Philosophia Naturalis I

Philosophy is what inquiring minds have to do when we don’t know for sure, and before we know for sure. The latter is called science (OK, sometimes we have to revise our opinions drastically, as new axioms supersede the old ones).

I have sharply differed with professor Strassler in the past (he wrote at some point that physics was strictly defined by equations, and I sharply debunked that myth: it is obviously not even the case of mathematics; to his honor, he published my brutal objection).

My position, same as Archimedes,  Newton or Descartes, is that philosophy comes first. When a dashing scientific advance does not require new philosophy, it means it’s not that deep.

New Physics Principles Are Always Born From Philosophy

New Physics Principles Are Always Born From Philosophy

I have my own possible insights to propose in physics, but before I get there, let Matt Strassler expose the problem. I have done so myself in similar terms, but it’s refreshing to read a top professional do it so well, and to the point.

In a magnificent essay, “What if the Large Hadron Collider Finds Nothing Else?”, wonderfully philosophical, for a professional physicist, Mr. Strassler ponders how future science is guessed by exploring how we established our beliefs. That’s my kind of science:

“What will it mean, for the 100 TeV collider project and more generally, if the LHC, having made possible the discovery of the Higgs particle, provides us with no more clues?…

Before we go any further, let’s keep in mind that we already know that the Standard Model isn’t all there is to nature. The Standard Model does not provide a consistent theory of gravity, nor does it explain neutrino masses, dark matter or “dark energy” (also known as the cosmological constant). Moreover, many of its features are just things we have to accept without explanation, such as the strengths of the forces, the existence of “three generations” (i.e., that there are two heavier cousins of the electron, two for the up quark and two for the down quark), the values of the masses of the various particles, etc. However, even though the Standard Model has its limitations, it is possible that everything that can actually be measured at the LHC — which cannot measure neutrino masses or directly observe dark matter or dark energy — will be well-described by the Standard Model. What if this is the case?

Michelson and Morley, and What They Discovered

In science, giving strong evidence that something isn’t there can be as important as discovering something that is there — and it’s often harder to do, because you have to thoroughly exclude all possibilities. [It’s very hard to show that your lost keys are nowhere in the house — you have to convince yourself that you looked everywhere.] A famous example is the case of Albert Michelson, in his two experiments (one in 1881, a second with Edward Morley in 1887) trying to detect the “ether wind”.

Light had been shown to be a wave in the 1800s; and like all waves known at the time, it was assumed to be a wave in something material, just as sound waves are waves in air, and ocean waves are waves in water. This material was termed the “luminiferous ether”. As we can detect our motion through air or through water in various ways, it seemed that it should be possible to detect our motion through the ether, specifically by looking for the possibility that light traveling in different directions travels at slightly different speeds.  This is what Michelson and Morley were trying to do: detect the movement of the Earth through the luminiferous ether.

Both of Michelson’s measurements failed to detect any ether wind, and did so expertly and convincingly. And for the convincing method that he invented — an experimental device called an interferometer, which had many other uses too — Michelson won the Nobel Prize in 1907. Meanwhile the failure to detect the ether drove both FitzGerald and Lorentz to consider radical new ideas about how matter might be deformed as it moves through the ether.”

So far so good. Then Strassler deviates from reality with a bout of Einstein religion (attributing Relativity to Einstein, because the real discoverer was French)

It’s Poincare’ who invented and named the “Principle of Relativity”, and insisted that Lorentz get the Nobel  for the Lorentz transformation-Poincare’ Group; the only reason Poincare’ did not get the physics Nobel for Relativity is that he died in 1911: no Nobel was given for Relativity, as a result: it could not be given for the parrot because he parroted!

It’s not just a question of anti-French hatred, or scientific priority, but of logical causality (thus Poincare’ versus Einstein is a scientific problem of the most subtle type!).

Strassler: “In Michelson’s case, the failure to discover the ether was itself a discovery, recognized only in retrospect: a discovery that the ether did not exist. (Or, if you’d like to say that it does exist, which some people do, then what was discovered is that the ether is utterly unlike any normal material substance in which waves are observed; no matter how fast or in what direction you are moving relative to me, both of us are at rest relative to the ether.) So one must not be too quick to assume that a lack of discovery is actually a step backwards; it may actually be a huge step forward.”

After he published the proof of E = mcc in 1900, Poincare’ pondered a lot about the part in parenthesis above. So did I. My conclusion? Particles create space, that’s why they are always at rest relative to it. (This is a glimpse to a possible future explanation, I do not claim it’s obvious.)

Strassler: “Epicycles or a Revolution?

There were various attempts to make sense of Michelson and Morley’s experiment.

Some interpretations involved  tweaks of the notion of the ether.  Tweaks of this type, in which some original idea (here, the ether) is retained, but adjusted somehow to explain the data, are often referred to as “epicycles” by scientists.   (This is analogous to the way an epicycle was used by Ptolemy to explain the complex motions of the planets in the sky, in order to retain an earth-centered universe; the sun-centered solar system requires no such epicycles.) A tweak of this sort could have been the right direction to explain Michelson and Morley’s data, but as it turned out, it was not. Instead, the non-detection of the ether wind required something more dramatic — for it turned out that waves of light, though at first glance very similar to other types of waves, were in fact extraordinarily different. There simply was no ether wind for Michelson and Morley to detect.

If the LHC discovers nothing beyond the Standard Model, we will face what I see as a similar mystery. ”

The reason why Ptolemy could get away with epicycles is that any periodic motion can be decomposed in a sum of circular motions. The mathematician Fourier, born in Grenoble, proved this, and used it to solve a lot of things.

Notice that the problem with Ptolemy was philosophical implausibility: the Greeks knew that the Sun was very far (say more than 30 million kilometers). Thus the Sun had to be enormous.

Sitiing on their bottoms, Greeks astronomers could have been asked the following question: “Hey guys, do you think it’s more likely that something as enormous as the Sun turns around tiny Earth once a day, at an enormous speed, or that the Earth rotates around itself, once a day, and around Sol, at a much more sedate way?”

Of course the latter.

To get an even stronger feeling that way, one had to have a feeling for inertia, which Buridan, contradicting Aristotle, discovered around 1320 CE. This is exactly the reasoning Buridan made when he published his heliocentric theory (misattributed to Copernic, because Buridan was French, and the Church mighty).

Amusingly a mathematician, Steward, published a list of “the 17 equations that changed the world”. He shows his ugly pro-plutocratic face, by mentioning an equation about the pricing of derivatives in the financial markets, as one of the 17.

Steward claims Newton found two of the 17 equations. The first one, the definition of a derivative, was found by Fermat (a Frenchman, thus incapable of science). The second one, that of the gravitational force was, according to Isaac Newton himself, discovered by another Frenchman (Newton wrote this under oath, in his fight about that equation, with Hooke… a physicist still famous for the elastic force law).

Mr. Steward forgot, among his equations, to mention the Quantum equation: E = hf (Planck-Einstein-De Broglie). There is more money in flattering hedge fund managers, than in remembering Quantum Physics.

In the next essay, why Matt Strassler feels one needs to think out of the box, and I will roll out my own type of experiments to keep on pushing, until we get a different worldview. Whereas nobody can be sure about the Standard Model approach giving birth to something interesting, I will explain my proposed approach is guaranteed to be fruitful (at least at some point).

Patrice Aymé

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7 Responses to “Philosophia Naturalis I”

  1. Paul Handover Says:

    I would need to read this several times to stand even half a chance of understanding it!

    But the purpose of this note is to reflect that I came to this post next after reading an item on the Big Think website:

    Is the Universe an Accident? See http://bigthink.com/big-think-tv/is-the-universe-an-accident

    from which I offer:

    Alan Lightman: For centuries scientists and especially physicists have believed that we would be able to show why our universe is as it is as a necessary consequence of certain fundamental principles and laws. Like finding – having a crossword puzzle with only one solution, the given certain very fundamental principles like the law of conservation of energy that there would be only one self-consistent universe allowed. And that has been sort of the holy grail of physics and we have been pretty successful in showing such things as why snowflakes have six-sided symmetry, why raindrops are round, why the sky is blue as necessary consequences of a small number of physical principles.

    What has happened in the last ten years or so – or 15 years is we now believe – when I say we I mean most theoretical physicists – now believe that our universe is just one of a vast number of universes all with very different physical properties. And all of these different universes originate from the same fundamental principles. So there’s not one solution to the crossword puzzle. There are many solutions to the crossword puzzles. In that case there’s no possibility of explaining why our universe is a necessary consequence of the fundamental principles. There are many, many different possibilities. Some of these other universes might have 17 dimensions. Some of them might have planets and stars like ours. Others may have just an amorphous field of energy with no planets and stars. Some of them might allow life like our universe. Some of them may not allow life. And our universe is just one lucky draw from the hat.

    In which case we are accidental. We are an accidental universe. And so the historic mission of science, and especially physics, to show that we are – our universe is the unique result of a certain set of fundamental principles – that historic mission is no longer feasible. It’s no longer possible. This conclusion makes theoretical physicists extremely unhappy because it means that a lot of our mission is an illusion. But that may be the way nature is.

    oooo

    Now where did I leave my bottle of Aspirin? 😉

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Very interesting, Paul! I know this subject extremely well. I may know it better than anybody on Earth. Alan Lighman is nuts, but, like Nazism, or Putinism, it’s an insanity shared by many. As he says.

      Anyway, thanks for alerting me. You make an excellent alert system. I may have a look, and strike.
      Oh, BTW, the “multiverse” is total BS.
      PA

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      I may be a flying dragon with an invisibility property, in which case the survival of those who believe in the multiverse is purely accidental.

  2. EugenR Says:

    Dear Patrice, i like your way trying to change the conventional way of thinking and approaching ideas and historical facts. I personally never heard of Poincare, so this is a real finding for me. On the other hand i can’t help myself not to see your advertising everything that is French. It is ok. to like the French, Even to me who doesn’t speak this language it sound to me as a most beautiful music, and sexy too. And Paris is Paris, but there are also the Parisian taxi drivers. By the way if we speak about Einsteins mistakes, one of his biggest was rejecting the Big Bang theory of Alexander Friedmann.

    http://bcrc.bio.umass.edu/courses/fall2007/biol/biol270h/3-Discussions/02-Universe/2a-Foundation_History/2a-07_Friedmann.pdf

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Eugen: WARNING: I want you to know, and other commenters too, that I found your comment in the SPAM box (I was making a systemic search to see if there were no problem there). Although in theory your comments are supposed to appear automatically. This is not the first time this happens, so when commenters put a link, maybe they should send a second short comment to warn me that the first one did not get through (as one of the pro-Bitcoin geeks did, with great fury…enthusiasm…)
      PA

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Thanks Eugen! 😉
      Notice this:
      The word “French” did not have meaning in the times of Buridanus.
      France, having several time population of England until the 18C, naturally produced more.
      Anyway, it’s all about the facts.
      Facts have the well known shocking bias of reality unhinged.
      As I said.
      But then, I never had a problem with a French taxi driver.
      Einstein himself talked about “big mistakes” about his work in cosmology. That shows he was not that big a mind, because these were just details… in the grandest scheme of things.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      The main results of the FLRW model were first derived by the Soviet mathematician Alexander Friedmann in 1922 and 1924. Although his work was published in the prestigious physics journal Zeitschrift für Physik, it remained relatively unnoticed by his contemporaries. Friedmann was in direct communication with Albert Einstein, who, on behalf of Zeitschrift für Physik, acted as the scientific referee of Friedmann’s work. Eventually Einstein acknowledged the correctness of Friedmann’s calculations, but failed to appreciate the physical significance of Friedmann’s predictions.

      Friedmann died in 1925. In 1927, Georges Lemaître, a Belgian priest, astronomer and periodic professor of physics at the Catholic University of Leuven, arrived independently at similar results as Friedmann and published them in Annals of the Scientific Society of Brussels. In the face of the observational evidence for the expansion of the universe obtained by Edwin Hubble in the late 1920s, Lemaître’s results were noticed in particular by Arthur Eddington, and in 1930–31 his paper was translated into English and published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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