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Saturday, Apr 30, 2011
Killing the king
Here is a story from Felix Frankfurter Reminisces (1960):
On Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. and Ralph Waldo Emerson, p. 59.

Emerson said to him, "Young man, have you read Plato?" Holmes said he hadn't. "You must. You must read Plato. But you must hold him at arm's length and say, 'Plato, you have delighted and edified mankind for two thousand years. What have you to say to me?'" Holmes said, "That's the lesson of independence." So off he went and read Plato for a few months or a year, and then wrote a piece doing in Mr. Plato in one of those ephemeral literary things at Harvard. He laid this, as it were, at the feet of Mr. Emerson and awaited the next morning's mail, hoping to get a warm appreciation from Emerson. And the next day and the next and the next — no sign of life. No acknowledgment from Mr. Emerson. Holmes didn't see him again for about a year. When he saw him, this, that, and the other thing was again talked about. Emerson said, "Oh, by the way, I read your piece on Plato. Holmes, when you strike at a king, you must kill him." Holmes said, "That was the second great lesson — humility."

Likewise, critcisms of Pres. Barack Obama have to show that he is unfit for the office, or they do no real damage. The birth certificate had to show that he was not an American, or else it is insignificant.

Info about Obama's past does tell us more about who he is. His decisions as President continue to baffle those on the right and the left. We know less about him than we do about any American president in decades. His parents are dead. He has little contact with family and friends. We knew Bush, McCain, Kerry, Gore, Clinton, Dole, etc. much better.

Friday, Apr 29, 2011
Max Born on Einstein
It is easy to find glowing praise for Einstein's famous 1905 paper. Max Born wrote:
A long time before I read Einstein’s famous 1905 paper, I knew the formal mathematical side of the special theory of relativity through my teacher Hermann Minkowski. Even so, Einstein’s paper was a revelation to me which had a stronger influence on my thinking than any other scientific experience… Einstein’s simple consideration, by which he disclosed the epistemological root of the problem… made an enormous impression, and I think it right that the principle of relativity is connected with his name, though Lorentz and Poincare should not be forgotten.
But no one said anything so ridiculous (publicly) during 1905-1908. The most credit Einstein ever got was to have relativity called the "Lorentz-Einstein" theory.

The Born story is told a little differently in Einstein: the life and times By Ronald W. Clark. There seem to be some inconsistencies in the stories Born told about learning relativity.

Born's 1921 book on "Einstein's Theory of Relativity" said:

Only the reader who has made this view really his own will be able to folow the later development of the doctrine of space and time. Different people find progressive abstraction, objectivation, and relativization easy or difficult, as the case may be. The older peoples of the Continent, Dutch, French, Germans, Italians, Scandinavians, are most susceptible to these ideas, are the most deeply engaged in elaborating this system. Englishmen, who incline to concrete ideas, are less readily accessible. Americans are fond of attaching themselves to pictures and models. [p.190-191]
He later wrote to Einstein:
It is my belief that when average people try to get hold of the laws of nature by thinking alone, the result is pure rubbish.
Born, who was considered Jewish by Nazi Germany because of his ancestry, also wrote privately about Jewish physics:
Ohanian (who may be Jewish himself) gives the background to this phrase ("Einstein's Mistakes" p. 97). He first attributes it to Sommerfeld (an admirer of Einstein), who wrote (approvingly) of "the conceptually abstract nature of the Semite". Ohanian goes on to interpret this remark repeating the wide-spread view (at that time) that "Jews are intellectually inventive & inclined to abstruse, convoluted arguments". Max Born (another Jewish physicist & very good friend of Einstein) described Jewish physics as "an attempt to find the laws of nature just by thinking". Einstein agreed with him when he wrote to Born "I am confident that 'Jewish physics' is not to be killed." To which, Born replied "I have always appreciated your good Jewish physics". All of these quotes are referenced in the text.
The book also says that Sommerfeld complained about Einstein's "nonconstructive and nonvisualizable dogmatics", and it says that the comments were "on target".

My problem with this is that Born's 1921 book shows only a limited understanding of relativity. He says very little about electromagnetism or gravity. He does not mention covariance or recognize the concept. It is central to both special and general relativity. I realize that he got a Nobel Prize for quantum mechanics, but I am unimpressed with his relativity.

It is wrong to say that Einstein "disclosed the epistemological root of the problem". You cannot get to the root of the problem without covariance. Covariance is what makes electromagnetism a spacetime theory. Einstein did not have a spacetime theory. Born credits Minkowski for making it a spacetime theory, and describes the spacetime metric, but does not explain that physical quantities are transformed by purely geometric considerations.

My other problem with Born is that he is emphatic about crediting his friend Einstein for relativity, but he admits that it is possible that Poincare had it all first, in a 1969 essay in the book Physics in my Generation:

The reasoning used by Poincaré was just the same as that which Einstein introduced in his paper of 1905 … Does this mean that Poincaré knew all this before Einstein? It is possible … [Einstein's paper] gives you the impression of quite a new venture. But that is, of course, as I have tried to explain, not true.
I don't know what to make of this Jewish physics stuff. The term seems to be mostly used in connection with German physics, and various Nazi controversies in the 1930s. Germany dominated physics at the time, and according to Wikipedia, the Jewish physics presented an excuse to resist an ideologically unwelcome scientific "paradigm shift". Some of this was aimed at relativity, as you can read in Criticism of relativity theory.

Jewish physics also relates to various ethnic stereotypes. The Half Sigma blog writes:

Both Jains and Jews are tiny minority religion with onerous dietary rules and other restrictions on the enjoyment of life, and both have disproportionate economic success. This leads me to a new theory of why Jews evolved to be smarter than gentile whites. It has to do with the religion sucking really bad. You would think that this would work in the opposite manner. A really smart Jew or Jain would realize how dumb it is that they can’t eat any good foods, and they would be the most likely to jump ship. But such thinking would be based on a misunderstanding of the psychology of high-IQ people. The higher a person’s IQ, the more they follow the rules they are taught. Within the orthodox Jewish or Jain subcultures, the moral thing to do is obey the rules of the religion. It’s the least intelligent Jews or Jains who are most likely to be tempted by the forbidden joys of tasty food and stray from the religion. In this manner, over the centuries, the least intelligent Jews and Jains are most likely to have been culled from the religions’ gene pools.
I guess the idea is that Jewish rabbis are fond of arcane, tricky reasoning about artificially imposed rules that have no obvious relevance to real-world purposes, and that Jews are accustomed to admiring that. The religious Jews stick to the Talmud and religious reasoning, but the non-religious Jews try to apply the reasoning elsewhere.

The Paradigm shift was popularized by a man named Kuhn. That is often a Jewish name, and often not. I don't know whether he was Jewish or not. There are lots of Jews and non-Jews on different sides of the issues.

Thursday, Apr 28, 2011
Why science is the source of all progress
David Deutsch David Deutsch is plugging a new book with this:
What is the secret of science's success in understanding our world? It's to do with the quality of its explanations – though there is a twist in the tale

Evidently we do know: look at the remarkable changes to our society that have come from science. Progress rapid enough to be noticed, and that has continued over many generations, has been achieved only once in the history of our species. It began at roughly the time of the scientific revolution, a period that included improvements in technology, political institutions, moral values, art and every aspect of human welfare.

We call this the Enlightenment, a term that historians use to denote a variety of trends, some of them violently conflicting, but all of them rebellions against authority. But mere rebellion- a common event in history- cannot explain how science provided a stream of ever truer explanations. In my new book, The Beginning of Infinity, I offer a new answer to this question.

For thousands of generations, we were in the dark. Our ancestors gazed at the night sky wondering what stars are- which was exactly the right thing to wonder about- using eyes and brains anatomically indistinguishable from ours. In every other field too, they tried to observe the world and to understand it. Occasionally they recognised simple patterns in nature, but when they tried to discover the underlying features of reality they failed almost completely. At the time of the Enlightenment they mistakenly believed that we "derive" knowledge of these features from the "evidence of our senses", or "read" it from the "Book of Nature" by making observations, the doctrine called empiricism.

But science needs more than empiricism. ...

Sustained progress through alternating guesswork and criticism requires a tradition of criticism. Before the Enlightenment, that was a very rare sort of tradition. Usually, the whole point of traditions was to maintain the status quo and to defer to authority.

His previous book was filled with speculative opinions about how the universe. This one seems to be a continuation.

I am skeptical about the importance of "rebellions against authority" to the history of science. Most of the great advances of science had the explicity approval of the authorities, as far as I know. I guess I will have to read the book to find out.

The New Yorker also has an article about Deutsch.

David Deutsch, who believes in multiple universes and has conceived of an as yet unbuildable computer to test their existence. ...

With one millionth of the hardware of an ordinary laptop, a quantum computer could store as many bits of information as there are particles in the universe. It could break previously unbreakable codes. It could answer questions about quantum mechanics that are currently far too complicated for a regular computer to field.

I bet that none of this ever happens. He has a wrong idea of quantum mechanics.

Wednesday, Apr 27, 2011
The evolutionist split on religion
The leftist-atheist-evolutionists have split into two factions. There are the new/gnu atheists (like Dawkins, Coyne, Myers, Hitchens) who hate all religion and view the Darwinist cause as inseparable from the effort to stamp out religion. And there are the accommodationists (like Scott, NCSE, BCSE, Mooney) who insist on saying that some religions are better than others, and who try to make allies with the ones who accept evolutionism.

Eg, Myers and Coyne rant here.

It seems to me that all of the prominent evolutionists have some sort of disease where they cannot stop picking fights over religion. I think that it ought to be possible to teach evolution in school without picking fights with Christianity, but the evolutionists cannot be trusted to do it. They insist on attacking the fundamentalists, and then arguing about whether all Christians must be attacked.

I could understand if the evolutionists wanted to speak out against Islam. Prominent Moslems receive death threats if they support evolution. But fundamentalist Christians do not go around killing people for their beliefs.

Tuesday, Apr 26, 2011
Einstein on the aether
Here is how Einstein described Lorentz's belief in the aether:
In view of his unqualified adherence to the atomic theory of matter, Lorentz felt unable to regard the latter as the seat of continuous electromagnetic fields. He thus conceived of these fields as being conditions of the aether, which was regarded as continuous. Lorentz considered the aether to be intrinsically independent of matter, both from a mechanical and a physical point of view. The aether did not take part in the motions of matter, and a reciprocity between aether and matter could be assumed only in so far as the latter was considered to be the carrier of attached electrical charges.
This is from A Brief Outline of the Development of the Theory of Relativity (1921), by Albert Einstein, translated by Robert William Lawson, Nature, 106 (No. 2677); February 17, 1921; pp. 782-784.

All of this seems correct to me. It is widely believed that Einstein invented relativity by abolishing the aether that Lorentz foolishly believed in. But in fact Lorentz's beliefs were completely reasonable, and Einstein never disputed them.

Monday, Apr 25, 2011
Oppenheimer was crazy
A Wikipedia article about J. Robert Oppenheimer drew this comment:
''In the fall of 1925, Oppenheimer poisoned an apple with chemicals from the laboratory and put it on Blackett's desk ... As Robert's parents were still visiting Cambridge, the university authorities immediately informed them of what had happened. Julius Oppenheimer frantically - and successfully - lobbied the university not to press criminal charges. After protracted negotiations, it was agreed that Robert would be put on probation and have regular sessions with a prominent Harley Street psychiatrist in London. This Freudian analyst diagnosed dementia praecox, a now archaic label for symptoms associated with schizophrenia. He concluded that Oppenheimer was a hopeless case and that "further analysis would do more harm than good".''

The story about the apple needlessly besmirches JRO's reputation. It should be removed. The London psychiatric analysis possibly revealed that he merely suffered from an eating disorder and was known to leave uneaten apples behind him when he left a room.

Needlessly besmirches JRO's reputation? Read the rest of the article. He was a no-good commie with an assortment of character defects. His reputation is only propped up thru the work of commie sympathizers.

Sunday, Apr 24, 2011
42 Nobelists oppose teaching critical thinking skills
The Wash. Post reports:
A 17-year-old Baton Rouge high school senior is leading the fight to repeal a Lousiana law that gives teachers license to equate creationism with evolution -- and now he is doing it with the support of more than 40 Nobel laureates.
Zack Kopplin's letter and 42 Nobel prizewinners are here. Only 8 of them got prizes in physiology or medicine, and only about half of them are American. The letter says:
As Nobel Laureates in various scientific fields, we urge you to repeal the misnamed and misguided Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) of 2008. This law creates a pathway for creationism and other forms of non-scientific instruction to be taught in public school science classrooms. ...

Louisiana’s students deserve to be taught proper science rather than religion presented as science. Science offers testable, and therefore falsifiable, explanations for natural phenomena. ...

Scientific knowledge is crucial to twenty-first-century life. Biological evolution is foundational in many fields, including biomedical research and agriculture. It aids us in understanding, for example, how to fight diseases like HIV and how to grow plants that will survive in different environments.

So why are physicists, chemists, and foreigners expressing an opinion about fighting HIV and growing plants? This is way out of their expertise. You must be thinking that the La. law is really terrible.

Here is the official description of the bill to repeal the LSEA:

Present law, the "Louisiana Science Education Act," requires BESE, upon request of a local school board, to allow and assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators to create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.

Requires that assistance include support and guidance for teachers regarding effective ways to help students understand, analyze, critique, and objectively review such scientific theories being studied.

Requires that a teacher teach material presented in the standard textbook supplied by the school system and thereafter may use textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner, as permitted by the local school board unless otherwise prohibited by BESE.

Present law specifies that the Louisiana Science Education Act shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.

Proposed law repeals these provisions.

I do not see the problem with the LSEA. It does not promote creationism, religion, or supernatural beliefs. It only supports the "open and objective discussion of scientific theories". No real scientist should be afraid of that. So why are so many agitated about this harmless law, if no religion is involved?

It appears that the evolutionists want to force the schools to teach that evolution explains all life on Earth, and to prevent them from teaching that there is very little scientific knowledge about the origin of life.

This is crazy. Science classes should teach the limits of scientific knowledge. The Noble prizewinners have taken a very anti-science position.

Tennessee is considering a similar law to the LSEA.

Saturday, Apr 23, 2011
MacDonald on Einstein
A recent Christian blog post has been criticized for being anti-Jewish for comments like this:
Further reading of MacDonald’s The Culture of Critique extensively documents the academic fraud of Freud, Boas and the Frankfurt School (especially the “authoritarian personality” studies). All of these movements were led by Jews who expressly saw their work as an attack on the West, particularly Christianity, on behalf of Jews. MacDonald goes through pains to document this with their own words, that they were not Leftists who “happen to be” Jews, but rather Leftists who saw their Jewish identity as an integral motivation and justification for their work.
This refers to Kevin B. MacDonald, a California professor who wrote some controversial books Jews and group strategies.

I am skeptical about evolutionary psychology, so I would not take this too seriously. MacDonald seems to carefully document everything he says, but that does not mean that he is necessarily right. He has been widely criticized for discussing a taboo subject, as explained at the above links. Some of his more outrageous claims are listed here, such as:

(7) who suggests that European-Jewish intellectual prominence is genetically based and the result of eugenic processes within traditional Jewish communities; (8) who argues that Jewish intellectuals such as Franz Boas, Felix Frankfurter, Harold Laski, Max Lerner, Morris Cohen, and Robert Merton, accelerated the 'deChristianization' of America's public life by selectively promoting as cultural heroes Gentiles who advanced their goals, such as Margaret Mead, John Dewey, and Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes; (9) who agrees with T. S. Eliot's most famous anti-Semitic statement, that any large number of free-thinking Jews is undesirable if one wants to maintain or develop a society in which a Christian, ethnically homogeneous tradition can flourish.
MacDonald has a theory about 20th century Jewish intellectuals, but he says that Einstein does not fit in:
Similarly, 20th-century theoretical physics does not qualify as a Jewish intellectual movement precisely because it was good science and there are no signs of ethnic involvement in its creation: Jewish identification and pursuit of Jewish interests were not important to the content of the theories or to the conduct of the intellectual movement. Yet Jews have been heavily overrepresented among the ranks of theoretical physicists.

This conclusion remains true even though Einstein, the leading figure among Jewish physicists, was a strongly motivated Zionist (Fölsing 1997, 494-505), opposed assimilation as a contemptible form of 'mimicry' (p. 490), preferred to mix with other Jews whom he referred to as his 'tribal companions' (p. 489), embraced the uncritical support for the Bolshevik regime in Russia typical of so many Jews during the 1920s and 1930s, including persistent apology for the Moscow show trials in the 1930s (pp. 644-5), and switched from a high-minded pacifism during World War I, when Jewish interests were not at stake, to advocating the building of atomic bombs to defeat Hitler. From his teenage years he disliked the Germans and in later life criticized Jewish colleagues for converting to Christianity and acting like Prussians. He especially disliked Prussians, who were the elite ethnic group in Germany. Reviewing his life at age 73, Einstein declared his ethnic affiliation in no uncertain terms: 'My relationship with Jewry had become my strongest human tie once I achieved complete clarity about our precarious position among the nations' (in Fölsing 1997, 488). According to Fölsing, Einstein had begun developing this clarity from an early age, but did not acknowledge it until much later, a form of self-deception: 'As a young man with bourgeois-liberal views and a belief in enlightenment, he had refused to acknowledge [his Jewish identity]' (in Fölsing 1997, 488).

In other words, the issues of the ethnic identification and even ethnic activism on the part of people like Einstein are entirely separate from the issue of whether such people viewed the content of the theories themselves as furthering ethnic interests, and, in the case of Einstein, there is no evidence that he did so. The same cannot be said for Freud, the New York Intellectuals, the Boasians, and the Frankfurt School, in which 'scientific' theories were fashioned and deployed to advance ethnic group interests. This ideological purpose becomes clear when the unscientific nature of these movements is understood. Much of the discussion in CofC documented the intellectual dishonesty, the lack of empirical rigor, the obvious political and ethnic motivation, the expulsion of dissenters, the collusion among co-ethnics to dominate intellectual discourse, and the general lack of scientific spirit that pervaded them. In my view, the scientific weakness of these movements is evidence of their group-strategic function.

The references are to Albert Einstein: A Biography, by the German physics journalist Albrecht Fölsing, an Einstein idolizer.

That is, the theory of relativity is not a theory designed to promote Jewish interests. I assume that MacDonald knows about the criticism of relativity theory, where some people tried to relate relativity to Jews, particularly during the Nazi era. Apparently some were proponents of the so called German Physics, which only accepted scientific knowledge based on experiments, and which is accessible to the senses. They preferred this to the alleged formal-dogmatic "Jewish physics", such as relativity.

According to Wikipedia, the 1931 German book, Hundred authors against Einstein, was not anti-Semitic. Opposition to relativity had very little to do with Einstein being Jewish.

MacDonald lists differences between Albert Einstein and other scholars who led unscientific movements. These differences are not so great. Relativity was scientific, but most of Einstein's later work on unified field theories was not. Einstein certainly lacked intellectual honesty and empirical rigor, as I explain in other posts. MacDonald seems to be overly impressed with the Einstein myth.

Scientific weakness is critical to MacDonald's theory, and no accuses Einstein of scientific weakness. Einstein is supposed to be the world's greatest scientist. But Einstein's scientific reputation is primarily based on his relativity work from 1905-1915. His later work on quantum mechanics, cosmology, and unified field theory was almost entirely worthless. And his relativity work is vastly overrated.

I don't know what the "obvious political and ethnic motivation" would be for either relativity or Einstein's theories. Einstein was involved in some academic battles, but I am not sure that he was always allied with Jews, and his enemies allied with non-Jews. So I am assuming that Einstein does not fit into MacDonald's theory, but I do not know enough about the subject. Someone should do a scholarly examination of this issue.

Thursday, Apr 21, 2011
Restoring humanity's rightful place in the universe
A physicist and philosopher (husband and wife) say:
That's the picture that Santa Cruz's Nancy Ellen Abrams and Joel Primack are drawing in their new book "The New Universe and the Human Future: How a Shared Cosmology Could Transform the World." While the rest of us are paying attention to the iPad, "American Idol" and Donald Trump, Abrams and Primack are making a spectacular claim -- that the most significant moment in human history may be ... right now. ...

"There have been only two changes in cosmology until today," said Abrams. "The first one was when the Greeks realized that the Earth is not flat. It's round and things go around it. And the second one was the Copernican Revolution, when Copernicus said that the Earth may not be the center of the universe. This today is the equivalent of the Copernican Revolution. It's that big. It's a picture that's stunning and hardly anyone knows it."

The picture has to do with the nature of the universe. The prevailing "double-dark theory" asserts that the visible universe is about one half of one percent of the whole universe, which consists largely of two mysterious forces known as "dark matter" and "dark energy." What's more, said Abrams and Primack, is that the double-dark theory restores the human as the central player in the universe. What's needed now is a new origin story that will reflect the new science and provide a way out of the cultural impasse between science and religion.

"What we're trying to do is to present a coherent picture of reality that is not just intellectually convincing, but feels good to be part of," said Abrams. "If we start thinking of ourselves as beings with a cosmic role -- which we actually are, if we understand what the cosmos is -- then it's a kind of spiritual awakening, too."

According to them, we earthlings really are at the center of the universe.

Wednesday, Apr 20, 2011
Mooney argues that Republicans are stupid
Chris Mooney writes in a Mother Jones article:
"A MAN WITH A CONVICTION is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point." So wrote the celebrated Stanford University psychologist Leon Festinger (PDF), in a passage that might have been referring to climate change denial—the persistent rejection, on the part of so many Americans today, of what we know about global warming and its human causes. ...

And since Festinger's day, an array of new discoveries in psychology and neuroscience has further demonstrated how our preexisting beliefs, far more than any new facts, can skew our thoughts and even color what we consider our most dispassionate and logical conclusions. This tendency toward so-called "motivated reasoning" helps explain why we find groups so polarized over matters where the evidence is so unequivocal: climate change, vaccines, "death panels," the birthplace and religion of the president (PDF), and much else. It would seem that expecting people to be convinced by the facts flies in the face of, you know, the facts. ...

Republicans who think they understand the global warming issue best are least concerned about it; and among Republicans and those with higher levels of distrust of science in general, learning more about the issue doesn't increase one's concern about it. What's going on here? ...

Science denial today is considerably more prominent on the political right ...

Mooney's examples are not very convincing. It just seems like elaborate name-calling for people with a political disagreement.

For example, he starts off citing a study about people not accepting arguments about whether Pres. Obama is a Moslem.

It seems rational to me for someone to say that Obama is a Moslem, even after been told some (fictitious) quote of him denying it.

People usually attribute religion based on religion of the parents, unless there is an overt conversion or repudiation. In Obama's case, he has a Moslem name, his father and step-father were Moslems, he lived as a kid in Moslem country, he claims that he belonged to a Christian church in Chicago but seemed to have very little knowledge of what went on there, he goes out of his way to praise Islam, such as saying that the Koran is a holy book, his profession of Christianity is particularly unconvincing compared to other presidents, and we normally discount self-serving claims from politicians.

So I don't think that the Obama study really shows that people refuse to accept facts. It assumes that we are supposed to accept some politician's description of his own beliefs. Some people do and some don't. If a Jewish politician suddenly announced that he was not a Jew, some people would still call him a Jew. They are not stupid; they just define Jew differently.

Monday, Apr 18, 2011
Free Lorentz essay on Kindle
An Amazon review of Lorentz's 1920 relativity book begins:
Albert Einstein is rightly considered one of the greatest scientists of all time, and his two theories of relativity - special and general - are the crowning glory of his scientific oeuvre. They have fundamentally reshaped our thinking of the most fundamental concepts - space, time and matter. These two theories have also withstood the test of time, and a century after they had been formulated they are still almost entirely used in their original formulations.

H. A. Lorentz was a distinguished physicist in his own right, and one of Einstein's closest scientific and personal friends. ...

The review drew this reply:
Chauncey Zalkin writes: one of the? i'm asking without sarcasm here because this is not my field but wasn't he the greatest scientist of all time?
Apparently people are so accustomed to over-the-top praise for Einstein that anything less is considered an insult.

Only the free Kindle edition of this book gets gushing reviews, while the $4 paperback it is really just a poor reproduction of a short essay in the public domain. It is easily found online as The Einstein Theory of Relativity by Hendrik Lorentz.

The forward recites the myth of the 12 men:

WHETHER it is true or not that not more than twelve persons in all the world are able to understand Einstein's Theory, it is nevertheless a fact that there is a constant demand for information about this much-debated topic of relativity.
Lorentz says that the difficulty is exaggerated:
I cannot refrain, while I am mentioning it, from expressing my surprise that, according to the report in The Times, there should be so much complaint about the difficulty of understanding the new theory. It is evident that Einstein's little book "About the Special and the General Theory of Relativity in Plain Terms," did not find its way into England during wartime. Any one reading it will, in my opinion, come to the conclusion that the basic ideas of the theory are really clear and simple; ...
That's right. The theory of quantum mechanics turned out to be much more difficult to understand.
Leakey on human evolution
Famed African paleontologist Richard Leakey was just interviewed on NPR Science Friday. Leakey says that man is an ape, and:
People didn't like the idea that the world was not at the center of the universe. People didn't like the idea that the world wasn't flat. Given time and evidence, people have learned to accept these things if they are true, and I think that there is no question about the truth of human evolution, none at all. [at 26:25]
Leakey also said that he has doubted that Lucy was a human ancestor, even tho that is claimed by other big-shots.

It is amusing that whenever a scientist wants you to believe something just because others scientists say so, he frequents makes some silly comparison to the Myth of the Flat Earth or Geocentrism. Both, in this case.

It is a big myth that people didn't like those ideas. Scientists discredit themselves when they give such phony arguments, and act as if they are common knowledge.

In Leakey's case, someone could argue that Leakey himself just didn't like the idea of being a descent of a small-brain ape like Lucy.

Saturday, Apr 16, 2011
Galison on Einstein thinking pure thoughts
Harvard historian Peter Galison writes in 2003:
The Einstein we know today is mostly based on Einstein’s later years, when he prided himself on his alienation from practically everything sociable and human, projecting an image of himself as a distracted, other-worldly character. We remember that Einstein who said that the best thing for a theoretical physicist would be to tend a lighthouse in quiet isolation from the world in order to be able to think pure thoughts. We have this picture of the theoretical physicist, and project it backwards to Einstein’s miraculous year, 1905. It is easy enough to think of him as working a day job in a patent office merely to keep body and soul together, while in actuality his real work was purely cerebral.
Yes, Einstein projected that image, but no progress in physics was ever accomplished that way.

Galison goes on to say:

Poincaré and Einstein, who had two of the largest scientific correspondences of the 19th and 20th centuries, including thousands of letters to and from other people, never exchanged a single postcard over the entirety of their overlapping lives. They met once, towards the end of Poincaré’s life, when Poincaré presided over a session at a vitally important physics conference where Einstein was talking about his new ideas about the quantum of light. At the end of this session, Poincaré said that Einstein’s presentation was so different from what physics should be — namely that it could be represented with causal interactions, with good differential equations, with clear presentations of principles and consequences — that he simply found it unbearable, and ended by making it clear that what Einstein was saying was so contradictory that anything could follow from it. It was a disaster for science, he thought. Einstein for his part went home and scribbled a note to a friend in which he recounted the wonderful work that had been done by various colleagues, how much he admired, even loved, the physicist Hendrik Lorentz, but disparaged Poincaré who simply seemed to understand nothing. The passed like ships in the night, each, on relativity, unable to acknowledge the other’s existence.
Causality was a major factor in Poincare formulating his theory of relativity, and I am not sure that Einstein ever understood it. I would not be surprised if Poincare had a low opinion of Einstein.

Friday, Apr 15, 2011
Bohr compares himself to Bruno
From a Niels Bohr interview in 1962:
So, therefore, the relationship between scientists and, philosophers was of a very curious kind. First of all I would say — and that is the difficulty — that it is hopeless to have any kind of understanding between scientists and philosophers directly. It has to go over the school. I don't know exactly how it is, but let us say, if you go back to ... the Copernican system, then some scientists they thought that it also was beautiful. But they were killed. Bruno was absolutely killed, and Galilei was forced to recant. But in the next generation, the school-children did not think it was so bad, and thereby a situation was created where it belonged to common knowledge or common preparation that one had to take that into account. I think it will be exactly the same with the complementary description.
Exactly the same? Who was killed over Complementarity?

It is true that physicists have debated Wave–particle duality for centuries, and many, such as Einstein, did not accept it. Some still don't.

Giordano Bruno was a Catholic monk who was burned at the stake for stubbornly denying the divinity of Jesus Christ. The closest he got to science was to speculate that there could be crucifixions on other worlds.

Bohr was brilliant, but he could be incoherent at times.

Thursday, Apr 14, 2011
Tegmark on teleportation
In the podcast for this 2008 NY Times article about teleportation in the movies, MIT physicist Max Tegmark says:
It is very important to realize that even tho it might sound totally useless to think about fundamental physics questions like how space and time work. It was precisely because Einstein was thinking about the nature of time that he figured out that mass equals energy times the speed of light squared, and this gave us nuclear power. [at 5:10]
No, that is all wrong. Even the formula is wrong.

What he says about quantum teleportation is even worse. He praises Quantum cryptography and Quantum computation as if these had proven validity. They do not, as noted below.

Tuesday, Apr 12, 2011
Stories about Professor Paradigm
This guy:
Errol Morris is a filmmaker whose movie “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara” won the Academy Award for best documentary feature in 2004
tells this story about famous Princeton philosopher Thomas Kuhn:
It was April, 1972. The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N. J. The home in the 1950s of Albert Einstein and Kurt Gödel. Thomas Kuhn, the author of “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” and the father of the paradigm shift, threw an ashtray at my head. ...

“Under no circumstances are you to go to those lectures. Do you hear me?” Kuhn, the head of the Program in the History and Philosophy of Science at Princeton where I was a graduate student, had issued an ultimatum. ...

Kuhn in those days was an incredible chain-smoker. First Pall Malls and then True Blues (a low tar and low nicotine alternative). Alternating. One cigarette lighting another. Matches were irrelevant. Maybe six, maybe seven packs of cigarettes a day. All that was essential was burning and smoke. And a massive cut-glass ashtray filled with the debris of an endless series of burnt-out butts. ...

I had written a paper on James Clerk Maxwell’s displacement current for Kuhn’s seminar on 19th century electricity and magnetism. The paper might have been 30 or so double-spaced pages. Kuhn’s reply, typed on unlined yellow paper, was 30 pages, single-spaced, with Courier marching all the way from the left to the right side of the paper. No margins. He was angry, really angry.

He had written at the very end of his comments, “You have long since passed the end of the road on which you began.” I asked, “What is that supposed to mean? I’m 24 years old.” He said that I was a “good” first-year graduate student but would become “less good” in subsequent years. ...

The conversation took a turn for the ugly. Were my problems with him, or were they with his philosophy?

I asked him, “If paradigms are really incommensurable, how is history of science possible? Wouldn’t we be merely interpreting the past in the light of the present? Wouldn’t the past be inaccessible to us? Wouldn’t it be ‘incommensurable?’ ” [8]

He started moaning. He put his head in his hands and was muttering, “He’s trying to kill me. He’s trying to kill me.”

And then I added, “…except for someone who imagines himself to be God.”

It was at this point that Kuhn threw the ashtray at me.

For that he got kicked out of Princeton philosophy grad school. (In fairness, Kuhn's daughter denies the ashtray story in a comment. Maybe Kuhn wasn't trying to hit Morris, but Morris says that it was thrown at his head.)

Statistics professor A. Gelman tells this:

I was looking through the course catalog one day and saw that Thomas Kuhn was teaching a class in the philosophy of science. Thomas Kuhn -- wow! So I enrolled in the class. I only sat through one session before dropping it, though. Kuhn just stood up there and mumbled.
Morris continues to rip Kuhn:
As John Burgess, a professor of philosophy at Princeton, told me in an interview: “Kuhn speaks one way when speaking to historians, and another way when speaking to philosophers. The trouble begins when he starts talking about things being socially constructed. ..."
The trouble begins when anyone starts talking about things being socially constructed. It is the first sign of a reality-denier.
Steven Weinberg has written eloquently in The New York Review of Books about Kuhn and paradigm shifts. A Nobel Prize-winning physicist was outlining the difference between “Kuhnian science” (that is, science as Kuhn imagined it) and actual science. And argued that Kuhn’s theories did not characterize science as Weinberg knew it. Weinberg wrote, “What does bother me on rereading Structure and some of Kuhn’s later writings is his radically skeptical conclusions about what is accomplished in the work of science…conclusions that have made Kuhn a hero to the philosophers, historians, sociologists, and cultural critics who question the objective character of scientific knowledge, and who prefer to describe scientific theories as social constructions, not so different from democracy or baseball.”

Or not so different from parapsychology, astrology or witchcraft.

He was also bothered by Kuhn’s arguments against progress. “[Kuhn] went on to reason that… there can be no sense in which theories developed after a scientific revolution can be said to add cumulatively to what was known before the revolution… More recently, in his Rothschild Lecture at Harvard in 1992, Kuhn remarked that it is hard to imagine what can be meant by the phrase that a scientific theory takes us ‘close to the truth.’”

And yet, Weinberg fails to drive the stake through the heart of the vampire. If paradigms are incommensurable how can we talk about their incommensurability? ... The devaluation of scientific truth cannot be laid on Kuhn’s doorstep, but he shares some responsibility for it.

Yes, that is right. Weinberg's article is here, with excerpts here. Somebody does need to drive that stake through the heart of the vampire. Kuhn is dead, but his followers dominate academic philosophy and their views are even more ridiculous. The vampire is the academic anti-science view of science.

Monday, Apr 11, 2011
Tennessee favors science
The Bad Astronomer says:
A bill clearly intended to promote and protect antiscience passed in the Tennessee State House yesterday, by a vote of 70 – 23.
The bill says:
Toward this end, teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught. ...

(e) This section only protects the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or non-beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion.

This bill is pro-science, not anti-science. Learning science always means learning the strengths and weaknesses of the theories. It ought to, anyway.

I have become convinced that the real anti-science folks in our society are scientists like the Bad Astronomer who try to force their bad science on the rest of us.

Sunday, Apr 10, 2011
Hamming on mathematical physics
James Gleick has a new book, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. One of the famous information theorists is R. W. Hamming . He wrote in 1980:
The fundamental role of invariance is stressed by Wigner. It is basic to much of mathematics as well as to science. It was the lack of invariance of Newton's equations (the need for an absolute frame of reference for velocities) that drove Lorentz, Fitzgerald, Poincare, and Einstein to the special theory of relativity. ...

In recent years it was Einstein who most loudly proclaimed the simplicity of the laws of physics, who used mathematics so exclusively as to be popularly known as a mathematician. When examining his special theory of relativity paper [9. G. Holton Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought, Kepler to Einstein, Harvard University Press, 1973.] one has the feeling that one is dealing with a scholastic philosopher's approach. He knew in advance what the theory should look like, and he explored the theories with mathematical tools, not actual experiments. He was so confident of the rightness of the relativity theories that, when experiments were done to check them, he was not much interested in the outcomes, saying that they had to come out that way or else the experiments were wrong. And many people believe that the two relativity theories rest more on philosophical grounds than on actual experiments.

Of course Einstein knew in advance what the theory looks like. It had been published by Lorentz and Poincare! It already had been experimentally confirmed, and Lorentz received the Nobel Prize. Einstein did not even need to learn about the details of the experiments; he just had to write up the Lorentz-Poincare theory.

There is more discussion of the applicability of mathematics on the article on Wigner's Puzzle.

Friday, Apr 08, 2011
More on Darwinian epicycles
I mentioned the group/kin selection controversy in evolutionism last year and last month

Wired reports:

In the Aug. 26 Nature, Wilson and two Harvard colleagues argue that the concept of kin selection is “limited” and “unnecessary.” And they propose steps for the evolution of ants, honeybees and other highly social species with such altruistic behaviors by just the broad “survival of the fittest” forces of natural selection without specifically invoking the power of kinship.

In recent years, Wilson has argued that the close family ties in ant colonies and other highly social groups may be consequences, rather than causes, of the evolution of such extreme social forms. In the new paper he combines his perspective with two co-authors’ mathematical critique of the methods used to calculate kinship effects, arguing that the techniques are as unnecessarily complicated as Ptolemaic astronomy.

“Babylonian astronomers look up in the heavens, and they see the planets moving in ‘epicycles,’” says paper co-author and mathematical biologist Martin Nowak. “But if you put the sun in the center, there are no epicycles.”

Ptolemy lived in Egypt, in around AD 0150. He was not a Babylonian. The Babylonians did not have the invention of geometry, and are not known to have used epicycles. Putting the Sun in the center does not eliminate the need for epicycles.

Saying that the world is simpler without epicycles is like saying that the atmosphere is simpler without clouds.

The Rousset and Leon rebuttal says:

When they ask falsely evident rhetorical questions,1 liken inclusive fitness theory to geocentrism, or claim without justification that their approach is ‘common sense’ (their Appendix, p. 20), NTW are a long way away from what is generally expected of scientific discourse. In particular, it is troubling to see the authors turn to the argument of geocentrism and its unfalsifiable epicycles to discredit inclusive fitness (their Appendix).

The allusion to ‘Darwinian epicycles’ is indeed a typical rhetorical trick used to attack evolutionary biology.

Both sides of this debate are scientifically illiterate. There is nothing wrong with using a common sense argument that unfalsifiable features are an unnecessary complication. Except that is not really what epicycles were.

Apparently the phrase ‘Darwinian epicycles’ hit a nerve. The kin selection advocates do not think that such dispectful language should have been allowed into a journal like Nature.

Here is what Nowak el al say in their Nature supplement:

Inclusive fitness is just another method of accounting. The fact that an inclusive fitness calculation works for a particular model does not necessarily imply that ‘kin selection is at work’. ...

Of course, theoreticians are free to use any method of calculation as long as they employ it correctly and do not make unjustified statements claiming a ‘general principle’ for the evolution of cooperation (Lehman et al 2007a,b, Wild et al 2009, West et al 2008, Gardner 2009, West and Gardner 2010). A method of calculation which is arguably more cumbersome and confusing is not a general principle, much like the ptolemaic epicycles in the solar system were not a general principle either and became superfluous under Newtonian mechanics.

We have a similar situation in this debate. The epicycles of inclusive fitness calculations are not needed, given that we can formulate precise descriptions of how natural selection acts in structured populations.

No, the ptolemaic epicycles did not become superfluous under Newtonian mechanics. They got identified with the Earth's orbit, in the cases of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. For Venus, Mercury, and the Moon, they are used for the orbits of those bodies.

Here is more complete quote from the kin selection folks. It is unusually nasty. I cannot explain why people hate E. O. Wilson so much. Once someone dumped a pitcher of water on him at conference.

Nowak, M.A. et al. (2010) The evolution of eusociality. Nature, 466, 1057-1062.

Eusociality, in which some individuals reduce their own lifetime reproductive potential to raise the offspring of others, underlies the most advanced forms of social organization and the ecologically dominant role of social insects and humans. For the past four decades kin selection theory, based on the concept of inclusive fitness, has been the major theoretical attempt to explain the evolution of eusociality. Here we show the limitations of this approach. We argue that standard natural selection theory in the context of precise models of population structure represents a simpler and superior approach, allows the evaluation of multiple competing hypotheses, and provides an exact framework for interpreting empirical observations. ...

The rhetoric of social evolution

We think the publication of this article in a high-profile journal, along with the large media coverage it received, is an illustration of some serious shortcomings in current scientific practice. Arguably, the impact of NTW's paper reflects to a large extent the rhetorical ability of the authors, rather than the scientific value and novelty of the paper.

The format of the paper itself is an obstacle to scientific communication. The article has two parts: a short illustrated essay for the general reader and a 43-page online mathematical Appendix. Readers who are not mathematically inclined or simply short on time may be tempted to simply trust the authors and gauge the scientific value of the paper based on the ‘weight’ of the supplementary material or on the prestige of the authors. But as we have just shown, there is no significant mathematical novelty in this work. This latter point is best illustrated by the fact that their asserted main result is only the starting point of a recent paper by Taylor et al. (2007), although NTW do not cite this paper in regard to it.

Stylistically, the paper often departs from the neutrality of scientific prose, using a variety of rhetorical tricks typically found in the discourses of politicians or the writings of polemists, rather than in academic articles. When they ask falsely evident rhetorical questions,1 liken inclusive fitness theory to geocentrism, or claim without justification that their approach is ‘common sense’ (their Appendix, p. 20), NTW are a long way away from what is generally expected of scientific discourse.

In particular, it is troubling to see the authors turn to the argument of geocentrism and its unfalsifiable epicycles to discredit inclusive fitness (their Appendix). The allusion to ‘Darwinian epicycles’ is indeed a typical rhetorical trick used to attack evolutionary biology.2 Rhetoric aside, NTW are confused about epicycles in a way that is revealing about the utility of inclusive fitness theory. Epicycles are not specific to geocentrism: they were needed in Copernicus’ heliocentric theory as well, because it still rested on circular orbits, and it was not until Kepler's theory of elliptic orbits that epicycles were laid to rest. As Poincaré (1905) emphasized, geocentrism and heliocentrism are logically equivalent ways of accounting for celestial motion. The value of heliocentrism is that it makes sense through one factor (Earth's rotation) of phenomena that appear as coincidences in the geocentric perspective. Hamilton's rule (whether in the inclusive or neighbour-modulated perspectives) has the same value, in revealing common features of individual fitness across a range of biological scenarios.

The fragility of scientific publishing

We think the wide impact of an article that rests on such fragile foundations calls into question the efficiency of the editorial process in the most famous scientific journals. Nature's extravagant editorial characterization of the paper as ‘the first mathematical analysis of inclusive fitness theory’ recklessly tramples on nearly 50 years of accumulated knowledge. It is often said that science is self-correcting, but this can be so only if authors are engaged by the validity of what they are writing, if reviewers are engaged in the same way, and if science, rather than only media buzz, impact, and citations, matters to editors. These conditions are not necessarily fulfilled. Part of the problem lies in the increasingly specialized nature of science, and the increasing number of techniques that scientists have to handle. Students of ant societies, for example, may have to spend substantial effort in the field, yet they also have to care about possible artefacts of molecular markers, to understand the limits of various statistical methods, to understand some of the mathematical theory of evolution and to navigate through an increasingly large literature. Faced with such burden, both readers and journal editors have growing incentives to abandon critical thinking for more social considerations such as the prestige of the authors. Sometimes, the prospect of a ‘hot’ controversy seems to be enough to lure the editorial board into accepting a manuscript. Despite their claims of novelty and the media frenzy, NTW's article is actually a collection of worn-out arguments and thus represents a conceptual and technical step backward. Importantly, it does not provide any new theoretical tools or concepts to address the many exciting biological questions for future research on social evolution and structured populations.

No, the Earth's rotation has nothing to do with the coincidences; it is the Earth's revolution about the Sun that gives the coincidence between the Mars and Jupiter epicycles. Kepler did not lay the epicycles to rest, as they are logical equivalencies in heliocentrism (as Poincare emphasized). What Kepler did do was to show that the Mars and Jupiter epicycles were really the same and not a coincidence. The epicycles have nothing to do with elliptical orbits. It appears that these authors are agreeing that Hamilton's Rule is like the geocentric epicycles, but they are all hopelessly confused about what that means.

Thursday, Apr 07, 2011
Gould defines a fact
In connection with the Kansas evolution controversy, I ran across this 1999 Stephen Jay Gould op-ed in Time magazine:
Second, evolution is as well documented as any phenomenon in science, as strongly as the earth's revolution around the sun rather than vice versa. In this sense, we can call evolution a "fact." (Science does not deal in certainty, so "fact" can only mean a proposition affirmed to such a high degree that it would be perverse to withhold one's provisional assent.)
I really disagree with this. First, evolution is a theory that includes some facts, such as gene frequencies varying from one generation to the next, and hypotheses, such as a universal common ancestor. The theory is certainly not a fact.

Second, the Earth's motion depends on the frame of reference, and is not a fact according to relativity theory.

Third, by comparing evolution to something that is demonstrably a subjective opinion, he undermine his whole argument for teaching standards that forbid an alternative view to evolution. He effectively concedes that science depends on your point of view.

Fourth, science does deal in certainty. His definition of a "fact" is bizarre.

Gould died in 2002, but in 2000 he was elected president of the AAAS and leading the charge to tell Kansas how evolution should be taught.

Gould also argues:

Should I believe Julius Caesar ever existed? The hard bony evidence for human evolution, as described in the preceding pages, surely exceeds our reliable documentation of Caesar's life.
That is true, but irrelevant. Nobody cares about Caesar. If it turned out that Caesar did not exist, and maybe the historical accounts of him were really a composite of two other men, it would not affect our knowledge or worldview in any significant way.

OTOH, some people believe that evolution contradicts religion, and that would affect a lot of people, if accepted.

Gould goes on:

Third, no factual discovery of science (statements about how nature "is") can, in principle, lead us to ethical conclusions (how we "ought" to behave) or to convictions about intrinsic meaning (the "purpose" of our lives).
I doubt that very many people believe this, on either side of the evolution debate.

Wednesday, Apr 06, 2011
Religion prize goes to atheist multiverse believer
Templeton announces
LONDON, APRIL 6 – Martin J. Rees, a theoretical astrophysicist whose profound insights on the cosmos have provoked vital questions that speak to humanity’s highest hopes and worst fears, has won the 2011 Templeton Prize.
Woit says:
Rees does seem to believe in something that the Templeton people are willing to take as a replacement for belief in God: belief in the Multiverse. He has been one of the leading figures promoting the Multiverse and anthropic explanations, even before the recent string theory landscape pseudo-science made this so popular.
He is also a global warming alarmist.

Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coynes calls the prize a travesty because "Templeton's mission is a serious corruption of science." and because it promotes a dialogue between science and faith. Rees says that he is not religious, but I guess that he is not atheist enough for Coyne.

Tuesday, Apr 05, 2011
New attempts to verify quantum mechanics
AAAS Science magazine (Science 18 March 2011) has an article on Quantum Mechanics Braces for the Ultimate Test. It tries to justify Quantum cryptography by doing experiments to close Loopholes in Bell test experiments. Previous experiments have fallen short, as explained in the 2004 paper, Bell's theorem and the experiments: Increasing empirical support to local realism.

I think that this research is based on a profound misunderstanding of both quantum mechanics and cryptography. No useful results will come of it.

Abner Shimony gives a conventional explanation of Bell's Theorem.

Discussion of whether the Principle of locality (or Non-locality) can be consistent with the Interpretation of quantum mechanics is discussed in these recent papers: The EPR paradox, Bell's inequality, and the question of locality by Guy Blaylock, and EPR, Bell, and Quantum Locality by Robert B. Griffiths. If these papers are correct, then a lot of popular explanations of quantum mechanics are wrong. Some of these points are also explained by Lubos Motl's Delayed choice quantum eraser.

The problem with quantum cryptography is that it claims to use proven physics to solve a cryptographic problem. However, it does not do anything cryptographical useful because it cannot use a convention communication channel like the internet, and it cannot authenticate messages.

It also does not use proven physics. Many aspects of quantum mechanics have been proven by very convincing experiments, but not the features that are needed for quantum cryptography. As the above article explains, all those necessary arguments have loopholes, and no one has been able to close the loopholes. The article quotes researchers claiming that the loopholes will be closed any day, but they have been claiming that for 40 years. There are laws of physics that suggest that those laws will never be closed.

The AAAS Science does not explain these controversies, or why there are good reasons to believe that the quoted researchers are pursuing a dead end. Popular explanations of these subjects almost never get it right.

Monday, Apr 04, 2011
Boy smarter than Einstein
The UK Daily Mail says: Autistic boy,12, with higher IQ than Einstein develops his own theory of relativity, and Time magazine says: 12-Year-Old Genius Expands Einstein's Theory of Relativity, Thinks He Can Prove It Wrong.
A 12-year-old child prodigy has astounded university professors after grappling with some of the most advanced concepts in mathematics.

Jacob Barnett has an IQ of 170 - higher than Albert Einstein - and is now so far advanced in his Indiana university studies that professors are lining him up for a PHD research role.

The boy wonder, who taught himself calculus, algebra, geometry and trigonometry in a week, is now tutoring fellow college classmates after hours.

Gifted: Jacob Barnett is so far ahead of his age group he is now leaving university he is developing his own theory on how the universe came into being

And now Jake has embarked on his most ambitious project yet - his own 'expanded version of Einstein's theory of relativity'.

The video is gibberish, of course. It looks as tho he is playing a joke on naive reporters.

Saturday, Apr 02, 2011
Fictional plot to kill Copernicus
I just saw Lawrence Goldstone on C-SPAN2 Book-TV promoting his 2010 book, The Astronomer: A Novel of Suspense. It is about a fictional 1534 Christian plot to kill Copernicus before he can publish his ideas about the Earth's motion.

One reviewer says that he got suspicious of the factual background when the characters ate potatoes! Potatoes were a New World food that had not yet spread to Europe. Another says that he teaches the Scientific Revolution, and was excited by the realism.

No, the book is not realistic. The Catholic Church had no quarrel with Copernicus when he published his 1534 book, and has never opposed the publication of scientific ideas. It certainly did not hire killers to murder scientists.

Goldstone is a Jewish name, and this is a bigoted anti-Christian book. I wonder how people would react if someone with a Christian name wrote a book claiming to be a historical novel about how Jews drank the blood of Christian babies, or some such nonsense.

Friday, Apr 01, 2011
Turtles all the way down
A variant of the Myth of the Flat Earth is the myth that the Earth is held up by turtles. The Evolving Thoughts blog tells this old story:
One day when the philosopher William James, who had a liking for scientific popularization, had just finished explaining in a small American town how the earth revolved around the sun, he saw, according to the anecdote, an elderly lady approaching with a determined look. Apparently, she strongly disagreed, expressing herself in the following terms: no, the earth does not move, because, as is well known, it sits on the back of a turtle. James decided to be polite and asked what, according to the hypothesis, the turtle rested on. The old lady replied without hesitating” But on another turtle, of course.” And James persisted: “But what does the second turtle rest on?” Then, so the story goes, the old lady triumphantly exclaimed: “It’s no use, Mr James, it’s turtles all the way down.” [From Isabelle Stenger's book, Power and Invention. However, in similar form, the story is widely found ascribed to James.]
While this story is commonly used by atheists to make fun of religious believers, the original usage appears to be from an 1854 debate in which a Christian was making fun of an atheist. A comment cites this:
[at the end of night #2 of a public debate between a Christian and a skeptic of some sort in 1854]

It is singular, that what I said about the ever-present agency of Providence in the affairs of this world, should have driven my opponent into the dreary regions of atheism. He discards a particular superintending Providence, and represents this world as governed by laws that change not. But did these laws make themselves? Did they make the world? Are they entirely independent of God? Do they need no one to superintend their operations? Will he pretend that God lives insulated from the creatures of this hands, from the world he made? What abominable folly of atheism. (General applause.) In what he said of plagues, did he not avow his unblushing atheism? (Enthusiatic applause.) And the marshes? (Renewed applause.) Agues come from marches, do they? But who fixed the law which makes auges come from marshes? (Applause.) My opponent’s reasoning reminds me of the heathen, who, being asked on what the world stood, replied, “On a tortoise.” But on what does the tortoise stand? “On another tortoise.” With Mr. Barker, too, there are tortoises all the way down. (Vehement and vociferous applause.)

p. 48, Great Discussion on the Origin, Authority, and Tendency of the Bible, between Rev. J. F. Berg, D.D., of Philadelphia, and Joseph Barker, of Ohio. Boston, J.B. Yerrington & Son, printers, 1854.

Barker & Berg discussion & Four sermons by T. Parker: A collection of 12 pieces By Joseph Barker, Joseph Frederick Berg, Theodore Parker

Bertrand Russell wrote, in Why I Am Not a Christian:
If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu’s view, that the world rested upon an elephant and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, “How about the tortoise?” the Indian said, “Suppose we change the subject.” [p.7]
Wow, I wonder if anyone really believed these elephant and turtle myths. My guess is that it is like the flat earth and stationary earth myths, and mainly used to make fun of scientific ignorance.

A related myth is that the Earth rests on an elephant. Both seem to have occurred in various cultures. The earliest reference seems to be 1690, according to this Hindu world tortoise article:

The combination of tortoise and elephant is present in John Locke's 1690 tract An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, which references an "Indian who said the world was on an elephant which was on a tortoise".
What I don't see is where any Hindus or anyone took these myths seriously. The myths seem to be repeated primarily to make fun of people. That is what Hawking does, at the beginning of his famous 1988 book, A Brief History of Time.