Sunday, August 22, 2010

Uncritical thinking and ideology

Nothing annoys me more than the absence of reason, especially when an individual intentionally chooses to be ignorant for the purpose of championing an ideology. I usually ignore debates between ideologies, as espoused by conservatives versus liberals, because ideologues - by definition - don't care about the truth. I normally would have ignored Paul Krugman's writings in The Conscience of a Liberal had my wife not directed me to one of his pieces that pointed out a ludicrous attack on a subject I understand.

Apparently, some conservatives believe that the theory of relativity is a liberal plot. An entry on states that,

"The theory of relativity is a mathematical system that allows no exceptions. It is heavily promoted by liberals who like its encouragement of relativism and its tendency to mislead people in how they view the world.[1]

[1] See, e.g., historian Paul Johnson's book about the 20th century, and the article written by liberal law professor Laurence Tribe as allegedly assisted by Barack Obama. Virtually no one who is taught and believes relativity continues to read the Bible, a book that outsells New York Times bestsellers by a hundred-fold."

Ideologue Andy Schlafly has a problem with relativity because it contradicts the Bible. In particular, he believes that the miracles by Jesus described in John 4:46-54 imply that they occurred instantaneously using action-at-a-distance. lists 30 counterexamples to the theory of relativity. Each one of them can be debunked. For illustration, I focus on the conservapedia entry on Quantum Entanglement, which states,

"The implications of this phenomenon are enormous, and form the basis for the new field of quantum computing. For example, there seems to be an instantaneous communication between the participles at the moment of observation of one of them. Some physicists resist that notion and claim that no information is actually communicated."

To understand why entanglement does not imply action at a distance, consider two spin 1/2 particles that are entangled and reside on opposite ends of the universe. A measurement of the spin of one particle along a fixed axis can yield a result of up or down. A measurement of up in this part of the universe immediately places the entangled particle in a state of spin down. The key point is that the result of the measurement is random. Half the time, the measurement gives spin up, and the other half of the time the result is spin down. There is no way to control the spin of the particle when doing the measurement. As a result, the receiver at the other end of the universe would detect random bits - thus no information is transmitted.*

One may argue that it's just a matter of time that someone will determine how to control the spin of a particle when doing the measurement, making instantaneous communication possible. However, if this were possible, the implications would be profound. All the other predictions made by quantum mechanics would fail. But, since quantum mechanics makes many accurate predictions for a broad range of phenomena, it is highly unlikely that information will ever be transmitted using quantum entanglement.

Having too often used the excuse that I am overly busy to do anything about such nonsense, I have decided that the time is ripe for action. This morning, I opened an account on conservapedia and plan to correct the article. Let's see how long the correction will stand...

*Interestingly, the distant observer, after measuring the state of the local particle, would not have any way of knowing whether or not the transmitter was making a measurement. The observed random bit pattern would be the same with and without a measurement being performed by the transmitter.


When I tried to make a change on conservapedia, I was blocked by TK, an administrator of the site. Apparently, a new user must first convince TK that (s)he is a conservative. To quote TK:

"All voices should be represented on the Net. But if their intentions are merely to argue and dispute Conservative or Christian points of view, that becomes a form of vandalism, inasmuch as it is a great time waster and distraction for those who genuinely want to contribute, and build this encyclopedia."

Interesting that disagreement is tantamount to vandalism. In closing, below is a quote from TK's page. I think it's a joke, but I am not sure.

"Sometimes you can only look for answers from God and failing that...Fox News" -- Denny Crane

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