A Central Non-premise of Quantum Theory

His Squidiness points to a real whopper of a silly article titled "Was Einstein Wrong About Special Relativity?" by Darrell Williams who is listed as a "Mathematician" and a "graduate of Arizona State University."

You know you're in for a "good" article when it begins

Many notable scientists such as the French mathematician, Henri Poincaré rejected Einstein's Theory of Relativity due to it's lack of sound mathematical procedures, absence of clearness of vision or rigorous arguments.

If by "many" he means "very few, and old guys who died in 1912" then this is a perfectly cromulent sentence!

Reading the full article made my head hurt. Calmer debaters can wade through the stinking bag of misconceptions, but, seeing as how I'm a quantum guy, I'll stick to the following quantum whopper (I think Burger King is introducing one of these soon):

QUANTUM THEORY: The 1919 solar eclipse experiment only demonstrated the validity of the Quantum theory, it did not verify the Relativity theory and it did not invalidate Newton's laws. During the eclipse, the light followed a curved path due to the gravitational field of the Sun, making it appear in a shifted position different from where it was known to be. This only demonstrated that light has some of the characteristics of mass, which is the fundamental premise of the Quantum theory.

The 1919 solar eclipse referred to an eclipse wherein observations of stars near the sun during an eclipse were measured as evidence for the general theory of relativity (note I said evidence here, the poor author of the article believes that this experiment was claimed as "proof" of general relativity, which is, shall we say, a naive version of what science is and how science works.) Now it is true that an experiment which demonstrates that light is curved by a gravitational field can be taken as evidence for the mass of a photon and that such massive photons obey Newton's laws. Importantly, the prediction for the deflection of a massive particle in Newton's laws and the prediction of general relativity give angles of deflection which are different by a factor of two. There has been some dispute as to whether the 1919 measurement were accurate enough to give evidence in favor of general relativity (see however arXiv:0708.0685. Of course I don't care much about the 1919 solar eclipse except to say that it was the first of torrent of verifications of that the general theory's deflection formula is correct and Newton's is not correct. This article is truly amazing in its view that the world of physics ended at the 1919 solar eclipse. But I have, after deep though, come up with an good explanation for this: maybe Darrell Williams is a really a time traveler from 1920! Yeah, "good explanation."

But the big news to me in this paragraph is that a central tenet of quantum theory is that a photon has mass! The fact is that we know that the mass of the photon is less than 10-52 kilograms. And it certainly isn't true that a "central" tenet of quantum theory is that the photon has mass. Quantum theory is happy, really, with either decision, and experimental evidence points strongly to the answer that the photon mass is zero.

It's always interesting to see these crank diatribes and try and reverse engineer what the author could have had in his or her head when writing the sentences. Indeed, I'm most interested in knowing what was in the physics class that the author took or in the physics books the author read, which led to these misconceptions. What do you think is the origin of the above misconception? I bet it has to do with debating whether a light is a particle or a wave. Any other ideas?

More like this

There are so many ridiculous statements in his piece that it appears to me that he simply wasn't paying much attention to anything at ASU. From the very beginning he seems really confused. For example, he says that physical models are composed of physical objects. What can he be talking about? The physical apparatus of an experiment? I think my guess is best - there is an idiot somewhere posting nonsense under this guy's name just to make him look bad.

What a riot! Just the other day I was mentioning at Science after Sunclipse that we need some good denialist bashing to liven things up on the physics blogs. Ah, good times!

By Physicalist (not verified) on 05 Dec 2007 #permalink

As you could tell by reading the Pharyngula comment thread, that article got me pretty mad. I should learn to take these things less seriously (might be better for my blood pressure).

Later on, down in the depths, I found more evidence that the author is really a time traveler:

It also assumes a misperception about the fundamental nature of electromagnetism. At this time (1905), electromagnetic theory was only beginning to be understood. Einstein failed to have a clear understanding of the relationship between the magnetic field, the electric current and the characteristics and structure of an atom. This misperception was in part due to the generalized Rutherford-Bohr model (about 1913) of the atom. (Which still needs to be replaced.) In 1905, there was no clear conception of nuclear structure. The incompatibility of the Rutherford-Bohr model with the electromagnetic theory, proves that the model is incomplete or completely wrong. A correct nuclear model not only should be compatible with the electromagnetic theory, it should actually explain it.

Emphasis added.

I'm not sure how (or why) we're supposed to derive electromagnetism from nuclear physics, but that sure seems to be what he wants. Also, it lends some credence to the hypothesis that the author knows absolutely nothing about quantum physics beyond the catchphrase, "light is both a wave and a particle".

Blake: This Williams guy is complete ignoramus. I sometimes get worked up myself, so I fully understand your anger. But that article is completely laughable. Thanks for tearing him apart; I'm still chuckling.

I haven't looked, but what the heck is that "American Chronicle" site? Would one expect it to have any self respect?

By Physicalist (not verified) on 05 Dec 2007 #permalink

Physicalist, as long as somebody gets a chuckle out of it, I'll be satisfied. And, truth to tell, there's a great deal more absurdity where that came from. Another commenter at Pharyngula pointed out this article, also at the American Chronicle, from which I quote:

The natural outlet for sexual energy is a permanent loving bond between a male and a female. Why? First, all of nature is expressed in male-female partnerships - even on the most basic level, atoms are made with opposite charges: positive and negative.

I just don't know where to begin.

"atoms are made with opposite charges: positive and negative."

I'm not entirely clear. Which one is male, and which one female. The proton is more massive than the electron, is that the same as the ovum being more massive than the sperm?

And those neutrons -- third wheels, or swinging both ways? And was lambda was chosen as a gay symbol because of the lambda hyperon, or is that just too strange an etymology?

"Three quarks for Muster Mark!/
Sure he hasn't got much of a bark/
And sure any he has it's all beside the mark."

This passage from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, part of a scurrilous 13-line poem directed against King Mark, the cuckolded husband in the Tristan legend, has left its mark on modern physics, thanks to Murray Gell-Mann.

Is charm the same as seduction? Who is to be Top, and who is to be Bottom?

Is supersymmetry transvestic fetishism? The color force: inter-racial sexuality?

I really want Darrell Williams to explain this to me, in words of four letters.

I'm so confused.

She: "I just lost an electron."

He: "Are you sure?"

She: "Yes, I'm positive."

Dave: On reconstructing the "logic" behind Williams's crazy-talk: My guess is that his "thinking" is something like the following.

QM shows that light waves are also particles. Particles have mass, waves don't. Only things with mass are affected by gravity. Thus when we found that light paths are bent by the sun's gravitation, this really just confirms the particle-like behavior of light (i.e., that it has mass), it says nothing about relativity (which is all about "trains going the speed of light," and time slowing down and stuff).

The ignorance is horrible, but what's even worse is the arrogance of thinking that he understands the physics enough to *correct* all the many thousands of physicists through the 20th century (let alone Einstein). What megalomania to think that he could turn physics on its head when he clearly can't derive the Schwarzschild solution (and probably wouldn't even be able to write down the Lorentz transformations).

By Physicalist (not verified) on 06 Dec 2007 #permalink

This guy may not be in fact clear. But Einstein's theory is under attack and some physicists are now saying special relativity will be invalid within 10-20 year. There is even a documentary about this coming out in 2008: http://www.einsteinwrong.com.

So don't go "jumping" on the "I understand relativity" boat because you "studied" it. That does not make anything true. When the "establishment" has been wrong, this is the mantra: millions of people have proved X so it is right. Have any of you really studied if special relativity is wrong?

I don't think so.

By Roger McWilliams (not verified) on 06 Dec 2007 #permalink

I'll stick to the following quantum whopper (I think Burger King is introducing one of these soon):

The Quantum Whopper comes with both onions and pickles. That is, until you take a bite...

By BlockStacker (not verified) on 06 Dec 2007 #permalink

Have any of you really studied if special relativity is wrong?

I don't think so.

Bull Pucky. I think about how special relativity could be wrong all the time. Tons of physicists think about this. They then work out the consequences of what happens. Then they look at the experimental data. If they really tweak with special relativity they often end up with results which don't agree with experiment (for example putting the mass of the photon a 10-48 kilograms certain contradicts observation.) Oftentimes the consequences are small and future experiments are planned to test them.

Notice that I never said that special relativity was "proved." Those are your words. Damnit please refrain from putting them into my mouth

That's a surprise. It's been some time, but I took a class from Roger McWilliams at U. Cal., Irvine. I don't think he ever mentioned that relativity was likely to fall, but I eventually came to the same conclusion.

The proof is, unfortunately, too long to write into the marginal commment spaces of the internet.

By Carl Brannen (not verified) on 06 Dec 2007 #permalink

Oh, and lest I forget, saying that the mass of the photon is known to be less than 1.0e-48 kg by experiment, and therefore must be zero is just as stupidly misleading as saying that the mass of the neutrino is known to be less than 1.0e-33 kg by experiment, and therefore it must also be zero. And it wasn't that many years ago when the neutrino mass was in fact beleived to be zero and this was part of the Standard Model.

But none of that has anything to do with relativity, up or down. You could give a small mass to the photon and still have a valid version of relativity. It's just that photons wouldn't quite travel at speed c. Relativity is more powerful than simply assuming that a massless particle exists.

By Carl Brannen (not verified) on 06 Dec 2007 #permalink

Oh, and lest I forget, saying that the mass of the photon is known to be less than 1.0e-48 kg by experiment, and therefore must be zero is just as stupidly misleading

Which is exactly why I didn't say that. Ahem. Words. My mouth. Please don't.