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jordanz

Criticism of String Theory in The New Yorker

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You're using the rhetorical methods of Randroids.

What an original reply. I pointed out a misunderstanding in your argument, I gave you a reference complete with the paragraphs where it all is explained. Your only reaction is to scoff:

Ain't that a convenient explanation? Is that an absolute fact? How about another? "You never can see the true nature of God. You can only infer it from beholding His works."

while you haven't read the explanation at all! You "just" know that it must be wrong. Well, that is exactly the behavior of the randroid who thinks he knows all without bothering to study the subject, I've seen that behavior many times before. And now your only reply is to parrot me. I find this really disappointing.

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Dragonfly,

See what I mean? I don't have those books. I suspect you know that. Whenever I am in doubt about whether people own a book or not, even if it is a best-seller like State of Fear by Michael Crichton, I provide the quotes to what I am discussing (see here and here and here, for instance).

The Randroid says to go see Peikoff's lecture series Understanding Objectivism or something like that, knowing you don't have it. He also likes to quiet disturbing questions by calling people "ignoramus" (or strongly insinuating it) and so forth, hoping that this will silence the questions he doesn't have an answer to. You ought to know by now that this doesn't work with me.

Now, shall we move on to disappointment?

Michael

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See what I mean? I don't have those books. I suspect you know that.

"Those books"? I mentioned just one book in my post. And why should I know that you don't have it? When I recommended it, together with Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker on 15 March you replied "Those works are on my reading list", so I was naive enough to think that two months later you'd certainly have the book and it would be much easier to point out the relevant passages to you instead of typing a lot of text (without the accompanying figures), especially as it was only of interest to you and not to the other readers of OL. Now you could have replied: I don't have the book, can you give me a summary of the argument, or give some quotes? Instead you chose to ridicule the argument without having read it, so that you don't know it (which makes you an ignoramus in this respect who is nevertheless quick to judge the argument) and that is what pissed me off. I just got that treatment a bit too often, and guess where.

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... which makes you an ignoramus in this respect who is nevertheless quick to judge the argument...

Well if I'm an ignoramus, so are you. So there.

Nyah!

I am hoping that one day that the level of discussion will rise above these personal insults thrown out so freely. They sure are great, though, for being able to push away disturbing questions and then not having to answer them.

Michael

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I see you are not interested in a real discussion, only in trying to win an argument. Like Victor, you even don't acknowledge you were wrong but you try to turn your completely unfounded and ignorant statements into "disturbing questions" which I allegedly would want to push away. Well, good luck with them, I've had enough.

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Dragonfly,

I don't want to win any argument. I want the gratuitous insults to stop. Period.

And incidentally, you have not answered any of my questions to anything near an answer. The closest you came was to say that something about evolution could not be known, although it was sound scientific theory, and something about the Big Bang was completely unknowable and a contradiction to boot, but it was sound scientific theory too, and mention works by Dennett without any quotes. Excuse me if I don't consider any of that much of an answer.

I thought we were discussing something intelligent. I am sincerely curious about it.

I have no curiosity or interest in being called an ignoramus for insisting that it makes no sense to me. That is nothing but an attempt at intimidation. If you have no answer, saying you don't is a proper answer, not insulting the questioner.

My standards for understanding and communicating knowledge to others are much higher than that.

Michael

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Dragonfly, you can't win an argument or have your discussion by insulting Michael, even if he hasn't yet read whoever about whatever. Considering all the work he is putting in here, at least 20 times the amount of anybody else, please give him a little slack to catch up on his reading. I know you are short-fused and that isn't going to change, but that doesn't mean you have to give others the power to light it.

--Brant

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By testing components of the theory you do test the theory. Unless you have a better theory which also is in agreement with those tests, the theory is confirmed.

That assertion is just plain false.

The lack of a complete workable theory in no way confirms any previous proposition, no matter what confidence factor has been established for "sections" of that previous proposition.

In information processing, in order to do systems testing ("to confirm a theory") there are sections that are "solid". These are "solid" because they are FAKED DATA, presented either through a manual entry or through a FAKED ROUTINE called a stub. It is assumed that this FAKED DATA will provide predictability for system outputs, by stimulating and simulating typical, limit, and saturation conditions. But it is really just placeholder information -- it's not real. It only exists because the nature of the program, "the theory", requires something to be there. This is the nature of most human knowledge as well.

For example. You yourself have learned a great deal of what you speak of, but as I will not be repeating your path to knowledge, there is only one way I can accept what you say: Second hand, on faith. If I believe what you say, it is not "knowledge", not even a theory. It is only a knowledge "stub", to fill a hole in my knowledge that I was never aware of till now. (If I HAD been aware of it, I would have had to create my own "knowledge stub" before now. With no more of a guarantee concerning its reliability.)

I can only guess how your knowledge has affected your perception of things. And what we know does make us open to certain ways of seeing things, and close us off to others. As another f'rinstance, I started screwing around with computers in the 60's, became a computer hobbyist in the 70's, and a systems engineer doing military comm systems in the 80's. The hardware designers I worked with were physicists, but did not have information theory. I on the other hand (not a physicist), had to specialize in (actually reinvent) information theory, but was taking the same classes in linear and discrete transforms as they did. Handling comm signals that were quieter than noise levels; doing logic in assembler (rom bios) and microcode (pal's, pla's, pgal's etc.), telling the hardware people how to redisgn the hardware so it would work, I was exposed not only to the screwball quantum world in terms of the physics involved, but there was also something else that happened.

As I started to create working systems, I found that I was the only one of 2 people (out of 40 on the projects) that had the capability to fully "scale" my understandings; being able to fully understand the relationships from the customer-needs levels down to the level of tunneling diodes in the programmable logic; my scale of time became so "precise" that I could smell a bad sequence from 50 paces. (Still can.) My scale of time became such that the 30-millisecond (thousandths of a second) limit for human perception (definition of a real-time system) became like a million years for me. A 100-microsecond (millionths of a second) task switch took a lifetime to complete. I was more used to debugging 5-nanosecond (billionths of a second) rise/fall times on my signals, but was equally adept at dealing with logic testing down to the level of 50-150 picoseconds. (Trillionths of a second. But that's my limit. Technology faster than that was only theoretical at that point.)

At first, before I became aware of how this precision was affecting my own thinking, I assumed that others were able to understand precise sequence-related, cause-and-effect events; I found it highly frustrating to deal with people who were just so, well, "WRONG". But in observing myself, I found that those who lack a similar experience, also lack the opportunity to develop a similar precision in their ideas of "what comes next", or of cause-and-effect. They just never run into the need for a better theory. Does that make them "RIGHT", i.e., does that "confirm their theory"? I don't think so.

And what you find is that, in the world of capital-'S' Science that most of what passes for "premises", "postulates", "tests", "evidence", "components", and "theories" are nothing more than stubs. Fake knowledge. You chase them down, try to grab hold like they're something solid, and they run like sand through your fingers.

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One would think that with an estimated 30 to 50 million species (with 1.4 million already known), and with the ease of manipulating genes within a species, detecting the origin of a new species would be easier.

That is a misconception. You never can see the origin of a new species in real time, the emergence of a new species is something that can only be inferred much later. See for an explanation Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea Chapter 4.3: Retrospective Coronations:Mitochondrial Eve and Invisible Beginnings. Dennett illustrates this by a rather comical passage from a historical novel "..in which a French doctor came home to supper one evening in 1802 and said to his wife: "Guess what I did today! I assisted at the birth of Victor Hugo!". See also Chapter 4.2: Color-coding a Species on the Tree.

Talkorigins.org has records of speciation events (observed evolution in real time):

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-speciation.html

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/speciation.html

Note that if you have done any thinking on this, and have come to your own conclusions concerning objective requirements of what constitutes a "speciation event", then you are likely to find that better than 60% of the experiments reported and/or linked to in these two articles are not valid. But that is not relevant. What is relevant are the nearly 40% of reports that ARE valid. Go ahead. Knock yourself out.

(I myself am skeptical concerning naturalistic evolution, but cannot accept the time scale of the biblical "young-earth" creationists nor the moral ambiguity of "intelligent design". I was given these links by an ardent believer in evolution who regarded my disbelief in evolution with horror, while he was taking every word of these two articles as gospel. Maybe not perfect, but still a useful tool.)

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One would think that with an estimated 30 to 50 million species (with 1.4 million already known), and with the ease of manipulating genes within a species, detecting the origin of a new species would be easier.

That is a misconception. You never can see the origin of a new species in real time, the emergence of a new

Pinpointing the origination of a new sexually reproducing species is difficult since the rate of specieation is low. It is like watching a glacier move. If you stand there for a year you won't see it move. It takes rather special equipment to detect such slow motion. Species formation is something that takes place in the space of thousands of years. In the case of punctuated equilibrium a speciating interval of a thousand to ten thousand years is consider nearly super fast.

We are constrained by our short lifetimes to pick up on the event well after it happened, but the evidence we use is generally quite objective and not readily succeptable to other interpretation.

One instance of change of gene frequency in the population of a complex animal is the case of butterflies in the industrial sections of England. When soot from the mills made the trees black, the light colored butterflies were picked off by birds more readily than dark colored butterflies. So the gene frequency governing color change in a matter of decades which is compatible with human lifetimes. When the factories cleaned up their act, the smoke diminished and the trees became lighter again. This favored the light colored butterflies and made the dark ones stand out. Once again the frequency of the color controlling gene shifted in the butterfly population. This is rather a rare thing there is a case where gene frequency shift in the populations did take place in "real time".

When you have isolation of populations where the mutations of each isolate is somewhat independent from the other, you get variants which do not readily mate. This is genuine species production. You get two species from the original stock that do not interbreed under natural circumstances.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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By testing components of the theory you do test the theory. Unless you have a better theory which also is in agreement with those tests, the theory is confirmed.

That assertion is just plain false.

Isn't it correct to say "the theory is confirmed" in respect to the tests (so far), but it is still falsifiable (or it wouldn't be a viable theory in any case)?

I don't think "confirmed" means "proved." I don't think you can prove a theory.

Are you attempting to discredit falsifiability in favor of some kind of pragmatism?

--Brant

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Pinpointing the origination of a new sexually reproducing species is difficult since the rate of specieation is low. It is like watching a glacier move. If you stand there for a year you won't see it move. It takes rather special equipment to detect such slow motion. Species formation is something that takes place in the space of thousands of years. In the case of punctuated equilibrium a speciating interval of a thousand to ten thousand years is consider nearly super fast.

Bob,

I agree about the special equipment. That's what science is all about anyway. How did you arrive at your estimated times for species origination?

I found your butterfly example to be similar to countless documented examples among the same species (I don't know about butterflies in particular). But that is not what I have been asking.

When you have isolation of populations where the mutations of each isolate is somewhat independent from the other, you get variants which do not readily mate. This is genuine species production. You get two species from the original stock that do not interbreed under natural circumstances.

This is close, but not quite. Not normally interbreeding and not being able to interbreed are very different.

Basically, if I understand correctly, we do not have any documented case of the start point of the emergence of a new species. And we have been unable to effect this development in the lab in the same manner as we do with genetic engineering of the same species.

Are these conclusions correct?

Michael

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If a physics theory is not testable then it is of dubious value.

Bob,

Do you include here Big Bang? Or as Dragonfly has mentioned, evolution (which is not physics, but is physical and scientific, i.e. biology)?

Michael

We weren't there when the Big Bang Bung. However if the Big Bang Bung the consequence (assuming the rest of physics is sound) is the cosmic background radiation at about 2.3 degrees kelvin. And sure enough Wilson and Penzias found it in 1965 ( for which they won a Nobel Prize). The only competing theory, that of Hoyle which assumes continuous creation of matter (this is also an ex nihilo creation) makes no such prediction. So the available evidence:

1. Supports the Big Bang

2. And no evidence falsifies it (yet).

Consequence: go with the Big Bang until falsified.

Much of physics is corroborated by indirect and inferential evidence. Not everything is doable in a laboratory, but we use those laws and principles corroborated in a laboratory to understand those things which we can only get to indirectly.

So far the Big Bang Theory works.

If it works, use it. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. If it is broke, fix it or throw it away. If it smiles at you, smile right back.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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So far the Big Bang Theory works.

If it works, use it. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. If it is broke, fix it or throw it away. If it smiles at you, smile right back.

Bob,

I have nothing against this. I fully agree.

Where I start having a problem is when a beginning of time without time is postulated, or a beginning of space without space. And then the science people conclude that because time and space are not really the basis of our knowledge, we will never know the truth. Etc. yada yada yada.

My problem is with science trying to invade philosophy and take it over when such is not warranted. If the entire basis of our knowledge includes time and space even to be knowledge (i.e., for us to think it), I see the attitude of what I call "the silly competition" of proclaiming that science is superior to philosophy as terribly pompous, shallow, and worse, without merit. It's just plain wrong. (For the record, I find the contrary to be just as silly.)

I prefer your approach as stated, if that is where it stops.

I have no problem with an incomplete theory that points so far to a contradiction, but still works for a lot of stuff. That means we keep working on it. I do have a problem with overstating the importance of the contradiction. For example, I have an enormous problem with the idea of a singularity (which of course is not really an idea obtained from something real since it has to eliminate all of reality to exist, which it doesn't really do). This is a projection into logical impossibility. It is a logical construct, not a metaphysical fact.

If some day we develop a new sense organ (or a mental perception capacity), or it were discovered that we need one and don't have it, in order to conceive of such an existenceless existence, I can buy an idea like that. Then maybe "nothing is something" would make sense to me. I can't buy it based on the equipment we now own (our senses and mind).

Just because a person calls nothing a "singularity" and says we don't know what it is but the math proves it, that doesn't change the fact that it is "nothing" in terms of all we know. We not only don't know what it is, if we remove time, space, etc., we have no way of knowing it. Yet math is knowledge. So we have calculated ourselves right out of existence.

This might be good science in order to maintain consistent calculations, but it is very poor philosophy because, quite simply put, we exist. We don't need any math at all to know that.

Michael

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Isn't it correct to say "the theory is confirmed" in respect to the tests (so far), but it is still falsifiable (or it wouldn't be a viable theory in any case)?

I don't think "confirmed" means "proved." I don't think you can prove a theory.

Are you attempting to discredit falsifiability in favor of some kind of pragmatism?

--Brant

Maybe I'm just being nitpicky, but in my own experience I'm seeing this "confirmation-falsifiability" thing not as "either-or" but on a scale of "confidence-ambiguity-no confidence", seeing that the split between the extremes is variable somewhere in the "ambiguous" range. What one regards as false can be determined empirically by how much ambiguity one can tolerate.

Any proposition, when initially put forward, is false, i.e., it starts as having zero confidence (much like proposed expenditures in zero-based budgeting). As evidence is added for its support, it develops a higher and higher "confidence factor". At a certain point within the range of "ambiguous" evidence, a post hoc ergo ipso hoc relationship is discovered, resulting in predictability. Once that level of confidence is achieved, the proposition becomes a useable "cause-and-effect" knowledge stub (in the face of all that is unknown) for a limited period of time...then stops working after awhile.

An example of this is in the product testing environment; this approach is applied by repetitively triggering (a) typical conditions, (b) limit conditions, and © overload conditions, with the assumption that, "the one test that was not performed, i.e., the next one, is when the product failure would occur"; every time a product failure DOES occur, all previous presumptions are considered invalid, and the test iterations start over from zero. How does this work out?

On a first-trial, simple arithmatic basis (failures are weighted heavier in the case of multiple retrials.):

If, on the first trial, you test something once without a failure, it is assumed to have failed on the second try. One success out of two trials = 50% confidence factor, 50% failure rate.

If you test something 9 times without a failure, it is assumed to have failed on the 10th try. 9 successes out of 10 trials = 90% confidence factor, 10% failure rate.

If you test something 49 times without a failure, it is assumed to have failed on the 50th try. 49 successes out of 50 trials = 98% confidence factor, 2% failure rate.

If you test something 99 times without a failure, it is assumed to have failed on the 100th try. 99 successes out of 100 trials = 99% confidence factore, 1% failure rate. So on and so forth.

As you can see, you rapidly reach a point of diminishing returns through this methodolgy. You will find that most people generally settle in the 50% - 66% confidence factor range (33% - 50% failure or inaccuracy rate) for everything they know, think, say, or do.

[There is an observable difference in applicability of this based on gender. Generally females truly start from the zero-based presumption, while men assume that "anything's possible", i.e., there is already one successful trial on the mental "stack".

Typically a female (as socialized in this society) needs to see at least one (and usually more) instance of something in order to believe something is possible; this first instance is generally considered a "fluke" and not significant (statistically or otherwise), more like "priming a pump" than being used of evidence of something. The second time she sees it, is when it becomes a possibility. The third time she sees it she may start to sense a pattern. it is only on fourth and subsequent trials that she can generally derive any predictive value from what she is observing.

On the other hand, since a male already believes in the first instance, once he sees an actual instance, he already has reached his 66% confidence level and is ready to recognize patterns in what he is observing. Once something happens twice, he is already at the 75% confidence level, ready to test his concepts for predictability.

This is a factor in why men are generally perceived to be more "decisive" than women; they have a greater confidence in their knowledge, and are able to get earlier feedback on the accuracy of their projections.]

Now logically speaking, all it takes is ONE counterexample to "disprove" a "theory", but with an empirically scaleable confidence level, there is the assumption that there is ALWAYS AT LEAST ONE COUNTEREXAMPLE. Thus ambiguity of knowledge is normative, there is no "falsification" per se, because the concepts of "concept" and "theory" as used are inherently flawed.

so,

Are you attempting to discredit falsifiability in favor of some kind of pragmatism?

Pragmatism? Hmmm. Not of the mid-19th century sort. But I find it hard to work with "concepts" that appear to me inaccurate and/or inadequate, in that they cannot subsume the discrete entities, qualities and actions they are intended to abstract. I'm saying that the concepts of 'proof', 'confirmation', theory', 'evidence', and 'falsification' all fall into that category.

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Well, Steve, what I think I see is that you are bringing engineering into science and mixing them up getting a much more dynamic paradigm. I think this is simply a particular form of falsification. I think it is very illuminating. I especially liked "knowledge stubs."

--Brant

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Just because a person calls nothing a "singularity" and says we don't know what it is but the math proves it, that doesn't change the fact that it is "nothing" in terms of all we know. We not only don't know what it is, if we remove time, space, etc., we have no way of knowing it. Yet math is knowledge. So we have calculated ourselves right out of existence.

This might be good science in order to maintain consistent calculations, but it is very poor philosophy because, quite simply put, we exist. We don't need any math at all to know that.

Michael

Most active scientists do not get hung up on philosophical questions or delve into foundational issues. Most are trying to solve problems within the prevailing paradigm (to use Khunian parlance).

The -singularity- is not nothing. It is something which our mathematical models cannot handle. It is a placeholder for our ignorance.

Physics is full of place holders (Dark Matter for example) and intuition pumps (quantum wave function collapse for example). Ditto for all the other "hard" sciences.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Bob,

I have no problem with the placeholder concept. In fact, I insinuated this already when I wrote, "I have no problem with an incomplete theory that points so far to a contradiction, but still works for a lot of stuff. That means we keep working on it."

But that is not what I was objecting to. Maybe I will dig up some quotes later to show you some scientists trying (in public) to overthrow and cancel philosophy by overstating the importance of such placeholders.

Michael

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Bob,

I have no problem with the placeholder concept. In fact, I insinuated this already when I wrote, "I have no problem with an incomplete theory that points so far to a contradiction, but still works for a lot of stuff. That means we keep working on it."

But that is not what I was objecting to. Maybe I will dig up some quotes later to show you some scientists trying (in public) to overthrow and cancel philosophy by overstating the importance of such placeholders.

Michael

Most physicists are not concerned with philosophy as such nor are they deep into foundational work. Smolin makes this point in his book -The Trouble With Physics-.

Bob Kolker

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~ It's been a while (longer than I thought, looking at the dates) since I posted on this thread, and, since finishing ENTANGLEMENT (more on the EPR situation than 'String Theory' per se) thought I'd add a new comment...or two.

~ Upon re-reading the NYr article, I noticed that the writer refers to our existence as a 'consequence' of The Anthropic Principle (as in a cause-effect way of looking at things.) In a long ago Scientific American article spelling out this subject, Hawking himself was quoted as saying something similar, but, he was careful to use logic-parlance and spoke in terms of 'consequent.' Just thought I'd point that out.

~ A last point...for now. Properly, this idea shouldn't be called a 'theory' to begin with; nor even a 'hypothesis'. Conjecture really is the proper term. --- And, I'm biased towards it for the extra dimensions it brings up, which can, if not 'explain', make coherent the problem in the EPR situation.

LLAP

J:D

Edited by John Dailey

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I see you are not interested in a real discussion, only in trying to win an argument. Like Victor, you even don't acknowledge you were wrong but you try to turn your completely unfounded and ignorant statements into "disturbing questions" which I allegedly would want to push away. Well, good luck with them ....

A scientist cannot have an extensive scientific discussion with a philosopher. Ayn Rand, for instance, mostly kept her mouth shut. When she did talk about "the missing link" it was embarassing. A philosophy of science is mostly the necessary epistemological constructs: logic, falsification, etc. A philosopher talking to a scientist about any particular scientific subject is apt to drive the scientist nuts.

--Brant

Edited by Brant Gaede

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A scientist cannot have an extensive scientific discussion with a philosopher. Ayn Rand, for instance, mostly kept her mouth shut. When she did talk about "the missing link" it was embarassing. A philosophy of science is mostly the necessary epistemological constructs: logic, falsification, etc. A philosopher talking to a scientist about any particular scientific subject is apt to drive the scientist nuts.

--Brant

Because most philosophers do not comprehend the science. There are some notable exceptions, but, by and large, philosophers not only do not think like scientists (physicists, chemists, biologists), they do not comprehend how these scientists think at all.

The record is quite clear. Science (hard science) works. It has done an excellent job of explaining the material world and furthermore has promoted applied science, engineering and helped to produce all the technological goodies we have come to expect and on which we rely. Science has delivered the goods. Has philosophy?

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Science has delivered the goods. Has philosophy?

Ba'al Chatzaf

It has delivered science.

--Brant

Aristotle's nonsense on motion retarded physics for a thousand years.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Aristotle's nonsense on motion retarded physics for a thousand years.

Bob,

How? Was their another theory floating around the Western civilized world to compare it against, one that people pooh-poohed because of the prestige of Aristotle's theory? If so, did this process work the same in other areas?

Michael

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