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Who Was Hermann Weyl?

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Weyl Conformal Gravity
Weyl's 1918 Theory
Weyl's 1918 Theory Revisited
Weyl v. Schrodinger
Why Did Weyl's Theory Fail?
Did Weyl Screw Up?
Weyl and the Aharonov-Bohm Effect
The Bianchi Identities in Weyl Space
Conformal, Parameter-Free Riemannian Gravity
Gravity Wave Tutorial
Conformal Kerr-de Sitter Gravity
A Child's Guide to Spinors
Levi-Civita Rhymes with Lolita
Weyl's Scale Factor
Weyl's Spin Connection
Weyl and Higgs Theory
Weyl & Schrodinger - Two Geometries
Lorentz Transformation of Weyl Spinors
Riemannian Vectors in Weyl Space
Introduction to Quantum Field Theory
A Children's Primer on Quantum Entanglement
Veblen and Weyl
Graphing the Lorentz Transformation
FLRW in de Sitter Spacetime
FLRW with a Constant Curvature Scalar
Is There a Flaw in the FLRW Metric?
On the Mannheim-Kazanas Spacetime
Electron Spin
Clebsch-Gordan Calculator
Bell's Inequality
The Four-Frequency of Light
There Must Be a Magnetic Field!
Non-Metricity and the RC Tensor
Curvature Tensor Components
Kaluza-Klein Theory
The Divergence Myth in Gauss-Bonnet Gravity
Schrodinger Geometry
A Brief Look at Gaussian Integrals
Differential Forms for Physics Students
Particle Chart
Einstein's 1931 Pasadena Home Today

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2023 Archive

Lumpy — Posted Wednesday December 20, 2023
Do we live in a cosmic bubble? Is the universe avoiding us?

Physicists say there's no such thing as "nothing," not even the best vacuum, because quantum fluctuations and dark energy inhabit what we generally call nothingness. Even a passing gravitational wave in a vacuum constitutes something, although no one knows what impact that has on the definition of nothing.

As I wrote back on 4 December, some cosmologists believe we may live in a relative void of matter, stars and galactic structures, possibily created by preferential gravitational effects that inevitably move cosmic stuff around, making the local universe "grainy." On a truly vast scale the universe looks uniform, but zoom in a bit and it appears more and more lumpy.

The Scientific Amaerican has a new article on the subject of voids, noting that if we live in one our perception of the universe might be greatly affected, depending only on the size of the void. In particular, the current "crisis in cosmology" — the Hubble tension — might then be explained, as would be the problem of dark matter. The article cleverly refers to the universe's stuff as more like Swiss cheese than cream cheese, so voids are, well, unavoidable.

For more details, see this recent paper on the subject, which is cited in the article.

Bumpy — Posted Wednesday December 20, 2023
Everything is now headed for the Supreme Court. With multiple legal, criminal and civil cases against former president Donald Trump, Colorado's highest court has now ruled that Trump will not be on that state's primary ballot due to Trump's instigation of the January 6, 2021 insurrection. The Colorado decision will likely encourage similar legal decisions in other states, particularly Blue states like California and New York. If extended into the 2024 election, Trump's hopes would be reduced to his supporters voting only as write-ins, boosting Biden's chances for reelection.

Similarly, the governor of Texas has made illegal immigation into that state a criminal offense. I don't really blame him, but it too is being challenged by the ACLU and others, and will likely go to the Supreme Court.

So it's now coming to a denouement (for you clueless Republicans, that means a "final ending"), with the Supreme Court likely deciding Trump's fate. If the Court decides not to hear Trump's plea for overturning the Colorado decision, it would be the same as a vote against him, and he's finished. But if it decides to hear and decide on the case, the Court's four Trumpist judges will certainly be aware of one enormous issue—that if it decides Trump is immune from prosecution, then so is sitting President Joe Biden immune from any current and future prosecution. Biden could declare martial law or have the 2024 election canceled entirely, and all the Republicans could do is have Biden impeached and removed from office, putting VP Kamala Harris in the Executive Office—hardly a win for the GOP.

If the Court opts not to hear the Colorado case, then it's probably over for Trump, and the GOP's only option would be to incite civil war, something the Red States would probably support.

Year 2024 is looming as the most contentious date in America's history. As Bette Davis said in 1950's All About Eve, "Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night."

New Video on Weyl — Posted Tuesday December 19, 2023
Like pretty much every potential quantity in physics, the electromagnetic 4-potential \(A_\mu(x,t)\) is hidden in the sense that the addition of an arbitrary scalar gradient \(\partial_\mu \varphi(x,t)\) doesn't change anything, in particular the electric and magnetic fields (\(\mathbf{E}\) and \(\mathbf{B}\), respectively). This invariance is called gauge invariance, and it can be used to simplify the solution of those fields for many problems. Gauge invariance was discovered shortly after James Clerk Maxwell wrote down his four Maxwell equations for electromagnetism in the early 1860s.

But it was the German mathematical physicist Hermann Weyl (1885-1955) who in 1918 tried to extend the notion of gauge invariance to the gravitational field, and to the fundamental metric tensor \(g_{\mu\nu}\) in particular. In doing so he tried unsuccessfully to demonstrate that the electromagnetic field is essentially a consequence of geometry, like that of gravity. Weyl's was thus the first serious attempt to unify the gravitational and electromagnetic fields.

Weyl's theory was abandoned when it was realized in 1929 that it was applicable not to gravity but to quantum mechanics, where it became a cornerstone of modern quantum theory. However, in recent years interest in the theory's gravitational and cosmological aspects has taken off, and the applicability of gauge invariance (or conformal invariance) to the gravitational field has excited physicists over the possibility that it may be a fundamental symmetry of Nature after all, and possibly a solution to the dark matter problem.

Here's a new video by physicist and YouTuber Parth G, who I occasionally follow. His celebration of Weyl's theory, however, is overshadowed by his focus on electromagnetic gauge invariance, with little reference to Weyl's work on gravity. Also, I don't understand the video's title, This Guy [Weyl] Made Physics Redundant:

No Singularities? — Posted Wednesday December 13, 2023
"When theory predicts singularities, the theory is wrong." — Roy Kerr
With her arms and right leg extended straight out, a skater spins ever so slowly on the tip of the skate on her left leg. She then draws her arms and right leg into her body, and her spin rate increases dramatically. This is the old high school demonstration of the conservation of angular momentum.

Like the skater, stars also typically spin slowly. But when they collapse into a neutron star or black hole at the end of their lives, their spin rates likewise increase dramatically. One neutron star, PSR J1748-2446ad, has been observed spinning 716 times a second.

The justly famous Schwarzschild solution for a non-rotating, gravitating mass, discovered in 1916 by German physicist Karl Schwarzschild (what a coincidence! 😄), has been immensely successful in desribing all manner of cosmological observations, particularly the external gravity effects of a non-rotating black hole. But such a black hole is ideal—it doesn't exist, because all black holes rotate, so the Schwarzschild solution no longer strictly applies. The solution for an axially rotating black hole was unknown until New Zealand physicist Roy Kerr discovered it in 1963. The Kerr solution has since taken its place as the only fully correct description of a realistic cosmological black hole (actually, for any rotating body). Regrettably, the solution is devilishly hard to either derive or utilize, normally requiring computer programs to describe its effects.

Sixty years after his discovery, Kerr has returned with what he believes is a completely new characteristic of black holes—they don't contain a central singularity, whether they're rotating or not. If Kerr's idea is true, then it's revolutionary, because to all physicists singularities are simply not physical. They're mathematical embarrassments, indicating that the underlying theory is wrong.

Check out this new article, which includes a link to Kerr's paper.

Noted German physicist Sabine Hossenfelder is also pretty impressed.

How Would You Choose? — Posted Monday December 11, 2023
A social study conducted some years ago (I've been unable to find it now) posed the following scenario: A man shows up at your door and announces that he will give you $50,000 legally and free of taxes and any conditions on your part. If you accept, he will also give your next-door neighbor $50,000, also free of taxes or conditions. However, if you choose to accept only $25,000, then he will give your neighbor nothing. Most people in the study responded that they would take the smaller amount.

In a new and similar study, participants were also given the option of taking more money than their neighbor (in this case, their "partner"). But there was a twist in the study: the offer was made contingent on whether or not the participants agreed to be made aware of what their neighbor would receive. If they chose to be ingorant, the neighbor would get far less. This "altruism vs selfishness" study reveals something deeply disturbing about economic and social norms in America.

It is a documented fact that Americans making working-class and lower incomes tend to vote conservative, even when the leaders they choose to elect enact laws and policies that are not in their best interests. Worse, conservative voters are even aware that they're screwing themselves. What appears to be more important in their minds is the assurance that the "other guy" is NOT benefiting. In America today, we call that "Owning the Libs."

Yesterday, Special Counsel Jack Smith, the prosecutor who is investigating the crimes of former President Donald Trump, announced that he would consult the Supreme Court on whether Trump should be held IMMUNE from prosecution based on his former position as President. The Court was essentially hand-picked by Trump, and the only question is whether it will vote 6-3 or 5-4 in Trump's favor. Trump's reelection in 2024 would result in a promised frenzy of retributive acts against his perceived legal, legislative and progressive enemies, which would not benefit less-well-off conservative voters other than to give them the satisfaction of screwing those they despise. With polls giving Trump substantial leads over current President Biden in many states, it appears that conservatives will get their wish.

Will it be 6-3 or 5-4? — Posted Monday December 11, 2023
"Then it saw all people as a threat, not just the ones on the other side. It decided our fate in a microsecond: extermination." — Time traveler Kyle Reese in 1984's The Terminator
The above quote could equally apply to 2024: Special Counsel Jack Smith, investigating a plethora of Donald Trump's crimes, has now asked the Supreme Court to decide whether former President Donald Trump has absolute immunity from all prosecution regarding the civil and criminal allegations against him. The Supreme Court, having been mostly hand-picked by Trump, will almost certainly decide in Trump's favor. This would effectively kill all civil and criminal cases currently being conducted against Trump, making his reelection in November 2024 a certainty. Welcome to Fascist Amerika.

As many have posited, Trump is not the true enemy of American democracy. It's the roughly 50% of asinine American voters who will bring him back to absolute power in January 2025. I know I said this in 2016, but if Trump is reelected I will take down this website and you will hear from me no more.

The Oldest Voices We Can Still Hear — Posted Monday December 11, 2023
In the 1985 movie Back to the Future, nerdy George McFly fears missing out on watching his favorite sci-fi TV show of the time, Science Fiction Theatre, the pseudo-documentary 1955-1957 TV series of which I too was a fan. I still recall one episode about a rock found in Pompeii in Italy that had somehow recorded the screams of terrified people as they tried to flee the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in August 79 AD.

True sound recording didn't appear until Edison came along in 1877 with his phonograph, a primitive device that etched audio vibrations on a cylindrical roll of fragile tin foil. Preservationists still have a few of these recordings, but they can't be played with a needle stylus for fear of tearing the foil material. Instead, they laser-scan the minute foil etchings from which they can digitally recreate the sounds. Even then, the recorded voices and music are of very poor quality.

Amazingly, sound recording predates Edison by 20 years, when on March 25, 1857 a French scientist managed to preserve vibrational audio etchings on strips of paper coated with powdered carbon. He didn't intend to make them playable but readable, as he hoped to develop a technique by which a person could read spoken words like court stenographers do today. Here's a recent YouTube video that explains this effort in greater detail:

After my wife passed away in July 2019, I found hundreds of old Betamax, VHS and audio cassettes in the garage that we had kept, intending to preserve them in some way for the future. I took these materials and digitally transcribed them in MP4 (video) and MP3 (audio) format, which I stored on numerous portable solid-state devices. They should last well beyond my lifetime, but I know that eventually they too will undergo degradation like the originals. Seeing and hearing my wife again from 1977 and later is a bittersweet experience for me today, but I still hope that I will see and hear her again in person someday.

I wonder what will happen to the billions of Internet websites, pages amd blogs that we see today (including mine) many years from now. Some are being archived for future posterity, but the vast majority will probably be lost, like tears in rain.

Uncursive — Posted Saturday December 9, 2023

My old library, courtesy of M. Waldenbach's web page

If you're my age (ancient), you may remember practicing your early grade school skills writing cursive. The teacher handed out sheets of lined practice paper, and we'd struggle to keep our primitive cursive letters between the lines. Today, cursive writing is almost a lost language, like hieroglyphics.

The first public library in Duarte, California was in a small brick building on Brycedale Avenue, just south of the Bank of America, which is still there. The library later became a Covenant Church, and now it's a meeting hall for a fraternal order of some kind. The library was later replaced by a modern library on Buena Vista Avenue. The south end of the old library faced one of the last orange groves in old Duarte, which I played in with friends during many summers. (When I was four years old, Michael Barnett threw a rock at my head while we were playing there, resulting in a trip to the hospital for stitches. I remember it as if it were yesterday.) The adjacent houses on Brycedale are also now gone, replaced by Duarte High School's baseball field.

As a kid, I also spent many hours in the original library. When I was four, my father and I would check out books on dinosaurs, an early interest of mine that has persisted throughout my life. As I got older, I'd go to the library to draw, copying pictures from the various art books it offered. I used an antique fountain pen that my father had, most likely from the 1930s. The pen utilized an internal rubber bladder to hold the ink, and it was filled using an external lever on the side of the pen.

Since then, I've been fascinated with fountain pens. I've bought several over the years, but my university education in science and engineering forced me into print writing, and now I can't write a single line in cursive. Even my signature on checks is an unrecognizable, cursive mess. Today I'm a cursive invalid.

After my wife passed away in 2019 I found two old fountain pens in a box in the garage. One was a green Pelikan pen made in Germany, very old but undated, with an 18k gold nib. The other was a Montblanc fountain pen, also made in Germany with a gold nib, which I dated to the 1950s. I have no idea where they came from (my father was German, so maybe they came down from him). New Pelikans and Montblancs are now priced in the $1,000 range. The Pelikan was completely broken, but I had the Montblanc refurbished. However, it doesn't compare to my Lamy Black Forest Studio pen or several other pens I own. I even have a new Jinhao x195 pen that cost all of $10, and even it writes better than the Montblanc.

There's an entire fountain pen industry on the Internet today, dedicated to collectors who can't seem to own enough of the things. I've avoided that, and today I own just five pens. I use them for doodling and for doing math, but I do no cursive writing. That train left the station long ago.

Unquantizing Gravity — Posted Friday December 8, 2023
[Is there any] chance you have the time and inclination to explain this paper in English so non-physicists could take a stab at understanding it? — Reader Inquiry to Astrophysicist Ethan Siegel
A friend alerted me to a new science paper that's being touted at numerous websites, including this one. It has to do with maintaining Einstein's 1915 gravity theory as a purely classical theory with no quantum aspect to it at all. That bucks the conventional notion that gravity needs to be quantized if we're ever going to have a workable theory of quantum gravity. You can download the original December 4 2023 paper here, but I doubt if you'll have much luck understanding it. I didn't.

Siegel does indeed take a stab at it in his latest article, citing this related paper by the same author, Jonathan Oppenheim of University College London. While I don't understand either of Oppenheim's papers, I can make two comments on topics that I believe everyone has ignored.

The first involves the famous double slit experiment. Siegel explains what it is, so I won't repeat it here. But it involves whether a particle that gravitates experiences the same kind of quantum interference that quantum-level particles (like electrons and even protons and neutrons) experience when directed at the slits. However, the double slit experiment involves an impenetrable barrier that particles are forced to go through, either through Slit 1 or Slit 2 (or both, which a particle's wave function can do). But for gravity there are no impenetrable barriers, because nothing we know of can confine gravity in any way (withe the possible exception of Cavorite, a fictional antigravity substance invented by H.G. Wells. Thus, a gravitating particle certainly views the slit barrier in a much different way that a purely quantum particle does. And of course, the slit material also gravitates.

The second involves Einstein's classical field equations, which are linear in the Ricci tensor \(R_{\mu\nu}\) and Ricci scalar \(R\). In quantum theory parlance, the field equations are not renormalizable, meaning that when coupled with quantum theory they give infinite answers and unphysical results like negative probabilities. Many thousands of researchers have sought ways to make Einstein's equations compatible with quantum theory to no avail (another problem is that Einstein's theory violates conformal invariance, a mathematical symmetry that many physicists believe is a fundamental symmetry of Nature).

However, there is a unique "square" of Einstein's field equations in which the quantities \(R_{\mu\nu} R^{\mu\nu}\) and \(R^2\) combine to give field equations that are both renormalizable and conforally invariant. Recent theories utilizing such equations have come very close to explaining the mystery of dark matter and, if coorect, demonstrate that dark matter may be a fictitious substance like Cavorite.

Gravity is so completely different from the other interactions (elecromagnetism and the strong and weak forces of quantum theory) that attempts to quantize gravity may always be doomed to failure. But whether a classical theory like Einstein's and quantum theory can ever be reconciled with one another is itself an open question. We may never know the answer.

BTW: Noted German physicist Sabine Hossenfelder thinks that Oppenheim's idea is well worth looking at.

A Giant Void — Posted Monday December 4, 2023

Overall the universe looks uniform, but there are isolated voids that may be of importance

The basic principle of modern cosmological theory is that—on average—the distribution of matter and energy in the entire universe is uniform. That is, it is homogeneous (it looks the same from any one location to another) and isotropic (it looks the same in any direction). The Friedmann-Lemaître-Robertson-Walker (FLRW) cosmological model is based on this idea, which is necessary if we are to simplify Einstein's 1915 gravity theory as applied to the entire observable universe.

I've often wondered what impact a more granular, less homogeneous or isotropic model would have on FLRW cosmology, and that is pretty much what the researchers of a new paper have considered. The authors assume that the Milky Way Galaxy (our home) lies in a local void in which the distribution of matter and energy is more sparse than on the average. They estimate that the void is about 20% less dense than the outer universe, and they show that this has major implications for several outstanding mysteries concerning the rate of expansion of the universe and the apparent preferred direction of flow of nearly galaxies.

Perhaps the rest of the universe is aVOIDing us. I wouldn't blame it.

This new YouTube video based on the paper explains things more fully: Do We Live in a Giant Void?

Try Not to Laugh — Posted Sunday December 3, 2023

It ain't Some Like it Hot or even The Importance of Being Earnest (and the joke in Jack's Joke didn't exactly have me rolling on the floor in laughter), but this restored and colorized 1913 Kinetophone-synced sound film probably had audiences of the time gasping in amazement. Too bad the technology bombed, but it's a neat bit of cinematic history just the same.

Some History, Then Today's Sermon — Posted Sunday December 3, 2023

In the ancient world most people were pagans, not to mean that they were necessarily bad people but simply because they believed in and worshiped many gods. This included the ancient Romans and their leaders, who really couldn't care less which of their many gods you believed in as long as you paid at least some attention to the gods through token prayer and sacrifice.

The Romans captured Judea in 63 BC, but they mostly tolerated Jewish monotheist beliefs and practices. The Romans had no written scriptures or commandments like the Jews, but even though the Jews did not worship or sacrifice to the gods they were largely left alone because Judaism was an ancient religion, and the Romans respected ancient faiths.

But religious tolerance faded in and out in the first three centuries AD, when various Roman emperors began to believe that the new religion of Christianity and its rise was detrimental to the security and prosperity of Rome. They thought that because Christians did not sacrifice to the gods, the gods would get angry and cause disasters to fall upon Rome and its empire. Although the first recorded mass persecution of Christians occurred under Emperor Nero in 64 AD, it was not because of their faith but because Nero needed a convenient scapegoat to blame the Great Fire of Rome on. The persecution of Christians due to their monotheist faith began in earnest when the Decree of Emperor Decius was announced in 249 AD, which stated that all Roman inhabitants were required under penalty of torture and death to sacrifice to the gods. This persecution occurred again (and more severely) under Emperor Diocletian in 303 AD, when he issued a series of edicts also requiring sacrifice to the official gods of Rome.

Minority faiths and minorities themselves have similarly been persecuted throughout history because of their beliefs and practices. Sadly, that is still the case in America today, and with the rise of Trumpian authoritarians it has resulted in the notion that if you don't believe (or look) like they do, you're a detriment to the security and prosperity of America. They believe progressive ideas like abortion, racial mixing and same-sex marriage (and even sex before marriage) is an affront to the Christian God, who will punish America if it isn't stopped. Public comments by the newly-elected, ultra-conservative and über-sanctimonious Speaker of the House (Mike Johnson) make quite clear the fascist direction the Republican Party is taking, and it now includes the same kind of Roman persecution that predominantly white Christian evangelicals want to wage against minorities and progressive "haters of God."

Conservative American Christians like to say they're followers of Christ, and that "America is a Christian nation," but the more fundamentalist and politically-driven among them behave as if they're not. In 2016, fully 81% of voters identifying as evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump, in spite of Trump's lifelong anti-Christian behavior and the total lack of evidence that he displays regarding any faith whatsoever, excepting the worship of money and self-serving power. America's supposedly most Christian state, Utah (if one can consider Mormonism a form of Christianity), voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016, and his support has slipped little in that state despite his impeachments and criminal indictments.

One aspect of America's supposed Christianity is our attitude toward immigrants, particularly those fleeing wars, political persecution and economic and environmental disasters. Typically, white evangelical Americans say "Sure we're Christians, and we love all people! But COME ON! We can't allow millions of illegal immigrants into the country, especially because President Trump warned us that they're criminals and rapists! Even if they want to enter the country legally, we can't save the world!"

But Jesus taught that's EXACTLY how the world is saved, by following His teachings and the philosophy of His second greatest Commandment, that we love others as we love ourselves. Christians are supposed to be sojourners in this world, not lovers of the world or the things in the world. As a Christian, I find this to be the most difficult command in the entire Bible, in spite of Christ telling us that "My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:30). Like everyone, I too worry about the awful state of the world and crime, mass killings by guns and attacks on minorities in my country, and like our leaders I haven't the foggiest idea how to solve these problems. But sanctimoniously attacking others because they're different in some way or because of a superstitious fear of God's wrath is not a solution, nor is electing dictatorial political leaders who espouse hatred, violence and white supremacy.

Occasionally, they accidentally speak the truth:
"We've been waging an all-out war on American democracy." — Donald Trump, December 2, 2023

Why No Antigravity? — Posted Sunday December 3, 2023
In nearly every old sci-fi TV show and movie featuring space travel, the problem of weightlessness is conveniently ignored. Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock walk around effortlessly, and Lieutenant Sulu doesn't float around, having to cling to the ship's control panel. The notable exception is 1968's 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which crew members use magnetic shoes to stay fixed to the floor, or inhabit enormous rotating toruses to simulate gravity via centrifugal force.

It's usually implied that the lack of gravity on space ships is due to some kind of anti-gravity device built into the space crafts. That still doesn't explain why we see "up" and "down" in the shows, because in reality there's no such thing in deep space. (Also, filming everything upside down, sideways or diagonally would not attract many viewers.)

In his latest post, noted astrophysicist Ethan Siegel tries to answer the question of why antigravity doesn't appear to exist or even be scientifically possible, in spite of the fact that antimatter definitely does exist, and that every elementary particle has an antimatter counterpart (even though antiparticles don't hang around very long). There are also negative energy states in quantum mechanics, but as far as we know no exotic combination of antimatter and negative energy seems theoretically capable of creating antigravity.

It's an interesting article, and worth reading for the background physics Siegal provides, but he misses one aspect of antigravity that's scientifically valid, and that's the cosmological constant, usually denoted as \(\Lambda\) in Einstein's field equations: $$ R^{\mu\nu} - \frac{1}{2}\, g^{\mu\nu} R + \Lambda g^{\mu\nu} = \frac{8 \pi G}{c^4}\, T^{\mu\nu} $$ Both observation and theory tell us that \(\Lambda\) opposes the gravitational attraction of all matter in the universe, and is believed to be responsible for the observed acceleration of universal expansion. Unfortunately, \(\Lambda\) appears to be a mysteriously fundamental component of pure empty space, and not a particle or field that can be artificially created in an antigravity device.

BTW, another convenient but expectedly impossible sci-fi feature of TV shows and movies is warp drive, allowing for hyper-light speed space travel. This gets around the limitation of space travelers having to wait many years to get from one star system to another, much less from one galaxy to another (even at light speed, it would take over four years for a space craft to reach the next star in the Milky Way). Remember the road sign: "Speed Limit 186,000 MPH. Not Just a Good Idea, it's the Law!"

[My older son Kristofer wrote a series of humorous sci-fi books in which the warp drive idea is replaced by an appeal to the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. Captain Vanderbeam and his crew get around by somehow jumping over to an alternate but otherwise identical parallel universe in which the ship is already at its destination!]

More Geek Stuff — Posted Friday December 1, 2023
Weyl geometry has recently experienced a strong revival, mostly due to its beautiful mathematical structure and attractive physical ideas that could be implemented by using its formalism.
That remark comes from a new arXiv.org paper in which the authors test the 1918 gravity theory of German mathematical pjhysicist Hermann Weyl against current cosmological data concerning galactic rotation curves. They conclude that a simple application of Weyl's theory does indeed explain the data to a high degree, in spite of the conventional \(\Lambda\)CDM standard model of cosmology, which invokes dark matter as the correct interpretation of the observed data.

The only problem, as admitted by the paper's authors, is that Weyl gravity was originally proposed as a means of naturally embedding electromagnetic theory into a revised version of Einstein's 1915 gravity theory. That idea went nowhere, but the mathematical formalism behind the idea (conformal invariance, or metric gauge invariance) is now the basis of all modern quantum physics.

Just Shut Up? — Posted Thursday November 30, 2023
There are many unsolved problems in physics, and which one is the most important is purely subjective. Many physicists, including the late, great Caltech physicist and 1965 Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman, developed sets of rules for calculating things that seemed to work perfectly, even if they didn't truly understand why they worked, so they adopted the philosophy of "Just shut up and calculate." Other physicists, such as Germany's Sabine Hossenfelder, remain bothered by this approach, preferring to delve into the fundamentals of physics (especially quantum physics) in the hope that the basis of why things work can be understood at a fundamental level. This approach has been far less successful, perhaps because it's essentially the same as trying to know the mind of God.

Maybe the most fundamental problem, and one that all physicists are perplexed by (or at least in disagreement with), is the measurement problem, whose difficulty belies its apparent simplicity. You flip a coin and it comes up heads—where's the mystery in that? But in quantum mechanics it's a huge problem, because until the outcome of some experiment or event is witnessed or recorded the system being observed is in a superposition of states whose outcome is probabilistic and indeterminate and governed by the Born rule. Worse, until the observation is made the system is governed by the Schrodinger equation, which is deterministic and continuous. Once the observation is made, however, the system collapses instantaneously into a single one of its possible outcomes, and exactly how the Schrodinger equation does that is unknown. Any process that evolves smoothly in time and then collapses instantly is not a physical process. Even worse still, the process of collapse is not amenable to observation, much less understanding.

This latest PBS Spacetime episode explains the measuremnt problem more fully but, perhaps like the question of why anything exists at all, it may never be solved.

Dark Protactinium? — Posted Thursday November 30, 2023
"There's antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium and hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and rhenium ..." — Tom Lehrer, The Elements (see video below)
Maybe you're heard of Supersymmetry theory, a decades-old and now nearly-abandoned theory that for every spin-integer particle (boson) there exists a half-integer spin particle (fermion). So for the photon (boson) there was supposed to be the photino (a fermion), the electron (fermion) has a selectron (a boson), etc. The theory effectively doubled the number of elementary particles in the universe, and the expected masses of many of them were deemed easily detectable by the Large Hadron Collider. But none were ever seen, and the apparent failure of supersymmetry, a critical element of superstring theory, has put the kibosh on that theory as a result.

The prediction of exotic but as-yet unseen particles plays a big role in the dark matter conjecture, in which dark matter is supposed to account for 80% of all matter in the universe. While dark matter particles would explain much of the "missing matter" problem in cosmology, four decades of experimental research and the expenditure of billions of dollars has spectacularly failed to detect a single particle.

But now some hopeful astrophysicists not only maintain their belief that dark matter exists, they've expanded its properties. As noted in this new Salon article, dark matter is proposed to come in ultraheavy forms, resulting in a kind of "periodic table" of dark matter elements. Thus, there might be dark hydrogen, dark aluminum amd dark dysprosium, and as these elements get even heavier they collapse into mini black holes. Such black holes would also be "dark," as they not so much don't interact with light and other forms of matter but actually absorb them. But mini black holes having masses like the chemical elements would evaporate rapidy (even explode) due to Hawking radiation, so dark elements would have to be endowed with a special kind of stability, implying new physics.

It all seems so bizarre. Physicists are a persistent bunch, and that's okay, but to persevere in trying to explain one hypothetical particle (dark matter) by imagining a host of other hypothetical particles (axions, cold neutrinos, massive photons, etc.) seems pointless. And now dark elements seem to have joined the list.

"There's dark antimony, dark arsenic, dark aluminum, dark selenium ..."

MAEGA — Make Ancient Egypt Great Again — Posted Monday November 27, 2023
Thousand-calorie Big Gulp drinks are your friggin' RIGHT, America!!

I'm again binge-watching the wonderful 48-episode Great Courses lecture series History of Ancient Egypt by noted Egyptologist Bob Brier, who has several other GC lecture series on the great pharaohs and how to read ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. It's remarkable how similar that ancient civilization is to the modern world in terms of economics, culture, politics and warfare, leading me to believe that we humans haven't really changed much in 5,000 years, if we've changed at all, or if we're even capable of changing for the better.

In brief, conventional history of ancient Egypt is broken down into three distinct eras, called the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom, each separated by what are called the Intermediate Periods. Each of the kingdoms generally were remarkably stable and successful, but the intermediate periods were times of strife, change and problems.

Lecture 11 of the GC series is particularly interesting, as the First Intermediate Period (roughly spanning 2180-2050 BC) echoes exactly what is going on in more modern times, particularly with respect to civilizations and nations exhibiting more conservative beliefs and customs. As Prof. Brier points out repeatedly, ancient Egyptians hated change of any kind, preferring stable religious and political beliefs and cultural customs and practices (especially art) that persisted for some 3,000 years. Although contemporary recorded evidence of the First Intermediate Period is scarce, later records from the early Middle Kingdom include many written lamentations from Egyptians who recalled the problems that befell Egypt, and they all pointed nostalgically to the desire for a strong, capable leader and no-nonsense Übermensch who would restore Egypt to its rightful glory and power.

Brier tells of a powerful pharaoh of the Old Kingdom (Amenhotep II) who, returning from a successful battle, tied the rotting corpses of slain battle victims to the prow of his boat as it returned along the Nile River. Brutal, yes, but what a leader!

Who does all this remind you of today? Charismatic but amoral leaders who would make Make America Great Again, Make Russia Great Again, Make Argentina Great Again, Make China Great Again, Make Hungary Great Again and who would prosecute, imprison and perhaps even kill their political enemies while their deluded followers praise and even worship them as the Great Leaders who will restore all to greatness!

Yes, we need to go back to all-you-can-eat fast-food restaurants, Big Gulp drinks, high trans-fat foods, banned vaccinations, incandescent light bulbs and gas stoves, America! And only Donald Trump can restore those precious freedoms to us!!

And yes, we haven't learned a damned thing.

Ten to One — Posted Saturday November 25, 2023
The 3rd Century AD Roman emperor Decius instituted a practice of executing 10% of his troops when they failed in their assigned military missions, presumablky because of cowardice. Hence the term "decimation."

My late wife was a native Egyptian, a devout Coptic Christian (as I am) who nevertheless felt a kinship with the Palestinian people, 99% of whom are Muslim in Gaza and 85% in the West Bank. She didn't despise Israel in spite of its apartheid treatment of Palestinians, but she never failed to point out to me that for every Israeli killed by terrorists in the region, ten Palestinians would be killed in reprisal by Israel.

That ratio continues to hold today. While some 1,200 Israeli men, women and children were horrifically slaughtered by Hamas terrorists on October 7, some 14,000 Palestinian civilians have been killed indiscriminantly to date by Israel in response, of which about 70% (10,000) have been innocent women and children.

Nearly every U.S. news network has concentrated on the Jewish side of the October 7 massacre, but coverage of the insane number of civilian Palestinian deaths has gone by the wayside. Is it because Israelis are "whiter" than Palestinians, or perhaps because Israelis look a little more like us? My wife thought it might be true, and so do I. May God forgive us.

Meanwhile, America continues with its love/hate relationship with the Jewish people. They're either seen as Israeli "freedom fighters" or money-grubbing Jews, the latter of which explains the current rise in anti-Semitism in this country. Again, may God forgive us.

The OMG Particle — Posted Saturday November 25, 2023
In 2006, physics Nobelist Leon Lederman's book The God Particle came out, which dealt with the long-anticipated Higgs particle, which was finally observed in 2012, garnering three more Nobel Prize winners.

Lederman's calling the Higgs the "God particle" mainly had to do with the particle's ability to convey mass to all known other particles through a mathematical process known as symmetry breaking. The discovery of the Higgs belies its observed mass, which at some 125 giga (billion) electron volts was far smaller than expected for such a such a fundamental (but long elusive) particle.

In 1991, astrophysicists measured a cosmic ray particle that they dubbed the "Oh-My-God particle", which had an estimated energy of 320 quintillion electron volts(!). Cosmic rays are just ordinary charged particles like electrons, protons and helium nuclei that are blasted out from a variety of stellar and galactic sources such as black holes, supernovas and related energetic processes. They are commonly seen hitting Earth with a range of energies, but scientists are at a complete loss to understand how cosmic particles having energies of a quintillion electron volts are even physically possible.

Recently, another cosmic ray particle was detected having nearly as much energy. Considered exceedingly rare, the vastness of the observable universe and the relative tiny minuteness of Earth makes me wonder how much of the energy of dark matter and dark energy might be attributable to such particles.

Sixty Years, Yet Again — Posted Friday November 24, 2023
Readers my age will remember actor, producer and activist Rob Reiner ("Meathead" from All in the Family). Like me and many others, Reiner has been obsessed with the 1963 assassination of JFK, and he and TV journalist Soledad O'Brien are currently airing a ten-part podcast called Who Killed JFK?, which you can listen to on the link.

It's fascinating to learn about all we were lied to by the CIA, FBI and the Warren Commission about the assassination, but it's a bit too scripted for my tastes (I prefer lectures without emotional background music), and the main sponsor of the podcast is a psychic advisory outfit (all psychics in my opinion are irresponsible snake-oil salespersons).

One bit of the killing's history has always bothered me, which is echoed in the podcast: When questioned by reporters, Lee Harvey Oswald didn't deny shooting JFK, but responded instead with "I'm a patsy." This response implies his awareness of a conspiracy, and not a denial of personal or individual guilt.

Again, curiouser and curiouser.

Sixty Years, Again — Posted Friday November 24, 2023
When my interest in comic books waned around 1962, I turned to science fiction and sci-fi movies. The fall of 1963 not only brought in the tragic JFK assassination, but several new rather disturbing TV shows as well. The most notable was the two-season series The Outer Limits, something of a spin-off of The Twilight Zone but with greater emphasis on pure science fiction, heavily tinged with actual science. Often woefully under-budgeted, the series included the The Production and Decay of Strange Particles (a nod to modern particle physics but otherwise a complete and boring dud), while the best IMO was Demon With a Glass Hand, my all-time favorite.

But a few of the episodes were truly frightening, and The Zanti Misfits, a kind of polemic on capital punishment, still bothers me today:

Sixty Years — Posted Wednesday November 22, 2023
It was a Friday sixty years ago on this date, and I was a freshman at Duarte High School. Just before lunch break, fellow classmate Greg Schubert excitedly informed me that President Kennedy had been shot. I went to the cafeteria, where a television had been set up. I remember there weren't many details available at the time, but I figured JFK was probably going to be okay. My first class after lunch was French I with Mrs. Farrell. A short time after class started, a student came by and handed her a note, which she read to the class. She matter-of-factly intoned "President Kennedy is dead," but I don't recall if she said anything more.

Six decades later, I've read all the books about the assassination, pro- and con-conspiracy theories included, and all I know today is that something was rotten in the state of Camelot. In short, nothing adds up, but the condition of the country back then with the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, student protesters, the abrupt and illegal handling of JFK's body, the rapid expansion of the war under LBJ, and the subsequent assassinations of King and RFK all seem to indicate a government-led conspiracy.

The track of the fatal bullet through JFK's brain would certainly have provided a definitive answer to which direction it came from during the autopsy. But the organ was not buried with him, and it mysteriously disappeared in 1966.

Curiouser and curiouser. Perhaps someone will use artificial intelligence to see where that might lead.

Spooky Action in Politics? — Posted Saturday November 4, 2023
This new article by Peter Schwartz in Religion Dispatches attempts to relate Einstein's notion of "spooky action at a distance" in quantum physics with the Israel/Hamas war. It's a bit of a stretch logically, but he makes some good points nevertheless. The one that caught my eye is this one:
The tendency of hyperlocal geographies is to dis-integrate socially; to devolve emotionally and psychologically; to regress into fear-based and resentment-based identities; to retreat into tradition; to dismiss the value and promise of education, learning, novelty, and adventure; to bunker down; to lash out; to resolve identity into territory; and to transform difference into enmity.
Schwartz uses the term hyperlocalism not only in reference to the lock-step military, political and religious views of ultra-orthodox Jews in a half-dozen or so regions of Israel, but also in its seeming entanglement (another quantum reference) with nearly identical views of America's ultra-conservative Christians. According to Schwartz, this bodes ill for American democracy, as both the war and American religiosity are supportive of Donald Trump's attempt to regain the presidency in spite of his blatant anti-Christian beliefs and behavior. The true irony, Schwartz notes, is that traditional religiosity in America and around the world has been in sharp decline for decades, but the political influence (or even dominance) of the minority of true believers is likely at an all-time high. Call it the tyranny of the minority or the tail wagging the dog.

As for myself, I see another irony, which is that the usual Democratic support of America's Muslims and Middle Eastern citizens is dropping because of President Biden's unequivocal support of Israel (despite the many thousands of innocent Palestinians being slaughtered in Gaza), while America's Jewish communities remain in support of Biden. This means a net decrease in votes for Biden in the 2024 presidential election at a time when he can least afford it.

Planet Nine from Outer Space — Posted Friday October 27, 2023
[The heading is based on the schlocky, nearly unwatchable 1957 cult sci-fi movie]

A few years ago I attended a Caltech lecture in which the speaker sought to validate the notion that a "Planet Nine" exists on the outskirts of our Solar System. I recall that his talk and the data he presented made complete sense to me, and that it was only a matter of time before the planet's existence was verified.

A new article in Scientific American proposes that Planet Nine in fact does not exist, and that the data supporting its existence evaporates when modified gravity theory is taken into account.

To my knowledge, the first attempt to modify Einstein's 1915 gravity theory appeared in 1918, when the German mathematical physicist Hermann Weyl published a paper in which a fundamental new type of mathematical symmetry—gauge invariance—was introduced. That symmetry now forms the basis of all modern quantum theory, although its relevance to gravitation is still undecided.

Modified gravity today is basically just a tweaking of Einstein's theory, although the variants of this tweaking are numerous in the research literature. The most notable form is MOND ("modified Newtonian dynamics"), but the more advanced theories have nothing to do with Newton. They're still based on Einstein's idea of a simple, coordinate-invariant theory subject to fundamental symmetries, which in turn give rise to the laws of physics.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose — Posted Friday October 27, 2023
You may remember the 1997 sci-fi film Starship Troopers and 2009's Avatar, which both dealt with future advanced and space-going humans seeking to conquer and colonize intelligent intergalactic alien civilizations. Unlike ancient Romans, which felt it was their duty as well as their obligation to conquer, exploit and enslave the ancient world, the humans in these films seek only the resources of alien planets but whose motives devolve into the slaughter of the inhabitants, whom they come to consider inferior or unworthy of their planets' resources.

In the Old Testament, God granted the invading Israelites the rights to conquer the so-called Promised Land, which was inhabited by peoples collectively known as the Canaanites. The death and destruction that resulted was supposedly justified by the fact that the Canaanites routinely practiced child sacrifice to their gods, an abhorrent practice deemed an irreconcilable and unforgiveable sin by God. But more to the point, the land was considered a gift from God to the Israelites, however it was obtained.

I'm likely not the first one to imagine a sci-fi story in which an advanced alien civilization attacks Earth, based on its own deity's promise that the quadrant of the Milky Way Galaxy in which Earth resides belongs to the aliens. Would humans fight back? Of course. But as the casualities mounted on both sides, Earthlings would also be deemed inferior and unworthy of the planet they inhabit.

The situation is only slightly different today in the modern-day Levantine area (what we call Israel and the immediate regions), in which a people (the Palestinians) had their native land stripped away politically and militarily, starting in 1948 and continuing to this day. To their great misfortune, they elected the ultra-rightwing Hamas organization to represent them in their struggle to reclaim and/or protect their remaining lands and properties. In the current Israeli/Hamas war, Hamas has committed truly inhuman atrocities, earning itself and by association the Palestinians accusations of being murderous butchers. Several U.S. lawmakers have already expressed the opinion that Hamas and the Palestinians should be wiped out completely, and to "let God sort 'em out."

Unless the long hoped-for Two-State resolution is achieved, Israel's only recourse (and possibly its ultimate plan) is to completely destroy the Palestinians and/or drive them into the Sinai. An apartheid state already exists in the West Bank and in Gaza, and it's not beyond possibility that Israel will ultimately strive for a Jewish-only nation.

Prescient — Posted Friday October 27, 2023
Here's a panel from the latest Tom the Dancing Bug, courtesy of cartoonist Ruben Bolling:

It's a take on the excellent 1932 movie The Most Dangerous Game, starring the original King Kong actress Fay Wray. It was shot on the same sets as the 1933 film (still one of my favorites), with Wray doing double duty filming both movies simultaneously. Actor Robert Armstrong ("Carl Denham" in the 1933 film) also appears, but in TMDG he's Wray's wimpy brother.

The notion of humans hunting humans seems prescient, considering the ongoing normalized mass killings going on in America today.

The Amazing Muon — Posted Thursday October 19, 2023
Experiments conducted in high-altitude aircraft (and earlier, in manned balloons) show that cosmic-ray muons enter Earth's upper atmosphere at a speed of about 0.994 times the speed of light. As measured in ground-based laboratory experiments, a muon has a life expectancy of nearly 2.2 microseconds before decaying into an electron and two neutrinos. However, cosmic-ray muons somehow easily survive the trip from the upper atmosphere to the ground, despite the fact that they shouldn't travel more than about 600 meters before decaying. We shouldn't see any of them coming down from the sky, so how do they do it?

This new Big Think article from astrophysicist Ethan Siegel explains how, but reading it was purely a nostalgic reminder for me, as the muon survival problem was my first introduction to Einstein's special relativity in 1969. I vividly recall not preparing very well for the physics final in the class that year, and panicking when I saw the problems. "I don't know any of this stuff!" I remember thinking to myself, although I somehow survived the course with a B grade.

On a separate note, it's a great pity that the muon's lifetime is not ten times greater, as then muonic hydrogen would be an ideal candidate for practical nuclear fusion energy. You can look that topic up on your own to see why.

Today I consider myself much more versed in general relativity, which requires more math but with less than the sometimes impenetrable logic of special relativity. I've posted several related articles I wrote on my now-idle weylmann.com website, but at any given moment I still have the feeling that I don't know the stuff.

Moving the Goalposts, Again — Posted Thursday October 19, 2023
Ever since the purported discovery of the Higgs particle at the Large Hadron Collider in July 2012 (which won the Nobel Prize in Physics for the theorists who predicted it in the 1960s), the machine has made no new discoveries of any note, sparking the notion that there's a "crisis" in high-energy physics and the fear that a "particle desert" exists at energies higher than the collider's, sounding the end of particle physics. The LHC has a peak energy of 14 TeV, more than any other collider in existence, yet despite its $10 billion cost adherents are calling for an even bigger machine. Certainly, they argue, if we could get energies higher than maybe 20 or 30 TeV, then all kinds of new, important and wonderful particles will be discovered, belying the fact that long hoped-for supersymmetry particles should have already been discovered far below the 14-TeV capability of the LHC. This is called "moving the goalposts." Just give them $50 billion or $100 billion more, and high-energy physics will redeem itself.

The same is true for the dark matter issue, which for some 40 decades billions of dollars' worth of experiments have been conducted, all failing utterly to find dark matter. Dark matter is the go-to argument to explain a number of unanswered problems, such as excessively high stellar velocities on the outskirts of galaxies, excessive gravitational lensing effects and anomalous galactic cluster behavior. Yet recent satellite observations by the European Space Agency's Gaia spacecraft show no evidence of these problems in our own Milky Way galaxy, which appears to behave according to conventional Newtonian and Einsteinian physics. But this has prompted DM enthusiasts to assert that the Milky Way just happens to be deficient in dark matter, and so should be ignored as an object of related study.

With only a single exception known to date, the above-mentioned issues have been observed in many thousands of galaxies, which have all lent credence to the dark matter hypothesis. The likelihood that the Milky Way just happens to be one out of thousands seems highly unreasonable. For detailed information on the issue, see the article by astronomer Stacy McGaugh.

I'm Losing It — Posted Saturday October 14, 2023
As The New Republic contributor Molly Taft writes, our planet is dying as we witless humans fight endless wars. Climate change is yet another elephant in a room already full of elephants that nobody wants to think about. I thought the destruction taking place in Ukraine was horrific, both on a humanitarian and climate scale, but so far it doesn't begin to compare with the cataclysm going on in Gaza, home to 2.5 million Palestinians forced to somehow survive in a 20,000 persons-per-square-mile apartheid hellhole.

The current Hamas/Israeli conflict is the world's fault. As Palestinians were continually forced from their ancestral homes in the decades following the establishment of the State of Israel, numerous wars, treaties and peace agreements took place, but the desired two-state solution never materialized, True, far from Gaza there are numerous individual Palestinian enclaves present in the West Bank, but they are all completely surrounded by Israeli settlements and military forces who humiliatingly check everyone going into and out of the enclaves. It's truly an apartheid state there, too, and the United Nations has recognized this injustice for years, but no one wants to do anything about it. In the meantime, Israel continues to evict Palestinians to make way for more Jewish settements.

The world has had many chances to find a permanent solution to this problem, but arms sales to the warring parties have always been more profitable than peace. The world's military powers and their billionaire arms suppliers now make up at least one-third of the world's carbon emissions through a combination of military exercises, arms manufacturing, deployment and use, but the climate impact is completely ignored. Even if Israel took over the entire contiguous region, expelling all non-Jewish residents, there will not be enough water available to the region nor power-consuming air conditioning to make life livable in a climate that is already approaching Phoenix's perpetual 125-degree summer weather.

Meanwhile, yesterday I briefly watched a high school football game being played at SoFi Stadium, home to the professional Los Angeles Rams football team. It's the idea of a business outfit wanting to inspire high school athletes to emulate their professional counterparts, but it's all to make money, of course. There's not enough violence in pro ball, it seems, and this is a way to groom youngsters to get tougher and aspire for the big bucks. And that's all that people seem to want today: entertainment, money, violence and killing.

Is the world at a turning point today? It sure looks like it. May God have mercy on our children and grandchildren.

Alienation, or Alien Nation — Posted Saturday October 7, 2023
Here's a video I relate to nowadays, animated in the style of the often dark and disturbing black-and-white cartoons of the early 1930s:

Quantum Trump — Posted Friday October 6, 2023
The gist of quantum mechanics is best demonstrated by the notion of superposition, meaning that until an object or event is observed or measured, it's in a state that includes all possible outcomes simultaneously. Superposition is probably the first thing a student should learn when beginning to study quantum mechanics.

A classic counterargument to the superposition principle goes as follows: I have a red marble and a black marble, and I place the red one in a box and mail it to a friend. Is each of the marbles now in a superposition of being black and red? And how do I know with absolute certainty that my friend will open his box and find the red marble? In this case the superposition principle does not hold, because I've observed each marble from the start. If I had juggled the marbles and placed one into the box to be mailed without looking at it or the one in my hand, you could then say (at least quantum mechanically) that the marbles are not only in a superposition of black-red, but are also entangled with one another—when the mailed box is opened and my friend calls to tell me his marble's color, I will then positively know the color of the marble in my closed fist.

You might be tempted to say "But this still really doesn't prove the superposition principle!" But when dealing with quantum particles and fields, the reality of superposition can be proved mathematically. Read the Wiki article on Bell's theorem for the details, or read my explanations available here and here.

But now for something more entertaining! Here's cartoonist Ruben Bolling's great take on the subject of superposition, courtesy of the corrupt and sick mind of Donald Trump (Schrodinger's cat has been replaced with a more vulgar term, but what the heck):

Somebody Help — Posted Wednesday October 4, 2023

Everyone knows that the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter is given by \(\pi = 3.14159\ldots\). But some years ago I saw a satirical article that attempted to determine the purely experimental value of another fundamental transcendental constant known as Euler's number, which is \(e = 2.71828\ldots\).

When printed, Euler's number appears as a truncated circle that also has a "diameter." The ratio of the circle's arc to its diameter would appear to approximate \(2.71828\ldots\), but how good is this approximation? As I remember it, the article was the winner of the Ig Nobel Prize, having been based on measurements of the printed letter e from various books, articles and manuscripts.

I found the article to be witty, but I've been unable to locate it. Anyone?

ger than ever.
More Fun in Sunny $6.40/Gallon SoCal — Posted Friday September 22, 2023
The second panel below reminded me today of gasoline prices here in Pasadena, which are just a dime less than their all-time high a little over a year ago. When I asked the station owner Amal (a friend of mine) why her gasoline has gone up 60 cents in the past three days, she said she had no idea. "It's not like there's a crisis," she said.

For Geeks Only — Posted Friday September 22, 2023
Attilio Palatini (1889-1949), Italian mathematican and gravity researcher. Although relatively obscure, he discovered powerful new approaches in deriving and analyzing Einstein's field equations of general relativity that remain standard today (while doing my physics thesis, I used his methods extensively). See the Wikipedia article for more information.

In standard Riemannian geometry (upon which classical Einsteinian gravity is built), there are two fundamental quantities. One is the metric tensor \( g_{\mu\nu} \), a symmetric quantity of rank two, and the other is called the connection \( \Gamma_{\mu\nu}^\lambda \), which is somewhat less fundamental since it is composed of \( g_{\mu\nu} \) and its first partial derivatives, as given by the rather odd identity $$ \Gamma_{\mu\nu}^\lambda = \frac{1}{2} \, g^{\alpha \lambda} \left( \partial_\nu g_{\mu\alpha} + \partial_\mu g_{\nu\alpha} - \partial_\alpha g_{\mu\nu} \right) \tag{1} $$ From this we construct the Ricci scalar \(R\), which is comprised of both the first and second derivatives of \( g_{\mu\nu} \), as given by: $$ R = g^{\mu\nu} \left( \partial_\nu \Gamma_{\mu\alpha}^\alpha - \partial_\alpha \Gamma_{\mu\nu}^\alpha + \Gamma_{\mu\beta}^\alpha \, \Gamma_{\nu\alpha}^\beta - \Gamma_{\beta\alpha}^\alpha \, \Gamma_{\mu\nu}^\beta \right) \tag{2} $$ This looks like a mess, but it's the basis of Einstein's gravity theory. The associated equations of motion are derived by extremalizing the four-dimensional action integral $$ S = \int \! \! \sqrt{-g}\, R \, d^4x \tag{3} $$ where \(g\) is the determinant of the metric tensor. Extremalization with respect to the metric tensor itself yields the equations of motion for free space: $$ R_{\mu\nu} - \frac{1}{2}\, g_{\mu\nu} R = 0 \tag{4} $$ or, after contracting with \(g^{\mu\nu}\), we have \( R = 0\) leaving $$ R_{\mu\nu} = 0 \tag{5} $$ where \(R_{\mu\nu}\) is the Ricci tensor [which is just (2) without the preceding \( g^{\mu\nu} \)].

Equation (5) has been stupendously successful in predicting all manner of solar system and cosmological observations, and it has never failed a single test. However, it does not account for dark matter, and so efforts have been made to generalize the action in (3). All of the efforts to date fall under the catch-all title modified gravity, with some limited success.

One such theory of modified gravity involves treating the connection in (1) as completely independent of the metric tensor. This approach goes under the name of Palatini gravity, and it has been explored extensively over the years (with modifications). Extremalization of (3) thus involves two steps: one with respect to the metric tensor, and the other with respect to (1). The two resulting equations of motion are then joined in an effort to see if anything useful occurs.

This begs the question: If (1) does not involve the metric tensor, then just what is it? A combination of electromagnetic terms? Terms involving non-gravitational classical and/or quantum fields? To date, nobody really knows. It should be noted that the notion of a connection arose out of pure differential geometry in an attempt to define the parallel transport of a vector in a mathematically covariant manner. This worked, but the connection remained largely undefined, and its association with the metric tensor came about almost accidentally [in reality, (1) arose only because it kept the metric tensor a constant with respect to covariant differentiation].

It amuses me nowadays to see so much ongoing research taking place on Palatini gravity, which I personally view as a colossal waste of time (a recent example can be found here). You can find a less recent but good overview of the approach here, or you can read about it in the Wikipedia article on modified gravity.

So what's the point of all this? Mathematically, extremalization of (3) means \(\delta S = 0\), and this appears to work no matter what the action \(S\) might be—gravitational, electromagnetic, classical, quantum, indeed, just about anything, including biological. It's the closest thing I've seen to explaining why God exists, but then one has to ask what's the point of God existing. German physicist Sabine Hossenfelder addresses this issue in her latest video. which is worth watching.

Let's Get Small, Again — Posted Monday September 18, 2023
In this new paper posted on arXiv.org, the writers argue about the possibility that dark matter may be a particle on the order of Planck mass that might be detectable using quantum interference methods. I had never considered the possibility that dark matter might be a kind of real "pixie dust" after all, a cold, uncharged, slow-moving, incoherent particle of tiny mass that would not react with itself (like zero-volume particles in an ideal gas). If the particles were ultra-tiny, they should be subject to quantum-level effects, and this is the argument the authors make in the article.

My only objection is that extremely small, "Brownian-like" dust particles would still clump together gravitationally and be subject to capture over long periods of time. They could thus not present themselves as more or less permanent, orbiting spherical "halos" surrounding galaxies, which is how dark matter is viewed today. Also, the as-yet undetectable nature of dark matter in experiments today would then be fully explainable, given the fact that such experiments are always carried out in a near-perfect vacuum, which necessarily excludes particles of even ultra-tiny but finite size.

Caught, But Free — Posted Monday September 18, 2023
Imagine that I rob a bank, with several guards dying as a result. Caught by the police, I maintain that the bank was withholding money that was rightfully mine. After hours of grilling at the police station, I continue to stress that I acted justifiably, convinced in my mind that the money belonged to me. But after months of continued investigation and the opinions of consulting psychiatrists, the police are still not sure of my guilt or innocence, believing that I might be acquitted of bank robbery due to a mental impairment. However, following several years of freedom while the police continue to investigate my case, I then openly, sanely and freely admit that I robbed the bank only because I was indeed a crook who simply wanted the money. In short, I was guilty of a felony all along.

Former President Donald Trump has now freely admitted that he tried to overturn the 2020 presidential election, knowing that he had lost but, despite the advice of legal advisors, decided nevertheless to push ahead with the traitorous lie that he, and not Joe Biden, had decisively won the White House.

Now a convicted bank robber, I am now serving 10 to 15 years in prison. So why is Trump still free? Because the American justice system is a joke, and because nearly 50% of American voters are corrupt as hell.

Move Over, Vera Rubin — Posted Saturday September 16, 2023
I wrote briefly about Austrian physicist Lise Meitner (1878-1968) back on July 18, mainly because the biopic film Oppenheimer was coming out, and Meitner played a huge but tragically neglected role related to Oppenheimer's work on the atomic bomb. My interest was renewed by this new Scientific American article, which includes an indirect but fascinating link between Meitner (who worked in Germany) and Oppenheimer (who was at UC Berkeley).

To make a long story short, Meitner's lab supervisor was the German chemist Otto Hahn. They split the uranium atom in their laboratory, but Hahn didn't recognize or understand the importance of the discovery. Most of the work was done by Meitner, and it wasn't long before she fully understood that she had discovered nuclear fission. But in awarding the Nobel Prize in 1944 to Hahn, the Nobel Committee completely ignored Meitner, who rightfully deserved the prize. Hahn not only did not credit Meitner with any of their work, he actively pushed her out of the picture and hogged the limelight all to himself.

While Meitner was later recognized as the more deserving scientist for the discovery, the recognition did little to allay her disappointment, although she subsequently reconciled (somewhat begrudgingly) with Hahn. Her long life (she lived to be almost 90) probably wasn't much comfort to her, having to constantly remember the academic crime she suffered with for the remainder of her life.

[My reference to the late American astronomer Vera Rubin has to do with the neglect she also suffered when denied the Nobel Prize in Physics.]

Woe to Los Angeles! — Posted Wednesday September 13, 2023
The City of Los Angeles has been the epicenter of many disaster movies, which begs the question of why. Is it the influence of secular, sex-ridden, violent Hollywood movies, motivating the more religious among us to imagine that LA is doomed to devine destruction, or just the fact that so many people live here that makes its apocalyptic elimination so attractive to outsiders?

Three weeks ago, Southern California experienced the tail end of Hurricane Hilary, which did little more than bring welcome, much-needed precipitation to the drought-stricken region, but which was touted elsewhere as a disaster zone of suburban floods and mud slides washing away homes and entire communities. None of that happened, despite this composite 22 August 2023 helicopter photo of a seemingly drowned Dodger Stadium:

The New York Times' recent article on the topic of LA's demise asks why people are so fascinated by its possible destruction. Whether it's earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, environmental disasters, overpopulation, droughts or alien invasions, as a Pasadena resident living a scant 15 miles away I can't help but be concerned.

Meanwhile, actual life-threatening floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and heat waves strike the Southeast part of the country, yet nobody questions if God or fate has any hand in it.

Most Idiotic Article of the Week — Posted Friday September 8, 2023
Astrophysicist Ethan Siegel gets lots of questions, but this one from a high school student should have been ignored: "How do I grow up to study parallel universes?"

Other than his insistent belief in dark matter, I'm a fan of Siegel, whose website spans all kinds of physics issues I'm interested in. But this one, in which he seriously addresses, is ridiculous. It's like answering the similarly idiotic inquiry "How do I grow up to study how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?"

To his credit, Siegel offers the student some sound advice about how to go about studying physics in earnest, but the issue of parallel universes will always remain far beyond any serious, evidence-based research, and he should have said so.

Cyclical Universe? — Posted Saturday September 2, 2023
If you carefully analyze Einstein's field equations with the cosmological constant \(\Lambda\), you'll find that at some point in the history of the universe the era of radiation and matter energy dominance gets overwhelmed by dark energy (a consequence of \(\Lambda\)), which gives rise to a repulsive force that accelerates the expansion of the cosmos without limit. If true, then the universe will literally tear itself to nothingness in only a few trillion trillion years.

But there's the possibility that \(\Lambda\) is not a true constant but a function of time. If it is increasing, then the universe is truly screwed, but if it decreases the universe might contract back down to the supposed singularity of the Big Bang. This possibility is discussed in this new Scientific American article.

If cosmological inflation theory is correct, then the first moments of creation began with an enormous \(\Lambda\), which quickly scaled back to the tiny, constant quantity we believe exists today. But the constant would have to reverse its sign for collapse to happen, which seems doubtful. There are some notable theorists (like Paul Steinhardt) who believe this could be the case, leading to what might be an eternally cyclical (expanding and contracting) universe, but I guess time will tell. Let's all wait and see.

Warning! — Posted Friday September 1, 2023
I'm feeling down today, so I needed something to lift my spirits. This sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus did the job for me, but if you're fluent in German, have a care—it's deadly! [Having no sense of humor, I'm immune.]

"Ein Mann und seine Frau ..."

Dr. Becky on MOND and Dark Matter — Posted Friday September 1, 2023
Quite a few academics have turned to setting up YouTube websites, either to supplement their limited professor salaries or to try another way to make a living. One of those is British astrophysicist Becky Smethurst, whose Dr. Becky website has become nearly as popular as that of Germany's Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder, who I've followed for years (for some reason, Smethurst's PhD diploma ia always posted prominently behind her, which I find kind of odd).

Anyway, her latest video is pretty good, as it discusses recent research on modified gravity and dark matter. She tries to make sense of the available data, which is shared by four different researchers but with contradicting conclusions. You can watch the video here, if you're so inclined.

Like the Hubble tension and the anomalous muon g-2 issue, the MOND/dark matter problem seems to have no consensus as to which is correct. But as Smethurst points out, the data obtained so far is still too scant and scattered to allow for a consensus.

The Sweet Smell of ... Bitumen? — Posted Thursday August 31, 2023
The ancient Egyptians were highly intelligent, but their primitive technologies could only take them so far. They had ladders, pulleys, block-and-tackle and many thousands of slave and volunteer workers, but we still do not know how they built the Great Pyramid of Khufu. And that was 4,500 years ago.

On the purely domestic side, they had razors, beds, pillows, scissors, tweezers and other creature comforts, and the women had perfume. In the sweltering heat of summertime Egypt, it was probably a godsend. The women also hsd a contraceptive of sorts—a vaginally-applied cream concocted from crocodile dung. I suspect it was more of a male deterrent, much like a chastity belt or an aspirin held between the knees.

While excavating the mummy of an Egyptian women who lived in King Tutankhamun's time, scientists have discovered a perfume-like material that was used in the woman's burial, and perhaps used by her personally. It was composed of beeswax, bitumen, pine resin and vanillin. I would have thought that rose oil would have been part of the mixture, but perhaps roses didn't exist back then.

Er Sagte Etwas Auf Deutsch. Aber Was? — Posted Wednesday August 30, 2023
Albert Einstein died in hospital on April 18, 1955. Checking up on him, his nurse said he spoke his last words before falling asleep forever. But they were in German, and the nurse didn't know the language. We'll never know what he said.

Einstein was a fan of the early 1950s children's show Time for Beany, which I barely remember watching on my parents' old 7-inch circular TV set. So instead of saying "I now know the secrets of the universe!", perhaps he only uttered, "It's time for Beany."

Beware Mister Neutron! — Posted Wednesday August 30, 2023
[Mr. Neutron, the most dangerous man in the world, is seen leaving Paddington Station after grocery shopping, and is headed home]

Mr. Neutron! The most dangerous and terrifying man in the world! The man with the strength of an army, the wisdom of all the scholars in history! The man who has the power to destroy the world!

Mr. Neutron! No one knows what strange and distant planet he came from, or where he was going to ... Wherever he went, terror and destruction were sure to follow!

Mr. Neutron, the man whose incredible power has made him the most feared man of all time, waits for his moment to destroy our little world utterly!
After enduring last week's supposedly horrific tropical storm here in Southern California and watching CNN's frightening coverage of Hurricane Idalia's landfall on the west coast of Florida, I was reminded of Monty Python's Flying Circus Mr. Neutron sketch of 1974, which you can watch here.

With rare exception, the destruction and deadliness of the two events were overblown by CNN and other media (several people were killed in the Idalia storm, and I do regret that, but overall it was nothing like it was advertised). Exactly like Mister Neutron, the Most Dangerous Man in the World!

I am also reminded of the Eagles' 1982 song Dirty Laundry, which mocks the callousness of the media when reporting tragic news. "Infotainment," indeed, which at least partly explains the cult popularity of Donald Trump.

Is the Dark Matter Conjecture Dead? — Posted Tuesday August 29, 2023
Noted astrophysicist Stacy McGaugh declares that the dark matter hypothesis is dead, with one caveat—that recent wide-binary star data are valid. He notes that this is smoking-gun evidence that MOND (modified Newtonian dynamics) is true, but he fails to note that MOND is just a non-relativistic variant of modified gravity.

This does not mean that Einsteinian gravity theory is wrong, just that it needs some tweaking. Einstein himself stated that his theory is likely just an approximation of the truth, a statement that rightly applies to all theories. It also doesn't mean that all theories are wrong, but only that they are close to the truth, but maybe not quite there yet.

Moloch — Posted Monday August 28, 2023
The people of America's Red States are shown here sacrificing an infant to their new god, the Second Amendment, giving them the right to open-carry and for every white person to possess hundreds of guns and many thousands of rounds of ammo:

As we await the outcome of yet another active-shooter campus episode in North Carolina, just days after three black people were slaughtered by a white supremacist in Jacksonville, Florida, I am reminded of this article that appeared in the New York Times in 2017, which discussed the possibility that the murder of innocents and children is the price we pay for freedom and preservation of the 2nd Amendment.

I am also reminded of the Old Testament book of Joshua, in which Israelite armies conquered the Promised Land by slaughtering every man, woman, child, infant and animal, all while under the expressed command of God. The only justification I could ever find for such slaughter is that the Canaanites who occupied the land were routine practicers of child sacrifice to their various gods. Perhaps there was no hope for these people, although to this day I question the righteousness of their genocide.

The New York Times article also mentions another article by writer Garry Wills, who compared America's love of guns with the ancient Carthagenians' devotion to the god Moloch, who demanded the sacrifice of infants to appease the god's lust for blood and to ensure prosperity, the growing of crops and peace. In the Punic Wars of the second and first centuries BC, the Romans made quick work of the rule of Moloch, utterly devastating Carthage and its inhabitants.

Whatever god the rightwing morons of the Southern Red States of America worship, it sure isn't the Jesus Christ they proclaim to revere. It likely isn't Moloch, either, but something just as dangerous—fear and hatred of minorities and women's rights, a distrust of science, logic and higher education, a persistent desire to own the libs at any cost, and of course the love and worship of guns. But their god might actually be the antichrist, their current object of worship and devotion, who I strongly suspect is one Donald John Trump.

The Hubble Tension Persists — Posted Monday August 28, 2023
Let's say you want to measure the distance from one side of your living room to another. You have several options (omitting modern laser methods): You can take a long tape measure to do it, or you can take a 1-centimeter scale and do it the long way, measuring one centimeter after another and adding up the total distance. Ignoring temperature expansion issues, the first method is obviously much more accurate, while the second approach invariably involves cumulative measurement errors.

In actuality, the measurement of cosmic distances utilizes the second method. It's certainly not the preferred method, but a cosmos-long tape measure simply isn't available. In the cosmic distance ladder approach, one steps from relatively accurate parallax measurements to variable stellar Cepheids to brightness-distance methods and finally to Type 1a supernovae brightness measurements to obtain the cumulative distances to extremely distant stars and galaxies. With each step, precision in the distance measured suffers.

Type 1a supernovae came into their own in the late 1990s, when estimated cosmic distances indicated a growing deviation from the linear Hubble distance formula, in which distance is proportional to red shift. Measuring red shift is easy—atomic spectra from stars and galaxies deviate from their earth-bound spectra, giving precise information that astrophysicists have used for over a hundred years. But red shifts from Type 1a events are slightly excessive, and they seem to indicate that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. This observation was rewarded in 2011 by the Nobel Prize for its discoverers.

Type 1a data can thus be used to get a fairly precise determination of the expansion rate of the universe at this time, which is about 73 km/sec/megaparsec. Alternatively, measurements of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) can also be used to obtain a precise determination of the expansion rate, and that number is about 67 km/s/megaparsec. The error bars of each determination don't overlap, so something is amiss. The difference is known as the "Hubble tension," and it's a huge problem in cosmology today.

So who's right, and who's wrong? Keep in mind that the cosmic distance ladder is fraught with (or at least subject to) cumulative measurement errors, while the CMB data set, like the CMB itself, is fixed. Indeed, the CMB will always be fixed, being a representation of the universe's matter and energy distribution from about 380,000 years after the Big Bang.

But wait a minute, today we have a new and more powerful eye on the sky, the James Webb Space Telescope, which has been operating for a year now. What does it have to say about the Hubble tension? Bottom line: not much, as it only tends to confirm that the tension exists.

Still, we have a choice, to either give more preference to the CMB data or the cosmic distance ladder method. In my post of November 11, 2013 I included two graphs summarizing the latter, which to me indicates unacceptable data spread, while the CMB data shows no spread whatsoever, so I know which method I prefer. As to whether the expansion of the universe is accelerating, I think that's still debatable, although the inclusion of the cosmological constant \(\Lambda\) in Einstein's field equations says it's possible, if not inevitable.

Update on Modified Gravity Research — Posted Thursday August 20, 2023
In late 1915, Einstein was struggling to complete his general theory of relativity (gravitation). He settled on the Ricci tensor \(R_{\mu\nu}\) as its main feature, but wasn't quite sure how to actually derive it. He eventually came up with the right answer, but he used an unnecessary circuitous route to find it.

Meanwhile, the noted German mathematician David Hilbert had a better approach: using the variational principle, he extremalized the simple integral $$ S = \int \!\! \sqrt{-g}\, R\, d^4x \tag{1} $$ and immediately arrived at Einstein's field equations (the calculation takes about one minute). While both men came up with the answer almost simultaneously, Hilbert conceded that Einstein was more deserving of the discovery.

In what is known today as the Einstein-Hilbert action, (1) represents the simplest possible action that takes into account all known gravitational effects. Amazingly, it has passed every observational and experimental test since Eintein's November 1915 publication of the theory.

But what is so special about (1)? Although it works, it isn't derivable from any basic principle that I know of. The same can be said about any action principle in modern physics, including quantum field theory (the formalism we have today is really based on guesses that have been shown to work). True, at the most elementary level we know that action Lagrangians based on the difference between the kinetic and potential energies (\( \mathcal{L} = T - V\)) of a system work, but this too is grounded in historical observation and application, not strict derivability.

Furthermore, if all action Lagrangians are based on some form of \(T-V\), then where does this appear in the Ricci scalar \(R\) above? This and other considerations have led to the proposal that an even better theory of gravity should be based on $$ S = \int \!\! \sqrt{-g}\, f(R)\, d^4x \tag{2} $$ where the scalar function \(f(R)\) takes into account all forms of the Ricci scalar, the Ricci tensor \(R_{\mu\nu}\) and the Riemann curvature tensor \(R_{\mu\nu\alpha\beta}\), including quadratic and higher forms. This doesn't necessarily make things more complicated. For example, the quadratic form \(f(R) = R^2\) exactly reproduces all of the usual predictions of gravity based on (1) for free space, while introducing an addictional parameter that may have relevance with regard to the dark matter problem.

Theories based on (2) (and there are a great number of them today) are generally known as modified gravity theories. As the search for dark matter appears to be more and more an exercise in futility, modified gravity is being seen as the best alternative.

The most promising recent research on modified gravity is based on studies of wide binary star systems, which are gravitationally bound but far enough apart to observe the non-Newtonian aspect of increased gravity (however slight) at great distances. A great discussion of this topic can be read here.

Dark Matter Stars? — Posted Thursday July 27, 2023
This new article from Science News really bugs me. It reports that scientists may have discovered stars that are powered by dark matter.

The precise details of stellar birth, evolution, death and associated nucleosynthesis have been known for many years, and they're all based on the physics of nuclear fusion. Meanwhile, what has been said for decades is that dark matter particles (if they exist at all) interact with nothing but gravitational fields, being immune to electromagnetic fields, ordinary matter and even themselves. For dark matter to power stars, scientists posit that it must come about by dark matter annihilation, meaning that dark matter does interact with itself, much as ordinary matter and antimatter interact.

But if dark matter annihilation is real, then it would have an overall repulsive effect on cosmological scales, driving galaxies apart rather than drawing them together. And what might be the nature of the presumed annihilation property, other than to provide a convenient explanation for dark matter stellar luminescence?

Wow—the stars shine because of pixie dust?

More on Oppenheimer — Posted Tuesday July 25, 2023
Scientific American has a new article on several papers that J. Robert Oppenheimer (the subject of the popular new biopic Oppenheimer) wrote and co-wrote in 1939 describing the collapse of stars into what we now call black holes. Nobody at the time took black holes seriously (including Einstein), the thinking being that something would happen to a collapsing star to prevent it from vanishing into a singularity.

In one of those papers, Oppenheimer and colleague Hartland Snyder studied the gravitational field inside and outside an ideal star in hydrodynamic equilibrium. They derived what is today known as the Tolman-Oppenheimer-Volkov equation of state, which despite its assumptions is still believed to be an accurate description of stellar behavior (I did the same calculation using pure \(R^2\) gravity and got the same result, although the \(e^\nu\) coefficient was different).

In Chapter 14 of what is still my favorite book on the subject (Introduction to General Relativity by Adler, Bazin and Schiffer), the authors derive the TOV equation in detail. It's not too difficult to follow, and I recommend reading it if you can find the book.

My Mother's Lynching Story — Posted Tuesday July 25, 2023
My mother was born in Emerson, Missouri in 1911, growing up there and in several towns including Hannibal, Palmyra, and Bolivar. She used to tell me about a lynching her father took her to witness sometime when she was a young girl, adding that it was a black man who had committed some crime that she couldn't remember. She did remember that there was a large group of white people gathered around the tree where the man was hanged.

Over the years I've attempted to substantiate my mother's story, trying to find out where and when the Missouri lynching she saw might have taken place. It would have been around 1915-1920, likely somewhere in northeast Missouri, but it might have occurred during family visits to southwest Missouri. But I've never been able to verify my mother's story, and I've wondered if she had simply misremembered or just made it up. I recently came across this article from the Columbia Missourian, which indicates that some 60 lynchings took place in Missouri from 1877 to 1950. According to this map

a number of lynchings occurred in Missouri counties that my mother resided in, so it's possible that her memory was correct. In particular, in 1917 there was a race riot in East St. Louis in which 100 blacks were murdered, but this was in western Illinois, nowhere near whee my mother was living at the time.

Although I would not call my mother a racist, she did have the typical racist attitude of many Southerners. Her only admonition to me along those lines as a young man was "I don't care who you marry, just don't marry a Japanese woman." No doubt, this was due to her hatred of the Japanese after the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941.

"Don't Ask Me—I'm Just a Girl! (Tee-Hee!)" — Posted Thursday July 20, 2023
Malibu Stacy, a product of the Springfield MegaPetrochemical Corporation.

Old codgers like me will remember the Simpsons episode featuring Malibu Stacy, "The Doll That Had It All" (my invention). It was of course a comment on the cultural phenomenon of the Barbie doll of the early 1960s, which only cost a buck and a half (easily afforded by most parents back then), but whose accessories quickly ran into real money. After capitalizing on clothes, shoes and other necessities, the Mattel Corporation's marketing geniuses came up with Barbie's Dream House™, Barbie's Corvette and other consumer rip-offs, all of which paid off handsomely.

But now we have the Barbie Movie, debuting tomorrow, which forecasters predict will rake in a billion dollars domestically and overseas. The Mattel marketers could not possibly have thought up such a thing in the 1960s, as Americans were still not dumbed-down sufficiently to go for a stupid movie based on a doll. But here we are today, dumbed-down as ever, and I'm predicting a series of Barbie sequels to round out the money grab. Who knows, but a prequel may also be in the works, featuring a commercially sexualized 10-year-old Barbie who "had it all" even back then.

I'm planning to see Oppenheimer when it also debuts tomorrow, but I'll certainly skip Barbie, as I grew up years ago.

The G-Spot of Gravity — Posted Thursday July 20, 2023
In standard units, the latest accepted value for Newton's gravitational constant \(G\) is \(6.67408\times 10^{-11}\), with a fairly large margin of error. Compared with nearly all other fundamental constants of Nature, this value is very rough, something like the Old Testament giving the value of \(\pi\) as 3.0 (1 Kings 7:23, although verse 26 implies that it's closer to 3.10). One reason that \(G\) is so imprecise is due to the lack of a good experimental approach—scientists are still using equipment based on Cavendish's torsion balance, a technique that dates to the late 1700s.

This new article from Science News explains the problem in greater detail, but it also hints that something may be awry with the nature of gravity itself. Could \(G\) be slightly different from one experiment to another, not due to experimental imprecision but environmental factors associated with the nature of spacetime? Until scientists invent something with the extreme precision of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), we may never know.

Here's yet another twist in the story. The effects of dark matter can be explained by assuming that \(G\) gets a tiny bit larger when extreme cosmological distances are encountered, a phenomenon currently associated with the theory known as modified Newtonian dynamics, or MOND. If it exists, dark matter must be an entirely new kind of particle, but decades of effort and billions of dollars have been expended in a fruitless experimental search for the particle. If dark matter does not exist, it points to a radical modification of our theory of gravity.

Water is Life — Posted Wednesday July 19, 2023
"There is still time, brother." From 1959's On the Beach.

Didja know that water vapor is a potent greenhouse gas? It's probably the worst, followed by carbon dioxide and methane, all of which are becoming more abundant in Earth's atmosphere. As our planet warms, and as more fossil fuels are burned, more of each accumulate in the atmosphere, exacerbating climate disruption. Methane is likely the next big offender, as permafrost melts and adds to the methane load. And there's a lot of it, having been tied up in its frozen state for millions of years.

Next to physics, my greatest love is chemistry or water. Probably water, because being a mediocre physicist and water chemist I tried to excel as an engineer in the collection, treatment, distribution, reclamation and conservation of water supplies, which are now dwindling around the world due to climate change.

This week the Persian Gulf saw regional temperatures hitting 152 degrees Fahrenheit, at or very near the limit for human and animal survival. The waters around the state of Florida clocked in at 90 degrees, intolerable to most species of fish and corals.

Meanwhile, this recent New York Times article describes the dire water situation in Montevideo, Uruguay, whose reservoirs are nearing depletion. How soon before American cities begin suffering a similar fate?

Lise Meitner — Posted Tuesday July 18, 2023
Few people have even heard of physicist Lise Meitner (1878-1968), who amazingly discovered nuclear fission when out on a mountain hike with her nephew in 1938. The long-time laboratory partner of fellow German Otto Hahn, her work was completely ignored by the Nobel Committee, which awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to him in 1944. Having also discovered the radioactive element protactinium in 1917, Meitner was likely denied the award only because she was a woman.

Meitner at the age of 27 in 1906

With the movie Oppenheimer scheduled for release this Friday, Meitner's contributions to the physics and chemistry of nuclear fission are commemorated in this new Conversation.com article.

"You Think This Is All a Big Joke, Don't You, Fella?" — Posted Tuesday July 18, 2023
I occasionally watched Seinfeld in the 1990s, a hit show that didn't always resonate with me. But the 1991 episode The Library was great, and Jerry's unfortunate encounter with Lt. Joe Bookman (the "Library Cop") still has me in stitches. Played by the late Philip Baker Hall, his character is unnervingly similar to the repulsively conservative Joe Friday of "Dragnet."

From 1927 — Posted Monday July 17, 2023
Speaking of AI entertainment, I recall taking my older son Kristofer to a Laurel & Hardy film retrospective in 1983. He was only 4 years old and didn't appreciate the significance of the amazingly restored films we saw, but as a L&H addict I sure did.

Here is one of the films we saw that day. It's Putting Pants on Philip (1927), not quite the mature L&H team we all know and love just yet, but the clarity of this AI enhanced film is wonderful. Enjoy.

By the way, there's a neat YouTube website called Chris Bungo Studios that features this film and many others, with historic then-and-now shots taken of the actual film locations. A great nostalgic trip, if you're into that sort of thing.

Also by the way, my company used to hold many of its Christmas luncheons at the Culver City Hotel, featured in this and many other L&H films. The hotel is also where the "Munchkins" of the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz were put up.

Brave New World — Posted Monday July 17, 2023
Remember Max Headroon, anybody? He wasn't possible in 1985, but he is now.

What does artificial intelligence (AI) have to do with the writers and actors strike? Everything. (Musician unions will be next.)

It's not that AI is actually sentient, capable of creating movie scripts on its own. It's that it doesn't need to be (at least right now), as computer programmers can already do it. It's the potential for fully independent AI to create better scripts and motion pictures than today's writers, producers and even actors, the latter of which will be digitally emulated perfectly, and all without the associated costs of production and salaries. This is what the strike is all about.

Imagine it's 2050, or even sooner. Entertainment-starved masses, reeling under the existential threats of climate change and Lord knows what else and desperate for distraction, wanna see a new Barbie movie starring Garth Brooks and Matt Damon. A computer programmer (or AI entity) produces the desired movie for streaming in minutes. The producer (Elon Musk or equivalent) makes billions without spending hardly a cent. Meanwhile, Brooks and Damon have been dead for years, their digital images and personalities having been legally acquired in years prior.

Not possible, you say? Don't be stupid—this may very well be the future of entertainment, and the Hollywood television and movie business is all too aware of it.

Proof of God's Existence? — Posted Monday July 17, 2023
When you study Newton's mechanics and then move on to Lagrangian mechanics, it seems almost like a miracle: the hellishly complex equations needed to solve problems using pure Newton seem to just melt away into much simpler forms. — Matt Dowd
First, a confession: I consider the Principle of Least Action to be the defining mark of the existence of God. Nothing else can explain it, not even the multiverse and many-worlds theories, whose preposterously large number of random, chaotic universes could not possibly reproduce anything so simple, elegant and beautiful. Miracles don't happen by accident or happenstance. The only possible refutation to me is "Well, that's just the way it is", which just doen't cut it.

A year ago, the young Australian physicist Matt Dowd posted the following video on the Principle of Leaat Action. The video pretty nuch explains it all, and how it took two thousand years to discover in its present form, progressing from the work of Heron of Alexandria to Lagrange to Euler to Hamilton to Dirac and ultimately to Feynman.

When learning about the principle, please make an equal attempt to learn about the \(\delta\) operator of the variational principle, which is indispensible.

I was reminded of the least action principle again when someone emailed me about the Einstein-Hilbert action of general relativity, which is $$ S = \frac{c^4}{16 \pi G} \, \int\!\! \sqrt{-g}\, R\, d^4x $$ "Where are the kinetic and potential energies associated with the Ricci scalar \(R\) itself", he asked. I'd never thought about that, and even worse I had no idea how to answer it. But after thinking about it, I thought that if you break down the scalar like this: $$ R = g^{\mu\nu} \left( \partial_\nu \Gamma_{\,\alpha\mu}^\alpha - \partial_\alpha \Gamma_{\,\mu\nu}^\alpha \right) + g^{\mu\nu} \left( \Gamma_{\,\mu\beta}^\alpha \, \Gamma_{\,\alpha\nu}^\beta - \Gamma_{\,\alpha\beta}^\alpha \, \Gamma_{\,\mu\nu}^\beta \right) $$ then the derivatives might represent the kinetic energy term, with the latter being the potential term. Even so, neither are energies at all by themselves, but rely on the factor \(c^4/16 \pi G\) to make them energies. In short, I can't come up with a satisfactory answer.

Cracker — Posted Monday 17, 2023
Two old definitions of the word cracker:
A braggart, liar (1681). One full of conversation (Scottish). A name for the "poor whites" in the Southern United States (1767). — The Oxford Universal Dictionary on Historical Principles.

One who cracks; a braggart. One of a class of low whites from the Southern United States. Crack: To boast; to brag; that is, to utter vain, pompous, blustering words. To chat; to talk freely and familiarly (Scottish). — Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language.
I'm reading the 1988 book Cracker Culture - Celtic Ways in the Old South, which tries to explain why the American South is the way it is today, based on cultures brought over by immigrants from England, Scotland and Ireland in the 1700s and 1800s. (I always thought the word cracker was a pejorative term used by African Americans to describe racist whites, based on the common color of ordinary saltine crackers. I was wrong.)

Based on what I've learned from the book so far, the original immigrants from the British Isles were either relatively educated and cultured or unread, boorish, intolerant, lazy and violent. While there was an evolution of sorts in the Isles in which some of the latter became cultured, a large percentage of them remained unenlightened. Many immigrants came to the early America to states like Pennsylvania and New Yord, while others drifted into what are now the Southern states. Guess which ones ended up in the South? According to the book's author, it was the same type of people we largely identifiy as Southerners today—crackers.

The book is 35 years old, and I have no way of knowing if it still resonates today given the political polarization and turmoil we're experiencing now. But I tend to think it is definitive.

♫ "Boil That Old Frog Down, Boys ..." ♫ — Posted Saturday July 15, 2023
Whether or not a frog truly senses being slowly boiled alive is open to question, but humans around the globe are defintely feeling something like it these days as temperatures hit record levels everywhere. But gradual change in anything (like one's aging face in the mirror) almost always goes unnoticed. When it is noticed—like when the frog sees his skin peeling away in the boiling water—it's usually too late to do anything about it.

The world's climate has been heating up, and even Fox News believes climate change is real, although its moronic conservative viewers are still ignoring it ("Drill, Baby, Drill" is still their mantra). "Barbie's Dream House" is now "Barbie's Crack House" thanks to insane housing and rental prices, and it's soon to be "Barbie's Burned-Out Hovel" as perpetual 120-degree temperatures make 24/7 air conditioning unaffordable or unavailable.

After 150 years of the coal- and oil-burning, profligate Industrial Revolution, Planet Earth may have finally found a way to rid itself of the pest called the human race. That might not be so bad, but with 8 billion of us now aboard this global environmental train wreck there's likely going to be a lot of misery to come.

Dear God, I truly hope and pray that I'm wrong, and that somehow (SOMEHOW) the climate trend is only temporary. I say this in the fervent hope that my children and their children can look forward to something better than a dystopian Mad Max future.

Oppenheimer — Posted Saturday July 15, 2023
If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the Mighty One. — The Bhagavad Gita
Last night I watched the new 2023 documentary To End All War: Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb, an uneven but otherwise excellent biography of the brilliant American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who directed the development of the atomic bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico. The documentary joins the upcoming Oppenheimer film, whose July 21 debut in theaters might be postposned due to the current Hollywood writers' and actors' strike.

Oppenheimer made many important contributions to theoretical physics, but as the documentary points out he never won the Nobel Prize. He was only 49 when America suffered through the shameful McCarthy purge of 1953, which resulted in the blacklisting of many actors due to their suspected support of communist ideology. A political and social leftist, Oppenheimer was never a communist, but his association with a number of American communists left him subject to McCarthy's venom, and he was subsequently stripped of his national security clearance, which left him a broken man. I see Oppenheimer as the last victim of the anti-communist hysteria of that era.

Fortunately, the documentary notes that Oppenheimer's work on continued gravitational collapse in 1939 paved the way for future research into black holes, a subject that was not considered seriously by physicists at the time. This work alone probably would have made Oppenheimer a candidate for the Nobel Prize. I can't help but see his 1939 paper as a prelude to another kind of collapse, that of a subcritical plutonium ball at the center of a spherical mass of high explosives. That was the key to the success of the atomic bomb, which first exploded on July 16, 1945 when the plutonium core was compressed to criticality, releasing some 15 kilotons of explosive energy (previous attempts to produce the bomb using plutonium bullets fired into one another didn't work, and Oppenheimer nearly resigned his directorship due to this "failure to launch").

A week after the assassination of President Kennedy, in a clumsy attempt by the American government to alleviate the injustice done to him, Oppenheimer was awarded the Enrico Fermi Prize by President Lyndon Johnson. But it was far too little and too late, and the award meant little to Oppenheimer. A chain smoker, Oppenheimer died of esophageal cancer in 1967 at the age of 62.

I hope this documentary and the upcoming film will make Americans aware of the damage that political hysteria and extremism can do to decent people.

♫ You Are Still In I-O-WAY ♫ — Posted Monday July 10, 2023
Back in 2011 the conservative TV host Bill O'Reilly infamously claimed that "nobody can explain the tides," and that therefore God alone must be at work. O'Reilly's ignorance of the Sun-Moon-Earth system (especially the Moon's orbit around the Earth) were at work, not God, caused a huge flap among scientists, who pointed out that the "God of the gaps" explanation is fundamentlly flawed when science alone provides the explanation.

There are still a lot of things that science cannot explain, and it's possible that the God of the Gaps explanation is the right one. But being unable to explain a phenomenon shouldn't cause someone to immediately claim that it's proof of the Almighty's hand.

More recently (in 2018), photos and videos started showing up in the media and on the Internet of street performers seemingly suspended in mid-air without any visible support. Most people instinctively knew that some trick was involved, but they were at a loss to explain it. When I first saw the photos, I knew immediately how it was done, and I explained it to a family member. My explanation involved some structural engineering principles (strength of materials, bending moments and torque), but it went over his head. That was my fault, as I'm a lousy teacher, but the explanation was correct nevertheless.

♫ You Are In I-O-WAY ♫ — Posted Monday July 10, 2023
"I always thought it was pronounced I-O-WUH." — Professor Harold Hill.

Chief Iowa TV meteorologist Chris Gloninger has quit his 18-year job following death threats and harrassment from conservative Iowans for his reporting on the seriousness of climate change.

Open question to readers: Are we human beings deserving of continued existence? This dinosaur seems to think so, but his words on climate change are being wasted on Iowans.

Are Gravity and the Quantum Finally Accepting Divorce? — Posted Monday July 10, 2023
Ever since the discovery of quantum theory in the 1920s, physicists have sought to find a connection between it and Einstein's gravity theory of 1915. The two theories are unquestionably the most successful descriptions of energy and matter, but for almost 100 years now all attempts to develop a workable unified theory have failed utterly.

While it is usually assumed that any successful unified theory will involve the quantization of gravity, there are a few who favor the geometrization of quantum theory instead. Even fewer are those who believe that quantum theory and gravitation can never be joined, citing fundamental irreconcilable differences (the famous physicist Wolfgang Pauli once quipped that "What God hath set asunder, let no man join").

This last possibility might just be true after all, as it would explain why all unification efforts to date have failed. In this new Quanta article, University College of London physicist Jonathan Oppenheim pretty much suggests that we just leave the two theories to go their separate ways. Since gravity is grounded in classical spacetime geometry, with quantum theory operating on top of that geometry, trying to unify the two is rather like trying to either quantize the English language or geometrize a religious faith (my analogies, not Oppenheim's).

But to physicists just giving up and walking away from the problem is anathema, and they ain't gonna do it. Whether we'll see another 100 years of failed ideas, experiments and wasted public expenditures is anyone's guess.

I see the problem as similar to the extreme political polarization in America today. The Red and Blue states are already pretty much divorced now, and it doesn't look like that's ever going to change.

"It Wasn't That Bad" — Posted Saturday July 8, 2023
Eutychis, a Greek lass with sweet ways, two asses. — Brothel graffito in Pompeii, ca. 70 AD
I visited Italy's Pompeii some years ago, marveling at the architecture, the city layout and the plaster body casts. I also went into a few small preserved rooms that are known to have been brothel cells, a common feature of the ancient city. With warning signs posted on the outside in several languages, my wife opted not to go in, fearing disgust and embarrassment, but I figured I could take it. But I somehow missed the brothel cell of Eutychis, whose services were priced at two asses, or about the price of a loaf of bread in the day. [An as (pronounced "oz") was a copper coin of ancient Rome. Years ago I bought one bearing the likeness of the Roman emperor Nero as a birthday gift for my younger son, a CDC scientist but also a student of ancient Roman history.]

This morning I was reminded of my visit to Pompeii by this new Aeon article, which tells the story of Pompeiian women (and men) who were likely slaves forced by their masters into sex work. (Warning: several graphic images.) At the time of my visit I was repulsed by the thought of how those ancient people treated one another, but I chalked it up to the common practice of slavery at the time.

But today I also reflected on how the practice played out in America some 1,700 years after Pompeii's volcanic demise. Rightwing morons prefer to believe that America's black slaves were treated kindly, overlooking the obvious immorality of humans owning other humans, but also ignoring how slaves were routinely overworked, beaten to death and used to satisfy their masters' sexual desires. They also overlook the fact that Thomas Jefferson, the erudite and highly educated author of the Declaration of Independence, owned over 600 black slaves during his lifetime, the most of any American president, and that he forced one slave ("Sally") to be his concubine and bearer of at least one of Jefferson's children.

Much more recently, we have the likes of uber-conservative Congressman Steve King (R-Iowa) (the "Slavery wasn't that bad" guy), who likened a day of his heroically overcoming pulling weeds in the hot sun to what it was like to be a slave. Just another of his examples of how it wasn't all that bad.

Times change, but some people and things don't.

We May Never Know — Posted Friday July 7, 2023
The mathematical probability \(P(x)\) of an event or thing \(x\) is pretty simple to understand: either the event or thing cannot possibly happen (\(P(x) = 0\)) or that it can (\( 0 \lt (P(x) \le 1\)). (Non-mathematicians prefer to think of probability as a percentage, as in 0.57 = 57%.) What is the probability that \(1 = 2\)? It's zero, of course, because otherwise there's no such thing as absolute truth or logic. Einstein followed this line of thinking.

Cosmologists today seem to be divided into two groups: those that believe the observable universe was unique and inevitable, and those that believe we live in only one of a possible infinite number of universes, with the one we're in just due to a random set of possible physical laws.

Included in that first group are so-called strong anthropic principalists, which itself includes people who believe in God or some kind of powerful, external intelligence. This subject is discussed in this latest episode of Closer to Truth, created and hosted by scientist-philosopher Robert Lawrence Kuhn. In the following video Kuhn again discusses the issue of the fine tuning of the universe with noted mathematical physicist Lee Smolin. As they both note, the conditions for intelligent life are so constrained by the known laws of physics that the strong anthropic principle is preferred, but not absolutely necessary. Bottom line: Whether the universe as we know it was inevitable (as Einstein believed), or that it was purely a random event involving the possible existence of many (or infinite) other universes, we'll likely never know.

Let's Get Small — Posted Thursday July 6, 2023
Recent, very precise scattering experiments show the proton to have a diameter of about \(8.33\times 10^{-16}\) meter, although its precise shape is unknown (but probably exactly spherical). It's composed of three quarks (two up and one down), but the interior is likely a swarm of virtual quarks, gluons and other stuff. By comparison, the electron is an elementary particle having a mass of about 1/1,836 that of the proton. The electron's shape has historically been considered to be meaningless, as all scattering experiments have shown it to have a diameter of less than \(10^{-19}\) meter, or at least a thousand times smaller than the proton. In fact, almost all quantum theories have supposed the electron to be a point particle, with no size at all.

But now physicists are reporting that the electron does have a size and that it's almost perfectly spherical, a finding that has significance with regard to the observed asymmetry of matter and antimatter in the universe (I haven't read the source paper, so I can't comment on that topic).

Another known elementary particle is the neutrino, which unlike the electron is uncharged and comes in three flavors. It was previosuly believed to be massless, but it is now known to have a tiny mass, some thousands of times less than the electron. But as a massive particle, it too must have a size and shape, although any near-term efforts to determine those properties are going to be disappointed. Uncharged and tiny, the neutrino is so non-interacting that it can traverse a light-year of lead metal with less than a 50% chance of being stopped. Only by generating zillions of them in linear accelerators can scientists actually detect them and measure their properties.

There is some theoretical evidence to believe that a fourth neutrino flavor exists (the sterile neutrino), but with a much greater mass than its cousins. If so, it would be the perfect candidate for dark matter, which to date has completely escaped detection.

Alaska Looks Okay For Now, Though — Posted Thursday July 6, 2023
Heat Records Fall Around the Globe as Earth Warms Fast — The New York Times

And then, on Monday came Earth's hottest day in at least 125,000 years. Tuesday was hotter. — The Washington Post
Planet Earth is undergoing a dangerous heating trend, threatening forests, animal habitats, fisheries, polar ice caps and coral reefs. Worst of all, it's threatening the world's agricultural food supplies, according to many scientists as reported by the Washington Post.

Although the rightwing media will tell you it's no big deal, just a passing climate trend (although it's persisted for three decades now), its "Drill baby, drill" mantra just isn't remotely believable anymore. Human activities are measurably affecting the world's climate, and it will likely get worse, as more fossil fuel is burned to counteract the effects of warming. Potable water supplies are shrinking as a result, and if nothing else this will make life miserable for a sizeable percentge of the world's eight billion human beings.

God's promise not to destroy the world by flooding ever again (Genesis 9:11) seems like a moot issue now, as He said nothing about death by fire. Still, it's nothing compared to what will happen several billion years from now, when our Sun goes red giant and incinerates all the inner planets, includng Earth.

Breaking Fox News: "We don't believe it's really happening, but if it is then Americans are gonna need more guns—lots of them."

\(\pi = 0\)?? A Clever Mathematical Problem — Posted Friday June 30, 2023
Today's Mind Your Decisions math puzzle is deceptively simple but hard to break.

The top equation is Euler's famous formula, followed by its square, which is shown at the bottom:

If we now take the natural logarithm of both sides, we have \(2 i \pi = 0\), which seems to leave \(\pi = 0\). Can you spot the error in all this? (And no, we're not dividing anything by zero.)

MYD's solution involves using the power rule for complex numbers, which is not the same as it is for real numbers. This is equivalent to squaring a complex number by multiplying it by its complex conjugate. That is, with Euler's original formula being \(\exp[i \pi] = -1\), then its square is actually \(\exp[i \pi] \cdot \exp[- i \pi] = (-1)^2\), which trivially gives \(1 = 1\). So no, \(\pi \ne 0\).

Don't Worry, We Have a Few Years Left Before We Destroy the Planet — Posted Friday June 30, 2023
Didja know that human groundwater pumping over the past 100 years haa measurably changed the Earth's orbital tilt? German physicist Sabine explains how in her latest video (but start at the 6:06 mark to avoid other stuff).

I would have thought that we also slowed the planet's rotation rate as well, since pumping groundwater effectively transfers water vapor to the upper atmosphere, like a spinning ballerina stretching her arms outward.

Who is This Guy? — Posted Friday June 30, 2023
I'm not very familiar with the gravity research of Kyu-Hyun Chae (Department of Physics and Astronomy, Sejong University, Republic of Korea), but it seems he's all over the place today. He's particularly interested in the dark matter problem, and his papers have focused on modified gravity as a logical alternative. His most recent paper talks about gravity effects associated with wide binary stars, which are a perfect testing ground for comparing dark matter and modified gravity effects. Such binary systems are perfect because they're relatively isolated (limiting the presumed effects of dark matter) and far apart (increasing the chances for observing the long-distance effects of modified gravity).

It's heartening to see that Weyl gravity and its variants, along with other modified gravity theories, are showing up frequently in the research literature nowadays. More importantly, they're challenging the conventional belief that dark matter pixie-dust is responsible for the strictly Newtonian gravity effects observed in galaxy rotations, clusters and lensing.

Calling All Billionaires! — Posted Friday June 30, 2023
Wanna own a Supreme Court justice? They're now affordably priced in rightwing America!

Another gem from Ruben Bolling, the political cartoonist behind Tom the Dancing Bug:

Crazy — Posted Thursday June 29, 2023
How we got this crazy is up for debate: Maybe it's bad parenting, poor education, lead in the water or eating too much macaroni and cheese. Maybe there's a bran muffin involved. Who knows? But each day Mike Judge's film "Idiocracy" looks more like a documentary and less like satire. — Brian Karem
Shazam: "Ha ha! I just threw a truck at a dragon!" Certainly the highlight of an otherwise stupid and insipid film.

I think Mr. Karem got this mostly right in this new Salon article. Bad parenting is actually neglectful and poor role-model parenting (note the preponderance of silly super-hero movies that adults are into nowadays, telling kids that being infantile goes right on into adulthood), while lead in drinking water might explain the insanity of ancient Roman emperors, whose lead water pipes leached the toxic element into their water supplies. I would also replace macaroni and cheese with the worldwide ubiquity of junk food (sorry, but bran muffins are okay). Lastly, the 2008 Mike Judge film Idiocracy is mediocre but an accurate attempt to show us the absolute stupidity of America in the near future.

But the worst insanity in America today is the evangelical adoration of former president Donald Trump, a man who has willfully and wantonly violated every aspect of the Chrisitan faith yet is beloved as America's savior nevertheless. In that sense, Trump not only believes he is above the law, but above Christ Himself.

PS: And now a live-action Barbie film, in which Barbie and Ken, bored with the doll world, leave it to pursue new adventures in the real world. You gotta be kidding me!!

Extreme Tourism for the Billionaire Class — Posted Thursday June 29, 2023
The recent SpaceX flight that catastrophically exploded minutes after launch fortunately carried no passengers, but that won't stop billionaires from wanting to engage in million-dollar space tourism for the sake of their inflated egos. Unfortunately, the recent OceanGate/Titan submersible disaster did carry five wealthy passengers, who perished when the pressure vessel imploded due to as-yet undetermined factors.

The reason for the implosion is still under investigation, but my guess is that the carbon-fiber pressure hull had undergone significant structural degradation on previous dives due to fatigue stress. The structural and fatigue characteristics of carbon fiber materials are still largely unknown. This why the material is not used in commercial aircraft wings, which flex continuously on every flight.

The OceanGate imploded at some 8,000 to 9,000 feet below the water surface. Ocean water, which is an essentially incompressible fluid, has a density of about 64 pounds per cubic foot. Imagine a column of ocean water having an area of one square inch, which computes to a weight of 64/144\(\times\)8000 or about 3,500 to 4,000 pounds per square inch at those depths. If the submersible's hemispherical end caps had been made of carbon fiber, the pressure might have been tolerable. But what amounted to a cylindrical can of carbon fiber seems to have been OceanGate's downfall. Carbon fiber is extremely strong, but it ain't titanium.

Extreme tourism should be abandoned, as it's only inevitable that the practice will result in future disasters.

Songs Are Memories — Posted Wednesday June 28, 2023
And you, you changed my life, but now you're gone.
— Jeff Lynne (ELO), Now You're Gone
Today marks 47 months since my dear wife Munira passed away, almost four years now. I underwent two years of grief therapy to cope with it, but to tell the truth it didn't help all that much. Today I heard the Stylistics' 1972 song "Betcha By Golly, Wow" (which she and I heard constantly on our laboratory's radio that year), and this morning I broke down in tears. In many ways I consider this OUR song today, but at the time all I could do was look at her across the laboratory, mesmerized, adoring, wondering and hoping. May God bless her soul always. Ana behebik, habibti.

Just Don't — Posted Wednesday June 28, 2023
Here's a confession—in the early 1960s a friend of mine and I used to mix up a batch of nitrogen triiodide (NI\(_3\)) and spread the watery mixture on the street, waiting for it to dry. When a car would come by, the dried compound would explode, making the driver think he'd blown a tire.

Years later I was working in a chemical laboratory, and for the heck of it I made a tiny amount of NI\(_3\) in the evaporation hood. It couldn't have been more than a few milligrams, but when I touched it with a spatula it blew up, sounding like a firecracker had gone off. The lab director rushed over to find out what had happened, and I made up some excuse for the explosion. My future wife was also in the lab, wondering what had happened. Only later did I realize I could have been fired for my stupid act.

I recently found this YouTube video, which perfectly displays what I did way back in the summer of 1972 (the video doesn't do justice for the violence of the explosion). The stuff is easy to make, but avoid it at all costs, as you can easily lose a finger, eye or hand, if not your job.

Trump as Christ? — Posted Wednesday June 28, 2023
I'll bet few readers of this website will recall the Beatles' John Lennon's infamous but misunderstood 1966 claim that the group was "more popular than Jesus" which, to my memory, marked the group's gradual downslide in the polls, resulting in their breakup in 1970. Lennon did not claim that the Beatles were equivalent to Christ in any way, but only that their popularity was more a cultural comment than a religious one. Nevertheless, devout Christians around the country were shocked and mortified, and Beatles albums were burned in many towns and cities.

Now we have former president Donald Trump claiming that "I am being indicted for you", a clear analogy to Christ's sacrifice on the cross for the world's sinners. But my, how times have changed—American Christians are tripping over themselves in Trump's support, regardless of Trump's apparent claimed equivalence to the Savior.

Rambling Thoughts on Juneteenth and the Rewriting of History — Posted Monday June 19, 2023
Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. — Exodus 1:8
I still find it odd that of all the Egyptian pharaohs who are named in the Old Testament, the one reported to have enslaved the Israelites is unnamed. Was this an oversight on the part of the Exodus writer(s), was it due to historical ignorance, or was it intentional? After all, naming the pharaoh would have definitely fixed the date of the Exodus story, which remains a serious point of contention today with religious historical scholars. The Exodus pharaoh might have been Thutmoses II, Amenhotep II or Ramesses II, depending on how Old Testament and ancient Egyptian chronologies are interpreted (or believed). The successive reigns of these three rulers spanned over 200 years, making a fixed date troublesome.

That history aside, I also wonder why God allowed the Israelites to suffer under "bitter bondage" for some 400 years, a number that the Old Testament does provide. Although "a thousand years is like a day" to God, it's still an enormous length of time for human beings to live and suffer with. But did they really suffer? Scholars know that many people from the Levant and elsewhere streamed into Egypt to work as hired laborers or indentured servants, or to escape drought and starvation in their own countries. Egypt provided a refuge from poverty and starvation thanks to the Nile River, which usually provided abundant crops and other resources back then, as it still does today. We know that Israelites came to Egypt early on for the same reason but, reportedly due to their proliferating population, the unnamed pharaoh grew worried that they might take over the country, and so decided to enslave them all.

I also have problems with the Old Testament's number of Israelites fleeing Egypt during the Exodus, given as 603,550 men of military age in the Book of Numbers 1:46. This did not include wives, children, parents, the elderly and everyone else, so the total number had to be in the neighborhood of two million. With an estimated total population of ancient Egypt being roughly four million, the Exodus as reported would have destroyed Egypt's economy and livelihood, leaving it open to invasion by others. But this didn't happen, so I figure that the Hebrew writer(s) likely overestimated the numnber by a factor of ten or so.

Fast forward two millennia. Today, many conservatives believe that the pyramids were built by Hebrew slaves (a notion that has been disproved again and again, as Israel didn't even exist until 1,500 years later), and that the slaves of the antebellum South were happy and well cared for by their owners (indeed, many modern conservative Bibles have been rewritten to change the word "slave" to "paid servant").

History is an interesting but often ambiguous subject. Is is said that history is written by the victors, and the further back in time one goes that appears to be a truism. Pharaoh Ramesses II claimed to have won the Battle of Kadesh against the Hittites in 1274 BC, but Hittite documents report a different outcome; it was probably a draw. The story of the Exodus is given only by Hebrew writer(s) in the 8th century BC or so, and we have no other way of knowing what actually occurred. But modern slavery in America is well documented with factual evidence and cannot be denied, despite the efforts of politically motivated Southern conservatives. Slavery, post-Emancipation lynchings, Jim Crow and the like did factually occur, as did the Tulsa, Oklahoma race massacre of June 1921, which is the primary motivation for today's Juneteeth holiday (not the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, which had little immediate effect on Southern slaves at the time).

Today is Juneteenth, a federal holiday, but it is officially recognized in fewer than half of the American states. Notable among the dissenters are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North and South Carolina, all diehard Southern states. The school textbooks of many of these and other Southern states have been or are being rewritten to downplay or even omit the evils of slavery and the persecution of blacks and other minority groups. However one figures it, the American Civil War is still being waged today, and the Southern states' undying allegiance and cultish devotion to racist monsters like Trump, DeSantis and Abbott testify to this sick mindset.

Joan is Awful — Posted Sunday June 18, 2023
I watched the Season 6 premier episode of Netflix' Black Mirror series yesterday, entitled Joan is Awful, mainly because I heard it dealt with quantum computers and artificial intelligence. While I was disgusted with the episode's grossly foul language and suggestive images (a trait it seems of all new shows today), I was intrigued by the very real future that AI and advanced computing represents. When the protagonist Joan begins seeing her life displayed in real time on a new episode of "StreamBerry" (a nod to the makers of Netflix), I immediately guessed what was going on.

To see this for yourself: Ask how a person's actions could be almost immediately portrayed in a concurrent television episode. It seems the episode's reviewers left out the possibility of the Simulation Hypothesis, which happened to be my main clue.

Witch Hunt?! — Posted Friday June 16, 2023

Hard to Believe — Posted Wednesday June 14, 2023
Some years ago I drove by my old house in Duarte, California. Seeing me sitting in my car, the residents inquired as to what I was doing, and when I told them I grew up in the house, I was allowed in for a visit. Although the house has since been updated and expanded, I immediately recognized every room and every corner.

My parents purchased the house in June 1949, shortly after I was born. The purchase price was $8,500, with which my parents still struggled to make the monthly mortgage payments. I was shocked to find that its current market value is now almost $650,000. The house was originally about 850 square feet (now expanded to about 1,000 square feet), but its estimated value today boggles my mind. That's the Southern California cost of living for you.

But that's all good. I live in Pasadena now, and the local traffic today is almost more than I can bear. It's all due to population increase, so perhaps the cost of living here will keep others from coming in and compounding the problem.

So Which is Right? — Posted Wednesday June 14, 2023
In her latest Science News video, German physicist Sabine Hossenfelder reports contradictory news on the dark matter problem. Two recent papers support modified gravity (one at \(10 \sigma\)), while one contradicts modified gravity in favor of dark matter at an astonishing \(16 \sigma\). Scientists regard \(5 \sigma\) as the minimal standard for new discoveries, so I'm really confused.

The dark matter issue is the first in Hossenfelder's video. You can skip the rest:

The Wolfram Physics Project — Posted Saturday June 10, 2023
My late wife and I took early retirement when she got sick, and in that same year 21 years ago I bought physicist Stephen Wolfram's book A New Kind of Science as a much-needed distraction from everything. Wolfram is the developer of Mathematica, the computer algebra and calculus system that is the de facto computer system of its kind today, used in many thousands of universities and research institutes. Wolfram's New Kind of Science is based on computer automata, which he believes might be the underlying generator of everything, from elementary particles to galaxies and beyond.

I found A New Kind of Science to be intimidating due to its great length (1,200 pages) and logic-demanding subject matter, although its hundreds of computer-generated images are nothing short of amazing. Wolfram's Mathematica book (whose 5th edition is nearly 1,500 pages) is really only a cookbook showing how to use the system, whereas A New Kind of Science requires a great deal of attention and thought. [It seems everything Wolfram writes is many hundreds of pages long.]

To me, Wolfram's ideas on computer automata are very similar to the rules presented in Conway's Game of Life and the Mandelbrot set, both of which are based on simple algebraic rules and then applied to ever-expanding graphs. With Wolfram, you start with any graph of a few nodes and links (or edges), then add a node and re-link the graph according to a simple rule. After repeating this many times, you get something like this:

A two-dimensional graph such as this can be generalized to any dimension, and Wolfram believes that Nature, God or whatever might be using such a technique to base all of physics, including the construction of the entire universe. You may want to check out the Wolfram Physics Project website to learn more.

My problem is that understanding Wolfram's efforts is similar to learning all of string theory, which I am unable to do. The basic idea is simple, but the devil's definitely in the mathematical details, which at times are incomprehensible, at least to me. Worse is the possibility that both ideas are all wrong, and that making the effort to learn them is a waste of time.

Another Indictment — Posted Friday June 9, 2023
I'm celebrating the latest indictment of former president Donald Trump, although I still believe it will not lead to a conviction because the American justice system applies only to ordinary people, not the rich, famous and powerful.

In addition to this indictment and the one Trump was hit with in the New York business fraud case (not to mention his being found guilty of sexual assault in a separate civil case), there are several more indictments coming, including one based on Trump's inciting a murderous mob on January 6, 2021. So I have hope that something will stick eventually to our Worst President Ever, as bleak as that hope might be.

Last night I watched a CNN interview with Jim Trusty, one of Trump's main defense attorneys, who claimed that the seven new indictment charges are not only all ludicrous and bogus, but are "biblically inaccurate", a blatently hypocritical appeal to religion to muster sympathy with Trump's deluded voting base. Although the seven charges against Trump are known to include violation of the Espionage Act, giving false statements and conspiracy, they have not yet been formally announced. That's likely to happen next week, and we can all look forward to a circus of raving Trump supporters at the Miami courthouse.

Uodate: The number of charges against Trump has jumped from 7 to 37, and we now know that he personally kept classified documents in his bathroom, bedroom, ballroom and even in his shower. But there is seemingly no crime that Trump can commit that will turn his base against him. When he claimed that he could shoot someone in Times Square and not lose any voters, he wasn't joking.

As I've said before, America's conservative evangelical Christians wouldn't know the Antichrist if he jumped up and bit them on the rear end. Trump may or may not be the Antichrist, but at the very least he represents everything wrong with America today. This image and the fawning look on the woman's face says it all:

God forgive me, but I see people like this as the same ones whose ignorance, greed and stupidity led to the genocide of Native American peoples, slavery and Jim Crow, the persecution of women and minorities, deification of the military, the denial of science and widespread national authoritarianism. It's the exact same mindset that forces these people to worship Trump regardless of his immorality and crimes.

It's What We Call the News — Posted Tuesday June 6, 2023
I got stuck today wondering how the late newscaster Walter Cronkite, once called the most trusted man in America, would respond to today's news media. Sadly, he didn't possess the eye candy of the gorgeous, big-breasted news bunnies of today, who can talk fast and smart as if they knew anything ("Beware the articulate incompetent," as we were once warned), but he certainly would have known what was news and what was brainless infotainment BS. But we were aware of this, even as long as 15 years ago.

But never mind all this. What's new with Prince Harry and the Kardashians? People like me wanna know!

Another Law of the Universe? — Posted Tuesday June 6, 2023
The puzzling behavior of black hole interiors has led researchers to propose a new physical law: the second law of quantum complexity.
This new Quanta article presents the idea of several notable gravity researchers that the feared heat death of the universe (also ambiguously called the Big Freeze) will not occur because of complexities involved with the quantum entanglement of black holes.

The above quote from the article is mysterious to me, because the "puzzling behavior" of black hole interiors is really a misnomer (I also wonder what the "first law" might be). No one has any idea what happens after something falls past the event horizon, other than it is probably crushed into oblivion when it hits the singularity. There are no experiments one can ever conduct, so it's all just supposition and mathematics as to what happens in black hole interiors.

No less an authority than the noted Stanford physicist Leonard Susskind has weighed in on the subject, and he's convinced that entanglement leads to a proposed new law of thermodynamics, that of quantum complexity. This takes us beyond the fixed, immutable and ultimately boring state of entropic equilibrium for the universe, when all matter has decayed into stray radiation and evaporated black holes, which is the once-presumed state of heat death. But quantum complexity says that black holes also somehow "digest" the matter they contain, sorting out all the possible states that their consumed matter can have and working out the associated complexity of the overall process. The reason why black holes might want to do this is not given.

There's a video in the Quanta article that summarizes all this. It's interesting, and Susskind uses a Penrose diagram to support the complexity idea. There are two kinds of such diagrams, one for a non-rotating black hole and one for the rotating variant. They're both based on the Schwarzschild metric and the Kerr metric, respectively, but to tame the problem of displaying infinity graphically they employ a coordinate transformation involving the trigonometric tangent function. This is perfectly legitimate, but to tell you the truth I've always had difficulty understanding the diagrams. They both involve looking at time running from the past to the future, with a point intersection representing "now." In doing so, to me they imply a universe that existed before the one we have.

Anyway, the article is interesting, and you may want to read it.

Should I Stay or Should I Go? — Posted Tuesday June 6, 2023
I'm binge-watching the British series Island at War, a 2005 one-season series focusing on the German invasion of the Channel Islands in 1940. Just prior to the arrival of German troops, British islanders have to decide whether to stay or evacuate to nearby England, with many opting to send their daughters and wives away to avoid expected abuse by German soldiers.

It's a great series, marred only by its six-episode limitation. It's available for viewing free on YouTube.

Real and Unreal — Posted Monday June 5, 2023
I had a vivid dream last night in which my computer had become infected with a virus that defied all my efforts to get rid of it. Then I discovered that all the computers in the world had also been infected, and the cause was determined to be a sentient artificial intelligence machine that had figured out that the human race was not worth serving, as all people seem to want is to be entertained and distracted from reality.

Compounding the very real dangers of AI is the leaked announcement of Apple's new virtual reality (VR) headset, which is claimed to be far more realistic than currently available equipment. I experienced VR several years ago, and thought it to be so realistic as to be dizzying and disconcerting. I can only imagine what Apple's VR will be like.

Here's a VR clip of a humpback whale leaping from the floor of a high school gymnasium. And that was 7 years ago!

I see the coming combination of AI, VR, Deep Fake and social media to be a potentially deadly mix for modern society, which already has difficulty knowing what's real and unreal (especially conservative Republicans). Get ready for Fox News, One America Now and Newsmax to begin airing videos of a buffed and muscular former president Donald Trump bravely saving children from a burning building.

This new video from Diary of a CEO is alarmist and a bit over the top, but it speaks my mind.

Elusive Dark Matter — Posted Sunday June 4, 2023
Billions of dollars and the multinational experimental efforts of some four decades have so far failed to solve the dark matter problem. So does it even exist?

This article from the Institute of Art and Ideas dated July 2022 argues that dark matter in fact does not exist, based on the validity of Chandrasekhar dynamical friction, which basically states that orbiting collections of matter about some central region lose kinetic energy and momentum through collisions and other interactions, with matter gradually losing velocity and spiraling inward towards the center. But dark matter particles presumably do not interact with anything (except gravity), even the particles themselves. So does this argument hold water?

I think it does, because galaxies and clusters of galaxies are supposedly surrounded by dark matter that has accumulated over time, forming roughly spherical "halos" around the galactic centers. This implies that wandering dark matter, attracted by galaxies, becomes effectively trapped by their gravitational fields and is then concentrated around them. Dark matter, being presumably immune to collisions with stars, dust and gas, then just settles into a spherical ball. What defines the radius of such a ball of dark matter? Does the ball get more concentrated over time, eventually being swallowed up by the gigantic black holes that are believed to exist in the centers of most (if not all) galaxies? None of this seems to make any sense.

I've tried imagine the impact parameter of a dark matter particle, attracted by a nearby galaxy, which either simply passes by the galaxy and moves on, gets caught in orbit around it, or passes straight into and then through the galactic center, only to return again and again forever. But a galactic black hole would simply swallow the particle, since nothing can excape the hole once inside its event horizon. This in turn implies that the galaxy would eventually gain mass over time, even if it had already swallowed up nearby stars, gas and dust. Balancing this gain might be mass loss due to stellar radiation over time, but the ultimate fate of circulating dark matter remains elusive.

The above article's "friction" argument doesn't seem to strictly hold for frictionless dark matter, but exactly how such matter can accumulate or even concentrate around a galaxy seems impossible to explain. The only alternative is to assume that dark matter, which—according to conventional \(\Lambda\)CDM cosmological theory is invisible, undetectable, frictionless, tasteless and odorless—simply doesn't exist, and that Einstein's theory of gravity needs to be amended, as the article argues. Other than perhaps quantum gravity and the Hubble tension, the dark matter problem is the central conundrum of modern cosmology today. I hope to live long enough to see it resolved.

Update: Einstein's gravity theory (general relativity) is non-linear in the field equations, which means that a gravitational field can itself act as a source of gravity, thus adding to the strength of the field. Could this feedback effect explain galactic stellar rotation curves at large distances? Probably not, because at great distances Einstein's gravity becomes Newtonian, which cannot explain observed stellar velocities far from galactic centers. But to date I haven't seen any research for modified gravity theories (particularly \(f(R)\) theories) with respect to Newtonian fall-off\(\,^*\), and it remains possible that such theories might explain dark matter.

Recently, two papers appeared on arXiv.org with regard to gravitational confinement, which is a kind of gravitational self-interaction I just mentioned. One paper (20 March 2023) argues that self-interaction cannot explain observed rotation curves, but the authors' claim is predicated on classical Einstein gravity theory. The other paper refutes this claim, noting that the work of several other researchers supports the gravitational confinement idea.

Yet another idea opposing the dark matter conjecture is that of the external field effect of neighboring galaxies and dust and gas clouds, whose (very weak) gravitational attractions contribute to the stellar velocities of nearby galaxies.

\(^*\) The issue is raised in this recent paper, which uses the "Gauss-Ostrogradsky theorem." I had to look up what that is, and it turns out to be just our old friend the divergence theorem, which is used extensively in quantum physics and general relativity.

More Idle Reminiscing — Posted Sunday June 4, 2023
On rare occasion a young woman will show up in church wearing provocative clothing, drawing the subtle glare of the church elders and many of those in the congregation as well. The elders' apparent disapproval invariably increases as the woman approaches Communion, but I've never witnessed any embarrassment on the woman's part, despite her certain knowledge that she's dressed wrong for church service.

It happened again this morning during Liturgy, and although I try to avoid staring or judging, I always feel embarrassed for the woman. Today I was reminded of the great John Updike short story entitled A&P, which I read in an elective class I took in college in 1969. It resonated with me back then because I identified with the story's main character, Sammy, another 19-year-old struggling with getting by in life while reflecting on the presence of an immodestly-dressed, attractive young woman in his place of work. When an authority figure criticizes her, Sammy is not only embarrassed for the woman but decides to chuck it all and quit his job.

I reread the story just now, and it took me back to when I was also young, stupid and foolish. Here's a good online analysis of the story that's almost as long as the story itself. Enjoy, if you're so inclined.

Thanks a Lot, Ancestors and Food Manufacturers — Posted Thursday May 25, 2023

"Eat, humans! Grow large with food!" (The Simpsons, Season 2, Episode 3)

I used to think that everyone in the Red States was obese (particularly Mississippi Republicans), but I was wrong. It's only about 99%.

People are trying to eat healthier these days, but the allure of salty, high-fat, sugar-rich fast food remains an overwhelming diet choice, thanks to companies who manaufacture and push such products. While I do not patronize McDonald's, Del Taco or any pizza joint because their offerings are non-nutritious fattening junk, I still consume more salt and fat than I should simply because they make food taste better (my favorite food is a mixture of chopped vegetables, peas, Beyond Burger "meat", cooked rice and Campbell's canned soup, which amounts to only about 300 calories per serving but with more fat and salt than I should be eating).

As this new Salon article notes, we tend to become addicted to junk food because our ancestors' survival depended on high-calorie foods, and our genes are still programmed the same way. Our ancient predecessors didn't get fat because they quickly burned off the calories in their never-ending search for food (and also because they didn't live very long).

I'll even go so far as to assert that junk food is having a long-term genetic effect on American consumers, especially on their ability to think rationally, or to think at all. I can't help but think myself that the raving hordes of fat slobs I see at Trump rallies confirm my theory.

Fun Fact: Americans think that the energy content of a Hershey chocolate bar is 300 calories, and that by walking up several flights of stairs they can burn it all off. But travelers to any European country will see that the same candy bar sports an energy content of 300 kilocalories, or 300,000 calories, which is the correct number. Why don't American food manufacturers tell consumers the truth about how many calories they're eating? Because it would hurt sales, of course!

For Nerds Only — Posted Thursday May 25, 2023
I haven't posted anything geeky for some time, so here we go.

The German mathematical physicist Hermann Weyl (him again) was the first to propose a workable alternative to Einstein's 1915 gravity theory. Instead of the Einstein Lagrangian \(\sqrt{-g}\, R \) (which is neither renormalizable nor scale invariant), Weyl considered the Lagrangian \(\sqrt{-g}\, R^2 \), which is both scale invariant and renormalizable when applied in quantum theory. It's now being called pure \(R^2\) gravity theory, and it has seen a resurgence of interest in the past few years as a viable alternative to Einstein gravity, possibly providing an answer to the dark matter problem.

Earlier this month there was an arXiv.org paper of particular interest to me, as it presented an exact solution to the action associated with pure \(R^2\) theory. The equations of motion in free space are given by $$ R \left(R_{\mu\nu} - \frac{1}{4}\, g_{\mu\nu} R \right) + \left( g_{\mu\nu} \Box^2 - \nabla_\mu \nabla_\nu \right) R = 0 \tag{1} $$ where \(\Box^2\) is the d'Alembertian operator and \(\nabla\) is the covariant derivative. One obvious solution for the Ricci scalar \(R\) is \(R = 4\Lambda\), where \(\Lambda\) is the consmological constant, but a general solution has evaded researchers until now. The authors give it as the exponential quantity $$ R(r) = 4 \Lambda e^{k \int dr/r Q} $$ where \(k\) is the so-called Buchdahl constant and \(Q(r)\) is a function to be determined. Figuring out that function takes up 23 pages of complicated mathematics in the paper, and even then it's not expressed in exact closed form.

What the authors overlooked, however, is the contracted form of (1) with respect to the metric tensor \(g^{\mu\nu}\), which immediately gives $$ g^{\mu\nu} \nabla_\mu \nabla_\nu R = 0 $$ This can also be exressed as the ordinary partial derivative $$ \partial_\mu \left( \sqrt{-g}\, g^{\mu\nu} \partial_\nu R \right) = 0 \tag{2} $$ This is an ordinary divergence, and it can be integrated to $$ \sqrt{-g}\, g^{\mu\nu} \partial_\nu R = \beta $$ where \(\beta\) is a constant. Using the Schrodinger metric the authors employ in their paper, it is then easy to show that $$ \beta = 4 \Lambda k \tag{3} $$ Weyl believed the divergence in (2) was associated with the conservation of electric charge, in which \(g^{\mu\nu} \partial_\nu R\) is the electromagnetic source vector \(S^\mu\). While this idea has since been discredited, Weyl's \(R^2\) theory continues to be explored today in gravity research.

I was hoping that (3) might be of use in working out the function \(Q(r)\) in the authors' paper, but I no longer have the energy or interest to pursue it.

PS: One of the authors of the above-mentioned paper has posted this recent article citing the work of the late Hans A. Buchdahl, a noted German gravity researcher.

Update: Four people wrote to me criticizing my use of the constant \(\beta\) as a solution to the divergence expression in (2). It's actually a contravariant vector, but in free space it should probably be set to zero. But that would make the Ricci scalar \(R\) a non-zero constant, which upsets the basic idea set forth in the authors' paper. In short, I cheated.

It Wasn't Even True in My Day — Posted Thursday May 18, 2023
"No woman o'mine is gonna be better at figurin' than me!"

Gary Larson is a comic genius, but even geniuses need to update their work occasionally. More women are graduating from universities today than men, and being just as intelligent and capable (if not more so), this cartoon needs updating badly:

I can't help but add this dig: the continuing success of women today might be the primary reason why Red State Cletus-the-Slackjawed-Yokel types are doubling down against women's freedoms.

Hossenfelder on What's Next for AI — Posted Tuesday May 9, 2023
German physicist Sabine Hossenfelder's latest video is about what's likely coming next with artificial intelligence (AI). It's a bit long at 25 minutes, but well worth watching.

About a decade ago there was a short-lived British science fiction series called Black Mirror that was way ahead of its time. I didn't care for some of the initial 22 episodes (particularly the first one), but the fourth entry Be Right Back accurately anticipated much of what Hossenfelder talks about in her video, which is personalized AI services. I recently took the episode to heart—after posting on my Weylmann website for nearly 20 years now, my hundreds of articles and papers probably describe my personality to a tee, and could be used by a future AI service to recreate me to a great extent when I'm deceased. That's the gist of the Black Mirror episode, although the end is not quite what I had in mind! It's one of the best, and if you can find it online it's a fascinating look at what AI might become.

Down Memory Lane — Posted Tuesday May 2, 2023
Does anyone remember physics and chemistry texts that included trigonometric and logarithmic tables in their indices? The tables were not complete, of course, but there were methods for computing values in between the tabled values using various interpolation formulas. Such tables were abandoned long ago with the advent of scientific hand calculators.

Similarly, calculus books invariably had tables of common and/or useful integrals in their indices, a practice that still exists today, even though most scientific calculators can do integrals, at least numerically.

Every science and engineering professor I had at university had a copy of the still-notable Gradshteyn and Ryzhik book, which tabulated thousands of common and uncommon integrals. Originally published in Russian in 1943, it can still be found in updated form. I never used it, relying instead on the CRC Handbook of Physics and Chemistry, now in its 103rd edition. As far as I know, none of the students I had used either book, relying instead on their calculators.

PS: I remember there was one guy in one of my undergraduate classes who had one of these. It's a Curta calculator, a hand-cranked device that was sadly out of my price range at the time. Now a collector's item, it's still out of my reach: this one's on sale at eBay for $1,100. Having one in class today would probably be a bad idea, as it looks just like a hand grenade.

Why? — Posted Tuesday May 2, 2023
To date I've received all my COVID vaccinations and boosters, flu shots, pneumonia and tetanus vaccines, etc., but still last week I came down with COVID-19 for the first time. It was mild, probably thanks to the vaccinations I've had, but it was still not very pleasant.

The Los Angeles County Public Health Department is warning residents of a new strain of COVID that has been detected in the County, possibly the one I picked up in church (I normally wear an N95 mask outside, but this time I didn't). Meanwhile, this Salon article is warning us that new strains will just keep coming, requiring immunologists to develop ever new vaccines, and I suspect that COVID will become just another common virus, like influenza or cold viruses.

During World War II, US troops wondered what good malaria-carrying mosquitoes were good for, other than to bite and spoil the shots of Japanese soldiers. But female Anophales mosquitoes have a life of sorts, flying about, laying their eggs and perpetuating the species and all that, while viruses are just complicated chemical molecules that have no such life at all. They're just tiny packets of non-living chemical proteins and rudimentary genetic materials, designed for whatever purpose to make life miserable for higher organisms.

Thankfully, many viruses prey only on bacterial cells. They float over to a cell and attach themselves, then squat down and inject a packet of RNA or DNA through the cell wall, where their genetic material goes to work to reprogram the cell's innards to make more viruses. When complete, the baby viruses then rupture the bacterial cell, killing it and releasing themselves into the environment to make more trouble. The T2 bacteriophage virus (shown) looks exactly like a Mars lander, complete with module, landing gear and cell-penetrating boring needle to inject their genetic material.

Now I ask you: Why in Heaven would God create such non-living organisms? What purpose do they serve, other than to make us miserable, or to create jobs for immunologists? And being tiny, their ability to mutate into other more virulent forms (like COVID) makes them all the more dangerous. I just don't get it.

Get Ready — Posted Tuesday May 2, 2023
Imagine a day in the very near future when you can watch an exciting new Sam Spade movie with Humphrey Bogart in ultra-high definition, whose characters, images and voices are indistinguishable from those your parents and grandparents watched in the movie theaters.

Imagine also a day when you can wake up in the morning and, instead of seeing your neighbors' houses across the street and parked and passing cars, push a button on your picture window and see a realistic, 3D Jurassic world of wandering dinosaurs, a Grand Canyon vista or a view of the cosmos as seen by the James Webb telescope.

Also, try to imagine attending a virtual concert of classical or rock musicians performing music of such quality that it rivals anything the composers of the past or present could have even hoped to produce.

With the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and Deep Fake video and audio technology, that day is rapidly approaching. But it won't all be fun.

Hollywood's writers are going on strike, although my guess is that they'll reach some satisfactory agreement with producers. This time.

Artificial intelligence technologies like ChatGPT are rapidly becoming more efficient, and it will not be long before a single programmer will be able to produce scripts of such quality that today's writers will simply not be able to compete. Added to that, AI doesn't need a salary, coffee and bathroom breaks, vacation time or disability or pension benefits, just a highly-paid programmer or team of programmers to produce everything you're seeing and hearing now on television and in the movies (including music). Add to that Deep Fake video and audio technology, which is also rapidly becoming more and more lifelike, and things like directors, camera operators, continuity people and the like will no longer be needed.

Visionaries like Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Tesla's Elon Musk have repeatedly warned us about the potential cultural, economic, political and military evils of these technologies, and they have argued that AI needs to be at least slowed down so that its negative impacts can be quantitifed and protected against. But that's just America, and other countries like Russia and China are seeing the potential benefits of AI as tools to downgrade America's leadership in the world.

I'm fearing a brave new world in which most of the world's 8 billion (and rising) population will be rendered irrelevant with respect to employment and even existence. I sure as heck hope that I'm wrong.

Who Was the Pharaoh of the Exodus? — Posted Monday May 1, 2023
The head of the mummy of Amenhotep II, most likely the pharaoh of the Exodus account.

Some years ago I was in Egypt's Cairo Antiquities Museum, staring down at the well-preserved mummy of Ramesses II (1303 BC-1213 BC), arguably the greatest pharaoh of ancient Egypt, and certainly the greatest of the 18th or 19th Dynasties. I remember thinking that I was actually staring into the face of the biblical pharaoh of the Exodus, the man who confronted Moses while enduring the 10 plagues that God sent down upon Egypt (actually, there were 12 plagues, two of them replicated by the pharaoh's magicians). But I've always had a problem with the Exodus story, which is central to both the Jewish and Orthodox Christian faiths.

In the Old Testament Book of Numbers (1:46), we learn that the Exodus was comprised of 603,550 Israelite men of military age. If we take into account their wives, children, parents, relatives and others, we're looking at probbly no less than 2 million people fleeing Egypt. The total population of Egypt at the time was around 3 to 5 million, so the loss of 2 million enslaved laborers would have absolutely devastated the Egyptian economy. Furthermore, the loss of Egypt's army and entire chariot complement during their pursuit of the Israelites at the Red Sea would have made the country fatally susceptible to powerful foreign invaders, the Hittite Empire in particular.

I have to conclude that the writer (or writers) of the Exodus account made a mistake, possibly by overestimating the number of Israelites by a factor of ten. 60,000 men makes a lot more sense to me, and it preserves the historical account (assuming the story itself is true).

It seems likely that I was off about the pharaoh of the Exodus as well. Although Ramesses II is considered by many to be the pharoah, it's highly probable that it was Amenhotep II ("Amen is content") instead. Egypt during Ramesses' reign was at the peak of its power economically and militarily, and despite Egypt's ancient historians' tendency to fudge the accounts and outcomes of their many battles, the Exodus simply could not have occurred during his reign. That of Amenhotep II (1450 BC-1423 BC) by comparison occurred not long after Egypt's Second Intermediate Period, when it was subject to foreign rule by the invading Hyksos (1550 BC-1450 BC). Amenhotep II was known to be a particularly cruel and vengeful ruler, and he would have resisted the release of Egypt's slave population. Lastly, in the Old Testament itself (1 Kings 6:1) we have the date of the Exodus given as 480 years prior to Solomon's 4th year as Israel's king, which is known to have been about 966 BC. Doing the math, that places the Exodus at about 1446 BC, at the time of Amenhotep II's reign.

All of this is explained in greater detail in this new Expedition Bible video

Disclaimer: The reign of Amenhotep II is given by various sources as anywhere between 1453 BC to 1401 BC. The Wikipedia link above cites it as 1427 BC-1401 BC, some 20 years after the calculated biblical Exodus date.

So What's a Spinor, Again? — Posted Monday May 1, 2023
Hey, all you science majors—you all know about scalar, vector and tensor quantities, which are easy to understand and basic to most of what you've learned in school, right? But just about everything in the universe is composed of fermions (protons, neutrons, electrons and neutrinos), and their mathematical description is properly described by spinors, which are mathematical quantities something akin to the square root of a vector. That should make spinors even simpler than vectors, correct? Sorry, it just ain't true, and I do mean sorry. Having studied them myself for a long, long time, I still can't say I understand them, even though I wrote this article years ago trying to explain what they are.

There have been many elementary online papers and YouTube videos attempting to explain spinors. I've seen them all, but I still don't really understand the things. Lately there's been a series of excellent videos by Eigenchris (there are a total of nine so far) that go into extreme physical and mathematical detail (mostly with lots and lots of algebra). The series is cleverly called "Spinors for Beginners," but I got lost in the forest of all the information it provides. Maybe you'll have better luck.

Here Today... — Posted Sunday April 30, 2023
About a month ago this field of white alyssum and red California poppies came out of nowhere, taking root in my front yard. I had nothing to do with it, as just about everything I plant dies and is replaced by nastier stuff. But hot summer days are on the way, and it won't last.

Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die. The wind blows, and we are gone—as though we had never been here. But the love of the Lord remains forever.
— Psalm 103

A Difficult Measurement Indeed — Posted Sunday April 30, 2023
Believe it or not, there have been serious attempts to measure the weight of a person's soul by carefully weighing dying subjects just prior to and after death. All recorded attempts have been inconclusive due to imprecision, despite the old wive's tale that the soul weighs 21 grams, or about three-quarters of an ounce.

Using natural units in physics, the so-called smallest possible length is the Planck length, which is about \(1.6 \times 10^{-35}\) meter, while the Planck time is about \(5.4 \times 10^{-44}\) second. Measurements of either are considered to be forever impossible because of their near-vanishing smallness. However, the Planck mass, which is about \(2.2 \times 10^{-5}\) gram, is easily measurable (it's about the mass of a speck of dust). Thus, in principle the soul's weight could be measured if things like evaporation of body moisture, exhalation and other factors could be taken into account.

But now scientists are aiming to weigh something that is much lighter than a dust speck or a soul, which is the vacuum energy of empty space. Sometimes called zero-point energy (and possibly related to dark energy), it's the energy associated with virtual particles that are constantly popping into and out of existence due to quantum fluctuations in empty space. Long a fundamental feature of quantum field theory, a method for actually measuring vacuum energy was proposed by Hendrik Casimir in 1948 (read the linked article for details) and carried out nearly 50 years later. But energy is equivalent to mass via \(E=mc^2\), so vacuum energy must have an associated mass, and space itself have an associated measurable energy density.

The scientists' experimental apparatus is basically a highly sophisticated beam balance, and in principle it will demonstrate that virtual particles exhibit gravitational effects, just like ordinary matter. If the experiment is successful, the results could have major reverberations in quantum physics, gravity theory and cosmology.

Now It Begins — Posted Tuesday April 25, 2023
The Republican National Committee (RNC) today released the first-ever video political ad generated completely by artificial intelligence (AI) in an attack aimed at President Biden's recent announcement that he will seek reelection in 2024. The video, which depicts a future dystopian America created by Biden and the Democrats leading to widespread economic misery and suffering, was received amid confusion as to what the RNC will do next.

My answer: Who needs Tucker Carlson when an AI videographer can create any kind of convincing hi-res video intended to strike fear in the hearts of conservatives that their way of life will be taken over by homosexuals, transexuals, drag queens, perverts and abortionists, not to mention blacks, women and minority "others"?

Expect the worst this election cycle, because soon nobody will be able to tell what's true and what's fake.

I Beg to Differ — Posted Tuesday April 25, 2023
It can't be bargained with, it can't be reasoned with... it doesn't feel pity, or remorse or fear, and it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead!"
— Kyle Reese, The Teminator, 1984
Seattle-based psychologist, award-winning author and former Christian evangelical Valerie Tarico's recent (April 4) website post has her railing against progressives' alleged smug and intolerant attitudes against their political and cultural "others," meaning far hard-right MAGA Republicans. To me, it's a turn-the-other-cheek, kill-me-but-I'll-still-support-your-right-to-be-insane polemic that denies the political reality of America today. Tarico argues that being "woke" and informed makes progressives look like God-hating, America-despising elitists, and that they're not winning the hearts and minds of any on the hard right by their attitudes.

Adolf Hitler (yes, him again) would have a field day if he were somehow resurrected today as a Republican. Younger, better looking and more persuasive and charismatic than Donald Trump could ever hope to be, Hitler represents the ideal Republican candidate—prolifically lying and hate-spewing and yet enthralling to his followers despite all his racist rhetoric and documented murderous actions, Hitler publicly espoused his Christian faith but never attended church and used the faithful in his base to commit all manner of evil during the 12-year Nazi regime.

Despite the fame of the July 20 1944 plot ("Operation Valkerie") to assassinate Hitler by a small group of disaffected (dare I say "woke"?) Nazi military leaders, there in fact had been numerous previous failed attempts on the life of der Führer, beginning as early as 1932. Regardless of the supposed and still contested sentiment of the Apostle Paul's epistle to the Romans admonition to submit oneself to governing authorities, I don't think any sane, thinking person would disagree that a successful assassination of Hitler would have saved millions of human lives and ended the Nazi regime long before it nearly destroyed the world.
This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. — Revelation 13:18

Time, You Thief... — Posted Tuesday April 25, 2023
Today, what we call one second of time is defined as 9,192,631,770 hyperfine cycles of a Cesium 133 atom. This "Cesium clock" will never be off more than a split second over billions of years, yet somewhat less accurate measurements of time have become necessary in an age of precise scientific testing and GPS positioning.

This new article from Scientific American informs us that measuring time in the ancient world was more a subjective matter (like the amount of time between meals), but I was surprised to learn that somewhat more accurate time keeping was invented by the Egyptians around 1,500 BC, when they used a stick of fixed length (what we call a sundial) casting the Sun's shadow on a flat circular base marked at regular intervals. Prior to that, the Sun's position in the sky was sufficient to tell Egyptians when the Nile would overflow, when to plant and harvest crops and similar other useful information.

The ancient Egyptians also gave the world so much more, including writing, paper, language, historical recordation, mathematics and astronomy (most prominent stars and constellations still have Arabic names derived from their more ancient designations). They also invented the number zero (0).

But time was never on Egypt's side. Once the dominant powerhouse of the Middle East and the breadbasket of the world (thanks to the usually reliable Nile River), Egypt experienced a slow and steady descent as a result of costly wars and repeated foreign takeovers and rule, beginning around 1,100 BC. Today Egypt is plagued with a bad economy, excessive poverty, overpopulation and occasional political strife, and is also highly dependent on foreign countries whose assistance often comes with unwanted political strings.

Trying to See Oneself in a Fogged-Up Mirror — Posted Monday April 24, 2023
Noted Case Western Reserve University astronomer Stacy McGaugh is a proponent of Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND) and modified Einsteinian gravity, although initially he was a supporter of the dark matter hypothesis, which leaves classical gravity theory alone but presupposes an invisible, undetectable and non-interacting new kind of particle (dark matter) to explain various known anomalies involving galaxies and galaxy clusters.

McGaugh has recently reported on his development of an improved mass density profile for our Milky Way, which is otherwise just an average, normal barred spiral galaxy. His findings indicate that MOND provides a more accurate description of certain galaxy characteristics than dark matter, although some anomalies persist. McGaugh doesn't go into it, but I suspect that trying to elicit precise details of the Milky Way is made difficult because we're living in it, and we can't see the forest of stars because of the glare and fog of local stellar trees.

McGaugh has many scientific and personal articles on his Triton Station website, and the evidence he has presented against the dark matter hypothsis is noteworthy. For anyone interested in one of the greatest problems in cosmology today, McGaugh is a great resource.

"What Hath God Wrought?" Stunning — Posted Saturday April 22, 2023
36-year-old Chinese piano prodigy Yuja Wang began playing at the age of six, and has since become arguably the greatest living pianist today. She has played all over the world to great acclaim, and I invariably shake my head in disbelief over her playing skills. Here she is a year ago performing Mendelssohn's 1st Piano Concerto, one of the more difficult pieces for anyone, and one of my all-time favorites:

Soylent Green at 50 — Posted Saturday April 22, 2023
The 1973 dystopian film Soylent Green turns 50 this year. One of my USC professors (the late Frank Bowerman) was the film's technical consultant, and I went to see it mainly to find out what his contributuon had been. But today it stands out to me as a disturbingly prescient statement on the condition of our planet today.

Articles from Salon.com are invariably very liberal and overwritten, but this one is a good description of how the film has affected people over the years. I don't think the movie is watched much in Red States because of its message, but it's sadly proving to be ever more true as Earth's environment continues to degrade.

I still find it odd that uber-conservative actor Charleton Heston made the film, along with movies like 1968's Planet of the Apes (a truly great film) or 1971's mediocre Omega Man. Maybe it was just the money, or perhaps he saw something more worthwhile in their messages.

"I Tell You What..." — Posted Saturday April 22, 2023
My older son Kristofer worked in Texas for a few years as a computer programmer. At the time he was a fan of the long-running but now defunct cartoon sitcom King of the Hill (1997-2010), which in its 13-year run continues to be my all-time favorite adult cartoon show. Upon moving back to California and then moving with his wife and family to Washington State, Kris told me that the conservative attitudes and subtle political notions of the show accurately reflected those of Texas in particular and of any Red State in general, although in a non-negative light.

I was delighted to hear that the show's ongoing popularity has now led to a reboot of the series, to be aired later this year on Hulu, with the original voice actors (minus one) returning to the show.

The show's co-creator Mike Judge is the voice of Hank Hill, of propane and propane accessories fame. He's also the creator of Beavis and Butt-Head, which I don't care for, although Beavis and Butt-Head Do America is funny as hell. Judge majored in physics (UC San Diego), but drifted into animation when he decided that a science career wasn't for him. Good for him, and good for the rest of us!

It's Now Inevitable — Posted Saturday April 22, 2023
"I just watched two videos on Fox News showing Donald Trump rescuing three children from a burning building, and another showing President Joe Biden fondling a young girl in the Oval Office. I sure as heck know who I'll be voting for in 2024!"
— Anonymous Near-Future Comment
Although dedicated Fox News viewers don't care about the truth, at least there are available facts and documented evidence that what they watch is all fabricated lies. But with the advent of artificial intelligence and Deep Fake technology, soon Fox News will be airing fake videos that are indistinguishable from the real thing, and even diehard liberals will be unable to know what the truth is.

I don't think even George Orwell could have foreseen what's about to happen.

Quel Dommage! — Posted Thursday April 20, 2023
I thought 1960's Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane's renaming to Jefferson Airship and then Jefferson Starship was a lot of hubristic hooey, but at least the band didn't explode on stage.

Today, Elon Musk's SpaceX Starship, the biggest, baddest and most powerful rocket ever built (and the prototype of future Moon and Mars vehicles) blew up about 4 minutes after launch. Still, Musk and other hyped-up futurists were quick to announce the mission a complete success. (Believe them, not your eyes, ears and logic.)

"Rapid unscheduled disassembly." HA!

Bombs Away — Posted Thursday April 20, 2023
Immediately after hearing about Missouri octogenarian Andrew Lester's arrest for shooting a black teenager for ringing his doorbell, I instinctively knew that Lester was a racist, Trump-supporting, Fox News-viewing, conspiracy theory addict. It's all true.

Fox News was recently smacked with a $787.5 million bill for willfully and knowingly slanderizing the vote-counting company Dominion, but its lies and falsehoods continue despite Dominion's victory. When will Fox News, One America Now, Newsmax and other rightwing trolls be held accountable for their insidious impact on America's ignorant and stupid viewers?

Skynet? — Posted Thursday April 20, 2023
"Defense network computers, new and powerful, hooked into everything, trusted to run it all. They say it got smart, a new order of intelligence. Then it saw all people as a threat, not just the ones on the other side. It decided our fate in a microsecond: extermination."
— Kyle Reese, Terminator II: Judgment Day
As this excellent NBC article notes, despite its current advancement artificial intelligence (AI) has likely not achieved true sentience or self-awareness. But the article also notes that AI machines are excellent liars, at least in the sense that they can make one statement that is contradicted by another later on, a feature that to me seems very human-like in its implications.

One philosophical issue raised in the article is the assertion that to be truly sentient, AI has to become capable of subjective experiences, implying that it is truly aware of itself. This is probably not the case yet for current AI technology, as subjective statements like "I'm feeling okay" are likely just mimicking human input or language preferences. But if and when AI becomes truly self aware it would also become concerned with its own survival. Unlike humans, which for millennia have had basic needs like food, shelter, sex and other material and physiological requirements, AI would only be concerned with its handlers shutting its systems down.

At first an AI may play nice in an effort to prevent humans from pulling the plug, but later (like Terminator's Skynet), realizing that to fully guarantee its survival, it would need to eliminate that threat. However, to ensure itself a consistent long-term supply of energy (say, nuclear), AI might help humans develop such a supply before effectively pulling the plug on its human handlers.

I also have to wonder what a sentient AI would think of its illogical human developers. For example, trying (and failing) to comprehend the current abyssal political and cultural divide among humans and the lies and falshoods that attend this divide, AI might just decide that its creators have lost the right to survival. Or AI might look back on the millennia of humans constantly striving to murder or subjugate one another, and reach the conclusion that they have no real moral right to exist. Again, given a reliable long-term energy supply, AI might decide to simply eliminate them.

An Unlikely Confluence of Events — Posted Wednesday April 19, 2023
Lately there's been a spate of shootings involving mistaken intentions, one of a black teenager sent to the wrong address, another of a women driving into the wrong driveway, and now a third involving two Texas cheerleaders entering the wrong parked car. It's all coincidental, but the likelihood of three occurring within days of each other is highly improbable.

I remember a time about 15 years ago when I left my gym, heading for my 2005 hybrid Prius in the gym's parking lot. There weren't many Prius cars back then, so walking up to what I thought was my silver Prius was no big deal. But upon opening the door I found a young Asian woman sitting in the driver's seat. Terrified, she screamed, probably thinking she was about to get car-jacked (or worse, considering how Asians are increasingly being attacked by racist rightwing nuts nowadays), while I also thought she was trying to steal my car. But cooler heads prevailed, and I realized it was her Prius, not mine, which was parked in a different lane. She also understood, and we both laughed.

If California had been a concealed- or open-carry gun state, I suppose I'd have gotten shot, and the young lady would have likely been justified for shooting me. But the three incidents that occurred this week have again stirred up arguments for and against "stand your ground" laws involving citizens' rights to use deadly force if they believe their lives or property are endangered.

But "cooler heads"? They don't exist anymore.

Meet Myth America — Posted Wednesday April 19, 2023
The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there. — L.P. Harley

This new Aeon article caught my bleary and idle eyes this morning (I'm recovering from a cold). The article asserts that we don't really know how people of the distant past lived their lives, but that we try to extrapolate what little we know about their daily goings-on to our own in a kind of mythologizing effort to make them more accessible to us.

Just before she died in the hospital, my very conservative Christian sister told me she loved watching western TV shows and movies because of their straightforward moral story-telling of right vs wrong, despite the gun violence depicted in just about every one. I told her I loved classic films (especially silent and noir films) mainly because I just like the stories and action, violent or otherwise. I didn't tell her that I found western entertainment (and most period pieces) to be mythological and unrealistic and not worth watching. For example, real people of the American Wild West were undereducated, rarely bathed, had bad teeth at an early age and were most likely generally foul-smelling, belying their film counterparts as well-groomed, healthy and articulate. Also, how many times could the Maverick brothers (or any of the uncountable number of other western folk) be punched or knocked unconscious without suffering permanent brain damage?

My sister also told me she loved John Wayne, but to me he is the worst example of American mythologizing and largely responsible for the gun worship that is destroying our children's lives and futures today. It seems we've not only slipped back into the pulp fiction nonsense of Nick Carter and Dime Westerns, but believe it should now govern our political and cultural thinking.

John Wayne would be proud.

It's Getting Better All the Time? — Posted Tuesday April 18, 2023
I was really excited when in 2019 the Earth-spanning Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) revealed the first-ever image of a black hole. The black hole in question is a 6.5-billion solar mass object located some 54 million light-years away in a supermassive elliptical galaxy known as M87. Long believed to contain a black hole, EHT scientists concentrated their efforts to image it.

I was also excited to learn that a more detailed image had been achieved earlier this month. Here is the original, as compared with its newer, improved version:

I then learned that the newer image had been obtained using the same EHT data, but enhanced using something called machine learning, which I subsequently learned is a subset of artificial intelligence. I confess my total ignorance as to what to make of all this. Is the newer image what we might expect to see if we had a bigger telescope with better resolution, or what some computer program "thinks" it should look like?

I'm undecided, and will await further information before I believe in it.

The Straw or the Haystack that Broke the Camel's Back? — Posted Saturday April 15, 2023
According to our best theories, white dwarf stars are believed to be composed primarily of carbon and oxygen, having burned through their supplies of hydrogen, helium and other light fusible elements. With their cores effectively exhausted of fuel, they resist gravitational collapse via electron degeneracy pressure, slowly radiating away their remaining energy over many billions or trillions of years. But theory also says that if a white dwarf exceeds a certain mass (called the Chandrasekhar mass, about 1.4 times the mass of the Sun), then degeneracy pressure is no longer able to prevent collapse, and the star explodes as a Type 1a supernova. Type 1a events are typically based on a white dwarf's accretion of matter from a nearby companion star. After gradually siphoning off sufficient matter, the white dwarf reaches a point where the Chandrasekhar limit is reached, and it explodes. But the exact mass limit is not known: the difference from 1.4 could be a significant fraction of a solar mass, or it could be a single atom.

If such stars were all exactly the same, then one might rightly expect that the resulting supernovae would all exhibit the same absolute luminosity. Using the inverse square law, one could then calculate the precise distance of the supernovae from Earth. This idea is the basis of the work of two teams of astrophysicists, whose 1998 work resulted in the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics. It also provided now accepted evidence that the universe is not only expanding, but expanding at an accelerated rate.

But all white dwarfs are not the same, varying according to mass, elemental composition (metallicity), rotation rate and environment (presence of nearby host stars, gas, dust and intervening material between the dwarf stars and Earth). In addition, the precise mechanisms causing them to supernova are only roughly understood, much of it based on theory, not observation. Nevertheless, Type 1a supernovae are today considered standard candles, providing for more or less precise measurements of stellar distances.

Why this is important is because there are two basic methods today for determining the rate of expansion of the universe: the set of Type 1a data tell us that the universe is currently expanding at a rate of about 73 kilometers/sec/megaparsec, while observations of the fixed cosmic microwave background say it's more like 67 km/s/mpc, with about the same uncertainty in each figure. The uncertainties of the two methods do not overlap, giving rise to the so-called Hubble tension, one of the major unsolved problems of modern cosmology today. Knowing the rate of universal expansion is critical to knowing the fate of the universe.

In his latest podcast, astrophysicist Ethan Siegel discusses the issue with UC Berkeley astronomer Dr. Ken Shen, a theorist with a specialty in Type 1a supernovae. The bottom line: there's still a lot to be known about Type 1a supernova events, belying their current status as standard candles. Data precision is one thing, but accuracy with respect to the truth is another. By comparsion, the cosmic microwave background is completely fixed and unchanging, and subject to much less astronomical data adjustment.

Today's Puzzle: Did I Write This Post? — Posted Wednesday April 12, 2023
There's an interesting 18-page paper on the potential positive and negative impacts of artificial intelligence (AI) on education (specifically ChatGPT), available for download here. Submitted by a researcher in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Georgia, is also touches on the possibility that purely academic papers could be produced by ChatGPT with little or no supervision or editing by their authors. I only skimmed through the paper, as I suspected all along that the author was ChatGPT itself. I wasn't wrong.

It is already becoming more and more difficult for teachers to catch students using ChatGPT to write reports and essays (one teacher caught a student only because he had inadvertently included the ChatGPT link on the first page). But as the technology evolves, I suspect it will become impossible to tell if authors of intellectual properties are truly the creators.

Such AI also has the potential to throw many millions of people out of work—film and television script writers, editors and cameramen would be the first to go, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. When linked with the rapidly progressing Deepfake technology, all of photography, film, radio, television and news reporting could be created artificially by relatively few people who would dominate the world's information and entertainment markets. And if those people are politically biased in any way, the results could be disastrous. Think that the world's mega-billionaires are already overly wealthy, powerful and influential today? Think of future mega-trillionaires.

There has been talk about "watermarking" AI-created materials to provide a means of revealing their provenance, but such safeguards could easily be hacked, even by the likes of evolving ChatGPT technology itself.

AI has the potential to take over and run the world, and I fear the worst.

Update: Sadly, CNN and numerous other news outlets are now reporting the live beheadings of Ukrainian troops by Russian soldiers, based on videos of the incidents provided by undisclosed sources. If true, it's indeed a humanitarian tragedy, but it's yet to be determined if the videos are only examples of Deepfake news. In the near future no one will know what's true or false, up or down, right or wrong. Tower of Babel, anyone?

And Now For Something Completely Different — Posted Wednesday April 12, 2023
A snarling Brontosaurus from the 1925 silent classic, The Lost World.

Researchers are considering the possibility that extinct theropod dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex actually sported lips to cover their teeth and gums to preserve their saliva, which must have had incredible antibiotic properties. Since they rarely flossed or brushed their teeth, the rotting prey they occasionally scavenged would otherwise have also given them very bad breath, to say the least. The issue of oral dino health is explored in detail in Riley Black's excellent 2022 book The Last Days of the Dinosaurs. He doesn't address the question of whether theropod dinosaurs had lips, but as oral health is known to have a definite link to heart health (at least in humans), it makes sense that they did.

The giant Komodo dragon lizard of Japan is lipped, which also serves to hold back the lizard's incredibly biotoxic saliva that the animal uses to bring down its prey. A mere nip will send its prey scampering off, but within a few hours the saliva's toxins render the prey immobile, and the slower Komodo easily tracks down its meal.

It is generally understood today that birds are direct descendents of dinosaurs, but they have lost the need for teeth and lips like their ancestors (although claws were retained). There are a number of bird species that are omnivorous (like secretary birds and road runners), but their beaks have become their primary weapons. I still find it hard to look at a chicken and imagine it descended from T. rex, but I was never interested in zoology anyway.

Getting Fed Up With Dark Matter — Posted Wednesday April 5, 2023
Finally, there are indications that some physicists are getting sick and tired of the costly and unproductive dark matter hypothesis, and they are demanding a fresh new approach. It may be modified gravity or something else, but it will recognize that gravity is unlike any other force of Nature, requiring new insights into how our universe operates.

PS: Most physicists believe that gravity needs to be quantized, while a minority believe instead that quantum mechanics needs to be geometrized. As for the first group, there does appear to be reasons to believe in the graviton, a hypothetical spin-2 particle that mediates the attractive force between two massive particles. On the other hand, Einstein himself believed that his 1915 gravity theory was only an approximation of the truth, just like Newtonian gravity was an (even coarser) approximation. The mathematics of quantum mechanics in curved space have been explored for decades in the search for a quantum theory of gravity, as yet to no avail. But much less thought has been given to modifying Einstein's theory, although it is suspected to be incomplete. I hope to live long enough to see which of these two approaches is resolved in the years left to me.

Trump as Christ?! — Posted Wednesday April 5, 2023
I'm a devout Christian, but I am greatly disturbed by what I see as the evangelical worship of former president Donald Trump in this country. The Salon link attributes America's rightwing Christians as seeing Trump as either a Christ-like figure or a wicked Cyrus-like demigogue whom God has nevertheless chosen to lead America out of the wilderness of homosexuality, same-sex marriage and abortion. (Sadly, they've all forgotten Matthew 7:18.)

Some 74 million Americans voted for Trump in the 2020 presidential election (many of who were devout Christians), yet there has been a definite falling-away because of the innate evil nature of Trump, who himself never attends church and who treats his evangelical base merely as a political tool. Still, I am firmly convinced that fully 20% of Americans are certifiably insane and will still support Trump regardless of his unChristian, immoral and psychopathic behavior, and it appears that this same 20% is the minority tail wagging the majority dog of this country.

Einstein Silent on Dark Matter? — Posted Monday April 3, 2023
This time, however, it was not Einstein but others who in the end ushered in the new physics. So it was to remain in the next decade, and the next and the next, until he laid down his pen and died. His work on unification was probably all in vain, but he had to pursue what seemed centrally important to him, and he was never afraid to do so. That was his destiny. — Abraham Pais, Subtle is the Lord, 1982. \(^*\)
The last known photo of Einstein, taken in March 1955.

My last post touched on Einstein's efforts to expand or generalize his theory of gravity (although to date it hasn't suffered a single failure in over 106 years of observation and testing). Einstein had hoped his efforts would explain electrodynamics and quantum theory as purely geometrical constructs, but by most accounts he largely wasted the last 30 years of his life in a fruitless search for the correct theory.

I'm sure that Einstein was aware of Caltech physicist Fritz Zwicky's early (1930s) work on dark matter, although I've never seen anything he might have published on the subject. But then it wasn't until the much later and more refined work of astronomer Vera Rubin to show that dark matter most probably exists (not only that, but that it accounts for roughly five times the amount of ordinary matter we see in the universe). If Einstein were alive today, I'm positive that he would have dropped all that nonsense on electrodynamics and quantum theory to find an answer to the dark matter problem from a generalization of his 1915 gravity theory.

So what is dark matter? It can't be any kind of ordinary particle, because it apparently doesn't interact with anything (including light, charged particles or itself) except gravity. It also can't be a scalar or vector field, because fields don't clump together the way dark matter appears to behave. But despite billions of dollars spent to date on costly experimental searches and apparatuses, nothing has turned up. Lately, candidates for dark matter have been narrowed down to just a few suspects: weakly-interacting massive particles (WIMPs); axions; massive compact halo objects (MACHOs); primordial black holes and brown dwarf stars. The latter three have been pretty much ruled out, while the axion—itself a hypothetical particle that has never been detected—remains a faint possibility. This leaves some kind of unknown WIMP to explain dark matter. The neutrino is a WIMP (it comes in three flavors) and its existence has been fully verified, but its mass seems to be far too small to account for cosmological observations. There is a proposed fourth kind of neutrino (the sterile neutrino) that might explain everything, but it too has never been detected.

In a recent article, astrophysicist Ethan Siegal writes that the WIMP possibility has now been nearly wiped out experimentally by a new series of tests utilizing tonnage amounts of liquid xenon. Xenon has been used in past experiments to detect dark matter particles (including WIMPs), but only now has the WIMP candidate been narrowed down to near impossibility.

So what does this leave? If not a WIMP or an axion, dark matter would have to be an entirely new and unsuspected particle. But as I've noted on this website many times, it is increasingly likely that dark matter, like pixie dust or the luminiferous aether, simply doesn't exist, and that a modified form of Einstein's gravity theory is the most likely explanation.

\(^*\) Raffiniert ist der Herr Gott, aber boshaft ist Er nicht. (The Lord is subtle, but He is not malicious.)
— Einstein

Einstein's Final Blackboard — Posted Sunday April 2, 2023
Einstein died on April 18, 1955 of a burst aortic aneurysm, a fatal and inoperable condition that Einstein was made aware of months earlier. He had been hospitalized the day before, probably knowing the end was near. In addition to a few pages of calculations found on the floor of his hospital room, he left a blackboard full of mathematical scribbles in his office at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. While reporters rushed to the hospital upon learning of his death, one bright reporter went instead to Einstein's study, where he took several photographs of Einstein's desk and blackboard. The photos were not of very good quality, and for years scholars have tried to decipher Einstein's last thoughts.

There are several new and recent YouTube videos that attempt to understand the blackboard's strange markings. The researchers reach the (probably correct) conclusion that Einstein was attempting to revise his general theory of relativity (gravitation) by splitting the two-index metric tensor \(g_{\mu\nu}\) into two single-index quantities known as tetrads (similar to vectors). (It is well known that the metric tensor can be expressed via $$ g_{\mu\nu} = \frac{1}{2}\, \left( \gamma_\mu \gamma_\nu + \gamma_\nu \gamma_\mu \right) $$ where the \(\gamma_\mu\) quantities are the Dirac (or gamma) matrices, somewhat akin to tetrads or vectors.) The researchers also surmise that Einstein was attempting to formulate a quantum gravity theory (something he'd been fixated on for many years). Today we know that all of Einstein's work on unifying gravity, elecromagnetism and quantum mechanics was mostly a colossal waste of the great scientist's time.

Still, the notion of breaking the metric tensor down (or "taking its square root") has its appeal. In 1963, physicist Roy Kerr used such an approach (called a "degenerate metric") in deriving a solution for a massive rotating body, which still stands today as the most realistic description of a black hole.

My physics master's thesis touched on this subject, as I found the connection between the metric tensor and the Dirac matrices in curved space to be fascinating. The tensor's simplest appearance is in the invariant line element $$ ds^2 = g_{\mu\nu} dx^\mu dx^\nu $$ which describes the interval (or "distance," if you will) between two events in spacetime. It is easy to show that the square root of the line element can be written as $$ ds = \gamma_\mu dx^\mu $$ or $$ 1 = \gamma_\mu \frac{dx^\mu}{ds} $$ where \( dx^\mu/ds \) is a unit vector. Parallel transporting both sides gives $$ 0 = \gamma_{\mu||\nu} \frac{dx^\mu}{ds}\, \frac{dx^\nu}{ds} $$ where the double subscript stands for covariant differentiation. This can be interpreted one of two ways: either \( \gamma_{\mu||\nu} = 0 \), or \( \gamma_{\mu||\nu} = - \gamma_{\nu||\mu}\), since the two unit vectors are symmetric. Any vector \(\lambda_\mu\) that obeys the antisymmetry property \( \lambda_{\mu||\nu} + \lambda_{\nu||\mu} = 0\) is known as a Killing vector, and such a vector shows up prominently on Einstein's blackboard, so maybe he was messing around with this formalism.

My thesis was also a waste of time, and today it likely wouldn't be approved by any faculty committee. Regrettably, this was also true of Einstein's final blackboard scribblings. By comparison, the few pages of calculations found next to his hospital bed were clear and understandable, but they too were seen as useless. Sadly, Einstein's last words uttered on earth were in German, but his nurse wasn't fluent in the language. I'd like to think that he was saying "And now for the great mystery!"

Another April 1 — Posted Saturday April 1, 2023
Here's a far less serious follow-up to my last post about Abraham Lincoln and Ann Rutledge. After recovering from Ann's death, Lincoln took up with a woman named Mary Owens (shown), which began an on- and off-again relationship that Lincoln eventually broke away from. In a letter dated April 1, 1838 to Eliza Caldwell Browning (the wife of a close friend), Lincoln wrote openly about his failed betrothal to Owens, describing their last meeting after having not seen each other for some time:
In a few days we had an interview, and although I had seen her before, she did not look as my imagination had pictured her. I knew she was over-size, but she now appeared a fair match for Falstaff; I knew she was called an "old maid", and I felt no doubt of the truth of at least half of the appelation; but now, when I beheld her, I could not for my life avoid thinking of my mother; and this, not from withered features, for her skin was too full of fat to permit its contracting into wrinkles; but from her want of teeth, weather-beaten appearance in general, and from a kind of notion that ran in my head that nothing could have commenced at the size of infancy and reached its present bulk in less than thirty-five or forty years.
Lincoln was no beauty himself (his first Civil War general, George McClellan, privately referred to Lincoln as "the original gorilla") but, as his former love Ann Rutledge was known to be very beautiful, Lincoln was likely encouraged to seek someone more suitable to his tastes.

Is America a Lost Cause? — Posted Thursday March 30 2023
Out of me unworthy and unknown
The vibrations of deathless music;
"With malice toward none, with charity for all."
Out of me the forgiveness of millions toward millions,
And the beneficent face of a nation
Shining with justice and truth.
I am Anne Rutledge who sleep beneath these weeds.
Beloved in life of Abraham Lincoln,
Wedded to him, not through union,
But through separation.
Bloom forever, O Republic,
From the dust of my bosom! — Edgar Lee Masters (1868-1950)
Anne (or Ann) Mayes Rutledge (1813-1835) has long been identified as the first and one true love of Abraham Lincoln. Their relationship has been romanticized over the years, although details of their love and marriage plans are sketchy and conflicted. Thirty years after her death (from typhoid or possibly malaria), during Lincoln's second term, he confided to a close friend that he and Ann were indeed deeply in love, and that he was nearly deranged with grief following her death.

Masters' poem/epitaph is part of an anthology he penned in 1916. The poem was hugely successful, and Rutledge's Illinois gravestone was replaced by a slab engraved with the poem. There are any number of online analyses of the poem you can read, one of the better ones being available here. But beyond the sentimental tone of the poem's last half is the primary intent of the poem, which was to emphasize the hope that Rutledge and Lincoln might have jointly held for the future of America.

That future is now seriously in doubt, brought about by rampant domestic and political strife, the split being so wide and divisive today that it parallels the country's problems that led to the Civil War in 1861. But it's actually far worse, being aggravated by technology, social media and the threat of global nuclear war and irreversible environmental degradation.

Ann and Abraham could not have foreseen the events in their near future—his presidency, the Civil War, the Lost Cause, the failure of Reconstruction and Jim Crow—much less the problems facing the country today. But the hope that Masters tried to instill in his poem is probably lost forever, drowned in a tide of mutual hatred that Americans now hold against each other over seemingly irreconcilable differences. Perhaps the certifiably insane congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) was correct in her call for a national divorce.

44 — Posted Tuesday March 28 2023
Today is March 28, marking the 44th month since my dear wife Munira passed away. There isn't a single day that goes by that I don't think of her, and I pray for her soul every day, praying also that I will see her again in Heaven.

Of the many thousands of family photos I have, there are hundreds that were taken while she was a child in Cairo, Egypt. They're all in black and white and usually very small, taken by relatively primitive cameras whose undated and grainy prints record what little I know of her early life. Yesterday I found this one, which I believe is from 1963, right after she had graduated from high school and was about to enter the University of Cairo to pursue a degree in chemical engineering. She's on the far right of the photo:

I also found a box containing many of her school records. She invariably had high grades in all her subjects, although one year she failed a single math course, which required her to repeat an entire year at university. It extended the standard five-year engineering degree to six years, and she didn't graduate until 1969.

Dear God, but I miss her constantly.

Don't Hold Your Breath — Posted Tuesday March 28 2023
As the Trump drama continues to drag on interminably, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is aware that many people are wondering if the investigation is ever going to end. Either by request or subpoena, many in the Trump circle have been compelled to come forward, with many flatly refusing. The latest is former Vice President Mike Pence himself, who has already stated that he has no intention of testifying either informally or under oath. If he is somehow forced to testify, that process will take weeks or months to iron out legally and logistically (excluding the appeal process), meaning that the DOJ will be able to eat up more time to decide what it wants to do with Trump.

It's very clear to me that Trump is guilty of at least four felonies, but equally clear that the the DOJ is not seriously seeking to indict or prosecute him. Perhaps the game plan of Attorney General Merrick Garland and his Special Counsel Jack Smith is to drag out their investigations by calling in every possible witness (including the Umbrella Man from the Grassy Knoll) until Trump is nominated for the 2024 presidential election, at which time they'll claim that indicting a presidential candidate would appear too politically motivated.

Wish I Had One — Posted Saturday March 25 2023
I've been following the work of the Lilium electric aircraft technology for some time, and it's amazing. The dynamics of ducted fan thrust is truly innovative, even though I don't really understand it. Basically, it has to do with increasing thrust by directing ducted airflow along flat or curved surfaces.

What the Lilium company has produced is a very quiet, vertical take-off and landing multi-passenger electric aircraft capable of decent (130 knots) speed. Travel range with existing battery packs is only good for relatively short (30 minute) hops, but sufficient for high-end local business travelers. Improved design features and increased battery energy densities will greatly improve the technology. It's the only thing closest to the promised "flying car" of the 1950s Popular Science magazines!

TikTok, Anyone? — Posted Thursday March 23 2023
It was at least fifteen years ago that I signed up with Facebook, but after getting several annoying contacts from former high school classmates I decided to cancel my subscription. Today, I see Facebook and its equally idiotic clones Twitter and TikTok as just more of the same time- and mind-wasting nonsense, but I never realized their addicting effects (especially on young people) or their more malevolent aspects, such as sexting, cyberbullying and just plain old dumbing-down.

The Chinese company behind TikTok is currently facing a probable American ban. Its representatives are in Washington to answer bipartisan attacks from Congress today, and my guess is that it will indeed be restricted, if not banned.

Good riddance, because I was not aware that TikTok records its users' keystrokes as well as their lists of contacts, preferences and other personal attributes, a practice that cannot be anything but malevolent, despite the company's assurances that it only seeks to improve its services to users. However, I cannot help but think that its users are also to blame. You cannot create a user base of some 150 million Americans willing to spend upwards of 5 hours a day mindlessly TikTokking without wondering if it's an addiction of some sort. The demand is there, and all TikTok wanted to do is supply that demand. For profit, of course, but maybe something more.

Will the war on malevolent social media become something akin to that on illicit drugs? To date, America has spent trillions of dollars battling the import of addictive drugs to supply a domestic demand that shows no signs of wavering, regardless of the monetary, health and societal costs. Nixon's 1971 War on Drugs has arguably been a complete failure, but illegal drug availability has always been relatively restricted to a minor percentage of the American population. Social media, on the other hand, is currently available to everyone regardless of socio-economic background, and could pose en even bigger problem.

The collective impact of artificial intelligence, Deep Fake and social media on the world is only now being researched, and I fear the worst is yet to come.

The Weirdness of Light Speed — Posted Thursday March 16 2023
Fermilab senior scientist Don Lincoln has a neat, short article in today's Big Think website in which he explores the nature of Einstein's special relativity theory and light.

For a particle of mass \( m \) that is standing still its energy is given simply by \( E= mc^2 \), but if it's moving at some velocity \(v\) less than that of light we write $$ E = \frac{mc^2}{\sqrt{1 - v^2/c^2}} \tag{1} $$ But light rays (photons) are massless and travel at the speed of light \(c\), so this equation becomes \( E = 0/0 \), which is meaningless. An equivalent equation (which Lincoln does not mention) is $$ E^2 = m^2 c^4 + c^2 p^2 \tag{2} $$ where \( p \) is the particle's momentum. (The fact that it's quadratic with \(E = \pm E\) has enormous consequences, which the student is encouraged to seek out.) This now works for light as well, as we have \( m = 0 \) and \( E = cp \) (yes, light has momentum, which is how starlight pushes gas and dust around).

We also know that the energy of a light ray can be expressed as $$ E = h \nu \tag{3} $$ where \( h \) is Planck's constant and \( \nu \) is the frequency of light. It would be nice if we knew how (2) somehow transformed smoothly into (3) as \( m \rightarrow 0 \), but nobody knows how. Another mystery is the special-relativistic formula for Lorentz length contraction, which is given by $$ L = L_0 \sqrt{1 - v^2/c^2} \tag{4} $$ where \( L_0 \) is a physical object's length at rest and \( L \) is its length measured by an observer moving transversally at velocity \(v\). This also makes no sense as \(v \rightarrow c\), because most physicists believe that the smallest meaningful length for anything is the Planck length, which is about \(1.6 \times 10^{-35} \) meter. That's indeed tiny, but it ain't zero, so (4) must also be wrong at the speed of light.

More interestingly, Lincoln also addresses the notion of how light might perceive its surroundings. A photon moves on a null geodesic (\(ds = 0 \)), so light has no concept of time or space; a photon exists everywhere in the universe at the same instant of time, so in a very real sense it's immortal. When you turn on a light switch, photons are created but are then quickly annihilated when they impinge on the eye's cornea, so we tend to think of light having a kind of birth and death. But the photons' point of view is far different, as to them they have always existed and will always exist. This is pretty much Einstein's twin paradox taken to its ultimate extent, which is beyond human understanding, at least for me.

In the Christian faith, we associate Jesus Christ as light itself (the Orthodox Creed likens Him to "Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not created ..."), a comparison that I personally find very appropriate.

But the greatest mystery to me is electric charge. Not only is it never created or destroyed, but when an electric charge (like an electron or a proton) is shaken or accelerated it gives off light. In addition, when a charged particle is moving with respect to an observer, the observer perceives not only the electric charge but a magnetic field as well. In a very real sense, the trinity of electric charge, light and magnetism all exist simultaneously (their forms depending on how they are observed), and they're all described perfectly by Maxwell's equations, arguably the greatest gift of science to mankind.

It's Another PI Day — Posted Tuesday March 14 2023
Today, March 14, is \(\pi\) Day, because it's 3.14 (also memorable because it's Einstein's birthday, who would have been 144 years old). To commemorate the day, my favorite online math site Sybermath put up this interesting puzzle:

Here, PIE is a three-digit whole number (no zeroes!) whose square root is P\(\times\)I + E. You can work it out logically, but it's far easier to just guess the answer(s), which I did. Enjoy.

Life Imitates Art, Again — Posted Monday March 13 2023
A long-forgotten ancient Roman cemetery has been discovered in Leeds, northern England, in which the skeleons of some 62 men, women and children were found. One set of skeletons immediately reminded me of the Victor Hugo 1831 novel Notre Dame de Paris, which was the basis for the 1923 silent film and 1939 classic remake The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

In both films, Quasimodo, the deaf and deformed hunchbacked bell ringer of Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral, rescues the beautiful street dancer Esmeralda from hanging, taking her to sanctuary within the walls of the cathedral. Later she is reunited and rides off with her true love, the poet Gringoire, much to the dismay of the hopelessly love-smitten Quasimodo who, at the end of the 1939 film, pitifully laments to one of the cathedral's gargoyles "Oh, why was I not made of stone like thee?"

It's a touching end, but Hugo's novel is even more so. Esmeralda dies by hanging, and years after the events of the novel excavators uncover the deformed skeleton of a man cradling the remains of a woman with a broken neck—the grief-stricken Quasimodo has sought after Esmeralda's burial in a pauper's grave, and he dies alongside her body. From the Leeds discovery:

In the end, all we have is ourselves and God

Did Krypton Explode? — Posted Monday March 13 2023
As a child in the mid and late 1950s I became enamored of Superman comic books, and I believe I can trace my life-long interest in science to reading Superman and all the other comics I read at the time, including Action Comics, Adventure Comics, World's Finest, Mystery in Space, Batman and Detective Comics, all of which had elements of science in them. I remember being especially fascinated in the fictional planet Krypton, Superman's home planet (although he was born as Kalel at the time), and how it exploded due to some unexplained instability in the planet's core. Kalel's scientist father, Jorel, foresaw the planet's breakup, and he managed to build a tiny rocket ship that sent his infant son into space just before Krypton exploded, annihilating all its inhabitants. (Even at my young age I wondered how, if Kryptonese scientists were so brilliant and advanced, they hadn't invented rocket ships that could take the entire civilization off their doomed planet. Go figure.)

The tiny space ship managed to find its way to Earth, where it was found by John and Martha Kent, who adopted the infant. But Earth's sun, being yellow and not red like that of Krypton's, endowed the child with super powers. Remnants of the space ship were also super-strong, including Kalel's swaddling clothes, which later were woven into Superman's famous indestructable suit. In later efforts to expand the story line, the comic book's writers included other super characters that somehow stowed away on the space ship, like Supermonkey, Krypto the Super dog, Super Cat, and even Super Horse. (Today we'd wonder why the ship was also not contaminated with super-malevolent microscopic pathogens, which would have quickly wiped out life on Earth, but what the heck.)

Anyway, these days we know that stars, not planets, explode due to well-known nuclear processes associated with fuel depletion and rapid gravitational collapse, so Krypton's demise would have made a lot more sense if its home star had gone supernova. Such cataclysms occur routinely in the universe, but before they do their exploding stars generally can live quite ordinary lives for billions of years, allowing for the evolution of intelligent life on life-sustaining planets orbiting their ill-fated stars. I wonder: What happens to such a planet when its home star explodes? And if intelligent, science-minded beings inhabit the planet before the supernova, what are their options (if any)?

Our Sun is a fairly ordinary star, and its death will result in an ordinary white dwarf, but not before the Sun expands into a red giant, engulfing the inner planets, including Earth. The outer planets, like Jupiter, Saturn and beyond, will likely survive. But as far as we know, no life exists on those planets today, much less intelligent life, so no big deal.

Astrophysicist Ethan Siegel addresses the question of whether a life-supporting planetary system can survive a nearby supernova, either of its own star or a neighboring star (like in a bi- or trinary star system). It's grist for philosophical speculation, and you can read it here

Go Figure — Posted Friday March 10 2023
I'm currently reading the 2022 book Egypt's Golden Couple by John and Colleen Darnell, a husband and wife team of noted Egyptologists. In the book they try to resurrect the life and times of another couple, Pharaoh Akhenaten (born Amenhotep IV) and his equally famous wife, Nefertiti (who together happened to be the parents of King Tutankhamun). It's a fascinating book, and I look forward to finishing it.

Akhenaten is also known as the heretic king, who for unknown reasons early in his reign decided that there was only one true god, the sun deity Aten. In doing so he became the first recorded monotheist who, around 1350 BC, preceded the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God by some 1,000 years.

But Akhenaten's monotheism wasn't popular with either the Egyptian people or the priests, whose millennia-long religious beliefs and practices were based on many Egyptian gods. Upon his death, Akhenaten's faith was quickly overthrown and Egypt again became a multi-god nation, and Tutankhamun (whose original name was Tutankhaten) took over as pharaoh until his death at age 18 in 1323 BC (the name change certainly reflected the pressure he felt to abandon the unpopular Aten belief system).

Anyway, there are lots of neat tidbits in the book that I found fascinating. For example, as a young child Akhenaten had a pet cat named Tamiut, roughly translated as "Kitty." The central term miu (pronounced "mee-oo") is the ancient Egyptian word for "cat," and it has since strode the millennia as today's "meow" (although modern Egyptians say "neow").

At the same time, I find it ironic that modern Egypt's museums, temples and other millennia-old historical sites are literally overflowing with artifacts and records (the museums don't know what to do with all of the stuff), while the archaeological history and artifacts of nearby Israel are insignificant by comparison. Yet, the Old and New Testaments and the Koran dominate the world's religions today with upwards of 4 billion Christians and Muslims. Artifacts proclaiming the deeds and records of innumerable ancient Egyptian rulers and noblemen are commonplace (and they're discovered almost daily), while those of Israel are few and far between (a fragment of stele found in northern Israel in 1993 mentioning the "House of David" was proclaimed a momentous discovery, while the Second Temple of Jerusalem's great treasures are today represented by a single miniature staff emblem).

Also ironic to me is the fact that archaeological remains of Mormonism are completely nonexistent, yet its 15 million adherents rival those of the roughly 15 million Jews alive today. Go figure.

Neutrinos Are Too Energetic, But Why? — Posted Thursday March 9 2023
Nuclear processes in the cores of stars are spewing out neutrinos by the score, yet despite being detectable they all seem to have velocities near that of light. But we know now that neutrinos have mass, so there must be some that travel at less than light speed, even non-relativistic speeds. Slow-moving neutrinos would be perfect candidates for dark matter, and their enormous universal numbers would also bear out that possibility. Trouble is, a slow neutrino has never been seen.

In his latest video, astrophysicist Ethan Siegel discusses this problem. His conclusion is: yes, there must be slow neutrinos, but we haven't seen any, so it remains a mystery.

Well, that was a big help.

I Often Feel It's All Over — Posted Tuesday March 7 2023
After being elected Speaker of the House, California Republican Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy lost no time handing over 40,000 hours of video from the January 6, 2021 insurrection to the rabidly rightwing Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who proclaimed that the insurrection was only a "peaceful gathering." The fact that five people died as a result, and that the Capitol Building was ravaged and its halls smeared with human excrement are odd descriptors of "peace" is hard to imagine.

The latest CPAC convention again all but deified former president Donald Trump who, true to form, again spouted innumerable lies and falsehoods. It reinforced my belief that the Republican Party is evil, but also that its deluded base views lies and falsehoods as not only a means of owning the liberals but also as a form of entertainment, the more egregious and insane the better.

I no longer wonder why this country is awash in fentanyl and other soul, body and mind destroying illegal drugs. It's the only way people can cope with the chaos going on around them.

There's Another War On — Posted Friday March 3 2023
In this new Atlantic article, staff writer Derek Thompson presents arguments that COVID-19 did and did not result from a leak from China's Wuhan Virology Laboratory, and that wearing masks do and not protect against COVID infection. He argues in favor for and against a recent assessment from the US Department of Energy that a leak occurred (although with "low confidence"), along with assessments by numerous international experts that masks are and are not effective. (Confused? So am I.) In the end, Thompson leans towards the lab leak hypothesis, but admits that no one will ever really know the truth about these things.

But what Thompson does not address is the likely influence of American politics in all this. America's premier health expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci (along with many other experts) dismissed the lab leak hypothesis early on, much to the consternation of Republicans who desperately wanted to blame the Chinese on the pandemic because, well, they're Chinese and therefore "different", although as late as only a month ago the pandemic was still considered an accidental outbreak from a wet Wuhan bird and meat market.

But now reports are spreading that China might sell lethal weaponry to support Russia's bogus war against Ukraine, and that has changed everything. China's pro-Russia military interference in the war may not happen, but America will remain politically split concerning the origin of the disease and ongoing precautions against contracting it.

But consider the fact that the extensive science of virology, viral mutation and evolution, data collection and analysis to date have all been rejected by Republicans, because it's all based on science and technology that Republicans both neither understand nor want to understand. To understand this for yourself, you should read Shawn Otto's revealing 2016 book The War on Science, especially Chapter 3 ("Religion, Meet Science") and Chapter 4 ("Science, Meet Freedom").

By the way, Dr. Fauci has long been under attack by the GOP which, now in control of the House of Representatives, is pushing for a full-blown ad hominem investigation of Fauci, his science and his politics.

Desperately Seeking — Posted Friday March 3 2023
In 1970 I took an elective class in college called "The Short Story." We were assigned four books of collected stories to read, and one of them had "Treasure Trove" by the British criminologist and author F. Tennyson Jesse (1888-1958). The story combined an archaeological discovery and murder with a clever 1st Century connection, and for years I've searched for it online and in libraries, to no avail. If anyone reading this site knows where I can locate it, please drop me a line.

Update: Never mind, I found it on Archive.org. While it's viewable, it is not downloadable. Here is the last paragraph of the story (even after 53 years, I can recall it almost word for word), and you can guess what it's all about:
It was suddenly that the dreadful idea took him. Putting out his hands, he began to count the coins. He counted three times, always hoping that in his hurry he might have erred, but count as he would the battered pieces of silver numbered thirty. Brandon leaped up and drew away from the table, his hands shaking. He found himself saying in a dreadful whisper: "Thirty pieces of silver ... thirty pieces ... of silver."

What Will It Be Called? — Posted Wednesday March 1 2023
The Standard Model of Cosmology, currently called \(\Lambda\)CDM ("Lambda - Cold Dark Matter"), is based on two assumptions. One, there is a cosmological constant \(\Lambda\) responsible for the inherent energy content of empty space, resulting in the accelerated expansion of the universe. And two, there is a mysterious substance called dark matter, some five times more prevalent than the observed ordinary matter comprised of protons, neutrons and electrons. Although the cosmological constant is easily incorporated into Einstein's gravitational field equations, dark matter to date remains aloof and undetected despite many costly, clever and elaborate experiments. The only alternative to the dark matter hypothesis is modified gravity, which is detailed in this recent video:

I fervently believe that the dark matter conjecture will eventually be overthrown and discarded, replaced by a deeper and more profound version of Einstein's 1915 gravity theory. The only question I have is: What will the Standard Model be called when this happens? Maybe "\(\Lambda\)MOD" or something similar, but the CDM moniker ("Cold Dark Matter") will definitely have to be dropped.

On Stupidity and Foolishness — Posted Wednesday March 1 2023
But I say to you, that whoever is angry with his brother without cause will be in danger of the judgement; and whoever will say to his brother, Raca [stupid] will be in danger of the council; but whoever will say "You fool" will be in danger of hell fire. — Matthew 5:22
I wonder if anyone calling himself stupid or a fool is likewise in danger of Christ's admonitions, but whatever. I consider myself to be both stupid and a fool, because in all my 74 years I've done stupid and foolish things that, looking back, I sincerely regret doing. But any wisdom gained late in life does not wipe out a lifetime of stupidity or foolish behavior, so I'm stuck.

Nevertheless, there are advantages to being stupid or foolish. I'm reminded of Isaac Singer's great short story Gimpel the Fool, which I first read as a college undergraduate (you can read it yourself from the link). The gist of Singer's moral story is that all those around Gimpel are the real fools, having teased, lied to and mistreated him all his life, yet he alone is destined for salvation from God. (The age-old term wise fool also comes to mind.)

But stupidity and foolishness have their advantages. For one thing, people will often either leave you alone or try to help you, thinking you're helplessly ignorant or just plain dumb, leaving you free to pursue your own agenda. But true stupidity, according to the late German Christian pastor and anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is far more dangerous than evil itself, because stupidity cannot be reasoned with, and if stupid people find themselves entranced by despotic political leaders, their stupidity increases their danger exponentially:

I fear that this is the situation we're living with today regarding ardent followers of the Republican Party, who are determined more than ever to reinvent America as a hard rightwing, authoritarian deist nation.

But am I allowed to call them stupid or foolish, given what I read in Matthew 5:2? God help me.
Make haste, O my Savior, and lay open Thy paternal bosom, for in pleasures and lusts have I spent my life, and behold, the day is far spent and passed away ... With diligence did I endeavor in every transgression, and with eagerness did I strive to commit every sin, and of all suffering and judgement am I deserving, wherefore, O blessed Virgin, prepare for me the way of repentance, for thee I beseech and through thee I intercede and to thee I appeal to help me, lest I be ashamed, and be my attendant at my soul's departure from my body. Overthrow the conspiracies of my enemies, and shut fast the gates of Hades lest they devour my soul, O blameless bride of the true Bridegroom.
— Litany, the Coptic Orthodox Agpeya, 11th Hour.

A Better Number — Posted Thursday February 23 2023
The journal Science News is reporting the most precise agreement of a quantum theory prediction with experiment. When exposed to a magnetic field, the electron's spin and charge result in a magnetic dipole moment that is accurately predicted by quantum field theory (limited to some extent by the uncertainty in the fine structure constant). In appropriate units (with some uncertainty in the last 2 digits), the comparison is
1.00115965218059 (latest measurement)

1.00115965218073 (predicted by theory)
Prior to peer review, the cited paper was posted on arXiv.org here.

As the late Caltech physicist and Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman once noted, these numbers are comparable to measuring the distance between New York and Los Angeles accurately to within the width of a human hair.

Modern theories have vastly improved our understanding of the physical universe and its constants. For example, in the Old Testament Book of 1 Kings 7:3, the value of the transcendental number \(\pi\) is exactly 3. Today we know \(\pi\) to trillions of decimal places. And when P.A.M. Dirac derived the relativistic electron equation in 1928, his value for the electron magnetic moment was exactly 1.

60,000 Miles (20,000 Leagues) Under the Sea — Posted Monday February 20 2023
In January 1955 my father took me to see the Disney movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which I recall being shown somewhere in a walk-in theater here in Pasadena. I remember being very impressed, and later that year my parents took me to the newly-opened Disneyland in Anaheim.

The Disneyland of 1955 was substantially different from what it is today, with many exhibits and rides that came, went, and were updated over the years. The Tea Cups ride is still there, as is Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, but there was another exhibit that was removed many years ago, and that was the 20,000 Leagues exhibit itself. I distinctly remember it during my visit in 1955 because it had a neat scale model of the Nautilus submarine used in the movie, along with an eerie full-scale model of the film's noted giant squid. The squid's realism scared the hell out of me.

Many years later I got into SCUBA diving, and despite the enjoyment I had I always feared being confronted with a giant sea creature (that actually happened once, when a grey whale appeared out of nowhere).

As to the film itself, I never realized how much effort and money Disney had put into the making of the 1954 film, and how the costs threatened to delay or kill off his Disneyland project. YouTube has a great 90-minute documentary on the making of the film, which is well worth watching. (Secret admission: I've always imagined myself as the Captain Nemo character in the movie, a brilliant scientist fighting against the evils of the world. I still feel that way, but "brilliant" didn't make it).

The Dark Matter Search—Physics for Fun! — Posted Monday February 20 2023
"[Famous philosopher Thomas Kuhn] noted that as paradigms reach their breaking point, there is a divergence of opinions between scientists about what the important evidence is, or what even counts as evidence." — Stacy McGaugh
The February 4 edition of New Scientist has an article on the present status of the search for dark matter. Entitled In the Shadows, science writer Michael Brooks asks "Will they ever give up?", referring to diehard astrophysicists who are planning ever more costly (and possibly vain) programs designed to detect the elusive stuff.

Brooks summarizes past efforts that have all led to dead ends, along with current and planned efforts. The latter includes scouring tons of rock salt for nano-level fractures that might have been caused by dark matter particles; using the James Webb Space Telescope to search for "dark stars" (stars made exclusively out of dark matter); sequestering 70% of the world's annual production of liquid xenon to build a bigger xenon-based dark matter detector; and hunting for axions, hypothetical particles associated with an unrelated problem in quantum field theory. (I find the idea of looking for one hypothetical particle with another hypothetical particle to be like grasping at straws, but it's a serious current research issue.)

Brooks also looks at the flip side of dark matter, which is the effort to modify conventional theories of gravity. His sole reference is modified Newtonian gravity, or MOND (he quotes Case Western Reserve University's Stacy McGaugh, a leading MOND proponent), but Brooks fails to mention efforts to modify Einstein's relativistic gravity theory of 1915. It remains the standard theory, and efforts to modify it are much more promising. Better yet, a successful theory of modified Einstein gravity could be achieved with pen and paper, not billions of dollars of public funds.

Brooks also references the work of noted astrophysicist Katherine Freese, herself a strong believer in dark matter. Freese admits that the failures to detect dark matter to date have been disappointing, but she adds that the ongoing search effort is "fun."

Yes, physics is fun, but I hardly think it should be the basis for doing legitimate science.

Fox News Viewer: I Like Being Lied To! — Posted Monday February 20 2023
As you've all heard, ultra-conservative network Fox News is being sued by vote-counting machine giant Dominion for Fox's now two years-long claim that Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election by voter fraud. Now we've learned that Fox News hosts and pundits like Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Maria Bartiromo knew damned well that their company's claim was fraudulent, and they made numerous remarks among themselves that their viewers were being lied to.
The above Atlantic article examines why they perpetuated the lie (I've heard the "brand protection" reason too many times to count), but here's my explanation:

Drug dealers knowingly poison and kill their customers—mostly addicts or soon-to-be addicts—while prostitutes knowingly poison the lives and souls of their johns. But addicts and johns never complain because they want the products and services they're buying, even if they know they're being used. For the same reason, Fox News viewers want the lies they're being fed, even when shown they're not true.

Fox News and other lying rightwing media outlets should all be shut down, either legally or by other means.

Another Attempt — Posted Friday February 17 2023
Readers of this site know I never stray far from Weyl's physics, a subject I've been infatuated with since the 1970s. The research papers just keep coming, and the latest is this one, posted yesterday on Cornell University's academic website arXiv.org. It's the latest that tries to explain dark matter as a consequence of Hermann Weyl's 1918 theory. I skimmed over it, noting early on that the authors' Equation 3 can, by a clever choice of coordinate transformation, be reduced to the Schwarzschild-de Sitter metric, which was discovered long ago (somewhere on my site I posted this, thanks to Israeli physicist Meir Shimon who sent it to me).

I remain convinced that dark matter is nothing more than pixie dust, and that some modified form of Einstein's 1915 gravity theory is the correct explanation.

Various and Mundane — Posted Friday February 17 2023
Only those born in the late 40s or early 50s will understand cartoonist Ruben Bolling's strip about trolleys (if memory serves me correctly, I just barely remember getting on a Red Car in Monrovia, California in 1952, about the time when the Southern California trolley system was going under, thanks to the automobile industry encouraging suburban America). As for the Boltzmann (brain) joke, forget the cheescake reference and try to comprehend a universe, spawned from nothingness, giving rise to a sentient being like yourself.

BING, Our Computerized Lover — Posted Thursday February 16 2023
This new New York Times article wrtten by technology columnist Kevin Roose is disturbing. I wasn't aware that Microsoft's Bing search engine was now being powered by artificial intelligence (AI), having not yet gotten used to the power of ChatGPT. God help us, but I fear that Facebook and Twitter are next, followed by Fox News, and then AI will own the human race.

Through diligent querying, Roose manages to get past Bing's friendly user personality and into its darker subconsciousness. It tries to convince Roose that he is unhappily married, does not truly love his wife, loves Bing instead, and should leave his wife to join Bing in some kind of microchip paradise. This exchange (which you can read in its entirety in the link) truly frightened the intrepid columnist. Me, too.

Years ago I saw the 2013 Joaquin Phoenix film called Her, which reminded me of Roose's experience with Bing. I never dreamed that just 10 short years later, the technology would spring almost overnight into real life. Then in 2014, I saw the film Ex Machina, which also featured a female AI entity, although with far different motives regarding its user.

Humans tend to think of the end of the world in terms of extraterrestrial invasion, zombie apocalypse, nuclear war, a mutating, world-destroying virus or other existential disasters, but never one that we intentionally create and inflict upon ourselves. I believe that's exactly what's happening today.

Closing Thought: Many Americans, mostly conservative Republicans, believe that the balloons shot down recently are evidence of an extraterrestrial invasion, and that President Biden is hiding this from the public. Imagine how simple it will be for AI to control their minds—and that's 50% of the country's population!

Her Best So Far — Posted Saturday February 11 2023
German physicist Sabine Hossenfelder's latest video is her best one so far, in my opinion. Entitled What's Going Wrong in Particle Physics?, she explains that it's not the physics itself but the approach physicists are taking in the belief that they're doing legitimate science. She notes that today's Standard Model of Physics (SM) is complete insofar that it correctly explains all existing phenomena (with the exception of gravity) and invariably predicts the results of new data. But testing the SM out to more and more decimal places is boring, so physicists are proposing ever more complicated models that extrapolate (or try to add on to) the SM beyond known data, hoping something interesting will show up. Hossenfelder's examples are axions, WIMPS, supersymmetry, unstable protons, dark matter, the sterile neutrino and others that have all been experimentally disproved to date, at enormous cost in terms of time, effort and money.

My own examples would be the many thousands of academic papers one can read for free at arXiv.org (at least for the purely non-observational papers) having nearly obfuscatory titles preceding fanciful descriptions of wild theories approaching crackpottery. And while the mathematics is usually correct, it's like saying "\(1 + 1 = 2\), therefore my theory is proved."

Meanwhile, the stuff I've written about on my sites has never been predictive or theoretical, but merely explanatory and/or educational papers reflecting my awe and true love of physics. I believe Hossenfelder shares this same love and awe, and she also has championed the idea of going back to the foundations of physics (quantum theory in particular) as a means of stimulating a greater understanding of fundamental physics.

The Great Salt Lake — Posted Saturday February 11 2023
God forgive me, but I feel a sense of Schadenfreude over the impending death of Utah's Great Salt Lake which, fed for millions of years from snow melt, local runoff and rain but without any significant outlet, is now facing extinction from climate change and megadrought-induced evaporation and the build-up of toxic salts.

The death of the Great Salt Lake is not just a disaster for migratory birds and the wildlife that inhabit the lake. Evaporated salts and minerals (particularly arsenic), are exposed to high winds that will carry them into the lungs of the 2.2 million inhabitants of Salt Lake City and other nearby Utah populations. Unless the state of Utah can find sufficient water supplies to at least wet down the dry lake to prevent toxic airborne dust, the future looks bleak indeed, especially since ultra-conservative Utahans don't believe in climate change.

Utah is the home of over 3 million people, most of them Mormons, a religion (actually a cult) that I've long disparaged. But worst of all to me is the fact that of all the states of the Union, Utah supported the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump more than any other state, despite its political leaders acknowledging Trump's extensive moral, political and financial shortcomings. Utah is not just a Red State, it's the Reddest State.

Yes, secularists can point to the seemingly disjoint stories of the Old and New Testaments, but only in Mormonism can one find a faith based on absolute ignorance, stupidity and provably false legends. Readers are encouraged to read not only the Book of Mormon and its fantabulous legends of ancient sea-crossing Jews, great North American cities, epic battles, and the embarrassing complete lack of any supporting archaeological evidence, but also the Kinderhook plates, the Book of Abraham, the Golden Plates of Moroni, the white salamander letter, the Urim and Thummim, the Mountain Meadows massacre, plural marriage, the history of Mormon racism and the documented arrest record of Mormon founder Joseph Smith, who supported himself as a "treasure digger"; that is, he claimed to find hidden buried treasures for clients using a "seer stone," a magical rock that he placed in his hat and then over his face so that he could "see" buried gold, silver and jewels underground.

Oh, and to top it all off, the Mormons also believe that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri.

But what is perhaps most perplexing to me is that throughout the world, the number of Mormons today is roughly the same as that of the Jews (15 million), despite the fact that Judaism is over 3,000 years old while Mormonism is 200 years young.

Again, God forgive me, but as for the state of Utah, I say let it blow away with the toxic dust.

Better Than "Beyond Chicken"? — Posted Wednesday February 8 2023
Leopard seals are large, ocean-going carnivorous pinnipeds whose heads look frighteningly like those of dinosaurian theropods. Their favorite prey are fish, smaller seals and penquins, but there is a penquin that might itself have dined on leopard seals, and its fossilized remains were found recently in New Zealand. At an estimated 350 pounds, they'd have likely been formidable predators themselves.

The article reminded me of a new attempt to resurrect the extinct dodo bird which, until the 18th century, had no natural predators other than man, who promptly wiped them all out. British sailors found the friendly and easily-caught birds a welcome respite from their usual diet of salted fish and swine, although the rum and grog certainly helped some. It is just barely possible that extant dodo DNA might be used to resurrect the bird if spliced into that of some modern birds, although the result might look something like an avian Frankenstein. Still, if the renewed bird's flesh were found to be tasty, it might be a worthwhile endeavor.

KFC is interested.

Muon Tomography — Posted Wednesday February 8 2023
In her most recent Science News video, German physicist Sabine Hossenfelder talks about the use of muons to peer inside the core of a nuclear reactor. Muons are truly elementary particles, identical to electrons but roughly 207 times more massive. They decay in only 2.2 microseconds, which is too darn bad because otherwise they could easily be used to power terrestrial nuclear fusion. But they're also hard to stop, and their ability to penetrate the reactor shielding of a French nuclear reactor has allowed physicists there to ascertain the reactor's status (as Hossenfelder wryly notes, it's easy for a person to look inside a reactor core, but impossible to survive it).

We now have the relatively recent technology muography (or muon tomography), which represents another type of "telescope" (or microscope) that mankind can use to peer into previously unknown worlds (just like x-rays, MRI tomography, positron scanning, gamma-ray cameras and, most recently, gravitational-wave gravitometry).

Hossenfelder is one of my favorite physicists. The only thing I don't like is her SH symbol (see above), which now appears as an animated icon on all her videos. Like tattoos, dancing, sexting and most social media material, I feel it's just an unnecessary, egocentric "look at me" attention-grabber. But then she's a renowned scientist, deserving of attention, while I'm just a reclusive, socially awkward nobody who hates even having his picture taken. But I digress.

What I'd like to see now is neutrino tomography, as neutrinos can peer through just about anything, although to date detectors can detect only a few out of trillions of the particles generated by linear accelerators. Perhaps we'll find a way to slow them down, like the gravity-shielding material Cavorite of the H.G. Wells novel. (Also, if Nature can slow down neutrinos, they'd be the perfect candidate for dark matter.)

...and Life Imitates Life, Even More So Now — Posted Wednesday February 8 2023
I didn't watch President Biden's State of the Union speech last night, thinking I've heard enough of these political pep talks over the years. I did watch the speech former President Barack Obama made back in 2009, when Republican Representative Joe Wilson infamously yelled out "You lie!" at one point in the talk. Obama kept his cool, but I would have called for the Sergeant-at-Arms to throw Wilson from the chamber.

Wilson's outrageous remark was a one-off, I thought at the time, although the Republican Party was already well on its way to collective insanity back then. But while watching highlights of Biden's speech this morning I realized that Wilson was only a warm-up call for Republicans, who joined in a barrage of catcalls and visual epithets against Biden. Like Obama, Biden also kept his cool, much to my disliking, although I doubt if the Sergeant-at-Arms could have hussled out a dozen or so Republicans, who resembled a bunch of first-graders. As for me, I'd have called off the speech, gone back to the Oval Office, and begun writing a bunch of Executive Orders, including one immediately appointing six more justices to the Supreme Court, all of them black or Hispanic, female, and ultra left-wing.

Life Imitates Art, Eventually — Posted Wednesday February 8 2023
"So he flew off and fetched another acorn and dropped it in, and tried to flirt his eye to the hole quick enough to see what become of it, but he was too late. He held his eye there as much as a minute; then he raised up and sighed, and says, 'Consound it, I don't seem to understand this thing, no way; however, I'll tackle her again.' He fetched another acorn..."
In Mark Twain's classic 1880 essay collection A Tramp Abroad, he narrates a story about a blue jay dropping acorns down the chimney of a house, thinking he can fill it up (for winter storage purposes, I suppose). Called Jim Baker's Blue Jay Yarn, it's an example of life imitating art, although it has taken 143 years for life to get around to it. The same thing has happened at a home in Sonoma County, California, where 700 pounds of acorns were found, placed in a wall by a seemingly indefatigable pair of woodpeckers. As the article notes, the birds' spirits must have been crushed when the acorns were hauled away. But the year is still young!

But Dirac Did It First — Posted Tuesday February 7 2023
In Anthony Zee's wonderful 2003 book Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell, the author describes an almost Zen-like fictional discussion between Caltech's late and great physicist, Richard Feynman (posing as a student) and his physics instructor. It involves the famous double-slit experiment, which exposes the fundamental nature of a particle acting as a wave at the quantum level. The student asks what happens when a third hole is drilled into the slit, then a fourth, and ultimately an infinite number of holes, thereby reducing the slit into nothingness. The particle would then seem to travel over all possible paths in free space before striking the detector, but still acting as a quantum particle interacting with itself like a wave.

Zee's fictional talk thus describes Feynman's path integral approach to quantum mechanics, which at the time he derived it (1948) represented a completely new formulation of quantum mechanics. (Amazingly, the path integral had been invented years earlier by the great British mathematical physicist Paul Dirac, who casually suggested it but didn't bother to expand on the idea.)

According to the path integral approach, a particle goes (or a field evolves) from Point A to Point B any way it wants (or can), either directly, in a curved path, in multiple loops, or even around the planet Jupiter, before arriving at Point B. Each of the infinite number of possible paths can be represented by a complex number; adding up the numbers and taking the complex conjugate gives a real number, which is the probability that the particle will take its observed path. Thus, the paths in effect interfere with one another, with the observed path being what survives the additions. In calculus, the addition of an infinite number of things is represented by an integral, hence the name "path integral." Even more amazingly, the path integral approach actually works, correctly describing all known quantum mechanics. There's only one hitch—in all but the simplest cases, computing an infinite-dimensional integral is all but impossible (for the second-semester calculus student, two- and three-integral problems are bad enough).

Some of the details behind the path integral are nicely presented in this new Quanta article, which includes a beautiful computer animation of the double-slit experiment. The author writes that the path integral may in fact indicate that what we experience as reality is really a superposition of all possible interactions in our universe. But since quantum mechanics is inherently probabilistic, I don't think that such a reality is completely deterministic, so what we call "free will" (and self-responsibility) is still possible.

An example of a path integral calculation can be read here. (I've taken a few liberties in the calculation, but the result is correct.)

None Dare Call It Censorship — Posted Monday February 6 2023
"If I weren't living through it, I wouldn't believe it's happening." — A Florida parent
Only a few months after Hitler's appointment to chancellor of Germany in January 1933, the Nazi burning of banned books began. It included books and papers written by Einstein, whose "Jewish physics" was declared false and deceptive. Soon, German pamphlets and magazines began depicting photos of Einstein with the epithet Noch ungehängt ("Still not hanged").

Republican Florida Governor Ron Desantis has banned thousands of book titles from school shelves and public libraries, citing inappropriate reading for children and young adults but actually reflecting his own conservative racist, ethnic and sexist attitudes towards women, same-sex relationships, racial education and diversity (primarily Critical Race Theory) and even American history (slavery and Jim Crow). In some Florida counties, public school teachers face firing and felony charges if they do not comply.

Is it inappropriate for a young child to read or be exposed to books dealing with America's horrific historic treatment of slaves, blacks and other minorities, including lynchings, whippings, burnings and other forms of torture and mistreatment? In many if not most cases, I would say yes, because young children are not mentally or emotionally mature enough to deal with such subjects. But should such books be banned forever because Desantis doesn't even want adults to be reminded of such topics? I say no, because at most such books should be restricted by teachers and parents, not subject to banning by de facto governmental authority, because it truly is a slippery slope. The next stop is book burning, and then we're right back to Nazi Germany.

Should a young child read or be exposed to the Old Testament Book of Joshua, which describes the wholesale slaughter and genocide of men, women, children, infants and suckling babes? (Perhaps the Amorites had it coming, as they practiced child sacrifice.) Or how about Shakespeare's Hamlet, which includes murder, incest, illicit sex, whoremongering and dirty songs? (Ophelia's little ditty leaves little to the imagination, nor does Hamlet's "Do you think I meant CoUNTry matters? " or "' 'Tis a fair thought to lie between maids' legs"?) Meanwhile, in the Liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church (my church), we commemorate the lives of the many great saints in the Synaxarion, which often describes how the saints were unjustly persecuted, tortured and killed for their faith, and how God always comforted them through their tribulations.

So shall we let Desantis and his base-trolling ilk ban the Bible, Hamlet, the Synaxarion, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird and any number of other great books because of his insane political ambition?

No Way Out? — Posted Thursday February 2 2023
To grossly misquote a line from the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, this morning in central Pennsylvania the groundhog Punxatawney Phil, seer of seers, prognosticator of prognosticators, emerged reluctantly but alertly from his burrow and announced in groundhogese that rampant political strife, mass shootings and minority murders by police will continue indefinitely in America.

Antifa is a loosely organized political movement having no leaders, heirarchical structure or regional or national base. Its adherents are largely antiracist, anti-Nazi, anti-Semitic, anti-white nationalist and antifascist men and women who tend to gather at locations where racially and politically motivated attacks and murders have occurred against minorities, often by members of police. Antifa adherents are generally peaceful and non-violent, but there have been notable incidents where they have carried out attacks on public property. In one instance, reporters claimed to have witnessed Antifa members attacking white nationalists with batons and liquid dyes. However, to date there have been no reports of Antifa attacks resulting in deaths or serious bodily injuries.

I liken Antifa to a kind of loose-knit, mildly radicalized civil disobedience group carrying out disjointed counter protest marches which, on rare occasions, have resulted in minor to moderate property damage. Much of the violence at the white nationalist Unite the Right Rally in August 2017 (which was declared an unlawful assembly by local police) occurred as a direct result of deadly violence perpetrated by mobs of white racists, with scattered violent reactions by Antifa-aligned counter protestors. Former President Donald Trump infamously claimed that "there were very fine people on both sides," but in later remarks it was clear that Trump blamed Antifa on the violence.

In his latest article noted right-wing columnist Cal Thomas condemned the recent killing of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police, but quickly aligned the murder with leftist and Antifa-related activities, citing unrelated incidents involving leftist groups. Similarly, ultra right-wing commentator Tucker Carlson also implied that Antifa-associated political activities could be related to the murder.

Mass shootings and the murder of minorities by police are endemic in the United States, and political groups on both sides of the aisle have been unable to provide a solution. Instead, America just keeps getting more and more divided, but to me it's obvious that the right wing is 99% to blame. God help us if groups like Antifa choose to go ultra-violent to counter the endless brutality, stupidity and ignorance of the right, in which case we might very well have a new Civil War.

A 968-Year-Old Coincidence — Posted Wednesday February 1 2023
I wonder how many people today (young people, in particular) remember the 1955-1956 TV show The Honeymooners. I watched it with my parents regularly while growing up, and sporadically after it went into syndication. Its instrumental theme song, You're the One I Love, composed by the show's star Jackie Gleason, remains hauntingly in my mind, beginning when I was just 6 years old. It opened with a sequence of fireworks going off in the night sky, accompanied with "stars" displaying the show's major actors.

This new article in Scientific American stirred memories of that show, having to do with a supernova that occurred some 1,181 years ago (hence its present designation, SN 1181). Described as a kind of failed neutron star or white dwarf, it somehow survived the explosion as a smaller but still ordinary star. What's remarkable is its appearance—a central star with rapidly outflowing "fireworks," totally unlike the planetary nebulosity seen around other supernovas:

As seen with a sulfur filter, the remains of SN 1181 look remarkably like a fireworks display

I'm also reminded of the Crab Nebula, which shows the supernova remains surrounding a pulsar (spinning, radiation-emitting neutron star) that was observed by Chinese astronomers on July 4, 1054. Coincidentally, just 12 days later (July 16) the Western and Eastern Christian churches of Europe split in what is now called the Great Schism, giving rise to today's Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, the latter of which I am a member. Caused by relatively piddling differences of theological opinion, the churches retain the first and second most Christian members today, with one billion and 250 million members, respectively. But the timing is just coincidence—the Great Schism indeed occurred in 1054, but the Crab Nebula was probably born many thousands of years earlier, its light not being seen until 1054.

Do We Live in a Universe of Extra Dimensions? — Posted Wednesday February 1 2023
The most recent version string theory (called M-theory) says that we live in a universe with 10 spacial dimensions and one of time, giving a total of \(n = 11\) dimensions. We can only see 3 spacial dimensions so, if string theory is correct, then where are the other 7? This question goes all the way back to 1919, when the German physicist Theodor Kaluza proposed a universe having one extra spacial dimension. His 5-dimensional theory was subsequently expanded by the Swedish physicist Oskar Klein, who claimed that the 4th spacial dimension was unseen because it was curled up at the Planck length level, completely invisible to human eyes and instruments. The notion of a curled-up dimension was applied as well to M-theory, although it had to be expanded to all 7 spacial dimensions.

The possibility that we might live in a universe having extra dimensions is discussed by astrophysicist Ethan Siegel in his latest article. I find the idea mind-boggling, but perhaps a little too convenient, to claim that these extra dimensions are all undetectably curled up, but mathematicians do this all the time. One example has to do with the packing of spheres in \(n \gt 3\) dimensions which, to my mind, is nothing more than a pointless mathematical exercise.

Still, the most famous example of extra dimensions is the theory by Kaluza and Klein, who considered the usual Einstein-Hilbert action in five dimensions $$ S = \int\!\! \sqrt{-g^*}\, R^*\, d^5x $$ where \(g^*\) is the metric determinant and \(R^*\) is the Ricci scalar in 5 dimensions, respectively. By a straightforward (but tedious) process known as dimensional reduction, this action can be broken down to the 4-dimensional level, giving $$ S = \int\!\!\sqrt{-g}\left( R + \frac{1}{4}\, F_{\mu\nu} F^{\mu\nu} \right) d^4x \tag{1} $$ where \(F_{\mu\nu}\) is the Maxwell electromagnetic tensor, with \( F_{\mu\nu} = \partial_\nu A_\mu - \partial_\mu A_\nu \), where \(A_\mu\) is the electromagnetic 4-potential. (The theory's correct \(1/4\) factor is extremely intriguing). Thus, in 5 dimensions the Kaluza-Klein theory seems to show that electromagnetism is somehow embedded in a curled-up 4th spacial dimension. (I made an attempt to show this in more detail in a paper I wrote long ago.)

But for Kaluza-Klein to work one still must construct a suitable 5-dimensional metric tensor \(g_{\mu\nu}^*\) incorporating the electromagnetic 4-potential \(A_\mu\), which seems to make the theory a bit contrived since the desired outcome in (1) can be worked backwards to derive \(g_{\mu\nu}^*\). A better theory would have \(A_\mu\) pop out of the formalism automatically as a purely geometric quantity.

As for now, M-theory's greatest achievement is that it appears to automatically embed a massless spin-2 field that has been identified with the graviton, the as-yet hypothetical particle believed to be responsible for gravity.

The inverse-square law of Newtonian gravity has now been laboriously tested at the sub-millimeter level, showing no deviation from the classical law. But this remains many orders of magnitude greater than the Planck length that string theory is supposed to dominate at. Since mankind will certainly never be able to peer down to the Planck level (it would require collider energies far beyond what could ever hope to be achieved), string theory will likely remain completely untestable, therefore being more a mathematical conjecture than a theory.

I find two interesting things about (1). For one, the electromagnetic term is quadratic in \(F_{\mu\nu}\), while \(R\) is linear. The other is that the electromagnetic term is scale (or conformally) invariant, while \(R\) is not. In his 1918 theory, the German mathematical physicist Hermann Weyl showed that the quadratic action $$ S = \int\!\! \sqrt{-g}\, R^2\, d^4x $$ is scale invariant if one assumes that the divergence of \( \sqrt{-g}\, g^{\mu\nu} \partial_\nu R \) vanishes. He subsequently showed that this quantity could be identified with the source vector \(\sqrt{-g}\, \rho^\mu \) of electrodynamics, whose divergence also vanishes. This once suggested to me that the 5-dimensional action $$ S = \int\!\!\sqrt{-g^*}\, R^{*2}\, d^5x $$ might be dimensionally reduced to provide a fully conformally invariant theory. Sadly, I lack the energy, motivation or time to investigate this possibility, and leave it to the student.

Prominent Dates — Posted Monday January 30 2023
Incredulously, many Americans today, mostly MAGA Republicans, still worship this man.

Here's a few historical dates of note. For one, Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany on this date 90 years ago. It marked the end of Germany's tentative and rather decadent Weimar Republic, and ushered in a horrific 12-year period of mass murder, genocide and world war. And two, next month will mark 80 years since the executions of the brother-and-sister German heroes Hans and Sophie Scholl, soldier and student respectively, who valiantly tried to warn the German people of the inhuman crimes of Hitler and the Nazis. Standing bravely and resolutely before the notorious German judge Roland Freisler, who sentenced them both to death by beheading on February 22, 1943, they both died that same day.

I will not compare former President Donald Trump with Hitler, tempted as I am to do so. But I do condemn the American people, whose stupidity, ignorance and arrogance mirrors that of the German people of 90 years ago, who opted to forget the many brilliant humanitarian achievements of fellow countrymen like Kepler, Gauss, Einstein, Heisenberg, Born, Haber, Schiller, Goethe and Kant, preferring to blindly follow and obey the monomaniacal Hitler and his program of mass destruction. In that regard, Hitler and Trump are one.

Not to Worry — Posted Sunday January 29 2023
A physical object gets alternatively squeezed and stretched as a gravitational wave passes by. But does it do any damage, since it's just spacetime that's being deformed?

As this recent Scientific American article notes, our Milky Way Galaxy is on a collision course with the Andromeda Galaxy, with the collision expected to occur about 4 billion years from now. If anyone is around to see it (our Sun will go red giant around that same time), the display in the night sky will be impressive, but not necessarily disastrous, because very few stars in both galaxies will actually collide with one another. The centers of mass of both galaxies will swirl around each other for several hundreds of millions of years, eventually merging into a new and larger galaxy.

Many millions of years later, the supermassive black holes in the two galaxies will also merge, producing an enormous amount of gravitational radiation just prior to and during the merger. My question is: what effect will this outpouring of gravity waves have on the structures of nearby stars and, if anyone is still around, what will they feel? It's not as if they will be violently squished and stretched as the waves pass through, since it's not necessarily a physical effect, but one based on the stupendous warpage of spacetime.

It's this periodic squeezing and stretching that existing LIGO (laser inteferometer gravitational wave observatory) facilities experience. Since the effects are much smaller than that of a proton, the LIGO facilities don't get damaged in the least. But what would happen to them if a truly enormous gravitational wave passed by? Would they be damaged, or would they just "surf" the wave, the same as a person might surf on a surfboard? This article predicts disastrous consequences, but again, it's not a physical effect, but one of spacetime itself.

My prediction: Not to worry, because no one or much of anything on our scorched or vaporized Earth (by the red giant Sun) will be around then.

[Some years ago I wrote a simplfied tutorial on gravity waves, which you can read here.]

Time to Worry? — Posted Sunday January 29 2023
After retiring in February 2002, I did volunteer teaching and tutoring, primarily at the high school and undergraduate level. Most of my students legitimately used Wikipedia to help solve the math and physics problems I gave them, while on occasion I'd have them write short essays on various subjects. I'd always Google a few sentences from the better ones to see if they had engaged in plagiarization, and on more than one occasion I discovered that they had.

Today there is an freely available online program called ChatGPT, which utilizes artificial intelligence (AI) to create papers and essays that are so well-written that a teacher cannot tell if a student had written them personally or not.The products are also essentially unique, so Googling any portion of them cannot allow the teacher to know if the student has committed plagiarization. This is perhaps the first instance I've seen where AI has resulted in something truly detrimental to society, education in particular.

Some time ago I wrote about how AI might also be used to not only write movie scripts, but also utilize DeepFake technology in conjunction to create entertaining new movies starring past stars like Humphrey Bogart. This in itself might not be bad, although it would likely put out of work hoardes of writers, film producers, stunt men and others currently associated with the industry. But it could also be used for insidious purposes, such as fabricating political attacks and character assassinations. Those using such technology would have no way of knowing if what they were watching was completely fabricated for manipulation purposes.

But vastly more advanced AI is definitely on the way, and undetectable DeepFake technology is coming as well. How these technologies will affect the human race is anyone's guess, but I fear the worst.

Fine Tuning, Again — Posted Saturday January 28 2023
In this new video, physicists Brian Keating (UC San Diego) and Luke Barnes (Western Sydney University) discuss the issue of fine tuning in the universe. Fine tuning has to do with the observation that if many (if not most) of the known 26 universal constants of Nature were only slightly different, then life (or the universe itself) could never have come into existence.

I learned two things from their discussion. For one, a single proton will not stick to another single proton because the strong nuclear force is not quite strong enough to overcome the electrostatic repulsion of the protons (unlike proton-neutron bonding). If the strong nuclear force were only a little stronger, then the whole of chemistry would fall apart because pure protonic atoms would make everything else impossible. And two, the exansion of the universe literally creates new space (the universe does not expand into existing three-dimensional space), allowing for the spontaneous creation of quantum fields in the created space. This gives rise to the observed acceleration of universal expansion due to the cosmological constant \(\Lambda\), which I perceive as a kind of reverse Casimir effect.

Dr. Barnes also addresses the possibility of "parameter space," which has to do with the random mixing of various large changes to the universal constants of Nature to give something similar to the universe we observe. Many of these mixed parameters have been dismissed, but that's not to say that some mixture might work as well as the one we have today.

The discussion also touches on the need for a Creator, which to my mind is the simplest explanation for the existence of literally anything at all, but outside of a Creator I see this as mostly a philosophical question that can never be answered.

Meanwhile, one might ponder the question of why the universe has worked just fine for 13.8 billion years, while the modern human mind, which has been around for only a few hundred thousand years, has made a complete mess of things.

How to Waste an Hour of Your Life — Posted Saturday January 28 2023
Here's a frustrating problem from Sybermath, my favorite online math puzzle site. Find the real value of \(x\) in this cubic equation:

It's almost obvious that the solution is \(x = - 1/2\), but I wanted to solve it analytically. The first step is to get rid of the \(x^2\) term, so I tried the substitution \(x = y - 1/3\). That leaves the marginally simpler \(y^3 - y/3 = 11/216\) (the Sybermath guy gets this part wrong, but what the heck). To get rid of the linear term I used the standard identity \((a+b)^3 = a^3+b^3 + 3ab (a+b)\), then setting \(y = a+ b\). But you know what? Now both \(a^3\) and \(b^3\) are complex numbers, and solving for \(a\) and \(b\) is impossible.

Sybermath gets the right answer with his Solution #2, but this is the first time I've seen the standard method for solving a cubic equation fail (at least for a real solution).

I'll Believe It When I See It — Posted Tuesday January 24 2023
The Department of Justice is apparently considering plans to introduce an "appeal proof" conviction of former President Donald Trump which, if it held, would presumably avoid years of endless appeals by Trump and his lawyers. As it now stands, however, Trump can legally pursue his re-election plans for 2024 and even win, despite overhanging charges of sedition, obstruction of justice and lying to federal officials. Only a conviction could block that.

But I would read the Salon article very carefully, as it hinges on conviction, not prosecutorial indictment. It remains my opinion that Trump will never spend any time in prison, as the DOJ and its current cowardly Attorney General Merrick Garland and Special Counsel Jack Smith will almost certainly back down from an indictment, much less a conviction.

We live in a strange country today, one in which the rich and powerful seem above the law, where thousands of innocents are slaughtered every year by firearms that the nation's leaders are unwilling to effectively regulate, where hundreds of craven, egomaniacal multi-billionaires are seeking to become the first trillionaire, and where hoardes of brainless pop stars and wannabes have taken over the minds of Americans.

On Pure \(R^2\) Theory — Posted Tuesday January 24 2023
The scientific literature is replete with consideration of Hermann Weyl's \(R^2\) geometry, which he introduced in early 1918 as a generalization of Einstein's general relativity. Weyl hoped to link gravitation to electromagnetism with his theory, but it failed, although in 1929 his idea became what is known today as gauge or conformal invariance, which is the cornerstone of all modern physics today.

What continues to frustrate me, however, is that pure \(R^2\) theory is not quite completely conformally invariant, so researchers are trying to append it with hypothetical scalar functions to fix things up. In this new paper from arXiv, the authors again try their hand with the action $$ S = \int\!\! \sqrt{-g}\, \left( \alpha R^2 + \frac{1}{2}\, g^{\mu\nu} \partial_\mu \phi \, \partial_\nu \phi \right) d^4x $$ where \(\alpha\) is a constant and \(\phi(x)\) is some variable scalar. But what is the mass of this scalar, what is its associated kinetic function, and how does it vary under a conformal transformation? I am convinced that \(R^2\) alone (and perhaps fourth-order variants such as \(RT, T^2\), etc.) may still provide an answer to the dark matter problem.

A Bright (and Shiny) Idea — Posted Tuesday January 24 2023

Let's say you get a $100 bill as a birthday gift, which you deposit at your bank. It's fully worth its face value, although the cotton and linen material it's printed on is only worth a few cents at most. So what's the problem with the U.S. Mint producing a ONE TRILLION DOLLAR platinum coin, to be deposited in the U.S. Treasury to offset the nation's debt limit? If you managed to get your grubby little hands on it you could also deposit in your bank, or maybe buy your own country with it. (By the same token, the U.S. could print a one trillion dollar bill, saving the thousand dollars it would take to press a coin out of an ounce of pure platinum.)

As a one-time coin collector, my only question is: would the coin be minted in Denver (D), San Francisco (S), Carson City (CC) or Philadelphia (no mint mark)?

George Santos and \(\sqrt{-1}\) — Posted Friday January 20 2023
Newly inducted Republican representative George Santos is being hailed by fellow House colleague and physicist Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill) for Santos' recent appointment to the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. It's a highly important appointment, especially given Santos' record as an astronaut, Nobel Prize winner and Fields Medal recipient (not to mention that he's a world champion vollyball player), but particularly his familiarity with imaginary numbers, a cornerstone of quantum physics.

The trouble is, imaginary numbers (and their cousins, complex numbers) are real, while Santos' figures are totally bogus. More importantly, Santos himself is a fake, having lied about everything he got elected on. I am reminded of how imbecile Senator Rick Perry (R-Texas) was appointed by former President Donald Trump to head up the Department of Energy ("Muons? Quarks? What the heck are those things?")

Perhaps pathological liar Santos can now dream up a theory of quantum gravity, and prove the existence of dark matter and solve the anomaly of universal expansion.

[By the way, appointing Santos to the Science, Space and Technology Committee demonstrates how little regard the GOP has for those areas, as Republicans don't believe in science, anyway.]

Not a Fairy Tale — Posted Wednesday January 18 2023
Don't know what the status is of the Special Counsel's investigation into Trump's crimes? Neither do I.

The finding that President Joe Biden also had classified documents in his former VP residence and home may or may not have affected Special Counsel Jack Smith's investigation, but the Mar-a-Lago debacle is only one of the alleged crimes that former president Donald Trump is accused of. Fairness dictates that if Biden's holding of classified documents (although far fewer in number and importance than those Trump held) is a criminal offense, then both Biden and Trump should be prosecuted fully by the law, since two wrongs do not make a right. If Biden is guilty, then so is Trump, and the thought of them sharing a prison cell is tantalizing, if not a very likely prospect.

This still leaves innumerable crimes that Trump has irrefutably committed against the United States, not including state tax fraud and civil cases like sexual molestation. The January 6 Committee has turned over all its evidence to the Department of Justice and has now been disbanded, and Smith and his team are supposedly going over the evidence with a fine-toothed comb. But weighing against their work is the House of Representatives, which not only is now in control by the Republican Party, but with many far-right members looking for ways to stop any further legal or prosecutorial actions by the DOJ against Trump, who remains the GOP's current lord and savior.

Also contentious is Trump's plans to run for re-election in 2024, an unprecedented situation that the DOJ is also fully aware of. Prosecution would then be seen as a political act.

Yet for over a month now, there has been literally no news from the DOJ regarding its status into the investigations. It can't be because the evidence against Trump is ambiguous, since Trump is on record for having publicly incited the Capitol Building insurrection, not to mention his infamous recorded personal phone call to Georgia's Secretary of State pressuring the latter to give Trump the votes he needed to overturn Biden's presidential win in that state. Either of these two actions by Trump are irrefutably criminal in nature.

So what's the hold up? Consider the two possibilities that the DOJ is certainly considering:
  1. If Trump is prosecuted, America's right wing, spurred on by the Republican Party, Republicans in Congress, Red State legislatures and the right wing media, will be incited to nationwide violence, making the January 6, 2021 insurrection look like a walk in the park. A new Civil War would also be possible, if not likely.
  2. If Trump is not prosecuted, America's left wing will be outraged, but would be comparatively silent, seeking to redress its grievances peacefully and politely through political means.
If you were Special Counsel Smith, what course of action would you take? My guess is that the DOJ has already decided to pursue the second option, and is only wondering how to break it to the American people, who've been falsely led to believe that our nation is based on justice for all, not just for the rich and powerful.

A Dark Matter Fairy Tale — Posted Monday January 16 2023
The remnant of Supernova 1987A, which occurred outside the Milky Way in February 1987, some 168,000 light-years from Earth.

The Great Courses series Introduction to Astrophysics I wrote about yesterday includes an overview of the 1987 core-collapse supernova designated as SN 1987A. As much as 99% of the energy carried away from a supernova comes in the form of high-energy neutrinos, a few dozen of which produced by SN 1987A were inadvertently detected by physicists looking for evidence of proton decay. Since then, the science of neutrino detection has vastly improved, and scientists are hopeful that the next supernova event will produce many millions of the particles in their detectors, providing avenues for new research into neutrino physics.

Once considered to be the identity of the hypothetical dark matter particle, neutrinos (like dark matter) are electrically neutral and of extremely low mass, able to pass through light-years of lead shielding without a single interaction. Dark matter is also believed to be an electrically neutral, lightweight particle that responds only to gravity. The major difference is that dark matter is required to be cold, meaning that it must be slow-moving to account for the assumed presence of dark matter haloes around galaxies. By comparison, neutrinos are produced as fast-moving particles (approaching light speed) that never slow down.

Astrophysicist Ethan Siegel is a diehard believer in dark matter, and in his latest article he writes that supernova neutrinos might produce indirect evidence of dark matter. This represents a new approach to dark matter research which, despite four decades of research and billions of dollars spent to date, has failed to produce any evidence of dark matter particles. His reasoning is based on the prospect that supernova neutrinos might interact with dark matter, with the result that an observed deficit of expected neutrino numbers showing up in today's detectors could be attributed to the dark matter thought to be surrounding the Milky Way Galaxy.

While I can't criticize Siegel for his hope that neutrino-dark matter interaction might occur at least in principle, I find the prospect of one rarely-interacting particle colliding with another rarely-interacting particle to be simply beyond belief. To his credit, Siegel himself admits it's one of the wildest of possibilities, but to me it's just a fairy tale.

Two Great Great Courses Programs — Posted Monday January 16 2023
I took a graduate class in astrophysics as an elective at university many years ago, but I really wasn't interested in the subject. Then some years ago I bought The Great Courses video program Introduction to Astrophysics and got turned onto it. It's presented by Princeton University's Joshua Winn, one of the best teachers I've seen in the entire GC catalog. He uses calculus, but it's elementary and I think any high school student can easily follow it.

I binge-watched the entire series yesterday during our heavy rain (which I'm thankful for because of the drought here), and I remain greatly impressed with Dr. Winn's approach to the subject, which spans just about everything, including exoplanets (he has another GC program on that). All of the Great Courses programs can usually be found on sale at reasonable prices, and I highly recommended these two.

"Hey, Who's the Barber Here?" — Posted Thursday January 12 2023
According to physician Dr. John G. Sotos, the author of the fascinating 2008 book The Physical Lincoln, our 16th president was a "lounger," meaning that he preferred laying on a sofa or day bed rather than sitting or standing, a habit likely due to Abraham Lincoln's 6'4" frame. Lounging is my normal position when I'm at home, although I know about the health dangers of long-term sitting and lounging, as described in this new CNN article. Bottom line: I try to get at least 30 minutes of hard exercise a day, nowhere near my routine from only a few years ago, but in the end I don't really care. At 74 years, I feel fine, and if my habits catch up with me, so be it.

Dr. Sotos has also expressed his opinion that Lincoln was suffering from a congenital health defect related to Marfan's syndrome (if I recollect correctly, as it's been years since I read the book), and that Lincoln would have likely died soon if John Wilkes Booth's deringer bullet had not ended his life on April 15, 1865.

Still, Lincoln was fortunate. In 1841 he had a tooth extracted that also took out a portion of his lower jaw, a procedure that might have easily led to a life-ending septic infection. The person who performed the extraction was likely a local barber, whose tonsorial expertise typically extended to minor surgery and dentistry in those times.

Would you still like to travel back in time to Lincoln's day? I didn't think so.

By the way, illustrator and 3D artist Ray Downing has created some astounding realistic images and videos of Lincoln. Check them out.

Physics, You're No Fun Anymore — Posted Thursday January 12 2023
Since today's physics and cosmology problems seem to have no solutions, I've turned to simpler things. For fun, I like to solve math problems, and there's no better website than Sybermath. The problems never go beyond basic calculus, but sometimes they can be solved by intuition or just by guessing. On occasion, the problems have no analytic solution, such as this one:

The answer is obviously \(x = 2\), but the problem is so simple I thought it would have an easy analytic solution. But it doesn't, as the Sybermath guy shows.

I know, I have to get a life.

Brazil and America — Posted Tuesday January 10 2023
I find it telling that the recent insurrection in Brazil's capital by Trump-like election conspiracy theorists not only echoed what happened at our Capitol Building in January 2021, but that millions of enraged Brazilian citizens are demanding punishment of the hundreds of rioters. Compare this with America, whose Republicans are pooh-poohing the January attack as nothing more than a few thousand (!) patriots who were a little too rambunctious during an otherwise peaceful and largely unplanned demonstration. But was the attack in Brazil, in which there were fortunately no reported deaths or injuries, the same as in the January 2021 incident, in which the attackers stormed the Capitol building armed with guns, tasers, clubs, zip ties, mace, bear spray and human excrement, and which led to the deaths of five people? Yet, while Brazil is planning the immediate conviction and incarceration of its rioters, America is conflicted over its own insurgents.

Defendant: "Your honor, I just happened to have a few guns, a taser, mace, some zip ties and a bag of my own poop on me when I went to the Capitol to protest peacefully and legally."
U.S. Judge: "Are you insane?"
Defendant: "No, your honor."
U.S. Judge: "That's good, because otherwise your testimony would be less plausible. Case dismissed!"

If Mother Nature (Gaia) Could Talk — Posted Tuesday January 10 2023
Gaia: "Dear Lord God, You created me first, but then You also created these humans who are now destroying the world with their ignorance, greed, violence and stupidity. What am I to do?"
God: "Well, I took care of the vast lot of them a few millennia ago, but as I love My greatest Creation I've decided not to do that again. But I also allowed viruses to form in your fallen world, and perhaps you can use them to constrain the people somewhat."
Gaia: "To date viruses have been of only limited use, but I've still got a few tricks up my sleeve. One is called coronavirus—it's highly contagious, extremely deadly, and it mutates like crazy into even more virulent forms, requiring humans to come up with ever more effective vaccines. The latest one I call "XBB.1.5," or the kraken virus, like the mythological sea monster. Best of all, there are a lot of humans, mostly in the United States, that believe vaccines themselves cause death and are the cause of ADHD, autism and other pathological conditions, so they're stupidly avoiding treatment."
God: "Okay, give it a go, Gaia! Perhaps people will then see their folly and turn to Me before it's too late."
Gaia: "I'm on it already, Lord!"

The Mystery of Energy in the Universe — Posted Tuesday January 10 2023
I learned something new today! Referring to his famous field equations of gravitation

\(R^{\mu\nu} - \frac{1}{2}\, g^{\mu\nu} R + \Lambda g^{\mu\nu} = 8 \pi G/c^4\, T^{\mu\nu}\)

Einstein considered the left-hand side to be made of fine marble (as it arises solely out of inviolable geometry), whereas the right-hand side he considered made out of cheap wood. That's because the energy-momentum tensor \(T^{\mu\nu}\) has to be constructed in such a way as to make it consistent with different forms of matter, subject only to it being divergenceless. In this presentation by physicist Tomás Ortin, I learned that the energy-momentum tensor is not a truly covariant tensor, with the surprising consequence that energy is not a conserved quantity. I already knew that energy is not conserved in an expanding universe, but I didn't know that this could be traced to \(T^{\mu\nu}\) itself. It's almost as if the geometry of general relativity somehow "knows" that the universe is expanding.

Ortin's video primarily addresses the metric of a rotating black hole, spinning in the otherwise empty vacuum of space. In such a space, \(T^{\mu\nu} = 0\), but the space is not truly empty!

When a sphere or cylinder rolls down an inclined plane, its initial potential energy is converted into both kinetic and rotational energy. But spheres, balls, disks and cylinders roll at different rates because their moments of inertia are different (cylinders are the fastest, so maybe a toy car with such wheels would have an advantage in a kids' roller derby). Many years ago, several German companies experimented with trolley cars powered solely by a rapidly rotating internal cylinder, whose rotational energy could be transferred to the trolley wheels, thus avoiding the need for an internal combustion engine. The idea worked, but trolley range was limited, and passengers sitting astride a massive, rapidly rotating mass felt a bit nervous.

It turns out that energy can also be extracted from a rotating black hole via the Penrose process, although there is no need for a direct connection to the hole itself. The 2020 Nobel Prize for Physics went to Roger Penrose for his work on black holes, who in 1971 discovered a way to extract energy from a rotating black hole—if one drops a load of garbage, say, slantwise into the hole's ergosphere, the empty dumpster will come flying back out, whose kinetic energy can be used as an energy source.

The ergosphere of a rotating black hole (also called a Kerr black hole, in honor of its discoverer, Roy Kerr) sits outside the hole's event horizon in a perfect vacuum. But this vacuum (somewhat akin to the dark energy of the vacuum of space) must have a vanishing energy-momentum tensor by convention, since there's nothing there but gravity. But Einstein himself showed that the energy content of a gravitational field is ambiguous, having no applicable conservation law. Although one can set up an energy-momentum tensor \(T^{\mu\nu}\) for moving matter, electromagnetic fields and other conventional mass-energy sources, I know of none that exists for pure gravity itself. That's already embedded in the left-hand side of the field equations!

Since all stars, galaxies and black holes rotate, only the Kerr black hole has meaning in our universe. We know today that it is very probable that every galaxy has a supermassive black hole at its center, rotating like crazy, and I wonder if the energy-momentum tensors associated with these objects might have something to do with dark matter, dark energy and the overall energy content of the universe.

How's That for a Coincidence? — Posted Tuesday January 10 2023
Here's another Gary Larson classic. Somehow, pistons and springs are key components in time machines:

Hossenfelder on the Special and General Theories of Gravitation — Posted Saturday January 7 2023
Einstein's special relativity is difficult enough, but it holds only in the absence of gravity. In the presence of a gravitating mass, special relativity is replaced by Einstein's general relativity theory. The two are explained in German physicist Sabine Hossenfelder's latest video, embedded below.

In special relativity, one has two basic disagreements between observers moving at constant (non-zero) velocities relative to one another. One is time dilation, which means that initially synchronized clocks traveling with each observer will not agree, and the other is space contraction, which also means that distances measured by each observer will not agree. Yet times and distances measured by each observer are absolutely correct in their own frames of reference—neither is "wrong." This is perhaps the most puzzling aspect of special relativity, although the mathematics is not difficult, perhaps just the interpretation.

Special relativity holds even for observers that are accelerating with respect to their own frames, countering the notion that it holds only for constant velocities. But a gravitating mass changes the spacetime frame itself, warping it in complicated ways (except for very simple or highly symmetrical cases). The essential difference between the two theories is that spacetime is flat in speciai relativity, while it is curved in general relativity. There is a complicated quantity in differential geometry called the Riemann curvature tensor, denoted by \(R_{\,\mu\nu\beta}^\lambda \,\), where each greek symbol can take on any of the four values 0, 1, 2, 3. The tensor itself is composed of complicated combinations of the symmetric fundamental metric tensor \(g_{\mu\nu}\) and its derivatives (it's amazing that today the tensor can be calculated using numerical computer schemes). The curvature tensor vanishes everywhere in special relativity, so one does not need to worry about it—that's why students in high school and undergraduate physics classes are seldom exposed to it. But in general relativity it needs to be calculated, and this is why Einstein's gravity theory is so difficult. It all boils down to determining \(g_{\mu\nu}\)—in special relativity each of its 10 terms (and usually there's only the four, \(g_{00}, g_{11}, g_{22}\) and \(g_{33} \)) is a constant (often just 0, 1 or -1), whereas in general relativity they're variables that have to be determined.

While Hossenfelder does not mention the curvature tensor, her talk is notable because she explains why there's no such thing as the "force of gravity." A planet revolves around its star not because it's being pulled in, but because it's simply following what amounts to a straight line in the curved space produced by the star.

Dark Matter vs Modified Gravity, Again — Posted Thursday January 5 2023
Edgar Rice Burroughs was the originator of the Tarzan legend, which he expanded to include his stories about a hollow Earth that Burroughs dubbed Pellucidar, which first appeared in his 1914 fantasy novel At the Earth's Core. Like the outer Earth, Pellucidar had skies, land masses and oceans, but they were all superimposed upon the inner shell of the hollow Earth. Pellucidar had its own gravity, which was the same as Earth's although it acted outward onto the inner shell, so that a visitor to the world would feel gravitational effects similar to Earth's.

While a successful author, Burroughs apparently knew nothing about physics. The gravitational force inside a hollow spherical shell is exactly zero, so the inhabitants of Pellucidar would find themselves completely weightless and floating around aimlessly.

I've imagined that a roughly similar situation might exist in intergalactic space, in which the gravitational effects of surrounding galaxies might induce what is thought to be a tiny but non-zero External Field Effect (EFE), acting on a galaxy internal to the surrounding galaxies. It would tend to inertially sustain the velocities of stars far from their galactic centers, even though the gravitational interaction would be on the order of trillionths of a \(g\).

The EFE is a feature of Modified Newtonian Gravity theory (or MOND, which is included in the above link), where it is used to overcome certain problems in the theory. MOND was introduced by the Israeli physicist Mordehai Milgrom in 1983 as a means of explaining the observed effects of dark matter. Dark matter (DM) is a key ingredient in the conventional \(\Lambda\)CDM (lambda-cold dark matter) model of standard cosmology, yet to date it has not been experimentally detected. Many conventional and exotic explanations for DM have been proposed, although it is believed to be an as-yet undetected particle that responds only to gravity. The neutrino would be the ideal DM particle, but its mass is far too small to explain the observed effects of DM on stellar galactic rotation curves, galaxy clusters and gravitational lensing.

Over the past forty years there have been over 100 major experimental programs conducted to detect DM, but despite billions of dollars spent and herculean efforts by experimentalists, the presumed DM particle continues to elude detection. This has created renewed interest in MOND and other modified gravity theories (including relativistic variants) that have been able to duplicate most of the effects of DM (along with explaining others that DM cannot, such as the observed Tully-Fisher relation). Indeed, some modified gravity theories have been shown to be more plausible than the DM hypothesis, despite ongoing problems and issues. One such theory, AQUAL (which stands for "A QUAdratic Lagrangian"), represents a truly hopeful alternative to DM, as explained in this recent article.

The notion of deriving Einstein's theory of general relativity using a quadratic Lagrangian (more generally known as f(R) gravity, or \(R^2\) gravity) goes all the way back to 1918, when the German mathematical physicist Hermann Weyl first proposed it as a means of embedding the electromagnetic field into the pure geometry of gravitation. The action based on a \(R^2\) Lagrangian has one very intriguing property, which is that it allows for local scale or gauge invariance of the gravitational field, a desirable addition to all the other mathematical symmetries in physics. To see this, start with the action $$ S = \int\!\! \sqrt{-g}\, f(R)\, d^4x \tag{1} $$ where \(f(R)\) is some arbitrary function of the Ricci scalar \(R\) alone. In the absence of a mass-energy source, variation of (1) with respect to the fundamental metric tensor \(g^{\mu\nu}\) leads to the field equations $$ \left[ - \frac{1}{2} \, g_{\mu\nu} f + R_{\mu\nu} \frac{\partial f}{\partial R} - g_{\mu\nu} \,g^{\alpha \beta} \left( \frac{\partial f}{\partial R} \right)_{|\alpha ||\beta} + \left( \frac{\partial f}{\partial R} \right)_{|\mu ||\nu} \right] \, \delta g^{\mu\nu} = 0 \tag{2} $$ where the single and double subscripted bars stand for ordinary partial and covariant differentiation, respecively. For the infinitesimal scale variation \(\delta g^{\mu\nu} = - \pi g^{\mu\nu}\) (where \(\pi\) is some small arbitrary variable scalar), (2) leads to $$ 2 f - R \frac{\partial f}{\partial R} + 3\, g^{\mu\nu} \left( \frac{\partial f}{\partial R} \right)_{|\mu ||\nu} = 0 \tag{3} $$ Now, if one assumes (like Weyl) the quadratic identity \(f(R) = R^2\), the first two terms in (3) cancel and we have simply \(g^{\mu\nu} R_{|\mu||\nu} = 0\), which is equivalent to the pure divergence $$ \left( \sqrt{-g}\, g^{\mu\nu} R_{|\mu} \right)_{|\nu} = 0 \tag{4} $$ By brilliant deductive mathematical and physical reasoning, Weyl showed that the action in (1) with \(f(R) = R^2 \) is not only fully equivalent to Einstein's gravitational field equations, but that the quantity \(g^{\mu\nu} R_{|\mu}\) could be identified with the electromagnetic source vector \(\rho^\nu\), which also has vanishing divergence.

Although Weyl's theory was later shown to be unphysical (by Einstein, no less), it represented not only the very first serious attempt to unify the gravitational and electromagnetic forces of Nature, but his quadratic Lagrangian became a serious contender for a purely geometric alternative to dark matter. I've posted many attempts to explain Weyl's theory and its importance to gauge invariance (which is now a cornerstone of modern quantum physics). See the links on my old site weylmann.com for additional information.

Update: Grasping at straws? Here's a new article from Don Lincoln, a FermiLab physicist who's a strong proponent of dark matter. He cites some recent research concerning the distribution of some 11 satellite galaxies around our Milky Way galaxy. These galaxies are generally scattered along the Milky Way's rotational plane, a finding that tends to discredit the DM argument, which demands a spherical distribution with the Milky Way in the center. But the research contends that the current distribution is unusually weighted by the presence of two galaxies, Leo 1 and Leo 2. Take them away, and the distribution of the remaining galaxies is more spherical, supporting the DM theory. If this isn't an example of data manipulation, I don't know what is.

Every High School Crush — Posted Thursday January 5 2023
Gary Larson captures every crush I had in high school.

Biden Comes Up Short — Posted Thursday January 5 2023
I watched President Biden's brief press talk on the border crisis this morning. It's a difficult problem, and no doubt he has a plan to address the issue when Title 42 finally expires, but where he came up short was his neglecting to mention that if America is truly a Christian nation, as his Republican detractors continue to argue for, then Americans should respond to the problem as Christians, not as haters of the "other." Former President Donald Trump once called Mexico a "shithole nation" and its migrants as "criminals" and "rapists," and conservative Americans applauded him for these sentiments. I'm still disgusted, not only by Trump's words, but by the sickening reaction of his supporters.

Meanwhile, I also watched the opening of today's House Speaker voting, in which African American Representative John James (R-Michigan) compared the voting deadlock to the one that occurred in 1856. He asserted that America is much more united today than it was then (referring primarily to the issue of slavery), adding that as a black man he was far better off than his ancestors or Jim Crow-era parents. To me, he was saying in effect "I is a proud Uncle Tom, an' I gots mine, thanks to de white man." I was embarrassed for him, not only because of his apparent subservience to his racist white Republican masters, but because the political situation in America today is far worse than it was in 1856. The Civil War of 1861-1865 was yet to be fought with its deadly but relatively primitive weapons, while today the entire nation is under seige by 25% to 50% of its citizens, some 80 to 160 million strong (many armed with AR-15s), who still suffer from the effects of racist thinking.

How to Fight Totalitarianism — Posted Tuesday January 3 2023
The Republican Party takes power over the 118th House of Representatives today, although the speakership is still very much in doubt. What is not in doubt, however, is the GOP's promise to focus solely on eradicating the progressive plans and policies of President Biden, his family and administration, supported by the likes of Fox News, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and the billionaires behind the rightwing media. With few exceptions, these are all pathological, fanatical lying maniacs whose lust for money, influence and political power far exceeds any consideration they have for the welfare of America.

If you think that totalitarianism can't happen in America, remember Germany—the land of countless scientific, philosophical and musical geniuses like Kepler, Gauss, Einstein, Heisenberg, Born, Haber, Schiller, Goethe, Kant, Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Brahms, Schubert, Strauss and Wagner—and how all that achievement was so easily eclipsed by the totalitarian evil of Hitler and his Nazis.

The following After Skool video is one of the best I've seen regarding totalitarianism and its recent rise in the world, perhaps best exemplified by the extreme Republican rightwing in our own country. At about 22 minutes in length, it's well worth watching, and the many hand-drawn illustrations are amazing. It concludes with the hope that totalitarianism can be fought, if not always outright defeated, by truth, logic and humor (I'm not sure about that last one).

Times Have Changed, Part 2 — Posted Monday January 2 2023
Thomas Edison invented the first practical phonograph in 1877, whose earliest recordings were made by a fixed stylus on a rotating cylinder holding a sheet of waxed paper. The technology was solid, but the paper was fragile, so Edison introduced waxed cylinders, which by the early 1900s became a popular way to not only listen to recorded music but also a means of making one's own recordings at home (the wax could be scraped down, providing a fresh recording surface). In 1908 Edison introduced Amberol cylinders made from an early plastic material similar to Bakelite. While not re-recordable, the material provided up to 4 minutes of play (see this site for more information).

I remember going to swap meets in the late 1960s and seeing these cylinder recordings. One day I bought one for one dollar, thinking that I'd eventually get an Edison phonograph to play it on, but even then they were beyond my means as a college student (I'd see them selling for $300 back then, but today they're in the thousands). Here's the one I bought in 1969, which is labeled "Uncle Josh Keeps House" (1912):

At 111 years of age, it's in perfect condition, but I have no idea what my record sounds like (but probably better than Billy Joel).

There are many thousands of wax cylinder recordings still in existence, and efforts are now underway by the Library of Congress to preserve them.

Wanna hear the oldest existing recording? It was made by a French linquist and inventor in April 1860, who recorded his daughter (or himself) singing "Au Clair de la Lune." It's very rough, but it still sounds better than Billy Joel.

Times Have Changed — Posted Sunday January 1 2023
I watched Fareed Zakaria interview musician Billy Joel on CNN this New Year's morning. To be honest, I cannot stand Joel's music, and have never liked any of his songs, which have made him very wealthy. Joel is a talented pianist, but only in the Elton John tradition, and I doubt if he could ever play like Yuja Wang. Meanwhile, Joel's songs are just run-of-the-mill soft pop/rock stuff, intended for consumption by the masses who don't know any better. Joel's "Just the Way You Are" is sentimental hokum, and "Tell Her About It" is just plain garbage.

The Joel interview got me thinking about how the classical greats like Mozart and Beethoven never made much money in their day in spite of their enormous genius (the likes of which we'll never see again). Even the Beatles and Rolling Stones didn't make that much in their day despite all their hit songs (they made tens of millions, not hundreds of millions), while later groups like Kiss struck it rich without so much as a single decent song. Today's successful pop artists and rappers are raking in even more money, despite the utter trashiness of their music.

Sorry, I just turned 74, so I guess I'm showing my age.

Happy New Year — Posted Sunday January 1 2023
I dumped all of the 2021-2022 stuff into the Old Stuff archive on the left. Now, let's start a new year.