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Was Einstein Wrong?

The excellent science writer Dennis Overbye brings news of a red-hot controversy roiling the world of physics. [1] The gist:

Being incinerated as you entered a black hole would certainly contradict Einstein’s dictum of no drama. If this were true, you would in fact die long before the bungee-jumping ride ever got anywhere close to the bottom. The existence of a firewall would mean that the horizon, which according to general relativity is just empty space, is a special place, pulling the rug out from under Einstein’s principle, his theory of gravity, and modern cosmology, which is based on general relativity. This presented the scientists with what Dr. Bousso calls the “menu from hell.” If the firewall argument was right, one of three ideas that lie at the heart and soul of modern physics, had to be wrong. Either information can be lost after all; Einstein’s principle of equivalence is wrong; or quantum field theory, which describes how elementary particles and forces interact, is wrong and needs fixing. Abandoning any one of these would be revolutionary or appalling or both.

Dr. Polchinski was very surprised by the result. “It seemed like such a simple argument that it must have been considered and resolved earlier,” he said. After trying to kill it by talking to colleagues in Santa Barbara, he e-mailed Dr. Susskind of Stanford, an old hand at black holes and information, expecting that Dr. Susskind would point out the error.

“But after a week or two of disbelief,” Dr. Polchinski said, “he was as confused as we” were.

Dr. Susskind said: “The arguments are very clear. Nobody knew what to make of them.”

It gets weirder. This whole argument entails how space and time are structured. I am going to drink my second cup of coffee and re-read this piece, and think about it some more. I’ll let you know if I solve the problem.

39 Comments (Open | Close)

39 Comments To "Was Einstein Wrong?"

#1 Comment By Ron Goodman On August 13, 2013 @ 9:18 am

The article was interesting, but the drama was overdone. General relativity and quantum mechanics, although each very successful in its own right, have always been fundamentally incompatible. Eventually a broader theory will emerge that will include both and the world will go on.

#2 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On August 13, 2013 @ 9:25 am

This is the physics equivalent of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Midway through the article they even own up to this being a waste of time:

Experiments would not help, even if we had a black hole in a laboratory, because the putative firewall, if it exists, would be just inside where it can’t be seen safely.

At the present time there’s no way to measure hawking radiation, so its existence is speculative. Even if it does exist information will take an eternity to leak out. So we’ll all be long dead before the experiment concludes.

They might be having fun. but if you can’t verify it, it’s not science.

#3 Comment By Richard Parker On August 13, 2013 @ 9:34 am

Just read the article; above my pay grade. I’m a ‘science guy’ as a layman, but sometimes I have to wonder how much of this stuff is “real” in any meaningful way.

#4 Comment By johan On August 13, 2013 @ 9:45 am

This is the arcane world of mathematical modeling of barely observable phenomena. Laypeople are best advised to watch detachedly as the theorists cycle through different models and theories.

#5 Comment By Flavius On August 13, 2013 @ 10:55 am

A perplexing problem in search of a beautiful metaphor.
Einstein was wrong from the start. There is always drama in the creation of metaphor. The article contains loads of them.
Signs suggest that Plato was closest: whatever isn’t nothing is mind, more or less.

#6 Comment By Jim On August 13, 2013 @ 11:30 am

Oh, noes! How will this effect my life? I’m skeered!

* – Applies equally to the THEORIES about humans causing global warming. From what I remember from studies of the scientific method, theories are often replaced, changed, and updated as new information is discovered, new theories are re-examined, etc., as indicated in this post. Wash, rinse, repeat. It would be hilarious if efforts to stem the tide of man-caused global warming instead caused global cooling that killed off humanity. Well, maybe not hilarious to those actually experiencing the calamity.

#7 Comment By EngineerScotty On August 13, 2013 @ 11:43 am

God does not play “telephone” with the cosmos?

#8 Comment By Turmarion On August 13, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

Jim, global warming is a model, not a theory properly so-called. The way people who want to take issue with science use the word “theory” is really more properly “hypothesis”. A hypothesis is an educated guess. Not a WAG (wild-ass guess), but an educated guess.

A theory is a well-established framework explaining many observations over time. For example, when we speak of “atomic theory”, no one seriously doubts the existence of atoms. There has been refinement and tweaking of the model, the most obvious being quantum mechanics; but overall framework is sound.

One might say that global warming (and the subsidiary issue as to whether, if it’s happening, it is partly or mainly anthropogenic) is currently in the testing stage–a hypothesis that is being worked on. Even with a hypothesis, the appropriate response isn’t, “Oh, it’s just a guess–tomorrow they’ll say the opposite.” The response is, “Wait and see.” It looks to me that the evidence is pretty good, but we have to wait and see.

I’ve been linking to my blog a lot lately, but some things are tiresome to keep explaining. [2] where I discuss it in greater detail.

Of course, most of the opposition to climate science is political, not scientific. If global warming is indeed occurring, and indeed anthropogenic, then the implication is that we need to change our use-energy-like-there’s-no-tomorrow ethos whether we like it or not. Actually, given that energy is necessarily finite, it would seem that working for greater efficiency and less energy use would be a good idea, anyway; but objecting to this is not a good reason to attack the science.

#9 Comment By JohnE_o On August 13, 2013 @ 1:08 pm

Gravity has always been a bit of a puzzle, I’m told…

#10 Comment By Al-Dhariyat On August 13, 2013 @ 1:08 pm

Rod, Rod, Rod, this sounds like a three cuppa coffee problem. It’s not so simple as a two cuppa.

Also, +1 to Turmarion.

#11 Comment By Jim On August 13, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

“Of course, most of the opposition to climate science is political, not scientific.”

This is a true statement, at least if you substitute the phrase “the policy prescriptions advocated by those who believe that the hypothesis of anthropogenic global warming is fact” for the phrase “climate science”. Science is supposed to be apolitical, no? It is also true that there is scientific opposition to what you describe as the hypothesis-in-the-testing-stage of anthropogenic global warming. Unfortunately, it appears to those of us who aren’t scientists that many of the supporters of the hypothesis, including, without limitation, the scientists, are politicizing the issue, by among other things, cooking the books, shouting down the scientific opposition, overstating as fact the hypotheses used to shout down the scientific opposition, and presenting as scientific fact and with far too much certainty the policy steps that MUST OMG BE TAKEN RIGHT NOW THIS VERY MNUTE OR WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE. Al Gore’s involvement, given the caricature that he is, doesn’t help, either.

Mixing the science and trying to strong arm a preferred answer to what ought to be a policy question does a disservice to both the science and to the political process.

Basically, the policy question is: Do we act now, at great expense (both in dollars and in societal cost), to reverse the hypothetical process of anthropogenic global warming, given the possibility (also unproven) that anthropogenic global warming, if not arrested, will change life as we know it, possibly to the degree (again also unproven) of ending human life as we know it?

“Even with a hypothesis, the appropriate response isn’t, ‘Oh, it’s just a guess–tomorrow they’ll say the opposite.’ The response is, ‘Wait and see.'”

True. Except most of the supporters of the hypothesis aren’t saying “Wait and see.” It is important to note that as disciplines of science go, what is today called “climate science” seems to be a very young discipline, and as such, it would seem to be prone to a lot more ebb and flow than more mature disciplines. But hey, the climate science counterparts to bloodletting and alchemy on a large scale couldn’t hurt, right?

#12 Comment By Turmarion On August 13, 2013 @ 2:19 pm

Jim, a hypothetical question: Suppose that anthropogenic global warming with the various bad-to-worst-case scenarios were proven to your satisfaction tomorrow. What policies would you suggest?

I’d also point out that while I advocate a “wait and see” policy, and don’t necessarily suggest massive changes in our lifestyles yet, those who inveigh against the very concept of global warming often sound like a chain smoker who has had a biopsy of a suspicious place on his lung but says, “Until I’m sure it’s cancer, I’m not quitting smoking!” One doesn’t have to advocate draconian policy fixes or be certain of what’s actually going on, climatologically speaking, to think that our current lifestyle is almost certainly unsustainable and will probably have to change whether we like it or not. It’s a matter of whether we make changes carefully and with foresight, or get forced into doing a rushed chop-job when things get really bad. Which they may not–just as that lump might not be cancer; but still….

#13 Comment By Francis On August 13, 2013 @ 2:57 pm

Re: Anthropogenic global warming.

1. Gaseous CO2 absorbs light and emits that energy as infrared. Unless we’re all living in the Matrix and no observational science is correct, this is simply a true statement regarding a property of CO2. The explanation as to why CO2 has this property involves quantum physics and chemistry.

To be clear, the theory underlying AGW is over 100 years old, is amply supported by observational and laboratory evidence, and is better understood than gravity. Atmospheric CO2 is a “greenhouse” gas.

(While water vapor is also a greenhouse gas, water rains out of the sky. Water vapor does not force changes to the climate; CO2 does.)

2. The amount of warming that is expected to be detected at ground surface due to a doubling in atmospheric CO2 is an incredibly hard question. We have no math to calculate the answer directly. Instead we need to use models regarding the movement of heat through the atmosphere and into and out of the ocean.

3. All models are wrong (at some level of precision); some are useful. Trying to figure out whether a global climate model is providing useful information is what makes climate science hard.

4. The best available modeling appears to suggest a warming of about 2.5-3 C per doubling of CO2. But the error bars are still pretty large.

5. Figuring out how the planet will respond to the increase in global average temperature is also a really hard question. How will water supplies and demand change? How will agriculture change? How will rising sea levels affect the impact of storms on coastal communities? What about saline intrusion into coastal groundwater? Will fisheries be affected by changes in ocean temperature and acidity? How rapidly will all these changes occur?

We are conducting a massive global experiment in the ability of our species to adapt to climate change and yet we still don’t know how bad things could get due to existing levels of CO2.

That’s the reason to take AGW seriously, in a nutshell. But there are lots of resources available on the internet at all levels of scientific sophistication.

#14 Comment By sdb On August 13, 2013 @ 3:49 pm

“They might be having fun. but if you can’t verify it, it’s not science.”

Verificationism doesn’t work as a demarker for science (this was Popper’s big contribution to the philosophy of science). His proposal that falsification should doesn’t turn out to work so well either. The reason that this paper is sparking so much interest is that it shows a logical inconsistency in the theory. The underlying theory is wrong even if it is able to make a lot of pretty good predictions. While this particular paradox may never be testable, it may motivate a better theory that shines some light on dark energy (for example). It’s a pretty exciting (scientific) result, though the implications won’t be entirely clear for some time.

#15 Comment By sdb On August 13, 2013 @ 4:05 pm

“One doesn’t have to advocate draconian policy fixes or be certain of what’s actually going on, climatologically speaking, to think that our current lifestyle is almost certainly unsustainable and will probably have to change whether we like it or not. ”

I agree. There are a lot of things we could do if we had the political will. For example, replacing payroll taxes with carbon taxes would put a real price on the carbon cost of various activities. If it were revenue neutral, we wouldn’t necessarily pay more taxes, but instead of taxing labor, we would tax energy usage. It would probably gradually entice people to use less (as cost went up) which means that rates would have to go up or other sources of revenue would have to be found as carbon usage fell. I really don’t understand why we don’t implement something like this – it would probably also make non-coal sources of energy much more attractive which is a good thing for many reasons not having anything to do with climate change.

#16 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On August 13, 2013 @ 4:43 pm

sdb, if it motivates someone to explain dark energy, and an experiment with observable results, then that will be great.

But I’m a bit prickly about theoretical paradoxes going on in a place you can never go, based Hawking radiation which hasn’t been observed (and may never be). It’s not like singularities are any more palatable, and the whole idea of the event horizon is to sweep this mess under the cosmic rug.

My demarcation of science might not please a philosopher, but the ability to test science against physical reality seems like a key requirement to avoid slipping into metaphysics.

#17 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 13, 2013 @ 5:19 pm

“Of course, most of the opposition to climate science is political, not scientific.”

Really? Do predict the climate of Hays, Kansas in 2015 to include humidity, chemical deposits: phosphorous, methane and helium, note the the temperature shift in relation to the artic circle and just what those shifts will be plus or minus five degrees.

Tell me which the level of toxic fumes that exist in nthe atmosphere and do distinguish natural toxication verses articial that are causing the temperature to rise in Hays.

Distill the type, and amount of particulates in the atmosphere one from the other and just which ones and how many will be needed to realign or arrest Global temerature rise in Hays.

Let me know.

#18 Comment By Franklin Evans On August 13, 2013 @ 5:27 pm

At the risk of overstepping my bounds (not to mention tooting my own horn), I nominate the entire comments so far (16 before this one) for an Evans-Manning special mention. 😀

MH, it might interest you to know that some scientists (that I’ve read, encountered or heard about) have a very strong aversion to that slippage into metaphysics. They’re the same ones who stand fast on the “science cannot comment” answer being the only valid one to the “can God be proven or disproven by science?” question.

We tend to forget how immeasurably valuable the dynamic tension between imagination and empiricism can be. A small shift in the balance lends the driving force to scientific exploration or artistic genius… not to mention the potential risk for insanity, as we’ve also observed throughout our history as a species.

Some of our science fiction authors were not “prophets” but guides. My favorite example is Robert A. Heinlein, who “imagined” both the water bed (Stranger in a Strange Land) and the remote-control prosthetic extensions of arms and fingers for which he coined the term “waldo” (Waldo & Magic, Inc.). We merely need to wait long enough to discover what other such “prophetic” inventions are on the fiction shelves of our bookstores.

#19 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 13, 2013 @ 5:28 pm

I certainly am delighted by the momentary breakdown of the laws of physics when applied to black holes and dark matter —

#20 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On August 13, 2013 @ 6:35 pm

Franklin Evans, I agree with their stance on commenting on God as a matter of science. However, scientists are humans too, and have a right to an opinion on the matter.

My personal policy in Rod’s comboxes is to separate science posts from atheism posts. So if I comment on one in a thread, I avoid comments on the other.

#21 Comment By Franklin Evans On August 13, 2013 @ 8:37 pm

MH, very interesting position, and well taken.

Elite: Hays, KS doesn’t have climate, it has weather. Climate is global, continental and geographically regional (as could span large bodies of water.) Your challenge is both a non sequitur and implies an ignorance of the scientific concepts involved.

#22 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 13, 2013 @ 10:21 pm

Ohhh not the climate verses weather discussion again. Been there and done that and if not for my texts being boxed and taped.i would yank out my old science refernce on the matter and be done with it. But as it , allow me this response.

hays, Ks is part of the global climate systems — if you want parse it out in that manner — no issues. As part of the entire system it’s atmosphere is part and parcel to gthe whole —

Do predict the status of the afformentioned in the Hays , Ks or the county. what would that temperature normally be verses what it is in 2014.

With the added — note the impact on the weather via the climate shift of the globe.

And while I am at it—-

A theory is comprised of hypothesis for the conjecture of theory to be accepted as science fact — the hypothesis must be verified as accurate — any break in that link of tests or hyputhesis — would not qualify any conclusion as fact, and perhaps questionable theory

i.e. global warming, evolution etc.

#23 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 13, 2013 @ 10:34 pm

I have no issues shifting the regionand giving you more scope and space to manuever. In 2024 what will be the temperature shift upwards on the region comprising the United States.

Have at it.

I have played this game before with other so called science experts . . . you see the principles remain the samne regardless of the local — isn’t that the point of global warming — it occurs across the globe not merely regionally — so if one knows what is occurring across the globe — as per the methodlogies for testsing the same —

You should be able to predict the temperature In fact, one should be able to determine how much and what material is causing the same. So I will give you further space to determine how much particluate matter previously noted will impact the climate over CONUS . . .

The whole point of a system is according to systems theory is that the parts are interconnected and an impact on any one part will have an effect elsewhere . . .

So the elsewhere is Hays, Ks. —

Further, if in fact toxic gasses are the cause such as to create the green house effect: note the gases and or particulate matter by weight and type.

How much is produced by man verses the naturl processes in operation since the earth was born?

To small the county

Too small the state

still too small CONUS

I will be waiting.

#24 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 13, 2013 @ 11:03 pm


please cdease making the rather tired and evasive argument that weather and climate are such that one cannot make predictions

The definition of climate is the long term weather patterns of a specific area, usually measured for 30 years. The average temperature and the average precipitation …
[4] Science & Nature › Nature

If you want to include the rainfall — bonus points.

#25 Comment By Church Lady On August 14, 2013 @ 2:16 am


2. The amount of warming that is expected to be detected at ground surface due to a doubling in atmospheric CO2 is an incredibly hard question. We have no math to calculate the answer directly…The best available modeling appears to suggest a warming of about 2.5-3 C per doubling of CO2.

We do have a very reductionist calculation based on the simple facts of CO2’s radiative properties, the composition of the atmosphere, and the size of the earth. This calculation can be found in the IPCC report. It’s very simple, and it works out to 1.2C per doubling of CO2.

From that base, the models assume all sorts of feedbacks, including especially the notion that warming will lead to an increase in water vapour, an even more potent greenhouse gas. Based on those assumed feedbacks, the temperature sensitivity of CO2 is projected by the models to be about 3.0C.

But you cannot call these “the best models”, because we don’t know what the best models are. In a normal scientific exercise, one would throw out models that don’t make accurate predictions, and save those that do, and keep refining them in this manner. And yet, that’s not what’s being done. Instead, the IPCC uses over 60 different models, whose results are all over the place like a plate of overturned spaghetti, and it merely calculates the “model mean”, which includes all the models, the good, the bad, and the ugly. From this, somehow, policy makers are supposed to make coherent policy. It simply can’t be done that way.

Part of the problem is that the more recent science seems to suggest that the sensitivity numbers are much lower than the IPCC and its models has presumed, and that’s why the models keep failing, and why the “pause” becomes more and more difficult to explain away. You see, the IPCC has a political agenda, which is to justify an enormous world-wide energy policy the UN wants to be the enforcer of, and the distributer of “relief” for, that involves many, many trillions of dollars. If the problem is not as great as they have been making it out to be, that’s a problem for their plans.

Skeptics have the temerity to suggest that the feedbacks used in the IPCC models are simply not accurately reflecting the climate system, and that they are exaggerating positive feedbacks, ignoring negative feedbacks, and not taking into account the many great unknowns still out there, the causes of which we don’t know, but the effects of which are perhaps already showing up in the failures of the models.

One of the classic bits of wisdom in science is not to fall in love with your hypothesis. Science is about killing our favorites. The problem with the climate debate, is that many people have not only fallen in love with their particular hypothesis, but have huge financial and reputational stakes in it, that make it almost impossible to have a rational conversation anymore.

Of course, the bottom line is not a yes/no answer, but a number. The sensitivity number tells us what the future holds, but calculating that number is almost impossible to do without the most important feedback of all: data from the real world. Right now, the real world is not cooperating with the models, and the modeller don’t know why.

That’s why I have said for some time now that the earth is going to be the decider of this issue. Either the earth will keep warming, and the warmists will carry the argument, or the earth will not, and the skeptics will win out. The current “pause” will either continue, or it will end by temps going up or down. Only if they continue up at a pace to match the models, will their hypothesis gain greater credibility as a basis for policy. If not, it will go down in history as one of science’s greatest and most embarrassing blunders.

#26 Comment By Church Lady On August 14, 2013 @ 2:36 am

As for the “what is climate?” debate, I think we have to step back and see what kind of claim is being made underlying this whole “climate change” warning.

EC mentions that climate is weather over 30 years or more, but this is just a convention of our data analysis of recent trends, to doesn’t really tell us much about climate.

Basically, over the last three million years, the earth has had two different climate regimes that seem to alternate fairly regularly. One is ice ages, which in recent times have lasted about 100,000 years. The other is the interglacial periods, which have lasted on average about 12,000 years, though sometimes longer. Each of these periods has its own climate, sometimes getting warmer or cooler within that climate’s natural variations, but eventually going through a dramatic shift to the opposite climate regime.

The great claim of the “greenhouse gas climate change” hypothesis isn’t that the earth is going to get a bit warmer, but that it’s going to go into a whole new climate regime, called the “Anthropocene”, which we don’t have a precedent for, and which will produce warming on a scale and with a speed not seen before in any previous transition from one regime to the next. The disruptive force of that transition, and the unknown parameters of the new regime, is what climate change alarmism is all about.

On paper it certainly sounds scary, but one also has to realize how extraordinary the claim is. As Carl Sagan used to say, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And the problem with the science behind climate change is that the extraordinary evidence supporting it just isn’t there. It’s not as if there’s no evidence, because there is. But there’s a ton of very reasonable doubt also, much of which is being swept aside and disregarded because of the emotional value of making extraordinarily scary claims.

As others have said, the most reasonable course of action right now is to wait and see, gather more data, see what happens to global temperatures, and try to honestly assess the data. No need to plunge the world into more distress than it’s already in by hasty action that has huge costs everywhere to the most fundamental element of every country’s economy. Whatever is going on, at the very least the current pause shows that we are not in some dramatic crisis. We actually have time to consider our best response, and it is beginning to look like doing next to nothing may be the best course of action. The best we can do is to try to develop new energy technologies in the time we have, which may be a few decades at the very least.

#27 Comment By Church Lady On August 14, 2013 @ 2:50 am

Hays, KS doesn’t have climate, it has weather. Climate is global, continental and geographically regional (as could span large bodies of water.)

This simply is not true. Every place in the world has its own long-term climate patterns, and they are not the same, nor do they change in the same manner, when the worldwide climate warms or cools. The whole notion of a worldwide average temperature has very little meaning in that respect. And calculating how a worldwide climate regime shift will actually affect a particular region is very difficult, since the actual forces that control such things (like ENSO) have never been successfully modelled.

Nor has the warming over the last century been evenly distributed. A little known fact is that 1/3 of even all land-based weather stations worldwide show no warming, or even cooling, over the last century. Most of the world’s warming has taken place in the more northernly regions of the globe, the north polar region especially. Why that has been the case is very hard to say, especially since the GHG warming is supposed to be concentrated around the equator, where most of the sunlight falls. But that’s just another one of those little mysteries that we have a hard time explaining, and which makes skeptics feel relatively secure that the current understanding of climate is not terribly good.

#28 Comment By Franklin Evans On August 14, 2013 @ 11:12 am

Elite and Church Lady: I don’t need to be a science expert to have listened to the experts and learned from them. One doesn’t use “climate” to predict “weather”, one looks to the data collected in the past and makes educated predictions about the future. Climate models are routinely wrong, and their advantage (and potential accuracy) has peaked recently with improved technology in data collection and processing power.

Climate is the elephant in the room, and climatologists continue to do their work despite being painfully aware of their continuing blindness (or lack of clarity, really). They cooperate because of that, not because of public pressure or policy agendas, but because they are good scientists aware of the methodology.

My response to Elite is very simple. One doesn’t use climate to predict weather. Meteorologists make predictions on a simple statistical basis: The “percent chance” is a report on all past days on record whose conditions closely match the expected conditions for the prediction period, with the percent being the proportion of those past days with the predicted weather behavior.

That is all Meteorology 101. My statement was not wrong, CL, all you did was refine it to some detailed levels. Of course different locales will be different, but day-to-day weather has no logical connection to climate. Weather is the detail data from which climate is analyzed, not vice versa.

#29 Comment By Church Lady On August 14, 2013 @ 2:14 pm


One doesn’t use “climate” to predict “weather”

But that’s exactly what our climate experts in the UK did recently, mandated by the scientific establishment there to use the GHG climate models to make medium-term weather predictions about their local climate. The results were disastrous. Naturally, the climate models introduced a strong warming bias, and predicted very mild and snowless winters. Instead, the UK got several of the coldest and snowiest winters in recent decades, the result of which was a disaster of mismanaged government planning (local governments weren’t prepared, since they were going by the MET’s forecasts).

My point about that town in Kansas is that every place has its own climate pattern – it’s not just random weather. Meteorologists don’t just use statistical models, they actually understand what sort of systems are moving through an area, and what kinds of forces are involved in the surrounding areas – pressure, warmth, wind patterns, ocean currents, etc. It’s a chaotic system, so there’s no guarantee the small differences in initial conditions won’t send it off on some new tangent, but they can track those developments in real time, and issue new forecasts.

That’s something the climate models just can’t do. They don’t know how to incorporate those kinds of things into their models with any sort of predictive skill. ENSO, for example, is a complete mystery to them, and it’s the main driver of temperature patterns around the world. They try to pretend that it’s just “noise”, with no real consequence to climate, and the results are not kind to their modeling.

#30 Comment By sdb On August 14, 2013 @ 4:53 pm

But I’m a bit prickly about theoretical paradoxes going on in a place you can never go, based Hawking radiation which hasn’t been observed (and may never be). It’s not like singularities are any more palatable, and the whole idea of the event horizon is to sweep this mess under the cosmic rug.

My demarcation of science might not please a philosopher, but the ability to test science against physical reality seems like a key requirement to avoid slipping into metaphysics.

These theoretical paradoxes (or thought experiments) help test the robustness of fundamental theory and can help move our understanding of the physics forward. Olber’s paradox, Schrodinger’s paradox, etc… aren’t just philosophical puzzles to chat about over beer. They really do help guide the development of theory. Of course the theory has to eventually predict an observable to be testable, but that can be a long time coming and rather indirect (hence the problems with under determination, realism, etc…).

The example you pose about Hawking radiation is a good example. One thing we’ve found from observations of Gamma ray bursts is that most of them are the result of massive supernova. We see the GRB and the optical afterglow. But some GRBs are dark. There is no optical counterpart. It could be because there is too much dust in the way, but we don’t see the intermediate cases that would lead one to conclude that this is a good explanation. Another possibility is that dark GRBs come a from a different process altogether. One proposal is that they are evaporating primordial blackholes – the evaporation rate is inversely proportional to the mass, so near the end you get a flash of high energy radiation that would look a lot like a dark GRB. There are a lot of technical details I won’t get into here that make this a tough hypothesis to test. Further, we don’t even really know whether primordial blackholes exist (we may never know). But it seems strange to suggest that the folks working on the theory and the folks trying to develop observation programs to test the theory aren’t doing science if ultimately this effect proves unobservable (that in itself would be interesting to show).

Regarding the “event horizon”, this isn’t an attempt to “sweep” anything anywhere. It is simply the distance from a mass at which the escape velocity from the object exceeds the speed of light.

The escape velocity is found by equating the Kinetic energy and potential energy 0.5*m*v^2 = G*M*m/d. Shuffling things around a bit,

v=SQRT(2*G*M/d) = SQRT(5300/d)

where velocity is in km/s, d is in AU (1AU = 150M km), and I’ve assumed a neutron star three times the mass of the sun. A neutron star is supported by neutron degeneracy pressure which means that increasing its mass makes it smaller. A 3Msun neutron star has a 10km radius (7*10^-8AU). Thus the escape velocity of anything from the surface of the neutron star is 2.8*10^5 km/s. Photons can escape from the surface, though they will lose a lot of energy in the process (i.e. be redshifted). The speed of light is 3E5km/s. So if a massive star collapses and the core is say 4Msun instead of 3Msun, then the equation of state for degenerate neutrons requires that the object be even smaller – in fact neutron degeneracy pressure cannot support the star anymore. Who knows what will happen, but lets say it shrinks just a tiny bit under the increased weight. Now we have SQRT(7100/d) where d is say 5e-8AU. Now the escape velocity is 3.8E5km/s – i.e. higher than the speed of light. So any photon emitted from the surface of this object would be moving too slow to escape. It would launch in orbit and get stuck by the gravitational field of the stellar remnant. Thus one could never observe anything that fell onto this object. Once it passed the even horizon, it could never get out.

This analysis has been purely classical. GR suggests that the remnant could in fact collapse entirely to a singularity, but one need not posit the existence of a singularity in order to have an event horizon. And of course quantum mechanics adds all kinds of other wrinkles. My point though is that event horizon isn’t a post hoc addition to the theory to cover up embarrassing things like singularities – rather it is a required consequence of the theory.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a realist as it pertains to unobservable things (electrons, fields, entropy, singularities, wave functions, genes, ecosystems, etc…). I don’t think science should aim to give us “literally true” descriptions of such things. These are useful constructs for providing empirically adequate stories that allow us to make sense of sensory data (the things we experience through our five senses about which I am a realist). By setting aside questions about reality, it allows one to do things that are helpful for science. First, it really does rid science of the metaphysics wholly and completely (science doesn’t care about truth, reality, or the American way. Science cares about what works). Second, it makes room for metaphysics (outside of the realm of science) and a voluntarist epistemology that in turn makes room for tolerance. I can’t do his arguments justice (especially in a comm box), but if you are interested in this kind of thing, I think you would find van Fraassen’s The Empirical Stance a worthwhile read.

#31 Comment By Franklin Evans On August 14, 2013 @ 4:55 pm

Church Lady: May I gently point out that I have a post above that clearly states my observation about climate models? If you wish, please explain how your assertion that I’m wrong is in fact supporting my opinion.

The use of climate modeling — or even just taking climate data into account — for any range of local forecasting cannot support the way Elite phrased his original questions. And not meaning to nitpick the semantics, “random” factors are routinely a monkey wrench in the predictions for all local forecasters, simply because no one can accurately predict what conditions will be. They hope their ranges, particularly temperatures, cover the accuracy well enough to give people something on which to depend.

Every location has data, and it’s a rare event when the past data accurately offers patterns on which to rely for that location. Much depends on local and regional geography. Most places are not so restricted to patterns, exceptions being mountain ranges and valleys. They’ll still get the occasional anomaly, and remain unable to explain it.

Anyway, I always enjoy our exchanges, even when they seem to be more in agreement than meets either of our eyes. 😀

#32 Comment By EliteComminc. On August 14, 2013 @ 6:45 pm

“That is all Meteorology 101. My statement was not wrong, CL, all you did was refine it to some detailed levels. Of course different locales will be different, but day-to-day weather has no logical connection to climate. Weather is the detail data from which climate is analyzed, not vice versa. . . .”

First, not only does your response avoid the problem it repeats the error of the first. I did not say note the weather conditions alone. I made it very clear what and it in its totality as you liked to admonish refers to those components that that comprise climate. Your first response was that climate entailed no single point location, but rather — upon accepting that and expanding the regional area as per your complaint — you have diverted the discussion to weather a component of comprehending the effects of climate change —

Here are the various factors believe impact climate on the planet. Whether you want to whine about definitions or challenge another’s knowledge of the scientific method — your inability to simply say — climate change as a theory has run into some problems/hurdles for which there is yet no explaination — it remains a hypothetical as to the exact causes and less understood is the ability to arrest it against the suspect causes, whether that arrest will significant enough to matter, or whether the change will be of a factor to cause any signifigcant danage to the planet.

please pedal this tricycle elsewhere.

The fear of saying — I don’t know is what is dangerous to the planet and worse is forcing a knowledge base which is yet unconfirmed as science by belittling those who dare question it.

#33 Comment By EliteComminc. On August 14, 2013 @ 7:05 pm

ChurchLady and others,

I fully appreciated the modeling discussion,

and ChurchLady allow me to add — I nearly fell head over heals. Given our differences — that is saying quite a bit, in my view.

#34 Comment By Church Lady On August 14, 2013 @ 8:12 pm


I only criticized one statement you made, that what happens in any given location, like Hays, KS, isn’t climate. Don’t take that as some sort of categorical denunciation of all that you’ve said.

It’s certainly true that weather is not climate, but the only climate that matters to someone in Hays, KS, is the climate there. And it’s simply a fact that there are many, many microclimates around the world, some of them as small as a neighborhood. What makes weather limited is its duration. A hot spell, cold spell, storm, tornado, snow, rain, etc., are all weather. However, the long-term trends of these weather events, even for a small place like Hays, KS, is climate.

One of the problems with the current climate change hypothesis is its claim that regional climate is always going to be overwhelmed by GHG forcings, and that over time, everything will become warmer. This doesn’t appear to be true. In fact, there is no known forcing that actually works that way. Even the Milankovich orbital cycles, which account for the ice ages, only create significant forcings at the high polar latitudes, which is enough to bring on an increase of decrease in glaciation, which then feeds back through increased or decreased albedo.

The current GHG hypothesis, however, is supposed to create a universal forcing that effects the entire globe directly, because CO2 is evenly distributed throughout the atmosphere. Hays, KS, has just as much CO2 in the atmosphere above it as any other place in the world. So even its microclimate is supposed to be directly affected.

#35 Comment By Franklin Evans On August 15, 2013 @ 10:20 am

I respect the criticism that I’ve not addressed a point. Elite, may I ask that you be ready to do the same?

My objection to the original assertions was for the notion that climate per se is a valid factor in predicting any-term (short, medium, long) weather behaviors for a geographically small area. Expanding the scope of the area is a reasonable adjustment in response to my objection. My objection remains in the abstract sense: every prediction is going to be at risk for unpredictable factors. The longer the range of the prediction, the greater the risk. Those factors include but aren’t limited to unexpected variances in solar radiation, vulcanism with global effects, and for regional (rather than global) scopes things like changes in air traffic patterns with subsequent changes in the effects from contrails. There are other, measurable factors in the mix.

Climate modeling has always been only as good as the technology available to process the data for the complex systems from which it is collected. It is the largest possible scope, with the greatest possible risk to the accuracy of the predictions. I believe that being cynical about attempts to mix climatology with meteorology intending to offer rebuttals to hypotheses is a wise choice. I’d rather be a wrong pessimist than a wrong optimist.

#36 Comment By Church Lady On August 15, 2013 @ 3:47 pm


Climate modeling has always been only as good as the technology available to process the data for the complex systems from which it is collected.

That’s only part of the problem. An even greater problem is the lack of understanding of even the basic physics of how the climate system works. There are so many variables, and so many major aspects of climate that simply aren’t well understood. How do clouds form? What kinds of clouds are formed through warming, and what affect will they have? How much cooling effect do tropical storms have? What are all the various feedbacks from GHG warming?

Astronomical models, for example, are based on widely understood and confirmed laws of gravity, radiation, and so on. That’s why they can give very accurate results. But climate doesn’t operate by easily discernable laws that can just be popped into a computer and an answer spit out.

Computer models are only as good as the understanding one puts into them, not just the data. Right now, that understanding is very poor in my view. The models end up being adjusted to fit the data, and the data even gets adjusted to fit the models, until there’s very little integrity left in the system.

One of the hubristic claims of the current crop of climatologists is that, while weather is very hard to predict in anything but the short term, climate is actually very easy to predict in the long term. In fact, they claim that while their models may be inaccurate in the short term, those inaccuracies get washed out in the long term, and a clear trend can be predicted, based on their analysis of the various forcings in the system. That’s why they feel so certain about the long-term validity of their models, and feel that it’s fine for policy-makers to rely on their predictions for creating long-term energy policies. And that’s why I remain highly skeptical of their scientific claims.

#37 Comment By Franklin Evans On August 15, 2013 @ 5:54 pm

That hubris, my Lady, is why you and I are in violent agreement about their claims. 😀

My cynical addendum in this context is that people too often project their emphatically valid skepticism of the scientists to a similar skepticism of the science and the methodology. An analogy out of recent conversations I’ve had: a piece of music on the written manuscript stands as good (or brilliant) on its own merits, and doesn’t suddenly become bad (or mediocre) because an egotistical musician decides to perform it badly.

#38 Comment By Church Lady On August 16, 2013 @ 5:11 am

Unlike music, scientific truths are not written out ahead of time. They can only be discovered by human scientists who know how to play the music of science well – meaning the scientific method. If they don’t, if they are poor at their art, the chances of them finding the correct answers is almost nil.

#39 Comment By Adolf Erdmann On January 2, 2016 @ 9:30 pm

Proof by scientific experiment showing that something moves faster than the speed of light would definitely prove Einstein wrong.

For whatever it is worth, my brother and I have found through experiments that magnetic fields and electrical fields when acting separately, not part of an electromagnetic wave, propagate infinitely faster than the speed of light. The test were done over a distance of several wavelength, so the phenomenon is definetely not “nearfield”. Here are the links: [5]

My email address is on the website.