Pharyngula

Somebody want these?

I shouldn’t hog all the kooks — there are plenty to go around.

Comments

  1. #1 Blake Stacey
    December 5, 2007

    First paragraph of anti-Einstein kookery:

    Many notable scientists such as the French mathematician, Henri Poincare rejected Einstein’s Theory of Relativity due to it’s lack of sound mathematical procedures, absence of clearness of vision or rigorous arguments.

    And I reject this because of its blatant ignorance of history, mathematics and proper apostrophe usage.

  2. #2 gg
    December 5, 2007

    “Any physicists or mathematicians want to tackle this argument against special relativity?”

    Oh, I’m so going to blog about this…

    Blake: Well put!

  3. #3 Mike
    December 5, 2007

    So, the fact that GPS systems need to be corrected for special relativity, that’s just the “absence of clearness of vision (and) rigorous argument”?

    So. Many. Stupid. People.

  4. #4 Brownian, OM
    December 5, 2007

    If relativity is supposedly truer than Newtonian physics, how come we still have apples?

  5. #5 Ric
    December 5, 2007

    Yeah, the first guy does seem a bit… misguided. Zeno’s Paradox was long ago debunked as being an actual paradox, and not because it mixed “mathematical and physical” but rather because if you divide a finite distance infinitely, the pieces just get infinitely small; the distance doesn’t actually grow, and when you put the pieces back together you still have the same amount of distance you had in the first place. You don’t have infinite distance. Problem solved.

  6. #6 Physicalist
    December 5, 2007

    Ah, what fun! But no time to play, I’m afraid. Ya just gotta love it, though:

    In Relativity, there are no rigorous mathematical models. There are no relevant physical models which can be tested experimentally. (Real trains don’t travel at the speed of light . . .)

    Heh! Check at your local particle accelerator to see if they ever get particles going faster than light. Ask how much mass those electrons going .99999 times the speed of light have. Oh, the stupid!

    You get crazies attacking special relativity for some of the same reasons you get them attacking evolution: the theory is simple enough that it can be explained to the average person. But then when they don’t quite understand it, they think the contradiction lies in the theory itself and not in their understanding. What they won’t admit to themselves is that they just don’t understand the science.

  7. #7 Leukocyte
    December 5, 2007

    He only lists two experiments in support of relativity and dismisses them as “biased” (sounds like ID rhetoric)… but even my limited experience in physics (a couple of C’s in undergraduate physics I and II) brings to mind a couple more: I’m pretty certain that some planes flew two atomic clocks in different directions around the planet and found a difference between the two, as predicted by relativity. And didn’t someone find that the speed of light did not change with the speed of the emitter before Einstein even wrote his papers?

    What motivates these denialists? I really don’t get this kind of behavior. Creationism obviously comes from purely religious motives, but this “relativity-denialist” doesn’t seem particularly religious, nor do the 9/11 conspiracists, anti-vaccinationists, or AIDS deniers. What’s the appeal? Do these people just like being contrary? I’d seriously like to see some psych research dollars poured into investigating this behavior.

  8. #8 Jobo
    December 5, 2007

    I did not see the need to read further than “There are no relevant physical models [for relativity] which can be tested experimentally.”

  9. #9 Blake Stacey
    December 5, 2007

    Continuing on:

    In Relativity, there are no rigorous mathematical models.

    False. Hasn’t this “Darrell Williams” person ever heard of symmetry groups, Lorentz invariance or, well, anything else in the sophisticated mathematical construction developed from Einstein’s starting point?

    There are no relevant physical models which can be tested experimentally. (Real trains don’t travel at the speed of light and apparently no one has yet created a Time Machine, like H. G. Wells imagined). In Relativity, all conclusions are derived strictly from imaginary metaphysical models. Einstein did not conduct any physical experiments.

    False. You don’t have to travel at the speed of light, only close enough to it. In fact, with a precise enough clock, you don’t have to travel any faster than an airplane, as demonstrated by flying atomic clocks on airplanes. Particle accelerators use relativity every day: you don’t have to push an electron or an ion all the way to light speed (that’s impossible), but you can certainly get it going fast enough that relativistic effects matter. At MIT, we did this in our junior-year laboratory class, using electrons spat out of a radioactive source, bent into a curving trajectory using a magnetic field.

    Oh, and magnetism is also a relativistic effect: a magnetic field is the Lorentz transform of an electric field.

    Let’s see, what else is wrong with this article, besides, well, everything. . . .

    He mis-represents the truth about the 1919 solar-eclipse observation, and then he follows that up with mis-representing the truth about the perihelion of Mercury. We don’t need to know the composition of the Sun and planets to figure out how strong their gravitational pulls will be (gravity doesn’t depend upon chemical composition). We can measure masses because, for crying out loud, we can send probes to these planets and swing them around in gravitational slingshot maneuvers — you can’t play cosmic billiards if your knowledge of gravity is fundamentally wrong! We can get pictures back from Cassini and land robots to drive around on Mars, so I think our understanding of planetary masses is pretty darn good.

    The 1919 solar eclipse experiment only demonstrated the validity of the Quantum theory, it did not verify the Relativity theory and it did not invalidate Newton’s laws.

    No, it definitively ruled out Newtonian behavior. Look up the actual history. And why are you dragging “quantum theory” into this? Eddington’s 1919 eclipse expedition had nothing to do with quantum mechanics.

    During the eclipse, the light followed a curved path due to the gravitational field of the Sun, making it appear in a shifted position different from where it was known to be. This only demonstrated that light has some of the characteristics of mass, which is the fundamental premise of the Quantum theory.

    No! No no no!

    I can only guess that Darrell Williams absorbed some kind of pop-science version of quantum physics. He reads that “light is both a wave and a particle”, and he equates “particle” with “mass”. But the most trivial knowledge of actual physics informs us that photons are massless.

    Let me say that again, for those in the back row: photons are massless. They have no mass. Their mass is not pinin’ for the fjords. It is non-existent.

    However, the Big Bang theory implies that there is a fixed (Central) frame of reference in the Universe. This fixed frame of reference for all (Absolute) motion is the physical location of the Big Bang. It is the location from which all universal expansion began.

    Again, no no no no no!

    The Big Bang happened everywhere. All points in the Universe are equally the center of the universal expansion. The standard analogy for this “metric expansion of space” is as follows: imagine a balloon, and draw a speckling of dots across its surface. Those are the galaxies. Inflate the balloon, and the dots move apart; that’s the Universe expanding. An observer standing on any random dot will see the same situation, and feel justified in calling himself the center of the expansion. Take some air out, and the dots move closer together. If you took all the air out of a perfectly elastic balloon, the dots would all come together. No unique center exists.

  10. #10 gg
    December 5, 2007

    For me, the kicker is:

    1. The deductive conclusions from the abstract math model cannot be applied to the physical model. To do this, produces the fallacy of analogy abuse. Analogies are used in science to help convey ideas, not to form judgments or inferences.

    2. Also because of this difference, the two types of models cannot be mixed or mingled. This only produces metaphysical, sophistical, pseudoscience models which have nothing to do with reality and produce no physical conclusions whatsoever. Metaphors and allegories are literary devices not appropriate in scientific theories.

    Maybe I’m reading this too hastily, but apparently the author is saying that one cannot use mathematics to explain the physical world! I know a lot of physicists (myself included) who would be surprised to hear this, especially having predicted new physical effects using ‘abstract math’.

  11. #11 xebecs
    December 5, 2007

    I heard Mr. Eric H. Cline (author of the second-linked piece)
    speak at the National Geographic Society in D.C. a couple of months ago. He sounded very reasonable, but he shared the stage with two oh-so-sincere Christians who seemed to feel that the only thing wrong with the crackpots was that they were wrong in the particulars of their claims.

  12. #12 Sarcastro
    December 5, 2007

    Yow, lots of physicists here. I’m no archaeologist but I am a historian of the period and the only thing in that article I’d take issue with is:

    It is not religious views that are the issue here; it is whether good science is being done. Biblical archeology is a field in which people of good will, and all religions, can join under the banner of the scientific process.

    It IS religious views that are the issue here, just not ALL religious views. Fundamentalist literalism – of any religion, but especially the monotheistic megafaiths – is not and never will be compatible with scientific inquiry.

    Of course one may well interpret “of good will” to sideline the fundy maniacs.

  13. #13 Lykourgos
    December 5, 2007

    I’m only an undergraduate physics major, so perhaps Plait over at BA or one of the people at Cosmic Variance will do a better job of debunking than me.

    But the author of the article is clueless. First of all, both SR and GR have been verified in many ways. Briefly, for SR:
    1. We put clocks on airplanes and flew them around long enough to measure time dilation

    2.We measured the lifetime of fast-moving particles in frames with different velocities.

    For GR
    1.We measured the (unexplainable in Newtonian gravity) precession of Mercury’s orbit

    2.We observed the bending of light in gravitational fields, called gravitational lensing and

    3. We observed in a binary pulsar system the loss of energy due to the emission of gravitational waves.

    These are just the experimental confirmations off the top of my head- Wikipedia lists others. I’ll mention that I personally have observed muon decay at the Earth’s surface (you can do it with a cheap spark chamber and some fast timing electronics), which would be impossible without time dilation; the muon wouldn’t make it down to the surface.

    He also mentions the EPR “paradox”, which was Einstein showing that QM, not GR, predicted some crazy stuff; this stuff has recently been shown to occur. This does not constitute an argument against relativity.

    He also argues that GR is not consistent with quantum mechanics. This is true; but both theories are extremely well-verified experimentally. Hence string theory and theories of quantum gravity; I’m out of my depth here, but this is the sort of thing (along with not finding the Higgs and the whole dark energy thing) that causes modern physicists to tear their hair out.

    The bulk of the article, though, appears to be claiming that mathematical models should never be used to predict physical phenomena. You’re probably more qualified to debunk that than I am, PZ. Yes we use mathematical abstractions such as point particles to predict real world phenomena, but the prove of a scientific theory is in the pudding.

  14. #14 Blondin
    December 5, 2007

    “The standard analogy for this “metric expansion of space” is as follows: imagine a balloon, and draw a speckling of dots across its surface. Those are the galaxies.”

    I’ve always preferred the “raisins in a loaf of raisin bread” analogy myself…

  15. #15 thadd
    December 5, 2007

    As an archaeologist specializing in Biblical era Syria-Palestine, I can tell you the second article is pretty good, but it fails to take it far enough. The author targets amateurs too much, and doesn’t stick it to the professionals that pull the same crap.
    James Tabor is Chair of the UNC Charlotte Religious Studies Dept, but in the introduction to one book, he attributes Jesus’ burial to two different tombs he worked on (of course after spending pages discussing his desire to feel a connection to the JC).
    People like him get into it for crappy religious reasons, then it stains their work irreparably.

  16. #16 Blake Stacey
    December 5, 2007

    Continuing on with gg‘s theme, I’d like to call “fuckwit” on this part of the anti-Einstein diatribe:

    Analogies are used in science to help convey ideas, not to form judgments or inferences.

    Fuckwit.

    An analogy is a perfectly valid way of producing inferences and making predictions. “X is like Y, so because X has property A, Y will have a property corresponding to A.” Any given analogy may be faulty (perhaps the resemblance between X and Y is not as great as advertised), but the technique of reasoning by analogy is valid.

    Did you know that an atom of a heavy element such as a rare earth is like a white dwarf star? Yes, rare-earth atom is to white dwarf star as electrostatic attraction is to gravity. In each case, Pauli exclusion pressure is holding a system up against an attractive force. Something is pulling a whole lot of electrons together, but something in the quantum character of electrons makes them not wanna get close — and you can express this quantitatively, using the same model in both circumstances to make verifiable predictions about two radically different objects, an atom and a dead sun.

  17. #17 Jamie
    December 5, 2007

    Yeah, the predictions of special relativity are verified in particle accelerators every day. Special relativity is no longer open to dispute; it’s elementary physics. Because of the theory’s sparsity of assumptions, one has great difficulty seeing how it could possibly be any way mistaken. All we require is the constancy of the speed of light and the relativity postulate. Both seem pretty much unassailable.

  18. #18 Blake Stacey
    December 5, 2007

    Lykourgos reminds me that I forgot to mention muon decay (that’s another Junior Lab experiment, incidentally), gravitational lensing (now so well understood that it’s become a tool for finding other things) and the gravitational redshift of light. That last one is an experimental test of general relativity which can be done within a building, thanks to the Mössbauer Effect. Pound and Rebka used this to verify Einstein’s theory to within 1% by 1964, and the agreement has only gotten better since.

  19. #19 JimC
    December 5, 2007

    People like him get into it for crappy religious reasons, then it stains their work irreparably.

    This is pretty much my feeling as well. They enter with an interest in the science but ultimately the religion angle wears about the scholar in many of them. Happened to some of the fellows at the DI also.

  20. #20 J-Dog
    December 5, 2007

    I nominate Blake Stacey, and Post #9 for December Molley Award. The post was clear and concise, and had a Monty Python reference in it, so it was all good.

  21. #21 negentropyeater
    December 5, 2007

    What is the level of this guy ? High School physics or what ?

    I mean, the title, please : “was Einstein wrong about Special relativity ?”

    Of course he was “wrong”. Einstein was the first to know that, he knew the limitations of SR, and that’s why he worked so hard on GR.

    He mixes up everything, nobody claims that the results obtained on the perihelion of Mercury prove GR. It’s just that the theory makes a far more precise prediction than the classical result.
    One plugs the same (approximated) mass of the sun in both models and one has a delta with observations of 43.5″ (classical), the other one (GR) 0.3″. From this we deduct that GR is an improvement over classical. The fact that the mass of the sun is only an aproximation doesn’t matter (we know that !) as the same approximation is used in both models. And , numerous further observations since then on other objects have shown that, as predicted, the improvement on the precision gets much bigger when the objects ares moving much faster than Mercury orbits around the Sun. Always better, so there must me something “interesting” with that theory…

    And the rest, is just, plain Dumb.

  22. #22 Carl Buell
    December 5, 2007

    As one of those in the math and physics metaphorical “back row” (at least here among Pharyngula readers) thank you Blake! and…”pinin” for the fjords”… priceless.

  23. #23 Blake Stacey
    December 5, 2007

    Turning to the second, much nicer article, I should air some quibbles:

    And they have found, most recently, a mention of the House of David in an inscription from northern Israel dating to the ninth century B.C.

    This is, AFAIK, a contested discovery. That portion of the Tel Dan Stele may also be translated as a place-name.

  24. #24 Mike
    December 5, 2007

    Re: analogies in science.

    IMHO as an active scientist, analogy is BY FAR the best way to explain science to a lay audience. But more importantly, it is also the best way to understand science, even for the scientist. I couldn’t have thought my way through my Ph.D. without them.

    If you read any of Dawkins’ books, you can see how he uses analogies at will, but always with the caveat that we must check every once in a while to see that our analogy has not strayed too far from reality. When it does so, we discard the analogy and use a new one.

    Analogy is a perfectly valid tool of the scientist; in fact, I’d argue that it is amongst the MOST valuable.

  25. #25 Tony Popple
    December 5, 2007

    I am over a decade removed from my exposure to relativity, but there is one thing that I am inclined to believe about his approach.

    He has taken a page from the creationist playbook. He can not present an argument that will stand up against our current understanding, so he has “turned back the clock”. Creationists have a long practice of ignoring modern biology and dwelling on the actions, beliefs or character of Charles Darwin. Likewise, this guy seems to think that he can invalidate relativity by down-grading Albert Einstein.

    For some people, the last hundred years of scientific research just doesn’t exist.

  26. #26 Scooty Puff Jr.
    December 5, 2007

    Completely off-topic, but I always feel a little smug about being a computer scientist when this crackpottery — is this a word? If not, it ought to be — surfaces. Oh sure, I have to listen to inane rants about getting duped into installing trojan horses and how Bill Gates is, like, totally the devil and all that. But I never get told that my belief that P ? NP is going to land me in a fiery pit for all eternity. Mind you, the whole godless homosexual liberal thing tends to make up for that.

    Which is all part of my roundabout way of saying, “thank you. Thank you, biologists and physicists, for dealing with these nutjobs so the rest of us don’t have to. Your fellow countrymen in the reality-based community are completely in your debt.”

  27. #27 PatF in Madison
    December 5, 2007

    Before we go nuclear on this article we might want to look at some of this fellows other writings. They are quite critical of Bush and the right wing evangelical movement. For example, in the article “Religious Fundamentalism, Religious Wars and Cockroaches”, Williams says:

    “Instead of being a democratic system of government, a more accurate designation of the present U.S. administration, would be a Republican Christian Monarchy. Depending upon how much political power the religious right wing of the Republican Party has over the Executive, it might also be designated a Republican Christian Theocracy.”

    The point is that he is not the usual fundie crackpot that this site deals with. He is correct about some of the problems that exist when applying mathematical models to physics. The problem with this article is that he has picked the wrong physical theory to go after. If he really wants to criticize the application of Mathematics to reality, he should take on something else. String theory comes to mind, but I am sure someone else can find some another physical theory where the mathematics is or has been applied quite badly. Relativity, however, has a lot of things going for it. In particular, it has more recent evidence than Williams discusses in his article. (I think the GPS satellites use relativistic corrections to make their calculations come out correctly. The Manhattan project showed that E=Mc^2 was a pretty good equation.) He should have considered articles more recent than 1920.

    It is also not entirely clear that Einstein was correct in each and every detail. He was probably wrong in his criticisms of quantum theory. (Probably wrong? Quantum theory? Einstein? Get it? Too subtle for you, huh?) On the other hand, Einstein almost certainly had the big picture correct about relativity. The best way someone can overturn that theory is to find a way to exceed the speed of light. I, for one, will not hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

    The point is that we can disagree with Williams and think he is dead wrong – that’s happened with lots of reasonable people. However, I don’t think he deserves the sort of treatment this board gives to scientific charlatans such as the Discovery Institute.

    We now return you to your regularly scheduled DI bashing.

    –PatF in Madison

  28. #28 thadd
    December 5, 2007

    “Which is all part of my roundabout way of saying, “thank you. Thank you, biologists and physicists, for dealing with these nutjobs so the rest of us don’t have to. Your fellow countrymen in the reality-based community are completely in your debt.”

    I got my degree in CS, and promptly turned around to work on my PHD in Iron Age Syria-Palestine, so I guess I seek out the BS.
    Though, I remember there being quite a few crackpot professors at RU, and very few who understood the English language, so that may have helped push me.

  29. #29 Leon
    December 5, 2007

    That outrage one looks really good!

  30. #30 Blake Stacey
    December 5, 2007

    Another problem with our anti-Einstein loonball: Henri Poincaré was in fact a co-discoverer of special relativity. Along with Hendrik Lorentz, he made several of the key conceptual breakthroughs which led to our full understanding of SR; Einstein worked independently of Poincaré, and with a different “style”. Poincaré figured out the rule for adding velocities in relativity, and he realized how important it was that the transformations in the theory form a group. This insight was the first flagstone in the mathematical structure built upon relativity; we still speak of the “Lorentz group” and “Poincaré group”. In his search for a smack-down against Einstein, Darrell Williams fumbles the history of the science, and reveals his ignorance of mathematics.

  31. #31 zohn
    December 5, 2007

    PatF@#27, Regardless of what he says or does elsewhere and no matter how sane or correct he is in those other places, they don’t count. This article on special relativity deserves the thorough bashing it is getting. And unless he realizes what mistakes he’s done and takes action to correct them, he’s a fool.

  32. #32 Blake Stacey
    December 5, 2007

    Before we go nuclear on this article we might want to look at some of this fellows other writings. They are quite critical of Bush and the right wing evangelical movement.

    So? Factual errors are factual errors. Deepak Chopra has been critical of Bush, but that doesn’t earn him a free pass to spew his quantum woo.

  33. #33 Tulse
    December 5, 2007

    Scooty Puff Jr., don’t get too smug about Comp. Sci., as it’s a target of fundamentalists as well:

    The real operating system hiding under the newest version of the Macintosh operating system (MacOS X) is called… Darwin! That’s right, new Macs are based on Darwinism! [...] Darwin OS is not the original creation of Apple Computers but is instead based off of an older, obsolete OS called “BSD Unix”. The child-indoctrinatingly-cute cartoon mascot of this OS is a devil holding a pitchfork. This OS — and its Darwin offspring — extensively use what are called “daemons” [...] If you are using a new Macintosh running OS X then you probably have these “daemons” on your computer, hardly something a good Christian would want! This clearly illustrates that not only is Macintosh based on Darwinism, but Darwinism is based on Satanism. [...] The new MacOS X contains another Satanic holdover from the “BSD Unix” OS mentioned above; to open up certain locked files one has to run a program much like the DOS prompt in Microsoft Windows and type in a secret code: “chmod 666″. What other horrors lurk in this thing?

    Sadly, these days parody is so close to reality that it’s not that funny anymore.

  34. #34 Dustin
    December 5, 2007

    The 1919 solar eclipse experiment only demonstrated the validity of the Quantum theory, it did not verify the Relativity theory and it did not invalidate Newton’s laws. During the eclipse, the light followed a curved path due to the gravitational field of the Sun, making it appear in a shifted position different from where it was known to be. This only demonstrated that light has some of the characteristics of mass, which is the fundamental premise of the Quantum theory.

    Blake said something to “Mrs. D” a while back that is applicable here. When a relativity denialist says that “time doesn’t slow down, only clocks slow down”, they’re ignoring, in essence, the definition of time. The same thing is happening here. The geometry of spacetime is assigned by the Lorentz metric which itself has everything to do with the way matter is distributed. Space is warped in the GR sense because space in GR is defined as the relationship between physical objects and their behavior, and every single test which we could ever perform with those objects will tell us that space is curved. The author seems to have this substantivist view of space, so that’s probably why he’s having some difficulty here. His accusations of metaphysics are ironic because, IMO, the relationalist view has fewer ontological commitments than the substantivist view of space.

    The polemic against metaphysics isn’t very useful, anyhow. As with any physical theory, there is nothing in the theory of relativity which demands a metaphysical interpretation and attempts at reification of a theory, though fallacious, are typically harmless because they don’t tend to be applicable in any way (an exception to this is the deluge of papers written from a many-worlds standpoint). For example, it doesn’t matter whether I really believe a photon “samples every path” before picking the one which minimizes its action, since regardless of the ontology I ascribe to the formalism, the formalism still describes the results of experiment. It does not matter whether a physicist thinks E and B fields are real, or just convenient mental constructs.

    Furthermore, I fear that this author does not have any kind of understanding of the relationship between special relativity and the general theory, or special relativity at all, for that matter. If he understood it, he wouldn’t have written:

    Einstein’s observation that the speed of light is constant was probably correct, but without a fixed frame of reference, there is nothing for it to be constant in relation to. A velocity must be motion relative to something else.

    Special relativity doesn’t work that way. This is exactly the kind of thing creationists do when they try to quote the Second Law of Thermodynamics — they leave out part of the hypothesis or conditions. I’ll help him out:

    The speed of light c is a universal constant, the same in any inertial frame.

    See? It is relative to the frame of reference, numbnuts.

    That article was a gold mine of stupid. I may come back to it later today.

  35. #35 Rheinhard
    December 5, 2007

    MS in Physics here, currently working on software for space systems (first Shuttle now GPS). I couldn’t get past this sentence from the physics crackpot:

    GENERAL RELATIVITY which offers an alternative theory of gravity (from Newton’s) and the SPECIAL THEORY which deals with the equivalence of mass and energy (E=mc2) and theoretical ideas describing the relationship between matter, time and space.

    While it’s more or less true that general relativity deals with an “alternative theory of gravity” it’s better said that it considers the problem of acceleration in general, and the equivalence principle, that there is no discernible difference between being in a gravitational field and acceleration due to some other outside force. But that has to be the worst description of special relativity I’ve ever seen. Special relativity considers how different observers moving at different velocities (constant, not accelerating) would observe the same events. From considerations arising out of basic consistency, one arrives at the conclusion that the passage of time appears to slow for a moving observer, etc.

  36. #36 Rey Fox
    December 5, 2007

    “The standard analogy for this “metric expansion of space” is as follows: imagine a balloon, and draw a speckling of dots across its surface. Those are the galaxies.”

    I’ve always preferred the “raisins in a loaf of raisin bread” analogy myself…

    Yeah, but the trouble is that both objects have outer bounds, and therefore have a physical center, so why wouldn’t the universe have one (unless, perhaps, it’s infinite?). I’d appreciate if someone were to hold my hand and explain this.

  37. #37 negentropyeater
    December 5, 2007

    All in all, he doesn’t understand the difference between mathematics and empirical science.
    Physics makes use of mathematical models to verify or predict empirical results. Of course, the mathematical objects used in the models do not exist in reality. They are always approximations, but it’s about finding those models and approximations that work best when compared with experiments. Physics is never “proven” to be right in the mathematical sense.
    That’s his “tiny” misunderstanding. And it’s everywhere in what he writes, every single fucking argument stems from the same basic “tiny” misunderstanding.
    He probably got it wrong when he was 15 or 16 and has not improved since then.

  38. #38 PatF in Madison
    December 5, 2007

    Zohn@#31

    “PatF@#27, Regardless of what he says or does elsewhere and no matter how sane or correct he is in those other places, they don’t count. This article on special relativity deserves the thorough bashing it is getting. And unless he realizes what mistakes he’s done and takes action to correct them, he’s a fool.”

    Blake Stacey @ #32
    “So? Factual errors are factual errors. Deepak Chopra has been critical of Bush, but that doesn’t earn him a free pass to spew his quantum woo.”

    I disagree completely. One of the great things about science is that people can make mistakes and not get hit by ultra-personal attacks as sometimes happens in other subjects. I once had an English teacher who could go ballistic when someone mixed up “its” and “it’s” and drive everybody into whatever bunker was nearby. This did not help in understanding English grammar and made me very happy to retreat to my mathematics books.

    We need to distinguish between people who make mistakes and those who have power hungry agendas and wish to impose those agendas on everybody else. I see Williams as wrong but not having an agenda. Engaging in personal attacks – such as calling someone a “loonball” – is not the way to treat this instance. Arguing that the writer has made some fundamental errors is.

    –PatF in madison

  39. #39 Scott
    December 5, 2007

    I don’t know if it applies to this Williams guy in particular, but usually when someone claims that Einstein was wrong, the real reason is because Einstein was Jewish. Anti-semites will argue that some parts of relativity are just plain wrong, and the parts they can’t argue are wrong they’ll say Einstein stole from Lorentz.

  40. #40 Christianjb
    December 5, 2007

    I suspect this diatribe is motivated by a rejection of ‘Jewish science’ and an attempt to find a way of explaining the speed of light question for a 6000 year old universe.

    What’s the ‘American Chronicle’?

  41. #41 moon_grrl
    December 5, 2007

    “Somebody want these?” No, PZ, we sure don’t.

    I work for a CRM firm in the Midwest and have run into what I call “archamagalmists”. They’re Godbags who spend a summer or two doing excavations while really working towards their dream of going to Israel and proving the Bible accurate or some other such nonsense. Makes me glad that I work with macrobotanicals most of the time. On site, I’d be liable to knock them over the head with a shovel and leave ‘em in the backdirt.

  42. #42 heddle
    December 5, 2007

    The atomic clock experiment was indeed performed by NASA scientists Richard Keating and Joseph Hafele, and it spectacularly confirmed relativity. For a while, Hafele was a colleague of mine–that is, he was an adjunct professor at my university. He is an extremely cool guy, and his recounting of the experiment is hilarious. In a nutshell–dispel any expectation that it was tightly coordinated. Instead it included mad dashes through airports to make connections and tortuously explaining atomic clocks to suspicious local security types.

  43. #43 Christianjb
    December 5, 2007

    Scott: Please don’t anticipate my post, write it before I do and sneak it in before I hit the post button. It upsets the time-continuum.

  44. #44 Sam
    December 5, 2007

    The guy who wrote the article on physics is talking out of his ass. He’s got his understanding of science, and they are completely wrong.

  45. #45 Blake Stacey
    December 5, 2007

    Rey Fox (#36):

    Yeah, but the trouble is that both objects have outer bounds, and therefore have a physical center, so why wouldn’t the universe have one (unless, perhaps, it’s infinite?). I’d appreciate if someone were to hold my hand and explain this.

    Take the balloon analogy, and imagine that you’re an ant living on the balloon — I mean, really living on it. Your whole evolutionary history has taken place on balloon surfaces. You have no concept of a third dimension, and indeed your brain can’t intuitively process the idea. (Once you’ve studied mathematics for a while, you can do algebra and work with points labeled by three coordinates instead of two, but it’s still not intuitive.) All your life, you walk around the balloon, never finding a hole or an edge, a limit or an outer bound.

    The only unique center you can find for the balloon’s expansion isn’t in the balloon itself. It’s enclosed by the balloon, but it’s not located within the balloon material.

    Now, up the dimensions by 1, and the analogy with our own Universe becomes a little more direct. (General Relativity talks about curved spacetime, not just curved space, but we can save that for another time.)

  46. #46 negentropyeater
    December 5, 2007

    To follow up on my previous point, if he watched this video :

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=NZNTgglPbUA

    he would maybe understand that the mathematical objects that are manipulated are approximations of reality. But look at what this impressive design software can do. And it’s all full of beautiful Physics classical mechanics in 2D. It simulates the whole experiment. It’s just so fucking beautiful.
    If you haven’t seen this video before, watch it and start thinking of the future…

  47. #47 shiftlessbum
    December 5, 2007

    Rey Fox wrote; “Yeah, but the trouble is that both objects have outer bounds, and therefore have a physical center, so why wouldn’t the universe have one (unless, perhaps, it’s infinite?). I’d appreciate if someone were to hold my hand and explain this.”

    I am sure others will come up with a better description, but I’d say that if you consider the surface of the balloon to be the universe, although only two dimensions rather than 3 (or 3 rather than 4 when you include time), then I think you can see that there is no center. The middle of the balloon doesn’t exist, neither does the space outside it.

    IOW, if the surface is all there is there is no boundry and no center, just like the universe.

  48. #48 jonathan
    December 5, 2007

    To give the first moron some credit, it is true that mathematics rests on certain unknowns and that we have no proof from first principles of the connection of math to the phenomena it describes. That said, relativity et al are described using the same tools that describe why a bridge stands up or how you figure the odds in blackjack. If you can’t use math to describe quantum or electrodynamics or relativity, then I’d be very careful walking onto a bridge because it shouldn’t exist.

  49. #49 Blake Stacey
    December 5, 2007

    We need to distinguish between people who make mistakes and those who have power hungry agendas and wish to impose those agendas on everybody else. I see Williams as wrong but not having an agenda. Engaging in personal attacks – such as calling someone a “loonball” – is not the way to treat this instance. Arguing that the writer has made some fundamental errors is.

    I would refrain from “personal attacks”, regardless of the political alignments of the author, had he not delivered a completely wrong, back-to-front absurd tirade against all of twentieth-century physics. This is not a matter of a few errors, or even a few “fundamental” errors: the piece in question misrepresents the special theory of relativity, the general theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, the use of mathematics in physics and the scientific method. This makes me angry. There’s no other word for it. I’ve spent years studying physics, making it my profession, trying to master the material necessary to make new and genuine contributions — so when I see the field which is my life’s work completely bastardized, dismissed with ignorance of such a level that it can only be sustained by incuriosity and arrogance, I find the time for civility to be long past.

    Someone else can take what I write, edit out the “loonballs” and the “fuckwits”, make it safe for children. That is not where my heart lies.

  50. #50 Steven Sullivan
    December 5, 2007

    American Chronicle publishes some strange shit

    http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/viewArticle.asp?articleID=44660

    I thought maybe from this that the AC was a Moonie front, but there’s also articles critical of the Unification Church on the website. The overall bent appears to be libertarian.

  51. #51 negentropyeater
    December 5, 2007

    “back-to-front absurd tirade against all of twentieth-century physics.”

    actually, from which one can deduct that it’s against all of Physics, he got the first step wrong. (empirical sciences don’t look for mathematical proofs).

  52. #52 Mark P
    December 5, 2007

    All I can say is that Arizona State University should be notified that an idiot is going around calling himself a “mathematician graduate” of the school.

  53. #53 Blake Stacey
    December 5, 2007

    From the link Steven Sullivan posted:

    The natural outlet for sexual energy is a permanent loving bond between a male and a female. Why? First, all of nature is expressed in male-female partnerships – even on the most basic level, atoms are made with opposite charges: positive and negative.

    Oh, for the love of. . . .

    I wonder what the discovery of electrically neutral particles would do to this worldview, eh?

  54. #54 Zeno
    December 5, 2007

    Arrgghh! I really, really hate it when someone who purports to be a mathematician makes a hash of Zeno’s paradox. How did this slacker get his degree, anyway?

    He’s not very good at logical reasoning:

    (1) Lots of people applauded Einstein even when they didn’t understand what he said or what he did.

    Therefore:

    (2) Relativity is a popular myth rather than science.

    Oh, yeah. I really find that persuasive!

    (I should turn off my sarcasm switch now, but it appears to be stuck!)

  55. #55 --PatF in Madison
    December 5, 2007

    Blake Stacey @ #49
    “I’ve spent years studying physics, making it my profession, trying to master the material necessary to make new and genuine contributions — so when I see the field which is my life’s work completely bastardized, dismissed with ignorance of such a level that it can only be sustained by incuriosity and arrogance, I find the time for civility to be long past.”

    In the above quotation, replace physics with Mathematics and I could have written it thirty years ago. My anger then gained me nothing nor did it help my field. I wasted a lot of time and energy by not concentrating on the real dangers to education. It was a bad idea and I eventually gave up teaching because I could not tolerate the heartache of seeing other people foul things up.

    Here is a prediction. Williams article will be forgotten. No one in the physics community will take it seriously. It will remain in some internet cache and cyber-archaeologists might – I say might – trot it out as an example of the trash that could be written when there is no peer review. Raising our blood pressure to dangerous levels because someone has said something sincerely and severely stupid only serves to hurt us and not advance the cause of science or education. As long as Wiliams doesn’t try to push it off as completely correct, he should be ignored.

    –PatF in Madison

  56. #56 Tom
    December 5, 2007

    Crackpot tipoff: any critique of SR or GR in which the entire math content consists of citing E=mC2.

  57. #57 Interrobang
    December 5, 2007

    Blake Stacey wins the internet for post #16. As the resident metaphorics wonk around here, I think I need a cigarette after reading that, and I don’t smoke.

  58. #58 Tex
    December 5, 2007

    From the link Steven Sullivan posted:

    The natural outlet for sexual energy is a permanent loving bond between a male and a female. Why? First, all of nature is expressed in male-female partnerships – even on the most basic level, atoms are made with opposite charges: positive and negative.
    Oh, for the love of. . . .

    I wonder what the discovery of electrically neutral particles would do to this worldview, eh?

    I suspect the writer would be more disturbed by the realization that all of the positive charges in an atom hang out together in the nucleus, while the negative charges share orbitals with each other.

  59. #59 nn
    December 5, 2007

    GR on a galaxy and larger scale apparently only agrees
    with the observations if you make (to me as a non-physicist)
    relatively crack-potty sounding assumptions like
    that the galaxies consist mostly of invisible dark matter and are hold together by a mysterious “dark energy”.

    It sounds a bit similar to the life-essence that plagued 19th century biology.

    On the other hand there are now astronomers who claims they can
    indirectly observe (and others who can claim they can calculate) dark matter so maybe it all makes sense and only sounds bad. Still it’s
    not really too convincing.

  60. #60 Bruce
    December 5, 2007

    Williams does make one good point:
    Should populism be the basis for accepting or rejecting a scientific theory?

    Send that to Texas and Florida.

  61. #61 Rey Fox
    December 5, 2007

    Heavy. Thanks, guys. I’ll have to get out my old copy of Brief History of Time and bone up some more.

  62. #62 viggen
    December 5, 2007

    This is not a matter of a few errors, or even a few “fundamental” errors: the piece in question misrepresents the special theory of relativity, the general theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, the use of mathematics in physics and the scientific method.

    I strongly agree. The author seems to exist in his own pocket space where he is trying desperately to distill relativity away from the rest of Physics without realizing how much evidence actually supports it or how scientific method, in general, actually works.

  63. #63 anon
    December 5, 2007

    I wonder what the discovery of electrically neutral particles would do to this worldview, eh?

    I hear quarks promote polyamory.

  64. #64 Moggie
    December 5, 2007

    Scooty@#26, CS hasn’t been an attractive target up to now because most kooks see computing in practical terms: it’s word processing and porn and a vehicle for getting their rants to an audience. But imagine what a crackpot magnet the field may become if we really crack AI – and I can see quantum computing attracting a fair bit of woo.

    PatF@#55, Williams will be forgotten, but there’s an inexhaustible supply of Williamses. In some way which I can’t clearly articulate, I find the way they arrogantly attempt to demolish ideas they only dimly understand (without ever constructing anything worthwhile in their place) to be offensively corrosive to worthwhile intellectual investigation. People devote their lives to an honest attempt to further our understanding of the universe, and there’s a constant chorus of clowns trying to tear down their work, for no good reason that I can see. Anger is a perfectly reasonable response, I think.

  65. #65 nn
    December 5, 2007

    Re #64: kooks in CS. There are certainly regularly kook like people
    frequenting usenet CS related newsgroups or mailing lists of free
    software. But it’s much better than in other areas.

  66. #66 Amenhotep
    December 5, 2007

    PZ, you nasty man! That second article is actually fairly OK. Yes, a bit too accommodating of the religious, but biblical archaeology is a fun sport, and provides loads of ammo for us atheists. The bible is a very useful document for unpicking some elements of ancient history (as are the Assyrian and Egyptian records, for example), but should be taken with a pinch of salt the size of Lot’s wife. We owe a lot to the early biblical archaeologists; the good ones eventually realised, “Hey, this bible really is a load of bollocks, isn’t it?”.

    Piece of advice, folks: most Christians haven’t a clue about the bible. Next time they’re at your door, hit ‘em with 1 Samuel 15, and watch ‘em squirm.

  67. #67 Julius
    December 5, 2007

    Oh dear Lady of Discord, the relativity denier guy claims do have a degree (in maths, no less)? His babbling doesn’t even make sense.

    Had a fantastic one today, on a German tech forum. Discussion about climate change – so you know the place will be swarming with denialists. Spent a while there sparring with them, but I’m not really good at that. The amusing one was the guy who went “well, if you really believe in anthropogenic climate change, you’re probably the sort of person who also believes HIV causes AIDS, bah!”

    He was utterly serious. He was not only an AIDS denialist, he thought that was a perfectly obvious and normal opinion to have…

  68. #68 nn
    December 5, 2007

    Re #60: populism is already a standard criterium in science.
    e.g. scientists are often graded based on citation impact which is basically just a populism test.

    It’s just not populism over the whole public, but just populism within
    scientists working in the particular field.

  69. #69 --PatF in Madison
    December 5, 2007

    Moggie @#64
    “People devote their lives to an honest attempt to further our understanding of the universe, and there’s a constant chorus of clowns trying to tear down their work, for no good reason that I can see.”

    That is quite true.

    Moggie @#64
    “Anger is a perfectly reasonable response, I think.”

    Once again, I disagree.

    There are a lot of other people in the world who do not believe the clown’s nonsense but who are not expert enough in a field to tell where the nonsense begins and ends. I am certainly not an expert on relativity but I found Lykourogos #13 and negentropyeater #21 useful. I can check on these in a library if I desire and see where Williams goes wrong. (I probably will not have time but the fact that they offered reasonable measured responses is reassuring.)

    Besides, the chorus of this type of clown is both too big and too small. There are too many clowns because, if we got angry at all of them, we would only spend our lives being angry. That’s a waste of our time. There are too few because they do not have the ability to get together and form a pressure group to get states to teach their point of view. When they get together to try to get Texas to deny relativity or QM or the heliocentric theory, then I think that will be the time for anger.

    –PatF in Madison

  70. #70 negentropyeater
    December 5, 2007

    nn,

    that’s why theoretical physics is getting so much more interesting nowadays. It raises a lot of questions and that’s how science progresses. There is a mathematical model (MOND) that gets better results on the rotational speeds of Galaxies, but it comes out of “thin air” and noone knows why it works. There is the Dark Matter / Energy hypothesis which doesn’t work as well but is more consistent with cosmological models and GR.
    At the end of the 19th century, many physicists were thinking that fundamental physics was nearing it’s end Goal. You can find interesting talks being made in the 1890s on the internet (Boltzmann made one which was marvelous). Well, look at what happened in the 20th century.
    That’s why I always find it funny when people say, Einstein was wrong. Well, they might be right, but it’s the best model we have today.

    Blake, I can understand that you get angry. But I have the feeling, that there is a huge latent interest from some parts of the general public for theoretical Physics. Wait until the LHC starts cranking…

    I’m just an interested layman.

  71. #71 SeanH
    December 5, 2007

    GR on a galaxy and larger scale apparently only agrees
    with the observations if you make (to me as a non-physicist)
    relatively crack-potty sounding assumptions like
    that the galaxies consist mostly of invisible dark matter and are hold together by a mysterious “dark energy”.

    I’m not a physicist either, but dark matter and dark energy aren’t crack-potty assumptions. Both are entirely seperate notions that are based entirely on simple observations. I’m sure some of the physics folks can explain them better, but I’ll give it a go.

    Dark matter was discovered because adding up all the known matter in galaxies should give astronomers the mass of the galaxy and let them know how fast all of the stars should be moving. Stars in the center should be fast and the speed should decrease as you move from the center.

    The problem is that when they actually measure the speeds that’s not what they see. The outer stars are much faster than they should be. The known matter in the galaxies only makes up something like 20% of the mass that is actually there. Something real is there and whatever it is is not normal matter. It doesn’t block light, doesn’t collide with matter, and there’s a lot more of it than regular matter.

    Dark energy is totally different. A few years ago astronomers discovered that the rate of the universe’s expansion is speeding up. Some real force is overcoming gravity’s ability to slow that expansion, but we don’t know what the heck it is for sure so it’s just ‘dark energy’ until we figure out what this fundamental force we’ve missed is.

  72. #72 Dave Bacon
    December 5, 2007

    PZ, you make my head hurt.

  73. #73 nn
    December 5, 2007

    Re #69

    My point was: The physicists say: GR as a theory is great,
    we just have to assume we cannot see 80% of everything and that there is a a dark energy which we don’t know anything about.

    Now I assume they say that because GR is very well proven on a smaller scale and all the alternatives (like MOND) probably sound even worse.

    Still if you listen to it as a interested layman it all doesn’t
    sound very convincing and has in fact some typical symptoms of crackpottyness (e.g. involving invisible mysterious forces and lots of invisible stuff).

    On the other hand I keep reading articles recently that someone
    again saw some signs of dark matter at least (so that it is not
    completely invisible), so perhaps it will be all cleared up eventually. Or rather I hope it will.

  74. #74 Watt de Fawke
    December 5, 2007

    “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” -Carl Sagan

    “Idiotic claims are self-evident.” -me

  75. #75 SteveM
    December 5, 2007

    But the most trivial knowledge of actual physics informs us that photons are massless.

    Let me say that again, for those in the back row: photons are massless. They have no mass. Their mass is not pinin’ for the fjords. It is non-existent.

    I hesitate to disagree, but it is merely a quibble, really. A photon has no rest (or “proper”) mass. But it does have energy and so has an equivalent mass. Gravitational lensing is equally well modelled as massless photons travelling along the gravitationally distorted geodesics of space-time or as massive particles responding to gravitational force.

    Either way this Willims makes a huge mistake in assigning the photons “mass” to Quantum theory, it is clearly relativity’s E=Mc^2 that accounts for it.

    He also later does a disservive to Michelson and Morley when he claims that the speed of light is to huge to be measured accurately. The developed a remarkably sensitive experiment that could have measured the difference in speed of the Earth’s orbit with respect to the speed of light.

  76. #76 Dustin
    December 5, 2007

    To give the first moron some credit, it is true that mathematics rests on certain unknowns and that we have no proof from first principles of the connection of math to the phenomena it describes.

    I’d say that it isn’t true that mathematics rests on certain unknowns, but rather that it has its basis in axiomatic systems which are adopted by convention. Of course, that doesn’t undermine the claim that there is a lack of ability to prove from first principles (supposing, for a moment, that I wanted to play metaphysics), or prove in any meaningful way at all, that mathematical models infallibly describe physical phenomena. That’s because they don’t.

  77. #77 nn
    December 5, 2007

    Re #70: the point is that to make the observations agree with GR
    you have to assume dark matter. But nobody knows what dark matter
    is. Then there is occams razor: if you need to introduce mysterious
    complicated new entities to make your theory agree with the observations maybe something is wrong with the theory too?
    And it’s not even relatively obscure minor new entities, but 80% of
    everything!

    Anyways since the consensus in physics seems to be mostly towards
    dark matter I assume all the alternatives are even worse.

    But from the outside it does not sound very convincing (or perhaps
    the physicists just don’t explain it well enough)

  78. #78 Marcus Ranum
    December 5, 2007

    I don’t know if it applies to this Williams guy in particular, but usually when someone claims that Einstein was wrong, the real reason is because Einstein was Jewish.

    Oh, dear me! Are there really people that stupid?

  79. #79 Ben M
    December 5, 2007

    nn @72: ultimately the thing that convinces us that dark matter is real is that there are about a half-dozen basically independent measurements of its effects—I’d list them as galaxy rotation curves (lots of them, in different-sized galaxies), gravitational lensing, cluster x-ray temperatures, large-scale structure, the CMB, and the Bullet Cluster. Add in big-bang nucleosynthesis if you like. If we had the basic idea wrong, you’d expect that these measurements would disagree—the mistake we’d make in deriving rotation curves should be different than the mistake we make calculating lensing parameters.

    But as it turns out all of these measurements tell us the same thing: that dark matter outweighs visible matter by the same factor.

  80. #80 David Marjanovi?, OM
    December 5, 2007

    And I reject this because of its blatant ignorance of history, mathematics and proper apostrophe usage.

    Apostrophe usage! Hah! Amputating Poincaré’s accent changes the pronunciation.

    while the negative charges share orbitals with each other.

    Almost always two in the same orbital!

  81. #81 David Marjanovi?, OM
    December 5, 2007

    And I reject this because of its blatant ignorance of history, mathematics and proper apostrophe usage.

    Apostrophe usage! Hah! Amputating Poincaré’s accent changes the pronunciation.

    while the negative charges share orbitals with each other.

    Almost always two in the same orbital!

  82. #82 Fred
    December 5, 2007

    O.K., so the anti-relativity guy is way wrong, but he did make one correct statement: Creationism and Intelligent Design are pseudoscience.

  83. #83 Pol Lambert
    December 5, 2007

    Although the SR article has been thoroughly discredited, Williams does say some things about Zeno’s paradox. There are actuallly problems with the fact that a line segment has a finite length, yet is composed of infinite points, each with no length. The easy way out is through the use of limits. However limits only sum a countable amount of segments while there are an uncountable amount of points in the line segment.

    This actually means that using ‘points’ in physical laws isn’t as straightforward as you’ld think it is. You can actually show that Newton’s three laws are indeterminable in some (physically unrealistic) situations if you don’t include conservation of energy.

  84. #84 negentropyeater
    December 5, 2007

    #82
    “However limits only sum a countable amount of segments while there are an uncountable amount of points in the line segment. ”

    Since when do limits only sum a countable amount of segments ? Are you sure you understand the concept of limits ?

    “This actually means that using ‘points’ in physical laws isn’t as straightforward as you’ld think it is.”

    What are you trying to say ?

  85. #85 David Marjanovi?, OM
    December 5, 2007

    This actually means that using ‘points’ in physical laws isn’t as straightforward as you’ld think it is.

    Try using Planck lengths instead, or rather tetrahedra composed of six Planck lengths.

  86. #86 David Marjanovi?, OM
    December 5, 2007

    This actually means that using ‘points’ in physical laws isn’t as straightforward as you’ld think it is.

    Try using Planck lengths instead, or rather tetrahedra composed of six Planck lengths.

  87. #87 BruceJ
    December 5, 2007

    Arrgghh! I really, really hate it when someone who purports to be a mathematician makes a hash of Zeno’s paradox. How did this slacker get his degree, anyway?

    Well, I’m from the superior institution 120 miles south of ASU :-) and we have this joke:

    Q: “How do you get the ASU grad off your porch?”
    A: “Pay him for the pizza.”

    More seriously, I’ve never known anyone with a math degree describe him or herself as a ‘Mathematician graduate’, nor ever try to say, with a straight face at least, that mathematical models cannot be used in the physical world.

    That may be, however, because that’s what every single one of them actually did for a living…maybe I just don’t know enough theoretical math folks.

  88. #88 Dreikin
    December 5, 2007

    Too add to the pain, look at what I found:
    http://www.physicsmyths.org.uk/

    Which was, sadly, a result of me searching for the relation between the electric field and the magnetic field. I know they’re connected via relativity in some manner (magnetism is a relativistic effect on the electric field) but haven’t yet conceptualized it for myself yet (so if any physicists want to help with that..)

    Aside from that..I wonder what this guy would think about modeling the universe on E8? >-)

  89. #89 Epikt
    December 5, 2007

    That article seems to be a morass of confusion spiked with a bunch of arrogance. No evidence for relativity?!

    Admittedly, many such bits of evidence are esoteric, and often the effects are small and difficult to measure, but there are exceptions, and I remember doing a calculation as an undergrad that demonstrates this. The Stanford Linear Accelerator is about two miles long. If you make a reasonable assumption about the strength of the accelerating field you can calculate the length the accelerator has to be in order to attain the required energies. Doing the calculation relativistically gives the right answer, but if you do it ignoring relativity, i.e. using Newtonian physics, you get an answer on the order of a foot. The difference is not subtle.

  90. #90 negentropyeater
    December 5, 2007

    #86 if you want to understand better the relation between elctricity and magnetism, look up for electromagnetism on wikipedia, the mathematical model is due to Maxwell (Maxwell’s equations).
    And, no, one knew nothing of relativity when it was first discovered and explained (Maxwell predates Einstein by almost 50 years).

  91. #91 Dustin
    December 5, 2007

    However limits only sum a countable amount of segments while there are an uncountable amount of points in the line segment.

    If you’re talking about the limit of partial sums that’s usually offered as a solution to the paradox, that’s true, but also a red herring. Zeno didn’t propose the paradox in a way that demands we look at anything but a series. What’s more, we can’t object to the use of a series to resolve the paradox on the grounds that the mathematical convergence is question begging, since that objection makes the same error as the original paradox. It is implicit in the statement of the paradox that each step takes as long as the preceding step to accomplish, and by constructing, from the hypothesis of the paradox itself, a convergent geometric series of the time it takes to cross each segment, the paradox is resolved.

    Red herring aside, classical mechanics, a rigorous mathematical theory with a sound foundation in smooth manifolds, has no trouble with motion in a continuum. You say that “There are actually problems with the fact that a line segment has a finite length, yet is composed of infinite points, each with no length,” but I have seen nothing at all to indicate that there are any mathematical inconsistencies in any of our theories which describe motion in a continuum.

    Nobody disputes that there are problems inherent with applying continuous models of physics to the world, and nobody disputes that the notion of a point is strictly abstract. Even so, I wouldn’t care to argue that point with something like, “You can actually show that Newton’s three laws are indeterminable in some (physically unrealistic) situations if you don’t include conservation of energy,” since that rejection of conservation is rather ad hoc since conservation has everything to do with the symmetries of the system in question (unless I’ve misunderstood what you’re getting at).

  92. #92 Chris R.
    December 5, 2007

    It has been noted that often when Einstein gave a public speech, that less than ten percent of the audience spoke German and out of these only a few were physicists. Even though 99% of the audience didn’t have the slightest idea what he had said in his mysterious presentation, he still got a standing ovation.

    Einstein spoke English…

  93. #93 Mark
    December 5, 2007

    “Light is simply waves of particles (quantum).”

    How simple! All that quantum confusion and seeming contradiction between classical and quantum views is suddenly recognized as much ado about nothing. I’m so happy to have it all explained, and I’ll surely sleep better tonight.

  94. #94 Alan Kellogg
    December 5, 2007

    I read Scientific American and Zeno was a jerk with a rotten sense of humor. He also came up with the Achilles and the Tortoise crap to bash the idea that thinking alone could answer all questions. To put it simply, the little bastard was a damn troll.

  95. #95 J Myers
    December 5, 2007

    On the 2nd article: Daylight Atheism had a post about the James Ossuary two days ago; it would seem that the extent of the controversy regarding its authenticity is itself a matter of some debate.

  96. #96 Keith Douglas
    December 5, 2007

    Moggie: Indeed. I’m angry at this sort of thing and I’m not a physicist!

    Marcus Ranum: (re: antisemitic relativity deniers) Yes, and there have been since day one, alas.

    Dreikin: My MA thesis (which is in philosophy) on my website has a somewhat decent reference to explaining it. Loosely: it comes out of the relativity of length and how electric charge is by contrast an invariant.

    Alan Kellogg: We don’t exactly know Zeno’s motivations. The record of them is very abbreviated. (See a discussion in The Presocratic Philosophers by the KRS guys, for example.)

  97. #97 Dustin
    December 5, 2007

    He also came up with the Achilles and the Tortoise crap to bash the idea that thinking alone could answer all questions. To put it simply, the little bastard was a damn troll.

    I don’t think so. Putting it simply, he was the first guy to put a thorn in the side of smug rationalists — a hobby enjoyed by Empiricus, Kant, Hume, and a slew of others. The Pythagoreans were more like a numerology cult than mathematicians, and they needed to be deflated. He wouldn’t even have succeeded if calculus had been invented at the time.

    Try using Planck lengths instead, or rather tetrahedra composed of six Planck lengths.

    I don’t think that’s necessary, even though I hear this objection to Zeno’s paradoxes a lot. The reason I say that is that bringing anything we think we know about the structure of the world into the conversation is treating the puzzle like it’s something which can be treated empirically, and if we can treat it empirically the best way to do it is simply walk into a wall while declaring loudly, “I REFUTE IT THUS!”

  98. #98 thadd
    December 5, 2007

    “On the 2nd article: Daylight Atheism had a post about the James Ossuary two days ago; it would seem that the extent of the controversy regarding its authenticity is itself a matter of some debate.”

    Almost every serious archaeologist today recognizes it as being false, with at least part of the inscription falsified. However, without context it is useless anyway. We cannot tie it to any site and can only say that it is representative of one or two names from a rather broad time period. It’s a bit like finding a 1700′s grave with the name John on it after someone picked it up, put it on a rocket ship, and sent it to the moon, without recording where it was from originally.
    The only people who tend to debate this sort of thing seem to largely be people who support things like the Jesus Tomb crap.
    At this point, without further testing, it is best to defer to the test that have been carried out, which showed it a fake. (I also would defer to F.M. Cross, who really knows his shit).

  99. #99 truth machine
    December 6, 2007

    An analogy is a perfectly valid way of producing inferences and making predictions. “X is like Y, so because X has property A, Y will have a property corresponding to A.” Any given analogy may be faulty (perhaps the resemblance between X and Y is not as great as advertised), but the technique of reasoning by analogy is valid.

    Analogies of this sort may well produce inferences make predictions, but they aren’t valid arguments in the logical sense. Unless X and Y are identical, they are different, and property A may well lie in the difference … why not? This sort of argument by analogy is a form of question begging.

    There are logically valid analogies: where a line of argument is accepted in one context, it should be accepted in other contexts that don’t invalidate the logic.

  100. #100 truth machine
    December 6, 2007

    I read Scientific American and …

    An interesting form of justification.

  101. #101 truth machine
    December 6, 2007

    More seriously, I’ve never known anyone with a math degree describe him or herself as a ‘Mathematician graduate’

    You’re misparsing two separate items, “Mathematician” and “graduate of Arizona State University”. Of course, he may have graduated with a B.A. in literature, for all we know.

  102. #102 truth machine
    December 6, 2007

    Pol Lambert: There are actuallly problems with the fact that a line segment has a finite length, yet is composed of infinite points, each with no length.

    I don’t see how that’s an “actual” problem. The argument that, if you add up all the widths of all the points it still amounts to zero, can’t go through because addition isn’t defined over uncountable sets of addends. Any decomposition of a line segment into a countable set of widths must include at least one non-zero-width segment.

    negentropyeater: Since when do limits only sum a countable amount of segments ? Are you sure you understand the concept of limits ?

    It isn’t a matter of the concept of limits per se, but of its application to the decomposition of line segments.

  103. #103 truth machine
    December 6, 2007

    But nobody knows what dark matter is.

    Nobody knows what matter is. Science doesn’t worry too much about what things “are”, as opposed to what measurements they produce.

  104. #104 truth machine
    December 6, 2007

    But from the outside it does not sound very convincing (or perhaps
    the physicists just don’t explain it well enough)

    More likely you’re inadequately informed, conceptually confused. or a bit “dark” yourself (as in dim). From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_matter

    dark matter is matter of unknown composition that does not emit or reflect enough electromagnetic radiation to be observed directly, but whose presence can be inferred from gravitational effects on visible matter….The composition of dark matter is unknown, but may include ordinary and heavy neutrinos, recently postulated elementary particles such as WIMPs and axions, astronomical bodies such as dwarf stars and planets (collectively called MACHOs), and clouds of nonluminous gas. Current evidence favors models in which the primary component of dark matter is new elementary particles, collectively called non-baryonic dark matter.

    I don’t see what “does not sound very convincing” here, any more than any other scientific inference from the evidence.

  105. #105 Davis
    December 6, 2007

    There are actuallly problems with the fact that a line segment has a finite length, yet is composed of infinite points, each with no length.

    The only “problem” is intuitive. Measure theory has no trouble with this. The standard measure on the number line can be thought of as length, as long as you’re not considering pathological examples (e.g., the Cantor set). It’s true that a point has measure zero, measures are additive over countable disjoint unions, and a line is union of its points,. However, a line is an uncountable disjoint union of its points, and measures are not additive over uncountable unions. That seems strange, but only because our intuition about uncountable sets tends to be wrong.

  106. #106 truth machine
    December 6, 2007

    To give the first moron some credit

    Beware that what follows such a statement is often moronic:

    it is true that mathematics rests on certain unknowns and that we have no proof from first principles of the connection of math to the phenomena it describes

    It is not true that “mathematics rests on certain unknowns” (which unknowns are those?), and the second claim is off the “conceptually confused” scale. The math we use to describe some phenomenon is the math that seems to describe it; if the phenomenon were different, we would use different math. If the math doesn’t match all the evidence, we try to find math that does. Of course there is “no proof from first principles” that any of our empirical theories are accurate — theory formation is an ongoing human activity.

  107. #107 truth machine
    December 6, 2007

    The only “problem” is intuitive. Measure theory has no trouble with this. The standard measure on the number line can be thought of as length, as long as you’re not considering pathological examples (e.g., the Cantor set). It’s true that a point has measure zero, measures are additive over countable disjoint unions, and a line is union of its points,. However, a line is an uncountable disjoint union of its points, and measures are not additive over uncountable unions. That seems strange, but only because our intuition about uncountable sets tends to be wrong.

    I’m not a mathematician, don’t know anything about measure theory, and don’t recall previously encountering the “actual” problem of adding up a bunch of zero-width points to make a line, but in #100 I wrote something quite similar, I think, so I don’t think reasonable intuitions about uncountable sets are unreachable; it just requires that you take “uncountable” seriously. It seems quite intuitive to me that if you add together a bunch of numbers (possibly all zero), it must be a countable bunch, so you aren’t allowed to think of a line as a bunch of zero-width points that don’t add up to anything bigger than zero; sure it’s a problem for any countable collection of points, but you can’t simply ignore the fact that the line segment isn’t that.

  108. #108 truth machine
    December 6, 2007

    Yeah, but the trouble is that both objects have outer bounds, and therefore have a physical center, so why wouldn’t the universe have one (unless, perhaps, it’s infinite?). I’d appreciate if someone were to hold my hand and explain this.

    A balloon object is a surface; it has no center (as opposed to, say, a sheet of paper or a CD).

    The raisin loaf is a bad analogy.

  109. #109 truth machine
    December 6, 2007

    Before we go nuclear on this article we might want to look at some of this fellows other writings. They are quite critical of Bush and the right wing evangelical movement.

    That ad hominem argument is utterly retarded, worse than anything Williams wrote.

  110. #110 truth machine
    December 6, 2007

    PZ, you nasty man! That second article is actually fairly OK.

    Sigh. PZ didn’t say it wasn’t ok; he said it was a fine outrage at the “crackpots and ideologues” of biblical archaeology.

  111. #111 David Marjanovi?, OM
    December 6, 2007

    I don’t think that’s necessary, even though I hear this objection to Zeno’s paradoxes a lot. The reason I say that is that bringing anything we think we know about the structure of the world into the conversation is treating the puzzle like it’s something which can be treated empirically, and if we can treat it empirically the best way to do it is simply walk into a wall while declaring loudly, “I REFUTE IT THUS!”

    That’s fine, but it only shows that there’s a mistake somewhere in the “paradox”. It doesn’t offer suggestions on where the mistake(s) might be.

  112. #112 David Marjanovi?, OM
    December 6, 2007

    I don’t think that’s necessary, even though I hear this objection to Zeno’s paradoxes a lot. The reason I say that is that bringing anything we think we know about the structure of the world into the conversation is treating the puzzle like it’s something which can be treated empirically, and if we can treat it empirically the best way to do it is simply walk into a wall while declaring loudly, “I REFUTE IT THUS!”

    That’s fine, but it only shows that there’s a mistake somewhere in the “paradox”. It doesn’t offer suggestions on where the mistake(s) might be.

  113. #113 negentropyeater
    December 6, 2007

    David,

    The is what the guy says

    1. “This paradox consists of two models, the MATHEMATICAL MODEL and the PHYSICAL MODEL. ”

    First mistake : there aren’t two models. There is a MATHEMATIC MODEL, which is used to solve a Physical paradox.

    Then,
    2. “In the math model, there can be an infinite series because the distance is between two points. These points are mathematical abstractions which cannot exist in reality. So that traveling half of the distance can continue forever in an infinite sequence. However in the physical world there can be no such thing as points. If the math points are replaced with real physical objects (no matter how small they are), then they no longer have the same characteristics as points. Real objects have real physical dimensions which will prevent the series from being infinite.

    Here, we have a super-concentrate of mistakes and misunderstandings, which stem from the first point.

    The mathematical model is used to calculate the time to travel between two points describing the method as suggested by Zeno ie succesively summing smaller halves, it consists of a convergent infinite series. Each term in the series is a mathematical abstraction, and precisely because the series is convergent, the Physical paradox is solved, ie, it takes a finite time to travel between two points, as it is obderved in reality.

    If the series had not converged, one would have concluded that the mathematical model is not the correct one to describe this problem.
    Because Zeno did not know, in his time, the notion of infinite convergent series, he could not show why there was no paradox.

    The rest is a repeat of the first gross misunderstanding of what constitutes a mathematical model and it’s application to solve a problem which deals with physical reality.

  114. #114 poliwog
    December 6, 2007

    That American Chronicle writer successfully proves that American Chronicle generously pays by the word.

  115. #115 Alan Kellogg
    December 6, 2007

    94 & 95,

    Believe me, Zeno was a troll.

    98,

    Making fun of credentials. :)

  116. #116 David Marjanovi?, OM
    December 6, 2007

    Because Zeno did not know, in his time, the notion of infinite convergent series, he could not show why there was no paradox.

    I see.

  117. #117 David Marjanovi?, OM
    December 6, 2007

    Because Zeno did not know, in his time, the notion of infinite convergent series, he could not show why there was no paradox.

    I see.

  118. #118 negentropyeater
    December 6, 2007

    By the way, the methodological problems raised by this guy, were already raised and solved by Ibn Al-Haytham in the 10th century. (ie the issues related to why one may deal with mathematical abstractions to describe the physical reality)

    So, I guess it could have been ok if this guy had raised these questions then, but 1000 years later is a bit problematic. Especially when one claims to be a mathematician and thinks one has found something revolutionary to write about physics.

  119. #119 Zara
    December 7, 2007

    @ 99: I disagree – Darrell Williams is indeed styling himself a “Mathematician graduate” – and you bloody well best not disrespect his authoritae! ;-)

    I suspected that “Mathematician” and “graduate” were not distinct honorifics because “graduate” is not capitalized. Although no more a professional HTML nerd than I am a professional grammar nerd, I then sought to confirm my hypothesis by recourse to the source code of Mr. Williams’s article. Indeed, the HTML indicates no break between “Mathematician” and “graduate” (“Mathematician graduate of Arizona State University”).

    Somewhere far off, I hear the Count from Sesame Street whirling in his coffin…

  120. #120 Wolfe
    December 7, 2007

    I started a little response to Cline’s article and it rambled into a rather wordy one so instead of spamming those not interested I went ahead and put it up over here…

    http://wrufflywritten.wordpress.com/2007/12/07/re-raiders-of-the-faux-ark/

  121. #121 Duncan
    December 8, 2007

    Wotte De Fawke:

    “Idiotic claims are self-evident.” -me

    Wait a minute, wait a minute, I’ve got it! This is your version of the Liar’s Paradox, isn’t it?

  122. #122 Tom
    December 14, 2007

    @heddle, post #42.

    Hafele’s affiliation list in the paper describing the experiment was Washington U. (St. Louis) and Keating worked at the US Naval Observatory.

    You don’t actually need the speed of planes to observe the effect that they did. If one drives an auto across the US and back, the accumulated time dilation will be one or two nanoseconds, which is measurable with today’s atomic clocks (even the ones you could put in a van and drive across country) and must be taken into account when one does this. Which actually happens in calibrating satellite receiver systems.

    (Not an official spokesperson)