Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Perils of the Smartness Obsession

Paul Frampton, distinguished professor of physics, age 68, was in the news. He was arrested in Buenos Aires in January on the charges of attempting to smuggle two kilograms of cocaine out of the country.

Professor Frampton was likely the victim of a scam. Like the New Zealander Sharon Mae Armstrong, he was lured to Argentina by the other end of an internet romance.  He never met the "model" but was persuaded by an associate to carry a bag on her behalf.  The bag had cocaine in a hidden compartment.
Sharon Armstrong had five kilograms of cocaine in her luggage.

As a physicist blog put it,
Everyone passing through international airports will know that they must pack their own bags and be responsible for the contents. Travellers are continually warned and asked about it. It is easy to be befriended especially in honeypot traps. The details of how Frampton may have been tricked are not yet known but similar stories are well-known. Cases have even been turned into films such as Bangkok Hilton. It will be hard for an intelligent professor to persuade his prosecutors that he was naive enough to innocently accept to use a suitcase with cocaine stuffed into the padding. We wish him luck.
So far naivete and perhaps stupidity have been on display - why my headline? Well, someone drew attention to a section in this preprint by Frampton which I have reproduced after the fold.

The title is - Possible solution of dark matter, the solution of dark energy and Gell-Mann as great theoretician, and it is dedicated to Gell-Mann on his 80th birthday. In the section below, Frampton puts himself in the same class as Newton. To me it seems like Frampton let an obsession about being smart get the better of himself.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, there existed a problem in mathematics which was considered so difficult that it was expected that the century might end without solution. The problem was the Poincar ́e Conjecture in topology.
In fundamental theoretical physics, there was, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, an equally impossible seeming problem which likewise might not be solved for a hundred years. The problem was the Dark Energy in cosmology.
The creativity of homo sapiens had been underestimated. The Poincar ́e Conjecture was proved by Perelman, in less than three years. The Dark Energy problem was solved, by myself, in less than ten years. 

In my Festschrift from 2003, there is a photograph6 of a four-year-old boy with three special properties - a talent for mathematics, infinite chutzpah and he said he is cleverer than Newton. The talent meant that if the young boy were given a three- digit number, say, 506, he could, within seconds, answer 22x23; at most, one per cent of four-year-olds could do, similarly. At that time, in 1948, Newton was better known, even than any of the monarchs, except possibly the then monarch, King George VI. Surely, Newton was among the top one percent of human intelligence, so to be cleverer would require further reality checks. One would be forthcoming in 1965. 
On the road from 1948 to 2010, I will make mercifully brief rest stops at 1957, 1965 and 2006. The first of these, 1957, is when I learned, at King Charles I School, about the universal law of gravitation. This was a key stage, because I clearly recall looking up at the Moon and feeling my own weight, and being so impressed by the idea that I decided, then and there, that I would, one day, have a grander idea, than Newton’s. At about the same time, in 1957, my French teacher recommended, to my parents, a career, as a university professor, in linguistics. I might have done that, were it not for the call of Newton. Finally, in 1957, it was a memorable year because I met, for twelve seconds in Kidderminster Town Hall, the monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Having bowed, I was ready to answer absolutely any question but all she said was that it was very nice to meet me. I should have worn a sign, soliciting a royal question. 

In 1965, it was my turn for the opportunity of the Oxford Final Honors Schools (OFHS) with its six three-hour examinations, two each on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday June 6 - 8, 1965. The three morning exams were conventional while the afternoon OFHS exams were open-ended essay questions, with no instruction, even on how many questions to answer. 

For the four months February - May, 1965 I did nothing, except study and make extensive notes, and memory cards. I was sequestered, in Frewin Hall, and talked to nobody, except college servants who could bring me food, or physics books from Blackwell’s. What is pertinent to the sequel, in 2007 and 2010, is that of the hundred physics books I accumulated in Frewin Hall, my personal favorite was always Tol- man’s Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology, a clear and endearingly modest discussion, of the role of entropy in cyclic cosmology. I do recall spending hours then intrigued by the apparent contradiction, between the attractive idea of cyclic cosmology, and the second law of themodynamics; the contents of Tolman’s book, however, did not appear on my examinations. 

For the OFHS paper on Thursday afternoon (June 7, 1965) my strategy was to answer only one essay question. I had retained extensive material on a dozen top- ics, with a good probability at least one of them would appear on the question paper. There it was: X-ray diffraction. In three hours, I produced a meticulously- detailed 100-page monograph on X-ray diffraction, later described by an experi- enced examiner, as the most detailed answer, he had ever seen. This required some of Gell-Mann’s attributes: clear thinking, profound understanding and extensive re- tention. Incidentally, it also needed fast handwriting. My OFHS grades on my six papers were α,α,α,α+,α,α. This is called straight alphas. Two alphas were nec- essary for First Class Honours. The unprecedented α+ led to some discussion, in the Brasenose College (BNC) senior common room, and the BNC Fellows decided to allow me dining rights, on High Table, for as long as I would remain at BNC, as a doctoral student. The α+ did support my being in the top one percent of human intelligence, just like Newton. 

At High Table dinners, I befriended a philologist ,who had collected numerous honorary doctorates, and could understand a hundred languages. He once mentioned that he had met, dining in BNC, just the previous evening, Gell-Mann who had explained his ideas, about the origin, of the Basque language. Therefore, I could have first met Gell-Mann in 1965, in BNC, had I attended that dinner. Instead I first met Gell-Mann the following year, 1966, as discussed in the next section. 
More than fourty years after my OFHS experience, and after the accelerated cosmic expansion had been discovered, in 1998, I took on a new PhD student at UNC- Chapel Hill, Lauris Baum, in 2006 and suggested that he study, assiduously, existing papers on cyclic cosmology. This he did, and we discussed, at length, the issue of the Tolman conundrum, which had first piqued my intellectual curiosity, in 1965. The result was the first, and still only, solution to the 75-year-old conundrum.7,8 In 2010, at Tokyo, on Thursday, February 4, Hirosi Ooguri who is a distinguished professor at the California Institute of Technology and, like me, a professor at the University of Tokyo (I am also a distinguished professor in Chapel Hill) wrote, to inform me a, that, on Saturday, a Todai visitor, Professor Dam Son, would give three lectures on the holographic principle at Hongo campus, starting at 1:30 PM. Son’s lectures exceeded expectations. During the lectures (February 6, 2010), I realized, writing in my notebook, that the visible universe is approximated by a black hole, and that this leads to a resolution of the dark energy problem.2 

It would be a wonderful to have lunch, may be at L’Atelier de Jo ̈el Robuchon in Roppongi Hills, with Murray Gell-Mann, Isaac Newton, and Grigori Perelman to compare notes on personal fulfillment. What does Grigori Perelman mean, when he tells journalist, in turning down a million dollars, I have all I want. I’m not interested in money or fame? This seems to baffle some americans, whose idea of happiness, as an inalienable right, is a three-comma net worth. Yet, a two-comma net worth suffices, for all practical purposes. Fame can hardly exceed that of the singer and entertainer, Elvis Presley (1935-1977), whose name, from my non-scientific studies in public transportation, is still recognizable by one billion people. He died, when he was only fourty-two, so his fame was not very useful. 

After Son’s lectures on February 6, 2010, I went to the nearby Yushima Shrine around 6:00 PM and, impossibly, hoped that one of the many Japanese strolling around the shrine was Nambu sensei, to tell him. One ramification was that most of the work on quantum gravity, since the discovery of quantum mechanics, was called into question. There was an indescribable feeling of personal fulfillment, that the 66 years and 98 days, so far, of my life, had a significance. This was/is a totally individual experience which, unlike money or fame, involves no other person, and is therefore different. Because the visible universe is much bigger than the Solar System b, I had vindicated my claim, as a four-year-old, to be cleverer than Newton. Because, in my opinion, time travel into the past will forever be impossible, I cannot return to Isaac Newton in 1686 and forewarn him that a cleverer person will be born on October 31, 1943; nor can I return to 1948 and tell the four-year-old on a tricycle that he is right to say he is cleverer than Newton. The first reaction is to want to achieve the personal fulfillment again, and again. I am certain that Perelman is presently pursuing the six other Clay prolems, in alphabetical order: Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer Conjecture, Hodge Conjecture, Navier-Stokes Equations, P vs NP, Riemann Hypothesis and Yang-Mills Theory. More likely, Perelman is considering a more profound direction, in mathematics.