Sunday, August 1, 2021

A good night observing

After an unusually long four months of clouds and rain, the skies have been clearing over the past week. On the 29th, I got my first view of the globular cluster Messier 22. Last night and this morning, I revisited targets that had not been attainable a week ago because of the poor seeing despite nominally “clear” reports from weather websites. I also observed Messier 21, a globular cluster in northwest Sagittarius. 


We amateurs speak of our “grab and go” instruments, smaller lightweight, that are easy to set up and transport. After borrowing three catadioptric telescopes weighing up to 65 lbs (30 kg)—and buying one of them—from the local club, portability was a consideration for me for all of my recent purchases. But “grab and go” does not work well for me. I like to do a lot of reading, planning, and arithmetic before I go out. And I prefer to be out for three or four hours, not just one. I got that opportunity. And last night’s work will allow me to plan better for my next viewing.  

I started with the intent to find M13 the Hercules Cluster, M51 the Pinwheel Galaxy, and the stunning double Albireo. I obtained only the last. The first two would have been new for me. I have seen Albireo often in the past (though not recently for the time of night, the poor seeing, and my neighbor’s trees). I also revisited other targets. For myself, I find that comforting, like meeting with friends. 


At 2145 hours CDT  I started by aligning on Mizar-Alcor. I worked out the arithmetic for the field of view (FOV) and drew a sketch. I then went inside for dinner. Returning at about 2300, I realigned and viewed Saturn to compare a 40mm ocular with a 5X focal extender against the simpler 8mm ocular alone. I thought that the 40mm with its wider exit pupil would give a better view than squinting down into the 8mm, but I did not see much difference. 


Then I went hunting for Messier 4 near Antares, a target I have been chasing for several nights, and again, recording “no joy.” I gave up at 2332 and turned eastward to Sagittarius, a rich area of the sky. I sought M22, a globular cluster that I recorded earlier, but just gave up for lack of patience with the scanning and panning and turned to “the Steam from the Teapot.” Like many constellations, Sagittarius has other folk identities. Above the “spout” are several Messier objects. At 2353 hours CDT, I found Messier 21, also catalogued as NGC 6531. 


I sketched its location and returned to it with different eyepiece arrangements. With the 32mm ocular and 2X Barlow almost all of the neighborhood was in the field of view. I counted about 30 stars, most easily about the same magnitude, but others dimmer that appeared clearer with averted vision. Just after midnight (0005 hrs), I used the 8mm with 2X Barlow to home in on the center of the cluster. Then (0010 hrs) I compounded the 32mm with the 5X focal extender to again count the stars there: about 24 the first time, about 30 the second. Boosting the magnification to 250X with the 13mm and 5X extender, I found the focus difficult despite the additional helical threads on the right-angle focal adapter.


I turned to Jupiter (0023) with the same 13mm 5X arrangement. It was big, with subtle brown and gray bands, but grainy with poor resolution. Still, the eye adapts and we see mostly with the brain. Ronald Stoyan “The Visual Astronomer” (not secure https, but here - anyway) says that no magnification is wasted and that the eye adapts to take advantage of moments of best seeing. Despite that encouragement I think that it is better to perceive details in clearer though smaller presentations.


Taking a break on the chaise longue with a binocular (12x42 Bushnell), Albireo was an easy find as was the “first double” Epsilon Lyrae. Mostly, I just looked up at the sky without the glasses. 


Typical notebook entry scaled to FOV.
At 0059 with a modest 17mm ocular (38.8X) alone and then the 17mm with 2X Barlow, I viewed Albireo down to its “Airy disks” of tightest focus. I noted the yellow and blue members of the visual (not physical) pair.  

Epsilon Lyrae is the “double double.” What the naked eye perceives as a single star, is easily a pair with the smallest of instruments. William Herschel is accepted as the first to have recorded the double-double in August 1779 (Burnham, page 1151). It is a favorite with amateur observers. All four stars are accepted as “white” though Burnham credits others with assigning colors “greenish-white and bluish white… red tint… yellow and ruddy.” At the highest power 8mm with 5X (ridiculous 400X), I noted them (larger first) as yellow and blue (northwest) and white and yellow (southeast). Just to note, also: at 253X (13mm with 5X), they filled two-thirds of the field of view though were not much improved.

That was my night. I can now prepare more accurate templates for recording these same targets again. 




Seeing in the Dark: Your Front Row Seat to the Universe 

An Online Class in Astrophysics 

Jupiter-Mars Conjunction 

Measuring Your Universe: Alan Hirshfeld’s Astronomy Activity Manual 

Thursday, July 29, 2021


As a child, though I owned telescopes, most of my instrument viewing was with microscopes. I learned well that more power does not make a better view because you lose resolution. Soon, you are viewing your own floaties. This applies to telescopes. However,… Magnification is seldom wasted. To split a close pair of stars, you only need two small circles of light. 

Also, as it happens with a telescope, with low power, you get less contrast: the background is brighter. With more magnification, you get a deeper black where the points of light are not.


I accept the limitations of my instruments. The system must be balanced. My telescopes work best below 110X. My 70mm National Geographic refractor is an f/10 F=700 mm and the Explore Scientific First Light 102mm refractor is an f/6.47 F=660mm. So, for me (or them), the limits are the 6mm ocular or the 13mm with a 2X Barlow. And those are limits. Practically, I work between 20X and 80X, though, as noted above, when pursuing binary stars and similar objects, I accept the degraded resolution. 


Then, I found interesting advice at Ronald Stoyan’s “The Visual Astronomer” webpages (here: -- but not https secure and not updated recently). During the last Mars opposition in October 2020, he posted this: “Most people tend to use a power that still renders a “sharp” image. I would like to encourage to go further: Even if the image does not look as good and is a bit soft, and turbulence is destroying definition most of the time, your eye will be able to make out more fine detail in the milliseconds of calm air as when looking at the sharper image at lower power. This requires a certain amount of patience, in many cases you’ll have to wait several tens of minutes to get glimpses of fine detail. But it will pay off eventually. Actually, there is no such thing as “empty” or useless magnification. Discard all obsolete rules!”


And so I did. With a 5X focal extender coupled to a 2X Barlow, I used a 6mm ocular in my F/660 telescope and viewed Jupiter at 1100 power. I was also encouraged in that by Don Pensack who does a bit of writing himself. Helping me to find M4 in Scorpius (still not found), in a chat on The Sky Searchers website, he wrote: “Higher magnification is the obvious answer, but only once it is in the field. Worry more about the magnification than the amount of glass. You have to diminish the brightness by 10% or more before it's even noticeable in a lab environment (10% is only 0.1 magnitude), and a Barlow does not do that. If the field is darker, it's because of magnification, not the number of glass elements in the focuser.” I had been reluctant to use more ocular than necessary to view. While I personally prefer the wider view of a 17 mm ocular with a 2X Barlow, I would nod to the fact that the 8mm ocular delivers the same view with less interference. Last night, I abandoned my vitrophobia, and went full bore. 


I can’t say that I learned much about the planet. But it was an interesting experience. I also viewed Saturn. Again, it has looked better farther away. But it was an interesting experience. And it led to a personal discovery: I observed the globular cluster Messier 22 (NGC 6656) in Sagittarius. (At left from Sky & Telescope reduced to approximate actual experience at 500X with an Explore Scientific First Light 102mm refractor.)




The Andromeda Galaxy 

The Beehive Cluster 

Assign a Number to It Said Lord Kelvin 

Baader-Planetarium Micro-Guide Reticle 


Saturday, July 24, 2021

Remote Work Before Covid

Going through some boxes from the garage, I found this. You can tell from the PDA (personal digital assistant) in his hand, from the fax machine at his foot, the monitor and the camera that this is from 1995-2000. 

Ahead of the 237th conference of the American Astronomical Society this past January, they brought in a coach to deliver a presentation on how to work a virtual conference. In some ways, it is easier and better than a live conference. One basic reminder: Wear your half suit.

Even earlier, back before 1985, I got a handbook of software developers for one of the major firms. It was either for IBM or Digital Equipment Corporation. (I was working part-time and enrolled at Lansing Community College, which was a DEC VAX environment.) Many of the firms were small, one or two employees, with annual declared incomes of $100,000 (probably the minimum checkbox on a survey), and remote, in places like Idaho and Oregon. 


Engines of Creation 

Goofing to a Meltdown? 

The Pretense of Sociology 

Jerry Emanuelson's Algebraic Proof of Ricardo's Law of Association 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

60 Years Ago: Gus Grisson and Liberty Bell 7

We were on vacation in Daytona Beach, but had to come home on the 20th. So, we did not see any of the launch, except, of course, on television.

Topps cards circa 1961-1962.

Tom Wolfe had a soft spot in his heart for "Gruff Gus" and the movie portrayal delivered much of that. 
Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin: Another Worthy 2nd Place


Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Observing With NASA: An Open Platform for Citizen Science

Messier 51: 
The Whirlpool
taken 28 June 2021
Processed 9 July 2021
I have no problem with failure. I do not like failing, but I am not afraid of it. As a child, I took Minnows swimming three times before I was a Fish and then a Flying Fish, and I am really comfortable in the water and under it. I took freshman calculus three times to get an A (F, C+, A) and freshman physics three times: C+, B+, A. I just like to get it all right no matter what it takes. And so, I signed up to use the remote citizen science telescopes from NASA in order to practice taking and processing astrophotography images.

The telescopes are a collaboration project with the Harvard Center for Astrophysics and are labeled “Observing With NASA” because it is as if you had your OWN telescope and camera in a dark sky location. Their website is here:


They provide online training via YouTube and also have downloadable PDFs to explain the same material. 


Jupiter: a little shaky

I found the lectures easy to understand. In fact, I like it as a model for how such videos should go. I just finished a project where the subject matter experts (SMEs) did not want to be bothered, so they made videos for me to watch, and it was pretty a waste of their time and mine. These talks were all excellent, even though the results were often disappointing. 


On the one hand, this takes some finesse and I am still developing that. Like opening the nut on a threaded fastener without bruising a knuckle, finding the right balances for the scales requires more practice. 

Astrophotography and Me (January 5, 2020)

Astrophotography is a Lot Like Love (July 15, 2020)

Amateur Astrophotography is Baloney (April 17, 2021)

That being so, it remains that the unattended instruments are not always locked on their targets for whatever reasons. I requested images of Jupiter, Jupiter's moons, and our Moon. All of them had problems, the Jovians worst. Our Moon was not centered on both of my requests.


However, they do provide a long list of existing image captures for practicing with. And that’s a plus.

Gray scale of Blue filter. Red
and Green did not come out so good.

The telescopes are 6-inch (152.4 mm) Maksutov designs with focal length 560 mm (therefore f/3.47) with 5.25-inch (133.3 mm) correctors and 1.875 (1-7/8) inch (47.6 mm) diagonal mirrors, or about 31% center field interference. The cameras are charged couple devices (CCD) Kodak KAF 1400 (1000 x 1400 resolution). They have two magnification modes for 1-degree and ½ degree field of view (FOV) with 5.0 or 2.5 arc-seconds per pixel respectively. 


You can read all of the details here:

“MicroObservatory Net: A Network of Automated Remote Telescopes Dedicated to Educational Use,” by Philip M. Sadler, Roy R. Gould, P. Steven Leiker, Paul R. A. Antonucci, Robert Kimberk, Freeman S. Deutsch, Beth Hoffman, Mary Dussault, Adam Contos, Kenneth Brecher & Linda French; Journal of Science Education and Technology, volume 10, pages 39–55 (2001), Published: March 2001.

They say:


The Hercules Cluster M13 27 June 2021 
Many students have a deep interest in astronomy, but a limited opportunity to use telescopes to explore the heavens. The MicroObservatory Network of automated telescopes is designed to provide access to classroom teachers who wish their students to conduct projects over the World Wide Web. The intuitive interface makes it easy for even 10-year-olds to take pictures. Telescopes can be remotely pointed and focused: filters, field of view, and exposure times can be changed easily. Images are archived at the website, along with sample challenges and a user bulletin board, all of which encourage collaboration among schools. Wide geographic separation of instruments provides access to distant night skies during local daytime. Since “first light” in 1995, we have learned much about remote troubleshooting, designing for unattended use, and for acquiring the kinds of images that students desire. This network can be scaled up from its present capability of 240,000 images each year to provide telescope access for all US students with an interest in astronomy.

Full article from Springer for read-only here:


Ground Truth 

Physics for Astronomers: The Works of Steven Weinberg 

An Online Class in Astrophysics 

Turn Left at Orion 



Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Western Shoot-out: The Virginian versus Bonanza

We watch DVDs and do not subscribe to cable. We enjoyed some television drama from the 21st century such as Num3ersFireflyBones (earlier years), Grey’s Anatomy (earliest years), and Sherlock, and sometimes we return to an episode or two. We also dig back into classic TV. Most classic television does not meet current standards for writing. Those were simpler times. 

Working our way through the first season of The Virginian, we also tried a Bonanza compilation. Although it is touted as centering on moral dilemmas, Bonanza is slow on the draw. To be fair, as a 90-minute show, The Virginian had the long-range advantage for plot development and characterization. The plain truth is that that actors—James Drury, Doug McClure, Gary Clarke, and even Lee J. Cobb—were comfortable riding horses while the boys from the Ponderosa seldom dismounted smoothly though mounting usually went better. Much of The Virginian was shot outdoors with riding and roping in wide vistas, though the close-ups are often stage sets. (I believe, also, that they used some kind of movie screen background with overlays to blend close-up action supposedly taking place in the wilds.) Almost all of Bonanza was shot on a sound stage. The cowboys in The Virginian wear chaps because they work hard. We seldom see the Cartwrights work at all.

According to Wikipedia, citing “Bonanza Television Show – ONE” at, Bonanza “is known for presenting pressing moral dilemmas.” But that is the essence of all fiction from the romanticist school. Almost all TV drama and popular fiction in general centers on conflicts of values. Technically, a dilemma is not just any choice, but a pair of undesirable alternatives. That was seldom the core of a Bonanza drama, but, in fact, often the case in The Virginian. Although everything usually works out well enough for the better folks, life on the frontier is uncompromising and unforgiving. 


Back in the Saddle Again 

Firefly: Fact and Value Aboard Serenity 

When Old Technologies Were New

Ma Kiley: Railroad Telegrapher 

The Success of the WEIRD People 

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Virgin Galactic VX01 VX03

 A picture is worth a thousand words.

NASA-TV cut between its own feed and the press feed from Unity 22.
These are all sequential as presented by NASA.
Time and Altitude stamps show actuals.


Grace Slick / Pete Sears

The song "Hyperdrive" was used in the opening ceremonies of the 1976 World Science Fiction Convention, MidAmeriCon, in Kansas City, Missouri.


I never thought there were corners in time 

Till I was told to stand in one 

One straight line head on into the other 

Maybe standing in the corner looks like where it's got to come. 


But I pretend one wall is the past and one is the future 

And I just stand here like the present looking for a 

Good place to run 

Every fish that swims upstream now that's a catch 

Because the full mouth never wants to stop cooking. 


The map may be flat, the globe may be patched 

But the long line keeps right on hooking 

Circles in the ring of fire, where do you go 

On a night that is clear and warm? 

Oh where do you go? 


I never thought there were corners in time 

Till I was told to stand in one 

I've heard circles moving right through corners 

And they don't even know they've been around and around before 

Ringing, ringing against each other on a singing chain 

Like a flying magnet hyperdrive has never seen any reason 

To remain the same. 


Because I felt it I believe it 

Because there are things I've never seen that I believe 

So I'm going to place my face right in the triangle door 

Till I can move right on through instead of just standing here 

Looking at the floor. 


And if it rains again tonight, I can think light years ahead 

Or I could put myself back a thousand years ago 

As if I'd always been here before or as if I am still to be born 

I'm a slow loser, but I'm a fast learner 

That much I know 

Anyone can go 

That much I know 

Anyone can go 

That much I know 

Anyone can go.


Space is the Place: Come to the High Frontier 

The Virtues of Aviation Culture 

Armadillocon 41 Day 3 Part 1 


Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Morality and the Philosophy of Science

Science is consistent and integrated because reality is real. Contradictions do not exist. When we meet an empirical fact for which no explanation exists, it is called an “anomaly” until we understand more and integrate the fact into a new or wider abstraction. Astronomy advanced as neutron stars, quasars, and pulsars were discovered. Even the rings of Saturn attest to this in the 250 years between Galileo’s sighting and Maxwell’s complete theory. Against that, scientists feel that it is unjust that private investors will not fund their Christmas shopping lists. So, they turn to requests for tax dollars. The laws of economics are denied as an inconvenience.

The physicists who worked on the Manhattan Project were later to worry about the horrors they enabled. (Edward Teller seems to have been an exception.) As the best known among them Albert Einstein was asked to sign Leo Szilárd’s petition to the American government to build an atomic bomb. They feared that Germany was on the same program. That the Nazis should command a weapon of such destructive power was not merely consequential but existential. So, they gave it to the United States which did what Germany never could have. From the USA, nuclear weapons spread to the USSR, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and (ultimately) Iran. The lesser of two (or twenty) evils remains evil. 

The problem of the Manhattan Project intersects two facts: 

(1)  The Nazis could never have completed a program in nuclear energy. Any progress that they could have made could only have come from giving them what they could not create. Ultimately, it is a fact of metaphysics, epistemology, politics, and economics that regardless of incremental achievements, the final goal was beyond their abilities. 

(2) The small gains came only because people of great ability lacked a correct philosophy to provide moral and ethical guidance. It is a fact of life that you should not work for your own destruction: you should not deliver your mind to your destroyers.

Muscle Mystics

Whether fascists, communists, nationalists, socialists, or some other trending label such as antifa, collectivists deny the validity of human intelligence. Perhaps it is because they have no direct experience with it. The observed facts of history are that they all focus on seizing existing goods or compelling the continuation of existing services. Karl Marx epitomized the mindset of collectivism when he declared that capitalism had solved the problem of production and “now” (1848) was the time to distribute the goods—just when the first electric telegraphs were being adopted by transcontinental railroads, thirty years before the telephone, and fifty years before radios would direct aircraft, and a hundred years before people were putting televisions in their homes. Never knowing of penicillin, sulfa drugs, polio vaccine, open heart surgery, x-ray pictures, CAT scans, or MRI scans, Marx declared that we all could have everything we would ever need to be happy if we just took it from other people. A truly radical sociologist would have asked what is the source of improvement, innovation, invention, and discovery. 

The muscle mystics expect possession of physical objects to imbue them with the knowledge to use the tool. To produce steel, they only need to seize a steel mill. 

Of course, that plan failed. During World War II, the USA shipped to the USSR thousands of tons of raw materials, thousands of vehicles and other manufactured goods. It sat on rail sidings and rusted into uselessness. (See Victor David Hansen’s The Second World Wars  as well as The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made by Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas, both reviewed on this blog.) After World War II, the USSR uprooted and transported German factories. They did not make Russia rich. It takes at least a modicum of intelligence to follow a pre-defined routine earnestly and conscientiously, making trivial adjustments in response to minor variances. But no one is more conservative than a communist: varying the routine is dangerous. 

Standing Hegel on his head as Marx claimed he did still leaves you with Hegel and Idealism was also the bedrock of fascism. The fascist man of action does not engage in bourgeois logic. He follows the instincts of his nation. Dialectic Materialism is not just a framework. It is dogma. So, Albert Einstein’s theories of general and special relativity were not accepted in communist China. (See “Organized criticism of Einstein and relativity in China, 1949–1989,” by Danian Hu, HSNS (Historical Studies Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences Volume 34, Issue 2 March 2004; and “The Reception of Relativity in China” by Danian Hu, Isis, Volume 98, Number 3, September 2007.) But it is known that the Nazis rejected “Jewish physics” and insisted on pursuing nuclear energy according to some theories different from quantum mechanics. 

Regardless of the destruction of the heavy water plant in Norway by British commandos, the Germans were never going to succeed at anything as complicated as nuclear weaponry. The United States succeeded only because LTG Leslie R. Groves ran interference for the geniuses. During World War II, all sides, each some variant of collectivism, only cashed in their intellectual bank accounts. Because American society was less regulated, we succeeded. Having the brightest minds from Europe on the project certainly was the engine, but the Manhattan project required very much more than a handful of Nobel laureates. And once they had the bomb, the government no longer needed J. Robert Oppenheimer or the others. Second-handers could follow in their footsteps.

But even that required another generation of people who were accustomed to thinking for themselves, following their own passions, making their own lives better by whatever personal philosophies they held explicitly or implicitly. That is different from the morality of collectivism. 

Today, as never in the 19th century or most of the 20th centuries formal, professional science is informed, guided, and ultimately controlled by a single ideology. I am an Amateur Affiliate member of the American Astronomical Society. I serve as an editor in the History of Astronomy Division where I am responsible for a monthly column. I also serve on a committee to develop collaborations between amateurs and professionals. The AAS is actively engaged in ensuring that you have the right to insist on your own personal gender pronouns. Your right to question the claims of anthropogenic global warming is somewhat less secure. As a backyard astronomer, I am sorry that my night skies are more degraded by light pollution than they were a year ago when we were shut down because of Covid. I also know that if you want really dark skies at night you can go to some wilderness or desert or North Korea. That fact has not been integrated into the sociological perspectives of the AAS which lobbies for dark skies and against constellations of communications satellites. The muscle mystics of science want the material benefits of industrialization without understanding the engine of creation which delivers them.

Murray N. Rothbard penned Power and Market: Government and the Economy (free as a PDF from the Mises Institute here: His thesis was that political decisions are necessarily unprofitable. Ignoring and denying the facts and theories of economics, political decisions are always net losses of value. 

The integration of knowledge in accordance with facts of reality requires that every scientist who is funded by government grants is making your life harder, shorter, and poorer.

Astronomy does have its uses. Timekeeping is fundamental to coordination of efforts across continents in a complex global society. Launching communications satellites is cheaper than laying wire over jungles and under oceans. Economic justifications for advanced scientific research do exist. 

And personally I understand the insight of John Arnold: “What comes out of a team or a committee is the most daring idea that the least daring man can accept.” (“Space, Time and Education,” Astounding Science Fiction, May 1953, pp. 9–25. Introductory remarks by John W. Campbell, Jr., editor, pp. 9–10.) But the government works largely by force (occasionally by fraud). Forcing people to give you money against their will makes you a thief. Taking it by fraud defines you as a con artist. When it comes to sales and marketing, it is a necessary fact that selling science is hard work because it requires using logic and evidence to appeal to people who live by logic and evidence.


Why Evidence is Not Enough 

Politics and the Inverse Square Law 

How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World 


Monday, June 28, 2021

Fastball “The Way”

They made up their minds
And they started packing

They left before the sun came up that day
An exit to eternal summer slacking
But where were they going without ever knowing the way


They drank up the wine
And they got to talking
They now had more important things to say
And when the car broke down
They started walking
Where were they going without ever knowing the way


Their children woke up
And they couldn't find 'em
They left before the sun came up that day
They just drove off and left it all behind 'em
But where were they going without ever knowing the way?


Anyone can see the road that they walk on is paved in gold
And it's always summer
They'll never get cold
They'll never get hungry
They'll never get old and gray
You can see their shadows wandering off somewhere
They won't make it home
But they really don't care
They wanted the highway
They're happier there today, today

Fastball, "The Way" 


SXSW Proposal: Bleeding Data 

World War 2 Victory Dinner and Dance

World War 2 Sweetheart Dance

Lascon 2014 

BSides Austin 2016 

Around Austin 

Saturday, June 26, 2021

An Objective Philosophy of Science

In framing her philosophy as capital-O Objectivism, Ayn Rand was following in the tradition of Enlightenment objectivism, which was never explicitly defined in its own time. Enlightenment objectivism broadly asserted an integration of two schools of thought, continental rationalism and British empiricism. We know it commonly as the scientific method: theories explain facts; facts test theories. You cannot have one without the other. 

Furthermore, necessary factual truths do not contradict each other. Whatever is true in biology, sociology, history, or aesthetics supports and is supported by truths in physics, chemistry, economics, or ethics. It is also true that facts are contextual. Breaking a rack of billiard balls is different from charging into a crowd on a street corner.


I find it frustrating and disappointing when experts to whom I turn for knowledge about astronomy blunder when they discuss philosophy. For me, the nadir has been Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg who praises Paul Feyerabend in Dreams of a Final Theory. Unfortunately, Dr. Weinberg is not alone in lacking an objective philosophy of science. It remains true that Steven Weinberg has much to teach about applying philosophy to science. 

The Philosophy of Science according to Steven Weinberg.
He is always interesting and not always wrong.
I also have his textbook on astrophysics.
(If he's wrong there, it's above my level.)

Ultimately—and here I side with Weinberg and not with my Objectivist comrades—even mathematics describes and explains physical facts, whether or not we perceive them. See “Imaginary Numbers are Real: Pegasus is Not” here on this blog. For Objectivists who adhere to the final writings of Ayn Rand, mathematics is the science of measurement. (See Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.) Unpublished are any notes or journal entries from Ayn Rand on the tutorials that she took in mathematics late in life, even if they exist. Regarding the “hard realism” of mathematics, I offer my own theory, i.e., an integrated conceptual explanation of known facts, which differs from canonical Objectivism. My understanding was informed by Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg’s book, To Explain the World. Weinberg asserts a philosophical assumption that he calls “hard realism” when he demonstrates that the modern scientific method was discovered, not invented. It exists independent of the observer and is the same for anyone anywhere.

These are two aspects of the same reality.
No dichotomy exists.
Leonard Peikoff's doctoral dissertation on the 
Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy is reproduced in
recent editions of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.

Weinberg allies himself with the scientists who are being assaulted in “culture wars” in which postmodernists like Paul Feyerabend claim that there is no such thing as “science” only a “scientistic narrative” that (in their terms) “privileges white males and denies space, voice, and agency to women and persons of color” who have been and are oppressed by “the Enlightenment project” of colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism. 


I suffered through a semester of that in my final graduate class in criminology in which our texts were Philosophy, Crime, and Criminology, edited by Bruce A. Arrigo and Christopher R. Williams (University of Illinois Press, 2006) and Essential Criminology Reader, edited by Stuart Henry and Mark Lanier (Westview Press, 2006). Pseudo-mathematical fashionable nonsense such as “crime is a torus” and “crime is a strange attractor” were offered along with denunciations of open-market economics and the Enlightenment. (For more about “fashionable nonsense” see The Sokal Affair and Reflections on the Sokal Affair on this blog.)


Among the many strengths of Ayn Rand’s essays on philosophy was her insistence on connecting the higher studies of aesthetics, politics, and ethics to fundamental truths in epistemology and metaphysics. The lack of such integration is evident in the opinions of scientists who endorse political solutions to anthropogenic global warming. Even if AGW were real, the integration of reason and reality indicates that market solutions offering valuable products and services would be more effective than legislation restricting human action.


I read it often enough to wear it out.
The one on the right has my marginalia.

The relationship between inspiration and proof is that based on your lifetime of experience, you can have an intuitive feeling that a course of investigation will be fruitful and reveal new facts and therefore perhaps deeper or wider truths. But you cannot convince another scientist by a heartful plea. You must provide evidence and your method must be repeatable. 


As a judge in regional science fairs for the past eleven years, I have seen the consequences of failing to hold to that standard. Quite simply, we reward creativity and originality and discount and even denigrate the mere repetition of a known experiment. It is true that careful work is expected as the baseline of performance. So, you do not get an award just for doing a good job. But we never see any of these bright youngsters challenging or refuting a previously accepted claim. 


I find that especially disappointing because I judge in behavioral and social science. Unlike the physical sciences, working social science researchers do test and challenge each other’s published works. Unlike the physical sciences, in my undergraduate curriculum, I had a 200-level class in research methods that required the critical examination of peer-reviewed journal articles. In graduate school, even though I steered to starboard, as long as I presented a coherent reply based on facts, my essays earned A grades. And in one class, I had a colleague whom I would describe as “to the right of the Kaiser” and he got A grades, also. On the other hand, serving on a committee of the American Astronomical Society, criticism of AGW is pointedly unfashionable. The subject came up because astronaut, geologist, and “climate denier” Harrison “Jack” Schmitt is scheduled to be a guest speaker at the Astronomical League conference in 2022.


In Dancing Naked in the Mind Field, Nobel laureate Kary Mullis described how the inspiration for polymerase chain reactions came to him while driving his sports car through the Sangre de Cristo mountains near Santa Fe, New Mexico. Whatever the personal inspiration, proof to others of the process required publishing repeatable results according to the scientific method. In that book, Mullis also mused about the validity of natal astrology when he noticed that many other scientists in his field were born about the same month as he. Astronaut Ed Mitchell attempted experiments with ESP. Any working scientist is in good company in denying or even denouncing astrology and ESP. However, absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. Lacking proof and making a claim is wrong but seeking proof according to the scientific method is not. On that note, I point out that we accept the electroencephalograph as a valid instrument and yet deny that people can communicate directly mind-to-mind. Maybe we just do not know how to measure it yet. 

On the problem of failed experiments, Edward W. Morley was not satisfied with the results of his famous tests and continued to pursue the luminiferous ether. This speaks to the fact that Ayn Rand called her philosophy Objectivism, not Absolutism. While many things in life are absolute, your choice of a career is not one of them. Morley was acting in his best interests by his best judgment when he continued to pursue empirical verification of the ether. He did not sacrifice everything, or even anything. He continued to be productive as a working researcher. His choice was objectively correct. 


In the AAS committee that I serve on to facilitate collaboration between amateurs and professionals, one of my colleagues suggested that we recommend that all of us who practice science engage in community outreach to teach critical thinking. I pointed out that Dr. Harrison Schmitt is not alone among my conservative comrades who are degreed engineers and who believe that they engage critical thinking when they deny climate change or endorse conspiracy theories. The attainment of objective knowledge requires more than doubting whatever you feel that everyone else believes.


In order to work successfully, scientists must implicitly accept the axioms of Objectivism: Existence, Consciousness, and Identity. These are colinear, not hierarchical. We accept that we possess consciousness, that something exists outside of our consciousness, that whatever we discover has a specific nature that we are capable of knowing. In Understanding Objectivism: A Guide to Learning Ayn Rand’s Philosophy, Leonard Peikoff addressed the fact that epistemology and metaphysics are interwoven. Many students of Ayn Rand’s works misunderstand the hierarchy of philosophy to mean that reasoning from the law of identity you can rationally derive the laws of epistemology. It cannot be done. That is the failure of philosophical rationalism from Plato to Descartes to Russell. The alternate choice of the false dichotomy is positivism going back to the ancient medical writers who treated diseases without attempting to understand their deeper causes. Objectivism integrates the mind and the body, our ideas with our experiences. 


Consider the moralistic handwringing of scientists awestruck and terrified by the atomic weapons they created and delivered to the political leaders of their world. Two of Rand’s novels address the question of who benefits from your work, The Fountainhead (implicitly) and Atlas Shrugged (explicitly). Rand wrestled with the problem earlier, as expressed in a play, Think Twice. I am not aware of anything like this in science education. I had a graduate in ethics in physics. We were concerned more with adhering to the procedures of science than with the purposes to which it is put.

(To be continued.)


Previously on Necessary Facts

Gregory M. Browne’s Necessary Factual Truths 

The Influence of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism 

The Scientific Method

Harriman’s Logical Leap Almost Makes It 

That Goddam Ayn Rand Book 


Also on Necessary Facts

Patent Nonsense: Intellectual Property Rights and Non-Objective Law 

Four Books About Bad Science 

Another Case of Fraud in University Research 

Misconduct in Science and Research 

Junk Criminology as Pseudo-Science 

Criminalistics: Science or Folkway?