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Jamie123

Wolfgang Smith "Physics and Vertical Causality"

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This thread...

Quantum stuff is scary - General Discussion - ThirdHour

...inspired me to finish reading the book "Physics and Vertical Causality" which I mentioned before. I finished it this morning, so I'll say a few words about it now.

Firstly I'll admit I'm a tad less enamoured of Wolfgang Smith than I was after reading "The Quantum Enigma". I'm tempted to say he's going a bit senile, but (as Treebeard said) "let's not be hasty". These are my initial comments:

  • The first half of the book isn't that much different from the earlier one: a bit more metaphysical maybe - for example he talks about the "powers of the soul" - but nothing he wasn't heavily hinting at earlier.
  • It was in the chapter "The War on Design" that I began to think Smith had crossed a boundary. He argues that Einsteinian Physics and Darwinism are essentially the same thing - a wrong interpretation of the evidence in order to fit an ideological framework. You could describe this framework as: (1) There's nothing special about the Planet Earth, and (2) There's nothing special about mankind.
  • He claims here that at the time of the Michelson-Morley experiment, the idea that the Copernicus/Galileo idea (Earth just another planet moving in space) was so entrenched, that it occurred to no one to accept its most obvious implication - namely that the Earth really is stationary and the heavens revolve around it.
  • When I wanted to yell at him about Foucault's pendulum and the Coriolis effect, he dismisses anything of that sort on the next page with a brief reference to Mach's principle. (Which he summarises with words to the effect that "you can never know whether you are rotating or whether the universe is rotating around you.) I'm very much less than convinced: Mach's principle isn't even a principle - it's a conjecture. Moreover its a conjecture that has never even been properly defined. As I understand it, there are hundreds of different conflicting versions of it. So by using Mach's principle as his get-out-of-jail-free card, I suspect Wolfgand Smith is guilty of exactly the same sin as he accuses all other scientists of committing.
  • Now this bit is interesting: he backs up his "neo-geocentrism" by talking about the so-called "Axis of Evil". This is nothing to do with world politics, but a line in the cosmic microwave background radiation which (so Smith claims) is aligned with the Earth's ecliptic. I've Googled around this topic, and there is some truth to this - this line was discovered in the early 2000's, and was initially dismissed as experimental error. However, the "axis" has reappeared in a several more recent surveys of the microwave background. To listen to Wolfgang Smith, you'd think there was a conspiracy to hide this on the part of some "anti-geocentrist" lobby. And bearing in mind I'd never heard this before, despite being a subscriber to Physics World, I wonder...planck_axis_of_evil.jpg
  • After all this, the book drags on for another 40-or-so pages, building on the assumptions that Copernicanism, relativity and evolution have all been disproven. His penultimate chapter is all about what he calls the "cosmic icon" - tying it in with astrology, the Vedas of ancient India and Jesus' parables. Interesting, but less so when you've seen the foundation it's all built upon.

The spell was broken for me when he claims to disprove Einstein. If he thinks that Occam's razor comes down in favour of geocentrism on the basis of the Michelson-Morley experiment, there's an easy enough test for that: build a Michelson interferometer and put it on board a fast aircraft and fly it in lots of different directions. If you fail to detect any changes in c, Smith's logic would lead you to assume that the plane was the centre of the universe and that the world, solar system and universe rotated around it. And if someone had done such an experiment (I can't believe no one has) and found that c changed - then I think we'd know about it!

To be fair though, he does claim (though without giving much in the way of evidence) that data from GPS satellites prove him right: that signals from approaching satellites travel faster than those from receding ones - but he's convinced that this was "hushed up" by "Copernicus conspirators". 

Wolfgang Smith is no Kent Hovind: he is quite a distinguished physicist, and a former MIT professor. This puzzles me greatly. Is he really a crazy tin-foil-hat-bonkers conspiracy theorist? Or have I just merely misunderstood him? The jury is out.

Edited by Jamie123

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53 minutes ago, Jamie123 said:
  • It was in the chapter "The War on Design" that I began to think Smith had crossed a boundary. He argues that Einsteinian Physics and Darwinism are essentially the same thing - a wrong interpretation of the evidence in order to fit an ideological framework. You could describe this framework as: (1) There's nothing special about the Planet Earth, and (2) There's nothing special about mankind.

Nothing more than word games. In this context, saying that the earth and mankind are "nothing special" is a shorthand way of saying that the same physical laws that affect everything else affect them, and in the same way. It is a foundational assumption based on observation, not a judgment of worth.

53 minutes ago, Jamie123 said:
  • He claims here that at the time of the Michelson-Morley experiment, the idea that the Copernicus/Galileo idea (Earth just another planet moving in space) was so entrenched, that it occurred to no one to accept its most obvious implication - namely that the Earth really is stationary and the heavens revolve around it.
  • When I wanted to yell at him about Foucault's pendulum and the Coriolis effect, he dismisses anything of that sort on the next page with a brief reference to Mach's principle. (Which he summarises with words to the effect that "you can never know whether you are rotating or whether the universe is rotating around you.)

Yeah, that's just nonsense. As you say, Foucault's pendulum and the Coriolis effect.

53 minutes ago, Jamie123 said:
  • Now this bit is interesting: he backs up his "neo-geocentrism" by talking about the so-called "Axis of Evil". This is nothing to do with world politics, but a line in the cosmic microwave background radiation which (so Smith claims) is aligned with the Earth's ecliptic. I've Googled around this topic, and there is some truth to this - this line was discovered in the early 2000's, and was initially dismissed as experimental error. However, the "axis" has reappeared in a several more recent surveys of the microwave background. To listen to Wolfgang Smith, you'd think there was a conspiracy to hide this on the part of some "anti-geocentrist" lobby. And bearing in mind I'd never heard this before, despite being a subscriber to Physics World, I wonder...planck_axis_of_evil.jpg

I, too, have never heard of this and know nothing about it. But it just means that the normal to the Earth's ecliptic is close to parallel with the Axis he mentions. A remarkable coincidence, to be sure, but hardly one-in-a-million. IMO, he would do much better talking about the astounding coincidence that the moon subtends exactly the same angle from the Earth's surface as does the sun, allowing solar eclipses to happen. Now THAT'S remarkable.

53 minutes ago, Jamie123 said:
  • After all this, the book drags on for another 40-or-so pages, building on the assumptions that Copernicanism, relativity and evolution have all been disproven. His penultimate chapter is all about what he calls the "cosmic icon" - tying it in with astrology, the Vedas of ancient India and Jesus' parables. Interesting, but less so when you've seen the foundation it's all built upon.

I remember reading Douglas Hofstadter's masterwork Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid 20 or 25 years ago, and noticing how the final chapter(s) in the book were weirdly out of place, almost vacuous, filled with rambling thoughts and not at all as tight and utterly brilliant as the rest of the book. It took me years until I could look back and realize that, toward the end of the book, Hofstadter had lamented about how you can always tell when a book is going to end and all the plot points get wrapped up, because the physicality of the book means you know how many pages are left. He suggested that one way to avoid this was to pack the end of the book with random nonsense so that you could never be really sure where things were going to end. Years after reading the book, I realized that's what he was doing. Hey, maybe something similar is going on here. :)

53 minutes ago, Jamie123 said:

Wolfgang Smith is no Kent Hovind: he is quite a distinguished physicist, and a former MIT professor. This puzzles me greatly. Is he really a crazy tin-foil-hat-bonkers conspiracy theorist? Or have I just merely misunderstood him? The jury is out.

Interestingly, the two are not mutually exclusive. When I was finishing up my undergrad physics degree at BYU, I met and briefly spoke with a faculty member named Steven Jones. Electrochemists (Pons and Fleischmann—as you probably know, Fleischmann was from the University of Southampton) at the University of Utah had just announced "tabletop cold fusion", and Jones was preparing to publish his own (unrelated, except in subject matter) vulcanology study that hinted at unknown subterranean "cold" fusion processes that produced 3He instead of normal 4He. Jones was involved in the tabletop cold fusion debunking effort. A bit more than a decade later, this same brilliant physicist lent his voice to the World Trade Center conspiracy exposition effort, claiming that it was impossible that the towers could be brought down merely by jetliners hitting them.

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2 hours ago, Vort said:

Nothing more than word games. In this context, saying that the earth and mankind are "nothing special" is a shorthand way of saying that the same physical laws that affect everything else affect them, and in the same way. It is a foundational assumption based on observation, not a judgment of worth.

Absolutely. A lot of people assume that scientific theories are held on the basis of social or religious (or irreligious) beliefs. A creationist will tell you that the theory of evolution stems from a wish to belief that mankind is "nothing special" - just the end result of a mindless physical process, with no more ultimate importance than a crab or a rock - and therefore has no responsibilities. Similarly our rules of morality are "nothing special" either - just irrational herd instincts which our intellect has outgrown and which we can ignore whenever we find them inconvenient. In Smith's view, Copernicanism and relativity are corollaries of this: Earth is "nothing special" - just one of many bodies in space, moving according to mechanical laws. All motion is relative. Even acceleration is relative: the centrifugal force you feel by going into one of those fairground centrifuge things (you know the sort of thing I mean) is no more the result of your spinning than it is the gravitational action of the universe spinning around you. (Although Smith does invoke Mach's principle himself, he does so as a kind of reductio ad absurdum to show the Einstein/Copernicus model as a house divided.) The universe has no absolute frame of reference - no centre - no God.

I can understand this from someone like Kent Hovind, who has no real science to speak of, who develops his real arguments on an ethico-religious basis and then cherry picks quotes from National Geographic to give them a credibility. (Though having said that, Hovind is for all his faults an ardent heliocentrist.)

I'm reminded too of C.S. Lewis' book "Miracles". (By the way, if you want to read the book, beware of Chapter 3, which Lewis rewrote after Elizabeth Anscombe trashed his original argument in 1948. Lewis left nothing to chance in his rewrite. If you can slog your way through Chapter 3, it gets easier from then onwards.) In Chapter 7, he addresses modern arguments against Christianity on the basis of the size of the universe. Everyone knows nowadays that the Earth is very small in relation to the cosmos, but assume that the ancients did not know this. Diagrams of the Ptolemaic universe like this don't exactly help:

ptolemaic-system-of-the-universe-1708-il

No serious pre-Copernican astronomer (least of all Ptolemy himself) would have considered this diagram "to scale". They knew full well that the Earth had no significant size in comparison to the stellar sphere. They knew this because no parallax is ever observed in the constellations as the Earth rotates. (Or I should say "as the stars rotate around the Earth.) The Earth was "a mathematical point". Even in the 13th Century, Roger Bacon (who would have firmly believed in geocentrism) said something like (sorry I can't find the exact quote): "the least of the stars is greater than the Earth". And he was absolutely right.

Lewis says of this:

Quote

I have not yet succeeded in seeing how what we know (and have known since the days of Ptolemy) about the size of the universe affects the credibility of this doctrine [Christianity] one way or the other.

and a bit later on

Quote

...a possible answer to the question raised a few pages ago—why the size of the universe, known for centuries, should first in modern times become an argument against Christianity. Has it perhaps done so because in modern times the imagination has become more sensitive to bigness?

I don't agree. I think the idea of the Earth, however small, being in the centre with everything else rotating around it if anything accentuates its importance. Imagine a country in which everyone is a giant apart from the king, who is a three-foot midget. Imagine all the giant courtiers bowing and scraping to him and trembling at his every word. Would you not think that the position of that dwarf makes him more exalted than the biggest of all the giants, who's 10 foot tall and serves as a stepping-stool for the king to mount his horse?

It's the same I think with Wolfgang Smith's concept geocentrism. As an image it fits rather well with Christianity. Mankind as the pinnacle of God's creation: small for sure, but central. Physical centrality an expression for its centrality in God's love. But I think its only useful as an image.

Edited by Jamie123

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