Saturday, October 15, 2011

Pseudoscience and the Technomystic II

This is a continuation of the previous post (Pseudoscience and the Technomystic) with a more specific example from earlier comments.

Consider this comment in a previous thread by EU supporter, Siggy_G, complaining about how I repeatedly emphasize the coupling of science with modern technology:
Siggy_G: The “bundling“ I referred to, as often seen around here: taking all achievements related to technology, the mechanical launch itself, GPS-systems and what not, mentioning that in relation to the standard sun model or big bang cosmology, and labelling it as a confirmation of the model or theory itself. It would be as if Electric Universe proponents should mention all the electric/digital engineering behind practically ALL technology today, including everything used in astrophysics, and bundle it up as a confirmation of the Electric Universe notions... Would that be acceptable?
Is Siggy_G claiming that the Newton's laws of motion and gravitation used in predicting the motions of the planets are NOT the same laws of motion used to launch satellites into Earth orbit to distant parts of the solar system?

If that is the case, how does Siggy_G think it is actually done?

If physicists don't use the same knowledge base obtained in the classes we take on theoretical mechanics when they go to work for the flight dynamics division of the various space agencies around the world, WHERE do they get the knowledge to do the trajectory planing for these missions, often years in advance?

As for Siggy_G's 'challenge' to bundle modern technology with EU notions, I invite him to do so, but consider just some of the questions I had to address, and he must face:

1) Where did the “electric/digital” engineering come from?  Were iPads, digital cameras, modern home computers, etc., invented with no prior knowledge?  Did the inventor have a block of raw materials (silicon, copper, etc)  in their garage and one day built a modern cell phone?

2) Where did the semiconductor electronics that are the active components of those devices come from?  What knowledge base was needed to make them?  Did someone just throw together some raw chemicals in a vat and one day a microprocessor chip came out?

3) What about the materials used to make semiconductors themselves?  Were they just some random combination of materials someone thought up in their garage?  Are they naturally-occurring?  Some are, but most of the semiconductors we use today were designed in the lab.  How did we design those semiconductors?  Were they just a random combination of chemicals, or was there physics and mathematics that guided the development?  If you claim this, cite relevant references.

4) Does Siggy_G know that for years, the first discovered semiconductors were used as crystal diodes  (wikipedia: Crystal-diode) in early radio receivers, but no one understood why this material had the non-linear rectification behavior it had?  Their electronic characteristics defied explanation by classical (Maxwell) electromagnetism.  It would take the development of quantum mechanics to turn the curious properties of semiconductors into a useful tool, and astrophysics provided critical information along the way:

    •    Scott Rebuttal. III. The Importance of Quantum Mechanics
    •    More Astrophysics & Quantum Mechanics Connections

Now let's look at Siggy_G's challenge from another direction...

5) How is the use of a CCD camera to take astronomical images proof, or even evidence, of Electric Universe claims?

6) If you want to claim that the use or form of a particular tool is evidence of EU, then what about all the things we learned from astronomical images on photographic film *before* the invention of CCDs?

7) Is film chemistry as proof that the universe is actually chemical?  What does that imply for EU?

8) What about all the knowledge we obtained through naked-eye observations for centuries before that, with measurements performed via spider-web reticles?

Without addressing these types of questions, any such construction that Siggy_G proposes is the equivalent of "Joe is really smart and invented 'X', and he believes 'Y'.  Therefore 'Y' must be true."  Let's make a concrete example by filling in X & Y:
Johannes Kepler discovered the first laws of planetary motion, and also practiced astrology.  Therefore astrology must be true.
And it is easy to generate even more bizarre examples from the history of science.

I've documented how equations used for computing nuclear reactions in stars are the same equations used in nuclear medicine, the development of nuclear chemistry, nuclear reactors and even nuclear weapons.  Why did so many of the researchers involved in the early development of nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons also have prior contributions in stellar nuclear astrophysics (individuals such as Enrico Fermi (wikipedia), Edward Teller (wikipedia) and Hans Bethe (wikipedia))? 

That's the standard I've used in "Cosmos In Your Pocket".   I have been considering a more tutorial-style technical appendix that shows these connections in more detail.

What about the quantum tunneling relationship which Bethe used in 1939 to compute the rate of the p+p->d nuclear reaction, the first step of the proton-proton chain (wikipedia)?  Can Siggy_G demonstrate that it is NOT the same quantum relationship which Esaki used in 1950s to develop the tunnel diode (wikipedia)?

Have we seen a similar tracing of the knowledge base of basic electro-magnetism to a concise mathematical model of an electrically powered star?  To make an equivalent analysis for the Electric Universe, then Siggy_G would have to demonstrate something like the amount of energy carried by a cosmic scale electric current, sufficient to power the Sun, generates a magnetic field consistent with what we measure for the Sun.


I've already done that (see Electric Cosmos: The Solar Resistor Model), and the results weren't encouraging.  For Siggy_G to make a truly equivalent EU 'rebuttal', he would essentially have to solve this problem as well as answer the questions I've posed under “Challenges”.

So I invite Siggy_G to write his response, but I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pseudoscience and the Technomystic

One of the key themes that I try to emphasize in this blog is the unity of science and modern technology.  

The science of cosmology is really just the extension of the same physical principles we have discovered on the Earth and have incorporated into our technology.  See some of my previous posts on this topic: 
In some cases, the physical principles were understood from cosmological evidence before they were testable in the laboratory.

The Cosmos In Your Pocket: Expanded & Revised

The technological leadership the United States enjoyed in the post WWII era was due in no small part to the emphasis of science in the U.S. educational system in that time frame.  The decline of U.S. leadership in these fields can easily be tied to the decline of science understanding among the general population and pseudo-science has certainly been a component of that decline. 

One of the problems run into by pseudo-scientists is that when they deny some well-established aspect of modern astronomy or cosmology, such as the energy source of stars, etc., they are denying a knowledge base is tightly connected to the same understandings of nuclear physics, atomic physics, electromagnetism, etc. used in technologies we use every day. 

To defend their ignorance, the pseudoscientists eventually reach the point that they must deny how a number of well-established technologies work.  In the process, they sometimes manufacture alternative explanations which they try to make consistent with whatever alternative 'framework' they are trying to maintain.  For all intents an purposes, their alternative explanations evokes a quote from Arthur C. Clarke:
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” - Arthur C. Clarke (wikipedia)
For lack of a better term, I'll call such an individual a technomystic.

Here's a few examples:

* Geocentrism: Our ability to travel in space depends on Newton's laws of motion and gravity, theories which do not define an absolute origin in space.  These equations are invariant under translation and rotation - the interactions between planetary bodies and spacecraft depend only on their RELATIVE positions, and not on any absolute spatial reference frame.  This is why we can use the exact same mathematics to get a spacecraft in orbit around other planets in the solar system as we use to orbit the Earth.  Some Geocentrists go so far as to deny space flight even takes place (such as claimed at Moving World - Deception).  The equivalence of all reference frames is built into modern star trackers used in the navigation of satellites (see Ubiquitous Aberrations) so this theory is actually tested 24/7 on satellites around the solar system.

* Relativity Denial: This is often a component of Geocentrism but it is also often invoked by Electric Universe supporters and some Young-Earth Creationists.  A number of modern technologies require high-precision measurement, with accuracy on the nano-second time scales, where relativity has already been demonstrated to become important in technologies such as the GPS system.  Most of the deniers invoke claims by researchers who are, at best, peripherally involved with GPS technologies, and I have yet to find one that has actually done the critical clock synchronization and/or signal time-of-flight analyses.  (see Scott Rebuttal. I. GPS & Relativity, GPS, Relativity & Geocentrism)

* Space Weather: The Electric Sun model advocated by the Electric Universe supporters, claims the region of space from the Sun to the heliopause is radically different from the conditions discovered by mainstream astronomy.  Conditions in this region can be hazardous to the operation of satellites and even the lives of astronauts.  Yet while mainstream astronomy and heliophysics understands the environment sufficiently to setup forecasting systems to protect assets in space (Space Weather Prediction Center), EU supporters evade demonstrating an equivalent capability, even when the data to do it are all publicly available.

* Young-Earth/Young-Universe Creationism: Young-Earth creationists try to get around technology implications of their 'science' by moving their changes back in time or far in space, such as the work by Barry Setterfield (see A Changing Speed of Light?).  However, this still creates problems for atomic/nuclear physics & applications as we detect a number of nuclear and atomic spectral lines in distant space with the same characteristics in Earth laboratories.  In this case, the safest theology are various flavors of Old-Earth Creationism (such as advocated by Reasons to Believe, etc.).

In most cases, it is difficult to get these technomystics to explain HOW many of the affected technologies actually work in their 'worldview'.  Short of claiming the technology itself is an outright fraud, the only clear answer we can get from them is that the technology does NOT work the way the physicists and engineers who designed and built the critical components say that it work and documented in many textbooks and design specifications.  I have found no examples of these technologies being developed and built by those who deny the fundamental physics, though we have many 'reinterpretations' of how these technologies work from those who, at best, were peripherally involved in the development.

Next: More exploration of the science & technology connection...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Electric Sun, Electric Comets & 'Conspiracies'

I got a good chuckle this week when I stumbled across this on the Thunderbolts Forum:
NASA Wiped Imagery of Comet Hitting Sun

Here's a few more rational evaluations:
The Electric Universe claims fail because EU supporters fail to compare this event to all the times that CMEs occur without a comet approaching the Sun.  Consider all these events from about a week in October-November 2003:

Solar storm Halloween 2003 SOHO EIT and SOHO LASCO‬

The 'snow' that strikes the camera after CMEs directed Earthward are the protons and other ions in the CME.  Some of particles scatter in the instrument at angles that let them cut across multiple pixels in the imager and create the occasional 'dash' structures that last for one image (as opposed to a comet that you would be able to track across multiple frames).

Update, June 4, 2012: Thanks to a reader who pointed me to a simple analysis of a possible comet/CME correlation on the Comets Mailing List: Sungrazer-CME statistical analysis.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Reading: "Cosmical Electrodynamics" by Alfven & Falthammer

Some time ago Dave Smith listed a few texts which were regarded by EU supporters as primary references.  There were three entries: Tony Peratt's Physics of the Plasma Universe), Cosmic Plasma by Hannes Alfven, and the Alfven & Falthammer text, Cosmical Electrodynamics, 2nd edition as EU references (see comment).

I had read Physics of the Plasma Universe some years ago.  Just recently, I finished reading the 1963 edition of Cosmical Electrodynamics (hereafter designated as CosEl for brevity).

In this text, did I find a testable model of the Electric Sun or Electric Comets?


What did I discover?

On pp 14-15, Alfven presents an example of charge separation in the solar corona and how it generates a very large voltage which will act to remove the charge separation.  This is why large charge separations cannot endure in cosmic environments, contrary to many of the claims of EU supporters (see Charge Separation in Space).  In the text, there was no mention of even the possibility that the Sun could be predominantly powered by external electric currents.  As I have documented elsewhere in this blog, Alfven was NOT a supporter of the electrically-powered solar/stellar model.

I've had some EU supporters complain about the use of the term 'ionized gas' in scientific press releases or other writing for the general public instead of 'plasma'.  I've spoken to some science writers who note that the term 'plasma' is more often associated with blood and health issues in the mind of the general public.  'Ionized gas' removes that ambiguity.  On page 134 of CosEl, even Alfven notes that 'ionized gas' and 'plasma' are often used synonymously.

In one of Alfven's papers from the 1980s (Recollection of Early Cosmic Ray Research), Alfven seems to suggest that Enrico Fermi took his idea of particle acceleration, a process that is today called Fermi Acceleration (wikipedia).  Yet on pages 38-39 of CosEl, published in 1963, Alfven describes the Fermi process with no mention of possible contributions by himself.  Why is this?  Was Alfven mis-remembering the origins of this process in the 1980s?

On pg 68-70, CosEl describes the process of radiation loss by charged particles moving in magnetic field, the origin of cyclotron (wikipedia) and synchrotron radiation (wikipedia).  This process has been identified in cosmic systems by mainstream astronomy and is credited to Alfven.  This radiation has been used as signature to identify current and electric fields in galactic jets (see Electric Universe: Measurement of the Electric Current in a Kpc-Scale Jet).  The radiation from this process was also the spike through the heart of Tony Peratt's galaxy model (Scott Rebuttal. II. The Peratt Galaxy Model vs. the Cosmic Microwave Background).  Even Peratt's own analysis revealed that current streams needed for the Peratt model should have been readily visible in the cosmic microwave background maps (Electric Universe: More data refuting the EU galaxy model), a fact repeatedly denied by EU supporters.

Chapter three goes into a derivation of the magnetohydrodynamical equations (MHD, wikipedia) and some basic applications.  Many of the examples explore the infinite conductivity/frozen-in conditions which magnetic fields can exhibit when imbedded in a highly-conductive plasma.  In spite of many of Alfven's comments to the contrary (On Frozen-In Field Lines and Field-Line Reconnection) picked up by the EU supporters (The Electric Sky, pp 120-127), this approximation is perfectly legitimate in medium and high density plasmas (CosEl, pg 191), but in low-density plasmas, such as planetary magnetospheres (wikipedia), it is probably not valid.  Many of the complaints are equivalent to claiming that we shouldn't teach projectile motion with Newtonian physics because air resistance is not included, in spite of the numerous applications where it gives results of acceptable accuracy.

On pp 121-124, Alfven discusses the Cowling theorem and the mechanisms of self-exciting dynamos.  Yet the dynamo model is strongly criticized by Donald Scott (The Electric Sky, pg 115, 127).  Despite Scott's criticisms, these dynamo models have already generated far more testable predictions ( than we've ever found from any EU 'theorist'.  Why should we believe Don Scott over Alfven on this topic?

For its day, Cosmical Electrodynamics was a perfectly good introduction to plasma physics, covering many of the aspects of charged particles in fields covered in many other plasma physics texts (such as those below from my collection).  We also see mention of early theoretical ideas and experimental work in applying kinetic theory to solving problems in plasma physics (pp 135) (see Vlasov Equation, wikipedia).  These and other techniques have improved considerably since CosEl was written in 1963, as noted by Peratt (Advances in Numerical Modeling of Astrophysical and Space Plasmas, 1997).  Today, mathematical modeling is a powerful tool for plasma physics, suitable for many engineering and commercial applications (see Electric Universe: Plasma Modeling vs. 'Mystic Plasma' and related posts).  Yet EU supporters repeatedly deny these advancements when it generates results in conflict with their cosmological claims.

I found NOTHING in CosEl that invalidates the basic tests I have done on Electric Sun models.  The fact is that CosEl repeatedly uses conservation principles in many of the analyses, just as I have done in analyzing Electric Sun models (Electric Cosmos: The Solar Resistor Model, Electric Cosmos: The Solar Capacitor Model. III),  If EU supporters want to say that my analyses are not applicable, then they are really saying that CosEl is full of nonsense.  CosEl did serve to remind me of additional plasma tests which can be applied against EU silliness such as the Electric Sun model.

Cosmical Electrodynamics provides yet another example of the disconnect of EU 'theories' with reality.  EU supporters want to present Alfven, Peratt, etc. as primary leaders in their 'science', but then want to discount the fact that much of the work by these same researchers actually DISPROVES most EU claims.

To paraphrase a recent statement by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, I'd say that EU's biggest problem is they are at war with their own talking points!

Perhaps Mr. Smith should have read Cosmical Electrodynamics more carefully before he recommended it...

References from Cosmical Electrodynamics
Modern References
  • “Computer Simulation Using Particles”  R.W. Hockney & J.W. Eastwood
  • “Plasma Physics: An Introduction to the Theory of Astrophysical, Geophysical & Laboratory Plasmas” Peter A. Sturrock
  • “Principles of Plasma Physics” Nicholas A. Krall & Alvin W. Trivelpiece
  • “Classical Electrodynamics, 2nd Edition” J.D. Jackson
Note that I have all of these references on my shelves, contrary to EU claims that astronomers don't study electrodynamics.