A discussion about the book "Why does E=mc2 ... "

by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw

Einstein's actual start was his family's electrical equipment manufacturing company. Einstein began as a teenage engineer who obsessed about the "what ifs" of Maxwellian electrical and optical systems in extreme environments, the kind of thinking all careful engineers should do, though rarely to such extreme extremes. Einstein built electrical machines as a teenager, evaluated electrical machines as a patent clerk, and designed and patented electrical machines even while working on General Relativity. If Einstein hadn't been so doggedly devoted to his theoretical musings, he might have become a brilliant and productive electrical engineer instead. Though that wouldn't have gotten him out of Europe and Hitler's ovens, or helped us build two machines that helped convince Hitler's Japanese ally to surrender (and kept my father and my wife's father from dying in the bloody invasion they were training for).

Whatever Michelson and Morley actually demonstrated was a tiny part of Einstein's landscape, but it wasn't the cause, and we are way past that now. The underlying principle of special relativity is the invariance of Maxwell's equations over all non-accelerating frames, and this is amply demonstrated by spectroscopy in the distance and in orbiting electronics systems in the closeup. I've built 12 9's accurate timing systems for production electronics that wouldn't work if Maxwell was off the mark. I've not orbited such systems, but I'm planning to.

Another sensitive measurement that involves Maxwellian invariance is the SQUID, superconducting quantum interference detector, a superconducting ring with a Josephson junction in it - an incredibly delicate measurement device for changes in magnetic flux. They tow these under airplanes and watch very tiny field changes becoming millions of flux quanta popping into and out of the loop per second. The effects are exactly as predicted, as the plane follows its trajectory and returns to base. The actual magnetic fields measured vary in space and time, of course, showing the rich complexity of the earth's magnetic field and its dependence on the plasmasphere and its variance with coronal mass ejections. This has helped us map the geomagnetic field to incredible precision, just as the LAGEOS laser geodesy satellites have helped us map the gravitational field of the earth down to micrometer precision.

For me, Einstein is not a mathematical philosopher, he is the source of engineering tools to predict the phenomena that inform my day-to-day design. Frankly, I don't care very much about the beginning of the universe, though I do care about the current black body temperature of space (nuances not at all).

I don't care much about neutrino flux from the sun, but I do care about bonehead experimentalists who misconnected and miscalibrated their experiment and claimed superluminal neutrinos. I've got an engineer friend at CERN who thought likewise and helped find the mistakes. I care about E=mc^2 because that's the way to stop using carbon as fuel and conserve it as the best engineering and structural material. I care about the time-space curvature claimed by General Relativity because it affects clocks in space relative to earth, and space communication systems in general and GPS in particular.

I concern myself with the shape of the earth's magnetic field because that affects trapped radiation particles and their behavior. I am designing technologies to get rid of the sons of bitches, and writing a paper about that now.

I expect physicists to misunderstand stuff, and I expect to be surprised by the details of the phenomena I encounter compared to the most popular physics models. But the equations they generate are the tools I use to establish my baseline designs, and the engineers that ignore them usually make bozo mistakes in their designs. I don't care if Einstein was right in some philosophical sense, I care that he turned out some mathematical constructs that I and many other engineers use to reshape the world. Better tools wouldn't be more perfect, whatever that means, they would be more accurate and easier to use. While many people have made elaborate claims about Einstein's errors, they haven't shown me a quicker way to do accurate engineering.

I gave you that book, not because Einstein is right or wrong, but because there are a lot of misconceptions about what his starting postulates were (it wasn't Michelson-Morley) and what he actually claimed. The postulates: continuity, Maxwell invariance, and mass- inertia equivalence, may be bad postulates, but they are verifiable by direct experience to a lot of decimal places. The results of his thinking predict phenomena that we actually observe in new experiments, and that subclass of experiments which are engineered systems. Maybe all that is philosophically wrong, or non-intuitive, but I would use pi = 3 if it made my circuits work better.

But I, like most people, was misinformed by the crude images and popularizations that have gathered around Einstein's mathematical formulations, which like all popularizations strip out essential truths required for precision understanding. The book describes the mathematical and geometric core of the theories, and stimulates my imagination to think about the implications for new apparatus.

The book digresses into the standard model (which works, empirically, but isn't needed outside the nucleus) and then briefly into hypotheses such as string theory, which is (IMHO) a mathematical quagmire that predicts nothing so far and keeps a bunch of Einstein- wannabees busy filling up blackboards. I'm happy with the engineering tools Maxwell and Einstein gave me, but as you have noticed, the theoretical physics laddies have moved out to the end of a very fragile twig, and this chapter demonstrates that. That is my takehome from the chapter - compared to Einstein's crystal reasoning, the new wannabees are floundering, a useful example of the sloppy thinking that often reappears in all human endeavors.

So don't read the book to determine if Einstein is right or wrong. That is not what is useful about it. Read it as an understandable explanation of what Einstein actually said, as opposed to what the popularizations claim that he said. I suspect that your Electric Universe colleagues are reacting to the popularizations, just as many people react to bad popularizations regards evolution, climate, and other scientific topics that require math and phenomenological experience, not word salad and analogies, to accurately understand.

Almost all candidate theories are eventually poisoned by their internal contradictions, or are too mathematically baroque to be of much use to engineers like me. When theoreticians fall in love with their new theories, they become blind to their flaws. When outsiders find non-existent flaws in those theories, it merely reinforces the believers of those theories, whether those theories have actual flaws or not. You don't win a chess game by playing checkers with the pieces.

When you are done with the book, I hope you will understand Einstein's reasoning better. That does not make that reasoning right or wrong. It will help you determine where you must aim to sink the actual theories, rather than lob your cannonballs at mirages in the empty ocean.

Einstein (last edited 2014-06-10 19:41:38 by KeithLofstrom)