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Fresh Out of Science: Woodpile Meditations of Ol’ Remus

This morning’s Woodpile Report brings us a large helping of Remus.

“There has been a noticeable lull in theoretical physics for a long while now. Quantum physics today, for example, amounts to experiments and commentary on a theory formulated in the 1920s, a resounding theoretical and technological success but getting long in the tooth. Physicists have been mining it like the Comstock Lode for almost a century, with diminishing returns.

Consider how little is really new. Television, the “modern marvel” that came of age in the mid-twentieth century, depended crucially on the cathode ray tube, a device from the closing years of the eighteen hundreds, just another piece of lab equipment used by Victorian-era nuclear researchers. Television was a parallel development of the electronic oscilloscope, first examples of which date to 1897.

A NASA engineer estimated that all the technology needed to launch a satellite was in place by the 1920s. The Hubble telescope’s central feature is a reflecting telescope invented in the mid-1600s. Einstein’s theory of special relativity was published in 1905, general relativity came ten years later. The LIGO gravity wave detector is built around a Michelson interferometer, invented in 1887. Electromagnetic particle accelerators were well developed in the 1920s, a concept still in use. The circular cyclotron was invented in 1930, it’s the basis of the CERN Large Hadron Collider. And on and on.

Science has gone quiescent, and technology is getting drowsy. Consider. The first jet aircraft flew in 1939. Both the F-86 and MiG-15 of Korean War fame first flew in 1947. The Boeing 707 entered service in 1958, sixty-one years ago, and it’s the dominant pattern for jet airliners to this day.

Semiautomatic rifles were marketed to civilians in 1903. Mexico issued standard 7×57 semi auto rifles to the infantry in 1910. France issued the 8×50 RSC, another successful semi-auto, in 1917. The AR-15 goes back to 1956. The .45 ACP round goes back to 1910, the 9×19 mm to 1902. The first electronic infrared detector-display was invented in 1929 for the British air defense system.

Electronic analog computers were in use in 1939, some aboard US submarines. By 1941 they were programmable. The first digital electronic programmable computer was delivered to Bletchley Park in early 1944. The first transistor appeared in 1947. The marriage was as inevitable as in a 1940s two-hanky movie.

Oldsmobile began selling automobiles in 1897. Electric cars, also first mass-marketed in the US in 1897, were common until the electric starter replaced hand cranking for gasoline-powered cars in 1912 and decisively captured the women’s market. GE built its first diesel-electric locomotives in 1918. By the 1930s “diesels” were in general use as yard switchers, were replacing steam in passenger service and in mainline heavy freight service beginning in 1939 ……


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Casey Klahn February 26, 2019, 9:55 AM

    Yes, the meta achievements of science are dimming into the mist. Now, it is time to undo them. The middle class in this country are way too comfortable, and need to be brought low for Marx to be realized in toto.

    Let’s list the things that need to be sunset. Hydroelectric dams. Airliners. The internal combustion engine and cars. Lawnmowers. The internet. Roomy houses. Wood burning stoves. Timber. Wheat. Coal. Inquiry. Competition.

    If you disagree, then you are a Nazi. Why you are a Nazi, I have no fucking idea, but there it is. Do you have any firearms in your home? Were you in the service? What is your position on Trump? Have you ever received, or sought, counseling for any reason? Do you go to church?

    I’ve actually been asked a couple of these questions by doctors in Spokane. In retrospect, I wish I’d been more prepared to hear them. What is the proper response?

    Out here.

  • John Venlet February 26, 2019, 10:49 AM

    I’ve actually been asked a couple of these questions by doctors in Spokane. In retrospect, I wish I’d been more prepared to hear them. What is the proper response?

    None of your business.

  • ghostsniper February 26, 2019, 1:38 PM

    “What is the proper response?”

    When you can’t change without, change within.
    I’d question why I was around such a questioner in the first place.

  • Walter Sobchak February 26, 2019, 7:37 PM

    For further exploration of theses issues, I recommend a German physicist, who writes in English, Sabine Hossenfelder.

    Her blog: https://backreaction.blogspot.com/
    Her book: “Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray”

    “Whether pondering black holes or predicting discoveries at CERN, physicists believe the best theories are beautiful, natural, and elegant, and this standard separates popular theories from disposable ones. This is why, Sabine Hossenfelder argues, we have not seen a major breakthrough in the foundations of physics for more than four decades. The belief in beauty has become so dogmatic that it now conflicts with scientific objectivity: observation has been unable to confirm mindboggling theories, like supersymmetry or grand unification, invented by physicists based on aesthetic criteria. Worse, these “too good to not be true” theories are actually untestable and they have left the field in a cul-de-sac. To escape, physicists must rethink their methods. Only by embracing reality as it is can science discover the truth.”

    Her website: http://sabinehossenfelder.com/
    Some links to articles: http://sabinehossenfelder.com/index.php/writing/articles

  • Casey Klahn February 26, 2019, 8:10 PM

    Are you saying don’t go to the doctor, Ghost?

    What I will change is my readiness for the inquisition. I now know that it’s there and it’s malign.

  • Paco February 26, 2019, 8:59 PM

    Good think-piece (plus, I love the LaSalle ad!)

  • Former Lurker February 27, 2019, 6:26 AM

    “What is the proper response?”
    Put your shirt back on, walk out of the examination room, go to the front desk and demand a refund on your credit card co-pay, tell your insurance company not to pay this bill, and find a new doctor. If enough people do this, doctors will stop asking irrelevant questions because it starts affecting their pockets.

  • Walter Sobchak February 27, 2019, 7:36 AM

    This link doesn’t work:


  • Walter Sobchak February 27, 2019, 7:46 AM

    “Oldsmobile began selling automobiles in 1897. Electric cars, also first mass-marketed in the US in 1897, were common until the electric starter replaced hand cranking for gasoline-powered cars in 1912 and decisively captured the women’s market. ”

    And before the Great War both Mrs. Henry Ford, and my own Great Grandmother, drove electric cars. Those electric cars were very little different from a brand new Tesla. In fact, electric cars are not exciting new technology, they are SSDD*. The technology gap between electric cars and gasoline cars, that led gasoline cars to run electric cars off the road, has widdened over the last century. Today’s gasoline car is a marvel, and you should appreciate it.

    *Same S[tuff], Different Day

  • Vanderleun February 27, 2019, 8:17 AM

    Thanks. Fixed link.

  • Roy Lofquist February 27, 2019, 8:52 AM

    Modern Big Bang cosmology looks like a collaboration of Rube Goldberg and M.C. Escher.


  • Richard Berger February 27, 2019, 10:09 AM

    Well, true in a way, but what about the integrated circuit, the microprocessor and the internet? Mid-century (20th). Mixed in with everything, they have produced a revolution in technology.

  • Marica February 27, 2019, 10:13 AM

    “Science has gone quiescent, and technology is getting drowsy.”

    Let me just throw something out there. Physics is no longer the paradigmatic science it once was, and the technological advances that sprung forth from research in basic physics are marginal today. So agree.

    However, physics is not the only science. So to say that *science* has gone quiescent is to be wholly ignorant of science writ large.

    And before I go any further– let me go on the record. A shit ton of “science” is utter crap. If you want to see for yourself, I invite you to see the projects NIH is funding. You can search your favorite institution of higher learning for NIH grant awards here: https://projectreporter.nih.gov/reporter.cfm . (My local favorite is a $2M NIH grant to provide funding to a group of folks who aim to recruit more folks to write grants and increase funding. I kid you not.) Further, NIH, NSF, NEA, ONR and all of the rest of federal funding agencies need to be abolished. The whole thing is a ponzy scheme (assuming I understand that properly). Built into the grant request are “indirect costs”– the percentage of money the university or other institution charges researchers (skims off the top) to do research at the university. UNC’s rate, for example, is 55% and that’s pretty typical. Do the math using 50%. If you need $100 for your project, you need to write the grant for *not* $150 but for $200 just to get the 100 you need. That adds up. And it winds up being spread all over campuses for stupid shit that has nothing to do with basic or applied research. So he’s right again, things started to change when the feds became so heavily invested in institutionalized science.

    That said– you want me to believe that sequencing the genome wasn’t a big deal? That the research– excuse me, the science of audition that led to the development of cochlear implants wasn’t life-changing for deaf kids? That the basic research going on uncovering the molecular mechanisms of learning and memory won’t have a profound impact on kids with Neurofibromatosis type I (clinical trials underway)? How about this– spring’s coming. Get on down to Lowes and grab you some weed killer that kills just the clover and nothing else in your manicured lawn. You think that didn’t take some science? I could go on. I mean, seriously– look around! Look at yourself. Have you had lens replacement surgery for cataracts? Look in the medicine cabinet. Flea & tick treatment for the kitty. I’ll say no more.

    Look, I know Ol’ Remus is something of a hero around here (and make no mistake, I appreciate the opportunity to comment here) but on this he is just flat out wrong. In his sweeping statement, he conflates all science with physics. He assumes that all technology is grounded in physics, and is ignorant of the fact that there are plenty of technological advances grounded in basic research in, especially, the biological sciences. If Ol’ Remus wants to read some science articles, I’d suggest he search for– oh, I dunno– chemogenetics or optogenetics.

  • Casey Klahn February 27, 2019, 10:21 AM

    Former Lurker, my thoughts run that way, too. Try this: “Doctor, with all due respect I am offended by your intrusion into something private to me. These questions feel politically motivated, scantly related to my health but supposedly ‘public health’ related, and intended to be reported up the chain to take away something that God placed in my hands, such as any firearms I may or may not own. I will be reporting this to your billing office and demanding the consultation part of this visit be taken off of my bill, and I will be copying that to the CEO of this business.”
    I will also cook up something about targeting the veteran. Which they are doing.
    Don’t want to get too far from the topic: the stagnation of science. But, fucking doctors!

  • ghostsniper February 27, 2019, 11:51 AM

    Let’s just assume for a moment that you were offended by the doctors questions.
    Let’s also assume the doctor is a person of intelligence and knows what an offensive question consists of.
    From there we can also assume then that the doctor knowingly intended to offend you with those questions.
    Now that the doctor has described the parameters of the conversation you are able to deal with his questions using his rules.

    You could take command of the situation and ask the doctor, “Why do you prefer to receive anal sex while you are snorting crack?”
    Watch his face closely, his eyes. The tiny muscles in the corners of his eyes.
    Directly, you will find out if you should shop for a new doctor, for the one in your presence is a bold faced liar, and you know you don’t want someone with such a character flaw to have any control over you whatsoever.

    Or, you can do nothing and let that doctor go on his merry way offending people left and right, and you the next time you partake of his services.

    But yeah, as a rule I try to avoid all doctors, and until just a couple years ago did pretty well at it.
    Except for dentists a few times, I saw no doctors from 1987 until 2015 except as clients I was designing buildings for. Frankly, doctors are way to expensive for me. A lot of stuff people go running to doctors for I fix myself. That’s part of the deal.

  • Rick February 27, 2019, 12:27 PM

    Last year up in Seward, AK I found my way to the clinic very early one morning for a horrible sore throat. The recptionist stood up, stuck his hand out and introduced himself to me. The nurse came out, told me her name and showed me to an exam room. A few minutes later the doctor came in, introduced himself and started telling me that I should meet him at lunch time to do some salmon fishing. Great place and great people. Then he got serious and asked me what pronoun he should use in addressing me. I hardly knew what to say when he apologized and told me he was required by the Feds to ask. After that he looked at my throats then we talked about fishing.

  • Casey Klahn February 27, 2019, 6:33 PM

    Rick, that is some crazy shit you just described. Doctors suck fed ick, I guess.

    Ghost, you got me laughing there.

    My wife is a retired Nurse Practitioner, and while she pursued her career I met and associated with a number of doctors. I witnessed them do some stupid things and the take away is: these sonsabitches are no smarter than me. Yes, some have a higher IQ (although mine is not low) and I respect their dedication to their schooling. But, if they were particularly smart people, some of the shit I’ve witnessed just would never happen.

    So, intelligence they have to show me when I meet them. It may be their office space, but I am the fucking patient, and by the way I am the payer. For now, at least. I. Set. The. Rules. They present the technology, but everything that occurs ought to be in my interests. Fuck public health. I’m paying for that elsewhere.

    But, I’m still looking for the right wordage for the inquisition I have learned to expect. I say this today, on the day that the House passed a new, egregious anti-weapons, anti-citizen bill. We need to push back in every way available.

  • ghostsniper February 28, 2019, 4:48 AM

    @Casey, attaboy! Knock em out.
    I have an appt soon at the VA and they’re questions.
    They are very subtle, to the point of being obvious, to me.
    “Thank you for your service to our country. Do you have any pain? Do you ever “feel” depressed? Are you eating a proper diet? Do you participate in an exercise program? Is that an AR15 in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?”

  • John the River February 28, 2019, 6:27 AM

    What troubles me is the decline of Science Fiction. The great authors have passed on and the field seems to be calling various works of fantasy and dystopian nightmares by the same name.
    And of course, “Look how important and brave these female or non-white and homosexual characters are in our stories about the future!”.

  • ghostsniper February 28, 2019, 2:45 PM

    Same with comic books. Our son and I used to be big collectors 25+ years ago. After selling most of them 10 years ago, there are still a few thousand of em bagged and boarded in boxes in the garage. Neither of us has purchased any comics or even been in a comic store since Y2K but we see blurbs every now and then about the transition that is occurring. In the beginning we would joke about it, then we just let it drop. In disgust. Don’t know if it’s happened yet but I imagine eventually Superman will be a tranny woman in a crossover (DC and Marvel) relationship with Catwoman who is a tranny dood and the world emergency is whether their adopted petri-child identifies as a pork tenderloin on a whole wheat bun or a melted 45 rpm red collectors edition record of “A Falling Star”.

  • Nobody Atall March 1, 2019, 5:57 AM

    @John the River – thinking, imaginative, creative, etc. science fiction and fantasy are now the product of the independent publishing world. You can find a few such authors hanging out at AccordingtoHoyt dot com and they will also point you to other places and authors. The women authors, and other “flavored” authors have always been there, the tale of woe of their dearth is a bald-faced lie. The traditional awards are now indicators of what to avoid – the exception being the new Dragon Awards, which are still strictly done via fan votes. Now with indie publishing, you can read what you want, but you have to work a little harder to find your niche. Have at it – it’s fun again!