Saturday, April 26, 2008

Spooky Action

Thursday I came across an article by Bruno Maddox, on the websites of Discover magazine. Maddox, author of the column 'Blinded by Science', writes about
In this article he describes his fascination with interactions mediated over distances that he shares with many famous physicists. Especially in cases when only the effect is accessible to our senses it seems mysterious and spooky - the needle on the compass turning North, the moon orbiting around the earth. How do they know what to do? Maddox describes how he read "Electronics for Dummies" (by Gordon McComb and Earl Boysen) to tackle the mystery, and 71 days later comes to conclude
"as far as I can tell, nobody knows how a magnet can move a piece of metal without touching it. And for another—more astonishing still, perhaps—nobody seems to care."

Bizarre, I thought. What exactly does he mean with 'knowing'? Is this a philosophical question? I looked Maddox up on Wikipedia, and learned he is 'best known for his satirical magazine essays'. So then maybe it's a joke, I wondered? Maddox continues that in the further pursuit of the topic he then read the 'Mathematics of Classical and Quantum Physics', from which he likely learned the term 'action at a distance', and that "virtual particles are composed entirely of math and exist solely to fill otherwise embarrassing gaps in physics". He eventually summarizes

"What I have learned, in other words, after 71 days of strenuous research, is that I and my fellow Dummies no longer have a seat, if we ever did, at the dinner table of science. If we’re going to find any satisfaction in this gloomy vale of misery and mystery, we’re going to have to take matters into our own hands and start again, from first principles."
I've honestly tried to figure out what he meant to say, but I just can't make sense out of it. You're all welcome to start again, and from first principles. But I think this article sheds a rather odd light on the status of theoretical physics. So here are some comments:

1. Electro and Magnetic

We have experimentally extremely well confirmed theories that allow us to describe electromagnetism to high precision, in the classical as well as in the quantum regime. Maybe that's not satisfactory for everybody. But at least I think the explanation that the electromagnetic interaction is mediated by something called the electromagnetic field is very satisfactory. After all, we are surrounded by electromagnetic waves all the time, and we use them quite efficiently to carry phone calls from here to there, or to maneuver satellites in outer space. To calculate the interaction between two macroscopic objects like a fridge magnet and the fridge, at least I wouldn't use perturbation theory of quantum electrodynamics, but good old Maxwell's equations.

"Electronics for Dummies" maybe isn't exactly the right book to read if you want to understand how electromagnetism works and how to understand the field concept. Since Maddox is concerned with magnets let me point out an often occurring linguistic barrier: Electrodynamics is the theory of the electric and magnetic interaction, as it turns out both are just aspects of the the same field, and parts of the same theory.

To use a well known example, consider two resting electrons. You'd describe their field by the Coulomb interaction without magnetic component. Yet when you move relative to them, you'd assign to them a magnetic field since moving charges cause magnetic fields. This is no disagreement, it just means that under a transformation from one restframe to another the field components transform into each other. It was indeed this feature of Maxwell's equations that lead Einstein to his theory of Special Relativity ("Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter K√∂rper", Annalen der Physik, 17 (1905), p .891–921).

I didn't read "Electronics for Dummies", but browsing the index on Amazon it seems to contain what you'd think, namely what a transistor is and how you outfit your electronic bench. To understand the basics of theoretical physics I would maybe recommend instead

2. The Standard Model

The interaction between a fridge magnet and the fridge is a macroscopic phenomenon that involves a lot of atomic and condensed matter physics. Ferromagnetism is an interesting emergent feature, and there are probably still aspects that are not fully understood. The Standard Model of particle physics describes the fundamental interactions between elementary particles. Complaining it doesn't describe your fridge magnet is completely inappropriate as said fridge magnet is hardly an elementary particle. You could as well say neuroscience doesn't describe the results of election polls.

See also my earlier posts on Models and Theories and Emergence and Reductionism.

3. Action at a Distance

Quantum mechanics has a spooky 'action at a distance', but of a completely different nature than the force between two magnets. In quantum mechanics there is no field that mediates it (at least nobody has ever measured one). Maybe even more importantly, this is an instantaneous 'action': the wave-function collapses non-locally. Very unappealing. That's why it's spooky (still). This well known problem of quantum mechanics however does not appear in classical electrodynamics, it comes in through the quantum mechanical measurement process.

Maxwell's theory that describes electric and magnetic interaction is local. Interactions between charges are mediated by the fields. The interaction needs to propagate, it doesn't happen instantaneously. The same is true for General Relativity. Yes, Newton called it a great absurdity that "one body may act upon another at a distance through a vacuum without the mediation of anything else, by and through which their action and force may be conveyed from one to another". But this is because in Newtonian gravity interactions were instantaneous. If you'd change the earth's mass, the moon would immediately know about it. It took Einstein to remove this great absurdity, and he taught us that gravity is mediated by spacetime itself. It propagates locally, there is no spooky action on a distance.

To get a grip on Quantum Electrodynamics I'd recommend

4. Virtual Particles

And yes, virtual particles are mathematical constructs that appear within the perturbation series and are handy devices in Feynman diagrams. The use of this mathematical tool however has proved to be correct to high precision. The effects of the presence of these virtual contributions have been measured, the best known examples are probably the Lamb-shift or the Casimir Effect.

It is a general problem which I encountered myself that popular science books use pictures, metaphors or generalized concepts to describe theories, and then the reader gets stuck with possibly inappropriate impressions that wouldn't occur if one had a derivation and thus a possibility to understand the limitations of these verbal explanations. One can e.g. derive the interaction energy between two pointlike sources as being the Fourier transformation of the propagator, the propagator being what describes also the virtual particle exchange in Feynman diagrams. This interaction energy for the photon propagator is just the Coulomb potential as you'd expect. (If the exchange particle is massive, you get a Yukawa potential). How seriously one should take the picture with the virtual particle is a different question though. The interaction between the fridge and the magnet is hardly a scattering process with asymptotically free in- and outgoing states.

I too like to ponder questions like what actually 'is' a particle, much like one can wonder what actually 'is' space-time. However, I admittedly fail to see what the point is of this rambling about "embarrassing gaps in physics" besides expressing the author's confusion about the books he read.

For an introduction into quantum field theory I recommend

(You can download the first chapter which explains very nicely the relations betwen particles, fields, and forces here.)


If you’re going to find "any satisfaction in this gloomy vale of misery and mystery", you’re going to have to take matters into your own hands and read the right books before abandoning the Standard Model.

PS: My husband lets me know he finds my writing very polite, and wants me to refer you to the Dunning-Kruger effect.

TAGS: , , , , ,


arivero said...

Ask, why is he worried about magnetism and not about newtonian gravitation or, for the same token, electrostatics? Answer: in gravitation or electrostatics, the force acts in the same direction that the vector joining the two particles. Somehow, for a lot of people, it is easier to buy this than to buy a force which acts orthogonally to this vector... (and to the velocity vector too!).

Neil' said...

First, arivero has a point in that magnetism affects charge depending on charge velocity - it isn't just a given, and yes there's the orthogonal issue. There are other weird things about magnetism too. For one, magnetic field can't be a vector in non-3-d spaces. It has to be a point in 2-d, 2-form in 4-d (consider a wire along "x" in 4-d space, then there must be a yz magnetic field so that parallel current can be perp. to that yz plane, etc.) I wonder how that could be made reasonable w.r.t. virtual particles etc. Also, there's the odd fact that magnetic materials need to have dipole-type reaction to B field instead of loop-type interaction (it isn't the same if there's gradient in the B field) in order to conserve energy. That is even despite those materials having electrons spinning instead of two kinds of literal magnetic charge. It is connected to having to conserve energy when magnets move in B fields, since magnets can't have induction energy entered into them (like from the circular electric field of induction doing work driving charges around a real current loop. This was part of the "Tellegen-Chou (or Cho) controversy about the nature of magnets, and they still argue about it in AJP and Nuovo Cimento etc. (and BTW I have yet to find an Italian who can figure out how to translate "cimento" into English.)

Also, there's the weird problem with magnetic monopoles and the A field lines, which would have to come out from them in a grody rope-like strand. (Think about it, in terms of B = Curl A.) Yet, nobody who like monopoles seems to care.

Whew, I guess I had lots of issues to get off my chest about magnetism, which I always thought was a cool thing. Finally, I think Maddox is just bringing up the ultimate philosophical issue of how we can "get behind" the forces on particles etc. to the "something" that actually acts on them. I mean, "what is it"? Saying "field" is really just circular definition, it's just "region of space that affects such and such like so." If you say "virtual particles", the VPs are just quanta of the field so you haven't gotten logically under that mystery. Have fun.


Neil' said...

To clarify re 4-d magnetism, you need an xy magnetic field so that the force will be along the fourth space axis w, perp. to both the wires and the magnetic field.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

I have to agree with your assessment of the Maddox article as I have that current issue of Discover and found it to be one of the most idiotic things they have ever published. His confusion about magnetism certainly tells me he must have missed the day in elementary school science class when they sprinkled the iron fillings over a piece of paper covering a magnet to expose the pattern of the field. He talks like he expects the field to be perceivable in some way with his own unaided senses. For me that’s like denying the existence of air since you can’t see it and despite the fact its movement in what’s called a hurricane just flattened your house. As for the supposed 71 days of intensive study, I guess none of the material was rudimentary enough to begin with the magnet, paper and the iron fillings.



Moshe said...

Geez, how depressing.

Anonymous said...

Sigh. You would think these big magazines would at least hire someone who passed a physics 101 course in college.

I think he's trying to make a different (but accurate) point on the role and interplay between intuition and what the math tells you, but instead he mangled it so thoroughly that it ends up being trivially incorrect.

eo said...


in italian the verb "cimentare" means to assay (metals), so "nuovo cimento" would be "the new art of assaying". it is interesting that a synonym for "cimentare" is "saggiare" and that Galileo Galilei's book on astronomy (with a wrong theory on comets) is called "il saggiatore", which therefore has the meaning of "assayer" and not of "taster" as many italians think ("assaggiatore").

there also is the verb "cimentarsi" which is more commonly used and means "to take a stab at", and therefore "cimento" means "trial".

in the end, the best traslation is simply "experiment".

thanks for the question.

nige said...

Thanks for the link to the online extracts from Zee (, which includes the vital chapter I.5, "Coulomb and Newton", using an idea from Sidney Coleman (for mass of gauge bosons) to show how in the mainstream model exchange of spin-1 gauge bosons with 4 polarizations gives attraction of unlike and repulsion of like charges, while exchange of spin-2 gauge bosons gives always an attractive force.

This is a key argument since spin-2 graviton beliefs are central to string theory.

Magnetism is not a problem. Electromagnetic field quanta have the 2 usual polarizations, namely the electric and magnetic field vectors, both orthagonal to each other and to the direction of propagation. (In addition, there are 2 other polarizations in virtual photon for the mainstream U(1) electromagnetic symmetry.)

An electromagnetic field contains a lot of light-velocity virtual photons travelling between charges.

If the magnetic field vectors align so that they add up, you see a resultant magnetic field appear. If they align so that they magnetic field vectors of the exchanged photons are pointing in opposite directions, they cancel out.

If you move relative to an electric charge, a magnetic field appears to you because you are no longer experiencing a cancelled magnetic field. (Moving in a quantized field means that the proportion of light velocity radiation that is flowing towards you in your direction of motion appears blueshifted and carries more energy than the redshifted-appearing radiation coming from the opposite direction. This upsets the amount of cancellation of magnetic field vectors from the virtual photons, so you see a magnetic field.)

Where you have apparent magnetic fields present without any apparent electric field being present, what is actually occurring is that the electric field is cancelled out. E.g., in a magnet there are an equal number of protons and electrons, so you don't see any net electric field on a macroscopic scale, you just see the uncancelled magnetic field.

The magnetic field arises in a normal magnet, as Bethe first showed, from the alignment of electron spins, so that some of their intrinsic magnetic moment is not cancelled. Normally the Pauli exclusion principle means that electrons are paired with opposite spins, cancelling out the intrinsic magnetic moments instead of adding them up. But this doesn't occur perfectly in iron and a few other elements, so they are magnetic.

[I'd better not argue here for the alternative theory that U(1) isn't electromagnetism, and that the real electromagnetic and gravitational gauge bosons are simply massless charged and neutral versions of the SU(2) weak gauge bosons (the left-handedness of the weak force being due to the way the massless gauge bosons acquire mass from another field to become massive weak gauge bosons).]

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

That article actually appeared in the print version? I was hoping it was a blog-like online only entry that little people would notice. I am amazed by what self-confidence it takes to not understand an electronics book and then go and proclaim nobody knows and nobody cares how magnetism works, and thus the whole standard model of particle physics needs to be redone - from first principles. I mean, I've seen bad science journalism. But it's usually bad in the sense that it's unbalanced, and over-sensational with an emphasis on entertainment instead of scientific value. This article however is so thoroughly confused it sets completely new dimensions. The only useful piece of knowledge in this writing is the quote from Newton, the context to which however is completely misleading.



Bee said...

Hi Anonymous,

Yes, that's what I was also guessing he was aiming at. And he indeed has a point there. Physics isn't math, and yes our understanding of quantum field theory isn't as complete as we'd want to. I'm certainly in favour of investigating the principles, and the reason 'but we can compute it by using procedure so-and-so' doesn't sound compelling to me either. But that point could have been made in a more reasonable way (and likely has been made elsewhere). Best,


Jasper said...

Dear Bee,

Thank you for saying "That's why it's spooky (still).", since I sometimes feel like I'm the only student that is completely baffled by some of the complications in QM and QFT. Especially how they ever came up with these theories. Most students I know usually tell me: "Don't think about it. It just works.", which I find very hard to do. But it is also the reason I love the quantum regime, because it makes physics so much more exciting.

I have heard that the process of quantization is a well defined mathematical process. However, I don't seem to know why this would lead to a physical theory (or maybe even this question is not that well defined). I was wondering if you would know any good review articles on this subject? Or some other literature about the foundations of QM.

I hope you understand what I'm talking about. If you don't I guess I haven't thought about it enough ;).

And now for something completely different:

A bit of encouragement:
I have to say I love your blog. Your blog and Cosmic Variance are the only physics blogs of which I can't wait for the next post and read almost every word.

A long time ago I read the posts " Quark Gluon Plasma" and "The Phase Diagram of Nuclear Matter". Actually those posts might have encouraged me to start my masters thesis on the subject of colour superconductivity in neutron stars.


P.S. Thank Stefan for the wonderful pictures of quarks confined to hadrons, which I used in my presentation. Don't worry he was properly referenced!

Bee said...

Hi Jasper,

Thanks for the kind words; it's always good to hear our writing is appreciated :-) You might find this article (and references) interesting:

On the Interpretation and Philosophical Foundation of Quantum Mechanics
~Anton Zeilinger



Anonymous said...

In all fairness tho, if you pick up a beginners book on electricity and magnetism one of the first things it generally tells you about magnetic fields is that they can do no work, which does tend to leave someone a bit confused as to how a magnet can pick some things up.
It does actually take a fair bit of digging to discover this is only true of static fields and that a magnetic field that varies in space, like that from a typical bar magnet, can do work.

Neil' said...

I've been reflecting more about the nature of magnetism, and some things still bug me (but not Maddox's primal bafflement.) For example, there's the idea that E and B are supposed to be "equivalent" for reasons of symmetry (at least ideally, in theory, even if the real universe has a preference the way it does for matter/antimatter, handness etc.) Well, how can that be squared with making magnetism an n-form in various space dimensionalities? I mean, in 2-d, B should be a scalar so that can be in effect (+) on one side of a wire and (-) on the other side, so a current crossing the scalar can have force orthogonal to it (the one thing that should be consistent in all spaces is the attraction of parallel currents etc., based on Lorentz contraction of charge density - right?) But then how can E and B be "equivalent" if B needs one type of representation and E needs another? Well, you could say that E would be "a scalar" around a 2-d current of monopoles, with equivalent effects on moving electric charges. But then you have two different representations depending on context of what type of particle you want to find the force on.

Also, if E and B are "equivalent" then there should be an electric analog of the A field, say "W", such that E = Curl W. But then we need a term B = @W/@t, and a W analog of Aharonov-Bohm, etc. That makes makes for some messy tangles, doesn't it?

Speaking of tangles, what about that icky strand of A field lines that extends from a monopole (Dirac string, maybe or maybe not avoidable somehow)? It seems to me that such a strand would cause a ripple of E field as the A field swept through space, due to the induction term E = -@A/@t. But then equivalency means there should be an analog of a Dirac string around electric charges, with analogous problems from B = @W/@t.

If you think that we don't need Dirac strings, how do we tidy up the A field lines that are supposedly needed to make B = Curl A universal? Does the 't Hooft-Polyakov monopole really do that, or is it a "slight of hand" like I think renormalization, decoherence, and some other things are?

Maddox is on to something, but it isn't the basic mystery of magnetism's action at a distance that matters. Instead, it's the very subtle issues about magnetisms symmetry with electricity, monopoles, etc.

Anonymous said...

dear bee -in my humble opinion there is noting 'wrong' with standard model today

Bee said...

Neil, I heartily recommend you look up a book on differential forms, e.g.

Gauge Fields, Knots, and Gravity
~By John C. Baez and Javier P. Muniain

which might be useful with the concept of n-forms and operations acting on them (and how the exterior algebra depends on the number of dimensions). Possibly it would also help if you'd just not think in terms of E and B fields, but start with the gauge fields (i.e. the potential). Best,


arivero said...

In any case, I supposse that a trick to understand magnetism is to move to a reference system where you do not see it, so no need to understand it at all :-)

Bee said...

Go boost Maddox ;-) I don't think though this is always possible, it must depend on the field configuration/symmetry. A linear motion can't be sufficient to get rid of magnetism altogether. Alternatively of course we could suggest Kaluza-Klein and put electrodynamics into the 5th dimension, maybe that's more illuminating. Best,


Uncle Al said...

Electrostatics' excitement is dielectric breakdown, then neon lights to 110 kV circuit breakers; spark gaps, Tesla coils, Marx generators. Magnetostatics' excitement is no diamagnetic breakdown of stuff or the vacuum. (Chemistry unravels and vacuum goes dichroic on paper given sufficient field, but not in the lab or a magnetar.)

Plasma couples capacitively and inductively. Electric and magnetic polarizations both beget refractive index. No biggie either way.

oleg said...

Come on, guys, you're not taking Bruno Maddox seriously, are you? Have you read the blurb for his Blinded by Science column? Here it is:

"Bruno Maddox has enjoyed a long and tangential relationship with the world of science. As the son of former Nature editor Sir John Maddox, young Bruno sat through dinners with such éminences grises as James Watson and Sir Fred Hoyle, and once accepted a collect call from a hysterical Russian scientist who claimed to have invented a perpetual motion machine.

Maddox retreated to the humanities during his school days in London and later as editor of Spy magazine, but the allure of science proved too great to ignore. In his column Maddox enjoys the opportunity to pursue his "bizarre and fleeting interests with total freedom." Maddox is also the author of the novel, My Little Blue Dress (Viking, 2001)."

He's not a scientist and not even a science journalist. Give him a break and lighten up. To help you do that, here is a recent cartoon by Roz Chast entitled Symmetry. It contains an unorthodox classification of elementary particles. Enjoy!

Bee said...

Hi Oleg,

I would very much like to take this with humor, but I see a serious problem with that kind of writing. It is not clear to the reader this is a joke, and I doubt very many people even try to find out what the scientific background of the author is. This stuff gets apparently published in a magazine that calls itself 'scientific' and I am reasonably sure there are people who will just take away the fuzzy feeling that theoretical physicists today have really lost it. It is somewhat irresponsible to do that kind of thing, given the chronically short attention span and lacking patience in a time where many people suffer from information overflow. I can just only ask myself, what is this writing good for? There are so many things written today, can we please just do mankind a favor and only print and distribute those that are worth it? Best,


Bee said...

PS: Also, I am still not sure this is a joke.

Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

I have to agree that if it was intended as a joke it certainly wasn’t presented to be one. If for instance it appeared in the April issue, perhaps it might have been taken as an April fools, yet this is the May issue, so that won’t fly. The issue it is in is a special one called “How Science Will Heal The Earth” as it primarily addresses itself to environmental topics, with climate change of course as the focus.

Your concern then about how people will take all this is well founded, as it is meant to attract what I refer to as the tree huggers of the world. Now don’t take me wrong, for legitimate concern is to be had here and yet my exposure to this sector of the demographic has demonstrated clearly to me that they for the most part have a poor comprehension of science in general both to what it is and how it is. To publish an article that could even further muddy the waters and belittle science is bordering on the irresponsible when all is considered.



: PS. Oleg one should be careful about what is being perceived as the joke here; that is the authors understanding or that of the scientists.

oleg said...

Bee, if you're still not sure take a look at his other columns.

Anonymous said...

Quote from the article:

"failing to make renowned physicist Steven Weinberg, who won a Nobel for unifying electromagnetism with the so-called weak force, admit that he can’t explain how a magnet holds a dry-cleaning ticket to the door of a refrigerator."

Did Weinberg say that?
i agree that Maddox has written it with a sense of humor, trying to tease the physicists. Apparently with success :-)
Nevertheless i think there is an underlying truth here regarding the ability of contemporary physics to give answers to "simple" problems with a clear language so the non expert could understand the fundamental truths of the world we leave in.

Anonymous said...

I agree that this could be a bit reckless. I heard a speculative theory that a number of special interest groups (for instance the pro-smoking lobby) are all for things in the public eye which seem to undermine the reliability of scientific knowledge or the ability of science to really get to grips with things.

Neil' said...

Maybe we really don't understand electromagnetism as well as we think, did anyone hear of the weird electrostatic spin paradox from these guys:

BTW Bee, I am now having great difficulty (I haven't changed, they have) reading the "word verification" letters. They are fast becoming anti-human filters as well.

Neil' said...

Try that link again:

oleg said...

I'll give it another try, folks. Read the penultimate paragraph of the article,

"What I have learned, in other words, after 71 days of strenuous research, is that I and my fellow Dummies no longer have a seat, if we ever did, at the dinner table of science. If we’re going to find any satisfaction in this gloomy vale of misery and mystery, we’re going to have to take matters into our own hands and start again, from first principles."

If, having read this passionate call to arms, you still think the piece is serious, you're in good company. Lubos Motl, having decided that the author isn't kidding, wrote a pamphlet Conspiracy theories about magnets, in which he condemned Maddox by comparing him (you guessed it) to "Peter Woit, Lee Smolin, and zillions of retarded but vocal laymen of the same kind."

In keeping with his tradition, Lubos did not stop with a mere condemnation but awarded us with a lecture on the history of physics, God bless his kind soul:

"And all this progress was ultimately incorporated into Maxwell's equations of the 19th century - a theory that unified electricity, magnetism, and also light. According to this theory, the electromagnetic force doesn't act instantly. The influence is never faster than the speed of light - a fact that was later proven to be universal by Einstein's special relativity.

At that moment, the ordinary magnets - that are attached to your fridge - were understood by the new theory of classical electrodynamics."

Actually, that's wrong. Classical physics is unable to explain why magnets attach to your fridge door. In the early 20th century Niels Bohr derived a remarkable result (the Bohr-Van Leeuwen theorem) basically saying that a classical system has zero magnetic moment in thermal equilibrium, regardless of the applied magnetic field [1]. That ruled out not only ferromagnetism, but also para- and diamagnetism in classical physics.

It took quantum mechanics to explain magnetic phenomena. Pauli and Landau took care of paramagnetism (1927) and diamagnetism (1930) in metals almost as soon as quantum mechanics became available. And while Heisenberg had early inklings (1927) that Pauli's exclusion principle for fermions generates an effective "exchange interaction" between electrons and could thus be responsible for ferromagnetism, a satisfactory theory of ferromagnetism in transition metals (iron, cobalt and nickel) was developed by Edmund Stoner later, in 1938.

I hope this isn't too far off topic.

[1] See, e.g., A. Aharoni, Introduction to the Theory of Ferromagnetism (Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 6.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Oleg,

I stand corrected, yes this truly is a spoof and I guess for those like myself one that should come with a warning label. I never thought I’d be included in the group of people who require their cup of coffee to be labeled “Caution Hot”:-)



Plato said...

Lake Wobegon effect (layk WOH.bee.gawn uh.fekt) n. The tendency to treat all members of a group as above average,particularly with respect to numerical values such as test scores or executive salaries; in a survey, the tendency for most people to describe themselves or their abilities as above average

Incredulous, is then being past off as being tempered and polite? Who of us has not "tripped over" in hind sight?:) Just when one thinks they are so smart life comes and smacks one on the side of the head.

So, no need to read the article now that one's "reader inflated ego" has been enamoured with the "moral compass of Einstein," and the mystery of the needle and it's pointing in a certain direction, or, Gauss's relationship with his student Riemann? Gaussian arc's and such, that lead to the "visionary skills" of what are the magnetic filings as descriptors of a field we do not see everyday. Who cares about the non-euclidean geometries?

Anton Zeilinger was a culminating "point of reference" to what started out "as spooky," and the realization of the work today in cryptology, entanglement, and the new methods(spintronics?) to interrupt that process, are all the intrigue of those scientists who know better?

Ah! We were talking about "society in general" and what can be shown of the publics grasping of the facts. Nice to see Moshe commenting.:)

Warning: Another Hot coffee guy here.:)

So troubling issues still remain Bee about probabilistic futures, if we cannot describe what "first principle" is? When you lump a whole bunch of things together it gets a little confusing.

When Doug presented John Nash in your other thread, this was a elemental point for me about "seeing further" then what is first presented as a social aspect of the negotiation process. Now we know such a process exists?

How far have we come?

Now we see "past the incredible aspects of nature" of what happens on the internet and in science magazines?

Plato said...

Oops, forgot the first part of the previous post.

CSI effect n. The unrealistically high expectations some jurors have for the prosecution's case in a criminal court proceeding, particularly when those expectations are created by exposure to forensic-oriented TV shows.:)The jury is still out?

I have to thank Stefan for helping one to distill the real essence of the post, and Bee for pointing out what may be common, is in those places where all of the average students, are above that average?:)

Bee said...

Hi Oleg,

Let me put it like this: as you can see in my post, I considered it was meant to be a joke. I looked up the author, I read other parts of his column (this isn't the first time I read Discover magazine), I asked two other people what they think. I read the text at least three times, and couldn't make sense of it. I don't usually have problems with my sense of humor (at least nobody ever said that to me) but I still can't see what's funny about it. You should read some of the emails I get, many are equally confused but more funny. If you have to convince readers it's a joke you were trying to make it's not a particularly good writing style. You know, when I read in the newspaper somebody is sueing the LHC for potentially destroying the earth, this sounds like a better joke to me.

Regarding Lubos, I briefly looked at his writing and again I can only tell you what I already said above. There will very likely be people who take Maddox' hickup seriously, and the example that Lubos gives with the alleged mirror problem I've encountered myself in essentially the same form when I was an undergrad. It turned out that this misconception apparently went back to a badly written article about CP violation, something with 'mirror symmetry' which left people thinking the hot topic in physics today is to understand how a mirror works.



Georg said...

Hello Bee,
I did not realize this piece from Maddox as some humor.
Maybe it is some of the finest Britsh Humor, unacessable to dumb continental people?
Nevertheless: what kind of paper is the
DiscoverMagazine? Sometimes ads say more
about the readers of a paper than its
articles do.
I followed the link of that "Null Physics",
if that is typical, it seems the readers
are more of the Daeniken Followers type.

Uncle Al said...

A mirror image as such is not a parity operation. The big problem is then not how a mirror works, but why all mirrors must be installed upside down and backwards to work!

(Note to products of American zero-goal education: the above is satire.)

arivero said...

About mirrors, I recently was surprised to discover that webcam cameras are rotated at some point, either via software or when installed in the holder board.

Bee said...

Hi Georg,

Funny you mention the null-physics ad. I too was disturbed by this some months ago. The original slogan on that ad was "Let's bring science back into physics". I saw it first placed prominently in the middle of an article about Einstein's family. I wrote a complaint to advertisement manager, telling him as a physicist I find this outright insulting. He told me what you'd expect, that the guy with that book is paying well and they want the money. I too said what you'd expect, that they should consider what readership they are aiming at and that they have a responsibility with what they are advertising, and that money isn't a justification for everything. Some time later I noticed the slogan changed to what it is now (something with 'incredible journey'). I don't know though whether there is a causal relation. Anyway, if you too find this ad disturbing, I encourage you to write to that guy, maybe it helps. Bill Hostetter, bhostetter [at] discovermagazine dot com . (You find this email on the magazine's website.) Best,


Anonymous said...

All these issues will emerge again and again until the conceptual problems of QM are addressed with reliability.

Plato said...

It's nice having a uncle out there to take care of the "general publics gullibility.":)

It of course brings to light what even the most educated person can fall under. Shall we assign a new kind of censorship over the internet so that we are ever so carefully breeding only the perfect species?:)

Of course to be reminded of the Sokal affair all over again. No need to be reminded here?

I thought then the last statement by Anonymous, and new thoughts were bubbling in my mind about Einstein. A quote came to mind. I did a little research looking for it.

Here's what I found. Of course I can be corrected.

"The wireless telegraph is not difficult to understand. The
ordinary telegraph is like a very long cat. You pull the tail in New
York, and it meows in Los Angeles. The wireless is the same, only
without the cat.
" - Albert Einstein

Source: _Scientific American_ magazine, September 2002 issue, "Einstein's Hot Time", by Steve Mirsky.

Source: Science Master April 2001 newsletter

Mirsky's article in Scientific American actually focuses on a similar quote attributed to Einstein: "When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it's longer than any hour. That's relativity." (Hence the
article's title.)

Well then we have this.....

Even though the question has expired, for what it's worth, here's a message I received today from The Albert Einstein Archives in Jerusalem concerning the "quote"...

"...Unfortunately, I could not find this quote in our documents. That may not necessarily mean that Einstein never said something similar, though a quote of this kind would probably have been included in (one of) the various collections of Einstein quotes we are using for references. I suspect, however, the quote not being an authentic Einstein quote at all. Though in parts it may sound more or less "Einsteinian", the conclusion reminds me too much of a joke than of Einstein's sophisticated puns."



Better yet, opening a blogger account in Germany allows it's counter part to operate here in Canada?:)Sorry Bee, maybe you opened it here in Canada?

Technology is such a wonderful thing that we can cut the barriers to a larger perspective.

Sorry off topic.... but a point is being made.

Gasoline companies spread the divergence of price per gallon in the states, by their states, so that it can benefit as best they can by maximizing profits from one area to the next?

Imagine the differences in the world and it's countries. The prices per liters, or gallons, respectively, and how is this hidden?

The world stage requires a higher thinking mind to take in these new factors for consideration? For profit maximization?

Or, that outsourcing of the general jobs, that while the American people are busy with determining the bail-out assistance to what is currently being distributed. Who are they helping by making it appear that you can pay off debt or that you should spend to stimulate the economy?

This medium is a lovely thing isn't it?:) I would suspect that if the perspective of people in science and position have the credibility of those same sciences, they would be very careful to distribute the correct information where ever it appears, contradictory or otherwise.

Your point about writing is most certainly a point to remember when we jest the nature of what is common knowledge in those same educative circles and is not in society?

I know you science people are busy.:)

Neil' said...

Thanks for the tips, Bee.
BTW, what do you or anyone here think of magnetic monopoles?

William said...

Bee, do you consider the following in the same vein as Maddox? ...

Milo Wolff

Halton C. Arp
Seeing Red: Redshifts, Cosmology and Academic Science

Thanks for the recommendation of Zee's book ... though, I ordered it from Amazon (used) and saved over $25, compared to the price in the link you had for Princeton Press. :>)

Just printed Zeilinger's article. I think I read that in a prior century, but I look forward to the re-read. :>)

Regarding the Dunning-Kruger effect ... perhaps these two should have shared the Noble Prize for that work? ...

"The more you know, the more you realise that you know nothing."

"No matter how long you teach a fool, he still knows everything."
Leonid S. Sukhorukov

Bee said...

Hi William,

Sorry, I don't know either of these books, so can't say anything about them. I love the 2nd quotation :-) Hadn't heard that one before.


Plato said...

I broked down and went to rede the article. Who was to no even Sean Carroll comented?:)

Thunk you:)

stefan said...

Hi Oleg,

thanks for reminding me of the Bohr van Leeuwen theorem and pointing out the role of quantum mechanics in macroscopic magnetism! Yes, the magnetic properties of materials involve lots of intriguing physics!

BTW, about the history of the understanding of magnetism relevant for this post, I just came across the introductory chapter "History of Magnetism" (free PDF file) of Mattis' book "The theory of magnetism made simple" - it's worth a look.

Best, Stefan

Plato said...

.... and would I be wrong Stefan to point out spintronics in the computer industry and the relevance of how this technologies are being used?

Spooky then(?) has now taken on new proportions as we venture to entanglement issues, cryptology and Valentini's interruption of that process? Does this not raise the issue then while leaving the remarks of Maddox to the questions of Indeterminism/Determinism?

If I am out of order here, I will delete this entry as well as the previous one.

Anonymous said...

About "Null Physics":
See this review of “Our Undiscovered Universe” by Terence Witt from a professional physicist (Benjamin Monreal):

Also see my review at
The flaws of this crackpot book are many and include:
Redefining the concept of infinity as a length with magnitude.
Defining a line as a series of points written as zeros and separated by plus signs, treating them as numbers so that they add up to zero and then treating the number zero as a point again!
A really bad atomic model "proving" that a electron orbiting a proton has a ground state that it cannot decay from by creating a new physical law.
Using the high school description of a neutron as a proton plus an electron and not realizing that this is just his atomic model!
Postulating that galaxies have "galactic cores" which are super massive objects that are not quite black holes and not realizing that the centre of the Milky Way is well observed. These recycle stars into hydrogen. Oddly enough astronomers have not noticed dozens of stars vanishing from the galactic centre in the many images that they have taken over the last few decades.

Conclusion: Bad mathematics and even worse physics.