I was wrong about Joy Christian

Update: I decided to close comments on this post and the previous Joy Christian post, because they simply became too depressing for me.

I’ve further decided to impose a moratorium, on this blog, on all discussions about the validity of quantum mechanics in the microscopic realm, the reality of quantum entanglement, or the correctness of theorems such as Bell’s Theorem.  I might lift the moratorium at some future time.  For now, though, life simply feels too short to me, and the actually-interesting questions too numerous.  Imagine, for example, that there existed a devoted band of crackpots who believed, for complicated, impossible-to-pin-down reasons of topology and geometric algebra, that triangles actually have five corners.  These crackpots couldn’t be persuaded by rational argument—indeed, they didn’t even use words and sentences the same way you do, to convey definite meaning.  And crucially, they had infinite energy: you could argue with them for weeks, and they would happily argue back, until you finally threw up your hands in despair for all humanity, at which point the crackpots would gleefully declare, “haha, we won!  the silly ‘triangles have 3 corners’ establishment cabal has admitted defeat!”  And, in a sense, they would have won: with one or two exceptions, the vast majority who know full well how many corners a triangle has simply never showed up to the debate, thereby conceding to the 5-cornerists by default.

What would you in such a situation?  What would you do?  If you figure it out, please let me know (but by email, not by blog comment).

In response to my post criticizing his “disproof” of Bell’s Theorem, Joy Christian taunted me that “all I knew was words.”  By this, he meant that my criticisms were entirely based on circumstantial evidence, for example that (1) Joy clearly didn’t understand what the word “theorem” even meant, (2) every other sentence he uttered contained howling misconceptions, (3) his papers were written in an obscure, “crackpot” way, and (4) several people had written very clear papers pointing out mathematical errors in his work, to which Joy had responded only with bluster.  But I hadn’t actually studied Joy’s “work” at a technical level.  Well, yesterday I finally did, and I confess that I was astonished by what I found.  Before, I’d actually given Joy some tiny benefit of the doubt—possibly misled by the length and semi-respectful tone of the papers refuting his claims.  I had assumed that Joy’s errors, though ultimately trivial (how could they not be, when he’s claiming to contradict such a well-understood fact provable with a few lines of arithmetic?), would nevertheless be artfully concealed, and would require some expertise in geometric algebra to spot.  I’d also assumed that of course Joy would have some well-defined hidden-variable model that reproduced the quantum-mechanical predictions for the Bell/CHSH experiment (how could he not?), and that the “only” problem would be that, due to cleverly-hidden mistakes, his model would be subtly nonlocal.

What I actually found was a thousand times worse: closer to the stuff freshmen scrawl on an exam when they have no clue what they’re talking about but are hoping for a few pity points.  It’s so bad that I don’t understand how even Joy’s fellow crackpots haven’t laughed this off the stage.  Look, Joy has a hidden variable λ, which is either 1 or -1 uniformly at random.  He also has a measurement choice a of Alice, and a measurement choice b of Bob.  He then defines Alice and Bob’s measurement outcomes A and B via the following functions:

A(a,λ) = something complicated = (as Joy correctly observes) λ

B(b,λ) = something complicated = (as Joy correctly observes) -λ

I shit you not.  A(a,λ) = λ, and B(b,λ) = -λ.  Neither A nor B has any dependence on the choices of measurement a and b, and the complicated definitions that he gives for them turn out to be completely superfluous.  No matter what measurements are made, A and B are always perfectly anticorrelated with each other.

You might wonder: what could lead anyone—no matter how deluded—even to think such a thing could violate the Bell/CHSH inequalities?  Aha, Joy says you only ask such a naïve question because, lacking his deep topological insight, you make the rookie mistake of looking at the actual outcomes that his model actually predicts for the actual measurements that are actually made.  What you should do, instead, is compute a “correlation function” E(a,b) that’s defined by dividing A(a,λ)B(b,λ) by a “normalizing factor” that’s a product of the quaternions a and b, with a divided on the left and b divided on the right.  Joy seems to have obtained this “normalizing factor” via the technique of pulling it out of his rear end.  Now, as Gill shows, Joy actually makes an algebra mistake while computing his nonsensical “correlation function.”  The answer should be -a.b-a×b, not -a.b.  But that’s truthfully beside the point.  It’s as if someone announced his revolutionary discovery that P=NP implies N=1, and then critics soberly replied that, no, the equation P=NP can also be solved by P=0.

So, after 400+ comments on my previous thread—including heady speculations about M-theory, the topology of spacetime, the Copenhagen interpretation, continuity versus discreteness, etc., as well numerous comparisons to Einstein—this is what it boils down to.  A(a,λ) = λ and B(b,λ) = -λ.

I call on FQXi, in the strongest possible terms, to stop lending its legitimacy to this now completely-unmasked charlatan.  If it fails to do so, then I will resign from FQXi, and will encourage fellow FQXi members to do the same.

While I don’t know the exact nature of Joy’s relationship to Oxford University or to the Perimeter Institute, I also call on those institutions to sever any connections they still have with him.

Finally, with this post I’m going to try a new experiment.  I will allow comments through the moderation filter if, and only if, they exceed a minimum threshold of sanity and comprehensibility, and do not randomly throw around terms like “M-theory” with no apparent understanding of what they mean.  Comments below the sanity threshold can continue to appear freely in the previous Joy Christian thread (which already has a record-setting number of comments…).

Update (May 11): A commenter pointed me to a beautiful preprint by James Owen Weatherall, which tries sympathetically to make as much sense as possible out of Joy Christian’s ideas, and then carefully explains why the attempt fails (long story short: because of Bell’s theorem!).  Notice the contrast between the precision and clarity of Weatherall’s prose—the way he defines and justifies each concept before using it—and the obscurity of Christian’s prose.

Another Update: Over on the previous Joy Christian thread, some commenters are now using an extremely amusing term for people who believe that theories in physics ought to say something comprehensible about the predicted outcomes of physics experiments.  The term: “computer nerd.”

Third Update: Quite a few commenters seem to assume that I inappropriately used my blog to “pick a fight” with poor defenseless Joy Christian, who was minding his own business disproving and re-disproving Bell’s Theorem.  So let me reiterate that I wasn’t looking for this confrontation, and in fact took great pains to avoid it for six years, even as Joy became more and more vocal.  It was Joy, not me, who finally forced matters to a head through his absurd demand that I pay him $100,000 “with interest,” and then his subsequent attacks.

140 Responses to “I was wrong about Joy Christian”

  1. Ray Says:

    Don’t feed the math trolls!

  2. Steve Flammia Says:

    Scott, you have my support. I will dutifully resign every last penny of my FQXi funding as well unless your demands are met. 🙂

  3. Scott Says:

    Thanks, guys! Yeah, “don’t feed the troll” is a thought that occurred to me many times this past week. On the other hand, if the reality-based community can starve this particular math troll by cutting off his support, then it will have done something positive for humanity.

  4. Dan Browne Says:

    I have thoroughly enjoyed the dismantling of Joy’s work in these threads, but I think you have overstepped here, Scott.

    Yes – Joy’s work is nonsense. Yes – his infantile ad hominem attacks are offensive and his pathetic publicity seeking on this blog deserves to back fire.

    But inciting a vendetta against him? That goes too far.

    Take a deep breath, forget about this crackpot and call off the dogs!

  5. Dan Browne Says:

    I wish wordpress had an edit comments button, as I fired the above off slightly too quickly.

    Vendetta is too strong a word – and is unfair on Scott – but change “vendetta” to “campaign” and I think my post stands.

  6. David Brown Says:

    Scott Aaronson: “No matter what measurements are made, A and B are always perfectly anticorrelated with each other.” I say NO. A and B are either anticorrelated with each other or correlated with each other depending on a geometric spin-flip that moves faster than the speed of light (WITH RESPECT TO THE AARONSON VERSION of Bell’s Theorem (the version that sane people use)). Christian changes the meanings of “quantum correlation” and “local realistic”. Assuming that the Copenhagen interpretation is true, Bell’s theorem is true. Assuming that the Copenhagen interpretation is false, Bell’s theorem is false PROVIDED that the meaning of local-realistic is allowed to mean “moving faster than the speed of light in the extra superstring dimensions” from the viewpoint of the Copenhagen interpretation. THERE IS NOTHING TO SIMULATE. Quantum entanglement and quantum computers still exist but there are some bizarre new effects coming from M-theory. A quantum SU(8) state can be resolved downward by 7 levels into a quantum SU(1) state. I tried to explain to Christian that IT IS FOOLISH TO SAY THAT QUANTUM COMPUTERS DO NOT EXIST AND THAT AARONSON’S VERSION OF BELL’S THEOREM IS WRONG.

  7. Bram Cohen Says:

    Related to some of the distraction Christian was trying to make, do you know of any good visualizations of the parallelization of the 3-sphere? I find it to be quite a surprising result, and one which it should be possible to do awesome-looking fly-throughs of, but basic web searching doesn’t turn up any.

    Also, a fun thing about doing renderings on the 3-sphere – doing it straightforwardly produces some ghost images, most obviously that the entire horizon is filled with an extreme close-up of your own posterior, (or more accurately, the back of your own head) but there’s also a ghost image of whatever’s at the halfway point, looking like it’s right next to you but mirror imaged. A neat trick is to make it so that this thing which appears to be right next to you is actually right next to you, which is a very handy way of implementing the projective plane, and also a good way of understanding the oddball property the projective plane has that when you wander off into the distance until you come back to where you started you’ve flipped handedness.

  8. Physicist deranged by quacks | Gordon's shares Says:

    […] Link. Aaronson has a weakness for quacks. He can’t ignore them. This entry was posted in share and tagged s by jgordon. Bookmark the permalink. […]

  9. Matt Leifer Says:

    This is going to get me into trouble, but let me try to clarify a few things about Joy, his relationship to Oxford and Perimeter, and why his work is not grounds for boycotting FQXi.

    As far as I know, Joy lives in Oxford but he does not have any paid position at the university. His affiliation there is based on some sort of association with one of the colleges, of the sort that is fairly common for people who have an academic track record, but no paid position. He was a long-term visitor at Perimeter around the time I was last employed there, which would have been 2006-2007. He produced his first anti-Bell work towards the end of his visit there, and I have to say that most of us in the foundations group were shocked by it and realized that it had obvious flaws. His work prior to this was on the fringes, but by no means crackpot, and certainly no worse than some of the other things that come out of some parts of Perimeter. He has a good background in quantum foundations, having studied his Ph.D. with Abner Shimony, so one would not have thought that he was likely to become cranky about Bell’s theorem. Therefore, he was a perfectly reasonable candidate for a visiting position at Perimenter at the time that the offer was made.

    After it became clear to me that Joy was not responsive to rational criticism on his Bell work, my main attitude has been to ignore it. It flares up every now and then on the internet and I feel that I have to say something when criticism of Oxford, Perimeter of FQXi is implied, but otherwise I leave it alone. He is far from the first person to write strange things about Bell’s theorem and defending Bell against critics could easily become a full time job. I have better things to do with my time and, ultimately, there is no point in giving this work more attention than it deserves. I do like Joy as a person and I think he has some interesting ideas other than his work on Bell’s theorem. It is just a shame that he has decided to expend all his energies on this work and to defend it in the way that he does.

    I am not sure why FQXi decided to fund his work and I am not sure what sort of expertise in quantum foundations they had on the panel that made the grant decisions. Certainly, had I been involved I would have advised against funding this particular work. However, once the funding decision has been made I don’t think it is appropriate to retract funding other than as part of a formal review process, which FQXi does nominally have on a yearly basis. I am not sure at what stage Joy is in his grant, so this may not be possible at this point. FQXi is a funder of high-risk research so you have to expect that they are going to make mistakes once in a while. I don’t think that their funding of one cranky research programme is enough to justify giving up membership.

    For me FQXi has been a lifesaver because they are the only funding agency that has been flexible about my medical condition, allowing me to defer my grant several times, change my working hours, and move it internationally to a more convenient institution. At one point, they were the only organisation who were funding my salary. Therefore, FQXi membership is not something that I can afford to frivolously give up as a show of protest. In any case, I still think that they are a force for good overall.

  10. Moshe Says:

    In the spirit of learning from experience, this is very reminiscent of a certain affair a few years back, involving an “independent” researcher (also FQXI supported) making strong and extremely unlikely claims about fundamental physics.

    One of the similarities I see is that in that case also, some people thought about the strategy of avoiding slippery conceptual issues and concentrating instead on the numerous algebra mistakes (not quite as trivial in that case, but mistakes nonetheless). That strategy, compelling as it might be, only backfired in that case, I think. In addition to publicizing the work, it also contributed to the aura of persecuted genius that feeds the popularity of such work. Ignoring the fringe might be the best (and most pleasant) strategy.

  11. Cristi Says:

    @Bram Cohen

    > do you know of any good visualizations of the parallelization of the 3-sphere?


    also google hopf fibration video

    By removing one point from the 3-sphere you get, topologically, the 3-Euclidean space. There is only one circle from the Hopf fibration which is broken, and it is broken in just one point, which is at infinite. All other circles remain “entangled”. So it is hard to believe Joy’s claim that the 3-sphere is so magic as compared to the 3-Euclidean space.

  12. Bram Cohen Says:

    Hey Scott, don’t feel bad about linking to Joy Christian’s stuff, you did it because you found him entertaining, and thought others would as well. I for one found it very entertaining trying to follow the rabbit hole of his thought process, because he isn’t schizophrenic so it isn’t all a bunch of non-sequiturs, but that finally ran out when he resorted to accusing me of using a highly obscure argument and saying that I didn’t have the mathematical sophistication to understand his work. I’d almost have sympathy for this line of argument if the thing I was trying to explain wasn’t quite literally the pythagorean theorem.

  13. Henning Dekant Says:

    Joy’s “all you know is words” taunt is quite a display of chutzpah (projection maybe?) when considering that the section about the incomputability of his stuff is nothing but words.

  14. Scott Says:

    Dan Browne #4,5: I respect your view. Let me stress that my current stance is not the one I started with, but the one Joy led me to over the past week! 🙂

    Look: even if I had the power, I wouldn’t suggest curtailing Joy’s free speech rights, just as I wouldn’t suggest curtailing the free speech of creationists or Holocaust deniers. However, I do stand by my view that the math and physics communities need to make it absolutely clear to the public—as they haven’t so far—that they lend no legitimacy whatsoever to this loud charlatan’s claims.

  15. Dan Browne Says:

    Scott, your reaction is entirely understandable! And I respect your choice to boycott FQXi if you disagree with their funding practises.

    But your call for others to do so, to my eyes, goes too far.

    Your dismantling of Joy’s claims speaks for itself.

    Don’t waste the campaigning power of this blog on something so insignificant.

  16. Scott Says:

    David Brown #6: Alas, I don’t see how to reconcile your creative re-imagining of what Joy might be doing with what Joy himself repeatedly says he’s doing. He doesn’t write anything in his papers about “bizarre new effects coming from M-theory,” about the Copenhagen Interpretation, or about new definitions of the terms “local” or “realistic.” Instead he says, “here’s my refutation of Bell’s Theorem, as that theorem was originally stated“—and then the claimed refutation involves arithmetic that’s both trivial and howlingly wrong.

    In science, you don’t get to write nonsense, then when people call you on it, reply “ha ha, it’s your fault, you weren’t smart enough to find a re-interpretation of my words involving M-theory, which would transform my turd into gold!”

  17. Anthony A. Says:

    Hi All,

    We at FQXi are discussing what if anything to do/say about this. In the meantime, one quick but I think important note: Minigrants (which are what Joy Christian has received) are given on the basis of a lottery among suitable applications put in by members. Once a member is chosen on the basis of two recommendations by peers (as Christian was), applications are screened only for suitability (nearly all pass).

    Thus unlike a ‘large grant’ receiving (or failing to receive) a minigrant is not an endorsement (or rejection) by FQXi of a body of proposed research on the basis of careful review by an expert committee. (We have to repeat the same message to those who are upset by FQXi not having funded their brilliant minigrant proposal.)

    This method is by its nature imperfect, but we view those imperfections as a price paid for a system that in general is much more efficient and effective than we think a full review process would be for relatively small grants.

    Anthony Aguirre

  18. Petter Says:

    Why spend so much time and energy on the poor guy? The world is full of people who are wrong.

    Sure, he should not have recieved funding, but can it be retracted?

  19. Scott Says:

    Matt Leifer #9 and Dan Browne #15: Thanks for sharing your perspectives! Whether or not to participate in FQXi is a personal decision, and no, I wouldn’t blame anyone for continuing to do so, especially if they depended on FQXi for support. Even for me, dissociating myself would be difficult—since while I’ve never received grant money from FQXi, I strongly support its goal of sponsoring foundational research, and I really had a blast at the three FQXi conferences I attended. I’ve been in communication about this issue with the FQXi leadership, and am hopeful that we’ll be able to resolve it to all sane parties’ satisfaction.

  20. Scott Says:

    Petter #18:

      Why spend so much time and energy on the poor guy? The world is full of people who are wrong.

    Good question—that’s exactly what I said too for the past six years! 🙂 But then this drumbeat of idiocy kept getting louder and louder and louder, until it finally reached a point where I felt that silence on my part would amount to complicity.

  21. John Sidles Says:

    Please let me agree with Matt Leifer’s post, and thank him for it. Matt’s reasons call to mind an Elvish parable:

    Iorhael pent: “Si hon um sui Orch, a sui Goth! Boe a hon gwannad!”

    A Mithrandir dambent: “Boe a hon den! Thenid i hon boe gwanna. Host i guinar a boe gwannar. A host i ‘wannar a boe cuinar. Gerich annad di guil? Law? Ú-no geleg an annad di gurth vi baudh lín. Dan na-bant i idhren ú-‘âr i gened i-mithid bain…”

    Unaccountably, Google’s translate page does not encompass the languages of Middle Earth … fortunately a translation can be found here.

  22. Garrett Says:

    Moshe #10: Ah, you’re just bitter because string theory has continued its decline, while I’ve been having a lot of fun.

  23. Scott Says:

    Moshe #10: For whatever it’s worth, I personally don’t see even a hint of a comparison between Joy and Garrett Lisi. You might have strong reasons to disagree with Garrett’s ideas (me, I have no dog in this fight 🙂 )—but as far as I can tell, he expresses them politely, is open to the possibility that he might be wrong, responds to criticism, understands the terminology of the field, and has gotten both positive and negative reactions (rather than, in Joy’s case, only negative reactions) from serious physicists who understand his work.

  24. Henning Dekant Says:

    Matt Leifer, #9 Thanks for providing a bit of background. I was looking at some of Joy’s earlier papers and they didn’t look quite as obscure. Although one of them I was looking at is exceedingly wordy. First equation only to appear on page 13 of a 32 page paper (sans references).

  25. Moshe Says:

    Scott: I am not making that comparison, certainly there are important differences (including the ones you bring up). But, the aspect I am pointing out — putting in effort to oppose the work just magnifies it — seems to be similar. In both cases, I am not sure what the harm is in everyone “having a lot of fun”. Academic freedom will mean that some fraction of the effort will go in directions that have no hope of success. Academic freedom also means these directions will stay on the fringe until they become convincing to the professionals. In either one of these case, for whatever reason, this has not happened, so the system works on its own terms.

  26. Gil Kalai Says:

    As a devoted “Shtetl-optimized” reader and fan over the years of many exciting posts and discussions originated and leaded by Scott it is very disappointing to witness these recent posts. Christian made 3 comments very late on the old dice post and him being so load was only a consequence of the amplification by an entire post devoted to him (and attacking him). In my opinion, the ad hoc boycott called for here is much more worrying phenomenon to our communities than the damage made by Christian and many others like him.

  27. Raoul Ohio Says:

    1. My experience has been that I am usually sorry when I get into arguments with crazies. For one thing, there are plenty more of them out there.

    2. Joy Christian’s name recognition has probably jumped by about *=10 due to this debate. (Anyone have a guess on how to quantify this? Google history?, “trending on Twitter”?)

    3. It will not be a good thing if a crackpot’s best shot at “the big time” is getting into a nasty debate with Scott.

    4. On the other hand, the affair is greatly entertaining. John Sidles has demonstrated his MC chops, dispensing pithy quotes and practical considerations.

    5. Consider offering a prize for who makes the 500’th and 1000’th comments on the JC thread; maybe an old data structures book in Pascal, or a certificate for a Happy Meal at McDonald’s.

  28. Cliff Says:

    Hey Scott, thanks, I enjoyed this entry a lot, and also the other one dealing with Joy. If someone is making such blatant and basic errors while stridently insisting that everyone else is wrong, I think there is some value to explaining the core mistakes. If any knowledgeable person is actually going to spend some time to find the errors, you might as well share the result. Surely the publicity cant be too beneficial when the entry is written like this one.

    And funny to see Garrett Lisi turn up. He makes a good point, maybe Joy Christian is not actually a crackpot and is making a solid contribution to physics if we remember to factor in the fact that he’s having fun. ;]

  29. Ian Durham Says:

    I agree with Matt’s sentiments regarding FQXi and I also agree that I like Joy as a person. I honestly am not familiar enough with his work to comment intelligently, but I can say that sometimes we – all of us – fall into the trap of being too in love with our own ideas. God knows I fell into that trap myself and it was unfortunately at precisely the wrong time in my career. I am only now slowly resurrecting my reputation (I hope).

    That being said, I understand Scott’s frustration. But I would urge him not to resign from FQXi. The nature of the beast is that because it expressly encourages thinking outside the box, sometimes crazy ideas will show up from time-to-time. I would much rather tolerate the occasional mistake than err in the other direction and prevent some truly novel idea from coming to light.

    About five or so ago Matt Leifer said something that has stuck with me ever since: foundations is hard and not everyone can do it. That’s not to say Joy can or can’t. The point is really that it’s hard. It is hard to wrap your head around some of this stuff. As such mistakes will be made by perfectly sane and intelligent people.

    Finally, I want to point out that sometimes incorrect ideas are still useful. Asher Peres made that point regarding a paper by Nick Herbert that he (Peres) had reviewed for Foundations of Physics. Asher knew it was wrong, but said it should be published anyway. He later defended his stance by noting that, though it was wrong, refutations of it led to several breakthroughs in quantum information theory.

  30. Ian Durham Says:

    Fourth paragraph of my reply ought to begin “About five or so YEARS ago…” 😉

  31. Scott Says:

    Ian Durham #29: I consider myself a connoisseur of mistaken ideas; I’ve had plenty of them myself. 😉 I vehemently agree with you that “outside-the-box thinking” should be more than welcome in science, even (especially?) when it leads to honest mistakes. And there are people whose ideas I strongly disagree with but who I’ve been delighted to see supported through FQXi.

    With Joy, by contrast, the crucial point (as I see it) is that we’ve now established, beyond doubt, that he’s not offering stimulating or unconventional new ideas, of the sort that could move science forward even if mistaken. Instead, he’s offering old, boring, discredited ideas, repeated ad nauseam in obfuscated prose (to conceal the trivial errors) and larded with personal attacks.

    Thus, I think the real issue here is whether there should be any standards whatsoever in science. (To answer another question, this is also why I care about this and am spending time on it—admittedly, maybe too much time! 🙂 ) If Joy Christian’s work deserves funding, then so does the work of HIV/AIDS denialists, 9/11 truthers, sasquatch hunters, and the TimeCube guy.

  32. David Brown Says:

    @Scott #35: How about funding guys who want to CREATE the sasquatch by means of genetic engineering? (It might be an excellent tourist attraction.) After thinking the matter over, I stand by my belief that Christian is the greatest theoretical physicist since *******. I think that he is correct about quantum SU(8) states if and only 11-dimensional knot theory can be realized in terms of tests in D-wave superconductivity.

  33. Henning Dekant Says:

    TimeCube guy’s site is truly otherworldly awesome. If he was to receive funding maybe he could afford an even bigger font!

    At any rate, from a purely financial income point of view I’d advise you not to entirely cut off Joy. I think he will probably owe you $200,000 in the not too distant future.

  34. Scott Says:

    Moshe, Gil, Raoul: You’ve all raised the possibility that by blogging about Joy, I may have simply given him more free attention.

    Well, y’know, that’s exactly the reason why I ignored him as much as humanly possible for the past six years, even as his nauseating claims got more and more under my skin! But when he came here, to confidently declare that I owed him $100,000 “with interest,” that’s when I finally had it, and opted for exposure and ridicule over silence. I apologize that my patience is finite! 🙂

  35. James Putnam Says:

    Scott Aaronson,

    “…we’ve now established, beyond doubt, that he’s not offering stimulating or unconventional new ideas, of the sort that could move science forward even if mistaken…”

    Who are the we in we’ve? I mean besides the non-physicists. It has seemed to me to be difficult to get names and quotes.


  36. Moshe Says:

    Scott, I sympathize with you, and I am far from having all the answers myself, but I did think about these issues in the context I mentioned. I think that one of the problems is that the usual tools of academic discourse (for example reductio ad absurdum) don’t work in the context of a more public discourse. But, luckily, such good arguments do work in academic discourse among the community of relevant experts, which is what I care about much more. That system, seems to me, works just fine, people get all the information and decide what to work on, and I have no evidence that bad ideas are overly influential in that choice. All of which might, or might not, make it easier to come to terms with the occasional nonsense coming your way.

  37. Scott Says:

    Henning #33:

      At any rate, from a purely financial income point of view I’d advise you not to entirely cut off Joy. I think he will probably owe you $200,000 in the not too distant future.

    Yeah, I thought about that. 🙂 But that consideration would have more sway, if I thought there was any chance that even a fully-functioning, RSA-breaking quantum computer would induce Joy to pay. I’ve never seen him admit once that he’s ever been wrong about anything … even about arithmetic errors staring him in the face!

  38. Henning Dekant Says:

    Predictably in the other thread Joy now assumes the role of innocently persecuted victim.

    For him, Scott, you turned into “the Man”. The ugly face of the establishment science. Next thing we know you also killed cold fusion for .

    I’ve seen this kind of dynamic played out more convincingly in Italian operas.

    It’s really a no-win scenario.

  39. Scott Says:

    Moshe #36: Yeah, I’ve been fumbling my way through the crank problem for as long as I’ve been blogging (and actually, even before then), so I certainly don’t have all the answers either! But I do take issue with one part of what you wrote. To me, there seems to be an implied elitism in saying, “sure, let the public believe whatever absurd physics theories it wants, so long as the experts aren’t bamboozled.” This is the same public that supports us through taxes, and on whose goodwill we depend! So when members of the public—not to mention scientists from other fields—want to know things like “has Bell’s Theorem been disproved?,” I think we owe them clear answers, not politician-like evasions driven by the fear of offending someone. To me, it’s simply part of the job, along with teaching, advising, and serving on program committees.

  40. Scott Says:

    James Putnam #35:

      Who are the we in we’ve?

    I and anyone else able to understand what I wrote in the OP, about how the measurement outcomes in Joy’s “theory” are always perfectly anticorrelated and don’t even depend on the detector settings.

    I guarantee you won’t find a single reputable physicist—as in zero, not one—who will take Joy’s “refutation of Bell’s theorem” seriously after knowing the above. If I differ from some of my colleagues (in physics or other fields), it’s only in my thirst for justice, not in my ability to recognize such a glaring error. 😉

  41. Moshe Says:

    Scott, Fair enough, I agree with you, that would also be my preference, but I don’t know how to manage it. So, I am taking the easy way out, I am just comforted by the fact that things are not as bad as they could have been, But, if you find a way to convince the public, or scientists in other fields, that obscure statements like “the low energy theory is necesarily non-chiral” amount to reductio ad absurdum, I’d like to know the secret.

  42. (^.^) Says:

    I do not understand why a paid MIT Theoretical Computer Scientist has to waste his time and energy to fight against a silly result (But on the other hand I learned something about Bell’s theorem).

  43. Scott Says:

    (^.^): Well, if half the commenters accuse me of arrogantly silencing a modern-day Einstein, while the other half accuse me of wasting my time and energy fighting something obviously absurd, then I guess I’m doing something right! 🙂

  44. Moshe Says:

    One more comment: it is probably a mistake to treat “the public” as one monolithic entity and try to make some fine distinctions. In this spirit, it seems to me that the sector of the public (or scientists from other fields) most amenable to the lone genius narrative might not have a large overlap with the sector easily convinced by rational argumentation. For the rest of the public, or other scientists, my experience has been that they are pretty happy to be convinced by something like “most experts have not been impressed” and leave it at that.

  45. Scott Morrison Says:

    It’s an annoying situation. Cranks are a real pain, and I sympathize with Scott’s frustation. We’ve had one recently over a MathOverflow (a longtime internet crank, familiar to some perhaps from long ago on sci.math.research; initials WM). We just silently delete everything he (and his numerous puppets) posts. He’s a “real” professor at a German university, and it’s sad to think how much damage he’s likely doing there.

  46. kodlu Says:

    Scott, #37:

    At the risk of introducing a related technical question, I have been looking at quantum computing as a relative outsider, my expertise is in cryptography, coding and information theory of a classical kind. There is now a whole strand of research into what’s called “post-quantum cryptography”, i.e., algorithms that will survive quantum computing based attacks.

    I have recently realized that as well as RSA, elliptic curve cryptosystems, which depend on the elliptic curve discrete log problem are also included as being under threat from quantum computing. But elliptic curve group operations are much more complicated.

    Is it just a matter of converting between the groups at polynomial complexity, i.e., building a direct product of integer cyclic groups corresponding to the elliptic curve group which won’t affect the polynomial/exponential tradeoff?

  47. Scott Says:

    kodlu #46: No, the real problem is that elliptic curve groups are abelian, and Shor’s algorithm and its variants work for pretty much any abelian group problem. For this reason, the main candidates that we have today for “quantum-secure” public-key cryptosystems are systems with non-abelian groups underlying them. Probably the best example is lattice-based cryptography (as developed by Ajtai-Dwork, Regev, Peikert…), for which cryptanalysis is known to be reducible to the Hidden Subgroup Problem, but only for the non-abelian dihedral group.

  48. kodlu Says:

    scott #47: Thanks for the clarification.

  49. Anonymous Says:

    Scott, have a look at these:

    “What to do when the trisector comes”, by Underwood Dudley, John Ewing and Ian Stewart, http://www.springerlink.com/content/183843866421q603/

    “Mathematical cranks”, by Underwood Dudley, http://books.google.com/books?id=HqeoWPsIH6EC&printsec=frontcover&ie=ISO-8859-1

    Underwood Dudley, A Budget of Trisections, Springer-Verlag, New York, 1987

  50. outsider Says:

    I have no real interest in this fight. And I usually enjoy the posts and comments on here. But the following caught my attention: Scott says

    “…On the other hand, if the reality-based community can starve this particular math troll by cutting off his support, then it will have done something good for humanity.”

    So you’re exercising your academic influence to try and “starve” another researcher? I’m quite disappointed, don’t you think this goes too far (and might be remembered)? (p.s. I’m not a supporter of Joy;s ideas, since I don’t know anything about them, and if anything I mistrust people who casually throw jargon around).

  51. Scott Says:

    outsider #50: No, I’d be delighted for Joy to find a new, non-academic career to put food on the table and take up his time. He could try plumbing—a skilled and honorable profession that he repeatedly and unjustly maligned!

  52. Slipper.Mystery Says:

    Scott #23: “For whatever it’s worth, I personally don’t see even a hint of a comparison between Joy and Garrett Lisi. … has gotten both positive and negative reactions (rather than, in Joy’s case, only negative reactions) from serious physicists who understand his work.”

    (Note careful avoidance all possible mentions of deeply ignorant lesser brain function at this point….)
    Lisi has received about as many positive reactions from knowledgeable physicists as has Christian. Lisi’s model has no dynamics and can’t be turned into an interacting theory, it’s a purported group theoretical model of the static spectrum, and fails even as numerology since it can’t reproduce properties of that spectrum well-understood since the 70s.

    There are indeed many parallels between Lisi and Christian (beyond both having spent time at Perimeter), except Lisi is both far more ambitious and far better at P.R. We can charitably assume neither set out to become a charlatan, but that’s what they’ve become, and Lisi remains the more dangerous in the public sphere, due to visibility received as an unemployed surfer dude who produced unimaginative visualizations of the E8 root lattice.
    If *you* are unaware of how dead-on-arrival was Lisi’s work, and how disingenuous were and are his claims to fame, than imagine how snowed the general public remains. (Too bad he’s sufficiently circumspect not to arouse your ire here, or you might actually read his article and expose that one as well, so notoriously thin-skinned are Waterman awardees.)

    On the other hand, it’s not in the slightest objectionable that FQXI has supported such projects — it’s useful to investigate the occasional wild idea (if only to illustrate that more Bern patent examiners are not ever waiting in the wings). On the other hand, it’s also important not to renew funding once the flaws have been exposed. So don’t sever your connections, use them constructively to encourage mid-course corrections to a more promising mix of projects.

  53. David Brown Says:

    @Scott #47: “… the other half accuse me of wasting my time and energy …” Reading over your blog, I realized that you are an amazing genius. OK, I get that Scott Aaronson has an IQ 15 points higher than mine. I admit that Christian has written down his ideas in a rather unsatisfactory way. Christian should have done 3 things: (1) Write down something like, “If you don’t have a thorough understanding of teleparallel gravity, then you don’t have the background to understand what I am writing down.” (2) Carefully separate the physics part of his work from the mathematics part, and explain exactly how he is trying to replace the Copenhagen interpretation by the Christian interpretation based upon his parallelized 7-sphere model. (3) Explain precisely what he is predicting, what he is not predicting, and what the parallelized 7-sphere model means in terms of experimental physics. Am I wrong in my understanding of what Christian is doing? Perhaps so. I claim that Christian has reformulated PART OF M-theory and that his work implies that 11-dimensional knot theory should be fully displayed in terms of experiments in D-wave superconductivity. When Christian claims that he has “disproved Bell’s theorem” he means he has disproved Christian’s idiosyncratic formulation of Bell’s theorem (WHICH HE DENIES IS IDIOSYNCRATIC) based upon Christian’s concept of what a quantum state really is. Is Christian merely a guy who has gone off the deep end? Perhaps so. Kary Mullis has many bizarre ideas. So does David Brown.

  54. Halfdan Faber Says:


    I think you have gone significantly too far here. Aspects of Mr. Christian’s work perhaps does not stand up to scrutiny, but someone of your stature should in my opinion refrain from participating in this kind of juvenile mockery and ridicule. It makes for reading that is both very unpleasant and a complete waste of time.

  55. rrtucci Says:

    I think Scott is helping Joy (and FQXi)

    Joy is like someone with an incredibly bad voice who believes he will someday be a famous singer, adored by the public. This despite the fact that almost everyone, including all those who know a lot about singing, tell him that he has absolutely no talent for singing. The current trajectory of his life is unsustainable. The sooner he changes it, the less he will suffer. I’m sure he could be good at other things.

  56. Raoul Ohio Says:

    You can’t fight all the battles, but once in a while you can give it a rip. Remember to keep having fun. Avoid getting pissedoff, which will put your brain into a weird zone that is emotionally draining.

  57. Luke G Says:

    I would have rather seen Joy moderated out from the beginning. But now that he has publicity (I guess?), the community should make it abundantly clear that his work is invalid and should be shown no respect. His vile personal attacks make it hard to sympathize with him.

  58. (^.^) Says:

    Hi Prof: I went to the future and got something:) (The date in the attached article is May 15 2011) Someone in Logic has thought about this it looks like..

    I know nothing about the game you are playing with Bell.. but thought may be interesting since the first line in Abstract mentions Joy Christian.

    BTW his (Joy) earlier papers have decent citations.

  59. (^.^) Says:

    Pardon me…. dont even bring the previous comment to the front. I found something.. http://books.google.com/books?id=_V4MEYAENKwC&pg=PR13&dq=James+Owen+Weatherall&hl=en&ei=TM-sT_PXJIWUiAKT4bjqBg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=book-thumbnail&resnum=4&ved=0CEAQ6wEwAw#v=onepage&q=James%20Owen%20Weatherall&f=false

    looks like Weatherall and Christian have had prior communication.

  60. Dan Browne Says:


  61. Thomas H Ray Says:


    “I think the real issue here is whether there should be any standards whatsoever in science.”

    You and I both know that the only standard that matters is the measured correspondence between mathematical theory and physical result. I broadly agree with you on fundamental things, such as that no mathematical theorem can be “disproved,” and that a mathematical model has to stand apart as a closed logical judgment independent of experiment.

    Yet is there no room to consider that you, Moldoveanu and Gill could be wrong about the role of algebra in Joy’s analytical framework?

  62. Vadim Says:

    I appreciate this blog for Scott’s ability to explain difficult concepts to the general public (of which I’m a member) that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to understand. The Joy Christian posts did exactly that, and I appreciate it as much as any other of Scott’s blog posts. Maybe it’s perfectly obvious to most scientists that Joy’s work is bunk, but I found the discussion very interesting and have spent several hours since looking up & learning some of the relevant concepts. So thanks, Scott, for once again teaching us unwashed masses something new and I’m glad you don’t consider the effort beneath you.

  63. Gil Kalai Says:

    Of course, in order not to be persecuted one need not be a genious, and in order to have some marginal funding it can be enough to inspire a subsequent work of value.

    The abstract of the beautiful paper by James Owen Weatherall that Scott praises (and I join Scott’s praises) asserts:

    “I present a local, deterministic model of the EPR-Bohm experiment, inspired by recent work by Joy Christian, that appears at first blush to be in tension with Bell-type theorems. I argue that the model ultimately fails to do what a hidden variable theory needs to do, but that it is interesting nonetheless because the way it fails helps clarify the scope and generality of Bell-type theorems. I formulate and prove a minor proposition that makes explicit how
    Bell-type theorems rule out models of the sort I describe here.”

  64. JKU Says:

    For the record, in his first “Disproof” paper Joy actually conceded that his research program could not possibly lead to the results he’s now claiming. Specifically, in that paper he stated that Bell’s inequality is obvious if one constrains oneself to binary-valued measurements, and he went on to develop a model with the correct (purportedly) QM correlations for *complex-valued* measurements.

    I and others pointed out to him at the time that binary-valued experiments violate Bell and that’s precisely what gives Bell’s theorem such importance. My guess is that Joy was so set on achieving a particular desired result that he threw out what he originally understood about the problem and deluded himself into his current state.

    His problem now is not so much mathematical as it is psychological.

  65. Henning Dekant Says:

    @rrtucci #56, so Scott is the Simon of “America’s Physics Idol” show?

    Now that’ll make for reality TV I could get into!

  66. Nagesh Adluru Says:

    First, I am so happy to see Scott’s recent and a bit more frequent posts in general! Congratulations again Scott on your recent award and your really inspiring speech.

    I didn’t know about Joy Christian before, but I was googling him after these posts and based on one pic I am guessing he is from Indian descent.

    Assuming that is right and that this kind of work is mainly rooted in one’s PSYCHOLOGY, I want to share the following comments.

    Besides sounding crackpot I feel people like these can potentially do a bigger damage of aspiring younger Indian generations in completely bad directions.

    I was recently reading “Great Moments in Mathematics before 1650” and found out that Hindu mathematics remained empirical for long long after the Greeks’ transitioned to deduction based methods. That was a real aha moment for me in understanding my significant lack of resonance with the culture I descended from.

    People like these need to be exposed more often so my people can realize the lackluster of the Indian ethos. Essentially all the successful individual Indians are basically due to a strong interaction-affect with the Western culture or those who “blocked” the local affects.

    I know this is completely irrelevant in terms of Bell’s inequality etc. but I wanted to use Scott’s superb blog-platform to reach Indian readers.

    I hope there is realization that all the relevant outcome measures of the Indian system are defined by the West. It’s simple, they have experienced many many wars in the recent history and learnt their lessons the hard way and we all live on the same planet. Stop confusing the younger generations with mystical behavior. Is it hard to realize it’s way easier to be mystical than be rigorous (easier to ask questions than to answer, easier to verify than prove). Hence if you want to set yourself apart in a relevant way, being mystical is definitely not the way.

    Pardon any noise in my articulation. I would be glad to smooth my message if needed.

  67. John Sidles Says:

    To echo and extend Gil Kalai’s thoughtful comment #64, a Google search for “Simulation of the two hemispheres Bell experiment” finds a very nice simulation of Joy Christian’s theory, implemented by Stephen Lee.

    In view of Joy’s track-record of efficacy in inspiring and instructing students to do high-quality research, we reasonably assess the quality of Joy’s work as middling … after all, no-one has echoed Wolfgang Pauli in criticizing Joy’s work as being “not even wrong.” 🙂

    As for Joy’s intemperate language, it seems to me that such language is harmful only to the degree that it becomes accepted as normative. Thus the sole harmful outcome that we need apprehend, from this entire episode, would be a deplorable and regrettable association of intemperate language to correct works of science. And that is why (to my mind) the very best opinions expressed on this topic — like Stephen Lee’s write-up and Gil Kalai’s fine posts — have scrupulously avoided such language.

  68. Scott Says:

    Nagesh #66: I don’t actually know Joy’s national origin and don’t consider it relevant. I have to say, though, that while your intentions are good, I can’t agree with your thesis about the “lackluster [sic] of the Indian ethos,” in part because of the staggering number of counterexamples that spring immediately to mind (both Western-origin mystical crackpots, and brilliant Indian scientists, the latter including my PhD adviser). Incidentally, from what little I know about ancient Indian mathematics, it was nothing to sneeze at…

  69. Scott Says:

    Gil Kalai #63:

      in order to have some marginal funding it can be enough to inspire a subsequent work of value.

    Suppose a foaming-at-the-mouth street lunatic accosts a physicist with rantings about Satan and the end times, and causes the physicist to miss her train. And suppose that, while waiting on the platform for the next train, the physicist thinks to herself, “hmm … end times … T=infinity…,” and ends up writing a serious research paper about cosmological final boundary conditions. Would you then say that the street lunatic should get an NSF grant? Because I think the case at hand is not that far off… 🙂

  70. Nagesh Adluru Says:

    Hi Scott,

    I didn’t mean to offend any one who made serious technical contributions. I apologize sincerely you felt so. In fact your adviser Umesh Vazirani (and his brother), are some of the few who inspire me but I feel people like those are exceptions from India. For younger generations (in India) to benefit from such people we need to know much more than just their accomplishments – the key aspect being their embracing of Western philosophy at large.

    I do not know the full reasons, but for example Sanjeev Arora for whom I have huge respect as well, was ranked 1st in IIT-Joint Entrance Exam. But he came to MIT for an undergraduate degree and didn’t study in India as an undergrad. Brilliant Indians mostly had Western experience in their lives that is hard to ignore.

    I know we do have many IIT undegrads coming to the US and making significant contributions as grad students (e.g. Subhash Khot etc.) in the US but I feel that the fertility of the US system is a key factor in achieving that level of significance. I can hardly think of any brilliant Indian who achieved something by ignoring or taking radically different views from the Western philosophy. The few who did get world recognition were those under the British era.

    At least from the book I was reading, there were not many great moments in Mathematics before 1650 from India except a few which were driven again “organically/empirically” rather than depending on raw-power-of-deduction. I believe the culture breeds a need for craving “more (mystical) validation” than just a with-standing-rigorous-deduction.

    In terms of having crackpots from the West, yes most likely there are some but I feel that they are precisely the deviants (for various other serious) from the Western philosophy but are typically not bred by it.

    In India there are many ongoing superficial adaptations from the West in the past 10 years or so (mainly due to financial interests and investments from the West) but again not at fundamental level. Again I didn’t mean to offend any great achievers from India. I felt to share this because this is the second time an Indian, in the recent past, in the media has shown up in controversy (the first being Vinay Deolalikar). I just wanted to highlight that achievements are defined and need to be validated by the West (with-stand Western scrutiny) otherwise they are not an achievements at all. I hope that clarifies my intentions.

    P.S.: Now I have more evidence that he is from Indian origin based on this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2Sc0ZvNMe4

  71. John Sidles Says:

    As a Fermi Problem, it’s instructive to quantitatively estimate the level of funding r that Joy Christian has received from FXQi, relative to the overall funding of (say) quantum computing research in the last decade.

    A reasonable estimate of this relative number is r~1/100,000.

    The thesis that the overall vitality and integrity of the research enterprise could be appreciably improved by reducing this number to zero, is comparably implausible to any of Joy’s theories.

    I share (what I take to be) the apprehension of Gil Kalai, and many other commenters, that the dubious prospects of infinitesimal gains are manifestly outweighed by the substantial prospects of substantial harms.

  72. Scott Says:

    Halfdan Faber #54:

      Aspects of Mr. Christian’s work perhaps does not [sic] stand up to scrutiny, but someone of your stature should in my opinion refrain from participating in this kind of juvenile mockery and ridicule.

    If you’d read Joy’s actual papers, I think you’d see that “aspects of Mr. Christian’s work perhaps don’t stand up to scrutiny” is a contender for understatement of the century. And if you’d read this blog more, I think you’d see that telling me to refrain from “juvenile mockery and ridicule” is like telling South Park that a program of its stature should refrain from juvenile fart jokes.

  73. Thomas H Ray Says:

    Naglesh Adluru #68

    Joy is in fact from Northern India. However, Scott’s reaction is something I strongly agree with. A culture’s temporary dominance does not imply superiority. Who knows, in a hundred years, the language of science may be Chinese.

  74. Nagesh Adluru Says:

    Thomas #73:
    Thank you for the confirmation about Joy’s national origin.

    It might be that the language of science becomes Chinese in a hundred years but most likely it won’t be by sacrificing Western philosophy towards reasoning etc.

  75. Scott Says:

    John Sidles #71: I think you rigged your comparison a bit! Granted, Joy Christian is just one person, so the amount of money that’s gone to him seems tiny. But the amount going to all the fraudsters and charlatans on earth is enormous, and surely dwarfs the total spending on legitimate math, physics, and computer science research combined!

    Personally, I take an expansive view of what research in the hard sciences is for: as I see it, part of our job is to set standards of intellectual clarity and coherence that can ultimately benefit the rest of humanity. If we can’t even keep our own house in order, then how can we expect the economists, psychologists, intelligence analysts, etc. to stand up to their own Joy Christians?

  76. John Sidles Says:

    Scott asserts: “Part of our job is to set standards of intellectual clarity and coherence that can ultimately benefit the rest of humanity.”

    Scott, your Great Truth illuminates a comparably inarguable dual Great Truth:

    “Part of our job is to set examples of humanity that can ultimately benefit standards of intellectual clarity and coherence.”

    The discourse here on Shtetl Optimized is concerning more for the latter than the former. Because in the long run, we can have little of either, without plenty of the other.

  77. asdf Says:

    Several things in one post:

    1) Anthony Aguirre’s explanation of how Fqxi minigrant receipts are selected by lottery seems to me like a reasonable explanation of what happened. Obviously such a system isn’t going to produce worthwhile results for every grant, and Fqxi seems to accept that, so fine. Presuming that there are far more applicants than grants available, one obvious suggestion is: keep following that method for people who haven’t received a grant in the past. If someone who has already received a grant applies for a second one, enter them into the lottery as usual. However, if they happen to be selected in the drawing, then do some reasonable level of review of the work that they did with the first grant before issuing a new grant. If it’s not up to standards, notify them privately that their application is being passed over for that reason, and pick someone else instead. If the person wants to be eligible for further minigrants later, they can either a) go through a more formal proposal and review process, or b) submit some reasonable published work done subsequent to the unsuccessful proposal.

    2. Like Scott, I don’t think Joy Christian’s nationality is at all relevant to this. And it’s obvious he does suffer from Western influence if he’s not actually Western: he comes across exactly like the many obnoxious Americans who I’m already used to ;-).

    3. Nagesh Adluru’s claim about Indian mathematics and empiricism was interesting and not necessarily such a bad thing. The first example I thought of was Ramanujan, one of the greatest mathematicians of all time, who rather famously wasn’t that big on deductive proofs.

    4. I don’t completely understand Thomas H. Ray’s response to me in comment #395 of the other thread. There is obviously no computational way to distinguish between a true random number sequence and an algorithmically compressible one, so if Thomas is saying that a physics experiment can tell the difference, that sounds like a claim that the Church-Turing thesis is wrong. If we limit the compressible sequence to the output of an efficient PRNG, claiming that a feasible physics experiment that can distinguish it from a TRNG might contradict Church-Turing but still either a) states that the experiment is a powerful quantum computer in its own right (if Joy Christian is saying this, he should write a check to Scott); or b) says that a classical computer can do the same thing (a strong mathematical claim about computational complexity, that should be backed by a proof).

    I think Scott said something similar a few weeks back in still another thread (i.e. that a physics experiment could distinguish PRNG output from a true random process) so maybe I’m missing something here.

    I’d go a bit further though, and define (adapting terminology from computability theory) a “0-machine” as an ordinary Turing machine, a 1-machine as a Turing machine with an oracle for the halting problem for 0-machines, a 2-machine as having an oracle for 1-machines, etc. Next define (I think this is standard terminology from algorithmic randomness) a sequence to be 1-random if it’s uncompressible by a 0-machine. There is a simple, fixed 1-machine program that generates 1-random strings of arbitrary size: just enumerate all strings of that size, and all 0-machines smaller than that size, filter out the non-halting 0-machines using the oracle, then filter out the strings generated by the remaining 0-machines. We similarly say a sequence is 2-random if it’s uncompressible by a 1-machine, and so on. A truly random sequence is expected to be not only 1-random but also 2-random, 3-random, and so on.

    It looks obvious(?) to me though, that any function that can distinguish a 1-random sequence from a 2-random one is uncomputable by definition. So any physics experiment that can do it squarely violates the Church-Turing thesis.

    Am I missing something?

  78. Alex V Says:

    May be it is indeed beside the point, but Joy is averaging
    (-a.b-a×b) for n -> ∞ and in Gill paper there is discussion, if the second term is vanishing in average or not.

    Gill supposed that it is not vanished, but one thing is not clear for me: the term looks like vector product, so it is pseudo-vector and then it should change sign with orientation (λ), but because λ is alternating the term should disappear for n -> ∞.

    Yet, such a term still presents for finite n and so it is not the model considered by Bell, but I am asking about math errors.

  79. Nagesh Adluru Says:

    Scott said (#75): “If we can’t even keep our own house in order, then how can we expect the economists, psychologists, intelligence analysts, etc. to stand up to their own Joy Christians?”

    Just wanted to say what a superb comment!! We need people whose livelihood is in math to show many of us how to stand up and pursue knowledge in the right-way boldly. That’s actually a powerful “translational impact” on many other disciplines.

    asdf #77
    Joy’s nationality is not relevant to Bell’s inequality but it does provide relevant context, at least for Indian readers who have large amount of direct experience-sampling growing up in India. And perhaps in sympathizing with Joy and providing him some self-sensitization for taking Scott’s explanations/clarifications more constructively.

  80. Arnab Says:

    Read Joy’s paper (no need to read till the end). Glaring mistakes wave at the reader.

    Here is a proof (probabilistic) that he is not a charlatan, however, in the sense that he probably believes in his “disproof”, and is not acting with any intention of fooling others.

    Assumption : he must be understanding that such fooling tricks may pan out well for sometime in a financial scam, but has no chance of success in the world of Science. In terms of the “acceptance” of the work – that is. Nobel prize, Christian’s theorem in textbooks – both ruled out.

    So then the other possibility could be securing funding once or twice. Even there, he should be cognizant that by trying to pull such a trick he runs high (100% almost) risk of being blacklisted permanently. A sensible ‘charlatan researcher’ in such case would rather ‘publish’ a stream of small-scale ‘results’ that can stay under the radar as long as possible. Not disprove Bell’s theorem 🙂

    So he is not a “charlatan” with probability > 99.99999….

    crackpot ? – do we need a proof for that? 

  81. Thomas H Ray Says:

    Nagesh # 76

    I agree. Rationalism is an international attribute.

  82. Henning Dekant Says:

    @Nagesh, if you were to ask anybody to pull a name that stands for Indian physics I think Bose will always top the list.

    Fortunately excellence outshines skulduggery. And the latter is very much a pan-national phenomenon.

  83. johnstricker Says:

    Vadim #62 :Very much seconded! Thanks a bundle, Scott!

  84. John Merryman Says:

    “Personally, I take an expansive view of what research in the hard sciences is for: as I see it, part of our job is to set standards of intellectual clarity and coherence that can ultimately benefit the rest of humanity. If we can’t even keep our own house in order, then how can we expect the economists, psychologists, intelligence analysts, etc. to stand up to their own Joy Christians?”

    A big problem I have with the current state of physics is that it does suck the air out of basic analysis of how society is structured, into such endless quibbling over mathematical minutiae. Not that such specialization isn’t necessary to the specialized technical aspects of modern society, but the larger societal dynamics are being left to the complete crackpots in politics, finance, religion, etc.

    Since I don’t have any convenient public examples to express this point, as physics has become so rarified, I will quote an observation of my own:

    ” Human nature is such that we will always be looking for a way to grow and progress and will do so with whatever resources are at hand, whether it be scratching two sticks together to make a fire, or building vast structures and societies. In order to do so, we need two things; Organization and energy. Within the biological body, there are two systems to enable these functions. The central nervous system processes information and organizes responses, while the circulatory system enables energy collected by the respiratory and digestive systems to be effectively transmitted to where it is most necessary. Within society, these systems are mimicked by government and finance.”

    This from an essay I wrote on the nature of money:

    There is a lot of brain power in physics which is currently being wasted on increasingly arcane propositions, from string theory to multiverses, while public life is being overwhelmed by shortsightedness and outright corruption. One wonders why, when the hedge funds on Wall Street wanted to build exponentially complex forms of wagering, they went to physics graduates from MIT, rather than accounting majors? Could it be that the physics majors think whole universes spring from their algorithms, while accountants understand you can end up in jail by messing with the math?

  85. Simon J.D. Phoenix Says:

    “A(a,λ) = something complicated = (as Joy correctly observes) λ

    B(b,λ) = something complicated = (as Joy correctly observes) -λ”

    Oh my word – thanks Scott – I hadn’t actually noticed this being somewhat befuddled with the mathematical decoration on show. Oh Lordy, Lordy, Lordy . . . .

    If anyone still needs convincing after this then may I suggest Philippe Grangier’s beautiful dissection of the physics behind why Joy is wrong which can be found on Arxiv.

  86. Scott Says:

    John Merryman #84:

      There is a lot of brain power in physics which is currently being wasted on increasingly arcane propositions, from string theory to multiverses, while public life is being overwhelmed by shortsightedness and outright corruption. One wonders why, when the hedge funds on Wall Street wanted to build exponentially complex forms of wagering, they went to physics graduates from MIT, rather than accounting majors?

    You’ve just made two seemingly contradictory arguments within the space of a paragraph!

    (1) that the physicists are wasting all their brainpower on string theory and multiverses, rather than tackling societal issues, and
    (2) that they were responsible for screwing up Wall Street—so that society would presumably have been better off had they stuck to string theory!

    But maybe noticing the tension is just a sign of my own specialization and narrowness? 😉 (I’m a computer scientist, btw, not a physicist.)

  87. Henning Dekant Says:

    Didn’t know about the mini-grants scatter-shot approach of FQXi that was explained earlier in this thread. Must say I rather like it. Obviously this will sometimes lead to noxious results, but I am very appreciative of the fringe, and think there should be a mechanism too fund some long shot research.

    To me this is the equivalent of angle investing. Most of the money is probably wasted but if you just get a return 1 out of a hundred times it’ll be worth it.

    For instance I ran across one of the authors of this strong gravity paper in the LinkedIn QM group.

    What I find interesting is that there is also a paper that claims to show that Strong Gravity is effectively induced by QCD.

    I am always intrigued when very different frameworks to describe physical reality can be shown to be equivalent (e.g. GR Teleparallelism for a particular choice of action).

    Anyhow Usha has some new ideas with regards to unification and I would love to see what she could come up with. So if FQXi could be a venue I’d love to see this happen.

  88. John Merryman Says:

    Thanks for the reply. I first admit I’m a bit of a crank on these subjects, as various of the the posters who frequent the FQXi forums will attest.

    I think you hit the nail on the head, by pointing out it is an issue of specialization. We have created a society which has made great gains by individual focus, yet the down side is that the broader general perspective has been ignored to the point of a certain Tower of Babel situation. The problems with Wall St. are not due to the complex modeling brought in by physicists, but the complexity serves to patch over more fundamental problems and allow them to continue. The basic problem with finance is that money is inherently a contract to society, but to the banks, it’s a commodity. Much as legal contracts are commodities to lawyers. What complexity enables is the supporting structure to stabilize and sustain far more notational wealth than the real economy can absorb, or need, creating a tail wagging the dog situation.

    As a computer specialist, doesn’t it occur to you the possibility that the ever increasing complexity in physics might also be covering for some basic errors in the primary assumptions?

    I admit to being a simple minded observer, but my contention is that time is being looked at backwards. The progression from past to future is our experience of the changing configuration of the present, which turns future into past. The earth isn’t traveling some fourth dimension from yesterday to tomorrow. Tomorrow becomes yesterday because the earth rotates. So time/change, is an effect of action, not some geometric basis for it. That makes it more like temperature/level of activity. Alter the level of atomic activity and the rate of change is correspondingly affected. That’s why time is variable, not warped spacetime.

    As for quantum super positions, it’s the collapse of probability that yields actuality. Future becoming present. Light is a field, until it is absorbed, then it is a quantum particle. The cat might be dead or alive in the future, but it’s the course of actual events which determines its fate, not progression along a time vector from a deterministic past into a probabilistic future. All the laws determining the course of an event might be deterministic, but the input into this process is still probabilistic, since information can be arriving from opposite directions at the speed of light. So the actual input into any event cannot be known prior to its occurrence.

    Obviously we experience time as the series of events, but then we still observe the sun moving across the sky. It’s only when we understand the subjectivity of our experience that we know it’s the earth rotating. I think the same issue applies to how we consider time. It’s not the present moving, but the events.

    Not trying to get deleted here, as that’s the usual response to my observations, but just trying offer an example of how primary assumptions can be taken for granted.

  89. John Merryman Says:

    I wrote a reply and it disappeared into the ether, so this is a test…..

  90. Gil Kalai Says:

    Hi Scott, I think we are in agreement about setting standards for scientific quality and I hope that we are in agreement also regarding the importance of common sense, fairness, and honesty in academic judgements.
    We have rules and institutions for these matter. Your blog is not part of the institutions and ad-hoc boycotts of funding agencies regarding specific individuals are way out of the rules. (BTW, refereeing, *is* part of these institutions 🙂 .)

    One of the rules is that discussions and decision processes regarding individuals are not done in public. This applies to grants, prizes, hiring, promotions, and even to serving on bodies who make such decisions. This academic rule minimizes shaming of people in public as much as possible, respects people’s privacy, and also is crucial to keep down the already high amount of time we scientists devote to academic judgements.

  91. John Merryman Says:


    Thanks for the reply. It isn’t that physicists are responsible for what’s wrong with finance. The problem is that for society, money is a contract, but for banks it’s a commodity and they have been allowed to flood the economy with far more debt than it can support. The complex financial products are the infrastructure to enable this, so the physicists are just the hired designers of this complexity.

    The question is whether the exponential complexity and increasing numbers of far out ideas in physics are not also covering basic conceptual problems.

    For example I argue that time is being viewed backwards. That it is not a vector from past to future, but the changing configuration of the present, turning future into past. That it emerges from action, like temperature, rather than being some geometric basis for it. When you alter the level of atomic activity, so through acceleration/gravity, the rate of change is affected. Spacetime is correlation, not causation.

    With quantum super positions, it’s the collapse of probabilities which yields actualities. The future becoming the present and then past. Laws are deterministic, but input is probabilistic, since it can be coming from opposite directions at the speed of light. So the total input into any event cannot be known prior to its occurrence. The cat is not both dead and alive, as the actual events determine its fate, not positions on a time vector. The problem is that we treat time as a measure from one event to the next, not a dynamic process.

    Not trying to get deleted, but just offering an example of how basic assumptions can be viewed differently.

  92. Scott Says:

    Gil #90: If Joy had merely submitted his papers to journals, then yes, I agree that the appropriate reaction would be to reject the papers and not say anything about them in public. (Indeed, that’s exactly what I’ve done, on countless similar occasions.)

    But consider the facts: Joy posted numerous crackpot papers to the arXiv over a six-year period, long after knowledgeable people had pointed out the elementary mistakes. He never corrected or retracted anything. He used the FQXi website and conferences to spread his “ideas” further. He published a book, for crying out loud. And then he came to my blog looking to pick a fight with me.

    At every step, it’s been Joy who’s insisted on doing an end-run around the scientific process, and who put things out in the public sphere that hadn’t and couldn’t survive peer review. So how could you possibly blame someone like me for responding in public as well?

    As for resigning from FQXi being “way out of the rules”: are you joking? I don’t know of any “rules” that force anyone to remain a member of an organization whose values they don’t agree with, or that prevent them from discussing such questions with others.

    (Side note: Unlike the ECCC, the arXiv has basically no anti-crackpot screening. If it did, then we probably never would’ve gotten into this mess! Years ago, I actually turned down an invitation to moderate the computational complexity part of the arXiv, after I was told that I wouldn’t have the authority to reject obviously-wrong P=NP submissions. In that case, I said, what’s the point of having a moderator at all? 🙂 )

  93. Gil Kalai Says:

    Hi Scott, you missed the point. I did not blame you or made any comment when you decided to respond publically to Christian’s claims. Mocking him in public in prime time on your blog in response to his three comments (and doing it before reading his 1-page paper) is not something you can be proud of, but it is your business. Sure, you can also resign from FQXi.

    What is inappropriate is A) discussing grants decisions regarding individuals in public, B) thretening with sanctions an academic body that makes calls not to your liking, again in public, and C) calling others to follow.

  94. Scott Says:

    Gil, so many controversies on this blog seem to boil down to the same thing!

    Displaying contempt for the scientific process, and milking his “legitimate” affiliations for all they were worth, Joy used every outlet available to him to spread crackpot nonsense (not to mention ugly attacks on Bell and others), long after Joy’s trivial errors had been pointed out. An organization that I like continued to support this “work”, long after it was clear to any reasonable person that its scientific value was negative. So, after ignoring this festering problem for six years, I’m finally, in response to a direct provocation by Joy, using my blog to try to undo some of the damage he caused and (ultimately, I hope!) make FQXi a better organization.

    And yet … it’s not the “inappropriateness” of Joy’s actions that you take issue with, nor the “inappropriateness” of FQXi’s legitimizing them, but only the “inappropriateness” of my response. I’d hope that you, as an Israeli, could understand why such lopsided howls of “inappropriateness” leave me unmoved.

  95. David Brown Says:

    @Scott #104: “… elementary errors had been pointed out.” I respectfully disagree, and I support J. Christian on the mathematical soundness of his work. In my opinion, J. Christian’s replacement of quantum SU(1) correlations by quantum SU(8) correlations is a genius-level idea, no matter what else might be true of his work. I strongly believe that Christian is at least correct on the mathematics, although I believe that his model is non-local if and only if the Seiberg-Witten interpretation of M-theory is true. In other words, Christian is correct if and only if Seiberg and Witten are wrong. I bet on Christian over Seiberg and Witten, but with a great deal of fear. In reply to the question, “In your opinion, is Joy Christian, your former student, a brilliant mathematician?”, Professor Emeritus Abner Shimony replied on Fri. May 12, 2012 as follows:
    “You ask my opinion about Joy Christian, and my opinion is mixed. He was a good assiduous student when I was teaching at Boston University. But since then I occasionally received papers from him which disappointed me — e.g., “Disproof of Bell’s Theorem by Clifford Algebra valued Local Variables” in arXiv: quant-ph (0703179), I wrote him careful criticisms of these papers, but never received convincing replies to my criticisms. Hence I cannot praise him as a brilliant mathematician. However, I want to be open-minded to my former student, and therefore do not want to insist upon my assessment without at least some agreement on the part of some one whom I have reason to respect. Recently I received a draft of a paper by James Owen Weatherall, in the Department of Logic and Philosophy of Science at the University of California, which seemed to me very carefully reasoned and strongly critical to Dr. Christian. It is titled “The Scope and Generality of Bell’s Theorem”. I am attaching this paper as a file. If you have an editor read this paper you may receive confirmation of my reservations of Dr. Christian as a mathematician. I hope this will be helpful to you.
    Yours sincerely,
    Abner Shimony”
    Anyone who wants a draft copy of Weatherall’s paper can request one from him at his homepage at U. C. Irvine.

  96. Jon Tyson Says:

    Scott, You may soon have to offer a $1M prize for anyone who can figure out how to keep the crackpots from hounding you for your $100K prize. With some luck you might get the Clay Institute to chip in some of the prize money, since they have a similar problem times 6.

  97. King Diamond Says:

    Joy uses the isomorphism of quaternion algebra with Pauli matrices to construct his model. The hidden variables are simply the Pauli matrices plus the random value \lambda\in {+1,-1}. So, it is not surprising he violates CHSH inequality. For a quantum eye, quantum mechanics is classical.

    (Why are people still talking about this? Anyone that says Peres’ thought experiment with exploding balls violates CHSH bound is crazy.)

  98. outsider Says:

    I don’t understand why issues like the national origin of Joy Christian and the nationality of some commenters on here are entering the discussion…(perhaps religion will enter next?)

    Speaking as an academic observer, I think that initiating a public threat against an _individual_ is damaging to the reputation of this blog and its author, unfortunately. (But I don’t know, maybe a precedent has been set and it’s now an accepted practice to publicly intimidate _individual_ researchers?) Since you seem to care deeply about this particular situation, why not do as others did and submit a write-up about the nonsense you allege in Joy Christian’s papers? Surely, your critique will be taken seriously, with no need for intimidation techniques.

    I’m actually starting to feel uncomfortable posting comments on here, or following this blog altogether, I’m afraid. But I hope it’s just temporary.

  99. Henning Dekant Says:

    If I read Anthony A. comment #17 correctly then I think it seems rather unlikely that Joy will ever enjoy the benefits of another FQXi mini-grant once this one runs out.

    What additional actions are warranted?

  100. Gil Says:

    Dear Scott, It even did not occur to me to put you and Christian on two sides of the same equation. I simply plead you to leave this poor guy alone.

  101. Ajit R. Jadhav Says:

    @Henning 82

    Yes and no. (And, like you, I talk of the modern times, not ancient).

    To most Indians, including well-educated ones, including quantum physicists, I guess, C. V. Raman’s name would pop up ahead of Bose’s. And, not just because we have selected for our National Science Day the day he announced his discovery, Feb 28.

    (BTW, I am glad that they picked up a day related to the discovery (the exact day of the actual discovery could not be reliably ascertained), and not the day he was born, or received his Nobel, or died, or went to UK/USA the very first time, etc.)

    And, for that matter, as far as the name “Bose” goes, I guess, most Indians would rather recall Jagdish Chandra Bose than the gentleman you obviously had in mind: Satyendra Nath Bose. And, no, except for a rather small bunch of people in Bangalore and may be in Hyderabad and Bombay, they wouldn’t think of Amar Bose.


  102. Ajit R. Jadhav Says:

    [Note: I have already posted the following in the other thread, but would also like to post it here.]

    Nope, contrary to what so many (in fact a dominant majority) of you think, Dr. Joy Christian isn’t a crackpot, full stop. In fact, he certainly does have some very valid ideas. (Here, I seem to go against his PhD guide. Fine by me.)

    I wanted to say so right on May 5th, but my ‘net connection went down just at that time (out of the ISP’s apprehension whether I would be able to pay my bills or not; the service was disconnected before the generation of bill at the end of month despite normal usage pattern; and it was restored only after I coughed up entire claimed bill money in advance). Then, I was busy with catching up with everything else on the ‘net, too.

    John Sidle’s simulation (#346 on the other thread) helped in dissolving any lingering doubts about the nature of Joy’s mathematics. So, today, I say it with even greater confidence.

    To repeat: Dr. Joy Christian isn’t a crackpot; on the other hand, he does have some very valid ideas.

    At the same time, he doesn’t offer very good explanations—either in his papers or here in the discussion threads (and, he didn’t also offer me any, in our personal though brief email exchange). He does not offer satisfactorily enough by way of connecting his abstractions to the concretes. Not in as much details as one would like to see. In fact, he seems to go in a shell and to divert topics whenever a thing like that comes up in discussion threads. This *is* a flaw on his part, but, as far as I can see it is a flaw of communication, not of physics theory (or at least the valid elements of one)—let alone an evidence of his being a crackpot, even if people on this thread seem to be gravitating to the last conclusion a bit too fast.

    Notice, establishing 1:1 correspondence of abstractions to concretes is, epistemologically speaking, a proper responsibility of the physicist who puts forward the idea himself, not of others. Joy must be firmly asked to pick up this part of his responsibility and deliver on it—but it must be done without getting into name-calling etc.

    Since so many of us are so impressed with Feynman, recall what he said. You don’t really understand something, he would tell professional theoretical physicists, unless you can explain it to high-school students in a way that they can understand.

    When what you say can’t be understood by a PhD in mechanical engineering having a couple of publications on QM, think for yourself the distance by which you fall short of the goal Feynman urged you to keep. Even if not to high-school students, you should at least be plain and clear to physics/engineering UGs. Let alone to an engineering PhD. If not in formal paper, then at least via your slides, Web site contents, and, blog entries and replies. That’s what a rational epistemology would demand of you.

    Here, you simply are not being so. None of you. Not just Joy but also not Scott (w.r.t. Joy’s papers). And, none else either—except for John coming in with his simulation. (Though somewhat unrelated, the one honorable mention I must additionally make is of James Putnam. The clarity he shows in spelling out the nature of the relationship between physics and mathematics, in a thread like this, is simply astounding.)

    Since I do say that Joy Christian does have some valid ideas, it can and does raise another issue, viz., that of priority and apportionment of credit etc. These are relatively minor considerations to me, and they can be dealt with later on.


  103. Scott Says:

    outsider #98 and Gil #100: Don’t worry, I’m quickly getting bored with this whole affair even as we speak! If there were something else I could do to combat Joy’s crimes against mathematics, I would, but I don’t see that there is.

    OK, one last comment:

    I confess that I’m blown away by the charge that I’m “threatening” or “intimidating” Joy. I take it as given that Joy will never, ever, ever change his opinions or admit error about anything, so what would I even be trying to influence him to do?

    As for FQXi, I stand by my view that any scientific organization that grants legitimacy to this sort of thing hurts its own reputation, and that I have a right and arguably even a responsibility to say so, and to try to influence the organization in what I see as the right direction.

    Others have already written papers pointing out Joy’s errors ad nauseam; at a technical level there’s nothing else to add. Unfortunately, the papers had zero effect on Joy, because the latter refuses to play by the rules of mathematical reasoning. He defines A(a,λ)=λ and B(b,λ)=-λ. Then when people point out the obvious implication


    Joy squeals, “oh no, you can’t do calculations as if my definition is what I said it is!” And then begins what Richard Gill aptly describes as Joy’s nonsensical “sales patter” about parallelized 7-spheres.

    For those who don’t understand why anyone would get worked up about such a thing, let me try to explain. In the world that Joy and his supporters are trying to create, mathematics as we know it would cease to exist. Theorems would still be Platonically “true,” of course, but they wouldn’t be publicly accepted as such and progress would be impossible. Definitions written on a page wouldn’t mean what they said they meant, and could be taken back on a whim. Any of humankind’s mathematical achievements—the Pythagorean theorem, the unsolvability of the quintic, Fermat’s Last Theorem, etc—would be fair game for being overturned by “sales patter.”

    The postmodern virus has already destroyed large parts of the humanities. This blog is not neutral on whether it should be allowed into math and physics.

  104. John Merryman Says:


    “The postmodern virus has already destroyed large parts of the humanities.”

    Why are the hordes at the gates? Does it say anything about the nature of structure and logic? How much of this infestation is already inside the walls? Blocktime, inflation, dark energy, multiverses….

    Life and any ordered reality is based on constancy, accountability and all number of such immutable laws, though one seems to be that nature likes to destroy, as easily as she creates. Are there Platonic laws, or are there just generic patterns which emerge with the structures they define? If there was nothing, would there be a whole list of instructions imbedded somewhere to order what emerges, or is it fundamentally self-creating, with innumerable idiosyncratic tics developing in the fringes?

    Then, when the structure and order starts to develop inconsistencies and contradictions, has to reset back to a more stable stage, before projecting back out again?

    It’s not as though people have never gotten ahead of themselves and frequently the prime ingredient is the assumption that; “This time it’s different. We know too much to make big mistakes and only have to keep filling in the little holes.”

    I’m not trying to be difficult, but there is a pattern there.

  105. Bram Cohen Says:

    Technically the term Joy Christian is using is ‘computer geek’ not ‘computer nerd’. It’s still a very strange term to use as an insult.

    Scott, I couldn’t tell from your first post that Christian had managed to get under your skin, it seemed like you were good-naturedly pointing him out for being particularly ridiculous.

    I still don’t know what Christian actually thinks – is he deluded, or a charlatan? I’m leaning towards charlatan at this point. Some of the other commenters who showed up are clearly a little nuts (why do references to Chaitin always come from cranks?) but some are a little more interesting. For example, David Brown, who I could have sworn was just egging Christian on for entertainment value, appears to be on the edge himself.

  106. Scott Says:

    Bram #105: Well, Joy used “computer geek”; then David Brown changed it to “nerd.”

    At the time I wrote the first post, Joy hadn’t yet managed to get under my skin! But a full week of multiple people insisting that




    A(a,λ) B(b,λ) ≠ -λ2

    will do strange things to my own mental stability… 🙂

  107. Thomas H. Ray Says:

    Scott # 103

    “In the world that Joy and his supporters are trying to create, mathematics as we know it would cease to exist. Theorems would still be Platonically ‘true,’ of course, but they wouldn’t be publicly accepted as such and progress would be impossible.”

    I have taken great pains to make clear that mathematics cannot tolerate a notion of “disproof” and I have been openly critical of Joy’s choice of terminology. Theorems have hardly ever been “publicly accepted” though, and I don’t know what you mean by that; ask anyone except a mathematician to name her favorite theorem, and watch the reaction.

    I heartily agree with you, OTOH, that “progress (in science) would be impossible,” were there such a thing as “disproof,” for the reason that mathematics would no longer be useful as the language of science. One can’t have proofs disproving themselves — which is what “disproof” implies — and still have a consistent language.

    So I agree with your continuation:

    “Definitions written on a page wouldn’t mean what they said they meant, and could be taken back on a whim. Any of humankind’s mathematical achievements—the Pythagorean theorem, the unsolvability of the quintic, Fermat’s Last Theorem, etc—would be fair game for being overturned by ‘sales patter.'”

    Right. We totally agree (and I have discussed this with Richard Gill as well) that mathematics has to stand alone, as a closed logical judgment on the state of reality, whether that state is physical or not. (BTW, quintics aren’t unsolvable generally; just not by methods of arithmetic functions and extraction of roots.)

    Where we disagree, is whether the relation between mathematics and physics must be a totally INDEPENDENT relation. If it isn’t, one ends up not with a true measured correspondence between mathematical theory and physical result — but with merely an assumption of what comprises “reality,” and a nonconstructive proof that verifies one’s assumption. And that is exactly what Bell’s theorem, as a physical model, does. It assumes that which was to be proved.

    BT is unquestionable as a mathematical theorem. Just as a Penrose triangle is also unquestionable as a geometric construction. Neither is a complete description of what we know empirically of physical reality.

    “The postmodern virus has already destroyed large parts of the humanities. This blog is not neutral on whether it should be allowed into math and physics.”

    Again, we strongly agree.

  108. Thomas H. Ray Says:

    Bram # 105

    “why do references to Chaitin always come from cranks?”

    What makes you think that? Do you think Chaitin is a crank?

  109. Fred D Says:


    I do think when Joy made the 200K offer to you about quantum computers that he said to forget about his model. Shouldn’t these threads be about quantum computers and not his model?

  110. (^.^) Says:

    If Scott settles his lucrative challenge in a court of law, would it imply victory over the crank brotherhood? I assume the law of the land is uniformly interpreted.

  111. Adrian Kent Says:

    I hoped this would all blow over, but I guess Scott is right at this point that maybe more people in the quantum foundations community should offer some support.

    So, for the record, here’s mine. Let me start by saying I like Joy personally, though I do regret his recent vitriol towards his critics, and I’m quite sure he sincerely believes he’s right about Bell’s theorem. But, like the rest of the physics community, I think he’s wrong and confused, and that Scott, Richard and others are doing a service in pointing out Joy’s errors and confusions and querying whether FQXi should be publicizing these arguments as though there were a genuine scientific debate.

    I do think FQXi are doing a lot of good, and they deserve understanding as well as credit, because they’re in a difficult position. It’s almost impossible to get the balance quite right between supporting non-mainstream and even initially crazy-seeming ideas — which can be very valuable — and publicizing work that is simply wrong. But it’s good to know they’re reconsidering here.

    Scott: I hope you will stay in FQXi — I think you can do more good arguing for good science from within.

  112. Moshe Says:

    In support of FQXI, it is hard to imagine a change in their process or policies which would completely and reliably exclude hopeless or wrong research directions, while staying consistent with their mandate. I think the word “process” is important, any public agency cannot legally make ad hoc decisions (besides, it is also a bad idea). To my mind this affair is not significant enough to merit changes in their process, something that may end up doing more harm than good. In fact, as I said above, it seems to me the academic system worked exactly as it should – bad ideas stay marginal by virtue of not inspiring any followups, without anyone needing to make any grand declarations.

    (Public perception is more a problematic issue, but my impression is that this stuff has not publicized nearly as much as some other marginal ideas.)

  113. Scott Says:

    Moshe #112: Look, I understand and sympathize with the difficult job FQXi has (and as I said, I’m optimistic that a solution will be found allowing me to remain a member with clear conscience).

    However, let me humbly propose the following small change to their process: if anyone publishes a paper entitled “Disproof of X’s Theorem” (rather than, say, “Loophole in X’s Theorem” or “Questioning the Relevance of X’s Theorem”), that person is out. 🙂

  114. majordomo Says:

    Scott, you sly dog!! The title of your post (“I was wrong about Joy Christian”) was very misleading. I thought you were admitting Joy Christian was indeed right. You scared me!

  115. Moshe Says:

    Good idea. To make that a consistent rule, maybe each member can choose their own favorite red flag phrase. I know I have a few of my own.

  116. Henning Dekant Says:

    ^.^ #111: Not sure if you are just asking in jest. At any rate collection of debt from bets are not enforceable in the US, unless a formal contract is written up as a business transaction:


    This of course won’t stop me to follow these bets on my QC bet tracker page to encourage eventual settlement.

  117. Henning Dekant Says:

    Ups, that should have been UK (where Joy is currently based) in the earlier comment. Anyhow, in the US owed debt from bets cannot be enforced in court either.

  118. Ian Durham Says:

    Adrian Kent said above in Comment #111:

    “Scott: I hope you will stay in FQXi — I think you can do more good arguing for good science from within.”

    I wholeheartedly agree. First, it’s harder to change things from the outside in. Second, we need a few true CS people around to keep us physicists in line. :))

  119. Henning Dekant Says:

    Lev Goldfarb mentioned in the other thread that …

    [FXQi has] … almost non-existent supervision of their blogs.

    Only now, I noticed, did the administration began to clean much of the insulting stuff.

    Now, I am not a FXQi member nor know their blogs first hand, but unsolicited advice is what the Internet is great for, isn’t it?

    IMHO no blog that is supposed to facilitate a rational discussion should tolerate insults of any kind. It’s the absolute minimum of moderation policy that should be adhered to.

  120. Regular Blogging Will Resume Shortly | Wavewatching Says:

    […] Aaronson's blog where the Joy Christian "Bell Inequality Disproof" controversy is still in full swing.  The latter also inpsired me to the new "QC Bet Tracker" page on this […]

  121. aris Says:

    If I had $500k or whatever to spare (If I were George Soros or Warren Buffet or Bill Gates or a Koch brother or …) I’d try to make Joy’s experiment happen (but only under undeniably professional auspices). Or at least establish to the satisfaction of the community and its groupies that it couldn’t be conducted and why. Bigger bucks have been spent on far more pointless crap.

    Joy’s the pis aller of the scientific revanche IMO. Sort this specific shit out in an indisputable way. Clean this Augean stable. It might not make Bell-deniers go away but it might make a dent. Could save money in the long run.

  122. David Brown Says:

    @Scott Aaronson #125: “Let me humbly propose … ” NO! I won’t let you humbly do anything. Remember the HHEAPS (Humor/Humility Empathy Awareness Politeness Skepticism) paradigm of scientific discussion — we are beyond all that. By the way, my frenemy, you owe me one stuffed dead parrot and I insist that M.I.T. lobby the Nobel prize committee on behalf of Edward Fredkin.

  123. Thomas H Ray Says:

    Scott # 116

    “if anyone publishes a paper entitled “Disproof of X’s Theorem” (rather than, say, “Loophole in X’s Theorem” or “Questioning the Relevance of X’s Theorem”), that person is out.”

    Well, that was my on-the-record initial reaction, too. If one is to be intellectually honest, however, one moves past shocking rhetoric (including all the claims, counterclaims, name calling and threats attending Joy Christian’s research) and on to the substance of an argument.

  124. Scott Says:

    Thomas Ray #123:

      If one is to be intellectually honest, however, one moves past shocking rhetoric … and on to the substance of an argument.

    Right! So then that’s exactly what I did—and my conclusion was that Joy’s papers held up even less well than if I’d merely gone on the absurd title and other “indirect” evidence!

  125. John Sidles Says:

    Scott: The real issue here is whether there should be any standards whatsoever in science. … The postmodern virus has already destroyed large parts of the humanities. This blog is not neutral on whether it should be allowed into math and physics.

    If we regard the above as a cogent expression of a Great Truth, and seek a similarly cogent expression of its dual Great Truth, then one candidate is Bill Thurston’s much-cited (and much-admired) essay “On proof and progress in mathematics” (Bull AMS 30(2), 161–177 [1994]):

    When I started working [on foliations], I had the conception that what people wanted was to know the answers. I thought that what they sought was a collection of powerful proven theorems that might be applied to answer further mathematical questions. But that’s only one part of the story. More than the knowledge, people want personal understanding. … What mathematicians most wanted and needed from me was to learn my ways of thinking … I do think that my actions have done well in stimulating mathematics.

    So although in the abstract, considerably many people say they dislike postmodern social analyss, when it comes to concretely postmodern social analyses like Thurston’s, similarly many people admire them. As with theorems, so with social analyses: plenty of both are muddled, or wrong outright, or “not even wrong” (in Pauli’s phrase), and yet the great examples of both are exceedingly valuable to us all.

    Moreover, although mathematical rigor and physical verification undoubtedly are core values of STEM enterprise, and resource economy is meritorious, it is true too that (as the sages say) “One does not become impoverished as a result of practicing charity; no harm or evil can be its outcome.”

  126. Chris Says:

    I wholly applaud Scott for standing up for the standards which should be the very minimum for what is accepted as a piece of mathematics (whether applied or pure); basic mathematical comprehensibility. By this i do not mean that anybody with a maths degree should be able to pick the paper up and understand each and every line. What I mean is that if it was examined by a number of individuals with the requisite expertise in whatever area was relevant to the piece of work it would become clear after examination that the math made ‘sense’ i.e. that it wasn’t manfestly absurd! We can all debate the ‘value’ of speculative ideas about the multiverse, eternal inflation, string theory etc. but the one thing that we at least expect is that the math involved at least makes sense according to the rules of whatever subarea was involved e.g. topology or algebraic geometry. After all this isnt some cutting edge paper exploring motivic galois theory or elliptic cohomology or some other advanced area where innocent mistakes may slip in unnoticed (infact may be expected!). The fact is many reputable individuals ( and I very much include Scott in this) have examined the papers of Joy Christian on his ‘disproof’ of Bells theorem and found it not just wrong but trivially so with respect to the basic maths. Not to sound overly theatrical but Edmund Burke once said something along the lines of ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing’. You could paraphrase that to fit this situation: ‘All it takes for bad theoretical physicists to keep being funded is for good computational complexity experts to keep their mouth shut!’ haha

  127. Peq Ualsnp Says:

    What I don’t get is that I often think about complexity theory as an a priori discipline: the fact that certain problems are hard to solve and others easy is an eternal mathematical truth which can be derived purely by the workings of the mind. But then when I hear about quantum complexity, people sound like they’re talking about facts which depend on the laws of physics. Which is it?

  128. Scott Says:

    “Peq Ualsnp”: That’s a big question!

    Short answer: the models of computation that we study in complexity theory (P, BPP, BQP, etc.) are all rigorously-definable mathematically—you can explain any of them to a mathematician who neither knows nor cares about physics. And the great open problems like P vs. NP, BPP vs. BQP, etc. are purely mathematical in character.

    On the other hand, the motivation for studying these particular models and questions does appeal to facts about physics. With classical computation, the appeal to physics was implicit: that is, people just assumed that of course a bit has a definite “0” or “1” value, even if no one measures the bit, and they defined their mathematical models of computation accordingly. With quantum computation, the appeal to physics is explicit: the whole goal was to define a model of computation that takes quantum mechanics into account.

    Now, from a sufficiently advanced perspective, even complexity classes like BQP might well seem motivated a priori to us. We’d say, “well, of course quantum mechanics is one of the most basic mathematical possibilities one needs to consider! that’s obvious, and would be, even if our universe happened to be classical, and experiments had never shown quantum behavior at all!”

    On the other hand, the fact remains that mathematicians didn’t discover quantum mechanics through a priori reasoning; instead it was forced on the world by the physicists. So at present, I’d say that BQP is indeed a well-defined mathematical object, but that most (not all) of the interest in studying this object ultimately traces back to experimental discoveries in physics.

  129. Peq Ualsnp Says:

    I hope this isn’t too hasty a response and that it isn’t too naive about physics, but anything could be modeled and then spoken about mathematically. If you take basic laws of physics as axioms (they’re also “rigorously definable mathematically,” right?) then you could prove theorems within the system and ask questions “purely mathematical in character,” and the work of theoretical physicists would be proving “a priori” theorems and not discovering a posteriori facts about the world. But I thought complexity was better than that. 🙂 or, rather, 🙁 I mean computability theory, certainly is, right? Or, take ZFC. No experiment will make the axioms more or less plausible. The fact that discoveries about quantum mechanics changes the nature of complexity theory says to me that complexity is, in the philosophical taxonomy of things, just another branch of theoretical physics. It uses extremely simple observations from the world to say what is a hard or an easy problem in this world. In other possible worlds with different laws of physics, which problems were hard or easy would be different. Can’t decide whether this is obvious or doesn’t make sense.

  130. Scott Says:

    Peq #129: In principle, you could argue that the concepts of computability theory are “motivated by physics” in the same sense that concepts of complexity theory are. I.e., one could imagine a world where oracles for the halting problem grew on trees, so that the halting problem’s unsolvability by Turing machines wasn’t particularly relevant. The point is just that it seems extremely farfetched that our world could be anything like that. Rather, everything we know is consistent with the conjecture that Church and Turing got it right the first time, i.e., that the Church-Turing Thesis is a very true statement about physics. When we come to complexity, by contrast, the grounds for believing the Extended Church-Turing Thesis (which talks about polynomial-time computation) have always been weaker than in the computability case. And indeed, our current belief is that quantum mechanics actually falsifies the ECT. (Though one can then revise the ECT to a quantum ECT, which still stands as far as anyone knows.)

    I should confess, what appeals to me personally about complexity theory is precisely that it seems somewhere “between math and physics” on the scale of aprioricity! I.e., our models of computation aren’t sensitive to the mass of this or that muon, but they are sensitive to extremely basic features of the world like whether it’s deterministic or probabilistic, classical or quantum—and that’s exactly how I like it!

  131. wolfgang Says:

    >> they’re also “rigorously definable mathematically,” right?)

    Not really. The best theory we have about nature is called “standard model” and it is known to be inconsistent at very high energies. (But it works really well at energies we can reach.)

  132. David Brown Says:

    @Peq Ualsnp #143: “… take ZFC. No experiment will make the axioms more or less plausible.” If an experiment could indicate that the multiverse is finite, then the axioms of ZFC would seem less plausible. If an experiment could indicate that the multiverse is at least countably infinite, then the axioms of ZFC would seem more plausible. If a mathematical model has a totally accurate representation in physical reality, it is hard to argue that the model is logically inconsistent.

  133. Adrian Kent Says:

    “However, let me humbly propose the following small change to their process: if anyone publishes a paper entitled “Disproof of X’s Theorem” (rather than, say, “Loophole in X’s Theorem” or “Questioning the Relevance of X’s Theorem”), that person is out. :-)”

    I wonder if you’ve thought the implications through, Scott?
    I haven’t checked their statutes, but I’d be surprised if the National Academy of Sciences or the Royal Society have any procedure for revoking membership because of publishing incorrect papers, however provocatively or trivially wrong. And while I’m not certain about MIT, I’m pretty sure Cambridge also has no clear procedure for dismissing a tenured faculty member on such grounds. (If I understand our rules right, sacking any tenured university officer would require, among other things, a vote by the entire university.)

    Of course, the membership selection for FQXi is rather less rigorous, and you can argue it’s a different case. But all these more venerable institutions seem to manage pretty well, even though a few of their members do indeed sometimes publish junk. Maybe that’s just (a small) part of the price of academic freedom? You can — I would — argue that FQXi should have a quality filter for the work it publicizes. But lobbying to exclude people seems to me to be going too far.

  134. Scott Says:

    Adrian, you raise some interesting points. However, everything you say seems to apply to tenured faculty, for whom there are indeed extremely strong protections, even if they go off the deep end and start publishing crackpot papers in their old age. I understand the reasons for those protections, even if they’ve led to undeserved job security for truly indefensible scum (like Peter Duesberg, the HIV/AIDS denialist at Berkeley responsible for hundreds of thousands of South African deaths).

    However, I was thinking of Joy as the analogue of an untenured faculty member. Certainly, any department that would grant tenure to Joy with his current record would immediately discredit itself.

    So maybe the best policy would be for organizations like FQXi to have both “provisional members” and “tenured members,” and in order to move from the former category to the latter, you’d have to demonstrate an ability to produce work that’s original, interesting, and sane.

  135. John Sidles Says:

    The arguments of Adrian #133 were cogent (IMHO), those of Scott #134, not so much. The well-documented tenure struggles of Gödel, Noether, Grothendieck, and Witten (to name four) suggest that in practice, tenure evaluations are similarly rigorous to published proofs. That is, in principle the evaluations are rigorous, in practice not so much.

  136. rrtucci Says:

    I never trust people who say institutions cannot change because it was written long ago on stone that this is how it should be, or because rocking the boat might sink it.

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