Posts Tagged ‘big bang’

FUZZY THINKING AND OCKHAM’S RAZOR

November 24, 2020

Fuzzy thinking is far worse than fallacious thinking for whereas the latter may be spotted, or overturned by new evidence, the fuzzy variety may linger for millenia, causing endless harm, as we shall see.

There is a remedy against fuzzy thinking called “Ockham’s Razor (OR)” named after a mediaeval monk, though its roots stretch back into the classical world where it was labelled ‘lex parsimoniae‘ or ‘The Law of Parsimony’.

Ockham’s Razor states: “ALWAYS PREFER SIMPLE HYPOTHESES OVER COMPLEX ONES” which is easy enough to write down but damnably hard to justify. For instance both Newton and Einstein utterly relied upon it but both gave unsound reasons for doing so. Newton averred: “….for Nature is pleased with simplicity, and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.” while Einstein waffled about God. He said, with regard to his Law of Gravitation “God would not have passed up the opportunity to make nature this simple.” [As it happens she had.]

SOME TRIUMPHS OF OCKHAM’S RAZOR:

1) Heliocentrism (A Sun-centred planetary system) was first advocated in modern times by Copernicus(1543) in De Revolutionibus. He didn’t have any new observations to justify his claim (the telescope wasn’t invented for another 30 years) but it was evidently much simpler than the traditional Earth -centred scheme, which needed twice as many arbitrary parameters to square it with the facts. [Confirmation only came in 1609 when Galileo with his spyglass spotted that Venus exhibited changing crescent- phases as it orbited the Sun.]

2) Newton recognised that the theory of Gravitation he proposed to explain the dynamics of the Solar System was ridiculous. He wrote: “That Gravity should be innate, inherent and essential to Matter so that one body should act upon another at a distance through a Vacuum, without the Mediation of anything else, by and which through their Action and Force may be conveyed from one to another, is to me so great an Absurdity that I believe that no Man who in philosophical matters has a competent Faculty of thinking can ever fall into it.” Nevertheless that one simple law explained so many things about the heavens and about he Earth that it was quickly and universally accepted…. because it was so parsimonious.

3) In his Origin of Species (1859) Darwin acknowledged that there were so many difficulties with his hypothesis of Evolution that he wrote in his conclusions: “That many and grave objections may be raised against the theory of descent with modification through natural selection, I do not deny. And I endeavour to give them full force.” And he did. Nevertheless many readers came to accept it rather than ascribing every peculiarity of Nature as due to a special intercession by God. Again because it was so much more parsimonious. And in the fullness of time ( a century) the various objections to Natural Selection melted away as Radioactivity and Continental Drift came to light.

4) It was Henri Poincare’ (1904) who first realised that the grave difficulties which then faced Physics could be resolved by accepting the Lorenz Transformations and modifying Newton’s Laws of Motion to agree with them. This is called ‘The Theory of Special Relativity’. However Einstein got the credit for it a year later by making a single outrageous assumption: “The speed of light is constant for all observers”, which was much less satisfactory from a philosophical point of view– but oh so much simpler algebraically. As in Newton’s case one outrageous assumption explained and predicted a thousand surprising observations: parsimony again.

5) And Parsimony isn’t just about science. Not at all. Take for example Military Intelligence. R.V.Jones who was head of Air Ministry Intelligence during the SWW, and who was responsible for the threats to the UK of Nazi bombing, radar, the V1 and the V2 missiles , later wrote a very fascinating book about his experiences ‘Most Secret War‘. In his summary at the end he calls Ockham’s Razor : “The Cardinal Principle of Military Intelligence.”

SOME FUZZY TRAGEDIES

1) The Four Elements was an idea promulgated by Aristotle around 300 BC in which all substances were supposed to be composed of a mixture of Earth, Water, Air and Fire. By adjusting this hypothetical mixture, and a deal of plausible sophistry, the old thinkers could explain everything – and therefore nothing. So long as it was widely believed, serious chemistry was unnecessary and therefore unpursued. This monster was a many headed gorgon bristling with free parameters. Whenever something didn’t fit you ascribed further properties (parameters) to your 4 imaginary elements and lo everything could be made to fit once again. Thus it couldn’t be overturned; because it was too fuzzy.

What we  would call Chemistry was ruled for over 2000 years by Aristotle’s hypothesis. Almost no material evidence supported his scheme but it appealed to religions such as Christianity and Islam looking for a comforting order to life. It wasn’t overturned so much as left behind by crisis, the firewood crisis which struck Britain in the 18th century after it had cut down most of its forests to build houses and ships. A new source of power had to be found and the mining of coal led to a desperate search for new materials and new contrivances such as pumps to stop the mines flooding. Experiments were necessary, and from experiments came evidence that made no sense within Aristotle’s fuzzy scheme. For instance burned in air some substances became heavier not lighter. And careful balance measurements initiated by Joseph Black in Glasgow University (1750, the English universities didn’t teach science then!) showed that substances combined in precise ratios to form compounds. Out of such observations the notions of atoms and molecules grew. These in turn gave rise to materials of great strength like steel, and to new compounds of great value such as artificial dyes. Crisis, experiment, discovery, understanding, wealth: The infinitely flexible, therefore unprogressive chemistry of Aristotle was simply left behind as unprofitable.

(B) The Four Humours was another fuzzy Greek hypothesis which held up progress for 2 millenia. Modelled on the Four Elements it imagined that health was determined by a balance of four liquids: choler, melancholer, phlegm and blood. Physicians who were learned in such jiggery-pokery dosed us, leeched us and charged us, shortening our lives as they impoverished our purses. Again the hypothesis was immune to criticism because it was infinitely adaptable. In place of bones it had an infinitude of free paramaters –  and what was more could earn good money. Again it couldn’t be displaced by evidence, being infinitely flexible. It was gradually superseded by more useful notions about physiology such as the germ theory of disease, a direct result of the invention of the microscope. But Greek Medicine held up real medicine for twenty centuries

(C) The ‘Argument by Design’ opined that all things wise and wonderful, all creatures great and small, were instances of The Creator’s wonderful powers of invention. After all no other cause could be imagined for the intricacies of Nature’s architecture, from the perfect spiral of a sea shell to the extravagance of a Rainbow Lorikeet’s plumage. Science at the ancient universities, even to the end of the nineteenth century, was solely aimed at uncovering such wonderful manifestations of the Almighty. Since nothing was outside His powers everything could be explained. There was no possibility of bringing Him down, since nothing was beyond Him, even burying fossils of inexplicable design merely to challenge our faith in Him. This ‘Argument by Design’ could have been rejected by nothing else but Parsimony, by the discovery of an alternative theory which was simpler, far simpler than a Great Designer in the Sky. And so it eventually was (see Darwin above) The trouble with Him was that he had an infinite number of free parameters (fudge factors).

RELIGION AND FUZZY THINKING

To my mind the greatest obstacle to progress in Western Society was Christianity. Forced upon the Roman Empire by Constantine on his deathbed (337 AD) in return for ‘absolution’ for his sins (he’d murdered his wife and son) it brought Thinking to an abrupt end for over a thousand years for, as Saint Augustine its early theologian wrote (~400 AD) : “There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger. This is the disease of curiosity ……It is this which drives us to try and discover the secrets of nature, those secrets which are beyond our understanding, which can avail us nothing and which man should not wish to learn.” Shortly afterwards Christians burned down the Great Library in Alexandria and executed its head by torture.

With no good evidence for its core belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God Christianity (and other Abrahamic religions) at least offered a very desirable and necessary explanation for “the wonders of Nature” [see ‘The Argument by Design’ above]. But when Darwin and Parsimony had punctured that, thoughtful Christians, like the Bishop of Worcester’s wife, knew that Christianity’s days were numbered. As she put it : “Dear me, let us hope it is not true. But if it is true, let us hope it does not become widely known.”

BUT WHY WAS OCKHAM RIGHT?

Why should anyone accept Ockham’s Razor? That’s the central point. All the explanations I have examined are either unconvincing, or go off into stratospheric mathematics — which is the same thing. The problem is that anything as fundamental as Ockham’s Razor has to be grounded on a clear understanding of Common Sense — which was lacking. Put it another way: any claim to understand Common Sense Thinking must lead to a crystal clear explanation for OR. But don’t expect it to be simple or obvious — otherwise it would have popped out of the woodwork long since.

The secret, as always, turned out to be The Detective’s Equation (DE). Whenever you are trying to understand Hypothesis Testing, which is surely the aim, the DE can be used to calculate the Odds for or against the hypothesis under test, whenever the evidence and the assumptions are changed. So you can play around and find out what adds to one’s certainties and what subtracts, and out of such calculations Ockham’s Razor gradually emerged from the shadows. The best reason to believe any hypothesis is that it fits the existing evidence better than it has any right to do by chance. A simple hypothesis has little chance of fitting more complex data unless it is actually right, whereas a complex hypothesis deliberately contrived to fit it is hardly convincing. Much the best way to understand how things work is to look at a specific example, and we shall go through one in detail below while there is a whole chapter in my book Thinking for Ourselves about OR and its multifarious implications.

Because most scientists still don’t understand CST they don’t realize just how counterproductive it is to complexify their pet theories to fit new but inconvenient facts. Thus Big Bang Cosmology has been so seriously challenged by modern observations that cosmologists have been forced to fuzzify it with strange new parameters like Dark Energy, without realising that in doing so they’ve entirely undermined its credibility.

CONCLUSIONS

Once a hypothesis conflicts with the facts it cannot be left unmodified. But fixing it by introducing arbitrary modifications one by one to remove the separate discrepancies won’t work either because each such mod. will weaken the odds on the hypothesis overall. Only if one can find a mod. which offers to clear up several discrepancies at once should it be seriously considered. Of course that will be much harder — but nevertheless that is the challenge.

Applied to Big Bang Cosmology (BBC), Inflation (to fix isotropy), Cold Dark Matter (to fix galaxy-formation) and Dark Energy (to fix acceleration) shouldn’t be considered seriously because none was ambitious enough to fix more than one serious discrepancy. It was, and is, much healthier to admit that as it stands BBC is seriously at variance with the facts (observations). Some of it might be right ( e.g. expansion) and it is certainly hard to think of a plausible alternative. But it is much healthier for now to admit that BBC has failed. Trying to keep it alive, (Like Ancient Greek medicine) is the kind of fuzzy thinking which can hold up progress for generations, millennia perhaps. BBC has failed — we’ve got to start again.

Looking at the wider picture beyond Cosmology, we can see just how fundamental Ockham’s Razor must be to clear thinking of all kinds, from Astronomy to Military Intelligence. What was lacking was a transparent explanation of just how and why it works, but now the Detective’s Equation (i.e. Common Sense) has supplied that.

Ockham’s Razor must surely be one of the cornerstones of all serious systems of thought, including Common Sense .

My detailed explanation of why Ockham’s Razor works is given at:

https://mjdisney.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/scamsmv5.pdf

The best reference on the history and influence of Ockham’s Razor that I know of is Chapter 8 of Hugh Gauch Jr.’s volume “Scientific Method in Practice” CUP 2003. He goes so far as to say. “…. the scientific enterprise has never produced and never will produce a single conclusion without invoking parsimony. It is absolutely essential and pervasive.”

A readable but sceptical account of Big Bang Cosmology is In Search of the True Universe, by Martin Harwit, CUP 2013

P.S. Is there a quick way to check whether some hypothesis is unhealthily fuzzy? I believe there is: find out how many Free Parameters it has. BBC has 18. But so does The Standard Model of Particle Physics. That makes one wonder. That seems to be stuck in a cul-de-sac too: no exciting developments since the 1970’s . Umm. Do Quarks really exist? No one has actually captured one.[Constructing Quarks, by Andrew Pickering, Univ. Chicago Pr. 1984, makes for provocative reading].

THE SCEPTICAL COSMOLOGIST

October 13, 2020

 

Somebody said, Einstein I believe: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science .” And no subject is so imbued with profound mysteries as Cosmology – despite what some glib professionals would have us believe.

Think of Cosmology’s Big Questions:

1) Why is the sky dark at night – if the universe is infinite?

2)  Why do distant galaxies have highly red-shifted Spectra?

3) Is the universe changing, and did it have a beginning?

4) What is the source of the powerful cosmic background radiation which glows in all directions?

(5) How can that radiation be so uniform (To one part in a hundred thousand) if the speed of light is finite – which it definitely is?

(6) If the universe is expanding in a hot Big Bang – which so many professionals maintain – then how did flimsy structures like galaxies form out of it? Nascent galaxies should have been torn to bits by radiation pressure.

(7) When you slam the brakes on  in your car, why does your head jerk forwards ? It is being violently decelerated, but decelerated relative to what? It turns out that it is being decelerated  with respect, not to the Earth,  but to the distant stars. But how does it know that? ( ‘The Problem of Inertia’ ). In other words what is the physical mechanism that  must connect your head to the stars?

These are all profound and mysterious questions to which science has so far been able to offer only fumbling answers  –   despite what some cosmology-priests would like us to believe: “The universe is expanding,”  they say, “There was a Big Bang, Space – Time is curved, and we’ve got answers to all, or nearly all those other awkward questions too – Cold Dark Matter, Inflation, Dark Energy……”

Don’t believe them. Cosmology is an extraordinary difficult subject if only because it lies at the nexus of so many others: Astronomy, Physics, Mathematics, Philosophy, Sociology, Instrumentation, Computer -simulation…… Of the sixty different civilisations we know of, every single one has come up with a cosmology of sorts – it seems to be a necessity for the human psyche. And that leaves room for a priesthood only too eager to supply one.

To keep a sense of proportion it is worth recalling some recent cosmological follies:

Thinking of Time as linear: “We’re already back to within three minutes of the Big Bang” they say  – when, in the cosmological  context, Time is surely logarithmic. In logarithmic Time the Cosmos was completely opaque throughout the first 43 decades of its 60 decades of existence. Its origins will therefore be veiled  beyond our sight – probably for ever.

If galaxy redshifts are not the Doppler effect in action – which apparently they are not – then what causes them? Yes, they come out of the mathematics (the ‘Robertson – Walker – Metric’), but that is hardly Physics.

Once the impossibility of forming galaxies in a Big Bang cosmology was recognised, an ingenious new substance christened ‘Cold Dark Matter’(CDM) was conjured up to solve it. Elaborate computer  simulations were offered as proof that CDM works. But it doesn’t. Observed galaxies look nothing like the CDM variety; nothing like1. Yet the cognoscenti refuse to admit it.

Everyone agreed that gravity ought to slow expansion down but when the slowing was looked for it wasn’t there. On the contrary. Expansion had apparently accelerated – and in recent times too. This called for another improbable miracle: Dark Energy – whatever that is.

If expansion of the entire universe does seem  a mite implausible – we do have an acid test for it – the Tolman Test devised in the 1930’s [distant galaxies should dim as the fourth power of their redshifts]. But one glance at the Hubble Deep Field (below) demonstrates that there is no such dimming – it falls short of the required  amount by  a factor of no less than 10,000! But professional astronomers  won’t talk about that. Why not?

           In short Cosmology appears to have been regressing of late because some of its  most vocal proponents appear not to appreciate  a truly  fundamental principle of Philosophy – Ockham’s Razor. Every time you complexify a theory by introducing a new Free Parameter (such as Dark Energy) to solve one problematical feature of it, you fundamentally weaken that theory. So one is only justified in doing so if at the same time that Free Parameter illuminates other entirely new and favourable evidence which more than compensates for the weakening inevitably involved. CDM, Inflation and Dark Energy do not meet that criterion  – and so should be rejected.

           I have been an enthusiastic follower of Cosmology since I was a boy. I even taught  myself Tensor Calculus at age fifteen in order to read Einstein’s original papers. I’ve been a professional extragalactic astronomer for much of my life and have been to some of the big cosmology conferences – including one in the Vatican ( see my book Crouching Giant),  even taught it at university when nobody else would  – but have  become gradually more and more sceptical of the subject as the years roll by. Yes there are some strong arguments in favour of  Big Bang Cosmology – but there are even more against. To come to a measured  view of the whole subject one  needs to weigh them against one another  using Common Sense. When I do so the Odds come out at over hundred to one against Big Bang Cosmology being  broadly right( See another post here entitled  The Scientific Method.) Some aspects of it are probably sound, but which ones?

I’m not suggesting we should abandon  Cosmology as a subject  –  on the contrary. We should study its mysteries with ever more ingenious techniques and instruments. Equally though we need to be  alert  to the crippling weaknesses of the current paradigm. If we close our ears to them, as so many professionals at present do, we could miss some subtle but tremendous secret the real universe is trying to whisper in our ear. As Daniel  Boorstin wrote in The Discoverers: “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion  of knowledge.” I believe we all need to become sceptical cosmologists now; most especially professionals.

Hubble Ultra Deep Field. Courtesy ESA/NASA

If you examine this extremely deep image taken with the Hubble Space Telescope almost every object on it is a galaxy . The small images are much further away and have high redshifts. But if those redshifts were due to expansion of the universe then those small images should be so dim as to be invisible. But as you can see they are nothing of the kind. This is a complete shock. On the face of it at least Cosmic Expansion has failed the classical test set for it — ‘The Tolman Effect’ by a factor of 10,000!

On the face of it then the Universe cannot be expanding! After all such dimming was the classic test for expansion proposed by Richard Tolman back in the 1930s when we didn’t have the means to apply it. But now we have, and the universe has spectacularly failed it. But nobody, at least no professional, wants to talk about it, Umm.

I go into the stories behind the Hubble deep pictures in the last 2 books in my quartet ‘Written in the Stars entitled’ : Crouching Giant and Beyond the Western Stars. [See under ‘my books’ Category on this site.

NB You can see hundreds of HST images at stsci.edu, nasa.gov. or eso.org.

Ref 1: Disney M J et al: 2008, Nature, 455, 1082-4, Galaxies appear simpler than expected.

If you want to see the author talking about Cosmology and galaxies there is a 45 minute Youtube video of him being interviewed by the Physicist and Author Alexander Unzicker about 3 years ago at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KskJrJmfr34