WISDOM BLOSSOMS FROM COMMON SENSE ON STEROIDS, LET IT BE SCRUTINIZED.
It turns out that the OPERA “observation” of Faster Than Light neutrinos seems to have been caused by a not-fully-screwed-on right optical cable.
(It’s fascinating that the pitfall had not been detected earlier: because we use electronic computers, not photonic computers, information down an optical cable has to be transformed into electrons, and, because we are still at a gross point of technology, that means plenty of optical energy has to ramp up, until enough electrons can be excited, and generate a signal. If screwing is not right, the ramping up of power takes longer… Hence the infamous delay!)
Too bad. But let’s not forget we have neutrinos from a supernova that arrived several hours before the photons. However, that’s explained by supernova explosion theory: as the explosion proceeds, light gets bottled inside star material for a while, whereas the neutrinos of the intense thermonuclear explosion involving heavy elements rush out; in the sun, thermonuclear photons take hundreds of thousands of year to get out of the thermonuclear region, in the core, where they are produced. So it looks as if I will have to hold my faster than light horses a while back longer. Yet, Einstein’s own theory of gravitation, especially when cosmologically modified, means that the speed of light is all too relative…
(Physics) Professor Matts Strassler asks on his (excellent) blog, http://profmattstrassler.com/ a “Question to Laypersons: Your Views on the Neutrino Saga.”
This was the occasion for me to roll a few of my pet themes. (I have to relax with rather innocent considerations as I prepare an essay bound to make me many new friends, where I compare Arabized regimes to Vichy style regimes, just worse, that have perdured, for more than 13 centuries…)
“Prof” Strassler “would like to ask YOU a question or two. And by “you”, I mean non-scientists. I would like to know how seeing this episode unfold changed (or did not change) your view of science, or physics, or particle physics… Are you disappointed in or pleased with the scientific process as you saw it unfold? Are you more suspicious of or less suspicious of scientists and/or of science now that you’ve seen this happen? I think these are things that many scientists would be curious to learn.”
I commented this way: Don’t we all know quite a bit of science? … Say relative to, hmmm, Newton? We are living in a scientific society, whether we admit it or not.
By the time of Newton it was not know that there was such a thing as oxygen, it supported life, and oxidized stuff. That was a century after Newton’s apogee. Many a commoner not having formally studied science out of high school could reconstitute Lavoisier’s experiments nowadays.
Similarly for Pasteur’s experiences on spontaneous generation or… pasteurization. And the idea of vaccination, formalized by Pasteur is also well known. As is continental drift.
You can go in the middle of Africa, meet a woman who does not know how to read, but she may well known Pasteurization… and why.
The basic ideas of the Quantum are less well known, true.
However this is partly the result of an anti-French bias, because the luminously simple idea of the French medievalist, prince de Broglie, is not taught, and, instead, Germano-Nazi physicists, such as Heisenberg, with their appropriately dark mumblings, are always evoked by those perhaps nostalgic of the Aryan, anti-French order… But I digress… As far as I am concerned, just like Einstein sucked Poincare’ dry, so did Heisenberg and Schrodinger with De Broglie (not to say they were not great scientists; just smaller, with smaller ideas; thus erroneously teaching the small for great has real consequences on… mass science, the science the masses know!)
But let’s go back to the ideas of Prof Strassler, which are shared with many scientists, namely that they stand on the shoulders of giants just like themselves, as they are a race of giants.
That’s how this fool of Chu got into supporting stupid (and intrinsically corrupt!) enterprises such as Tesla (465 million dollars of taxpayer money, so that Silicon Valley plutocrats can drive an electric sport car made in France, powered by glued up together laptop batteries; or Solyndra, more than half a billion from the taxpayers, for a tech that was obviously not going to work). OK, Chu, the energy secretary, has a Nobel in Physics, but that just means he was part and parcel of some intelligent project, and that he may have had, personally an intelligent moment.
But diligent a lot, and intelligent, once, does not mean diligent always, and intelligent always. Certainly not, especially if one suddenly imagines one belongs to a race of giants.
For more context on the preceding, see the New Republic (January 25, 2012):
What did I want Chu to do? Instead of playing Venture Capitalist with 25 billion dollars, just fund fundamental research, make sure you can persuade people energy taxes have to be risen, make sure solar plants go up in the high altitude desert south west USA, and that very high speed train lines, in the North East and California get build.
On the latter there was an interesting development: those geniuses realized that in France Very High Speed trains mostly use conventional lines (one can use conventional methods with trains up to 125 mph, 200 km/h). By doing same as the French, the cost of Very High Speed rail in California crumbled down to 60 billion dollars, and still only 3 hours downtown San Francisco to downtown LA… roughly the time to go to the airport and pass security. Morality; go to Europe, and learn.
The expression “layperson” is shared by many a scientist, mathematician, and university type. Maybe not verbally, but certainly conceptually. However, that’s an error.
Indeed the expression “layperson” hints that scientists are some sort of priests. It reminds me of a short story of Isaac Asimov, where civilization has devolved, and, on a planet with multiple suns, the rabble hunts the few remaining astronomers, when an exceptional night occurs.
I also wonder what defines a “scientist”? A scientific degree? But what is really so special in common between a paleontologist and a mathematician? OK, mathematicians maybe do not qualify as scientists? But then a lot of theoretical physics, on the edge, is little else than mathematics gone so wild that even mathematicians avert their eyes (until it works, then they come to make it appear they invented it themselves…)
Something else: a lot of, say, cosmology is a magnificent razzle-dazzle show in full view of “laypersons”. However, a lot of the certainty there seems to have an OPERAtic component: bold assertions, not all the details in for sure (I am alluding, say, to cosmic inflation).
One thing scientists ought to remember is that scientific research is one thing, science itself, that is, certain knowledge that is indeed certain, is something else. It would be good to teach that to the public too, as it would help it learn to search for truth, and not to confuse inquiry with certainty.
Science is just the result of observant and sophisticated common sense. One sees both faling, increasingly, in the USA. A good indicator of that are the “Stand Your Ground” laws in the USA. Those allow any brute carrying a concealed weapon to assassinate anybody who gets in their way, as long as they can build a half way plausible story about the ground on which they stand. In particular if they don’t like the race of their victim.
As far as the gun lobby and the plutocratic lobby are concerned, it’s perfect. Marie Antoinette, being told people ran out of bread, supposedly quipped:”Let them eat cake!” (actually brioche, a viennoiserie, a type of pastry made where she came from!) As far as the gun lobby and the plutocratic lobby are concerned, it’s :”Let them eat lead!” Better: let them serve it, to each other.
That average Americans fell for such a divisive tactic is a testimony to not knowing anymore what common sense is. Something studying carefully the genesis of science can remedy. That is precisely while plutocrats hid behind theocrats to forbid the teaching of critical thinking. For teaching critical thinking, one cannot just teach literary criticism. Because it’s harder to show error, for certain in literature, or even philosophy.
In science, and science history, it’s much more clear cut. Both the truth, and the errors (and why the later happen, itself a type of meta knowledge).
More generally, the most important subject of study at school ought to be the history of big ideas, big errors, vast delusions, and immense progress. Our civilization surfs on a tsunami of thoughts.