13 September, 2012

Brian Cox: A Wonder of the Universe and His Reification of Time

Brian Cox: Wonders of the Universe

As is usual whenever I am watching that shining star of TV Science, Brian Cox, delivering yet another repeat of one his many programmes “explaining” the intricacies of Modern Particle Physics to the uninitiated, I'm afraid that I cannot help but get very angry.

For, in spite of his status as a professor in a prestigious British University, and his high level work both in America and at CERN with the Large Hadron Collider, he continues, in spite of the acclaim he evidently receives, to be a very poor scientist.

But, it is not, I suppose, entirely his fault alone.
For the vast majority of his colleagues and predecessors over the past eighty-odd years certainly believe in exactly the same things and stand upon the very same ground and assumptions as does he.

All of them, when pressed to “explain” their area of study, are sure to resort to the same sort of narratives about what has been going on in the Universe since their (almost holy) Big Bang - the universally agreed Origin of Everything. And, lets face it, such a significant group delivering such a wide-ranging account, is almost certain to steam-roller through almost any possible complaints and queries of a puzzled and uninitiated public.

And these scientists know this.

They are aware that though they are more than satisfied with what they are doing and the way that they are doing it, that is still not sufficient for the general public. The plethora of these TV spectaculars and many similar articles proves that the final establishment of these ideas cannot yet be said to be totally complete.

So, the reasons for my disgust, is not only at this current “scientific consensus”, but also that it attempts to prohibit the very standpoint and method that made Science the Glory it had become in the past. And finally, I get really angry at Brian Cox’s attempt to blind us with his mammoth pile of 20th century “scientific inventions”, to give that final extra credence, to the currently agreed consensus.

But, you might with justice ask, “How can the scientists of the past have been so marvelous, and those of today be so bad?” It is a fair question, and to answer it must involve the exposure of the gigantic Crisis in Physics of the early 20th century, stemming from the discovery and definition of the Quantum.

For 30 years, contradiction after contradiction quickly removed plank after plank of the previously considered banker assumptions, and, in the mounting tumult, two rival groups battled for domination.

One Group, the traditionalists, was led by Albert Einstein and many top physicists, while the other group, the “revolutionists”, was led by Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, who pressed for a totally “new” approach.
And the acceleration of the decline occurred when the Solvay Conference in 1927 led to the defeat of the traditionalists and the triumph of those led by Bohr.

Amazingly, on the basis of the evident inability of Science to solve the contradictions exposed over this extensive period, the new group suggested that the old approach involving Explanation, must be not only abandoned, but also actually prohibited. The alternative to the inadequacies of the past was proclaimed to be The Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Theory. And, in spite of the obvious prestige of their opponents, this group carried the day entirely upon pragmatic grounds.

“Why did you need Explanation, when you could find formal ways of predicting things adequately for use?”, was their basis. The “new men”, in spite of their “radical” stance, still could not cope with the Quantum in terms of any sort of consistent and coherent explanations: so explanation must be dispensed with! No matter how they had tried, it just didn’t seem to make explanatory sense. Particles could act like waves, and waves could act like particles, and what was evidently exactly the “same thing”, could switch between these two “modes” in merely different circumstances. “The Wave/Particle Duality has killed explanation”, they insisted. And their conclusion was that Mankind would never, and indeed, could never; explain things at this level of Reality. ALL Explanation had to be abandoned as being “beyond our ken!”.

But there were very long-standing reasons why this retreat was lauded as a “Revolution”! For many centuries most scientists had always been content with extracting relations from Reality, and finding Forms that would fit such “real data”, for they knew how to tailor such Forms into useable Equations, with which they could confidently predict for any chosen conditions. If they couldn’t explain but they could predict, that was considered enough! It was certainly the view of the Engineers, during that enormous period of dramatic progress, termed the Industrial Revolution.

And this remained true after the both the Quantum Crisis and the Copenhagen “revolution”.  BUT, and it is a very big BUT, though they could still predict; it was of a very different kind. For the first time NO accompanying explanatory narrative was possible. Only Equations remained! Scientists had to take what these meant on trust, and this released them to use literally any Forms that could be made to fit the data. For example, Wave Equations, which classically could give the amplitudes at a given point at a subsequent given time, were now radically re-used to give probabilities for all possible “particle” positions throughout a whole wave, as to whether it would be there at a given time. It was certainly NOT how such equations had been used before, but it did allow a kind of prediction that could indeed be effectively used.

Probabilities and Statistics had long been developed to do similar things for random sets of events, like the throw of dice, of the turn of a playing card, but these were of very special cases with sets of equally likely events or what would be most probable knowing many prior cases. And it was this pure Mathematics that the New Men of Science integrated into their Wave Equations. As with the Ptolemaic theory of the planets, they had found a mathematical method that could predict perfectly, but was entirely wrong in any associated  “explanatory” narrative! In the very same way, they didn’t know why, but they had a handle on how!

Now, it is quite clear that any dyed-in-the-wool pragmatist may well wonder why this was so reprehensible, and the answer is that all Explanations – Physical Theories, were henceforth being rejected as invention, and mere man-made constructs, and the only way to deal with experimental data was to extract from it Natural Law. And in consequence it was now deemed that such laws, themselves, made things happen. Things obeyed the Natural Laws of Reality: Equations gave you everything that you needed. They were no longer mere descriptions – Pure Forms, but had been transformed into supposedly driving essences that made Reality what it was. The materialist basis of Science had been abandoned for a Kantian form of idealism.

And it turned out to be much worse than even that!
For instead of experiments being devised to deliver new knowledge, relations and patterns, and hence allow major improvements in old explanatory theories, or even complete replacements, things were turned completely around.

The ONLY reliable place to even search for new forms, processes and even “entities” was deemed to be within the Equations themselves! From a Real World based discipline, Science was transformed into one where equations were the sole reliable source for any developments in what was now called “Theory”. And it was from them that all sorts of new properties and even “new” entities were identified and became the contents of new “theories”.

This negated the whole basis of prior Science and theories, which had always involved causal explanations, but these were dumped, and instead equations derived from data, were henceforth dubbed as “theories” in themselves. But, of course, all equations are only overall purely formal descriptions of the patterns displayed, so this New Science was not resident in Reality, but a reflection of it in that very different World – that of Pure Form alone – indeed in Ideality!

Now, though curtailed, the above reasonably extensive preface was essential to establish the ground from which our TV star must be criticised.

Brian Cox is most certainly of the Copenhagen School. And though mammoth experiments are still conducted by this School, they are almost exclusively in High Energy Accelerators, where particles are smashed together at ever-higher speeds and energies, in order to find from among the shattered debris of the consequent destruction, some “new entities”. And these must match to the forms devised by “theorists” from Equations. The “Higgs Boson” is just such an extraction, and the LHC was expressly designed and built to find this crucial and purely theoretically devised particle, which the new theorists say was the basis for the first appearance of Matter itself in the Universe, during the first fractions of a second of the Big Bang.

Now, it must be stressed that this whole group of physicists DO NOT explain phenomena, as they would have attempted to do before Copenhagen. They, when asked, would immediately produce equations and with a series of these alone show that their experiments matched to the Forms involved.

Now, Cox, to his credit, knew that he could not do this in a TV programme.
He knew that his TV audience would not know what he was on about, if all he could offer were equations. They didn’t dwell in Ideality as he was pleased to do, but in concrete Reality. So, he attempted to explain the new physics, and his only available method was to avoid Theory (in the previous explanatory sense), and instead revert to the oldest methods of Science – the use of Analogies.

NOTE: In an episode of the TV quiz show QI, wherein Brian Cox was a member of the panel, and Sub Atomic Physics “came up”, one of the comedians, who were amazed at what Cox had to say, insisted that she only understood anything in terms of Analogies! And that turned out to be Cox’s own solution to “explaining things” too.

Cox also, rather cleverly, looked for his analogies in the most devastatingly magnificent scenery of the Natural World and seen Universe. In “illustrating” what is basically Ideality, he walked through multiple natural scenes, or showed images or animations of elements in the Heavens, and made his various analogies with parts of these breathtaking images, to infer that real ground lay behind his almost beyond-belief ideas.

Crucially, in the episode that I have been watching, he was attempting to explain the origin of all the known elements in the universe via Fred Hoyle’s brilliant theories involving Nuclear Fusion in Stars.
Now, this is certainly very important stuff, but though he knew all the relevant equations he had to deliver some sort of “explanatory narrative” via his analogies. He had to show how all the elements came originally from Hydrogen nuclei in the core of the first stars, and then subsequently in a series of later revolutionary reformulations of such stars. But, it is clear that he was (and usually is) in deep trouble with this. He just couldn’t find an analogy that had any merit at all! So he ended up with attempts that were, to say the least, pathetic.

He initially used soap bubbles created by the usual child’s toy – by blowing through a small plastic hoop that had been dipped in a strong soap solution, Now these individual bubbles would occasionally stick together to form pairs, triplets and higher order collections, which he mapped onto the various nuclei of the elements.
But Hoyle’s mechanism was Nuclear Fusion, and soap bubbles were in NO way at all similar to that process. There was nothing in common with the real thing except arithmetic.

Now, such was never the scientific use of analogy, so it must be said to have totally failed to deliver on this phenomenon. But, he isn’t alone. This generation of scientists can only describe the appearance of things and never explain. So Cox’s soap bubbles were a kind of description, if a poor one. Any attempt at delivering a cause to the uninitiated, was made even more difficult by the prohibition of such things. Handicapped by not being able to use equations, and banned from explanatory theories, Cox could only give a purely descriptive model.

A little later in the same day, this writer caught another of Cox’s Wonders of the Universe episodes, and in this he was exposing the nature of what he called Deep Time.

Now, of course, the everyday conception of things sees such a tiny sliver of time, that what is changing (i.e. everything) appears instead to be totally constant, and Cox correctly exposed that, in many areas, only the study of things over truly colossal periods of time could expose what was actually going on. But, even this could mislead...

As time is expanded, for many iterations, all that becomes evident is “change” – and seemingly in small increments. The really big and radically transforming changes only appear in the record as inexplicable discontinuities. So, it was important that he also correctly showed that studying the Heavens allowed this like no other possible investigation, because the further that you looked into Space, the further back in time was what you saw. [This was because of the finite Speed of Light]. And, by far the most revealing content of studying the Heavens over vast periods of time even though the observer is fixed in NOW, meant that the cataclysmic changes could be actually observed. The most telling of these are, of course, the Supernovae.

But, sadly it must be said, he then went on to ascribe what happened over billions of years to... Time itself(?).

He made Time the cause(?) of the developments.

You may not believe this so I suggest that you look at his programme and notice how he talks about Time in dealing with the evident history of Reality as revealed in the Heavens. For here you cannot use complication and incremental inconsequential changes to “add up” to all major Qualitative Transformations.

Clearly, even with Cox’s own descriptions, the History of Stars is a drama of periodic catastrophe and re-igniting upon an entirely new basis, and finally in Supernovae. Reality actually develops qualitatively via Emergent Events!

Yet he felt he had to subordinate what he was describing to his Natural Laws, which are eternal and are expected to produce everything automatically at every consequent level.

So he settled upon Time itself as the active agent.

Sad isn’t it?

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