Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Another rejection

August 9, 2021

One of my papers that is on the arXiv, and that a real editor of a real (i.e. not predatory) journal asked me to submit to them, was rejected by a different journal that I (foolishly) decided to send it to, with a report (written by a real referee, who had spent some weeks on this) of three words: “lacks physical understanding”. I respectfully suggest that the referee “lacks mathematical understanding”.

It is of course perfectly normal for a referee to completely fail to understand what a paper is about. This has happened to me occasionally even when I have written papers in pure group theory. But it is almost inevitable whenever a paper is in any sense at all interdisciplinary. The paper talks about interactions between discipline A and discipline B, and is sent to a referee in discipline B, who doesn’t understand the part that belongs to discipline A, so ignores it and then (obviously) cannot understand the part that belongs to discipline B, so rejects it on the grounds that the (slightly surprising) implications for discipline B do not agree with the referee’s prejudices.

This is a huge problem for the progress of science in general. There is a huge prejudice against interdisciplinary research, which means that interdisciplinary scientists can’t publish their research, can’t get jobs, and whole areas of interdisciplinary research simply die. Funding agencies are desperate to support interdisciplinary research, and it is obviously crucial is so many areas, but they can’t do it, because the fundamental human imperative of survival undermines all their efforts. And the name of this imperative is subject prejudice.

If it was racial prejudice, or gender prejudice or any number of other prejudices, it would be illegal (in some countries). But because it is subject prejudice, it is not illegal, but is every bit as insidious. It is completely obvious to a mathematician that theoretical physics has got bogged down in some mathematics that doesn’t work. Or rather, it does work, up to a point, but it is inconsistent and therefore needs to be sorted out. It is completely obvious that physicists, left to themselves, have failed to sort out the problems that were obvious nearly a century ago. It is completely obvious that physicists need help from mathematicians. It is completely obvious that physicists reject help from mathematicians. It is completely obvious that this strategy will not work.



July 14, 2021

As everyone knows, 14th July 1789 was a very significant day in the history of revolutions. The same may not be true of 14th July 2021, but only posterity can judge that. Today my paper “On the problem of choosing subgroups of Clifford algebras for applications in fundamental physics” was published by Advances in Applied Clifford Algebras. In order to get it published, I had to hide the revolutionary ideas very carefully behind a camouflage of respectability. But they are there, and the seeds of the revolution are sown.

Four more of my “revolutionary pamphlets” are on the arXiv, and many more exist in samizdat. Two are apparently being refereed by respectable journals, but who knows what that really means? Yesterday, a correspondent pointed me to arXiv:gr-qc/0602003, which is extremely interesting, as it contains a penetrating analysis of the concept of time, that distinguishes three different concepts: parametric time, atomic time and astronomical time.

Now, I don’t know if you remember, but in arXiv:2102.02817 I showed that in a discrete model of quantum mechanics there are three distinct concepts of spacetime. One is parametric spacetime, which has a symmetry group SL(4,R), that underlies the theory of general relativity. Another I called electromagnetic spacetime, which appears to contain what the above paper calls atomic time, that is anything that is determined by frequencies of electromagnetic radiation. This has SL(2,C) or SO(3,1) as its symmetry group. The third I called gravitational spacetime, which appears to contain what the above paper calls astronomical (or proper) time, with SL(3,R) as its symmetry group.

My paper that explains why electromagnetic spacetime has a different symmetry group from gravitational spacetime was (predictably) summarily executed. But shooting the messenger does not change the message. Vive la revolution!


April 13, 2021

Brains have evolved over billions of years, mainly for the purpose of endowing the owner of the brain with a superior power to outwit, evade and overpower their enemies, in order to survive in a hostile environment and pass on an inheritance to their children. The main purpose of a brain, therefore, is to negotiate the difficulties of everyday life. The brains of theoretical physicists, like the brains of most other people, are largely devoted to this task. Anyone who wants to employ clever people, whether they be physicists or anyone else, to think about problems other than the problems of day-to-day life, needs to ensure that they do not need to spend too much of their brainpower on dealing with the problems of everyday life.

In earlier times, such people were either from wealthy backgrounds and did not need to worry too much about everyday problems, or simply didn’t care about having enough to eat or a warm place to live. Such people could often be found quite cheaply, by providing them with a warm enough place to live and enough to eat, and allowing them to spend their brainpower on thinking about other things. Hence the success of the mediaeval universities. Nowadays, we have largely reverted to the older style, that if you want to think for yourself you have to be either wealthy, or prepared to live in a tent.

It is hard to understand how we came to this pass. The premise is irrefutable. In my time in academia, over the best part of half a century, the fiscal powers have done their utmost to ensure that many of the cleverest brains waste most of their time in pointless tasks aimed at ensuring their own survival. The whole point of these powers employing these brains is precisely to avoid this problem. After a while I refused to play the game any more, because life is finite and I wanted to spend what remaining time I might have thinking about the real problems, not about the problems of how to write a grant proposal to pay a meagre salary to someone I would then have to spend a lot of time working with on problems I was no longer interested in. The result was predictable: I took early retirement by mutual agreement with my employer.

Too many theoretical physicists are having to spend too much of their valuable brainpower on ensuring their own survival, instead of thinking about the fundamental problems. No-one these days can afford to spend ten years thinking about a problem in the way that Einstein did. That is why there is no new Einstein. And never will be, while this crazy situation continues in universities the world over.

The ultimate nightmare

March 7, 2021

For ten years I have been questioning all the assumptions of theoretical physics. Or so I thought. Never in my darkest nightmares did I ever seriously consider the possibility that the theory of special relativity could be wrong. This morning I woke up from this most dreadful nightmare, and slowly realised it wasn’t a nightmare, it is reality. The Lorentz group does not describe the universe we live in. Panic! Be afraid, be very afraid.

No, don’t panic. The Lorentz group works perfectly well in 3 spacetime dimensions. It’s just that it doesn’t work in 4 spacetime dimensions. So it’s perfectly fine in a flat part of the universe like the Solar System, where all you need is a small perturbation from 3-dimensional spacetime. It is perfectly fine for electromagnetism and quantum mechanics, and for particle physics as long as you consider only one vertex of the Feynman diagram at a time. It only goes wrong when you have two vertices in the Feynman diagram. The evidence that it is wrong in these situations has been building gradually for more than a century, at least since 1884, when Lord Kelvin gave a lecture in which he pointed out that the Milky Way does not contain enough stars to hold itself together. In other words, the evidence against the Lorentz group was already there 20 years before Lorentz’s paper.

How can this be? This is worse than a nightmare. This is a calamity. This is not a crisis. This is a disaster. This asteroid didn’t fly past harmlessly at a distance of 10 million miles. This asteroid will come back in 8 years at a distance of 20 thousand miles. We haven’t got long to get the theory right so that we know exactly where this asteroid will be. The current theory is only an approximation. We’ve got to get it exactly right. As I said, don’t panic, but be very, very afraid.

The particle physics experiments that demonstrate that the 4-dimensional theory is wrong are many and various. The chirality of the weak force, the three generations of fermions, the oscillations of neutrinos, the CP-violation of neutral kaons, the anomalous magnetic moment of the muon, the list goes on and on. Every new experimental anomaly results in a sticking plaster on the previous theory. The standard model consists of a few solid pieces of 2-dimensional metal sheets, stuck together with half a ton of sticky tape. When the asteroid hits, it will be smashed to smithereens. We haven’t got long to invest in the nuts and bolts that we need to bolt these pieces of metal together properly. Let’s get on with it fast. We don’t want to be caught napping again, as we were with Covid-19.

Apocalypse now, or in 2029? Don’t let us take our eyes off the ball (I mean asteroid). We know that our theory isn’t good enough to predict the motion of spacecraft on flybys of Earth accurately enough. We must get a correct theory as soon as possible. Don’t leave it until it is too late.


March 2, 2021

I learnt a new word today. I think I might use it quite a lot.

Liars, damned liars and experts

January 31, 2021

You are no doubt familiar with the opinion that there are three types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. Recently I wanted to use this phrase with an attribution, so I looked it up in wikipedia, and found that it is a variant of an older legal phrase, used to describe the three types of liars that can be found in a court of law: liars, damned liars and experts. The sense of the expression is that expert witnesses can say things that are correct but misleading. This is of particular relevance to all of us today, when the interpretation by politicians of the opinions of experts concerning covid-19 is a matter of life and death.

I was led to musing on this subject by reading arXiv:2101.11664, which I read as a quasi-legal defence of the MOND approach to gravity, in its long-running dispute with received opinion, represented in this case by the Lambda-CDM approach to cosmology. The particular piece of evidence under discussion is the existence or otherwise of Milgrom’s universal constant of acceleration, which is the (alleged) point at which (allegedly) Newton’s law of gravity breaks down spectacularly. Expert witnesses for the prosecution used Bayesian statistics to “prove” (that is to say, give as their expert opinion) that this alleged constant is not constant and therefore cannot exist. The five authors of this new 4-page paper attack the credibility of these expert witnesses, by showing how their methods also “prove” that Newton’s universal constant of gravitation is not constant and therefore cannot exist.

If I were a member of the jury in this trial, I would put these expert witnesses in the same category as the liars and damned liars, and disregard everything they said. Moreover, I would not trust any other evidence that made use of Bayesian statistics either.

But this is just one instance in which the establishment recruits “experts” to fight off “novel” (in this case, 40 years old) ideas with which they disagree. The phenomenon is widespread, and leads not only to miscarriages of justice on an industrial scale, but also to an authoritarian regime in science, which is antithetical to any kind of real progress. If you don’t toe the party line, you won’t get a job in science, and your ideas will be ridiculed as “crackpot”, instead of being discussed as a possible new approach to solving old problems. Never mind that the establishment has spectacularly failed to solve these problems, which still lie exactly where they were 40 years ago.

The only game in town

October 11, 2020

It is quite unbelievable how often one hears the defence of string theory, that it is “the only game in town”. If this were true, it would be a shocking indictment of the state of theoretical fundamental physics. But it is not true. There are many other games in town. It is just that no-one pays any attention to them. There are large numbers of people with hugely interesting ideas about how to break the logjam, and work towards solutions of the fundamental problems. It is just that no-one listens to these ideas. The authoritative figures only talk, and don’t listen. They are bereft of ideas themselves, but instead of listening to other people’s ideas, they shut their eyes and their ears, and open their mouths, and intone the mantra that their own long-since failed idea is the only one in town. Nonsense. There are huge numbers of ideas out there. Several of them might even be crazy enough to be true.

Potatoes in the exhaust pipe

August 19, 2020

For the benefit of new readers, of whom there seem to be quite a few, I will recap briefly on where I think Ronald M Smith’s “potato in the tail-pipe” actually lies. He uses this as a metaphor for the false assumptions that are (presumably) so ingrained in physical theories that no-one can see them. As a group theorist, I used my expertise to look for the potato inside the group-theory part of the standard model. For years I found nothing, and then I decided I really ought to learn a bit more about general relativity. And suddenly, there was the potato staring me in the face.

Right at the foundations of quantum mechanics is the spin group SU(2), of all 2×2 complex unitary matrices with determinant 1. This group contains the negative identity matrix, so that every matrix pairs up with its negative. Ignoring the overall sign gives a quotient group which is isomorphic to the space rotation group SO(3). In the early days, when there were no other groups involved in the theory, it was useful to regard this isomorphism as an equality. But this equality is not a fact, it is an assumption. There is your potato.

The reason I know it is a potato is because it is incompatible with the existence of gravity. Not just with general relativity, or with Newtonian gravity, but with¬†any theory of gravity that is good enough to explain the tides. I won’t repeat the mathematical argument here, but will add a link when I’ve found where I put it. The short and quite straightforward paper in which I explained the argument was inexplicably rejected by every journal I sent it to, and the arXiv, without explanation. I suppose the reason is that the journals are looking for papers about the technical details of how to make better catalytic converters, not for idiots like me pointing out that they might work better if you take the potato out of way. After all, no-one likes to be made to look foolish.

Digging out this potato turned out to be a quite complicated and fascinating process. In particular, it had some subtle effects on the operation of complex conjugation on the spinor representations. It became clear that the entire complex-conjugation system of the standard model might need an overhaul, or at least a thorough service. Since I couldn’t find a mechanic to do this work, I had to do it myself. And that is when I found the second potato (sorry, the metaphor is getting a bit tired now).

The question is, how does the complex-conjugation system work when it comes to SU(3)? This group occurs in a number of slightly different places in the standard model, all of them related to the strong nuclear force. The one that was of concern to me was the original Gell-Mann version that describes the “approximate symmetries” of the up, down and strange quarks. Complex conjugation is used here to swap the quarks with the corresponding anti-quarks. But the more I looked at it and tried it, the more I could see that this particular bit of machinery cannot work. There were some nuts and bolts left over, rattling around inside the machine.

So I rebuilt it using all the nuts and bolts, to see how the quarks and anti-quarks fitted together to make pseudoscalar mesons. And, lo and behold, instead of nine pseudoscalar mesons, as in the standard model, there were ten! Well, now, my enemies thought they’d caught me there, and confidently asserted that experiment proves there are nine pseudoscalar mesons, not ten. But you go and look at the literature for yourself, and try to count how many pseudoscalar mesons are actually physically observed in the experiments. If you look at the experimental evidence without a pre-conceived theoretical bias, you will be forced to conclude that the answer is in fact ten.

So I have not only removed the potato from the exhaust pipe, I have also overhauled the catalytic converter so that it deals correctly with the kaon exhaust. Moreover, my model correctly explains the small amount of K_S exhaust that is measured at the end of the exhaust-pipe, after the catalytic converter supposedly removed all of the K_S from the exhaust.

Would you not think that people would be grateful for this? Not a bit of it. For a start, they are all busy at the other end of the vehicle, staring at the engine and thinking of new parts to add to it. For another, they are “experts”, and I am not, so what am I doing trying to interfere in their business?

Continental drift

May 29, 2020

The theory of continental drift is now a well-established part of orthodox explanations of how the Earth got to look how it does. Not so when I was growing up in the early 1960s. From a very early age I was fascinated by my father’s globe, and the amazing amount of information contained on a piece of paper of area 4\pi r^2, with r somewhere in the region of 15 cm. My best birthday present ever was an atlas my grandmother gave me when I was 5, and I loved doing jigsaw puzzles, especially when the picture was a map. With this background, it is impossible not to notice that the East Coast of South America fits into to the West Coast of Africa like a hand in a glove. When I was told, it’s just a coincidence, it doesn’t mean anything, I realised for the first time that grown-ups don’t know everything. I knew deep inside me that it could not be a coincidence.

Fast forward half a century. I approach particle physics as a 55-year-old child, wanting to learn everything. But I am still a child, I want to know the truth, I am not interested in answers that say it’s too hard for you to understand, because it is *not* too hard for me to understand. Continental drift is easy for a child to understand. Things that grown-ups say are fixed and have always been that way, children can understand might not always have been that way. I looked at the masses of the elementary particles the way I looked at the coast of South America, and I looked at the Solar System the way I looked at the coast of Africa, and I saw that they fitted together. Everyone says “coincidence”, but the five-year-old child that still lives within me says no, this cannot be. This is not a coincidence. This is the explanation for why the world is as it is.



April 27, 2020

It is interesting how the coronavirus pandemic has changed human civilisation in such fundamental ways in just a few weeks. Three months ago it would have been unthinkable that we should be forced to behave in the ways we are now behaving. Huge sections of society are being forced to consider new ways of living, and new ways of staying alive. Although serious food shortages are not yet threatening the rich part of the world, people do seem to be seriously considering the options for growing more of their own food, and relying less on going out shopping in supermarkets.

In this context I was reminded of a neglected resource, that is the oak tree. ¬†This tree is highly prized as a source of wood, once it is dead. That is like valuing the cow as a source of beef rather than a source of milk. The acorn was once a staple food throughout Europe, only falling into disuse gradually as the cultivation of cereal crops took over. Cereal crops have now taken over completely, and we have forgotten the acorn. The oaks here in Birmingham are just now exploding into their glorious green spring colours. Come the autumn, they will each produce tens or hundreds of thousands of acorns. When the acorns are ripe, they are dark brown and fall off the tree. Eat them, they are delicious. Don’t leave them for the squirrels.