Relativity Denialist: A perfect example of “Not even wrong” (though he’s actually wrong, too) Part II

Halfway through writing my previous post on Mr. Relativity Denier I realized there was way too much stuff to criticize in a single blog post. I had to meet a real scientist for dinner, so I took a break and thought I’d come back and analyze some of the more specific ‘claims’ presented in this shambles of logical fallacies and, yes, pseudoscience.

First, an analysis of what’s really going on in the article. My impression, from reading it yet again (I actually enjoy reading some crackpottery, now that I have an outlet to shred it), is that the author really objects deep down inside himself to the idea that there is no ‘preferred’ frame of reference for the universe. Whether this comes from a belief in biblical geocentrism or a simple fear of nonuniqueness, I don’t know. Being charitable, I suspect his strategy is to attack Einstein’s two postulates, by saying, “You can’t PROVE Einstein’s postulates directly.” This is in essence true: Einstein’s postulates are what we might call the axioms of special relativity – they don’t follow from anything else but are simply reasonable starting assumptions upon which the rest of the theory is built. However, these two axioms account for ALL experimental evidence that has been accrued relating to the theory. No other set of axioms can account for the experimental evidence to this date, at least not one that isn’t completely ad hoc.

Okay, that’s the charitable part of the analysis. Now let’s get to the line of bullshit the author slings to try and ‘prove’ his argument.

All of the substance of the article, and the summary at the end, deal with the special theory of relativity, which in brief holds that the speed of light is the same for all observers, regardless of their relative motion. However, his first example of what he considers flawed experimental evidence is the measurement of the 1919 solar eclipse, which deals with general relativity, the idea that inertial force and gravitational force are locally equivalent. In fact, he only talks about experimental evidence for special relativity much later, and only discusses the Michelson-Morley experiment, which was really the beginning of special relativity. He fails to discuss any other experimental evidence for special relativity, which includes:

  1. time dilation: muon lifetime measurements (1940s)
  2. energy and momentum: all high-energy collider experiments
  3. speed limit of light as absolute speed limit: collider experiments, again
  4. speed of light is constant: Michelson-Morley experiments (1881+)
  5. twin paradox: clocks on jetliners (1970)

Not mentioning any but the oldest and least certain experiments (and ones that aren’t directly relevant) is a sure sign of a crackpot.

The author completely demonstrates his ignorance of physics with his ‘alternative’ explanation of the 1919 solar eclipse experiment. To quote:

The 1919 solar eclipse experiment only demonstrated the validity of the Quantum theory, it did not verify the Relativity theory and it did not invalidate Newton‘s laws. During the eclipse, the light followed a curved path due to the gravitational field of the Sun, making it appear in a shifted position different from where it was known to be. This only demonstrated that light has some of the characteristics of mass, which is the fundamental premise of the Quantum theory.

Emphasis mine. There isn’t a single respectable physicist in the world who would agree with this man’s discussion of the quantum theory and its relation to gravitation. Quantum mechanics has, in brief, two central paradigm-shifting ideas: that light behaves in some ways like a particle (appearing in only discrete bits) and that matter has wavelike properties. In other words, everything in existence acts a bit like a wave and a bit like a particle. It says nothing at all about the photon having characteristics of mass. The idea that a photon’s energy can be treated as mass requires — ta ta ta da! — the special theory of relativity, and its famous equation, E=mc^2. In the comment thread of the post at Pharyngula, Blake Stacey of Science After Sunclipse suggests that the author is confusing the idea of being a particle with being matter. That sounds about right: another symptom of crackpottery is making arguments based on a popular definition of a word while ignoring the scientific meaning of the word (“evolution is only a theory”).

There’s a whole lot of stupid in this article, so much so that it’s hard to deconstruct it (this is where the phrase “Not even wrong” comes in: if a person makes an argument that’s inherently nonsensical, it can be nearly impossible to refute). We’ll stick to a few more irritating points.

The classical methods of the addition and subtraction of velocities of moving objects was based on inductive conclusions of repeated empirical experiments. These general mathematical laws are only approximations but they also agree with so-called common sense. When the Special Theory was adopted, these inductive conclusions and common sense ideas should not have been so hastily abandoned. Especially since the Special Theory simultaneously required accepting contradictory notions about time and space. (Contradictions in scientific theories usually indicate that the theory has some false assumptions or logical errors).

Again, as in part I, we find that evil bugaboo, “common sense.” The only thing special relativity is contradictory to is “common sense”, which as we have said is a very poor predictor of reality. There are no contradictory notions about time and space within special relativity. The entire theory is consistent and works quite well. It reduces to the classical theory of relativity at slow velocities, the ‘paradoxes’ of special relativity can all be resolved consistently, and the theory agrees with experiment almost perfectly.

Einstein’s fundamental assumption about the constant speed of light when measured from different moving frames of reference was hastily accepted by most physicists because of the scale of velocities involved. In other words, it couldn’t be disproved. The crude estimates made by human measurements are completely inadequate to detect the very small relative variations which are introduced by the slow moving observers.

Um, plenty of experiments have been done to test the constant speed of light, as mentioned above. The Michelson-Morely experiment was designed to detect the Earth’s motion with respect to an absolute reference frame. They referred to it as an aether, this crackpot calls it the ‘center of the universe’. Because the Earth is moving in a circular path, at some point in its motion it has to be moving fast relative to the aether (excuse me; ‘center of the universe’), and no experiment has detected this. The author’s wishing for it does not make it so.

Almost all scientists today agree with Einstein’s assumption that there is no fixed frame of reference for the Universe. This also induces them to accept Einstein’s false assumption about the speed of light. However, the Big Bang theory implies that there is a fixed (Central) frame of reference in the Universe. This fixed frame of reference for all (Absolute) motion is the physical location of the Big Bang.

The Big Bang theory implies no such thing. Even if we could find a hypothetical center of the universe, there’s no reason to believe that it would be special compared to any other point in the universe, at least as far as the laws of physics are concerned. Here, however, we see the author’s true motivation: he doesn’t like the idea of relative motion, and needs to concoct a place from which all (Absolute) motion derives. It’s quite absurd, actually: he’s derided relativity theorists for being unnecessarily metaphysical and using mathematical abstractions, and here he’s postulating that an absolute center of the universe exists, i.e. a point. This is ‘black-pot-calling-kettle-black-even-though-kettle-is-silver’ phenomenon.

A ‘clock’ by definition is a physical mechanism which is used to measure the duration of some physical event. Since all physical measurements are approximations, all clocks can only make approximate measurements. In his theories, Einstein also frequently had the baffling, confusing habit of inserting a physical clock into a mathematical model! If Einstein’s clocks were mathematical, the conclusions don’t apply to reality. If his clocks were physical they can’t be isochronal. Only Houdini could possibly accomplish this magical feat.

Um, Einstein introduced the physical clocks into his theories so that people could visualize what he was talking about. (It obviously failed for our sad author.) “All clocks can only make approximate measurements?” Well, yes, but somehow the trains run (mostly) on time and my watch keeps up pretty well with my computer clock. Here we’ve got another bizarre false dichotomy — If a clock doesn’t keep perfect time it apparently can’t be used at all to describe the timing of events. Also, note that the author is getting smug and sarcastic now: comparing Einstein to an illusionist.

In Relativity, there are no rigorous mathematical models. There are no relevant physical models which can be tested experimentally. (Real trains don’t travel at the speed of light and apparently no one has yet created a Time Machine, like H. G. Wells imagined). In Relativity, all conclusions are derived strictly from imaginary metaphysical models. Einstein did not conduct any physical experiments.

We’ll ignore the fact that relativity says that real trains can’t travel at the speed of light and chalk that up to poor language, even though no person who had even a basic understanding of relativity could make that mistake. But we can’t ignore the fact that relativity does not predict H.G. Wells-style time machines! At best, via the twin paradox, a person could fly to a distant star system and come back to Earth to find that more time passed on Earth than on the spaceship. This would be a one-way trip into the future. So again, we find our author doesn’t understand the theory he’s critiquing. “Einstein did not conduct any physical experiments?” Duh! His work was based on prior observations, however, and plenty of other people did experiments to confirm his theory.

***

So, to conclude, we have a crackpot who doesn’t like the idea that there is no absolute frame of reference. To prove the contrary view, he ignores volumes of experimental evidence, only quotes the weakest evidence he can find which isn’t even relevant, completely makes up shit about quantum theory (and implicitly merges it with relativity), bases his entire belief system on “common sense”, makes up his own unjustified metaphysical model to ‘refute’ Einstein, creates numerous false dichotomies and straw men (a veritable wicker army), and demonstrates complete ignorance of relativity. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he has internalized a view that mathematics and physics are completely independent entities which cannot and should not ever be mixed, a view which is at odds with every rational scientist on the planet. This is a grade-A example of crackpottery, and I can only conclude that the author is a complete idiot.

***

In upcoming months, I’m going to do some posts on the real theory of relativity, which is far more interesting than relativity-idiot can understand. Stay tuned…

Note: I revised the entry to remove my particularly profane language at the end, which a colleague brought up.   I finished the post at about 1 am, and was pretty damn pissed off!  I do think that some harsh language is justified in dealing with crackpots, and I’ll explain why in a future post…

Advertisements
This entry was posted in ... the Hell?, Physics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Relativity Denialist: A perfect example of “Not even wrong” (though he’s actually wrong, too) Part II

  1. Blake Stacey says:

    Thanks for the mention!

    I wrote a whole lot about this at Pharyngula, so this time, I think I’ll just point to the Wikipedia page on metric expansion of space.

  2. Pingback: Science After Sunclipse

  3. Steve says:

    Stumbled across your blog today, and found it a wonderful breath of fresh air. As an accelerator physicist (and therefore someone who uses SR as part of my 9-to-5 job) it always saddens me when I read crap like the article you are critiquing. It is written with such an air of I-know-what-I’m-talking-about, that will, unfortunately, confuse many people into thinking he has a point. It’s a pity that his theories also couple well to humanity’s need for conspiracy theories, and David versus Goliath stories (where your crackpot is David and Einstein in Goliath). *rolls eyes*

    Thanks for such a patient write-up of a few of his faults. I’m not so sure I could have been so polite….

  4. Blake wrote: “Thanks for the mention!”

    No need to thank me; I try and give credit where credit is due!

    Steve wrote: “Thanks for such a patient write-up of a few of his faults.”

    Not a problem! I’ve been reading the biology blog Pharyngula for quite some time, and one of the lessons I’ve learned is that it doesn’t really pay to ignore crackpots — they often draw strength from the fact that nobody challenges them.

    “I’m not so sure I could have been so polite….”

    That was probably the hardest part of writing the post! 🙂

  5. Personal Demon says:

    Hey Steve…

    What accelerator do you work at? SkullsInTheStars & I met a LOOOONG time ago when we were both undergrad assistants for a FermiLab project.

    I checked out your blog, and your bit about the British lottery tickets made me so very sad.

  6. nakayama says:

    Light speed is not Constant (to observer) !!

    All that we receive with our eyes are the facts of the past (unchangeable). Wavelength of incident light is coming from the past. On incident light, a formula c = λ f stands up. And λ is unchangeable (by our motion). Terms f and c change.

    Sorry, I can’t receive E-mail. I don’t have PC.

    http://www.geocities.co.jp/Technopolis/2561/eng.html

  7. Phil Boswell says:

    For those like myself coming late to this party, the article in question can now be found on the Wayback Machine: http://web.archive.org/web/20071207102029/http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/viewArticle.asp?articleID=44738

  8. nakayama says:

    A frame that is accelerating relative to an inertial frame is not inertial frame. An elevator cabin in free fall is not also.

    Sorry, I can’t receive E-mail. I don’t have PC.

Leave a Reply to skullsinthestars Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.