Revoke Shaquille’s Doctorate in Education… he doesn’t deserve it.

We are in a world where truth doesn’t matter.

Read this and weep. These men are apparently the authorities of truth in our world.

Everywhere you look, truth itself is under assault. It doesn’t really matter whether you believe, it really doesn’t matter what you want it to say. Truth is not beholden to human whims. We can’t ultimately change it by manipulating it with cellphone apps. We can’t reinterpret it if we wanted to. One of these days, in however great of importance we hold ourselves, the truth will catch up. And we will deserve what happens to us after that point in time.

“It’s true. The Earth is flat. The Earth is flat. Yes, it is. Listen, there are three ways to manipulate the mind — what you read, what you see and what you hear. In school, first thing they teach us is, ‘Oh, Columbus discovered America,’ but when he got there, there were some fair-skinned people with the long hair smoking on the peace pipes. So, what does that tell you? Columbus didn’t discover America. So, listen, I drive from coast to coast, and this s*** is flat to me. I’m just saying. I drive from Florida to California all the time, and it’s flat to me. I do not go up and down at a 360-degree angle, and all that stuff about gravity, have you looked outside Atlanta lately and seen all these buildings? You mean to tell me that China is under us? China is under us? It’s not. The world is flat.”

This spoken by a man with a public platform and a Doctorate in Education. This is the paragon of teachers!

{Edit: 3-20-17 since I’m thinking better about this now, I will rebut his meaningless points.

First, arguments about whether or not Columbus discovered America are a non-sequitur as to whether or not the Earth is round.

Second, driving coast to coast can tell you very little about the overall roundness of the Earth, especially if you aren’t paying attention to the things that do. The curvature of the earth is extremely small: only about 8 inches per mile. This means that on the scale of feet, the curvature is in thousandths of an inch, so that you can’t measure it to not be flat at the dimensions that a human being can meaningfully experience standing directly on the surface. Can you see the couple feet of curvature at a distance of fifty miles looking off a sky scraper in the middle of Atlanta, or distinguish the deviation from the same direction of ‘up’ of two sky scrapers separated by ten miles? You can’t resolve tens of feet with your eyes at a distance of miles. That said, you actually can see Pikes Peak emerge over the horizon as you come out of Kansas into Colorado, but I suppose you would explain that away by some sort of giant conspiracy theory elevator device. To actually start to directly see the curvature at a meaningful degree with your eyes, you need to be at an altitude of hundreds of thousands of feet above the surface… which you could actually do as somebody with ridiculous wealth.

Third, how would you know that China is not ‘under?’ How would you know where China isn’t when you wouldn’t be able to see that distance along a flat surface no matter which direction you look? Can you explain the phase factor that you pick up to your day that causes your damn jet lag every time your wealthy, ignorant ass travels to places like China? By your logic, you should be able to use your colossal wealth to travel to where the globe of the sun pops out of the plane of the Earth in the east every morning. Hasn’t it once occurred to you that if you’re truly right, you should test a hypothesis first before making an assertion that can be easily shown to be wrong?}

You made a mint of money on the backs of a lot of people who made it possible for you to be internationally known, all because of the truth that they determined for you! You do not respect them, you do not understand the depth of their efforts, you do not know how hard they worked. You do not deserve the soapbox they built for you.

For everyone who values the truth, take a moment to share a little about it. Read other things in my blog to see what else I have to say. I have very little I can say right this second; I’m aghast and I feel the need to cry. My hard work is rendered essentially meaningless by morons like Shaquille O’Neal… men of no particular intellect or real skill dictating what reality ‘actually is’ while having no particular capacity to judge it for themselves.

From a time before cellphone apps and computer graphics manipulation, I leave you with one of the greatest pinnacles of truth ever to be achieved by the human species:

moon_and_earth_lroearthrise_frame_0

Like it or not, that’s Earth.

If you care to, I ask you to go and hug the scientist or engineer in your life. Tell them that you care about what they do and that you value their hard work. The flame of enlightenment kindled in our world is precious and at dire risk of guttering out.

Edit:

An open letter to the Shaq:

Dear Shaquille O’Neal,

I’m incredibly dismayed by your use of your public personae to endorse an intellectually bankrupt idea like flat earth conspiracy theories particularly in light of your Doctorate Degree in Education. If you are truly educated, and value truth, you should know that holding this stance devalues the hard work of generations of physicists and engineers and jeopardizes the standing of actual scientific truth in the public arena. The purpose of an educator is to educate, not to misinform… the difference is in whether you spread the truth or not.

There is so much evidence of the round earth available in the world around us without appeal to digital media, the cycle of the seasons, scheduled passages of the moon and the planets, observations of Coriolis forces in the weather patterns and simple ballistics, the capacity to jump in an airplane heading west and continue to head west until you get back to where you started, the passage of satellites and spacecraft visible from the surface of the Earth over our heads, the very existence of GPS available on your goddamn smart phone, to the common shapes of objects like the moon and planets visible through telescopes in the night skies around us, that appeals to flat earth conspiracies show a breathtaking lack of capacity to understand how the world fits together. That it comes from a figure who is ostensibly a force of truth –an educator– is truly deeply hurtful to those of us who developed that truth… modern scientists and engineers.

Since you are so profoundly wealthy, you among all people are singularly in a position to prove to yourself the roundness of our world. I bet you 50 million dollars that I don’t even have and will spend my entire life trying to repay, that you can rent an airliner with an honest pilot of your choice and fly west along a route also of your choice, and come back to the airport you originally departed from without any significant eastward travel. Heck, you can do the same exercise heading north or south if you want. And, if that experiment isn’t enough, use your celebrity to talk to Elon Musk: I hear he’s selling tickets now to rich people for flights around the moon. I bet he would build you a specially-sized two-person-converted-to-one berth in his Dragon capsule to give you a ride high enough to take a look for yourself at the shape of the world, if your eyes are the only thing you’ll believe. If you lose, you pay a 49 million dollar endowment to the University of Colorado Department of Physics for the support of Physics Education –and a million to me for the heartache you caused making a mockery of my education and profession by use of your ill-gotten public soapbox and mindlessly open mouth. Moreover, if you lose, you relinquish your Doctorate and make a public apology for standing for exactly the opposite of what that degree means.

Sincerely,

Foolish Physicist
of Poetry in Physics

Edit 4-5-17:

So, Shaq walked back his comments.

O’Neal: “The first part of the theory is, I’m joking, you idiots. That’s the first part of the theory. The second part is, I said jokingly that when I’m in my bus and I drive from Florida to California, which I do every summer, it seems to be flat. When I’m in my plane, and we’re getting ready to land, and I open up the window, and I’m looking at all the land that we’re flying over, it seems to be flat.”

“This world we live in, people take things too seriously, but I’m going to give the people answers to my test,” he said. “Knowing that I’m a funny guy, if something seems controversial or boom, boom, boom, you’ve got to have my funny points on, right? So now, once you have my funny points on, that should eradicate and get rid of all your negative thoughts, right? That’s what you should do when you hear a Shaquille O’Neal statement, OK? You should know that he has funny points right over here, and what did he say? Boom, boom, boom, add the funny points. You either laugh or you don’t laugh, but don’t take me seriously. When I want you to take me seriously, you will know by the tone of my voice that I’m being serious.”

“No, I don’t think that,” O’Neal told Harbinger of a flat Earth. “It was a joke, OK? So know that when Shaquille O’Neal says something, 80 percent of the time I’m being humorous, and it is a joke. And 20 percent of the time, I’m being serious, but when I’m being serious, you’ll know. You want to see me, seriously? See me and Charles Barkley going back and forth on TNT. That’s when I’m mad and when I’m serious. Other than that, you’re not going to get that out of me, so I was just joking people. The Earth is not round, it’s flat. I mean, the Earth is not flat, it’s round.”

One thing that should be added to these statements is this: there are people who are actively spreading misinformation about the state of the world, for instance that the earth is flat. The internet, Youtube, blogs, you name it, has given these people a soapbox that they would not otherwise have. Given that there is a blatant antiscientific thread in the United States which is attacking accepted, settled science as a big cover-up designed to destroy the rights of the everyday man, it is the duty of scientists and educators to take the truth seriously. In a world where Theory of Evolution, Climatology and Vaccine science are all actively politicized, we have to stand up for the truth.

Where real scientists are about studying and doing our work, the antiscientific activists are solely about spreading their belief… they don’t study, they don’t question, they spend their time actively lobbying the government and appealing to legislators, running for and getting onto school boards where they have an opportunity to pick which books are presented to school districts and various places where they can actively undercut what students are told about the truth of the world. They aren’t spending their energy studying, they are spending their energy solely on tinkering with the social mechanisms which provide our society with the next generation of scientists. As such, their efforts are more directed at undercutting the mechanisms that preserve the truth rather than on evaluating the truth… as scientists do. These people can do huge damage to us all. Every screwball coming out of a diploma mill “Quantum University” with a useless, unaccredited ‘PhD’… who goes off to promote woo-bong herbalist healthcare as an alternative to science based medicine, does damage to us all by undercutting what it means to get healthcare and by putting crankery and quackery in all seriousness at the same level as scientific truth when there should be no comparison.

If everybody understood that there is no ‘alternative’ to the truth, joking about what is true would mean something totally different to me. But, we live in a world where ‘alternative facts’ are a real thing and where everyone with a soapbox can say whatever they wish without fear of reprisal. Lying is a protected right! But someone has to stand up for truth. That someone should be scientists and educators. That should include an ‘education doctorate’ like the Shaq. If he were an NBA numbskull without the doctorate, I would care less: Kyrie Irving is a joke. But he isn’t; he’s got a doctorate and he has a responsibility to uphold what that degree means! The only reason humor in irony can work is if it can be clear that one is being ironic instead of serious… and that is never completely clear in this world.

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How to learn Quantum Mechanics: not like this!

This particular topic never fails to get my hackles up. At breakfast this morning, I stumbled over an article about Willow Smith. This article linked to a profile on the same person.

Up front, Jaden and Willow Smith have both made their feelings about school well known. They are home schooled and actively decry spending time in the classroom.

The Smith kids are a master course on how to game the media. Every article about them comes off crooning over how smart and otherworldly they are. Jaden Smith opens his mouth and utters endless solipsisms with offhand references to ‘mathematics’ and ‘theoretical physicists’ and the tabloids bend over in awe about his perceived intellectual might. Never mind that for all his talk about ‘math’ and ‘physics’ he has not once pulled out any associated skill in a place where it’s clear that he doing anything but reading Deepak Chopra –which is a really bad way to learn anything about Quantum Mechanics.

When I think of Willow Smith, I will always think of this:

I went to school for one year. It was the best experience but the worst experience. The best experience because I was, like, “Oh, now I know why kids are so depressed.” But it was the worst experience because I was depressed.

Followed closely by this:

maybe even attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) one day. It’s why she hopped on a flight to tour the campus in Cambridge directly after Paris Fashion Week (where she excited a flashing mob of paparazzi with karate kicks at Chanel’s #frontrowonly show—NBD!). “It was nice to be able to talk to female students and professors about science and logic because that’s just such a man’s world,” she notes.

This pair of quotes is separated by a couple years. The first outlines why she won’t stay in school while the second is suggesting that she’s thinking about jumping into the iconic school of STEM education. Does she want to be in school or not? She’s been in school for only a year total in her life and doesn’t like the process, but she wants to jump into MIT??? If you can’t handle the classroom in a normal highschool, you are not only flunking out of a University, but talking about a place like MIT just for the name recognition is a complete joke. To get into MIT and make it meaningful, the bare minimum is not merely a GED, it’s excellent scores on ACT and SAT. You can’t just talk your way through that. Maybe money is enough to open all the doors, but what do you do when the professor has shoved a test in front of you and demanded that you either get an ‘A’ on it or fail? You can’t cry about gender discrimination if you are not capable of handling the task put in front of you… and it sure as hell won’t be a photo shoot with you dressed head to foot in swanky leather.

In the GRE, before heading into graduate school as a physicist, I managed nearly an 800 on my math score. That is not kidding you. To get that number required a meaningful amount of bashing my skull against the wall –I think that most people can probably do it, but it’s not trivial preparing to be able to. There were no solipsisms that I was uttering. I did better than the average on my Physics GREs. The time spent being able to do this would never have allowed for a trip to Paris fashion week; it required months of diligent, focused work! It’s like sharpening a razor blade or learning the form for an Olympic level high jump or learning how to shoot a sniper rifle and being able to hit the bull’s eye every time at two thousand yards. You know how marines get that good? They sit on the firing range all day with their faces glued into the sighting scope, shooting round after round after round. Just buying the gun isn’t enough. You have to work at it really hard and there’s not much time to do other stuff. Getting there leaves you pissing the intellectual equivalent of blood for your efforts –literally dinged and light headed as if you just stood a round against Connor McGregor and got the crap kicked out of you! My first two years in graduate school several times had me in tears. I was dreaming in mathematics and waking up in the middle of the night with the equations swirling around me. You’ve not lived until you’re deriving vector expressions for E-field polarization in light from Maxwell’s equations in your sleep. Breathing the topic, eating it, changes you. I regretted it at the time, but that place where demands are being made that are just beyond where you think you can go really does force you to break your own limits. The reality of physics very rapidly squeezes out anything resembling Osho or Prana energy.

Now, it’s with me forever and not just words. The feeling and the vision are still there along with the addiction of cracking problems apart and seeing where they implode into order.

In truth, there are people in this world who are ‘that’ smart. There is a small chance the Smith kids are among them. I do believe them to be bright, but how bright? Not like you can actually tell something like that from a tabloid interview. I’ve met and interacted with a few of these people, though I wouldn’t qualify myself among them. These people are truly scary because no matter how hard you work, they do better than you on the same test without having seemingly put in the effort. On the other hand, when they talk, it’s clear that they know what they’re talking about… with the Smith kids, it’s endless alliteration and metaphor without any substantial verification of the background. They use the words, but shove them into metaphors as if they have no concept of what the words actually mean. I was completely capable of that myself at that age! I talked endlessly about hypercubes and event horizons when I was seventeen, but ask me now if I truly understood it.

This particular article about Willow Smith drove me to write something on this blog because of this:

Willow sews clothing, hosts underground teachings in quantum mechanics, and is studying how to produce songs from mathematical equations

And in the other article, this:

1. Willow Smith likes to sew.

2. Willow Smith is a self-proclaimed “STEM freak.”

3. Willow Smith chatted with female professors at MIT about science and logic, and might attend school there.

4. Willow Smith’s eyeliner philosophy is “all about emulating the colors you feel inside,” which is probably the best eyeliner philosophy, tbh.

5. This whole interaction between Willow Smith and Siri: “‘I see myself as a — €”hold on, let me ask Siri.’ The teenager whips out her iPhone and speaks into it, drawing stares from tables nearby. ‘Siri, define artisan.’ Everybody’s favorite robotic voice serves up a satisfying definition: Artisan is a worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand. ‘Ah, OK, yes!’ Willow allows. ‘I call myself an artisan.'”

6. Willow Smith is studying how to produce songs from mathematical equations.

7. Willow Smith “hosts underground teachings in quantum mechanics.”

A big portion of what’s written here is about some combination of science, physics and math… having never actually demonstrated a competence at any of these in a public framework! What does it mean ‘hosts underground teachings in quantum mechanics?’ Is she sitting around with a group of her friends learning how to derive Klebsch-Gordon recurrence formulas?  For all that the article applauds her for using the words, there’s zero demonstration of the substance. You can look back at my post about Quantum University to know what I think of that.

I’m all for STEM education in women. I’ve dealt with female physicists who pulled higher scores than me in my quantum classes. I have a deep respect for women in STEM and I know flat out that they are capable of wickedly cool things. Take Emmy Noether, for instance. General Relativity would not be the same as a field without her. The difference here is that Emmy Noether actually did it. She didn’t wear around the aura of doing it, she didn’t abstractly pay lip service to ‘quantum mechanics,’ she produced real mathematical topology results never having once wasted her time singing about it in a recording booth, going on photo shoots for whoever or beaming about Prana energy, Ayurveda or Osho. After they get to the level I’m at, most of these women stop worrying so much about how they dress or what makeup they wear because they simply don’t have the time to spend the effort. I respect them because of the bias they wade against in many fields and it blows me away when they dress just as comfortably as the guys and pull through tests neck-in-neck. They can certainly do what they want with their clothing, but with many of them, it’s clear where they put their budget of energy. Most stop troweling on the eyeliner or lipstick unless they feel like it. Give me a clean-faced, smiling woman in flat, comfortable shoes with a three second pony-tail talking competently about Fourier transforms over this paper-tiger with her photo shoots and nonsensical posing any day. Willow Smith is casting the image of what popular culture wants smart to be… not what it actually is!

This girl could be an incredible benefit to her generation: she could make it cool for girls to do well in engineering type disciplines (if she were actually doing that, of course, which is debatable). She and her brother could make it cool for kids to be science geeks like I was. However, in order to actually accomplish in these fields, you can’t just wear the aura. If you are divided in your path and can’t get behind the idea of sitting in a classroom learning how to tell when you’re wrong, and really being pushed into a territory where almost no one is just ‘comfortable,’ you aren’t making it. Don’t delude yourself, it’s never just the words! Anybody can sound smart.

Much ado is made about them ‘teaching themselves’ in the book of life and how much better that is than the classroom. The problem with self study education (autodidacticism at the extreme), is that it’s hard to learn how to error-check your own thoughts. There are not that many true autodidacts because of that. People don’t easily step outside of themselves to know whether the information they’ve picked up is correct or not. Adding to a library means sometimes knowing when to discard a book. For instance, reading Deepak Chopra is not going to take you anywhere in learning quantum mechanics, but you can’t necessarily know this without some external direction since Chopra actively works to make what he says look like a legitimate truth deserving of as much consideration as what the topic of quantum mechanics actually contains. If you’re spending too much time pondering such chaff, you go nowhere with the things that have substance which take huge amounts of time to understand, like real Quantum Mechanics. And, if you accept what Chopra says as a valid interpretation because of some eastern mystic mentality, you have sabotaged yourself from knowing what real quantum can give you. For something like this type of physics, which contains no close conceptual parallels in our workaday world, without some guidance toward where the field lies, there’s not any reason why anyone can teach themselves to sort out what’s truth from what isn’t.

I think that the path to deep understanding of something like quantum physics is not along the path she’s walking… if she were actually walking it, it wouldn’t be ‘learning how to make songs about mathematical equations’ it would be ‘learning math.’ You can’t go deep or far if you’re divided. Your purpose can’t be distantly around, it has to be directly through. For instance, you can’t really learn quantum if you’re wasting time pretending that Ayurveda contains some kind of equivalent truth. That would have you spending time on the Ayurveda and not on the math. Quantum is a handful all by itself, let me tell you! I wish very much for her to prove me wrong, to prove to me that she has some substance to go with the borrowed legitimacy from using the words ‘quantum’ and ‘math’ to describe half of what she does. If I were invited to one of her ‘underground quantum mechanics teachings’ believe me, I could knock the topic straight and make it real… but I doubt anybody like me is ever invited. Likely, it’s all Ayurveda and Chopra and 2% real quantum.

Prove me wrong, girl! In five years, when you’re 20, after you’ve scraped off the makeup and put away the toys, gotten the GED and dominated the aptitude tests, then spent enough real effort on learning higher math to know what an equation is, we’ll chat again about what you like at MIT.

Math is fun, but you’ve got to really do it!