Thursday, July 22, 2010


I’ve been quite inspired in reading the introduction to Oliver Heaviside’s “Electromagnetic Theory: Volume 1”. It is surprising to me how little is known or revered by this amazing Applied Mathematician. Then again I am still surprised over the lack of fame Tesla has today. While instead the “Great American Inventor” title is reserved for people like Edison. Anyway, I simply will not rob Heaviside’s words, thus I quote him directly and it appears he had a similar problem that is still rather pervasive in our modern times.

“There are men of a certain type of mind who are never wearied with gibing at mathematics, at mathematicians, and at mathematical methods of inquiry. It goes almost without saying that these men have themselves little mathematical bent. I believe this to be a general fact; but, as a fact, it does not explain very well their attitude towards mathematicians. The reason seems to lie deeper. How does it come about, for instance, that whilst they are themselves so transparently ignorant of the real nature, meaning, and effects of mathematical investigation, they yet lay down the law in the most confident and self-satisfied manner, telling the mathematician what the nature of his work is (or rather is not), and of its erroneousness and inutility, and so forth? It is quite as if they knew all about it.

“It reminds one of the professional paradoxers, the men who want to make you believe that the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle is 3, or 3.125, or some other nice easy number (any but the right one); or that the earth is flat, or that the sun is a lump of ice; or that the distance of the moon is exactly 6 miles 500 yards, or that the speed of the current varies as the square of the length of the line. They, too, write as if they knew all about it! Plainly, then, the anti-mathematician must belong to the same class as the paradoxer, whose characteristic is to be wise in his ignorance, whereas the really wise man is ignorant in his wisdom. But this matter may be left for students of mind to settle. What is of greater importance is that the anti-mathematicians sometimes do a deal of mischief. For there are many of a neutral frame of mind, little acquainted themselves with mathematical methods, who are sufficiently impressible to be easily taken in by the gibers and to be prejudiced thereby; and, should they possess some mathematical bent, they may be hindered by their prejudice from giving it fair development. We cannot all be Newton’s or Laplace’s, but that there is an immense amount of moderate mathematical talent lying latent in the average man I regard as a fact; and even the moderate development implied in a working knowledge of simple algebraically equations can, with common-sense to assist, be not only the means of valuable mental discipline, but even be of commercial importance (which goes a long way with some people), should one’s occupation be a branch of engineering for example.” (Section 8, Electromagnetic Theory, 1893)

Please take the time to note the date in which this writing was published. Even in the late 1800’s men like Heaviside were aware of the spreading of the ignorant, by generating ridiculous concepts like the erroneous representation of Pi. Today, I don’t see many meddle in the realms of mathematics, perhaps the discipline has grown so far beyond the grasp of the charlatans that nothing they say will be believed? For if you look at the time frame the charlatans were arguing mathematics from the 1500’s or so, whereas today it has become such a solidified and widely taught subject that people do not question the mathematical conclusions anymore. If they do question something as mundane as Pi, then it seems they are not studying mathematics very clearly.

What we do experience today is the “paradoxer”, as Heaviside put it, trying to undermine science, especially Biology. Little is argued against Physics these days, perhaps it is so far beyond people (just like math) that no one can argue it. Although, I see all kinds of nonsense coming out of the Quantum Quackery camp, perhaps that is the plight of Physics today. However, as Bob Stanek of CERN, commented on the documentary “Through the Wormhole”: “Most people know about the gravitational force, some people know about the Electromagnetic forces, no one knows about the weak nuclear force, and no one knows about the strong nuclear force.” (Possibly re-ordered by me.) This tells me that the divide between what people know and where Physicists are is very great.

However, people do not act like this when it comes to Biology. With Biology the concept of “natural selection” is even put into question! When I discuss this topic with people they are arguing 19th century Biology. These are the paradoxers arguing old world and already solved problems, yet somehow thinking they are relevant to modern science. For example in a recent discussion someone tried to discuss how Hoeckel’s recapitulation theory was untenable, while my girlfriend would quickly retort: “of course it is, that’s why Evo-Devo exists today”. This is clearly a case of someone NOT keeping up with the field they wish to criticize. If you really want to have something to say about science, especially a critical something, then you must know what the modern science says about the topic. It is, generally, not hard to find out.

You see this happen quite often today and I just ran into it yesterday in a discussion with a tenacious twelve year old named Brianna. She has shown an interest in things like Physics, but instead of finding information that is relevant, she stumbled upon a site filled with all kinds of nonsense. She obviously wouldn’t know any better; luckily for her someone was able to help her out. I looked over this site briefly and on the main page they had a video of someone who invented an “incredible machine” that only runs on magnets. The basic gist is that it was a rotary motor that rotates within a magnetic field. They had a group of people around the table looking on in awe, and they were all amazed at how close we were to having “powerless energy.” I think everyone there missed out on one major fact… Tesla invented that in the late 1800’s. This is how out of touch people are with concepts and inventions related to something as common as Electromagnetism. This simply blows my mind. Instead of progression we have regression, these people could be reasonably smart people, but if they spent less time trying to combine science with spirituality and spent their time working ACTUAL modern science, maybe our species could accomplish even more than we have already!

In sum, I am both awed and dismayed at what I stumble upon in my daily readings and research. While Oliver Heaviside did impressive work with Electromagnetism and really helped further the field, while Tesla gave the world the power of Alternating Current, they still faced dissenters that could not get over the already solved problems. As it is with history… little has changed.

Here’s to progress. Tomorrow I may discuss more on Mathematics and Electromagnetism in terms of Theory and Application.