“There will be days when we lose faith. Days when our allies turn against us...but the day will never come that we forsake this planet and its people.” ―Optimus Prime
There was too much to simply keep it to a single article a day this week here at Starts With A Bang! The dynamic duo of Megan Watzke and Kimberly Arcand published a delightful contribution on scale, and we're gearing up for a month where we'll highlight some of the telescopes of the 2020s (and maybe beyond) that will help shape the future of astronomy.
In the meantime, those of you who caught totality from the eclipse have affirmed to me that it was, in fact, one of the greatest experiences of your lifetime. Want to know exactly what it was like?
Thanks to our generous Patreon supporters (including some of you), we've got some fantastic ideas in the pipeline that I can't wait for you to read. In the meantime, though, let's take a look back as to what we've covered over this past week:
- What science experiments will open the door to the future? (for Ask Ethan),
- The ‘Eye Of Creation’ Holds The Secrets To Cosmic Life And Death (for Mostly Mute Monday),
- How Hurricane Harvey’s Record-Setting Rainfall Is Happening Right Now,
- No, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Squashing Curiosity And Wonder Is Never Okay,
- Why understanding scale is vital, not just for science, but for everyone (by Kimberly Arcand and Megan Watzke),
- 5 Facts We Can Learn If LIGO Detects Merging Neutron Stars, and
- A new explanation for dark energy: the matter in our Universe.
I just received word that we're six weeks away from the publication of Treknology, and that enough preorders have happened that they're already going to have to do a second printing of the book! (That's good news, probably.) But you're not here to get book updates; you're here for the bonus science. With that said, let's get right to it, and into our comments of the week!
From Elle H.C. on nuclear reactions and energy conservation: "On the mass-energy conversion, so why do they say there’s no energy released during particle collisions, like in a fission reaction for instance, or is this something I misunderstood?"
So there's an important starting point that I want to make sure gets emphasized: in every particle-particle, particle-photon, antiparticle-particle, etc., reaction that's ever been observed, energy and momentum both are always 100% conserved. If you add up the energy of the rest mass plus the kinetic energy of the initial reactants, and compare it to the energy of the rest mass plus the kinetic energy of the products, energy is always conserved. Those two numbers will balance one another out. Now, that doesn't mean that the masses are going to balance! In fact, in pretty much every nuclear reaction, they don't; either you have fusion (where energy is released, bringing you up closer to iron-56), or fission (where energy is released, bringing you down closer to iron-56), and so there's more kinetic energy available at the end. That's what normally happens. So overall, energy is usually liberated in a nuclear reaction, but it's just being converted from one form (mass) to another (kinetic energy).
The only way to 'disrupt' a proton, or any particle, is via a collision, interaction, or decay involving another external particle. Image credit: Ned Wright / Sean Carroll, via https://ned.ipac.caltech.edu/level5/March01/Carroll3/Carroll4.html.
And from Elle H.C. again, on what may be the root of all these misconceptions: "I am only focusing on the idea of how vibrations might change the energy/mass levels of a Proton, and if that may lead to the disruption of a Proton. Please do explain to us what’s so ‘misleading’ about this question."
What's misleading is that "vibration" is a completely unrelated classical concept that has no business in the quantum world. It's not related and the question makes no sense, as nuclei don't vibrate, energy levels don't vibrate, and nothing of the sort causes the disruption or disintegration of a proton. For what seems like ages, you've been going on about this, and I couldn't for the life of me figure out why you wouldn't take "this makes no sense" for an answer. But now I think I see. For clarification, you also provided a link to where this idea of vibration comes from: Sean Carroll's blog. And Sean, like many, talks about how a particle can be viewed as a vibration, or excitation, of a fundamental field. For example, he calls the Higgs boson a vibration of the Higgs field. So I think this is where your misconception arises, because you are picturing the field as an underlying, static thing, permeating all of space, and that it's vibrating in one place, creating a particle there, and so if you make that field vibrate in one spot over and over, perhaps you can make something interesting happen. I think that's where your mind is. And if so, here's why it's wrong.
Sure, for a physical string, it makes sense to talk about different vibrational modes, and how they correspond to different sounds or frequencies. But for fields and particles, they're only called:
- or vibrations,
- or energy levels,
- or excitations,
because the different allowable states obey an analogous set of mathematical rules. But nothing is vibrating, and nothing is excited, and nothing is physically at a different level, and so on. The proton does not vibrate; space does not vibrate; even fields do not vibrate. Particles don't exist (or not exist) because a field is (or isn't) vibrating; particles exist (or not) with a particular configuration because of the quantum state that a quanta of energy occupies (or doesn't occupy). I hope this clears up your "vibration" questions once and for all! You have misinterpreted an analogy to mean something other than what it means, and have been talking about physical impossibilities as though they had validity because of it. But that's not the end of the world! It just means that you have an opportunity, so long as you're humble before the laws of nature, to learn about where your misconception is. You can learn about the way the Universe actually works, revise your picture of it, and begin drawing more valid conclusions and asking better questions. If you can do that, you're well on your way to a satisfying life that's rooted in the physical reality we all inhabit.
The ALPHA collaboration has come the closest of any experiment to measuring the behavior of neutral antimatter in a gravitational field. Depending on the results, this could open the door to incredible new technologies. Image credit: Maximilien Brice/CERN.
From Frank on what is and isn't possible: "Basically, we don’t really know many big ideas in science-fiction are really theoretically/practically possible or not. And that means our knowledge of physics is incomplete. And that means we should try to answer those questions by doing more theoretical research, as well as more experiments and observations."
Here's the important thing, to be totally transparent: Everything that we can draw conclusions about is based only in our current understanding of physics and the laws that govern the Universe. But it's fun, as a theorist, to play the game of "what if?" What if all we know isn't all there is to physics? What if there are some new things? And if X or Y or Z is a new thing, what are the consequences that arise? That was the point of last week's Ask Ethan article: what could possibly occur to bring some of our "science fiction" dream technologies into reality? And if antimatter has a negative gravitational mass (we haven't made a sensitive enough test), or dark matter can be harnessed and turned/amplified into energy via E = mc^2 (it may be possible), or if the Universe rotates at the right rate to allow closed timelike curves (it probably doesn't, but it isn't ruled out), some very interesting consequences arise. In particular, some presently thought-to-be-impossible ideas become possible. And that's worth remembering, as we continue to experiment.
All rockets ever envisioned require some type of fuel, but if a dark matter engine were created, new fuel is always to be found simply by traveling through the galaxy. Image credit: NASA / MSFC.
From CFT on loss and behavior: "My last few posts were very upset and angry, I made the mistake of drinking after receiving a phone call about the death of someone very dear to me."
Well all the best to you in these troubling times. May you make peace with what has happened and come out okay with yourself, your life, and the world without your loved one on the other side of your grief. Thank you, also, to rich r for being a model of kindness in his compassion to CFT. Kindness, remember, costs us nothing.
From the International Space Station on August 25, 2017, 250 miles above Earth, a NASA astronaut captured photos of Hurricane Harvey. Image credit: NASA.
From John on the physics of hurricanes: "It’s notable to read here of a science that appears essentially the same as was presented to me in primary school many moons ago!"
This is very much the case! The basics of hurricane science and tropical storm formation, in general, has changed very little in perhaps the past 40+ years. Once we began launching Earth-monitoring satellites to watch how these storms form over the ocean, we learned very quickly what the mechanisms at play were. Air blowing rapidly over a warm ocean (typically, at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit or 27 degrees Celsius) will result in that air collecting water, rising, cooling, forming clouds, and then the air dropping again, while additional warm, wet air continuing to rise beneath it. The faster the winds and the warmer the water, the more devastating this can get. People with a variety of political persuasions are going to argue about what the finer points of this one event -- Hurricane Harvey -- means, but the previous paragraph, about the basic science behind hurricane formation, will not change, no matter what is legislated.
The entire path of totality across Earth's surface, for the August 21, 2017 eclipse. Only 0.26% of the surface experienced totality. Image credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio.
From Sean T on Neil deGrasse Tyson's wonder-crushing statements: "Most people will only experience an eclipse when it is relatively close to home, as this one was for Americans (as will, of course the 2024 one be as well). Let people just wonder at and enjoy it when they can."
Do you see the above image? See that "giant" swath where the eclipse falls? That quarter-of-a-percent of Earth's surface? According to Neil, that's what "not rare" looks like. Now, there was misinformation out there -- and it's always good to correct misinformation -- but it's important to do it in a way that's inclusive, that doesn't talk down to people, and that amplifies the wonder and awe at the natural Universe. At least, that's what I try to have be my modus operandi. But I have gotten, particularly on Twitter and Tumblr, a lot of hate mail about the piece I wrote about Neil. This is one of the dangers of a personality cult: if you deify someone, you lose the ability to recognize their flaws, no matter how egregious they are. And if you believe it about yourself, you lose the ability to self-improve. May we all never fall into that trap here!
The eclipsed Sun, the visible corona, and the reddish hues around the edges of the Moon's shadow — along with human beings rapt with awe — were among the most spectacular sights of the total eclipse. Image credit: Joe Sexton / Jesse Angle.
From jvj on another eclipse experience: "I spent 45 minutes explaining how an eclipse happens to a young person, with a HS education, who didn’t know what the Milky Way is. He spent 1 1/2 hours watching the eclipse with his family with a pair of Celestron 2X eclipse glasses I gave him. (We had 80% totality in our location). No doubt hundreds of thousands of folks who haven’t given “science” a second thought in a long time also joined my friend in experiencing the eclipse."
Part of the reason, I think, that so many people don't engage with science is that it feels so foreign to them. It feels as though it's divorced from their day-to-day experience. What made this eclipse special is that there were literally 200,000,000 people who lived within a 1-day drive of the path of totality. This was a very rare opportunity for people to experience a cosmic event that only occurs over any particular location on Earth, on average, once every 400 years or so. Yes, eclipses anywhere aren't rare, but you don't get to be everywhere on Earth at once. Relating science to what people experience and understand is one of the biggest challenges of science communication. Yes, Neil correctly stated a fact, achieving McLovin levels of communication.
But I think everyone who demands more isn't being unreasonable. In fact, people who think Neil should be immune from criticism or improvements because of the good he does are missing the point of learning, of self-improvement, and of knowledge entirely. But that's just my opinion, and you're entitled to your own as well.
Comparing the size of unrelated objects, such as a 'familiar' one with an 'unfamiliar' one, can help people get a feel for scale in a uniquely powerful way. Image credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab.
From symball on visualizations for scale: "Here in the UK we have a more standard unit scale, for areas it is the size of Wales, and for volume either olympic swimming pools or Wembley Stadium. For height we use double decker buses, or occasionally Nelsons Column."
I personally propose that we begin using a single, standard unit for areas, volumes, heights, and weights.
How do you feel about units of "Godzillas"?
3D rendering of the gravitational waves emitted from a binary neutron star system at merger. The central region (in density) is stretched by a factor of ~5 for better visibility. Image credit: AEI Potsdam-Golm.
From Anadish Kumar Pal on whether LIGO could have detected merging neutron stars or not: "There might be some astronomical observation of gravitational waves produced by neutron stars; although, I think, this time it is quite improbable, looking at the sheer fortuitousness of the so-called detection makes it untenable — the VIRGO run was too short (just 25 days), LIGO never found any orbiting neutron stars’ gravitational waves in the last 3 years, while there are too many neutron stars nearby to have slipped LIGO’s notice."
Remember, please, how probability works. And combine that with how gravitational wave events work. The amplitude of gravitational waves increase tremendously in the final moments, as the distance between two objects reaches a minimum. The known neutron star pairs are far too distant to have their gravitational wave amplitudes detected. In fact, it's only during the final seconds, at most, that inspiraling binaries will be at the appropriate frequencies and amplitudes to be seen by LIGO.
So saying "we didn't see anything in years" is like buying a lottery ticket every second for a few years (it was months, actually, but whatever), and not winning, and drawing the conclusion that therefore, I won't win if I play for another few weeks. But maybe you will! No one expected LIGO would detect its first black hole-black hole merger after turning on for just a few days in September of 2015, but it happened. Merging neutron stars -- with or without VIRGO observing it, too -- could have happened. Of course, it could not have happened, too. It's just speculation at this point. But don't say "too many neutron stars nearby to have slipped LIGO’s notice" as though that's a fact. Until we know the merger rate and the local population of neutron star binaries, that's not a valid conclusion.
As computational power and Lattice QCD techniques have improved over time, so has the accuracy to which various quantities about the proton, such as its component spin contributions, can be computed. Image credit: Laboratoire de Physique de Clermont / ETM Collaboration.
And finally, from Frank on analogous experiments: "If physical Black Hole analogue(s) possible, then maybe we should try to find physical analogue(s) for expansion of the universe/Dark Energy."
You must be very precise if you want to create an analogue system. Most people, when they talk about building a system as an analogy for a system that we cannot physically study in a lab, misunderstand what's going on entirely. It's very tempting to try and create a visualization in your head for what an analogous system would look like, to set that system up, and then run experiments. But that is not what an "analogue system" as you call it actually is. Rather, it's a system that is governed by the same equations, which may or may not look anything like the original system you're trying to model. You know how we build black hole analogs? We create a low-temperature, condensed matter system with a rapidly flowing fluid, where it flows so fast it exceeds the speed of sound in that medium. These sonic black holes are called this because sound waves cannot escape from the fluid. It's a mathematical analogy. We can try to find a physical analogue for an expanding Universe or dark energy, but that's a tall order that won't be easily accomplished by a conventional, positive-pressure fluid or gas. It's important to be open-minded, but when you confront your idea with physical reality, it's reality that shall always be the victor and the arbiter of what's right. Thanks for a great week, everyone, and I'll see you back here tomorrow for more Starts With A Bang!
I can follow you perfectly, and you are right to point out why I am wrong, I have no problem with this 'strict' mathematical vision of the world.
But I guess I'm here on Einstein's side in his discussions with Bohr, that QM is incomplete, to single out:
"But nothing is vibrating, and nothing is excited, and nothing is physically at a different level, and so on."
When looking at the double slit experiment how can a Photon 'sense' the other slit when there is 'nothing', or what's going on with entangled? QM has this all worked out in theory, but my guess is that in reality that 'nothing' you talk about is 'something'.
To quote Einstein:
"We may say that according to the general theory of relativity space is endowed with physical qualities; in this sense, therefore, there exists an aether. According to the general theory of relativity space without aether is unthinkable; for in such space there not only would be no propagation of light, but also no possibility of existence for standards of space and time (measuring-rods and clocks), nor therefore any space-time intervals in the physical sense. But this aether may not be thought of as endowed with the quality characteristic of ponderable media, as consisting of parts which may be tracked through time. The idea of motion may not be applied to it." - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aether_theories#General_relativity
The scientific community has ruled against Einstein on this topic, so I guess one has to come up with something better than QM and I'll let the discussion rest without proof.
And finally, from Frank on analogous experiments: “If physical Black Hole analogue(s) possible, then maybe we should try to find physical analogue(s) for expansion of the universe/Dark Energy.”
A "Black Hole analogue" has been found; it is the "an exciton-polariton condensate" as discussed in the following
Observation of self-amplifying Hawking radiation in an analog black
Black Holes and Wormholes in spinor polariton condensates
It is well established fact that spinor dark mode polariton condensates are analog black holes that produce Hawking radiation.
Physicist claims to have observed quantum effects of Hawking radiation in the lab for the first time
The production of Hawking radiation in coherent optical systems producing bose condinsation is well established.
In LENR research, strange particle emissions in both LENR fuel and LENR ash that I beleive are based on the polariton bose condinsate based analog particles have been shown to produce particle tracks on photographic emulsions that are predicted to be generated by an analog tachyon monopole particle. These particles are oftentimes seen to be coherent and coordinated in their movement in swarms.
For details see
Also, as predicted by string theory, these analoge strange particles ( as tachyons) are also seen to produce mesons as a consequence of hadronization.
See for details in theory:
Plasma-Balls in Large N Gauge Theories and Localized Black Holes
The Inside Story: Quasilocal Tachyons and Black Holes
When looking at the double slit experiment how can a Photon ‘sense’ the other slit when there is ‘nothing’, or what’s going on with entangled?
Many (I want to say 'all' but I'm not sure about that) wavefunctions are much larger than what we would consider the discrete particle to be. The photon is, in reality, 'smeared out' over a much larger area. So it doesn't need to 'sense' the other slit through some exchange of intermediates between it and the second slit situated away from it; instead, the photon is literally big enough to hit both at once and thus 'know' whether the second slit is there. It doesn't really 'know' anything of course, but the point is that the interaction between the photon and the sheet encompasses both slits because it's wavefunction is that big.
Similarly with entangled particles; entanglement doesn't mean they are shooting some beam of information between far-separated particles, it means the wavefunction of the pair is smeared out over the entire area between them (and yes, this can literally be meters, kilometers, even hypothetically light years). If this seems crazy, it's worth pointing out that some wavefunctions are literally infinite in extent. The value of the function may decrease with distance (and the probability of finding a particle in any given spot goes down as the square of that value), so we can for practical purposes ignore the wavefunction beyond a certain distance as an approximation. But the math for such functions says that that particle has a non-zero wavefunction out to infinity.
QM has this all worked out in theory, but my guess is that in reality that ‘nothing’ you talk about is ‘something’.
You and Michael Mooney both have an issue with reifying descriptive words. No natural language (including English) has accurate terms for modern physical concepts. The mathematical expressions are the most accurate terms we can come up with; the words we use are imperfect approximations for those more accurate mathematical terms. So for example, a thermodynamic partial change in entropy, ds, is dQ/T. It is not "order decreases" which is just a crappy English approximation. It is not "entropy increases over time in a closed system" which is another better (but still squishy) English approximation of the math. It's the math. Likewise, when physicists describe some subatomic thing or force as "vibrating", that's just a crappy approximate English term for the math. It probably means that some of the math describing the system has the same form as an oscillator (such as Energy = 1/2*k*(variable)^2). That's it. Quantum mechanical 'spin' doesn't mean some literal physical object is literally physically spinning; it means the object has a angular momentum component.
This sort of confusion and laypeople reifying words incorrectly is, AIUI, one of the reasons physicists started going to crazy terms like top/bottom, strange/charm, up/down for quarks. They saw the confusion caused by the earlier historical choice of terms like "spin" and decided they didn't want that to happen again.
So, my advice to you and MM and every other layperson who thinks they've discovered some flaw in modern physics by reading a natural language description of some theory is: learn the math. That's the REAL 'description' of the theory - not the words. Learn it backward and forwards. Learn it so well you can solve the equations and problems physicsts use these theories to solve - at least to the level of a 2nd or 3rd year undergraduate. Once you grok the math, then you'll really know what these theories say. But as long as you're stuck at the no-math, natural language level of understanding, any extrapolation or metaphoric reasoning which leads you to believe there's an error in the theory is much more likely to be a result of your lack of understanding, not a flaw in the theory.
They play's the thing. :) Play here meaning actually working through the equations.
"space without aether is unthinkable"
Highly recommend Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt. An easy holiday read, focussing on the efforts of the women 'computers' in the space program, much like the book by Dava Sobel called the Glass Universe focussing on the women who read astronomy photographic plates.
Some nuggets (i.e. my ignorance):
The Suicide Squad. Students at Caltech who got interested in rockets in 1949. Called that since things kept blowing up. After damaging a building they were not permitted to continue on campus, so they went to a spot in the desert that soon became the JPL.
Barbara Paulson was the first 'computer' and part of the Suicide Squad. She got to work all through space missions until she retired in 1993 when the Mars Orbiter was in progress.
FORTRAN is a contraction of Formula Translator ( I missed out on FORTRAN - started with basic and assembly language).
Richard Feynman was in the Explorer 1 control room when it launched.
A reminder of how the pill transformed womens ability to be part of the workforce.
The Ranger moon missions - named after the JPL heads Ford pickup truck.
How lucky they were with Mariner 2 (Mariner 1 was a disaster - failed because of a single transcription error, and that in Mariner 2 a short magically corrected itself) and that it was the first USA 'win' in the space race.
The people at JPL were far more interested in Mars and Venus than that dumb boring moon rock.
After Ranger 6 failed (as did the previous 5) James Webb himself told the JPL they had just one more go.
Mariner 3 confused paint chips for stars, jeopardizing its mission.
Pantyhose was originally called Panti-Legs. Yea, I know.
Thomas Edison coined the term 'computer bug'. Popularised by Grace Hopper in 1947 when they actually found a moth trapped in the relay points of a panel - hence joking that they were 'debugging' and the term took hold.
Apollo 12 landed next to Surveyor 6, and picked up the pieces. Still the only lunar space probe that came home.
The Space Shuttle was based on von Brauns design for the Nazi Amerika Bomber that would go suborbital and drop bombs on New York City.
Voyager 2 was launched BEFORE Voyager 1! (But landed second).
Sue Finley - hired in 1958 just before Explorer 1 launched the USAs first satellite.
Worked on missions for all the planets.
Still there - longest female employee and working on the Juno mission after which she will retire.
WHAT a mind bogglingly amazing career. Hell I would like to spend a few hours (at least) with her in a bar.
From the first baby rockets fired in 1949 to landing on the moon in 1969.
Just 20 years.
More amazing, maybe. The first USA ship to reach the moon crash-landed (on purpose) in 1964. Just 5 years later they landed two men. Wow. I can't get a grant funded in that time these days :-(
Well, Einstein also said: "There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will."
Just because someone made great contribution in one area, doesn't make him absolutely correct about everything. Argument from authority is fallacy. As Sagan put it: "One of the great commandments of science is, "Mistrust arguments from authority." ... Too many such arguments have proved too painfully wrong. Authorities must prove their contentions like everybody else."
When it comes to GR you better listen to the master:
"We may say that according to the general theory of relativity space is endowed with physical qualities"
i was replying to your quote about "space without aether is unthinkable", like that somehow "proves" there should be aether. at lest be honest chelle.
p.s. that same "master" as you call him, didn't believe in BB or that universe is expanding when his own theory showed it would. There are no masters or overlords or rulers in science. That kind of talk is more in line with MM, and you're starting to sound more like him every day.
"i was replying to your quote about “space without aether is unthinkable”, like that somehow “proves” there should be aether. at lest be honest chelle."
I was honest because it came out of the same quote, those two arguments go hand in hand, and please allow me to be a bit poetic, absolutely nothing wrong with calling Einstein 'The Master' for Christ sake, every thousands get their 'Masters' diploma and even MC Hammer was a Master of Ceremonie.
Anyway FYI as already posted once before:
"Robert B. Laughlin, Nobel Laureate in Physics, endowed chair in physics, Stanford University, had this to say about ether in contemporary theoretical physics:
It is ironic that Einstein's most creative work, the general theory of relativity, should boil down to conceptualizing space as a medium when his original premise [in special relativity] was that no such medium existed [..] The word 'ether' has extremely negative connotations in theoretical physics because of its past association with opposition to relativity. This is unfortunate because, stripped of these connotations, it rather nicely captures the way most physicists actually think about the vacuum. . . . Relativity actually says nothing about the existence or nonexistence of matter pervading the universe, only that any such matter must have relativistic symmetry. [..] It turns out that such matter exists. About the time relativity was becoming accepted, studies of radioactivity began showing that the empty vacuum of space had spectroscopic structure similar to that of ordinary quantum solids and fluids. Subsequent studies with large particle accelerators have now led us to understand that space is more like a piece of window glass than ideal Newtonian emptiness. It is filled with 'stuff' that is normally transparent but can be made visible by hitting it sufficiently hard to knock out a part. The modern concept of the vacuum of space, confirmed every day by experiment, is a relativistic ether. But we do not call it this because it is taboo.
So please don't be a hypocrite saying we should question authority; but the moment I do so, you try to stump me down.
The reference came out of this book:
One of the unresolved, and possibly unresolvable, tensions in Science – in the instance Physics – is whether it describes or explains. As seen above, some are firmly (even emphatically) members of the descriptive camp. I found Ethan’s “What’s the quantum reason that sodium and water react?” (05-AUG-17) a delightful example of Science’s – in that instance physical Chemistry – ability to explain.
Whoops sorry. Voyager didn't land of course.
I love the idea of "Godzillas". But which Godzilla shall we choose? I can see hyperactive working groups, hotly contested papers, and exciting news stories for DECADES!
Ref; eric 3:
"You and Michael Mooney both have an issue with reifying descriptive words. No natural language (including English) has accurate terms for modern physical concepts. The mathematical expressions are the most accurate terms we can come up with; the words we use are imperfect approximations for those more accurate mathematical terms."
Kelley Ross, " The Ontology and Cosmology of Non-Euclidean Geometry:
Just because the math works doesn't mean that we understand what is happening in nature. Every physical theory has a mathematical component and a conceptual component, but these two are often confused. Many speak as though the mathematical component confers understanding, this even after decades of the beautiful mathematics of quantum mechanics obviously conferring little understanding. The mathematics of Newton's theory of gravity were beautiful and successful for two centuries, but it conferred no understanding about what gravity was. Now we actually have two competing ways of understanding gravity, either through Einstein's geometrical method or through the interaction of virtual particles in quantum mechanics.
Nevertheless, there is often still a kind of deliberate know-nothing-ism that the mathematics is the explanation. It isn't."
You reify the math and its model and ignore the "real world" fit as descriptive of the natural cosmos... as if there were no "real world" which the math is enlisted as a tool to describe.
You have ignored my reference to Ross's ontology before. No doubt that level of scholarship is way over your head. ... as with all those who insist that "the mathematics is the explanation."
Just because the math works doesn’t mean that we understand what is happening in nature.
That may be true. But not even having math that works puts you much lower on the understanding scale.
I have gotten, particularly on Twitter and Tumblr, a lot of hate mail about the piece I wrote about Neil. This is one of the dangers of a personality cult: if you deify someone, you lose the ability to recognize their flaws, no matter how egregious they are.
I think the problem is bigger than a cult of personality but rather is a commentary on the nature of Twitter and Social Media. They are algorithmic tuned echo chambers. They actively funnel to you content you want to consume, and often enough your only exposure to counter views are cherry-picked snips being debunked by someone of your like mind. They are tribe building machines.
The bias provided by Social Media is one of a number of factors that are reducing society’s critical thinking ability. The ability to take in a foreign idea and examine its strengths and weaknesses is fading. In its place is the adoption of an almost religious orthodoxy where foreign ideas must be shouted down and where the freedom of speech exercised wrongly is viewed as a threat equivalent to actual violence. Every opinion, and too often verified fact, is thoughtcrime to some online tribe or another.
That said, hate received from the Neil deGrasse Tyson piece was teed up perfectly for a ‘Finish Him’ response. Please, please, please tell me you went with Keegan-Michael Key’s closing line.
Did you even attempt to read the Ross paper? If so you clearly did not understand it.
The concept must be clear before quantification of it has any meaning at all.
Study and *understand* the history of the development of non-Euclidean geometry for openers. Study Ross' paper, then get back to me if you learned anything from it. Again, the math is NOT the explanation, contrary to your assertion.
I read it.
The concept must be clear before quantification of it has any meaning at all.
No, he doesn't say that at all. In fact he seems to strongly disagree with your idea that we must all get our ontology straight first, as he says:
"The most important point is that the ontological status of the dimensions involved with the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic curvature is a question entirely separate from the mathematics. It is also, to an extent, a question that is separate from science -- since a scientific theory may work quite well without out needing to decide what all is going on ontologically."
Now if you want to argue that the math of Relativity doesn't tell us the ontology of the universe, I'm okay with that. I'll leave metaphysics to the philosophers and happily stick to mere physics. But if you want to claim relativity must be incorrect for some reason having to do with ontology, or that we must all work out our ontologies before we can begin writing down equations, I disagree - and more to the point here, Ross's article doesn't support that conclusion at all. In fact it seems to me he's much more accepting of conventional cosmology than you are, as he happily reports the 'new' (now somewhat old) finding that the universe appears to be open. And he states that curved spacetime is a possibility, while in contrast you don't even accept the concept of spacetime.
Ross ends with: "The purpose, then, is to break ground, to open up the issues, and to stir up the complacency that is all too easy for philosophers when they think that somebody else is the expert and understands things quite adequately. It is the philosopher's job to question and inquire, not to accept somebody else's word for somebody else's understanding."
Which is fine. Asking questions about 'complacent' truth is great. Go do it. Just remember that pace Sagan's famous quote about Bozo, just because some challenges to the scientific status quo turn out to be valuable doesn't mean all challenges will be correct or valuable. Most challenges will be stinkers.
Denier @ #16 -
That was beautiful. Truly. Every word.
Your reply got lost in the shuffle until now. (My "notifications" on SWAB do not work.)
Seems you missed the whole point of his paper... which questions the concepts and assumptions upon which non-Euclidean geometry and cosmology are based.
His saying that curved spacetime is a* possibility* does not endorse it as an actual entity in the world, as treated by the mainstream. He also did a rundown on extrinsic vs intrinsic curvature and explained that models are just models until verified to fit scientific observation in the world they are supposed to describe. He explained how curvature of any dimension requires the next higher dimension, i.e., that a curved line requires a plane and "curved space" (volume) would require a fourth spatial dimension... a "possiblity" (scare quotes) with no real world referent.
Me: The concept must be clear before quantification of it has any meaning at all.
"No, he doesn’t say that at all."
You missed the point that the math is not the explanation. Math models without specific reference to real world phenomena are meaningless. Look at the recent discussion here on the proliferation of inflation models... with all the math you care to chew on (I presume) and no empirical evidence to make it science... just metaphysical imaginings. Oh... but they are all credentialed theoretical physicists, mathematicians and cosmologists!