Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Response to an anti-Geocentric article

I recently ran across an article that raised my hackles, so I'm responding to parts of it here. The bold print marks quoations taken from the website, and the normal print marks my responses.

“So geocentrism is valid, but so is every other frame. This is the very basis of relativity! One of the guiding principles used by Einstein in formulating it is that there is no One True Frame. If there were, the Universe would behave very, very differently.”

In what way would the universe behave very, very differently? For thousands of years, people thought there was One True Frame, and the universe didn’t behave any differently than it does now, when the majority of people believe there is not One True Frame. In fact, the universe behaves exactly the same in both cases. The difference is that now we think we understand how the universe works better than we did when man believed in One True Frame.

So exactly in what way would the universe behave very, very differently? Can you give any specifics? Perhaps you’ll say that time wouldn’t dilate in a universe with One True Frame. Perhaps you’ll say that all observers wouldn’t measure the same speed of light regardless of their state of motion. Stuff like that? Sorry, but those things were “invented” to explain away the results of interferometer experiments that seem to give results consistent with the existence of One True Frame in which the Earth is motionless.

No matter how hard you try, you can’t get away from the fact that relativity was conceived to get away from the results of the Michelson-Morley experiments, and the implications of Maxwell’s equations, which seemed to be saying that there was an absolute reference frame and that Earth was at rest with respect to it.

“The other flavor of Geocentrist, those who deny relativity wholesale, are wrong as well. Relativity is one of the most well-tested and thoroughly solid ideas in all of science for all time. It is literally tested millions of times a day in particle accelerators. We see it in every cosmological observation, every star that explodes in the sky, every time a nuclear power plant generates even an iota of energy. Heck, without relativity your GPS wouldn’t work.”

Actually, my GPS would work without relativity. Are you saying that if Einstein hadn’t come up with relativity, but someone had still developed the GPS technology, it wouldn’t work because we had no knowledge of relativity? That’s absurd. That’s like saying that a waterwheel wouldn’t work without an understanding of hydrodynamics, or that electricity wouldn’t work without an understanding of atomic theory, or electromagnetic theory. It’s stupidity to say that technology won’t work unless we have a theory to explain the workings of a particular aspect of nature. Technology and nature in general works regardless of whether we correctly understand how they work. Theories are attempts to explain the workings of nature. Nature doesn’t care whether or not we have a theory to explain it.

Perhaps when you say “without relativity your GPS wouldn’t work,” what you mean is that GPS was developed because we had a theory of relativity. In other words, relativity directly led to the invention of GPS, an invention that wouldn’t have happened without Einstein’s theory. But the development of a technology is not a proof of the correctness of the theory that led to the development of the technology. If such were the case, you could validly say that the development of the sun dial is proof of the correctness of the geocentric view, since, as far as I know, the sun dial was invented while geocentricity held sway.

Most likely, you're referring to the fact that for GPS to work, relativistic effects must be taken into account. I quote from the "your GPS wouldn't work" link: 

"However, because the satellites are constantly moving relative to observers on the Earth, effects predicted by the Special and General theories of Relativity must be taken into account to achieve the desired 20-30 nanosecond accuracy" 

"The satellites are constantly moving relative to observers on Earth." So all that we can conclude from the GPS satellites is that when things are in motion relative to Earth, relativistic effects must be taken into account. The GPS system therefore does not disprove Geocentricity.  

Geocentrists claim that the Earth is stationary and provides an absolute rest frame. The GPS system seems to say that motion relative to the Earth must be taken into account. Nothing about the GPS system contradicts the Geocentric view.

“Relativity is so solid, in fact, that anyone who denies it outright at this point can be charitably called a kook.

So — you guessed it — either way, Geocentrism is wrong.”

Again, I give a previous quote: “So geocentrism is valid, but so is every other frame.” Basically what you’re saying is that relativity allows geocentrism and geocentrism is a completely correct viewpoint in every respect except the part where it claims to be the One True Frame. Because you certainly can’t be saying that relativity proves the geocentric frame itself is incorrect. If that’s what you mean by “geocentrism is wrong,” then you’re saying that it’s possible to choose one reference frame over another, to determine that one reference frame is invalid—which, according to relativity, is impossible. Therefore, you certainly must be saying that the only thing incorrect about Geocentrism is its claim to be the One True Frame.

That being the case, the only proof you can offer against Geocentricity is a philosophical preference— you don’t want there to be an absolute frame, because that smacks of God. If you believe in relativity, you have to accept the geocentric frame, else you invalidate relativity. You yourself said it: “So geocentrism is valid, but so is every other frame.” Why then do you also say: “So — you guessed it — either way, Geocentrism is wrong.” Your statements make no sense. “Geocentrism is valid, but it’s wrong.” WTF? You have absolutely no way of disproving geocentricity other than an appeal to a preference for simplicity or a preference for the absence of God.

So: why do you bitch and moan when someone doesn’t buy into your appeals for simplicity and godlessness?

“Those are really the strongest arguments against Geocentrism. You either have to misuse relativity, or deny it entirely, and either way you lose, GOOD DAY SIR!”

Really? Those are the strongest arguments against Geocentrism? Such pathetic arguments.

I agree that relativity shouldn’t be used in attempts to support Geocentrism. If one accepts Geocentrism, then Einstein’s relativity is unnecessary. Einsteinian relativity was invented to get away from Geocentrism, for which experimental evidence was mounting. If there is evidence to support relativity, then the Geocentrist must explain away such evidence without resorting to relativity in its present form.

In the article, the so-called arguments against Geocentrism don’t actually begin until the following lines:

“I have two things to say that might surprise you: first, geocentrism is a valid frame of reference, and second, heliocentrism is not any more or less correct.

Surprise! Of course, the details are important.”

So. You open by conceding that geocentrism is valid. And clearly, you must accept it as valid if you hold true to relativity. Further, the only way geocentrism can “misuse relativity,” as you put it, is to say that geocentrism is the One True Frame (turning the little-g into a Capital-G). Unless you misuse relativity, you must admit this.

Therefore, your only valid quarrel with Geocentrism is that it claims to be the One True Frame. You explicitly state this when you say:

“That’s where Geocentrism trips up. Note the upper case G there; I use that to distinguish it from little-g geocentrism, which is just another frame of reference among many. Capital-G Geocentrism is the belief that geocentrism is the only frame, the real one.”

So by your own admission, the only “misuse of relativity” of which a geocentrist is guilty is claiming that there is One True Frame.

Wow. You make Capital-G Geocentrism sound like such a high crime, the mark of a true kook and a scoundrel. But really. Honestly, now. What a ridiculous little point of disagreement. You emphatically agree that a geocentric frame is completely valid, absolutely nothing wrong with it—until the claim of the One True Frame is made. Then you’re all, “This is outrageous! These people are kooks and whackos! The unmitigated gall, that they would so misuse relativity! Hang them! Off with their balls!”

But when you get right down to it, all you can offer against Geocentrism is an appeal to simplicity and godlessness, and a baseless philosophical insistence that we absolutely can not, under any circumstances, accept that the Earth might be at the center of the universe (otherwise known as the Copernican Principle).
Who is the real kook and the whacko here, Mr. Plait?

“We also know earthquakes can affect the rotation of the Earth. That makes sense since they shift the mass around on the surface, and that changes how the Earth spins. To a Geocentrist, though, that earthquake affects the entire Universe

That’s simpler?”

Again with the insistence upon simplicity. If we’ve got two alternatives, we automatically have to choose the simpler one? Occam’s Razor is not a natural law that governs the universe. It holds no more sway over the way the universe must behave than does Murphy’s Law. You can’t appeal to simplicity as a proof of anything. Only a simple mind would make a statement like, “Theory A is simpler than theory B, therefore theory A is correct.” That’s absurd.

“The other flavor of Geocentrist, those who deny relativity wholesale, are wrong as well. Relativity is one of the most well-tested and thoroughly solid ideas in all of science for all time.”

B.S. You never know what the future holds. Making a statement like that is equivalent to saying, “This is the best movie of all time.”

Relativity is also one of the mot well-contested theories of all time. There are a lot of well-known, lesser known, highly-intelligent people who have disputed relativity, Nikola Tesla and Herbert Dingle, to name a few.

"I understand that to them, these beliefs are deep-seated and as true to them as, say, gravity is to me. But the Universe doesn’t care how strongly you believe in something. If it ain’t right, it ain’t right."

Yes, and the Universe also doesn't care how many people believe in something. If it ain't right, it ain't right. And relativity ain't right.

Here are some of the ridiculous reader comments posted to the above Discover Magazine article:

“That does, however, raise an interesting question about neo-Geocentrism. Anyone feel like doing the math to translate the Three Laws into geocentric coordinates? Can it even be done without eccentric elements?”

Why does it matter whether or not it can be done without eccentric elements? I’m assuming the poster of this comment is of the opinion that given two reference frames, the one that requires simpler calculations must be the “better” or more correct frame. Requiring simplicity is nothing more than a philosophic preference. There is absolutely no reason why nature has to be simple, or “elegant,” just because man demands that it that it be so.

I further don’t like the condescending tone of this post, as if, you know, anyone feel like doing the math, just for a lark? After all, we all know how ridiculous the very notion of geocentrism is, so there’s no use bothering to do the math, unless it’s just for a bit of amusement.

The same poster ends by asking: “Do they believe in a sphere of fixed stars? If so, how do they account for varying stellar parallax?”

I don’t know. Why don’t you ask them? As if you’re too superior to stoop to addressing yourself to a geocentrist directly. Those people are kooks and whackos, after all. “Do they believe in a sphere of fixed stars?” As if they are some sort of cockroach crawling across a nobleman’s dinner table.
            “Oh dear, what is it doing?” asked the nobleman.
            “It appears to be heading toward your soup bowl, my dear chap!” said the nobleman’s dinner guest.

If you want to know what Geocentrists believe, read their books. I dare you.

Another poster asks, “Or parallax for that matter…” in response to the immediately preceding post, which asks, “Anybody here know how Geocentrists explain stellar aberration?”

A second question asking about parallax. What ignorant questions, from people who are supposedly brilliant, scientifically well-versed people! In regards to parallax: do you really suppose that a Geocentrist can’t explain stellar parallax? Do you honestly think that the geometric relationship between bodies changes or breaks down when switching to an Earth-centered frame or switching from any one reference frame to another?

Parallax is easily explained. It’s so simple that I’m not even going to bother explaining it here. Do a little digging and I’m sure you’ll find the explanation. And if you’re such an incredibly smart person that you understand relativity and astronomy and mathematics and such, and you wholeheartedly believe in all of it, then I’m sure you could even figure out how a Geocentrist explains parallax all own your own. And if you can’t, and if you think a Geocentrist can’t explain parallax, then you’d better rethink your belief that you’re intelligent enough to tackle scientific concepts.

Katharine says: “Because they infect other people with their stupidity.
Creobots have ridiculous beliefs. They’re not a teensy minority.
Conservative religionists have ridiculous beliefs. They’re not a teensy minority.
They are ignorant. And goodness knows we do our best to educate them. But they resist it, sometimes militantly, and for terrible reasons (there are no good reasons, either). You think we don’t look cuddly? Look at them.

As long as there is a population of people – we who know science – speaking loudly and forcefully, rationality will not die, and civilization will not be a memory.”

Katharine, if you were here right now, I would bitch slap you.

You have the unbelievably arrogant belief that anyone who doesn’t share your worldview must obviously be ignorant and utterly stupid. The attitude you’ve expressed in your post is just a short hop away from fascism. Let’s control what the people think so they don’t infect us with stupidity.

The ridiculous, ironic thing is that I’m sure you consider yourself a very tolerant and open-minded person.

Another genius says: “I hope those geocentrists don’t try to ban pendulums.”

Why? Because you think Focault’s Pendulum proves that the Earth is rotating and hence disproves geocentricity, and therefore “those geocentrists” would want to suppress the evidence against them?

All that Focault’s Pendulum proves is that there is relative motion between the Earth and the stars and that a freely swinging pendulum remains aligned with the stars. I will say it again: all Focault’s pendulum proves is that there is relative motion between the Earth and the stars. Such “proof” supports both geocentricity and heliocentricity, and thus neither can appeal to pendulums as unequivocal proof for their viewpoint. Sorry. No point for you.

“Otherwise, you need special pleading to explain why the Earth should be the one fixed reference point for everything else.”

Special pleading? There’s no special pleading involved. If you take the universe as a whole, obviously there would be a center of mass, where the gravitational pull is equal on all sides, canceling out. The Earth, the Geocentrist would say, occupies this “universal barycenter.”

Anyway, what exactly is meant by “special pleading”? Do you mean an “ad hoc” explanation? If you do, there is nothing “ad hoc” about the concept of a barycenter. If that is what you mean, then perhaps by “special pleading,” you refer to the explanation of why the Earth would occupy the barycenter. In which case, “special pleading” means an appeal to God to explain Earth’s position. Which is precisely why most scientists are so vehemently opposed to capital-G Geocentrism.

But one doesn’t need to appeal to God, any more than one needs to appeal to God to explain man’s presence in the so-called “Goldilocks Zone” of our solar system. Isn’t it funny that in biology, neither side (evolution versus creation) disputes that man exists in a “Goldilocks Zone.” Yet in physics, scientists fight tooth and nail the idea that Earth might be at rest in the barycenter of the universe, which could be considered the physics equivalent of the Goldilocks Zone.