THE ULTIMATE
HOCUS-POCUS MAN

The 21st Century mathematical transphysicist

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THE-FOUNDATION-IS-THE-FRONTIER SERIES
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Essays on:
Physics in the Twenty-first Century

Read the Series Introduction

by

Bibhas De

Copyright 2005 by Bibhas R. De


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The cleverer a mathematical physicist, the more inaccessible is the level of hocus-pocus he can pass off as great science. In this endeavor he is enabled by colleagues that promote and protect his enterprise. He is further enabled by other colleagues that remain silent, knowing exactly what is going on. Since nobody questions the hocus-pocus man, he in time emerges as an unquestioned great mind of his times. Others who do much the same thing but do not have the enablers end up being labeled cranks and crackpots.

Dear reader, let me freely admit that although I discuss a very specific application (to theoretical physics), the underlying general idea (of the great advent of the bs artists in all aspects of human endeavor) is not original, and has been explored by the distinguished Princeton University philosopher Harry Frankfurt in the followinig book, published by the distinguished Princeton University Press:

But little did Harry Frankfurt know that "of all the gin joints of all the towns in the world", the most cerebral bs artist would step right into his!

Preface

Progression of natural events on Earth does not have any reasons to conform to the Julian or Gregorian or any other calendar. But if some such event does coincide with the turn of a century (say)of some calendar, it is interesting to look for its echo at the next turn of the century.

The turn of the century 19th/20th of our calendar saw the appearance of a very select new breed of people, today called mathematical physicists. They harnessed (then) advanced mathematics to the service of physics. They changed the face of physics, and indeed, the human civilization.

The turn of the century 20th/21st is seeing an echo of that appearance: A new select breed best described as mathematical transphysicists – ostensibly seeking to repeat the performance of their ancestors. Except that have they harnessed physics to serve as a playing ground for mathematics. They have quickly moved to take steps that let them operate outside the existing rules of physics. They have given themselves more latitude than a novelist or a poet. They might be seen as Licensed Philosophers.

This is thus largely a false echo. If the first group was driven by a puzzlement about the state of physics and sought to rectify it, the second group seems to be driven by a grandiose self-image and is seeking to substantiate it in the public eye.

But with their shenanigans, they are crowding out the real work of physics, and are not themselves attending to those urgent problems of physics that do need their skills. They are also luring highly talented young men and women from fruitful pursuits. These young people are following their leader in a zombie-like trance, helping him peddle his wares. Instead of becoming the vanguard group of the society’s scientific and technological advancement, the young talent are becoming a breed of Luftmensch. They are all over the Internet, speedily filling up message board after message board – singing the paeans of their leader. There exist no mechanisms to deprogram these Hare Krishnas.

I am therefore posing this as a possible science-and-society issue. If you are someone who likes to think for himself what is an "issue", and what to make of it, please read on. If you are someone who likes the Media to tell you what is an issue and what to make of it, please read on anyway.

The Media will not tell you that this is an issue - they are partly behind this.

THE HAUNTED MONASTERY

Judge Dee discusses the haunted monastery with his able assistant Sergeant Hoong

I like Judge Dee mysteries. Judge Dee was a no-nonsense seventh century Chinese magistrate (a real life person) who specialized in solving crimes and mysteries. He could quickly get to the bottom of seemingly inexplicable and esoteric mysteries. In one story, village people stood in great awe of an abandoned Buddhist monastery on a hilltop. At night, there seemed to be strange lights and goings on – although no one was known to live there. The monks lived in another place nearby. So stories of supernatural happening spread apace. No one dared go anywhere near the hill at night. When Judge Dee heard about this, he very quickly came to the conclusion: Don’t worry. It is just monks fornicating. (Not exactly politically correct, but that was how the story went).

An aura of great mystery and mystique can be created in the eyes and minds of the public at large. But what lies behind the aura may be another thing. To see what it is, you need a Judge Dee.

In today’s mathematical transphysics, we may have a very sophisticated version of the haunted monastery: A divinely mysterious glow, and behind it, hocus-pocus.

MEET THE MATHEMATICAL TRANSPHYSICISTS

During the last century, application of mathematical techniques to physics has continuously grown, and become increasingly sophisticated and inaccessible. The portion of the physics community that specializes in this area is rapidly becoming a very select breed. The largest portion of this community does not understand what is going on in this area – but accepts it tacitly, and even with respect, tinged with awe. The greatest of the mathematical physicists today seem to automatically become public heroes – bordering on cult figures. Meet the mathematical transphysicists. They can calculate the heck out of this Universe, generate a few dozen more universes in the process, make them bang together at will, and generally make your little head spin so fast that you feel like stepping out to get some fresh air. Black holes are their backyard, and wormholes are their alleyway. They argue for decades on end on the existence (or nonexistence) of any emanation from black holes. For decades, two sides stand pat with their opposing views, and argue, and argue, and argue. O how they argue! Meanwhile civilization grows and advances around them. You know whereof I speak? I speak of course of the North-Going Zax and the South-Going Zax on the prairie of Prax.

  

North-Going Zax and South-Going Zax meet on the prairie of Prax
They argue who should step aside to let the other pass.
I only go North, says the North-Going Zax
I only go South, says the South-Going Zax
And they argue. And they argue. And they argue.
The world moves on

Thousands of years of evolution of human civilization have culminated in this ultimate intellectual breed (No, not the Zax!). Absolutely the most evolved brain, no question.

They are also the twenty-first century hocus-pocus men, who have set up their operation on the hilltop. You, reader, are Sergeant Hoong. I am Judge Dee.

The transphysicist is basically a mathematician, may be even a good or excellent mathematician. His grasp of physics is usually neither very broad nor very deep. So why does he apply himself to physics and then quickly shift to cosmology? This is like a fine architect going into Silicon Valley, thinking that he can revolutionize Integrated Circuit architecture. The answer to the above question is quite simple. Or rather, a simple calculation. There is no limelight to be had in mathematics. Even the guy who solved the legendary Fermat problem got only momentary exposure, and is now off the stage. The greatest prize you can get in mathematics very few people have heard of. Physics is the happening place. But if do hardcore physics, you will soon be found out. So do cosmology which captures public imagination, and where you can be completely safe from scientific scrutiny. There, you can be forever strutting like a peacock on stage. And with proper mobilization, the Swedish Prize remains a distinct possibility. If not, there is at least the monetary consolation. You can parlay your celebrity into good money – mighty dollars if not the prestigious kroner. Just a simple calculation.

MYTHBUSTING

The transphysicist has very cleverly developed his own image upon drawing on the best and the most effective elements in many areas, from the oldest mythology to the latest Madison Avenue. It is not easy to criticize this “wholesome” image through a frontal assault. What you must do is to reduce the image to its underlying essentials, and tackle them one at a time.

Let us now bust the elaborately developed myth behind which the transphysicist lives - step by logical step.

MYTHBUSTING STEP 1

There is today very little, if any, examining of this hilltop enterprise critically by those in the village. Obviously, if you do not understand something, you cannot criticize it. Simple! So let the great intellectuals be, let them do their great work. But is this premise really correct? To criticize the performance of an automobile, do you need to understand the engineering of its cylinders, pistons, displacement etc? Of course not. If you wish to judge a fare produced by a great chef, do you need to watch every step of his production? Of course not. Exactly the same comments apply here. You can definitely judge the mathematical transphysicists by the fare they produce.

MYTHBUSTING STEP 2

But the moment you and I start examining the fare, we will be told: This is a subject way above your head. Don’t even dare!But wait a moment! The likes of Mark Twain and John Henry Falk developed a wonderful way of reducing deep, even intricate thoughts into folksy cornpone language. We can do the same with our transphysicists – most definitely. (Judge Dee did not need to learn Buddhism to deduce what was going on.) Those who try to deter you from this are helping hide the hilltop enterprise.

MYTHBUSTING STEP 3

Albert Einstein was a highly mathematical thinker for his time. His then-esoteric mathematics resulted in great practical benefit for physics, and for mankind. At the same time, some of his labors were to no avail. Any good theoretical physicist today consigns the largest portion of his labors to the wastebasket. Only a small portion gets to the scientific journals. The lesson: Mathematics applied to physics can produce great good as well as great nonsense. But increasingly, fewer and fewer people can make the distinction – because of the increasingly esoteric nature of the enterprise, and because of the ever-ready limelight to be had. If your calculations show you have found a universe made of mascarpone cheese, should you throw your work away, or report it as a great discovery? This clues you in to the possibility that the great nonsense can be passed off as legitimate fare.

MYTHBUSTING STEP 4

As we stand at the dawn of the twenty-first century, there is something else that has come about that is most relevant to our discussion: The modern computer. It can do exactly the same thing mathematics can do. The transphysicists set up a problem, and then do their mathematics stuff. An ordinary physicist can now take the same problem, and make the computer do the calculation. He need not know the mathematical manipulations. So the wall of monopolistic secrecy behind which the mathematical physicists used to operate has been torn down.

MYTHBUSTING STEP 5

(We will come to it in logical progression, at the very end.)

We are now ready to go to that hilltop and find out exactly what is going on, or more appropriately perhaps, going down.

SAFE IN THE UNIVERSE

The hilltop the transphysicists have chosen, interestingly, is the most inaccessible and most forested: It is the farthest reaches cosmology and the smallest domain of Quantum Theory.

The field of cosmology, you see, is a free-for-all. The cosmologist is not much different from a novelist in terms of what they can construct. The novelist has a few general rules: Whatever happens in the novel should be understandable in terms of the real life experience. Beyond that he can imagine up whatever he can. The cosmologist, likewise, has the laws of physics. Beyond that, it is a free field. But today’s cosmologist has freed himself even of the constraints of a novelist. Today’s cosmologist thinks up ways that let him operate outside the standard rules of physics. And so, in terms of his latitude, he is the freest of all intellectuals in all fields of human endeavor. His forte includes science, science fiction, and trans-fiction. The fare the transphysicist produces no one can judge.

He is like a licensed philosopher.

Modern Quantum Theory to Physics is what Philosophy is to Logic: The "lawlessness" that develops at the unruly frontierland of a nation governed by laws. In Classical Electromagnetic Theory, for example, there are momentous unresolved, foundational issues crying out to be addressed. This is an eminently suited task for the talent of the transphysicist, and potentially a far-reaching, solid contribution to physics. But he will not touch such problems with a 20-foot pole. He does not want anything to do with anything where he can be pinned down within the direct control of the law.

And there you have it: The transphysicist at the very core of his nature is an evasion artist.

As mentioned before, the transphysicists quickly rids himself of the existing laws of physics, and proceeds to work his magic freely. If the existing laws of physics are to be exceeded because of some subliminal messages one has obtained from beyond the observable universe, then the scientific justification for this has to be established starting from within the foundation of physics. The transphysicist, however, will choose not to go anywhere near the foundation physics. In this sense as well, he is an evasion artist.

The ultimate hocus-pocus man.

SEVEN FACES, SEVEN DAYS

The transphysicist also has seven faces, like Dr. Lao. On Monday he appears to you as a great physicist of the yesteryear. On Tuesday, he appears to you as two identical individuals living in two parallel universes. On Wednesday he appears to you as a philosopher in a pensive stance in a bucolic setting. On Thursday he appears to you a time traveler from the future. On Friday he appears to you as a savior: Hope for mankind’s future. On Saturday he appears to you possessing the mind of the Good Lord Himself. On Sunday he is not seen: He rests.

Indeed, it is the aspiration of the mathematical transphysicist to divinity that I have turned to in labeling him the hocus-pocus man. The word hocus-pocus, according to one view, derives from words spoken by the priest in giving you a wafer of bread: Hoc est corpus meum (Here is my body). The laity saw the Latin oratory from the pulpit as something amusingly inaccessible, and called this hocus-pocus.

KLAATU BARADA NIKTO!

There is a specious logic that is invoked to defend the enterprise of the transphysicists. It goes like this: In the early years of the 20th century, few had any inkling as to where Einstein was going with his esoteric mathematics. Decades later, this was understood to have been brilliant physics. By the same token, it is possible to misjudge the transphysicists in the early years of the 21st century. This argument is enunciated slightly differently. We are told that the transphysicists are people from a future era. You would do well to envision them as standing at the door of a spaceship, against a brilliantly lit background, with a message for humankind. Hark ye! Hark ye!

Klaatu barada nikto

This is as self-serving an argument as they come. First, you can invoke a similar argument to say that those who are labeled crackpots today may in time turn out to be geniuses. Second, physics stands at a vastly different level today than it did then. We are able to project our informed scientific imagination much farther today than we could then. Third, if the above specious argument were to be correctly invoked, its conclusion would be quite the opposite. That matter could become energy, that gravitation distorts space strained our imagination, but did not give us a sense that we were being sold a bill of goods. This is not the case with today’s transphysicists. If you are told that you could stash your life savings between, say, the 9th and the 11th dimension of space, or that the spectacles you just lost has shifted to a parallel universe, no amount of elasticity in your scientific imagination can make you keep a straight face. The most immediate instinct you will have is actually the correct one: This is hocus-pocus.

LET HIM BE!

But now you say to me: Let the hocus-pocus man be! Let him entertain us, what’s wrong with that? I reply: Absolutely nothing – as long as that is what he is doing. And certainly no one faults a person who pursues mathematics for its own sake.

But if he claims to be a great physicist and his minions clamor as such, if he sets up his Bigtop crowding our daily workspace so that we cannot do our needful but mundane work, if he entices our young talent to follow him, zombie-like and spouting slogans, in his pursuit – there is definitely a problem. A non-benign problem of intellectual imposture.

When a cult Guru inducts your young ’uns, you go to a deprogrammer. When the transphysicist inducts the young talent, who does the society go to?

So do not go, Let him be. Instead, ask how we can put the transphysicist where his activity will be beneficial or benign. And while at it, do not forget his enablers: Those colleagues who cheer him on and shower accolades on him, or those who remain mum.

A NEW RELIGION:
Om TO Em

As I said before, we can discuss the fare the transphysicist produces in our own simple language, and in terms that we are at home with.

Now, here is a point to consider: What is the difference between a religion Guru who has set up shop in America – be he from India or wherever – and our transphysicist? Witness:

- They are both pushing intangible, untestable ideas about the universe to their following, which is generally in a state of 'religious' ecstasy.

- The Guru and the transphysicist are both seeking limelight. The only difference is the process by which their ideas are formed. But as we said, it is the resulting fare, and the not the process, that is of relevance. The fares are not that different.

- The Guru speaks of afterworlds and his following listen in rapture. The transphysicist speaks of parallel worlds and his following listen in rapture.

- The Guru speaks of dimensions outside of the material world. The transphysicist speaks of dimensions outside of the perceptible world.

- The Guru philosophizes on the subject of time (Great Time, Mahakala). Ditto for the transphysicist.

- The Guru tells you about the Grand Design of the Creator. The transphysicist tells you about the anthropic principle.

- The Guru may want the following to give him allegiance and German automobile. The transphysicist may want the following to give him adulation and Swedish accolade.

- The Guru promises ultimate knowledge. Ditto for the transphysicist.

- The Guru can see into the future. The transphysicist has come from the future.

- The Guru can commune with the mind of God. Thetransphysicist possesses the mind of God.

- The Guru is a most humble person. The transphysicist is publicity-averse.

You think I am making all this up? Think again.

And finally, check this out: If you ask a Guru a profound question, he might ponder a while with closed eyes, seated in the lotus position, and then profoundly reply: Ommmm…. The transphysicist, with his visage perfectly calm and poised, may likewise reply: Emmmm….

In both cases, you will have to interpret the answer for yourself.

Levity?! Think again.

    

Ommm…             Emmm…

A long time ago I once heard this advice: To make it really big in this world, you gotta have a gimmick. Some two decades ago an Indian medical doctor found himself a great gimmick. He combined his knowledge of science with elements of Eastern philosophy and mysticism to come up with a new product that would satisfy the thirst in the West for rationalized spirituality. Before you know it there was an entire product line: TV programs, videos, books, essential oils, a fare called quantum soup, things to rub on various parts of body.... .Needless to say, the man did make it really big in this world - both limelightwise and moneywise.

The transphysicist has followed the same underlying approach, but has gone one better.

The gimmick in today’s physics establishment is to come up with big ideas. I mean, B – I – G! The more outlandish, the better. You have to be the shock jock of big ideas. Dazzle the world like George Lucas. Keep designing them rubber aliens and cardboard spaceships. If Tom says Black Hole, you come up with Worm Hole. If Dick says Quantum Foam, you come up with Stringy Froth. If Harry says he wants to colonize the Moon, you want to farm freeze-dried coho salmon in orbit around Mars. If Joe unites four forces with a new theory, you unite five theories with bunch of new dimensions. No, I am not making these up. I don’t have that kind of imagination. My imagination appears to be hopelessly stuck in the foundation of Classical Physics.

Here is a little sample from a burgeoning product line - it's a lapel pin! Wear it with pride:

The rubbing oils are coming, I suppose.

Remember the shrewd Indian Guru who parlayed Eastern mysticism into great wealth, sporting – among other things – a couple of dozen Rolls Royces? You would remember this because the Media made a very big deal of this unseemly greed in a seeker of spiritual truth. But has the Media even remotely touched on similar money-making venture of a truth-seeking transphysicist who would go on revue tour, staging his gig in Performing Arts theaters, and charging ticket prices as much a $125 a pop? Of course not. There is nothing unseemly about the seeker of cosmological truth raking it in during the process. People are just paying a fair price to watch a beautiful mind strike various intellectual poses before them - each pose illuminating some facet of the universe. And surely the ticket prices should be comparable to Riverdance or Celtic Women!

The transphysicist has got both the Guru and the good doctor beat, hands down. Welcome to the Twenty-First Century.

DECONSTRUCTING THE MEMBRANE

Jacques Derrida: The greatest thinker of our time, or a hocus-pocus man?

Jacques Derrida, who passed away recently, was variously regarded as the most profound thinker of our time, and a hocus-pocus man. His milieu was a field called Postmodern Social Theory. What is that? I have not the faintest idea. His main contribution was something called Deconstruction Theory. What is that? Beats me. The point we are interested in here is that the physics establishment assailed him as a hocus-pocus man. So here we have a real-life, tangible example of a hocus-pocus man defined by physicists: A kind of an exemplar for our discussion.

If we think like the physicists who assailed Derrida, the latter’s work is characterized by obfuscation and obstreperousness. He passes off all kinds of mumbo jumbo as product of an intricate intellectual process. His following lap it all up as such, probably not quite understanding what is being said.

What, I ask you, is the difference between Jacques Derrida and the transphysicist, except that they are formally in different fields? No difference, except that the transphysicist operates at a far higher level of sophistry. And look at the trick of wanting to create a legacy through the word-couching game: What is the difference between adding “De” to the existing word Construction, and dropping “Mem” from the existing word Membrane? No difference, except that the latter activity is couched in term of horrendous mathematics. It is because of this asymmetry that the followers of Derrida are unable to reciprocally assail the transphysicist.

THE QUICK-STAR DREAM MACHINE, MODEL QSDM-2001-ON

The sneetches on the beaches pay to enter Sylvester McMonkey McBean’s Star-On Machine

But, reader, you and I have yet to take the last mythbusting step, Step 5. We have said that it is the evolution of human intellect that has culminated in our ultimate hocus-pocus man. There we are not quite correct. Evolution had a little help. Can you guess what that is? It is another phenomenon that has come to a head at the dawn of the twenty-first century. It is the Hero-making Machine. The ultimate hocus-pocus machine – the Quick-star Dream Machine of Sylvester McMonkey McBean. The Star-On version of the machine can take in an ordinary sneetch on the beach, grind away for a while, and spit out the selfsame sneetch, complete with a star on its belly. Or the Star-Off Machine can take a star-bellied sneetch, and remove the star.

Who is Sylvester McMonkey McBean?
Today he has become incorporated, and is called the Media.

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Posted 25 January 2005