Friday, August 17, 2007

Faster than a speeding photon

Two German scientists say they have induced particles to travel faster than the speed of light. News here.
The pair say they have conducted an experiment in which microwave photons - energetic packets of light - travelled "instantaneously" between a pair of prisms that had been moved up to 3ft apart.
Expect to hear all sorts of bizarre stories about time travel as the news spreads, but if the scientists' claim is true and the speed of light has at last been breached, it overturns nearly a century of physics theory on which those bizarre stories are based.

If their claim is true, this could portend a revolution in physics.

An article of faith for nearly a century (and I use the word "faith" deliberately) has been the inviolability of the speed of light. According to all the particle physics produced since Einstein's theory of relativity was validated by observation (the theory that almost arbitrarily declared the speed of light to be an inviolable upper limit), the complete inviolability of the speed of light is the one thing that may not be questioned by a physicist.

An example of the faith is given in the story of John Bell, who conducted an experiment to test a wrinkle in quantum theory, producing what's been called "the most profound discovery of science."

It's been suggested there were three fundamental assumptions being tested in Bell's Theorem: causality, identity and the inviolability of the speed of light. When the experiment produced results (as predicted) that required throwing out some assumptions, what was rejected were (bizarrely enough) the first two. The inviolability of the speed of light was embraced anew; causality and identity (and logic and reason) were rejected at the quantum level;and it was heard declared by many an excitable physicist, metaphysicist, taoist and new-age astral traveller that, "Objective Reality has been refuted!"

Oh faith! An alleged shortcut to knowledge that is only a short circuit destroying reason. A faith that is now challenged by this experiment. If the experiment of those two German scientists can be both validated and reproduced, I look forward to the unravelling of a lot of silly metaphysics.

UPDATE: An extract from the New Scientist article is now online. It concludes:
Aephraim Steinberg, a quantum optics expert at the University of Toronto, Canada, doesn't dispute Nimtz and Stahlhofen's results. However, Einstein can rest easy, he says. The photons don't violate relativity: it's just a question of interpretation.

Steinberg explains Nimtz and Stahlhofen's observations by way of analogy with a 20-car bullet train departing Chicago for New York. The stopwatch starts when the centre of the train leaves the station, but the train leaves cars behind at each stop. So when the train arrives in New York, now comprising only two cars, its centre has moved ahead, although the train itself hasn't exceeded its reported speed. "If you're standing at the two stations, looking at your watch, it seems to you these people have broken the speed limit," Steinberg says. "They've got there faster than they should have, but it just happens that the only ones you see arrive are in the front car. So they had that head start, but they were never travelling especially fast."

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42 Comments:

Blogger Berend de Boer said...

I'm taking bets that the story is not true.

But btw, particles travel at a speed faster than light, in QED theory you have to account for such particles. It is more accurate to say that Einstein's theory forbids information to travel faster than c.

8/17/2007 10:24:00 am  
Anonymous Falafulu Fisi said...

Berend said...
I'm taking bets that the story is not true

I agree with Berend here. I will wait and see, till some confirmation of this from the worldwide researchers, if they are able to reproduce the claim based on the claimants publication. This is not new at all. This sort of claim has been around for more than a decade or so. Some had made claims in the past that they had identified tachyon (faster-than-light-particle) in laboratory experiments, but those were never reproduced anywhere else apart from the only claimants laboratory.

More than a decade ago, there were 2 scientists (Pons and Fleischman) who claimed to have achieved cold-fusion at a higher temperature than the theoretical cut-off temperature, in which Quantum Mechanics (QM) theory says that it was impossible for cold-fusion to have taken place above the cut-off temperature. Either QM is bullshit that needs overhaul or the claimants were mistaken in their experimental methods & results.

When, researchers from around the world followed exactly their method described in their published work, such cold-fusion were never reproduced. Pons and Fleischman were instant celebrity , when they appeared in that press conference to announced they have defied QM to produce cold fusion at a temperature higher than theoretical cut-off predicted by QM. Cold-fusion is possible below the theoretical cut-off temperature predicted by QM. If the temperature is above the cut-off, then cold-fusion can't take place. The temperature that Pons and Fleischman claimed that their experiment achieved cold-fusion was way above the theoretical cut-off. University of Auckland were one of the first tertiary institute in the world to have confirmed the null result of the cold-fusion claim, therefore cold-fusion was bullshit. It was a collaboration of the Physics Department and the Chemistry Department. It turned out that the methods used by Pons and Fleischman had deficiencies which lead to the wrong interpretation of their experiment.

So, either the scientists who claim faster-than-light particle have misinterpreted something in their experiment or else they have just overthrown one of the pillars of Physics, and that is Relativity, which forbids physical information (particles or waves) traveling faster than light.

8/17/2007 12:02:00 pm  
Anonymous LGM said...

Interesting point.

Originally Einstein ASSUMED the speed of light to be invariant for all non-accelerating frames of reference. He never proved this contention.

Let's face it, physics has been cursed with blind belief for decades. Dead end stuff really. Time it got a shake down.

Little Green Man

8/17/2007 01:23:00 pm  
Blogger Matt B said...

Ever notice how often spiritual frauds like Deepak Chopra (my opinion, for what its worth) make use of the word 'quantum'. The reason is probably because hardly anybody, certainly none of their target audience, knows even the first thing about what that word means. But they know it sounds scientific.

I don't really know what it means either, but everybody who knows anything about quantum mechanics will tell you how incredibly difficult and unintuitive the model is. They will also probably tell you quantum mechanics is one of the all time great theories for producing testable propositions which have been subsequently demonstrated experimentally. As far as theories go, it is one of the very best if you use accuracy of its predictions.

So all this talk about faith seems a bit rich, really. I suspect there is much, much more going on here than any of us, especially me, really understands.

8/17/2007 01:35:00 pm  
Anonymous Falafulu Fisi said...

Interestingly, Econo-Physicists have applied all sorts of Relativity & Quantum Mechanics to the theory of financial markets analysis. I am quite surprised at this, since the verification of the econo-physics model fits with the data, even better than traditional economics/finance theories have predicted. This is an area that I am keeping an eye on, as developing quantum mechanics algorithms for financial derivative pricing look like they are more robust to use.

- Quantum physics meets classical finance

- Using path integrals to price interest rate derivatives (using Feynman Path Integral of QED)

- Fractional Fokker-Planck equation and its applications to finance

- Is Economics the Next Physical Science?

- Physics of Finance: Gauge Modelling in Non-Equilibrium Pricing

- Quantum Finance: Path Integrals and Hamiltonians for Options and Interest Rates

- Quantitative Finance and Risk Management: A Physicist's Approach

- Space-time Chapter 13 : Finance - The Relativity Theory’s Implications for Mathematical Finance


There are many more publications on this, which are available out there.

8/17/2007 02:23:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

Yep, FF and Berend. The experiment has to be both validated and reproduced before the results can be confirmed.

That's science. :-)

8/17/2007 02:48:00 pm  
Blogger Berend de Boer said...

pc, I'm waiting for the reproduction of an ape into a human. Or a frog into a bird.

Or is that kind of thing not necessary for certain forms of "science" and they are allowed to use hand waving?

But if you have repented and really believe that reproduction in a laboratory is necessary, welcome to the club of realists.

8/17/2007 03:23:00 pm  
Blogger sustento said...

Remember Rutherford declared the idea that energy could be generated from atoms "moonshine".

Copernicus published his theory that the earth orbited around the sun in 1524 but it wasn't accepted until 1677 with Newton's Principia.

I would say we should wait and see before saying its ludicrous.

Who would have thought that the earth was not flat :-)

8/17/2007 04:09:00 pm  
Blogger Berend de Boer said...

sustento, even the old Greek knew the earth wasn't flat. Basicaly every theologian in the Middle Ages proclaimed that the earth was round.

It wasn't until 1830 that someone invented that people before him thought the earth was flat.

When oh when will people no longer believe in historic falsifications?

8/17/2007 04:27:00 pm  
Blogger Matt B said...

When oh when will people no longer believe in historic falsifications?

...and when will the pot stop calling the kettle black?

8/17/2007 04:54:00 pm  
Blogger Matt B said...

Hey Berend, do you believe in stars? You do? But they haven't been reproduced in the laboratory. Do you believe the US Civil War happened? But it hasn't been reproduced in the laboratory. Do you believe in plate techtonics? But it hasn't been reproduced in the laboratory.

Hey here's a radical thought: there are other ways to find the truth.

Nah, that'd just be way to sensible. Let's pray on it.

How incredibly brilliant of you to reject evolution, many elements of which have seen the inside of a laboratory, in favour of ID/creationism which actively avoids it.

8/17/2007 05:03:00 pm  
Anonymous Wasps said...

Okay, background:

This isn't the first we've heard from Gunter Nimtz (he was publishing on superluminal tunnelling back in 1994, for anyone looking for a paradigm shift) and his experiments don't, as far as I can tell, violate causality. Things travel faster than c all the time, (and people have hypothesised particles named Tachyons that must travel faster than c. they haven't been observed yet.) but the important thing is whether this allows violation of causality and by his own admission, this doesn't.

Also:
Berend de Boer said... "pc, I'm waiting for the reproduction of an ape into a human. Or a frog into a bird."

You'll be waiting forever. I don't know of any widely accepted theory that predicts those events, and only a lunatic would believe it could be done.

I'm probably asking for too much, but would it hurt to actually read up Evolution by Natural Selection before proclaiming that it's full of shit? Preferably starting from modern works. Kenneth Kardong's An Introduction to Biological Evolution would be a good place to start.

8/17/2007 07:16:00 pm  
Anonymous Wasps said...

Wait. Apparently he does think it does violate causality.

Mea culpa.

8/17/2007 07:52:00 pm  
Anonymous Just sayin said...

I would forward this article and the following discussion as an airtight rigorous proof that 'objectivists' are capable of talking almost infinite amounts of uninformed shit on subjects which they obviously know very little.

The denial of evolution & the assertion that the postulates of general relatively somehow form a 'dogma' in which modern physics is somehow bridled is some of the biggest weapons grade bullshit I have ever had the displease of reading.

You guys would deny the existence of your own mothers if it opened up an opportunity to talk a load of shit about it. Rebirth of reason, my ass.

For fucks sake, stick to the brain dead reactionary politics.

8/17/2007 10:03:00 pm  
Blogger Matt B said...

Just sayin: absolutely. Good call.

8/17/2007 10:57:00 pm  
Blogger Brian S said...

PC,

Relativity *predicts* that information and physical objects cannot travel faster than light. This is not an *assumption*, let alone an arbitrary one.

The actual assumption is that speed of light in a vacuum is invariant. So an observer moving towards a light source and another observer moving away from the light source will measure the same value, c, for the speed of light. This assumption is grounded in the reasonable assumption that the laws of physics are the same in all non-accelerating frames of reference.

So, in particular, Maxwell's equations - which fundamentally depend on c - will be the same in all such frames of reference. If c had a different value in different frames of reference then Maxwell's equations would not hold. But they do. So the assumption was hardly arbitrary.

I suspect the experiment in question is correct but that the experimenters have misinterpreted the results.

BTW, how do observations "validate" relativity? Observations consistent with the predictions of relativity do not make the theory truer.

Relativity is either true or false.

Just because you have a bunch of observations that corroborate your theory doesn't mean that the next observation that comes along won't falsify it.

The role of observation is to rule our alternative theories. But any set of observations is consistent with an infinite number of theories. To distinguish among these, you need to form a critical preference. For example, the observations consistent with relativity are also consistent with the theory that relativity is true at all times and places except at 12.00pm on Aug 2020 when gravity will become repulsive. Obviously the latter theory is ridiculous (but consistent with observations to date) and can be ruled out through criticism alone. Forming a critical preference means subjecting your theories to tests as well as trying to find problems in logic, consistency, compatibility etc. You look for problems not for confirmation.

Ever read The Retreat to Commitment by William Warren Bartley?

8/18/2007 05:18:00 am  
Anonymous The Little Green Man said...

A "reasonable" assumption is an assumption. A good question is, reasonable according to whom exactly...? Why is it reasonable? How do you KNOW?

Brian, this is a topic of philosophy, in particular Epistemology- the Theory of Knowledge.

It is important to read Einstein's work completely and never selectively. That gives a greater understanding of the richness of what he contributed and how he did it (and also who helped him).

In his work Einstein deliberates at length and takes serious efforts to clearly describe his Epistemological position. He does this in several of his famous papers and in the introductions to some of his most important scientific contributions. He also is at pains to explain his position in correspondence with friends, colleagues and contemporaries.

It is to be strongly recommended that anyone interested in understanding the man, his science and his philosophy, read what he actually wrote. He went to some effort to communicate that to everyone. Give the great man the respect of actually considering what he said...

Einstein took the Kantian view of physics and science. He explains that in his work he is explaining relationships between "appearances" and not the real "essence" of existence. Hence he does not deal with reality directly. Einstein's description of how he does his science means the nature of his assumptions and how he decided what to assume are extremely important. Should it be that his assumptions are invalid, even ever so subtly erroneous, then there is the strong possibility that his conclusions are invalid as well. Einstein himself admitted to that issue in a powerful and honest introspection.

The trouble with "scientists" these days is that very few of them understand that science presupposes philosophy. They get it exactly the other way around for some reason (or, rather, non-reason). By doing that one is basing one's "science" upon blind faith. Assumptions become absolutes and are not up for question or discussion. Modern physics is shot through with such people unfortunately. They are merely the acolytes of a strange religion- one that they claim explains everything or is going to...

FF, when the econo-physics quantum theory mathmaticians understand the nature of markets and capital formation as thoroughly as did Von Mises or Rothbard and as thoroughly as does Prof Reisman does today, then they'll have something worthwhile to contribute. Until then what they have are some sparse models and some maths tricks. They are merely playing at describing Platos shadows on the cave wall. Scientistic mostly. Scientism for a salary.

Just Sayin, what you have descended to is known as ad hominem. Looks like it is you who does not know anything worthy of serious consideration. As has been said to you by several others recently, why don't you get your hands out of your trousers, wipe the goo from your fingers, clean the spit from your chin and concentrate on learning from your betters. You may be capable of achieving real knowledge! It may be possible even for you!

The Little Green Man

8/18/2007 07:20:00 am  
Blogger Berend de Boer said...

matt b, you knew that one of the the foremost experts on plate tectonics is a creationist?

wasps, I'm objecting to the hand waving that some so called sciences are allowed to use. And as long as people cannot even distinguish between natural selection and evolution, but conveniently lump one together to prove the other, I'm afraid it is matt b who might need a book.

Yes matt b, Neo-darwinistic evolution is the claim that new functionality can arise by the mechanism of mutation. This has never been observed in the laboratory, let alone in nature. The only thing we see is reshuffling of existing functionality.

This particular claim, that mutation can give rise to clearly new functionality has never been observed.

8/18/2007 07:43:00 am  
Blogger Matt B said...

Berend, your post is just one non sequitur after another. I'm not surprised the tectonics guy was a creationist. Geology, for some reason, has historically attracted christians.

Neo-darwinistic evolution is the claim that new functionality can arise by the mechanism of mutation. This has never been observed in the laboratory, let alone in nature. The only thing we see is reshuffling of existing functionality.

That is simply wrong.

Here are examples of new functionality observed in the laboratory: http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB101_2.html

And here are examples of speciation observed in the laboratory:

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-speciation.html

Your claim is false. Stop using it.

8/18/2007 08:48:00 am  
Anonymous Wasps said...

Berend de Boer said...
"I'm objecting to the hand waving that some so called sciences are allowed to use."

You're objecting on the basis of ignorance. Read about this stuff.

"And as long as people cannot even distinguish between natural selection and evolution, but conveniently lump one together to prove the other, I'm afraid it is matt b who might need a book."

That some people do X when talking about Y should not reflect on Y at all. Or is creationism/intelligent design full of shit because Kent Hovind is a tax fraud?

Oh, and You need to read about this stuff. Let's not worry about Matt. You.

The Little Green Man said...
"A "reasonable" assumption is an assumption. A good question is, reasonable according to whom exactly...? Why is it reasonable? How do you KNOW?"

Scientific models are based on assumptions that have been validated through experiment. If any experiments demonstrate they are invalid, if they survive being defied, their results filter through and we're all better for it. Einstein overturned the assumption that there was a speed limit. Faraday overturned the assumption that Magnetism and Electricity were unrelated. Newton overturned the assumption that different forces acted on celestial and earthly bodies.

A blank map doesn't mean that outside is an endless stretch of perfectly flat land. Uncertainty in your mind doesn't mean an uncertain reality. If you want to know why people assume things, the best advice I can give is to look it up. Read about it.

"The trouble with "scientists" these days is that very few of them understand that science presupposes philosophy. ... Assumptions become absolutes and are not up for question or discussion"

Science presupposes philosophy? Granted. Why? So we can get some work done.

What happens is people make assumptions and then they test them. History is full of examples where our assumptions were overturned. More specifically in reference to modern physics (QM/GR) we know we've got something wrong because we can't even put the two theories together into a Grand Unified Theory! The question is, what do we have wrong? If it helps you to wrap your head around it, think of the history of science as one long proof that man can't discern the laws of the universe and use them to predict phenomena. Proof by contradiction, starting by assuming we can. Will this assumption be overturned? Ask me in a few hundred years.

8/18/2007 11:19:00 am  
Blogger Brian S said...

Little Green Man,

Indeed it is a question of epistemology (did you notice the second part of my post?).

To answer you question:

A (critical) rationalist believes any proposition for which there is no known unfalsified reason to think it false and believes only those propositions. That is why it is reasonable to believe the assumption about the invariance of the laws of physics with respect to reference frames.

The alternative justificationist position - which I think I join you in criticizing - is that a rationalist accepts any proposition that can be justified and accepts only those positions that can be justified.

The problem for the justificationist is that the requirements lead to infinite regress. If A is justified in terms of B, then the first requirement is met for A, but now to satisfy the second requirement a justification is needed for B and so on. One way out of this is to claim that certain truths are self-evident and so ground out the regress. This is the Retreat to Commitment that Bartley describes in the book of the same name that I cited. Ultimately, then, the justificationist's criteria admit of their own irrationality.

The problems with justificationism were recognised by post-modernists but their solution was to drop the notion of truth while retaining the notion of justification.
This of course produced nothing but nonsense.

Popper was the first to really see that justificationism isn't needed at all and that critical rationalism is sufficient. Bartley, in his book, really gets hold of that ball and runs with it, explaining how the justificationist metacontext contaminates much philosophical and other thinking. It leads to both authoritarianism and relativism.

8/18/2007 11:24:00 am  
Anonymous Wasps said...

I'm absolutely atrocious.

I didn't mean to say "Einstein overturned the assumption that there was a speed limit." I meant to say "Einstein overturned the assumption that there wasn't a speed limit."

8/18/2007 12:34:00 pm  
Blogger Greg Bourke said...

At the heart of this post is the proposition that a variable speed of light throws down the postmodern mystical babble of Lacan, Deepak Chopra and Oprah while on the flip-side validates the axioms of Ayn Rand.
If I'm wrong then why was this specific study noticed in the first instance and commented on so avidly?
----------------------
Why is it that ‘Objectivists’ feel free to make such adamant (either for us or against us) ‘public service announcements’ on specialist areas ranging from economics (all praise to the Austrians), biochemistry, history, theology, ecology, street-paving, and meteorology? This thread exemplifies that streak where we see Einstein and almost a century of physics gleefully eroded in favour of a single study that may tenuously support Rand!
Is it because ‘Objectivists’ truly believe they alone have a monopoly on critical thought? Or is it just their human weakness showing up?
------------------

The posts by brian s are exceedingly helpful. Thanks.

8/18/2007 12:39:00 pm  
Blogger Berend de Boer said...

matt b, the definition of speciation is reshuffling of existing functionality. No new functionality is being generated. As you might know, rapid speciation is a key element of creationist theory and something completely unexpected for evolutions, because they believed it took millions of years.

And I suggest you study that talkorigins page carefully. There is not a single example where through mutation new functionality arises. Deleterious mutations that have a survival advantage under specific circumstances don't exactly prove your point.

8/18/2007 01:04:00 pm  
Blogger Matt B said...

Jesus you are pig ignorant Berend.

matt b, the definition of speciation is reshuffling of existing functionality.

No. That is not a definition of speciation. The most common definition is reproductive community i.e. close enough to reproduce. If you do not know that, then you have nothing to say about evolution.

There is not a single example where through mutation new functionality arises.

This is utterly ridiculous. Every one of the examples there demonstrated new functionality. How could consuming new materials not consumed before mutation not be new functionality?

Deleterious mutations that have a survival advantage under specific circumstances don't exactly prove your point.

This deleterious bullshit is idiotic. But actually, even if the mutations are deleterious, it still refutes your original view.

8/18/2007 02:27:00 pm  
Anonymous Falafulu Fisi said...

The Little Green Man said...
when the econo-physics quantum theory mathmaticians understand the nature of markets and capital formation as thoroughly as did Von Mises or Rothbard and as thoroughly as does Prof Reisman does today, then they'll have something worthwhile to contribute.

Yep, they do understand the nature of markets, perhaps more deeper than Von Mises & Reisman. The Nobel Prize winners for Economics in 1997 were Prof. Merton & Prof. Scholes, for developing their well-known Black-Scholes for derivative option pricing in the financial markets. The Black-Scholes model is quite popular today that it is widely adopted by financial analysts to price option derivatives. Black-Scholes is only one of the many models for pricing of financial market derivatives, but it was one of the first economics/finance model to use Physics in its derivation. Black-Scholes model was derived & solved using the heat-equation (or diffusion equation) from thermo-dynamics or fluid dynamics. I myself have developed 4 variants (there are a few) of the Black-Scholes algorithms to be used in an online financial market anlytic application.

Now, econo-physicists have moved on from Black-Scholes because it has limitations such as it was based on the assumption that the performance of the market (returns) does follow a Log-normal probability distribution, however empirical evidence has shown that the real market is indeed do follow a Power Law distribution rather than Log-normal. So, Feynman Path Integral from QED, has been used in option pricing models to avoid this difficulty which account for the power law. Path Integral of QED is method is more robust & accurate (fit the data better with lower error) compared to the standard Black-Scholes.

8/18/2007 02:55:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

Crikey, there's been an awful amount of nonsense written here by people pushing barrows that mostly should have been long abandoned, and by some people whose reading comprehension skills seem to have been picked up in a school for dyslexic finger painters.

Let me remind you all of what I said in the post itself, particularly: 1. "If their claim is true..." and 2. "If the experiment of those two German scientists can be both validated and reproduced..." Both those statements were included for what should be obvious enough reasons, right? That in experimental science experiments need to be reproduced and validated before they're taken seriously.

WASPS: "Things travel faster than c all the time."
Well, no they don't. That's what makes this so interesting. As New Scientist magazine says in its cover story, "It's a speed record that is supposed to be impossible to break. Yet two physicists are now claiming they have propelled photons faster than the speed of light. This would be in direct violation of Einstein's special theory of relativity, which states that nothing, under any circumstances, can exceed the speed of light..."

BTW, the discussion of causality in my post is in relation to what Bell's Inequality supposedly proves, not to what these two scientists are saying. You would hav noticed that if you'd read what I said.

JUST SAYIN', you just said, "I would forward this article and the following discussion as an airtight rigorous proof that 'objectivists' are capable of talking almost infinite amounts of uninformed shit on subjects which they obviously know very little."

Snap, mate. Your own observation is made to look rather foolish by simply pointing out that while a lot of uninformed shit has been talked already in this post, as far as I can tell it's only me that's talking from an Objectivist point of view. But perhaps you just can't read, sir, which is what your twin suggestions (1. that an Objectivist is here denying evolution; or 2. that I'm asserting that the postulates of general relativity somehow form a 'dogma') suggest, since neither are in fact asserted here at all.

I suggest perhaps you should just read properly before you just try writing, 'Just Sayin.'

BRIAN S.: Yes, it is an assumption on which relativity theory is based; a fruitful one to be sure, and one validated by observation (yes, Brian, theory does need to be validated by observation; that's what science does)

You say, "A (critical) rationalist believes any proposition for which there is no known unfalsified reason to think it false and believes only those propositions."

Then a critical rationalist would be a fool. If I were to suggest that there were green spiders on the far side of Mars and you were to say to me you believe me because there is no known unfalsified reason to think it false, then I would say that you're a fool.

By taking up a position as militant agnostic your critical rationalist leaves himself open to any arbitrary assertion floating around. Knowledge is a positive process, a search for validation and integration, not simply the assertion of a negative and the hand-waving of arbitrary and unproven nonsense.

GREG, you ask oh so politely, "Why is it that ‘Objectivists’ feel free to make such adamant... ‘public service announcements’ on specialist areas ranging from economics [to] meteorology? This thread exemplifies that streak where we see Einstein and almost a century of physics gleefully eroded in favour of a single study that may tenuously support Rand!
Is it because ‘Objectivists’ truly believe they alone have a monopoly on critical thought? Or is it just their human weakness showing up?"


First of all Greg, if you think this is a post about "a single study that may tenuously support Rand," then you're guilty of either misreading or not reading. Frankly, that's a pathetic statement.

The post draws attention to an experiment that is yet to be reproduced, and speculates on what it might mean (if it were to be reproduced) for the many charlatans who have drawn unwarranted philosophical and physical conclusions from what has always been no more than an arbitrary assertion.

That there's been so much comment here and elsewhere suggests it's something worth commenting on, and worth drawing some fundamental philosophical conclusions therefrom--if indeed one is in a position to be able to do so.

As far as Objectivism goes, and your criticism that Objectivism seems to have a position on a huge range of topics, might I suggest first that I myself have an interest in most of those areas you mention, which is why they appear here at this blog (about which I am unapologetic); and second, that any philosophy worthy of the name will have a position on every concrete area of study, and the more broad and integrated the philosophy the more fundamental the position.

I think it's clear just from the (mostly childish) comments on this thread from so many participants how a commenter's fundamental philosophy colours his or her approach to something that raises some pretty fundamental questions for both metaphysics and epistemology, and how a poor philosophical background leaves one disarmed and floundering in the face of such questions.

FALUFULU FISI, you said, "Yep, [so called econo-physicists] do understand the nature of markets, perhaps more deeper than Von Mises & Reisman."

Sorry mate, but you'll have to do better that that.

Mises and Reisman base their economics on this simple observation: that humans act in order to seek to improve their lot; in a division of labour economy that simple observation has profound and important consequences.

Perhaps you could summarise (in one paragraph) the basic approach that finds the similarity between the actions of human beings in a a division of labour economy, and those of an atomic particle going through a narrow slit.

You've got to admit, the correspondence is not immediately obvious, and you've done nothing to explain why it would be.

8/18/2007 03:44:00 pm  
Blogger Brian S said...

PC,

You think that critical rationalism forces me to accept your proposition that there are green spiders on the far side of Mars.

Not at all.

The Green Spiders proposition is easily criticized: I could go on about Mars apparent inhospitability to life. I could mention that all tests for life so far have proved negative. I could go on about all this. But I'm hardly going to spend time on your proposition am I because the most telling criticism is that you obviously came up with it from the top of your head. This is my main reason for thinking it false.

So job done.

Moreover I have a better theory: there is no life on Mars. My critical preference overwhelmingly lies with this theory. But I am prepared to give it up should the evidence refute my theory.

Critical rationalism is not militant agnosticism. It is about forming critical preferences. It is about taking our best theories of reality seriously but never thinking that further criticism is not possible, that we have the final truth.
Categorically, critical rationalism is not "the assertion of a negative and the hand-waving of arbitrary and unproven nonsense". How about some decent criticism? I note that you did not respond to any of my points about justificationism. Are you aware of what a justificationist is, what the perils of justificationism are, and why Objectivism is justificationist? If not, I would heartily recommend Bartley to you.

8/18/2007 09:11:00 pm  
Blogger Brian S said...

One thing I should make clear. I have no objection to justification: that is, giving a reason for why you think something is true. So I have no problem with positive reasons. What I am trying to criticize is the justificationist theory of rationality. This is the theory that says that a rationalist accepts any proposition that has been justified and accepts only those propositions. My position is that the infinite regress problem inherent in this theory leads either to the dogmatic assertion of axioms or to the denial that there is such a thing as truth. And the theory on its own terms cannot be consistently held.

8/18/2007 09:58:00 pm  
Blogger Brian S said...

PC,

Re-parsing your comment I see that you weren't saying that critical rationalism forces me to accept the proposition that there are green spiders on Mars. You wrote:

If I were to suggest that there were green spiders on the far side of Mars and you were to say to me you believe me because there is no known unfalsified reason to think it false, then I would say that you're a fool.

I agree. I would be a fool. I would be a fool because a moments thought gives many unfalsified reasons to think it false. Not the least of which is the one I stated before: you just made it up.

So now I'm mystified. What was your point? How does somebody who subjects their beliefs to criticism become "open to any arbitrary assertion floating around"? Surely it's just the opposite?

BTW, when I say "unfalsified reason" I mean any reason that has not been successfully criticised. Experimental testing is one form of criticism, but by no means the only form.

8/19/2007 07:48:00 am  
Anonymous little green man said...

Hi Brian,

Interesting what you wrote.

What Einstein assumed included the invariance of certain physical realtionships within non-accelerating frames of reference. Also we need to be careful, for he stressed he dealt with the relationships between appearances and not directly with reality itself.

These are assumptions that were reasonable enough he judged at the time he was making them, but assumption they remain. They need to be considered and understood. If there is trouble with them (or any of the other ones he made), then his conclusions need to be re-evaluated.

Fair enough.

He employed a particular form of analysis, a way of dealing with or of doing science. Remember, he was a Kantian. That has consequences which are evident in his method of thought. That too needs to be considered and understood. If there is trouble with this (or more particularly, its consequences), then his conclusions will need to be re-evaluated.

Science, a place for the do-it-yourselfer. Trust no-one but yourself to do your thinking! Check and check again!


Ah yes, Karl Popper. He was one of my favourites. He understood the importantce of Epistemology. He comes up short in a few key areas though. Still, there are many "scientists" who would do well to read his work. Few appear to have bothered with him though.

Lack of understanding of philosophy is the great shame of the profession. Most need to learn more about philosophy and discard the intercene politicing, bitching, back-biting and parasitism that plagues the whole show these days.

Best regards to you.

Little Green Man says have a good weekend.

8/19/2007 09:09:00 am  
Anonymous little green man said...

FF

You write: "Now, econo-physicists have moved on from Black-Scholes because it has limitations such as it was based on the assumption that the performance of the market (returns) does follow a Log-normal probability distribution, however empirical evidence has shown that the real market is indeed do follow a Power Law distribution rather than Log-normal."

Key words:-

limitations,

assumptions,

does not follow,

real market,

evidence.

What you are showing us is that the mathmaticians/physics wallahs did not understand the market in the first instance.

The market (and reality) does not "follow" mathematical equations. Equations are attempts by people to describe aspects of reality that they experience. Sometimes we use English language, sometimes we use pictures, sometimes we use gestures and sometimes we use mathematics for the task. Math is is merely a form of descriptive language or communication means- nothing more. It does not control markets or reality. It is a tool for us to employ; that is all.

The newer maths tricks you describe will perhaps be "more accurate" (according to whom?) but they will still come up short. Wait and see. They contain the same basic lack of understanding of what the market IS as the earlier attempts.

In the end, the likes of Reisman, Rothbard, Von Mises demonstrate an essential understanding of the market and are able to describe it in detail. Mathematical equations do not achieve this feat.

Now don't get me wrong. I like my mathematics and I like computers and computer modelling, but I realise I need to know about reality. For I live in a real existance, not a virtual one.

Little Green Man

8/19/2007 09:35:00 am  
Anonymous LGM said...

Wasps

You wrote: "Scientific models are based on assumptions that have been validated through experiment."

No. That is not always the case. Interestingly enough PC has mentioned a relevant example recently. Take a look at Bell. What critical assumptions were made there? Did you realise they were made in the absence of experimental validation?

Did Einstein really overturn the assumption that there was a speed limit or did he assume a spped limit or did he do neither of these? Read what he wrote. It's clear you have not. BTW you should read Lorentz's papers as well.

Does science validate Einstein's Kantian assumptions? Please explain the experiment where this was accomplished. Who undertook it and what were the results?


You wrote: "Science presupposes philosophy? Granted. Why? So we can get some work done."

That's a flippant & shallow approach to take to a critical issue. Shame on you for acting the pillock.

A man brings his philosophy to his science. His Epistemology is already part of his thinking and analysis before he comes to do science.

Taking an extreme example, a religonist who belived that God was the source of all answers, and that He would supply any and all knowledge whenever required, would not even need to bother with science. For such a one it would all be down to Divine Revelation. No enquiry or experiment necessary. God will provide.

On the other hand a Christian who followed the philosophical line of Aquinas would be able to undertake enquiry on the nature of reality (hence do science) up to the point where his findings conflicted with Divine Revelation (and/or his Theological position).

Meanwhile, an Objectivist would be able to undertake scientific enquiry without restriction or internal contradiction since his philosophic position is that he must understand reality in order to live well within it.

And then there are a myriad of others most of whom are, in essence, combinations or variants of the above...

In each case a person approaches science with a philosophic position already held. The fact that one undertakes scientific enquiry means that one has alrady adopted a philosphic position.

Little Green Man

8/19/2007 10:30:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

BRIAN S., you said, "
Critical rationalism is not militant agnosticism. It is about forming critical preferences."


In my estimation, it's more about admitting arbitrary propositions to the realm of serious discussion, instead of dismissing them outright as you should. It's this, coupled with a militant agnosticism brought about by the provisional uncertainty of a disintegrated knowledge to which your so called critical rationalism is committed.

*****

Regarding 'justificationism' and your ongoing attempt to shoehorn Objectivist epistemology into something that it isn't, may I suggest once again that instead you deal with Objectivist epistemology as it is, rather than as you would like it to be. I have no intention of defending something which I don't support, but every intention of defending that which I do.

You've been offered more than enough opportunity to get to grips with Objectivist epistemology as it is. May I offer the invitation once again.

8/19/2007 12:11:00 pm  
Blogger Brian S said...

[damn, I seem to have lost my orginal comment despite publishing it..so here's another attempt. Apologies if my original comment somehow comes back from the ether]

PC -

In my estimation, [critical rationalism is] more about admitting arbitrary propositions to the realm of serious discussion, instead of dismissing them outright as you should.

I'm not sure why you think critical rationalists are going to spend any time on arbitrary propositions. As you imply, these are easily dismissed with the criticism "you just made that up". And that's what a good critical rationalist would do. Indeed, it is what I did with your arbitrary proposition about green spiders.

It's this, coupled with a militant agnosticism brought about by the provisional uncertainty of a disintegrated knowledge to which your so called critical rationalism is committed.

By "disintegrated knowledge" are you saying that critical rationalists don't seek deeper more explanatory theories? If so, obviously you are wrong. There are good reasons to prefer deeper more explanatory theories and the critical preference should lie with these. By forming such a critical preference, the critical rationalist is hardly being agnostic is he? It is in fact the process of criticism that leads to deeper theories.

The experiment in question on this thread is a case in point. The experimenters are not seeking to validate Einstein, but rather they seek to disprove him through criticism by experiment! If they succeed, then a new theory will be required, one that will have to be deeper than Einstein because it has to explain everything relativity does and also the new results.

As for "provisional uncertainty", Objectivism is hardly less uncertain and Objectivists readily admit that induction does not lead to certainty (ashame they don't admit the real problems of induction, such as a generalized prediction does not an explanatory theory make). But whether or not you are certain about a theory is irrelevent to whether it is true or not.

Regarding 'justificationism' and your ongoing attempt to shoehorn Objectivist epistemology into something that it isn't, may I suggest once again that instead you deal with Objectivist epistemology as it is, rather than as you would like it to be.

Well, indeed. But are you not doing the same thing with critical rationalism? Your comments on the topic have been way off beam. I have read Rand - though by no means everything she wrote - and much of her work seems quite justificationist to me. But I could be wrong :)


Little Green Man -

I'm glad you appreciate Popper. I agree that he is off on some things. As PC has noted, he is not a consistent defender of liberty. I also have problems with his versimiltude and theory of demarcation. Fortunately others, like Bartley - and more latterly David Deutsch- , have moved critical rationalism on. So what we have today is different in some respects to Popper.

8/20/2007 12:12:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

An interesting post from Stephen Boydstun on the relation of philosophy to science is worth quoting here in full:

I would like to note a remark of Rand's consistent with [Michael] Friedmans conception I had displayed in the post "Further Role of Philosophy." I had written the following in that note:

"Here is a further reason supporting the idea that physics—at least fundamental physics—cannot continue always to progress without philosophy at work in the minds of physicists. This comes from the chapter 'The Role of Philosophy' in Michael Friedman’s Dynamics of Reason (2001). Professor Friedman suggests that during the transitions between radically different conceptual frameworks in scientific revolutions, 'distinctively philosophical reflections play a special and characteristic role'. During such revolutions, thought at a meta-scientific level is essential.

"For example 'Einstein was able rationally to appeal to practitioners of the preceding paradigm in (classical) mathematical physics partly by placing his articulation of fundamentally new coordinating principles within the long tradition of reflection on the question of absolute versus relative motion going back to the seventeenth century. But this tradition is itself largely philosophical' (105). 'Einstein’s final articulation and elaboration of his theory [GR] was essentially, and rationally, mediated by [a certain] philosophical debate—without which . . . it is indeed hard to imagine how the application of non-Euclidean geometry in physics could have ever become a real possibility and thus a genuinely live possibility' (115)."

That fits nicely with a general picture expressed by Rand in "Philosophy: Who Needs It?" She writes: "In the realm of cognition, the special sciences are the trees, but philosophy is the soil which makes the forest possible."

8/20/2007 12:43:00 pm  
Blogger Brian S said...

PC,

At least we agree that philosophy is important and that philosophy is the soil that makes the forest possible.

With regard to your invitation to get to know Objectivism as it is, I would very much like to correctly understand Objectivism and to know if and where I am going wrong. To begin, I would like to understand why you think my conception of Objectivist knowledge is wrong. I have been considering two competing theories of knowledge on this thread. In a nutshell, these are:

1. Something is considered knowledge if it can be justified.

2. Something is considered knowledge if there is no known reason to think it false.

Am I correct in thinking that 1. is the Objectivist position? If so, why would something that satisfied 2, but not 1, not be knowledge?

8/21/2007 12:39:00 am  
Blogger Brian S said...

Opps...should be an "only if" on the two competing positions above:

1. Something is considered knowledge if and only if it can be justified.

2. Something is considered knowledge if and only if there is no known reason to think it false.

8/21/2007 06:59:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

Brian, the answer is both 1 and 2 (although I wouldn't use your terminology). You suggest these are two competing positions; I say they're complementary.

I'll write more shortly on this, but in the meantime may I invite you to contemplate that in order to falsify anything and to rejet it as nonsense you first must have some idea of sense.

In other words, even in your own rarefied view, you do in fact have to enter the field of knowledge even to conduct your exercise of falsification: To have "no known reason" for not rejecting something you must first have acquired your reasons, ie., your evidence, on which you can rely.

So in performing your step 2, you're smuggling in evidence from step 1.

8/21/2007 10:27:00 am  
Blogger Brian S said...

Earlier in the thread I said I had no problem with justification: having a reason for thinking something true. However, according to the second position above, this does not make it knowledge. It is knowledge if there is no known reason to think it false. So although you may have a reason for thinking something true, it is not knowledge until it has been subject to criticism, including testing. If it survives this process of criticism, then you have knowledge.

Popper's main point was that the theorem that "something is knowledge if and only if there is no reason to think it false" is *sufficient* for a theory of knowledge. You don't lose anything of importance. You can still give reasons for thinking something true, but it is not knowledge because of this. It is knowledge because it has survived criticism.

I take it your position is:

3. Something is knowledge if and only if it can be justified and there is no known reason to think if false.

One problem here is that there are some propositions that cannot be falsified but which we cannot justify. I guess from your perspective quantum physics is one such. Echoing Little Green Man in response to wasps, I ask what is your justification for, say, Bell?

8/21/2007 08:41:00 pm  
Blogger Brian S said...

Looks like Nimtz and Stahlhofen won't pan out. The authors have drawn the wrong conclusion, as Alan Forrester explains here.

*********

On the subject of critical rationalism and justificationism this is an excellent post.

8/24/2007 07:24:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

Brian S.,

Thanks for the links.

Alan Forrester doesn't really say much though, does he. I found that the NS article itself is somewhat more informative regarding reservations. I posted the relevant part as an update.

No, on the subject of critical rationalism and justificationism, let me remind you that I am not a supporter of "justificationism" -- Objectivism is not justificationism; it is interested in knowledge, not belief.

I expect to post something on this (again) over the weekend.

8/24/2007 09:20:00 am  

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