November 17, 2014

1. The Election

The recent election was surprising because the Republican victory was so sweeping, so complete, and because it came just two years after Obama decisively defeated Romney, just two years after Republicans seemed to be disappearing. And finally, it was surprising because the polls failed to predict the outcome. Republicans out-performed the polls by an average of 4%, perhaps because Republican voters had more passion, and therefore Republican turnout was higher. Conservative pundits like Bill Kristol were more accurate in their predictions than the polls were.

After the 2012 election, I said “Nate Silver’s forecast proved to be strikingly accurate.” Silver also predicted the outcome of the 2008 election, etc. Even in this recent election, Silver wasn’t off by much: he expected a Republican victory, and he foresaw that the polls might be wrong: “Polls in midterms and other elections have sometimes proved to have a systematic bias, overestimating the performance of one or the other party in most or all competitive races.” Silver has a well-deserved reputation as a top-notch number-cruncher.

But while Silver foresaw that the polls might be wrong, he wasn’t able to predict (as Kristol was) the direction of polling bias. This was a “wave election” in which one side had enthusiasm and the other side didn’t. Even the best number-crunchers, like Silver, weren’t able to gauge this enthusiasm as well as pundits like Kristol. So this election was a defeat for the number-crunchers who study polls, as well as a defeat for polls themselves.

Since Democrats entered the election with both the White House and the Senate, one might say that they were the party in power. The party out of power seems to have more enthusiasm because they think they can make things better — if only they could gain power. But the party in power seems to have little enthusiasm because all they can hope for is more of the same. A pessimist might argue that the country has become so difficult to govern that whichever party has power will embarrass themselves, and therefore each election will bring the “out party” to power.

Conservatives have more passion, more conviction, more fanaticism than liberals, so they’re often dissatisfied with mainstream Republicans, establishment Republicans, dismissing them as “RINOs” (Republicans in Name Only). They run against these establishment Republicans in primaries, and even mount 3rd-party challenges in general elections. These 3rd-party challenges split the conservative vote, and make it easier for Democrats to win. In Virginia, for example, Mark Warner defeated Ed Gillespie by just .8%, while the 3rd-party candidate, Republican-turned-Libertarian Robert Sarvis, had 2.5%. Gillespie would probably have won in the absence of this 3rd-party candidacy. It’s difficult for Republicans to unite because many of them are “true believers” who want radical change, and refuse to compromise.

A recent episode of “Conversations With Bill Kristol” discussed the 2016 election. About ten Republicans are expected to compete for the nomination (for President), including

On the Democratic side, everyone expects Hillary to run, but some people say that she could be opposed in a primary, that Elizabeth Warren might be a formidable candidate. Warren might come across as a fresh face, a fighter, a visionary, whereas Hillary might come across as an extension of the unpopular Obama administration — an administration in which she played a prominent role.1

As for the general election, some pundits say that if the Obama administration is still unpopular, and voters want a change, Republicans will have a good chance of winning the White House.

Some Republicans, including Bill Kristol, are concerned about the economy, the national debt, and the stability of the currency. They advocate a return to the gold standard. In a recent issue, we discussed how, when the Roman Empire was declining, its coins were diluted with base metal, and the restoration of the Empire (in the Byzantine region) was accompanied by a return to gold coins. I’m not an expert in this field, but I like the idea of a gold standard. I think Republicans deserve credit for being concerned with the well-being of the nation as a whole; Democrats often seem to be concerned only with the well-being of segments of the nation.

But I think advocates of the gold standard should beware of thinking that they can anticipate the consequences of going back to gold. Such a profound change is bound to have unanticipated consequences. Perhaps one reason we got into the Iraq debacle is that we thought we could anticipate the consequences of invading Iraq; perhaps we had too high an opinion of the power of reason.

A word about climate change. Democrats often say, “All the experts agree that man is causing climate change, and this will have dire long-term consequences.” But a student of the Shakespeare controversy knows that all the experts, and all the revered institutions, can be wrong. With respect to climate change, however, I think the “experts” are right, and conservatives are wrong.

Let’s assume there’s some uncertainty about climate change. Does Pascal’s Wager apply? Pascal said, if you aren’t sure about the after-life, you should wager that it exists, because you have an eternity to gain, and only a few mundane pleasures to lose. If we apply this reasoning to climate change, shouldn’t we assume that man is causing climate change? Aren’t the dangers of under-rating climate change greater than the dangers of over-rating it?

2. Quantum Entanglement

An interesting article about quantum physics in the New York Times.2 It’s called “Is Quantum Entanglement Real?” It deals with the “paired particles” experiment that we’ve discussed many times in this e-zine. It’s by David Kaiser, an MIT professor and the author of How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival. Kaiser writes,

Entanglement concerns the behavior of tiny particles, such as electrons, that have interacted in the past and then moved apart. Tickle one particle here, by measuring one of its properties — its position, momentum or “spin” — and its partner should dance, instantaneously, no matter how far away the second particle has traveled.

Can entanglement be proven experimentally? Kaiser mentions various attempts to prove entanglement, including the Aspect Experiment. He says that these attempts have been “great successes,” and have confirmed the existence of entanglement. But it’s always possible to raise an objection to an experiment, and it’s always possible to make your proof a little stronger. Kaiser’s article describes his upcoming attempt to prove entanglement yet again.

I find it interesting that the scientific establishment (MIT) isn’t ignoring the occult aspects of quantum physics.

Update 2/22/15: Another article in the New York Times asks, Is contradictory behavior, is “quantum weirdness,” in reality itself, or in our perceptions of reality?

This month, a paper published online in the journal Nature Physics presents experimental research that supports the [view that contradictory behavior is] not just in our descriptions of nature, but in nature itself.... We are not just hearing different “stories” about the electron, one of which may be true. Rather, there is one true story, but it has many facets, seemingly in contradiction.... There is really no escape from the mysterious — some might say, mystical — nature of the quantum world.

But the author of the article fails to connect “quantum weirdness” to everyday life:

We should be careful to recognize that the weirdness of the quantum world does not directly imply the same kind of weirdness in the world of everyday experience. That’s because the nebulous quantum essence of individual elementary particles is known to quickly dissipate in large ensembles of particles.... This is why, in fact, we are able to describe the objects around us in the language of classical physics.

The author is blind to the occult, blind to telepathy, etc., and he fails to see that the occult agrees with “quantum weirdness,” that the mystical is in the everyday world.

3. Larsons

I discovered a historian named Edward J. Larson, author of Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory. Larson won a Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion. Larson is both a history professor and a law professor. His most recent book is An Empire of Ice: Scott, Shackleton and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science. He was interviewed on Booknotes.

Edward J. Larson should not be confused with Erik Larson, a journalist and popular author. Among Erik Larson’s bestsellers is Thunderstruck, which deals with the murderer Dr. Crippen and the scientist Marconi.

© L. James Hammond 2014
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1. Rhode Island has a new Governor, Democrat Gina Raimondo. Raimondo is respected by moderates and even conservatives because she’s fiscally responsible, and she’s willing to confront the unions. Perhaps in the future she’ll be a candidate for national office. back
2. The article appeared in print on 11/16/14; it appeared online a day or two earlier.

Some books on quantum physics:

  • Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science, by Werner Heisenberg
  • Physics and Beyond: Encounters and Conversations, by Werner Heisenberg (this book is a translation of Heisenberg’s autobiography, Der Teil und das Ganze: Gespräche im Umkreis der Atomphysik)
  • Encounters with Einstein: And Other Essays on People, Places, and Particles, by Werner Heisenberg
  • Beyond Weird: Why Everything You Thought You Knew About Quantum Physics is Different, by Philip Ball
  • Uncertainty: Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and the Struggle for the Soul of Science, by David Lindley
  • Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality, by Manjit Kumar