17 January, 2021


Great Ones Too Succumb To Jealousies

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

A month and 100 years ago in November 1915 Albert Einstein spoke at four weekly meetings at the Prussian Academy in Berlin; at the fourth on 25 November he put forward the general theory of relativity (GR). On 16 and 20 November eminent mathematician David Hilbert presented a strikingly similar formulation to the Gottingen Academy and at a still uncertain date sent a paper much the same as GR except on an abstruse point better appreciated only by the cognoscenti. (Hilbert’s formulation was non-covariant while Einstein’s was covariant; Greek to laymen). There is confusion about the date of Hilbert’s paper as some original printer’s proof pages have been lost but it appeared in print on 6 December. Einstein’s was published on the 2 December. Einstein and Hilbert were friends and had corresponded and shared ideas about the difficulty of formulating the GR equations. Hilbert invited Einstein to Gottingen in June-July 1915 where he stayed with Hilbert and gave two 6-hour lectures.

Unfortunately there was bad feeling from Einstein towards Hilbert about getting priority credit for GR. It was settled after Hilbert included the acknowledgement in a March 1916 paper, where he too adopted a covariant approach, which said his (Hilbert’s) “differential equations seemed to agree with the magnificent theory of general relativity established by Einstein in his later papers”. The truth is that though Hilbert the brilliant mathematician may or may not have piped Einstein in polishing GR to formal perfection only physicist Einstein grasped its earth-shattering implications. He had been working towards an overturn of the gravitational paradigm since 1913. Quite rightly GR is called “Einstein’s theory”. But this apart great scientists are not free of human foibles.

In recognition of the centenary event that motivated this piece I thought it ok to include a popularised recapitulation of an eye-catching aspect of GR, but since not all readers may care for scientific mumbo-jumbo I have relegated it to the end where it may be skipped.

Who first proposed evolution theory?

The common view that Alfred Russell Wallace was a lightweight naturalist tramping South American and East Asian forests is wrong. He was an outstanding scientist with major contributions to biology, geography, geology and anthropology. His honours include the Société de Géographie Gold Medal, Founder’s Medal (Royal Geographical Society), Darwin-Wallace and Linnean Gold Medals (Linnean Society), two Royal Society Gold Medals, and the Order of Merit the highest British civilian honour.

Fig: 1 Curvature of space

Fig: 1 Curvature of space

The unforgettable story is how one day in June 1858 Darwin received a letter from Wallace (they corresponded from time to time and Wallace even sent Darwin birds) enclosing a paper which he asked Darwin to forward to Charles Leyll, president of the Linnean Society, for publication “if he thought it sufficiently interesting”; the understatement of the century! Darwin was thunderstruck! The paper replicated the concepts of natural selection and evolution on which he had been working for 20 years but not dared to publish, terrified of a conservative and Christian backlash. Leyll, Joseph Dalton Hooker and Darwin’s bulldog Thomas Huxley devised a solution. They hurriedly organised a meeting of the Linnean Society on 1 July at which Wallace’s paper and an abstract of Darwin studies and conclusions were presented. The Society published both on 20 August. Darwin got back to his book the monumental Origin of Species, published in November 1859.

There has been a long fallout shadow with agitators declaring that Wallace had been denied priority as his paper had been submitted first and that he was entitled to the evolution theory mantle. This is not correct because, though Wallace’s eureka moment was brilliant, nay a stroke of genius, he had nothing like the wealth of detailed studies that Darwin had accumulated over 20 years to establish the theory beyond dispute. As Wallace wrote “this vast, unprecedented (achievement) is the result of the work of one man in the short space of twenty years”. Neo-Darwinism, alongside general relativity and quantum mechanics has become one of the three pillars on which modern science stands.

Isaac’s smear campaign against Gottfried

Yes, yes it’s true that by any yardstick, in any “greatest scientist of all time” stakes, Isaac Newton (IN) will win by a landslide and Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica is justifiably saluted as the most significant of all scientific works. Alexander Pope’s intended epitaph is a typical encomium: “Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night: God said, ‘Let Newton be’ and all was light”. But as a person Newton was a queer bird. He experimented with alchemy hoping to turn base metal into gold, dabbled in the occult, and his recently published secret religious notebooks reveal that he rejected the Trinity as apostasy and declared that worshiping Christ as God was idolatry. Maybe to be a genius absolutely, one’s pursuits need to be dotty completely – what does neuroscience say?

Fig: 2 Light from a distant star ‘bends’ when passing close to the sun

Fig: 2 Light from a distant star ‘bends’ when passing close to the sun

So it is not surprising that IN and his acolytes engaged in a smear campaign to besmirch Gottfried Leibniz (GL), co-inventor of the calculus, the most important tool of higher mathematics. In the late 1670s IN developed what he called the Method of Fluxions, a geometrical version of the calculus (tangents) as a device for his physics studies, but in keeping with his introverted nature, never publicised it. In 1684 however GL, one of the greatest of mathematicians ever, presented the differential calculus and followed it with the integral calculus in 1686. He also set-out beautiful symbols (the dy/dx and ∫ of your schooldays). British mathematicians resisted these symbols for a century before capitulating. A year later in 1687 Principia was published where IN used the calculus in Fluxion form to capture the grandeur of the heavens.

The smear campaign was ugly and Newton of godlike status, with his hangers-on, buried poor GL whose reputation was resurrected by posterity only much later. In a full-blooded surge of Brit patriotism the Royal Society adopted a resolution in 1715 recognising IN as the sole inventor of the calculus and tried in many ways to smear GL as a plagiarist! It is tempting to trace the decline of British mathematics for the next century to its reluctance to accept GL’s superior symbols. By then mathematics had powered ahead on the Continent (the Bernoulli family, Euler, Lagrange, Laplace, and of course the prince of mathematicians Gauss) but it languished in Britain. The one exception to deserve the epithet great, George Boole, devoted himself to an entirely new field, symbolic logic.

What is the verdict on the priority debate? Newton’s vision was action, motion and dynamics, Leibniz’s geometry and formalism; we behold a physics emphasis versus a mathematics emphasis. Newton the great scientist contrasts with Leibniz the great mathematician. As for chronological priority, it is certain that the two discovered the calculus independently and in the same time period.

Equalisation of the rate of profit

In Kapital III Marx grapples with the ‘Transformation Problem’. The Labour Theory of Value (LTV) declares that all commodities bear a value, corresponding to the labour contained in them, and are exchanged at this value. However in the real world commodities are sold at prices that (in theory and at equilibrium) equalise the rate of profit across the economy. Therefore prices do not necessarily equal values and there is a contradiction between LTV and real world economics. Marx grappled for no less than twelve chapters (including background chapters) but failed to resolve the contradiction. Actually he was ahead of his time and groping towards a Money Theory of Value (MTV), implicit in Volumes II and III but never explicitly articulated – see my piece ‘Marx’s Money Theory of Value’ in Colombo Telegraph, 11 October, 2015, but leave that to one side today.

The point for today is that Volume III was published posthumously by Engels in 1884 and in 1885 a Professor Wilehlm Lexis of Freiburg and Gottingen Universities, better known for the Lexis ratio and Lexis diagram, published a piece claiming that he was the forerunner who had explored this before Marx. Engels in a Preface to Volume III written in 1894 concedes that Lexis had independently worked similar partial positions but says nothing about precedence. As with previous examples there is a difference in clout; Marx located his problem historically and in society, Lexis’s approach is an economic technicality. Anyway it’s a half-hearted priority dispute.

Bending of light

‘Curvature of space’ (space-time to be proper) is a better rendition but ‘bending of light’ is more catchy so I have opted for it to discourage you from turning the page. First you must put two everyday habits out of mind. There are more dimensions to reality (that is GR theorists’ reality) than the three we are content with, secondly gravity is not a force of attraction between masses as Newton told us, no, it’s a kind of geometrical curvature of space. Don’t worry, I will explain with diagrams.

Imagine a bug, a strange fellow who knows only two dimensions, he cannot imagine up and down. If he lives on a globe he will crawl all over the sphere unaware that he is on a two dimensional surface wrapped around a third dimension. Likewise if three-dimensional ‘we’ inhabit a high-dimension universe we too would be clueless if wrapped around the higher dimensions. OK, that’s enough affront to your common senses for one day.

Now for gravitation. If there are no big masses around, space is nice and ‘flat’ as in the smooth outer parts for fig.1 which is familiar three-dimensional space. However is there is big mass present, according to GR our three dimensions will ‘sag’ into the higher dimensions. Gravity, GR says, is not a force, it is a geometric effect; you roll down towards the mass for geometric reasons, not because you are tugged by a force. Next fig.2 explains the bending of light. Light from a distant star (A), if it passes very close to the sun, must travel through the “sag”, so it is “bent” on its way to earth (E). It will then seem to us that the direction of the star is B. Of course one can’t see any of this by day, the glare of sunlight blanks out all the stars. Except, that’s right, except during a total solar eclipse, when the whole starlit sky springs into view behind the darkened solar disc.

So if during an eclipse you look at star A whose position is well known and hey presto its not there, it seems to have moved to B, you have an anomaly, an aberration. All observations of the star-sky during eclipses have confirmed such aberrations, tiny though they be – just s few arc-seconds. (An arc second is one degree of angle divided by 3600; but astronomers are terribly clever and can measure these tiny shifts). The shift has been thoroughly established indisputably anchoring one of GR’s most startling predictions (the other exciting predictions are the expanding universe, black holes, gravitational lensing and to an extent the big-bang). General relativity is a cornerstone of cosmology in the current epoch in the evolving history science.

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Latest comments

  • 7

    Very interesting..

    I jotted it down as a must read during my X Mas vacation,to decipher all those Scientific Heavy Lifting..

    One thing I noticed was the Labour Value of Goods and Services.

    Batalanada Ranil must have been reading Das Capital during his 20 years on the bench.. I mean the opposition bench.

    His promise of One Million jobs for the Dalits to assemble Goods for his Western mates .and provide cheap Services to Diaspora buddies on their vacation to enjoy Yahapalanaya, is all about it..I mean Value of Labour.

    Batalanda Ranil has turned Marxist Theories into Applied Science..How Cool…..

    Thanks Dr Kumar for all your efforts during the last few years since Nanthikadal…

    Wish you a Merry X Mas and Happy New Year on behalf of the Dalits..

    Hope the’Goods and Services which your Elite and Anglican mates need have come down for them to have a fabulous Yahapalana Festive Season…

    • 0

      KA Sumanasekera ,

      Wish you a Merry X Mas and Happy New Year to you & the Dalits..

      Going away now. Good luck with your Dalit economy.

  • 8

    Are you really mad, or just stupid?

    Finding it hard to believe that someone will write such crap even for Sunday reading.

  • 4

    Kumar – A brilliant mind is of the opinion that ‘The universe as we know it is a black hole, of a universe that we have no concept of as yet’.

    Physicists are checking it out.

    What do you think?

    • 1

      JJ I think you are referring to Stephen Hawking and others who think like him. They have played with and extended GR theory to the furthest mathematical limits (it is arguable whether stretching anything to the utmost limit is warranted) and concluded that there are “parallel universes and the one we inhabit is just one of them”. They also speculate that black-holes may be openings connecting these universes through what are called worm-holes. You can image how a worm bores through and “connects” opposite sides of an apple.

      Is this all mathematical merrymaking or is there reality to it? Unlike the many strange enigmas of quantum physics we can never interact with or have experience of any of this (except black-holes which are observable in huge numbers). The phenomena of quantum physics we thoroughly interact with in millions of electronic gadgets. So it is on far stronger “reality” foundations than parallel universe speculations.

      • 0

        Thanks for the opinion, Kumar.

        Actually, the concept was/is my own (and not backed by math, etc)!!!!

      • 0

        Sorry – I forgot to add this (or ask) in my last response: does the speed of light change when it ‘bends’?

        • 0

          [Edited out]

          • 0

            Walt, I’m curious as to why CT censored your response. Was it profane??? If so, maybe you could sanitize and re-send it??

            Also, since you referred to the “conceptual” and “perceptual”, it may be interesting to know your view of what exactly ‘reality’ is!

            Here’s one view:

            “Reality is often contrasted with what is imaginary, delusional, (only) in the mind, dreams, what is false, what is fictional, or what is abstract. At the same time, what is abstract plays a role both in everyday life and in academic research. For instance, causality, virtue, life and distributive justice are abstract concepts that can be difficult to define, but they are only rarely equated with pure delusions. Both the existence and reality of abstractions are in dispute: one extreme position regards them as mere words; another position regards them as higher truths than less abstract concepts. This disagreement is the basis of the philosophical problem of universals.”

            • 0

              je ne sais quoi factor (a pleasant quality that is hard to describe) And a 2 word accepted quote of Salman Rushdie.
              ] Nothing exists as wholes and parts in their natural context.]
              As above, I used the French term by itself (you may have heard of “Cogito ergo sum” and the man René Descartes) nothing more because CT has published it before. English by itself is not a complete language- it has very little grammar- Surrounds tragedy of the Bard and his dislike for Latin. Therefore if you take an encyclopaedia and in the glossary you find French –English, German English, Spanish English phrases. I see it regularly in the features section British newspapers features section. CT overprotects its old because they feel obliged and are learning something it seems. CT is no absolute just 3rd world journalism (where English is a 2nd language) not even an international award by natives of the land while similar plantation island Caribbean has received a Booker Prize.
              “”Was it profane???””
              Stop airbrushing -“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” ― Albert Einstein – bending of light (school teacher)
              “Here’s one view:”- that is compiled dictionary view picked up by you. (You can’t be original therefore non-professional unable to practice- you worked for others in your life?)
              I could write a treatise on reality and also form a mathematical formula for wisdom.
              Here is just a glimpse. – Man kind seems to be divided into idealist (according to my view the 2 of you have more of idealist; square heads) and realist, and idealism and realism are the 2 great forces moulding human progress. The clay of humanity is made soft and pliable by the water of idealism, but the stuff that holds it together is after all the clay itself, or we might all evaporate into Ariels The forces of idealism and realism tug at each other in all human activities, personal, social and national, and real progress is made possible by the proper mixture of these 2 ingredients so that the clay is kept in the ideal pliable, plastic condition, half moist and half dry, not hardened and unimaginable, nor dissolving into mud. The soundest nations, like the English, have realism and idealism mixed in proper proportions, like the clay which neither hardens and so gets past the stage for its form the artist moulding, nor is so wishy-washy that it cannot retain its form. Some countries are thrown into perpetual revolutions because into their clay has been injected some liquid of foreign ideals which is not yet properly assimilated and the clay is therefore not able to keep the shape.
              A vague, uncritical idealism always lends itself to ridicule and too much of it might be a danger to mankind, leading it round in a futile wild-goose chase for imaginary ideals………..
              Now don’t come back I am going away, because neither of you 2 or this collage that can’t even sell but a drug has expired its time- wasted time, end of year finally end of story.

  • 3

    Very Interesting.

  • 6

    Why do you waste your intelligence on lotus eaters. I can see from the comments. Why not start blogspot and publish more detailed.

  • 6

    As a student of Kumar, I can tell you that he was educated as an engineer and passed out with 1st Class Hons. As a result he was sent out to do a PhD.

    That was his downfall and ours as well as students. He came back with his head full of theory and started teaching engineering. Engineering is not just theory and mathematics, the lecturers should have practical industrial experience and that is what this brilliant man lacked.

    Even in theory I found that he on certain occasions showed a lack of understanding. For him Reactive Power was just VI.sin Theta. Even now I find some IEEE articles where Reactive Power is described as something in our imagination, a product of mathematical magic with no practical significance.

    Kumar also made us believe that.

    Anyway, Kumar is talking about GR, cosmlogy etc. now knowing fully well that we are unable to understand them completely. That way he hides his ignorance on other matters of practical politics and enineering.

    But be careful Kumar, there will be a day when the Kottoruwa goes and pecks the banana tree. That day can turn out to be very unpleasant.

    • 4

      “Engineering is not just theory and mathematics, the lecturers should have practical industrial experience and that is what this brilliant man lacked. “

      It was not he who lacked but the British system of ¬association or trade union` in politics. Your degree is called BSc 3 years then not B.Tech 5 years.

      Anyway to gain experience the university must have the tools of industry at its disposal. Even B.Tech students work outside of campus from 2nd year in industry for at least 2 hours a day to come out as experienced students.

      The bane of all Lankan suffering is free education.

  • 3

    Sorry to learn that this bloody fool STILL does not understand reactive power; neither the quadrature component nor the harmonic components.

    • 4

      kumar david ,
      How many graduates do you have number and as a % of 21 million ??
      UK as at 2013 has 12 million grads 20.5% of 61 million.
      India as at 2015 has 68 million grads 8.15% of 1267 million

      For when there is love, there is jealousy; a man who loves life intensely must be always jealous of the few exquisite moments that he has.And he must retain the dignity and pride always characteristic of a vagabond.

      The popularity of fools is an undeniable fact. The world hates a man who is too smart in his dealings with his fellowmen. Anyone can run over the names of his friends and associates in his mind and verify this fact for himself, that those we like are not those we respect for distinguished ability and those we respect for distinguished ability are not those we like, and that we like a stupid servant because he is more reliable, and because in his company we can better relax and do not have to set up a condition of defense against his presence. Most wise men choose to marry a not too smart wife, and most wise girls choose a not too smart husband as a life companion.

    • 5

      Oh my! my! You are getting upset, you my cool cat.

      At that time you did not inderstand Reactive Power and nor did we because our lecturer kept on writing reams and reams of CEB generation data on the black board, which we religiously copied. To what end, I am still wondering. Or were you holding it sa a Guru Mushti?

      Thanks to you, Reactive Power was just a formula (VI sin Theta) for me until I faced the real devil while in CEB. Now it is as real to me as a sloth bear is to a Veddah. May be you have evolved in to a better engineer now (thanks to Darwin) and have a good understanding of these. But it is too late for us.

      OK man. I challenge you to a public debate on this, or a private debate if you are afraid of loosing. May be in ME? This is certainly not the forum for that sort of thing.

      Oh, by the way how about making a 3 phase motor turn in the opposite direction without swapping the connections. You like a Baka Panditaya declared that it would violate some Fundamental Law of Physics! Ha! Ha!

      Oh Man! Oh Man! how can you understand relativity etc. when you don’t understand what a veddah or a monkey would understand.

      • 1

        “Oh, by the way how about making a 3 phase motor turn in the opposite direction without swapping the connections.”

        don’t be a an angry pandithiya. One must learn and no one can teach- most of the time we were advised to go to the reference library for that purpose and discuss with our lecturer- but you are classic product of revolutionary ideas- I don’t get a 8-5 job I shall lift the gun and kill the weak.

        even my simple screw driver- `black & Decker` purchased 5 years ago
        works clock & anti at will when I twist my wrist.

        Please, Can you explain that CEB maestro??

        • 0

          Walt, I can explain that. But I will not because I am worried that you may misunderstand and screw yourself in the reference library.

          Though it may turn out to be material for a first class mystery thriller, I am thinking of the students studying there for exams.

          Why don’t you ask our good Professor to help you in this puzzle of the reversible screw? After all I am just a bloody fool who ended up where I am now not by merit but thanks to my good karma.

      • 0

        @Edwin Rodrigo

        So what made you start this p.$$.ng contest ?

        Was it simply the title of the piece ? Have you too, sucumbed ?

        • 0

          3 Mallumiris farmers were waiting for the bus to take their product to the market and got in to a converstation.

          Farmer 1: My son is doing a BS at Peradeniya

          Farmer 2: What is that?

          Farmer 1: BS is for Bull Shit

          Farmer 2: My son is doing an MS at Katubedde.

          Farmer 3: Oh yeah? What is that?

          Farmer 2: MS is for for More of the Same.

          Farmer 3 : My son is doing a PhD at Cambridge.

          Faremer 1 & 2: What the hell is a PhD?

          Farner 3: Pile of Hardened Dung.

          (P. S. Farmer 3’s son finally, completed his PhD, came back to SL and started to teach BS at Peradeniya)

    • 2

      kumar david,
      I am not from Electrical/electronics but a different branch of Tech.
      Yet I have been fascinated by `Bend it like Beckham` –
      is it optical illusion that shows it to that extent??
      (Nelkon and Parker school physics; with one eye we see 2 dimensions; with both we see the 3rd; 30 degrees each converge)
      My conception of the human brain,as of all animal brains is that it is like an octopus or a starfish with tentacles, tentacles for feeling the truth and eating it.
      It was created for sniffing food, and if after sniffing food, it can also sniff an abstract mathematical formula, that’s all the good. The brain, together with other sensory organs, constitutes the feelers.
      How its tentacles feel the truth is still as great a mystery in physics in physics as the sensitivity to light of the the purple in the eye`s retina.
      Everytime the brain dissociates itself from the collaborating sensory apparatus and indulges in so called `abstract thinking`, every time it gets away from what William James calls the perceptual reality and escapes into the world of conceptual reality, it becomes devitalized, dehumanised and degenerate.

      We all labour under the misconception that the true function of the mind is thinking, a misconception that is bound to lead to serious mistakes in philosophy unless we revise our notion of the term `thinking`itself.

      It is a misconception that is apt to leave the philosopher disillusioned when he goes out of his studio and watches the crowd at the market. As if thinking had much to do with our everyday behaviour!

  • 8

    One of the best articles I have read on Science.

    And only 6 comments..

    I think Yahapalana bosses who read CT should find this really interesting.

    And find useful in Batalanda Ranil’s plan to make the Yahapalana supporters the richest in South Asia in 2035.

    I mean we should have at least a descent number of Science and Technology savvy citizens too by then, not just Rajapkasa haters,Buddhist Bashers and Pirahaparan supporters in the Sinhala Homeland.

    • 5

      KASmaalam KA Sumanasekera

      “One of the best articles I have read on Science.”

      You have read this article.

      No kidding!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • 3

    If you cannot impress them with brilliance, mesmerize them with bull shit.

    • 2


      “If you cannot impress them with brilliance, mesmerize them with bull shit.”

      As you have time and again proved you are unable to do both what is the third reason do you think that the readers should read your typing?

      Perhaps it is their kindness towards a dimwit.

      • 1

        Oh Hi Veddah, did not expect to meet you here. Not exactly your domain is it? Is AKD your other God next t0 VP? With the few 100 neurons you have, Hanumantha of AKD, you are the type of reader that AKD likes to address because you say Sadhu! Sadhu! to him at every word.

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