Brad DeLong (2005) : The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences: Chad Orzel provides the pointer to Helge Kraghe, who writes in Physics Web http://physicsweb.org/articles/world/13/12/8 about how quantum theory existed in the equations of physics half a decade before the human brain of any physicist understood it….
Max Planck comes up with an equation that works. In order to do so he has to make a "purely formal assumption." And it is only half a decade later that Einstein realizes that the little h that appears in Max Planck's equation is not a "purely formal assumption" or an "artefact" but instead tells us what is perhaps the most important thing about the guts of the universe.
For half a decade the first equation of quantum theory was there. But nobody knew how to read it.
It is this "what if we took this equation seriously?" factor that is, to my mind at least, the spookiest thing about the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in physics. Take the h in Max Planck's equation seriously, and you have the quantum principle--something that was not in Planck's brain when he wrote the equation down. Take seriously the symmetry in Maxwell's equations between the force generated when you move a magnet near a wire and the force and the force generated when you move a wire near a magnet, and you have Special Relativity--something that was not in Maxwell's brain when he wrote down the equation. Take Newton's gravitational force law's equivalence between inertial and gravitational mass seriously and you have General Relativity--something never in Newton's mind. And take the mathematical pathology at r = 2M in the Schwarzchild metric for the space-time metric around a point mass seriously, and you have black holes and event horizons.
Thomas Nagel: Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Surely False:
But it seems to me that, as it is usually presented, the current orthodoxy about the cosmic order is the product of governing assumptions that are unsupported, and that it flies in the face of common sense…
My skepticism is… just a belief that the available scientific evidence, in spite of the consensus of scientific opinion, does not… rationally require us to subordinate the incredulity of common sense…
Everything we believe, even the most far-reaching cosmological theories, has to be based ultimately on common sense, and on what is plainly undeniable…
I have argued patiently against the prevailing form of naturalism, a reductive materialism that purports to capture life and mind through its neo-Darwinian extension…. I find this view antecedently unbelievable— a heroic triumph of ideological theory over common sense…
If you are going to reject scientific theories because they fail to match up to your "common sense"...
Views Differ on Age of Planet - NYTimes.com: Quite a few bloggers are having fun with Marco Rubio’s bobbing and weaving in response to a question from GQ: "How old do you think the Earth is?"… As I like to say, the GOP doesn’t just want to roll back the New Deal; it wants to roll back the Enlightenment. But here’s what you should realize: when Rubio says that the question of the Earth’s age “has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow”, he’s dead wrong. For one thing, science and technology education has a lot to do with our future productivity — and how are you going to have effective science education if schools have to give equal time to the views of fundamentalist Christians?More broadly, the attitude that discounts any amount of evidence — and boy, do we have lots of evidence on the age of the planet! — if it conflicts with prejudices is not an attitude consistent with effective policy. If you’re going to ignore what geologists say if you don’t like its implications, what are the chances that you’ll take sensible advice on monetary and fiscal policy? After all, we’ve just seen how Republicans deal with research reports that undermine their faith in the magic of tax cuts: they try to suppress the reports…. So don’t laugh over Rubio’s young-earth apologetics. If he, or anyone else from his party, wins in 2016, the joke will be on us.
Chemistry in the Quantum Vacuum. No, Really… In the Pipeline:: If we end up being able to make [chemical] reactions go the way we want them to by coupling our starting materials to actual fabric of space, I will officially decide that I am, in fact, living in someone's science fiction novel, and I will be very happy about that…
Tuesday, June 5 2:30-8:30 p.m. Plaza observation: Free Indoor activities after 4:30 p.m.: $5 ($4 members)
On 5 and 6 June this year, millions of people around the world will be able to see Venus pass across the face of the Sun in what will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?
Duncan Black acquires hives after reading Tom Friedman:
Eschaton: Someone Please Ask: Next time one of you bumps into the moustache of understanding, maybe when one of his calls drops on the Amtrak, ask him how much a typical Social Security beneficiary receives every month. Bonus points if he can tell you how many Acela tickets that would buy.
As does Matthew Yglesias:
Amtrak dropped calls.: So Tom Friedman wants Michael Bloomberg to run for president in part because:
I traveled on the Amtrak Acela, our sorry excuse for a fast train, on which I had so many dropped calls on my cellphone that you’d have thought I was on a remote desert island, not traveling from Washington to New York City.
I've also been annoyed by this, but it's very unclear to me what the political system can do to remedy it…. [T]he basic problem is that, to avoid dropping calls along the route, the network has to be able to handle peak-load traffic of a whole train full of prosperous business travels at all points along the route even though any given place only rarely has that many customers in it since the train moves fast. Why don't AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile invest the kind of funds that would be necessary to deliver that level of service? Well it would cost money. And how many customers could AT&T really poach from Verizon by making this investment? The calculation they've made is that it's a small number, and that calculation seems correct to me. Fundamentally, this is a weird edge case that professional political writers are unusually likely to encounter, and it doesn't make much economic sense for the carriers to address it. I'm not sure what, if anything, a Bloomberg administration could do about it short of a politically implausible plan to tax the heartland in order to subsidize Northeast Corridor mobile phone service…
Glassman is running, and Hassett is speaking, at a George W. Bush institute conference tomorrow. It is thus worth reminding everyone of their 1999 book Dow 36000: The New Strategy for Profiting from the Coming Rise in the Stock Market. Let me turn the mike over to Barry Ritholtz:
Lessons to Be Learned From Dow 36,000 | The Big Picture:
This book will convince you of the single most important fact about stocks at the dawn of the twenty-first century: They are cheap….If you are worried about missing the market’s big move upward, you will discover that it is not too late. Stocks are now in the midst of a one-time-only rise to much higher ground–to the neighborhood of 36,000 on the Dow Jones industrial average.
Glassman and Hassett, introduction, Dow 36000: The New Strategy for Profiting from the Coming Rise in the Stock Market
Call it the audacity of cluelessness: Let us congratulate James K. Glassman and Kevin Hassett, the authors of the incredibly money losing advice in their book Dow 36,000, on their 10 year anniversary. The book forecast that lofty number would be obtained in 3 to 5 years; it was published precisely 10 years ago today. In the ensuing decade since this book (and I use the term lightly) was published, the Dow is still below where it was 10 years ago, rather than tripling in price. The Nasdaq remains more than 60% below its highs of one decade ago.
"Uncertainty is not a statement about the limits of measurement, it’s a statement about the limits of reality. Asking for the precise position and momentum of a particle doesn’t even make sense, because those quantities do not exist."
--Chad Orzel, How to Teach Physics to Your Dog
"We wind a simple ring of iron with coils; we establish the connections to the generator, and with wonder and delight we note the effects of strange forces which we bring into play, which allow us to transform, to transmit and direct energy at will. We arrange the circuits properly, and we see the mass of iron and wires behave as though it were endowed with life, spinning a heavy armature, through invisible connections, with great speed and power--with the energy possibly conveyed from a great distance."
--Nikola Tesla, Experiments with Alternate Currents of High Potential and High Frequency
… but this is extraordinary:
Faster Than a Speeding Photon: "Measurement of the neutrino velocity with the OPERA detector in the CNGS beam" : Uncertain Principles: there's still room for a canine-level write-up going into a bit more depth about what they did and where it might be wrong.
So, what did those jokers at CERN pull this time? Isn't it bad enough that they want to feed us all into a black hole, now they're messing with the speed of light?… The neutrinos are created at CERN in one of their three varieties, and on the way to Gran Sasso, they can change character and end up being detected as a different type…. As part of the preliminary analysis for their main experiment, they looked at about three years worth of data, and noticed something odd: the neutrinos in their experiment seem to be moving slightly faster than the speed of light…. [T]he difference they see is many times larger than their uncertainty, and they can't figure out why…. [T]hey do is to compare the distribution of times when they detect neutrinos to the distribution of times when neutrinos were created in the source…. [T]he time of flight… is about 60ns too short, suggesting the neutrinos were moving faster than they speed of light….
How about the distance? Could they have screwed that up? That's the other obvious source of error, but it's hard to see how. Again, they have GPS to use for this, and while the accuracy of the position obtained by GPS for a moving receiver, like in your phone, is only several meters, if you're trying to measure the distance between two fixed points, and monitor it over a long time, you can get really good accuracy. They claim to have the distance down to 20cm, which is a bit less than a nanosecond at the speed of light. Twenty centimeters? Really? Really. They even provide a graph showing their measurements over the three-year run, which pick up a slow change due to continental drift, and a dramatic jump due to an earthquake in 2009….
So, what else could be wrong? Well, that's the problem. They've checked all the obvious things, and they all seem to hang together. Which is why they're putting this result out there, knowing full well that it disagrees with just about everything else. They're hoping that some clever person will spot a mistake, or, failing that, that another experiment will do the same test (there's one in Japan and one in the US), and see if they get the same result….
It'd be deeply, deeply weird, though, not least because the existence of superluminal particles that interact with ordinary matter (as neutrinos do, albeit weakly) opens the door to violations of causality-- effects happening before the things that caused them, and that sort of thing. This wouldn't be a big loophole-- the speed difference is tiny, and neutrinos interact extremely weakly-- but it's the kind of philosophical problem that would really bother a lot of people.
So, if you had money to bet on it, bet that this result is wrong. But these guys aren't complete chumps, and if something is wrong with their experiment, it's something pretty subtle, because they've checked all the obvious problem areas carefully.
I ran across this:
William Patterson: The “Horst-Conrad-Milne” interplanetary space drive of [Robert Heinlein's] Between Planets has become in ** a sophisticated interstellar drive (though Milne got left off the name this time—as sometimes happens in real life; there is plenty of Einstein in Starman Jones, but no mention of Hermann Minkowski)…
I have long known that attacking Albert Einstein for undermining the morals of the West and for being an all-around bad guy was a staple of the whacka-whacka right wing of the American Spectator and its ilk. But I had never heard before that Hermann Minkowski was the unfair slighted discoverer or co-discoverer of Einstein's theory of relativity.
I had heard that there were whacka-whacks who claimed that Voigt, Lorentz, FitzGerald, Poincaré, and Larmor really deserved credit for special relativity. And, indeed, there is enormous credit to be shred that is shared: we do speak of Lorentz invariance, of the Lorentz-Fitzgerald contraction, of the Poincaré group of rotations, and of Minkowski space (alas, Larmor does not make it) all as essential parts of Einstein's theory of relativity.
But I had never heard Minkowski. He did not even start to work on relativity until after 1905. I had never heard any hint that it ought to be called the Minkowski or the Einstein-Minkowski theory of relativity--until now.
Anybody know where this comes from?
I am sorry, but something a mere 70 feet across is not an "asteroid":
Near-Earth asteroid passes over Atlantic Ocean : An asteroid with an estimated girth as large as a garbage truck soared within 7,500 miles of the Earth on Monday as it passed harmlessly over the Atlantic Ocean, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The space rock, measuring 5 to 20 meters in diameter, followed the same near-Earth path that scientists had earlier predicted, looping around the planet in a boomerang-shaped trajectory, JPL spokesman D.C. Agle said. Its nearest approach to Earth, about 7,500 miles, was 30 times farther away than the International Space Station, which orbits the planet at a distance of 250 miles. On a more celestial scale, the asteroid's closest distance to Earth was just 3 percent of the 250,000 miles separating the Earth from the moon.
An object about the same size as Monday's near-Earth asteroid, designated by scientists as 2011 MD, zips past the planet at about the same distance ever six years, according to JPL.
Even if an asteroid the size of 2011 MD ever entered the Earth's atmosphere, it would likely burn up and cause no damage to the planet, JPL said.
Japan may have lost race to save nuclear reactor | World news | The Guardian: The radioactive core in a reactor at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant appears to have melted through the bottom of its containment vessel and on to a concrete floor, experts say, raising fears of a major release of radiation at the site.... Richard Lahey, who was head of safety research for boiling-water reactors at General Electric when the company installed the units at Fukushima, told the Guardian workers at the site appeared to have "lost the race" to save the reactor, but said there was no danger of a Chernobyl-style catastrophe.... At least part of the molten core, which includes melted fuel rods and zirconium alloy cladding, seemed to have sunk through the steel "lower head" of the pressure vessel around reactor two, Lahey said.
"The indications we have, from the reactor to radiation readings and the materials they are seeing, suggest that the core has melted through the bottom of the pressure vessel in unit two, and at least some of it is down on the floor of the drywell," Lahey said. "I hope I am wrong, but that is certainly what the evidence is pointing towards."... Lahey said: "It won't come out as one big glob; it'll come out like lava, and that is good because it's easier to cool." The drywell is surrounded by a secondary steel-and-concrete structure designed to keep radioactive material from escaping into the environment. But an earlier hydrogen explosion at the reactor may have damaged this.
"The reason we are concerned is that they are detecting water outside the containment area that is highly radioactive and it can only have come from the reactor core," Lahey added. "It's not going to be anything like Chernobyl, where it went up with a big fire and steam explosion, but it's not going to be good news for the environment." The radiation level at a pool of water in the turbine room of reactor two was measured recently at 1,000 millisieverts per hour. At that level, workers could remain in the area for just 15 minutes, under current exposure guidelines...
Fresh coolant injected, high-radiation water leaks in nuke crisis | Kyodo News: Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Friday it has begun injecting freshwater into the No. 1 and No. 3 reactor cores at the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to enhance cooling efficiency, although highly radioactive water was found leaking possibly from both reactors as well as the No. 2 reactor. The latest efforts to bring the troubled reactors at the plant under control are aimed at preventing crystallized salt from seawater already injected from forming a crust on the fuel rods and hampering smooth water circulation, thus diminishing the cooling effect, the plant's operator said. The utility known as TEPCO is also preparing to inject freshwater into the No. 2 reactor core.
But a day after three workers were exposed to water containing radioactive materials 10,000 times the normal level at the turbine building connected to the No. 3 reactor building, highly radioactive water was also found in the turbine buildings of the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors. The latest development in Japan's worst nuclear crisis raises the risk of more workers being exposed to radioactive substances, hindering their efforts to restore the plant's crippled cooling functions that are key to overcoming the crisis...
When Crowdsourced Data Meets Nuclear Power: One of the key problems has been that people aren't sure whether to trust the official measurements, no matter how many of them there are. Today, sociologist Zeynep Tufekci addressed the issue of lack of trust in institutions in her essay, "If We Built a Safer Nuclear Reactor, How Would We Know?" I think I may have seen the beginnings of a way to build that trust in this crowdsourced map of Geiger counter readings from around Japan. It's one thing to blindly trust the experts. It's quite another to doublecheck them with a distributed network of 215 Geiger counters -- forcing them to earn that trust. This is DIY science with purpose.
Charlie Stross writes:
An observation: [W]hen the definitive history of the Fukushima Daiichi accident is written, there will be a tally of casualties and fatalities.... I firmly believe that the fatalities will be dominated by iodine poisoning, self-administered by people in countries not exposed to emissions from the plant.
Tim Harfurd reminds us of Piper Alpha:
Piper Alpha - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: Timeline of the incident
A new gas pipeline was built in the weeks before the 6 July explosion, and while this work disrupted the normal routine, the platform was operating as normal. The discovery of a small gas leak was not unusual and no cause for concern. Because the platform was completely destroyed, and many of those involved died, analysis of events can only suggest a possible chain of events based on known facts. Some witnesses to the events question the official timeline.
12:00 p.m. Two condensate pumps, designated A and B, displaced the platform's condensate for transport to the coast. On the morning of July 6, Pump A's pressure safety valve (PSV #504) was removed for routine maintenance. The pump's fortnightly overhaul was planned but had not started. The open condensate pipe was temporarily sealed with a blind flange (flat metal disc). Because the work could not be completed by 6:00 p.m., the blind flange remained in place. The on-duty engineer filled out a permit which stated that Pump A was not ready and must not be switched on under any circumstances.
6:00 p.m. The day shift ended, and the night shift started with 62 men running Piper Alpha. As he found the on-duty custodian busy, the engineer neglected to inform him of the condition of Pump A. Instead he placed the permit in the control centre and left. This permit disappeared and was not found. Coincidentally there was another permit issued for the general overhaul of Pump A that had not yet begun.
7:00 p.m. Like many other offshore platforms, Piper Alpha had an automatic fire-fighting system, driven by both diesel and electric pumps (the latter were disabled by the initial explosions). The diesel pumps were designed to suck in large amounts of sea water for fire fighting; the pumps had an automatic control to start them in case of fire. However, the fire-fighting system was under manual control on the evening of July 6: Piper Alpha procedures required manual control of the pumps whenever divers were in the water (as they were for approximately 12 hours a day during summer) regardless of their location, to prevent divers from being sucked in with the sea water (fire pumps on other platforms were switched to manual control only if the divers were close to the inlet).
9:45 p.m. Condensate (natural gas liquids NGL) Pump B stopped suddenly and could not be restarted. As the entire power supply of the offshore construction work depended on this pump, the manager had only a few minutes to bring the pump back online, otherwise the power supply would fail completely. A search was made through the documents to determine whether Condensate Pump A could be started.
9:52 p.m. The permit for the overhaul was found, but not the other permit stating that the pump must not be started under any circumstances due to the missing safety valve. The valve was in a different location from the pump and therefore the permits were stored in different boxes, as they were sorted by location. None of those present was aware that a vital part of the machine had been removed. The manager assumed from the existing documents that it would be safe to start Pump A. The missing valve was not noticed by anyone, particularly as the metal disc replacing the safety valve was several metres above ground level and obscured by machinery.
9:55 p.m. Condensate Pump A was switched on. Gas flowed into the pump, and because of the missing safety valve, produced an overpressure which the loosely fitted metal disc did not withstand. Gas audibly leaked out at high pressure, drawing the attention of several men and triggering six gas alarms including the high level gas alarm, but before anyone could act, the gas ignited and exploded, blowing through the firewall made up of 2.5 x 1.5 metre panels bolted together, which were not designed to withstand explosions. The custodian pressed the emergency stop button, closing huge valves in the sea lines and ceasing all oil and gas production. Theoretically, the platform would then have been isolated from the flow of oil and gas and the fire contained. However, because the platform was originally built for oil, the firewalls were designed to resist fire rather than withstand explosions. The first explosion broke the firewall and dislodged panels around Module (B). One of the flying panels ruptured a small condensate pipe, creating another fire.
10:04 p.m. The control room was abandoned. Piper Alpha's design made no allowances for the destruction of the control room, and the platform's organisation disintegrated. No attempt was made to use loudspeakers or to order an evacuation. Emergency procedures instructed personnel to make their way to lifeboat stations, but the fire prevented them from doing so. Instead the men moved to the fireproofed accommodation block beneath the helicopter deck to await further instructions. Wind, fire and smoke prevented helicopter landings and no further instructions were given, with smoke beginning to penetrate the personnel block. As the crisis mounted, two men donned protective gear in an attempt to reach the diesel pumping machinery below decks and activate the firefighting system. They were never seen again. The fire would have burnt out were it not being fed with oil from both Tartan and the Claymore platforms, the resulting back pressure forcing fresh fuel out of ruptured pipework on Piper, directly into the heart of the fire. The Claymore continued pumping until the second explosion because the manager had no permission from the Occidental control centre to shut down. Also, the connecting pipeline to Tartan continued to pump, as its manager had been directed by his superior. The reason for this procedure was the exorbitant cost of such a shut down. It would have taken several days to restart production after a stop, with substantial financial consequences.
Gas lines of 140 to 146 cm in diameter ran to Piper Alpha. Two years earlier Occidental management ordered a study, the results of which warned of the dangers of these gas lines. Due to their length and diameter it would have taken several hours to reduce their pressure, so that it would not have been possible to fight a fire fuelled by them. Although the management admitted how devastating a gas explosion would be, Claymore and Tartan were not switched off with the first emergency call.
10:20 p.m. Tartan's gas line (pressurised to 120 Atmospheres) melted and burst, releasing 15-30 tonnes of gas every second, which immediately ignited. A massive fireball 150 metres in diameter engulfed Piper Alpha, killing two crewmen on a fast rescue boat launched from the standby vessel Sandhaven and the six Piper Alpha crewmen they had rescued from the water. From that moment on, the platform's destruction was assured.
10:30 p.m. The Tharos, a large semi-submersible fire fighting, rescue and accommodation vessel, drew alongside Piper Alpha. The Tharos used its water cannons where it could, but it was restricted because the cannons were so powerful they would injure or kill anyone hit by the water.
10:50 p.m. The second gas line ruptured, spilling millions of litres of gas into the conflagration. Huge flames shot over 300 ft (90 m) in the air. The Tharos was driven off by the fearsome heat, which began to melt the surrounding machinery and steelwork. It was only after this second explosion that the Claymore stopped pumping oil. Personnel still left alive were either desperately sheltering in the scorched, smoke-filled accommodation block or leaping from the deck some 200 ft (60 m) into the North Sea.
11:20 p.m. The pipeline connecting Piper Alpha to the Claymore Platform burst.
11:50 p.m. The generation and utilities Module (D), which included the fireproofed accommodation block, slipped into the sea. The largest part of the platform followed it.
12:45 a.m., July 7 The entire platform had gone. Module (A) was all that remained of Piper Alpha. At the time of the disaster 224 people were on the platform; 165 died and 59 survived. Two men from the Standby Vessel Sandhaven were also killed.
Assuming the reactors were successfully scrammed at the earthquake, decay has by now proceeded so far that we are now down to 0.2% of normal fission power.
At current radiation levels, work an eight-hour shift at the plant gate, and get the equivalent radiation dose of a pelvic CAT-scan...
At current radiation levels, work for 2000 hours at at the plant gate, and get the equivalent radiation exposure of a one-shot short-term lethal dose...
The reactors are now putting out only half as much heat as they did Friday night--and only 1/200 of their full power (but that is still 19 megawatts)--and that amount of heat will drop by half in the next six months.
So it now looks to me at least like we probably won't have a serious wave of thyroid cancers in Japan from this over the next generation--unless something else goes wrong,,,
From the New York Times:
Latest Updates on Japan's Nuclear Crisis and Earthquake Aftermath: 10:22 P.M. Chief Cabinet Secretary’s News Conference: Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano, is holding a news conference that is being broadcast live on Japanese television. Mr. Edano said radiation readings started rising rapidly Wednesday morning outside the front gate of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. “All the workers there have suspended their operations. We have urged them to evacuate, and they have,” he said, according to a translation by NHK television.
What have you found to be reliable and up-to-date and comprehensible?
Wednesday, March 16 at 6 p.m.: Institute of East Asian Studies Conference Room; 2223 Fulton Street, 6th Floor
Roundtable Discussion including:
Discussion Thread – Japanese nuclear reactors and the 11 March 2011 earthquake « BraveNewClimate: Information on how this started that I had not seen before, from http://www.greenaction-japan.org/modules/wordpress1/index.php?p=2. This explanatory piece arrived at 17:55 from Takeshi Sakagami:
Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station Unit 2 lost its cooling system at 13:26pm.
Unit 2 was initially expected to have a possible core meltdown earlier than Units 1 and 3. Estimating by the release of information from the Prime Minister of Japan and his Cabinet, as well as news media coverage, the tsunami hit Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station 50 minutes after the earthquake at 15:40 on the 11th, causing the emergency diesel generators to stop functioning. The Reactor Core Isolation Cooling pump of Unit 2, however, activated its water injection system the moment the reactor automatically shutdown.
A problem occurred at 20:30 when the M/C (Main Switchboard) was submerged underwater. This prevented proper monitoring of pump operations and the reactor’s water levels. The situation had to be managed without proper information from the site.
As a result, at 20:50, Fukushima Prefecture released an evacuation order for those living within 2km of the reactor. The government also released an evacuation order at 21:23 for those living within 3km and a stay-home order for those within 10km of the reactor. The government’s orders were released following prefectural correspondence.
TEPCO and NISA (Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency) made two predictions for pump malfunctions at 21:00 and 22:00. The prediction for 22:00 had fuel exposure at 22:50, meltdown at 24:50, and a reactor containment “bent” (intentional release of pressure) at 27:20.
At 21:54, water levels were identified as L2(low-low) using temporary power. However, since this temporary power lasted only a short time, there were measures to secure an electric power supply through a power source car. This trial failed, as they could not connect to the source.
The predicted time for meltdown and reactor containment vessel venting (outer air release) passed without successful power connection.
However, the Reactor Core Isolation Cooling pump was operating. This information was discovered 13min after the predicted time for a reactor containment vessel bent. Water injection continued.
While this was happening, the Unit 1 situation got worse, as its pump was not operating. Problems occurred in Unit 1, followed by Unit 3.
Unit 2’s current state of problems include deterioration of the Reactor Core Isolation Cooling pump function, rising pressure in the reactor, and a lowered water level. NISA stated they would try recovering pump functions by lowering pressure through a reactor containment vessel venting (releasing radioactive inner air to the outside). Sea water was used so as to keep as much water as possible in the reactor containment vessel’s suppression pool.
Or, why don't I know of any good weblogs run by nuclear engineers?
Hiroko Tabuchi and Matthew Wald write:
Risk of Meltdown Spreads at Japanese Plant: TOKYO — The risk of a meltdown spread to a third reactor at a stricken nuclear power plant in Japan on Monday as its cooling systems failed, exposing its fuel rods, only hours after a second explosion at a separate reactor blew the roof off a containment building.... Operators fear that if they cannot establish control, despite increasingly desperate measures to do so, the reactors could experience full meltdowns, which could release catastrophic amounts of radiation. The two reactors where the explosions occurred are both presumed to have already suffered partial meltdowns — a dangerous situation that, if unchecked, could lead to full meltdowns....
Mr. Edano said cooling systems at a third reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi plant had failed. The water level inside the reactor fell, exposing the fuel rods at its core for more than two hours despite efforts to pump seawater into the reactor, he said. Exposure of the rods means they heat up, melting their outer casing and raising the risk of a meltdown. At first, water was successfully injected into the reactor and the rods were again submerged. But new problems resulted in the rods being exposed again. A vent that had been letting out steam from the reactor closed, leading to pent-up pressure inside the containment vessel and hampering water from being injected. Water levels then fell rapidly, leaving the fuel rods again exposed, Tokyo Electric officials said at a news conference early Tuesday.
The jury-rigged fire hose pumps being used by the workers have added to the crisis by hindering efforts to keep reactors adequately cooled...
And at this point I have to say that Tabuchi and Wald do not seem, to me, to know what is going on. You want to keep the fuel rods submerged in order to keep them cooled so they don't melt. Pumping water into the reactor keeps the fuel rods submerged and keeps them cool. Jury-rigged fire-hose pumps that pump water into the reactor help keep the reactor adequately cooled: they don't hinder it.
They go on:
Difficulties in gauging exactly how much water remains in the containment vessel, as well as what exactly is occurring at the heart of the reactor, have also added to problems.... Hidehiko Nishiyama... said plant workers had renewed efforts to flood the reactor with seawater, and readings suggested that water again covered the fuel rods. Workers were also battling rising pressure within the reactor, Mr. Nishiyama said. They have opened vents in the reactor’s containment vessel, which houses the fuel rods, a measure that could release small amounts of radiation....
On Monday morning, Tokyo Electric, which runs both plants, said it had restored the cooling systems at two of three reactors experiencing problems at Daini. That would leave a total of four reactors at the two plants with pumping difficulties...
Reading between the lines (although it would be nice to know):
Why I am not worried about Japan’s nuclear reactors: If you want to stay informed... consult the following websites:
Matthew Johnson writes:
The Theory of Relativity: Is It Time to "Teach the Controversy" in America's High Schools?: "Outside of everyday human experience"? Not so, mon amis, not so.
This is why it was such a valuable part of the Caltech experience that my then physics professor started his best lecture of the year by entering the room, turning on the light, and saying, "that was a relativity demonstration"; then he tossed an eraser lightly in the air, so that it would clearly tumble as it fell, and said, "that was a general relativity demonstration".
Then he spent the next 20-30 min. or so explaining why these everyday phenomena really ARE "relativity demonstrations", showing that we now understand these phenomena better than ever before now that we understand them in the light of the theories of special and general relativity.
Is Relativity Hard? | Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine: Brad DeLong, in the course of something completely different, suggests that the theory of relativity really isn’t all that hard. At least, if your standard of comparison is quantum mechanics.
He’s completely right, of course. While relativity has a reputation for being intimidatingly difficult, it’s a peculiar kind of difficulty. Coming at the subject without any preparation, you hear all kinds of crazy things about time dilating and space stretching, and it seems all very recondite and baffling. But anyone who studies the subject appreciates that it’s a series of epiphanies: once you get it, you can’t help but wonder what was supposed to be so all-fired difficult about this stuff. Applications can still be very complicated, of course (just as they are in classical mechanics or electrodynamics or whatever), but the basic pillars of the theory are models of clarity. Quantum mechanics is not like that. The most on-point Feynman quote is this one, from The Character of Physical Law:
There was a time when the newspapers said that only twelve men understood the theory of relativity. I do not believe there ever was such a time. There might have been a time when only one man did, because he was the only guy who caught on, before he wrote his paper. But after people read the paper a lot of people understood the theory of relativity in some way or other, certainly more than twelve. On the other hand, I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.
“Hardness” is not a property that inheres in a theory itself; it’s a statement about the relationship between the theory and the human beings trying to understand it. Quantum mechanics and relativity both seem hard because they feature phenomena that are outside the everyday understanding we grow up with. But for relativity, it’s really just a matter of re-arranging the concepts we already have. Space and time merge into spacetime; clocks behave a bit differently; a rigid background becomes able to move and breathe. Deep, certainly; inscrutable, no.
In the case of quantum mechanics, the sticky step is the measurement process. Unlike in other theories, in quantum mechanics “what we measure” is not the same as “what exists.” This is the source of all the problems (not that recognizing this makes them go away). Our brains have a very tough time separating what we see from what is real; so we keep on talking about the position of the electron, even though quantum mechanics keeps trying to tell us that there’s no such thing.
Jason Kuznicki misses my point completely:
How Not to Read with Charity — The League of Ordinary Gentlemen: Brad DeLong is a seemingly limitless source of uncharitable readings. He doesn’t disappoint in his latest:
First, let’s not tell Jason that the Theory of Relativity is the easy, straightforward, intuitive branch of modern physics...
Let’s not tell the economist that physicists disagree with him. It really is hard...
My point is not that Relativity is easy, intuitive, and consonant with everyday human experience.
My point is that Relativity is easy, intuitive, and consonant with every day human experience when compared to Quantum Mechanics, which is the other branch of twentieth-century physics. Quantum Mechanics is genuinely mind-bending, is genuinely incomprehensible in a way that Relativity is not. It is so incomprehensinblr that physicists' standard advice to their students when they try to make sense of Quantum Mechanics is that they should stop: instead they should just "shut up and calculate."
As Richard Feynman used to like to say:
What I am going to tell you about is what we teach our physics students in the third or fourth year of graduate school.... It is my task to convince you not to turn away because you don't understand it. You see my physics students don't understand it.... That is because I don't understand it. Nobody does...
Jason Kuznicki pleads for charity for creationists:
[E]volution seems rational to me [but] it could easily present problems to others.... Evolution could become a micro-religion — something people don’t understand, but that they defend fiercely anyway. They’re for it, but they’re still not rational. Or it could be that evolution conflicts with their macro-religion, and as such, it gives them the creeps — but the creeps alone aren’t a reason to reject anything. Or maybe evolution conflicts with their politics. Or maybe it conflicts with both their politics and their religion, because it can be hard to tell just where the boundary lies.... [W]hat’s called for is charity, the principle of trying to understand your interlocutors in the best possible light. This is hard to do.... I fear what I’m saying here will be taken as an apology for creationism. I fear anything short of unconditional agreement would be, regardless of how interesting these questions of mindstate actually are. But explaining why a group of people (creationists, here) have gotten things terribly wrong is not a defense of them. It’s an indictment. It always will be. Still, people arrive at the question with baggage I don’t have, and bragging that I won the race when I didn’t have to carry any of their baggage is hardly sportsmanlike of me. Our allegiance should be to truth, not tribe.
Jason Kunicki draws an analogy between evolution and relativity:
[W]here evolution seems rational to me, it could easily present problems to others in all the same ways that I have just outlined for relativity...
For Jason Kuznicki says he does not grok relativity:
Science, Non-Scientists, and the Mind-Killer — The League of Ordinary Gentlemen: I’ve read several books about evolutionary theory, and they seem convincing to me. I’ve read Darwin. I’ve read Gould. I’ve read Dennett. In college, my physical anthropology textbooks made sense to me, although I admit I’ve forgotten their authors’ names. I haven’t read Dawkins, but I suspect I can do without him. I’m already quite convinced.
Now this is not always the case when I read about science. I’ve also read several books about relativity, and I’m not convinced. The stuff just makes no sense to me, and I sort of have to shrug and give up. Where my rational side agrees that evolution is correct, I’m taking relativity on the authority of others. You don’t really want to hear what my rational side says about relativity. It’s too embarrassing.
I strongly suspect that most non-scientists who say otherwise about relativity are either talking out their asses or else have turned relativity into a sort of well-boundaried micro-religion... They can’t explain it, but fie on you if you don’t believe. Now, plenty of people do not, in fact, believe it, and not because it is nonsensical to them, but because they have never tried to understand it — what they’ve heard about it gives them the howling fantods, and they give up before they try.
First, let's not tell Jason that the Theory of Relativity is the easy, straightforward, intuitive branch of modern physics...
Second, I don't see quite where Jason is going with this.
Is he suggesting that high school physics classes "teach the controversy" about Einstein-Lorentz-Fitzgerald-Minkowski-Poincare?
It was not all that long ago that the American Spectator published articles about relativity very much like those it still sometimes publishes about evolution. The one I saw was, in fact, in the first issue of the American Spectator I ever read--the one when I was still getting my bearings working at the Treasury, and asking "who are these clowns?" and one of the Deputy Assistant Secretaries for Public Affairs handed me this:
Tom Bethell (1993), "Doubting Dada Physics," The American Spectator (August), pp. 16-17: ...solitary genius [Petr Beckmann]... publish[ing] his own ideas... a time of growing intellectual corruption in the academy... undermined Einstein's theory of relativity... showing how physics could be returned to the classical foundation from which it was dislodged at the beginning of the twentieth century.... Beckmann... spending several years on a book called Einstein Plus Two... believes that relativity theory "has been confirmed only in a narrow sector of physics, leads to logical contradictions, and is unable to derive results that must be postulated, though they are derivable by classical methods"... [and] is definitely falsified by the aberration of light from binary stars....
The problem that Einstein tried to solve, the new problems that arose with his solution, and Beckmann's brilliant resolution of all these difficulties, are not so difficult as they may sound. In fact, mystification has greatly enhanced Einstein's reputation....
The most famous experiment was carried out by Michelson and Morley in 1887. Since the earth must be moving through this ether in its orbit around the sun, it should be possible to detect an "ether wind," just as it is possible to feel the wind by putting your hand out a moving car. Albert Michelson, the first American to win the Nobel Prize in physics, designed the apparatus to measure it. But despite repeated attempts, no ethereal breeze could be detected.... This "null result" threw the world of physics into disarray.... Enter Einstein, fresh from the Bern patent office.... His famous 1905 paper.... That was where the absurdity came in. To preserve the absolute nature of the speed of light, space and time had to be distorted.... If A moves, he see B smaller than himself. But B likewise sees A as smaller than himself. Which is absurd. Reality becomes observer-dependent in opposition to the most basic precepts of science. The alpha and omega of the material world--the irreducible character of time and space--were sacrificed in order to preserve an absolute velocity. But velocity is nothing but space (distance) divided by time! This was Dada Physics. (It's interesting that the Dada movement "having as its program the discovery of authentic reality through the abolition of traditional cultural and aesthetic forms," came right after the general relativity theory.)
Beckmann says that most students of physics shrug and accept relativity theory--theirs is not to quarrel with the sainted genius of the twentieth century. Some have private reservations. Among intellectuals in general, the theory has been much admired: so abstruse, so deliciously disrespectful of the eternal verities, so marvelously baffling to the bourgeoisie.... Wonderful! The Muddled Majority who fell so reassured by their common-sense understanding of the world just don't realize that things aren't what they seem to be at all.
Pondering the theory in the late 1950s at Prague's Institute of Radio Engineering, Beckman... a student named Pokorny, a (then) devout Communist, suggested the correct answer... the medium for electromagnetic waves is the local gravitational field.... [T]he Earth's gravitational field moves along with the earth.... [T]he Michelson-Morley experiment might have been able to detect a fringe-shift after all--but a much smaller one...
From that moment on, my working hypothesis was that the conservative wing of the Republican Party is composed exclusively of people who have completely disabled their bullshit detectors. That working hypothesis has served me very well for seventeen years now.
Let me just say that Eliezer Yudkowsky is a bad man for writing almost-comprehensible weblog posts about them...
Courtesy of Wired:
Science and Tech: W]hen it comes to government disaster response, the Bush years marked a low point and right now we're experiencing a high point. For a vivid illustration of this disparity, look no further than the Gulf. During Katrina, FEMA director Michael Brown secured his place history as the poster boy for government incompetence. Now consider Chu, the Nobel Prize Winner who has been at BP headquarters in Houston with a team of government scientists.... I talked to Chu this afternoon about the government's response to the disaster. As a mental exercise, try and imagine what these answers would sound like if "Brownie" or some other top Bush officials were still overseeing disaster relief in the Gulf.
JG: I understand you just got back from Houston? What were you doing there?
SC: We went there Tuesday night, we were in Houston in the morning with BP, then visited for three or four hours with the manufacturers of the blowout preventers [the equipment that should have stopped the leak].... I was talking about a week and a half ago to some of the Department of Energy folks... There was a several hour phone call Sunday where a few of the national lab directors, I, and the people we had at the site were talking about what we can do to help BP, and we thought that we could perhaps help them specifically by imaging the state of the BOP, the blow-out-prevention valve, with high-energy gamma rays.... BP... seem to be very open to having brainstorming sessions.... The idea was to bring in very smart people who also have great connections to the larger engineering and scientific community. The national lab director who's been engaged in this from the beginning, Tom Hunter, and I and four other scientists and engineers went down there.
JG: How is it that you know enough about gamma rays and oil spill technology to be helpful? I wasn't aware that that was an area you'd worked in before you were secretary?
SC: Oil spills were not something I've worked on, but I do know about gamma rays.... I'm a physicist. And I dabble.... I kept in my brain certain nuclear sources and what their energies were and I knew what the ranges were for how penetrating gamma rays could be. Very high-energy gamma rays can penetrate several inches of steel.
JG: And that's the challenge at the bottom of the ocean? To penetrate the steel and see the condition of the equipment?
SC: Yeah. Think of a dental X-ray. You have the source that can penetrate through material and you expose something on the backside. If you want to go through not flesh, but steel of a very high density, you need higher energy, electromagnetic particles--the higher the energy, the more penetrating it can be without being scattered or absorbed.... To the extent BP wants it, we can give advice on how to think through these things. What you're doing in a situation like this is dealing with probabilities--you don't know the exact state of something. For example, in the final hours we were saying, "Well, what if this thing happened?" There's a small probability, but if it does happen, what do you do? And if this other thing happens what do you do? You're chasing down answer about what to do should something unforeseen happen, even though it might be a very small possibility. You still want to go down those paths. Instead of approaching it as, "Oops, this happened--now what do we do?"... [Y]ou want a set of fresh eyes, people who can propose potential out-of-the-box solutions, who might foresee what might go wrong. If you're an expert and you're used to certain things done certain ways, that limits your ability to cast a wider net, and so one of the most important things that we're doing at the national laboratories is putting together these scientific teams, many of whom would be considered non-experts. In times like this, those are many of the people you want. BP and the oil industry have the lion's share of the experts that are exactly germane to this. So this is how we think we can best add value.... [W]e know more about the blowout preventer, we know more about its condition, there are things on it that have worked. So I think there's a path forward. But as everyone knows, it ain't over till it's over, to quote the great American philosopher of the 20th century. And meanwhile oil is continuing to spill. So we are very focused on trying to stop that as quickly as possible. And the government is also focused on the downstream things to mitigate its environmental impact...
Was this part of the "Stupidest Man Alive" series or of the "Republican War on Science" series or of the "American Enterprise Institute Quality Research" series? Silly question! It was part of all three. It was when Kevin Hassett called for the USAF to attack France and Switzerland to stop CERN's Large Hadron Collider from going into action.
Business Week should still hide itself from the sun in shame:
American Enterprise Institute "Economist" of Mass Destruction Kevin Hassett Strikes Again (Republican War on Science Department): Atom Smasher Exposes Hole in Earth’s Defenses: The Large Hadron Collider... consumes about the same amount of energy as a large city... could provide evidence of the existence of the Higgs boson, a hypothesized particle that has become known as the God particle.... [T]he collider’s energy could induce a catastrophic event. A brilliant review of the risks associated with the experiment by University of North Dakota law professor Eric Johnson.... LHC’s high-energy collisions might create a microscopic black hole that would, perhaps over a few years, swallow the Earth.... Oxford University’s Toby Ord, a philosopher by training, adds... [i]t may be that the models that we use to make predictions about the possibility of catastrophe are themselves flawed.... Ord estimates that the odds of the LHC producing a disaster are between one in 1,000 and one in 1 million... the likely benefits from this experiment... [cannot]... justify accepting a cost that includes a real risk of the Earth’s destruction.... Right now... [if] the U.S. wanted to stop the LHC experiment, it would have no recourse short of military action...
This did indeed carry the Republican War on Science to previously unplumbed depths of human stupidity. Let me just say that, IIRC, Leon Lederman named the hypothesized Higgs boson the "God particle" as a joke, because its effects were everywhere yet nobody had ever seen it in the flesh--not because it was in any way powerful or dangerous or numinous or terrifying.
Worth revisiting because of Roger Ebert, who tweets:
Twitter / Roger Ebert: Headline: Large Hadron Col ...: Headline: Large Hadron Collider test carried out. Subhead: Earth [still] here.
And there is an LHC webcam!
Sean Carroll - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: Sean Carroll may refer to:
- Sean B. Carroll (born 1960), US evolutionary biologist
- Sean M. Carroll (born 1966), US theoretical physicist
Much is explained! There is more than one Sean Carroll! I had wondered at what seemed to me to be an extraordinarily impressive breadth of wide-ranging expertise...
I was going to joke that I was holding out for String Theory for Dummies, but...
Carrying the Republican War on Science to previously unplumbed depths of human stupidity, Kevin "Dow 36000" Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute calls for the USAF to bomb both France and Switzerland, hoping to get the scientists in their tunnels before they can destroy the earth:
Atom Smasher Exposes Hole in Earth’s Defenses: The Large Hadron Collider... consumes about the same amount of energy as a large city... could provide evidence of the existence of the Higgs boson, a hypothesized particle that has become known as the God particle. If it is found to exist, it could complete our understanding of the basic laws of the universe.... [T]he collider’s energy could induce a catastrophic event. A brilliant review of the risks associated with the experiment by University of North Dakota law professor Eric Johnson.... The chief threat is that the LHC’s high-energy collisions might create a microscopic black hole that would, perhaps over a few years, swallow the Earth.... One paper even suggested that something with the energy level of the LHC might generate one black hole per second.
With its initial safety argument under assault, the physics community turned to an alternative. Even if a black hole were created, this new argument went, it would be tiny and would evaporate harmlessly. This was consistent with a theory of physicist Stephen Hawking. The evaporation argument was widely viewed as sound, and the LHC continued on track. But later, some top scholars began to publish papers questioning the evaporation hypothesis. The issue is far from decided. So the physics community retreated to what originally seemed like a terrific point: High-energy cosmic rays constantly bombard Earth and collide with particles in the atmosphere. If those collisions were going to create a black hole, then Earth would already be gone. It turns out that this argument, too, is a loser. When a cosmic ray rocketing toward Earth collides with a particle, the result of the collision would most likely be blasted into space. That means a black hole created by such a collision might be well beyond our galaxy before it is large enough to harm anything. In the LHC, by contrast, the result of collisions between two particle beams might stay put and cause significant trouble....
Oxford University’s Toby Ord, a philosopher by training, adds... [i]t may be that the models that we use to make predictions about the possibility of catastrophe are themselves flawed.... Ord estimates that the odds of the LHC producing a disaster are between one in 1,000 and one in 1 million... the likely benefits from this experiment... [cannot]... justify accepting a cost that includes a real risk of the Earth’s destruction.... As science progresses, the possibility climbs ever higher that the fondest dreams of scientists might entail risks of planetary destruction.... The best science explores things far from our understanding. How can we know that things we do not understand will not kill us?
Right now... [if] the U.S. wanted to stop the LHC experiment, it would have no recourse short of military action...
Business Week should be deeply, deeply ashamed of itself.
I know that the American Enterprise Institute is not shamed by anything, but even an organization that is not shamed by anything should be ashamed of this.
Let me just say that, IIRC, Leon Lederman named the hypothesized Higgs boson the "God particle" as a joke, because its effects were everywhere yet nobody had ever seen it in the flesh--not because it was in any way powerful or dangerous or numinous or terrifying.
It saddens me to think of the physicists who are going to have to waste their time dealing with this...
Chad Orzel wrote:
The Bohr-Einstein Debates, With Puppets: I promised to do a re-enactment of the Bohr-Einstein debates using puppets.... It took a little while, because I couldn't find any Niels Bohr puppets (maybe in Denmark?). I found an acceptable alternative, though, and put together a video of the Bohr-Einstein debates, using puppets...
In this frame, Spooky-Action-at-a-Distance conveys "news" about a measurement on Particle A to Particle B, while Albert Einstein in the form of a white Bichon Frisee looks on disapprovingly:
I believe that this is in some way part of the publicity campaign for his How to Teach Physics to Your Dog...
It's not Boltzmann's Brain:
It's Boltzmann's Bang:
Edge: WHY DOES THE UNVIERSE LOOK THE WAY IT DOES: A Conversation With Sean Carroll: I read papers by Huw Price, who is a philosopher in Australia... who... said that cosmologists are completely fooling themselves about the entropy of the universe. They are letting their models assume that the early universe had a low entropy.... But there is no such asymmetry built into the laws of physics. The laws of physics at a deep level treat the past and the future the same. But the universe doesn't treat the past and the future the same. One way of thinking about it is, if you were out in space floating around, there would be no preferred notion of up or down, left or right. There is no preferred direction in space. Here on earth, there is a preferred notion of up or down because there is the earth beneath us. There is this dramatic physical object that creates a directionality to space.... Likewise, if you were in a completely empty universe, there would be no notion of past and future.... The reason we find a direction in time here in this room or in the kitchen when you scramble an egg or mix milk into coffee is... because we live in the aftermath of some influential event, and that event is the Big Bang. The Big Bang set all of the clocks in the world. When we go down to how we evolve, why we are born and then die, and never in the opposite order, why we remember what happened yesterday and we don't remember what is going to happen tomorrow, all of these manifestations of the difference between the past and the future are all coming from the same source. That source is the low entropy of the Big Bang.
This is something that was touched on way back in the 19th century when the giants of thermodynamics like Boltzmann and Maxwell were trying to figure out how entropy works.... Boltzmann... was stuck on this question of why was the entropy low to begin with.... Boltzmann invented the idea of a multiverse, the anthropic principle where things were different in some regions of the universe than in others and that we lived in an unrepresentative part of it. But he never really quite settled on what he thought was the right answer.... We know very well how to explain that I remember yesterday and not tomorrow, but only if we assume that we start the universe in a low entropy state.
I like to say that observational cosmology is the cheapest possible science to go into. Every time you put milk into your coffee and watch it mix and realize that you can't unmix that milk from your coffee, you are learning something profound about the Big Bang, about conditions in the very, very early universe. This is just a giant clue that the real universe has given to us to how the fundamental laws of physics work. We don't yet know how to put that clue to work. We don't know the answer to the who done it, who is the guilty party, why the universe is like that. But taking this question seriously is a huge step forward in trying to understand how the universe that we see around us directly fits into a much bigger picture.
I was (as penance for my sins) reading back issues of the American Spectator in the Berkeley library, and I came across a marvelously funny column by its Washington correspondent, Tom Bethell: "Doubting Dada Physics," in the August 1993 issue (pp. 16-17). The column's subject is:
...[a] solitary genius [Petr Beckmann]... publish[ing] his own ideas and discoveries at a time of growing intellectual corruption in the academy... [who] undermined Einstein's theory of relativity, and... show[ed] how physics could be returned to the classical foundation from which it was dislodged at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Now three things make the column funny:
It is not clear to me from Bethell's column whether Beckmann understands relativity or not; it is clear that Bethell does not understand what he is attacking--and that he is attacking it because of what he presumes are the moral and political implications of relativity physics. He is thus in the position of saying the opposite of Galileo--instead of "And yet it moves," he is closing his eyes to a huge amount of experimental evidence and saying, earnestly if incoherently, "and yet it stands still."
But there are unfunny parts to the column as well.
First, conservatives who dislike Einstein do so for one of two reasons:
Second, Bethell spends most of his time as a political columnist--and his political judgment is as bad as his scientific.
I've attached the bulk of the column below. Statements that are simply wrong are in red.
...[a] solitary genius [Petr Beckmann]... publish[ing] his own ideas and discoveries at a time of growing intellectual corruption in the academy. Above all, he is likely to be remembered for having undermined Einstein's theory of relativity, and for showing how physics could be returned to the classical foundation from which it was dislodged at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Ever since he learned relativity theory, Beckmann felt there must be something wrong with it. when he retired from teaching, he returned to the subject, spending several years on a book called Einstein Plus Two. He now believes that relativity theory "has been confirmed only in a narrow sector of physics, leads to logical contradictions, and is unable to derive results that must be postulated, though they are derivable by classical methods." He also believes that the theory is definitely falsified by the aberration of light from binary stars....
The problem that Einstein tried to solve, the new problems that arose with his solution, and Beckmann's brilliant resolution of all these difficulties, are not so difficult as they may sound. In fact, mystification has greatly enhanced Einstein's reputation. I hasten to add that Beckman is a great admirer of Einstein, whose famous equation of energy and mass, E=MC-squared, is unaffected by all this; in fact, it was derived independently of relativity.
By the mid-nineteenth century, the evidence that light travels in waves had become overwhelming [in fact, light travels in particles--individual packets--photons*]; wave theory accounted for refraction, polarization, and many other phenomena of light. The great puzzle was to understand what medium it travels in. Sound needs air; light needs... what? It can travel through a vacuum, through interstellar space. But if it is a wave, there must be an oscillating medium, [but because it isn't a wave, the problem doesn't arise] however rarified. The medium was called the "ether" and the great challenge for nineteenth-century physicists was to detect it.
The most famous experiment was carried out by Michelson and Morley in 1887. Since the earth must be moving through this ether in its orbit around the sun, it should be possible to detect an "ether wind," just as it is possible to feel the wind by putting your hand out a moving car. Albert Michelson, the first American to win the Nobel Prize in physics, designed the apparatus to measure it. But despite repeated attempts, no ethereal breeze could be detected.... This "null result" threw the world of physics into disarray. A wave without a medium!
Enter Einstein, fresh from the Bern patent office. He posited that there was no medium, and that the speed of light is the same in all directions irrespective of the motion of any apparatus set up to detect it. His famous 1905 paper, setting forth the special theory of relativity, demonstrated that if these odd assumptions are made, everything can be shoe-horned in mathematically. But it was odd. If a sound wave moves toward you at 750 miles an hour, and you walk towards it at 5 mph, you will detect the sound approaching at 755 miles an hour [you will not: the speed will be slower than 755 mph because of relativistic effects, but only infinitesimally slower because your speed is infinitesimal (one six hundred millionth or so) relative to the speed of light]. Observation agrees with common sense. The same is true of all other waves one can think of. But not electromagnetic phenomena (including light), said Einstein [relativity applies to all relative motion, whether involving electromagnetism or not]. The velocity of light was accorded a privileged, absolute status. Move toward the light source, and you will detect the light approaching you at the same speed as someone who is standing still.
That was where the absurdity came in. To preserve the absolute nature of the speed of light, space and time had to be distorted. Two twins are the same size: If A moves, he see B smaller than himself. But B likewise sees A as smaller than himself. Which is absurd. Reality becomes observer-dependent, [reality is still there, and is unchanged: any observer can easily figure out what the time and space perceptions of any other observer are] in opposition to the most basic precepts of science. The alpha and omega of the material world--the irreducible character of time and space--were sacrificed in order to preserve an absolute velocity [how would anyone know that intuitions about the irreducible character of time and space acquired while always moving at velocities so low that relativistic effects are infinitesimal would still apply to high-velocity situations?]. But velocity is nothing but space (distance) divided by time! This was Dada Physics. (It's interesting that the Dada movement "having as its program the discovery of authentic reality through the abolition of traditional cultural and aesthetic forms," came right after the general relativity theory .)
Beckmann says that most students of physics shrug and accept relativity theory--theirs is not to quarrel with the sainted genius of the twentieth century. Some have private reservations. Among intellectuals in general, the theory has been much admired: so abstruse, so deliciously disrespectful of the eternal verities, so marvelously baffling to the bourgeoisie. It doesn't interfere with the daily routine, makes no practical difference to the Newtonian world. [it makes a big difference: to understand why a magnetic field exerts a force on a moving but not a stationary electron requires special relativity]. But it does upset its theoretical underpinnings. Wonderful! The Muddled Majority who fell so reassured by their common-sense understanding of the world just don't realize that things aren't what they seem to be at all.
Pondering the theory in the late 1950s at Prague's Institute of Radio Engineering, Beckman concluded that there had to be a medium for light, and in an offhand comment, a student named Pokorny, a (then) devout Communist, suggested the correct answer, as Beckmann is now convinced: the medium for electromagnetic waves is the local gravitational field--dense near the sun, attenuated in outer space [this does give rise to a problem: there are gravitational waves: what is their "oscillating medium"?]. On Earth, the local field is that of the Earth itself. The point is, the Earth's gravitational field moves along with the earth. So that was why Michelson-Morley could detect no ether wind. It was like sitting in a jet as it goes down the runway, holding a toy propeller in your lap and expecting the wind to turn the blades. Absurd--the air in the cabin is moving forward with the plane.
But wait! The earth also rotates on the axis, and there is good reason to think that the gravitational field does not go around with the Earth. Imagine this field as a hoop skirt on a woman with a circular waist. As she walks forward the skirt moves with her. But then, as she walks, she pirouettes, and now her body will slip around inside the skirt.
If this analogy is correct, the Michelson-Morley experiment might have been able to detect a fringe-shift after all--but a much smaller one.... It could easily be detected on the space shuttle, because the shuttle goes through the gravitational field much faster than the Earth....**
* There is a quantum amplitude associated with each photon's possible paths and interactions: there is a quantum amplitude associated with every particle's possible paths and interactions. The propagation and interference of the quantum amplitude give rise to interference, and other "wave-like" phenomena. But there is nothing special about the behavior of light as opposed to, say, electrons.
** Bethell goes on to say that the fact that light travels from New York to San Francisco faster (by about 40 nanoseconds) than from San Francisco back to New York is experimental disproof of relativity. He is, of course, wrong.
This "puzzle" is, however, of some interest because it shows that our instruments are now so sensitive that even the rotation of the earth leads special relativity to make a difference that we can measure. In the frame of reference of the center of the earth light travels from New York to San Francisco faster than from San Francisco to New York because the earth is spinning: in the time it takes light to go from New York to San Francisco, the earth's rotation has carried San Francisco about twenty feet toward New York. In the frame of reference of the center of the earth light travels from New York to San Francisco faster than back the other way because the New York to San Francisco leg covers a shorter distance.
In a frame of reference moving with New York and San Francisco during the 1/30 of a second that it takes light to go from one to the other and back, the two journeys take equal times and cover equal distances. How is this possible? Because for any "now" in New York, the corresponding "now" in San Francisco is an event that takes place--has a time coordinate--about 20 nanoseconds earlier in the moving frame of reference than is the "now" in the center-of-the-earth reference frame. In 20 nanoseconds a modern 200-megahertz computer chip processes four instruction cycles.
So does light go from New York to San Francisco in a shorter time than it comes back, or doesn't it? From the perspective of the global positioning system--which uses a center-of-the-earth based frame of reference--the answer is "yes." From the perspective of the frame of reference of the guy-in-New York, the answer is "no."
The Moon is a Not-So-Harsh Mistress : Built on Facts: Astronomers and space exploration enthusiasts around the web are expressing lots of enthusiasm for the discovery of water on the moon by the Indian Chandrayaan-1 orbiter. Long story short (Ethan has a good version of the long story), the probe discovered relatively large quantities of water frozen throughout the lunar soil just below the surface. It's not just at the bottom of craters in the polar regions, but instead seems to be quite widespread.
So is the beyond-the-Van-Allen Belt problem solved yet? Can we start our lunar colonies now?