22 Jan 2012

A History of Science: By @The_Activists

I really should be more aware of what I'm like, sometimes. I came on the internet a few days ago intending to do my Humanities and design homeworks, and ended up checking on The Activist Socialist Party to make sure they hadn't done anything too ridiculous and/or similar to The Party recently.

It was a bad idea.

As you know, a while ago they wrote something that, functionally speaking, denounced Relativity as a capitalist plot. I wish I was making that up.

Remember that? Well somehow they've done it again. But worse.

I present to you my analysis of "Theoretical Physics: The Mythology of Materialistic Capitalism" by the Activists Science Collective. Warning: side effects of reading the article itself may include: rage, confusion and a complete and utter loss of coherence.

The central conceit is given as it being "no accident that Newtonian mechanics and capitalism arose at the same period in history" (in the 17th century/1600s. I want you to hold that figure in your heads). This is similar to the protestant reformation for some reason, and thus follows a short, extremely Mind Screwy, history of capitalism and the Lutherian movement. I think. Anyway, this brings us up to the present day with sweatshops in Asia. This bit is actually slightly less bad than it sounds (but only because of me making it seem extremely bad - that it took me 3 reads to get my head round is still somewhat telling), but it isn't really the point of this article. Although the bit about "the individual entrepreneur, the industrialist and the secular scientist bent on taking apart and controlling the world" who were apparently created by the Reformation was a nice touch (never mind that newton was a devout Christian. And that secular scientists would have no interest in a religious ideal).

What is the point, is the sheer utter mind melting shit that follows.


Here goes...

"Every age requires a myth. With the rise of the industrial age came the myth of the ‘detached, disinterested’ scientist, the cold objective observer who sees the universe exactly as it is. Strange considering that classical mechanics grew out of the very heart of ‘enlightened self-interest’, that they had a very *interested* view of the universe. With the onset of modernity we see yet another transformation of the physical sciences. The first is the *democratisation* of science with Einstein’s theory of relativity in 1905. Now everything, including even time and space, is dependent upon an observers particular point of view. What’s true for Jack might not be for Jill, very expedient as a political force. And is it merely coincidence that quantum mechanics, with its inherent strangeness, followed hard on the heels of surrealism and dada in the 1920′s?"

I honestly can't say about the industrialist era, since I wasn't there and don't know much about it, nonetheless, I don't recall that ever being the main myth. And "myths" can change. They actually vaguely half got it right on the whole "God helps those who help themselves" thing being the biggie. At any rate, how society views scientists isn't necessarily their conscious fault.

As for classical mechanics growing from the "very heart of 'enlightened self interest'". Um, how? I don't get how that works.

And, um, do they know what "democratisation" means? Because I don't think it means the concept of subjectivity. Furthermore, relativity doesn't work that way. It isn't a political concept. yes, the passing of time is relative, and there are small scale distortions in mechanics caused by gravity. But in ordinary life these things aren't exactly noticeable (notable exception: GPSes, but that's related to how they do their navigatey thing). At any rate, there are far many other things which have an effect on perception to a greater extent than physics. As for the quantum mechanics thing, yes, probably. Plus, what was that their last article was called*? Oh yeah "fact is stranger than science fiction". Furthermore, from what I can gather (admittedly based on about.com), Dada started out as a protest against the sort of stuff those guys hate. Talk about irony.

This said, you think that's bad? It gets worse.

"The truth of the matter is that science did not begin in Europe in the 17th century but began about 1500 years earlier in Greece. For it was Pythagoras (570 B. C) who discovered that the natural harmonies of a stretched string correspond to the series of whole-numbers. Before this, the Greeks believed that number and nature (for harmony was considered as being a natural product) where separate. By discovering their connection, mathematics and experience became intertwined and science was born. After this discovery, Pythagoras was reported to exclaim “everything is number”"

Using the definition of "science" to refer to "bad stuff", everything started to go to hell 1500 years earlier than the 1600s, in 570BCwhen Pythagoras invented numbers and science. Right. That makes perfect sense.

If you don't mind me I'm going to go bash my head against the wall. Repeatedly.

And there's more. Christ... This is going to suck...

"And with a strange twist of fate, all of the evidence of modern science points to the fact that the universe *is* wave-like, not particle-like, in character and that the harmonia of Pythagoras was correct after all. Believe it or not, the fundamental principles of the maths is essentially the same."

Right person was right? Yeah, how very strange. Never would have guessed that. Although the universe is both wave and particle-like. In addition to this, in stuff like string theory, the basic mathematics isn't necessarily the same, since it relies on extra dimensions not covered under Euclidean Geometry (the exact number of dimensions varies between 10 and 11 in what I've read, even though apparently the maths can only ever be 100% consistent in 10 and 26 dimensions [1]). I think. But I suppose this is the stuff there's evidence for, and the whole thing is very timey-wimey-wibbly-wobbly. But still, the universe is both wave like and particle like in nature. It's just that sometimes those waves are extra-dimensional and those particles are infinitesimal.

"However, theory has not caught up with practice. Theoretical physicists still proclaim that the universe is composed of well-defined particles."

As in, the standard model? Well yes, the particles wave. So of course theoretical physicists say that (well at least concerning the 4 dimensional one (3 spatial dimensions + time) which we inhabit).Hell, the wavey stuff is actually the more theoretical one from what I can gather (officially speaking I'm a high-level GCSE student, so there's always the caveat that I may be very wrong). So this is wrong. And we haven't defined all the particles yet! Also, the technical term is quanta (which are discrete packets of energy, e=mc^2 and all that).

"In other words, it is still essentially based in mechanics. "

 Uh, sure. Not sure how wave-particle duality contradicts that, when one considers that mechanics can be explained as interactions of stuff.

"In Einstein we read that “If we wish to describe the motion of a material point, we give the values of its co-ordinates as functions of the time”. From this he goes on to  prove his famous time dilation effect. However, according to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, such an operation is impossible. It is not possible to know both the motion and the time of a particle simultaneously." 

The Heisenberg uncertainty principle doesn't work that way. <takes deep breath>. It's actually <looks up on Wikipedia> a "fundamental limit on the accuracy", i.e. "the more precisely one property is measured, the less precisely the other can be controlled, determined, or known". Specifically, the properties in question are the location (not just in time) of a particle, and it's wave function. Which is actually somewhat different to "motion and time". Plus, the main issue is with accuracy.

"Then why do scientists still teach Einstein’s relativity if it is no longer correct? How is it that scientists are given millions to build ‘particle accelerators’ at CERN when this would seemingly violate uncertainty?"

We still learn relativity in the Einsteinian sense because, on all levels above the sub-atomic, it's still correct. And particle accelerators do not violate uncertainty, because uncertainty, as I've mentioned before, doesn't work that way. We can never be 100% certain, sure, but we can get so certain that it probably isn't worth checking any more.

"....If we admit that the universe is wavelike in character, then all of the myths of time travel and so on are debunked, as are the cliches of the lone genius or the absurd belief that science could somehow control time and change *history*."
Because mechanics enables those claims? And how exactly does it debunk "the cliche of the lone genius"? I know the ASP is opposed to the idea of individualism, but come on. At least have some good arguments. At any rate, wasn't it Newton who said that "we stand on the shoulders of giants". No one who claims that they can change history is treated seriously any more (AFAIK).

Space-time itself becomes identified with wave motion and theoretical mechanics, with all of its materialistic undertones, is now revealed for what it is; the myth of industrialists. In contrast, waves suggest an underlying interconnectedness in everything, even a spiritual connection since our very thought processes are dependent upon them."
 Mechanics is not a myth. Mechanics is not some sort of bizzare concept directly opposed to the notion of a wave like universe. Mechanics is the observation of the interaction of those waves. At any rate, why would industrialists seek to promote it? The underlying interconnectedness of the whole wave thing (hold up... isn't that theoretical?) is probably a part of mechanics (I can't say I'm 100% certain, but I think it works that way). 

And that's that. And it also took way too much effort. To the Science Collective, on the off chance that you're reading this, just stop. Please.

[1] I think this is in Hyperspace by Michio Kaku, but don't hold me to that.
*It's pretty clear that this is the same person, xe may be writing under the name of a different collective, but there are stylistic quirks it shares with the earlier piece (for example *this* kind of emphasis and the use of British English for the most part), and there is a thematic continuation.

(NB: As before, the proviso that I may have made some mistakes still stands, feel free to point them out.)

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