Posts Tagged ‘Ptolemy’

Flat Universe Flattens Twisted Logic

April 11, 2015

The observed universe is flat. I will explain what it means in practice, before going into a bit of theory. Including a sickle move through the lamentable precedent of the heliocentric system.

Basically, when we look at a galaxy which is very very very far away, it appears to have the same size as it should have considering its distance. Ah, yes, because we can determine the distance of a very very remote galaxy, or so we think, by looking at its red shift (how much redder it looks than what it would be if it were next door).

This apparently innocuous set-up creates lots of problems for the ruling cosmological theory, the Big Noise Bang. The barnacles attached to the Big Noise, thousands of professional cosmologists, would not be happy to see their ship sink, so they insist it’s doing all right. Yet I am dancing all around with the facts, and, should they read me carefully, they would be less sanguine about the respect they will enjoy, in the fullness of time.

Gravitational Lensing. Lensing Without Gravitation Would Signal Curvature. So Would Apparent Size Variations. Neither Is Observed, However far We Look.

Gravitational Lensing. Lensing Without Gravitation Would Signal Curvature. So Would Apparent Size Variations. Neither Is Observed, However far We Look.

The Big Noise cosmologists may well be wrong, because they suppose plenty of things for their model. All too many things, some of them, pretty weird. I get to the same observations, while being much more parsimonious with my hypotheses.

We have seen it all before, this conflict between common sense , and complicated absurdities by great priests, themselves at the service of higher authorities. Remember the Ptolemaic system? That claimed the Sun rotated around Earth. That absurdity ruled for around 15 centuries


Cosmology is serious business:

The Ptolemaic System Was An Obese Lie, Thus Contradicting It, A Capital Crime:

The bigger the lie, the greater the authority. So great authority loves big lies: it is a training ground for the feeble minds which make authority so great.

The greatest philosopher of the Fourteenth Century, and the greatest physicist of the Middle Ages, the Parisian Johannes Buridanus, sent the Ptolemaic system to the bottom of the sea (1320s CE).

However Jean Buridan, adviser to 4 kings, and head of the University of Paris, did not want to be burned alive. So Buridan presented all his new physics and cosmology as something “supporters” of the point of view that “authority does not demonstrate” were talking about (he named no names).

Buridan believed that the Earth turned on itself each day, and around the sun in a year, that the arrow would fall at the same point, because of his own theory of impetus. Etc. It’s all very clear, and some of it can even be read. (In this extract Buridan supports geocentrism; in later extracts, he concludes he cannot be distinguished from heliocentrism observationally; a full study of Buridan is not extant. Some of the later arguments of Buridan are found in Oresme.)

Even the ship example used by Galileo, 300 years later, to demonstrate the undetectability of uniform motion is Buridan’s invention, for the same purpose (Buridan’s student, bishop Oresme wrote about it too).

The Catholic Church, supported by King Plutocrat Louis XI, made reading Buridan a capital crime in 1473 CE. Buridan’s cosmology was posthumously re-amplified by his student and (self) publicist, the dying Abbot Copernicus.

That fancy, the heliocentric system, was, on the face of it, quite ridiculous: Buridan said the Earth was “tiny” so it was only understandable that the tiny thing would rotate on itself, while enormous thing would stay put.


Authorities Love Systems Which Lie And Make No Sense:

Why the heliocentric system, was entertained so long explains much of the enthusiasm for the Big Bang. The psychology is similar: an obscure set of ideas was made more hermetic by computations nobody understands. Actually, it’s Plato who launched the Big Ptolemaic Noise, six centuries prior to Ptolemy’s efforts.

Believing in the heliocentric system was good training for submitting to stupid authority, and learning to become non-critical.

But let’s go back to flatness.

Basic Math Of Flatness:

Our universe of stars, clouds, and galaxies, is three dimensional (as I often talk of high dimensions, see note: the “3” maybe an average of the “many”).

Geometries can be flat (a plane) or spherical (aka “elliptic”; as on a round planet), or “hyperbolic” (a saddle).

A mighty theorem (Perelman-Thurston; see technical note on mathematical background) implies that astronomically plausible non-flat geometries contain flat, spherical or hyperbolic elements.

I will simplify further.

Geometries are determined by their geodesics (the shortest paths). At least locally.

A non-flat universe means that that some perspective can be found so that two neighboring geodesics will either converge or diverge.

For a proof, just look at a sphere, or a saddle; the geodesics can be determined by pulling a string between two points, making the shortest paths. They are the greatest circles in the case of a sphere. Notice that the distances between two nearby strings, once pulled to make geodesics, vary. The big math proof, with equations, does not say anything more.

No Empty Space Lensing, No Curvature:

In space, geodesics are paths followed by light. If the universe is not flat, light will either diverge, or converge, as if space itself was a lens. This means that a galaxy, or a galactic cluster, will appear bigger, or smaller, than it should.

Some may object that lensing in space is well known, and is even used to look at the furthest galaxies. However that lensing is due to gravity slowing down, and bending light, as happens with light grazing the sun. That’s called gravitational lensing. Entire galactic clusters are known to operate as giant lenses.

If one saw lensing, with nothing in between, the lensing would not be gravitational and the universe would not be flat.

But so far, this has not been observed.

A perfectly flat universe means global curvature zero. However the basic idea of the Einstein Field Equation (EFE) is:


Actually, this equation is the basic idea, thus the ultimate simplification. As it is, it cannot work without further complications, because the object on the left has much higher dimension than the 10 dimensional tensor on the right; so one has to simplify the curvature first). The real equation is more like:

Function of Curvature = Mass-Energy-Momentum

There are a lot of mathematical details to figure out, to make that basic idea fit in. It took many stupendous mathematicians and physicists many years working together frantically to figure them out. In particular, Einstein and Hilbert cooperated intensely, helped by many collaborators… And the initial idea comes from the mathematician/physicist/philosopher Riemann (1866). So it took 60 years to make the idea work, and one should not expect casual readers to get the ideas in 60 lines, let alone 60 seconds.

An obvious (sort of) prediction was that, as the Mass-Energy of the universe is not zero (it’s full of galaxies, which have mass, and energy), then the curvature could not be zero. But then, if curvature (of the space-time of the universe) is not zero, then the universe has got to be moving.

Revolted by a moving universe, Einstein then added another curvature term, Lg. Lg counterbalanced Mass-Energy-Momentum, and gave a static (but unstable) universe.

Thus Einstein did not predict what the astronomers were starting to observe, namely the expansion of the universe. Einstein abandoned L (“Lambda”), calling it the “biggest blunder [he] ever made”.

(According to me, he made a much graver error in 1905.)


Dark Energy Flattens Cosmological Logic:

Ninety years later, the most basic supernovas were studied. They arise in binary systems: a star transfers part of itself to its companion, a super hot white dwarf. It is a bit like transferring gasoline on an amber: when enough mass has been transferred to Dwarf, the pressure and heat in the depth is just right for thermonuclear fusion to re-ignite explosively. It happens in exactly the same way always (although some argue about this). So these Type 1a supernovae are viewed as candles always of the same luminosity.

Large surveys (rejecting some explosion viewed as outliers) concluded that far-away Type 1a explosions were weaker than the Hubble law of expansion predicted. And the further one looked, the more the 1a explosions faded.

The conclusion was drawn that the universe expanded faster than the old model of Hubble and Einstein’s Gravitation theory predicted.

Greater expansion meant greater energy, and its source was not clear, so it was named DARK ENERGY.

Ironically to describe the simplest way to describe it was just to re-introduce the Lg term Einstein had introduced and then rejected, while he blundered about clumsily.


Your Humble Servant Flattens All:

It remains that the original theory of Einstein requires a very fine tuning of parameters to make our universe explode into its present very flat state in a bit less than 14 billion years. It also requires a supplementary explosion, called “Cosmological Inflation”.

I don’t have this problem.

I just wipe Einstein and his cohorts clean. I am master of my own soul. They have two Cosmological Inflations. I have just one, the one that is observed.

And my version of the universe can be 100 billion years old, or more.

I don’t confuse gravitation and revolution, inflation and what not. The Einstein Field Equations are correct, I just don’t apply them to the universe.

Simple does it.

Making something complicated simply because it allows to “shut and calculate” (the philosophical doctrine of contemporary physics) has been seen before. This was the trap into which Ancient Greek astronomy fell, making ever more sophisticated versions of the Ptolemaic system.

We should avoid duplicating our forebears’ mistakes.

Patrice Ayme’

Mathematical Note:

That I consider the universe three dimensional may sound as a strange admission, as I always advocate all sorts of dimensions, from the brain to fundamental physics. But not so: just view the three dimensional aspect as an… average.

(Here I am going to talk as a common physicist or mathematician, and elide the tweaking of fundamental axioms of topology and logic that I am wont to engage in, because I want to present the simplest picture.)

More precisely, this is what happens in two dimensions. In one dimension, the line or circle, there is just one geometry.

The USA mathematician Thurston launched a theorem, proven by the Russian Perelman, which showed there were just eight fundamental geometries in three dimensions.

(Disgusted by the dog eat dog attitude of famous mathematicians, some of whom I personally know, Perelman refused prizes, and abandoned math; I do share Perelman’s indignation, and then, more. Austerity, as imposed by plutocrats, has made even mathematicians like rats, prone to devour the innocent. The problem is not just in physics.)

Anatomy of Discovery

April 9, 2015

Discovery Is Generally Part Of A Logic. Therein A Tale.

Abstract: How does discovery works? It depends if it is about discovering where you put your keys, or if it is about discovering new scientific laws. Differently from the former, the latter always require philosophical jumps. Be it only to discard vast amounts of obsolete neurology. However most of “scientific discovery” is safe, being mostly about filling up the details of huge theories. Most of science cannot be anything else than about small stuff.


This is a tale of two scientific practices, at the extremities of the same spectrum. Surprisingly, they are antagonistic: the practice of small science is all too often the enemy of big science (it occupies minds, and leaves no space for the big interrogations). The theory of Ptolemy required at least three “epicycles” within “epicycles” to handle Mars alone. Even then that was not enough and Ptolemy cheated. This complicated logic was small science because the philosophy it used as context was small.

Basic Sketch In Plato Elaborated Further By Ptolemy, 6 Centuries Later

Basic Sketch In Plato Elaborated Further By Ptolemy, 6 Centuries Later

The Ptolemaic system had to introduce weird notions such as the “equant” around which the main orbit would happen at a constant angular motion, and so. This built-up of “necessary” complexities to make work previous “necessities” is not without reminding us of Quantum Field Theory’s weirder and weirder “explanations”, piled up high on top of each other.

An article in Scientia Salon on “the anatomy of scientific discovery: a case study” is ambitious, starting with its title. [Remarks below were not published by a third party as “too advanced for a general audience”. I apparently hold the readers of this site in high esteem!]

The SS article narrates the discovery of “Spontaneous Electric Fields” (abbreviated to “Spontelectrics”). However, while charming and instructive, in a smallish way, it is highly misleading, considering its all-encompassing title.

The article initially makes grand claims about what its purpose is:

“How do scientists discover new phenomena, and, just as important, how do they persuade other scientists… During its course, they do their very best to prove that their discovery is wrong, perhaps because it contradicts some well-established law. They set out to show that their new phenomenon may, in the polite phraseology of science, be an artifact…”

The first mistake here is implicit. The author reduces implicitly science to phenomenology (to “discover new phenomena”).

This is a mistake, it is too reductive. Really Big Science, as found in mathematics and physics, is about enormously complex theories, built upon a few facts. Big science is all about interpreting some facts, and organize that in a theory. A theory and its “laws” can be so strong that they prevent to discover, accidentally or not, anything outside of what it considers “relevant”.

Big scientific theories frame the discourse and reduce the facts that can be “observed”… Or the facts that will try (very hard) to observe. So Big Scientific theories tend to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

To an extent that is surprising, theory controls phenomenology. We observe what theory tells us too observe. And how.

For example Aristotle claim that the heavenly bodies were part of an “ether” (not a material body). It was just a step from there to claim the Moon was a signal from god. Islam made it. Thus Muslim specialists spy on the Moon to know when god tells us when Ramadan starts. They observe, but they observe according to a theory.

This is why small science is easy, and big science is hard. Small science, by definition, works within a theoretical model it takes for granted. Whereas big scientific discoveries change paradigms.

The second mistake the author of “anatomy of discovery” makes is to give a virtuous view of science (scientists “do their best to prove” they are wrong).

Actually this is not true at all for really big science. Quite the opposite. Scientists do not “do their best” to prove that all they have painfully learned is wrong. Not only would that be a career busting mood, there is a neurological aspect. Mental inertia.

Big scientific interpretation is a form of neurology, and, scientists or not, people do not tend, or like, to “do their best” to prove their neurology wrong.

Then the author of the Scientia Salon article deflates his claim completely by “restrict[ing] ourselves here to the quite serendipitous, experimental discoveries, those that take place quite unexpectedly.”

It is quite rare that such discoveries break a paradigm. It can happen: the Michelson Morley experiment, an electromagnetic experiment showed that the simplest interpretation of the (then recently devised) ether theory could not be right.

However, looking at history, when the discovery of a really new phenomenon happens, Big Scientific models tend to stay unchanged.

A contemporary example of a potentially giant discovery is Dark Energy.

Dark Energy made the old cosmological model something one does not need anymore (it is its own “cosmic inflation”). I explained this in Billion Year Old Universe”.

The situation right now is that the official theory on cosmology has TWO different inflationary mechanisms. I have just ONE, the one that is observed. My theory is more powerful philosophically, and it’s less complex mathematically, and it depends upon much fewer hypotheses, and mine are observationally grounded.

However “scientists” working in cosmology have been keen NOT to notice my main point, that is that my theory is much simpler in all ways, thus much more powerful. Why did professional cosmologists not notice the obvious? Because they have a vested interest in the established mental order, the mandarins of which, they are. Because, if one adopted a Dark Energy centric model, all of theoretical cosmology (what goes beyond what is observed for sure) would be wiped out. Something that can be wiped out as an error is less honorable.

How is Big Science discovered? Feynman looked at it, and concluded that there was no rule.

However, I think there is. Big science is  generally discovered through Big Philosophy (Special Relativity does not escape the rule; Poincare’ and Lorentz introduced the “local time” theory to discover SR).

Meanwhile, those who really discover the big ideas, having assaulted the neurology of mandarins, will be punished.

They should be thankful.

The painless life is not worth having.

[Take that, Marcus Aurelius!]

Patrice Ayme’

Censored notes on the initial SS article:

Although presented as a big deal in SS, “Spontelectrics” is anything but. It’s just a case of contrary electric fields, the sort discovered by Faraday to explain the “Faraday Cage”. (Actually discovered by Benjamin Franklin, a rare American genius.) Make no mistake: it is interesting.

However, it is thoroughly small science, violating nothing important.

A bigger mystery, still unexplained: how rubbing one material on another can create electrostatic charge. This effect known to the Ancient Greeks require Quantum Physics we don’t master too well.

Another question rejected as irrelevant at SS is the question of why did the Geocentric System reign so long? My answer (not even attempted on SS), partly given in the past, has to do with fascism, intellectual and political. The Ptolemaic System was imposed, and endured, PRECISELY because it was bad.

For the bad, bad is good, and good, bad. So anything favoring the first is good.

Philosophia Naturalis I

March 13, 2014

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