60 Comments

  1. @woozy — ” how turning a key makes a combustible engine run” — the key hits the hamster in the ass, and causes it to start running on its wheel, right?

  2. Kilby: I don’t think I attended more than two Physics 1 lectures, so I don’t know what was taught there regarding the history of SR.

    I did attend the class from Dr. Goodstein that covered history and ethics of science, and we discussed Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I do remember being taught some general skepticism about the Kuhnian idea that scientific revolutions always have to overcome concerted resistance from an old guard. I don’t recall specifically what was said about special relativity, and I don’t remember enough about the history to have strong feelings about whether the rate of acceptance was too fast or too slow.

    I will echo Brian a little and say that I’m not sure about your statement that relatively was “demonstrably” better than ethereal theories in 1905. Of course, in hindsight, it’s clearly better. But the ether was part of a whole self-consistent framework of physics that worked well for lots of other things. Putting myself in the shoes of a 1905 scientist, it seems reasonable to be resistant to changing that framework, and demand that a new framework is not just going to explain one or two anomalous experiments, but instead throw a lot of challenges at it, and see if it can hold up as well as an already well-tested framework. As I said, though, I’m not expressing an opinion on whether an “old guard” was resistance too long, or just the right amount of time.

  3. Continental drift was an interesting case. The concept wasn’t terribly novel. Almost anyone who’s looked at a globe thought that the Americas and Africa looked like they might fit together. The problem was that no one had come up with a mechanism for how the drift was happening. It wasn’t until the further development of plate tectonics, based on seafloor observations of the mid-Atlantic ridge, was made.

  4. Brian in STL: If the early arguments of continental drift were based solely on the shapes of the continents, I would think the continued skepticism was reasonable. But there were also a lot of otherwise incomprehensible fits of fossil regions. For me, continental drift falls into the “old guard held out unreasonably long” category.

  5. Speaking of drift – this is one of the strongest cases of topic drift I can think of, and looking back to the root cause, it’s all based on the post appearing on the wrong date. 🙂

  6. @ Winter Wallaby – When I said “demonstrably better”, I meant in context of the hindsight you mentioned, therefore “eventually”, rather than “immediately”. However, even if the “ether” theories had a certain amount of inner logic to them, they had already been severely (and ultimately fatally) punctured by the negative results of the Michelson-Morely experiments.
    I remember reading an essay that proposed repeating the Michelson-Morely experiment on the moon (as the ultimate nail in “ether’s” coffin, not to mention “Ptolemaic geocentrism”). I was not able to find evidence that this was actually done by any of the Apollo missions, but I quit looking when I noticed that one of the links I had discovered was about to lead to the flat-earth society. There are limits.
    P.S. Topic drift is often engendered by comics at the top of the post that aren’t really worth discussing.
    P.P.S. If you were able to pass that course with just two visits to the lecture hall, you must be a lot better at physics than I am.

  7. Kilby: The Michelson-Morley experiments contradicted the ether theories, and thus classical physics. But there are often (always?) well-done experiments that contradict standard theories. You don’t necessarily want to overturn a large body of knowledge that’s working well on the basis of one experiment (or even a series of experiments), even if you can’t explain them away either.

    I’m more a visual learner, than auditory, so I always learned much better sitting at home and reading a book, than going to class. Smaller classes that involved discussion and active participation were different, but I never got much out of attending large lecture classes. I typically went only to the first class of the quarter to get general information about the course.

  8. Woozy quoth “but the thing is that *example* of “new math’ *wasn’t* new math at all. That was exactly how we’ve done subtraction for as long as arabic numbers have been in use.”

    As Chak pointed out earlier in the thread, there are many ways of doing subtraction without borrowing. You might be arguing that fundamentally, in the arabic number system, all methods are conceptually doing what this algorithm does explicitly — but that doesn’t mean that this particular algorithm is the one and only way to do subtraction. Yes, it might hew more closely to the underlying principles of the arabic numbering system, but you are confusing specific implementation with underlying concept. There have been many implementations of algorithms that work just fine (the song references at least one), and in fact there are algorithms to do subtraction that don’t even rely on the arabic number system — Romans were able to do arithmetic without the arabic numbering system; Merchants making change probably use an algorithm that doesn’t require understanding of the arabic numbering system. In fact, many people advocate such a system as easier than the “complicated” system of borrowing and keeping track of what you borrowed, and having to write down the numbers. ( https://www.businessinsider.com/how-common-core-subtraction-works-2014-5 ) Yes, we have come full circle.

    To bring this back to a more comics centered discussion:
    ( https://www.gocomics.com/peanuts/2012/10/02 )

  9. L. Ron Hubbard in his book Battlefield Earth had the evil invaders have a base-13 numbering system; when he wasn’t taking cheap shots at psychology, he was taking cheap shots at the inferiority of base-13, not realizing that what he really was taking cheap-shots at was his lack of understanding of the arabic number system. While I will grant that 13 is a slightly worse base than 10, 10 is by no means the ideal base either, with 16 and 12 jumping immediately to mind as better. But the thing is, it’s not the base, it’s the system that matters, and as long as the evil aliens used a similar system, the fact that their base is 13 would in no meaningful way impede them (as L. Ron implied in his narrative): 1 would be 1, 10 would be 13, and 100 would be 13 13s, and you could just as easily manipulate your groups of 13 as we manipulate our groups of 10s, and there is nothing magical about the number 10, and our being “lucky” to have evolved with 10 fingers, vs. the evil aliens having “unfortunately” evolved with 13 fingers (really!) would not bestow upon the humans an advantage allowing them to mathmaticate circles around the evil aliens. It seems obviously clear to me that L. Ron was not able to separate the representation “10” from the number ten, and therefor associated all the goodness of the abstract numbering system with the literal representation of the number ten that he seemed to be intrinsically unable to disassociate from the notation “10”. I wonder if there’s anything in Scientology about other bases being evil? Does he rant about computers being evil for using binary? I shudder to think what he would make of the idea that Oct 31 = Dec 25….

  10. Certainly there was a good deal of evidence on the side of drift. Part of the problem was that drift proponents, particularly Wegner, had movement rates that turned out to be far higher than later calculations. Again, the main problem was how these continents were moving around the thick crust of the Earth.

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