Good Math, Bad Math

As I mentioned a while back, I was loaned the Library of Congress discard of George
Shollenberger’s book. Since he’s made such a big deal about how unfair I’ve been by
not reading and considering his argument, I’ve actually forced myself to read it.
(See what I’m willing to do for you, my faithful readers?)

It’s worse than I expected. Based on reading George’s writing before, I was expecting
something bad, very bad. This is beyond mere badness: this is “please oh please stab my eyes out with a rusty steak-knife so that I don’t need to read anymore of it” bad.

After reading this book, I’m convinced that George is
considerably more ill than he lets on: it reads like a text written by someone suffering
from serious brain damage. Much of it is incoherent rambling, which barely resembles actual
English; in many places, the prose isn’t even close to grammatical. He doesn’t even manage
to get the book title grammatically correct. The full title of the book is “The
First Scientific Proof of God: Reveals God’s Intelligent Design and a Modern Creation
Theory”. The title on the spine is “The First Scientific Proof of God:”. (Yes, with the
colon.)

Even if his ideas had any merit, it would be hard for anyone to take this seriously,
given the appalling lack of care given to anything so mundane as proofreading or
copyediting the book. I wish I knew the originator of this the quote I’m going to use, but
I don’t recall. Years ago, on usenet, I remember seeing someone give a poster on
talk.origins a royal flaming over their dreadfully poor writing. The victim of this flame
of course complained about people nitpicking him for his poor grammar and spelling. The
flamer responded by explaining that writing for the public is like getting up and giving a
speech in front of an audience. Writing with no care for spelling, grammar, or punctuation
is like getting up and giving that speech while wearing a soiled shirt”. I thought that was
the most remarkably clear way of describing exactly how I felt about reading horrible
writing. When you don’t bother to make sure that your writing meets some minimum level of
basic linguistic correctness, it demonstrates a profound lack of respect for your readers,
and you deserve to be taken less seriously based on that.

Here’s a pretty typical quote. I’ve been extremely careful transcribing this to
make sure that I copy his punctuation, grammar, and spelling precisely. The whole book reads like this excerpt: bizarre assertions with no support, random incoherent jumps, strange (or missing) punctuation, non-sequitur after non-sequitur, all jumbled together.

Historians agree that the Middle Ages ended with the work of Nicholas of Cusa. But, they do not tell us that Cusa developed a new and creation theory. Nicholas describes God as the ‘coincidence of all opposites’. Thus, his theory of God is not understood easily by logicians. Logic and its law of contradiction must be used carefully if one expects to unify a theory of God and a theory of creation. But, if one learned how to use logic properly, a person can become a panentheist. A panentheist argues that god is both creator and creature. This duality is the God of Christianity. Nicholas unifies his theory of God and theory of creation with the pair of opposites, identity and difference. All created things this become images of God. I discuss the complex creation theory of Nicholas in detail in Part IIa

After Nicholas’ death, Isaac Newton developed a new creation theory. It was the first mechanical theory of creation. A mechanical theory has no active God. Newton’s theory of God is Deism. Newton’s God must rewind the universe if He decides to create a second universe. In the 17th century, Gottfried Leibniz also develops a new creation theory. His universe has atoms known as monads. I apply his monads in my modern creation theory in Part IV. I call them spritual atoms because they are spirits and form a spiritual-physical universe.

Even in this short passage, it’s astonishing how much just plain wierd stuff he manages to throw in.

Just look at the first sentence: “Historians agree that the Middle Ages ended with the work of Nicholas of Cusa”. Last I heard, deciding when the Middle Ages ended is a total muddle, with people arguing for everything from the beginning of the Renaissance in Italty in the middle 1400s, to the invention of the printing press, to the fall of Constantinople , to the Protestant Reformation. The only reference I can find that associates Cusa with the end of the Middle Ages in any way is a text on Christian Mysticism, which describes him as the last of the influential Christian Mystics of the Middle Ages – but even that text says that the Protestant Reformation marked the end of the Middle Ages, and clearly describes Cusa as a medieval mystic.

Then there’s the skip to Newton (which makes it sound like Newton is a contemporary of Cusa), followed by an unsupported assertion about Newton’s “mechanistic” theory and the “rewind” nonsense, then a jump to Leibniz specifying the time period (which makes it sound like Leibniz and Newton weren’t contemporaries.) It’s just chock full of this kind of
incoherence.

But let’s get past the horrid incoherent style of the book, and consider the great, world-changing theory that George Shollenberger has been bragging about, or at least the closest I can come to describing it, given the incoherence of its presentation.

There are two main concepts to George’s proof. One of them is a focus on symbols; and the other is a rehash of the classical ontological argument for the existence of a god.

The symbol stuff is based on the idea that language is a poor carrier of
ideas. Language distorts ideas: the basic structure of a language affects the way that it
communicates ideas. Symbols are the pure, perfect ideas which language tries to
communicate. Current human languages are flawed, because they don’t communicate symbols
very well. To properly represent George’s proof, you need to think in terms of the
symbols, not the imperfect words that he uses to represent the symbols.

The second part is yet another rehash of the Ontological theory. The only difference from the other gazillion ways that this is presented is that George uses his “symbols” idea. So his version of the proof is: there are two symbols, “finite” and “infinite”. Finite things – things that are described by the symbol “finite” – cannot be created by other things from the finite symbol. Finite things must be created by something infinite. The infinite is God.

Going a bit further, he also says that for the infinite to create the finite, it must bridge the gap between the symbols “finite” and “infinite”: and that this proves that God is specifically the Christian God, because the infinite Christian God took finite form as Jesus, which is the necessary bridging of the finite/infinite gap.

What’s the scientific part? Well, that’s remarkably sad. George redefines both what “proof” and “science” means in terms of his ideas about symbols. His thing is a “scientific proof” if you accept his definitions of “proof” and “science”; but his definitions of “proof” and “science” bear pretty much no resemblance to what anyone else means by the words (or symbols, to put it George’s way) “science” or “proof”.

Aside from that, the rest of the book is more incoherent jumps and rambles. Half the time, he claims to be the creator of this proof; half the time, he talks about how other people were doings things based on it. For example, he claims that the founders of the United States founded the nation on the basis of his proof; the people (and he clearly says “people”) who assassinated Lincoln were doing it to suppress the understanding that the US was really founded on the concept of God embodied by his proof.

What about all of the argument about how we need to reinvent mathematics? Well, it’s
based on a couple of his strange ideas. First, there’s his “infinite” symbol. He believes
that “infinite” must be explicitly represented as a concrete value in math,
because since infinite is an essential symbol, it must be explicitly considered as a real
part of the set of mathematical values. Since basic math considers infinity to be a
concept, and not be a specific concrete value, that means that math is
wrong: it omits something essential. He points at the transfinite numbers of
Cantor as the solution to that; transfinite numbers are a symbol of ordinal
numbers like the surreal numbers that have a concept of numbers that are larger than any finite number. (Of course, George really doesn’t even get Cantor right… Cantor specifically used the term “transfinite”, because they’re not the same thing infinity.)

The other part of the “reinventing math” is far less coherent. George has some very strange ideas about logic. He seems to believe in the “Mr. Spock” idea of logic; and he seems think that there is only one logic, which is some form of predicate logic. He also seems to have the impression that “logic” only has “OR” as a way of combining statements. He talked about “either/or” logic, and how math is all screwed up because it only uses “OR” logic and not “AND” logic. As near as I can discern, the root of this is that he thinks that logic defines “AND” in an second-class way, because it defines “A∨¬A” as a tautology, and “A∧¬A” as a nonsensical contradiction. Since his idea of God is both finite and infinite, then “finite=not infinite and God is infinite and Jesus is God and Jesus is finite” reduces to God is infinite and God is not infinite”, which is necessarily true, but which is defined as nonsensical by logic.

I don’t really know what else to say. This book is beyond bad. The fundamental idea of it – the so-called proof – is not new: it’s just the same old ontological argument that we’ve all seen before. It’s not even one of the better formulations of that argument. His version of it can be summed up in three sentences: “There are two distinct symbols, finite and infinite”, “Finite things cannot be created by finite things”, “Therefore there is an infinite thing that created all the finite things, and that’s God”. That’s it, the heart of George’s argument.

The rest of the book is incoherent babbling, where he makes all sorts of strange assertions, usually without a shred of evidence or support.

In the first draft of this review, I ended it by saying that I felt sorry for George, because he seems to be a well-meaning person whose intellectual ability has been damaged by his medical problems. But then, I got a note from a reader earlier today pointing me at the latest on George’s blog where he promotes his book. George turns out to be another of
what Orac and PZ have termed “Contemptible Ghouls”: George has managed to not just blame the Virginia Tech massacre on people not paying enough attention to his little book, but has also decreed that the problem is that the VT killer was Korean, and that the Korean “mindset” is incompatible with the Christian foundations of America, and the only solution is to kick all of the non-whites out of his wonderful Christian homeland:

So, police departments and criminologists, please do not look any further for the cause of this Virginia event. Instead, work for the USA to develop the true American MINDSET so it will have no criminal potentials. Do this work in the memory of Virginia Tech’s lost children. This work would make the American MINDSET even more moral compared to what it is today. This means that US atheists must be asked to convert and foreigners must be asked to build their own nation.

A melting pot of people will never be a happy group of people.

So, he’s not a well-meaning old crank. He’s a vile, racist, contemptible ghoul.

(George, if you want to comment on this post, I’ll allow you to. Your comments currently go into the moderation queue; I’ll publish anything you post whenever I check
the queue. As much as I despise you, it’s only fair to allow you to respond to a review of your book.)

Comments

  1. #1 Monado
    April 21, 2007

    If you think that’s bad, don’t ever read Velikovsky’s “Chariots of the Gods” or “Worlds in Confusion–er, Collision” because your head will explode.

    Someone should ask George how that moral American mindset brought us Timothy McVeigh, Jeff Dahmer, and Eric Rudolph.

  2. #2 dc
    April 21, 2007

    This is just the ramblings of a mentally ill person. Sometimes amusing, sometimes ugly. Don’t bait him. He might have a gun.

  3. #3 Hermagoras
    April 21, 2007

    See, he’s right: language is a poor vehicle for ideas. At least, his language is.

  4. #4 Sean
    April 21, 2007

    I really enjoyed your review. It is a shame that you are, essentially, preaching to the choir here because the kinds of people who believe George and people like George are almost universally opposed to having an open enough mind to even consider your review as anything but an outright attack on their sacred world-view.

    Your final judgement of him appears to be right on in light of his comments on the VT killings. IMO, he sounds just about as crazy as that gunman was.

  5. #5 Henry Culver
    April 21, 2007

    By comparison, I found the testament of the mad Arab easy to read. No, wait, I didn’t read that. The Necronomicon doesn’t exist! BWAHHAAAAA!

  6. #6 Jonathan Vos Post
    April 21, 2007

    Nicholas of Cusa was an extremely interesting man. It is not useful to accept the summary: “a medieval mystic.” The MacTutor (University of St. Andrew) biography described Nicholas of Cusa [1401-1464] as: “a German philosopher and bishop. He was interested in geometry and logic as well as in philosophy and astronomy.”

    Their full biographical article by J. J. O’Connor and E. F. Robertson adds: “He was interested in geometry and logic. He contributed to the study of infinity, studying the infinitely large and the infinitely small. He looked at the circle as the limit of regular polygons and used it in his religious teaching to show how one can approach truth but never reach it completely…. His interest in astronomy certainly led him to certain theories which were true and others which may still prove to be true. For example he claimed that the Earth moved round the Sun. He also claimed that the stars were other suns and that space was infinite. He also believed that the stars had other worlds orbiting them which were inhabited…. Cusa published improvements to the Alfonsine Tables which gave a practical method to find the position of the Sun, Moon and planets using Ptolemy’s model. These tables had originally been compiled in 1272 with the support of King Alfonso X of Castile.”

    One also has the intriguing quotation attributed to Giordano Bruno: “If [Nicholas of Cusa] had not been hindered by his priest’s vestment, he would have even been greater than Pythagoras!”

    I have not read George Shollenberger’s book, but a sympathetic reviewer might try to put some parts of it in the context of the historical Nicholas of Cusa. An Alternate History story or novel might imagine a world where Giordano Bruno was NOT executed by the Inquisition, and went on to be as influential as Galileo, making Newton role rather different. Newton might have lost his royal patronage and been executed for heresy, and then, well, then the story would begin…

    I do not want to address the racism. William Shockley did great research, enough to share in two Nobel prizes, before he turned into a racist fool. I believe that there is good in every human being, and at least scraps of good in every book. It is hard to judge medieval theory in a modern mathematical and scientific way, given that the linbes between science, theology, philosophy, and the occult had not then been drawn where now we draw them.

  7. #7 Mr. G
    April 21, 2007

    I’m having trouble seeing a lot of difference between you and Shollenberger. Perhaps if you would answer any of the questions I posed previously, that would help.

  8. #8 Mr. G
    April 21, 2007

    Whenever you get around to it. What with the commute and the new job and all.

    I’m patient.

  9. #9 Coin
    April 22, 2007

    The symbol stuff is based on the idea that language is a poor carrier of ideas. Language distorts ideas: the basic structure of a language affects the way that it communicates ideas.

    Judging from the excerpts, I guess maybe that’s true of his language…

  10. #10 MaC
    April 22, 2007

    Mr. Shollenberger reminds me a little of Humpty-Dumpty from Alice Through the Looking Glass. I wonder if he pays his words extra, too?

  11. #11 Chris' Wills
    April 22, 2007

    ….The flamer responded by explaining that “writing for the public is like getting up and giving a speech in front of an audience. Writing with no care for spelling, grammar, or punctuation is like getting up and giving that speech while wearing a soiled shirt”….

    Whoever the responder was, that is a good analogy. Could be added to the framing discussions as it would also apply to using curses/swearing in presentations.

    Perhaps you could post your review on amazon? I know that I will not be buying the book (well I already knew that :o)), you could prevent others wasting their money.

  12. #12 Coin
    April 22, 2007

    I say that such a review would be “helpful to me”.

    Oh my God… from the Amazon page:

    Better Together

    Buy this book with The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins today!

    – The First Scientific Proof of God: Reveals God’s Intelligent Design and a Modern Creation Theory

    – The God Delusion

    Buy Together Today: $44.15

  13. #13 Coin
    April 22, 2007

    By the way, one other thing:

    the other is a rehash of the classical ontological argument for the existence of a god

    Don’t you mean the cosmological argument? Or is there really a difference?

  14. #14 Dave S.
    April 22, 2007

    Monado writes:

    If you think that’s bad, don’t ever read Velikovsky’s “Chariots of the Gods” or “Worlds in Confusion–er, Collision” because your head will explode.

    Chariots of the Gods? was written by Erich von Däniken, a hacktastic writer if ever there was one. His thesis was basically that ancient peoples were too stupid or incompetant or unimaginative to make some of the the artifacts that existed at the time, so aliens must have helped. Some of his evidence was fraudulent, but mainly his claims rested on fallacious and specious argument.

  15. #15 Spook
    April 22, 2007

    Yikes. After seeing some of Georgie-Boy’s comments and reading your review, I can only imagine the agony you’re in. Where should I send the sympathy card?

  16. #16 Dave M
    April 22, 2007

    As my ex-gf used to say, “don’t torment the afflicted.” Neither of you are enjoying this. Seriously, Mark, let it go already. He’s had a stroke, for Pete’s sake. Save it for Egnor – at least that guy passes the Turing test.

  17. #17 mollishka
    April 22, 2007

    I’d like to put him and the Time Cube guy in a room together and see what happens.

    Also, just how much alcohol did it take for you to manage to get through the entire book?

  18. #18 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    April 22, 2007

    DaveM:

    I’ve got no intention of ever writing about George again. But I’d promised to write a review of the book if anyone sent me a copy.

    And I did do the best I could to write a fair, objective review. Whatever my difficulties with George, I tried to keep my personal animosity out of the bulk of the review, and describe his argument as clearly, honestly, and concisely as I could.

    I think I did a reasonable job. Personally, I think I did a better job explaining his “proof” than he did. Mind you, I’m sure George won’t be happy with it, but I don’t think he’d be happy with anything short of “it’s the most important book ever written”.

  19. #19 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    April 22, 2007

    millishka:

    No alchohol involved.

    There was a small amount of coedine, because I’m recovering from a nasty case of viral bronchitis. But I don’t think that that reduced the pain of reading it at all. (Fortunately it did reduce the pain of nearly coughing my lungs out. I coughed hard enough to actually rupture my vocal cords. Not something I particularly recommend doing; it hurts like bloody hell, and the ENT said my voice is never going to be quite the same.)

  20. #20 Ian W.
    April 22, 2007

    For a genuine discussion on a proposed proof of the existence of God, one can hardly do better than Melvin Fitting’s book on Godel’s ontological argument.

    http://www.amazon.com/Types-Tableaus-G%C3%B6dels-Trends-Logic/dp/1402006047/

    Fitting formulates Godel’s argument using modal type theory, so rigor is not an issue. It is the question of whether Godel’s assumptions are both self evident and consistent that makes the argument philosophically interesting. And even if you aren’t interested in Godel’s particular argument, the book is still a fantastic introduction to extensionality and intensionality in modal logic. Highly recommended.

  21. #21 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    April 22, 2007

    Coin:

    I think that different people categorize the various god-existence proofs in different ways.

    The way I learned it, the cosmological argument is basically fine-tuning: “the universe is so perfectly fitted to us, that it couldn’t have happened by chance, …”; the ontological argument is an argument from the existence of concepts: “concepts are necessarily connected to reality; since there is a concept of infinity, there be an infinity, and that’s God.”

  22. #22 Thony C.
    April 22, 2007

    As a historian of science whose main area of interest is in exactly in this period I thought I would say a few words on the on the dating of the end of the Middle Ages. As Mark said it is still a controversial subject but a consensus seems to be forming amongst historians that the Middle Ages flows into the Early Modern Period around 1400, although it is now generally accepted that there is not the level of discontinuity between the Middle Ages and the modern period that was traditionally believed to exist. Nicolas Cusanus is certainly a transitional figure with both mediaeval and proto-modern aspects in his thought. His ideas in mathematics and astronomy certainly point towards the future rather than the past.

    On Newton our “disciple of the one and only truth” certainly manages to get almost everything wrong. Firstly, Newton’s philosophy was not mechanical (the dominant philosophy of science of the period), which caused his theory of gravity to be massively attacked by both the Cartesians and the Leibnizians. He was accused of reintroducing “occult entities” (his gravity) into physics. Newton would have been horrified at being called a Deist. The Newtonians fought tooth and claw to try and convince the world that belief in Newtonianism does not automatically lead to deism and thus down the slippery slope to atheism. This is the reason that Newton hypothesised that God would have to interfere in his creation from time to time, “rewind the clock”, otherwise the God of his theory would become an absentee creator leading to deism.

  23. #23 Norm Breyfogle
    April 22, 2007

    I’m impressed that you read George’s book; I don’t believe I would’ve, nor will I ever do so. But then, I guess you painted yourself into a corner by promising to read it if someone sent it to you. (lol) Live and learn.

    For your vocal chords I wish the swiftest and most thorough recovery possible.

  24. #24 Kea
    April 22, 2007

    You may be an OK mathematician, but you are a lousy book reviewer. Although my prejudices tell me that this guy is a raving lunatic, your review did nothing to convince me of this. On the contrary, it sounds as though he raises some interesting ideas. Topos theory (the foundational maths of generalised logic using diagram techniques) is fast becoming recognised as a promising tool to study Quantum Gravity, a respectable subject that cannot baulk at discussing concepts of infinity in a universal realm. Moreover, the terms ‘symbols’ has been widely used, notably by the 19th century mathematical philosopher C. S. Peirce, the founder of modern Category Theoretical maths. Perhaps this book is incoherent as you say, but you do not appear to have addressed the underlying arguments.

  25. #25 Zhasper
    April 22, 2007


    the beginning of the Renaissance in Italty


    because they’re not the same thing infinity.

    Good to see that the tradition of spelling/grammar flames (not that this is a spelling/grammar flame, per se, but it includes an element of such…) including their own spelling/grammar faults is being preserved :)

  26. #26 Jonathan Vos Post
    April 23, 2007

    I thought that Thony C.’s comments were most interesting. Although I’ve taught some History of Science courses, I am not any kind of acknowledged expert. Indeed, part of the reason that I read a lot of History of Science to write my roughly thousand-page (if printed on 8 1/2 x 11 paper) Chronology of Science, Mathematics, Literature, and the like was to deepen my understanding of periods with which I was less familar, and other cultures (China, Japan, Korea, Persia) with which I was also undereducated. [at my web domain, click on “timeline”]

    I agree that “Nicolas Cusanus is certainly a transitional figure with both mediaeval and proto-modern aspects in his thought.”

    The matter of Newton is infinitely complex. I read everything I can on Newton, and discuss him with the real experts — such as Caltech historian Mordechai Feingold, “a specialist in the history of 17th- and 18th- century science, [and] curator of the Newton exhibit…. [in 2005] at the Huntington Library in San Marino.”

    [excerpt from]

    The Newtonian Moment Arrives for Caltech Historian

    By Mark Wheeler

    There is an anecdote about Sir Isaac Newton–a true one–about the time he stuck a knife in his eye. Naturally it was all in the interest of science: Newton was studying the properties of light, and as he later wrote, “I took a bodkin [a type of dagger] and put it between my eye and the bone as near to the backside of my eye as I could, & pressing my eye with the end of it (so as to make the curvature in my eye) there appeared several white, dark and coloured circles. . .”

    The bizarre description goes on, and when considered in the context of his other peculiarities–his written confession about “Threatening my father and mother Smith to burne them and the house over them,” his reputation for aloof arrogance, his lifelong interest in alchemy (a popular medieval pursuit that, among other things, sought to transmute base metals into gold)–it’s led some to argue that Newton, in addition to being a brilliant scientist, was mad as a hatter.

    Of course this is the man who discovered the law of universal gravitation and planetary motion, invented calculus, and proved that white light is composed of a spectrum of colors. What does it matter if people think he was crazy?

    It matters, says Caltech’s Mordechai Feingold, because it “presents a distorted picture of the remarkable man that Newton actually was. Some people would indeed like to think that Newton was not a man of reason, but of madness and alchemy,” says the professor of history. “And there are indeed some anecdotes about him not eating, not sleeping, his hair staying unkempt.” Most of those examples, he says, stem from a single 18-month period when the protean scientist was writing his most important work, the Principia Mathematica. “Eighteen months,” says Feingold, “does not
    reflect his whole life.

    “Certainly Newton had his eccentricities,” he adds, “and he was a complex person. It’s difficult for us to conceive of someone with that kind of mind, a mind that thinks in different terms than you and I.

    “So he wasn’t like us, but he wasn’t a dejected, solitary, raving lunatic. He was like many professors at Caltech!” he laughs….”

    [truncated]

    Google the article title for more, all interesting.

  27. #27 Thony C.
    April 23, 2007

    “I took a bodkin [a type of dagger]”

    A bodkin is not a knife but a sewing needle, and Newton was definitely not mad. His interest in alchemy (Renaissance rather that Mediaeval) was shared by both Locke and Boyle and its philosophy was a driving force in his scientific theories, on this see the excellent books of Betty Jo Tucker-Dobbs. Mordechai Feingold’s work is also excellent.

  28. #28 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    April 23, 2007

    Thank you for “taking one for the team.” I’d prefer not to have my own eyes stabbed out with a rusty steak knife. It can be dangerous you know; chance of tetanus if you’re not up on your shots.

  29. #29 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 23, 2007

    Thanks Mark. I’m glad someone did it and I’m glad it wasn;t me. It’s exactly what I expected. His babbling and disjointed proofs as promotions of his book along with all the reasons we’ve been through on how keeping this info from the public shows his character fit right in with exactly how your review came out. He’s a sick Old Man and apparently he’s a nasty vile sick old man.

    I’ve spent far to much time at his blog reading his incoherent posts. I don’t think I’ll be returning. Thankfully neither of us had to actually pay for the book.

  30. #30 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    April 23, 2007

    Even in this short passage, it’s astonishing how much just plain wierd stuff he manages to throw in.

    Ha ha. That’s a weird spelling. It’s fair game to nitpick because you take the author to task for poor language skills.

  31. #31 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    April 23, 2007

    Mustafa:

    Absolutely. When I reread the post on sunday, I noticed a couple of errors (although, to be honest, I didn’t notice the “wierd” error). But given that I’m being so critical of George for his sloppy proofreading, it really wouldn’t be fair for me to go back and edit the post to correct mine. I deserve all of the abuse I get for it.

  32. #32 Jonathan Vos Post
    April 23, 2007

    I again completely with Thony C.

    There is an ambiguity:
    “Bodkin was a Renaissance term used to describe many different sharp instruments, but it makes the most sense here to assume Shakespeare meant a dagger.”

    The reference to Hamlet’s Soliloquy: To be, or not to be: that is the question (3.1.64-98) (this being the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth and death):

    … there’s the respect
    That makes calamity of so long life;
    For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
    The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
    The pangs of despis’d love, the law’s delay, (80)
    The insolence of office and the spurns
    That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
    When he himself might his quietus make
    With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
    To grunt and sweat under a weary life, (85)
    But that the dread of something after death,
    The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
    No traveller returns, puzzles the will
    And makes us rather bear those ills we have
    Than fly to others that we know not of?

    As to the key word PROOF in “The First Scientific Proof of God:” one might mention this, in a computational context perhaps on Mark CC’s wavelength:

    “… it is essential for there to be a common language and understanding. Standard mathematical definitions and algorithms serve as a vehicle of human communication. In constructivist terms, individuals may well understand and visualize their the concepts in their own private ways, but we all still have to learn to communicate our thoughts in a commonly accepted language.”
    [“Doing and Proving: The Place of Algorithms and Proofs in School Mathematics”, Kenneth A. Ross, The Ame3rican Mathematical Monthly, March 1998, pp.252-255, p.253.

  33. #33 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 23, 2007

    It isn’t surprising that persons in transitions, such as Newton, had their feet in both the old an the new. We all have, but it is more visible there.

    It is also hard to put oneself in the frame of mind of persons in history. So while we know more about the value of the ideas than the contemporaries, we have a harder time to judge the personality.

    Newton hypothesised that God would have to interfere in his creation from time to time

    Not an outlandish hypothesis at the time, since it turned out to take a long time to understand dynamics and short time stability (or lack of it) in planetary systems.

    I coughed hard enough to actually rupture my vocal cords.

    Ouch! I didn’t know one could do that. But that coughing hard can be painful (and lead to vomiting :-|) I learned when I had my first (and, I hope, last; both vaccines and antibiotics are improving) bout of whooping cough. So you have my heartfelt sympathies.

    Kea:

    Although my prejudices tell me that this guy is a raving lunatic, your review did nothing to convince me of this.

    Um, the book quote supports the “reads like a text written by someone suffering from serious brain damage” analysis. I don’t see where “raving lunatic” was mentioned.

    Topos theory (the foundational maths of generalised logic using diagram techniques) is fast becoming recognised as a promising tool to study Quantum Gravity

    I don’t know anything about topos theory (though I like the n-category café discussions and the presumed connections to computer science) but I see it defined as “a type of category that behaves like the category of sheaves of sets on a topological space”.

    Now, I wouldn’t kick topos theory out of hand, but it doesn’t seem to be much used by physicists. “I’ll warn you: despite Chris Isham’s work applying topos theory to the interpretation of quantum mechanics, and Anders Kock and Bill Lawvere’s work applying it to differential geometry and mechanics, topos theory hasn’t really caught on among physicists yet.” (April 12 2006, http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/topos.html )

    When I google “topos theory” with “string theory” I get mere 50 000 hits (of string theory 24 million or topos theory 430 000). In arxiv I get mere 60 hits on “topos” on the whole physics section, while I max out (more than 1000 hits) on “strings”.

    In both cases the top ones seems to be from the perspective of other approaches, that are based more on properties of topology and geometry than quantum physics. arxiv has 1 paper out of the 60 mentioning strings, from Isham on state-vector reduction.

    So I am wondering what basis you have for it being recognized in quantum gravity research at large?

  34. #34 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 23, 2007

    Kea:

    Somehow I edited away the text which motivated why I looked at string theory, and QG at large.

    String theory is the promising QG theory.

    The other theories haven’t complied with quantization and local Lorentz invariance (which both QM and GR, and so presumably QG does) so they are not promising AFAIK. If they were, I guess topos theory could be promising here in a non-general context.

  35. #35 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    April 23, 2007

    I coughed hard enough to actually rupture my vocal cords.

    Ouch! I didn’t know one could do that. But that coughing hard can be painful (and lead to vomiting :-|) I learned when I had my first (and, I hope, last; both vaccines and antibiotics are improving) bout of whooping cough. So you have my heartfelt sympathies.

    I didn’t know it was possible to do that either until I did :-). The vomiting thing is not a problem for me, because after my stomach surgery a few years ago, I’m no longer physically capable of vomiting. In general, that’s a very bad thing, but when you’re suffering from a cough like this, it’s sort-of good; at least I don’t have to worry about that.

    (My surgery is actually pretty interesting in its way. You take a person who has severe reflux, because the LES, the lower esophageal sphincter at the top of the stomach doesn’t close properly. So you take some of the tissue from stomach, and pull it up and wrap it around the LES, and tie it there. So there’s a sort of knot of stomach tissue wrapped around the LES just under the diaphram. Now, whenever there’s pressure in the stomach that could cause reflux, the pressure pushes that knot of tissue against the diaphram, which causes it to squeeze closed. Voila! A working LES.)

  36. #36 Thony C.
    April 23, 2007

    OED Bodkin:Blunt thick needle for drawing tape etc. through hem. This is exactly the instrument that is illustrated by Newton himself in his notes over the rather nasty experiment with his own eye. The page of his notebook is reproduced in Richard Westfall’s “Never at Rest:A Biography of Isaac Newton” page 95 paperback edition. But you are right a bodkin is also a dagger.

  37. #37 Ellen
    April 23, 2007

    Mark, you’ve been turned in!

    ROFLMAO. I used to visit Georgie’s blog but I couldn’t take the insanity any longer. Thanks for the review, although I would have been interested in more depth. Of course I’m assuming there was any to be had.

  38. #38 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 23, 2007

    the pressure pushes that knot of tissue against the diaphram, which causes it to squeeze closed. Voila! A working LES.)

    Wow, a one-way valve is improving natural function, I believe!

    For myself, I think growing up has improved immune defense and LES function (at least increased the pipe length against gravitational pull :-), so I’m not sure I would have the same problem if whooping cough would reoccur in spite of vaccine. (And someday I hope they make a more aggressive vaccine. Lifelong immunization is a possibility.)

  39. #39 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    April 23, 2007

    Actually, the LES when it functions normally is effectively a mostly one-way valve; and being able to make things go the other way when necessary is a good thing.

    For most people, a stomach virus is unpleasant; for me, a stomach virus is an almost unimaginably horrible thing. A few years ago, my wife and I went out to dinner for our anniversary, and we ordered oysters. I got a bad oyster, and came down with Norwalk virus, which is one of the more severe gastro bugs. My LES no longer allows me to vomit, but my reflexes don’t know that. So I ended up spending the entire night in front of a toilet, retching, because my body was determined to expel the nasty invaders. And then I spent the next two weeks pretty much in bed, because of all of the muscles that I’d pulled.

    On the other hand, if I hadn’t had the stomach surgery, I would almost certainly be dead of esophageal cancer by now. People with reflex as bad as I had usually wind up with esophageal cancer, and the survival rate of that is incredibly low. So all in all, it’s a more than fair trade.

  40. #40 Coin
    April 24, 2007

    String theory is the promising QG theory.

    The other theories haven’t complied with quantization and local Lorentz invariance (which both QM and GR, and so presumably QG does) so they are not promising AFAIK. If they were, I guess topos theory could be promising here in a non-general context.

    Torbjörn, I’m sorry to drag things off topic a bit, but could you maybe try to explain what exactly it means that Loop Quantum Gravity does not “comply with quantization”?

    Thanks.

    (Surprisingly, it turns out someone actually already went to the bother of writing a whole wikipedia article summarizing the Lorentz invariance related difficulties in LQG, so I won’t waste your time asking about that… :) )

  41. #41 Altabin
    April 24, 2007

    As much as I enjoy this blog (or, perhaps, because I enjoy this bolg) I have to say that spending so much time and energy in fisking a book by a mentally-ill person, with no influence or followers whatsoever, is demeaning to you. You need to let this go.

  42. #42 Coin
    April 24, 2007

    I have to say that spending so much time and energy in fisking a book by a mentally-ill person, with no influence or followers whatsoever, is demeaning to you.

    I’m going to take the contrary position and say that whether or not this review was a good use of Mark’s time, it was at least fascinating to read.

  43. #43 speedwell
    April 24, 2007

    Where there’s one crazy, there’s another one to agree with him. I don’t see any particular reason why the field examination of crazies need be considered a demeaning occupation.

  44. #44 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 24, 2007

    Torbjörn, I’m sorry to drag things off topic a bit, but could you maybe try to explain what exactly it means that Loop Quantum Gravity does not “comply with quantization”?

    Not really, since I can’t quantize. :-)

    But what I have gathered from others, LQG doesn’t do traditional quantization. Quantization (several kinds) have physical motivation.

    Canonical quantization of classical fields starts with the vacuum state, the lowest energy state.

    By introducing operators that creates (and removes) particles from the classical field, one can supposedly describe a quantized field with its particles. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canonical_quantization )

    As I understand it, LQG doesn’t have a lowest energy state. ( http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/string/archives/000299.html , LQG eq 6 compared to QFT eq 5.)

    So they use their own method of quantization, which ends up with something else than the usual Hilbert space.

    Actually I think they argue that the discrete geometry of their spin network states pretty much is the quantization. (By demanding commutation of constraints on the network, see the technical discussion following eq 1 ibid.)

    If so, I think they have completely transformed the usual beautiful picture of QM as the only theory capable of combining genuine continuous and discrete states into something ugly that approximates continuity. But I can be wrong.

    Some results seems to show that they have problems:

    First, as noted, they can’t check their result for local Lorentz invariance. Some claims since some formulations are traced from general relativity, they should fulfill this. But as I understand it, it isn’t certain that they fulfill GR.

    And in any case one must apparently specifically check after quantization for fulfilling SR, as QFT’s claims to do. Sometimes the resulting quantized theories needs adjustment or are discarded, I think.

    Second, allegedly they can’t produce a simple harmonic oscillator.

    Notes:
    1. Don’t take my word for it, though. Any and all of the above can be in error.
    2. Personally, I find the whole “spacetime geometrization” stuff peculiar. While Planck length is the minimum length we can observe for fundamental reasons, observables are continous down to these scales.

    Spacetime warped on small length scales or particles resolving into strings confined between branes I can swallow from a physics standpoint, making contact with previous results. Suddenly appearing discrete structures gets stuck in my throat.

    Frankly, it reminds me of creationists ‘magic species barrier’.

  45. #45 Coin
    April 24, 2007

    I see, thank you.

    (Just to clarify though, if you know– something you touched on and I’ve been wondering about. Is there any meaningful difference between saying something is “quantized” and saying that it is “discrete”? Would it be correct to say that any “quantized geometry” would be, by definition, a discrete one?)

  46. #46 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 24, 2007

    Is there any meaningful difference between saying something is “quantized” and saying that it is “discrete”?

    Ooops. Now you asked about QM, which I’m supposed to know a little bit about. :-)

    Unfortunately, my text books are outdated, and my work is only slightly related at best. I will do what I can.

    Classically (well, perhaps not so classically ;-) quanta was introduced as a means to explain blackbody spectra, by Planck of course. They were discrete energy units that placed his blackbody oscillator model into discrete states.

    Later Einstein found out from the photoelectric effect that light in fact can be seen as quantized particles. So here the quantum description is roughly discrete particles and discrete states.

    Later it was found that a quantum systems measurable state observables were several, such as position and momentum.

    In the Schrödinger picture (wavefunction) it is easy to see that boundedness (finite values) means discrete states, while unboundedness (practically: freedom) means continuous states. (Discrete, with some uncertainty introduced by finite state times.) There is a connection to the classical duality of discrete Fourier spectra describing continuous periodic signals and oscillators.

    So the emphasis shifted to quantization as satisfying the above requirement – boundedness introduces discrete values.

    Or more generally in QFT’s (which I haven’t looked at), quantization as a procedure seems to introduce the possibility of discrete states in a classical continuous field – the field as an infinite system of interacting particles instead of as an infinite number of dynamical quantities.

    In summary, a system that is quantized have both continuous and discrete states. To say that “quantized” means “discrete” is to miss the beauty and more importantly the basic fact that quantization combines both discreteness and continuity in a meaningful sense. (As a consequence of boundedness/unboundedness.)

    Would it be correct to say that any “quantized geometry” would be, by definition, a discrete one?)

    I think the idea is that spacetime is a property of general relativity, so it should be quantizable to make a theory that combines QM and gravity. And since spacetime has a geometric description in GR, it is quantization of geometry. Plus, Planck length suggests for some that spacetime is discrete at some scale.

    Well, it is generalizing the ordinary QM to quantize properties it doesn’t usually do. (Position is a property of spacetime, not spacetime itself.) Which is a problem, it seems.

    Assuming that it would work, it should have both discrete and continuous states. Perhaps the discrete states are seen at high energies/small scales, and the continuous at lower energies/larger scales. That may roughly be the idea.

  47. #47 Coin
    April 24, 2007

    That helps a lot, thanks.

  48. #48 quork
    April 26, 2007

    Prepare yourselves: More proof is on the way!
    Best-selling Author Will ‘Prove’ God’s Existence

    ABC to Air LIVE Atheist Debate with Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort

    ABC loved the idea, and will host a debate in New York City on May 5, 2007. Moderated by Martin Bashir, the debate will be streamed LIVE on their website and will also be filmed for “Nightline.”

    These are the folks behind the devestating banana and peanut butter videos, so expect some big time intellectual firepower.

  49. #49 Coin
    April 26, 2007

    Wow. Who’s Ray Comfort?

  50. #50 Coin
    April 26, 2007

    Oh, wait, no, I was confused. The quote made it sound at first like Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron were debating each other. Instead, Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron are together debating… um… who? “Atheists”? Is this actually a “debate”?

  51. #51 Robert O'Brien
    April 27, 2007

    What is wrong with you Mark? The man is 77 and he suffered a stroke.

  52. #52 Caledonian
    April 27, 2007

    What’s the matter, O’Brien? I thought you were interested in excavating shoddy argumentation, wherever it could be found, and exposing it to the light of day.

    At least this man’s 77 and has suffered a stroke. What’s your excuse?

  53. #53 Tim Rue
    April 28, 2007

    The argument between no-god and god is a human created attempt to separate that which in essence is symbiotic. There is fabrication on both sides to rationalize either sides bias.

    To use an analogy that is easier to grasp: the human created argument between pro-life and freedom of choice. These too, are symbiotic. and for anyone who has or wants to present doubt about this, that doubt can be exposed for the nothingness that it is by simply asking a starving child about his freedom of choice to live.

    Is there a “god”? Yes there is, however, this “god” is not what most people probably think it is or is not.

    Is this “god” existance provable via math? Not really, as this gets into the problem of trying to solve a language problem by creating another language, adding to the tower of babel problem.

    Paying attention Mark?

    Math does not grow on trees or exist in nature outside of conscious ability to formulate and use abstraction to …. communicate. A rock doesn’t know about abstraction, nor does a tree or most living creatures.

    Math is a subset of abstraction. Abstraction includes all human languages, including programming languages.

    However there are the underlying actions that enables us to create abstractions and manipulate them. The action set is constant and even translates to non-conscious levels of life and physics.

    Abstractions can be distorted for use in deception, distractions and detours. This can be considered the down side of abstraction, but it can also be used for entertainment, etc..

    If everyone had mind reading ability then the languages we use would more clearly be exposed for the limitations and constraints in thinking, they contain.

    An example of such limitation is the roman numeral symbol system, unable to do advanced math, yet it survived some 300 years after the hundu-arabic decimal system, with it nothing can have value zero place holder, was introduced. Considering how much easier and more powerful the decimal system is over the roman numeral system, one must question why it took so long for the transition.

    What mental distortions did man have that caused the delay?

    What mental distortions do we have today that prevent the faster acceptance of Abstraction Physics?

    On the topic of “god” and proof. Symbiotic indeed!
    We create and advance our knowledge (what exist in conscious abstraction) and technology to enable ourselves to have greater control over what exist in existance. Even today we can manipulate genetics to create new and different than has ever existed known forms of life. Project this forward and the day can come when we understand physics enough to perhaps collapse a gravity cell to cause a big bang and a whole new galaxy.

    Why would we do this is simple. It all comes down to survival, the survival of consciousness. If you are all that exist, how will you know you will continue to exist unless you are expanding, growing?

    Perhaps it all began with nothing splitting in half into the awareness/consciousness of existance and all that can exist in it (consciousness and existance).

    Analogies and Metaphors are used to extend the limitations of a language but can also be distorted or not understood as intended.

    But to understand Abstraction Physics, the ultimate question to ask regarding an abstract communication, is whether or not it honestly gets you to where you want to go.

    Play a con to get something from someone. Does it get you to where you wanted to go? Did it get them to where they wanted to go?

    Computer Programming is an art of abstraction creation and manipulation. But the way it is applied today is in analogy like applying roman numerals for math calculation.

    And only a fool would think nothing can have value…..(easy good sounding deception to suppress the general population mental understanding and use of the zero place holder – protecting the roman numeral elite accountant and their financial and social position).
    Sound familiar?

    What happens if abstraction physics becomes widely understood, where people can much more easily see past abstract deceptions?

    As a methphor one might explain it as though an angel came forth with a key to the bottomless pit, to throw the beast into the pit and lock the beast away. The beast of course being man abstract deceptions.

    Father physics and mother nature are the parents of man. man cannot deny them without suffering the consequences, but to work in accord with them…. well deception, abstract or otherwise, is not working in accord with ….. survival and growth of what exist in existance and in consciousness.

    Whether or not “god” exist debate is really nothing more than a deception of creating a problem that does not actually exist. And that is where proof will be found. A simple matter of consciousness.

  54. #54 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 28, 2007

    Shorter Tim Rue:

    ‘Gods exists because we can observe consciousness.’

    Well, observing consciousness in humans and animals shows that consciousness exist. But not much more. :-)

    Now, I don’t know how to show that there are no gods with a testable theory. (I’m pretty confident that we can show that there are no miracles around, however.)

    But if inference is enough (as for bayesians), we have the following argument why the universe is natural:

    P(N|T&D) > P(N|D), where N = Natural universe, T = natural Theory, D = observed Data; i.e. each time we can explain data with a natural theory the probability that the universe is natural increases.

    This oneliner is a reasonable perspective to Schollenberger’s book and similar speculations. It is also free of charge. ;-)

  55. #55 Robert O'Brien
    April 29, 2007

    What’s the matter, O’Brien? I thought you were interested in excavating shoddy argumentation, wherever it could be found, and exposing it to the light of day.

    I do not support attacking an old man who has suffered brain damage.

    As for you, Caledonian, your internet sophistry is only slightly less inchoate.

  56. #56 Tim Rue
    April 29, 2007

    A corrected shorter version of Tim Rues comment:

    As freedom of choice and right to life are the same inseparatable matter, so is god and consciousness. Though many don’t know the difference between consciousness from that of being awake and self aware, there is a difference.

    And as science has recognized, you cannot prove a negative, i.e. that god does NOT exist. To try and do so would be an effort to be self defeating. To know the future and be able to stop something bad from happening, if you do so then did you really know the future, or are you just crazy to think you did? Or how would you prove it, that you did change the future?

    T. Larsson,
    For fun, describe the natural events that explain, without miracles: the floating axe head, feeding the multitude, water to wine, walking on water, the events of the exodus, etc..

    One person responded to my common sense description that she did not believe god would violate the physical and natural laws he/she created, in order to make a miracle happen. (I suppose that would be cheating or a double standard- if they did).

  57. #57 Torbjörn Larsson
    May 1, 2007

    Tim:

    I don’t usually argue with people who has made their mind up.

    But for the innocent bystanders I can at least point out the incorrect science. But it is all I can do – for example, discussing unsupported miracles as if they really happened is crazy thinking.

    Though many don’t know the difference between consciousness from that of being awake and self aware, there is a difference.

    Consciousness is studied by neuroscience. There is yet no complete description.

    Self awareness is certainly considered to be part of a conscious mind. Sleep is an irrelevant (here) epiphenomena.

    as science has recognized, you cannot prove a negative

    I have no idea why some people say that. If they knew science, they would know better.

    Science routinely show negatives, and can conclude universal negatives from theories. In fact, science progresses by showing negatives, i.e. by falsifying theories that doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter whether we are discussing negatives of facts, nonexistence of objects, or nonexistence of theories; science does it all.

    To know the future and be able to stop something bad from happening, if you do so then did you really know the future, or are you just crazy to think you did?

    This is incoherent, but it could be a suggestion that theories doesn’t lend trust. But they do – observations and hypothesis testing on stationary processes means that we can elevate from belief in unsupported faith to knowledge of supported trust.

  58. #58 Jonathan Vos Post
    May 1, 2007

    The classical atheist position on the “Problem of Evil” is nicely structured as a 2×2 Boolean table by Lactantius [c. 240-320] quoting Epicurus, as translated by William Dyrness, “Christian Apologetics
    in a World Community”, Downer’s Grove, IL:
    InterVarsity, 1983, p.153:

    “God either wishes to take away evils, and is unable;
    or he is able and unwilling;
    or he is neither willing nor able;
    or he is both willing and able.
    If he is willing and unable, he is feeble, which is not in accordance with the character of God;
    if he is able and unwilling, he is envious, which is equally at variance with God;
    if he is neither willing nor able he is both envious and feeble and therefore not God;
    if he is both willing and able, which alone is suitable to God, from what source then are evils? or why does he not remove them?”

    I was reminded of this argument by “The Lion, the Witch, and the Bible: Good and Evil in the Classic Tales of C.S. Lewis”, Robert Velarde, Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005, p.23.

    I am a scientist. I am not a Christian. I bought this because C.S. Lewis is, to me, an interesting Fantasy/Science Fiction author, albeit second-rate compared to Tolkien, because Lewis is trying to seduce
    readers into his version of Christianity, whereas Tolkien clearly doesn’t care what the readers believe.

    It seems likely to me that PZ Myers considers all religion to be Fairy Tales, which is a perfectly self-consistent position. Epicurus, because of his explicit belief in Democritus’ Atomism, is a
    philosophical predecessor of modern atheist Science.

    C.S. Lewis, in “Out of the Silent Planet” — the 3rd book of the Perelandra trilogy — is clearly making a cruel characature of H. G. Wells as the bloviating atheist scientist front-man for the satanic “macrobe” in the talking severed head.

  59. #59 Tim Rue
    May 3, 2007

    Can god be proven to exist via mathematics? No, because mathematics is an abstraction and even if god were just an abstraction created by man, the man created abstraction of math cannot prove or disprove the existance of another abstraction. The fact that another abstraction is conceived is enough to prove the existance of itself.

    As to science proving a negative, have at it, prove god doesn’t exist.

    Where are the common sense explanations of events described in the religions books? Events described as miracles, as you say there are none.

    Perhaps you were just make believing, as in creating abstraction sequences that sound good?

  60. #60 Norm Breyfogle
    May 28, 2007

    Tim Rue:

    You kinda had my attention until you started equating mythology as hard scientific and historical fact.

    At first I thought you were pointing to a God that exists translogically, metaphorically, and transcendentally as ALL of subjective/objective existence/conscousness (which is a valid poetical pov), but apparently you’re instead conflating your absolutist metaphors with scientific proof/probability.

    Off to the dustbin of superstitious incoherence with you.

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