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Math Science

Lies, Damned Lies, and Quantum Statistics 53

Posted by samzenpus
from the do-the-math dept.
quax writes "Getting a scientific paper published that goes against the grain of conventional wisdom was never easy. Especially when it seems to contain an obvious glaring mistake. Fortunately despite already being some kind of pop celebrity with no shortage of fan mail, Einstein still opened letters he received from strangers. And this is how a trivial, fateful counting mistake was able to change the course of physics forever."
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Lies, Damned Lies, and Quantum Statistics

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  • uhuh (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 05, 2012 @09:42AM (#40885869)

    Dear theoretical physicists,

    Admit that most of your fields have become a branch of overpriced mathematics and stop boring us with your tales of 100 years ago.

    • Re:uhuh (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mister2au (1707664) on Sunday August 05, 2012 @10:06AM (#40885981)

      or are the physicists the abstract artists of the science world while the mathematicians are the boring paint suppliers?

      just saying ...

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Meaningless and ambiguous summary and a slashdotted server, I want those 2 minutes of my life back.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 05, 2012 @09:43AM (#40885879)

    ...due to a 500 internal server error and a useless summary that is written to bait and not inform, we won't learn what that mistake was and how it changed the course of physics forever.

    • by stms (1132653) on Sunday August 05, 2012 @09:49AM (#40885901)

      Always check Google's cache [googleusercontent.com].

    • by Alkonaut (604183) on Sunday August 05, 2012 @09:53AM (#40885915)
      I think slashdotters observing the state of the server has changed the state of it.
    • by gomiam (587421)
      Now it's a 403 Forbidden access error :)
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 05, 2012 @10:05AM (#40885975)

      Lies, Damned Lies, and Quantum Statistics?
      Posted on August 4, 2012 by Henning Dekant

      Statistics has a bad reputation, and has had for a long time, as demonstrated by Mark Twain's famous quote that I paraphrased to use as the title of this blog post.

      Of course physics is supposed to be above the fudging of statistical numbers to make a point. Well, on second thought, theoretical physics should be above fudging (in the experimental branch, things are not so clear cut).

      Statistical physics is strictly about employing all mathematically sound methods to deal with uncertainty. This program turned out to be incredibly powerful, and gave a sound foundation to the thermodynamic laws. The latter were empirically derived previously, but only really started to make sense once statistical mechanics came into its own, and temperature was understood to be due to the Brownian motion. Incidentally, this was also the field that first attracted a young Einstein's attention. Among all his other accomplishments, his paper on the matter that finally settled the debate if atoms were for real or just a useful model is often overlooked. (It is mindboggling that within a short span 0f just 40 years ('05-'45) science went from completely accepting the reality of atoms, to splitting them and unleashing nuclear destruction).

      Having early on cut his teeth on statistical mechanics, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Einstein's last great contribution to physics went back to this field. And it all started with fudging the numbers, in a far remote place, one that Einstein had probably never even heard of.

      In the capital of Bangladesh, a brilliant but entirely unknown scholar named Satyendra Nath Bose made a mistake when trying to demonstrate to his students that the contemporary theory of radiation was inadequate and contradicted experimental evidence. It was a trivial mistake, simply a matter of not counting correctly. What added insult to injury, it lead to a result that was in accordance with the the correct electromagnetic radiation spectrum. A lesser person may have just erased the blackboard and dismissed the class, but Bose realized that there was some deeper truth lurking beneath the seemingly trivial oversight.

      What Bose stumbled upon was a new way of counting quantum particles. Conventionally, if you have two particles that can only take on two states, you can model them as you would the probabilities for a coin toss. Lets say you toss two coins at the same time; the following table shows the possible outcomes:
      Coin 1
      Head Tail
      Coin 2 Head HH HT
      Tail TH TT

      It is immediate obvious that if you throw to coins the combination head-head will have a likelihood of 25%. But if you have the kind of "quantum coins" that Bose stumbled upon then nature behaves rather different. Nature does not distinguish between the states tails-head and head-tails i.e. the two states marked green in the table. Rather it just treats these two states as one and the same.

      In the quantum domain nature plays the ultimate shell game. If these shells were bosons the universe would not allow you to notice if they switch places.

      This means, rather than four possible outcomes in the quantum world, we only have three, and the probability for them is evenly spread, i.e. assigning a one-third chance to our heads-heads quantum coin toss.

      Bose found out the hard way that if you try to publish something that completely goes against the conventional wisdom, and you have to go through a peer review process, your chances of having your paper accepted are almost nil (some things never change).

      That's where Einstein came into the picture. Bose penned a very respectful letter to Einstein, who at the time was already the most famous scie

    • Forbidden

      You don't have permission to access /2012/08/04/lies-damned-lies-and-quantum-statistics/ on this server.

      Additionally, a 403 Forbidden error was encountered while trying to use an ErrorDocument to handle the request.

      Slashdotted

    • by Trepidity (597)

      You can get a better explanation from the usual source [wikipedia.org] anyway.

    • Its about Bose-Einstein statistics.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    its called Bose-Einstein statistics

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bose–Einstein_statistics

    not really sure why this is news

    • by mister2au (1707664) on Sunday August 05, 2012 @10:14AM (#40886021)

      not really sure why this is news

      I blame it on relativistic time dilation ...

      to an observer in travelling at Slashdot speed this appears to have just occurred, whilst to a stationary observer 87 years appear to have passed ...

      this dilation seems to apply uniformly across most observed Slashdot articles (albiet with yet-to-be-explained time loops as well!)

      • by Anonymous Coward

        this dilation seems to apply uniformly across most observed Slashdot articles (albiet with yet-to-be-explained time loops as well!)

        Who needs LHC when Slashdot have already found the missing dimensions hidden in the loops of time. The our collective nerd energy will always produce greater energies via troll collisions than any particle accelerator can produce.

    • by quax (19371)

      Not really sure why this is news.

      The /. byline is: News for nerds stuff that matters.

      I already interpreted this as with an OR condition. I.e. sometimes the stuff that matters doesn't have to be all new to be interesting for the /. crowd.

      I think the little known fact that a major insight in physics came from an initial "mistake" is such an interesting morsel.

      Especially when contemplating that nowadays physicists are constantly beset by crackpots and have subsequently being conditioned to quickly dismiss in

      • >I think the little known fact that a major insight in physics came from an initial "mistake" is such an interesting morsel.

        Now that is not news, as far as I can tell, the vast majority of true breakthrough's happen when somebody makes a mistake and discovers that it leads somewhere interesting.
        Breakthroughs by definition imply that somebody thought outside the current confines of the box - this is very difficult (despite what motivational speakers would have you believe), quite often however when a skil

        • by quax (19371)

          Wouldn't expect mathematics to have this much trouble to get published though.

          If Bose's work had not been picked up by Einstein it would have gone unnoticed.

          Mathematics as purely logical science doesn't have the problem that it may ran afoul preconceived notions about how nature operates.

          • Oh it happens, though perhaps less rarely. Just ask George Cantor....

            • by quax (19371)

              Interesting. Just read up on it [wikipedia.org].

              Had no idea that transfinite numbers were such a controversy. When I first learnt about the distinction between countable and non-countable infinite sets I thought it made perfect sense.

              Amazing that it was so offensive to many great mathematicians. (Not surprised about the religious objections though. After all these people seem to live for the opportunities to get their nickers in a bunch over nothing).

  • Science did not know
    Identical Particles
    Exist. Bose did.

    There's not much more content. Bose introduced the concept of identical particles. This lead to Bose and Fermi statistics and new insight in physics.
    Plus: Bose had trouble publishing it.

  • Lies, Damned Lies (Score:4, Informative)

    by ygslash (893445) on Sunday August 05, 2012 @12:02PM (#40886563) Journal

    ...as demonstrated by Mark Twain's famous quote that I paraphrased to use as the title of this blog post.

    Sorry, that's a damned lie.

    Mark Twain attributed the quote to Disraeli, not to himself. But even that attribution is now considered inaccurate, as described by The University of York Department of Mathematics [york.ac.uk] and on this Wikipedia page [wikipedia.org].

  • by bcrowell (177657) on Sunday August 05, 2012 @12:30PM (#40886783) Homepage

    The slashdot summary is completely garbled. It contains this sentence: "Especially when it seems to contain an obvious glaring mistake." There is nothing like this in the article. The mistake described in the article is a mistake that Bose made during a lecture, which happened to lead to a calculation that described how nature actually works. By the time Bose wrote his paper, there was not "an obvious glaring mistake." It was now presented as a scientific hypothesis, intentionally formed, about how nature actually works.

    • by quax (19371)

      Reading comprehension?

      "Especially when it seems to contain an obvious glaring mistake."

      Bose's paper was rejected because the mainstream opinion was that he didn't count the photons correctly. This was exactly the kind of "mistake" that he made in his lecture that miraculously lead to the correct radiation spectrum formula (Planck's law).

      Einstein directly addressed this critique in his follow up paper [wavewatching.net] (paragraph 7 search for "Ehrenfest").

      So, I fully stand by my summary.

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