Thursday, January 30, 2014

Physics: The man who saw stars

In the early sixteen hundreds, the old Greek ideas of science were still very much in acceptance. A physics text book a thousand years old would not have been very far out of date. There had been those who had challenged the old ideas, but most were forgotten or quickly silenced.

However, Galileo Galilei of Pisa, Italy, had read one of these writers, Copernicus, and believed that the earth was not the center of the universe. Nor did he believe heavy objects fall faster than light objects. To demonstrate, he, according to some, dropped two different weight balls off the Leaning Tower of Pisa. They struck the ground at the same time.
Around the same time, he got it into his head to look at the sky with his telescope that he made. It was shorter and better than just about anything before it. He soon saw that the planet Jupiter had at least three moons orbiting it. If this was true, then Copernicus had been right, and Galileo’s belief, which he had kept quiet about for lack of evidence, was justified. All things did not revolve around the earth.
 However, at this time it was believed that passages in the scriptures which said things like “The earth cannot be moved” meant it was immovable in space, so everything else must go around it. In 1616, Galileo went to the Vatican, in Rome, to argue that the teachings of St. Augustine would show that these verses did not mean the earth did not move in space.
He lost his case, and an announcement from the Holy Church was made that the idea that the sun stood still while the earth moved was “false.”
However, some years later he was allowed to write a book on the subject by the Inquisition. It was to be in the common tongue, and be a fair and balanced view of the arguments for and against the earth revolving around the sun. It was called Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.
Not surprisingly, a fair and balanced argument was hard to do on such a subject, and the evidence in the book overwhelmingly supported a heliocentric1 solar system. Galileo was banned from writing further, and placed under house arrest until his death in 1642.
However, although he had not achieved acclaim during his lifetime, Galileo had done something that before him had seen impossible. He had taken the existing paradigm, and with simple logic and a few experiments, despite all opposition, torn it into shreds.
The story of science was finally ready to take off for the stars. And the one who would help it more than anyone else, by writing what is still possibly the most influential book on science ever, unless one counts the Bible, was born on Christmas day the same year Galileo died. His name was Isaac Newton.
To be continued.

Andrew C. Abbott
1: Heliocentric solar systems revolve around a star. Geocentric systems revolve around a planet.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Physics: The Beginning

According to one science writer1, when it comes to physics, most scientists do not really care if their theories resemble the real world; it only matters if the math fits. In fact, some have even come up with the idea that there are up to ten dimensions, you just cannot see six of them. Others have found what they believe to be convincing evidence of wormholes in the universe. A sort of tube that would allow you to go backwards and forwards in time.

There is much disagreement and misunderstanding in some places, and scientists change their minds. Stephen Hawking is a scientist in England, who currently holds the professor’s chair that Isaac Newton once held at Princeton University. He is paralyzed in all save one finger, which he uses to type words into a computer, which in turn speaks through an electronic voice. He has written books stating black holes are singularities, and have event horizons. Now he is stating they may not, after all, have event horizons.
The history of physics has been long, and constantly changing. To understand the current realms of thought, and the widely held beliefs, we must first discover the history of the science.
Physics, or the study of the “knowledge of nature,” is science of matter and how it moves. The Greeks were probably the first ones to begin to study in earnest the world around them in an empirical fashion. Although certainly men as far back as Adam have been in their own way, scientists.
The original theories were that, of course, the sun went around the earth, as did everything else. Heavier objects fell faster than light objects. There were four forces in the universe. Air, fire, water, and earth.2 In their minds it was all really quite simple. Of course the earth was not moving, if it was, when you threw something into the air; it would be left behind as the earth continued to hurdle through space.
The idea was that the empiricist -or person who looked at the world and logically deduced things- although he could never quite understand all the complexities of the gods and their world, he could “save the appearances.” That is he could explain in a logical and rational way the way everything appeared to work.
As ones studies the history of science, one will find something Thomas Kuhn, an American physicist, who wrote a book in 1962, very true. He stated that science is in a sort of paradigm of thought. Students are taught the prevailing idea, and those who find evidence which seems to support it will be praised.
However, there will be the occasional anomaly, the occasional blip in the graph that does not agree with the theory. Eventually there be so many disagreements between the theory and what is observed that the theory will be trashed, and a new one will come. The old guard will fight desperately, but they will always lose. Such the history of physics. The four forces of the Greeks, and their geocentric universe were nowhere the way the universe worked. It would take a man named Galileo, almost two thousand years after Aristotle, the Greek who above all the others set down their ideas, to bring down this paradigm.

To be continued.

Andrew C. Abbott

1: Tom Siegfried. Writer:
2: There was also sometimes a fifth force cited, called quintessence, or eather. Also spelled ether.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Buck v. Bell A case of Eugenics

On January 23, 1924, Carrie Buck’s foster parents had committed her to the Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded, saying she was virtually a mental nine year old at the age of seventeen. Soon afterwards she gave birth to a child, which her foster parents claimed was the result of immorality. A petition was filed for forced sterilization.
At this time, eugenics, a word first coined by Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, was popular. It was the idea of keeping the gene pools clean in society by being certain those deemed “unfit” were stopped from pro-creating. In the petition to have Buck sterilized, the superintendent of the asylum said she had a mental age of nine and represented a threat to society. There was a law in place allowing forced sterilization, and this would be its first test.
While the case was going on, the superintendent died and Dr. John Bell took it up. Sterilization had been ordered, and Buck’s guardian fought it in the courts. The case went to the Supreme Court. The argument made was that unless all similarly situated people were treated the same way, Buck could not be sterilized under the 14th amendment to the Constitution.
During the time of forced sterilization, over 65,000 people were forcibly sterilized across America. It was later discovered in Carrie Buck’s case that her pregnancy was the result of rape, not immorality, and her foster parents had had her admitted to the asylum to preserve their reputation. It was claimed that Carrie’s mother was a mental eight year old.
On May 2nd, 1927, the Supreme Court, led by Oliver Wendell Holmes in an 8 to 1, ruled against Carrie:
1. The Virginia statute providing for the sexual sterilization of inmates of institutions supported by the State who shall be found to be afflicted with an hereditary form of insanity or imbecility, is within the power of the State under the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 274 U. S. 207.

2. Failure to extend the provision to persons outside the institutions named does not render it obnoxious to the Equal Protection Clause. P. 274 U. S. 208.

It further stated:
We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world if, instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind…Three generations of imbeciles are enough.
Because of the case sterilization grew in America. As for Carrie Buck, to prevent the rest of the family from having children, her sister was sterilized without her own knowledge when she was in the hospital for another reason. She was not told what had happened, and would not find out for many years why she afterwards could not have children. The daughter Carrie had already had turned out to be a good student at school, and far from stupid. However, the little girl died at age eight from trouble in her intestines. Although the last forced sterilization case was in 1981, Buck v. Bell has never been overturned.


Andrew C. Abbott

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Homestead Steel Wars

French Lick, Indiana – In 1892, the Homestead Steel Mill, owned by Carnegie Steel, was in lockout. It was to be the second largest Steel Battle in history.
Henry Frick, the second in command at the Carnegie Steel Company, decided that, to maximize profits, his workers would have to put in more hours a day-12, six days a week. The union had requested a pay increase, he had offered a decrease. Then he locked them out.
Sniper Towers were erected, and high pressure water cannons were placed near the entrances. The nearly four thousands employees were not getting back in without a fight. To give them that fight, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, a private group which, according to the History Channel, could have “outgunned the United States Army” was brought in. In the fight that followed, nine of the laborers died.
The Pinkertons returned, and the fighting continued.
Labor wars have been a part of American history for a long time. They are mentioned in the Communist Manifesto as a good thing:

Here and there, the contest breaks out into riots. Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battles lies, not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of the workers…Law, morality, religion, are to him (the working man) so many bourgeois (capitalist) prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests…(Taken from part 1. Spelling modernized. Parentheses added.)

While the money magnets of the day, believed they themselves were destined for the power and the greatness. Suggesting that to get in their way was to “stand in the way of the destiny of God.”
In 1776, a Scotchman, Adam Smith wrote his famous book The Wealth of Nations. It is now famous as the father of economic textbooks, and the study of economics in general. Smith famously suggested that everyone is better off when everyone does what is best for himself.
To counter arguments that then everyone will break the law, Smith responded that society and the police make it in your best interest to simply keep the law.
The union fights at the Homestead Steel Mill had not begun the day of the strike but long before, and Andrew Carnegie and his company, was far from being out of hot water.
To be continued.
Andrew C. Abbott