Thursday, July 22, 2010

A look at Nassim's response to this blog

An apology


There's been a lot of talk about Nassim Haramein's physics on this blog over the past few months. I'm intending to wrap up the saga with this little post. Wish me luck.

There are six previous posts: an introduction, the original article questioning his legitimacy as a scientist, observations of his approach to mathematics, a detailed look at his current flagship physics paper, a collection of extracts from grossly misleading presentations, and a more personal article about why I started writing all this in the first place. Number seven seems like a good place to end.

I've focused throughout on Haramein's physics. Why physics? Because he claims to be doing serious science, and his institution claims to be revolutionising our physical understanding of the world. If his physics is as awful as I'm saying it is, then that is a very serious bit of misselling.

If fancy physics isn't your cup of tea, there's no shortage of blatant examples of misunderstanding of basic physics that you might get more sense out of. I'd encourage anyone to sit down with their cup of tea and investigate these things further.

If you don't mind a bit of physics with your cupcakes and you're interested in his Schwarzschild Proton theory (that the strong force is actually a gravitational interaction between black holes), then you might be interested to know that if you ask a few simple questions of it, his theory falls completely apart.

Or does it...?

Nassim's response

In this video, Haramein presents his killer reasoning against those who claim to disprove his theories of the universe:

Ok, ok, sorry. I'm not taking this seriously enough...

That's not really Haramein. (Although...) No. You're right. It isn't.

Let's start again.

Nassim's response – take 2

Haramein has now taken on some of the claims that I've made, and has devoted a part of his website to responding at length to the criticisms that I've raised. [Edit, May '13: Haramein has, after nearly three years, decided to remove his response to criticism of his work from his website, as well as virtually all information on what his institution actually does or has been doing for the last two decades. But that's ok - we still have working links...]

I'm happy to spotlight his response here in order to encourage debate. I'm also happy to host any kind of critical debate here, provided it's not offensive and empty. (In contrast, Haramein doesn't encourage debate or provide links to any criticisms about his work, and any kind of critical comment on his blog, no matter how reasonable, will not pass moderation.)

Haramein's response has come as a great source of delight to those who really want to see me getting a good kicking for speaking out against this inspiring and creative new thinker of our time. There do seem to be many such people. Happy days for them!

Nassim's response to my original article is called "Letter to Dr. Bob-a-thon",

So, what to make of all this. To summarise, his rhetoric is great! The bits of physics he's thrown in look really impressive! If the aim is to wow the fans and seal their contempt for me, he's done an excellent job.

But has he actually addressed the criticisms that I've raised? Surely, somewhere in all that work, he must have? Help me out here if you think I'm missing something, but I really don't think he has. I'll illustrate some of the ways he's misused physics in his defence later on.

If you disagree – if you can find any single point in there that convinces you that any of my criticisms of his physics aren't completely valid – then I'd really love to hear from you. It would be great if we could keep it to the physics. I know it won't happen, but it would be great if it did.

Meanwhile, as you can see for yourself, he has had fun doing what he does best – inventing things to entertain his fans, and telling them what they want to hear. He presents this new, conveniently fictionalised version of me to his followers as "an important study for anyone who is interested in my work."

I'm apparently to be seen as someone who "proclaims himself and his institution the beholder of the truth and the only truth as if the standard model was complete and a done deal." I'm also a "reactionary defending the status quo", indulging in "personal attacks, character assassinations and name-calling."

I haven't mentioned the standard model, so I don't know where that came from. I'd never proclaim it as a done deal, and neither would any physicist.
Which one of us has an institution with an ideology to defend against legitimate questions? I don't have one.
Which of us is engaging in immature name-calling? Here's a clue: in Haramein's first response, he twists my silly pseudonym into a derogatory term that he's sourced from that well-respected reference work Urban Dictionary, and uses it as the title of his article. Someone should have pointed out that that's kinda puerile :)

Irony aside, I'm curious as to what name-calling he might be referring to on my part. I can sympathise if he doesn't like the words fraud or fake or pseudoscientist. I did present an extensive exposition of the discrepancies between the claims he makes for his work and the pitiable content of it, however, so they were very natural terms to use. Inescapable, even. Not names.

As for character attacks, I can't prevent him from feeling attacked if he's attached to his ideas. That's fairly standard among pseudoscientists. The thing is, I don't think I've even mentioned his character, except to point out that his integrity is called into question by the claims that he makes.

And I don't even like Status Quo.

But he's right to complain that I don't give him the respect that he feels entitled to. He makes it known that he is deeply offended, which is fair enough. My aim was always to discuss his ideas for what they are, not for what he thinks they are, so his sense of entitlement never really entered into it. It's just one of those things – if you spout nonsense in public instead of doing science, sooner or later people will start saying "hang on, but that's nonsense" rather than treating you as a scientist.

He also makes it very clear that I'm a mediocre mind and that he is a brilliant thinker – in fact he repeatedly compares himself to Einstein. If he has such a high view of himself, it's odd that he should be so upset by the unimaginative challenges of some obscure mediocre blogger. But there we are.

What we do agree on is that one of us must be very closed-minded and deeply attached to his own view of the world.

I do rather like my view of the world, I admit. I've worked quite hard for it. But I also love the fact that people and situations can, and very often do, challenge it and open my mind to greater things. It's just that I resist changing it when presented with nonsense that conflicts with straightforward observations of nature. I've given his approach a lot of consideration – but it is what it is.

I think I've thought through his ideas quite thoroughly though, if you'll excuse the tongue-twister. Far more than I really ought to have; and certainly far more than I intend to in the future.

Ok, ok, enough already, show me the physics

If you're fed up of all these arguments going around in circles, you're not the only one. Let's cut to the chase.

My criticisms rest on the fact that he claims to be doing serious science and revolutionising physics, but his physics theories are nothing more than naive, misleading, and blatantly incorrect ideas. If this is true (and it still is), then all the rhetoric in the world won't save him from being called a fraud.

Let's take the two most straightforward and significant criticisms of the Schwarzschild Proton.

1. His theory gives the mass of the proton as 885 million tonnes when it's straightforward to measure that it's 1.67 trillionths of a trillionth of a gram.

2. His theory predicts a force between the protons in a nucleus of 7.49 x 10^47 dynes, which is also many many orders of magnitude larger than what is measured.

These particular conclusions of his theory are all so unambiguously and blatantly wrong, and by such an enormous amount, that I did for a while believe that he wouldn't seriously attempt to defend them. But he has.

1 The discrepancy of the mass of the proton

Haramein discusses the problem of the mass of the proton on this page, about half way down. He starts off by suggesting that I made a basic error in confusing mass and weight, which is untrue – weighing gases to establish their mass is fairly sensible. He then talks about how the source of mass is still a mystery in the standard model, and somehow ends up on the quantization of spacetime... all of which has absolutely no bearing whatever on the very simple and straightforward fact that if something has a mass of nearly a billion tonnes, it ought to be heavy.

He then tells us that "in the final copy of The Schwarzschild Proton we calculate the mass dilation resulting from a proton rotating near relativistic speeds and find that at a velocity of 10^-39 slower than C, the proton exhibits the mass of a Schwarzschild entity."

Mass dilation is a consequence of special relativity that makes objects moving close to the speed of light appear more massive than they would be at rest. I doubt that this will help him explain why they appear so light to us.

This new idea would imply that we'd experience these Schwarzschild protons as 10^39 times heavier in a bound state than as a free proton! A bound state of two protons (and/or neutrons, one would assume – deuterium, for example) would have a mass of 10^39 times heavier than a single proton.

Needless to say, none of this is remotely like what is observed in the real world. He really hasn't thought it through very well.

(He then goes on to say fabulous things like "On the cosmological level, this highly turbulent structure of horizons where velocities approach c may be the source of matter creation through sheering of the spacetime manifold itself at the quantum level which predicts a continuous matter creation model at black hole horizons..." and links to a whole load of string theory papers. All meaningless in this context, and seemingly irrelevant to anything that Haramein has ever suggested. The blatant discrepancy between his theory and the real world remains. Still, if the desired effect is "whoa, hit me with that far-out shit, you like totally pwned that status quo dude, man", then I give it top marks and a gold star.)

Haramein returns to discuss this discrepancy in this document, about 40% of the way down, first by claiming that the Standard Model fudges the mass of the proton by renormalisation. I want to say a quick few words about this complex idea, at the risk of giving you something of a caricature of what's actually involved...

Renormalisation is an aspect of the mathematical treatment of quantum field theories that can either be used very well or rather badly. When used well, the results it predicts are either independent of the finite cut (the "fudge" as Haramein calls it) or if not, the effects of the physics above and below the cut are treated seperately and combined in the final analysis, and a physical rationale for the value of the cut is predicted by the theory itself. This is now such a well-understood process, it can't really be described as a fudge. The prime example is the entire standard model, which has driven forwards the last four decades of highly successful particle physics research, and in particular renormalised QED, the most accurate theory that mankind has ever produced.

When it's used 'badly', the results are highly dependent on the cut, and the user imposes some "correct" scale on the theory from outside, and then asserts that the results of the calculation have some actual measurable physical significance. That surely is a fudge. (I find it unconvincing, though I'm hardly an expert.) I'm not aware of any observations that have ever been made that validates this kind of use of the theory. I'm thinking in particular of the fetish for ascribing values to the energy of the vacuum. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Nassim Haramein, the man who denounces the fudgelessly renormalised Standard Model, makes prominent use of one of these fudged renormalisation results at the start of his Schwarzschild Proton paper by quoting a vacuum energy density as if it has a physical significance.

More irony.

It's true that the standard model doesn't predict the mass of the proton – at least not without first knowing the masses of quarks. It's true that it bases its predictions on a renormalisation process that some see (or let's be honest, some saw several decades ago) as controversial. But does any of this excuse Haramein's theory from the requirement that it should make some sense and relate to the real world? Sorry, but no.

The thing about the measured mass of the proton is that it's always equal to the measured mass of the proton. It's an exceptionally precisely known and unerringly consistent value, and whether or not the standard model predicts it, all theories of physics have to use it. The whole point of science is that it is attempting to reflect nature. As Carl Sagan puts it, "Whatever is inconsistent with the facts, no matter how fond of it we are, must be discarded or revised."

We're still left with the fact that Haramein's theory offers no results that are supported by experiment (aside from those that would follow from the original assumptions anyway), and a whole bunch of conclusions that are inconsistent with the facts by many, many orders of magnitude.

2. The discrepancy of the force between protons

There is another enormous difference between the measured force between two protons and the 'stupidly big' figure in his paper.

Haramein says, "It matters little how 'stupidly big' something is. What matters is if the numbers derived are logical, plausible, consistent with the theory involved, and point to at least useful and/or, ideally, testable results." True words indeed! The numbers Haramein gives in his Schwarzschild Proton paper aren't remotely plausible. Furthermore they can be very easily 'tested', i.e. compared directly to the real world, without using any fancy physics at all, as I will illustrate.

He addresses the discrepancy here, about 90% of the way down. He points out that he has already explained it in his paper using the centrifugal force, and he berates me for not having read it. As it happens, I did read it (the paper is only a few pages long, after all). I didn't bother to discuss it because it doesn't change anything.

In the Newtonian classical mechanics that Haramein has employed, in a rotating reference frame, gravity has an inverse square dependence on separation, whereas centrifugal forces follow an inverse cube dependence. (The only assumption needed for this is that any external angular impulse must be negligible in comparison to the angular momentum of the system, which will certainly be true here.) This means that at some definite separation they will balance – as Haramein correctly points out – but for any displacement from that definite separation there will be a net restoring force. The system is forced back to equilibrium. This is why gravitational orbits are stable.

What does this mean for the Schwarzschild Proton? The forces are balanced at 2.64fm separation; if they were pulled even to 2.65fm apart, the restoring force would already be 0.37% of the full gravitational force, which is 2.83 x 10^45 dynes. Which is stupidly big. By which I mean big enough to make it utterly impossible – it's already many many orders of magnitude greater than any force we could hope to create or observe on Earth.

Looking at it in terms of energy gives us a better way of comparing the numbers directly with the real world.

We can calculate the amount of energy required to separate two protons. For a classical circular orbit, it's half the magnitude of the gravitational potential energy (the rest is provided by the kinetic energy of the orbiting body). In this case, the answer is 1.98 x 10^28 Joules (try it yourself).
This is an astronomical figure, and it would be stupid to suggest this was the amount of energy to split a single nucleus – it's more than half of the amount of energy it would take to remove the Moon from its orbit around the Earth.

Compare this to Haramein's assertion that the "balance between the centrifugal force and the centripetal force is extremely fragile and any disturbing entity would easily knock it out of equilibrium." The work of a brilliant thinker of our time, or utter idiotic nonsense? Go figure.
For the actual, measured, maximum value for the energy required to separate two protons, consider the nucleus with the highest proton separation energy, Helium-4. Subtract the mass of this nucleus from the combined masses of a proton and a tritium nucleus, and multiply by c². The maximum energy required to remove a proton is 3.2 x 10^-12 Joules. For most nuclei, the figure is much lower than this.

Once again, Haramein is around 40 orders of magnitude from reality as a result of using gravity instead of the strong force. Have I used any dodgy physics theories here? These are fairly straightforward observations.

3. Other things that are fundamentally flawed or straightforwardly wrong

I raised many other fundamental issues with his theories, for example his claim that there is an event horizon around a proton (a region from which no light or particles can emerge, especially if this event horizon is somehow immune to rapid decay as protons clearly are). This is contradicted by the fact that we can clearly observe the proton's internal structure. Haramein hasn't responded to this at all.
There's so much in his response that there's no way I could try to deal with it all. There's actually lots of quotes from and links to quite good physics that have been mixed in there that I wouldn't argue with... but very little if any of them are relevant to any of the claims that he's been making. (And in the majority of cases they really don't imply the kind of things that he tries to make them imply. He even includes a quote "the effects of gravity can safely be ignored on a small scale, such as the atomic one" from an article that was supposedly providing a rationale for his black hole obsession. Wake up, research dudes! Get with the cherry-pickin' program!)

All in all, despite the magnitude of the work that has gone into this by Haramein and his staff, I don't believe that he's provided one reasonable argument that contradicts any of the flaws in his physics that I've highlighted in my earlier posts.

I'd like to know if you think otherwise.

As I said earlier, if you can find any single point in Haramein's response that convinces you that any of my criticisms of his physics are unfounded – then I'd really love to know what it is, and why you find it convincing. It would be great if we could keep it to the physics. I know it won't happen, but it would be great if it did. Let's face it, it doesn't matter how upset his groupies get, it's the dodgy physics and Haramein's utterly disproportionate claims for his research that are in question here.

If anything interesting comes up from the physics discussion in the comments or by email, I'll include it in my post, and I'll gladly amend the blog if I've said anything incorrect.

Haramein and his fans may be glad to know that I don't intend to write about him any more. And I'll stay anonymous, so they can continue to mythologise me to their hearts' content.

An apology to Mr Haramein

Before I finish, though, I do – in all seriousness – want to apologise for one thing that I have said. Not because I'm worried about legal consequences or anything like that, but because I think I've been unfair.

I did use the word "manipulative", and also words such as "lying" or "deceitful", to describe Haramein's approach to presenting physics. Not very often, but even once is too much. These words clearly imply that he is deliberately setting out to mislead, and I can't possibly know that. While I think the term "misleading" is entirely appropriate, I will accept his objection that it is unfair of me to assume any such thing about his motivations.

It's perfectly plausible that Haramein does have such an inflated sense of his work that he believes that he's doing serious science research, leading a revolution in physics, answering age-old mysteries about the pyramids, solving crop-circles, receiving and interpreting communications from aliens that fly in and out of volcanos and sunspots, proving that there are complex tetrahedral geometries in everything in the universe that generate paranormal phenomena, finding the secret connections that link them all with hidden subtexts within the Bible, and so on and so on; and perhaps he truly believes that he's on the verge of transforming the world into a haven of free energy and understanding and that any minute now the scientific community will wake up to his truth and recognise his contribution. He may well also believe that he didn't invent the fictionalised version of me that he presented. Who knows what he believes.

It's plausible, though I admit to finding it difficult to understand. How is it possible for a view like that, however sweet and innocent an ideal it might come from, to survive contact with the real world for so many years? Perhaps this could be admirable in some way.

Maybe it's understandable if you set out early in life with a drive to communicate some view of the world that feels good and gives people what they want to hear; and if you then find yourself with thousands of fans who admire you for it and allow you to make a living from it and see you as their hope and their light, then I guess you could be forgiven for mistaking it all for reality. I'm sure there are plenty of precedents.

What's hard to believe is that it could be possible to maintain these kinds of delusions without some conscious act of sustained wilful ignorance as to what's actually out there, especially if he's involved in actually trying to carry out research. But perhaps he is somehow capable of this in all innocence. So I'll let it go.

For this reason I've agreed to remove all instances of the offending words from the main body of my blog, and this disclaimer can be seen as a retraction of any use of these words elsewhere by me. He may well be a really lovely character, as I said in my original post nearly six months ago. My criticism, as I keep saying, concerns the content of his science, and the disparity between this and the claims that he makes for it. Not his intentions in doing so.

Misleading it certainly is. He succeeds in pulling the wool over so many of his followers' eyes, whether he intends to or not. His impressive ability to sustain this level of ignorance for so many years will never qualify as a reasonable excuse for making a living by misleading people into seeing him as an authority.

Luckily for us, we can continue to discuss his incompetence as a scientist and to question his integrity without resorting to any assumptions about what in the name of arse is going on inside his head.

I do hope that settles the matter to Mr Haramein's satisfaction.