View 734 Sunday, July 22, 2012
Still in Chattanooga with the ThinkPad. The IBM keyboard is pretty good but I find I am addicted to full size keyboards. Work with this one is slow. I’m a sloppy typist anyway. I’d have done better to learn two finger typing. Ah well.
We had the traditional Libertycon Mad Scientists discussion last night. This was started some years ago when Jimmy Hogan was a guest here and as was his bent he had a late night discussion on things in science we are sure of that may not be so. A lot of that got into his book Kicking the Sacred Cow, and while he is likely wrong about most of his theories it’s healthy to look at basic scientific beliefs with a bit of a jaundiced eye, just to find out if you can back up your own beliefs. There’s also a long tradition in the Catholic Church of exposing core beliefs to the test of reason – Aquinas and Erasmus come to mind among dozens of others – but of course the hierarchy lapses into ‘believe or else’ mode at frequent intervals;. Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy at work, I suppose, but that’s too long a topic for now.
I wanted to kick the Special Relativity sacred cow, and for that matter General Relativity as well, especially since Einstein himself began to wonder about Special after the big confirming instances of General and the Hubble discoveries. I’ve said all this before and I have nothing whatever to add to Petr Beckmann’s book Einstein Plus Two which doesn’t attempt to refute relativity, it merely points out that the crucial experiments that seem to make necessary the complexities of relativity equations can in fact be explained by more conventional Newtonian views.
On the orbit of Mercury, on page 171, Beckmann writes: "… Einstein was not the first to derive the Mercury formula. It had been derived 17 years earlier by Paul Gerber  by classical physics using the same assumption that I am using now — the propagation of gravity with velocity c. For readers who find this hard to believe, Gerber’s final expression is reproduced here: …". After reprinting Gerber’s formula as it appeared in Zeitschrift für Mathematik und Physik, vol. 43, p. 103, Beckmann notes that this formula is now known as "the Einstein formula". http://explorersfoundation.org/glyphery/496.html)
Alas, I found the usual results: most physicists don’t study relativity at all, but they do hear people they respect say that it’s absolutely proven, and quite properly assume it doesn’t need further investigation. Perhaps so, but Beckmann, who thoroughly understood both General and Special Relativity, thought it a needless sacred cow and proceeded to offer alternatives. See Beckmann, Einstein Plus Two. He claims to cover all the known evidence, not in an attempt to refute either eneral or special relativity but to show they are not needed to explain what experiments have shown. Obviously relativity theory works, but it may be leading to some needless postulates about cosmology that make things more, not less, difficult to understand – a sort of Occam’s barber shop floor principle rather than Occam’s razor. But that’s kicking sacred cows, and it’s more a sport than a science even if it could be important.
And I am off to another panel.
The convention is formally over and we’re about to go to dinner somewhere. I’ll see what I can do about catching up when I get back. And we returned, and had the last meetings, and I am going to try to get a mailbag out before I go to bed. We return in the morning.
It has been a good weekend. There were panels on the future of education and what science fiction says about democracy, and can we save civilization? Bit hard to do in an hour, but we try to indicate ways of thinking about the problem, probably endind up with me sounding like a pretentious ass – old professors given an audience often do. Ah well.
© 2012, jerrypournelle. All rights reserved.