Posts Tagged ‘intellectuals’

WANT BETTER PHYSICS? GET BETTER PHILOSOPHY

November 1, 2019

Philosophical progress, the art and desire of guessing new utmost significance, guided our progress in understanding physics for the last three million years, and always will, indeed. 

We can’t experiment before we guess what experiments to conduct, according to the obscure light of a half-baked theory (in other words, philosophy)

So why has the philosophical training of physicists become so abysmal in the last century? The symmetrical question is why most of those called philosophers have had no training in physics and math? Plato would have scoffed that those were not philosophers. 

Neglecting the importance of the philosophical method in physics, for the last two generations may have been caused by the militarization of physics: obeying and pleasing those who order military spending requires yes men, shutting up and calculating, not deep thinkers [1]. History is full of examples of period of stasis, or even massive backsliding, of the understanding of nature, due to the hostility of the establishment to further understanding. This is why the Greeks’ progress in “Physis” stagnated after the establishment of Greek (so-called “Hellenistic regimes”) and Roman dictatorships. Soon after the Macedonian dictatorship grabbed Greece, Euclid wrote his elements… completely forgetting the non Euclidean geometry established a century before! (And it stayed forgotten for 21 centuries!) one wonders which other parts of Greek science got also immediately forgotten: these were times when thinkers would be killed on sight (Demostenes actually argued with the guy dispatched by the Macedonians to kill him: they knew each other; the assassin at the head of his squad pointed out to the philosopher he had to earn a living, and him not Demosthenes would have no effect, as somebody else would do the deed. Best to go with a friend!) 

Greatest physicist ever? Du Chatelet discovered… ENERGY, no less! Not just infrared (which she also discovered)! She was also a first class philosopher, and of course, a feminist. She left extensive writings.

Once the will, desire, and methodology of deep thinking has been forgotten, it takes a long time to get it restarted: Europe tried half a dozen attempts at a sustainable Renaissance, over a millennium [2]. What had happened? Books and scholars got deliberately eliminated for 250 years: starting  in 363 CE, religious fanatics systematically burned libraries and tortured to death intellectuals (see Hypatia’s tragic assassination directed by Christian “saint” Cyril).

Spending in physics is good… if nothing else, new technologies can be developed, especially involving high energies. But it shouldn’t focus on only a few avenues of inquiry. However, “High Energy” physics is a revealing term: do we live in a “High Energy” world? No. So why don’t we also focus on “Low Energy” fundamentals? 

Sociological considerations of career advancement show it is safer within the herd, and the herd thinks alike. This is why university physicists form a herd.

Cathedral schools” were mandated 13 centuries ago, and then turned into universities. However, when one looks at quantum jumps in understanding, one realizes that most such jumps happened outside of the career mainstream. The greatest thinkers tend to not follow the most prestigious path at the time! Obviously on the path less traveled are the diamonds found. Master thinkers such as Abelard, Buridan, Leonardo da Vinci, Kepler, Descartes, Fermat, Leibniz, Papin, Du Chatelet, Lavoisier, Lamarck, Cuvier, Faraday, Darwin, even Poincare, De Broglie… are examples of master thinkers who didn’t have conventional careers [3].

There are too many of the most towering intellects standing straight out of all society and academia, for it to be an accident, or a coincidence [4]. And the reason is very simple: it’s easier to be an intellectual hero, and jump out of the box, if you are mostly out of the box of obsolete logic already.  

Patrice Ayme

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[1] Military science has been hard core high energy physics, ever since the French army ordered research on tanks, under the Ancien Regime (now viewed as the first “cars”, but, truly, tanks…18 C). New high explosives saved the French at Valmy. Within a few weeks the first production combat lasers will start protecting some US air bases…

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[2] Clovis immediately made a reinterpretation of Christianism into something milder, tolerant, compatible with other faiths (~ 500 CE). Within a century, Frankish bishops were teaching secularly, ignoring lethal threats from Rome. In the Eight Century, a law was passed making schooling and its teaching by religious establishments mandatory. In the Eleventh Century, full Renaissance in north-west France brought a violent territorial expansion (England, Sicily, Italy, etc…), a booming economy, the Duke questioning the geocentric system and his protege Berengar assimilating god to reason… 

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[3] Abelard, Buridan, Leonardo da Vinci, Tycho, Kepler, Descartes, Fermat, Boulliaut/Bulaldius, Leibniz, Papin, Du Chatelet, Lavoisier, Lamarck, Cuvier, Galois, Faraday, Darwin, even Poincare, De Broglie…

    1. At twenty-two, Abelard set up a school of his own, although opponents barred him from teaching in Paris. Eventually without previous training or special study, triumphed in theological debates, and stepped into a chair at Notre—Dame. The rest of his life was a “calamity” (his word) reminiscent of the adventures of all too many an intellectual of Antiquity, and others in my little list: he got emasculated and nearly killed in an attack… Abelard fought Saint Bernard, Christianism most important person,  nearly to death, and, though an abbot was excommunicated… twice. 
    2. Buridan chose not the faculty of theology but the much lower one of arts. 
    3. Leonardo da Vinci was a serious physicist… Yet took to painting and direct regalian support…
    4. Kepler was Tycho’s assistant. Tycho lived off a grant from the Germanic Roman emperor. Kepler spent a lot of energy preventing the execution of his mother as a witch.
    5. Descartes, discoverer of Algebraic Geometry (“equations”), and calculus, an army captain, was on the run, and was not dumb enough to return to France where the Catholic fanatics ruled.
    6. Fermat, co-discoverer of calculus, was a lawyer and MP.
    7. Boulliaut/Bulaldius was a French priest. He got the idea of the 1/dd law of gravitation… As Newton pointed out.
    8. Leibniz was all over the place, even an ambassador. Nobody knows where he is buried.
    9. Papin made the first working steam engine, and the first steam boat (which worked very well). He had to flee France (being a Protestant), then he ran in trouble in England as locals stole his invention, and after legal action, fled to Germany (where he interacted with Leibniz… Same Leibniz of infinitesimals, who made preliminary work on energy which Du Chatelet extended. 

 

  • Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, Marquise du Châtelet was top nobility, and hot to trot. She had no academic career, but converted her castle into a lab on her own dinero… Lavoisier did something similar, but the Revolutionary Tribunal found he had used taxpayer money to do this (so what? He should have had an exemption and got an award instead of being shortened…)
  • Buffon, Lamarck, Cuvier were research professors at the Museum of Natural History, where they established evolutionary science, but they were not university professors… Darwin, who pointed out natural selection by itself was enough to cause evolution, without the arsenal of contingence deployed by Lamarck and Cuvier two generations earlier, was not a professor at all, but an independent scholar.
  • Galois, an absolute revolutionary. He invented groups, and  demonstrated some equations couldn’t be solved. He got in big trouble for his republican politics, under a dictator, and was killed age 20 (!) spending his last night writing down Galois theory.
  • Faraday, not a university professor, and little schooled in mathematics, was directly funded by the king.
  • Poincare followed an unusual, secondary career path, until he shattered mathematics and physics (he established Relativity, including E = mcc), De Broglie, a prince, studied Medieval history, before pivoting and decreeing Quantum Waves, inventing Quantum uncertainty and the “Schrodinger” equation on the way… (Germanophiles did the rest by attributing his discoveries to… Germanophones; however he got the Nobel within 4 years of the ebauch of his thesis). He was never a professor, but I met him in person… Fellow minds…  

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[4] Just restricting oneself to Paris, the largest city in Western Europe for most of the last 15 centuries, one could get evaluations of the number of professional intellectuals. Those who really brought progress, were very few, and they have in common that, even though sometimes they were part of the establishment, they were also continually at war, because their advanced ideas alternatively seduced and infuriated the powers that be. But 99.9% of intellectuals, most of the time, didn’t cause a ripple…

 

 

MONEY CORRUPTS INTELLECTUALS.

December 17, 2008

MONEY, IN EXCESS, ALLOWS PAID INTELLECTUALS TO FORM INTO A CLASS, AND SERVE THE PLUTOCRACY.

USING PUBLIC MONEY TO FORM A SECRET SOCIETY. HOW INTELLECTUALS ARE ALLOWED TO TURN INTO A NEW CLASS OF STATE PRIESTS. OR IS THAT EVEN MORE RIDICULOUS?

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Ever since Socrates’ ranting against the “Sophists”, the subject of the intellectuals thinking for money instead of thinking for intellectual superiority’s sake, has been of the highest intellectual lineage.

(Although Socrates mostly eschewed the problem, the massive failure of Athens’s intellectual class was the main cause of her catastrophic failure, and near annihilation, with enormously adverse consequences for democracy and civilization in the next 26 centuries. Just as the success of intellectuals, in generations preceding, had led to Athens’ superiority (in many dimensions) by the time of Pericles.)

The Internet has provided with a new twist in this debate. And that twist has provided excessive money with a new opportunity to exert its power.

Recently, only personnel of rich universities have been allowed access to scientific and intellectual research product. This is done by requiring the public to pay hefty fees to just have a glance at an article (see P/S 1).

It’s outrageous that scientific research would be withdrawn from public scrutiny and access. Most scientific research is funded by the PUBLIC. Thus the public ought to be the ultimate owner of the information gathered by scientists. In Britain, for example, the universities are now all public (Oxford and Cambridge are not private anymore). So it is in continental Europe. US universities, even private ones, are hugely financed by taxpayer money in various ways. To grab other people’s property for one’s profit is thievery. To do it to the public defiles and attacks the REPUBLIC (Res Publica).

Besides, science, and intellectual activities, are public utilities, thus should provide with public access, just like the high seas, the moon, or the air one breathes.

Should this grabbing of collective resources by a small self-selected elite and rich universities be allowed to go on, it is to be feared that a new priesthood will rise. Meanwhile, most of the public will get ever more ignorant, antiscientific, anti-intellectual, and resentful (of that new priesthood). New Dark Ages would be here. (Apparently, even the present administration has expressed alarm, and took corrective action in some biological areas.)

In a way, allowing only members of rich universities to have access to intellectual product, is similar to what happened at the criminal root of the present financial crisis: a small elite grabs for itself, and its personal enrichment, vast global, public resources. In the case of the financial crisis, money of the public deposited in banks was lent to the plutocracy to use as leverage in unregulated pyramid schemes involving the big and obscure concept of “derivatives” and “swaps”. Same idea; take public money, give it to a few to enrich themselves.

Enrichment can be financial, but also intellectual, or scientific. Capital does not have to be financial only.

Fairness and the equality clause of the republic are involved. Indeed, more globally the question is that, if it takes several hundred dollars to look at a just one issue of one journal financed by the public, who has that kind of money? Who has that kind of access? The plutocracy, those at the root of the world financial and economic mess.

As Obama claims that he wants to provide better Internet access to the population, one guesses that he means better access to information, and, in particular, to publicly financed information. So he should look at this injustice. The web is nothing if it is content empty.
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Patrice Ayme
Patriceayme.com
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P/S 1: Here is how Dr. Olivia Judson describes the access-to-intellectual product problem in the New York Times (December 16, 2008):
“One caveat. I say “access to information is easier and faster than ever before.” With respect to scientific information, this is true for people within universities, but not for those without them. One of the consequences of the scientific journals going digital is that it has become harder for members of the public to get access to original scientific information. It used to be the case, for example, that anyone could get permission to spend a day at the library at Imperial College; once there, they could read any of the journals on the library shelves. Now, subscriptions to the paper editions of many journals have been stopped — the journals are no longer physically there — and only members of the university are allowed access to the online versions. Some journals give free access, at least to back-issues; but many do not. Then, if you are not a member of a university and you want to read some articles, they may cost you as much as $30 each. I think this is a pity. Perhaps not many people want to read original scientific research; but somehow, it seems against the spirit of the enterprise.”

P/S 2: Some university professors from rich institutions are sure to scoff, and claim they are not responsible about university and journals’ behaviors. But of course they are. “Spondere” in Latin means to pledge. The most intellectually worthy should become conscious that  intellectual exploration is a civilizational class adventure in which the entire population of the civilization (in this case, Earth) is involved. By cooperating in a massive theft, they pledge back to that global organization of rich universities, plutocrats and for profit publishing tycoons… Instead of pledging back to the “People”, in other words, the public of the republican Constitution.

P/S 3: As we said, the failure of the intellectual class in Athens brought her failure. Socrates was trying to say this. Less well known, but even more drastic, was the failure of the intellectuals under the Roman empire of the Antonines (Gibbons’ apogee of imperial Rome, 138-180). They were probably, by far, the most paid intellectuals that ever were, and their influence was considerable. No large building could be inaugurated without a billionaire philosopher coming, highly paid by public authorities to give an edifying discourse. They had the ears of emperors (a tradition going back to the imperator Pompey the Great, who had his own top notch pet Greek philosopher). But those intellectuals also were like very expensive prostitutes, billionaires in charge of feeling good, and celebrating Roma as the best of all possible worlds, to the top dignitaries’ delighted ears. By reserving full access to top cultural information only to the rich, the present system insures the restriction of the elite’s selection only from a tiny reservoir of talent, insuring its long term mediocrity.

P/S 4: The interactions between a civilization and its intellectuals are always very close. Thus, as a kleptocratic plutocracy took command of world finance, if not the world economy, the intellectual sphere, far from guiding (as is its proper role), has been gaily emulating on its own silly scale. But the consequences are dreadful: increasingly high education has come to mean high access for the chosen few inside the USA.

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