Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I don't understand this

And the fun part is, that I can't understand it. Why? Because even though I'm in college, I can't read or understand Physics papers. The learning curve is too steep.

Learning curve for physics too steep? Just pick up a book about it and read it!

Sure, and to understand the physics involved from the basics, I must learn the math involved. And once I've gone through 3 books for the math, I'd still not be able to understand peer-reviewed physics papers.

What's left? What more do you need to know?

To dive into a peer-reviewed paper, I need to be familiar with the language and syntax that they use. It's almost unreadable to a newcomer to the field. Is it just this paper or does every paper use such convoluted language and bury the facts in irrelevant claims, fancy language and dramatic bold text?

If I somehow get used to that stuff, I need to be familiar every paper of the 5 kazillion or so that it references. Especially so when it references other papers by the same author.

Bah. Anyway, I was trying to read some of the papers published by the people guy at Black Light Power. To see for myself what kind of credence to associate with his claims.

And they're just impossible to read.

I do not like hand-waving, and I do not like pretty pictures or videos. I would like my questions to be answered, or given the means to answer them myself. Papers are supposed to be a way to do that, and I can't. So I don't know what to make of his extraordinary claims.

In case you were wondering what his claims were, he's just about claiming that 40 years of QM is inaccurate because they cannot reconcile with some of his experimental observations (which have been published in peer-reviewed papers, not that I trust anything unless I can see the arguments for myself). Now, this would be something revolutionary, but there's too much such stuff going around, and it's difficult to differentiate the physicists from the crackpots.

All in all, I don't have a clue. He's right that people have a hard time getting away from their dearest theories, and I have been embarrassed by the fact that QM is one thing that no one learns, but rather "Accepts" in school and through college since the Math involved isn't taught at that level.

But really, the only way to challenge something as widely-accepted as HUP, you need a mountain of evidence (Occam's Razor and all that).


Pavel said...

Well there's not much can be done about that. I'm a physicist myself and still will need to 'read into' a problem that is outside the range of my usual interests.

Kevin Bowling said...

[Copy of a post on my blog in response to yours]

Honestly, I think the unreadability and steep learning curve of mathematics (this is the worst offender) and higher science is intentional. The people who do it enjoy this aspect because it lets them feel elitist. And throughout the ages (from Egypt to Greece until now) it was just a way to show how large your member was.

This is one of the reasons I am in such love with software engineering. The whole point is to minimize stupidity and dick wagging and develop efficient and robust systems. The focus is on efficiency and collaboration by conveying the MAXIMUM amount of _MEANING_ in code, comments, documents, ui design, etc. Why? Because computer systems are among the most complex human beings have ever created. Solving problems with computers is almost always a multi-person endeavor.

I really wish such common sense approaches would trickle back into the other sciences since they power and enlighten our world. All the archaic symbols and nonsense in mathematics need to disappear and become simplified. Ideally, with an ASCII character set for easy input into programing, messaging/chat, CAS, and calculators.

The other problem is that academics become disconnected with reality. To be an expert usually means working with a high level of intuition, so explaining things to non-experts is often very difficult. This ties into one of my favorite axioms: just because you are an expert at something does not mean you are an expert at teaching it. Teaching is an art form in itself.

Recommended reading: "Pragmatic Thinking and Learning" by Andy Hunt and "The Mission, The Men, and Me" by Pete Blabber. Two very different books but both distill solving problems with groups of people at their very core, and both excellent reads.

Can anyone recommend any material that presents higher level mathematics and science clearly, yet still gets into good stuff, without patronizing?

Unknown said...

I'm a guy with a Ph.D. in computer science. Not physics. But I have to tell you, many peer reviewed articles are hard to read for first-timers. This has nothing to do with elitism though. A first consideration is page limitation (you don't have the pages to dwell on something).

The math itself should not be the point in case. The paper should be readable without the math. A bigger problem in general is hidden assumptions by the writer. The papers are written for an audience that is an expert in the field. As such, many information is assumed known and generally is known to the couple of hundred people in the field.

A third thing to consider is that generally (not always) scientific papers aim to solve a very small problem. The structure of the paper is often: what is the problem solved, why is that important to know (too often omitted because everyone knows why), what is the solution, why does the solution solve the problem, conclusion.

Anonymous said...

Over here: http://www.talk-polywell.org/bb/index.php there were some discussions of the Black Light Power stuff, and several of the people on that board have physics degrees (and at least one has a PHD in it) and the overall feeling was that it's probably wrong...

Ben Schwartz said...

The reason this paper is hard to understand is because it's wrong. The guy's a crackpot.

Quantum Mechanics is real. Your hard drive (GMR effect) your CPU, your LED backlight, your laser pointer... they all rely on quantum-mechanical effects that this huckster is ignoring.

He's a "physicist" who's raised $60 million in venture capital. The correct term for this is "con man".

Don't blame yourself.

Unknown said...

I don't know anything about this "Blacklight Power theory", but IMHO the right approach is to start from the review papers to gather informations about the general problem, then one can go on starting from their bibliography, looking for/learning only what it is really necessary to learn in the meantime.

Sometimes this is a very time consuming process and it takes really much to learn anything, but sometimes it is not and it is actually easier to read a review than to find the same things in a book, because usually books are not written in such a way so that you can easily just read the chapter you need and skip the rest.

Anonymous said...

By just looking at the titles and the journals, I (PhD student in theoretical condensed matter physics) can tell you, the guy is just producing hot air, not real, peer-reviewed and generally accepted stuff. If you want to try some good physics papers, you should start reading something like Physical Review B, e.g.

tejaswi said...


I am currently in my room, where I can't access those papers. I think I can still make some general comments on what you said.

99% of scientific papers aren't trying to tell you something fundamentally new or give you some wisdom in a condensed form which is easily absorbed. Most of them are applications of other fundamental results to a well defined problem which is of interest to some people only.

Hence the (seemingly) rational method of diligently combing the citation tree till you understand everything is not the best way to get to know things; especially if you aren't a specialist in the subject.

It would be best to first read and work through books which give background material. With the benefit of hindsight they focus on what is actually important in a mostly generic notation which you could easily understand. Then read papers and figure out what is important - else it will all seem equally obfuscated and useless.