13 Jan 2012

No, @The_Activists, relativity is not some sort of capitalist plot

I don't like the Activist Socialist Party for a wide number of reasons: they're Stalinist; they run polls where the options are "I agree with the party line", "I believe in the party line" and "I am a strawman" (sometimes not even that; in one poll the options were all permutations of "Trotsky's good, but should have joined the Bolsheviks earlier", although one added that "Stalin whooped his ass" which is a nice touch); they post some really bad stuff (to the point where I sometimes feel like I'm falling for an invocation of Poe's Law); they seem to focus their energy on creating "revolutionary information flows", such as twitter accounts which offer facts without bothering to check them and Michael Jackson and Jesus fanfics.. Oh, and I forgot the American nationalism, but, in short, they're a combination of every bad stereotype of lefties that you've seen. That's just here for full disclosure issues.

Anyway, "The Activists Editorial Collective" has published an article denouncing science as being corrupted by "hyper-capitalism". This is all very well and good if we're talking about arms research, which probably counts as science, albeit a form I want nothing to do with. But no, the targets of this piece is, I shit you not, the theory of relativity. It's a long article, so I won't requote all of it here (here's a link if you want to read it [trigger warning: it contains an ableist slur]), but there are several bad points made therein.

The first paragraph, which introduces the conceit that scientists have focused their ideas towards what can get them funding, isn't too objectionable, I suppose, but there is still the issue that it dismisses out of hand modern science as chasing "science fiction" instead of "the truth". Something weird in an article titled "Fact is Stranger than Science Fiction", but I digress. The idea being that capitalism caused this because "science fiction sells".

The Second paragraph cites Stephen Hawkin's A Brief History of Time in support of this. Specifically, it cites the "obligatory" chapter about the theory of Special Relativity which "all patronising “science for the layman” books" have (what even the biology ones?) as science fiction. The reasoning for this?

"Here we read for the umpteenth time that “time is relative”. This, we are told, is because moving clocks do not stay at a constant rate. Yet in a later chapter (I no longer have the book because I threw it out), he speaks about the “estimated time since the the big bang”. So the question arises “estimated time since the the big bang *relative to whom*?"

 *ahem* Relativity does not work that way". Want to know what we measure the passage of time relative to? Us*. 
*Well, the observer. i.e. us.

That has to be the easiest counter argument I've ever made in my life. And I haven't even read the bloody book in question! (I'd quite like to, but I haven't really seen it around in any of the bookshops I've been in recently).

The article may then argue that the two stock responses are "1. you simply don’t understand the math, or 2. our logic has been designed to deal with phenomena at the very large or very small scales of the universe" but maybe there's a reason for that. Although the brain fart which construes most of the parapgraph which follows probably helps prove point 2 more than anything. I'll just reproduce it here:

"But if what these “scientists” say is true, then apparently our logic *has* been designed to understand it. Furthermore, this is not a testable scientific statement. There is *always* the possibility that our logic might be wrong and how on earth could we measure the extent to which our reasoning was faulty without using reason itself? And whereas modern science claims to be able to undo time and history, it still speaks of its own history as if it were immutable. It is hypocritical. In fact, it doesn’t take us long to find exactly where Einstein went wrong with his maths. What he calls “time” and represents with numbers on a line is not a measure of “history” at all but a measure of the frequency *of* the light waves used in the measuring process. In short, these are nothing more than the megalomaniac fantasies of geeks and social outcasts. The latest chapter is the search for the Higgs-Boson “God” particle at the CERN particle accelerator. Despite the efforts of many legitimate mathematicians and scientists to undo this damage, Einstein, the poster-genius of physics, is just too damned profitable to question."

 Where do I start here? Let's see, first of all, this is claiming that the way human logic works is not a verifiable statement, which rebutes the 2nd stock response, but fails to do anything about the first and is probably a rather shit argument. Also, if, say, I was to accidentally and briefly think that "2+2=5", and this lead to me getting, say, a maths question wrong, then I can probably reason that I'm wrong and where I went wrong.

Secondly, claims of time travel are floated as a possibility, but dismissed as unlikely. No one claims to be capable of rewriting time, let alone erasing it. Truly changing the past is impossible. Given that Michio Kaku (who'll appear later) gave time travel the designation of "Class II impossibility" (something which, basically, isn't likely to happen for thousands of years, even if it's possible) in his book Physics of the Impossible, I suppose this aspect of science fiction is integrated somewhat into science though.But any changes are more likely to result in the time traveler becoming stranded in the wrong timeline or create a paradox. If such a thing is possible. Which, honestly, I have to say I highly doubt, but can't entirely rule out. One more likely theory (and possibly one compliant with physics) is that, even if we made a time machine, we could only 'go back' as far as it's creation. At any rate, this discussion is somewhat redundant since Stephen Hawking (aka the guy who this part of the argument is meant to be aimed at) has also come out and said that the fact that we aren't overrun by time tourists means that time travel probably won't happen. For more information I might as well recommend the Wikipedia on this.

So no, thinking that possibly maybe time travel could happen does not make believing in history hypocritical.

Next up, there's the whole "Einstein's maths was wrong" bit. Basically the author claims that since time =/= history the maths was wrong. Except it isn't really once you remember that in this case time is considered the fourth dimension (I think). Not the frequency of the light waves. We use the frequency of the light waves to work out how much redshift there is. A larger amount of redshift indicates that the thing in question is further away and thus older. Ironically enough, Einstein did think he'd gone wrong with his maths. I don't really understand the maths to be honest (I'm a GCSE student in maths, albeit a high level one, and, hell, Wikipedia tells me that Einstein had issues with the tensor calculus which forms the foundation of it all, Einstein), but I can recall reading in, uh, some book (I think it was one of the Horrible Science ones, but don't hold me to that), that he spent a lot of his life attempting to disprove the idea of the expanding universe. So yeah.

Chances are then, relativity isn't some "megalomaniac" fabrication from "geeks and social outcasts", it's an actual theory. That was a large chunk of my life that I won't be getting back.

That leaves the search for the God particle. I have to admit I'm fairly certain that, at this point, searching for sub-atomic particles is turning into a turtles all the way down situation, only with different species of turtle and a few zebras thrown in for good measure, but there is evidence to suggest that the Higgs Boson may actually exist. So it's not some sci-fi fantasy. I'm not entirely certain what the use is, but it looks like there's a good chance that it exists. And this is a science experiment, so you can suck on that for a bit.

Anywho, the next target is Michio Kaku's Physics of the Future. This is also a book I've not read/TV series I've not seen. Nonetheless, I'm fairly certain that this bit, in response to the alleged inclusion of the claim of there being bad times economically in the next 20 years resulting from Moore's law being finished by "single atom transistors" giving way to "quantum states":
"Moore’s law is supposed to be some type of estimate of scientific progress but is merely measured on the growth in computer speed taken over the last few decades (as if the two were synonymous)."
 Uh, Moore's law is more like an estimate of technological progress. It's the number of transistors which can "inexpensively fit onto an integrated circuit". And it's a law in the way that Godwin's law is, except in this hypothetical a large section of our economy relies on everyone comparing their opponents to Hitler.

I'm just going to swap to line by line rebuttal for rest of this rubbish starting after "During this part of the TV show they cut in footage of mobs fighting mounted police carrying guns and battons, no doubt from an actual revolution." Which I can't judge on, having not seen the show.

[Trigger warning for the next couple of paragraphs: Ableist slur]

"Are these so-called scientists retarded? “Oh, I was expecting to buy a 16 gig computer this year but one hasn’t been invented. Ergo, must kill wife and kids!”."
 .... what.

 For starters, "retarded" is not an acceptable word to use. I must confess that in real life I'm a total coward who frequently fails to call people out on using it, but nonetheless there are a lot of reasons why it should be cut out of your lexicon.

As for the nasty strawman, are you suggesting that revolution is analagous to killing your wife and children? (way to assume gender identity and/or be heteronormative there (and probably a large number of other privilege denials that I've missed), BTW). Because you're definitely hinting that their logic means, to them, that their predictions turning out to be false leads to revolution, but here you have the scientist wanting to kill their family. So, revolution = killing your family? If not, what is the point of this strawman? Where the hell did it come from?

"Where does one start with such hubris? First of all Moore’s “law” isn’t a law. It’s merely an observation. Computers are not natural phenomena but a simulacrum of 0′s and 1′s. Are these people so detached from the real world, so self-delusional that they honestly believe their own failure would create world revolution?"

 Yeah. Believing that a stop in unsustainable growth which is overly relied on will cause issues in the economy, probably because capitalism relies on expansion, and thus social unrest (not necessarily revolution). Truly they are full of hubris. Everyone knows that revolution only comes through the creation of "revolutionary information flows", such as pretending to be Jesus. Which isn't hubristical at all. Got it.

Also, appeal to nature is a logical fallacy, and in case you can't tell, people use computers. I'm using one now. You used one to write this. So maybe they're just a little integrated into our culture. I must admit Kaku's argument is rather odd, but come on. If anything it highlights a shortcoming in capitalism. You know, the thing we're meant to be against?

"No, these are the bourgeois fantasies of a parochial elite and Kaku is merely their celebrity spokesman. In contrast, there are millions  of real scientists working on legitimate problems like curing disease, increasing food supply, creating more sustainable resources of energy and so on. These people often work on or below the breadline. They will be the at the forefront in the new regime."

The "No True Scotsman" thing is another logical fallacy. That said of course, there is absolutely nothing useful about GPSes and navigation. At all. So yeah. Plus, science often has unintended bonuses, just ask anyone who's ever used a microwave.

So, it would appear your "new regime" would fail to take it into account. Just as well that I sure as hell don't want your revolution then.

In short, you, The Activists Editorial Collective/The_Activists, suck. I probably wasted my time writing this, but I suppose it's not just enough to ignore something. Nah, you've got to "deconstruct" it and render it worthless ;P.

NB: I might have made some mistakes in the science. I did gloss over a bit of the Special Relativity fail to avoid this (sorry, but it's getting late and I really cannot be arsed to teach myself tensor calculus), but if I've made any mistakes I'll be glad if you'll correct me.

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