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Peter Marquardt
The Mole Hill Effect

Date: 2010-02-27 Time: 07:00 - 09:30 US/Pacific (1 decade 1 year ago)
America/Los Angeles: 2010-02-27 07:00 (DST)
America/New York: 2010-02-27 10:00 (DST)
America/Sao Paulo: 2010-02-27 11:00
Europe/London: 2010-02-27 14:00
Asia/Colombo: 2010-02-27 19:30
Australia/Sydney: 2010-02-28 01:00 (DST)

Where: Online Video Conference
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Science has its peculiar way: It doesn't forgive the slightest mistake, and, with its too many pitfalls, it makes us careless. These pitfalls are like mole hills that make us stumble all too easily while we look for the mountains. There are mole hills galore. They come in two categories: Psychological and factual, both playing an important role, usually entangled in a tricky way.

Psychological Aspects of Mole Hills

Pet ideas are easily adopted but hard to get rid of. A common pet idea has it that science provides us with �nderstanding' so we can �xplain' when applying �ommon sense'. But does it? All we can ask for is consistency. The price for carelessness is inconsistency which sooner or later surfaces, even if a theory happens to produce a �orrect' result that seems to be in accord with an experimental observation. We should not forget that correct results are just a necessary condition, but never sufficient to give a theory a permanent place in the Temple of Science. �uccess', especially if owed to �athematical benevolence', may be deceptive and may make us jump at conclusions. Observer-centered views and unscientific questions are dead-end roads which blocked the course of physics all too often. The old story of geocentric vs. heliocentric conceptions has been repeated by 20th century physics, invariably confusing the two worlds. We should be aware that an assumption, be it principal, conceptual or specific with respect to the experiment/theory in question, is not a fact and that science is in dire need of its own clear language and unambiguous definitions.

Factual (Scientific) Aspects of Mole Hills

Under the aspect of the above mole hills, it comes as no surprise that special and general relativity, Copenhagen quantum theory with its �ncertainty principle' and misleading �ave-particle dualism', Big Bang, and even the time-honored Maxwell electromagnetism remain open to justified criticism. A formula all by itself does not provide insight because math is blind to the underlying physical mechanism. There are several ways to interpret the Planck radiation formula, one of them excluding the existence of single photons; several ways to consider the role of Planck's �uantum of action', one of them focusing on quantization as a dynamic ensemble effect; several ways to �erive' the gamma factor of high-speed (�eo') mechanics in absolute space, one of them trying to give a dynamic reason for an upper limiting speed; several ways to interpret the Michelson-Morley result, one of them accounting for the conditions of both null effect and shift of interference pattern; several ways to account for the success of Maxwell electromagnetism, one of them including its limits and failures�lt;/p>

It is rewarding to keep an open eye on all those innocent-looking mole hills. In any case, personal cult is the most dangerous because unnoticed mole hill, a master pitfall! Modesty in science and hard work are the best medicine against its dangers.