0675: "Revolutionary"

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Ichapp
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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby Ichapp » Mon Dec 14, 2009 8:26 am UTC

I was certainly burnt by cheese. On another note: I've had it with these motherfucking racecars on this motherfucking train!
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Ghona
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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby Ghona » Mon Dec 14, 2009 8:46 am UTC

Guys, you just don't understand. You're doing that math all wrong.


Here, try using the real pascal's triangle
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ramparts
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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby ramparts » Mon Dec 14, 2009 9:15 am UTC

Oh, my favorite was the one guy who came onto a physics forum I [used to] frequent every now and then claiming that the Schwarzschild solution in GR was wrong because it's found by setting the source to 0 in Einstein's equations, blissfully dismissing as "astrophysical magic" the fact that by definition Schwarzschild is only an external solution. Turns out the guy he was getting this from (one Stephen Crothers, if you Google him) was a failed PhD candidate who got a terminal Masters because he decided that 100 years of relativists were wrong, instead of him. It's fun because unlike most cranks, they use big kids math to be complete whackjobs :lol:

Diepeter
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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby Diepeter » Mon Dec 14, 2009 9:24 am UTC

You would be surprised by the amount of people who actually do things like this. Most of my math professors get loads of mail every week that are about proving the riemann-zeta hypothesis, or they construct some proof for a theory which is known to be in-prove-able (sorry I couldn't find another word for it :( ). Which really sounds like a big waste of time to me. (also: profs hand it straight to mr. trashcan)

Not that I look down on people without a formal education (heck I haven't even got a degree myself yet) but...why put all that effort in proving some obscene mathematical theory whilst you could have actually learned something?

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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby ReinSeiun » Mon Dec 14, 2009 9:33 am UTC

Snowdream wrote:I'll be honest: I hate philosophy majors who assume that they are right, and the world is wrong. And I especially dislike the ones who go out looking for arguments! *Pet peeve alert*


Don't worry. There are those of us with philosophy degrees who were taught how to -stop- thinking of ourselves as right. Or needing to be right. And still ask questions in the right way.

Honestly. As a man with a BS in philosophy I wonder how the hell someone can have a philosophy degree and still think they're right about anything. Isn't losing the compulsion to be correct the point of the whole process?

SciBoy
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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby SciBoy » Mon Dec 14, 2009 9:36 am UTC

FCN wrote:Special relativity implies time dilation: moving clocks go slower than stationary clocks.

So let's say that you're standing still, and a racecar goes by you at half the speed of light - the racecar's clock goes slower than your clock.

But actually, you and the racecar are on a train moving at half the speed of light in the opposite direction from the direction that the racecar is moving - that doesn't change anything from your point of view, so it's still true that the racecar's clock goes slower than your clock.

I'm standing still next to the train, and you're on the train going at half the speed of light, so your clock is going slower than my clock.

The racecar's clock is slower than your clock which is slower than my clock, so the racecar's clock is slower than my clock.

But the racecar and I are stationary relative to each other - it's right next to me, working really hard to stay next to me on a train that's moving at half the speed of light by driving in the opposite direction at half the speed of light. So my clock and the racecar's clock must be going at the same rate.

Contradiction! Special relativity is overturned.

Wrong.

The guy on the train is travelling at relativistic speeds. Compared to you, the stationary person, his time is dilated. This means that if the race-car is going 0.5c in HIS frame of reference, in yours it is going FASTER than 0.5c. If it is travelling 0.5c in YOUR frame of reference, then the car is not going 0.5c in his, it is going slower. How much slower I can't be bothered to calculate. :)

So the "philosophical" argument fails right there, you can't have the race-car going at 0.5c inside the train AND stand still from the outside perspective at the same time. You must choose one.
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NorthLondon
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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby NorthLondon » Mon Dec 14, 2009 9:46 am UTC

Vincent91 wrote:
pokoleo wrote:How about a rail train on a rail train on a rocket?

A raptor on a rail train on a rail train on a rocket.


OK Go, running on treadmills away from raptors, on a rail train on a rail train on a rocket?

(I'm not a scientist.)

ramparts
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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby ramparts » Mon Dec 14, 2009 9:56 am UTC

SciBoy wrote:
FCN wrote:Special relativity implies time dilation: moving clocks go slower than stationary clocks.

So let's say that you're standing still, and a racecar goes by you at half the speed of light - the racecar's clock goes slower than your clock.

But actually, you and the racecar are on a train moving at half the speed of light in the opposite direction from the direction that the racecar is moving - that doesn't change anything from your point of view, so it's still true that the racecar's clock goes slower than your clock.

I'm standing still next to the train, and you're on the train going at half the speed of light, so your clock is going slower than my clock.

The racecar's clock is slower than your clock which is slower than my clock, so the racecar's clock is slower than my clock.

But the racecar and I are stationary relative to each other - it's right next to me, working really hard to stay next to me on a train that's moving at half the speed of light by driving in the opposite direction at half the speed of light. So my clock and the racecar's clock must be going at the same rate.

Contradiction! Special relativity is overturned.

Wrong.

The guy on the train is travelling at relativistic speeds. Compared to you, the stationary person, his time is dilated. This means that if the race-car is going 0.5c in HIS frame of reference, in yours it is going FASTER than 0.5c. If it is travelling 0.5c in YOUR frame of reference, then the car is not going 0.5c in his, it is going slower. How much slower I can't be bothered to calculate. :)

So the "philosophical" argument fails right there, you can't have the race-car going at 0.5c inside the train AND stand still from the outside perspective at the same time. You must choose one.


Wait, wait, so this random guy on an internet forum didn't catch a simple, basic mistake that a century of brilliant physicists missed?

Shocking.

How seemingly intelligent people deceive themselves like that is beyond me.

(Yes, FCN was possibly joking. Hopefully he was. But people like that who are actually serious exist everywhere. They are omnipresent.)
Last edited by ramparts on Mon Dec 14, 2009 9:58 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

EvlDragonMonkey
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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby EvlDragonMonkey » Mon Dec 14, 2009 9:58 am UTC

I can't help but think that this comic is poking fun at philosophers. I could be wrong but there are plenty of scientists that look down on philosophers because "they don't have a real degree". I don't have my degree yet, but I can assure you that once I do I won't go around trying to disprove Einstein. On the topic of physics, I have nothing to say because I changed my physics major to a chemistry major because I hate calculus.

EDIT: To clarify, I have a dual major philosophy/chemistry, I'm much farther along with my philosophy major though.
Last edited by EvlDragonMonkey on Tue Dec 15, 2009 12:00 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.
I am well aware of my poor grammar, I'm a philosophy major not an english major, I will not be bound by your arbitrary normative rules.
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SciBoy
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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby SciBoy » Mon Dec 14, 2009 10:23 am UTC

SciBoy wrote:Wrong.

Blah blah, stupid reasoning, blah


Actually, strike that, I forgot that since space contracts when time dilates, the distance travelled on the train cancels the time dilation out. So going 0.5c in one direction and 0.5c in the other actually DOES cancel eachother out so that the speed relative to stationary becomes zero. Argh, I never liked special relativity. Too much thinking...
My..
brain...
hurts...
(he says with huge under-bite and a handkerchief on his head).

But basically, what special relativity says, is that nothing happens simultaneously when large distances or high speeds are involved. I've always had a hard time wrapping my brain around the whole deal.

So the problem with the given example is, how are you going to measure time? If you place an atomic clock on each of the vehicles, how you accellerate up to speed will change the time on the clocks (for example if you first acellerate the race-car-clock to train speed and then accellerate it to race-car-speed, the time will be different than if you accellerate both vehicles to speed and then put the clock on the race-car).

So it actually does boil down to *how* you do things in this example.
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FCN
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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby FCN » Mon Dec 14, 2009 10:59 am UTC

I just edited my post to make it even clearer, since apparently even some people at this very intelligent webcomic forum fail to understand my brilliance. To simplify and draw a diagram in words, I am standing still. Relative to me, the train is moving left to right at .5c. Relative to the train, the racecar is moving right to left at .5c. So, relative to me the racecar is stationary, which means that the racecar clock must be going at the same rate as my clock. But the train clock is slower than my clock (by time dilation) and the racecar clock is slower than the train clock (for the same reason), so the racecar clock must be slower than my clock. Contradiction.

For the record, I am completely sincere in speculating about the contents of the goateed gentleman's thought experiment. I do not have a philosophy degree, but I have figured out the explanation of free will, which (assuming they took the time to read my letters) should currently be under debate in the Philosophy Parliament.
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Tostig
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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby Tostig » Mon Dec 14, 2009 11:27 am UTC

ReinSeiun wrote:Don't worry. There are those of us with philosophy degrees who were taught how to -stop- thinking of ourselves as right. Or needing to be right. And still ask questions in the right way.

Honestly. As a man with a BS in philosophy I wonder how the hell someone can have a philosophy degree and still think they're right about anything. Isn't losing the compulsion to be correct the point of the whole process?


Can we please have a corresponding comic about a physicist who has had half a bottle of wine and suddenly thinks that the philosopher is interested in their theory on life?

I'll admit that I'm a little biased in that I'm studying for a degree in Philosophy, and I get that the comic can be read as 'this is the wrong approach to understanding something', but the last line just left a little bit to much snarkiness for my tastes.

Duncan_
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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby Duncan_ » Mon Dec 14, 2009 11:28 am UTC

As a longtime reader of xkcd, and a philosopher, I'm slightly put out by the equation of 'philosopher' with 'bearded idiot who opines without knowing what he/she is talking about'. Yes, there are some philosophers who make idiotic pronouncements about fields they don't understand. These are an embarrassment. But there at plenty of physicists who do the same damn thing. Go google 'quantum consciousness'. At a certain level of theoretical abstraction, theoretical physicists switch from doing physics (an empirical science based upon actual data) to philosophy (a speculative discipline which appeals to various logical and quasi-logical rules to decide what we can, cannot or ought to say when data is unavailable) and many of them do really, really bad philosophy.

ramparts
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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby ramparts » Mon Dec 14, 2009 11:37 am UTC

FCN, as with most relativity problems, this has to do with a misunderstanding of simultaneity. I'd recommend you give this section of the Wiki article a spin:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_dilat ... _observers

Note that in relativity there is no absolute motion, so it's only half of the story to say that the clocks run slower on the racecar than on the train. From the perspective of the train, that's true. From the perspective of the racecar, it's the train that's running slower. So your question - doesn't relativity predict that the racecar clock is slower than the platform clock - can be reversed to ask, doesn't relativity predict that the racecar clock is faster than the platform clock. In fact, it's neither - they see each other running at the same speed. But that's where the crux of the contradiction you've found is.

The resolution, as I've mentioned, is in the definitions of simultaneity. Since there's no way of absolutely establishing which of the clocks in relative motion is faster (say, by synchronizing the clocks), it is valid from the perspective of either to say that the other is running slower.

You should read the Wiki article. I'm not very good at explaining this qualitatively, because that explanation would get long and confusing very quickly; if you know enough math, I strongly recommend you do some calculations of spacetime intervals to test what I'm saying (and if you don't know enough math, then what the hell are you doing claiming to overturn special relativity?).

And honestly, FCN, a meta-question for you: do you really think that a century's worth of physicists have all managed to ignore this really basic "problem" with a fundamental tenet of modern physics? Really?

ramparts
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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby ramparts » Mon Dec 14, 2009 11:41 am UTC

By the way, philosophers getting angry should realize that there is a long and storied tradition of crackpots claiming to have very simple answers to deep problems of physics, and trying to force them down physicists' throats. It's all very cute and charming, but slightly annoying, and all too common. As far as I can tell, Randall was getting at that - and even though the guy in the comic is a philosopher, this isn't targeted specifically at philosophers.

Of course, it is targeted at philosophers (or anyone) who claim they've used simple thought experiments to turn over well-established physics ;)

JustDoug
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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby JustDoug » Mon Dec 14, 2009 11:52 am UTC

hellochar wrote:Explain to me the difference between wanting to know and wanting to learn?


Differences: "Daddy, why is the sky blue?"

"The sky is blue due to preferential light frequency scattering." Knowing.

"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rayleigh_scattering Go here." Learning.

Steroid
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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby Steroid » Mon Dec 14, 2009 11:59 am UTC

Snowdream wrote:I'll be honest: I hate philosophy majors who assume that they are right, and the world is wrong. And I especially dislike the ones who go out looking for arguments! *Pet peeve alert*


They may not be assuming, but just applying Platonic metaphysics. If relativity in physics can say that motion depends upon the mover, then philosophy can say that the nature of the world depends upon the observer. Science is very Aristotlean.

In any case, science should recognize its limits. Particularly observational sciences like geology, or paleontology, or astronomy. I was taught as a youth that a large lizard called a brontosaurus once walked the Earth, and now they say it wasn't so. Physics and chemistry are better because they can do controlled experiments, but even they have had revolutions as described in the comic.

More to the point, science cannot do the job of philosophy. Science describes, but it doesn't prescribe. Physics can tell you the laws of motion, but it can't give you a destination. Biology can map the human genome, but it can't answer the question, "What is Man, that thou art mindful of him?"

As a philosopher, I can look at certain questions of science and answer boldly, "I don't know." I seriously have no clue as to the nature of, say, the Big Bang, and no way of finding out that nature. But it doesn't hamper my philosophy. Science should work the same way in reverse. It's not good when you have people worshipping science.

ramparts
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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby ramparts » Mon Dec 14, 2009 12:07 pm UTC

Steroid wrote:As a philosopher, I can look at certain questions of science and answer boldly, "I don't know." I seriously have no clue as to the nature of, say, the Big Bang, and no way of finding out that nature. But it doesn't hamper my philosophy. Science should work the same way in reverse. It's not good when you have people worshipping science.


I agree. So do most other scientists, who take serious issue with this "arrogant gods of certainty" idea. Do I detect a straw man fallacy, Mr. Philosopher?

Steroid
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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby Steroid » Mon Dec 14, 2009 1:02 pm UTC

ramparts wrote:
Steroid wrote:As a philosopher, I can look at certain questions of science and answer boldly, "I don't know." I seriously have no clue as to the nature of, say, the Big Bang, and no way of finding out that nature. But it doesn't hamper my philosophy. Science should work the same way in reverse. It's not good when you have people worshipping science.


I agree. So do most other scientists, who take serious issue with this "arrogant gods of certainty" idea. Do I detect a straw man fallacy, Mr. Philosopher?


The straw man is a very underrated form of argument. It delineates a logical conclusion to which the opposing argument must not reach. From there, you can work backwards to find conclusions the opposing argument *does* claim, and then attack those. So, I would follow up with: if you agree that science can never be 100% certain, you would also agree that any practice based on science should never be mandatory, yes?

ramparts
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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby ramparts » Mon Dec 14, 2009 1:09 pm UTC

Mandatory? If you're talking about laws here, then you're getting way ahead of yourself. You may want to make clear exactly what claim you're trying to make before I go about responding to things :)

But my answer would probably be something like this: any scientific claim has some probability of being true. For many well-established claims (e.g., that gravity is an attractive force), that probability is so near 100% that there is effectively no difference. And yes, there is always room for disagreement on what that probability is (see: evolution wars).

But again, I need to know what you're getting at.

MrGuy
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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby MrGuy » Mon Dec 14, 2009 1:10 pm UTC

Joking aside, there's a serious problem pointed out by this comic. When the universe is being wrong, who do you call to complain?

tesseraktik
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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby tesseraktik » Mon Dec 14, 2009 1:21 pm UTC

Ah, now here's a comic I can relate to! People like this abound on the internet where I live, and often it puts you in rather an uncomfortable position: On the one hand, you don't want to present physics as being based on appeal to authority, but on the other, you find yourself getting quite annoyed at the upstarts who think they can overturn the collective knowledge of generations of bright researchers with a single [poorly formulated] thought experiment.
Now, there are some who'll admit to being novices in the field and ask if anybody sees a problem in their reasoning, and I'm more than happy to spend a day writing an illustrated crash course in the subject at hand for those people (for instance, I did this for a relativistic addition of velocities thought experiment here)... ...but then there are also those who you can attempt to explain something to, but who'll show a complete lack of interest in your feedback, and sometimes they'll say things just like the last line in this comic, and that can be quite annoying.

Great comic; I've got a feeling this is going to be the "Posting And You..." of natural science discussions ;)
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MrGuy
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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby MrGuy » Mon Dec 14, 2009 1:39 pm UTC

FCN wrote:I just edited my post to make it even clearer, since apparently even some people at this very intelligent webcomic forum fail to understand my brilliance. To simplify and draw a diagram in words, I am standing still. Relative to me, the train is moving left to right at .5c. Relative to the train, the racecar is moving right to left at .5c. So, relative to me the racecar is stationary, which means that the racecar clock must be going at the same rate as my clock. But the train clock is slower than my clock (by time dilation) and the racecar clock is slower than the train clock (for the same reason), so the racecar clock must be slower than my clock. Contradiction.


The key fallacy is that you're assuming "is slower than" is an absolute concept that applies to all frames of reference--if A slower than B in any frame, A slower than B in every frame. Which doesn't hold in special relativity. You have to think of things in terms on one observer's frame of reference at a time.

The correct way to look at it:
* In my frame of reference, the train is moving .5c and the racecar is stationary. I observe the train clock is slower than my clock, but the racecar clock is running at the same speed as my clock.
* In the train's frame of reference, both I and the racecar are moving at .5c. An observer on the train believes that both my clock and the racecar clock are moving slower than the train clock, and both are running at the same speed.

So, no one agrees who's slower than who, but in both frames of reference we agree the racecar clock matches my clock.

You could have created the same apparent paradox without the racecar (it would just have been less difficult to spot). From my frame of reference, the train clock is slower than my clock, but from the train's perspective, my clock is slower than the train clock. So my clock is slower than the train clock, which is slower than my clock, so my clock is slower than itself!

Clarity edit
Last edited by MrGuy on Mon Dec 14, 2009 2:07 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

tim314
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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby tim314 » Mon Dec 14, 2009 1:56 pm UTC

Here's the thing people always seem to overlook . . . if a theory has been thoroughly tested and confirmed by experiment, then we at least know that it's correct within the domain in which it was tested.

People like to say "Einstein proved Newton was wrong", but Einstein's theory of relativity agrees with classical Newtonian physics in all the limits where Newton's physics had already been confirmed, while showing better agreement with the data in the areas where Newton's theory breaks down. Newton wasn't wrong, his work just turned out to be a limiting case of the true physics.

So if you want to prove Einstein "wrong", your great new theory had better reproduce all the successes of Einstein's relativity in the many areas where it's already been tested and confirmed. Otherwise, your theory is dead on arrival.

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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby brian0918 » Mon Dec 14, 2009 2:02 pm UTC

Ahh, we finally have even Randall endorsing faith-based science. Note the lack of an attempt to actually refute the philosopher's claims, which could have easily been done.

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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby nmccrina » Mon Dec 14, 2009 2:18 pm UTC

FishyFred wrote:I kind of want to show this to the global warming denialists, but I already know their response will be exactly the same as the creationist response.

"The scientists don't really believe the theory."

I wish I was kidding.


Oh, pleeeeeeease. :roll:

There is no way that 20 years of data is going to conclusively 'prove' that "global warming" as defined by the alarmists is real. Even compared to a creationist's 5,000 to 10,000 year old age of the Earth, that sample size is tiny. Especially since the scientists (may we all bow down and worship them) can't even agree if this data has shown any increase in temperature at all.

I agree that in the case of special relativity, a layman will not be able to contribute anything meaningful without years and years of study, but saying that therefore all other fields of science (such as meteorology) are immune from the insights of anybody without a PH.D is a fallacy. Science is turning into the Catholic Church. I'm waiting for them to start hunting heretics down and burning them.

JonOne
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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby JonOne » Mon Dec 14, 2009 2:31 pm UTC

Since this is a not-so-veiled attempt to compare the theory of special relativity to global warming...

“I am a skeptic…Global warming has become a new religion.” - Nobel Prize Winner for
Physics, Ivar Giaever.

“So far, real measurements give no ground for concern about a catastrophic future
warming.” - Scientist Dr. Jarl R. Ahlbeck, a chemical engineer at Abo Akademi
University in Finland, author of 200 scientific publications and former Greenpeace
member.

... and many more... I guess I'm more of an "antagonistic denialist" than an "apocolyptic doomsayer"... 8)

Robstickle
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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby Robstickle » Mon Dec 14, 2009 2:33 pm UTC

Oh this reminds me of people asking, "if you're on a spaceship going at .9999999999999999999999999999999999999 the speed of light and you run from one end to the other what's your speed? I tell you what your speed is I JUST DISPROVED RELATIVITY GO ME" no you didn't shut up.

Spoiler:
I'm fairly sure the relevant equation is v'=(u+v)/(1+uv/c²) if anyone was wondering.
Last edited by Robstickle on Mon Dec 14, 2009 2:51 pm UTC, edited 2 times in total.

ramparts
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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby ramparts » Mon Dec 14, 2009 2:39 pm UTC

Jumping to conclusions just like that? You think it's about global warming; I think it's about the physics cranks who e-mail professors claiming to have overturned special relativity/quantum mechanics/general relativity/etc. using some ridiculous thought experiment or bad math.

Given that his comic contains a physics crank, and says nothing about global warming, smart money's on my idea.

JonOne wrote:Since this is a not-so-veiled attempt to compare the theory of special relativity to global warming...

“I am a skeptic…Global warming has become a new religion.” - Nobel Prize Winner for
Physics, Ivar Giaever.

“So far, real measurements give no ground for concern about a catastrophic future
warming.” - Scientist Dr. Jarl R. Ahlbeck, a chemical engineer at Abo Akademi
University in Finland, author of 200 scientific publications and former Greenpeace
member.

... and many more... I guess I'm more of an "antagonistic denialist" than an "apocolyptic doomsayer"... 8)

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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby Carteeg_Struve » Mon Dec 14, 2009 2:50 pm UTC

nmccrina wrote:Science is turning into the Catholic Church. I'm waiting for them to start hunting heretics down and burning them.


From a figurative stand-point, science often does that. Getting the general scientific community to overthrow entrenched ideas is tough, and anyone trying to do so will be "burned at the stake" verbally if they try to do just that.

And you know what?

They should.

It's not because it's wrong for somebody with the audacity to say "We've missing something important." It's because it's important that the new idea be analyzed and criticized to an extreme before it becomes accepted as common thought. This is the mentality that will usually prevent wikiphysicists from having any traction. At the same time, however, I also believe that those scientists who are so entrenched with their believes that nothing will get them to change their minds can be damaging to the community since they might truly stomp out real advancements. But the scientific world is blessed with one gift: all old geniuses die out.

It's a cynical view, but an accurate one. When one group revolutionizes science, they tend to believe their own view and will tend to dismiss anything that stands against them later on. It is hard for them to accept stranger ideas than what they've already "proven" time and again when they had to suffer through their own witch trials. But their time will pass and the dismissed concepts will begin to move forward with traction once again. If they are right (or at least more right than what we had before), then they will make headway. If not, then it was wrong. This group that advanced the cause will sit on the top of the hill until the next group of people come forward with the audacity to say "You've missed something important." And then it is that group's turn to be put through the wringer.

As for "global warming", this is a separate situation. The data isn't clear, and much of it was likely fraudulent by those who wished to promote a cause for either fame, money, or political influence. At this point, I believe that we're not seeing any variations in climate that are outside of normal climate and weather variations. So far man's impact on the climate is still far below that of natural events.

Sorry folks, but Al Gore is as much a champion of science as L. Ron Hubbard is a religious prophet.
Last edited by Carteeg_Struve on Mon Dec 14, 2009 2:52 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby nmccrina » Mon Dec 14, 2009 2:52 pm UTC

ramparts wrote:Jumping to conclusions just like that? You think it's about global warming; I think it's about the physics cranks who e-mail professors claiming to have overturned special relativity/quantum mechanics/general relativity/etc. using some ridiculous thought experiment or bad math.

Given that his comic contains a physics crank, and says nothing about global warming, smart money's on my idea.


I agree that the comic is about what you're saying, but apparently some people took it to mean that no one should ever question the 'official' Science position on things, even in the case where Science has only given us theories. Such as the Big Bang Theory or the theory of global warming. The other poster and I must have both reacted to that. :)

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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby jc » Mon Dec 14, 2009 2:53 pm UTC

What I like to do when versions of this "race car moving backwards on a train" get brought up is to point out that there's a simplification you can make. If the backwards-moving object really is standing still relative to the ground, a person sitting on the train can use anything else in the ground's frame of reference; it doesn't matter if it's on the train or not.

If they understand that there's nothing special about being inside a train car, the simplification is: You're standing still on the ground and I'm sitting still on the train. Each of us sees the other as moving at 0.5c. We hold up our watches and each of us uses our high-speed video equipment to measure the others' watch speed. Each of us finds that the others' watch is ticking slower than our own.

This tends to get two reactions. The most common is that that's impossible, and if Relativity says that's what happens, I've just spotted a contradiction in Relativity. It's the same "contradiction" as the "race car on a train" scenario, but without the race car. I just inform them that if they don't accept the "each watch is running slower than the other" conclusion, then they've got a serious misunderstanding of how the universe works, because that's what does happen. In the race-car scenario, the watch in the race car and the watch on the train are each running slower than the other, too. I tell them to contact me again when they've managed to wrap their mind around this, and understand how it's possible for a universe to work in this absurd way.

The other reaction, of course, is "Really??? I've gotta study this Relativity thing more." There's hope for those people.

(It can also be fun to comment that we do have atomic clocks in orbit in the GPS satellites, and their software has to take into account relativistic time dilation to work as well as it does. So there's a very popular practical application that works because it takes into account the "impossible" clock behavior predicted by Einstein.)

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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby MotorToad » Mon Dec 14, 2009 2:57 pm UTC

I have this problem with one of my best friends. He's intelligent but never applied to sciences (and he has the occasional drift towards the religious). We were having a bit of fun at the expense of a flier some nuts had put on his door regarding how scientists missed all the valuable science in the bible and the Earth is 400 years old, or some such ridiculous crap. Just remembered, it was an Earth-centered universe religion, just when you thought they'd have died out. Anyway, I mention something Einsteinian in response to a blurb in the flier.

"Einstein was wrong, he didn't know what he was talking about."
"Wha..?"
"I don't believe in time travel."
"WTF are you going on about?"
"There's no time travel, Einstein was wrong."
"Uhm, it's not time travel, you have no idea what Einstein was saying. [briefly describe relativity.]"
"Yeah, but there can't be time travel."
"There isn't any, it's relative speed of time that's different. There's no 1985 --> 1955 --> 2025."
"I still don't buy it."
"So, how do you like that GPS?"
"It's great."
"It relies on the theory of relativity because the satellites travel so much faster than the Earth their clocks are slowed by a few hundred-thousandths of a second per second."
"It still doesn't know where my house is."
"I don't think that's an issue with the location of the satellites, that was some mapping monkey that put the numbers on your street backwards."
"It still doesn't work."
"It fucking works fine, it was given bad information by the manufacturer in regards to 400 meters of a back alley in a podunk town. Now pour some whiskey and stgdfu."
What did you bring the book I didn't want read out of up for?
"MAN YOUR WAY TO ANAL!" (An actual quote from another forum. Only four small errors from making sense.)

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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby jc » Mon Dec 14, 2009 3:34 pm UTC

nmccrina wrote:I agree that in the case of special relativity, a layman will not be able to contribute anything meaningful without years and years of study, but saying that therefore all other fields of science (such as meteorology) are immune from the insights of anybody without a PH.D is a fallacy. Science is turning into the Catholic Church. I'm waiting for them to start hunting heretics down and burning them.

Nah; they'll just continue with the usual scientific approach of ignoring them. Or, as it's more often put, "That's interesting, but further research is needed; can you find some more data to support your theory?"

We have lots of examples of this. Back in the 70s, a few radicals suggested that an asteroid impact was the cause of the major extinction event 65 million years ago. It was widely ignored, with the above "That's interesting ..." reaction. Here and there, field researchers tried to collect data that, among other things, might disprove this hypothesis. What they turned up was more and more small observations that were all consistent with it. Eventually, scientists looked at the growing mound of evidence, and said "Yup; it sure looks like something big hit the Earth at Chicxulub, and the error bars in its date match the start of the mass extinction." But they didn't persecute the impact "believers"; they just challenged them to find better data. When the data was found, the hypothesis graduated to "theory" status, and is now the conventional explanation for the mass extinction.

Similarly, 200 years ago people were pointing out that a lot of those "dinosaur" fossils had intriguing similarities to bird skeletons, and maybe birds were close relatives of dinosaurs. Even Darwin wrote about this. But birds don't fossilize well, and the general reaction was "That's interesting; can you find better data to support it?" We couldn't until the 1970s, when some fossil beds in China and South America were found with more bird fossils. By the late 1980s, we had enough evidence, and birds were officially reclassified as theropod dinosaurs. Again, the "birds are dinosaurs" believers weren't persecuted; they were just ignored due to lack of data, and birds were classified in a separate order. We now have the data to show that their hypothesis was correct.

The climate thing is interesting because it's so much more complex. But we do have a lot more than 20 years of data; we've known about the warming more more than a century. And we have lots of instrumentation showing a rapid rise starting roughly a quarter century ago. It's still extremely complex, and for all we know, it might end now. We did have a small setback in the 1990s, when a major eruption tossed up so much dust that the world cooled for a couple of years. This might happen again next year. We also have much better data on the effects of human industry on the atmosphere, though there are still large error bars (hardly ever mentioned in media coverage). OTOH, we have some good long-term averaging tools, especially the glaciers and ice caps, which give us a pretty good global average. As with the K-T impact and the origin of birds, many scientists are convinced that we have good enough data now that we don't have to resort to "That's interesting, but ...", and we should be informing the public of the scientific concensus.

Of course, this effects people's livelihoods much more than the K-T extinction or the classification of birds ever did. There's a lot of money (and jobs) in the hydrocarbon-supply business. So it's not surprising that people would react emotionally and politically to such announcements by obscure scientists who are unknown to the mass media.

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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby ramparts » Mon Dec 14, 2009 3:43 pm UTC

For every crazy idea that turned out to be right, about 3,000 turned out to be completely wrong.

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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby MrGuy » Mon Dec 14, 2009 4:08 pm UTC

brian0918 wrote:Ahh, we finally have even Randall endorsing faith-based science. Note the lack of an attempt to actually refute the philosopher's claims, which could have easily been done.


There are three major groups of reactions I've observed from someone who is starting to learn a new concept, have started to form a mental model of how that concept works, and can't reconcile their mental model with reality properly.
1.) Figure "It must be me--I'm new at this," and spend more time researching the subject.
2.) Think "Hey--something's not adding up for me. Let me lay out how I'm thinking about this and what doesn't fit for me, and ask for help."
3.) Assume my mental model must be correct, and so if my understanding of the concept doesn't fit reality, the concept MUST BE WRONG!

Sorry, but the people in group three tend to be twits (they're also voted "most likely to use the term sheeple"). The problem is NOT that they're asking questions, or that they don't "have the faith," it's that they are arrogantly assuming that something that a lot of very smart people have put a lot of time and thought into must be wrong because they don't see how it works. They don't come seeking knowledge, they don't come seeking to understand. They come seeking to tear down in a self-aggrandizing way.

Most people in group 2 get responses--people tend to be willing to help those who ask. People in group 3 get flamed, and deserve it (and often want it). You're not entitled to a helpful or rational response when you're not being helpful or rational yourself. I award you no points, and may god have mercy on your soul.

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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby Username4242 » Mon Dec 14, 2009 4:50 pm UTC

My first real 'get out of my head' moment. Go me.

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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby punto » Mon Dec 14, 2009 5:28 pm UTC

that's nothing, wait till they hear about my "flashlight on a train" idea

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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby Mokele » Mon Dec 14, 2009 5:53 pm UTC

As Carl Sagan once wrote:

Sagan - (Broca's Brain, Coronet 1980, p79) wrote:The usual rejoinder to someone who says "They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Galileo" is to say "But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown".
"With malleus aforethought, mammals got an earful of their ancestor's jaw" - J. Burns, Biograffiti

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Re: "Revolutionary" Discussion

Postby philip1201 » Mon Dec 14, 2009 6:15 pm UTC

I think the philosopher is simply forgetting to preform the special multiplication of speeds required for relativity.

w + u
v = ---------
1 - wu/c^2

with v = the sum of the speeds, w = the first speed (the "train") and u = the second speed (the "racing car").

Not knowing that formula, he would simply add up the speeds and come up with a speed greater than the speed of light, thus "disproving special relativity".


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