THE PHYSICS / PHILOSOPHY HOWLER: The trampoline and the bowling ball!

FRIDAY, JULY 16, 2021

And the wisdom of Isaacson's joke: "The world is too much with us," Wordsworth famously said.

Arguably, the same can be said for Einstein's universe. Has anyone been able to explain that realm in a way the general reader—the average Jenny or Joe—can hope to understand? 

Is Einstein's universe comprehensible, even to the "educated person?" More to the point, has anyone ever been able to explain that realm in a way that makes it so?

As far back as 1988, Richard Cohen and Charles Krauthammer suggested, in columns for the Washington Post, that however devoutly it may be wished, such a thing can no longer be done. 

At issue was a best-selling book, A Brief History of Time, written by Stephen Hawking, one of the world's greatest physicists. 

Reviewers swore that Hawking's book was lucid, accessible, comprehensible—even easy to read.  In a pair of highly unusual columns, the columnists rose in dissent. 

Hawking's massively best-selling book was "utterly incomprehensible," Krauthammer even declared. In defense of his unconventional view, he adumbrated a theory:

The Hawking book may be proof that physics has reached the limits of metaphor. Sir Arthur Eddington was once told by a journalist that only three people in the world understood Einstein's general theory of relativity. "I am trying to think who the third person is," replied Eddington. There are more than three now. Thousands of graduate students understand the equations whose meaning Hawking has set out to communicate. But physics is becoming the province of a small cadre of cognoscenti who occasionally send out emissaries like Hawking to speak to the rest of us in parables.

Inscrutable parables...Physics has become a kind of fiction, an excursion into a mathematical universe so esoteric and so remote from ordinary experience as to be literally incredible.

In the beginning, Eddington had joked about the difficulty of Einstein's universe. He and Einstein understood it, he seemed to say, but he couldn't name anyone else.

According to Krauthammer, thousands of graduate students understood that world as of 1988. But they understand it mathematically—as a mathematical realm.

There are no homely metaphors which illuminate this world for everyone else, Krauthammer said in his column. We've reached the limits of metaphor for regular people like us. 

Thus spake Krauthammer in December 1988. A medical doctor and thus a scientist himself, Krauthammer suggested the possibility that the world had reached "the limits of metaphor" when it came to efforts to explain or describe Albert Einstein's universe.

It's all parables now, the columnist said—inscrutable ones at that. 

Thus theorized the columnist. For the record, Cohen's earlier column had cited one reviewer who had stated a different view. In her review of Hawking's book for the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani had seemed to say that the physicist's metaphors were in fact pretty darn good:

Though it contains several dense passages dealing with ''imaginary time,'' ''string theories'' and ''inflationary'' models of the universe, which this reader (who never got beyond trigonometry in school) found impossible to follow, ''A Brief History of Time'' is, on the whole, a lively and provocative book...Mr. Hawking clearly possesses a natural teacher's gifts—easy, good-natured humor and an ability to illustrate highly complex propositions with analogies plucked from daily life. 

Hawking was skilled "with analogies plucked from daily life," Kakutani said. Several passages were too hard. But not so with the rest! 

In this way, a debate had been formed. More than thirty years later, our question would be this:

Have analogies plucked from daily life actually worked in the past thirty years, as writers have tried, again and again, to make Einstein's universe comprehensible? 

Krauthammer's thesis notwithstanding, have Einstein whisperers come up with the metaphors which let his universe swim into view? With this question on the table, let's consider a major example.

Let's return to the highly familiar metaphor which appears at the very start of Walter Isaacson's 2007 biography, Einstein: His Life and Universe. 

Indeed, this highly familiar metaphor appears on page 3 of Isaacson's well-received book, as Isaacson sketches his initial overview of Einstein's revolutionary work. As we review this metaphor, we'll also return to "Isaacson's joke," the sensible quip which we discussed in Monday's report. 

Isaacson offers his well-considered joke as soon as his resort to metaphor is done. This sensible joke can also be scored as Isaacson's (sensible) warning.

Overview, metaphor, joke:

In the first part of this week's report, we quoted Isaacson as he offers his initial thumbnail description of Einstein's remarkable work. The basic history goes like this:

In 1905, Einstein produced his special theory of relativity. During this, his "miracle year," Einstein was still 26 years old.

Ten years later, Einstein produced the general theory of relativity. In the process, he'd reconfigured existing ideas about the way "gravity" works. 

Searching for a way to make Einstein comprehensible, Isaacson brings out the trampoline and the bowling ball, as many others have done. He's still on page 3 of his widely-praised book as his work with this metaphor starts.

As he finishes with this analogy, he offers his sensible joke. In doing so, he offers some much-needed comic relief, but he also offers a bit of a warning—Albert Einstein's universe may turn out to be hard:

A decade after that, in 1915, [Einstein] wrested from nature his crowning glory, one of the most beautiful theories in all of science, the general theory of relativity. As with the special theory, his thinking had evolved through thought experiments. Imagine being in an enclosed elevator accelerating up through space, he conjectured in one of them. The effects you'd feel would be indistinguishable from the experience of gravity.

Gravity, he figured, was a warping of space and time, and he came up with the equations that describe how the dynamics of this curvature result from the interplay between matter, motion, and energy. It can be described by using another thought experiment. Picture what it would be like to roll a bowling ball onto the two-dimensional surface of a trampoline. Then roll some billiard balls. They move toward the bowling ball not because it exerts some mysterious attraction but because of the way it curves the trampoline fabric. Now imagine this happening in the four-dimensional fabric of space and time. Okay, it's not easy, but that's why we're no Einstein and he was.

"Okay, it's not easy," Isaacson says, "but that's why we're no Einstein and [Albert Einstein] was."

That last sentence is Walter Isaacson's well-considered joke. Quite appropriately, he seemed to acknowledge a basic fact:

The metaphor of the trampoline and the bowling ball may not be all that easy for shlubs like us to follow.

Einstein understood his theory, but it may not be easy for us! That's what Isaacson seemed to be saying, though he was stating his warning in the form of a joke. 

The bowling ball on the trampoline is employed, with great regularity, in attempts to make Einstein easy (or at least understandable). But to what extent does that metaphor actually help? 

"Okay, it's not easy," Isaacson quips. But what makes that metaphor "not easy?" Let's start counting the ways:

In Isaacson's rendering, we're instantly told that gravity is "a warping of space and time." We can all learn to repeat those words. But do we really have any idea what those words mean in this context?

Presumably, we all can picture a warping of some object made of wood. But what does it mean to picture a warping of space? To picture a warping of time?

What does it mean to picture a warping of "space and time?" 

As Krauthammer stated in his column, we can always recite those words. But it we choose to recite and repeat, will we know what we're talking about? Will we understand what a "warping" might be in this unfamiliar context?

As Isaacson continues, this "warping of space and time" is quickly described as a "curvature." 

We all know how to apply that word in an array of everyday contexts. But what is a curvature of space and time? 

Does the general reader have any idea what that word might refer to, describe or mean in this new, unfamiliar context? And where would she go to find out?

Already, we're general readers in a strange land as Isaacson tries to explain. Now we're asked to picture ourselves placing a bowling ball "onto the two-dimensional surface of a trampoline." 

Presumably, we can all picture ourselves doing that. We can also easily picture what would happen next:

The trampoline's surface, which had been flat, would now sag toward the center under the weight of the bowling ball. Similarly, we can picture what would happen when a couple of billiard balls were introduced into this mix.

It's easy to picture the trampoline—to picture its "two-dimensional surface." Everyone knows what we're talking about when we refer to its "fabric."

But now we're asked to imagine this happening "in the four-dimensional fabric of space and time." For us, the average Jeremiahs, how well will that effort work out?

We all know what it means to talk about the fabric of a trampoline—but in what sense do space and time form something we'd call a "fabric," let alone a four-dimensional fabric? We can always repeat the words, but do we have any idea what they mean?

There's at least one more problem with this metaphor as offered by Isaacson. We refer to the part of the passage which says this:

[The billiard balls] move toward the bowling ball not because it exerts some mysterious attraction but because of the way it curves the trampoline fabric. 

Technically, nothing is "wrong" with that passage. We can defend it as technically accurate all the way down.

But would anyone ever have said that the billiard balls would behave in the way we know they will—would roll down the slope of the trampoline, eventually joining the bowling ball—"because [the bowling ball] exerts some mysterious attraction" on them? 

That wouldn't be a common explanation of the billiard balls' movement. Somewhat ironically, the average sixth grader would probably say something like this:

The billiard balls roll down the slope of the trampoline because of the force of gravity! That's why balls of all descriptions roll down slopes or hills!

As presented, this metaphor is a multi-faceted jumble. We can agree to recite the words, but the words aren't likely to make a mountain of sense. 

Isaacson seems to acknowledge as much when he provides some comic relief in the form of his sensible joke.

"Okay, it's not easy!" That's what he sensibly says.

As Isaacson proceeds in his book, he explains Einstein's universe, or at least attempts to do so, at much greater length. 

He does a beautiful job with Einstein's life.  Einstein's universe is much harder.

Intermittently, Isaacson tries to explain. Two chapters in question are these:

CHAPTER SIX: Special Relativity, 1905

CHAPTER NINE: General Relativity, 1911-1915

Isaacson does a superlative job recounting Einstein's life. As our ruminations proceed in the next few weeks, we'll explore some of the ways he explains Einstein's universe in such chapters as these. 

Our view? We think he has a very hard time explaining Einstein's universe. He does a superlative job with Einstein's life—but in our view, Einstein's universe puts up a successful fight.

We'll look at those chapters in future weeks. For today, we're left with Krauthammer's riddle.

One reviewer after another said that Hawking's best-selling book was lucid, accessible, comprehensible—even easy to read. Nineteen years later, the same things were said about Isaacson's book, by a long list of reviewers and academics. 

Similar praise was showered on Rebecca Goldstein's 2007 book, Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel, her attempt to explain the work of the 20th-century figure who is routinely called "the greatest logician since Aristotle," including by Einstein himself.

Goldstein's book was aimed at general readers. Was she able to make Gödel easy? Was Stephen Budiansky able to do so in the book he published this year,  Journey to the Edge of Reason: The Life of Kurt Gödel?

Those books were aimed at general readers. Was Budiansky able to explain Gödel's theorem? Or would a reader simply be forced to recite a string of words?

When writers try to make Einstein easy, they've entered the World Series of explanation. Dating all the way back to Einstein's own book for general readers, they've tried and they've tried and they've tried and they've tried, and then they've tried again.

They've tried and they've tried to make Einstein understandable. According to Cohen and Krauthammer's witness, they've tried and they've massively failed.

This leaves us with Krauthammer's riddle—perhaps with Krauthammer's paradox. Dating back to Einstein's own general interest book, these writers have constantly tried and failed, but reviewers have persistently sworn that they've succeeded mightily. 

What might this tell us about ourselves, about our own human race? Have we perhaps been "seeing ourselves from afar" dating back to the dawn of the west?

We'll explore such questions in the weeks ahead, focusing on various attempts to make Einstein easy. Along the way, we'll also drift over to "Russell's paradox," and to the 700 pages he devoted to proving 1 + 1.

We'll discuss Wittgenstein's indictment, but also Horwich's hypothesis. We may even drop by the cold, dark waters of the Aegean, looking in on the dawn of the west—on Plato, Aristotle and them.

Lurking always will be a question:

How skillful have we the humans ever been at explaining anything at all? 

We can always recite the words! We'll call that Krauthammer's thesis.

Is it possible that this is what our self-impressed species has all too typically done? How often have we simply repeated the words, then claimed that we understood?

How often has Homey played it that way? Why would Homey do that? Why do we defer to failed explanations in this familiar way?

How often has Homey played it that way? We'd call that a very good question. When it comes to Einstein's universe—even to Gödel—we can't seem to stop doing it now!


52 comments:

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    Shade is a political issue because the poor have less access to it during a time when temperatures are rising worldwide. The same is true of air conditioning and jobs with heat-related safety regulations.

    But Somerby appears to be preoccupied with understanding Einstein. What an utter and complete waste of everyone's time!

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  2. "Thus spake Krauthammer in December 1988. A medical doctor and thus a scientist himself, Krauthammer suggested..."

    Medical doctors are not scientists. They have taken science courses at the undergraduate level. They have no exposure to doing scientific research or to scientific procedures and thinking beyond that. They are notorious ill-trained in reading the scientific literature and engaging in critical thinking in science. This was exemplified by the resistance of physicians to empirical evidence-based medicine during the past several decades. Physicians are as prone to believing nonsense and promoting unproven and off-label uses of medicine and therapeutic devices based on anecdotal evidence as any other kind of huckster. Further, medicine is an applied field (much like engineering) with a focus on what works to help people, not on why the body functions as it does -- the purview of physiologists and neuroscientists.

    That Somerby considers doctors to be scientists tells us a great deal about Somerby's own lack of understanding of science.

    Of course, Somerby is merely making this claim to hype Krauthammer's opinion, because it coincides with his own. If Krauthammer held a different opinion, Somerby would be calling him a hack.

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  3. "The metaphor of the trampoline and the bowling ball may not be all that easy for shlubs like us to follow."

    The metaphor itself is easy to follow. It is the analogy to space and time that is harder to follow. That's because the metaphor is concrete (exists in our sensory experience) whereas space and time are abstractions. We think about all abstractions by relating them to concrete, sensory experiences. If Somerby had devoted any time to reading Locke, Hume and Mill, he would understand that the basis for all thinking starts with sensory experience and is built up from the concrete to more complex higher order thinking.

    Somerby cannot go beyond that because he lacks imagination. The ability to think about things not present in our experience or memory varies from person to person. That's why some will grasp this particular metaphor and others will not. The blame doesn't lie with Einstein or with the other reviewers who did grasp the analogy, but with Somerby, who doesn't get it that not everyone thinks the same way. These "individual differences" operate in many aspects of thinking and learning.

    Somerby was a teacher himself. It is very odd that he is making such a big fuss about something that should be very obvious to him from his teaching experience. I suspect that he was never very analytical about his own practices and not particularly observant of his students difficulties with the material. Perhaps he just chalked it up to their skin color. Who knows? If he had had any training in teaching, the concept of different learning styles might occur to him as an explanation of his own failure to understand this metaphor. Or perhaps if he had ever taken a psychology course, he would be able to grasp this difference in human response to written descriptions. His reaction, discarding the entire metaphor by saying that no one actually grasps anything (because he himself does not) and thus they must all be lying about understanding Einstein, is untenable. Clearly there are many people who understand lots of things that are over Somerby's head.

    I am beginning to think that all Somerby does with these daily essays is engage in a form of mental masturbation. He isn't communicating anything useful and the purpose here seems to be just to make himself feel good about his own mental status.

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  4. "We may even drop by the cold, dark waters of the Aegean, looking in on the dawn of the west—on Plato, Aristotle and them."

    Why does Somerby keep going back and rereading these ancients instead of reading what some of the modern philosophers have said about Wittgenstein, reference philosophy, modal logic? Something new that might grapple with his supposed concerns?

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  5. “ I am beginning to think that all Somerby does with these daily essays is engage in a form of mental masturbation. He isn't communicating anything useful and the purpose here seems to be just to make himself feel good about his own mental status.”

    I think you should stop giving him your attention. You wouldn’t want to facilitate mental masturbation. I’ve always had the knack of facilitating mental and otherwise, but…but not you! No, you need to to stop being a part of this pathology. You should remove yourself.

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    1. Don't you feel like you are witnessing acts by Somerby that should be done in private? Vaguely icky and certainly personal?

      Somerby doesn't read his comments. There is no way that anything I am doing is having any effect on him.

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    2. No, I think Im reading the personal blog of a uniquely smart and engaging person expounding upon a topic where he thinks the emperor wears no clothes.

      You’ve expressed an icky and personal opinion on his motivations. Can’t help you out there.

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    3. Somerby is neither smart nor engaging. You perhaps think he might be nice to you, but I saw a video of him once, together with other male and female stand up comedians and he entirely ignored the women there. He would most likely ignore you too, and something tells me you wouldn't like that much.

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    4. "Don't you feel like you are witnessing acts by Somerby that should be done in private? Vaguely icky and certainly personal?"

      Why do you choose to expose yourself to these icky acts? What does that say about you?

      You, day in and day out, seek out and gaze upon and obsess over someone else masturbating? It's your choice. You don't have to see it at all. But you spend hours and hours and hours, week after week after week, month after month after month glaring and obsessing with dilated rapture and a dripping, watery mouth at someone masturbate again and again and again and every day you come back to watch and watch and soak in every single moment and every single word and then you spend hours writing about it and obsessing over it.

      You dedicate an enormous percentage of your life to watching someone masturbate.


      It seems weird you would choose to do that.

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    5. When you were a little girl did you ever think that would happen when you grew up? That every morning you would excitedly rush to watch someone else masturbate? When you grew up, you would spend every day watching and obsessing over someone masturbating? We were talking about every day of your life. Daddy's little girl became a perverted voyeur. Seems kind of weird and lame.

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    6. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

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    7. Anonymouse 9:19pm, this is a blog. I couldn’t pick out Somerby in a police lineup. He’s very engaging in his blog, and might be a jerk in real life, though I doubt it. I will never know and don’t care.

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    8. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes is a very weak rationalization for your perverted obsession. You know it, and I know it.

      Delete
  6. "How often has Homey played it that way? Why would Homey do that?"

    Who exactly is Somerby referring to as "Homey"? Einstein? People who claim to understand books that he doesn't grasp?

    Is this a racial reference? Does it come from this:

    "The clown played by Damon Wayans on the show "In Living Color". Homey, better known as Homey da Clown, was a released convict trying to work off certain debts."

    Or is it a reference to homie:

    "The definition of homie is short for homeboy, which is a slang term for a male friend from your hometown."

    Hometown usually refers to urban neighborhoods and homie is more associated with gangs than rural small towns. This too is a somewhat racial term.

    So, this sounds a bit like a dog whistle to those who would like to dismiss all notions of expertise and authority among those who are better educated, a denigration of academics as part of a gang or crowd by equating them with gangsters. Or perhaps he is now reducing all of humanity to a derogatory word that derisively calls all of those who "pretend" to understand Einstein part of a gang of inner city dwellers, while he himself is on the outside calling b.s. on them.

    It might be nice to believe that there is no such thing as knowledge, but every airplane suspended overhead by air flow contradicts Somerby's assertion that no one actually knows anything. So does the covid vaccine, and weather prediction and cyberscience. Lots of people know things that stand the test of reality by functioning well and improving our lives. Even the social sciences do this.

    Somerby is embarrassing himself with this gibberish. I would feel sad about that if he weren't so mean-spirited about it.

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    1. “ It might be nice to believe that there is no such thing as knowledge, but every airplane suspended overhead by air flow contradicts Somerby's assertion that no one actually knows anything.”

      Good thing Somerby never said there is no such thing as knowledge.. He merely contested the notion that the nuts and bolts of some subjects can be made attainable for even an educated population, as billed by this genre.

      Can you at least get the daily crime right?

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    2. Somerby has been implying that no one, not even physicists, really understand physics. He implies that those who claim to understand it are faking it. That is clearly a denial of the possibility of knowledge (expertise) in physics. His denial that even experts know what they are talking about is the "crime of the day," except he returns to that theme pretty frequently, so it isn't just today that is at issue.

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  7. "How often have we simply repeated the words, then claimed that we understood?"

    Then Somerby talks about Homey playing it that way. Is he saying that Homeys are people who pretend to know things they don't actually know? Why single out Homeys when it is unlikely that anyone resembling that Damon Wayans character would buy or read an Einstein-made-easy book. And why assume that anyone resembling Damon Wayans (i.e., black, urban) exemplifies those who cannot understand Einstein? That seems like a gratuitous racially insensitive (at best) remark.

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    1. Yes, Somerby’s point is that black folks can’t do Einstein.

      Oh…and Krauthammer, Isaacson, and himself and very likely most of the people who pretend otherwise, but mostly blacks.

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    2. So, you tell me, what does Homey mean in Somerby's usage?

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    3. Homey means friend, neighbor, mate, tribesman,

      In other words “our self-impressed species”.

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    4. Good try...it has other meanings too.

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    5. Such as these:

      homie
      Friends: Never asks for anything to eat or drink
      Homies: Help themselves and are the reason why I have no food
      Friends: Would bail you out of jail
      Homies: would be sitting next to you sayin' "THAT WAS FUCKING AWESOME!!! Lets do it again!"
      Friends: Won't laugh at you.
      Homies: Will embarrass your Ass when everyone is around!
      Friends: Has never seen you cry
      Homies: Won't tell everyone else you cried...just laugh about it with you in privately when your not still down.
      Friends: Asks you to write down your number.
      Homies: Have you on speed dial
      Friends: Borrows your stuff for a few days then gives it back.
      Homies: Loses your shit and tells you, "My bad...here's a tissue."
      Friends: Only knows a few things about you
      Homies: Could write a very embarrassing biography on your life story...
      Friends: Will leave you behind if that is what the crowd is doing
      Homies: Will kick the ASS of the enitre crowd that left you.
      Friends: Would knock on your front door
      Homies: Walk right in and say "I'M HOME"
      Friends: Know some of your embarrassing moments...
      Homies: Are next to you making them!
      Friends: You have to tell them not to tell anyone
      Homies: They already know not to tell...
      Friends: Are only through highschool
      Homies: They are for life
      Friends: Will be there to take your drink away from you when they think you've had enough
      Homies: Will look at you stumbling all over the place & say "Bitch drink the rest of that you know we don't waste good shit!"
      Friends: Will leave you in a ditch
      Homies: Will drag you out of the ditch and laugh at your ASS later!
      Friends: Would ignore this letter
      Homies: Will send this this back to the person who sent it to u!

      Delete
  8. If you can't explain something in simple terms, you don't understand it.

    - Richard Feynman, theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein award winner, Nobel Prize in Physics award winner, Foreign Member of the Royal Society, National Medal of Science award winner...

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  10. IMO people have different ideas of what it means to "understand" something. I think there are people for whom the ability to recite the words they've been told constitute "understanding." One sees this in politics, where people who can merely recapitulate what they heard on FoxNews or CNN believe that they "understand" the issue.

    OTOH some people owuld not claim to "understand" an issue unless they had deeper knowledge than just what they heard on TV.

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  11. Can we please get back to the race war!

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  12. Okay, Zosima. First explain it in simple terms!

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    1. In the broadest terms; people who look, speak, think, and act alike want to kill people who look, speak, think, and act differently.

      Americans are obsessed with their different identities and our corporate owners through their mass media are obsessed with emphasizing and stoking hatred between such groups. The corporate mass media seems to think a race war is good for their profits, so we all must do our duty and choose a side.

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    2. “ In the broadest terms; people who look, speak, think, and act alike want to kill people who look, speak, think, and act differently.”

      Nope, not even Anonymices, who are the least evolved on the planet.

      No.

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    3. Psuedonymousekettes are the least evolved creatures on the planet

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    4. I don’t know who that is, but I know that they don’t want to kill people.

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    5. Someone is doing the killing in the name of white supremacy. And Somerby is predicting war. Liberals don't tend to do any of that.

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    6. Zosima's right, the corporate mass media knows what's best for us (and for their profits). Obey the programmed corporate-led purpose to existence in the USA: Find an identity to obsess over and some other to hate. Yes, it's stupid and boring, but don't worry, eventually, they'll lie us into another foreign war.

      Delete
    7. The corporate media called bigotry "economic anxiousness" in 2016-17, but hey had to drop it for a Russia conspiracy.
      They're desperate to make fascism just a policy difference between two parties.

      Delete
  13. TDH seems endlessly indignant that (1) authors write books claiming to explain theories of physicist/geniuses like Einstein in terms simple enough for a lay person to understand what the genius was getting at; (2) in fact, when TDH reads these books by these science popularizers, he, himself, can't make heads or tails of what the geniuses are talking about; (3) yet critics reviewing these books claim that the authors have indeed achieved their purported goal of making sense of the geniuses. That critics do this, for some strange, reason seems to be the source of never ending indignation on TDH's part such that he now claims he intends to switch his blog to focus on this seemingly trivial phenomenon. And this switch is because he is frustrated that despite all his efforts over the years, the so-called liberal media is still mindlessly sticking to stupid story lines, and ignoring relevant facts that would undermine the validity of the simplistic story lines (and by doing so TDH deserves a lot of credit, contrary to what a lot of the commentators here seem to think) and the country is devolving into an endless battle between demented warring tribes. Oh well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. AC/MA, Somerby has his willful blind spots, to my thinking, and that does not mean that anyone should cater or crater to that fact.

      There are mensches on Substack and then some.

      None of us are perfect. Some are closer than others.

      Delete
    2. AC/MA, I don't think this is about indignation. I think it's about the nature of "true understanding."

      Can you explain "gravity" in terms of physics? Maybe, but do you really understand how it plays out? I sure as shit don’t, and I’ve been thinking about ever since I fell down for the first time.

      The mathematics explaining this phenomenon fit neatly into observed (empirical) data; but the math is only comprehensible to mathematicians, since they’re the ones that wrote it, and if I’m not mistaken, still just theory – unlike the “theory” of evolution.

      I myself like these think pieces by Somerby. And I’m continually mystified by all of the haters (of which I don’t believe you’re really a part) when I bother to read comments anymore. I guess I’d have to chalk it up to misunderstanding. Or incomprehension.

      Leroy

      Delete
    3. LeRoy, I like TDH, though don't always agree with him. I myself have read reviews of books purporting to explain advanced physics theories, and have observed, similarly to TDH, that I still don't get it. I chalk it up to my own lack of knowledge about physics; that understanding this stuff at this level takes years of study, on the part of people probably smarter than me; and my sense that the subject matter is outside the scope of average human perception. For example, apparently, according to the big bang theory, the entire universe, consisting of earth, our solar system, our galaxy with billions of stars, and billions of other galaxies, each with billions of stars, plus dark matter and black holes, etc (you can see I'm not very up on this stuff) all came from from the explosion of one tiny thing - if this is so, it is seems beyond comprehension. I suspect that not all has been explained and may never be.

      Delete
  14. ‘The billiard balls roll down the slope of the trampoline because of the force of gravity! That's why balls of all descriptions roll down slopes or hills!’

    This is entirely circular.
    It is like saying:

    ‘Why are two objects attracted to each other by virtue of their masses?’ ‘Because of Gravity.’
    ‘What is gravity?’ ‘The attraction of two bodies to each other by virtue of their masses.’

    Yes, that’s what sixth grade science students are taught to say.

    But the questions physicists are asking is: what causes this attraction? What is the mechanism by which objects are attracted to each other? ‘Gravity’ is just the word used to name that attractive force.

    But what is it?

    Somerby seems to think that merely giving the force a name is a sufficient explanation of it.

    Does the idea that an object exerts a ‘force’ on another object through the vacuum of space merely by possessing mass seem any less mysterious than the idea of warped spacetime? For that matter, what is a ‘force’, if it isn’t something like a hand tugging a rope, but something seemingly invisible that operates over the vacuum of space?

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  15. This whole kerfuffle is basically a translation problem! The physics involved is consistent & logical when expressed in mathematical terms; the confusion comes from attempting to translate from math to English. The same problem shows up in all of the, ".... made easy" efforts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And this is the most succinct statement of the problem. Thank you.

      Delete
  16. ‘medical doctor and thus a scientist himself, Krauthammer suggested the possibility that the world had reached "the limits of metaphor"’

    Being a scientist, that must explain his strong support for the Iraq War. It was ‘scientific.’

    Also, his 12 year stint on Fox News.

    We all really ought to listen to the opinions of more medical doctors/scientists, such as Dr Ronny Jackson, Dr Scott Atlas and Dr Harold Bornstein (via seance).

    ReplyDelete
  17. Bob, go to your nearest Books A Million. About 3/4 of the way back to the magazine section is the self help aisle. There you will find the tome entitled “ Special Relativity for Idiots.” Go ahead, pick it up. Open to chapter 5. The entire chapter is on what a dumbass Einstein’s 12 year old niece was. Got through high school but dropped out of her local community college. Turns out she was a very poor benchmark.Who knew? So it wasn’t Einstein’s fault after all. We can all rest easy. Case closed. If you can’t find the book, take my word for it. I might have purchased the last copy.

    ReplyDelete
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