The last half of 2021 was challenging but exhilarating. I spent 21 weeks living out of a suitcase, unable to do any hardware development. But that also included 9.5. weeks of traveling in Europe, and the chance to visit PSI where I tried (unsuccessfully) to get the experiment performed.

The first half of 2022 was dominated by planning for the U.S. Go Congress. I’m co-running it this week.

One of the main sticking points for physicists trying to understand and accept this theory is the claims it makes about gauge invariance. So I thought it would be a good idea to do a deep dive on that issue, starting with an elementary explanation of what it means.

The general idea of a gauge goes back to Hermann Weyl. It’s a mathematical transformation you can make to an equation that leaves the essential physics unchanged. In a sense, it’s a kind of symmetry.

There are lots of different symmetries in physics. There are discrete symmetries like T (Time: at a microscopic level the forward and backward equations are the same), P (Parity: the mirror image of a physical situation behaves just like the original, except mirrored), and C (Charge inversion: if you replace all positive charges with negative charges and vice-versa, everything behaves the same). There are also continuous symmetries in space (the laws of physics are the same everywhere), orientation (the laws of physics don’t change if you rotate your view and look at the world from a different angle), and time (the laws of physics are the same tomorrow as today). By Noether’s Theorem, every continuous symmetry corresponds to a conserved quantity: space symmetry = conservation of momentum, orientation symmetry = conservation of angular momentum, and time symmetry = conservation of energy.

Note that it’s not always clear whether these symmetries are perfect, or just approximate. For example, if the laws of the universe were changing, but very very slowly, then energy would be approximately (but not exactly) conserved. Or if Dark Energy is real, then more of it is getting created every second as the universe expands; and so if Dark Energy is a form of energy, then energy is most definitely NOT being conserved.

It is also possible for a theory to have symmetries that the universe does not share. For example, classical mechanics and classical electromagnetism both have all of the symmetries mentioned above: C, P, T, space, orientation, and time. But the universe doesn’t!

CPT

One of the biggest shocks in particle physics was the realization that weak force decay (responsible for nuclear radioactivity) sometimes violates P. Gravity, EM, and the strong force don’t, as far as we can tell, but the weak force does. So P symmetry is a property of many of our theories, but not of the universe.

That means that, most of the time, if you assume mirror inversion leaves a situation physically equivalent, you will be right. But occasionally, you will be wrong. In special situations, P symmetry doesn’t work.

It turned out, after much thought and investigation, that C and T symmetries don’t always work either. However, if you apply all 3 at once in a CPT transformation, that does leave things the same. We think. So if you take a physical situation, mirror it, swap + and – charges, and make time run backwards, then nothing changes. As far as we can tell, the universe has CPT symmetry.

This turns out to be important for particle lifetimes, so we’ll come back to it, but we need to do a little more groundwork first.

EM gauge invariance

EM gauge invariance should be understood as another continuous symmetry. Crudely (for our purposes here), it says that if you add a constant voltage to everything, then the physics doesn’t change. This is provably true for Maxwell’s equations, and most physicists think it is also true for the universe.

One has to accept that this is at least mostly or approximately true. For example, when I was working inside the giant Van De Graaff generator at Boston Museum of Science in 2010, and got charged up to plus or minus a million volts, my internal biochemistry did not change in any noticeable way; if it had I would have died.

Note that you can gauge transform a single voltage away, but you can’t gauge transform a voltage difference away. For example, I could have said that the VDGG sphere was at +1 million volts, and the control cage was at zero volts. Or I could transform that to say that the sphere was at zero volts, and the cage was at -1 million volts. The choice of where to put the zero is arbitrary, but there’s always a 1 million volt difference between the sphere and the cage, and it’s always possible for a huge lightning bolt to arc between them. The physics stays the same.

There are also many experiments finding no difference, going back to at least 1931 (or maybe 1851 if you count some experiments that Michael Faraday ran). For example, if you put a mercury vapor lamp inside a VDGG and charge it up, the color of the the light doesn’t change.

It’s important to note, though, that light emitted by an atom has a frequency determined by the difference of the starting and ending orbital frequencies. If you changed both orbital energies by the same amount, the frequency of light would not change. And Schrödinger’s equation (or even just E = h𝜈) imply that a static potential does change orbital frequencies, but all orbitals by the same amount. Thus, “spectroscopic” methods (which depend on the energy difference) cannot measure the potential. This means that they are, in fact, all EM gauge invariant even if EM gauge invariance were not universally true.

So it is tempting to simplify EM gauge invariance down to “potentials cannot have any measurable effect”, a notion I will call Naive EM Gauge Invariance or NEGI for short. Most physicists believe NEGI. But NEGI, it turns out, is also false.

The Aharonov-Bohm effect

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

The perfect counter-example to NEGI is the Aharonov-Bohm effect, which was (probably) first described by Walter Franz in 1939, ignored for a decade, rediscovered by Werner Ehrenberg and Ray Siday in 1949, ignored for another decade, re-rediscovered by David Bohm and Yakir Aharonov in 1959, and named after them because they started a big argument about it.

For a century, physicists had believed that the electromagnetic vector potential A (which is a 4-component vector, with the first component being the electric potential and the other 3 components being the X- Y- and Z-components of the magnetic potential) was merely a mathematical construct that could be gauge-transformed away and had no physical meaning. That is, they believed NEGI. And why shouldn’t they? In classical mechanics, and in classical EM (Maxwell’s equations), NEGI is provably true. The Maxwell equations are written in terms of fields. The potentials don’t appear at all, so they can’t have any effect.

Quantum Mechanics, however, is quite different. The Schrödinger equation is written using potentials; the fields do not appear!

Consider a tube with a magnetic field contained inside it. (If the tube is made of superconductor, magnetic fields cannot penetrate it.) Inside the tube, there is a magnetic field, which can have effects. Outside the tube, the field is zero, so NEGI would say there can be no effects.

But the vector potential is not zero outside the tube. It tails off towards zero as you get farther away, but it’s always there.

QM says that if a charged particle passes through this region of zero field but non-zero potential, its quantum phase will be shifted. This can show up as a shift in interference fringes:

It is important to note that because there is no field outside the tube, there can be no force on the particle. Its path is not bent or deflected, its speed along that path is neither sped up nor slowed down. (This is what theory predicts, AND it was measured experimentally because people just wanted to be absolutely certain.) The only thing that changes is the phase (or, equivalently, its frequency).

NEGI says that this can’t happen. QM says that it has to happen. QM is right. NEGI is wrong.

This didn’t stop people from publishing hundreds of pompous, arrogant, and incorrect papers with titles like “Nonexistence of the Aharonov-Bohm effect“. Even 60 years later, people keep trying to “disprove” it. This is how desperate some people are to cling to NEGI.

Gauge invariance in EMTD theories

For simplicity, I’m going to assume that the formula for EM time dilation is . This has some pleasant properties that will become apparent in a moment.

This prediction is not EM-gauge-invariant, because you can gauge-transform V to be zero (or any voltage you want) and then there is no time dilation (or any time dilation you want). So it seems at first that the effect has to be unphysical or non-measurable. But we’re talking about e.g. the lifetime of an elementary particle, which is clearly measurable.

But it gets even stranger. Consider the ratio of a particle’s lifetimes at two different voltages V₁ and V₂, with the difference in voltage being ∆V = V₂ – V₁. We have . This depends only on the voltage difference ∆V, which cannot be gauge-transformed away. The ratio is EM-gauge-invariant.

Thus, if we blindly accept that “all observables are gauge invariant”, we are forced to conclude that the ratio of two decay lifetimes is observable but the individual lifetimes (which is what we actually measure!) are not! This is a truly bizarre state of affairs.

CPT invariance revisited

The fact that the universe is CPT invariant has led many people to conclude that particle and antiparticle lifetimes must be identical. And yet, in some experiments, they have been off by as much as 1 part per thousand. This is usually dismissed as experimental error, but some of these experiments were also claiming 1 part per million or better accuracy.

In EMTD, the lifetimes are only identical at 0 voltage. If you increase the voltage, positively charged particles will decay faster and negatively charged particles will decay slower. This also implies that you can measure the absolute voltage, by comparing the particle and antiparticle lifetimes. This is starkly non-gauge-invariant, and, superficially, it seems to violate CPT symmetry.

But a CPT inversion negates all charges in the universe AND negates all potentials. The new predicted dilation is identical, because (-q)(-V) = qV. So, perhaps surprisingly, EMTD is completely CPT invariant.

The reason people think CPT implies identical lifetimes is because they are subconsciously also assuming NEGI. If NEGI were true, then the potential could not matter. So CPT + NEGI implies that the lifetimes are identical, but CPT by itself does not.

“There it is.”

So, there you have it. We have a theory that directly challenges the notion of EM gauge invariance, but makes some predictions that are EM gauge invariant. If you accept those gauge invariant observables, then you can measure the gauge, and the very foundation of gauge invariance melts away. In a sense, we can use gauge invariance to prove that gauge invariance is wrong. It’s almost a reductio ad absurdum.

Our mainstream theories are all EM gauge invariant, but the universe might not be. This could be one reason that we’re having trouble making progress. “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you, it’s what you know that ain’t so.”

It’s been nearly 3 months since my last post, and not because there’s been nothing to report.

Let me explain … No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Inigo Montoya

In early 2020, I was a director of the U.S. Go Congress. We had a lovely site picked out, The YMCA of the Rockies, and everything seemed to be going well until COVID came along. We were forced to cancel. So was the 2021 Go Congress.

In 2022, we decided to try again. Same place, same plan, except with vaccination and masks. So, I’ve been spending much of my time since February working on the Go Congress and not, sadly, writing here. This all ends in a few weeks.

Also, my wife dragged me off to Europe again. France, Finland (for a neuroscience conference), Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania. Basically, almost all the countries that Russia wants to invade next after Ukraine. This should have resulted in more travel blogs, and perhaps eventually will. But I used it as a vacation from my Go Congress duties which, of course, did not go away.

On the physics front, I’ve made some progress on understanding how EM gauge invariance plays out in this class of theories. Expect a long post about that sometime soon. It’s a bit strange and counterintuitive.

I also realized that the question of exactly which phenomena do and do not get dilated by EM time dilation is more subtle and difficult than I thought. Even adherents of these theories don’t agree on, for example, whether you should be able to measure it with an ionic clock. This makes it hard to speak confidently about which experiments should and shouldn’t show the effect, and needs very careful reasoning to clarify. I hope to have time to sort through this mess in late August.

Although I want to re-propose the experiment at Paul Scherrer Institut next January, with some improvements, prudence require having a Plan B. So immediately after the Go Congress, I’ll be attending the North American Particle Accelerator Conference in Albuquerque New Mexico. Not because I plan on building my own accelerator, but because someone out there might have a small accelerator capable of producing the muons I need. I cannot buy, so someone must give. Like Shevek, I am the Beggarman.

Love comes empty handed, like Cordelia, bringing Nothing.

The ability to doubt things that are beyond doubt is a deeply underappreciated aspect of the scientific process. Even when faced with unequivocal evidence that a new idea is well founded and well reasoned, orthodoxy rules until death does them part. The time lag between a new vision and its emotional acceptance gives the visionary a couple of years, or a couple of decades, to work in the void of peer disbelief. Ego attachments to old ideas is in no way part of the scientific process, but it is the basis for progress from scientific institutions. So it remains the default contribution of individuals to do an “end run” around social and cultural rigidities of scientists’ assumptions and presumptions.

It is fair to say that, in general, no problems have been exhausted; instead, men have been exhausted by the problems. Soil that appears impoverished to one researcher reveals its fertility to another. Fresh talent approaching the analysis of a problem without prejudice will always see new possibilities — some aspect not considered by those who believe that a subject is fully understood.

Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Advice for a Young Investigator, translated by Neely Swanson and Larry W. Swanson

What makes one talent “fresh” and another stale? What “prejudice” must one not have in order to see a problem clearly? I don’t know if I can answer that in general, but with respect to the particular theories that I have lumped together under the label of Quantum Time Dilation, the answer is relatively clear.

The prejudice that needs to be avoided is field-centrism; the idea that fields are real and potentials are merely aids to calculation. This has become endemic in modern physics for over 150 years, since the development of Maxwell’s Equations. Despite the fact that Michael Faraday used both fields and potentials, Maxwell formalized Faraday’s notions into equations based only on fields. Today, googling “electric field” gets 97 million hits while “electric potential” gets only 10 million.

Quantum Mechanics should have been a wake-up call telling us loudly that this bias is unjustified. In Schrödinger’s Equation, only potentials appear. Many (biased) physicists found this distasteful and unacceptable, and attempted to rewrite the equation in terms of fields. They all failed. Fundamentally, that’s just not how QM works.

In General Relativity, it is the Newtonian gravitational potential -GM/r that enters into the metric, not the gravitational field strength. But “gravitational field” gets 9.8 million hits while “gravitational potential” gets 5.1 million.

The example of the Aharonov-Bohm effect is instructive. It was probably first described in a talk given by Werner Franz to a physics meeting in Danzig in 1939. Then it was ignored for a decade. Franz later wrote:

This simple relation which should be the first thing taught in a lecture on wave mechanics for beginners after introducing the magnetic field (strangely enough I could not find it in any lecture notes except my own) shows that the phase difference between electron rays depends on the magnetic flux included between the rays, even if the rays do not run in a magnetic field.

W. Franz, Elektroneninterferenzen im Magnetfeld, Zeit. für Physik184 (1965) 85-91, translated by Gottfried Möllenstedt, in B.J. Hiley, The Early History of the Aharonov-Bohm Effect

In other words, this effect happens in a region where the EM 4-potential A is non-zero even if the fields are all zero. It is a purely potential-based effect.

It was rediscovered by Werner Ehrenberg and Ray Siday in the 1940s, and published in their paper on electron optics in 1948. They understood that it violated the common understanding of the time, which was that the vector potential A was simply a mathematical symbol with no observable consequences. Yet here, in quantum mechanics, it had a measurable effect. They asked colleagues, including Max Born, to review it and “find the error”. But no one could. Further, the effect showed that the notion that one could always gauge-transform away the potential was wrong; there was no transformation that could make A disappear everywhere. In fact, the effect itself was gauge-invariant; no gauge transformation could alter it at all, let alone make it go away.

Then it was ignored for another decade. When asked around 1957 whether anyone had shown interest in it, Siday is said to have replied

No. We have not heard a bloody thing – not as much as a whisper. It has fallen to the bottom like a lump of lead.

R. Siday, as recalled by David Butt, in B.J. Hiley, The Early History of the Aharonov-Bohm Effect

In 1959 Yakir Aharonov and David Bohm rediscovered the effect. Since they were more famous and published in a more widely read journal, this finally started a conversation in earnest. But much of it was ridicule and various sorts of claims that it simply must be wrong. Since the effect was clearly predicted by QM, these amounted to claims that QM itself must be wrong.

In retrospect, it’s astonishing that this was even tolerated. QM is one of the most successful theories in human history. We don’t know of a single instance where it has been wrong. If I were to stand up in a meeting of physicists and directly state “Quantum Mechanics is wrong!”, people would justifiably think me a crackpot and an ignorant idiot. And yet here, we had the spectacle of hordes of physicists indirectly claiming that QM was wrong, and no one found that odd at all. Apparently, it’s OK to be an ignorant idiot crackpot as long as you are defending conventional “wisdom”. And the “wisdom” was that potentials could not have any effect.

The first experiment to confirm the effect was not widely accepted. People argued that it was defective, that it had failed to completely exclude the magnetic field, or raised various other complaints.

The second experiment to confirm the effect was similarly rejected.

Only after Tonomura‘s electron holography group at Hitachi Labs performed an immaculately clean experiment did the opposition begin to crumble. One is reminded of Gandhi’s maxim “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.” Roughly, the A-B effect spent 20 years in the “ignore” stage, 20 more years in the “laugh at” stage, and 10 years in the fight stage. That’s half a century. And the decades since “winning” have not been free of conflict. Even today, in the 21st century, there are people writing papers arguing that the effect is not really caused by the potential, but rather by various properties of fields.

And this has been proven wrong, both by theory and experiment. A field would have to work by exerting a force on the electron. Since the path of the electron is unchanged, any such force would have to be parallel to the path; in other words, it would have to speed up or slow down the electron. But experiments on electron arrival times at the detector show no time difference; their speed is unchanged, only their phase (or, more precisely, the rate of their phase rotation) is altered. Careful theoretical analyses reach the same conclusion; the effect cannot be explained by any force.

And yet still – 83 years after this effect was discovered, and decades after it was experimentally confirmed – many physicists either don’t accept it or dismiss it as unimportant.

So it seems to me that a “fresh” talent, for both the A-B effect and QTD, is someone who has not been indoctrinated in an overly-simplistic notion of gauge invariance. Every system of knowledge is also a system of ignorance; it tells you what you can safely ignore. If you are taught that you can safely ignore potentials, then you become blind to the reality that sometimes you can’t.

Had a thought so bright
Never mind how mad it sounds
Ideas Einstein never found
To unify his GR with EM
Such a brilliant gem
Marsden says the math is good
Surely journals never could
Reject a paper with so much to show
Now I think I know
What you tried to say to me
How you merged EM with gravity
Using action as the key
They would not listen, they did not know how
Perhaps they'll listen now
Muons caught in flight
Vibrating their quantum phase
Change the times of their decays
According to potential energies
Everything he sees
CERN's lifetime discrepancies
Swept under the rug to please
Conformists, and the publisher's demands
Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
How you suffered for your sanity
How you tried to set them free
They would not listen, they did not know how
Perhaps they'll listen now
For they could not grok you
Or believe what you knew
So when your academic hopes
Were left hanging on the ropes,
You took a finance job, as math geeks often do
Ah, but I could have told you, David,
Their world would never welcome one as radical as you
Muons caught in flight
Focused beams in empty halls
Sectioned off by concrete walls
Could demonstrate your dilation effect
Those dreams all seem wrecked
Committees are conservative
And too-advanced ideas give
Them headaches, so they tend to let them go
Now I think I know
What you tried to say to me
How you suffered for your sanity
How you tried to set them free
They would not listen, they're not listening still
Perhaps they never will

This is me thinking out loud about how to present the theory in 5 minutes, the experiment in 5 minutes, and myself in 2 minutes. I will have to do that on Jan 26th when I defend my experiment proposal. I will have 12 minutes to present and 8 minutes for questions.

Slide 1: Title

Electrostatic Time Dilation

Howard A. Landman, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA

Slide 2: Theory (from QM)

Stationary solutions to the Schrödinger equation factor into a spatial part (that doesn’t change over time) and a temporal part (that doesn’t vary over space).

The spatial part gives you e.g. atomic and molecular orbitals. We’re going to completely ignore those.

The time part gives the oscillation of the quantum phase. This rotates in a circle in the complex plane, at a rate governed by the energy: e^{-2πiEt/h}. It’s pretty much just saying the same thing as E = h𝜈; frequency is proportional to energy.

Note that the S.E. doesn’t care what kind of energy this is. Usually it’s the potential energy (“PE”). For bound states, the quantum virial theorem says that the kinetic energy (“KE”) is KE = -½PE, so the KE + PE = ½PE. So (ignoring the factor of ½) we can say it’s just all potential energy.

Remembering that everything has an inherent “rest mass” energy from E = mc^{2}, we can write the total energy expression E = mc^{2} + U_{g} + U_{em} + U_{w} + U_{s} + … where the Us represent the gravitational, electromagnetic, weak, and strong potential energies respectively. The dots represent any undiscovered “5th force”, which would fit in identically.

In short, QM treats all potentials equally, and they all affect the phase frequency in the same way.

Slide 3: GTD and EMTD (from QM)

For U_{g}, Quantum Mechanics predicts relative phase frequencies in a gravitational field (say at heights 0 and z) to be:

This predicts an electrostatic time dilation for charged particles (and similar dilations for the weak and strong potentials).

Slide 4: WTF

Wait, what?!

If that were true, then:

Absolute electrostatic potential would be measurable (by comparing decay times of (say) muons and antimuons)

EM gauge transformations would alter the physics. Only the Coulomb/radiation gauge would be physically realistic

The Maxwell equations would not be a complete description of even classical EM (since EMTD is a purely classical effect)

The Reissner-Nordström metric would be wrong

The proper time experienced by particles with different q/m could differ even in the same inertial frame

That is a lot to swallow! Surely any professional physicist would reject this immediately as being totally absurd. (Most do.)

Slide 5: Previous theory

Apsel (1978-81): d𝛕 = (1/c)[(g_{𝛍𝛎}dx^{𝛍}dx^{𝛎})^{1/2} + (q/mc^{2})A_{𝛍}dx^{𝛍}) “the physical time associated with the trajectory of a classical particle is related to the beats of the quasi-classical quantum mechanical wave function associated with the particle”

Ryff (1985): “when L = mc(g_{𝛍𝛎}v^{𝛍}v^{𝛎})^{1/2} + (q/c)A_{𝛍}v^{𝛍}) we recover Apsel’s relation. … the alteration of the lifetime of a particle in a field and its equation of motion can be derived from the same assumptions”

van Holten (~1989-92): dt = d𝛕(E – q𝛟)/M “any quantity which contributes to the energy E in an observable way, also contributes to the time dilation”

Ringermacher (1994-2001): d𝛕_{2}/d𝛕_{1} = 1 – 2e(𝛟_{2}-𝛟_{1})/mc^{2} “it would seem that electromagnetic potentials … should be on equal footing with the gravitational potentials”

Özer (1999-2020): 𝚫T(d) = 𝚫T(0)(1 + (q|E|d)/mc^{2}) (where |E| is the electric field strength and d the distance, so that |E|d = 𝚫V)

Landman (2009-2021): T_{d} = exp(qV/mc^{2}) ≈ 1 + qV/mc^{2} directly derived from E = mc^{2} and E = h𝜈

Yablon (1980?-2018): 𝛾_{em} = dt/d𝛕 ≈ 1 + q𝛟_{0}/mc^{2} “Time sees all energy.”

Slide 6: Previous experiments

Tests looking for some kind of EMTD date back to 1931, but almost all of them used neutral particles (Hg atom, Rb atom) and/or spectroscopic methods. Neutral particles (q=0) give zero predicted effect. Spectroscopic methods can’t show any effect because of energy conservation.

Slide 7: This experiment

We propose to measure muon and antimuon decay times, at rest, in a plastic scintillator inside a Van de Graaff generator at 0 V and ±700 kV. For a muon at -700 kV or an antimuon at +700 kV we get:

or about 2/3rds of a percent faster decay. If the effect exists, we expect bootstrap Monte Carlo resampling to show something like this for antimuon mean decay time:

and for muons, the red and blue peaks would swap places. If there is no effect, the blue and red peaks would be on top of the green peak.

Slide 8: Experiment overview

Slide 9: The equipment: VDGG

We generate the high voltage using a Van de Graaff generator with a 500 mm diameter sphere. Because the effect is so large, relatively simple (even student grade) detection devices should be adequate; the main problem is that everything needs to live inside the sphere and run off of batteries.

Slide 10: About the author

Howard A. Landman:

BA Math (honors), UC Berkeley. Top 100, Putnam competition. Two published pure math papers (in combinatorial game theory).

MS Computer Science, UC Berkeley. Co-designer of Berkeley RISC I (first RISC microprocessor).

Career as integrated circuit designer and/or software developer. Worked on dozens of chips. Co-designer of Sony PlayStation 2 “Emotion Engine” main processor (first commercial 128-bit microprocessor). Wrote about 300k lines of code. About 19 electronic engineering publications, plus a few in other fields (cryptography, nanotechnology). H-index 9.

Slide 11: Author research

Retired early. Started studying quantum computing in early 2000s. Audited upper division QM, graduate QM, QFT, classical EM, math methods classes at Colorado State.

In March 2009, saw link between change of phase frequency with energy in QM and change of time with potential in GR. Started pursuing that.

13 years later, here we are. Main contributions to this field: doing the literature search and finding all(?) the previous research, finding simple ways of understanding the theory, and developing this experiment.

There has been a lot of wailing and moaning and gnashing of teeth, over the last few decades, about why physics doesn’t seem to be making as much fundamental progress as it used to. There have been entire books written about it: Lee Smolin’s The Trouble With Physics and Sabine Hossenfelder’s Lost In Math both accurately describe parts of the problem. But they were written by physicists, and I think part of the reason that physics is stuck is that physicists don’t know why physics is stuck. If they knew, they could try to fix it.

I’ve written elsewhere about some aspects of the problem, especially how physics publishing has become an old boy’s club, with arxiv.org acting as the members-only swimming pool for preprints. But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

“The difficulty ain’t that we know so much, but that we know so much that ain’t so.”

Josh Billings, quoted by Mark Twain in 1895

I want to talk about where physics lies, to itself and to others. Because that’s the shortest path to the heart of this darkness. I’m going to focus on lies that are painfully obvious to me because of the particular theories I’ve been working on for the last decade or so. I know those ones pretty well. There are probably others.

Lie-cluster #1:

General Relativity is a theory of gravity only.

Gravity is not a force, but everything else is.

Things move along geodesics until forces push them off.

Gravity is geometry but other forces aren’t.

OK, maybe you could geometrize EM, but doing so is pointless; you’d only get the Maxwell equations back, so there’s no new physics.

When I call these lies, I do not mean that these statements are not accurate descriptions of “What our current mainstream theories say” or “What we teach to students”. They are. But does anyone seriously believe that this is how the universe actually works? Einstein and Schrödinger certainly didn’t. Just to make one obvious point, there have been geometric theories of EM at least since R.G. Beil’s in 1987, maybe since the 1920s if you count Kaluza-Klein. The notion that EM cannot be geometrized is blatantly false. And yet, it is widely believed and taught.

Here’s Schrödinger’s viewpoint:

the conception Einstein put forward in 1915 embraced from the outset … every kind of dynamical interaction, not just gravitation only. … the very foundation of the theory, viz. the basic principle of equivalence and a gravitational field, clearly means that there is no room for any kind of ‘force’ to produce acceleration save gravitation, which however is not to be regarded as a force but resides on the geometry of space-time. Thus in fact, though not always in the wording, the mystic concept of force is wholly abandoned. … we are in patent need of field-laws for the matter-tensor (e.g. for the electromagnetic field), laws that one would also like to conceive as purely geometrical restrictions on the structure of space-time.

Until GR encompasses all forces, it is incomplete. GR in its current state is abandoned, not finished.

Lie-cluster #2:

There is no metric for Newtonian gravity.

Gravity causes time dilation.

Gravity is due to the curvature of space.

There is no time dilation associated with EM, weak, or strong forces.

This cluster takes a little unpacking. It’s easy to get a metric for Newtonian gravity around a single spherically-symmetric mass by taking the weak-field low-speed limit of the Schwarzschild metric. This leaves:

where 𝜙(r) = -GM/r is the Newtonian gravitational potential. The first three terms on the right side are just the flat-space Minkowski metric of special relativity (in spherical coordinates), which has zero curvature. The last term is the time dilation field, so all of the curvature is in the time dimension; yet the geodesics in this metric reproduce Newtonian gravitational dynamics. So the traditional notion that gravity causes time dilation has it precisely backwards; to a very good approximation, mass causes time dilation and time dilation causes gravity, i.e. gravity is mostly due to the curvature of time, not space.

The claim that there is no metric for Newtonian gravity goes back at least to Misner-Thorne-Wheeler Gravitation. It’s so easy to prove that it’s given as a homework problem. I’ve done the problem. It’s not hard.

“But wait,” you just said if you’re paying attention, “you just showed me the Newtonian metric, and you also said you proved that no such metric can exist. How can those both be true?” Good question. The answer is that the homework problem requires that the metric be relativistically invariant. The weak-field limit of the Schwarzschild metric is, but after we take the low-speed limit the result (above) no longer handles high-speed phenomena correctly.

The problem is that Newtonian gravity itself is not relativistically invariant. So the metric for it can’t possibly be. Why the hell would anyone expect that it should be? MTW isn’t technically wrong, it’s just very misleading. And generations of physicists learned GR from it.

It is common for physicists, when dumbing things down for a lay audience, to say “Gravity is caused by the curvature of space.” I’ve heard dozens of them do it, including Jim Al-Khalili (whose BBC documentaries I mostly adore). Stephen Hawking once did it 6 times in one hour.

But this is just not true. Around the Earth, for example, gravity is 99.9999% caused by the curvature of time (the time dilation field), and 0.0001% caused by the curvature of space. It’s not even close. If the Earth were perfectly spherical and not rotating, it would be more like 99.9999999% and 0.0000000001%.

I would argue that this “Freudian slip” or “little white lie” actually indicates a widespread blind spot. Even most people who have mastered the ponderous machinery of GR’s tensor calculus seem to readily misconceive what the theory means and what is or isn’t possible in it.

Lie-cluster #3:

All physicists agree on whether a theory is beautiful or not.

Modern physics is open to controversial theories.

When someone devises a new theory that is better than previous theories, most physicists will accept it quickly.

Behind it all is surely an idea so simple, so beautiful, that when we grasp it – in a decade, a century, or a millennium – we will all say to each other, how could it have been otherwise? How could we have been so stupid?

John Archibald Wheeler

Sabine Hossenfelder’s Lost In Math deals with the first bullet. In fact, “beauty” is often a matter of personal taste. Heisenberg and Schrödinger each loathed the other’s version of Quantum Mechanics, even after it was proven that they were mathematically equivalent and made identical predictions.

But I think it’s probably more important to look at what causes people to reject a theory out of hand. Because important new ideas are almost always controversial, or even shunned. The lack of any important new fundamental ideas recently almost certainly means that we’re shunning too hard.

In fact, it’s usually not necessary to actively repress a theory. It’s sufficient to merely drown it in difficulties. Difficulties in getting funding, in getting reviewed and published, in getting tenure, and in getting access to facilities. If you can set up a system in which e.g. uncontroversial papers get published smoothly, but controversial ones take many years and end up in lower-prestige journals, it’s enough. And that’s exactly the sort of system we have. I know one paper that was first submitted in 1999, and finally published in 2020. Compare that with Einstein’s 1905 papers, which were published in a matter of weeks, despite some of them being highly controversial.

And physicists generally don’t accept radical new theories at all:

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. … An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents: it rarely happens that Saul becomes Paul. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out, and that the growing generation is familiarized with the ideas from the beginning: another instance of the fact that the future lies with the youth.

Max Planck, Scientific autobiography, 1950, p. 33, 97

Sometimes shortened to “Science advances one funeral at a time.” If string theory turns out to be utterly wrong or at least (more likely) utterly useless, how many decades will it take for all the string theorists to die off? If there is some new foundational idea in physics, how long will it take to rewrite the textbooks, change the syllabi, create new lesson plans, and educate the next generation? Decades again.

In summary: Looking for places where scientists say things that aren’t true is a good way to find blind spots and knee-jerk defenses. These defenses create a conceptual log jam; it might only take moving one log to get the whole thing to (very slowly) collapse.

Or, it might be more work. Modern physics is severely constipated, and someone needs to give it an enema. This will be painful and messy, and the recipient is likely to complain loudly. But it can’t be helped.

I finally got one of my machines working with GitHub again, after 4 months of not being able to push any changes at all.

The post that almost worked for me was by Jeremy Marx. It suggested unlinking the local database from the repository, and then re-linking it using the token as a sort of userid:

Or for me, https://<GITHUB_ACCESS_TOKEN>@github.com/HowardALandman/QTD.git . This was a little surprising since all the documentation I’d read said that the token was a substitute for a password, not for a userid.

This didn’t quite completely work. It resets the (remote) origin, but in the process disconnects it from the (local) master. To finish the re-link, you also have to do something like:

git push --set-upstream origin master

to reconnect them. That got Git on my M1 Mac Mini working again. Now I just have my other Mac, a Windows 7 PC, and 6 Raspberry Pis to fix. Hopefully none of the edits I made on different machines over the last 4 months will be incompatible.

I should point out that this procedure causes your super-secret ultra-secure 41-character-long access token to be stored as plain text in the remote.origin.url field of your .git/config file. This is horribly insecure, and almost certainly NOT what GitHub had in mind when they made this change. But it works.

So I bought me a ticket, got on a plane to Spain, …

Joni Mitchell, California

October 11th: We should have been headed back to the US by now, but Carol really didn’t want to go back. So we looked for a country where COVID was low to spend a few extra days. Spain was the winner. We spent most of the day in transit to Madrid, checked into a hotel on the outskirts, and had dinner.

October 12th: Lunch enroute.

But our main goal for the day was the city of Cordoba, and the 8th century La Mezquita (“The Mosque”). This is a grailquest site for any fan of MC Escher.

October 13th: During Islamic rule, Cordoba was famed as a center of Jewish learning. Maimonides lived and taught here. The old Jewish quarter has their names all over it.

The ancient synagogue still exists, but hasn’t been used for centuries. It’s smaller than I expected.

Then we left Cordoba and headed out to the Madinat al-Zahra, an abandoned capital from the 10th century.

For lunch, we found a little cocina with an amazing menú del día.

The afternoon was a long drive past small white cities.