Monday, March 31, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Superheating: fun in a microwave oven


Superheating (Wikipedia) may be fun but it may also be dangerous.

U.S. poll: Global warming 8th environmental problem

Some social scientists in Missouri made

a survey (UPI report)
in which people located environmental issues that deserve, in their opinion, more effort from the government. Despite the intense media hysteria, CO2 emissions do not belong among the top environmental issues. The most important issues (some of them written positively, some of them negatively, the context makes it clear) according to the U.S. citizens are
  1. drinking water
  2. pollution of rivers, lakes, and ecosystems
  3. smog
  4. forest preservation
  5. acid rain
  6. tropical rain forests
  7. national parks
  8. greenhouse emissions
  9. ozone layer
  10. nature around "my" home
  11. urban sprawl
  12. extinction.
Well, I would surely put greenhouse emissions at the last place here (and below many other environmental topics) but the 8th place is what the U.S. citizens think. If the governments planned to spend 1% of the GDP for the 8th environmental problem, it is not hard to see that the governments would probably need more than 100% of the GDP for all environmental issues combined. And how would you pay for the other sectors?

Because people are still not buying this weird fashionable propaganda about a dangerous global warming, it is not too surprising that Al Gore, the de facto leader of the IPCC and similar disgraceful institutions, is planning to strengthen his attempts to brainwash the people. His new threat is that he wants to waste USD 300 million for pure propaganda.

His commercials will create unlikely bedfellows - for example, Pat Robertson will sleep with Al Sharpton; see NewsBusters' comments. I suppose that Al Gore assumes that he will cover the "whole" political spectrum. Well, I guess that the spectrum is not wide enough for me. Most likely, some dimensions such as intelligence (and uncorruptability by rich quasireligious zealots) might be absent on the Sharpton-Robertson axis. But frankly speaking, it is likely that millions of Americans will perceive themselves as a certain linear combination of these two Gentlemen - as Sharpertsons and Roberptons of various kinds. ;-/

Saturday, March 29, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

LHC alarmists ask judge to save the world

Dennis Overbye has an entertaining - or stunning, depending on your perspective - article in

The New York Times,
the most e-mailed article of the Times today. See also MSNBC's Alan Boyle. Nima, Lisa, and a few others are among the serious sources. Overbye follows physics and certainly its sociological structure.

Walter WagnerA poor judge in Honolulu was ordered by two alternative physicists who have visited this blog several times and who have written some inappropriate and impolite comments, namely Walter Wagner (left, click) and Luis Sancho, to prevent the CERN - an institution at a completely different continent :-) - from launching the LHC collider which is expected to begin operations at 10 TeV in July.

A short time ago, I discussed the topic about the LHC alarmists and won't repeat myself. But let me say that I have recently seen so much monstrous stupidity among ordinary people and even not-so-ordinary people that I wouldn't really be shocked if the two loons mentioned above were able and allowed to kill the USD 6 billion experiment or at least delay it by 4 months, as they plan now. More precisely, I would be shocked but rationally speaking, I wouldn't be completely surprised. ;-)

Earth Hour: turn your lights on at 8 p.m.

Tonight, at 8 p.m. local time, you should turn on all the light bulbs you have for 60 minutes (it will only cost you 3 cents per light bulb in average for the whole hour) to fight global obscurantism. You should look how many lights are on around. Every light bulb you see will be a sign of the audacity of hope, as Jeremiah Wright would say.

An article about the event.
Official U.S. page.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), a group of wild animals pretending to be humans, is trying to return our civilization to the Dark Ages. They urge everyone to turn their lights off. But as Financial Post recommends: don't have a sexual intercourse with pandas.

The event was tried in Sydney a year ago and now it goes global. A month ago, a similar event in the U.K. saved statistically insignificant 0.1% of the energy, despite loud and hysterical threats by the London bishop, Richard Anti-Christ Chartres.

Friday, March 28, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Alexander Grothendieck: 80th birthday

Today, Alexander Grothendieck probably and hopefully celebrates his 80th birthday.

Congratulations to his cabin in the Pyrenees.

The romantic home doesn't prevent him from doing some great mathematics. For example, in Fall 2007, Chien-Hao Liu and Shing-Tung Yau clarified the new Polchinski-Grothendieck D-brane Ansatz on page 17 (19 of 59). ;-)


Bolshevik guerilla groups such as MoveOn.ORG and other fans of a particular presidential candidate are trying to intimidate the whole Democratic Party into disregarding its own rules.

In 1982, a commission chaired by North Carolina governor Jim Hunt analyzed the reasons behind humiliating losses of McGovern against Nixon (1972) and Carter against Reagan (1980) and they determined that an important reason was that the party leaders who actually have some political skills have lost the influence over the Democratic Party.

Hunt et al. invented the superdelegates. Their intended share was 30%, the figure dropped to 14% instantly, but grew to roughly 20% today.

One could probably live without these rules but there certainly exists a rational justification of these new rules: without such an explicit influence of the party officials, the whole primaries reduce to a new round of general elections. The party would effectively disappear. More importantly, they are the current rules of the game. A certain fraction of the delegates are unpledged and they vote independently of the popular vote.

I find it kind of amazing that so many people are ready to question these rules in the middle of the game - just because they suddenly find superdelegates inconvenient. When rules are ignored but no one is hurt, one can sometimes understand such a careless approach. But that's certainly not the case right now.

If the Democratic Party thought that the superdelegates were such a bad policy, they should have abolished them - for example, after 2000, when the Democratic nutjobs promoted the popular vote into a holy principle by ad hoc and ridiculous claims that their Gore should have won the 2000 elections that he lost. But they didn't abolish them which makes a difference.

I have no idea how they want to justify such a position and I have no clue how they actually want to guarantee that the rules will be pissed upon because it is not such a trivial thing to do something that blatantly contradicts their own law. Will they blackmail or assassinate the superdelegates? What they want to do is nothing less than a coup or a new October Revolution.

Needless to say, the potential inability of the Democratic Party to obey its own rules will eventually lead to a backlash. Sponsors might be lost and the 2008 Democratic nominee may easily repeat the fate of McGovern and Carter in the general elections.

And that's the memo.

Al Gore, the flat Earth, and a tiny, tiny minority

On Sunday, 7 p.m. ET/PT, CBS will broadcast

Al Gore's message (CBS)
to us, a "tiny, tiny minority" of climate realists. We are so tiny, in fact, that we are almost like those who believe that the Moon landing was shot in Arizona and the world is flat, this monster mind tells us.

Thank you so much for your revealing message, Mr Gore, even though you are not exactly the only person at your intellectual level who is sending me similar messages.

When you listen to him, you can see that this guy must genuinely believe that it is possible to learn how Nature works or settle an argument by sticking with a majority. That's the scientific method, Gore edition.

For example, if you want to know whether the mankind or the German nation can survive without exterminating the Jews, you listen to the leader and to the majority who says "It can't" and to be really sure that you are right, you send the tiny, tiny minority to the same camps as the Jews.

But are those who disagree with Gore a minority? Read the comments at the CBS link above or below a similar article in
An overwhelming majority of the commenters criticize Al Gore, the scientists who follow him, Gore's hypocrisy, Gore's politicization of science, and they offer link to skeptical resources. Some of their wise comments and jokes are pretty good:

Following scientists who back Al Gore is like following the lead lemming to the see, glub glub glub. He didn't run for the president because he didn't want to take the pay cut. Who believes Al Gore's climate science must also believe that he invented the Internet. Al Gore is a moron who has never contributed anything worthwhile when he had a chance. Now he's jumping on any bandwagon that will give him the time to utter his mindless drivel. There is so much in common with religion. The earth has been warming since 1847. Hey Al, greetings from the "tiny" minority that whipped you and Kerry like red headed stepchildren. In reality, after you peel the left wing liberal Hollywood cretins from his bandwagon, the "tiny" group is actually Al's.

Al Gore should be finally "realized" that his 15 minutes of fame are up.

Thursday, March 27, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

2008 Abel Prize: Thompson and Tits

The 2008 Abel Prize for mathematics
is shared by John Griggs Thompson (Florida) and Jacques Tits (France). It is a great victory for group theory and symmetries.

Both mathematicians have played a key role in the multi-decadal project of the classification of all finite groups.

John Griggs Thompson (*1932) has also solved the problem of the nilpotency of Frobenius kernels. He proved the even parity of the order of simple non-Abelian groups, classified various groups satisfying constraints on various normalizers. The Thompson group is one of the sporadic groups. It may be obtained from a centralizer of a type 3C element of the monster group or as a subgroup of the Chevalley group E8(F3), a reason why the Thompson group has a 248-dimensional representation.

You might think that giving an Abel prize for non-Abelian groups is paradoxical but believe me, giving USD 1.2 million for Abelian groups would be even more crazy. ;-)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

BMW 520d: more efficient than Toyota Prius

Many celebrities and folks who want to look green like to buy Toyota Prius these days.

BMW 520d - a big old-fashioned car

The Sunday Times organized a test and it seems to imply that Prius is just what it seems to be - a fashionable symbolic bubble for hypocrites that actually consumes more fuel than ordinary big cars and enjoys undeserved special rights on the superhighways.

Toyota Prius - a fashionable hybrid

On their trip from London to Geneva (plus 100 urban miles), the BMW pictured above played music and ran air-conditioning while the Prius driver turned off both as he tried to drive very carefully. Nevertheless, the BMW consumed 4.7 liters per 100 km (41.9 mpg) while the Prius has burned 4.9 liters per 100 km in average (40.1 mpg). Subtle BMW gadgets to save fuel seem to be more important than the hybrid core of the Prius as well as its 500 missing pounds.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

D2-branes from M2-branes, three-algebras, and associators

Today, I certainly recommend you the hep-th paper by

Sunil Mukhi, Constantinos Papageorgakis
who investigate a new type of a Higgs mechanism in a new type of theory relevant for M-theory membranes. A condensate of a 3-algebra-valued eighth scalar is claimed to convert a topological field theory from M2-branes to the conventional Yang-Mills theory defined on D2-branes.

The authors wisely posted the paper as the first paper on the hep-th archive. They did the right thing because the paper is arguably the most important one.


Because I haven't yet written about these cool things, let me say a few words. The main resource I recommend you about this new theory is a paper by
Jonathan Bagger and Neil Lambert
that defines a very promising candidate for a theory describing N M2-branes because it has the required supersymmetries, conformal symmetry, SO(8) R-symmetry, and - according to the Mukhi & Papageorgakis paper - also the correct Yang-Mills correct limit after the Higgsing. That looks like a really non-trivial body of evidence for such an unusual theory.

For the sake of order, I won't link to the papers by Basu and Harvey (2004), Bagger and Lambert (2006), and Gustavsson (2007) who, especially in the latter case, also deserve credit. Instead, I will only discuss the story as presented by Bagger and Lambert (2007) mentioned above. David Berman has been playing with similar things. So was I. And Shiraz Minwalla was very helpful for the Mukhi & Papageorgakis new paper.

Mysterious triple structures of M-theory

Conventional physics uses quadratic Lagrangians, two-dimensional worldsheets, second-rank tensors under Yang-Mills groups, commutators between two objects, and similar structures based on the number "2" all the time. We know them quite well.

Still, it looks likely that there exists a whole realm of wisdom that remains mostly hidden in a cloud of mystery. Even though a great deal of the physics is known, we don't know of any simple covariant descriptions of M-theory in 11 dimensions, multiple M2-branes, and multiple M5-branes. We know how to study many physical phenomena in their context but our degree of understanding simply doesn't seem to match the Yang-Mills, worldsheet, free theories discussed in the previous paragraph.

There exist hints that these largely unknown structures might be based on the number "3" in a similar way as the known theories are based on the number "2". This comment looks extremely vague but there are many reasons to see this prophesy. Exceptional groups frequently appearing in M-theory have cubic invariants. Membrane worldvolumes have three, not two dimensions. The number of degrees of freedom of an M5-brane seems to scale with the third, not second power of N. And all these insights could be relevant for the third superstring revolution just like D-branes and Yang-Mills theories were for the second. ;-)

We understand the low-energy limit of a single M2-brane and a single M5-brane. In the former case, the theory has 8 transverse dimensions (2+1 + 8 = 11 as in M-theory). One of the dimensions can be electromagnetically dualized to a gauge field in 2+1 dimensions, obtainining a gauge theory in 2+1 dimensions with 7 additional transverse scalars, a description of D2-branes in type IIA string theory. That's how the Yang-Mills terms for the D2-brane gauge field is generating from the eleventh dimension of M-theory that gets compactified.

The non-Abelian case generalizing the simple construction above to the case of multiple M2-branes or D2-branes is not understood. Or at least, it wasn't understood until recently, until the end of 2007. ;-)

Scientific American interviews climate realists

Includes Gray, Morano, Spencer...

Monday, March 24, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Joseph Liouville: an anniversary

Joseph Liouville, a 19th century string theorist and politician, was born 199 years ago, on March 24th, 1809.

He lived with his uncle for a few years, showed his talents as a kid, attended all kinds of schools, and met important French mathematicians and physicists. Throughout his life, he wrote about 400 technical papers.

He was also a science official. At some moments of his life, Liouville was defeated by Count Guglielmo Libri Carucci dalla Sommaja, a guy who escaped France during the 1848 revolution to avoid prison sentence for stealing precious books and manuscripts. ;-)

As a moderate republican politician, Liouville was depressed for years after 1849 when he lost an election because working-class socialist radicals and similar political foam became "hot" at that time. He recovered and 1856 and 1857 were among his most scientifically fruitful years.


There have been many different disciplines of mathematical sciences where Liouville left us valuable insights. For example, he was the first man to prove the existence of transcendental numbers (that are not solutions to any algebraic, polynomial equation with rational coefficients). The simplest (but later) example he found is

that only has "1" in place "n!". It is so close to the rational numbers that approximate it yet so different that he could show it was not algebraic. An older example he found used continued fractions. Liouville also investigated number theory.

In theoretical physics, he is known for Liouville's theorem, the local continuity equation for a probability distribution function on the phase space (with the current explicitly expressed in terms of derivatives of the probability density, as dictated by the Hamiltonian equations of motion).

He studied various differential equations involving eigenvalues. See, for example, the Sturm-Liouville problem. Many of the problems he studied resemble the tasks one must routinely solve in quantum mechanics - even though he lived 100 years earlier.

Liouville and string theory

But string theorists will surely know him for the Liouville action, also known as the Liouville theory. How the hell could a 19th century mathematician write down an equation for two-dimensional non-critical string theory including the linear dilaton and the exponentially increasing tachyonic wall? Something that is a frequent ingredient of many perturbative string-theoretical constructions? And believe me, he did so. ;-)

The answer is that Liouville's equation is truly natural and someone who studies how to solve partial differential equations and what non-trivial pieces they are made out of will inevitably run into such an equation.

The string-theoretical terminology for Liouville's equation arises from a more general type of a differential equation that Liouville studied, namely the equation requiring that the Laplacian (or d'Alembertian) of the function "u" is equal to the exponential of "u". When "u" is interpreted as the coordinate "X_1(sigma,tau)" in spacetime along which the dilaton is linear, a coordinate that is mixed with the exponent encoding a Weyl scaling and a coordinate treated as a function of the worldsheet variables, Liouville's 19th century equation becomes the same thing as the equation of motion for "X_1(sigma,tau)" in non-critical string theory.

In fact, Liouville didn't just encounter the same equation: he studied it in the context of very similar mathematical procedures that string theorists do before they end up with Liouville's equation, namely an analysis of conformal transformations.

More generally, all kinds of similar, generalized, or nearly-equivalent equations of this kind are referred to as Liouville's equation, for example
y'' + g(y) y'2 + f(x)y' = 0
You shouldn't confuse non-linear Liouville's equations with the linear equations that appear in Liouville's theorem or the Sturm-Liouville problem discussed above.

I have emphasized this point many times but let me say it once again. String theory naturally incorporates, explains, interprets, and unifies most of the deep mathematical ideas, concepts, and equations inspired by and/or indirectly or directly connected with the laws governing the physical Universe. There is really no way for a real 21st century mathematical or theoretical physicist to "cut string theory off" without amputating his whole brain.

And that's the memo.

ABC's eco-fundamentalists attack Fred Singer

TV segment, HTML, News Busters comments
I know this kind of TV programs too well from the era of communism - when the target wasn't Fred Singer but people like Václav Havel - and some old films I have watched indicate that the Nazis used to create a very similar stuff. The content is pretty much isomorphic. In both cases, the people who would agree with Havel or Singer are intimidated by the powerful "majorities" or a "working class". The technical arguments are not discussed at all.

Havel would be indirectly connected with the Nazi regime through his family and through the people who collaborated with it; Singer is linked with the oil industry (that currently contains a lot of dishonest and cowardly CEOs co-operating with the environmentalist ideologues anyway). The details are different but structurally speaking, it is the very same type of propaganda. While I surely admit that the communists were bad, I really don't remember a single hit piece at this degree of bloodiness, especially not against a scientist who is 84 years old.

A smiling Dan Harris asks Dr Fred Singer a highly "intelligent" question: "How would you describe yourself, as a skeptic, a denier, a doubter?" And Fred Singer is also smiling and gives him the correct answer: "a realist". We've been recently discussing these terminological matters. An alternative description is "cool heads" vs "hot heads".

I just admire Singer's nerves, balance, and courage. If I were asked the same "question", my face would turn red - in fact, it turned red even when Singer was attacked :-) - and I would probably ask the jerk: "And how would you describe yourself, a brown shirt, a religious bigot, a terrorist, or just a plain idiot?"

The whole hit piece is an amazing demonstration of brainwashing and irrationality. For example, the first sentence says:
One of the most influential scientists in what's been called "The Denial Machine," for decades, Fred Singer has argued loudly that global warming is not dangerous despite the vast majority of scientists who agree it is.
First of all, it has never been called a "Denial Machine" by any serious person, only by one or a few would-be journalists and a couple of their undemanding readers. Just because a scientifically illiterate layperson such as Sharon Begley uses an insulting term for a scientist who knows roughly 500 times more than she does, is not enough to make the statement "it has been called..." on TV honest or correct. Why did Mr Harris hide that it has been called this way only by a scientifically illiterate environmental activist, not by a serious person and certainly not by a good scientist?

Well, it is not hard to guess. An idiot from Greenpeace is later used as a kind of authority in the show. He doesn't know anything and he can't really speak but he shows the would-be journalists a page ("Exxon Secrets") with smears and irrelevant indirect "links" in a combinatorial graph. When did it exactly happen that TV channels in the U.S. consider activists from extreme environmentalist organizations to be more reliable sources of facts about science than John Wheeler's famous students from Princeton?

Second, the sentence clearly includes the assumption that scientists are determining - and have to be determining - their opinions by aligning themselves with "vast majorities": they repeat this assumption roughly four times in the program. Well, some of the scientists do it this way which is why their "scientific" opinion should be completely discarded: they haven't used the scientific method to obtain their opinion and as far as I can say, they are just worthless parrots and parasites robbing the taxpayers who simply defend a party line in science - something that shouldn't exist at all.

Moreover, it is not really the consensus that decides about the opinions of irrational propaganda makers such as Sharon Begley. Among many other disgraceful things, she has also run a hit piece against something that could also be called the "majority opinion" in high-energy physics; recall Barton Zwiebach's reply to it. How is it possible that in that case, the majority doesn't matter? What actually drives her rants is left-wing politics. The more leftist side is always the "winner" in her propaganda pieces. Whenever her opinions and interests are in a minority, she promotes clichés about the discrimination by a majority. But once her opinions become a majority somewhere, she uses the "principles" about the need to completely eliminate the minorities and heretics. There is never any substance in her writings. And these days, there are literally thousands of "journalists" of this kind around. We are all immersed in a gigantic ocean of dumb, ideological garbage.

The double standards in judging minorities and majorities is how the totalitarian ideologues have always been thinking and acting which is why they have crippled whole portions of the world so many times in the past and why they are so dangerous today, too. Those parties - such as NSDAP or the communist parties - would once pretend to be small, suppressed, and cute groups that deserved support. But once they exceeded (or fluctuated above) 50%, they took over and the competition, democracy, and debate was all over. In this respect, there is no difference whatsoever between the Nazis and the environmentalists.

Nuclear winter

The program also says that Singer has disagreed with "mainstream science" in the past. One of their shocking examples is nuclear winter. Well, it's plausible that a majority of scientists counted in a certain irrelevant way supported this theory at some moment in the past. But I wouldn't expect nuclear winter to be a good example to defend majorities or attack Singer because he has been definitely right on this one. Nuclear winter was mainly defended by media-savvy quasi-scientists such as Carl Sagan or Paul Ehrlich.

But many of those who would be labeled as "very good scientists" always agreed with Singer. Richard Feynman said "I really don't think these guys know what they're talking about" and Freeman Dyson said "it's an absolutely atrocious piece of science but ... who wants to be accused of being in favor of nuclear war?" The question was pretty much settled in 1991 when the nuclear winter theorists predicted "a year without summers" following Kuwaiti oil fires in 1991. Well, that didn't happen. See more details in Michael Crichton's speech.

Not only the scientific consensus has a bad record in science but Fred Singer himself already has a pretty good record in his disagreements with various fads sold as "consensus science".

Let us hope that the ABC's ratings will continue to plummet towards zero because in a decent society, constant promotion of this garbage should be a serious obstacle to survival.

Sunday, March 23, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Milan Štěrba: died as a hero

The Czech team of 400+ troops in Afghanistan has its first casualty, a hero whose blood has given a new flavor to the Czech participation in the war on terror. Sadly enough, Milan Štěrba (36) was killed this week by a suicide attack.

Saturday, March 22, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Sidney Coleman: Physics 253 videos

See 54 videos from Sidney Coleman's 1975-1976 legendary Harvard lectures of Relativistic Quantum Mechanics, Physics 253.
Take a random lecture, for example the first one, and watch for a few minutes. Note the precise moment when he makes a joke or lights up each cigarette. These moments were optimized and kept constant for decades. ;-)

I am not even sure whether he would be allowed to light up the cigarette these days. I doubt it. On the other hand, he would be encouraged to bring his snowboard in the classroom and say that quantum field theory is in trouble and it is a result of oppression by white males - just like what the only student of Coleman's who didn't attend SidneyFest thinks.

Hat tip: Clifford Johnson who thought that Coleman was chewing chalk; the matches didn't help him to crack the puzzle ;-)

See also:
Sidney Coleman: Quantum mechanics in your face (1994, flv)
It's about characteristic features of quantum mechanics, entanglement (GHZM argument sold as pedagogically superior over Bell's argument), interpretation etc.

Around the 35th minute, Coleman is puzzled, just like your humble correspondent, why people - popular and even "not so popular" book writers :-) - get so confused about such a simple point and write whole books about "non-locality of quantum mechanics", something that clearly doesn't exist when you think about these setups properly. His answer, just like mine, is that secretly, in their hearts, they believe that it is classical mechanics. And they want to explain the new (quantum) theory in terms of the old (classical) one even though the only correct approach is the opposite one. That's why we shouldn't really talk about the interpretation of quantum mechanics because it is an inevitable part of the picture; we should talk about the interpretation of classical mechanics as a limit of the full theory.

Record gamma ray burst: GRB 080319B

On Wednesday morning, at 7:12 am Central European Time, NASA observed a gamma ray burst whose after glow you could see with your naked eye for 30 seconds. The star used to have 40 solar masses and its distance was 7.5 billion light years, more than 1/2 of the visible Universe away from us. It was by far the most distance GRB ever seen. The previous record distance was 2.5 billion light years.

Friday, March 21, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Three preprints on cosmoclimatology

During the last week, there have been three cosmoclimatological preprints by two teams on the arXiv. Rusov et al. (Ukraine) argue that all observed climate change at the timescale of millenia and millions of years can be explained by two factors, namely the the solar output and the galactic cosmic ray flux that determines the cloudiness.

Rusov et al. I (PDF)
Rusov et al. II (PDF)
The first paper studies the cloud condensation in terms of refined equations of the Twomey effect. In the second paper, their bifurcation model is compared with the EPICA data.


On the other hand, Terry Sloan (Lancaster) and A.W. Wolfendale (Durham) show that in some places, the cloud cover is anticorrelated with the cosmic ray flux relatively to what is expected. At the 95% confidence level, they claim that less than 23% of the changes of the cloudiness during the 11-year cycles is caused by cosmic rays.
Sloan & Wolfendale (PDF)
I personally find all preprints plausible to some extent. It is very conceivable that cloudiness is controlled by a lot of things including largely unpredictable drivers that you might call a noise.

A very convincing criticism of the paper by Sloan and Wolfendale was written by Nir Shaviv in April 2008.

Hat tip: Physics arXiv blog

Crackpot world: "Matrix universality"

I am going to explain, using Lee Smolin's new paper,

Matrix universality of gauge field and gravitational dynamics (PDF),
why he is a textbook example of a crank and what it means. The paper argues that all theories in the world are equivalent to each other and encoded in the formula "S=Tr(M^3)". ;-)

Crackpot Lee SmolinBut let me start in 2002. By sending me an e-mail, Lee Smolin invited himself to Harvard, quoting his favorite clichés about the diversity of ideas. All alternative physicists might want to learn his "right" way to be pushy and obtrusive. ;-) I didn't really pay for the visit and because I knew that he had been invited to other places before, such as Rutgers University, I told myself: "Why not?"

Before the lunch in the Society where I invited him as well, he told me about a "great" idea, namely the equivalence of M-theory and three-dimensional Chern-Simons theory. His argument was as follows:
I don't believe that M-theory is complicated. It must be simple. And because the Chern-Simons theory is simple as well, they must be equivalent.
First, I exploded in laughter. However, within a minute, it became obvious that Lee Smolin was either dead serious or he would continue to pretend so for quite some time. I was thinking about the best way to call a physician but he didn't look particularly dangerous so I decided it wasn't my job.

In physics, we have learned about many equivalences or dualities - fascinating and non-obvious relationships that prove that the theories we study are important because they can materialize in many ways. But in each case, there exists a very non-trivial body of evidence (or full proof) supporting such a relationship. Only when such evidence exists, there is a reason to talk about a duality.

Roy Spencer: Climate Confusion

Roy Spencer's new book, "Climate Confusion: How Global Warming Leads to Bad Science, Pandering politicians and Misguided Policies that Hurt the Poor", is now #7 among all books at

Congratulations to his bestseller! (And congratulations to Rush Limbaugh who has proved that he matters.)

Roy Spencer is not only one of the big experts but also one of the major entertainers among climate skeptics and his texts are witty. This book introduces the reader into basics of weather science and climate science but also exposes psychological and political reasons that have made climate science tainted and untrustworthy.

Joseph Fourier: 240th birthday

Exactly 240 years ago, on March 21st, 1768, Joseph Fourier, an 18th century politician and 19th century string theorist, was born in Auxerre, France.

Parents and Napoleon

The boy's father, who was a tailor, as well as his mother were dead when the kid was nine years old. The local bishop arranged him to be educated by the Benedictine monks in a military school at the Convent of St Mark, probably a similar school attended by the Bogdanov brothers that they were showing me. ;-) The kid was happy there and fell in love with maths (and wrote some good poems). Jean-Baptiste-Joseph supported the French revolution and was given a job in École Normale Supérieure mainly for his political achievements (of course, he was jailed several times, too). Later he became a boss at École Polytechnique.

In 1798, Joseph went with Napoleon Bonaparte to Egypt and even became the governor of Lower Egypt - Fourier the Lower Pharaoh, if you wish. You wouldn't believe it but Napoleon actually established a mathematical institute in Cairo (of course, the motivation was to weaken the English influence in the region) and Fourier wrote a few papers for the institute.

The French loss in the conflict didn't destroy Fourier who became the prefect of Isère and started to do experiments with heat. After a few years in England, he became the permanent secretary of the French Academy of Sciences. Quite a career for this orphan, right? ;-)


We haven't really started with his science. Some people like to say that big minds do their first revolutionary work before they are 40 (or even less). Fourier is one of many examples showing that the rule is complete rubbish.

In 1822, at the age of 54, Fourier finally publishes "Théorie analytique de la chaleur," i.e. "Analytical Theory of Heat", where the heat flux is argued to be proportional to the temperature gradients times a negative constant, the so-called Fourier's law. More importantly, he also discovers the Fourier analysis: any function may be written as a continuous combination of sines and cosines. And any periodic function may be written as a sum of multiples of sines and cosines whose arguments are multiples of "x" times the period over two pi.

Thursday, March 20, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Spring begins: snowfall traffic accident

The spring has just begun today in the morning, at 6:48 Central European Time, when the Sun crossed the celestial equator.

That's the right moment for a traffic accident caused by a heavy snowfall. One hundred and sixty cars are stuck in the collision area of the Prague-Brno D1 superhighway, the most important road in Czechia, including the truck full of the Pilsner Urquell beer in the lower left corner and two popular Student Agency buses. ;-)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

NPR: Argo: Oceans slightly cooling since 2003

NPR has aired a report about the results of 3,000 floating, temperature and salinity profiling robots deployed by the Argo collaboration in 2003. After five years, they finally sent us comprehensive data about the heat content of the oceans.

HTML, audio
The heat content of the oceans is important because 80-90 percent of the newly created heat goes into the oceans and their warming should be more uniformly aligned with any hypothetical trends. Despite the oceans' dominant role in the heat budget, there are people who find them inconvenient: for example, oceans do not suffer from the urban heat island effects for obvious reasons. ;-)

At any rate, the robots have falsified the prediction of a significant warming. There has been no significant change of the temperature since 2003. In other words, there has never been any global warming observed by these sinking robots. In fact, the oceans have cooled down a little bit. But there are only 4 oceans which is too small a number to undermine the consensus of 2,500 "top experts". On the other hand, 3,000 is more than 2,500 so if you trust robots, the consensus about global warming could be overthrown. ;-)

The NPR program is very entertaining because, for example, Kevin Trenberth, a hardcore IPCC alarmist, is proposing that cooling effects induced by the clouds might be responsible for the observational discrepancy. ;-) If Trenberth re-discovers the iris effect, after many years, I wonder whether he will remember that Richard Lindzen has done it a long time before him.

They say that global warming may have taken a "breather" or it may be on a "brief hiatus". I wonder how they figured out the "brief" word. If a model gives completely wrong numerical predictions for five-year periods, what is the exact reason that it won't give wrong predictions for ten-year or thirty-year periods? Five years is not a negligible time scale for oceans: it is pretty much equal to the effective time constant.

Iraqi scientists: is the Earth flat?

In October 2007, an Iraqi TV aired a discussion of an Iraqi astronomer with an Iraqi physicist about the shape of the Earth. The astronomer insists that one must only allow science that can be verified by the Quran. The Moon is 1 million kilometers in diameter, the Sun is twice as big, and the Earth is even bigger which is why the Sun orbits around the Earth.

The physicist, described as a heretic, uses some bizarre theoretical arguments to argue that the Earth is round. The astronomer avoids these speculations about the astronauts that are not even wrong. And he even gives an explanation why we only see the upper part of distant ships: it is because no doctor in the world knows how the eye works and whether it is able to see blurred distant objects. ;-)

If you watch the discussion carefully, you will notice that the physicist is much closer to reality but he is not flawless either. Around 3:20, he argues that the gravity on the Moon is g/6 because the lunar mass is 1/6 of the Earth's mass. It is actually 1/80 of the Earth's mass and the different radii influence the counting, too.


I really think that this discussion is way too similar to the discussions that physicists sometimes have with the likes of Peter Woit or Lee Smolin who are always ready to use technically silly arguments because the actual justification for their wrong statements are sociological cliches not unsimilar to the Iraqi astronomer's Islamic belief: the only reason why they can be heard is that millions of uneducated people are ready to buy and approve their irrational stupidities.

In both cases, one of the main "arguments" is that the "scientific principles" or any sufficiently complex scientific derivations can be and should be ignored because they "cannot be seen": in other words, stupid people - such as the Islamic fundamentalists or the Not Even Wrong readers - don't really understand them which is enough to "show" that they're not even science or they're false.

Also, I wonder whether the Iraqi war has strengthened the position of the simpletons similar to the "astronomer" above or similar groups. I am afraid that it has. If it has, it is too bad because similar primitive people as the "astronomer" can return the country back to the first millenium.

Frederik Denef: landscape building guide

All expert TRF readers (except for a few, 0-10, leading F-theory leaders in the world who know the sub-discipline better than the author anyway) are recommended to print and read

Frederik Denef's Les Houches Lectures (PDF)
about the construction of string-theoretical vacua.

On his 127 pages, Frederik discusses the structure and properties of the string vacua. While he dedicates a few pages to heterotic and type I strings, M-theory on G2 manifolds, non-geometrical, and non-critical compactifications, most of the paper is dedicated to F-theoretical flux vacua i.e. type IIB vacua with non-trivial axion-dilaton fields, orientifolds, and D-branes.

The paper may look long or contrived to many readers but what is important is that these insights are robust and pretty much inevitable. An extraterrestrial civilization would have to end up with pretty much equivalent papers about the string landscape at a certain level of the evolution of their science. Once you adopt the idea that the elementary particles are extended objects while the resulting theory should still reduce to effective field theories we have checked, you are inevitably led to strings and the whole structure of string theory follows.

Almost no page among the 127 pages of the paper is directly connected with a particular experiment. Nevertheless, all of them are tightly connected with one another as well as with other insights that are observationally rooted. You might feel that you are walking somewhere in between the clouds, 324 meters above the ground. Some people say that it is unsafe, religious, or unscientific to walk and talk 324 meters above the ground. But you have a structure to rely on. Is it possible to walk 324 meters above the ground and to talk to some of the low-lying clouds? Yes, it is. The rigid structure is called the Eiffel Tower. ;-)

Erratic Boulder 2007

Sisyfos (CZ), the Czech scientific skeptics' club established in 1995 by astronomer Mr Jiří Grygar, writer Ms Věra Nosková, and others, distributed its tenth annual

"Erratic Boulder" anti-prizes
for "confusing the Czech public and for contributions to the development of muddy thinking". The previous winners include many famous figures such as the top singer Karel Gott, writer Erich von Däniken, and the extraterrestrial abductee Ivo Benda, a complete loon and a Czech counterpart of Jack Sarfatti.


Czech-American professor Stanislav Grof received the decadal prize for holotropic breathwork. Thanks to holography, he is able to push his artificial holotropic drugs to any place in spacetime. Grof was an ancient Egyptian priest in his previous lives, as explained by his new book. ;-)

Grof with ex-president Havel and his wife

Two astrologers, Antonín Baudyš Sr, a former minister of defense, and Antonín Baudyš Jr, his son, received the other arch-boulder for predicting the death of G.W. Bush in 2003 (or during his first term). They also predicted a victory for Jiří Quimby Paroubek in the general elections that fortunately hasn't materialized either.

Gold, silver, bronze: individuals

The bronze boulder went to astrologer Milan Gelnar. The silver boulder was awarded to Jaroslav Dušek, a popular actor who argues that people don't need to eat and they didn't need any food after the humans were created. Dušek also predicts the end of time on 12/21/2012.

The golden boulder for individuals was grabbed by Tomáš Pfeiffer who is famous for curing his patients by biotronic energy through the TV screens. Last year, Pfeiffer was unable to save a dying woman but by accident, he telepathically made her worried about his old car and the woman bequeathed her car to him. :-)

Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008)

At the age of 90, Arthur C. Clarke died today in his home in Sri Lanka (Ceylon). See Google news.

This science-fiction writer has been able to generate not only crazy ideas but also meaningful technological proposals - even though the geostationary satellites that he predicted in the 1950s probably remained the only major concept that has been realized. It is unlikely that the space elevators will join the set of dreams that have come true in a foreseeable future.

He wrote more than a hundred of sci-fi novels but I also remember his TV program about paranormal phenomena that was aired when I was a kid. Many people around me had the tendency to believe these things and I wanted to investigate it in an open-minded fashion. So I wrote detailed notes about the observed phenomena. Finally, it looked like there was nothing unusual to explain but these programs were an interesting adventure for me anyway.

It would probably be impossible to classify Arthur C. Clarke as a scientist but it doesn't mean that he had nothing to say to scientists and science fans.

Eric Berger wrote an article about Clarke, too. Incidentally, you might be interested in SciGuy's interview with NASA chief Michael Griffin who said that he was surprised that the impact of climate change wasn't viewed as a technical topic but rather a religious dogma.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Problems with black hole remnants

Cosimo Bambi wrote a new paper of the kind that I consider bad physics. He advocates a theory of black hole remnants. More precisely, it is not a real theory but a random conglomerate of phenomenological speculations: it shouldn't have appeared on hep-th because the "th" factor is completely missing.

I want to use the paper as an example to show certain irrational and unscientific tendencies that are fashionable these days. But I have to start with the technical issue of the black hole information loss, a topic that has been discussed several times on this blog.

Thirty years ago, Stephen Hawking showed that black holes should emit a precisely thermal radiation - a direct consequence of causality and methods of quantum field theory. Because thermal radiation carries no information (it is described by a universal mixed state), the information about the initial state seemed to be lost. The unitarity, a crucial principle of quantum mechanical evolution, seemed to be violated, at least in the semiclassical approximation.

There were three main possible answers:

  1. the evolution is indeed non-unitary; the postulates of quantum mechanics have to be weakened and modified
  2. the radiation is not exactly thermal and carries the information
  3. the radiation is thermal but the information is preserved in a long-lived "remnant" that doesn't disappear

In 2008, every good physicist knows that the second answer is correct. We have explicit systems of equations - in AdS/CFT, Matrix theory, and elsewhere in the theory of quantum gravity that continues to be called "string theory" - that exactly agree with unitarity (and manifestly preserve the information) but that also exhibit all the required quantum gravity processes to be identified with black holes in general relativity. And these string-theory-based pictures agree with the Bekenstein-Hawking predictions of the thermodynamic quantities, too.

Friday, March 14, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere


The trip to Paris has been a lot of fun, mostly due to the very hospitable and entertaining hosts of mine, Igor and Grichka Bogdanoff. Some time ago, I had really no idea how well-known they are in France. But they are extremely famous, indeed. Every third person on the street wants a signature or a photograph. ;-)

You can imagine that we talked about physics with the brothers and not always agreed about it ;-) but it couldn't destroy the experience.

The only place in France I had visited before the last week was the French Riviera. But this time, I had to behave as a French guy who doesn't speak any French - except for Amitiés and Amicalement, two important words for the book signing, and three more. ;-) Lumo English was the only channel of communication for the interviews.

The list of required conventions included the double-kissing, a heavy challenge for a Central European's immunity system. I still don't know whether I was licking the girls' and ladies' faces just like the native Parisians do. At any rate, it is a mystery for me why the European Commission hasn't banned this friendly but hygiene-busting double-kissing tradition yet. ;-)

The Apple can be worked with, after all, but in my case, it is much less efficient than Windows.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Nir Shaviv answers to RealClimate.ORG

Nir Shaviv, professor at the HUJI (click!) and a leading expert in cosmoclimatology, replies to a criticism by RealClimate.ORG.

Get ready for a discussion about the Milky Way and its spiral arms. For example, if you really want to believe that climate change is man-made and dangerous, you should also join RealClimate.ORG in believing that our Galaxy with four major spiral arms has two spiral arms only, a new "consensus science" supported by a "majority of scientists in the world". ;-)

PC witch hunts: Geraldine Ferraro

Geraldine Ferraro, the 1984 Democratic vice-presidential candidate, was asked why the support for Obama is so strong. And she said something that must be absolutely obvious to hundreds of millions of people in the world: it is partly because he is black. It's the concept that the country - and maybe the world - started to like. Barack wouldn't be where he is if he were white. It's just very fashionable to support a prospective African American president these days.

PC witch hunts began instantly. The lady is clearly a courageous character - so far I would say more so than e.g. Larry Summers.

In the interview above, she also proves that the opinion has nothing to do with her personal interests. Quite frankly, she also admits that she wouldn't have appeared on the 1984 Democratic ticket if she were a man with the same record. In 1984, it was already a "hot trend" to promote women in politics and elsewhere. She could probably do the job well but she realizes that her nomination was partially due to positive discrimination.

Women in politics are rare but they are no longer viewed as a sensation. Times are changing pretty fast. I remember that in 2001, we would talk about these - and many other things - with Jochen Brocks. He was enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton, claiming that she was the real "brain" behind the presidency of Bill Clinton. I was a bit skeptical but I always respected this presidential pair, to a large extent.

The situation has changed. A woman in the White House is not "quite" such a historical event anymore. And millions of people want something really "cool" or "nice" which is why Obama enjoys a much stronger support from the media and many other relevant entities than Hillary does. Meanwhile, Hillary has become a conventional candidate protecting America as we have known it for a century or two, a candidate imagining politics as a competition between ideas, programs, and interests. It seems that much of the U.S. nation wants something entirely different: a fuzzy post-democracy controlled by the P.C. police.

In some sense, Geraldine Ferraro is saying, in a much more careful, peaceful, and cautious way, the same thing as Ann Coulter: the liberals are thrilled that they could find a black man who can walk and talk so they want to put something that they secretly consider an amazing anomaly in the White House. There's a lot of provoking exaggeration in Coulter's words but she is essentially right.

I have nothing much against Obama but his career is a huge bubble of hot air driven largely by his colorful ethnic origin. He is also viewed as a candidate of reconciliation - but it is only because there are thousands of journalists and other semi-influential pundits and officials at various places who treat him as a pet and who instantly attack all of his critics.

In such circumstances, it is pretty easy to behave peacefully but I am not sure whether it is exactly a good recipe to preserve democracy and freedom in America or whether it is a strategy to produce another Zimbabwe, after a few years. The hysterical attacks against men and women such as Geraldine Ferraro - who is a Democrat and a traditional darling of the "progressive" ideals herself - don't look terribly promising for America.

It is great that Ferraro doesn't allow those activists to intimidate her but people like that are in a somewhat difficult situation. Naturally, the conservatives should be those who should be defending people against unjust "progressive" attacks. However, most of the conservatives don't seem too eager to defend a Democrat and some of them have become "progressives" themselves.

Incidentally, the weird Harvard professor who wrote the New York Times op-ed about the skin color and hair color of actors in the Clinton 3 a.m. commercial - the op-ed that Ferraro referred to - is Orlando Patterson. The op-ed is absolutely crazy. It creates a hypothesis that some kids in the dark in the ad could actually have been Hispanic and if it is true, then it proves that the Clinton campaign is racist.

These "sub-conscious" games with symbols are absolutely amazing and resemble the old-fashioned witch hunts many centuries ago. When I am saying that Obama is where he is mostly because of his skin color, it is not a speculation based on homeopathy of invisible sub-conscious symbols interpreted in a surreal and convoluted way. It is a direct reflection of facts - thousands or millions of people who explicitly say that they would vote for Obama because it is a historical decision to be voting for a black guy.

I am - and Geraldine Ferraro is - just saying the very same thing that they are saying, with the appropriate grammar modifications needed to talk about a third person. But suddenly, the very same indisputable fact becomes controversial when someone else says it. How is it possible? Is the truth so relative that it must be celebrated when one person says it - that it is great to send a message by choosing a non-white president - while others must be burned at stake when they say the very same thing with a lower degree of excitement?

I can give you piles of examples. For example, Gary Kamiya at (or most of LiveWire) wrote explicitly that he is voting Obama because he is black and if he were not black, Kamiya would vote for Hillary. Don't try to waste my time by asking me for thousands of other explicit examples like that but be sure you could have them. A bulk of Obama's base is similar.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Myths about the Planck scale distortions

I just read a rather frustrating conversation between Sabine Hossenfelder and Moshe Rozali at Backreaction. Moshe, an associate professor at UBC in Canada, is trying to explain, in a typical Moshe-like excessively polite way, that Sabine, a postdoc, is making a rather elementary mistake that makes pretty much all papers that she has ever written nonsensical.

He tries to encourage her to be less sloppy. Sabine is apparently convinced that an angel guarantees that she can't be wrong and refuses to understand very clear, indisputable, and sometimes really transparent statements and arguments, indicating that she thinks that she is "teaching" Moshe new things. ;-(

Discovering new physics by misprints

Sabine believes in all kinds of unmotivated and almost certainly impossible distortions associated with the Planck scale. And she is not the only one, for that matter: there are many people similar to Giovanni Amelino-Camelia or Jack Ng. One textbook example is a "lower bound on the wavelength" (see the comments under her article) that she seems to consider as a fact. Needless to say, there can't exist any lower bound on the wavelength. Why? Because any wavelength is related to any other wavelength by a boost - by a Lorentz transformation that is a symmetry of Nature (and of quantum gravity, at least in the flat space superselection sectors of the Hilbert space).

The fact that there can't exist things such as a "lower bound on the wavelength" has been known at least since 1905 when Einstein realized that one inertial observer will see a different frequency than another observer who is moving with respect to the first one. Have you heard of time dilation or the Doppler shift? Because both observers have the same rights, according to the special relativistic bill of rights, both values of the frequency or the wavelength are equally good, too.

Funny student exam answers

Click here!
Hat tip: Willie Soon

Stephen Hawking - Master of the Universe

The U.K.'s Channel 4 started to broadcast their program about Hawking and physics:

Put all five parts in a queue.
I will embed the last, 5th part that starts with no one else than Andy Strominger:

The second part of the program, 2/2, also 5 times 10 minutes in length, has already been posted two hours ago, too:
1, 2, 3, 4, 5
There is a lot of modern phenomenology and string theory in it etc. Be ready for Lisa Randall in the mountains, six Edward Wittens drinking wine, detailed explanations of Hawking's software to choose words, Michael Green about gravity in string theory, and many other things.

Monday, March 10, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

UAH & RSS: 0.07 °C m-o-m warming

RSS and UAH agree that February 2008 was 0.07 °C warmer than January 2008, as far as the temperature anomaly goes. In the case of RSS MSU, this still makes February 2008 to be the 2nd coolest month since January 2000, after the record-breaking January 2008.

GISS NASA showed the month-on-month warming as 0.14 °C but with the 0.26 °C anomaly, February 2008 also remains the second coolest month since December 2000, after January 2008.

La Nina has been downgraded from "strong" to "moderate-to-strong" again: see "status". It will continue through Spring 2008 and, according to 50% of the models, to Summer 2008 (or more).

The Sun remains blank of sunspots, with solar flux at 70. A strong solar wind above 600 km/s can make Auroras likely.

Scafetta and West argue in Physics World (March 2008) that the Sun is responsible for up to 69% of the recent warming, depending on the choice of a TSI reconstruction. They look at 11- and 22-year cycles, normally dismissed as noise.

Alexander Ač recommends us a video about the cosmic-climate connection, Svensmark, Shaviv, and others. The program, The Cloud Mystery, has six parts and I am sure you will be able to find them.

String Vacuum Project 2008

Keith Dienes, Gordon Kane, and Stuart Raby organize a kick-off meeting of the String Vacuum Project in Arizona, in April 2008. Click their names to see details.

They have their own explanations why it is important and I fully agree with them, except for the implicit assumption of the "statistics" sub-project that one should adopt the "democratic" measure on the space of vacua. But let me say one more thing:

String phenomenology has become a rather extensive field and many experts may have become over-specialized. I think that some people are focused on heterotic vacua and others are focused on type IIB flux vacua or type IIA braneworlds.

I think that a kind of "thermal" exchange between the groups is desirable not only to share their insights but also to evaluate the relative merit of the different corners of the landscape and to find and appreciate new dualities and relationships if they exist.

This project to classify the compactifications could be, in some sense, analogous to the mathematicians' project to classify all finite groups. It took several decades but it was eventually completed. An "atlas" of string compactifications could require a similar or greater effort.

Defending the inevitability of the anthropic reasoning

Bert Schellekens has written down a web page that defends the anthropic reasoning as a necessary feature of a realistic theory. Sorry, the page will be displayed as an XML source in Internet Explorer: try Firefox here.

The picture that summarizes his opinions is the following:

In words, if you have a theory of any kind that would lead to a unique prediction of physical phenomena, it is very likely that its prediction for low-energy parameters would be incompatible with complexity, life, and intelligence. Once you use this prediction as evidence in Bayesian inference, the probability that an explanation based on a unique vacuum is correct plummets.

The statement in the previous paragraph might very well be true and I can imagine that the proponents of the anthropic principle will be proven correct in the future when they say that it is pure wishful thinking for someone to argue that the "intelligent" Universe around us should be described by a unique solution to some underlying equations. Intelligence is rare and apparently independent of the predictions of a unique theory so it is unlikely that they overlap.

Schellekens also presents a far-fetched loophole that sounds as a science fiction: the equations determining a unique solution are actually secretly equivalent to some equations that try to maximize the amount of intelligent life in the Universe, so there is nothing unexpected if the unique vacuum agrees with one of the rare intelligent regions. ;-)

This is actually a very intriguing idea that I have been trying to make more quantitative many times. How do you measure that our Universe is intelligent? For example, are universes with a high Kolmogorov complexity those that you want to get?

Not really. The Kolmogorov complexity is the size of an exe file that is capable to produce a given pattern, information, or a sequence of bits. In other words, the Kolmogorov complexity is the amount of information after a maximum compression.

Is our Universe exceptionally rich or exceptionally poor in Kolmogorov complexity? I think it is neither. Much of the useful information in our Universe is redundant - for example, books are printed in many copies - but it is not true that everything in our Universe including its history (that depended on random outcomes of quantum events) can be generated from a tiny amount of "bits" to start with.

But it is very tempting to try to find a quantity that could express how much the Universe is able to print and refine books and reproduce, mutate, and improve animals or corporations. If this quantity had a simple enough definition, it could actually be equivalent to a refined version of a Hartle-Hawking prior probability distribution on the landscape. ;-)

This sounds as a real miracle but I tend to agree that if someone believes that the intelligent life only occurs in a small portion of the low-energy parameter space, a belief like the miracle above (or a belief that the laws of mathematics are simply lucky and put a unique solution to an intelligent region) is kind of necessary to avoid the anthropic reasoning completely. Do I believe it? I don't know and it is a good idea to be open-minded about open questions. But it is probably not the possibility I would bet the ranch on. I find it more likely that the intelligent life is simply not as rare as the anthropic people would like to believe.

Saturday, March 08, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Hawking radiation "heard"

The physics arXiv blog (don't get too confused by the officially sounding name!) has pointed out a pretty entertaining condensed matter "experiment":

Carusotto et al. (preprint)
The Italian team has constructed an acoustic counterpart of a gravitational black hole out of a flowing one-dimensional Bose-Einstein condensate. The velocity creates a sonic barrier, a version of the event horizon.

And this "acoustic black hole" indeed does emit Hawking radiation composed of phonons, as demonstrated by long-range patterns in the density-density correlation function of the gas i.e. by everything strange about the picture above away from the yellow diagonal line.

Jack Gallant: reading your mind

Dr Jack Gallant claims to be able to read your mind. Volunteers were looking at 1,750 photographs while they were scanned by fMRI - functional magnetic resonance imaging. When they were shown 120 additional photographs, the system was able to guess the right picture correctly in 90+ percent of the cases! ;-)

FoxNews, Tech Shout, UPI
That could turn out to be a fascinating new technology, bringing some scenes from science-fiction movies closer to reality.

Frederick Seitz (1911-2008)

Frederick Seitz, one of the founding founders of condensed matter physics, was born on the Independence Day of 1911 to a family of German immigrant baker in San Francisco and left us on Sunday, March 2nd, 2008, at age of 96+.

L.A. Times
New York Sun
The New York Times
The Washington Post
He started to study biochemistry but switched to mathematics pretty soon afterwards, to earn a degree at Stanford in 1932.

One of his main pioneering contributions to condensed matter physics was back in the 1930s. As Eugene Wigner's graduate student at Princeton (he only needed 2 years for the PhD degree), he calculated some physical properties of bulk sodium from the known properties of sodium ions. Similar work was useful for the later development of transistors and electronics.

In 1940, he published "The Modern Theory of Solids" that became the Holy Scripture of the field for quite some time; see other things at The 1943 text "The Physics of Metals" was quite authoritative, too. During the war, he helped to develop armor-piercing bullets for the army and find design problems with the atomic bomb (with Wigner). Later, he was working on the Hydrogen bomb, too.

In the following decade, he studied the diffusion leading to crystalline structures of atoms (and defended resumption of atmospheric testing after some Soviet provocations).

Since the late 1950s, he focused on administrative work as a boss of the American Institute of Physics and NATO's science advisor. In 1962, he was elected president of the National Academy of Sciences that used to be a part-time job. He transformed it into a full-time job and tried it for the first time.

In 1968, he became president of Rockefeller University. He couldn't expand it much because of the economical weakness of the 1970s. But he created some PhD and MD programs and founded a center for ecology. R.J. Reynolds Industries approached him in 1978 to oversee USD 45 million dedicated to medical research.

Almost none of it was connected with smoking but loads of aggressive activists - that scum has been around for quite some time - have promoted him to a symbol of suppression of the smoking-cancer links anyway. In fact, he was convinced that active smoking causes cancer since he was a kid (from his dad): he has never changed opinions about it. He was skeptical about the health effects of secondhand smoke.

In the 1980s, he became the chairman of the SDI (star wars) advisory board. In 1984, he founded the George C. Marshall Institute in Washington together with Jastrow and Nierenberg and became a leading climate skeptic, criticizing the 1995 IPCC report and urging scientists to sign the Oregon petition in 1998 (18,000 did). Before that, in 1997, he wrote "The Science Matrix" about the rise of the scientific method. He has also disputed the damaging role of CFCs for the ozone layer.

Even very recently, he was very active. In 2008 (!!!), he published the autobiography, "On The Frontier". He wrote e.g. the foreword to the NIPCC report in February 2008.

His awards, including the 1973 National Medal of Science (for condensed matter physics), and four great-grandchildren could be listed here. Seitz believed in a form of God represented by a great remaining overwhelming mystery of the Universe. The world has lost a rather exceptional figure.

Friday, March 07, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Trans-Planckian gravity: Bambi-Freese paradox

Cosimo Bambi and Katherine Freese argue that there exists a general paradox in quantum gravity. It goes as follows:

There exist trans-Planckian, massive particles in quantum gravity, for example extremal black holes. Their lifetime is much greater than the Planck time, too. Consequently, the loops in Feynman diagrams involving these massive particles will make it possible to violate the baryon or lepton number for long periods of time in pretty much every theory of quantum gravity.
If you actually think a little bit rigorously about these things, their conclusion turns out to be, of course, completely wrong. Let us look at these things in detail.

Generalized uncertainty principle

First of all, you can see that the authors are complete outsiders in quantum gravity. Pretty much every sentence is slightly - or more than slightly - wrong. For example, at the beginning, they discuss the generalized uncertainty principle(s). A punch line of theirs is that "Delta x" is always greater than the Planck length.

This is a popular simplified assertion that we often use to describe the effect of quantum gravity on distances but one certainly cannot interpret it in the way that Bambi and Freese do. Their main problem here is that they use the same symbols for many different things and they are able to confuse themselves.

When they say that "Delta X" is greater than the Schwarzschild radius of an object, they clearly talk about "Delta X" that is the internal radius of an object. On the other hand, they seem to use "Delta X" as the uncertainty of the position of the center of mass at the end. The internal radius and the uncertainty of the position are very different things.

Thursday, March 06, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Hungarian conversion: runaway greenhouse warming impossible

In this weekly dose of peer-reviewed skeptical climatological literature, we visit Hungary.

Ference Miskolczi: Greenhouse effect in semi-transparent planetary atmospheres
Amusingly enough, the author interprets the differential equations describing the absorption of infrared light by the atmosphere as a realization of equations of general relativity and discusses a term missed by Arthur Eddington and Arthur Milne around 1922. ;-)

It's too early and I don't quite understand what the author is doing and cannot confirm the work - and some readers will hopefully try to follow the actual paper - but the results are as follows.

In his modified model, the near-surface air temperature is higher, the surface temperature is lower, and the climate sensitivity is much lower than the IPCC numbers. Some of the predictions of his model are claimed to be successfully compared to data from both Earth and Mars.

Most importantly, the actual greenhouse warming is claimed to be strictly bounded from above: it cannot exceed a certain limit. This is what I used in a naive model of greenhouse warming and I am slightly skeptical that a corrected mistake could justify such an unusual outcome.

Nevertheless, it is at least found in a peer-reviewed paper. And indeed, it is a robust explanation of the absence of runaway climate changes in the geological past as well as the constant overestimates of warming trends by the popular greenhouse models.

Lindzen vs Rahmstorf: an exchange

PDF file (Lindzen's article; Rahmstorf's semi-reply; Lindzen's response)

This exchange is kind of interesting because both participants are highly regarded figures in climatology and they approach the problems as physicists.

Funny or scary interruption: two days ago, I wrote that I was hoping that Al Gore and the alarmists wouldn't try to realize their goal about the "consensus" by explosives directed against New York's Times Square. Today, a small explosion rocked Times Square. Witnesses from the Marriott Marquis hotel described their perceptions.
Still, you can see that that quantitative and rational evaluation of reality has its limits in the case of the climatic hot head (Stefan Rahmstorf). On the other hand, the climatic cool head (Richard Lindzen) is able to estimate the likelihood of various models scientifically even if the conclusions look sensitive politically.

WMAP: five-year data released

It's been two years since the publication of the WMAP three-year data. As some of the readers know, 3+2=5 so the only sensible thing that the WMAP team can publish right now are the five-year data.

WMAP 5: main page
WMAP 5: papers
WMAP 5: Phil Plait
WMAP 5: Sean Carroll
Theoretical physicists and non-experimenters will primarily care about the cosmological interpretation.

Don't expect a revolution here. Some numbers got a little bit more accurate, following Lord Kelvin's prescription for the completion of science. For example,
  • the Hubble constant is 70.1 +- 1.3 km/s per Mpc
  • the relative density of dark energy is 72.1 +- 1.5 percent
  • the relative density of dark matter is 23.3 +- 1.3 percent
  • the relative density of baryonic matter is 4.6 +- 0.2 percent
  • the age of the Universe is 13.73 +- 0.12 billion years
  • the global mean temperature dropped to 2.725 K by now (outside the urban heat islands such as stars, plus minus the fractions of the degree from the image above), confirming worries about global cooling ;-)
  • the recombination occurred on 375,900th (+- 3,100) birthday

Interestingly enough, the team can exclude the existence of very massive neutrino species: the total sum of the neutrino masses is below 0.61 eV, at the 95% confidence level. Entertainingly enough, they have a non-particle-physics measurement of the number of neutrino species: it is 4.4 +- 1.5 which makes the value 3 tolerable. ;-)

Wednesday, March 05, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Heartland Institute @ Times Square: climate conference ended last night

The 2008 International Conference on Climate Change Sponsored by The Heartland Institute

March 2 - March 4, 2008
Marriott New York Marquis Times Square Hotel
1535 Broadway, New York City, U.S.A.

Update: Summary for policymakers of Fred Singer's or our Non-governmental International Panel for Climate Change (NIPCC), a distinguished body that has superseded ;-) the IPCC: PDF file. Check out John Tierney's reaction.

Conference website

Investor's Business Daily
Reuters: Roasting Al Gore
CBS & The New York Times had the courage to mention the conference: Andrew Revkin was nearly assassinated by the extremists
Revkin's blog
New: Ronald Bailey's detailed report on Monday's talks (II)
New: Revkin @ NYT reports on Monday's talks
New: Washington Post reports on Monday's talks
New: New York Sun
New: Czech Press Agency (the most balanced coverage)
New: Chris Horner for Human Events
New: Wall Street Journal
New: Alan Caruba (NJ) reports
New: "Ostrich Brigades"
New: UPI (short)
New: WorldNetDaily + Dakota Voice
New: PR-inside
New: Journal Now (NC)
New: Town Hall
Finance Post
Bush has "no opinion" on the conference but NYC is great for the meeting and he will "take steps" on AGW

Participants (bios, 17 pages, speakers include Avery, Ball, Balling, Bellamy, D'Aleo, Ebell, V. Gray, W. Gray, Horner, Idso, Illarionov, Izrael, Klaus, Legates, Lewis, Loehle, McKitrick, Michaels, Milloy, Monckton, Morano, Morris, Murray, Patterson, Peiser, Reiter, Seitz, Singer, Slagle, Soon, Spencer, Stossel, G. Taylor, M. Taylor, Watts, and many others)
9-page schedule, 44-page program
I hope that Al Gore won't manage to organize a terrorist attack against Times Square to advance his dreams about the "scientific consensus".

A new CNN report compares the distinguished conference speakers to the Flat Earth Society. Via NewsBusters.

Last night, Václav Klaus was interviewed by CNN's Glenn Beck (transcript, video above), saying that social scientists should participate in the climate debate because it is a social phenomenon; that it is politically incorrect to be a skeptic; and that he was re-elected anyway. ;-) He also explained why the word "progressive" would only be used by suicidal politicians in the post-communist world.

He also gave the keynote speech on Tuesday morning (CNSnews), received a thunderous standing ovation from roused skeptics, and he will return to Glenn Beck's show on Wednesday night (video).

At the end, the participants have endorsed the Manhattan declaration, recommending the world leaders to abandon all irrational policies and misinformation dictated by the global warming orthodoxy.