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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2007 > Mar > Mar 19

Re: Defending The Indefensible - Shough

From: Martin Shough <parcellular.nul>
Date: Sun, 18 Mar 2007 23:31:06 -0000
Fwd Date: Mon, 19 Mar 2007 05:47:43 -0400
Subject: Re: Defending The Indefensible - Shough

>From: Ray Dickenson <r.dickenson.nul>
>To: <ufoupdates.nul>
>Date: Fri, 16 Mar 2007 18:53:45 -0000
>Subject: Re: Defending The Indefensible

On the point of sending this Post I should apologise to the List
for the length of it. On another day I wouldn't have devoted
much time to this nonsense, but it's been a quiet and snowbound

>Martin Shough and Mike Good are at opposite ends of a see-saw
>called 'the popular view of science' - and, for a couple of
>reasons, I think Martin is sitting on the complacent, slightly
>over-reverential end.

Ray I don't think you have understood either the point of my
argument or the original anti-science exhortation it was
directed at. You are coming at us from your own familiar and
unique position, and consequently only make contact with the
issues raised insofar as they are an opportunity to voice it.
You adopt a pose in which you are the reasonable, balanced voice
at the fulcrum of your see-saw, the mature and real voice of
science, with Mike Good and myself occupying somehow equivalent
"popular" positions at the extremes. But to strike that pose I
think you need, among other things, to understand Newton,
quantum field theory and relativistic mass-energy conservation
better than you do (see below).

To describe as "complacent" and "reverential" my rebuttal of the
claim that "science is just another belief system, no different
than religion or the tooth fairy" exposes the psychology of your
position, which is the same one you always adopt: Science (with
a mentally big 'S') is a reactionary institution perpetuating a
phony world view, and this has at its core a dangerous
rottenness which, if ever admitted, would explode the entire
edifice. So modern Science is engaged in a conspiracy to
suppress and disguise evidence of this but fails to fool far-
seeing folk such as yourself. With that stated let's go on.

>1 - Over-all the science community's attitude could be said to
>be in even worse shape than implied by Plank's saying - "The
>Old Theories only die out when the Old Professors die out".

If you are using this quotation from Planck (with a 'c' please)
in order to remind us that any particular scientific consensus
probably has a finite lifetime, then you are right, but your
point is trivial. If you are saying that the fallibility of
scientific consensus is a symptom of some deep rot in the whole
scientific process (which I feel sure is your meaning) then I
think you have a fantasy notion of what that process is, and
another of what it could possibly be, and you really should
study some history and philosophy of science.

You don't like the Old Professors. Those old professors have a
lot invested in their world view, but the Young Turks like
nothing better than sticking it to the Old Professors, and their
early instinct is to uproot, overturn, puncture, and foment
revolution, until they have worked so hard on their new theories
to such great applause that they wake up one day to find they
have become Old Professors, and a new generation of Young Turks
is crowbarring the foundations of their edifices.

You want everybody to be Young Turks forever. But sadly this is
not the human condition. There is only so much energy,
originality and momentum in any one lifetime or school of
thought, scientific or otherwise. The continued quotability down
the decades of that famous remark by Planck comes from its
universality. Science like everything else humans do is a social
activity, and complex and hard-won systems of thought not only
develop their own inertia but are coupled to social structures
embodied in careers, pedagogical and research institutions etc,
which also have a certain inertia. All this is the reason for
the well-studied paradigmatic structure of scientific progress -
periods of "normal science" punctuated by revolutionary change.

You may have noticed that many other types of human social and
political change occur in the form of periods of punctuated
equilibrium. Biological and geological evolution proceeds in an
analogous way. Drag a rubberised weight over a polished table;
it'll stutter along. The same thing happens with all friction
systems, from creeping sand dunes to earthquakes. It is a
natural principle of very wide applicability. Gradualism is not
the general case - as Planck famously discovered in another

You appear to yearn for something different, but I see no clear
prescription from you as to how science would cease being a
human activity in this universal class and progress somehow

I think it's difficult for you to argue consistently that the
whole process should be uprooted and replaced with - oh, I don't
know, maybe some nostalgic world-that-never-was of high-minded
amateurs in pursuit of Pure Truth who would never be seen dead
with a temporising theory as a best-fit basis for further
research and so would never write a paper until they had a Final
Theory of Everything certified by a signature in divine blood? -
because (as was also true in Mike Good's case) your examples of
what you appear to see as (although they are not) mortally
wounding embarrassments for nasty big science tend to come from
nasty big scientists.

In short Planck's remark does not illustrate a science in "bad
shape" but a science in normal shape, now as then. We don't know
of any other kind of science than the one humans have invented,
and we have discovered that it seems to be difficult to arrive
at robust scientific theories of everything immediately and all
at once. In fact it proves difficult if not impossible to arrive
at _perfectly_ robust scientific theories at all. Inconvenient
though it is that difficult progress takes time and has no
guarantee of enduring success, the lesson of scientific progress
is that this is just the way things are and nobody has yet
discovered any shortcuts around the business of conjecture and

>Most so-
>called scientists aren't at the leading-edge and don't even
>understand or know about it; they qualified by memorizing the
>obsolete laws in text-books.

Obviously the existence of a leading edge implies a trailing
edge and a connecting structure. So what? How could everybody be
at the leading edge in any kind of rational social process? Does
the fact that only a small part of the surface of an aerofoil is
its leading edge mean that planes can't fly? Can you suggest a
design for a lift-producing section that is "leading edge" all
over? Do you insist that the scientific enterprise would only
deserve your respect if every single worker was permanently
churning out work of revolutionary genius? If so then you set
extraordinary personal targets which, for the rest of mankind,
are sadly unrealistic.

>The mind-sets of even the leading edge boys are dictated
>primarily by those text books. Martin Rees - a few decades ago
>a rising star and a young Turk of theoretical astro-physics -
>recently confessed he's not confident of anything after Newton.

>Yet we know that Newtonian atomism is a delusion: matter is not
>made from identical, self-defined and self-sufficient
>particles, but 'atomism' remains the fall-back for most
>physicists - Rees and later others. Most of science's present
>generation are still informed by a false world-view.

I'm afraid I hardly know where to begin to set all this

Your portrait of Martin Rees as having reverted to the 17th
century and thrown out everything after the Principia is, to put
it kindly, over-literal. In fact he lists his current research
interests as including gamma ray bursts, galactic nuclei, black
hole formation, gravitational waves, and cosmic structure
formation at high redshifts - any one of which would have made
Newton's brain spin.

But in any case there is a grotesque inconsistency in your
argument. Physicists in general - including "the leading edge
boys" - are criticised for supposedly being still stuck in the
atomism of 1700, although you say "we know [this] is a
delusion". How do we know this is a delusion? Well, because 300
years of transformation in physics - done by physicists, I feel
it necessary to add - eventually gave rise to 20th century
quantum theory which, ironically, I don't believe you even
understand (see below).

And you compound your confusion by misunderstanding Newtonian
atomism entirely. It was certainly not about "self-defined and
self-sufficient particles" - quite the opposite, the central
feature of Newton's atomism (Query 31 of the "Opticks") was his
revolutionary introduction of non-material _forces_. These were
forces emphatically _not_ of the mechanical contact force type
and ontologically distinct from matter, thus overturning the
earlier orthodoxy of "mechanical atomism" based solely on the
supposed contact properties of material particles. These
attractive and repulsive chemical forces (which he speculated
were electrical in nature), and the gravitational force of
course, were one of Newton's greatest contributions. Many
natural philosophers found these entities unintelligible and
uneconomical at first, but the theories worked and so became
widely accepted during the 18th C., opening the way eventually
to the concept of the "field".

As for the antique atomic materialism out of moribund textbooks
that you say is the false world-view even of the leading
theoretical physicists today, see below.

>2 - Scientists, like most of us, cling to what they think they

Generally a wiser course than trusting to what you know you only

>Which usually means firm statements about physical
>reality. Let's ignore problems above in (1) and agree that
>'physics', as its name implies, concentrates on the attributes
>of observable matter - about 5% of the stuff of the universe.

No, let's not agree that this defines physics because you are
quite wrong and thoroughly muddled. Physics, even classically,
is the study of the _interaction_ between matter _and_energy_.
So classically your statement would have been half right. In
terms of modern relativistic quantum field theory it is quite
meaningless because "material particles" become just the quanta
of fields that are constrained to oscillate in quantised modes.

>Yet for more than a hundred years well informed folk have tried
>to point out that matter is not what it seems, and they've been

Huh? Well that is the span of time since the introduction of
special relativity and quantum theory, which together describe
in intricate detail how matter and energy are interconvertible,
mass is energy, energy has mass, transient particles of matter
are created and destroyed. It may have escaped your notice, but
all this was rather a big deal in the rest of the world, in and
out of academia -I wouldn't even like to guess at the number of
popular science books that have been written enthusing about the
overthrow of the old materialism. So much for your inert
mechanical particles of "observable matter", but let's also
mention that the quantum field operators require continual
creation and destruction of matter particles that are not even
observable! All of this is the absolute essence of physics. It
seems to me that the one person who has definitely ignored
around here it is you.

>Wallace, Jeans, Plank and Einstein all expressed their opinions
>- or forebodings in Einstein's case - that matter might not
>exist as we think it does, constant and reliable. Maybe
>Einstein's fears got close to the real future of physics - that
>matter is probably a shifting, inconstant and ephemeral
>'construct', created and maintained by a presently unknown
>force or field.

Ray, I'm sorry to say that you have no idea what you are talking
about. In quantum field theory matter is already, and has been
since about 1928, a shifting and ephemeral construct
"maintained" by its appropriate field. This is a relativistic
programme from the start and intimately involves Einstein's
parallel deconstruction of classical mass and energy laws,
already two decades old by then. Einstein's supposed dire
"forebodings" that matter might not "exist as we think it does,
constant and reliable" are complete historical and physical
nonsense. Einstein _taught_ us in 1905 (in the same year
incidentally in which he himself famously demonstrated the
physicality of those atoms you dislike) that matter is not
constant, when he replaced the Law of Conservation of Mass with
the conservation of mass-energy, showing that mass is equivalent
to energy and that photons were particle-like quanta of energy
in accordance with Planck's theory. And it is utterly bizarre to
see James Jeans, whose modest academic career was eclipsed by
his popularity as a writer and broadcaster (and who refused BTW
to accept Planck's quantum hypothesis or Einstein's
corroborative photoelectric equation for a decade and half until
acceptance became widespread in about 1914, so he was no
"leading edge boy") brought back from the 1930s to threaten 21st
century physics with some vague and - by now - trivial and passe
philosophy about the ultimately mathematical character of
reality. And since you like quotes here's one: Jeans, 1910: "We
may as well cut out the group theory [from the syllabus]. That
is a subject that will never be of any use in physics." Not a
good insight. Modern theoretical physics would be utterly
inconceivable without group theory!

>Refs: Wallace - 'matter is essentially force, and nothing but

Is this Alfred Russell Wallace, the naturalist, who nearly
invented evolution of species, advocate of phrenology, and
spiritualism? I assume so. Wallace remarked to the poet William
Allingham in 1884, "I conceive Matter not as a substance at all,
but as points of energy, and that if these were withdrawn Matter
would disappear . . . So far from a material atom being
indestructible, I believe that all the Matter in existence might
be immediately destroyed by the withdrawal of the sustaining
Force." This idea, coming from a tradition dating back to Roger
Boscovitch, can certainly be described as a forward-looking
speculation in 1884, but it was not physically coherent, not
formally worked out, and hardly one of great scientific
significance to the world post-Einstein (whose formal
mathematical redefinition of mass and energy was an achievement
in a totally different class) and post-quantum. Tennyson
expressed similar views to Allingham in the same year. Probably
many people held them, especially in Wallace's intellectual
spiritualist millieu.

>Einstein - 'I consider it quite possible that physics
>cannot be based on the field concept, i.e., on continuous
>structures. In that case, nothing remains of my entire castle
>in the air, gravitation theory included, [and of] the rest of
>modern physics.'

Now here you are so confused that you are turning yourself
upside down. Having just claimed that Einstein hinted at "fears
and forebodings" that matter might turn out after all (big
surprise!) _not_ to be the fixed and constant atomistic stuff of
the early 17th century mechanists (LOL) you now try to support
this with a quote which shows the _opposite_"fear" which
Einstein genuinely did have because of the difficulty of
reconciling General Relativity with quantum theory - i.e., that
in place of his own smooth tensor field theory a discretist
physics, in which spacetime was effectively atomised, might be
the only way of quantising gravity.

>This is too scary for most physicists and so they've retreated
>to denial and repetition of old mantras. Which is why Lee
>Smolin says 'we know no more than we did in 1975' and, more
>recently 'science needs both craftspeople and seers'.

Well if science needs both craftspeople and seers, then heck,
the whole edifice of physics must be crumbling! ;-) Of course
craftspeople and creators are vital - you need dogged and clever
professionals to do the normal science but for those world-
changing new insights you need people of extraordinary
imagination too. Anyone understands that.

Er, but hold up, that's exactly the process of stepwise
paradigmatic science that you've been railling against isn't it?
Yes it is, and if you have any doubt here's Smolin describing
his choice of metaphor:

"I used craftspeople vrs seers for this distinction. Kuhn
referred to normal science vrs revolutionary science, but the
idea was the same."

You should be castigating Smolin, telling us "Fast-track science
needs only seers. Dump those old craftspeople - they're dead
weight." Then at least you'd be consistent and wrong instead of
inconsistent and wrong.

And another thing. You should stop being so over-literal in your
reading. Do you really imagine Smolin means science died in 1975
and could be no worse off left in the hands of Ray Dickenson? In
2000 Smolin wrote:

"25 years ago [hey look, that was 1975] when I began to work on
the quantum theory of gravity . . . several of my teachers told
me that only fools worked on this problem. . . . The situation
now is very different. We still are not quite there, but few who
work in the field doubt that we have come a long way . . . One
consequence of our progress is that all of a sudden our pursuit
has become fashionable. . . . huge progress we have made in the
last twenty years . . . By the end of the 21st century, the
quantum theory of gravity will be taught to high-school students
around the world."

They still aren't there and maybe even 2100 was optimistic.
There are competing avenues of approach, no-one's sure what will
win out. I'm certainly far from claiming that there is no
problem. I have my own little pet opinions. But of course it's
horrendously difficult for little humans to work out the answers
to questions of cosmic scale. "A man is a small thing, and the
night is very large and full of wonders," as Lord Dunsany
beautifully put it many decades ago in words which will last as
long as Max Planck's.

Why that should surprise you, or dismay you, or embitter you as
it seems to do I'm not sure, but I think the answer is in your
own head rather than out there in physics.

Martin Shough

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