Counting Cats in Zanzibar Rotating Header Image

I break the laws…

… but not of physics. I don’t violate the laws of physics because I can’t. They are the great leveler. I mean if I could break the laws of thermodynamcs I’d be pitching a perpetual motion machine to Theo and Deborah on “Dragon’s Den”. If I could exceed the speed of light I’d be posting this from orbit around Wolf 359 and drinking Arcturan mega-brandy from an ultra piney-apple. With an umbrella. In the company of green-skinned ladies of negotiable virtue. And seeing as the Wolf system agreed to bail-out Greece and their Quatloo has since gone down the gurgler I’ll get you a drink too…

The great philosophers of Christendom from Aristotle (yes, I know he was before Christ but the Catholic Church took him as their pre-eminent philosopher – he did believe goats breathed through their ears – H/T Paul Marks for that gem but nobody is perfect) to Mr Scott of the USS Enterprise have been firmly of the opinion that, “Ye cannae change the laws of physics”. Indeed, that even God is bound by them. (Up to a point – controversial). Certainly you’d find very few theologians or philosophers (outside the Islamic World) who think you can change the laws of mathematics and make 2+2=5. The doctrine that “Allah’s Hand is not fettered” is one of the key reasons why around the C11/12th the once promising Islamic civilization ran into the buffers of inshallah fatalism. I mean what is the point of observing the Universe and looking for regularities if Allah can change everything as His whim dictates? It’s deeply logical (in a way) but it doesn’t exactly get you anywhere does it? Other than mysticism and tyranny. Which it has to be said Islamic states do in spades. Perhaps the pre-Christian philosophical underpinnings of Christian Europe made the difference. Who knows?

Anyway, behold!

Yup, Intrepid Felix broke the light-barrier. Well, I suppose as an Austrian he wanted to poke a Swiss/German in the eye with a point’d stick. Congratulations to msnbc mind. The speed of sound at sea-level (dry air) is roughly 340m/s at about 293K (a nice day) and the speed of light is 299,792,458m/s in vacuo. I think that is the exact figure (the metre and second are defined units based upon the speed of light in vacuo).

Not to put too fine a point on it that is a hell of a mistake to make. To make a point though you have to bear in mind that as I have a physics degree so I notice such things. As I don’t have degrees in history or economics or politics or geography they can probs smuggle any quantity of tripe under my radar. My radar is attuned to limited bands – aviation, physics, maths, computers and a few other bits and bobs. Oh, and I do know the difference between a debt and a deficit. And that paying NHS nurses is not an investment but an operating cost. In the case of theatre nurses – literally, I guess.

Other than that I have to rely on what other people say. And so do you. We all do. The alternative is living in a less complicated World where everyone is good at making flint-axes. The cost of sophistication is specialization. The pay-back is heart transplants and space telescopes and Gramps not getting electrocuted because he’s fiddling with the aerial during a thunder-storm so you can see “Muffin the Mule”.

Andrea Mitchell is of course immune. She is panoptic and one of the “Elite, smart people.” God help us all if she ever has kids with the inventor of the internet and The One True Goreacle of the Age. To be fair to Ms Mitchell she was having a go at Rick Santorum who is also a total moron.

PS. If you wonder who the Goreacle is then type “Al Gore Cunt” into Google and see who comes out top. Yes, it’s me! Fame of sorts, perhaps. He is obviously an utter cunt mind so I can hardly take credit more than I do for knowing the sky is blue and the grass is green. And if this post scuppers Cat’s attempt to become Brisbane’s Dog Catcher Persuivant then so fuck it. He didn’t complain at the time.


  1. Single Acts of Tyranny says:

    I really don’t know why you have to do this.

  2. Jim DiGriz says:

    But you can take credit for knowing why the sky is blue and the grass is green which is more than Gore is capable of.

    I quite like Cat’s reporting of the antics of the local politicians to remind me that wherever they are on the planet they are still the same useless venal objects.

  3. Julie near Chicago says:

    Completely O/T, but–Hello there, Slippery Jim! I just wanted to tell you how much I’ve enjoyed Mr. Harrison’s writeups of your adventures. Cheers–don’t take any wooden nickels! :>)

  4. CountingCats says:


    I was reading about Slippery Jim when I were a mere nipper. I didn’t know he was still kicking.

  5. Julie near Chicago says:

    Just goes to show…you can’t keep a good Rat down. At least, not the Stainless Steel Rat.

  6. NickM says:

    Who is Jim?

  7. CountingCats says:

    Slippery Jim DiGriz

    Although, why make a fuss? No one bats an eye when Simon Jester turns up.

  8. Plamus says:

    Nick, question: care to enlighten me (hopefully with a link) about Aristotle and caprine respiration? My Google-fu found only this, but it says “… for Alcmaeon is mistaken when he says that goats inspire through their ears.”, which seems to contradict Mr. Marks’ assertion. What am I missing?

  9. NickM says:

    Plamus, I quote only Paul Marks. Now I trust Paul to not make things up. My point (and Paul’s) was that even if goat’s don’t breath through their ears (they don’t) then Asristotle is still worth reading on other things. I did say we are all fallible.

    Pythagoras also declaimed on the sinfulness of men playing the flute. But he was correct about right-angled triangles which oddly enough takes us back to relativity.

    Or truth and reality. 3-4-5.

    Which is not to say I haven’t had a decent blow-job from a chap (I honestly can’t recall – but I think not, alas) but I see no reason in principle why I would not – I think he merely palmed me off but it was years ago…). As to the flute, I would prefer the playing of the rusty trombone – I leave the details of that as a matter for the reader’s dirty mind – and mine.

    I love maths though.

  10. Plamus says:

    Fair enough, mate. Your argument is solid, and well accepted.

    I was just asking for info if you had it – it’s just too good of a dig against Aristotle not to have in one’s quiver when people bring him up in an argument. I was always a fan of the sophists, no matter how much Plato and Aristotle smeared them. They were good, knew it, charged hard cash to share their knowledge, and did not give a monkey’s about deities – rather, openly challenged their existence and/or roles. Hell, Socrates himself admitted they were better teachers than he was.

    I hope Paul Marks satisfies my curiosity.

  11. RAB says:

    Max Miller lives ;-)

  12. Julie near Chicago says:

    Nick, et al. If you haven’t made Slippery Jim’s acquaintance yet, you might like to read two of Harry Harrison’s stories about him, free for the downloading (html, or to read online). (Cheer up, if you become addicted there are quite a few SSR books.)

    For “The Stainless Steel Rat” (the Original Short Story), go to

    “The Return of the Stainless Steel Rat” is at

  13. Julie near Chicago says:

    Nick–what’s the latest on the OPERA project and faster-than-light neutrinos? Did that go the way of Cold Fusion?

  14. Laird says:

    I doubt very much that Andrea Mitchell reported in her commentary that the freefall was “faster than light”; that’s undoubtedly the error of whoever wrote the screen caption. Still, one would have thought that an editor somewhere along the line would have caught it, but it’s MSNBC so I suppose that’s expecting far too much.

    Incidentally, I wouldn’t worry too much about her procreating with the Goreacle, if only because she’s married to Alan Greenspan and the IQ differential between the two would probably give her the bends.

  15. Julie near Chicago says:

    Laird: Caustic. Very caustic. :)

  16. CountingCats says:

    Julie, it ended up being an equipment error. I misremember the details.

    For all you Twain fans out there.

  17. Mr Ed says:

    I can vouch for the complete integrity of Paul Marks and his encyclopaedic knowledge of matters philosophical, he would have read somewhere, perhaps decades ago, about Aristotle and caprine respiration, and filed it away until it is not needed.

    One of his other favourites is Charles Fourier and the sea turning into lemonade under a brand of socialism, or perhaps Utopianism, with anti-tigers evolving to counter tigers.

    An early advocate of minimum wages, there are those who regard him as clinically insane. But, reality and socialists do not sit together happily, they flee reality at almost the speed of light, or, if that fails, destroy the reality they see around them when they can.

  18. CountingCats says:

    Re Aristotle and goat respiration. I have read the same thing, although I misremember where.

    There is your confirmation – sort of.

  19. CountingCats says:

    But apparently it was a gentleman named Alcmaeon who had that idea.

    Furthermore, there is a portion of the head, whereby an animal hears, a part incapable of breathing, the ‘ear’. I say ‘incapable of breathing’, for Alcmaeon is mistaken when he says that goats inspire through their ears.
    The History of Animals: Aristotle, 350 BC

    Gosh, you learn something new every day.

  20. Paul Marks says:

    Filed away till it is NOT needed – true enough Mr Ed.

    Aristotle was also an eternalist – even though he passed every day (what is to us) evidence of the changes in the physical world.

    The point about Artistotle and Newton and….. is not they got everything right, but that were seeking to find (not to create – to find) the laws.

    On his better days (“there are not many of those” cries Nick) Rick Santorum does to – like the second or third rank Catholic academic he is (I never quite understood what he was doing in politics – he should be in one of the lesser Catholic colleges somewhere).

    Someone like Andrea M. is NOT seeking to find the laws – in fact the lady does not believe there are any.

    Well no laws that can not be changed by her WILL.

    Someone like Santorum believes that there are universal natural laws covering EVERYTHING (including ordinary everyday conduct) – someone like Andrea Mitchell believes there are no natural laws (that can not be changed by an act of WILL) covering ANYTHING.

    Of course MSNBC (and the rest of the “liberal” elite) pretend to be the defenders of science (interestingly against religious people – as if “religious” meant “person who believes the world was created in 4004 BC and the first women was made from a rib from the first man and…..”) but, as Nick shows, they do not know anything about science.

    Not even the most basic stuff – such as jumping from a big hight does NOT mean you travel faster than the speed of light.

    If one looks at Karl Marx (and co) there is no evidence that they had any real knowlege of the physical sciences – or of the “scientific method” of the physical sciences.

    The modern Marxists are even worse.

    The Frankfurt School of Cultural Marxism (in the United States the New School of Social Research at Columbia – and all the rest of the P.C. movement and “Critical Theory”).

    And then there are the French Marxists……

    None of these people are really “scientific” although they claim to be.

    And the media crowd (both entertainment media and news media – such as MSNBC) are just watered down verision of this P.C., Critical Theory, Cultural Marxist stuff.

    “But how is this relevant to Australian politics”.

    Oh come on people….

    Where do you think Julia G. gets her “beliefs” from?

    And where do you think the media get their beliefs from?

    It is the same watered down Frankfurt School stuff.

    Not “scientific” at all.

  21. Simon Jester says:

    CountingCats@9:35: Possibly because Mr. Heinlein’s worldview is much closer to that of most people here, than Mr. Harrison’s?

    @Paul Marks: I have heard that there used to be a Russian joke on whether the architects of communism were artists or scientists; the punchline was that they were clearly artists, as scientists would have tried it out on dogs first.

  22. NickM says:

    Paul, it is all about “invented” vs. “discovered”. Or as I call it “Gudonov” methods (geddit? – actually a technique in computational fluid dynamics). The truth alas is we can’t re-invent reality via science or “science”. Alas I can’t invent a faster than light starship and swoop down in Northamptonshire on you and say, “Paul, fancy a pint on Alpha Centauri? We’ll be back for tea-time.” My MSc Thesis was on Gödelian spacetime. (which though a valid solution to the Einstein Field Equations is not one that applies to our Universe – the math is correct, the initial conditions are not). There are many like it. Mathematically correct (and interesting – it allows closed timelike world-lines and even past-traveling worldlines – or to quote John Wheeler – “Woo woo stuff”). But mathematically correct only means it could happen not that it is the case. And herein lies the problem. It is all about what can versus what is. It is about the essential tension between laws and conditions.

    To put it bluntly if you make a soufflé then obviously you need to go with the laws of physics in terms of temperature and time in the oven otherwise you are a jackanapes and a fool (making a fool is another issue) but you also need the correct ingredients as well as the correct process. So does a Universe. Gödelian Cosmology is interesting and it obeys (indeed is based upon) Einsteinian stuff but he’s making a soufflé out of knickers and swedes). It is mathematically interesting and it informs (Oh, it so does – look up Roger Angel on the issue of amorphous spacetime without a metric and whether it is real).

    Anyway, I need to answer Julie…

    The issue of the mass of the neutrino is awesomely buggered about with. If the neutrino doesn’t have mass (Kylie unlikely) then it shall travel at c. If it has mass at around what we think (c.0.3eV – otherwise we is all buggered – a heck of a lot of the little sods wizz through you and me every second – a heck of a lot – the spherically integrated neutrino flux of a Type Ia Supernova is 1058 and that is a big number (almost Greek). It’s nowhere near the number of accessible microstates of a mug of tea, mind – an exercise I leave to the reader but it is a monstrance of a ginormity – S = kB ln Ω.

    That is on Ludwig Boltzmann’s tomb. He killed himself. But on the up-side he had an equation! And one of the most profound in history. It defines entropy. Many might argue that NickM sitting in his dressing gown at 1pm and typing this drivel defines entropy too. I digress.

    Anyway, to get back to the point. The OPERA results (how Italian!) showed something iffy. Very iffy. Within the structure of physics there seems no reason for something to travel just faster than light (within experimental error). Obviously I didn’t hurl my relativity books out the window. I thought the Italians had effed it up. Let me explain why… There is a light barrier. As you tend towards c your mass increases (Einstein). And it goes up a lot as you get to c. Now, at the limit (C19th German math term, soz) of c it tends to infinity. “Tends” in the context is also a C19th German maths term. So, the closer you get to c the more energy you need for the final push. It’s like pushing a fat mn up a hill who insists on eating pies at an ever increasing rate. That’s the feory. And I believe in feory. Now beyond c there is no such barrier so… Why should neutrinos travel just above c? That makes no sense! Indeed it is impossible if neutrinos have mass at all. If they don’t we don’t understand how the Sun shines and that’s not a position an astrophysicist would like to be in. Indeed the only (postulated) particles that travel faster than c have negative mass and have to be restrained to c. In a converse way to the way in which normal stuff needs infinite quantities of energy to get it to c negative mass particles need infinite quantities of energy to constrain them down to c. It’s like there is a 70 limit and you’re in a powerful car and there are no traffic cops – you gonna do 75 or 150? So the idea of something going just over the Cosmic speed limit makes no sense. Which is why when I heard this I just deeply suspected they had an experimental error. And it appears I was correct.

    Not to criticize them you understand. The reason I went into theory was at least partly my dismal experimental capability.

    Now, seeing as I’m talking physics here’s a stormer for you. My hero Richard Feynman did his PhD at MIT (supervised by John Wheeler) on this… It’s called RIP – the “Reinterpretation Principle”. Anti-matter is mathematically identical to matter travelling backwards in time. Quantum Mechanics is odd. Relativistic Quantum Mechanics is unbelievably odd. Seriously it makes the curriculum at Hogwarts look sane.

    But it’s all made up! No. It Isn’t. Ask the Mayor of Hiroshima. In fact email him or her via your laptop built upon these precepts.

    Or look up the quantum version of the Young double-slit – now that is something.

    It’s magic. Real wizardry. Science is about laughing at the storm. Preferably whilst your Tesla coil crackles and Igor cowers in the corner. For bonus points having a collection of peasants outside the castle gate with pitch-forks is always good.

    The “Farts and Shitterarture” is though about making stuff up that doesn’t even matter whether it is true or not. Just how clever your deception is.

  23. bloke in spain says:

    OK, let’s address the matter of caprine respiration first. Paul, ancient Greeks others are definitely accurate on the ears not being the intake. On the other hand, having been in close proximity to goats, including those prone to stick all 4 legs in the air when surprised, it’s incredibly hard to believe goat breath can be result from the mere few seconds the ambient air would be inside the actual goat should they practice conventional respiration. I’m therefore more inclined to believe the inhalatory route starts at the south end of north facing goats (or vice versa) not wishing to infringe CC’s admonitions against using certain words. And slowly percolates through the goat, before being expelled into the face of the intended victim.
    However. There maybe reason to believe that a small but significant number of men may be able to breath through their ears, if the number of women in search of said men is anything to go by. Unfortunately, not an hypothesis easy to validate as, if they’ve been identified, the successful women concerned ain’t saying.
    On a less serious note is the constant patent infringements by assorted elderly Greeks. Are these guys paying you or something? As I referred to in a recent, black coffee fuelled, small hours rant; Pythagoras, Archimedes the rest of that motley crew of kebab merchants are handling stolen goods. You try building anything bigger than a mud hut without that old 3:4:5. Casting bronze axe heads without the AP. And you don’t have to have first invented the bath. Coming back to the humble goat (not saying goats do humble, as anyone recovering from goat will tell you). The scholar & supposed originator of the experimental method, Roger Bacon wrote of proving experimentally, diamonds not dissolving in goats blood. An assertion of a decidedly Greek nature. Shame he didn’t think of experimentally treating one of the innumerable Paris jewellers to a flagon of the vin rouge, where upon he’d have been informed that of course they don’t bloody dissolve in goats blood & saved getting goat’s doings all over his lodging’s floor & pissing off his landlord. Not to mention the damage to his sinuses.

  24. NickM says:

    As to Bacons… Well Roger was a great man (alas much of his stuff was burnt for heresy) but his co-namee Francis died of a chill caught stuffing a chicken with snow in order to see if it preserved it. It did but it didn’t preserve Frank. He pegged out. Novum Organum, load of toss if you ask me. It took the synthesis of theory and experiment that was Newton before we stopped pissing around with goat blood.

    And they are evil critters. I was once surrounded by them in Greece. There was also a snake. Last time I ever trust “Lonely Planet”. This big billy was tilting it’s horns pretty much at the level of my genitals. And looking at me with baleful yellow eyes. Until the goat-herd turned-up (nice guy) it was beginning to get emotional.

    At the time whether they breathed through their ears was just not on the agenda.

  25. bloke in spain says:

    “It took the synthesis of theory and experiment that was Newton before we stopped pissing around with goat blood. ”
    Did it Nick? And where weren’t they doing synthesis & experiment before Newton came along? Just the universities?
    You start messing around in the crafts, you find so much that couldn’t be just down to blind chance. Trial & error. Outcomes it would be hard to work back to cause. If it’s a 3 or 4 stage process, you’d have possibly hundreds of possible starting conditions to choose from. Intermediate stages that there’d be no reason to continue past.
    Difference with the crafts of course is, if you’ve worked out something fiendishly clever, the last thing you’d do yell it to the world & make a reputation. You keep it under your hat & make money.

  26. bloke in spain says:

    Aaah Bacon. Had the ̶p̶l̶e̶a̶ ̶e̶x̶p̶e̶r̶ job of working for a ̶c̶l̶o̶ established f̶r̶i̶e̶n̶ acquaintance of a much later Francis Bacon in my early working life. ̶C̶h̶a̶r̶ Cordial enough…..chap but not some one you’d want to share a filing room with.

  27. CountingCats says:


    Newton removed supernatural action as an explanation for the motion of the universe and replaced it with predictable laws. No angels pushing the planets any more.

    Today most people have little understanding just how different was the mindset of our pre Newtonian ancestors to that of today. Arguably, that change is down to Newton and his law based model of the physical universe. His book changed all human thought, across all cultures, for all time. The only book comparable was Origin of Species, which did the same for the biological universe.

  28. Julie near Chicago says:

    Mr. Jester (do you have rotating flashing lots and do lots of beeping? — LOL :)

    I will say that the two stories on-line are not particularly good. The second is better, though. I might re-read some of the books sometime…and by the way…only the earlier Heinlein walked on water. (Please don’t shoot to kill.) ;)

    Nick, thanks for the explanation. My training is in abstract math up through the M.S., with just the first 5 quarters of the professional physics program, so I really appreciate your taking the time to explain…even though a lot of it’s over my head. :)

    I will point out to the Audience here that there is a subgroup of professional mathematicians who are completely unimpressed with Cantor’s definition of and theories about mathematical infinity. They seem to feel Infinity is an unwarranted extension of mathematics into the realm of Fable.

    But, to quote Asimov in another context, in the great short “Homo Sol,” “so far it’s done a pretty good job of predicting…[when properly applied --J].”

    So even in the rarefied air of serious mathematics, complete consensus fails.

  29. John Galt says:

    Going back to the matter of caprine respiration, it is my understanding that this was the belief of Archelaus, teacher of Socrates although none of his original works survive. The only reference to it being in Rerum rusticarum libri III (or Agricultural Topics in Three Books) by Marcus Terentius Varro (116 BC – 27 BC)

    Although Archelaus was a strange fellow, it’s quite possible that this was a mistranslation from the original Greek, ancient scribes not being the most fastidious of creatures.

  30. bloke in spain says:

    “Today most people have little understanding just how different was the mindset of our pre Newtonian ancestors to that of today. ”
    Oh I’m well aware of that. Find it a fascinating subject. There’s the medieval view of the colour palate. Ask a modern person to arrange colours by similarity & they’ll put indigo with royal blue, brick red with scarlet. A medieval would put royal blue with scarlet, indigo with brick red. Reason? The duller colours were what they lived with. What could be achieved with common dyes & pigments. The bright, pure colours were only seen in nature, God’s colours, or on the clothes & possessions of the very rich which to them was close to the same thing, because the colouring materials were expensive. If they attempted the shades using what was available to them, the result was transient & faded, reinforcing the notion they weren’t entitled to them. If you look at medieval illustrations there’s a whole sub-dialogue going on in the colours chosen that’s opaque to the modern mind.
    But I don’t actually believe their mindset was very much different to ours although the details often are. We & they have what we’re officially supposed to believe & we & they have what we actually run our lives on. People get several years of ‘scientific’ education but it doesn’t mean that enormous numbers truly believe inanimate objects contain ‘spirits’. What else explains the notion that playing cards & tossed coins have memories? Lucky lottery numbers? Lucky anything? Just being taught the scientific method doesn’t mean it’s accepted.
    Back to our medievals. They had the world according to the Church. That’s your angels pushing planets. Criticise that too vociferously get’s you burnt as an heretic so best keep quiet. A lot of those views were probably generated back to front. Starting, we are at the top so God must have put us here because He’s infinitely wise. QED. Therefore he built the universe etc (But there’s another side to religion’s not too different from science. It’s a first hack at explaining the world. If you don’t understand electrical discharges, thunder gods aren’t a bad working thesis. If you hear them shouting, prepare for rain.)
    Other end of the social spectrum you have the peasant. He’s nominally Christian & does the church bit but has about 5000 years worth of folk wisdom passed down to him as well. So, yeah, let’s pray for a successful harvest but some deep ploughing & muck won’t hurt, will it. And they had to pass that knowledge down without books so they wound tales around them to make them memorable. (Hell, we use mnemonics to remember some scientific laws now, don’t we?) And so from the blacksmith in his forge, all the way up, you have guys actually doing things. Finding out by trial & experiment. Yeah, God moves in mysterious ways but I can make a sword with a resilient backbone & hard edge’ll take your head off without breaking. Just because I can’t right a treatise on metallurgy doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m doing. Who really ever believed the world was flat? A boat, a sense of adventure & a convenient coastal mountain, particularly if where you’re headed is an island just over the horizon with another mountain, has to mean the sea’s gotta damned great hump in it. The thing’s curved not flat. Whether the thing joins up round the back’s not actually material if you’re not going that far although the village carpenter could probably help hack you a fair estimate of its radius. He manages quite well with wheel rims.
    OK, the knowledge isn’t spread evenly across the medieval world. People know what they need to know. But it’s not spread evenly across ours either. Most people are remarkably ignorant. Use the results of science whilst having some remarkably weird ideas what’s happening when they do. Universities do good physics & chemistry but then they do sociology & economics as well & for some completely unaccountable reason, omit witchcraft.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: