Archive for February, 2009

Wikipedia: Encyclopedia of Ignorance-2. Newton

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

In some of the preceding posts I pointed out that in matters related to history and biography, the Wikipedia often serves as an instrument for propagating ill-informed prejudices of all sorts because of its systematic reliance on secondary sources, and because its contributors are often ill-informed or prejudiced.

This series of posts counters those prejudices, especially as they concern me.

 Contrary to what the Wikipedia says, the actual points I have made about Newton (in The Eleven Pictures of Time, and in Cultural Foundations of Mathematics, and elsewhere) are as follows.

First: Newton was an honest theologian. For fifty years he diligently researched all the manipulations which entirely transformed the Bible. Brought up virtually as an orphan, and living unmarried, he had no confidante to turn to. Afraid of the backlash, he understandably hid his work: an 8-volume history of the church.

What is inexcusable is the way Newton’s 50-year effort remained hidden even after his death. Suppressed for over 250 years! It is Western historians I accuse of utter dishonesty, not Newton. If they could knowingly hide Newton’s lifework for so long, and continue trying to keep it hidden as Whiteside more recently did, nothing that Western historians say should be trusted or accepted on faith. For several centuries, European historians were mainly priests, writing in times of intense religious fanaticism, so their mindset was that of missionaries, out to glorify themselves and belittle others by any means possible, and without any regard for the facts.  

Of course, Newton did not invent the calculus, but neither does he claim credit for it. (It is Western historians who credit him for it.) Newton acknowledges a whole series of earlier mathematicians, including Cavalieri. Newton claims credit mainly for having made the calculus rigorous .

Newton’s claim to rigour was wrong, even by Western standards of proof, and his more discerning contemporaries like Berkeley were well aware of it. However, Newton’s attempt at “rigour” socialised the imported calculus, and made it socially acceptable in the West. (Descartes and Galileo had earlier rejected it.)

It is interesting to see the effect this had on his physics. Hoping to make calculus rigorous, Newton made time metaphysical. (“Absolute, true, and mathematical time” which flows on “without regard to anything external” is obviously a metaphysical notion, in fact, a religious one.) As pointed out in my expository paper ("Time:What is it that it can be Measured?" in Science and Education , 2005) this was a step backward from Newton’s predecessor, Barrow, who had called Augustine a “quack” for evading a clear physical definition of time. Barrow himself tried to supply such a definition, later corrected by Poincaré.

The failure to define time properly led to the failure of Newtonian physics, and its replacement by Poincaré’s special theory of relativity. (The speed of light is postulated a constant, just to be able to measure time.)

Newton, in the course of his priority dispute with Leibniz, over calculus, did claim credit for the sine series, and we know that this was factually false, for the sine series was known in India from a couple of centuries earlier.

However, this claim too has to be put in the context of the prevailing Doctrine of Christian Discovery: according to which only Christians could be regarded as discoverers. The church decreed that ownership of a piece of land must go to the first Christian to spot it. (Hence, the claim that Columbus “discovered” America, or that Vasco da Gama “discovered” India.) The people already living on the land did not matter, and the church encouraged their killing on a mass scale, where possible, as actually happened on three continents. This doctrine was made into a law by the US supreme court, and that is where the current US law on land-ownership vis-a-vis the “Red Indians” stands. 

So, the point is this. Despite the horrendous historical injustice involved, it would be completely incorrect to say that anyone who owns a piece of land in the US today is a thief. It is not a matter of personal dishonesty, at all, but a matter of systematic appropriation.

The same thing applies to what I have said about Newton. His claim to the sine series was part of a systematic process of intellectual appropriation during the centuries of extreme religious fanaticism in Europe: it was not a matter of personal dishonesty. Copernicus did nothing different, nor did Clavius, Tycho Brahe; in fact, these three directly knew the sources from which they were appropriating.

But, of course, all this explanation is beyond the average journalistic understanding or concern, which is for a short and uncomplicated story, preferably pitched at the lowest imaginable intellectual level. (Newspapers have no space, and their readers have no time.) And Wikipedia, as we have seen, can manage to be one notch below that because it further filters those stories through the understanding of the Wikipedist, without cross-checking them against what I might have actually published, which could well be beyond the reach of the Wikipedist.


Wikipedia: Encylopedia of Ignorance-1. Just accusations?

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

The Wikipedist says: Raju has repeatedly accused Einstein and Newton of plagiarism. The citation is a report by the Hindu.  Let us take just the case of Einstein.

First, what I did was a lot more substantial. I pointed out a mistake made by Einstein, and overlooked by most researchers in the last century, and suggested a new system of equations. This went well beyond Poincaré in (a) pointing out the need to use mixed-type functional differential equations, (b) solving functional differential equations in a key context, and (c) relating it to quantum mechanics. Compared to the difficulty of suggesting an alternative physics, an accusation is something any one can make: even a Wikipedist! This is typical of how a Wikipedist interjects opinion, by trivializing achievements which are beyond his or her comprehension.

It would be more accurate to put things like this: “Raju pointed out a mathematical error made by Einstein, and overlooked by other researchers over the last century. He has explained the corrected equations in detail,  solved them in special cases, and argued that relativity compels a further major reformulation of physics.”

Secondly, I provided proof that Poincaré had earlier postulated the constancy of the speed of light in 1904 (and had derived and published the Lorentz transformation) in 1905 before Einstein submitted his paper. Thus, Poincaré had published every bit of the theory of relativity before Einstein. In the last 16 years, no one could contest in print a single point I made. An accusation is one thing, solid proof that the theory of relativity existed earlier is another. But checking out those facts presumably calls for too much effort; so the Wikipedist goes by the common stories, setting aside the evidence, just like the devotees of godmen. 

Matters would be better put thus: “Raju brought out a mass of evidence that every bit of special relativity was published earlier by Poincaré during 1898-1905. In the last 16 years no one has contested an iota of this evidence, first published in 1992.”

All that pro-Einstein experts could say in defence of Einstein was that Einstein made an “independent rediscovery”. Is there any evidence that Einstein saw the earlier work of Lorentz and Poincaré? It is on record that Einstein read Poincaré’s 1902 book. What he has denied reading is Poincaré’s and Lorentz’s 1904 papers. We have only his word for it. On the other hand, it was Whittaker who pointed out in 1952 that the very term “principle of relativity” was first used by Poincaré in his 1904 paper, while in his 1902 book he only spoke of “principle of relative motion”. So Whittaker said that Einstein repeated the theory of Poincaré and Lorentz, using their words for it.

I have added to Whittaker’s argument by pointing out the casual use of the term “longitudinal mass” by Einstein, in his 1905 paper, as if it is an established term, which peculiar term was carefully used for the first time in a 1904 paper by Lorentz which Einstein denied seeing. There is more, but the faithful can always believe in coincidences (and even miracles). 

Lastly, let me set the record straight. The evidence I have brought out is undoubtedly damning. And it is not just the case of special relativity alone. However, I would be interested in a citation from any of my published works where I have actually called Einstein (or Newton) a plagiarist! (That’s a challenge.)

Here is what my press release of 2003 actually said:

“Was Einstein a habitual plagiarist?

“Einstein’s ideas were remarkably similar to those earlier put forward by the leading minds of the time: Poincaré, Hilbert, Boltzmann, Gibbs, and Bose. Since those ideas were either published earlier, or communicated to him, Einstein knew or ought to have known about this earlier work, which he claimed to have independently rediscovered. Does that make him a plagiarist? Or is it a case of great minds repeatedly thinking alike (even though Einstein’s earlier and later life gives no indication of such greatness)? As a patent clerk, Einstein had to know the patent law: copying ideas is not plagiarism, unless one copies also the exact expression of those ideas. Therefore, he already well knew that the legal answer to the above question is: No.”

The Hindu report, however, says that I called Einstein a “habitual plagiarist”. Journalists obviously have no time or space for such nuances. (The Hindu report even gets the spelling of Poincaré wrong.) The Wikipedist seems one notch below that, for the Wikipedist learns from the journalist but does not bother to cross-check by reading what I actually said in my books or even in the press release (which was archived at just to facilitate such cross-checking.)

By setting aside the major correction to physics I have proposed, setting aside the mass of evidence I have brought out, and by focussing on an accusation which I never made explicitly, what the Wikipedist has done is to offer an opinion which is very poorly informed—excessively so.


Wikipedia: Encyclopedia of Ignorance

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

An encyclopedia is as good or as bad as its authors, and reflects their level of knowledge, and their biases. In theory it is all very well to say that things can be corrected, but in practice it may be as difficult as correcting astrologers, because confusion abounds, together with all sorts of vested interests. Look at the inaccurate article on the “Kerala” school where the substantial inaccuracies are so zealously guarded, and persist for years even after they have been exposed.

So, it is necessary to create a record of some of the blunders of the Wikipedia, especially as they concern me. Here goes.