Posts Tagged ‘History of the Brits’

MAXWELL’S EQUATIONS

April 29, 2021

HOW THE MODERN WORLD

WORKS

The invention of the phonetic script about three and a half thousand years ago enabled humans to suddenly think about a million times better, and they took off. Likewise the invention of a script for thinking quantitatively, that is to say Mathematics , could lead to thinking of a different kind that is just as powerful. In fact it has already: Maxwell’s Equations (ME).

Some arguments are of a purely quantitative nature. For instance in our post “Civilization and Moonpower” we demonstrated that large cities not dependent on slavery only became feasible once tidal energy was harnessed, as was possible in North Western Europe, where it is far more abundant than elsewhere. Here I talk about the most momentous piece of Mathematics ever done, Maxwell’s Equations.

Maxwell’s Equations describe the interaction between Electricity, Magnetism, Space and Time. They were an attempt to write down the experimental findings of the ‘electricians’ Hans-Christian Oersted (1820) and Michael Faraday (1831) but they led to a totally unexpected insight, and thus to the modern world: “Electromagnetic waves can propagate across empty space at the speed of light”.

Out of that insight (1864) there was to come Radio (1887), Transatlantic wireless (1901), Relativity (1904), Electronics (1912), Broadcasting (1920), Television (1930), Code-breaking (1930’s onward), Radar (1935), Microwaves (1940), The Electronic Computer (1943), Communication Satellites (1960), Space Travel (1969), The Internet (1980), Mobile Phones (2000). … while the Second World War could as aptly be called ‘The Radio War’ because it was started by Radio ( broadcast hate propaganda), controlled by radio (e.g. Churchill and Roosevelt talking to their peoples), won by radar in its many guises both in defence and attack, and lost by code-breaking ( e.g. : the battles of Midway and Kursk). A huge operation like the D-Day landing would have been unthinkable without the command and control made possible by radio.

Einstein is rightly famous for his E=mc2 equation (1905) but in a sense he and others (for he was only one of several) were only adding footnotes to Maxwel’s Equations which in themselves prove that Space and TIme cannot be at all as we had thought them to be.

So what are Maxwell’s Equations? There are 4 of them actually and you can write them out in different ways using rather different vocabularies. Textbooks on Electromagnetism can make them look both galumphing and arbitrary, when, as I believe, they are inevitable; the world couldn’t have been constructed in any other way. I find that both beautiful and totally unexpected. They, and the many stories behind them, are certainly worth having a look at even if you have no ambitions to use them yourself. You can regard them like The Rosetta Stone, as a wonder to behold, though they are far far more remarkable and momentous than that iconic stone. If you don’t believe me look at:

https://mjdisney.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/MAXWELLSEQUATIONS.pdf

Yes they do look unfamiliar, even frightening, but that’s probably because you’ve been put off Mathematics by bad teaching.The world is full of Baducation and bad ideas . And one of the most debilitating , which goes back to the Ancient Greeks, is the notion that “Mathematics is Deductive in Nature”, and therefore quite different from our normal everyday Common Sense Thinking , which is Inductive. But that is a complete misconception. It’s as if the Maths teaching profession have mistaken the grocery- bill for the groceries. Don’t take my word for it: Morris Kline, that most eminent Historian of Mathematics wrote: ” “Mathematics is a human activity and is subject to all the foibles and frailties of humans. Any formal, logical account is pseudo-mathematics, a fiction, even a legend, despite the element of reason.” [‘Mathematics, The Loss of Certainty, ‘ OUP, 1986]

So many of us have been put off maths because we’ve been taught it back to front by the maths- teaching profession: deduction first, intuition afterwards. No wonder so many of us rebel. If you look at the following url you can see the Theorem that “The angles in any triangle add up to two right angles‘ being taught in the two alternative ways so that you can judge which is best for yourself:

https://mjdisney.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/dedvindmaths.docx

The consequence of all this innumeracy are fairly tragic. Most of us are innumerate and, in my opinion, innumerate people can never become wise, not any more, not in the modern world( see all the current confusion over Covid vaccination statistics). The great news is that innumeracy is by no means irreversible. Maths is a subject peculiarly suited to self-instruction over the Internet. I suggest that everyone who earns a certificate of numeracy receives an immediate grant of £15,000 while many prestige professions and jobs be reserved entirely for the numerate. Thus a large fraction of a population could become numerate at a trivial cost by comparison with many infrastructure projects. And surely widespread wisdom is more desirable than say more runways. It’s probably no accident that the most numerate people on Earth (the Japanese) are also the wealthiest (UN figures).

The consequences of all this innumeracy are fairly tragic. Most of us are innumerate, and in my opinion innumerate people can never become wise, not any more, not in the modern world ( see all the current confusion over Covid. vaccination Statistics). The good news is that innumeracy is by no means irreversible. Maths is a subject especially suited to self instruction over the internet. I suggest that everyone who can earn a certificate of numeracy receive an immediate cash award of £15,000, while many prestige jobs and professions should be reserved for the numerate. Thus much of a population could become numerate at a trivial cost: Widespread wisdom is surely more desirable than say more runways. It is probably no accident that the most numerate people on Earth (the Japanese) are also the wealthiest (UN figures).http://Baducation

If you would like to see a wide-ranging discussion of numeracy and innumeracy in the British context, taken from my book ‘History of the Brits’ (Amazon 2020) you might like to click on:

If you want to see a wide-ranging discussion of Numeracy in the British context you might like to click on:

https://mjdisney.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/HISTORY15numeracy.pdf

Anyway , for those who can appreciate them, Maxwell’s Equations are every bit as beautiful as great music, prose or poetry . They enable us to hear , in Tennyson’s words “…the horns of elfland faintly blowing….”

THE DECLINE OF GREAT BRITAIN: 1

December 16, 2020

How innumeracy has led successive British governments into disastrous economic follies.

In 1820 Britain stood, a lone Collossus, above the world. By 1920 a dozen other nations had higher per-capita GDP. In 2020 we seem even closer to the fringe of things: timid, divided, decaying, relatively impoverished and weak. What happened?

I am going to argue here , through specific examples, that having an innumerate ruling (and media) elite, as we have, is akin to being driven by a drunk.

(A) Leverage (The baboons in the reactor)

The banking crash of 2008. halted progress, stalled incomes, led to austerity, closed social programs and libraries, generated misery and uncertainty, and yet was totally avoidable. Because the ex- Chancellor Gordon Brown, and all his high-powered Treasury officials, were ignorant of simple algebra, they had allowed the Leveraging of bank loans to rise from less than 25 in 1995, already far too high as we shall calculate, to over 50 by 2008. Whatever else was going on, that was bound to lead to a crash. If Brown hadn’t been so innumerate [he did have a PhD in ‘economic history’, which probably made him unjustifiably over-confident] he might even have persuaded his US counterpart ( Alan Greenspan, another innumerate) to behave sensibly. But while Brown was boasting about his “Prudence” he had been blindly driving our bus towards the cliff edge.

A leverage of 50 allows investors to borrow 50 times their own invested capital and so, in a rising market, to double their money every year. How clever, how miraculous! But there ain’t no such things as miracles — even Gordon Brown should have known that. If the market falters, such highly leveraged investors, be they banks or individuals, can lose all their money almost overnight and default on their loans. Banks then panic or crash, and ordinary citizens who were either too wise, too moral or too poor to plunge into the fools’ bonanza, were forced to bail the greedies out. All because Brown and his Treasury wise-acres couldn’t do simple sums. If you want to see just how bloody simple that sum was go to:

https://mjdisney.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Leveragecalc.pdf

(B) Malthus’ Essay on Population.

Follies of innumeracy are by no means uncommon, or new. In 1798 the Revd. Thomas Malthus, a don at Cambridge, published his highly influential “Essay on the Principles of Population”. In it he argued that an unrestrained population would always multiply faster than its food resources, leading inevitably to starvation, to misery, and to a “struggle for existence”. In his own words this struggle entailed  “…..every cause, whether arising from vice or misery, which in any degree contributes to shorten the natural duration of human life. Under this head, therefore, may be enumerated all unwholesome occupations, severe labour and exposure to the seasons, extreme poverty, bad nursing of children, great towns, excesses of all kinds, the whole train of common diseases and epidemics, wars, plagues and famine”.

Malthus’ well-intentioned but naïve argument, was that while population increases exponentially (like flies breeding), food production increases only linearly. It was almost puerile because it ignored the fact that hungry people can often find ingenious new forms of alternative sustenance – thus displaced crofters founded the mighty Scottish herring fishery. But many influential people chose to believe Malthus’ essay, with absolutely tragic consequences for the British poor. It excused: work-houses, forcible Land Enclosures, the transportation of juvenile petty thieves, Highland clearances and so on and so on. The rich used it as an excuse for land grabs, the poor were emiserated, deprived of their livings and their homes, and even of their dignity as human beings. The equivalent of 30 % of the entire British population was forced to emigrate. Never did so little algebra generate so much unnecessary misery. It should have been a warning to all: ‘Beware economic theorists.’

This is a different kind of folly from the first in that here the elite were taken in by a naive mathematics-based essay which most of them probably couldn’t understand but which they should have and probably would have questioned had they had been more confidently numerate themselves. Alas this happens all the time: thus Reagan and Thatcher were taken in by Friedman’s fallacious ‘Monetarism’, again with miserable long-term consequences, mostly for the poor.

(C) The Disastrous Folly of Free Trade.

Malthus’ Essay was bad enough — but it was to be succeeded by much worse. In 1814 Parliament introduced the Corn Laws (i.e. imposed high tariffs on cheap imported cereals) — which enriched the landowning classes and the Church, but impoverished everyone else, especially the industrial poor. The laws were repealed in 1846, but not before they had created a weird economic dogma called “Free Trade”. A millionaire speculator in Parliament David Ricardo convinced many contemporaries that Free Trade is always essential for prosperity and progress. His argument was subtle but, like Malthus’s, far too naive in that it ignored vast factors such as employment, and infrastructure-investment. Unfortunately, subsequent academic Economists, who have a rather feeble grasp of mathematics, though they like to pretend otherwise, were wholly taken in, and what is worse, they persuaded even more innumerate politicians all over the Capitalist world, that Free Trade is good for everybody. It isn’t. It simply isn’t. If you do a proper calculation which embraces all the relevant factors, Free Trade is mostly harmful to any advanced nation like Britain .

       As a result all Britain’s great industries have either closed down, or are in the process: coal, steel, ship-building, cotton mills in Lancashire, woollen mills in Yorkshire, cars, motor-cycles, bicycles, trucks, clocks and pottery in the Midlands, white goods, aircraft, computers, electronics,…….going, going, gone. But it isn’t just Britain. Youth unemployment in France is 25%, 40% in Italy and Spain. And look at America: its great manufacturing centres such as Pittsburgh, Detroit, Cleveland….. are now part of that broken rust belt which rose in despair and voted for Trump. What have we all done to ourselves? I will argue that what the academic economists proclaim is so good for us is actually a deadly poison.

An imported commodity may be dramatically cheaper at the point of retail sale than its domestically produced equivalent. Unfortunately though imports can also have large Sunken Costs arising from losses in domestic employment, investment and profits. And none of us can afford to ignore such Sunken Costs because we will all have to stump up for them in the end in the form of extra taxes to pay for unemployment benefits, retraining and relocating workers,  lost capital and wasted infrastructure (factories, roads, schools, shops, hospitals….). And that says nothing of the misery involved in breaking up communities, families and friends. All that should be obvious; but not apparently to our Economist friends.

What needs to be made, commodity by commodity, is a calculation of the benefits of  a particular Free Trade set against the Sunken Costs which we will have to be borne by the wider community as a whole (i.e. the importing nation). That shouldn’t be too difficult – and it isn’t. I won’t bore you with the algebra at this point (which is rather simple) but you can follow it all up in detail via the links provided; and I encourage you to do so. The results though, are both dramatic and shocking — for instance just take one example: importing a car into an advanced country like Britain only makes sense if its price at the point of retail sale is at least 64% cheaper than its domestic equivalent: 64 per cent! That’s huge. But why so? Because any advanced nation like Britain has, by definition, invested a lot of money in its people and their infrastructure, and when you destroy their means of making their livings and maintaining their societies, by allowing cheaper foreign imports in, it will cost us all an awful lot to replace them. By contrast a relatively backward country like China with almost no welfare system can hugely profit from such trades. But don’t blame China; blame the innumerate economists over here who can’t do simple sums and who’s head is still buried in a dogma formed in the 1840’s during the fight over the bloody Corn Laws. The real point here is that, 160 years later, this is a very different world, but economists don’t seem capable of keeping up. The damage they have done to Britain (and elsewhere), and are still doing, is incalculable. I will say no more here because there is a separate post entitled ‘THE FOLLY OF FREE TRADE’ which includes my calculation as a url.

(D) The Immigration Fiasco.

Is a contemporary example of what a numerically ignorant ruling elite is capable, or rather incapable of — recognising a simple perilous truth, and thus doing something about it. So high has been the the immigration rate been over the past 50 years that it is equivalent to 3 British mothers out of 4 raising an extra child. If that is not “swamping” then what is? Since I have written a whole post on this, entitled ‘IMMIGRATION FIASCO’ I will say no more here. But you can see the calculation there and see if you agree.

(E) The nuclear war that hasn’t happened. Yet.

By contrast to the hideous damage innumeracy can wreak upon a nation, let’s look at even more dramatic example where numeracy may not only have saved the day but have actually preserved Life on Earth.

The most important event of the 20th century didn’t happen — Nuclear Armageddon, though it appears we came desperately, desperately close during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

In 1921 the Quaker mathematician and pacifist Lewis Fry Richardson pointed to the probable cause of the First World War — a mathematical instability in the arms race that preceded it. If nations can arm faster than they can disarm such a race will eventually explode out of control into war. But if they can disarm faster than they can arm, the race need never blow up in such an accidental way. Rightly terrified out of their wits after Cuba, the commanders on both sides, with their experts, recalled Richardson’s analysis and installed a hot-line between the White House and the Kremlin to defuse potential escalations in future. That is probably why you and I are still alive. An innumerate society with The Bomb could still put us all in the grave.

WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

Britain has been, and is being brought low by a ruling and media elite who imagine they are educated. — when they are not . While some cringers are unwilling to look at the truth (viz. on Immigration) I suspect that most of our troubles do not stem so much from cowardice as from what I call ‘Baducation’. For instance most people who have studied ‘PPE’ at Oxford (as so many of our elite have, including the Editor of The Economist ) are simply not numerate enough to grasp salient facts and arguments.

The only good news here is that if we are only willing to face the truth at last we could rapidly put things right because although Innumeracy is a highly debilitating disease it is not malignant. If we paid everyone who made the effort to learn enough to pass a basic test in Numeracy £15,000 ,we could enumerate the entire nation for less than half the cost of a third runway at Heathrow. It is no accident that the wealthiest people on Earth at present, the Japanese, are also the most numerate ( For instance they figured out the Immigration problem long ago).

In the mean time we shouldn’t listen to, and certainly shouldn’t vote for Innumerates, never mind how many PPE degrees and the like they might have got from ancient universities. They’re simply Baducated, and as such dangerous. As the world has become more sophisticated so it needs more sophisticated people to govern it. We wouldn’t accept an illiterate Cabinet; why should we accept an innumerate one?

There is much more on this topic, and possible remedies we can use, in my “History of the Brits (from a scientist’s point of view) “, described elsewhere on this site . For instance it includes chapters entitled Half Baked Economics and Baducation.

THE PARKES RADIO TELESCOPE

October 8, 2020

Parkes Radio Telescope New South Wales

The Parkes Radio Telescope in New South Wales Australia after it had been fitted with the new Multi-beam receiver system designed to pick up the Hydrogen signals from galaxies with about a thousand times the speed of any previous instrument. It has 13 separate dual-beams and 26 receivers cooled down close to absolute zero (minus 273 degrees C) up in the receiver cabin which is the size of a small house. Up there the very weak signals are mixed with a maser and the lower frequency output signals are sent down to the tower where they are processed by specially designed and very powerful digital correlators to look for the characteristic 21- centimetre wavelength signal of Cosmic Hydrogen. With it Morgan and his Australian colleagues surveyed two thirds of the sky and found over 5,000 such sources among which they hoped to find Dark Galaxies.[See Written in the Stars quartet of novels under ‘My Books’ Category]

The Dish has a romantic background. It was built by Taffy Bowen who, together with Hanbury-Brown, devised the night-fighter radar system which put an end to the Nazi blitzes in 1942. Starting at Bawdsey Manor in 1936 they devised means to cram radar systems into aircraft — which was fiendishly difficult to do in those days when radar waves were 10 metres long. But somehow, supported by Air Marshall Dowding, the head of RAF Fighter Command, they eventually did so.

In 1941 Bowen was sent to the US with his notorious ‘Suitcase Full of Secrets’ to teach the Americans how to build effective radars [See my book ‘History of the Brits‘ for that story ]. Later Bowen came to Sydney to direct the CSIRO Radiophysics Lab and the grateful Americans gave him half the money to build the Parkes dish which was completed in 1961. In 1962 Cyril Hazard from the University of Sydney used it to locate the first Quasar when the radio source 3C-273 passed behind the Moon. The disappearance and re-appearance of the radio-signal enabled Hazard to get a very precise position for it — which corresponded to that of a moderately bright star. An optical spectrum of that star showed it to have a high redshift and so to be an enormous distance away. The first Quasar Stellar Radio Source, or ‘Quasar’ had been discovered — starting off a whole new branch of Astrophysics — leading eventually to the discovery that they are Super Massive Black Holes.

Hanbury-Brown — after whom the term “Boffin” was coined, also made his name later as an astronomer in Australia. He it was who completed the night-fighter radar system which did for the Blitz and saved Britain [He features extensively in my Second World War scientific novel ‘Strangle‘ described in ‘My Books’ Category] .

The main weakness of radio telescopes is the non-existence of a ‘radio-camera’ which can look in more than one direction at once. The big box you can see at the focus was the first successful attempt at one. It has got 26 receivers looking in 13 adjacent but different directions at once — which allowed us to survey two thirds of the entire sky for Hydrogen gas in deep space — in the hope of locating Hidden Galaxies (see our Post ‘Hidden Galaxies‘). Unfortunately we then totally cocked things up by mis-identifying all the 5000 such sources we found with conspicuous optical galaxies , which is all too easy to do when galaxies are so highly clustered together in Space. Actually many of the Parkes sources are indeed dim or dark galaxies or gas clouds. Astronomy is hard….but very exciting!