Thursday, March 9, 2017

Whoah! Settle down little scientists! A tale of Ptolemaic, Copernican, Newtonian and Einsteinian Denialism

Wrote this in my snow cave phase.

There has been a lot of loose talk thrown around about people being 'deniers' of this or that - but principally of the theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming.  Whatever your view on that subject it seems to me we should have some humility about what we think we know given how often and far our understanding of reality changes not to mention all those who have been persecuted for holding the 'wrong' views. This tongue in cheek review of celestial mechanics and physics hopefully helps remind how temporary and contingent certainty and settle science really are.  Or at least makes some of you smile.

Bow wow Ow!
Before Ptolemy came along with his really stupid name, the dominant theory of celestial mechanics was that stars were God's 'daisy chain' and every time an Angel shed a wee tear, another one was 'born'. Indeed the science had been 'settled' on this "Wodehousian construct" for millennia. But Ptolemy disagreed and for his insolence was branded a Daisy Chain 'denier' by the leading scientific bodies of ancient Egypt - dogs. Or technically Mann-Dogs. Usually in such a 'progressive' age the denier of scientific orthodoxy would have disappeared from the debate without a trace, presumably into some Pharoah's tomb despite the fact that unlike the Pharoah in question the denier was not technically 'dead'. But Ptolemy was fortunate to be born in Greek Alexandria when the Romans ran the show and the Romans, not being particularly fond of traditional Egyptian religion, sent some of their legionnaires wielding rolled up Sunday Papyri to persuade the pooch priests of their error thereby establishing new 'settled' science.

This science stayed nice and settled for a long time with only the occasional Ancient Academy of Sorcerers and Scientists beheading or crucifixion to see off the odd denier. The theory even survived the rise and fall of the bacchanalian 'party hearty' theories of the Romans when so many established truths became a bit fuzzy and unstable, particularly in the morning. Even the Huns bought the Ptolemaic line although they couldn't pronounce, much less spell it, however, as was typical, the Ostragoths were ostracized

Oh poop!  I'm Passe.
And then a nearsighted priest named Copernicus, a Pole who was so blind that he spent all his time looking through spyglasses up at the sky rather than where the heck he was going - comes up with this crazy idea that 'Earth you know, is just this planet' upon which the scientific, priestly establishment blew hot steaming chunks of anathema. Because the 'wee' earth theory was clearly even crazier the old 'wee' angel tear model of the universe. The Ptolemaic establishment was able to see off such ridiculous denialism with only the occasional singed denier so long as the theory was presented in Polish or in Copernicus' execrable and oh so declasse Polack-Latin. But once the Italians - who believe it or not were the 'go-to' hepcats of high tech back then - could decipher for the Pope the Pole's priestly patter Ptolemy's period of planetery preeminnce was...passe.

Tetherballs.  It's all tetherballs these days.
A chappie named Galileo Galilei was instrumental in unsettling the Ptolemaic consensus. It seems at that time a lot of your hipper, more dialed in priests and laymen in Italy surreptitiously bought Copernicus' theory. Particularly after Galileo illustrated the theory in tetherball terms to a Curia that was mad for the sport. But the times being what they were and Polacks being, you know, Polish they were reluctant to risk their 'street cred' and A list status just because someone from Cracow was right about reality. They needed a sign from above that the Copernican construct was 'cool'. Particularly from the Pope who for various obscure reasons like having signing authority for all of God's money for the entire Earth was important to the very hip. But the Pope being very Right Wing (after all, he works for God) was reluctant to accept the new idea and risk his awesome Pope-gig. So Galileo 'took the fall' for ‘team tetherball’ so to speak, getting brought up on charges of Ptolemaic denialism and a prejudicial preference for polish pronunciation and for his effrontery was exiled to Siena. Siena. The second city of Tuscany. The same Tuscany where the Tuscan state fair was held every year and instead of Hog Husbandry the Future Farmers of Tuscany held competitions in vintage wine and cheese making. Awesome wine and cheese that goes great with a mushroom risotto. Apparently exiling Galileo to Tuscany was like sentencing him to six months hard leisure at the Santa Barbara Biltmore Spa and Resort. In effect the Pope was saying - without saying so out loud - 'two thumbs up, way up'.

Oh Gally!
So Copernicus' new theory won. But all of the credit and resulting equity upside was captured by his Italian VC the heretofore obscure firm of Galileo, Borgia & Pope. So Galileo had it made: the top new scientific theory in the world, Papal sponsorship for his fund and its rather 'sharp' dealing, the Borgia's on your side which made mealtime so much less fraught and all the time in the world to work on, I mean paint this hot, I mean intriguing new subject nicknamed “Mona” Lisa and boy was Galileo going to try. And all because he knew his tetherball.

And then the protestants blew it all to hell.

I don't care a fig about Newton or his stupid theory
Specifically one protestant: Isaac Newton was an Englishman who taught Lord knows what (honest! - he taught theology) at Cambridge while he was rethinking the foundations of the universe, inventing his own new branch of mathematics and dodging falling apples. The Cambridge establishment didn't really know what to make of this fruit fleeing wunderkund who supposedly discovered that 'apples fall from trees' which any bloody fool could have figured out with out calling it a sodding "Principia".  But an English win is an English win no matter how obscure the sport so "jolly good shows" all around!

Watch out! Apples!
But imagine the reaction of GB&P (GG having died while - reportedly - trying to help Lisa live up to her nickname) when they got the news that Newton had discovered the secret to celestial mechanics and in doing so had just happened to invent both classical physics and the calculus thereby wrecking their CoperniCo copyrights. I imagine that they had the same reaction that college freshmen do when they come face to face with The Calculus for the first time: "What the fuck? I mean what the fucking fuck?” Which is of course the classic Anglo Saxon reaction to being asked to undertake any intellectual exercise: beery prose filled to brim with all the nuance and subtlety of an English Football hooligan.

But GB&P being more Romano-Parmesan than Anglo-Saxon responded with a more nuanced, Machiavellian manner:  Che cazzo? Voglio dire che il cazzo cazzo?  (Everything sounds sexier in Italian).  After the Romano-Parmesanisms were done they began working the 'effing protestant' angle.  Which was the novel theory that protestants weren't just hell bent sinners but in fact hell bent thinkers and they pointed to the calculus with all of its inexplicable sigmas and functions and integrals and differentials as just the sort of incomprehensible gobbledygook that Satan would produce if he wanted to confuse the faithful.  After all, counting on those Anglican bastards to pass you in calculus could lead to a serious priest shortage.

So they worked the ad-anglican angle hard while feverishly casting about for their own Newtonian or more accurately, Salamandraeian champion - someone "of the faith" who could do the voodoo that only Newton could doodoo so well.  And try as they might they kept coming up snake eyes - for a while they thought that Tycho Brahe - the noseless Nostradamus of the north and his loopy Tychonic system (honest, it was based on geometric loops) was going to save them but in the end they had to admit that all of the cazzo calculus crap made perfect celestial predictions and that the ingelese interloper had it right.  What really threw them was that Leibnitz - another protestant had also invented the calculus at the same time and all of a sudden it seemed like protestant inventors of new branches of mathematics and physics were becoming as common as fleas on a Pope and they needed to change the subject pronto.  So they relaunched that perennial favorite the Inquisition and a good time was had by all.

Nobody expects a relaunch of the
So anyway, Isaac Newton became Sir Isaac Newton and went on to make exciting discoveries in optics and fig filled biscuits and died a happy Cambridge Don as opposed to a Cambridge Ike as one would have reasonably expected. And Cambridge really dug their Distinguished Don and lorded him over Oxford who at the time was trying to present Tycho Brahe's fake nose as a major biomedical innovation and not having much luck. And so things went on like this for a couple centuries - Cambridge on top, then Oxford, and so on and so forth until the Swiss Patent Service inexplicably butted into a game heretofore reserved for tweedy chaps with tenure at snotty English universities.  

But Albert Einstein was a clerk of a different...patent classification, I guess.  Einstein had the odd bit of trouble differentiating the German umlaut from the English colon which made him a lousy patent clerk - second class.  But that patent weakness happened to be the very same psycho-spacio inversion that allowed him to visualize the space-time continuum.  And as a result of his disability he came up with a couple theories that to be frank, were seriously bent.  For example according to Einstein when you are standing still and I pop you one right in the kisser your kisser is moving relative to my hand even as I am moving my hand to hit your kisser which is ridiculous since you're the one who falls like a sack of potatoes, not me.  Or the idea that the faster I run, the heavier I get - I mean you could go into any Bernese bar and grill and see guys sitting on their ass getting more massive by the minute.  And then there are all these examples with sliced bread in them, what in the hell does sliced bread have to do with the space time continuum?  Yet the calculus and all of these physics Poindexters say that I shouldn't trust my lyin' eyes and if I do then I've become the science denier.

Ja, I'm bent!
Well in their defense Einstein made some very specific predictions about what would happen to sunlight when it whipped around the moon during an eclipse - and the Cambridge Dons (presumably named after the renamed Newton) verified that yes, the Jew postman is right while still cutting him socially and excluding him from their clubs and daughters.  Even Oxford didn't want him so he had to go to Berlin to get a real college job and there were Nazis there and everyone knows that Nazis were serious Jew deniers.

You meant the only way I can
win this war is to use Jew Science?
  Well then I just won't win it.
So there.
You didn't have to be an Einstein to figure out that doing the Jew Genius gig in downtown Hitlerville was not going to work out so he sent away for a job to this little Correspondence College that did a lot of IQ testing of high school students in Princeton, New Jersey.  Now Princeton, being out of the mainstream of, well, practically everything had a hard time fitting Einstein into their evaluation framework which principally relied on two aptitude tests that they had developed:  the DIG (Dad is graduate) and DIM (Dad is millionaire) tests.  However they were trying increase their reputation with crazy intellectuals and there was absolutely no one who said 'crazy intellectual' louder when you looked at him than Einstein so they bunged him into a building with all the other big name has beens.

I say 'has been' because almost as soon as Einstein got settled, Nils Bohr began to bore right into the old boy with his Quantum reality routine which was packing them in throughout non-Nazi Europe.  Typically he'd wait until his laureateness had just woken up from a nap and would run in and show him the little 'quanta circus' in his hand - it was like a flea circus only much smaller.  So he'd stand there claiming that there were at least 50,000 quantum lions standing on photons in his hand and didn't herr Doktor see them?  Right there.  "I  understand that as you get older you can't visualize new concepts or see Quantum circuses anymore but look - did you see that!  That photon went through both the north and south entrance gates at the same time.  Isn't that incredible!!!"

And what was Einstein going to say?  That the greatest physicist of all time didn't 'get' quantum mechanics?  "Vell, ja......I.....guess"  So Einstein, swallowed Bohr's boring line of quantum hooey and set out to come up with a universal theory of everything.  Which was a mistake.  As Timothy Leary showed much later at Harvard a universal theory of everything is only achievable through the use of very powerful illegal drugs and only lasts for a few minutes until the nice men in the white suits come to take you to the place that will make all of those nasty spiders go away.

I guess it was just as well that Einstein didn't go the Timothy Leary route because what with Hitler cutting up in Europe and the Japanese becoming loud deniers of western civilization much less science, it was more important for him to persuade the Americans to figure out how to build this nuclear bomb thingy before Hitler got one.  Or as Einstein would say:  "Ve must build ze big Boom!"  Only Einstein kind of slow rolled the whole program for a while because he realized that if the Americans got the 'boom' they'd just drop it on Berlin and Einstein and the missus still had a great little cottage in Wannasee that was actually on a lake rather than a see and they didn't want it incinerated.  As it turned out the Nazi's collapsed on their own accord so the cottage didn't need to be nuked after all but after the Cossacks who billeted there got through with it it might as well have been.

Ze big boom! 
But that just meant that the western civilization and science denying Japanese were going to get nuked.  Which taught them a thing or two.  Nagasaki on that, you bloody deniers.

OK, I'll admit that last sentence is in rather bad taste, I don't think that people should die simply because they disagree with my choices or that I should gloat at their discomfort (well, death really).  But given the rhetoric being bandied about today one could infer that the advocates of the catastrophic AGW line are a lot closer to 'nuke-em and gloat' territory than we'd like to believe.  They seem to be straying to a 'utilitarian' 'logic', which argues that 'deniers' are destroying the world and must be shut up - for the greater 'good' you see.  Aside from that ridiculous totally unsupported assertion of "fact", the willingness of the Enviro left to dehumanize those that disagree with them is frightening.  They're trying to turn us into Mann-Dogs.

I guess so that they can thwack us with their rolled up but oh so recycled Sunday papyri. 

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