On the importance of units

In my recent talk about fine tuning, I mentioned that the numerical value of a physical quantities with units (such as meters, joules, etc.) is just an arbitrary human convention.  So if you don't understand the grammar of units, you may end up talking nonsense without realizing it.

Here is a sign that illustrates the dire consequences of disregarding such niceties:

About Aron Wall

I am a postdoctoral researcher studying quantum gravity and black hole thermodynamics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my first postdoc at UC Santa Barbara.
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32 Responses to On the importance of units

  1. Jack Spell says:

    That's hilarious!

  2. Scott Church says:

    Wow... this rocks! Shamelessly stealing it for future use... :D

  3. Haven't you ever seen the need for the unit feet-person-years before? :)

  4. Aron Wall says:

    Eric,
    Usually that kind of grammatical construction would mean feet times persons times years, which would be another thing altogether.

  5. Sharon R. says:

    My favorite sad unit failure:

    http://edition.cnn.com/TECH/space/9909/30/mars.metric.02/

    I worked on that project, in a tiny way, but only on *downlink* telemetry, and only as a tester. I only had to verify that the software met requirements (like "There shall be a user interface") not that any of it actually worked.

  6. Andrew says:

    I use to be so bad at this when I first took a physics class in High School, I use to always get on my home work in big bold capital letters "NO UNITS!!!" ... well I passed and I'm much better at it now, at least :)

  7. Johannes says:

    Related to this subject, some years ago I thought about the possibility of God leaving a message or signature in some physical constant. My conclusion was that such constant would have to be:

    1. adimensional, for the reason mentioned in this article;
    2. fundamental, otherwise we would start finding messages in anything;
    3. relevant, otherwise we would have to consider the ratios of the masses of any two fundamental particles of the Standard Model.
    [Correction: the fine structure constant isn't relevant, it's marginal--AW]

    These 3 requirements leave us with just two constants satisfying them: the fine structure constant and the strong coupling constant. The final choice comes from the requirement of:

    4. room for writing: we must be able to measure the constant with a precision high enough for there being a sufficient number of least significant digits to carry the message without affecting the fine tuning of the universe for the development of life.

    Since the fine structure constant has been measured with a precision of 12 significant digits while the strong coupling constant has been measured with a precision of 4 significant digits, only the former is apt for encoding a message, which of course can reside only in its fractional part in order not to affect fine tuning.

    For anyone interested, I developed a speculative hypothesis about a possible such message in the article linked to my nickname above.

  8. Moschops says:

    Re: Messages from universe's creator embedded in constant

    How about Pi (in flat space)?

  9. Message searcher says:

    Mathematical constants like pi or e cannot be arbitrarily set, and so give no freedom for writing.

  10. Aron Wall says:

    Message searcher is completely right that the values of \pi and e follow from pure logic alone. Omnipotence does not include the power to do things which are logically impossible, and making \pi or e have any other value would fall into that category.

    However, I also wish to register my complete and total skeptism regarding St. Johannes' supposed message in the fine structure constant. I don't want to be rude, but calculating the value of the fine-structure constant from numerology is a pretty classic crackpot move, and I've seen this kind of thing many times before (with completely different explanations, of course). The fact is that there are so many different arbitrary assumptions, explicit and hidden, in this calculation, that I'm convinced that no matter what value the fine-structure constant took, one could find an equally interesting coincidence with some complicated calculation related to the Bible (of course having nothing to do with its actual message; cf. Titus 3:9 and the other warnings about speculation in the Pastoral Letters.)

    There is no consensus on either the exact birth year or the death year of Jesus, and Johannes does not even select the most popular scholarly choice for Jesus birth, which is 4 BC. So even if God did want to reveal himself through codes in Nature---itself a highly dubious assumption---this would be an horribly ineffective choice of message. If God had wanted us to care about the exact lifespan of Jesus in hours, he could have stated it directly in the Bible. As far as I know Johannes is the only person in the world whom it would be a message to, since no other theologian or historian shares his exact set of assumptions about the lifespan of Jesus in hours. (And I suspect that Johannes only has that exact set of assumptions in order to match the fine-structure constant.)

    Now, if Johannes had been able to predict the value of the fine-structure constant before learning its measured value, that would have been more impressive.

  11. Johannes says:

    "There is no consensus on either the exact birth year or the death year of Jesus, and Johannes does not even select the most popular scholarly choice for Jesus birth, which is 4 BC."

    Even if 4 BC is the most popular scholarly choice, which I strongly doubt, it is clearly not the most probable, as the most probable scenario is that the eclipse before the final illness of Herod was on 15 Sep 5 BC and that the Passover after Herod's death was on 11 Apr 4 BC. This conclusion agrees with several recent comprehensive and detailed studies on the subject [16] [17] [18] [19].

    Since Herod met the Magi in Jerusalem (Mt 2:1,3), the meeting had to be before he left the city some time after 15 Sep 5 BC. Assuming that the meeting occurred within the 1-year interval Sep 6 BC - Sep 5 BC, and that Herod's subsequent order to execute all babies in the area "two years old and under" reflected his own uncertainty about Jesus' date of birth "in accordance with the time (of the star's appearance) he had ascertained from the magi" (Mt 2:7,16), Jesus could have been born between 2 years before the start and 6 months before the end of that interval, i.e. between Sep 8 BC - March 5 BC.

    "If God had wanted us to care about the exact lifespan of Jesus in hours, he could have stated it directly in the Bible."

    What would have been the use of it before the measurement of the fsc with enough precision by D. Hanneke, S. Fogwell and G. Gabrielse in 2008? Regarding the lifespan itself, the hour of death is narrowly determined by the Gospels between 15:00 and 16:00, and the birth is stated to have occurred at night. Add the theological presuposition that Jesus' circumcision, being a prefiguration of his Passion, took place on a 14 Nisan, and that's it. Nothing complicated here.

    "Now, if Johannes had been able to predict the value of the fine-structure constant before learning its measured value, that would have been more impressive."

    That makes no sense whatsoever from the standpoint of faith. The main premise of my work was that, IF God wanted to use a physical constant to convey a message, THEN the most suitable candidate was the fractional part of the fsc. From that premise, predicting the value of said fractional part amounts to predicting the message that God may have wanted to convey. Which does not sound particularly sensible, does it? "Hey, I know beforehand what God would have written, even before having read it! Because I know the mind of God!" (compare with Romans 11:33-34).

    [16] Ed Rickard, 2015. The Lunar Eclipse before Herod's Death.
    http://www.themoorings.org/Jesus/birth/lunar_eclipse.html

    [17] Charles D. Davis, 2015. Herodian chronology reconciled to a 5 B.C. September 15 lunar eclipse.
    http://theos-sphragis.info/herodian_chronology_julian_sep15_eclipse.html

    [18] Charles D. Davis, 2015. Reign of Herod the Great: 47 B.C. to his death in 4 B.C.
    http://theos-sphragis.info/herods_regnal_years.html

    [19] Aaron Adair, 2013. The Star of Bethlehem Documentary–The Death of Herod and Josephus’ Account.
    https://gilgamesh42.wordpress.com/2013/02/14/the-star-of-bethlehem-documentary-the-death-of-herod-and-josephus-account-2/

  12. Aron Wall says:

    Johannes,
    I think what you are doing now is just as arrogant as predicting it in advance would have been (but also much less impressive from the point of view of knowing it isn't a coincidence).

    In any case, you haven't responded to my main criticism of your argument, which is that these sorts of numerological coincidences are a dime a dozen and don't prove anything, because they are so easy to construct. (I linked to one example in my comment, please read it, but there are many more.) As I said, I've seen very similar things many times before.

    Also, "night" does not determine a specific hour (even if I accept the patristic suggestion of 14 Nisan, which is pure speculation since they were almost certainly just guessing themselves). If you needed numerology and theological assumptions just to predict the lifespan of Jesus in the first place, then there are multiple layers of speculation here. I read your article and you make a lot more assumptions in it than the ones you've listed here, for example you said that Jesus had to be 36 years old because 36 = 6 x 6 and 6 is a perfect number related to creation (but if it had been a number composed of 3's or 7's or 12's or 10's or 4's or anything else, you would have been able to explain that as well numerologically). The fact that you are comparing to fractions of 1000 years is also an assumption. As is the fact that you are only interested in the fractional part of \alpha and not the whole number. I tell you the truth (this is a fact of my professional expertise) if you make that many different arbitrary assumptions you can explain anything. The amount of information content in your assumptions is as great as the amount in the fine structure constant.

    Also, you do not seem to understand the meaning of error bars. They aren't exact ranges.

  13. Johannes says:

    After writing my last comment, I realized that the Pauline passage I referenced, which quotes Isaiah 40:13, should be taken in conjunction with another Pauline passage which also quotes Isaiah 40:13:

    “For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor 2:16).

    Of course, we Christians have not come to known the mind of God through our own wit, but only because the Holy Spirit has revealed it to us, as St. Paul said a few verses before:

    For God has revealed it to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the things of the man, except the spirit of the man within him? So also, no one knows the things of God, except the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit from God, that we may know the things having been granted to us by God, (1 Cor 2:10-12).

    From this and these words of Jesus to the Father: "Now this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent." (Jn 17:3), we can infer that any message from God potentially located in a physical constant would point specifically to Jesus. Because knowledge of Jesus implies knowledge of God, i.e. Christianity implies theism, but the reverse is clearly not true.

  14. Johannes says:

    "In any case, you haven't responded to my main criticism of your argument, which is that these sorts of numerological coincidences are a dime a dozen and don't prove anything, because they are so easy to construct. (I linked to one example in my comment, please read it, but there are many more.)"

    I read the article and it is clear that the coincidence between the speed of light and the coordinates of the pyramid is plain BS, since:
    - the meter is an arbitrary unit of length,
    - the second is an arbitrary unit of time, and
    - the division of the circumference in 360 degrees is arbitrary.

    In contrast, I am expressing the hypothetic lifespan of Jesus as a fraction of 1000 years. In a strongly anthropocentric view of the physical universe, arising from a theocentric and specifically chistocentric view of reality (1 Cor 3:22-23), the year is NOT an arbitrary unit of time. I deal with the 1000 issue below.

    "I read your article and you make a lot more assumptions in it than the ones you've listed here, for example you said that Jesus had to be 36 years old because 36 = 6 x 6 and 6 is a perfect number related to creation"

    We must distinguish between the critical assumptions leading to the result, which are very few, and the additional assumptions showing its plausibility. The one you mentioned belongs to the
    second group:

    "The fact that you are comparing to fractions of 1000 years is also an assumption."

    It is, but it is based on Psalm 90:4, in turn quoted by 2 Peter 3:8.

    "As is the fact that you are only interested in the fractional part of \alpha and not the whole number."

    This is the weakest of objections and the last to be expected from you, as you know better than most people that the integer part is constrained by the fine tuning of the universe of the development of life, and therefore it is not available for conveying a message.

  15. Aron Wall says:

    [Edits made after posting this--AW]

    This is, obviously, a complete misunderstanding of the meaning of 2 Peter 3:8. It is a poetic way of saying that with God an arbitrarily long period of time is the same as a short period. It could have said "a million years is like a microsecond" and it would have been the same message. It is extremely unsound exegesis to take it to be the key to a secret code, as all sorts of cranks and crackpots do (like that guy recently who "calculated" that the rapture would come in 2011). The passage is about God's experience of time, not about the human experience of time, or the lifespan of any human being, let alone the fine structure constant. You are wrenching it completely out of context and applying it in a sense that the author never meant.

    And even if you do take it literally, it says 1000\,years = 1\,day, not 1000\,years = 1\,unit of the inverse fine structure constant. The units of that last equation don't even agree. ;-)

    If the universe is anthropomorphic, then why couldn't God care about arbitrary human conventions like the length of a meter or a second? And 360 isn't arbitrary, it's just 10 times 36 which is the number of fingers on a man's hand times your magic number which is 6 x 6. :-)

    But of course the pyramid thing is BS! That's exactly why it makes a good test case. The point is that you can find this kind of coincidence in situations where we know it is bullshit, shows us that these concidences aren't very hard to construct. You could replace the speed of light with some random number taken from the phone book, and as long as human beings invested it with significance, eventually somebody would find a numerical conincidence involving it.

    Your comment about the Holy Spirit is also off-base. Revealing messages in code is not the normal way that the Holy Spirit communicates with people. I grant you that Christ is the meaning of Scripture, but his exact age in hours is not relevant to anything of spiritual importance. If I believed you it would not in any way improve my spiritual life.

    And, if the Holy Spirit does guide the Church regarding facts like the birthday of Christ (which I doubt, due to its spiritual irrelevance) then the answer is clearly Dec 25, because that's the date the Church settled on. Based in part on an early tradition that Christ was conceived on the same day that he was crucified, which is inconsistent with your idea.

    We must distinguish between the critical assumptions leading to the result, which are very few, and the additional assumptions showing its plausibility.

    Yeah sorry, my bad, your 7 BC date was primarily based on a controversial view about when the Census took place. The point is that if even Christian scholars can't agree on the date, it's hardly a good choice of message.

  16. Hamid says:

    If one were supposed to "elect" The Dark Matter particle such as a wimp or even dark energy then how would it interact with the Standard Model particles? Perhaps a ton of material could still be written about the subject matter. Notice that we say "elect" as in an election of a number of different particle candidates. The naturally interesting question here is when does the problem reduce to SUSY and when does it reduce to string theory rather than the most difficult parts of statistical physics or QFT? In particular, theology and specifically monotheism could definitely help in more than philosophical arguments here! It is in fact argued by some that Christianity is also monotheistic. This is except for certain difficulties involving considerations of Christ or the Messiah as the son of God. In this regard, one can not find a yardstick to measure the Imam although it is as difficult to "elect" either one! In fact, one might rightfully object that it is not a matter of election but a matter of righteousness, ethics and religious theology. In particular, it is of importance how far off we are from the election as theories like SUSY and superstring theories might estimate the matter over finite periods of time with different possibilities of superpartners? But that does not appear to be the theological question in hand of in search of the Imam!

  17. Johannes says:

    "This is, obviously, a complete misunderstanding of the meaning of 2 Peter 3:8. It is a poetic way of saying that with God an arbitrarily long period of time is the same as a short period."

    It would have been a complete misunderstanding if I had thought that the precise equivalence of 1,000 years to 1 day from the perspective of God was the principal meaning of that passage and of Psalm 90:4, which is NOT what I think. Of course "it is a poetic way of saying that with God an arbitrarily long period of time is the same as a short period." The use of the precise relationship as a hint for the interpretation of the fractional part of the fsc is just a by product.

    "And even if you do take it literally, it says 1000 years = 1 day, not 1000 years = 1 unit of the inverse fine structure constant. The units of that last equation don't even agree. ;-)"

    As I said, I take it to be just a hint, together with the fact that no symbolic human age in the Bible surpasses 1000 years.

    "If the universe is anthropomorphic, then why couldn't God care about arbitrary human conventions like the length of a meter or a second?"

    The premise of that question is wrong, because I did NOT say that the material universe was "anthropomorphic" but "anthropocentric", i.e. created for the sustainment of humans, who in turn were created for sharing in the life of God through membership of his Son. Therefore I do not need to address the question itself, which really is not warranted any serious consideration.

    "Your comment about the Holy Spirit is also off-base. Revealing messages in code is not the normal way that the Holy Spirit communicates with people."

    I did NOT quote 1 Cor 2:10-12,16 to imply that my hypothesis was a revelation from the Holy Spirit! Rather, I took it into account together with Rom 11:33-34, which I had referenced before, to reach the double conclusion that:

    - based on the natural light of human reason alone, we cannot have any idea whatsoever a priori about what message God might have wanted to encode in a physical constant, IF He decided to encode any message at all,

    - based on Christian revelation by the Holy Spirit (by which I mean Holy Scripture and, for Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, Holy Apostolic Tradition as well), we can safely assume that any message encoded by God in a physical constant (again, IF He decided to encode any message at all) would point clearly to Jesus Christ.

    Clearly the second point is vastly different from saying that my conjecture about such a possible message was a revelation by the Holy Spirit.

    "I grant you that Christ is the meaning of Scripture, but his exact age in hours is not relevant to anything of spiritual importance. If I believed you it would not in any way improve my spiritual life."

    First, the whole point of my work is NOT Jesus' exact age in hours, but the possible coincidence of that age with the only physical constant which might conceivably contain a message from God. Of course, the coincidence itself is clearly of no spiritual significance for a Christian and of no apologetic significance for a non Christian. At most, a Christian perceiving it as true could find in it some aesthetic pleasure and a marginal additional reason to glorify God. At that level, the case would be similar as the remarkable coincidence which I found between the narrative of the first two days of creation in Gen 1:1-8 and a specific cosmological hypothesis consisting of a closed universe whose initial state was at the start of the inflationary epoch, empty of matter and radiation and with only the "inflaton" scalar field that drives inflationary expansion (which I linked at my nickname in this comment).

    "And, if the Holy Spirit does guide the Church regarding facts like the birthday of Christ (which I doubt, due to its spiritual irrelevance) then the answer is clearly Dec 25, because that's the date the Church settled on."

    Even if Jesus was born on the same day as He died according to the solar calendar, it would have still made sense to celebrate Christmas in December and not on Good Friday (or 7 days before it, using the lunar calendar), otherwise the conmemoration of his Passion and Death would have completely eclipsed that of his Birthday.

    BTW, it is truly amazing to hear this particular reasoning from a Protestant, because towards the end of the 4th century, which was when the Church settled on the Dec 25 date for Christmas [1], it had also settled on a number of issues that Protestants do not accept.

    "Based in part on an early tradition that Christ was conceived on the same day that he was crucified, which is inconsistent with your idea."

    On the contrary, the original tradition underlying Dec 25 is consistent with my idea, because the whole base for the "integral age" notion is a literal understanding of Deut 31:2 [2]:

    And he said to them, "I am a hundred and twenty years old today; I am no longer able to come and go, and the LORD has said to me, 'You shall not cross this Jordan.' (Deut 31:2)

    By the time of Jesus, this had been interpreted by Jewish scribes as if Moses was stating that he was turning 120 years old that very day, which was also the day he died. Therefore, the precedent of Moses supports the same date for birth and death, not the same date for conception and death. Adopting the latter scheme was useful for separating the celebration of Christmas from that of Easter.

    "The point is that if even Christian scholars can't agree on the date, it's hardly a good choice of message."

    Notably, though I clearly prefer dating Jesus' birth in 7 BC and Crucifixion on 30 AD, dating them in 4 BC and 33 AD respectively leads to exactly the same result regarding his age at death. Very briefly, all that is needed is a difference of 8 days in the dates of the new moon used to determine the start of the month of Nisan, which is fulfilled by both pairs of years:

    7 BC: March 30, 7 p.m. - 30 AD: March 22, 6 p.m.
    4 BC: March 27, 4 a.m. - 33 AD: March 19, 10 a.m.

    Notes:

    [1] Except the Armenian Church, which kept Jan 6 as date for conmemorating both the Birth and the Baptism ("Teophany") of Jesus. This is unrelated to the Julian vs Gregorian calendar issue, so that that Armenian "Old Calendarists" celebrate the feast on Gregorian Jan 19.

    [2] http://jimmyakin.com/2014/11/integral-age-update.html

  18. Aron Wall says:

    This is not really the best thread to argue Protestantism vs. Catholicism. Suffice it to say, that I do believe the Holy Spirit guides the Church but I don't believe that the Church is infallible. I was merely pointing out to you that the patristic tradition, which you claimed supports your views, actually says something quite different. Also, did you notice that in Ref. [2], St. Jimmy says the view that Moses died on his birthday "is not exegetically sound"?

    we can safely assume that any message encoded by God in a physical constant (again, IF He decided to encode any message at all) would point clearly to Jesus Christ."

    Right, and your message doesn't meet the "clearly" part of that criterion, since the message is clear only to yourself and not to anyone else.

    Of course, the coincidence itself is clearly of no spiritual significance for a Christian and of no apologetic significance for a non Christian.

    My point exactly. To me this seems ugly, rather than aesthetic, because of its uselessness.

    In any case, taking a year (or a millenium) to be a significant period of time contradicts your own rules which you laid out at the beginning, that any meaningful constant used in a message would have to be both fundamental and dimensionless. A year is neither fundamental, nor is it dimensionless.

  19. Johannes says:

    "the patristic tradition, which you claimed supports your views, actually says something quite different."

    The patristic tradition focuses on the celebration of Christmas, not on the actual date. Adopting the "integral age" notion, and mistakingly placing the date of crucifixion on March 25, you can fork in one of two directions depending on the starting point taken for the integral age, so that if you take conception on March 25, then birth falls on December 25. This has the obvious advantage of separating the celebration of Christmas from that of Easter.

    Was that position unanimous in the early Church? No, as recorded by Clement of Alexandria (150-215) and Hippolytus of Rome (170-236). Regarding the latter, although his "Commentary on Daniel" ch 4:23 gives a birth date of 25 December in the 42nd year of Augustus, most scholars have consistently held that the date of 25 December was a later interpolation. The author's date may be preserved in a single - and the oldest - manuscript which curiously contradicts itself by giving two dates: both 25 December and 2 April.

    The second date coincides with an inscription in the Paschal tables engraved on the base of a statue of Hippolytus which was probably executed during his last years and discovered in 1551 in Rome. The table on the left side lists the Julian calendar dates for 14 Nisan for each year starting from 222; and at the second year of the table, corresponding to 223 AD for which 14 Nisan was 2 April, is the note "genesis Christou". Of course, you cannot be sure whether "genesis" refers to conception or birth.

    Finally, Pseudo-Cyprian "De Pascha Computus" (243), falsely ascribed to Cyprian, combines Biblical chronology and symbolic number configurations to give a birthdate of 28 March, also a 14 Nisan. One school of thought believes this work represents a revision and expansion of the Paschal tables of Hippolytus. Another states that both Hippolytus and pseudo-Cyprian used the same source material, dated at the latest from the second half or the second century.

    The point of mentioning this is to point out that a date of birth of Jesus coinciding with, or very close to, that of his death was one of the main possibilities considered by Church writers at the beginning of the third century.

    "Also, did you notice that in Ref. [2], St. Jimmy says the view that Moses died on his birthday "is not exegetically sound"?"

    I did notice, and of course the view is not exegetically sound. Which did not prevent it from having been generally accepted by biblicar scholars by the time of Jesus. Anyway, my conjecture is NOT based on that view, but on Jesus' circumcision being on 14 Nisan, since it was a prefiguration of his Passion, as I note below.

    "Right, and your message doesn't meet the "clearly" part of that criterion, since the message is clear only to yourself and not to anyone else."

    What's clear for one may be obscure for another. FWIW, this is how I "saw" it in 2010, when the only precisely measured value available was 137.035 999 084 (51) from Hanneke et al, 2008. Being prompted by reading the well-known passage by Richard Feynman:

    "It's one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man. You might say the "hand of God" wrote that number, and "we don't know how He pushed his pencil." We know what kind of a dance to do experimentally to measure this number very accurately, but we don't know what kind of dance to do on the computer to make this number come out, without putting it in secretly!"

    I thought:

    "The value of the integer part is fixed by fine tuning for life. Now, a sharp value of 137.000 000 000 would have been fine for fine tuning and might have been a message in itself, signalling that there was a Creator behind it. So, whatever message there may be, it is based on the fact that the fractional part is almost, but not exactly, 36/1000."

    "1000 brings to mind the interval of 1000 years, which BTW no human age reaches in the Bible. So, what's the age in years of someone who dies 8 hours before the exact time of his 36th birthday? 36 - 8 / (24 x 365.25) = 35.999 087 years. Wow!"

    "Now, the theological basis for the coincidence is straightforward: since Jesus' circumcision has been seen since Patristic times in Christian tradition as prefiguration of the shedding of his blood in the cross, it makes sense to assume that He was circumcised on 14 Nisan, whereby He was born on 7 Nisan. Since his birth was at night, it fell on the previous Roman day, therefore all we need is a difference of 8 days in the dates of the new moon used to determine the start of the month of Nisan in 7 BC and 30 AD. Let's look at the table from USNO: 7 BC: March 30, 7 p.m.; 30 AD: March 22, 6 p.m. Case closed."

    The above reasoning is clear enough to me. And to be honest, I really don't care whether it's clear to anyone else. I perceived that I had the duty to share it instead of keeping it to myself. Once I shared it, it is none of my business whether others find it plausible, possible, or nonsense.

    "To me this seems ugly, rather than aesthetic, because of its uselessness."

    The beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Besides, to me the conjecture is marginally useful, not useless, but of course this is also subjective.

    "In any case, taking a year (or a millenium) to be a significant period of time contradicts your own rules which you laid out at the beginning, that any meaningful constant used in a message would have to be both fundamental and dimensionless. A year is neither fundamental, nor is it dimensionless."

    First of all, I did not contradict my own rules, because the physical constant used for conveying the message is alpha, which is dimensionless, fundamental and relevant. The year as unit of time is used for interpreting the message.

    Secondly, in contrast to the meter or the second, which are completely arbitrary units of their respective dimensions, in a strongly anthropocentric view of the material universe the Earth's solar year is not an arbitrary unit of time at all.

    Thirdly, and just in case, it is clear that using 8 / (24 x 365.25) in the calculation is just a way of expressing a fraction of a year, and does not imply making the hour or the day a fundamental unit of time.

  20. Aron Wall says:

    alpha, which is dimensionless, fundamental and relevant.

    It is not relevant, it is marginal, as I said in my talk. The dimensionless parameters in the Standard Model are all marginal! Just in case anyone was confused by your earlier comments.

    used for conveying the message....used for interpreting the message

    Potato, pot-ah-to. If you need both constants to read the message, then the information is not present in either constant, considered separately, but only in the combination of both of them. Just as if you had taken the ratio of two particle masses.

    And I guarantee you Feynman would not have been impressed by your analysis! In fact, he talks about how easy it is to fool yourself about this sort of thing in his essays.

    But I think you already know your argument is unconvincing, given that you admit it would be useless for apologetic purposes. What you haven't told us, is how many other coincidences you've looked for that didn't work, before you stumbled across this one! Or that you would have accepted as equally Christological if they had happened instead. Coincidences happen in life, and they are usually just coincidence! Once you've got a big enough set of numbers and dates you find significant, you can always find them; it's a fun game but it doesn't mean anything.

    Anyway, this conversation has now gone on long enough for my taste. Unless you have a very short reply to something I've said in this last comment, let's end this here.

  21. Johannes says:

    "What you haven't told us, is how many other coincidences you've looked for that didn't work, before you stumbled across this one!"

    None.

    "Anyway, this conversation has now gone on long enough for my taste. Unless you have a very short reply to something I've said in this last comment, let's end this here."

    Agree. Moreover, if you would like to delete the whole conversation, I will be fine with that. Your blog, your call.

  22. Hamid says:

    What's happening? Hi everybody. Apparently, the honorable host of the weblog is not so willing to talk about the matters anymore and perhaps it would possibly be rude to do so. Nonetheless, it is a another coincidence that Nov. 14th was my birthday which is not something that I usually mention and brag about that much. I just mentioned it just in case! In fact, I would have visited Johannes' weblog more than just out of curiosity but unfortunately the entire BlogSpot is filtered out around here for some reasons unknown to me personally! For some reasons, Johannes' reasonings about the fine structure constant actually appears quite familiar not to mention amusing to myself but I don't know where it it been that I've seen the kind. I think it might be that I once heard it from Mohammad Javad Zarif in Kharazmi high school. No, I am not even sure whether it was him that was my classmate once in the 11th grade. By the way, another coincidence is that fine as in the fine structure constant is translated as zarif in Persian.
    And quite coincidently, do you think that taking the eucharist only once makes someone a Christian or should she be baptized too? In fact, in the church of the Holy Names college I once took the eucharist although my French instructor sister (whose name I've forgotten although I remember sister Rose, my English teacher and the chair of the English department) who was sitting next to me in fact insisted that I should take it if I believed in it. In any case, there is also the question whether the value of the fine structure constant depends on the renormalization group or is it really constant? In other words, is there a grand unified theory in which the fine structure constant and the other fundamental constants become one?! I don't know. I did learn a lot from your blog though. Thanks.

  23. Hamid says:

    Coincedentally, I forgot to mention that the solar year is not the only kind of calendar that is around and we have the lunar calendar too. And in fact if someone's birthday is say on 15th of Sha'aban (the 8th lunar Arabic month), then it is quite possible that over a 1000 year period this date and 25th of December somehow coincide as the lunar year moves with respect to the solar year by some days. Isn't it possible? If possible, how many times do they coincide? A trivial question perhaps.

  24. Aron Wall says:

    Hamid,
    Your comments tend to have a lot of different ideas jumbled together in them, so it might be helpful if you could keep the topics a little more separated from each other...

    Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that he died on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins, and that he rose from the dead in order to bring you new life? If so, then I would say that you are a Christian, and should find some Christian community in your area to baptize you "in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" (Matt 28:18-20) at your earliest convenience. (Some churches have a period of instruction in the Christian faith prior to baptism. Many traditional churches, including Catholics, officially require people to be baptized before taking the Eucharist, although some churches don't require this. You will have to talk to the community in question about their rules.)

    However, if you do not believe these things about Jesus, then you aren't a Christian and you shouldn't be taking the Eucharist yet. (And taking it won't make you a Christian.) That ritual is reserved for people who are prepared to recognize Christ's sacrifice of his flesh and blood. (See 1 Cor 11:17-34). Of course, understanding the rules of another religious group can be confusing, and I certainly don't blame you for having thought it was okay, if the people who were with you said you could!

    And yes, the fine structure constant does depend on the renormalization group! The value 1/137... is its value at large distance scales, but when you get to short enough distance scales that there are a lot of electron-positron pairs (and other charged particles appear at even shorter distances) then the value begins to increase, and possibly (if grand unified theories are true) becomes equal to the values for the other forces at an extremely short distance scale.

  25. Hamid says:

    Thanks again but in this case I do not think that Christ died on the cross. This is distinctly mentioned in the verse Al-Nisa 157-158 of Quran:

    "And because of their saying: We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, Allah's messenger - they slew him not nor crucified him, but it appeared so unto them; and lo! those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture; they slew him not for certain. (157) But Allah took him up unto Himself. Allah was ever Mighty, Wise. (158)"

    How do you know that it is otherwise? How do you prove it? Are you definitely sure that he died on the cross and he was not taken up unto God? How do you know that the requirement to be a follower of Christ is the way you say it is and not the way Quran delineates it? I am not questioning you that may be Muslims are more Christians than Christians, but shouldn't you give it the benefit of the doubt that maybe Muslims are also followers of Christ?

  26. TY says:

    Hamid,

    You wrote:
    “Thanks again but in this case I do not think that Christ died on the cross. This is distinctly mentioned in the verse Al-Nisa 157-158 of Quran”.

    The Quran unambiguously says in verse Al-Nisa 158: “And their saying “We did kill the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, and the Messenger of Allah; whereas they slew him not, nor crucified him, but he was made to appear to them like one crucified…”

    Note that the Quran denies both the crucifixion and the empty tomb. An interpretation is that Quran is saying that God did not allow Jesus’ enemies to triumph over him, but rescued him.

    It’s not a question of what you or I think, but what the earliest historical writings in the Gospels say and how probable is the authenticity of the sources based on the independent accounts. There are all sorts of hypotheses – some really crazy – that Jesus did not die on the cross, but the onus is on the person making the opposing claims to provide the evidence.

    There are five facts about the crucifixion of Jesus from the Gospels:
    1. He was arrested and tried by the Romans.
    2. He was crucified on a cross.
    3. He was buried Friday afternoon by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb.
    4. The women found the tomb empty on early Sunday morning.
    5. He appeared to various people who testified,
    6. His disciples believed the resurrection and launched Christianity on this very fact on the Day of Pentecost (see Acts of the Apostles).

    one may quibble about the inconsistencies in the Gospel accounts, but the general story is the same.

    Hamid, do you have any arguments against the fact that he was crucified?

  27. Aron Wall says:

    Hamid,
    I am aware of that passage in the Quran, and to me it is one of several reasons why I cannot accept Islam. The problem with this passage in the Quran is that it would require God to be a deceiver. But if that is true then we cannot trust any prophet! A prophet should not be accepted unless their message agrees with the message revealed to previous prophets.

    As TY pointed out, there is compelling historical evidence that Jesus was crucified, and it is almost certain that his first disciples believed he was crucified. Why would God perform a miracle in order to trick the followers of a true prophet into having a false belief? Especially when the actual effects of the deception were that they started worshipping Jesus, something contrary to his will (if Islam is true). Also, there are also many passages in the Gospels where Jesus himself predicts his Crucifixion and Resurrection (including his institution of the Eucharist) and you would have to believe that all of these prophecies were faked by Jesus' disciples. Which is odd considering that the Quran speaks well of Jesus' disciples.

    In any case, if you do not believe Jesus was crucified, then you should definitely NOT participate in the Eucharist. Because the Eucharist is a memorial of Christ's death on the cross, his broken body and shed blood. You should not participate in a ritual commemorating something you believe to be a lie. Given your beliefs, that would be morally wrong. Of course I appreciate your desire for peace between Muslims and Christians but respectfully that is not the right way to go about it.

  28. Hamid says:

    Dear TY,
    As you mentioned, it is not a question of what you or I think. The Gospels say one thing and Quran say something else. This might appear on the surface to be the case as there are certain miracles involved here which is alluded to in the interpretations of the two verses in question of Quran by Allameh Tabatabaii here:

    http://lib.eshia.ir/12016/5/132
    http://lib.eshia.ir/12016/5/133
    http://lib.eshia.ir/12016/5/134

    There are certain matters which are metaphysical and supernatural and not scientific or natural such as the resurrection of Christ. About such supernatural matters, it is difficult to judge whether one should believe a person appearing before you and claiming that he is himself the Christ and saying that the matter is this way and not that way. Thus, it might appear ot everyone to go by their own Holy scriptures on not by the others'. But there is actually something much more subtle that appears to be true as I realized as I was reading Imam Khomeini's book on the rituals of daily prayers and how it concerns the heart. He himself recommends at the beginning of the book that if it is rather perplexing, then abandon continuing your study of the book. And to tell you the truth, it is perplexing indeed. How is one to teach the prayers to the heart while one does not know of the upheavals that might occur to the heart as it might stop beating a minute later or perhaps continue beating up to 20, 40 or 100 years later or even beyond that!

    There is also a difficult question on the logical ground as to what is right and what is not. If you look at this page:
    http://www.ghorany.com/quran.htm
    you will notice that Sura Al-Nesa is written Sura An-nisa. This is due to a grammatical matter that the letter N in Arabic is a lunar letter and not a sloar one and thus the letter L in Al is not pronounce and is rather suppressed. Thus, in the pronunciations it is An-Nisa or perhaps An-nesa, but in writings it is Al-Nesa. And again to tell you the truth, I myself was doubtful whether I should write it as Al-Nesa or An-nis. And this is all besides the point, because I thought I finally wrote it not as Al-Nesa but as An-nisa as it comes in the site. Nonetheless it came otherwise as Al-Nisa.

    Now, whether it is my mistake and I actually wrote Al-Nisa and not An-nisa or maybe too I wrote An-nis as in the site or I am making up a story as it is developing, it might not be a supernatural matter of even a trivial kind. And it might be easy to go back to the records and prove what actually is the truth given that one has the records all recorded. But when one tries to explain the matter, it might be claimed that aren't you hallucinating?

    And as you might have noticed, this is just possibly on the logical grounds and not entering physical leave alone metaphysical grounds. The reason to arrive at theology is that apparently one loses interests to go down to arguing on natural grounds.

    Miraculously, I wrote this to TY. And suddenly upon posting my comment, Aron's appeared!!! And so be it.

    [Hamid, your comment was caught in the automatic spam filter for some reason, but I have now approved it. However, the links seem to be in the Arabic language and therefore I cannot understand them---AW]

  29. Hamid says:

    Dear Aron,
    I honestly tried to answer TY last night and ended up with the last comment at my last post in my weblog at 3:45 in the morning. I.e. I tried to post it for you, but it refused to accept the comment! Instead, your own comment appeared. It appears to me that mankind has to work a great deal to save the human being from falling down to the levels of animals and raise himself or herself toward being servants of God. Of course, I myself am lost in my own deficiencies and my own great sins. May God forgive my sins. In fact, I prey to God to do so and to raise human beings towards all becoming true servants of God.

    God Bless You and Your Family.

  30. Hamid says:

    Either there is a short circuit in the semantics of the last comment concerning preys and prays which is out of exhaustion and lack of sleep, or it is the result of another great sin that sister Rose would never have forgiven me. In such matters, is there no supersymmetry involved which could correct the semantics and syntax? This could actually get very tricky in the interactions between mathematics and physics as the supersymmetry gets built up between the two subject matters, but the exact nature of MSSM theory remains totally uncoupled mathematical physically or perhaps it is better said as physical mathematically. Thus, a layman mathematics student of a subject matter such as Langlands (geometric) program coupled to supersymmetry remains totally perplexed as it is slowly unfolding. In fact, one might wish to make sense of it sitting at one corner of the universe, but as one changes his frame of reference to figure it out at another corner and supergravity and other possible dark or super (or not so dark or not so super) matters and energies also enter the scene further perplexities and complexities enter too. Thus, there are e.g. the butterfly and the flower and the candle, but an infinite variety of events can follow. How can one teach or prevent the butterfly not to enter the dangerous vicinities of the candle and rather remain confined around the flower? My conjecture is that mathematical physics alone does not suffice.

  31. Hamid says:

    God is not a deceiver alright, but there is a question of finding a black hole just as there are stars. Are there no black holes because we can not find one? And we can definitely deceive ourselves into saying that there are even no stars because we can not possibly find a black hole either. It might be the case that because everyone is caught in a black hole, then we are unable to observe any stars whatsoever. It might also be the case that because we are always up late at night or sleepy around the horizon or dazzled by the star's light, we can not properly observe the superstar's nature or rather his supernaturality altogether. This does not mean that one should start worshipping the superstar and forget about worshipping God himself. This has the effect that when one encounters a bunch of deceived people who are enemies of God, then he will not stand up to them even if he too gets deceived to abandon his worship. They will simply deceive everybody in order to worship their own gods of lust and greed and deceptions and force everyone to do so too because there are no other gods. Thus, it is certainly the case that God is not a deceiver, but one can definitely get caught in a situation where he or she is among a bunch of deceivers and no one else other than deceivers. He might then have to put up a fight against the deceivers or at least try to worship God by himself and hope that the deceivers as well as the deceived will be attracted enough to worship God and not any other gods with or without him. Indeed, no matter how close one gets to God and the prophets of God, he himself can not claim that he is also God the Almighty. But you are right. If one is caught among a bunch of deceivers and deceived, it is tempting to claim such a crazy matter. This is different from what Abraham did; i.e. he broke all the statues of the deities and blamed it on the biggest one. Imam Husain still did something else in that he refused to accept the hand of Yazid's followers over Martyrdom. It might be argued that why didn't God took Imam Husain like in the case of Jesus Christ to himself before he was martyred? It is said that God himself wanted him to be martyred. Thus, although it is indeed the case that God is not a deceiver, there were those who wished to kill Jesus Christ and indeed killed Imam Husain.

  32. Hamid says:

    Dear Aron,
    If you are interested, the English translation of AlMizan is available here:
    http://www.almizan.org/
    And if you enter "4. Surah An-nisa", and verse number 157 just above the Allameh Tabatabaii's picture, then the entire group of related verses 153-169 appear. I myself have not read the English translation yet (and the site is new to myself and thus cannot exactly recommend them to you), but it appears to me that the italics are Quranic verses and the rest are Tabatabaii's interpretations. Incidentally, it might be another trivia to tell you that on Allameh Tabatabaii's commemoration, Nov. 14th, (which is the day he passed away), it is also known as the day for celebration of books and book reading in Iran.

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