The Principle

I just found out about a new film coming out this spring, which appears to exemplify exactly the dangers I was pointing to in my last posting. It’s entitled The Principle, and features physicists Michio Kaku, Lawrence Krauss and Max Tegmark, with Kate Mulgrew (aka Captain Janeway) as narrator.

You can take a look at the trailer, this blog, or this interview to start to get some idea of what’s going on. The person behind this is Robert Sungenis, a bizarre figure with extreme religious views. He holds a Ph.D from an institution located in Vanuatu, and is an advocate of the idea of “geocentrism”, the idea that the Catholic church was right, and scientists since Galileo have got it all wrong (see his web-site Galileo Was Wrong). For another Youtube video explaining what this is all about, see here.

As near as I can tell from all this, without having yet seen the full film, it appears that what probably happened is the following. Sungenis decided that the anthropic principle business in cosmology supported his views, so he went and got physicists like Kaku, Krauss and Tegmark to say silly things on camera, then edited this to suit his case. Maybe the trailer is misleading, and these people actually make a cogent case against Sungenis’s nonsense and for solid science, we’ll see…

Update: For a different point of view on this, from someone worried that geocentrists will discredit the Catholic Church, see here.

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136 Responses to The Principle

  1. Rick DeLano says:

    So.

    No experiment can detect any absolute motion of Earth.

    Interesting, then, that so many commenters above- including, presumably, at least one contributor to Scientific American- allege the contrary.

    “The Principle” will be an excellent remedy for this contributor, along with the one who supplied a link to the CMB data.

    “How on earth can anyone believe in this day and age” is not scientific argument.

    It is not, even, an argument from personal incredulity, really.

    It is, instead a dunderhead’s appeal to the peanut gallery.

  2. Manyoso says:

    Jesper,

    Glad to see another Mars-centrism recruit!

    Still waiting for Rick to answer the simple question I asked him in return for answering his simple question.

    Cheers,
    Adam

    PS: I find it odd for Rick to use relativity as an argument for geocentrism and then to deny relativity when it comes to Mars-centrism…

    Here is hoping Rick will give equal time to Mars-centric spokespeople and not let the geocentric folks hog all the time in the movie.

  3. Rick DeLano says:

    Manyoso:

    Your question is so simple-minded I assumed it was rhetorical in nature.

    Since you apparently think it is instead relevant, I now answer it.

    If Relativity is true, then Mars, or Earth, or the tip of Manyoso’s nose, are each and all equally justified in being taken as the center of the universe.

    Some consider this to be prima facie evidence that Relativity is an absurd theory.

    Others consider it to be necessary, if absurd, since in the absence opt Relativity the experimental evidence supports geocentrism.

    “The Principle” is a very important film, since the historical context of the adoption of Relativity is apparently virtually forgotten among pop science combox warriors.

  4. srp says:

    Oops.

    “If Relativity is true, then Mars, or Earth, or the tip of Manyoso’s nose, are each and all equally justified in being taken as the center of the universe.

    Some consider this to be prima facie evidence that Relativity is an absurd theory.”

    Game over. The whole point of the Copernican principle is that there is no center of the universe so every point has an equal right to be called the center. Now the geocentrist’s only response is to beg the question–it’s “absurd” to say that there’s no universal center! But he has conceded the empirical point that Mars-centrism would be equally valid to Earth-centrism using the available data.

    These guys are not as good as the IDers at this sort of exercise, although admittedly they’ve set themselves a much more obviously erroneous position to defend.

  5. Manyoso says:

    Hi Rick,

    Thanks for answering my question. I assure you it was not rhetorical.

    Since you agree that Einstein’s relativity gives no room for the Earth to be regarded as the center of the Universe I wonder why you were quoting Einstein to seemingly bolster the idea of geocentrism. This puzzles me.

    To clear up my confusion, can you answer another simple – non-rhetorical – question?

    Do you believe that relativity is correct?

    Thanks!
    Adam

  6. Rick DeLano says:

    Adam:

    I am certain that it is not correct.

    On metaphysical grounds.

    I believe we will- possibly already have- obtained evidence that a preferred frame exists, and that it will be- perhaps already is- possible to establish absolute motion with respect to some preferred frame.

    Perhaps that frame will turn out to be the CMB.

    Otherwise, it will turn out to be Earth.

    But a preferred direction certainly exists in the CMB, and that preferred direction is pointing at us.

  7. Manyoso says:

    Hi Rick,

    Ok, well thanks for clearly answering although I am still puzzled as to why you kept quoting Einstein earlier in this thread in support of geocentrism. I could be wrong, but I always thought of Einstein as a big proponent of relativity. Have you unearthed some previously unknown historical data showing that Einstein actually thought the whole relativity thing a bunch of hooey?

    I mean you did find it hard to believe Einstein supported the Copernican revolution given the oft cited quote in this thread about not being able to detect the absolute motion of the earth…

    I mean you weren’t knowingly quoting Einstein out of context to support a theory of geocentrism that Einstein’s own theory of relativity disproves were you??!!

    Cheers,
    Adam

  8. Manyoso says:

    Hi Rick,

    One more thing… You say above that you think it might be possible that you’d give up on geocentrism in favor of – forgive me – CMB’ism?

    This intrigues me. Can you please direct me to where in the sky this CMB is with respect to the earth so that I might look up the possible center of the universe?

    Thanks,
    Adam

  9. Rick DeLano says:

    @Manyoso:

    Nope. Never misrepresented Einstein in any way.

    I left that to the folks on the thread who ignored my direct citations of his work ;-)

    The CMB is purported to occupy the entire observable universe.

    Some have proposed that it might constitute a rest frame; that is, they suppose that there might be a frame where the CMB would present no dipole, and that this frame might be possible to employ as a rest frame to measure absolute motion.

    There are a number of serious problems with that, by the way, among the biggest being the remarkable recent papers showing that the CMB dipole cannot be exclusively due to a supposed motion of the local group, but that’s another issue.

    Of course, if the CMB dipole is confirmed to be an intrinsic anisotropy in the CMB, then all of consensus cosmology is wrong, and the placement of Earth in the cosmos becomes a matter of the worst nightmare of the Relativist coming true.

    The CMB would neatly divide the cosmos, along the equinox plane.

    The quadrupole and octopoles would, just to prove God has a real sense of humor, point out the ecliptic plane.

    Anybody smart enough to measure the CMB and perform a spherical harmonic analysis would find themselves directed to us, from anywhere in the cosmos they might happen to be looking.

    Yes, I think “The Principle” is going to be a very interesting film indeed, for the folks who actually *pay* for this remarkable science.

  10. Manyoso says:

    Hi Rick,

    “We do agree that Einstein believed the motion of the Earth could not be detected by any optical experiment.

    We apparently differ on whether that fact is of interest, in a documentary about the Copernican Principle.”

    Since you now concede that relativity – and hence Einstein – refuted geocentrism, then why do you think his quote – about relativity – is of interest for geocentrism?

    Rick, I am concerned it is starting to look like you took his quote out of context in order to bolster a point that you new was unsupported. I am afraid I can no longer assume good faith on your part which is sad because you came into this thread promising that you did not take Krauss, Tegmark, and Kaku out of context in your film.

    Given your behavior in this thread it doesn’t bode well for your movie. I hope you did better not taking these scientists interviews out of context than you did Einstein in this very thread.

    That’s it for me. Have fun with your earth centered universe while I dream of Mars.

    Cheers,
    Adam

  11. max says:

    DeLano: Of course, if the CMB dipole is confirmed to be an intrinsic anisotropy in the CMB, then all of consensus cosmology is wrong.

    OK, now I really am interested, as a proponent of such a CMB picture … with the caveat that we observe Our universe and NOT the one unique universe given to all observers. How long until the film comes out?

  12. max says:

    The Catholic Church might be worried about a successful CMB geocentric cosmology, but on the other hand nobody seems much interested in actually solving serious problems in cosmology.

  13. Patrick Harris says:

    Dr. Woit,

    I apologize to add to this already lengthy thread, but I found your recent comments regarding the possible greater danger of recent popularity with untestable theories in fundamental physics, over other attacks on science such as ID’ers, to be noteworthy. Do you think the recent rise in popularity of pseudoscientific concepts such as ‘quantum consciousness’ and, now, geocentrism is indicative of the issues you’ve raised regarding recent trends in physics? Or do you think there’s still a stronghold within at least the physics community safeguarding the necessary rigor the scientific method?

    I’m a bit new to the blog, so I apologize to add any noise that you’ve already addressed. But I appreciate, as someone who isn’t an expert by any means but is nevertheless intensely interested in the subject, a place where I can read about those sharing my concern over recent trends.

    Anyway, great blog, thanks for fighting the good fight!

  14. KMS says:

    As is well known, thermal equilibrium states in relativistic theories, like e.g. the CMB, do single out a preferred rest-frame. So in the setup of a relativistic theory (i.e. a theory _agreeing_ with relativity theory) on can indeed in some states single out one frame of reference as a “preferred” one – by referring to a special state. And of course this is nothing special to relativistic physics: Also assuming just the Galilean relativity principle there are many situations where one can single out a reference system by referring to specific objects; examples are the reference system at rest relative to earth or the system at rest relative to mars.

    However this is _not_ what the discussion of geocentric vs heliocentric system is about: Of course one is free to choose a reference frame where the sun is moving and the earth is at rest (this is a purely kinematical question).
    The question is about dynamics and accelerations: What conventional physics tells us (“the Heliocentric system”) is that the sun experiences small accelerations (mainly due to Jupiter) while being orbited by planets experiencing much larger accelerations
    (“pure” Heliocentrism would be for an infinitely heavy sun experiencing no accelerations at all).
    Acceleration however is something absolute also in Einstein’s theory of relativity: The magnitude of the acceleration experienced by an observer moving along a worldline (e.g. worldline of the sun or the earth) can not be changed by changing reference frames! And even though the quote by Einstein – given without context – might suggest otherwise: Of course one can measure accelerations – in contrast to uniform motions! – using optical experiments, an example is the Sagnac effect.

  15. Alex says:

    Rick,

    when, by a future satellite, the expected v_Earth/c ~ 10^-4 seasonal doppler variations of the CMB dipole frequencies are detected, will you concede that you are wrong? :-D

  16. Alex says:

    erm, that was supposed to read:

    “of the CMB frequencies”

  17. kashyap vasavada says:

    @ Rick DeLano: By now it is well known from observations by Kepler satellite that there may be billions of earthlike planets where life could exist. Why wouldn’t life exist on these? Would you insist on geocentric idea even if we find life on such planets?

  18. Rick DeLano says:

    @max: We are presently negotiating a (very limited, at least initially) theatrical release. If all goes well, we should launch either the first or second week in May.

    @max: I agree with your observations, especially concerning the fear and loathing which recent CMB observations apparently elicit from a certain type of “enlightened and modern” Catholic, which type is frankly unhinged by any evidence which might suggest-horrors!- that the Church actually had the better of the argument with Galileo after all.

    @KMS: “Acceleration however is something absolute also in Einstein’s theory of relativity”……”absolute” with respect to *what*?

    @Alex: Why would such a seasonal signal indicate a motion of the Earth, rather than a motion of the cosmos?

    @kashap: Strictly speaking, the existence or non-existence of life elsewhere does not directly bear on the location of the Earth wrt large scale structure.

    However, the much more interesting metaphysical question certainly arises:

    Given all these billions and billions of planets, perfectly adequate for life, in our own galaxy, some of which would be billions of years older than Earth under consensus cosmology assumptions…………..

    Where is everybody?

  19. Peter Woit says:

    Patrick Harris,
    I see zero danger that geocentrism and “quantum consciousness” will take over mainstream physics. And I don’t think these are more popular now than in the past (the number of followers of “geocentrism” I believe is and always will be minuscule).

  20. Jesper says:

    @ Rick. You write “@KMS: “Acceleration however is something absolute also in Einstein’s theory of relativity”……”absolute” with respect to *what*?”

    That brings me back to my previous question (which you did not answer): are you familiar with the mathematics of GR? It certainly sounds from your comments that you are not.

  21. Peter Woit says:

    All,
    Enough comments that no one in their right mind would want to read. If your comment is not specifically about the film, please don’t post it here.

  22. jaco says:

    Peter,
    Have you gone off the rails? I am totally shocked you would even mention such a travesty as this film much less lend credence to it on your blog. A little dust up with Max couldn’t have changed your focus that much could it?
    What’s next, alien autopsy?
    Sorry. Keep up the (otherwise) good work.
    Cheers

  23. Peter Woit says:

    jaco,
    You don’t seem to have noticed that mentioning travesties is one of the specialties of this blog.
    And, this has nothing to do with Tegmark. The idea of a film promoting geocentrism featuring prominent physicists is pretty darn amusing, no matter who they might be. And that trailer is a hoot, I really do hope the thing comes to New York…

  24. Rick DeLano says:

    “The idea of a film promoting geocentrism featuring prominent physicists is pretty darn amusing, no matter who they might be.”

    The idea of a film about the Copernican Principle *not* involving an examination of geocentrism is pretty darn amusing, no matter how shocking it might be to find that no experimental falsification of the theory has ever been obtained.

  25. Anonyrat says:

    “….no matter how shocking it might be to find that no experimental falsification of the theory has ever been obtained.”

    Let’s ask the question this way: Mr. Rick DeLano, please describe what would constitute acceptable (to you) experimental falsification of geocentrism?

  26. Rick DeLano says:

    Establishment by direct measurement of a motion of the Earth with respect to some absolute frame would do nicely.

  27. Mike Sharples says:

    And because there is no absolute frame, geocentrism cannot be disproved.

    And because geocentrism is not disproved it is proved.

    (You could easily substitute heliocentrism in those two statements but hey-ho)

    I suggest it is time to stop feeding Mr DeLano on this thread. He refuses to engage on viable rules of logic.

  28. Martin says:

    See the great book by Arthur Koestler:

    https://archive.org/details/ArthurKoestler-TheSleepwalkers-AHistoryOfMansChangingVisionOfThe

    Free download.

    The problem with the Ptolemean system (Earth fixed) is that the planets, viewed from Earth, perform weird motions such as retrograde motion. No creationist has ever come up with dynamical laws that would induce such retrograde motion (the planets seem to change their mind; lets go in the opposite direction for a while). The big advantage of the Copernican system is that the motions become much simpler: the planets simply track their courses in the same direction all the time. Later, with Kepler’s laws it became even more evident, and then Newton, of course. Several weeks ago I saw the trailer of The Principle; it starts with a lady saying that according to Copernicus the earth does not have a “special” place in the Universe. It’s all about Earth and the people on it (not the poor animals, they have not been created in the image of God) HAVING to be “special”, which is not such a current idea anymore since Darwin. It is not about rules of logic or about science, it is about feeling.

  29. Rick DeLano says:

    @Martin: see Tycho Brahe.

    @Mike: “there is no absolute frame”– please describe what would constitute acceptable (to you) experimental falsification of this assertion.

  30. Anonyrat says:

    @Rick DeLano – define experimentally an absolute frame of reference.

    Do you know what an inertial frame of reference is? If not, please see Wiki:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inertial_frame_of_reference

    Now, neither earth-centric frames of reference nor sun-centric frames of reference are inertial frames of reference. I think the accuracy of our long-term computations of solar system mechanics is in part limited by our limitations in the observational establishment of a suitable frame of reference (so there are small residual non-inertial forces that we fail to account for).

    Having said that, for a given size of acceptable error, a sun-centric frame works better as an inertial frame for a much larger volume of space and length of time than does an earth-centric frame.

  31. Anonyrat says:

    @Rick DeLano: here for instance is something about the Radio Optical Reference Frame, constructed using the positions of some 400 extra-galactic objects.
    http://rorf.usno.navy.mil/

    We are told elsewhere ( http://www.erikdeman.de/html/sail040r.htm ) that the Radio Optical Reference Frame is “stable to at least 0.020 arcseconds per century”, and is improving with increased time of observations. In contrast, two previous reference frames, using nearby stars, called FK4 and FK5, drift apart at about 0.085 arcseconds per century.

    It is in this sense that I mean that a sun-centric frame is a better approximation to an inertial frame of reference than an earth-centric one; just as a reference frame centered on extra-galactic objects is better than one centered on stars in our galaxy. This is, I think, the modern meaning of the old Copernicus/Ptolemy, etc., debate.

  32. Rick DeLano says:

    @Anonyrat:

    It is well known that various frames can be chosen on grounds of ease of calculation or metaphysical preference.

    The frame you mention is centered upon an object which is, variously, determined to be traveling at somewhere between 365,000 km/sec and 1,600,000 km/sec.

    Clearly, this motion is calculated with respect to some other frame, which is alleged to not be moving at 365,000 to 1,600,000 km/sec.

    So, either your inertial frame is a mathematical fiction, very much like the ECI frame for GPS, or else you are telling us that the Sun is not moving at 365,000 to 1,600,000 km/sec.

    Which is it?

  33. Anonyrat says:

    @deLay, choice of reference frame is not a metaphysical preference. To correctly account for all forces, real and inertial, one needs to know whether the reference frame is inertial, or exactly how it departs from being inertial. For instance one or both of FK4 and FK5 depart from being inertial (though rotating at a rate of fractions of an arc-second per century).

  34. Rick DeLano says:

    @Rat:

    “choice of reference frame is not a metaphysical preference.”

    >> It certainly is. One must assume a metaphysics in order to choose one’s reference frame, if, as Einstein says:

    “The struggle, so violent in the early days of science, between the views of Ptolemy and Copernicus would then be quite meaningless. Either CS [coordinate system] could be used with equal justification. The two sentences, ‘the sun is at rest and the earth moves’, or ‘the sun moves and the earth is at rest’, would simply mean two different conventions concerning two different CS [coordinate systems].”
     

    ” To correctly account for all forces, real and inertial, one needs to know whether the reference frame is inertial, or exactly how it departs from being inertial.”

    >> Since we are not in a position to account for all forces, real and inertial, involving quasars and radio sources, then we cannot satisfy your demand above absent metaphysical assumptions.

    “For instance one or both of FK4 and FK5 depart from being inertial (though rotating at a rate of fractions of an arc-second per century).”

    >> The frame you propose is a useful mathematical fiction, very such like the Earth Centered Inertial frame in GPS.

  35. John A says:

    Wait. The website, Gallileo Was Wrong is NOT satire?!?

  36. Makka says:

    Krauss has been quoted as saying the CMB from wmap data could indicate we are att he centre of the universe, due to the alignment with the ecliptic.

    While i find it interesting, surely the CMB as shown by planck satellite confirm this axis this is worrying for the current theories out there.

    Does anyone have any information what krauss is currently saying regarding the planck satellite findings?