constraint on theories in this form. They will decompose it to the existence of the right fields (Standard Model plus metric tensor plus inflaton plus things responsible for baryogenesis etc.), right values of the parameters, and viable initial conditions. Good enough combinations of those are known to predict life so one doesn't have to "check for life" separately. One just checks the usual physical properties!

However, if two theories admit life or the existence of a star system with life etc., then they are equally viable – they pass the empirical test – and favoring one because it claims to produce "more life" or something like that is just a clear fallacy. This claim of mine is established science – or follows from basic laws of the Bayesian inference etc. – and suggesting that these basic properties of science will be radically modified can't be any helpful. You can't make progress in physics if you declare that the laws of mathematics or logic will cease to hold.

So the proper role of the anthropic principle in physics is really no role at all. There may be a multiverse and the viability of theories assuming a multiverse must keep all special properties of the multiverse into account (and indeed, it's possible to exclude ranges of the cosmological constant because they don't allow the birth of stars). But there is no "new principle" that would allow us to deduce something about physics in a new way. And there is no way to argue that Weinberg's success in claiming that the cosmological constant was "almost maximal allowed by the constraint on the stars" was anything else than a coincidence. There could have been other constraints on the value; and neither Weinberg nor anyone else has actually presented any evidence that "no other constraints could have existed".

Once again, this is really the core of what is wrong about the anthropic ideology. The existence of life predicted by a theory is a "necessary condition" for the theory to be viable. But the advocates of the anthropic ideology often distort this true and innocent fact (a tautology of a sort) by suggesting that "the existence of life is the only condition" or "a sufficient condition" that theories (or their parameters) have to obey – which is simply not true in most cases (or they surely have no evidence that it is true).

What part should unobservable realms play in cosmological models?

Unobservable realms and any unobservable concepts may play any role in a proposed scientific theory they want. There may be many such components in a scientific theory, or fewer components. At the end, scientific theories are only judged by their agreement with the observable facts about Nature and by the non-contrived character of its basic axioms. A theory with many unobservable components may still be the most natural viable theory – typically if these unobservable components are needed for the internal coherence of the theory or its agreement with the empirical data. Some unobserved or even unobservable features or realms may always follow from a theory – and they neither hurt nor help the theory in the evaluation of its validity. Bias in either direction would be a fallacy (some people prefer theories predicting [almost] nothing they can't directly see because they're scared of such things; others may prefer theories predicting as huge pieces of the universe as possible, to increase the "room for life", but both of these groups are just acting irrationally or dishonestly).

Again, Carroll is asking a question that every competent scientist is able to answer.

What is the quantum state of the universe, and how does it evolve?

All these questions are pretty much meaningless. The Universe is subject to quantum mechanics so in principle, one may talk about its wave function much like the wave function of any other physical system. But there is nothing special about the Universe when it comes to the usability of the "wave function". In particular, all wrong "interpretations" of quantum mechanics remain wrong if we look at the quantum evolution of the Universe. The whole point of combining all these quantum questions with cosmology is irrational.

Cosmology may have some special links to the foundations of quantum mechanics but the questions describing these open puzzles look nothing like Carroll's questions.

Are space and time emergent or fundamental?

Those questions may be given "answers" within sufficiently well-defined mathematically formulated frameworks only and Carroll hasn't done it. Theories must ultimately be able to explain all the observations that have so far been parameterized as occurring in space and time. In quantum gravity, the location of an event in space and time is almost certainly acquiring a non-fundamental status – also because the spacetime geometry itself is dynamical. But theories making naively wrong assumptions about the spacetime – e.g. that it is a spin foam or spin network – are still excluded because they contradict the empirical facts (e.g. the Lorentz symmetry) and one can't resuscitate these stinky dead bodies of flawed physics by references to some would-be deep philosophical theses.

The disappearance of the "fundamental status" of the spacetime is already manifest in lots of descriptions of dynamics that have been found within string theory. It's plausible that this is where the evolution towards the "disappearance of the spacetime" stops; it's plausible that a similar process will continue. The right answer, if any, will be obvious from the actual research that must proceed differently than by "picking an answer to a philosophical question, and then readjusting everything to the desired answer".

What is the role of infinity in cosmology?

The laws of quantum gravity surely allow the Universe to be infinite – e.g. the infinite 11-dimensional spacetime in M-theory. On the other hand, any defensible "complete theory including cosmology" must agree with the finite past of the Universe, and the corresponding finiteness of the visible Universe at each moment. Moreover, if the cosmological constant is positive, and it seems to be, the physical degrees of freedom behind the horizon fail to be completely independent from the visible ones. Here, a question about the right meaning of the "cosmic horizon complementarity" would be sensible.

Theories assuming that the spacetime admits no continuous description at very short distances are ruled out because they clash with the experimentally verifiable Poincaré symmetry.

Again and again, Carroll's repeated questions about the links between the arrow of time and cosmology only highlight his complete incompetence.

Concerning "Are there preferred ways to compare infinitely big subsets of an infinite space of states?", this question has nothing to do with physics because no known law of physics or algorithm in physics needs to perform such operations and there are good reasons that all good laws of physics in the future will avoid such problematic questions, too. Even if they need "something like that", they will also come equipped with the rules "what is the right way to do so". Loop corrections in quantum field theory have ultraviolet divergences (infinities) but they also tell us about the "right procedures to subtract them". The principles choosing the "right methods of renormalization" are ultimately determined by other principles of physics (unitarity, gauge symmetry, agreement with experiments), so it's completely wrong for Carroll to suggest that "we first choose a way to deal with infinities" and then we do physics with those. We must be open-minded about all such things until some physical principles deduced in some way tell us a specific answer!

If someone has a proposed law of physics that he may call "the anthropic principle" and if it depends on a self-evidently ill-defined procedure to deal with infinite sets in mathematics, it is obviously and demonstrably either an inconsistent law of physics, or at least an incomplete one. If it is inconsistent, it should be abandoned immediately. If it is incomplete, then the new rules that specify "what should actually be done with the infinite subsets" etc. contain the bulk of the mystery, so one has only replaced one body of ignorance by another, equally large one. Just to be sure, you will never find a uniform measure on infinite sets, among other things, which is enough to see that the majority of the "research directions" in the "anthropic principle" research suffer from incurable diseases. (Another class of incurable diseases is these would-be theories' acausality – they often want the events/decisions of the early Universe to depend on counting of objects in the future which means that they create loops and "closed time-like curves, a contradiction.) But some of those working on those things just prefer not to see these elementary flaws. They continue to spit meaningless and manifestly wrong papers defended by the hype that "the fundamental philosophical point is so deep that it justifies the production of arbitrary atrocious stuff". Science doesn't allow principles that are this deep.

Can the universe have a beginning, or can it be eternal?

The bulk of this question is really completely equivalent to the previous one and the answer is the same. Eternal spacetimes such as the 11-dimensional spacetime of M-theory are surely solutions to some equations of the underlying theory in the general sense. On the other hand, the relevant application of the theory including "insights about cosmology" that should be applied to our Universe has to be past-finite. The number of degrees of freedom in our asymptotically de Sitter space is finite, \(S\sim 10^{120}\), which is the upper bound on the entropy. The entropy never decreases which means that we can only reconstruct the time by a finite amount before we get to \(S=0\), and that's the beginning.

So the answer is, once again, that the fundamental theory is not "dogmatic" about the answer to this question. It doesn't really force the answer to be "only Yes" or "only No". Both finite and infinite Universes are allowed – and finite Universes (finite in space, when it comes to the visible part, and past-finite in time) are needed to explain the Universe where we live. In the future, our Universe is going to be long-lived as an empty de Sitter space but super-super-long timescales longer than the Poincaré recurrence time are surely "problematic" or "unphysical" in some way. We could ask questions "in what way" but clearly, some other advances will have to take place before it becomes meaningful to address these questions.

How do physical laws and causality apply to the universe as a whole?

Very nicely, thank you. The truly fundamental laws can't evolve in time – if this were true, it would mean that one also has to find the laws constraining the evolution of the first laws, and they would be new, deeper laws, and this sequence ultimately has to terminate if we claim the Universe to be understood by a complete theory. So the former laws are just some approximate laws that only hold within some environments while the latter laws are deeper and possibly complete and universal. There is really nothing shocking about these things. The (effective) laws of hydrodynamics involving objects in water may depend on time if the water is heating up, but ultimately even the heating up of the water may be described by more detailed laws.

The sub-questions here are more or less the same.

How do complex structures and order come into existence and evolve?

The ability to lower its own entropy is a necessary condition for an object to display signs of life. On Earth, we are receiving a high-energy, "concentrated energy" photons from the Sun, and organisms (and other systems) on the Earth's surface convert this energy to "less concentrated energy" i.e. lower-energy photons that are radiated away (and which inevitably carry a higher entropy because the number of low-energy photons is higher). This asymmetry of the "input" and "output" is needed because the second law of thermodynamics demands it. There are additional insights of this kind one may quote but at the end, one may say that they're interesting features of "biophysics", not "fundamental physics".

Is the appearance of life "inevitable"? A general theory following the same local "field theory" laws doesn't necessarily produce life; there is arguably no life possible in the 11-dimensional spacetime (this may be debatable but one may find vacua where it could be nearly proven). On the other hand, a theory equipped with all the extra knowledge to be applicable to our Universe has to predict life, otherwise it is excluded because we do observe life. Again, Carroll's question is really the same as many previous questions and the answer is known and mixed. The theory allows both answers in general, but we also know that the "completed edition of the theory" with all the data relevant to our Universe has to produce the answer that we know empirically. The very assumption that there must be something deeper or more unambiguous about these Yes/No questions about finiteness etc. is almost certainly an unjustifiable assumption, and probably a fallacy.


None of Carroll's questions may really lead to a new breakthrough in physics if you try to address them directly. Most of the questions have some "mixed answers" but once you make these questions more accurate, these questions have well-known answers! So most of the "depth" is actually just an illusion caused by Carroll's sloppy and ambiguous formulation of these questions.

And the several questions that may be viewed as exceptions, those that are really deep, are hard to answer and if they are ever answered in this form, physics will first have to find some seemingly "completely unrelated insights", to make progress on a different form, before the tools that are capable of answering these questions emerge.

For those reasons and many others, it is extremely counterproductive and fundamentally wrong to try to "ignite" the progress in physics by trying to convince others that "not really well-defined questions", "not really open questions", and "not really deep questions" are well-defined, open, and deep. They almost never are and even the questions that will be answered after the "next revolution in physics" will really be substantially different from those that are being constantly asked today.

If the questions that are being repeated all the time were holding the key to the next revolution in physics, the revolution would have already taken place!

And that's the memo.

P.S.: In the video, Witten's fellow debaters are great and famous men but you can see how much more sensible his comments are. The conversation took place in 1990 in Trieste, Italy. Witten would emphasize that one should be open-minded about which portions of string theory etc. are really fundamental – imagine how great a prophesy this was 5 years before the Second Superstring Revolution (and Witten modestly calls himself a bad prophet!). He also opposes the suggestions that the next theory is obliged or expected to "explain where quantum mechanics is coming from" and similar things. Of course, so far, Witten has been right about all of them. Quantum mechanics is as fundamental as it was 14 years ago.

The other men are closer to "philosophers"; Witten's careful answers may be traced to the huge amount of topics he has already worked on (even up to 1990). So he is implicitly comparing all the philosophical theses with "all the body of evidence" and with "much more detailed history of physics" than the other men who are inclined to overgeneralize some very special, isolated, and ad hoc misinterpreted, examples of advances in physics.

In 1990, the colliders seemed less important so when forced to talk about experimental predictions of string theory, Witten would talk about cosmic strings, fractional electric charges etc.


  1. The only detail I could not intuitively agree with or appreciate was in what sense the Poincaré symmetry proved your point - but not to worry, I am not likely to speak Mandarin fluently either. ;-))

    Unfortunately, I won't be ever be able to be legitimately excused for all my various shortfalls by: "He'd become senile". %-{
    But I do remember reading and somehow appreciating a thorough blog post of yours by which you well and truly debunked the idea that digital discreteness or binary 'it from bitness' is a fundamental physical property of what is going on.

  2. That was an enjoyable discussion between the great men. It's interesting how they all though that we'd have a gravitational wave detector up and running in '10' years. Meanwhile 25 years later, LIGO is still waiting for the first signal.

  3. If you allow the opinion of a bystander I think in the 21st century Philosophy is still useful but not as an entry point to the development of Physical theories but as a way to digest the output of Physical theories i.e. it is humanity’s way to contemplate on the broader implications of the physical theories on the way we perceive the world and human’s position in it.

  4. Eelco HoogendoornOct 5, 2014, 2:19:00 PM

    Indeed I would agree that all theories have very different origins. What differentiates what at the time were emergent theories such as relativity and quantum mechanics from string theory, was that the former immediately led to a wealth of testable implications. Never before has such a large body of theory been built with so little guidance from experimental input. Indeed if it were proven true, that would extend the range of ways in which new theories arise, as Witten says.

  5. Are you actually suggesting that science research should be done in a cold, objective manner, with no emotion involved? Shame on you.

  6. As an old person, I sometimes get confused about Neil deGrasse Tyson and Mike Tyson. Maybe because they are both African -american or because they both have the surname of Tyson or maybe because they are both stupid.

  7. Thanks for the great video ( which could be renamed "A conservation between Salam and Witten" without a lot of loss of information...).

  8. Very enlightening discussion on progress in physics, Lubos, your sentence [New insights in physics are produced either by known inconsistencies of the existing theories or their deviations from the experiment, or from a unification/interpolation of the known laws.] is likely as definitive as is possible. Your examples did leave out the hugely important unification/interpolation, in my view one of the all-time great insights, of Maxwell’s displacement current connecting Faraday’s and Ampere’s work.

    Seems Carroll is assiduously working on notion of celebrity physicist, with all the delights of its attendant basking in the media limelight, rather than worrying about inconsistencies, deviations and interpolations.

  9. You have discovered the difference between a physicist that publishes and a media whore.

  10. Yep, bluntly, that is about it. As to your comment below, I do think Neil could factor a quadratic, while I’m sure Mike could not.

  11. Yeah, but Mike gets more 'bitches' and cocaine.

  12. Well, for sure, my experience definitely confirmed that the babes didn’t give much of a shit about quadratics or physics.

  13. Right on, man. (old vernacular)

  14. Lubos, Why don't you influence the direction of fundamental physics by participating in academia rather than merely writing acerbic blog posts about Sean Carroll? I don't understand what you wish to achieve by writing polemics to a small, sycophantic audience.

    I feel that I must set the record straight re the comments I've read. SC does spend time communicating science to a wide audience and blogging, but, though I've never met him, I know he also publishes many strikingly original papers, supervises students, writes textbooks, and worries about "inconsistencies, deviations and extrapolations"!

  15. Dear Andrew, the answer to your first provocative question is simple. The Academia is just fucked up and junk similar to Sean Carroll and worse has literally conquered it. I've suffered in the broader Harvard environment, being amazed what kind of forces openly control important issues, and I couldn't live within that.

  16. How dare you tell another person what to do? Lubos's life is none of your concern. I actually this blog. To my mind , his comments are entertaining and informative. Frankly, if you don't like this blog, then fuck off.

  17. I've been watching live comment updates on this blog for the past few hours. I must admit it has been quite a worth it :) . Makes for a good change of pace from doing - f cp blah/ blad home/ blah . . . . . . sudo sudo , . . . .update . . k . . . sudo. It's fun and all but 3 straight days of doing this can seriously re-calibrate your brain. Anyways I am going to hold my general thoughts for the next collection of fempto-seconds.

  18. Dear Lubos,

    My message was rude, I'm sorry, but it wasn't my intention to provoke you. Can't you participate in academia without working for a university? You could still publish papers, attend and present at conferences, or write a textbook?

    If your mission is to fix physics, to debunk faulty ideas and to highlight institutional problems in the way in which physics is organized, aren't there better ways, or at least more ways, to do it than disgruntled blog posts?

  19. Dear Eelco, the reason why the experiments become larger, harder, and more expensive if they have a chance to study the cutting edge (in particular, the energy frontier) is extremely simple.

    To probe more extreme conditions requires more extreme and larger machines (colliders etc.). This actual cause should be totally understandable to every sensible person who discuses these issues, and it has nothing to do with the validity or other intrinsic qualities of string theory.

    In particular, to probe any theory at the fundamental scale - almost certainly close to the Planck scale - requires super-extreme conditions in the experiment and at least superficially, it seems impossible in practice. The extreme values of the Planck length and Planck temperature etc. has been known for over 100 years. There is nothing shocking and it has absolutely no epistemic consequences that would indicate that the rules of science have to change.

    Science has always relied on a careful theoretical analysis and indirect arguments and complicated calculations. The more complicated the experiments are, the more important this other "leg" of the progress in science becomes. It's totally obvious but there is no qualitative change or divorce from the scientific method and the theoretical beef of string theory isn't really any different conceptually from that of simple quantum mechanics or other theories introduced during the history of physics.

  20. You don't get it. STFU

  21. I actually have the same problem! ;-) For the Neil guy, DeGrasse is probably the primary surname, isn't it? So already when we say "Tyson", it's probably more likely to be interpreted as Mike Tyson. ;-)

  22. Lubos, you are an amazing mathematical physicist but what really astounds me about you is what a great writer you are. I’m betting you could make some serious bucks by turning out a memoir of your life up to that moment you decided you couldn’t stomach academia.

  23. You must be right. But such a role of philosophy is derivative and dependent on actual research done in other ways, and I think that most people who like the "philosophical type of research" in science don't want to admit this "non-primary" or "non-fundamental" role of philosophy.

  24. OK. I wrote the above before you edited your last post. No more questions, as you wish. Please feel free to delete this and my above message. I'm sorry, I was pushing my luck, my messages were rude. I'm sorry my comments re Horgan upset you, though I felt it was healthy, polite debate. If it makes you feel better, I can tell you that I have epsilon influence in physics ;)

  25. Thanks but I couldn't make any serious bucks. I've learned something about how the environment - including the publishers etc. - works. The lack of interest in so much great work that I feel to be close to mine or "role model for me" discourages me further.

    Up to 2004 when my Harvard Junior fellowship ended, I just never experienced the magnitude of the real-world problems because I was constantly living in some sort of a local protective bubble.

    When I was advancing to the high school, it just happened that there were some relatively blindly applied criteria for the admission to the high school which allowed winners of the highest rounds of mathematical and physical olympiads such as myself to be accepted without an additional human-influenced admission process. Without that loophole, I couldn't have gotten to the high school because it was politically incorrect that e.g. I had uncles on both sides in emigration and I was really known to be a non-communist, too.

    For the college, it's questionable whether any admission process was similarly free of human intervention - but the revolution occurred in the later parts of my high school studies, so I *could* go on to the college.

    When I was going to Rutgers to do PhD, I was clearly inside Tom Banks' local protective bubble as a grad student, avoiding deliberate harmful interventions but even a few "standard" conditions - e.g. I sent my application some weeks after the deadline, and so on.

    The Harvard Junior Fellowship after the PhD was sort of the most protective bubble at all. That allowed one real freedom for research and thought. But of course that the senior fellows would explicitly tell the conservatives (2 among 24 among the junior fellows) that if the committee had known that we had been conservatives, they would of course hadn't have admitted us at all.

    I didn't want to continue as junior faculty but partly because of my very good relationships, they picked me and continued but all the protective shields 100% evaporated. Finally, this was the real world without any protective bubbles. There exists almost nothing such as academic freedom and meritocracy in the current Academia. It's a mostly (ideologically etc.) homogenized conglomerate of self-serving people where most of the influence is derived from the relationships with the powerful and with the "sponsors" including the very broad public.

    I don't say that Witten, Strominger and others are not influential etc. But already their influence is vastly lower than what would be appropriate, and I think that the rise of their counterparts from the younger generations is being undermined by the system, so things will be getting worse and worse.

    So I am grateful to Nature, God, history, and a few people that I can really afford to skip that. Only several people in the world know how much I really suffered as junior faculty at some point. I don't plan to publicize all the details.

  26. wow man, I can't imagine what you've been through but I think you just had a profound moment with yourself.

  27. The lyrics is what is important

  28. In other news I need references for my application so I can reach the bridge. If you want to help please comment below with an anonymous email and I will get in touch with you, or just email me. It would be easier for me to trust if we do it this way.

  29. Damn, that last is very sad. Well, maybe a couple decades out your mind might change. Just this response post reinforces my belief, its a long shot but every now and then memoirs make real money. Remember that Irish dude’s recollection of growing up trash Irish? That was some serious money.

  30. At the risk of appearing to be one of the sycophantic sock
    puppets who read this blog, I agree with all of Lubos' points here.
    Indeed, they seem almost self-evidently obvious to me. It perplexes me that Sean and others don't. Modern philosophy seems to have derailed, so that I don't find Stephen Hawking's dismissal outrageous. More and more it reminds me of Clinton's "It depends on what the meaning of "is" is--

    Just to show that I can disagree, the idea of Einstein's that the speed of light is observer independent is not a "modest leap"--it flies against all common sense that such a thing is possible---something our brains did not evolve to believe, but that our neo-cortical neural network could override (at least Einstein's) .
    A final dig at philosophers--

  31. LOL, sure, thanks. I've lost my belief in all such things in the future.

    The market for popular physics book has deteriorated dramatically, too. In 2000, I decided that it was essential for the Czech book market to have a good translation of The Elegant Universe.

    So I spent some months with that work, before having a contract (surely my PhD adviser wasn't excessively happy about that distraction), and after very long delays etc., it was published. I spent quite some time with promoting it, too, and the sales were very good, with the book's often being top 1 among all Czech books, and universally positive feedback (if I ignore the post-communist frog sitting on the spring Mr Chýla who was inconsequential).

    I sort of knew that it was one of the last moments when people would care, when things like that were possible.

    All the books afterwords had sales lower by more than an order of magnitude while the number of the likes of Chýla behind every other corner has increased by orders of magnitude. Of course it's not just translations, the market for original books with any quality has more or less evaporated, too. One can make vastly higher profits by low-brow books attacking science in the cheapest possible ways.

  32. Gordon, "the meaning of *is*" was related to some lying/truthtelling about Monika Lewinski? ;-) Yes, a good analogy. It's really similar because the whole "difficulty" of the question is derived from its vagueness and fog inside it, but when the fog is lifted, no beef is left. And if beef is left and the clarified question is not answered yet, it's a question where no progress can be made anytime soon, and the question may become meaningless after some real progress, anyway.

  33. Thanks, I will find it somewhere. As a non-native speaker who is no miraculous linguist, I understand virtually nothing she is singing.

  34. It has been suggested by others that I write a book about my life. I politely said that I didn't think my life was that interesting. I really meant 'Fuck off and mind your own business'. Live your own life and don't suck off mine like a vampire.

  35. Your experience is so singular you shouldn’t give up on the future. Similar to your recent comments, singularities are were the beef is.

  36. Carroll sorts buttons and washes bottles. 45 years of failed quantum gravitation and SUSY can be repaired with one observation. Philosophy is the alternative.

    1) Vacuum is isotropic toward massless boson photons: no vacuum refraction, dispersion, dissipation, dichroism, or gyrotropy.

    2) Parity violations, symmetry breakings, chiral anomalies, baryogenesis, Chern-Simons repair of Einstein-Hilbert action. Vacuum is trace chiral toward fermionic matter (quarks, hadrons). J. Math. Phys. 40(9), 4587 (1999), doi:10.1063/1.532988. Petitijean's normalized CHI, quantitative geometric chirality,

    CHI = 0.058600 for phenylalanine (negligible)
    CHI = 0.959321 for 4,7,11-trioxa-D_3-trishomocubane

    3) Helium-entrained racemic probe vapor is de Laval vacuum supersonic expanded, reducing rotation temperature to ~1 kelvin. The cryogenic molecular beam enteres a high resolution Raman spectrometer (re SF_6, Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys. 16(4), 1415 (2014), doi:10.1039/C3CP54175D). One degenerate rotational spectrum says vacuum is achiral isotropic toward chiral mass distribution. Spectral splitting is vacuum chiral anisotropic toward matter, and physical theory derives from an empirically wrong postulate about matter.

    4) Don't assume, look.

  37. "So the birth of the quantum theory was indirect and low-key, you could say."

    The birth of Planck's formula was certainly low-key, but modern quantum theory wasn't really born until 1925, and so much happened between 1900 and 1925 that one could argue that overall the intervening 25 years were anything but low-key.

    Some number of the leading physicists of that era were in fact philosophically-inclined. I remember reading somewhere that when Fermi visited Germany as a young man, he was rather put off by way too much "philosophy" among the physicists there.

    I am inclined to think that the are simply great physicists and then there are those that suck (and a few in-between :)). The great ones, when philosophically inclined, may be aided by their philosophical bent at certain points in their career and hampered at other points, but they still get great things done, while the rest have little chance of contributing to a major breakthrough in physics no matter what they do.

  38. Eelco HoogendoornOct 5, 2014, 10:16:00 PM

    I fully appreciate the difficulty of doing experiments at the planck scale. And im not saying anyone seems to have better ideas than string theory.

    What I am saying is that if the whole framework of string theory does get experimentally vindicated in the end, it would be a whole novel way of scientific discovery, as witten says too. This massive collaborative effort over many decades is very different from the 'triumph of pure thought' that was general relativity. Which of course wasn't really a triumph of pure thought, since Einstein already had experimental data such as the orbit of mercury to constrain his theoretical thinking.

    Personally, I wouldn't bet a single cent on string theory surviving in any form once we do start performing experiments at the planck scale; but I do deeply respect the people who try their best to extend our theoretical knowledge nonetheless.

  39. The director has hands and fingers fetish?! It is also so annoying viewing time slots unrelated to the voices. Speaking of Ed Witten, here is a recent interview with him by scientific american

  40. Ha ha yep, a PW subtrolloid being attracted to TRF from Tommaso Dorigo's blog once literally "accused" me of being a sock puppet of Lumo, because I often agree with him and share his point of view about many things, LOL :-D. He said that it is unfair for Lumo to write statements under different names here ...

    And of course this is the case with this article too ...

  41. I agree with Steven Hawking,
    philosophers should shut up about physics and mind their own business ... !

  42. Z answer ist swei under fierzig.

    Now what was the question??

    In hex its the Hubble constant. Just convert to decimal.

    Backwards It is how many elders on the thrones.

    Div By 10. It is 4.2 sigma. Time to publish.

    Fersteen sie.

  43. Oh, how I would like to install a huge protective buble that keeps out the shit the world is full of today for Lumo, Strominger, Witten, and any good physicists, including a good environment for emerging young physicists too ... !

    Somebody should really urgently do this :-/

  44. Well, Yuri Milner is helping, but he could also award some deserving folks outside of the academic mainstream.
    Others could have entered the bubble, but felt that the field was compromised morally by the pretenders and refused the prizes (Grigory Perelman, though he may have had some other reasons as well.)

  45. defenestration - What a wonderful word. So rarely used in it's proper context.

    The refrenestration of Pluto (you can throw a planet back through the window. As a declarative, and also as in "You get to throw a planet, back through the window!" ) is a counterpoint to the defenestration of Neil Di-Gel Tyson.

    I think you're way off on the easier for kids argument. Today's kid, if he needs to know how many planets are in the solar system, he looks it up on his smart phone.
    What you could have said instead, it would be easier on parents who learned there are only 9 planets, because they don't have an army of urchins with smart phones correcting their ignorance.

  46. Paragraph picked intuitively out (as one providing a related perspective) from excellent Wikipedia teachings: "There are no finite unitary" [[[hence no fundamentally discrete]]] "representations of the full Lorentz (and thus Poincaré) transformations due to the non-compact nature of Lorentz boosts (rotations in Minkowski space along a space and time axis)."

  47. Dear papertiger, the actual definition of "clearing the neighborhood" according to the IAU is different than how you interpret it and I have already written what it is. It is a bound on mass^2/radiusorbit^1.5 which guarantees that the planet is the dominant player in its vicinity. Be sure that Jupiter and Earth obey the *actual* conditions for the planet they should obey.

    If this planet-like bound is obeyed,, there will still be an accumulation of masses near the L4,L5 Lagrange points, but it's always the case and it's still true that the planet is the primary determinant of what is located at those points.

  48. Dear papertiger, lots of things have been said about planets and non-planets and I won't repeat myself too many times.

    But concerning the kids, I think it is utterly wrong to educate children in this way, that they can find anything - including the list of planet - on the Internet. Such a type of education clearly lacks any substance. It's exactly this education that produces arrogant empty left-wing assholes who just copy junk from other empty assholes.

  49. As far as I can say, the "pure thought" aspects of GR and string theory are completely analogous. Both of them are pretty much boiling down to pure thought - and yes, I think that the triumph of GR came in 1916 and not e.g. in 1919 or the 1960s.

    Einstein needed 10 years for a relatively simple theory with a few equations simply because he wasn't as advanced mathematician as people have to be when they're on the cutting-edge of fundamental physics today. There's progress which changes all these things quantitatively but there has always been progress. I don't think that there is something conceptually new about the way how we discover things today.

  50. Dear Dilaton, annoying stories. Just imagine what it means for people with belief like ours. It means that we're exposed to a whole aggressive movement that defends the idea that there must exist at most 1 person in the world who disagrees with them, and the person has to be annihilated.

    The fact that there are thousands if not billions of completely deluded ignorant morons such as themselves and no one accuses them of being sockpuppets of 1 person just because they are also imbeciles doesn't bother them. ;-)

  51. It seems you are arguing for kids to be made to do it the hard way, so they have more invested mentally.
    Exercising the grey matter for exertion's sake.

    I get that. It always helps my retention to write out a thought.
    So by all means, let's add planets to the list as they are discovered. Let the kids and grownups exercise their memory some more, rather than pruning the list of planets to a convenient size.

  52. Dear papertiger, there is some fuzzy size behind which the memorization becomes meaningless. I just disagree that the point of the learning should be to train memory for no other good reason.

    The 8-10 planets are sufficiently diverse and provide one with enough data to try various qualitative conclusions and so on.

    If one were learning the names of 20 "planets", it would clearly start to become useless, and not supporting one's thought.

    Having several or perhaps up to 10 planets or other objects in the list is the right size that is meaningfully studied by arguments that people may usually deal with in their heads. 20 is already "too many".

    The purpose of learning should be neither a content-free learning how to talk and communicate that lacks any beef or substance; but it shouldn't be just data without any organizing idea.

    There is some sweet spot in the middle when one has enough "data" to train his abilities to derive, generalize, test general claims, invent new general claims, but isn't overwhelmed. I can't say rigorously where the sweet spot is. But I know that if children learn no particular planets at all (and analogously with anything else they could learn), the amount of the data they learn is too small and these kids will be led to "nicely" chat about things they have no idea about, and just copy something from something else.

    On the other hand, if they are forced to memorize telephone directories similar to lists of random names of some 20 pieces of rocks in the Solar System, they won't have enough spare capacity to learn what is actually important, namely to use the data and deduce some insights or decisions out of them.

  53. Your picture looks hopelessly hollow to me; It does because it contains far from enough pithy traces of evolutionary psychophysiology type thinking.

  54. I suspect that Lumo would get the most impact optimizing exposure (for his hardcore QM based realism about most matters discussed) if he appeared frequently on TV shows like "Oprah"

  55. Those books would surely need combining with frequent appearances of popular TV shows!

  56. You well and truly are the realist that I've come to and like and in many ways sympathize with!

  57. Dear Lubos,

    I have a question which I appreciate any comments on it from you.

    My own idea starts with a statement such as

    "Reality exists hence we say it is true. But what is really true besides that more than anything else which we can really trust, it is mathematical facts. So, to my mind I connect both since both seem to be a statement of truth. "

    Is such a statement "philosophical", part of a "scientific observation", or some nonsensical/useless talk. Thanks.

  58. After thinking about it a bit harder I came to the conclusion that such statement is useless. I should just start with the axioms and carry on from there, correct?

  59. @QsaTheory, what you are saying is just meaningless nonsense.

  60. Poincare was another mathematician/physicist of the era who almost beat Einstein to GR.

  61. Eelco HoogendoornOct 7, 2014, 10:21:00 AM

    Is an idea which can be fully comprehended by a single person different from an idea which needs decades and a great many people to develop? Arguably, one vs many is a qualitative rather than a quantitative difference, though we are getting a little lost in semantics perhaps.

    Also, I think 'lets apply our known and cherished axioms consistently' is a lot less strenuous than the assumptions underlying string theory, but I know you well enough to know that we are not going to agree on that ;).

  62. Ok, thanks for your opinion, much appreciated.

  63. Not very sporting, dumping ten gallons of words at me, while only allowing a thimble full in response.

  64. Let's see what I can do within the limited parameters.

    To the bulk, you spent quite a few paragraphs lamenting the use of the internet, as opposed to rote memorization, by children.

    Good luck bucking that tide, King Canute.

  65. Now to the meat.

    "...if one adds 10 more useless rocks in the Kuiper belt, it's just totally useless. It teaches one nothing important. All of them are discovered in pretty much the same way - some searches by modern telescopes followed by the assignment of some random name after a poll or something like that."

    If I get the gist, the next planet those Americans discover, you mean?

    What we unwashed mutts lack in book learning, we make up for at the eyepiece.

    I remember this one year my cousins found all the Easter eggs. I got shut out. So

    I imagine something like the butt hurt your IAU is feeling.

  66. All the stories of planets discovered (including Uranus and Neptune) started at the

    same place, ran the same course more or less; some obsessed dude sitting at the

    eyepiece of a telescope. And all telescopes, whatever year they were made, are

    still basically Newtonian telescopes. The design hasn't changed much.

    Tell you what. I don't have much pull in those quarters so no promises on an
    outcome, but if it will make you feel better, the next time an American finds a
    planet, during the voting process, I'll suggest they name it in your honor.

    How about ZELOS? Is that name taken?

  67. My official position is Pluto doesn't need the external validation of 10, 20, or

    2000 European astronomers. Pluto, with its plethora of attending moons, is secure

    in it's planethood, and it's position in the histories.

    Can the same be said for Ceres? That's the tell. Including that little pimple of an

    asteroid on your list of handicapped planets.

    "Clearing out it's neighborhood" is an undefinable ad hoc creation designed to

    include Ceres, and rehabilitate the discredited Titius–Bode law.

    You can't know if
    objects are cleared out of an orbit at the distance of Pluto, especially if you
    think of the search as "useless".

    The wonder to me is that your brethren go to such lengths to sauve the pride of a long dead pompous German, the author and noisiest cheerleader of the 1700's version
    of global warming style science by a show of hands.

  68. Excuse me. One more thing,

    As an alternative to "clearing it's orbit" instead let's make the cut off for planetary dwarfism a body that an average person can not throw a baseball at escape velocity from the surface of.

    Hows that for ad hoc?


  70. Dear papertiger, at home, children are doing whatever they like and what their parents allow them.

    But what is done at schools is influenced/dictated by the school system. Searching on the Internet may be also useful to teach to the children, but most of them learn it, anyway.

    On the other way, the education can't be reduced to the idea that one can find everything on the Internet. One can find some ready-to-use answers but one can't find the ability to think, and the experience that is needed to think.

    We were forced to memorize all kinds of annoying things, including celebrations of communists and communist events and shooting on imperialists, so I don't think it's too much to ask that the children today should learn *something*.

    Of course that people like me are doing at least something to buck the trend. After all, my vocal opposition to your suggestions that children just memorize a few things to train the memory and otherwise leave the answers to Internet searches is a part of these efforts of mine to buck the trend!

  71. It's not true at all that the stories of discoveries of the full-fledged planets are the same and your suggestion to the contrary only shows that you have no idea about rather basic things.

    Earth was discovered when the monkeys-humans were jumping and they found some soil beneath themselves - by the sense of touch. They didn't even need eyes. ;-)

    More seriously, Venus may be seen by naked eyes. Each 584 days, it overtakes the Earth by one more orbit, and during this cycle, Venus is seen as the "morning star" and later as the "evening star". This is a completely cool phenomenon people used to observe - with naked eyes. No one knows these things today, and you apparently don't, either.

    Mars is further from the Sun so it's not confined to evenings and mornings but it's still very bright and red which is why Romans would connect it with gods of war and so on. Features on Mars could have been observed before features on all other planets - and *this* is why we still talk about "Martians" as representatives of extraterrestrial people.

    Mercury is so close that you must observe it in twilight, but even with naked eyes (not mine) is OK. Many astronomers missed it for that reason.

    Jupiter is visible by naked eyes and is like a marble. Its being a planet was particularly important for Copernicus' theories etc. And Saturn is the only one which has rings, and the non-spherical vicinity may be sort of seen by eyes as well, which was always a source of consternation.

    Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn may all be seen by naked eyes but the way how one looks for them is very different because they have very different distances from the Sun - also opticaly. Just if you were confused, it was moons of Jupiter, and not Jupiter itself, that Galileo had to use his telescopes for, and so on.

    Uranus was first discovered by Hipparchos in 128 before Christ and incorrectly listed as a star, even in Ptolemy's Almagest. The "sure" discovery of Uranus was done more recently by a telescope, but there were interesting stories because someone thought it was a comet for some time, and so on.

    Uranus may be viewed as the *only* planet that was first discovered by "telescopes randomly looking around"! Neptune was found after its existence was *mathematically predicted* from otherwise present anomalies in the known planets' orbits. It just caused some disturbances. Those predictions were solid.

    And Pluto was similar except that those predictions weren't solid. There was a Planet X as a candidate etc.

  72. Uranus was first discovered by Hipparchos in 128 before Christ and incorrectly listed as a star, even in Ptolemy's Almagest.

    No shit.

    I suppose it's possible, since Uranus is visible to the naked eye (barely, if you're eyes are really good, and looking during a black out), but even here it's the same story; an obsessed Greek guy, looking through the sight tube of his astrolabe.

    Lucky thing for Herschel that Hipparchus was good at keeping a secret.

    Wait a minute. From the wikipedia entry for Almagest;

    The Almagest is the critical source of information on ancient Greek astronomy. It has also been valuable to students of mathematics because it documents the ancient Greek mathematician Hipparchus's work, which has been lost.

    Which has been lost. Does that mean something different over in Europe, because in America that means it doesn't exist.

    You can't claim discovery when your evidence doesn't exist.

    Interesting that you defend robbing Tombaugh by robbing Herschel.

  73. Epicycles. Geocentrism. The doctrine of "God created" immutable perfect space 128 years before Christ was born. That's very interesting.

    The way I was taught, the papacy imposed these backward ideas on the learned men, but there was no papacy. Judaism was a backwater religion without power to impose much of anything, especially on Egyptians like Ptolemy.

    So why the epicycles? Why do textbooks n media traffic in these slanders of the church even up to this day?

  74. Dear papertiger, I haven't written the word "Herschel" or the word "Tombaugh" anywhere in those texts - and that's not because I want to rob a robber or someone else. It's because I don't give a damn about someone's seeing a dot somewhere, without any further insights.

    I think it's likely that Hipparchos did see and did catalogue the Uranus because that's what papers dedicated to this very question seem to conclude.

    But even if he didn't, I don't give a damn. It was one of the many dots on the skies, visible or invisible.

    Tombaugh isn't being "robbed", either. Science just shows that if some objective criteria rather than mindless human group think and superstitions are used, the discovery of Pluto was at most a dwarf discovery. It's a dwarf planet - or one of a half-dozen of similar 2nd league objects - and the claims that it was on par with the discovery of the classical planets has always been pure hype that is scientifically indefensible. That's what the careful analysis and the reclassification means!

  75. Epicycles were a clever phenomenological methodology to parameterize the motion of the celestial bodies. It was a methodology that ultimately may be seen not to be "too natural" because it's not connected with the actual laws that control the motion. But it could have been used, anyway.

    The church's sin wasnt' to promote one mathematical parameterization among other possible competitors. The sin was to politically harass and sometimes kill people who "dared" to deviate from an arbitrary, narrow-minded, and pretty much unjustified set of dogmas that the church favored.

  76. I'm not twisting science.

    The definition of planet is "wandering star". I'll stipulate that an astronomical body being big enough to compress itself into a sphere is a useful definition.

    But adding an unknown and unknowable qualifier like cleared its neighboring region of planetesimels, so that what amounts to a mutual ego stroking society can pretend to have a purpose...
    I don't even know what to call it. How about not science?

  77. LOL, sorry, "wandering star" isn't a definition of a planet. It is a vague linguistic curiosity about the meaning of a similar word several thousand years ago - and this non-definition has never had anything to do with what we call "science" today.

    The (scientific) definition of a planet is that it is an astronomical object orbiting a star or stellar remnant that is massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity, is not massive enough to cause thermonuclear fusion, and has cleared its neighbouring region of planetesimals.

  78. I do not comment often but I would just like to say that I value your blog so much that money is beyond it. I could not pay what I think your blog is worth! To me, it is priceless. There is no other place where I find such words that inspire me, that intrigues me, that makes me laugh or that angers me. Words that simply put increase my happiness in life. I am very grateful that you write, and hope your thirst will never lessen!

  79. Can you please explain what is to be a conservative ? Does harvard really choose its fellows by their political views ?

  80. The word "conservative" has several related meanings and when it comes to the political one, the answer is definitely Yes, Harvard - and most other places - is choosing fellows and people in related occupations partly and sometimes primarily according to their political views.

  81. I checked conservatism article on wikipedia, it says that: "what Americans now call conservatism much of the world calls liberalism or neoliberalism", this is almost opposite of what I expect from word conservative (I looked the article before I asked the question, it seemed there are many meanings of conservatism). So they wouldn't accept you because you support republicans ?

  82. Yes, I am trying to emulate U.S. English on this blog, and by "conservativism", I mean exactly what you found on Wikipedia - and yes, we tend to call almost the same thing "liberalism" in Europe although it means "almost" the opposite thing in America.

    Yes, lots of people are eliminated from the hiring process because they support the Republicans. I can give you tons of evidence for that statement. I wasn't really a Republican because I was an alien, anyway, and they didn't quite understand my politics when I was hired. But when those things are known and well-defined, the applicants have a problem.

  83. Thanks for your reply Lubos, I must say I am surprised. I have always thought that US is mainland of conservatism (i will use the word in US sense to avoid misunderstanding). I wouldn't so surprised that if universities didn't accept socialists ( remember case of stephen smale against nsf). When did this things changed ?

  84. Dear John, the U.S. universities are a very different thing than the U.S.

    The U.S. universities have never "favored" conservatives. They used to be impartial, to choose a word, and the asymmetry may be traced roughly to the 1960s when various student protests shook the U.S. Academia.

    Today, the U.S. Academia is largely controlled by the same people who were the far left-wing protesters, hippies, and similar folks in the 1960s and 1970s.

  85. Dear Lubos, I would understand if people in academia were socialist. I don't know what democrats precisely want to do but when I look from outside the US under management of democrats are far far conservative than european welfare states such as Germany, or UK or Canada (every country with the possible exception of switzerland ?). It seems weird to me that these people support democrats and are against conservatism. Don't you think so ? Again I don't know what democrats promise to do but at the end it is clear that US has a very weak universal health system and income distribution is very far from uniform.

    I suggest you to read following article :

    It is a mystery that, while %99 (so they call themselves) are much less paid, they vote to parties that won't change it (I don't say it should change).

  86. "... and yes, we tend to call almost the same thing [namely "conservatism"] "liberalism" in Europe although it means "almost" the opposite thing in America.

    Dear Luboš,

    WHOA! Not ALL of Europe! :)

    Here in the UK it's broadly* the same as in the US. Liberal and liberalism would be unrecognisable to John Locke and John Stuart Mill for example. Their meaning, as you suggest, has been turned completely on its head in Anglo-Saxon parts. I personally regard the two now as terms of abuse, synonymous with peecee-ridden totalitarian leftardism, which abducted them purely for their fine clothes.

    As a result, Locke/Mill types now have had to resort to calling themselves libertarians, which term, incidentally, in its own turn has generally come to be taken by leftards to mean right-wingers, with perhaps more than just a hint of "the extreme-right" when rolled off their tongues.

    * We have the added complication of having to put up with what is known here as the Conservative Party (AKA "The Tories", for whom I once voted) — a misnomer if there ever was one. While some total fuckwits, and we have untold many, may regard it as a conservative force in politics, anyone with two neurons and a spark going between them can tell you it's now anything but — it's just another faction of the left these days, even economically. But most tellingly, it has adopted the leftard penchant for social engineering & programming (diversity celebrating etc). In tripping over her own boots in their headless-chicken dash for the Conservatives to be seen as the "heir to bliar", Theresa May (now well in the running as a candidate for the future party leadership) once said they needed to shed their label as "the nasty party", thus immediately conceding the 'moral' victory to her nominal enemies across the floor. If the Germans had had her instead of Rommel we could have been drinking their beer, shagging their women and hooliganising Berlin by December 1940 at the latest. Possibly. :)

    Incidentally, as far as the UK is concerned, my take is that the main distinction between a true conservative and a libertarian is that for the former the preservation of tradition plays a significant part. True conservatives have a little of the authoritarian about them too, but not enough to overly bother me.

    FWIW I straddle the two, and if necessary will reluctantly sacrifice tradition. So it's "God save the Queen" and lots of flag waving at the Proms for me. The politicos have deeply undermined her role though, not that it was ever really thought through properly in the first place, but that's another matter — typical British fudge & bodge, but we have history and I won't be one to piss on it. Besides, it would upset my mother badly if I did. So, no f###ing way! :)

    DISCLAIMER: I'm not a student of UK politics or political life here and am happy to be corrected by those more knowledgeable.

  87. As a possibly interesting tidbit, when Hayek's and von Mises books were published in the US, they found it necessary to write a preface, explaining to the american reader what they mean under the term liberalism, liberal ideas and similar.

  88. That's one of the problems with the left. They have this ongoing programme with the dictionary.

    They're going through it snatching decent words and co-opting them as euphemisms for the shit they're peddling. Eventually, as always, these verbal hostages lose their power as euphemisms and become merely synonymous with the terms they were meant replace. And that's because the fuckwits haven't yet cottoned on to the fact that changing the word doesn't change the ugly reality, despite their vigorous bozo pomo attempts to promote the idea that it does.

    Oh sure, they're not the only ones in this game but they are the main players.

    Ha! Who knows, maybe 'shit' was a euphemism once.

    Hey! Actually it still is — the stuff they're peddling is far worse than mere shit. QED :)

  89. Dear John, there is no unavoidable contradiction here because of another terminological subtlety - what we call "Europe". Is the U.K. really Europe in these discussions? ;-)

    Would my comment be OK with "continental Europe"?

  90. Ya got me, Luboš! Uh! You're exactly right. :)

    Guess what. I did indeed find myself in a terrible quandary in deciding whether to respond for precisely the reason you mention!

    Oh the pain!

    Yes, my default mode is to deny that we are anything to do with Europe — even geographically [Unh! :) ]. Actually, I don't know how continents are defined by the geographers but if I had a hand in it we'd be on our own. That's because most of the time the context is politico/legal. The buggers don't even have habeas corpus.

    On the other hand, culturally—at least in the higher realms—we are very much part of Europe, and especially so when it comes to science. Sure, there's a particular divide when it comes to large chunks of philosophy say, but that's not an activity close to my heart or worth starting wars over — except perhaps for the untold damage done by the French deconstructionistas etc, who should all be put up against a wall and shot.

    On the third hand, we get to home people like Karl Marx who should have been strangled at birth. Even right now the bastard is still at it — he's stinking up Highgate Cemetery. Something should be done!

    And then there's the EU*! That's the real killer.

    So, plenty to be conflicted over. :)

    It's not easy being British, you know!

    Finally to the point:

    "Would my comment be OK with "continental Europe"?"

    Dear Luboš, yes indeed it would. It would be perfect. Your generosity of spirit and consideration for the feelings of others shows no bounds! Thank you very much.

    What a nice man you are! :)

    * The europhiliacs both here and on the continent incessantly and DELIBERATELY conflate their toxic EU with "Europe".