The Mongol Horde

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A striking feature of the Academic Physics Community is the failure to engage with its own diaspora. I left because I was completely bored with academic research. I had no shortage of new results, but the culture of physics research in those days was toxic.

Firstly, there were the infantile rejection letters and stupid priority fights. Secondly, there was the unashamed plagiarism, which I experienced first hand. Finally, there was the ignorant Sun King attitude of leading professors when you showed them something different that they did not already know.

Let them Eat Cake and Dine on Stringy Ectoplasm.

Not for any of these people a research path that may actually lead to success!

When you deal with that kind of nonsense at a formative age it kind of changes your view of the world. I made up my mind in 1995 that Academic Physics was certainly headed for a Titanic Fall from Grace. I just up and left in search of greener pastures.

However, now I can discern how that very fall might encompass a rise in the general level of research quality and a fuller public engagement for Physics – The Enterprise.

As I see it, the central issues to be addressed are these:

1) The Academic Physics Business Model is Busted

2) It is Illogical that The Physics Diaspora are effectively excluded from research

3) The push for New Physics is delusional with regard to the claimed social benefits

Let us take each of these in turn and then propose a partial remedy.

The Academic Business Model is Busted Since the 1950s and 1960s expansion there has been a near universal business model for the conduct of physics research. Outside of a handful of industrial labs such as Bell labs and IBM Research the bulk of physics research was academic and grant funded.

Success in this world required tenured status as a Professor followed by expansion of the venture through public grant moneys to hire and employ graduate students.

Result: a huge expansion in product, both research papers and PhDs.

Sometime around the 1980s and 1990s this business model began to break. It is no surprise why. It has the properties of a pyramid scheme.

To progress a career one needed to manufacture more PhDs. Very soon there is no room for all the PhDs and they get sent out into the big wide world. Nothing wrong with that! However, as the Professors who stay behind compete ever more furiously for grants they get more and more specialized.

Worse the product is research papers which can only be read by other specialists.

That is where we are now. Overly specialized PhDs who come out knowing a great deal about the abstruse and speculative elements of the research frontier. The vast bulk of what they know is not established in any way shape or form as Science. A great deal of it is Pure Junk and useless to society at large. Worse, the poor PhD never learned any of the eternally useful old-fashioned physics that describes how Nature actually works.

Result: a glut of hyper-arrogant know-nothing specialists in speculative souffle subjects. These people are useless to hire in any engineering enterprise and dangerous when set loose in financial markets. You give them a Vanilla Mortgage and they make a Constant Proportion Portfolio Insured Portfolio of Synthetic Collateralized Debt Obligations with a Neat Auto-Destruct feature when the capital buffer falls below 5%. Light fuse, RUN!

That is a thoroughly broken business model.

The Excluded Diaspora As anybody who did leave graduate school can attest, the attitude of the professors to those who leave is often rather arrogant. They look down on PhDs who entered commerce in search of a living as “not cut out for research.”

This is a stupid attitude. There are now far more physics PhDs outside of Academia than there are inside. The critical mass of brain power is not in the Ivory Tower.

It exists outside the Walls of the Citadel.

It is a Mongol Diaspora, happily living out on The Barbarian Steppes of Commerce.

Far more significantly, and against the professorial prejudice, the folks outside of the Academic environment are often among the more engaged, capable thinkers and creative problem solvers. They typically entered graduate school because they were gifted academically and chose physics since they liked to think about how things work. However, once exposed to the arrogance of professional research and the stupidity of its mores they simply left in search of a more stimulating and rewarding environment.

I know many many physics PhDs around the world who fit this description to a tee. Furthermore, since they were forced to make new careers in a host of different fields they are much more open minded about science than the typical academic. They actually have very fertile minds and great preparation for cross-disciplinary work.

This is where most scientific advances are made. However, Academics typically prefer to specialize. Once you are an established expert in a tiny area, cross-pollination is viewed as an existential threat.

The Push for New Physics is Delusional I myself am involved in a privately funded effort to develop a New Quantum Theory based upon the Barut Self-Field Quantum Electrodynamics. Therefore, this last point may seem a bit contradictory. How can you say New Physics is Delusional when you are pursuing exactly that?

The point I would like to make is that genuinely new physics generally springs from exposure to important problems. One of my associates and collaborators is involved in fracture mechanics. This is a key area of materials science and engineering. The other day he shared with me how old fashioned the models are. We agreed to work together on it. We saw a huge opportunity overlooked by the Academics.

The delusional element in the typical push for new physics from Academics is the idea that they will find it by pursuing a grant application. The risk calculus of research grant applications is that you should never ever write one unless you already know the answer to the problem being posed.

Ergo… they are a complete and total waste of money.

The best way to find new things is to be exposed to a rich array of hard problems that matter. Academics generally shun such dirty, messy real world problems because they mess up the grant application! The Research Hamster spins ever faster to make the stuff we already know less readable. Hell, Physics with Functors! Why Not?

I see this now with the on-going D-Wave quantum computing saga. In various of my own business interests I deal with solid commercially minded enterprises who are evaluating the technology.

About this development I have some bad news for the quantum computing zealots. The feedback I have is that this new architecture is well suited to complement more traditional processing for constraint problems.

The buyers of D-Wave computers (we are up to #4 now) do not give a Rat’s Arse what the dang thing is called. They do not fundamentally care if it is called a quantum computer or not.

Hell, you could have called it the Windows 666-Box and they still would have bought!

They just care about solving a commercial problem.

That is commerce 101. Meanwhile, back in Academic Zealot Land we have spent billions of public dollars to work out that $$15=3\times 5$$. You get the point. Superconducting electronics now has an emerging marketplace. Thanks to who?

Thanks to D-Wave.

The Mongol Horde – A Remedy Academic Physics has Jumped the Shark. It promised this World, a Teleportation Machine to New Worlds, and a whole new Parallel Universe of your own. In place of that we got:

Icky-Sticky Pea-Brained Stringy Ectoplasm and A Splendid Theory of Nothing.

The Citadel is now chock-full of Quantum Jumping Half-Crazed Lunatics.

The PhD trained physicists that I correspond with are all members of the Academic Diaspora. They all pretty much shake their heads in unison about how sad and twisted physics has become. Reading the headlines of the science reporting magazines is one long succession of Psychobabble, Fudge and Souffle.

I believe there is genuinely New Physics in the wings but I do not trust any Academic to find it. It would seem to me that they are diligently ignoring the specific evidence about where they should look for it.

Recognizing this fact, I think we can introduce a New Business Model for Physics.

This is an idea borrowed from an article published in the The Clute Institute Journal:

Big Physics At Small Places : The Mongol Horde Model Of Undergraduate Research

The central thrust of that experiment was to engage undergraduate students in a big physics project at the accelerator labs. Through bringing eager students into the process of detector design and development the researchers hoped to get more value for their grant dollar and also some able young minds on the job.

The most delightful idea in this paper lies embedded in the title: The Mongol Horde Model of Research. I love this idea so much I am going to run with it.

However, I aim for a much more ambitious experiment. Given the earlier work I did in nonlinear field theory I think it is feasible to build a New Quantum Theory. I am going to release my own bottom drawer research as start-up capital to seed this project.

The Mongol Kernel Fork of the New Physics will be hosted at

There is plenty of work to be done, so I am happy to crowd source the parts that I am missing. The product will, of course, be modified equations, but much more importantly it will be software that implements them. The focus will not be the Delusional Dance of New Physics but the practical commercial goal of Non-Perturbative QED.

We will see if the Mongol Horde can accomplish what the High Priests could not.

A Genuine Theory of Something.

Subversive Epiphany

I have just gotten back from an extended business trip to the United States.

This was a lot of fun. I went to the SIAM Boston meeting on Computers in Science & Engineering. Later in the trip I went to PyCon2013 and PyData2013 to catch up with where things are at in the Pythonic universe.

It is probably close to fifteen years since I have been to a scientific conference. I very much enjoyed the developments in computational science since they involved many practical problems.

Regular readers of this blog will appreciate my love-hate relationship with mainstream physics. I tend to get very annoyed when I read physics journals, but I do enjoy the computer and applied mathematics literature.

However, I may yet come to some rapprochement with physics-at-large.

The epiphany for me was the sudden realization that most physicists today do not seem to believe in the Copenhagen interpretation but they do believe in point-like particles.

I don’t know exactly when that dawned on me, but it was somewhere in the middle of listening to some talk on numerical solutions of the Schroedinger equation in the semi-classical regime. None of the correspondents in that session seemed to know anything about my work in this area so I kept quiet.

I did not want to spoil the fun of searching for the elusive classical limit.

Reflecting upon what I already knew to be a grand folly I realized that physicists in general seem very sure that they know what rests within the Schroedinger equation. Look at it this way. They know three things:

1) the Schroedinger equation is right
2) the Classical world seems real enough and sensible
3) therefore, it must fall out of the mathematics somehow

All very sensible, but sadly untrue. The relevant mathematics does exist but is not what they are looking for!

Now to the epiphany. The physics community, in general, believe that we know particles are real. However, they are confused about what a wavefunction might be or mean since a wave is clearly not a particle!

What the community has yet to appreciate is that in a certain limit, that of the Classical Schroedinger Equation, the wavefunctions do bounce around, scatter and behave exactly like particles. However, that is a limit where the wave aspect of the physics is frozen out. You get to the idealised particle from the wave description.

However, that regime of behavior is very special and only ever approximate.

Let us now turn things around. Suppose there are no particles at all. Suppose that is merely an illusion and matter is pure wave. Even further, suppose that the phase of that wave is the gauge field (e.g. the photon). Then there is no light separate from its sources. They are part and parcel of the same phenomenon.

In that case, we have things perfectly upside down. We are using a micro-level mental picture of particles and then wondering why the classical level continuum physics is not easily recovered. Turn that around and employ a micro-level picture of pure waves. How then do you recover familiar billiard ball behavior?

That is easy, it is the decorrelated approximation of mean-field theory for which the Classical Schroedinger Equation is just the simplest example in a family (the next one up is the Hartree-Fock approximation).

What then is the reality? Well, in the alternative picture it is a matter wave in configuration space.

What about measurement theory, you ask? How come we only see fields in 3+1 dimensions not (3+1)N dimensions? How can you possibly shrink a beast in configuration space to a manageable quasi-classical field?

Easy. The very same rule invented by Max Born still works!

If you calculate the one-body density of the matter wave you get the classical level of experience. The mapping from (3+1)N dimensions to (3+1) is trivial and we already know the empirically supported rule.

Once we abandon thinking about particles, then there is no measurement theory at all. There is nothing separate, just a whole. There is no particle being measured by something, and no observer either. You can just junk the lot.

There is only one single wave and a continuum foundation to everything. Since the wave equation does admit eigenfunctions, that wave is quantized. Think of it as Universal Jelly with Natural Modes of Vibration.

Furthermore, the classical limit is merely an idealization. The wave never breaks up into independent particles in the sense that quantum field theory describes. Entanglement is ubiquitous and permanent (eat your qubit socks quantum computing zealots).

Wilder still, if you analyze the causality structure of such a theory it is not determinable.

While the underlying wave evolution may well be deterministic the one-body quantities are not sufficient as initial data. You could know them exactly and still not be able to predict what happens.

There is no need for God to Play Dice. You can have a non-local fully deterministic hidden wave theory. This you cannot do for particles, since local hidden variable theories are excluded!

The epiphany which struck me in Boston was the realization that hidden variable theories are alive, but only when constructed in the wave formulation.

If you insist that the wave describes a point-like particle then you cannot conceive of a hidden variable theory. This is because particles are local entities. Waves, on the other hand, are non-local entities. If you only think of particles you will miss this possibility.

The totality of the wave in configuration space is a non-local hidden variable.

I think it is possible to build a new theory now. However, this journey is not for the faint hearted. Quantum Field Theory simply cannot survive such a revision of physical interpretation in its present form.

QFT is necessarily a theory of particles not waves.

If we do get new physics it will be New Physics. Interpretation changes everything.

Getting the particle back as an idealized concept is easy. That is the Classical Schroedinger Equation.

Sionara QED I. Enter QED II, the sequel with added Gravitation.

The question is what to call this hidden layer of reality we are positing. Since the idea of junking QFT in its entirety is so utterly subversive I favor the term subverse.

To be really perverse, let us call the perceivable layer the PERVERSE and the imperceivable hidden layer the SUBVERSE. As Confucius himself might opine:

Contemplation of perverse perceivables guides us to subversive imperceivables.


SIAM meetings are a lot of fun.

I’ll be back.

Computational Art & Design

The Petascale future of computing is already here and we are now into the Exascale.

In my own home country of Australia, Business is utterly oblivious to what this means. They simply have no idea. The word clueless springs to mind.

There is a whole new computing revolution building rapidly in the wings. Business is destined to have this Rogue Wave simply break over and crush them. Government is throwing billions at a flagging car industry without realizing that the future of design and manufacture is software. It is sad to watch, but I am not my brother’s keeper. This is why I make my plans exclusive of whatever gigantic mess Australia creates for itself. It is time to avoid poor leadership and seek a more welcoming climate.

Now that I have renewed my contact with the mathematical sciences I have to say I am wildly excited. The single mathematical innovation of the last twenty years which most excites me is the wide application of control theory principles to computational design. This area goes by the rather dry name of PDE-Constrained Optimization:

Large Scale PDE-Constrained Optimization

Let us try to bring that to life a little…

The term PDE refers to the laws of Physics, Chemistry and Biology expressed in the form of Partial Differential Equations. There have been huge advances, especially in mathematical biology, in bringing those laws into mathematical form. You can think of this as the Laws of Nature freshly canned. Systems which do not presently exist can be modeled fairly well on a computer nowadays. That is a huge deal when it comes to the Lucrative Business of Design. You can now forward simulate a design and predict its behavior. This is Product Design by Computer, a trend now sweeping through the entire global manufacturing supply chain.

In addition to the huge performance boost of the multicore computing age, we now have the practical advance of optimization methods into Computational Design. The phrase Operations Research is the original name given to optimization methods and principles. It began in World War II with mathematicians and physicists assigned to figure out how to improve Allied operations against U-Boats.

That was the first Big Data exercise. Take a bunch of bombing and aiming statistics along with tactical information and work out a better way to strike the enemy. There is huge hype today about the “data” dimension of Big Data, but the truth is that Insight comes from Reductive Analysis. Compress the big data into a Smaller Model.

This fact is the origin of much public confusion over the Scientific Method. The whole reason we use it stems from the ability of Scientific Analysis to literally compress a vast array of seemingly unrelated phenomena into Systematic and Reliable Rules. It is not the data itself which presents the prize. It is the distillation of that to rules.

Sadly, they do not teach this idea in Business School. It is not complicated but many Business Leaders utterly fail to comprehend the power of it.

The PDE is the culmination of that research effort over centuries. For example, via the Navier-Stokes equation we can compute what the airflow over a complex shape looks like. The essential properties required to predict performance of an aircraft wing can be calculated. Experimental data remains valuable to check and refine methods but we can do a lot virtually. This greatly accelerates the design cycle.

Now imagine that you combine forward simulation with backward inference. Through numerical experiments you might figure out that some designs for a wing profile perform much better than others. How might you find the best for a given application?

The naive answer is the right answer.

Do massive trial and error. Use the computer to compute many designs. Through the methods of operations research, in the modern form of Optimal Control Theory, you can then home in on the better designs from among an infinite field of possibilities.

This is the essence of the new revolution in Computer Aided Art & Design.

I say Art also, since the newer methods permit such ideas as Shape Optimization and Computational Aesthetics. Our ability to describe shapes has evolved greatly since the 1940’s and 1950’s through applications of Differential Geometry, the math used by Einstein in his General Relativity. Now we can do dynamics with them!

Now we can turn this Promethean power towards Practical Art, Commerce and the Entertainment industry. It really is the very dawn of a new Golden Age of Mathematical Invention. We can capture the Natural world in equations and then use those as the raw material for a design process. The human possibilities are truly immense.

So far, these approaches have been limited to the so-called hard sciences. However, with the rapidly growing mass of social data the time of Practical Psycho-physics is fast approaching. We are learning to describe basic individual and social decision processes. At the head of this trend is Marketing, but it is wider than that.

People may have thought the Statistician and Economist Francis Ysidro Edgeworth to be an eccentric dreamer when he coined the word: Psycho-physics. However, I now believe that history shall prove otherwise. Edgeworth simply lacked the data. My own personal research into the drivers of Investor Sentiment has convinced me that mass-market behavior has predictable elements.

The Statistical Mechanics of Crowds is coming.

Contrast these advances with that of the financial community at large. Charged with the task of managing precious capital, Banks seem incompetent to do so.

I have personally spent about equal amounts of time in my career in both Science and Finance. I have had two 15 year sentences, served consecutively. Every field of human endeavor has its foibles, but Finance appears unique. All progress in finance seems cyclical, with the same mistakes repeated over and over and over again.

Finance is an area which takes a perverse pride to avoid knowing even something about anything of economic consequence. The general human desire to actually know something about the world is replaced by the charade of convincing people you know something. Sure, there is a lot of talk, but mostly it is a moveable feast of noisy commentary on what just happened.

It seems that the financial community suffers greatly from Scientific & Technological Illiteracy on a truly Grand Scale. Far worse, it is an arrogant ignorance which seems to manifest itself. The claim that not only do people not know anything practical about the real world, but that they are proud of it.

I am no longer surprised that the Global Financial Crisis happened. It is a direct consequence of a giant Cognitive Deficit in systems-level thinking.

The folks involved simply lack the mental preparation to know how to think about complex social systems and their consequences. This mental failing is present on both the upside and the downside. We saw failure on the downside with the GFC. Now let me predict a forthcoming failure on the upside.

The next Crisis will be a Titanic Failure of the Imagination:

Market participants simply do not realize how huge this next revolution will be.

It is for this reason that I chose the path of being both an Investor and Innovator. There is the old adage:

If you want to see the future it is best to make it.

The marriage of Optimal Control with Engineering and Artistic Design on Petascale Compute Clouds will be enormous.

Word Processing, Email and Status Updates are nice to have, but this will quite literally change the world.