Wednesday, August 23, 2017

I was wrong. You were wrong too. Admit it.

I thought that anti-vaxxers are a US-phenomenon, certainly not to be found among the dutiful Germans. Well, I was wrong. The WHO estimates only 93% of children in Germany receive both measles shots.

I thought that genes determine sex. I was wrong. For certain species of fish and reptiles that’s not the case.

I thought that ultrasound may be a promising way to wirelessly transfer energy. That was wrong too.

Don’t worry, I haven’t suddenly developed a masochist edge. I’ve had an argument. Not my every-day argument about dark matter versus modified gravity and similar academic problems. This one was about Donald Trump and how to be wrong the right way.
Percentage of infants receiving 2nd dose of measles vaccine in Germany.
[Source: WHO]

Trump changes his mind. A lot. May that be about the NATO or about Afghanistan or, really, find me anything he has not changed his mind about.

Now, I suspect that’s because he doesn’t have an opinion, can’t recall what he said last time, and just hopes no one notices he wings that presidency thing. But whatever the reason, Trump’s mental flexibility is a virtue to strive for. You can see how that didn’t sit well with my liberal friends.

It’s usually hard to change someone’s mind, and a depressingly large amount of studies have shown that evidence isn’t enough to do it. Presenting people with evidence contradicting their convictions can even have the very opposite effect of reinforcing their opinions.

We hold on to our opinions, strongly. Constructing consistent explanations for the world is hard work, and we don’t like others picking apart the stories we settled on. The quirks of the human mind can be tricky – tricky to understand and tricky to overcome. Psychology is part of it. But my recent argument over Trump’s wrongness made me think about the part sociology has in our willingness to change opinion. It’s bad enough to admit to yourself you were wrong. It’s far worse to admit to other people you were wrong.

You see this play out in almost every comment section on social media. People defend hopeless positions, go through rhetorical tricks and textbook fallacies, appeal to authority, build straw men, and slide red herrings down slippery slopes. At the end, there’s always good, old denial. Anything, really, to avoid saying “I was wrong.”

And the more public an opinion was stated, the harder it becomes to backpedal. The more you have chosen friends by their like-mindedness, and the more they count on your like-mindedness, the higher the stakes for being unlike. The more widely known you are, the harder it is to tell your followers you won’t deliver arguments for them any longer. Turn your back on them. Disappoint them. Lose them.

It adds to this that public conversations encourage us to make up opinions on the fly. The three examples I listed above had one thing in common. In neither case did I actually know much about what I was saying. It wasn’t that I had wrong information – I simply had no information, and it didn’t occur to me to check, or maybe I just wasn’t interested enough. I was just hoping nobody would notice. I was winging it. You wouldn’t want me as president either.

But enough of the public self-flagellation and back to my usual self. Science is about being wrong more than it is about being right. By the time you have a PhD you’ll have been wrong in countless ways, so many ways indeed it’s not uncommon students despair over their seeming incapability until reassured we’ve all been there.

Science taught me it’s possible to be wrong gracefully, and – as with everything in life – it becomes easier with practice. And it becomes easier if you see other people giving examples. So what have you recently changed your mind about?


Zaaikort said...

I stopped believing that people can change their mind ;)

Nedim Celik said...

Changing one's opinion publicly is one of the the hardest thing to do. It is notably the reason why so few people leave cults even after they realize the mistake; they have to admit they were duped and that they look like fools. Not to go into politics, but also a reason why the poll numbers of a certain politician do not go down much regardless of what he does.

And yet, there is a very prominent example for the benefits of changing ones mind: The single most profitable product in the world. The original iPhone was first designed NOT to have any 3rd party apps. Jobs had to be convinced by developers and his board members to allow apps. With no apps ("there is an app for that"), the iPhone would probably be very limited in its success.

There is a principle called "Strong opinions, weakly held" that some engineering companies try to incorporate into their corporate culture. Have a strong opinion, but be ready to change it in light of new facts. That is harder said then done.

So, thank you for posting this, hopefully more awareness can help us create societies where it is easier to change ones mind for the benefit of all of us.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...


Let's hope you'll change your mind about this ;)

Koenraad Van Spaendonck said...

Hello Sabine,

Until this very day, I thought pigs just had a curly tail.
I changed my mind today (so that's very recent), after watching this informative short video of only 52 seconds.

"Watch till the end" as they say.

Best, Koenraad

naivetheorist said...

i've changed my mind about theoretical cosmology, and about quantum gravity theories, i used to think they are both fascinating subjects worth pursuing even if they would be difficult to test experimentally. i've now concluded that the fundamental physics research community has been invaded by mathematicians who have disguised themselves as physicists and Feynman was right when he said that "'physics is to sex as mathematics is to masturbation'. and Woody Allen was right when he said "Don't knock masturbation. It's sex with someone you love.". these people are in love wth their mathematics and their motto can be summed up as 'this is fun to do and the hell with reality".

Uncle Al said...

"Trump is by trade a builder who deals in the tangible, obdurate, objective world of physical materials, geometry, and construction projects, where communication often reverts to the brusque, coarse, high-impact level of pre-modern working-class life," Camille Paglia

Trump hails from Brooklyn and Queens, doing what is expedient toward a goal. Punch Trump, pull back a stump. Trump delegates to capable people. Success keeps them employed. Continuous improvement, situational plasticity. Trump stared down North Korea and the lying Media.

Trump is autistic, with modest verbal skills. The man is utterly brilliant, and discovered he is a patriot. VP Pence is a gerbil-brained skilled spokesman, the best man for the job.

F. Lindner said...

Great post, thank you!

However, one thing about Trump: I think it is important to show that he is not an ideologue like some of his followers. But he could be worse: he is a bullshitter (on the philosophical concept of bullshit, see here: A bullshitter is someone who is beyond right and wrong. A liar is someone who at least cares for the truth because he lies and thereby implicitly acknowledges that there is a truth which he consciously decided not to tell. A bullshitter is someone who does not even care what the truth is. He will say everything to make himself important.

I think there might be three types of people:

1. People who ardently believe in something that is demonstrably false (to some extent this category contains all of us. Psychologically we tend to tell ourselves and others stories that rationalize why we do certain things although we do not really know why we do them - and we even do not know that we don't know.)

2. People who lie, i.e. say things they know not to be true.

3. Bullshitters.

I don't know what is the worst: the ideologue (first category) who really believes in what he says? The liar who lies or the bullshitter? Hard to say...

Unknown said...

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself--and you are the easiest person to fool."
-- RP Feynman in his 1974 Caltech commencement speech.

- TomH

Louis Tagliaferro said...

Dear Sabine,

Great article, your understanding of human behavior, logical scientific reasoning, and your penchant striving to link theory and empirical evidence as much as possible reaffirms why I am regular reader of your blog. I understand the issues you discuss well and completely agree with your assessment. I try to police my own behavior, which is why I am asking for feedback to my question in the comment section of the preceding blog post. Without feedback it is difficult to learn from mistakes or misconceptions. The question seems logical and empirically correct, if it is not please help me understand where I’ve erred?

Dwight Thieme said...

" ... just remember, it's not a lie, if you believe it."

-- George Costanza

ELY_MAT said...

It took me a long time to realize that many times, my desire to change people's minds stems from my desire to reassure myself that I am correct. This made me alter how I approach conversations in general and ask myself about what I am trying to get out of them. I have to admit though, it's not easy at all. Our own shortcomings can be very hard to spot.

Ambi Valent said...

I thought I could come up with a satisfying comment to your article. I was wrong.

Admitting one was wrong certainly feels very differently based on the type of person one is arguing with. If the person on the other side is having a rather scientific discussion with you, then you can easily concede points where you are wrong. And it can also be beneficial since the other person realizes you're open to new information, and could be more willing to discuss the other points with you.

It's quite different if the person on the other side is taking the smallest concession as a sign that they are so overwhelmingly right they forced me into retreat, and must now push forward to make me surrender all the other points as well.

Ted said...

Hi, Sabine -

For what it's worth, I think one can unabashedly say that genes determine gender. Not necessarily chromosomes. Genes are complicated little systems that respond to all kinds of environmental cues. Clown fish (like Nemo) have an interesting dominance hierarchy. When the most dominant female dies, the most dominant male turns into a female. I think wrasses work the other way: when the dominant male dies, the highest ranking female gender switches. Some reptile eggs will be male when their eggs are incubated at one temperature and female at a different temperature. The genes don't change: different ones are "turned on" under different conditions.


Bernardo Cunha said...

I think there's a difference between a person who holds a flexible position, and someone who simply echoes what he/she has been recently told.
The former is able to rationalize their current position, as well as evidence given against it. While the latter holds no position.
Sadly, I think Trump falls in the second category.

Having said that, I agree with the overall message.
In particular, the demagoguery in politics is at such an extreme that I constantly find myself disagreeing with (really, "cringing at") both "sides" ("sides" being the operative word, since US politics mostly resembles a football rivalry to me).

I work as software engineer and do and/or say technically wrong things most days (other days, I don't work ;).
Which means I get to learn something new every day, while sometimes looking like an idiot. A fair price. =)

APDunbrack said...

It's bad to maintain your opinion when you are wrong.

It's equally bad to change your opinion when you are right. Overcompensation leads to uncertainty, and that's what leads to things like "well, we don't KNOW whether vaccines actually cause autism..." being taken as a "middle ground" of sorts.

Claiming knowledge we don't have is dangerous, but claiming a lack of knowledge when we have knowledge is equally dangerous - it might be less common as an everyday bias, but on matters where we do have a pretty good handle on the right answers (like, often, science, wherein we have well-done experiments), it does come up.

JimV said...

It's been a while (probably too long). The last one I remember was after GE Steam Turbine laid off all their mechanical engineers who worked on certain parts, suddenly realized it, and dragged me back out of development to design a bunch of parts I had worked on ten years before. I gave a bunch of design data on them to one of the Project Engineers and he questioned something I had done. "I thought we weren't supposed to yada-yada-yada?" "That's how we've always done it," I told him, which he accepted since I had about 25 years seniority on him. But I got thinking about it, called a friend in Fluid Mechanics, and sure enough, the design rule had changed. So I went back to the Project Engineer with revised data.

"I thought you said that's how we always do it?" he said with a bit of an edge. "I was wrong, " I replied. He gave me a funny look and said something to the effect that he wasn't used to hearing that.

The ones I regret are the opposite case: the ones where I was right but didn't fight my corner hard enough or well enough. Such as, the people whom I cannot convince that Trump isn't some kind of master businessman but a blowhard liar who has failed at every business except the business of scamming the gullible. He is not the model for this topic. When did he ever admit, "I was wrong"? He just pretends that his previous erroneous statements were "fake news", or blames them on someone else and fires them.

(I hope Uncle Al was being sarcastic.)

Sabine Hossenfelder said...


Sorry, I re-read that question and as I wrote previously, I don't understand what you mean. Yes, you can define a second by counting so-and-so many periods of some oscillation of some atomic transition line. But that's how it's done, so I don't know why you are suggesting this. Maybe you are asking why this doesn't fix the definition of time in general relativity? Well, because every observer could be carrying their atomic clock with them, and the readings wouldn't agree. What you *can* do is define time at each point by the motion of matter. That's a widely used choice, normally called the "co-moving" frame, and in a sense it's the most physical frame you can use.

But really the question whether there is a "right" way to define time is irrelevant. You always have to ask what it is that you measure and if you compute that it shouldn't matter how you define time. Best,


AnneH said...

I like the thought of beeing wrong gracefully. I'll try to think of it next time I realize that Ì'm wrong.

Another thought when it comes to arguments: In his approach of non-violent communication Marshall Rosenberg suggested giving empathy in a very specific way: You let the other person know that you are aware of his or her needs and the way they feel (even though you might not agree at all). This usually helps to resolve arguments because people no longer insist to persuade each other and it creates more openess for compromise.

Paul Hayes said...

"Science taught me it’s possible to be wrong gracefully, and – as with everything in life – it becomes easier with practice. And it becomes easier if you see other people giving examples."

Great point. I recently discovered that frequentist statisticians aren't quite as 'evil' as I used to believe they were.

Ambi Valent,

What you say's probably true of scientific discourse in general but IME probability theory - including the noncommuting / quantum kind - seems to be capable of bringing out the "no surrrender, even if I have to resort to blatantly fallacious argument" side in just about anyone. I've seen "is" redefined as "was" in intransigent defense of error in a Sleeping Beauty problem dispute and similar 'reasoning' in what should've been already resolved disputes about nonlocality.

Andreas W said...

You asked for something Trump will not change his mind on: He will never be convinced that he is anything other than a great champion, a winner. Everything else is secondary and unimportant, not so much true or false, but irrelevant. Such is the mind of a narcissist.

Uncle Al said...

@Andreas W "He will never be convinced that he is anything other than a great champion, a winner."

The Trump Organization has constructed ~180 major projects worldwide, with a remarkable record of below budget, early completion, and specifications met. Trump is a mathematical optimization wizard. Trump spent $442 million less than Clinton, wrangled a $50 million tax deduction while doing it, and won the Electoral College 306 to 232. This was Trump's first run for public office.
...So it can't be done, so what?

gowers said...

I've changed my mind about austerity. I haven't gone from strongly supporting it to being strongly against it, but I have gone from thinking it might be an unfortunate necessity to thinking it probably isn't an unfortunate necessity. Although that's just changing between two uncertain positions, it's an important topic and there's a genuine change in the sense that I now have more respect for people who say it's obvious that austerity is wrong (even if I think it's not so much obvious as likely).

Phillip Helbig said...

"I thought that anti-vaxxers are a US-phenomenon, certainly not to be found among the dutiful Germans. Well, I was wrong. The WHO estimates only 93% of children in Germany receive both measles shots."

Unfortunately, anti-vaxxers are relatively common in Germany. In the US they tend to believe the Andrew Wakefield fraud and/or are religiously motivated. In Germany, they mainly believe that it is better if the child has the illness rather than being vaccinated, both because it provides better immunity (true in some cases, which is why booster vaccinations are important; but rather illogical, since if immunity, i.e. not catching the disease, is the goal, catching it in order to get immunity is contraproductive) and because "the body determines the best time to contract the disease" or some such bullshit. They do not understand statistics and exaggerate claims about harm from vaccinations (rare) and underplay the advantages, including playing down the dangers of the disease itself, especially the complications. There is a large overlap between anti-vaxxers, Waldorf-school supporters, new-age idiots etc.

"I thought that genes determine sex. I was wrong. For certain species of fish and reptiles that’s not the case."

For humans, it is the case. While there are a few truly intersex people, the distribution is a) extremely bimodal and b) determined by genes (more exactly, chromosomes).


The thing about Trump: he can change his mind about something about which he was wrong. I suspect it's true. But, he has never admitted (confessed) he was wrong about something. Anything. He has never admitted he has changed his mind. It seems some people are comfortable with this. I'm not. Imagine writing a paper based on an error and then instead of a retraction, writing a new paper that corrects the first without even referring to it. There seem to be different rules for different professions.

Louis Tagliaferro said...

Sabine Hossenfelder said...
“….the question whether there is a "right" way to define time is irrelevant. You always have to ask what it is that you measure and if you compute that it shouldn't matter how you define time.”

Dear Sabine,

Thank for the reply, unfortunately my limited education in physics has been is barrier in communicating precisely what I meant. Rest assured what you said in the first paragraph is known to me and I realize in that sense a definition of time would be irrelevant. I’m not rephrasing only explaining that I picture a space-time, two atomic clocks keeping time differently due to gravity or relative velocity, and their relationship to observable displacements of light, it all appears empirical, logical and simple enough to have been considered already; therefore it is likely I have erred in some way that I don’t understand, that has been frustratingly difficult to learn.

Phillip Helbig said...

"You asked for something Trump will not change his mind on: He will never be convinced that he is anything other than a great champion, a winner."

Old joke (from long before Trump's presidential campaign): Trump is in a lift, going up to his penthouse. On the way up, the lift stops, the doors open, and walks in. She drops to her knees, opens his trousers, and looks up at him and says "All my life, my dream has been to give The Donald the best blowjob he has ever had.". Trump looks down sceptically and asks "What's in it for me?"

Koenraad Van Spaendonck said...

This man destroyed the healthcare plan of those who got him elected, while promising them better health care...
Now there's something I will never change my mind on.(Slightly anti-topic)

Unknown said...

This is TERRIBLE! HORRIBLE! Uncle Al is changing my ... NO NO NO !

Charlie said...

Re: "genes determine sex". Saying this is rather like saying that a rack&pinion system steers your car. It's true but ignores upstream and downstream systems. In humans, it's the presence of a Y chromosome (and a gene on it) that makes a male (hence, nondisjunction errors like XXY produce a male). In flies, it's the ratio X to Y chromosomes in a way that doesn't really depend on any particular gene (hence, XXY produces a female). In honey bees, diploids (bees with two sets of chromosomes) are usually female and haploids (bees with one set of chromosomes) are male (more precisely, having two different variants of the CSD gene makes a female). To take that last example more upstream, the queen "determines" the gender of her offspring by either fertilizing or not fertilizing each egg when laid (with sperm stored in her spermatheca). Ahhh! You ask, Does the queen have Free Will in offspring gender? Well, who knows? But really, assuming they have sufficient sperm and their brains are working properly, they just lay fertilized eggs in worker cells or queen cells (both workers and queens are female) and unfertilized eggs in drone cells (drones are male). (Drone cells are a bit bigger than worker cells and both are horizontally oriented; queen cells are bigger than both and point down.) It's the workers that make these cells and so it's fair to say that they are the ones that "determine" sex. Except (of course) season and other things determine what the workers do.

Downstream of genes we have, of course, more genes. But other systems too. In insects, sex determination is cell-autonomous, so you can end up with gynandromorphs that are male on one side and female on the other side (google image it for examples). In mammals, the chromosome/gene part drives hormones which drive sex differentiation. Hence, hormonal errors can lead to XX males and XY females (which one could use to "disprove" gene determination even in mammals, if one is so inclined), but, due to diffusion of hormones, you will never see a gynandromorph (although intermediate outcomes happen). In those "certain fish and reptiles", environmental input has (over evolutionary time) either partly or wholly replaced the upstream chromosomal determinants. This doesn't seem so radical when you know how diverse the upstream molecular mechanisms are among animals that share an (apparently) similar XX, XY system.

I was wrong last week but I don't want to talk about it.

Liralen said...

Most recent? I was wrong in my opinion about Uncle Al, which was actually more of a guess than an opinion, since I didn't use to understand what he said.

But a very good point, Dr. Hossenfelder. Unfortunately, I think that the ability to change opinion when presented with new evidence defines the difference in political parties, at least here in the US. Almost by definition.

JimV said...

This post was not about Trump other than as an example of what not to do, and I wish he had not been mentioned at all due to the boring arguments that will ensue (perhaps it was thought no Trump defenders would show up on a science blog, since Trump is a climate-change denier, thinks "clean coal" means coal is washed after being mined, and so on). Such as:

It is my understanding that the last big Trump construction job was the Trump casino in Atlantic city which was never finished and for which construction workers and other service workers were never paid, due to Trump declaring bankruptcy; after which almost no one would lend him any more money for construction except the Russians, who supported his campaign with a lot of dirty tricks in quid pro the quo of his supporting their actions in the Ukraine; that what he has actually done is sell his name to be placed on a lot of constructions that he had little or nothing to do with; and that his successful presidential campaign was based on racism (his "birther" nonsense against President Obama), lies about how he would build walls and give coal-miners and factory-workers their jobs back, and most of the press deciding that since he was obviously not a fit candidate and certain not to be elected, they might as well show bi-partisanship by focusing on Hillary Clinton's flaws (real and perceived); as well as James Comey's last-minute, unprecedented, and ill-founded announcement.

My feeling about Trump before the election was that he would make a terrible President. He could have proved me wrong, but I think history will be on my side.

What am I wrong about? (To return to the subject.) Not about that, but I have long had a feeling that the ancient Greeks were right about the universe being discrete instead of continuous, and that continuous calculus is just a convenient and good approximation to what are really finite-difference equations (for natural laws). I could be wrong about that. (I could also have been wrong to rise to the bait about Trump here.)

Jeff said...

I don't actually believe that Trump "changes his mind" a lot. And I'm not here to make jokes about his mind either. I think his "changes of mind" are a rhetorical technique, and therefore not worthy of the amount of thought you put into this.

Topher said...

I totally agree with the overall message that humans need to work against the natural instinct to hold on to beliefs too long. But there are at least two important caveats. Change your mind based on reliable information or re-examination of your original thoughts, not just based on what seems socially acceptable at the time. And keep in mind the reasons for your original opinion. New data is not always more valid than old data. Flexible thinking is strong while rigid thinking is brittle.

I used to think that instant runoff voting would be a great system to adopt more widely, but now I much prefer range voting. (I voted for Obama 9 years ago because he had supported IRV in Illinois.) But I still think either system is far better than plurality, and that the 3rd-party spoiler effect makes a two-party system a stable equilibrium and hence contributes to the political polarization and us-vs-them thinking so prevalent today.

Liralen said...

I agree with Jeff about Trump. Trump is a con man, and those of us Americans who know it are appalled that others have fallen for it.

But I think Dr. Hossenfelder has made a good point regardless. Being able to admit you were wrong is liberating.

I've recently become interested in mindfulness exercises as a means of stress reduction. So far, I've only tried one exercise, which was to listen to a music genre you dislike for an hour. I'm an audiosnob, a lower version of an audiophile. I need music like a drug addict, but will turn it off if the equipment is below standard, or if it's the music equivalent of paint by numbers (pop, country, easy listening, etc). I'd rather do without than listen to anything below par.

My preferred music is alt rock and classical, and I pretty much detest anything in between (although the way I define those categories is pretty broad). When I decided to try the mindfulness exercise, I chose easy listening, specifically ambient, since I also needed noise reduction at work, but my preferred music distracts me.

So I loaded up Google Play Music for the first time (I've got CDs of everything I like). It changed my world when I discovered Nils Frahm, Greg Haines, Loscil, Johann Johannsson, Olafur Arnolds, Ludovico Einaudi, Rachel Grimes, etc.

And it reminded me of something important - change.

Rob van Son (Not a physicist, just an amateur) said...

What I have not yet seen mentioned here is the basic fact that you only learn from your errors.

If you do not admit to have made an error, you have not learned. Those who never make errors,never learn anything.

PS, you can learn a lot when you say slightly ignorant things around specialists. People are generally keen on correcting you. That is another basic human trait. But do not overdo it.

Ambi Valent said...

I admit that I may be wrong. And that Sabine and other experts are smarter than me. And that the underlying theory is correct (giving reasonable results, agreeing with observation, when given reasonable input).

But I can't admit yet that I must be wrong, until I'm proven wrong. Not because it would hurt saying I was wrong - that would be harmless compared to being continuously thought of as the village idiot. It's because I couldn't forgive myself if I had the correct solution at my fingertips and gave it up. If that possibility is removed, by being proven wrong, I'll admit that I was wrong. But there's a 'but' here - what I've been offered as proofs rely on the very things I find unreasonable in the first place, which is why I ended up at a different solution.

Usually, when experts say solution A is correct and laypeople say solution B is correct, the experts are right because their reasoning is supported by math and observation, while the laypeople's reasoning can be shown to be wrong.

There are three points why I still hold my position:
1) The path to solution A involves the theory with a starting assumption that seems to come out of left field and appears to be intuition-based. The theory is well-supported, but I think the assumption isn't.
2) I haven't been shown yet where the error in my reasoning leading to solution B is. If I'm wrong, there has to be a point where I start to be wrong. And while I've been told I'm wrong from the beginning, my starting points are the points where the theory has been supported by observation - so the error, if there is one, must be in a later step.
3) Solution A leads to paradoxes. If my reasoning is correct, solution B doesn't lead to these paradoxes.

(And I think if I'm disproven, this wouldn't be a wasted effort, since a lot of people reason in a similar way. I may have gone further on the way to a solution than many of them because I found papers by actual scientists instead of relying on support from the fringe, which would be easier to get but ultimately wouldn't get me any closer to the truth)

JimV said...

I basically agree with Rob vS that we mostly learn from errors, but have a different slant on it.

Another opinion I have which could be wrong is that trial-and-error plus memory is both how biological evolution made us and how we ourselves do our creative thinking (if any). Error of course implies selection criteria, and therein lies the rub (or rubs the lie). That is, reality and truth may not be the selection criteria that drive the evolution of people's ideas.

Also, another way of learning, to be the kind of nit-picker whom RvS rightly objects to, is to have it passed on to our memories from other people's memories - similar to the inheritance of genes or horizontal gene transfer in biological evolution. That way we don't necessarily have to make errors to learn (some things).

Finally, I think I was wrong in this very thread, to say that Trump was only meant to be a bad example. That must have come out of my own bias, because on re-reading the post it seems to me Trump was cited as a good example (shudder). Although if the main point was that we should admit when we are wrong, I don't recall hearing that Trump has ever done so. I don't think that right and wrong (in any non-personal sense) are part of his selection criteria.

George Rush said...

I'm always eager to say I was wrong, if that's the case, because when you hang on to a wrong position you look like an idiot. If you change your mind, when presented with the facts, it only looks like you **were** an idiot. That's a lot better. But many people can't really follow this course. Since they make so many mistakes every second sentence would have to be "I was wrong" - about whatever they just said. It would be better to keep quiet, but they can't do that either, because the mouth is not, apparently, under control of the higher cognitive faculties. It has a will of its own. Trump, for example, seems to be that sort of person. I sympathize with their dilemma, it must be very unpleasant.

David Schroeder said...

"Science taught me it's possible to be wrong gracefully...." Grace is such a beautiful word in English, or any language. In the context in which Bee uses this word it implies one can make mistakes, but learn from those mistakes and move on.

The beautiful lyrics from the song "Rise", by Caroline Jones mirror this aspect of life, as in: "No matter where you may land, or how far you may fall, you have heart you have hands, and the highest calling of our lives, is to find the grace in the very place we stand".

Here's the video:

I had a bit of emotional turmoil this morning when I tried to log in to When I dialed in my username and password it said "banned from the forums". It may be a computer glitch. Five or six months ago, all the files on my computer became corrupted, and I lost all my passwords. So the password I entered might be an old one. Assuming it's not a glitch I just hope I can find out where I erred, and return to their good graces.

For anyone interested, the last time I was in the forums was probably last year. I was discussing some superconductor experiments with niobium-titanium rods. My user name is Dave123.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Ambi Valent,

I first approved your comment, but after consideration deleted it. It's entirely off-topic and I suggest you pursue your problems with the Schwarzschild metric elsewhere.

Ambi Valent said...

on-topic (I hope)
Do I understand correctly from your tweet that you're currently trying to get to a more modern mathematical General Relativity by starting from the Einstein field equations and building upwards from there, using the best current knowledge?

In that case, I admit that I was wrong to assume that you were only open-minded about new knowledge while still believing all the interpretations you learned as a young student, even though they might be based on outdated assumptions. My grudge was because of perceiving people to treat interpretations as proven even though only the math had been checked and found being supported by observation, and there could still be different interpretations consistent with the math which never get explored.

I wish you are successful in your work - though the road you chose is orders of magnitude harder than my attempt to reason an infalling observer could both reach singularity at proper time tau_s and not reach it within finite Schwarzschild time due to relativistic time dilation.

But when you succeed it will also be much more rewarding.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...


My tweet simply said I'm trying to solve Einstein's field equations. It's some (mild) modified version that'll hopefully land on the arxiv sooner rather than later.

I don't know what you mean with your remark about interpretations. I am very open to interpretations because honestly I don't care about interpretations. You can interpret Einstein's field equations either way you wish. Weinberg famously refused to interpret them geometrically. Einstein himself for some while insisted the metric is just another field. I find the geometric interpretation useful but in the end what matters is that you get the correct result.

You can't prove interpretations, the statement doesn't even make sense. Hope that explains it,


Ambi Valent said...


people interprete a lot and aren't always aware of it. You told me that the Schwarzschild coordinate system isn't used because it doesn't cover the whole spacetime. While this statement isn't actually wrong, it strongly evokes the mental image of objects suddenly disappearing from the coordinate system so one shouldn't use it at all - and many people don't ask which spacetime it covers and which it doesn't, although that information is also available from infalling observers.

All possible observers that existed before the black hole came into existance would still exist and would still be infalling, so they'd all still have coordinates. So the coordinate system still works in the range of finite Schwarzschild time for all possible observers - but not beyond finite Schwarzschild time. (And from that it would follow that observable naked singularities wouldn't exist at finite Schwarzschild time - then again hardly anyone believes that anyway)

Jonathan Tooker said...

>Trump changes his mind. A lot. May that be about the NATO or about Afghanistan or, really, find me anything he has not changed his mind about.

This tells us that the narrative civilians believe is a complete lie and that is why Obama did the same thing with Guantanamo.

>Now, I suspect that’s because he doesn’t have an opinion, can’t recall what he said last time, and just hopes no one notices he wings that presidency thing. But whatever the reason, Trump’s mental flexibility is a virtue to strive for. You can see how that didn’t sit well with my liberal friends.

Maybe no one gives him any facts and speculates along different avenues at different times.

>I simply had no information, and it didn’t occur to me to check, or maybe I just wasn’t interested enough.

That must be nice to have a trusted source of information.

scotster88 said...

For scientist, your opinion of Trump is clouded by emotions. If you had read "Art of the Deal" then you would know that Trump only appears to change his mind constantly. It's called bluffing in poker.

JimV said...

"It's called bluffing in poker."

In other words, lying. It's allowed in poker. In politics too, I guess, if you don't mind being lied to. (E.g., he'll build a wall and Mexico will pay for it.)

In science, lying is about the worst sin you can commit, since science is the search for truth. Consistency (repeatability) is one of the signs of good science.

Trusting a liar in what he says or writes or has ghost-written rather than the public record of his deeds is called being a "mark" in poker.

FunnyBunny said...

Delightful essay. Forwarded it to all my friends.