Thursday, August 17, 2017

Is time an illusion?

Albert Einstein
Physicists sometimes deny the reality of irreversible time and consider it an illusion, a psychological phenomenon. In a letter of condolence written in 1955, Einstein said this: ...the distinction between past, present and future is only an illusion, although persistent. A curious way to comfort those who have lost a beloved one. His reasons for saying this were the following:
·         In Newton equations of universal gravitation, if the sign of the variable representing time is changed, the equations don’t change. If we look at the film of a gravitational process, the theory predicts that we won’t be able to detect if the projection was made in the right sense or in reverse.
·         The same is true of Maxwell equations, which describe the behavior of electromagnetic waves.
·         The same is true of Einstein equations of General Relativity, which replace Newton equations to describe gravity.
·         The same happens with the Schrödinger equation, the basis of quantum mechanics.
But there is a problem: the equations mentioned do not make all of physics. The second principle of thermodynamics implies the existence of an arrow of time. In 1928, in a book titled The nature of the physical world, the inventor of this term (Arthur Eddington), said the following: if your theory [opposes] the second law of thermodynamics... [it will] collapse in deepest humiliation.
Every physical theory is a simplified abstraction where some parts of reality have been eliminated. If the irreversibility of time is one of those simplifications, it is not surprising that the final result is always reversible. In real events, however, there is no abstraction or simplification. All the physical theories, including the second law of thermodynamics, must be applied together. If this is done, the alleged temporal symmetry goes away.
Newton and his apple
One of the first applications of Newton’s theory describes the fall of an apple. If a film being projected shows several pieces of an apple on the ground, which suddenly set in motion and gather in a single fruit, which then rises upwards until it gets attached to a tree, would we doubt that it has been projected in reverse? The fact that we don’t is a consequence of the second law of thermodynamics.
·         This also applies to the movements of celestial bodies. Imagine a recording of Mercury moving in its orbit, where the sun is visible. By studying the solar sunspots we could deduce whether the film is projected correctly or in reverse. Sunspots are a consequence of thermodynamic phenomena.
·         Radioactive decay is another example of a theoretically reversible process that in practice is irreversible. In fact, the proportion of uranium-238 and lead-206 in a rock provides a reliable method to calculate its age. The chain of disintegrations from uranium to lead is far more likely than the reverse chain, although physical theories affirm that both things could happen in theory.
·         Whatever Schrödinger equation says, the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics requires an irreversible time. If a photon hits an electron with some energy, the electron is left in two overlapping spin states. If the spin is measured, the quantum superposition collapses into a positive or a negative value. This process involves a direction of time: first comes the impact of the photon, then the electron in two superimposed states, finally a measurement and a quantum collapse. The reverse process cannot happen.
In these examples, when all of physics is taken into account without excluding thermodynamics, the supposed reversibility of time disappears. Apparently physicists put their theories above reality, doing the opposite of what the scientific method demands. Not even great men like Einstein were exempt.

El mismo artículo en español
Manuel Alfonseca

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The destruction of language

C.S. Lewis
Languages change continually. Over time, some words disappear, others are created to be applied to new concepts that did not exist before, and others change slightly in meaning. The process can continue until a word comes to mean something totally different from its original sense, or even opposed. Sometimes, various meanings of the same word coexist simultaneously.
In a book entitled Studies in Words, published in 1960, C.S. Lewis coined the word verbicide to refer to the murder of a word, making it lose its meaning with a use different than its previous one, which is subsequently lost. An equivalent symmetrical case is coining new words that are in fact totally unnecessary, since there were already other words perfectly applicable for that meaning.
The media have a great responsibility in these processes, since they frequently adopt, launch or indiscriminately copy vogue words, without regard to the consequences. Most of them are unnecessary or lead to the verbicide of some useful word. Let’s look at some of the ways this process can take place, as C.S. Lewis points out in the introduction to his book:

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Mass manipulation

Aldous Huxley
Albert Speer, minister for armaments in Adolph Hitler’s government, said these words when he publicly apologized during the Nuremberg trial:
Hitler’s dictatorship differed in one fundamental point from all predecessors in history: it was the first dictatorship in the present period of modern technical development, a dictatorship that made complete use of all technical means for the domination of its own country. Through technical devices like the radio and the loud-speaker, eighty million people were deprived of independent thought.
Since the days of Hitler, the technological tools that a dictator can use to manipulate the masses have come a long way. In addition to radio and loud-speakers, cinema and the press, available to Hitler, we now have television, sound and image recording, mobile phones that provide countless information, computers capable of processing it, and social networks, which are becoming one of the most powerful instruments of social manipulation in existence.
As I said in another post on this blog, these tools are neither good nor bad: what is good or bad is their use. All can be used well, and all can be misused. Do we have controls to prevent their being misused? Or do we know that they are actually being misused?

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Newton, the greatest scientist of our civilization

Isaac Newton
As I said in the previous article, in my biographical dictionary 1000 great scientists (1996) and an unpublished book, I proposed an objective quantification of the importance of different scientists, using measures such as the number of lines that various encyclopedias assign to each. Six scientists, one Greek (Aristotle), of whom we have already spoken, and five from the West (Descartes, Newton, Darwin, Freud and Einstein) were tied with the highest score in these studies. Among these five, is there one who can be considered the greatest scientist of our civilization?
In 1964 Isaac Asimov conducted another study (The Isaac Winners) on the relative importance of men of science, which resulted in a list of the 72 best scientists of all time, in his opinion. This list is simply qualitative and does not establish a relative order among the names that appear in it, although Asimov (again in his opinion) asserts that Isaac Newton, who happened to be his namesake, was the greatest scientist of all time.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Aristotle, the greatest scientist of the Greco-Roman civilization

In my biographical dictionary, 1000 great scientists (1996) I proposed an objective quantification of the importance of different scientists, using measures such as the number of lines assigned to each in encyclopedias in different languages, to avoid bias in favor of the fellow citizens. Subsequently, in an unpublished work (The Quantification of History and the Future of the West), I applied the same procedure to various branches of human creativity: science, philosophy, literature, fine arts, and music. In that study, six scientists were tied with the highest score: one Greek (Aristotle) ​​and five from the West (Descartes, Newton, Darwin, Freud and Einstein). We can therefore say that Aristotle was the greatest scientist of the Greco-Roman civilization.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Is man a kingdom of nature?

Amount of information available to different species
Among all living species, there is a special one: ours. This has been said since antiquity, and has only been questioned in the last half century. Many biologists argue that the human species is one among many, that it cannot be considered superior to any of the others, either bacteria, insects, or other mammals.
There is, however, a quantitative and perfectly objective criterion that makes it possible to prove that the human species is unique, completely different from all others: the amount of information that each individual can handle.
For unicellular beings, the only information available to each individual is their own genome, which is easy to quantify: their bit value is approximately equal to twice the number of nucleotides in their genome. For viruses, from 10 to 50 kbits; for bacteria, up to 10 Mbits; for a unicellular eukaryote, up to 25 Mbits.
If we move to multicellular animals and plants, the size of the genome increases, and with it the amount of information it contains: about 200 Mbits for a nematode, up to several Gbits for vertebrates. For man it is estimated at about 6 Gbits, not much larger than the genomes of other mammals. In fact, the living being with the largest genome happens to be a fish.
In addition to the genome, vertebrates have a second source of information: their nervous system, especially the brain. The total amount of information contained in a brain is estimated at about 10 kbits for amphibians, 10 Gbits for reptiles, 200 Gbits for mammals.
Here man is unique: in proportion to the human body, our brain is larger than that of any other living species and is capable of storing no less than 10 Tbits (10 trillion bits), 50 times more than most mammals and a thousand times more than our own genome. It can be said that, with man, life crossed a critical point. For the first time in history, a single individual is able to reach such levels of information handling.
Five thousand years ago, with the invention of writing, man crossed a new critical point, a consequence of the previous one. We have become the only species with a third source of information, a memory external to our body. With the arrival of computers and Internet, this information has been made available to everybody and is still growing. Currently it is estimated that it has exceeded 100 exabits (100 quintillion bits, or 1020 bits: one followed by twenty zeros). Every human being, apart from what is contained in the brain, has access to extra information ten million times greater, as if we were connected with ten million brains apart from ours.
The attached figure summarizes this and combines (on a logarithmic scale) all sources of information available at any time for the species capable of handling most information, depending on the time elapsed from the origin of life to the apparition of the said species, in billions of years.
Man is so different from all other species, so overwhelmingly dominant, that we should be considered a kingdom of nature. I have indicated in another post that, for better or worse, our effect on the rest of living beings (the biosphere), the atmosphere and the whole Earth is greater than that of all the other animals together. When biologists claim that man is a species like any other, that the history of life shows no progress in any direction, the least that can be said is that they don’t know what they are saying. Or perhaps they have been carried away by extra-scientific ideologies that try to denigrate man and deprive us of our dignity, so as to be able to kill us when we hinder (through abortion or euthanasia) or to manipulate us whenever some people wish it (see The abolition of man, by C.S.Lewis, 1943).
Manuel Alfonseca

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The debacle of determinism

Isaac Newton
By the end of the eighteenth century, Isaac Newton’s theory of universal gravitation was well established. As this theory makes it possible to predict very accurately the orbits of the bodies in the solar system, the French astronomer Pierre Simon de Laplace believed he had sufficient reasons to say the following:
An intelligence that knew all the forces that animate nature, as well as the respective situation of the beings that make it... could cover in a single formula the movements of the largest bodies of the universe and those of the lighter atom. Nothing would be uncertain and both the future and the past would be present before his eyes.
This assertion became the dogma of deterministic materialism, a philosophical (not scientific) doctrine asserting that only matter exists (taking the term broadly) and that the whole history of the universe is determined. Therefore there is no human freedom, nor intentionality, nor final causes in nature. There are just efficient causes.
Laplace’s statement can be expressed in more modern terms:
If we knew the position and the momentum of all the particles of the universe at a given instant, we could predict all their past and future development.