astrophysics, physics

Low Level Reasoning

The gloves should be off, when pondering science. No courtesy for authorities, no courtesy for the rest of humanity. Nothing is granted and everybody suspected of treason, including yourself. Still, it is you who is conducting the investigation so you have to have some confidence in good old you.

‘Where were you when your husband was murdered, your majesty?’

‘Do you know who you are talking to?! I am The Queen of England! etc.’

‘Yes. Isn’t she a female version of the Pope in a somewhat smaller church? So, where were you, madame?’

This is the kind of spirit, you have to have, when thinking of fundamentals.

When a character like Sagan or bigger pops up, talking about stars, he is already a prime suspect in the crime of being fundamentally wrong. And wrong he was, as we now know. Not only him, but the whole gang.

For stars never die. And they are never born. Only clouds of cosmic gas get denser in some circumstances and glow more intensely due to the faster fusion. The talk of a dying star can be very misleading. The narrative ‘they convert mass to energy when shining’, is directly wrong. Because even when you ‘convert matter to energy’, the amount of mass does not change. This fact that has been staring at us for a century, has been acknowledged only recently. Stars don’t convert mass into energy. Only some particles transform while  the mass and the energy, which are equal, stay the same! The fact that now the mass-energy is in photons and neutrinos as opposed to atoms of hydrogen doesn’t change this.

Okay, you may say, that’s just nitpicking. It’s irrelevant.

No it isn’t! You want the table to be clean when performing a surgery, assembling a computer chip or dealing with any other delicate matter. Germs and dust may result in failure.

When pondering galaxies, atoms, numbers, sets, dark energy and so on, the table must be even cleaner. Spotting the dirt and being absolutely dogmatic in the matters of hygiene is very crucial.

I am afraid, that Her Majesty has no alibi here. And that the desks are dirty. The good science doctors of today, are as blind as those doctors of medicine from the Victorian era, completely unafraid of the so called microbes.

Astrophysics, as is it is now, is particularly messy. “You know, there might be an infinite number of Universes like ours out there!” they claim enthusiastically.

Excuse me, sir! What infinity are you talking about? The countable one? Do you mean the continuum many? More than that? Something between aleph zero and aleph one, in the Cohenian sense? What the Hell are you talking about? Your desk is as dirty as it can be, and you aren’t afraid that your patient might get infected? Are you sure, that there is a patient at all? Are you sure that the desk is?

Put this way – “There might be an infinite number of Universes near us” – reminds me more of mud wrestling a pig, then of rigorous science.

Another example. Some astrophysicists are equally enthusiastic when telling us about a time in the far future, when there will be no more galaxies visible from Earth, and a civilization will have no way of knowing that they were once plentiful.

Excuse me, sir! Would every far future civilization necessarily prohibit paleontology and other past researching sciences? When and why will all the information about the past be erased?

Even thought you are ‘just talking for the sake of understanding, to the general public now’, your table is dirty. I suspect it might be dirty even when ‘real science’ is going on.

Astrophysics has no preferential treatment here. Chemistry can also be dirty. When they tell us, that some weird quantum effects are responsible for smelling substances, not just chemistry… Sorry, the whole of chemistry is ‘weird quantum effects’. Every single chemical reaction is just a manifestation of electro-weak, strong and gravitational forces interacting. Yes all of them!

Is Math dirty? Oh, yes, it is. Stay tuned for another post exclusively about it.

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8 thoughts on “Low Level Reasoning

  1. msjr says:

    Tolerance is the word that came to my mind reading your article. One must stop and say [insert_anything] is good enough to present. This is the way the job is done.

    • There is no room for a tolerance in hard sciences. Saying that Pluto is not a planet, or that Pluto is a planet is maybe quite irrelevant.

      But this is astronomy, a soft science anyway.

      While in the field of astrophysics, every mess is unforgivable. Better to say nothing than something potentially misleading.

      Just one example. The so called active and so called passive black holes. Where active “eats” and passive “rests”.

      In fact, they are all passive. If something comes close enough, then they “eat”. If there is nothing close enough, then they “rest”.

      One example among tens, just in the field of astrophysics. No wonder, people get confused.

  2. Saladin says:

    I think the problem noted has a lot to do with science that is presented in schools, academics, public media and in the most stringent and rigorous tests and analysis.

    While “scientific” should only be reserved for the latter – it is very diffiicult to talk about science outside the scientific community without oversimplifying it by using symbols/metaphors/analogies etc.

    It is in these oversimplifications that a lot of these errors (or missunderstandings) come about. Worse even – the scientific community, always looking for minimalistic, reductionist options – tend to “stick” to such simple formulations that “seem” correct, but a simple analysis quickly shows the inherent fallacies. It’s only human that bad habits tend to catch on if being used frequently and carelessly.

    While the scientific comunity must always adhere to it – the public must also have strickter standards on the language and meaning in use. Betrand Russel proposed existencially quantified and other strict use of logic in language and maybe it is necessarry to rework our current language and logic models to be more strict in every level.

    • Russell nearly had enough rigor for my taste. He knew that priority number 0 is to eliminate paradoxes from math, before anything else could even be started.

      Unfortunately, as Yablo has shown, his efforts weren’t enough.

      For paradoxes can be rooted deeper than in self-referencing, as he thought.

      Closed scientific communities/elites can be prone to the infection with paradoxical or some other type of errors even more. Their public relations speech is not always their only problematic aspect, sometimes it might be, often they are not.

      The concept of the elite is not that great. In the far right of the Gaussian curve, there are sometimes individuals who are simply better than anybody of the ruling elite.

      Think about Ramanujan. Or that patent office clerk that Max Planck visited one day and promoted. And thousands of others, sometimes recruited and sometimes not.

      But you know me. I want this whole business to be mechanized anyway. Then it will be hygienic enough and innovative enough at the same time. Now, it’s still a bit dirty process.

  3. Saladin says:

    There is a fine line between “The Elite” and the scientific mainstream, where (in the latter) the acquired data and facts are accumulated and formulated in the most sensible and probable ways.
    The (healthy, open, supported…) scientific mainstream is the foundation on what most people can and should relly on.

  4. Saladin says:

    It is impossible for everyone to know and check everything. Reasonable trust into what is considered mainstream science is OK. But of course – no one should trust anyone absolutely and unquestinabely.
    Science is a dynamic progres based on trials and errors and it constantly changes and upgrades accordingly.

    • >It is impossible for everyone to know and check everything.

      It’s enough to be cautious and alert, and to be able to say: “I am not completely sure!”

      What am I sure about? Darwinism, finite arithmetic, classical (Boolean) logic and maybe some other subjects as well.

      But how can I trust the Newtonian physics as applied to astronomy, when our Galaxy doesn’t behave as it should?

      How can I trust astronomy, which failed to predict the predominant eccentricity of exo-planets? Hot Jupiters?

      How can I trust astronomy, which failed to admit that our Jupiter will be here in a billion or so years?

      How can I trust astronomy, which failed to predict the fiasco regarding the recent comet? I predicted it, a year ago, publicly. Link:
      http://lesswrong.com/lw/g69/new_years_prediction_thread_2013/86jr

      How can I trust astrophysics when far away galaxies aren’t deformed as they should be, according to Relativity?

      We haven’t even passed the letter ‘A’ here.

      I can trust science to a degree, but I never drop my shields.

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