Pharyngula

A target for the physicists

I’m the wrong person to scrutinize this one, but maybe some bored physicist out there can tell us someting about this book, Our Undiscovered Universe, which claims to describe a new version of physics called “Null Physics”.

Let me know if there’s anything there.

Comments

  1. #1 Boosterz
    February 27, 2008

    Didn’t MarkCC tear this apart a while back? It sounds familiar.

  2. #2 Brownian, OM
    February 27, 2008

    His mumbo-jumbo is hard to decipher, but he’s obviously got some sort of hate-on for science. From the ‘background’ section of his site:

    For quite some time now, anyone who wanted to understand the universe’s inner workings had only two places in which to turn. The first is an eclectic cast of “scientific” paradigms, which includes, but is not limited to, string theory, the Big Bang, and quantum reality. While these make valiant attempts to describe the universe and come to grips with their own glaring incompleteness, in the final analysis they can’t even begin to answer questions that any child might pose. Regardless of how many popularized versions of these theories find their way into bookstores, the important questions remain unsolved because the current scientific approach lacks any trace of an underlying natural philosophy. The other option available to the inquiring mind is a disorganized quagmire of “alternative” theories. These decry the reigning scientific models but provide absolutely nothing of substance in their stead. Alternative theories seldom identify their own premises unambiguously, let alone provide quantitative tests for them.

    At long last, a theory has emerged that addresses the foundation of reality logically, rationally, empirically, and completely – Null Physics. The universe it reveals doesn’t rely on unknowable precursors in the ancient, untestable past. The universe it reveals won’t collapse, or grow old and die. Null Physics tells us why the universe exists, how the universe exists, and why it is the way it is. The mystery of our existence has beaten scientists and philosophers for so long that they are utterly convinced that reality’s underpinnings are beyond human comprehension. They are wrong. Anyone with a basic familiarity with high-school physics can, by reading this volume, understand the universe with a greater depth and clarity than is currently believed possible. Welcome to 21st century physics.

  3. #3 Jaycubed
    February 27, 2008

    They had a 2 page full-color ad in Scientific American recently. Looks like somebody is draining their trust/retirement fund.
    .

  4. #4 Neil Vickers
    February 27, 2008

    There’s quite an interesting discussion of the book at the James Randi Educational Foundation forums here: http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=94861

    The author is part of the discussions… unfortunately my knowledge of physics is nowhere near detailed enough to let me participate.

    Cheers,
    Neil.

  5. #5 Monika Kress
    February 27, 2008

    Wasn’t this the same guy who wrote a book about how if you put some brine shrimp in the gas tank… wait, that was someone else. Yet another self-proclaimed expert writing a book on a subject that he never bothered to get a degree in! Who needs all that book-learnin anyways??

    And all those ravin’ reviewers: their credentials are equally impressive.

  6. #6 Robert Salter
    February 27, 2008

    With a name like TWITT, I’m tempted to think this is some sort of a joke.

  7. #7 miller
    February 27, 2008

    I’ve already talked about it.
    It’s nonsense

    He talks about “infinite smallness” and “totality” and stuff like that.

  8. #8 dorris
    February 27, 2008

    I’ve noticed ads for this book in Smithsonian magazine, too. Now, I’m no physicist or mathematician – but I don’t have to be to figure out that this is pure, unadulterated bullshit. The first clue is when you see something like this advertised as the “revolutionary breakthrough mainstream scientists don’t want you to know about”. And by the time you notice that the author has funky credentials and no apparent degree in the subject he’s going on about, the bullshit alarm should be screaming like a firebell.

  9. #9 Blake Stacey
    February 27, 2008

    Wow, it looks like my job has been done already.

  10. #10 Ollie
    February 27, 2008

    I don’t quite have my PhD yet, but I do consider myself a physicist. As mentioned, it’s hard to really evaluate claims with just a few introductory excerpts. But I’ll try.

    True to his word, the author makes things really simple in the first chapter sample. The argument is basically “how did the universe start from nothing?” This is like asking “why are there monkeys still around if we evolved from them?” He’s getting the issue wrong. All that physicists really agree on is that at the big bang, the universe became similar enough to the way we understand it for the concept of time to make sense. Heck, we even have problems for the very short time after the big bang really saying what “time” meant. Long story short, nobody says the universe came from nothing necessarily, just that looking back any farther means doing away with our regular notion of time.

    On top of all that, there’s no particular reason to believe our ideas of causality and so forth even need apply outside our relm of time. The only reason we like to conserve energy is because we see it all the time IN our universe. We don’t like to say how things have to be OUTside our universe.

    The Chapter 15 except looks sloppy at best. I’m not really sure what he’s trying to show here. He seems to be mixing Hubble’s constant with a static universe model. It just doesn’t work. And ever before that, there’s plenty of problems assuming that you could hit an infinite number of stars in some straight line. “Straight” at such distances doesn’t even mean the same thing we may think it does. And lastly, you don’t need an infinite universe, just take a finite one with “asteroids” geometry. With some very reasonable assumptions, you could still hit an infinite number of stars over an infinite distance.

    So far, this looks like a bunch of legitimate stuff tossed together to illegitimate ends.

  11. #11 coathangrrr
    February 27, 2008

    This is what happens when you let electrical engineers write books about physics.

  12. #12 RonanC
    February 28, 2008

    Based on the JREF discussion, which I’ve just read, and using the Crackpot Index, I score him at 140+, which is enough to say “I do not need to read his work right now.”

    1. A -5 point starting credit.

    6. 5 points for using a thought experiment that contradicts the results of a widely accepted real experiment.

    11. 10 points for beginning the description of your theory by saying how long you have been working on it.

    15. 10 points for each statement along the lines of “I’m not good at math, but my theory is conceptually right, so all I need is for someone to express it in terms of equations”.

    17. 10 points for arguing that while a current well-established theory predicts phenomena correctly, it doesn’t explain “why” they occur, or fails to provide a “mechanism”.

    22. 20 points for claiming that classical mechanics is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).

    34. 40 points for claiming that the “scientific establishment” is engaged in a “conspiracy” to prevent your work from gaining its well-deserved fame, or suchlike.

    37. 50 points for claiming you have a revolutionary theory but giving no concrete testable predictions.

  13. #13 jeff
    February 28, 2008

    If the past is infinite, then the concept of how long it took to get to now is meaningless. How long from what?

    No, I don’t think it’s quite the same as Zeno. It’s more analagous to how long it takes for something traveling at a finite speed to cover an infinite distance. Doesn’t seem meaningless to me. But I’ll agree that the concept of time extending infinitely into the past is hard to imagine and probably is meaningless (although we don’t know exactly what time actually is…)

    I’m just not buying that the notion of infinite time is automatically nonsense. Plenty of serious cosmologists — Steinhardt, Alfven, Hoyle, Einstein — have been willing to entertain the idea.)

    Infinite into the past, or the future? Unlike space, time is dimension with a direction. In any case, the evidence is in favor of time having a beginning.

  14. #14 Craig
    February 28, 2008

    Well, I know less than nothing about physics, but I’m willing to accept “null physics” at face value

    null /n?l/ [nuhl] -adjective
    1. without value, effect, consequence, or significance.
    2. being or amounting to nothing; nil; lacking; nonexistent.
    7. null and void, without legal force or effect; not valid.

  15. #15 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    February 28, 2008

    As noted, one really shouldn’t judge a text on excerpts, but the site triggers my woo detector big time. Among them the complaint by the author that the book is judged unread. [Wtf? Someone writes a whole book before caring to allow tests of his theory? Is this ID or what?]

    Pulling an excerpt Witt claims that the universe is non-expanding (from chapter 15). That was enough contradiction with observation to stop right there, but the context is interesting; it is the old tired light hypothesis paraded about from its grave. Woo-woo! (The Randi EF thread discuss this and points to references, btw.)

    Not mentioned stupidities is when Witt redefines a galactic core as a massive black hole, disregarding what I understand as the newest models on galactic dynamics with possibly none or several black holes depending on galaxy mergers.

    But the funniest was the “professional” reviewers. Sander, a Business Systems Analyst, complains that his teachers didn’t answer his questions. A random educator didn’t satisfy a random student, so therefore science itself is wrong? Again, reminiscent of creationist science reasoning.

    How does the earth maintain its size when the space it occupies expands? What’s the mechanism? Gravity?

    Well, yes, but above all the EM and strong force that maintains atomic respectively nucleic sizes. And who says that this is a given? The Big Rip hypothesis allows for spacetime ripping everything apart, if the big bang expansion process eventually run away.

  16. #16 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    February 28, 2008

    As noted, one really shouldn’t judge a text on excerpts, but the site triggers my woo detector big time. Among them the complaint by the author that the book is judged unread. [Wtf? Someone writes a whole book before caring to allow tests of his theory? Is this ID or what?]

    Pulling an excerpt Witt claims that the universe is non-expanding (from chapter 15). That was enough contradiction with observation to stop right there, but the context is interesting; it is the old tired light hypothesis paraded about from its grave. Woo-woo! (The Randi EF thread discuss this and points to references, btw.)

    Not mentioned stupidities is when Witt redefines a galactic core as a massive black hole, disregarding what I understand as the newest models on galactic dynamics with possibly none or several black holes depending on galaxy mergers.

    But the funniest was the “professional” reviewers. Sander, a Business Systems Analyst, complains that his teachers didn’t answer his questions. A random educator didn’t satisfy a random student, so therefore science itself is wrong? Again, reminiscent of creationist science reasoning.

    How does the earth maintain its size when the space it occupies expands? What’s the mechanism? Gravity?

    Well, yes, but above all the EM and strong force that maintains atomic respectively nucleic sizes. And who says that this is a given? The Big Rip hypothesis allows for spacetime ripping everything apart, if the big bang expansion process eventually run away.

  17. #17 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    February 28, 2008

    But if he is, that was logically refuted over a thousand years ago by some clever reasoning. If time extends infinitely into the past, then it would take an infinite amount of time to get to the present,

    Hmm. Physics doesn’t allow for philosophical reasoning, so eternal times scenarios are seriously proposed. (Mostly going forward, as backwards have physical difficulties.)

    This seems to me to be a case of confusing idealized math infinities (having already taken the limit) with physical unboundedness for observers (approaching a limit).

    Can another physicist please confirm

    Not at all the right sort of physicist, but AFAIK a more observationally sound bottom-up scenario (having a series of observations going back in time) would give such a description.

    People also proposes top-down scenarios though, there for example inflation embeds local pocket universes in a larger model. The problems with time aren’t AFAIU resolved but given another perspective; world lines for the local universe resulting in observed time, and world lines for the global model. (Thus a possibility for eternal world lines stretching backwards, albeit AFAIU with other physical problems.)

    Since there is no way of testing anything within the realm that all space and time is (almost) condensed into an anomaly, the status of Big Bang “theory” is nowhere near that of General Relativity when it comes to scientific theories.

    “Big Bang” is a misnomer, the theory and observations describes the expansion process we currently lives in, and is as verified as one can wish. (Well, almost – AFAIU inflation is still a bit lacking in confidence.) There is perhaps more data supporting it than GR as such. See the current concordance model of big bang.

    Compare with evolution and its theory that doesn’t describe or depend on the initial conditions (abiogenesis vs cosmological origin).

  18. #18 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    February 28, 2008

    @ James F #8:

    it reminds me of this book

    Obviously I’m neither a biologist nor a paleoanthropologist, but Laelaps discusses Filler’s hypothesis as reasonable. [And his blogging prompted me to read a paper of Filler. It looked non-cranky to this layman, laying out the data and giving what I took for a reasonable (albeit perhaps unlikely) and probably non-falsified hypothesis with some predictions.]

    What gives?

  19. #19 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    February 28, 2008

    Well, yes, but above all the EM and strong force that maintains atomic respectively nucleic sizes.

    Sorry, that was confusing. This is what maintains the sizes for the smaller objects that gravitation works on.

    And I’m just reminded of IIRC Sean Carroll of Cosmic Variance describing this. Looking at GR alone, there is “above all” no observable local expansion as local spacetime is asymptotically flat anyhow, for reasonable geometries. Duh! (I assume the Big Rip hypothesis circumvents this eventually.)

  20. #20 negentropyeater
    February 28, 2008

    No need to read the book. Over at the randi forum, he explained a bit beter what is the basis for his theory :

    “My theory resolves the universality of governing constants because it has only one: the four-dimensional size of infinite space, and this is by definition the same everywhere in infinite space. I was able to calculate this size and it is equal to 3.16(10)^-26 J-m, and it is called “unit hypervolume”. Physically, it’s a hypercube whose edge length is about 0.1 mm. It is the connection between the macro and micro universe and the quintessential definition of finiteness.

    Our universe has four and only four dimensions, three of space and one of time. It contains two, dimensionally unique three-dimensional substances: space, whose units are of course distance^3, and energy, whose fundamental units are time-distance^2. The reason why it is possible to have finite energy density in space is because both have the same dimensional size. Our universe has space and curved space, nothing else. Everything within it can be described as some combination of its four dimensions.

    Since unit hypervolume is a four-dimensional finite, it represents the one and only bounding condition for anything, in particular energy. This is why Planck’s constant has units of J-m, and why it is associated with the quantization of energy. Joules, as energy, is three-dimensional, and meters are one dimensional, for a total of four dimensions. Planck’s constant isn’t exactly equal to space’s four-dimensional size, the proportionality between the two is 2PI, but that’s a detail I needn’t address here.”

    So, here we are, the universe described by his theory, is physically equivallent to a hypercube whose edge length is about 0.1 mm.

    Interesting, but definitely not the universe we live in.

    So, unless someone is interested to spend 60$ to read a description of a hypothetical universe, which has nothing to do with the one we live in, I don’t think one needs to buy this book…

  21. #21 Matt Penfold
    February 28, 2008

    Didn’t Steven Hawking come up with the idea that time could be finite but boundless, thus doing away with some of the problems associated with when time started ?

  22. #22 Grumpy Physicist
    February 28, 2008

    It warms the cockles of my heart to see the folks at JREF take this loon to task. But to answer a question here:

    Of course one can’t say it’s complete BS from just some excerpts, but the start of the preface isn’t very promissing.

    It’s certainly true that one can’t be sure that it’s 100% BS without checking 100% of the content.

    But that’s rather like saying “we can’t be sure that ALL electrons have the same charge, unless we check ALL of them” or “we can’t be sure that all (healty) mice have four legs, without checking all of them”

    Here’s a scientific (disprovable) hypothesis: the Null Physics book is 100% BS where the content is non-trivial (so exclude punctuation, chapter headings, index, etc).

    Spot checks so far have supported the hypothesis. Please feel free to add more observational data, but be aware that you may be heading down the “check all mice” path to nowhere.

    For extra credit (and a shout-out to cosmic-ray people), turn the BS observations into a flux limit on non-BS. Just make sure that you do the confidence limits correctly.

  23. #23 Stephen Wells
    February 28, 2008

    At least this is a finite book, so you can in principle exhaustively search it.

    Fortunately, it suffices to find any step in his argument which is BS, and all subsequent steps will also be BS.

    My pick: if his hypercube has side length 0.1 mm, then the shortest observable period of time in which anything can happen should be that length divided by c, so that’s 10^-4 m over 3*10^9 m which is about 10^-13 or 10^-14 seconds. But we already have femtosecond lasers ( http://www.rp-photonics.com/femtosecond_lasers.html ). Ergo he’s wrong.

  24. #24 GDad
    February 28, 2008

    This guy runs ads in Popular Science, which is one of my throne room reading rags. Unfortunately, I think the title should be Popular “Science”, based on the fact that it accepts advertising from the Null Physics guy and John Ellis of super-duper water magic fame. And the pheromone sellers. And the elevator shoes people. And the build-a-barn-in-10-minutes people…

  25. #25 Iain Walker
    February 28, 2008

    Re Comment #33:

    It’s more analagous to how long it takes for something traveling at a finite speed to cover an infinite distance.

    That doesn’t really help, since something travelling at a finite velocity can still travel an infinite distance – given an infinite amount of time.

    Off the top of my head (and I may be misremembering), the “If time extends infinitely into the past, then it would take an infinite amount of time to get to the present” objection to an infinite past derives from Aristotle. It certainly crops up in the later Aristotelian tradition, since it was part of the reasoning behind Aquinas’ cosmological arguments for the existence of God.

    However, Gregory Kusnick has the right of it. The objection is a non sequitur, because it merely begs the question in assuming that time has a beginning. The point of the idea of time extending infinitely into the past is that time does not have beginning, and so it is meaningless to think of time as having to “get to the present” from some kind of starting point.

    Think of it this way – it makes as much sense as arguing that an infinite series of numbers is impossible because if you start counting backwards from infinity, you’ll never reach zero. If someone tried arguing that, you’d be quite justified in supposing that they didn’t understand the concept of infinity. Both arguments make the mistake of treating infinity as if it were a number like any other, when it ain’t.

    But I’ll agree that the concept of time extending infinitely into the past is hard to imagine and probably is meaningless

    Hardly meaningless. It simply means that all past moments of time can be put into a one-to-one correspondence with the members of an infinite set like the real numbers. That’s a perfectly meaningful suggestion. This may be hard to imagine, but that’s because infinity is a tricky concept to get one’s head around, not because there something specifically wrong with the concept of an infinite past.

    Whether or not time can be said to extend infinitely in any direction is probably an empirical question, depending on which models end up describing the universe best. It’s not obviously something you can decide a priori, and certainly not with faulty logic.

  26. #26 gerald spezio
    February 28, 2008

    Grumpy Physicist said;
    “Spot checks so far have supported the hypothesis. Please feel free to add more observational data, but be aware that you may be heading down the check all mice path(s) to nowhere.”

    Your phase, “… check all mice paths to nowhere.” is classic for both microanalysis and the trained lawyer’s courtroom antics.

  27. #27 Master Mahan
    February 28, 2008

    Never trust a hypothesis that names itself after the amount of its supporting evidence.

  28. #28 SteveM
    February 28, 2008

    I have not the read this book, as a EE myself I feel obligated to spend my time writing my own book redefining all of physics :-)

    Re BigBang: we all know that the “Bing Bang” was a derisive term coined by Hoyle to describe what happens if you just linearly project the observed expansion of the universe bacward in time. Since Guth’s inflationary model it seems that one can no longer project back to a point in time of infinite density. All we can say is that before inflation the universe was extremely dense, there is no way to tell how long it may have been in that state.

    infinite time: It seems to me that the argument that time can’t be infinite since the universe could never get to the present, is similar to the same arguments against .999… = 1. Most people are stuck with the image of having to write each 9 successively and therefore it can never actually reach the value of 1. It is hard to imagine an infinite string of 9s as just existing as an object. Likewise, if one considers the universe as a 4 dimensional “object”, then there is no reason it cannot be infinite in time. “Now” is just soem position within that 4D object. There is no “movement” from the moment at -inf to “now”.

    Re “Why do EE’s feel qualified to write books on physics?”:
    most EE’s are just frustrated physicists :-), or physicists that realized engineers with a BS or an MS make far more money than with a Physics PhD. Okay those are the glib answers, but seriously, EE is very physics oriented, dealing with electrons and Maxwell’s eqns. and QM in transistors etc. EE’s take the stuff physicists write about and actually build it. So maybe there is a little arrogance that derives from that. At least, that is what I see in myself, maybe I shouldn’t generalize to all EE’s.

  29. #29 Futility
    February 28, 2008

    #38

    “Oh, I just read #37: WRT to deuterium and tritium I think the superfluous electrons are meant to be within the nucleus: 3 protons and 2 electrons is what the author of this book thinks of when we say 1 proton and 2 neutrons. He probably came across the fact that a neutron can decay into a proton and an electron …”

    Thought about that, too. But where did the anti-electron-neutrino go?
    (beta decay: n-> p + e + anti-v_e)
    “Ah, well, it’s just massless anyways, let’s forget about it.” Well, almost massless.

    But, I think you are right, that’s probably what he thought.
    Clueless, …

  30. #30 Iain Walker
    February 28, 2008

    That’s exactly my point And how long would we have to wait for an infinite amount of time to expire?

    An infinite amount of time, obviously. Measured, of course, from a starting point.

    Ah, but we’re not discussing abstract math here – we’re talking about the real physical world.

    True. But the two arguments nevertheless employ the same fallacy – of treating infinity as if it denoted a starting point, rather than as denoting the absence of a starting point.

    If you built a computer that would endlessly subtract one from infinity (to yield infinity at each step), would it ever reach zero?

    My point was that this fact doesn’t count against the idea of an infinite series, but the Aristotelian argument that you originally employed assumes that it does. Mind you, what if the computer had been running for an infinite amount of time (i.e., it had always been counting down)?

    No, it’s not due to infinity. I have no difficultly imagining time extending infinitely into the future.

    Hmm. It seems to me that if you concede the logical possibility of an infinite future, you no longer have any grounds for denying the logical possibility of an infinite past. If you allow that it is meaningful to talk of a time t which is infinitely distant from us in the future, you’ve just granted that it is meaningful to speak of a time which has an infinite past, because that’s precisely what t has. In which case, why can’t this particular point in time (i.e., now) have an infinite past?

    To put it another way, if you can envisage analogues of ourselves having this discussion an infinite time in the future, what would be the correct view for your analogue to have regarding an infinite past?

    Just because you can come up with a mathematical model, does not mean it corresponds to something real in the physical world. Time is involved with other things like events and causation (as well being related to space, energy, and gravity – but aristotle didn’t know that)

    Which was kind of my point – you have to go out into the real world to see if your models work, and that includes models that assume an infinite past and models which assume a finite past. Contrary to the argument you initially cited, it’s not something you can determine by a priori reasoning alone.

    Just in case it’s unclear, I’m not defending (as such) the idea that time extends infinitely into the past. Indeed I suspect that it probably doesn’t – but as a matter of empirical fact, not something deducible from first principles. All I’m really getting at is that the Aristotelian counter-argument is a bad argument, and that an infinite past is still logically possible, even if it turns out to be empirically false.

  31. #31 David Marjanovi?, OM
    February 28, 2008
    the [...] scientific approach lacks any trace of an underlying natural philosophy.

    Guess what, kook: that’s not a bug. It’s a feature.

    Anyone with a basic familiarity with high-school physics can, by reading this volume, understand the universe with a greater depth and clarity than is currently believed possible. Welcome to 21st century physics.

    “The worst math is no math at all.”

    the author has some problematic (combining two spin-1/2 particles to get a spin-1/2 particle) notions about the neutron being composed of an electron plus a proton.

    He’s almost right — add an electronic antineutrino, and you’re getting somewhere.

    All that physicists really agree on is that at the big bang, the universe became similar enough to the way we understand it for the concept of time to make sense.

    Great explanation. I’m stealing it.

    Physics just lends itself to this stuff in a way that biology doesn’t.

    …in a way that biology doesn’t anymore, now that speculations like vitalism are superfluous, now that we have the theory of evolution, know what DNA is, know how transcription & translation work, understand biochemistry, and so on.

  32. #32 Blake Stacey
    February 28, 2008

    String Theory (why Theory? don’t we tell people not to confuse things this way?) hasn’t come back to the lab for three or four decades

    1. Physicists have been infected by mathematics, so our use of the word “theory” has at least a little of the sense of “group theory” or “set theory”.

    2. Gauge-gravity dualities are applicable to quark-gluon plasma. Sure, nuclear physics is not quantum gravity, but it is where string theory originally got its start in life.

  33. #33 jeff
    February 28, 2008

    An infinite amount of time, obviously. Measured, of course, from a starting point.

    …or measured from an endpoint (the present). The problem is that time is not a number line. It has a direction and is divided into the past, present, and future (although some physicists would dispute that), and in order to actually reach a point in time, all of the time before that point must have expired. Since an infinite period of time can never expire (by definition), the present point in time could never be realized with an infinite past.

    True. But the two arguments nevertheless employ the same fallacy – of treating infinity as if it denoted a starting point, rather than as denoting the absence of a starting point.

    If you built a computer that would endlessly subtract one from infinity (to yield infinity at each step), would it ever reach zero?

    …. Mind you, what if the computer had been running for an infinite amount of time (i.e., it had always been counting down)?

    I would maintain, as aristotle did, that such a computer is logical impossible to realize in the present (and therefore cannot be real), since an infinite amount of time does not expire.

    Hmm. It seems to me that if you concede the logical possibility of an infinite future, you no longer have any grounds for denying the logical possibility of an infinite past. If you allow that it is meaningful to talk of a time t which is infinitely distant from us in the future, you’ve just granted that it is meaningful to speak of a time which has an infinite past, because that’s precisely what t has.

    No they quite are different, because time is not symmetrical, and the future has not expired but the past has.

    Contrary to the argument you initially cited, it’s not something you can determine by a priori reasoning alone

    True, but you can make a strong logical case against it.

  34. #34 Iain Walker
    February 29, 2008

    Re Comment #63:

    …or measured from an endpoint (the present).

    Not sure this makes sense. The point you’re measuring from is by definition the starting point of the measurement. Whether or not the measurement has an end point depends on whether or not the quantity being measured has a finite limit – which is precisely the issue in contention. To put it another way, if we’re talking about an infinite past, then the present is the point of reference from which we begin, and the question at stake is whether or not there is an end point to any measurement made from that starting point.

    in order to actually reach a point in time, all of the time before that point must have expired.

    Again, you’re committing the error of treating infinity as if it were a number from which you can start counting, or a point from which you can start measuring. Talk of “reaching a point in time” only makes sense if measured from a specifiable point of origin. The point of the idea of an infinite past is that for any point of origin you specify for a particular measurement of past time, you can always specify an earlier point of origin than the previous one.

    I would maintain, as aristotle did, that such a computer is logical impossible to realize in the present (and therefore cannot be real), since an infinite amount of time does not expire.

    The comment about the computer having been running forever was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, although I didn’t really signpost that (my bad). However, the example is absurd not for the reason you give, but because computational enumeration (or any other form of counting) is a process of a kind that we know has to have a beginning (i.e., any given computer has to be built, switched on, and the counting program executed).

    But just because a given physical counting process within a temporal framework must have a finite lower boundary, it doesn’t mean that the framework itself must also have a lower boundary. You can’t use analogies with finite processes to prove that the framework in which they take place must also be finite, since this just begs the question. It’s like saying that a spatial dimension cannot be infinite, simply because the process of physically drawing a line has to start somewhere.

    No they quite are different, because time is not symmetrical, and the future has not expired but the past has.

    Actually, my point about a time infinitely far in the future having an infinite past as measured from that future point was a load of bollocks, but for an entirely different reason. I was treating now-plus-infinity as if it were a point from which you could measure backwards, which commits exactly the same mistake you were making in measuring forwards from now-minus-infinity. I obviously hadn’t thought that one through … :-P

    So while I withdraw that particular point, I still take issue with the idea that the fact that the past has “expired” is in any way relevant. All it means is that we’re constrained to move in a particular direction along the universe’s temporal axis. This doesn’t tell us anything about the extent of that axis in one direction or the other. An infinite past is still possible if time has always been “expiring”.

    True, but you can make a strong logical case against it.

    Maybe. I’m willing to be convinced. Unfortunately, the particular argument you’ve been putting forward isn’t that case.

  35. #35 David Marjanovi?, OM
    March 1, 2008

    If you’re worried about an infinite regress of causality, I claim that’s a non-issue as well. In attempting to trace back an infinite causal chain, we must sooner or later come to

    Heisenberg.

    What causes a radioactive nucleus to decay? Only the fact that it can.

  36. #36 Ben M
    August 12, 2008

    Sorry to post in a long-dead thread, but (if anyone still cares) I actually read Witt’s book and wrote a review.

    http://web.mit.edu/~bmonreal/www/Null_Physics_Review.html

  37. #37 Reality Check
    November 19, 2008

    Also see my review at http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~fiski/ouu_review.html

    The flaws of this crackpot book are many and include:
    Redefining the concept of infinity as a length with magnitude.
    Defining a line as a series of points written as zeros, treating them as numbers so that they add up to zero and then treating the number zero as a point again!
    A really bad atomic model “proving” that a electron orbiting a proton has a ground state that it cannot decay from by creating a new physical law.
    Using the high school description of a neutron as a proton plus an electron and not realizing that this is just his atomic model!
    Postulating that galaxies have “galactic cores” which are super massive objects that are not quite black holes and not realizing that the centre of the Milky Way is well observed. These recycle stars into hydrogen. Oddly enough astronomers have not noticed dozens of stars vanishing from the galactic centre in the many images that they have taken over the last few decades.

    Conclusion: Bad mathematics and even worse physics.