Get PJ Media on your Apple

Obama vs. Einstein

A renowned physicist demolishes a paper by Laurence Tribe, that President Obama played some roll in crafting, on the "revolutionary" aspects and legal implications of 20th century physics.

Frank J. Tipler


February 7, 2010 - 12:00 am

UPDATE (2/7/10): It has been called to the attention of PJ Media that Obama may not be a full co-author of the article in question, but merely an “analytic and research assistant,” and we are contacting the writer of  the piece below to verify this. In the meantime, read the original article by Laurence Tribe here.  More on the authorship question here. — Ed.

According to the Washington Post, David Axelrod, Barack Obama’s senior advisor, said that the president worked with “[Harvard professor] Laurence Tribe on a paper on the legal implications of Einstein’s theory of relativity.” I’ve read that paper, “The Curvature of Constitutional Space.” It’s complete nonsense. It shows no understanding of Einstein’s theory of relativity, or of the relationship between relativity theory and Newton’s theory.

I — to use Obama’s favorite word — do understand relativity theory. I was trained in relativity theory by the best. I was the post-doc of the late Princeton professor John A. Wheeler, who was himself the post-doc of Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr.  Wheeler’s most famous student was Nobel Prize Winner Richard Feynman. I was also the post-doc of the late Oxford professor Dennis Sciama, who was a student of Nobel Prize winner Paul Dirac. Sciama’s most famous student was Stephen Hawking.

The key thesis of the paper is contained in the opening sentences of its abstract: “Twentieth-century physics revolutionized our understanding of the physical world. Relativity theory replaced a view of the universe as made up of isolated objects acting upon one another at a distance with a model in which space itself was curved and changed by the presence and movement of objects. Quantum physics undermined the confidence of scientists in their ability to observe and understand a phenomenon without fundamentally altering it in the process.”

All of these sentences are completely wrong. In Newtonian theory, gravity is space-time curvature just as it is in general relativity. In fact, Einstein’s general relativity is just a special case of Newtonian gravity theory incorporating the ether.  Quantum physics is also just a special case of Newtonian mechanics in its wave-particle formulation (called Hamilton-Jacobi theory) incorporating the very modest requirement that this formulation be mathematically consistent. Hamilton-Jacobi theory is deterministic, hence quantum mechanics is equally deterministic. There was absolutely nothing revolutionary about twentieth century physics. There has been no “paradigm shift” in physics. The magnificent intellectual edifice created by Isaac Newton stands unshaken.

The fact that Newtonian gravity is curvature just like Einsteinian gravity was established by the greatest geometer of the twentieth century, the French mathematician Elie Cartan, in the year 1922, before either Tribe or Obama were born. Cartan and Einstein corresponded about this mathematical fact, so Einstein — and I, and the rest of the world’s relativity experts — are aware of it, if not Obama and Tribe. A detailed mathematical proof that Newtonian gravity is curvature can be found in Gravitation, the co-authored by my teacher John A. Wheeler.

The fact that relativity theory is a special case of Newtonian theory incorporating the ether was asserted by Albert Einstein himself in a lecture which he delivered at the University of Leyden on May 5, 1920. Einstein entitled his lecture “Ether and the Theory of Relativity.”

The great Russian physicist, Nobel Prize winner Lev Landau, first proved that quantum physics is just a special case of Newtonian mechanics. The mathematical proof can be found in Landau’s textbook Quantum Mechanics: Non-relativistic Theory. Isaac Newton himself, in his book Opticks, first advanced the basic idea that light is both a particle and a wave. Newton expressed his view as a “Query” (Query 17) rather than a theorem, because he did not know how to express this fact mathematically. Hamilton and Jacobi achieved this in the 1830s.

In the paper, we find the claim: “How we think about these institutions [e.g., the court system, and constitutional law] has been fundamentally influenced by new insights into the operation of the physical world.” But if these ”new insights” are in complete error, then it is exceedingly likely that “how we think about these institutions’” is also likely to be in complete error.

Obama and Tribe want a “revolutionary” interpretation of the Constitution, one in which the Supreme Court interprets the meaning of the words to fit the progressive worldview. A majority of the Supreme Court recently declined to do so, ruling instead that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech” means exactly that.

Not only does Obama refuse to read physics textbooks before lecturing us on physics, he also refuses to read Supreme Court decisions before lecturing the Supreme Court on Supreme Court decisions. Justice Samuel Alito correctly mouthed “not true” when Obama made false statements about the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. Obama and Tribe’s claims about physics are equally “not true.”

Obama’s claim that twentieth century physics was revolutionary is false. Since twentieth century physics was profoundly conservative, I expect Obama to follow his own logic, reject liberalism, and become a conservative.

I’m not holding my breath.

Frank J. Tipler is Professor of Mathematical Physics at Tulane University. He is the co-author of The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford University Press) and the author of The Physics of Immortality and The Physics of Christianity both published by Doubleday.
Click here to view the 142 legacy comments

Comments are closed.