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Greenspan, Einstein and Reich

Filed under: — eric @ 29 October 2008 - (Italian) (Français)

shrekI often receive letters that range from amusing claims that we are overlooking changes in the magnetic field, to tales about how the “weight” of carbon dioxide keeps it “near the ground”. If the writer sounds serious, then I treat them seriously, and do my best to provide a helpful reply. Often, though, I find myself in a pointless debate of the most basic, well-established physical principles. I generally cut off the discussion at this point, because I simply don’t have the time. This can result in a hostile response accusing me of “having an agenda”. Most would call me naïve for bothering to respond in the first place.

But it is possible, after all, that somewhere in that barrage of letters lies a brilliant idea that ought to be heard, and could change the course of scientific history. How to tell the difference? Well, there is a story that we tell in our family that might provide some perspective on this.

The story is about Wilhelm Reich, the controversial Freudian psychoanalyist (1897-1957). Reich was a personal acquaintance of my great uncle, William Steig, creator of Shrek, and illustrator of ones of Reich’s books. Reich thought he had made a major discovery in physics that proved the existence of a previously unrecognized form of energy, which he called “orgone energy”. He had built an “orgone energy accumulator” (basically a box whose walls were comprised of alternating layers of organic material and metal). He had done some careful experiments that demonstrated that the temperature inside the box increased above the ambient outside temperature. He made calculations that (he thought) demonstrated that the increase was greater than could be explained by thermodynamics, thereby proving the existence of an extra source of heat, which he attributed to the mysterious “orgone energy”. He sent these calculations to Albert Einstein, who graciously wrote back to him, showing where his calculations were wrong. Reich then wrote again, allegedly showing where Einstein had made an error. Einstein never wrote back. Some in my family took this as evidence that Einstein was stumped. But most people would conclude that Einstein decided he had better things to do than continue an argument that wasn’t going anywhere. This story has all the more poignancy to my family because my grandfather Henry, William’s brother, died of cancer while trying to cure himself by sitting in an orgone accumulator. I don’t of course, believe that Wilhelm Reich is responsible for my grandfather’s death. But clearly, Reich was wrong, and Einstein was right.

“But wait a minute,” you might say. “You guys at RealClimate are no Albert Einstein.” True enough. But like Einstein, we’re constantly subject to criticism from our fellow scientists. That’s what the process of peer review is all about. It’s not a perfect process, but it does provide an efficient means to separate ideas that have traction from ideas that are going nowhere. Greenspan’s pronouncements about the economy, on the other hand, were not subject to any such process. There might be a lesson in that.

237 Responses to “Greenspan, Einstein and Reich”

  1. 51
    Marc Hudson says:

    Further to the Feynman quote, and since Monbiot appears in the mix (48), I dug this out of a booklet I put together called “The Great Global Warming Swindle Swindle”- the egregious Channel 4 ‘documentary’ last year.

    Were it not for dissent, science, like politics, would have stayed in the dark ages. All the great heroes of the discipline – Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein – took tremendous risks in confronting mainstream opinion. Today’s crank has often proved to be tomorrow’s visionary.
    But the syllogism does not apply. Being a crank does not automatically make you a visionary. There is little prospect, for example, that Dr Mantombazana Tshabalala-Msimang, the South African health minister who has claimed Aids can be treated with garlic, lemon and beetroot, will be hailed as a genius. But the point is often confused. Professor David Bellamy, for example, while making the incorrect claim that wind farms do not have “any measurable effect” on total emissions of carbon dioxide, has compared himself to Galileo.
    George Monbiot, 13 March 2007

    The front page of that had a cartoon by Marc Roberts, erstwhile Real Climate cartoonist of a man wresting a pig. “Never wrestle with a pig- you both get muddy, but the pig enjoys it.” And don’t feed the trolls etc etc.

  2. 52
    Ray Ladbury says:

    #48 Pete Best, Exactly how has the Copenhagen Interpretation been found wanting? I know of no experimental result that contradicts it, nor of any theoretical difficulty the suggests it may be wrong. Do you know something I don’t?

  3. 53
    Gareth says:

    Re Jim G & Ms Bush @ #36

    Been there, done that (at #20)… ;-)

    (Bush talks about making the video, here.

  4. 54
    pete best says:

    Re #52, Afshar experiment seems to indicate a note of caution on the issue. This experiment caused a big stir at the time a few years ago and seems to demonstrate that the principle of complementarity (wave and particle not at the same time) was not all it seemed as until recently no one at thought of a experiment that demonstrated wave particle duality at the same time. Jury may still be out though on this experiment. WikePedia has a big article on the experiment.

  5. 55
    Hank Roberts says:

    Ray, “found wanting” = room for debate.“many+worlds”+experimental+test

  6. 56
    Mark says:

    Ray, #52. The problem with the Copenhagen interpretation is that it is sophistry. The cat isn’t in any sort of state of alive or dead. It’s a cat. Changing the cat with an electron isn’t explaining anything either because there IS no cat. The photon isn’t in a ghost form, it is and always will be a photon.

    The copenhagen interpretation didn’t explain anything.

    Not a refutation, per se, but it was a refutation of it explaining anything.

    The problem may be the reification. A photon isn’t a corpuscle of light, it’s a photon. Light isn’t a waveform, it’s light. The selection of experiment teases out the form we’re looking for because it isn’t, really, any one of them. It is itself.

    IIRC the current best explanation is that the two-slit experiment isn’t changing the photon, it’s changing the probable paths of any photon in the system. A photon is just doing its thing. The Universe is doing its own thing. And the reaction of the two makes or removes the interference pattern *because you’ve changed the universe*.

    I would like to see if there could be an experiment to see if this probability has a real existence (or as real as any quantum effect is). E.g. does the change of state propagate as information at the speed of light or is it instantaneous? If it is instantaneous, then there’s either some weird stuff going on (FTL) or the probability wave is a result of our model and of no more truth than the supply/demand curve is a force that changes people’s economic habit.

    If you can get hold of a copy of “The Science of Discworld” it has quite a good layman version of the issues.

    The short form is: the Copenhagen Interpretation isn’t really explaining anything. It’s just a way of explaining why you will ignore certain aspects.

  7. 57
    Wynand Dednam says:

    Richard C #49,

    I had to read that article at least 4 times to get some idea of what the author was trying to say.

    He was basically proposing that economics should take real-world entropy effects into account if modern economies are ever to become “sustainable”.

    There is another related article at, Approaching the world’s environmental problems through the Second Law (Entropy Law) of Thermodynamics, that makes for much easier reading, and which you’ll find here

    Neither of these articles deal specifically with Climate Change and it’s the reason why I was motivated to ask the experts here at RC.

  8. 58
    Mark says:

    Pete, #48. You’re right in the discarded nature of the Copenhagen interpretation. However, that doesn’t mean there’s a hole in quantum mechanics.

    There isn’t a replacement, but the holes the CI waved away are being filled in instead.

    You have the actions correct but the implications dead wrong.

  9. 59
    Mark says:

    Sven, #41. Peer review is because a theory that cannot stand up to first contact with other people is no theory of science.

    Peer review is a good way to have someone say “you forgot to add the 1”.

    Heck, even when the critique is wrong, you can get worth from it (the original “hockey stick is wrong” meme WAS good. It improved the science and helped the science keep true. It’s continued use is wrong, it’s just part truth, or wholly a lie).

    Even if it’s wrong, it may teach others some new way of approaching the problem. See, “The cosmological constant was my greatest mistake”. Einstein. However, we now suspect there IS a cosmological constant. The biggest problem with it is that it is far too finely tuned. But it was an idea that may not yet have appeared above the parapet if Einstein hadn’t already thought of it and put it up for peer review.

  10. 60
    SecularAnimist says:

    To Pete Best and Ray Ladbury: The Copenhagen Interpretation is a philosophical interpretation — specifically, an epistemological interpretation — of quantum theory, and as such it is not subject to being proved “right” or “wrong”, but it can certainly be “found wanting” by anyone who feels that it is unsatisfactory.

    Personally, I find it not only satisfactory but revelatory in its emphasis that the subject matter of physics is not some postulated “objective reality” that exists independently of our observations, but our observations themselves.

    “Physics is to be regarded not so much as the study of something a priori given, but rather as the development of methods of ordering and surveying human experience. In this respect our task must be to account for such experience in a manner independent of individual subjective judgment and therefore objective in the sense that it can be unambiguously communicated in ordinary human language.”
    — Neils Bohr, The Unity of Human Knowledge (October 1960)

    “There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature.”
    — Quoted in “The Philosophy of Niels Bohr” by Aage Petersen, in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Vol. 19, No. 7 (September 1963)

  11. 61
    Hank Roberts says:

    Richard, re the last few years, see also:
    It’s a Sure Bet – by Josh Willis

    “… Like the recreational gam-bler, we often find it more fun to focus on the ups and downs: a short-term cooling period, a warm year during a big El Niño.

    But for climate change and cas-ino owners, it’s important to remember the big picture.”

  12. 62
    Hank Roberts says:

    Ray (and Pete), see also:

    The Copenhagen Interpretation:

    Neils Bohr, Nature 121, 580 (1928).

    Neils Bohr, in: Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, P. A. Schlipp, Ed. (Library of Living Philosophers, Evanston, Illinois, 1949).

    The Transactional Interpretation:
    John G. Cramer, Reviews of Modern Physics 58, 647 (1986);

    The Afshar Experiment
    Shariar S. Afshar, (submitted to Physical Review Letters, July, 2004); See also

  13. 63
    William Hyde says:

    CO2 fertilization does not always work in the field as it does in the lab.

    Briefly, soybean plants produce a chemical which is mildly poisonous to their predators. It doesn’t save the plants from predation, but by limiting the lifespan and reproductive success of the predators, it favours the plants. However, in an elevated CO2 environment the plant does not produce much of this defensive chemical. The predators live longer, eat more, and have more young. Thus the fertilization effect is largely negated by increased predation. How many other plants experience a similar problem remains to be seen.

    William Hyde

  14. 64
    jcbmack says:

    Yes this reminds me of the misquotes and distortions of Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth,” like when so called experts in the UK make claim that global warming (and rising humidity) have nothing to do with the spread of malaria (more Anopholes vector)or that the sea level rising he quotes has no plausability. The citations he (Gore) uses are from ligitimate and peer reviewed sources. It amazes me that non scientists, people with one year of science courses and “political enegineers,” debate seasoned experienced scientists with the data right in front of them.

    Peer reveiew is of vast importance to the scientific process, however, imperfect, it may be, it always weeds out errors more effectively than any other method we have: repeatability, validity, more review even after the aforementioned process for publication in peer reviewed journals. We ceratinaly all make mistakes, however, saying a definitive causal relationship between GHG and and global warming has not been established is akin to going back to Descartes and the question of existence itself; it splits hairs on a philosophical basis, not empirical or evidence based in the modern sense of scientific inquiry, analysis and data application

  15. 65
    jcbmack says:

    #41 Turpe I think you may be missing the point of using peer review. Peer review not only filters spam, but also holds up the most plausible hypotheses to greater scrutiny, and as new data is collected and experiments performed (amidst discussion) the findings will eihter be validated, amended, or discarded as a result of being properly published in peer reviewed journals. As already stated, the peer review process is not perfect or without necessary amendments.

  16. 66
    shopa says:

    I have invented two things that will fight climate change. Maybe they are crazy ideas. Maybe they are very good ways to fight climate change.
    Too bad it is so difficult to get any “experts” to look at my ideas. They are “too busy”.

    Please help me and the planet if you can.

  17. 67
    Lawrence Brown says:

    47 Secular and 50 Ray;

    I definitely agree that Einstein’s attitude toward’s uncertainty advanced the thinking of the Copenhagen school of thought which Bohr called complementarity,by forcing proponents of this school to counter Einstein’s “gedanken experiments”. In fact if I remember correctly Einstein’s 1905 paper, for which he won a Nobel,on the photoelectric effect, confirmed Planck’s formula that E=hf,making him one of the founding father’s of early quantum physics, along with Planck and Bohr.

    Einstein took exception to the later interpretations most likely because he believed that that physics should be based on measurable quantities(uncertainty states that you can’t measure with precision both position and momentum with perfect accuracy).
    His belief in measurable relationships surely ought to be true in the macro world which includes climate science.

    Einstein once stated words to the effect that he couldn’t believe that the Moon was not there unless you looked at it. Yet it seems to be true that Schrodinger’s cat is in a state of being both dead and alive, until someone looks in the box.

    BTW, I believe that William Steig was doing drawings and cartoons for the “New Yorker” since the 1930s or at least the 40s and for many decades thereafter. I didn’t know he was still active. He must be pushing 100.

  18. 68


    Thomas Kuhn, writing about the period during a pardigm shift wrote
    “Though each may hope to convert the other to his way of seeing science and its problems, neither may hope to prove his case. The competition between paradigms is not the sort of battle that can be resolved by proof.” (SSR, p. 148).

    So even though the models are failing to predict the tropical lapse rate, the rapid melting of the Arctic sea ice, and the strong water feedback, the climate modellers are still insisting that the greenhouse effect works by back radiation; and despite the CO2 bands being almost completely saturated you will be unable to comprehend what I am saying.

    The absorption of IR radiation by the air was shown by de Saussure in a box 1′ by 9″ by 9″”, reported by Fourier, and measured by Tyndall. The greenhouse effect happens in the air at the surface of the earth, not high in the troposphere.

    But as Max Planck observed:

    “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

    I wonder what happens when an old truth is lost. Can it ever be recovered?


    Alastair (an amateur with an unhealthy amount of spare time.)

    PS You are using the wrong temperature in the Schwarzschild equation. Carbon dioxide radiates at its vibrational temperature not at its kinetic temperature.

    [Response: Alastair.. You are a prime candidate for re-reading my post a few times. In any case if you really think that the mainstream community is doing it’s calculations wrong, write a paper about it. If you are right, you will be famous. You say you have time on your hands, so go for it.–eric]

  19. 69
    Hank Roberts says:

    Alastair, did you ever suggest an experiment that could distinguish your theory of how radiation works from the other one? I recall suggesting an infrared photograph of the limb of the Earth from space should show whether or not the top of the atmosphere is bright in the infrared, wasn’t that a way to check your idea?

  20. 70
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Lawrence Brown, Actually Einstein’s objections had to do with the nonlocality of quantum mechanics–as he put it “…spooky action at a distance…”. This is the idea that the collapse of the wave function is instantaneous even if the “object” is extended over space (look up “entanglement” and Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen experiments). Not only did this run counter to Einstein’s intuition, it is incompatible with general relativity, which is inherently a local theory. Either quantum theory or general relativity can be right–not both. (Of course, both could also be wrong.) This paradox has not yet been resolved, but it is is a driver of the push for things like string theory, quantum-loop gravity, etc.
    Also to contend that quantum theory is not based on observables is incorrect–you can’t simultaneously measure momentum and position to arbitrary accuracy because they don’t exist simultaneously.

  21. 71

    The OBRL To-T Experiments: Thermal Anomaly in the Reich Orgone Accumulator

    Reich was only Bravo-Sierra filled to those wedded to the narrowest Newtonian-Cartesian scientism. If you go to the site above and read Jim DeMeo’s careful research into the thermal anomaly over a number of years, I think you’ll see some conclusive results, photos, detailed descriptions of the experimental conditions and all. Like science is usually done. From what I see there, the experiment is eminently replicable.

    If you surf around on the site for a bit, you’ll also read about Jim’s and others’ work with the Reichian “cloudbuster” apparatus, a term I’m sure brings snorts of derision around these parts. I bring it up here due to its relevance to climatology and more particularly, meteorology. The thing does make rain, and Jim has been hired by Namibia, Israel, and Eritrea among others to help with their severe drought conditions. The five year project in Eritrea, conducted during the periods when rain was least likely, is remarkably persuasive — nay almost bulletproof, IMO. Read all the careful reporting, charts, tables, testimonials by government folks and so on starting on p.183 – 211 of Jim’s anthology *Pulse of the Planet #5*, Orgone Biophysical research Laboratory, Ashland, OR, 2002. (Offered for sale on the website above.)

    Jim’s also very careful about the ethics of the use of this tech to modify a climate. Very delicate matter.

    And just to put a personal capper on this: Surely we don’t yet know what Reich named “orgone” might actually be in Newtonian/Cartesian physics or even if it is an entity/force/whatever that falls inside those limits. But hey, place two identical jars of dampened mung bean sprouts, one in a closed cu.’ sized orgone accumulator, one in a same size closed cardboard box right next to the accumulator. Let them sit for a couple of days and check ’em out. The ones in the accumulator will usually grow 50% or better more than the ones in the cardboard box.

    Yep, ‘strue, and you can do that experiment over and over in different rooms, different conditions, etcetc., with the same result. Shouldn’t work at all, but it does. (See Sprouting Mung Bean Experiment starting p. 168, Ibid.)

    There’s far more than enough evidence to say safely that the word “orgone” refers to *something*, we just don’t know what yet. Might be of some use in climate work which is why I went into some detail here.

    [Response: What? Huh??–eric[]

  22. 72

    Greenspan in an irrationally exuberant way erred on the side of avoiding the false positive, while as a policy-maker he should have been striving to avoid the false negative. Someone on TV said his basic world view was flawed, akin to the physics being wrong, akin to climate denialist arguments. Scientists, OTOH, only in a more pedestrian way err on the side of avoiding the false positive. So the studies keep coming out, “it’s worse than we thought.”

  23. 73
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Pete Best, You can count me among those skeptical of Afshar’s claims. To me it appears that he just doesn’t understand complementarity–at no point in his experiment does he simultaneously measure both the wave and particle properties. Ruth Kastner has it right. Frankly, I don’t even see why it was published.

    Mark, The Copenhagen Interpretation is hardly sophistry. Certainly the cat qualifies as an observer, so, yes, it is either alive or dead. As to what the Copenhagen Interpretation is explaining–it is concerned with how you preserve the concept of physical reality (along with free will and causality) when it is clear that our perceptions do not describe that reality. Look up “entanglement,” and let me suggest a book: “The philosophy of Niels Bohr,” by H. J. Folse. You really have not understood Bohr, and not to do so would be a pity for you. He truly was one of the most subtle minds of the last century.

  24. 74
    jcbmack says:

    The pragamtists certainly make some important points. Karl Popper’s work on bias in the experiment is certainly relevant as well; Kuhn as a philosopher of science has certainly helped mankind understand the actual process of paradigm shifts. However,it should be noted we do still work with the best evidence available (as a rule) in science and that there are laws both evidenced by countless qualitative data as well as quantitative. Think of thermodynamics (zero law and the three well known laws) and those ‘theories,’ that are evidenced by everyday occurences as well as numerous data collected supporting the non-quantitified concept; think of the “theory of evolution.” Of course non-linear mathematics may be applied to evolution, such is being applied at Harvard at this time. Old ideas do come back into the scientific mainstream, think about substance and forms that was debated thousands of years ago in the time of Aristotle and Plato. We now are looking at dark energy, dark matter, and a so called “God particle,” and a big bounce and a big crunch leading to a big bang of the universe, which was postulated in some science fiction before evidence pointed in this direction.

    Look, the process of science and development is just as non-linear as true to life in real time, occurences are. Global warming and anthropogenic positive feedbacks are rarely disputed in the peer reviewed literature, however, a volcano could erupt leading to global climate changes; rate of change, quality of change and let us not forget the recent discussion on chaos theory.

    Getting to the bottom line science is traditionally taught as: hypothesis, experiment, observations, results, analysis of results, (data)professional review, published, repeated (or not) validated, (or not)and in general this is how results become interwoven into or become long standing theories, but of course in the real world scientists squabble, have bias, and compare results amongst themselves.

  25. 75

    Eric, If you will allow me, I’d like to comment on your previous post where you write “Getting serious about climate policy is no longer a partisan issue in the U.S.: both John McCain and Barak Obama are on record for supporting cap and trade carbon markets.”

    It may be that Democratic and Republican delegates at the event you went to were both active in tackling climate change – but it is not true in the general population. Earlier this month we ran an international study, in Canada, England and the USA, on the public’s attitudes & feelings towards climate change and the low-carbon economy. Really, one of the most striking findings we came across was in terms of how differences in attitudes towards climate change was correlated with political affiliation – especially between Democrats and Republicans in the US. Indeed, your comment prompted me to write a press release about it – see

    Hope you find it interesting!

    Peter Winters

  26. 76
    mndean says:

    67: Lawrence, FYI my Complete New Yorker indicates William Steig was drawing there from late 1935.

  27. 77
    Tim Curtin says:

    Gavin said (at #22): “You keep stating this as if any one was arguing with the fact that the airbourne fraction is about 40%. No one is.”

    What about Hansen & Sato, PNAS 2004, Fig5A showing airborne fraction at 60%!!! or Hansen Sato et al 2008: “AF averages 56% over the period of accurate data, which began with the CO2
    measurements of Keeling in 1957, with no discernable trend. The fact that 44% of fossil fuel emissions seemingly “disappears” immediately provides a hint of optimism with regard to the
    possibility of stabilizing, or reducing, atmospheric CO2 amount”.

    Yet Canadell et al 2007 Table 1 show an AF of only 43% since 1958, i.e. 57% “disappearance”. I think it is you Hansen & Canadell who need to get your acts together!

    Gavin also cited the C4MIP models. They do make an effort to model the full carbon cycle, but achieve no consensus. It is as if the exponent in Einstein’s E=mc^2 was stated +/-4 or as an average of 10 models’ outputs, with some even restating the equation as M=ec^2. Thus Friedlingstein et al. in their report on C4MIP find that while all models as of 2005 simulated a “negative sensitivity for the carbon cycle to future climate” (for which the observations in 2006, 2007 and this year to date show the opposite, with the Uptakes of 5.78 GtC in 2007 an all-time high), eight models attributed most of the reduced uptakes to land, and three to the land. More Einstein!
    Gavin again: “You claim … that no-one takes this into account and by implication there can be no carbon cycle feedbacks to temperature”. No, the issue is whether such feedbacks are positive or negative. Models are not evidence, and observations do not accord with the models’ claim that feedbacks are already positive.

  28. 78
    David B. Benson says:

    Off-topic, but I want to alert the RealClimate community to

    “DSCOVR Mission May Be Gutted”:

    and the first comment to the thread.

  29. 79
    jcbmack says:

    Einstein was indeed a rarity. Figuring out truths about the universe first from his imagination and thought experiments and then taking years proving them through computation and observation, is a little counter intuitive. Now keeping with the tone of the current discussions, yes proving may be a strong word, but nothing in physics can legitimately refute general and special relatvity. Whether it is quantum gravity, string theory or super position theory; even if these “paradigms,” become more plausible as they become evidenced by data and not just a lot of algebra, (yes I said algebra; all math boils down to just being arithemtic and alegebra no matter how complex) truths or proofs tend to lay in the reference frame. I say reference frame both literally to the observer and generically in the sense that GR is not superior, say to Newtonian mechanics any more than quantum mechanics does away with classial mechanics of macro objects.

    Now, statistical mechanics and thermodynamics (physical chemistry) does offer insights into how the subatomic world effects the macro world, but vibrations and entropy analysis gets nasty and are merely approximations. Science, or “to know,” is a evidence based discipline (empirical) which utilizes the best logic available.

  30. 80
    Sam Vilain says:

    Thanks eric, but I think the answer to your homework question is obvious: the CO2 near the surface is falling down into the oceans! Clearly you’ve made a mistake ;-)

    Erm. Perhaps it’s because the air at the surface has some diurnal uptake1, and the troposphere levels are based on upwelling from excess CO2 in the tropics2, and a complex system of eddies and boreals3.

    Well, hopefully the state of that homework should show the difficulties poor plebs like me have in answering supposedly simple questions like I had. Thanks a lot, and thanks for not just pointing me to [] ;-)

  31. 81
    Mark says:

    RAy, I think secular analyst had the right way of expressing the CI.

    And you missed the other interpretations of the meaning of the oddities about quantum physics that for many (most, now?) people who work in it are a better framework to work out the implications with.

    That was a horrible sentence, sorry.

    You also missed the rest of the post apparently. It shows one popular explanation why the interference of the double slit experiment doesn’t NEED the CI.

    And Niels was a terrible explainer of physics. It’s great being a super-genius but if you can’t pass that on, your genius dies with you. A standard grade genius who can leave the rest of the world more informed by good writing is far more effective, since their intelligence lives on beyond them.

    Anyway, back to the CI, since it isn’t actually an explanation but sophistry, someone will either find it worthwhile or not. And there’s not a lot of chance of changing someone’s thoughts on the subject (unless you’re a genius who can explain the alternative well enough).

  32. 82
    jcbmack says:

    # 39 Mike G. Study more chemistry and a little ecology and you will see that is not the case.

  33. 83
    pete best says:

    Re #58, I have said no such thing. I just cited a note of caution regarding CI in that a experiment has been performed that seems to demonstrate wave particle duality simultaneously. However physicists are arguing over the which way information of the experiment.

    Quantum theory has not been proved incorrect in 100 years, this experiment does not invalidate QM per se, only its philisophical aspect. I believe that there is still the notion of non locality to deal with to.

  34. 84
    pete best says:

    Re #73, come off it Ray, Schrodinger had it right. The quantum natire of reality as enshrined in the CI is a little counter intuitive and somewhat absurd. Entanglement and non locality are the deeper principles of QM and not the CI, or so the latest work on QM seems to indicate.

    Afshar maybe at fault but the jury is still seemingly out on whether he has found something in relation to CI. Well that is how I currently see it anyway. Maybe I have not read around enough on the subject as yet though.

  35. 85
    member of the public says:

    Climate scientists reacted with shocked disbelief when the Larsen Ice Shelf collapsed.

    Greenspan acted with shocked disbelief when financial capitalism collapsed.

    Einstein acted with shocked disbelief when the atomic bombs were dropped.

    When it comes to weapons of mass destruction, whether they are greenhouse gas WMDs, financial WMDs, atomic bombs, or other sorts of WMDs, there seems to be a common reaction: shocked disbelief.

    And why is shocked disbelief so common? That’s stems from a failure in communication, which comes about through reticence.

    Climate scientists know all about reticence.

    Turn the clock forward by 20 years. How is everyone reacting to the changed climate?

    Shocked disbelief.

  36. 86
    prianikoff says:

    #33 “.. a stronger point than “Greenspan wasn’t peer reviewed” might be that “economics isn’t science”.

    I don’t think the problem is lack of peer review, so much as lack of data.

    A lot of what passes for economic theory is ideological.
    This is because it’s not in the interests of all the participants in the economy for their transactions to be part of the knowledge domain.

    Someone who attempted to deal with this problem was Anthony Stafford Beer, an influential pioneer of Management Cybernetics.
    He analysed the economy from the point of view of Systems theory, as a dynamic homeostatic system, consisting of a large number of interlocking elements.

    Viable systems can respond to a changing environment because they’re adaptable. Beer realised that, if there was sufficient real time data about the workings of an economy, it would be possible to produce a relatively simple computer model as a decision-making aid.

    This would consist of :-

    * A system model
    * Analysis of the real-life systems at each level of the model, implemented recursively
    * Representation of the interlocking homeostats
    * A national communications network
    * A program suite capable of monitoring inputs
    * Calculations, regulation, short-term forecasting by Bayesian probability theory, exception reporting, and feedbacks.

    Such a system, Project Cybersyn”, was actually developed in Chile in the early 1970’s, “by a mulinational team of scientists.
    They used what, by today’s standards, was incredibly primitive technology, such as telex machines and a single central computer.
    But the system was never fully implemented because of the coup there in 1973. After which, it was dismantled and forgotten.
    The world moved on to the ideas of the Chicago School.

    Modern “Just in time” production makes extensive use of computers for its sucessful working.
    Not just to control industrial robots, but the flow of parts around the factory, inventory control and matching production to customer demand.
    This is now standard practice within individual corporations.
    But the same thing can’t be said for the whole economy.

    For all the physics graduates employed to calculate loss risks on debt swaps, or dabble in chaos theory, there was very little sucessful forecasting of the current financial meltdown.
    Even hurricane forecasters had a better success rate.

    Which is more due to what they were paid to focus on than any inherent impossibility of using scientific methods to regulate the production and consumption of things.

  37. 87
    Barton Paul Levenson says:

    I think William Steig died a couple of years ago, at an advanced age.

    Guys, thanks for getting my back on the Law of the Minimum. On quantum mechanics:

    “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty…”
    –attributed to Erwin Schrodinger

  38. 88
    pete best says:

    Global Warming now demonstrated for the first time to be human made.

    This is a joke right RC ? Surely this cannot be the first time that scientists have pinned down polar warming to humans. It seems to be that this report is going to cause controversy because of what it is saying. Makes me think that ordinary people are going to think that scientists so not know what they are talking about.

    [Response: Yes and no. People have found the fingerprints of anthropogenic forcings in many parts of the system, but it is a function the signal to noise ratio. In the Arctic and Antarctica the natural variability is large, and so it’s harder to see a signal especially when there are large data gaps (though in sea ice extent in the north it’s easier than for temperature). So this paper is the first time that a particular detection&attribution method has shown clearly the human effect is detectable in both poles. But you are correct in thinking that the northern patterns in particular have been seen being impacted by the human-caused signal for many years. – gavin]

  39. 89
    Fred Staples says:

    Speaking as a Physicist, Ray,7, your examples are not well chosen.

    We can believe Einstein because (inter alia) the large Hadron collider, like its predecessor will try really really hard to accelerate particles beyond the speed of light, and they will fail.

    On the other hand we continue to spew out “greenhouse” gasses at an accelerating rate, and the global temperature (insofar as we can measure it) obstinately refuses to increase.

  40. 90
    Lawrence Brown says:

    Re:70:by Ladbury
    “spooky action at a distance…”. This is the idea that the collapse of the wave function is instantaneous even if the “object” is extended over space (look up “entanglement” and Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen experiments). Not only did this run counter to Einstein’s intuition, it is incompatible with general relativity, which is inherently a local theory.”

    Einstein objected because it ran counter to his proposition that nothing can go faster than the speed of light. Instantaneous action due to entanglement would invalidate this.
    Ladbury also says:
    “This paradox has not yet been resolved,”
    (Say what!?) Alain Aspect ran an experiment proposed by John Bell and found that EPR is wrong and the existence of entanglement was found to rule in the world of the quantum.

    John Gribbin who I believe visits this site on occasion, has written extensively and with clarity on this may weigh in and help out.He says in part in
    “Schrodinger’s Kittens and the Search for Reality”
    “They(Aspect and his colleagues)demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that common sense(and Einstein) is wrong and that non-locality really does rule in the quantum world.”(first Am edition p.23)

    I didn’t mean to get into a discussion of quantum theory when I made by first post in #8. Check out John Gribbin’s work or N.David Merman in “Boojums All The Way Through”. They know much more about this topic than we do.

    Getting back to the original post, I believe that Einstein didn’t answer Reich the second time because he saw no point in being repetitive. He,no doubt had more productive things to do. The same should hold and at often does at Realclimate. There’s no point in encouraging cranks.

  41. 91
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Pete Best, If you are to say “Schroedinger had it right,” you have to specify when–his writings on quantum mechanics become decidedly more ambivalent in later life. As to Afshar, I know of no physicists personally who take his experiment seriously (unless they, too, have an axe to grind wrt the Copenhagen Interpretation). The fact of the matter is that at no point does the photon simultaneously exhibit wave and particle properties, so the experiment just isn’t doing what Afshar says it is. He is merely exploiting ambiguities in the quantum theory of measurement–e.g. what constitutes an observer.
    I agree that Bohr was not a good expositor. His prose is about as dense and impenetrable as any I have read. He tried to achieve mathematical precision with language, and it didn’t work. However, one should not mistake subtlety for sophistry. Quantum mechanics poses some very strange and disturbing philosophical dilemmas, and every interpretation of quantum mechanics posits some pretty strange ideas for dealing with them. I prefer the epistemological approach of the Copenhagen School to, say, the metaphysics of the Many Worlds interpretation and other rivals. I have yet to see any experimental result or theoretical difficulty that poses insuperable difficulties for Bohr’s approach.
    I would also contend that if you haven’t had at least a couple of semesters of graduate level quantum mechanics, you might not be in a position to appreciate the subtlety of complementarity. Even with a background in physics, it is not something most people devote a lot of thought to.

    ReCAPTCHA is either dyslexic or an animal lover after my own heart:
    praise dog

  42. 92
    Aaron says:

    RE: 9 Tim Curtin

    You cite a recent article concerning the longterm health of the Great barrier reef and then go on to dismiss the article with your CO2 fertilization topic. For this specific situation, all the fertilization by CO2 is downright minuscule to effects of increased temperature, decreased ocean pH, and subsequently slowed calcification rates of corals which will all be present when CO2 rises. Yes there are bound to be exceptions to the negative effects of GW, but to focus on those exceptions is misleading to those who don’t know any better. All the fertilizing effects of CO2 (which by the way won’t help corals in the least…look up bleaching and O2 toxicity) won’t help a coral grow faster if its already dead or can’t get at the proper calcium ions need for growth because of decreased ocean pH.

    Sorry to be off topic…

  43. 93
    Florifulgurator says:

    Wynand, do you know this book? “Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics and Life” by Eric D. Schneider and Dorion Sagan

    Re 28, I (layman) guess there’s no need to talk about entropy in order to make plausible that burning fossil fuel is bad: That stuff had been accumulated and locked away by Mother Biosphere during many millions of years of hard work optimizing climate and atmosphere for Life to prosper. If we dig it out and burn it en masse, we undo that work. Then, climate catastrophe shouldn’t come as a shocking surprise.

    The problem with that argument is that it runs counter to creationist beliefs…

  44. 94
    Jason says:

    Dear Wynand (#28 and onwards),
    You have brought something up of great value. The human economy is obviously a subset of the Earth system. The properties of the Earth system we have, or inherited, are the products of billions of years of planetary evolution. During this time, vast stocks of fertile soils, species, forests, mineral ores, fossil fuel deposits, etc., were accumulated away from thermodynamic equilibrium through the energy released by the sun and radioactive decay on Earth.

    In the simplest of terms, the articles you cite are explaining how the second law dictates that economic activities that consume those stocks will eventually run their course. Any civilization that assumes those stocks are infinite, or that substitutes always exist, is bound to fail. Both first and second laws of thermodynamics are essentially ignored by modern economic theory. (They also ignore much behavioral science, which is more to the point of Greenspan’s flaw).

    Climate change science is in a huge conundrum, not because the physics is incorrect on the part of scientists, but because economics as currently theorized doesn’t include physics.

    Climate models, e.g., General Circulation Models, receive inputs from economists in the form of “emissions scenarios,” e.g., SRES reports as in the IPCC. Unfortunately, climate scientists have taken these at face value because they come from the “experts” on the human economy. It’s a sort of professional courtesy. But these economic models have about as much foundation as the notions of Reich! Greenspan’s admissions are but the tip of the proverbial melting ice berg.

    To learn more start searching on Ecological Economics. I have personally explored this subject for several years now and would gladly discuss further. My radio programs on economics frequently cover this topic:

  45. 95
    Hank Roberts says:

    Mrs. Schroedinger to Mr. Schroedinger:
    What the hell did you do to the cat?
    It looks half dead!
    “branches watershed”
    ReCaptcha Oracle favors “Many Worlds” ….

  46. 96
    SecularAnimist says:

    Just a couple of further comments about the Copenhagen Interpretation.

    It is worth noting a couple of points from Wikipedia’s article:

    “The work of relating the experiments and the abstract mathematical and theoretical formulations that constitute quantum physics to the experience that all of us share in the world of everyday life fell first to Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg in the course of their collaboration in Copenhagen around 1927 … the Copenhagen Interpretation was a composite statement about what could and could not be legitimately stated in common language to complement the statements and predictions that could be made in the language of instrument readings and mathematical operations. In other words, it attempted to answer the question, ‘What do these amazing experimental results really mean?’ … There is no definitive statement of the Copenhagen Interpretation since it consists of the views developed by a number of scientists and philosophers at the turn of the 20th Century. Thus, there are a number of ideas that have been associated with the Copenhagen interpretation … very different, sometimes opposite, views are presented as the Copenhagen interpretation by different authors … In fact Bohr and Heisenberg never totally agreed on how to understand the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics, and none of them ever used the term ‘the Copenhagen interpretation’ as a joint name for their ideas.”

    I think that in essence, the Copenhagen Interpretation says that physics is not fundamentally about “what is real” but about “what we can observe”. The point of the “Schrodinger’s cat” thought experiment isn’t that an unobserved cat is in some strange superposition of living and dead states. The point is simply that until we observe the cat, all that we know is the probabilities of what we will observe when we do observe the cat. Ultimately, the Copenhagen Interpretation is telling us that the equations of quantum physics don’t describe “reality” but rather our knowledge of reality — what we can observe and unambiguously communicate. Quantum physics, according to CI, is telling us that objectively, unobserved reality can only be described in terms of the probabilities of what we will observe when we look at it.

    To some people this seems like a radical epistemological stance, to others it seems to suggest that “observation creates reality”. In fact, the only “reality” we can ever know is our actual experience — or in terms of science, our observations and measurements. CI in effect answers the question “What is a photon, really?” by saying “A photon IS a measurement.”

    I think this is simply the fundamental empirical principle of science itself coming full circle to bite us in the rear: the question “What is ‘real’ and ‘true’?” means to science “What can we observe and measure?”. When Bohr said “no phenomenon is a real phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon” some people took this as meaning that “observation” — and therefore “mind” — creates “reality”. But if someone made the same statement in reference to, for example, Riech’s hypothesized “orgone”, or the existence of Bigfoot or UFOs or psi phenomena or continental drift or global warming, it would simply be seen as an uncontroversial insistence on empirical evidence for the existence of such phenomena before counting them as “real”.

    Einstein insisted that the moon is there whether you observe it or not. Bohr’s reply — the Copenhagen Interpretation — was essentially that the moon may well be there whether you observe it or not, but by definition, you cannot subject that claim to the test of empirical observation, so it is by definition not a scientific claim.

  47. 97
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    It’s tough to model a system like Credit Swaps and associated derivatives without data. The gaping hole in Greenspan’s economics was the fact that it couldn’t imagine that people would be willing to function with a shadow economy (credit swaps, exotic dertivatives, etc.) ~3 times the size of the visible one. Huge numbers of our brokers and investment banking houses were willing to risk vast amounts of money without anything like sufficient information.

    I don’t know about academic economists, but few of those who have a political brief pointed out that such activity undercut the very premise of “rational actors” and Economics. It’s going to be tough to put that genie back in the bottle.

    captcha: shell Hearst

  48. 98

    Re #74

    JCB Mack,

    Thanks for responding. It seems that it is a courtesy that neither Eric or Gavin is willing, or is that able, to make :-)

    I am not claiming that my ideas overturn the whole of established science, or even large parts of it in the way that Darwin and Einstein did. What I am claiming is that the reaction by the established scientists to my pointing out an error in their theories is similar to that described by Kuhn to that received by anyone with a new paradigm. Of course it may just be that of anyone who tells a man he is wrong. It is not something you should do to a relation, your best friend or a stranger. But in this case it is important. The future of the world is at stake!

    What has goaded me into posting is that what Eric has written is not only illogical, I find it insulting. He is claiming, because a friend of his grandfather pestered Einstein with a harebrained idea, anyone with a new idea who is not a professional scientist is a complete idiot.

    Of course exchanging insults will not help me get a paper published, but I would like to point out this is very like the situation of the Boy who cried Wolf. Every time an amateur claims he has a new answer it proves false. The one time the amateur is correct he is ignored and the result is disaster.

    Cheers, Alastair.

  49. 99

    This post is so funny — and just yesterday I had this comment posted on my blog where I only post serious climate articles:

    “The global collapse of world economies and or global war with Russia over energy is occuring right before our eyes-when will you wake to what is the foundation of any civilized industrialized country- ENERGY- I HAVE SOLVED IT- pressure Princeton university to replicate my experiment to verify- over 17 months i still wait- Lets see how long it takes to uncover
    —my name is [edit]-born on the 13th January-1965. I have combined the century old ideas of Tesla and Einstein to produce safe nuclear fusion of heavy water in order to end the energy crisis- When the scientific community has found this and understands -the energy crisis will be over along with talks of greenhouse gases-I have been guided to this discovery by [edit]”

  50. 100
    Christopher Hogan says:

    Rod B (35): Answer, not true. This isn’t a matter of long division between two static quantities, its a matter of correctly describing the mechanism at work.

    If the point is that we could begin to slow down the buildup by increasing uptake, I get it. Sure, if there were a plausible way to increase the biosphere’s uptake of carbon, do that, great.

    But you don’t want to give people the impression that excess carbon cycles rapidly out of the atmosphere. That’s all I’m complaining about. If that were true, we never could have built up the current 200GT excess in the first place. In other words, if it were literally true that half of this year’s emissions were immediately re-absorbed — if manmade C02 emissions cycled permanently out of the atmosphere at that rate — if the half-life of anthropogenic C02 really were on the order of a year — then we wouldn’t have this problem in the first place.

    So when I see phrases on the order or “half this year’s C02 output is immediately reabsorbed”, I think that’s a) not true, and b) misleading. As I said before, the correct way to state this is that about 2.5% of the total excess is currently reabsorbed each year.

    And sure, if you could double the net uptake by the biosphere, permanently, this problem would go away. Because the uptake, at the moment, happens to be about half of a year’s C02 output. But that shouldn’t be phrased in a way that suggests that the residence time of excess atmospheric C02 is short.