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. Anonym says:

    Rick, it does not follow that the earth is stationary, even if we cannot because of the equivalence principle prove that it moves. A moving earth or a non moving earth are both valid view points, but neither one is true in any absolute sense.

    The claim that “Galileo was wrong — the church was right” found on your web page is thus false, since the church claimed that the earth stationary. (You have to claim either that “Galileo and the church were wrong” or that “Galileo and the church were right” to make sense, if you appeal to the equivalence principle.)

    So your own wise ass appeal to the equivalence principle thus turns against your case for “geocentrism”.

  2. Yatima says:

    “I am increasingly amused by your observations concerning my film, but it seriously appears to me that “panic” is something more appropriately describing you here.”

    I am getting flashbacks to the deepest infernos of alt.science.alternative, complete with fund drives for zero-point energy devices.

  3. max says:

    While you are no doubt correct about the dubious motivations behind this project, the scientific and philosophical stance is an interesting one from the point of view of quantum gravity. If one allows that local observers (on the earth) are a key feature of the quantum theory, and that one must understand how this fits into a human cosmology (not necessarily a stupid stringy multiverse), then there is a real sense in which the earth is special (for us). After all, classical spacetime is supposed to emerge from other data.

    Moreover, in Galileo’s trial, which was actually easy for him because he was quite friendly with the church, it was clear that he did not yet understand his relativity. He actually insisted that the earth moved. So he was wrong, no matter how you look at it.

  4. Roger says:

    Scientists and others have been using Copernicus, Galileo, and Einstein as examples to show various points for a long time. Usually the facts and the science get distorted so badly that the lesson is hopelessly confused. My hunch is that this movie will also get the story confused. But maybe we just defer judgment, just in case the movie gets it right.

  5. Rick DeLano says:

    @Anonyrat: Interesting quotes. The same forces arise, regardless of whether the Earth or the cosmos is taken as rotating. Einstein:

    “One need not view the existence of such centrifugal forces as originating from the motion of K’ [e.g.-the Earth]; one could just as well account for them as resulting from the average rotational effect of distant, detectable masses as evidenced in the vicinity of K’, whereby K’ is treated as being at rest.”

    @ Peter: You are quite right. We never in our wildest dreams expected the film to generate the kind of interest it has, even at this extremely early stage. No car crashes, no love scenes.

    @kashyap: Yes, I decided to let the physicists speak in the film since, as you correctly note, I doubt anyone would much care about what I might have to say, although I have enjoyed thinking about these matters over the last several years.

    You ask a very interesting question: “Even if we ignore all scientific theories, is it possible that everything in the entire big universe revolves around the tiny little earth? This would totally defy common sense.”

    I think it is very safe to say that consensus cosmology totally defies common sense.

    Relativity certainly defies common sense.

    Quantum physics might be the death of common sense.

    The idea that the Earth is at the center of the Universe and not moving made perfect common sense to almost every person who ever lived….until Copernicus.

    The idea that the Earth is at the center of the universe and not moving now defies common sense.

    That alone is a very interesting thing to think about, since the change was clearly not the result of any experimental detection of the motion.

    It is a very interesting story.

    I think we do a very good job of presenting it to the general audience in “The Principle”.

  6. Anonyrat says:

    Mr DeLano, read the whole chapter. Macy’s Principle is not borne out by General Relativity.

  7. Peter Woit says:

    Since I allowed Yatima earlier to introduce a link to a story about Hawking’s recent ideas on black holes (which I understand not at all and have nothing to say about…), I suppose I should provide this link, from the Borowitz report

    http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/borowitzreport/2014/01/stephen-hawkings-blunder-on-black-holes-shows-danger-of-listening-to-scientists-says-bachmann.html

    There are rumors it is satire, but these days in this subject, figuring out what is satire and what isn’t can be tricky…

  8. abbyyorker says:

    Of the three scientists in the trailer, we right away stopped mentioning Krauss. Then Kaku vanished in half the posts. So in the end, Tegmark alone is tarred with the “Rick” brush.
    Despite his crimes, I don’t think this is especially classy.

  9. paddy says:

    I think that Peter is teaching himself and us by proxy that one cannot engage these folks in legitimately conversation. Although one’s mind does come up with eloquently stated logical flaws in their arguments…it will do no one any good. They answer to a higher truth than truth.

  10. Peter Woit says:

    abbyyorker,

    I tried to be even-handed…
    It looks like Kaku gets top-billing. My reference to Tegmark’s segment was just because someone was asking what the “evidence” against the Copernican principle was, and that was the one thing I had seen.

    I have no idea why these three physicists got involved in this, I doubt they knew what it was when they went on camera. It was pretty odd though to run into this right after Tegmark was giving me grief for links to my blog from IDers…

  11. Paulo Guerra says:

    When Einstein said:

    “I have come to believe that the motion of the Earth cannot be detected by any optical experiment.”

    he was refering to the motion relative to the ether, the hypothetical medium in which electromagnetic waves were thought to propagate. Since no such motion could be detected, the ether was not needed.

  12. Chris W. says:

    Peter: You mean rumors that Hawking’s recent statements are satire?

    Andy Borowitz is a humorist, of course. I think everything he writes for the New Yorker is a gag, not that Michele Bachmann can’t keep us supplied with unintentional howlers all by herself.

  13. Chris W. says:

    By the way, what the hell is up with this odd use of the term precognitive? I detect the faint odor of Scientology…

  14. Fred Page says:

    @Rick DeLano-

    While I agree that I can’t comment on a movie I haven’t seen, I can comment on your comments here. It’s no longer 1922. We presently have multiple probes – including one around Mars, one around Saturn, two around the Sun, and one in interstellar space all of which need to know where the Earth is at any given point so that they can communicate back with the Earth. As they succeed (otherwise we wouldn’t get information back from them), our current models are giving us useful answers.

    I think On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres has sufficient arguments in and of itself. That said, constructing a model with an Earth-centric universe would require rejecting:
    1) Newton’s theory of gravity
    2) Einstein’s theories of Special and General Relativity.
    3) All our Earth-based gravity-mapping data.

    It may be an interesting philosophical and/or mathematical exercise to discard the theory of Gravity, and attempt to create mathematics consistent with all our observations – but with a geo-centric universe. However, scientifically, you aren’t going to end up with a useful model in this manner; the GOCE data alone would seem to be an insurmountable obstacle.

  15. Mike Sharples says:

    I am baffled at the complexity of the arguments here.

    Rick Delano’s central argument is:
    “There is no way Geocentricism can be disproved.”

    Without even wasting breath questioning the validity of that statement simply consider:
    In what way does that argument prove Geocentricism? In what way does that argument disprove Heliocentrisism?

    The whole is based on a logical fallacy. There is no need for Science to rouse itself at this time.

  16. Rick DeLano says:

    I have really enjoyed this thread.

    The degree of mutual (and self) contradiction among the participants is hilarious (we believe Einstein but we know he was wrong when he said it was equally valid to take the Earth as stationary and the Sun as moving- we know Einstein said no optical experiment could prove the motion of the earth but he didn’t really mean *no* optical experiment, just whatever optical experiment we think he meant, etc etc etc).

    I appreciate all the wisdom, but I must say it is not me you need to persuade.

    I personally think you guys are completely lost.

    You have no idea how to make the universe obey your theory of gravity.

    You are completely certain your theory of gravity must be right- after all it has worked so well for so long.

    I can appreciate this. We have seen it before.

    Newton, compared to the present consensus, was so much more persuasive, logical, and consistent……

    Newton was wrong.

    So are you guys.

    I hope you enjoy the film.

    If not, make your own.

    May the best film win.

  17. Mike Sharples says:

    Dear Mr DeLano.

    If you cannot prove something is true it does not mean that you have proved it is false. Please apply basic logic before advancing any scientific argument.

  18. GoletaBeach says:

    Einstein certainly must have understood the aberration of starlight. His statement about optical motion was most likely embedded in some sort of context that has now been omitted in this blog.

    In any case, science at its core is not a cult of personality. Einstein was no pope or Mormon prophet that was infallible.

    My 2 year-old daughter also thinks she is the center of the Universe. Who knows, maybe she is. I don’t have the funds to make a popular movie about it, but maybe the Coen brothers will make a comedy about one of their kids who thinks the same thing, I bet they could make a lot more money than this film. I might even go see it.

    Once European nobility thought they were god’s chosen ones by heredity. Well, if you’ve assassinated your way to the top, I guess you need some special clemency from god.

    Once white people thought they were superior. Once some Aryans thought they were superior. Didn’t turn out well (skirting Godwin here!).

    At the vary least, anyone claiming that the Earth is special must deal openly and adequately with the possibility that they are fooling themselves in the same manner as those groups. Probably it is impossible to do so.

  19. Dom says:

    Rick
    Something I see too often in science-based internet fora is someone who appears, does a Gish Gallop and departs claiming triumph. Usually they claim to be overturning scientific reality but oddly you never hear about them picking up their Nobel Prize.

  20. Katy says:

    See, I have a huge problem with Bill Nye going to the Creation Museum to “debate” evolution. There is no debate. There are no “two sides” to this story. If people are seriously pushing creationism and geocentrism on religious grounds, then they are not doing so because they are misinformed. They’ve been perfectly informed many times over. You may think you’re being altruistic on behalf of science by enlightening these people but you aren’t. You are making them think the point is arguable. We should simply condemn people who promote bunk loudly, but not communicate with them directly.

  21. Laymammal says:

    A. If the Earth revolves around the sun, then the sun has greater mass than the Earth. B. If the sun revolves around the earth, then the earth has greater mass than the sun. This has nothing to do with the relativity of motion in different reference frames. It is an either/or.(period)

    Accept B, and you contradict so many theories in so many fields from chemistry, nuclear physics, particle physics, astronomy, and others(like Relativity)that you will need a new library of theories to try and overcome all the inconsistencies that appear. You could ignore mathematics and logic if you like as well.

  22. Kavanna says:

    Thanks, Peter, for taking on the Tegmark et al. nonsense. Many of us have been worried for a long time about the lasting damage that string theory and related manias (like the multiverse) would do to the seriousness and credibility of science. We saw it in the 1990s with academic anti-science post-modernism. Creationism and other para-scientific and anti-scientific movements were only a matter of time.

    (IDT never seemed like nonsense so much as circular and empty: if true, trivial; if not, no way to know. It has that in common with Tegmark.)

    About Galileo: (1) he didn’t fully understand the principle of inertia or of relativity — he had it in a half-formulated state; (2) he wasn’t exactly friendly with the Church, but did have powerful protectors amongst the secular powers, like his sponsors, the Medici. That protection did him some good. The Church barely noticed Copernicus’ book. But it was not in good humor in the early 1600s, with the Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and wars of religion in full swing and various people claiming the right to interpret scripture as they saw fit. Galileo, without fully realizing it, got caught in this showdown.

    All part of that drama of the “two swords” in modern Western history, the divided sovereignty of religious and secular authorities that gave birth to modern science and freedom of thought, without either side intending it.

  23. max says:

    Wow, that wikipedia entry on Sungenis is scary. So he understands the dogmatism of sola fide and sola scriptura, but is he free from Catholic dogmatism? Does he think its right to treat women as subhumans by upholding the strict doctrine of the eucharist? Which, by the way, is related to the dogmatic interpretation of trinity supposedly beneath the true reasons for Galileo’s home detention. This film could be interesting.

  24. Dave Miller in Sacramento says:

    Peter,

    Part of the problem here is that Americans are just not taught in school what the evidence is for the Copernican model. I have been running a little experiment for several years asking non-scientists what the evidence is against geocentrism. Only one guy (a Swedish fellow, who said he did not learn it in school) mentioned stellar parallax. No one has mentioned the fact that Copernicus was able to explain why a number of the Ptolemaic circles just happened to have a period of 365 ¼ days – i.e. there is really only just one such circle, the earth’s orbit around the sun,

    Of course, most Americans will ignore the geocentrists for the same reason they ignore atheists, Communists, libertarians, and anyone else outside the “mainstream” – they have been told by authority that geocentrism is wrong, and they have learned to accept authority. But, it would be nice if our fellow citizens had learned the evidence, instead of just accepting the diktats of authorities.

    I trust your recent comments on this and on the IDers mean that your next book will be a wide-ranging discussion of the sociology of science and pseudo-science? You are certainly gathering lots of material!

    Dave

  25. Peter Woit says:

    Dave Miller,

    I’m more sanguine about the wisdom of the average person than you I think. They’ll ignore “The Principle” for lots of good reasons, from what they’ve been taught in school and understood, to just being able to recognize flakiness and people pushing religious agendas. I’m much more worried about what the effect is of people seeing prominent, respected scientists pushing pseudo-science. What does a high school science teacher say to students who come to them with some of the latest nonsense about the multiverse?

    My favored policy about IDers and all the other varieties of pseudo-science has always been to ignore it, not write books about it. I’d like to see multiverse mania die down to the point where it can be safely ignored, hope we’ll see that someday.

  26. srp says:

    I wouldn’t worry about the public being converted to geocentrism by this film. There’s a bizarre quality to the geocentrism idea given a) our ability to see so much of our galaxy and other galaxies and even detect planets around other stars and b) our records of having landed probes on other bodies in our solar system. Sure, you could plot the whole shebang into some Rube Goldbergian series of motions around a stationary Earth, but even a layman can see how kooky that is given a). As for b), if our feeling of motionlessness on Earth is “real” then what does it mean that people and probes on the surface of the Moon and Mars also feel motionless?

    What seemed like intuitive “common sense” before we knew there were other solar systems and before we had visited other bodies in the solar system no longer seems intuitive to average Joe. Out-of-context quotes from physicists aren’t going to budge that intuition.

  27. Chris W. says:

    What the Bleep Do We Know!? was a low-budget independent film that ended grossing over $10 million. That’s the key to this little scam; it will generate some controversy and publicity, and get a fair number of people to see the film, netting a nice financial return for the producers. That’s the way a lot of our economy works; promote some provocative BS and make a tidy little bundle. This film certainly won’t be a blockbuster, but it cost a hell of a lot less to make.

  28. Peter Woit says:

    Chris W.,
    What the Bleep had as message the idea that quantum mechanics implies anything you want to happen will, an idea easy to get people interested in. This film looks like it’s going to be trying to get people interested in the idea that the Copernican Principle is wrong, a much harder sell. Honestly, I suspect the only audience interested enough will be all the outraged physicists. While I’ll buy a ticket and go see it if it comes to New York, to see how outrageous the outrage is, I doubt the theater will be full…

  29. paddy says:

    I must admit to learning something in this discussion..thank you Dom for the “Gish Gallop” reference.

  30. Chris W. says:

    You may well be right, Peter. Then again, “Springtime for Hitler” (in The Producers) was supposed to be a flop. :)

    (Actually, this film deserves a comparison to Battlefield Earth. On that basis, it will almost certainly be a flop.)

  31. Neil says:

    To me, the case against geocentrism, as if there were any need for one, is the annual seasons. The geocentric theory requires the sun move north and south each year as it orbits the earth, by some unknown reversible force. Surely earth’s tilted axis is far more convincing.

  32. zathras says:

    Yatima: “I am getting flashbacks to the deepest infernos of alt.science.alternative, complete with fund drives for zero-point energy devices.”

    Exactly my thought. I’m expecting Ludwig Plutonium to jump into the discussion any minute now.

  33. Rick DeLano says:

    Geocentrism is quite easy to falsify.

    Just measure the absolute motion of Earth.

    Of course this creates a problem.

    This his supposed to be impossible under General Relativity.

    Or it’s perfectly possible.

    It is and isn’t, depending upon which comment you read.

    I think you guys are lost.

    I don’t think you understand the implications of your own theory, and hence advance contradictions which you ignore, or else do not recognize.

    I have asked twice, I ask again:

    Is there an experiment that measures an absolute motion of Earth wrt to some rest frame?

    If so, Einstein was wrong.

    If not, then geocentrism must be assessed on other grounds.

  34. Krzysztof says:

    To me, this Geocentrism hype is a perfect match (or response?) to the multiverse mania. They are worth each other in many ways.

  35. David Bailey says:

    Surely the point is that the earth is not in uniform motion, it is accelerating doe to the gravitational attraction of the sun and indeed the galaxy! Therefore regardless of the equivalence principle, Rick could not be right except for one instant in time!

  36. Rick DeLano says:

    @Kryz: Then falsify both. Experimental evidence please. Oh, you can’t? Then you are opposed on metaphysical/religious grounds. That’s fine. Geocentrism is a profoundly superior metaphysical thesis, vis a vis the multiverse, simply because if we accept the multiverse, then all cosmology becomes geocentric in order to tell us *anything* useful.

    The only important *fact* of physics in a multiverse is our location (address, if you like) in it.

    @David:

    Surely, Einstein already thought of that? Surely, Einstein recognized that centrifugal forces do not allow us to establish absolute motion?

    Motion is relative, David, for Einstein.

    He has told you so several times on this thread.

    Was he wrong?

  37. Manyoso says:

    Hi Rick,

    I’ll answer your question!

    “Is there an experiment that measures an absolute motion of Earth wrt to some rest frame?”

    No!

    Now, can you answer a question for me? Is there an experiment that measures an absolute motion of Mars wrt to some rest frame?

    If not, it would seem geocentrism has some competition from Mars centrism, no?

    Cheers,
    Adam

  38. Manyoso says:

    One more question Rick! Can you iterate over that question substituting in turn every celestial body in the heavens? If the answer I each of these questions is similarly “No!”, then what do you think this applies for the theory of geocentrism?

    Thanks!
    Adam

  39. Manyoso says:

    Err, s/applies/implies/

  40. GoletaBeach says:

    Delano writes… “Geocentrism is quite easy to falsify.

    Just measure the absolute motion of Earth.”

    I suggest that rather than spending money on a movie, the advocates of geocentrism would do better to fund their own experiments toward this end and publish them in reviewed journals.

    “I think you guys are lost.”

    Not at all. All data we have in consistent with no preferred frame of reference. Einstein certainly knew that the relative motion of the earth relative to the stars was measured by the aberration of starlight, day in day out by people with simple telescopes.

    We’ve measured the relative motion of the sun w/r to the cosmic microwave background radiation. The empirical data is very supportive of no preferred frames of reference.

    “If so, Einstein was wrong.”

    Einstein was wrong so many times there is no motivation here. His son was a professor at Berkeley and boy you couldn’t talk to him without finding out how wrong Einstein could be.

  41. Rick DeLano says:

    @Manyoso:

    No!

    Therefore let us repeat MMX on the Space Station. That is all you need to shut me and the geocentrists up.

    We have requested this experiment to be done many times.

    It has not been done, and so the ball is in your court.

    It is not hard to falsify geocentrism.

    It simply has not been done.

    @ Goleta:

    Thanks for refuting Andrew above.

  42. Rick DeLano says:

    @Manyosio:

    If Relativity is true, then absolute motion is a question beyond the competence of physics.

    If Relativity is false, then experimental tests of absolute motion are possible.;

    Which is it, do you think, Manyioso?

  43. Manyoso says:

    Relativity is true and has been demonstrate so by every experiment to date. There have been incredibly precise experiments showing just how successful since Einstein formulated it.

    Again, please answer my questions as I answered yours.

    If you rely upon relativity to assert geocentrism, how do you account for Mars centrism?

    Thanks,
    Adam

  44. JG says:

    I don’t have the educational background that most of you have, but I find the argument here interesting sort of as an extreme outlier of quasi-religious pseudo-science positions. Meaning if you go from ID to Creationism to Young Earth Creationism to Geocentrism, you have, I think, finally reached the bottom of the barrel.

    Lastly, I understand that you can select a frame of reference, and then play with the mathematics to make geocentrism “work” after a fashion, but can you explain annual stellar parallax with it? Hard to see how that would be done.

  45. Jesper says:

    @ Rick DeLano

    I’m wondering, are you fairly familiar with General Relativity? It appears to me that you’re good a quoting Einstein, but are you also familiar with the mathematics?

    I’m just curious, because if the answer is no, then how can you oppose something, which you do not understand?

    Reading the above (very entertaining and also bizarre) debate, it seems to me that you do not really understand what general covariance actually means.

    (Personally, I find Manyoso’s Mars-centrism much more interesting than geo-centrism…)

  46. Jesper says:

    @ JG – yes, you’d think that this is the bottom, but who knows. That anyone would argue for geocentrism at the present moment, where our knowledge of the universe (based on GR) is expanding at such a rapid rate, is really bizarre. But why not go for flat-earth?

  47. emile says:

    This is so bizarre that it has to be some practical joke.

    I mean, who in 2014, can possibly doubt mars-centrism?

  48. harryb says:

    A moment’s googling of The Principle and its Producer takes you into a rather strange world that honest science ought to quickly walk past, collars up.

    Multiverse thinking, and its ilk, is clearly co-opted into this sad cause. Shame on it.

    Geocentrism, or whatever awful notion du jour in these worlds, is a dead-end.

    The syntax of denial is short cadence it seems.

    We can all use abrupt sentences to sound authoritative.

    Science is much harder than this – dogma is easy.

    Must do better.

    You and your guys seem very very lost.

    Tennis with the net down.

    And so on … ad absurdium.

  49. Jesper says:

    I find this debate interesting – not because of its substance, since it has none – but because it reminds me so much of other debates within science, for instance evolution and climate change. On the one hand there are people familiar with the subject, and on the other hand cranks who talk nonsense – and in the middle are lay people who can’t tell who’s who.

    I always thoughts that if the debate of climate change somehow depended on GR, then “GR-deniers” would quickly emerge and convince the public that there is much doubt and need for further research etc.