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Q&A on “Naturalness and Extra-Empirical Theory Assessments”

June 29, 2018 Leave a comment

I have had numerous questions and comments of my recent paper “Naturalness, Extra-Empirical Theory Assessments, and the Implications of Skepticism”, which can be found at arXiv:1806.07289.  Due to the many inquiries and the overlapping questions, I thought that for some efficiency I’d collect some of the most often heard questions into one “interview” given below.

The unnaturalness of high finetuning has been compared to pornography — it’s hard to define, and the edges might be fuzzy, but away from the edges you know it when you see it. Aren’t you just messing around at the edges, and then using that to unfairly throw out naturalness and finetuning as required elements of a theory?

I have heard that analogy many times, with the implication that when you’re deep into very high finetuning then nature just will not tolerate it, like polite society will not tolerate pornography. Well, if you want to go with that analogy the cosmological constant appears to be a Caligularian Debauchery of Bestiality. Yet nature tolerates it. The Higgs boson appears to be maybe Nymphomaniac, which some people say is a pornographic film while others might disagree. Nature appears to be tolerating this pornographic finetuning at levels that most did not anticipate. That is the issue, not the edges.

So, you believe that naturalness has no value at all, and nature has no worries about finetuning?

I am officially neutral to that question because I think it does not have much value to focus on it unduly. In my heart of hearts I think it is quite possible that what we see today as an extreme finetuning (e.g., cosmological constant and Higgs boson mass) will one day appear more natural through more enlightened eyes. That is why above I said “appears to” rather than “is”.  Maybe it is landscape physics that will do it. Maybe it is extreme fixed point behavior of a deeper theory. Whatever the case may be, I certainly do not rule that out. However, forbidding theories because our limited brains think they look finetuned or unnatural is short sighted and counter-productive to science progress. Likewise, requiring that we only pursue and investigate natural, un-finetuned theories from our current limited perspective is counter-productive.

You have put forward SEETA (skepticism of extra-empirical theory assessments) as a guiding principle. But how can science progress if there is no judgments between competing theories?

First, the premise of your question is a misunderstanding. I strongly advocate the use of extra-empirical assessments. It’s what makes human understanding increase, and helps make science so powerful. SEETA, as I advocate in the paper, is skepticism that extra-empirical theory assessments can state which speculative theory among competing theories is “more likely to be correct”.

SEETA is a credible and helpful extreme to contemplate. Spend some time forgetting about trying to divine which theories are “more correct” or “more likely” and focus on developing theories that are “better” and more empirically driven. Now, what’s “better”? There are a thousand answers to that, and letting a thousand flowers bloom is good for science. Let people hash it out. Among many qualities I like are theories that unify what we know — less parameters than others, more symmetries, etc. They are often falsifiable in their predictions because they are more constrained, and if they turn out to be confirmed they are more economical descriptions to base further investigation upon.

Wait, just to be sure I get what you’re saying, how can you make a distinction between evolutionary and geological science versus creationism if you adhere to SEETA?

SEETA certainly does not allow creationism to be on equal footing as our standard scientific explanations for geology and biology. There are no extra-empirical attributes to creationism that anybody would agree are superior to normal science except possibly one: God played a frequent and decisive interventionist role in the unfolding of creation as is claimed in the bible. That is not my religion, but it is for some. Creationism as we call it has been an evolving theory, as science has pushed them about in many directions. It looks to me very similar in spirit to what I call a “tautological theory” [1], which merely states that any observation is true (and God made it that way). In the marketplace of ideas, this has not been judged very useful, and falls far short of many other desirable extra-empirical attributes when compared to ordinary science understanding.

So, you are saying creationism is just wrong. But doesn’t that contradict your advice that we should not think about wrong and right theories, or “more correct” theories?

I am not saying that anything is wrong or right there. Theories just need to compete and society declares winners and losers on equally empirically adequate theories based on reasons that have very little to do with guessing which is “more correct”. It comes down to what is more predictive, more useful, more consilient, and a myriad of other extra-empirical reasons that jumble about in the competition. Creationism has failed in this competition for almost all of us, but it has succeeded in some small pockets because it is more “useful” (in different, non-scientific ways) to some to hold onto those beliefs.

You seem to have implied that all empirically adequate theories are equally likely, but how can that be true when only one theory and only one theory point, to use your language, can be correct? The others are mutually exclusive to the right choice. Isn’t it untenable to advocate equal likelihood of all empirically adequate theories?

The point is not that all theories and all theory points are equally likely. Rather, it is that without knowing beforehand you have no choice but to be agnostic about what theories will survive the next steps of empirical investigation, and therefore you must focus on other traits besides “likely” to decide your preferred theory. Of course, it should go without saying that preferred theories must be compatible with data. Identifying empirically adequate theories is step zero in deciding preferred theories.

But doesn’t that mean that when you give up on trying to assess what is the more likely next theory that you are abandoning the search for truth?

Again, I don’t know what is meant by “search for truth” here, but let’s take it to mean “the search for a new encompassing theory that will have confirmable new phenomena.” In that case, no, I am not giving up on that. On the contrary, I am advocating a plethora of approaches to extra-empirical theory assessments that can open up the search for new theories and new phenomena. A community tends to turn inward, especially when it comes to declarations by the powerful of “more correct” theories. It can stifle growth and creativity. Take the Lamarckian biology non-sense of the former USSR as an example. A thousand flowers looking for new empirically adequate falsifiable theories is much more likely to advance the cause of science than ideologies burdened by a single theory “most likely to be correct” pronounced by elder statesmen of science.

You wrote a paper five years ago on the “Utility of Naturalness” [2], and claimed that it could predict the Standard Model? Isn’t that an example of the power of naturalness, and why it’s a useful extra-empirical theory assessment?

That paper was about the implication of animating research through naturalness pursuits. As I claim in the paper, I did not totally succeed in deriving the Standard Model — only showing that it was a possibility among many, and that although one naturalness problem was solved (lightness of the electron) new ones were introduced (the weak scale). Nevertheless, the focus on naturalness could be interpreted as useful in developing new theories, as any motivation might that gets you out of bed working. I should say that it was controversial, with I’d say roughly half the people agreeing with me and half not among those I think have background to weigh in expertly. With respect to this context, most would agree that you could not start with QED and converge on the Standard Model from naturalness pursuits alone. For convergence, experiment must play a mutually key role with theory in this evolution, and that’s exactly how the real history played out.

You have given some prominence to the notion of “diversity” in theory development. Are you telling me that theorists should stop worrying about what is correct and just diversify itself blindly into a myriad of stupid theories whose only value is that they are different than other theories?

Presumably you have some criteria for a “stupid” theory, an extra-empirical assessment, which should go into the marketplace of ideas and compete. Your appellation suggests that those theories would not survive long. So, no, stupid theories are never good. However, when I’m reading the literature and I see two new theories and they are equally empirically adequate, but one suggests new phenomena never before suggested and which would require deliberate development and work by experiment to see it, then I am much more interested in that. Hochberg, Zhao, and Zurek’s work [3] on super light dark matter, which I cite in my article, is a particularly brilliant example of that. This is top-flight theory that is significantly more valuable than the latest “natural” theory brought forward with no new phenomena anywhere to be seen.

Works Cited

[1] J.D. Wells. Lexicon of Theory Qualities. Physics Resource Manuscripts, 2018 [pdf].

[2] J.D. Wells. Stud.Hist.Phil.Sci B49, 102 (2015). arXiv:1305.3434.

[3] Y. Hochberg, Y. Zhao, K.M. Zurek, PRL 116, 011301 (2016). arXiv:1504.07237.

V0015860 An old man wearing spectacles and his four pupils experiment

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European-American negotiations over the Iran Deal: then and now

May 11, 2018 Comments off

Abstract: Most of the tension is about what to do about Iran’s desire to enrich uranium.

You might think that the Europeans have been “much easier” on Iran compared to the Americans throughout the entire negotiation period that led up to the Iran Deal (JCPOA), and they pressured the U.S. beyond what it really wanted. But that would be mistaken. When Barack Obama was elected president he relaxed the requirement that Iran cease all uranium enrichment activities. President Bush had held firm to that standard and had even made stopping all enrichment as a precondition for direct U.S.-Iran negotiations.

When President Obama dropped the inflexible requirement of zero uranium enrichment, the Europeans were surprised. The French initially refused to go along, and were consistently the toughest negotiating partner on Iran. Here is a quote from Tarja Cronberg, former member of the European Parliament who chaired the Iran relations delegation for the EU:

“Obama was open to question the Bush administration’s ‘zero enrichment policy.’ France maintained its position of zero enrichment …. As the Obama administration was opening the door to diplomacy and declining suspension [of uranium enrichment] as a precondition, the Europeans resorted to tougher sanctions and suspension as a precondition” (Cronberg 2017).

The resulting Iran Deal was just as much a question of the Europeans bending (France in particular) as the United States. That is why President Macron of France was the first to come to petition Trump to save the Deal. France has credibility on the issue, and did not want a deal at any cost. France re-engaged and was looking for a way to save the deal while plugging holes. The negotiations went far, and almost succeeded.

A very insightful exchange can be found at a U.S. State Department briefing a couple of days ago about American-European negotiations in the last days of the Iran Deal. You will see that enrichment restrictions and sunsets were the main issues. They will remain the main issues going forward.

The relevant excerpt from the briefing is below. The person posing the question is a reporter, identified only as QUESTION, and the person answering it is a “senior state department official” who is identified only as SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE. “sunset” means the sunsets in the Iran Deal on uranium enrichment restrictions, and “one-year breakout” refers to the goal of allowing Iran to reach up to, but not shorter than, one year to obtain a nuclear weapon. President Trump wants that breakout time to be longer and permanently longer. Stopping enrichment altogether and dismantling its infrastructure would increase breakout time substantially.

Here’s the excerpt (U.S. State Department 2018):

QUESTION: When you say that the effort that you had in the negotiations [in recent months] with the E3 [France, Germany, UK] will not be wasted, will you be implementing any of that? Because I mean, it was the supposition that the U.S. would stay in the deal if these areas were addressed by the E3. The U.S. isn’t staying in the deal, so —

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So we made a ton of progress on ICBMs, on access, on missiles writ large, on regional issues, and then we got stuck on sunsets, right? We didn’t quite make it. That work – we’re not sure. We have to – we’re starting those conversations with the E3 today, tomorrow, so I can’t – we can’t tell you exactly how it’s going to be used, but I can tell you it will be used. That work is not going to be wasted.

QUESTION: So you think they’ll go forward.

QUESTION: But if a ton of progress was made, then why not give it more time? Why take such a dramatic action that’s going to have you basically starting over from square one?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The President made very clear on January 12th his intention. If we got a supplemental agreement before May 12th, he would consider it. We didn’t get there. He said this – on January 12th, he said that was his last time waiving sanctions. He followed through on that promise.

QUESTION: And what was the sticking point? Can you just sort of tell us what didn’t work?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: It was the one-year breakout.

QUESTION: The sunset program.



Cronberg, T (2017). Nuclear Multilateralism and Iran: Inside EU Negotiations. Routledge.

U.S. State Department (2018). “Background Briefing on President Trump’s Decision to Withdraw from the JCPOA”, U.S. State Department. May 8, 2018.

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Why America pulled out of the Iran Deal

May 9, 2018 Leave a comment

In President Trump’s speech yesterday when he withdraw from the Iran Deal (JCPOA), he said:

“At the heart of the Iran deal was a giant fiction: that a murderous regime desired only a peaceful nuclear energy program. Today, we have definitive proof that this Iranian promise was a lie.”

The White House is pushing hard this line in its social media feeds. It might cause you to think that America was duped into the deal. That we found out things later that went against what we thought or that we naively believed. And that’s we America withdrew from the Iran Deal.

However, the truth is that nobody thought Iran desired only a peaceful nuclear energy program. That is why President Obama so vigorously pursued the deal. It was intended to keep Iran in check by a mutually beneficial treaty.

We went into this deal with eyes wide open and there is no new information that has come to light that changes anything everybody already knew going in to the agreement. Nor has Iran done anything to violate the terms of the treaty.

Even America’s very own National Intelligence Estimate was publicly trumpeting Iran’s nuclear ambitions in 2007 (and earlier):

“We assess with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons” (NIE 2007).

And the IAEA’s Final Assessment document in 2015, which summarized what everybody knew going into the agreement, said

“The Agency assesses that a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device were conducted in Iran prior to the end of 2003 as a coordinated effort, and some activities took place after 2003. The Agency also assesses that these activities did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies, and the acquisition of certain relevant technical competences and capabilities. The Agency has no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009” (IEAE 2015).

As I have maintained for a long time, there are many flaws in the Iran Deal, and I think even thoughtful people can maintain that it should not have been agreed to. However, it’s counter productive to believe that it was new revelations about Iran that voided the deal. There is nothing new, except the U.S. pulled out because the Trump administration did not like the deal. Simple as that.


IAEA 2015. Final Assessment on Past and Present Outstanding Issues regarding Iran’s Nuclear Programme, December 2015.

NIE 2007. National Intelligence Estimate. Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities, National Intelligence Council, November 2007.

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Context of recent developments in the Iran Nuclear Deal

April 29, 2018 Leave a comment

There has been a flurry of activity recently regarding possible reintroduction of sanctions against Iran if President Trump decertifies the Nuclear Deal on May 12th. President Emmanuel Macron of France and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have both visited the White House in the last week in hopes of saving the agreement to which both France and Germany are signatories. The issues are complex and thoughtful opinions vary. The coming days may see dramatic American policy shifts toward Iran. Here I give some context to the recent developments, while at the same time highlighting some disagreements among allies, and what issues are at the center of the discussions.

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)

On July 14, 2015 Iran signed the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA) with the United States, the four other permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, UK) and Germany. Frequently referred to as the “Iran Nuclear Deal”, it is the culmination of years of diplomatic efforts mainly by the three European countries (E3) in the face of extreme reticence by the United States. President Obama, through Secretary of State John Kerry, made significant concessions on earlier American demands on Iran (most especially, allowing limited uranium enrichment, and implementing sunset clauses) to enable the deal to take place. In return, Iran made significant concessions that curtailed its ability to pursue nuclear weapons, or to become “nuclear pregnant”. The JCPOA is designed to keep “break-out time” to more than one year for Iran to manufacture nuclear weapons (Cronberg 2017).

Provisions of JCPOA include (JCPOA 2015)

– Iran can continue to enrich Uranium, but in the first ten years enrichment is allowed only up to 3.67% of U-238, far below the enrichment level needed to straightforwardly construct a nuclear bomb.

– significant reduction in Iran’s stockpile of uranium.

– enrichment activity in the first 15 years can only be at one facility (Natanz) with limited technology (5060 IR-1 centrifuges with under 30 cascades utilized). For higher grade uranium fuel (~20%), which is needed in the Tehran Research Reactor, Iran must obtain it from Russia.

– R&D on enrichment is forbidden for eight years.

– Iran agrees to follow the Additional Protocol, which is a rigorous extension to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) with accompanying heightened inspection openness.

– Reprocessing of nuclear fuel to obtain plutonium is forbidden.

– The signatories agree to end economic sanctions against Iran related to its nuclear program.

President Trump’s Dissatisfaction with JCPOA

President Trump has recently implied that on May 12th the United States will pull out of the agreement, and seek to reinstate nuclear-related sanctions on Iran.  The mechanism to do this arises out of the “Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015”, which was overwhelmingly passed by Congress a couple of months before JCPOA was signed (Iran Review Act 2015). The act requires the President to “certify” every 90 days Iran’s compliance with any agreement that may come (JCPOA). President Trump signed the certification in January 2018 and said that it would be his last waiver unless JCPOA were changed. He set a deadline of May 12th.

There are several key provisions that the Trump administration demands be changed. Most importantly, the Trump administration wants no sunset clauses on enrichment. Under JCPOA Iran will be lifted of many key restrictions in ten to twenty years that would enable significant gains in enrichment with no threats of sanctions or barriers. Enrichment to weapons grade uranium is the key step to achieving nuclear weapons, as it is hard to do this covertly compared to other steps (Davenport & Philipp 2016). An agreement now that implicitly accepts Iran’s ability to achieve that in time is unacceptable to many who cite Iran’s recent past nuclear perfidy, its involvement in state sponsored terrorism, and threats to annihilate Israel.

The U.S. sees enrichment activities by a bad-actor state as inherently possessing military intent, whereas the EU has argued more narrowly that enrichment is a right of all countries almost regardless of the country’s behavior. The EU has made clear, however, that their position would align more with the U.S. regarding enrichment if there were stronger evidences of current military intent of Iran’s nuclear program. All agree that Iran had this intent prior to 2003 (Cronberg 2017).

Justifying Termination of JCPOA

It is one thing to not like the agreement that was just signed, but it is another to find a legitimate reason to terminate it. The agreement can be terminated if it is found that Iran is not complying with its terms. This termination can happen legitimately by mere majority of the JCPOA signatories (JCPOA 2015; Gordon & Sanger 2015). However, the IAEA has certified multiple times since JCPOA was signed that Iran is complying, including most recently in February 2018 (IAEA 2018). However, the Trump administration charges that Iran has failed to comply with the “spirit” of the agreement (Parker 2017), which gives the U.S. the right to terminate it. Other signatories to JCPOA do not agree that the U.S. has the right to terminate the agreement, since it is a multilateral one. However, U.S. withdrawal, with its resulting imposed sanctions and secondary sanctions on those that do business with Iran, would effectively kill the agreement, and would eliminate all attractiveness to Iran to stay within it.

It what ways is Iran violating the spirt of the agreement according to the US? In September 2017, then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson cited the preface of JCPOA, which discusses “regional and international peace and security”, and he said, “In our view, Iran is clearly in default of these expectations … through their actions to prop up the Assad regime (in Syria), to engage in malicious activities in the region, including cyber activities, aggressively developing ballistic missiles” (BBC 2017). However, the text of JCPOA in question (appended at end of this sentence) is seen by others as boilerplate text on hoped-for inevitable results of the agreement, not a commitment or requirement to do something more than the technical tasks associated with the nuclear program: “They [signatories] anticipate that full implementation of this JCPOA will positively contribute to regional and international peace and security” (JCPOA 2015).

Primacy of NPT

Another line of argument by the United States might best be characterized as an appeal to the primacy of the NPT under long-standing American interpretation, according to which the NPT language at least implies that any demonstration of military intent for nuclear weapons by a non-nuclear weapon state eliminates its rights to enrich uranium.  If Iran could be argued to have military intent, the NPT would supersede the JCPOA and trigger the effective termination of JCPOA. Iran’s failure to report its illicit nuclear activities pre-2003 constituted this trigger among the E3 before JCPOA was negotiated and signed (Cronberg 2017:54). Currently, the aggressive pursuit of ballistic missiles by Iran is interpreted by some to warrant maintaining, or rather re-invoking, the zero enrichment policy toward Iran. However, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a January 2018 interview with CNN appears to have wished to separate the nuclear issues of JCPOA from other problematic issues associated with Iran, such as its ballistic missile program, its destabilizing activities in the region, and sponsorship of terrorism (CNN 2018). Sanctions regimes can be tied to each of those issues, without terminating JCPOA. This was an apparent break from his previous support of the president, when he said in September 2017 that Iran was “clearly in default” of JCPOA (BBC 2017; Wadhams 2017). Tillerson was fired March 13, 2018.

Containing Iran

Finally, perhaps the most significant worry for many is that Iran already projects itself strongly in the region in ways that the US sees as destabilizing and destructive. As it rises out of the economic sanctions its economic and military power will only intensify, leading to more meddling and more destabilization of Western interests. Its power was reined in by heavy world-wide economic sanctions associated with its earlier secretive nuclear aspirations. Keeping Iran economically shackled is seen by some in the West as being in the West’s best interest, but through the passage of JCPOA the West is letting Iran rise again. And when it becomes economically more powerful, the sunsetting clauses of JCPOA fade out and Iran will be freer to pursue a program that could lead to nuclear weapons. Under the current pact, it appears inevitable to some that Iran will obtain nuclear weapons in time, and that is what worries the Trump administration officials. Any pretext to kill JCPOA is thought to be justified by those worries. However, a nuclear weaponized Iran appeared to many even more inevitable before JCPOA, and global insecurity is more likely to increase without JCPOA, which leads many to hope it is not terminated.

No Alternative?

The prevailing view among many diplomats in favor of retaining JCPOA is summarized by Peter Mattig, Germany’s Ambassador to the United States,  “We don’t think it will be possible to renegotiate it [JCPOA] and we believe there is no practical, peaceful alternative to this deal” (Sen 2017). The United States’s new National Security Advisor, John Bolton, agrees. But he may have less reluctance to non-peaceful alternatives, as evidenced by his 2015 New York Times op-ed,  “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran” (Bolton 2015). Difficult days lie ahead.


BBC (2017). “Trump: Iran ‘atrocious’ at sticking to spirit of nuclear deal”. (14 September 2017).

Bolton (2015). “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” NY Times (26 March 2015).

CNN (2018). “Transcript: CNN’s exclusive interview with Rex Tillerson”, (5 January 2018).

Cronberg, T (2017). Nuclear Multilateralism and Iran: Inside EU Negotiations. Routledge.

Davenport, K. & Philipp, E. (2016), “A French view on the Iran deal: and interview with Ambassador Gérard Araud,” Arms Control Today (5 July 2016).

Gordon, M.R. & Sanger, D.E. (2015). “Deal Reached on Iran Nuclear Program; Limits on Fuel Would Lessen with Time,” NY Times (14 July 2015).

IAEA (2018). “Verification and monitoring on the Islamic Republic of Iran in light of United Nations Security Council resolution 2331 (2015)”, Report by the Director General, GOV/2018/7 (22 February 2018).

Iran Review Act (2015). “H.R. 1191 — Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015,” passed May 5, 2015.

JCPOA (2015). Joint Comprensive Plan of Action, Vienna, 14 July 2015.

Parker, A. (2017). “Trump says Iran has not ‘lived up to the spirit’ of the nuclear agreement.” Washington Post (20 April 2017).

Sen, A.K. (2017). What are the implications of decertification of the Iran Nuclear Deal?” The Atlantic Council (10 October 2017).

Wadhams, N. (2017). “Tillerson Says Iran ‘Clearly in Default’ of Nuclear Deal’s Terms”, (14 September 2017)


Photo from rally on September 9, 2015 (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GETTY)

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Book Published

July 15, 2016 Comments off

J.D. Wells. In Praise of Theory and Speculation : Essays and Commentaries. 2016 [pdf]


Study and Learning
UF president rails against intercollegiate athletics, 1920 … 7
Spring break can lower your IQ … 12
Longhand writing better than laptop for note taking … 15
Factors that determine success in learning … 23
Advice from the Soviet Union on how to become a great physicist … 28
Student petitions his professor, Russia 1899 … 35
Strict oversight at Collège de Dainville, Paris, 1380 … 52
Advice on becoming a true scientist from Sinclair Lewis’s Arrowsmith … 57
The process of creativity … 91
Learn from your elders but follow your convictions … 94
Martin Luther rose to the top of class by studying hard … 107
You must study the masters … 133

Teaching and Education
Montaigne describes how students are to be taught to argue … 8
Wisconsin student not impressed with the flipped classroom … 11
On eliminating the university lecture, from Nabokov’s Pnin, 1957 … 20
Stanford University president compares American and German students, 1903 … 27
University enrollment pressures of the 1930s and Kinsey’s sexual revolution … 29
Teach with enthusiasm and devotion … 53
Examine your students properly … 54
Higher talent required to explain broadly than to impart specialized knowledge … 55
Student evaluations of teaching are of limited value … 56
High-flying broad physics instruction not very useful … 83
Reading seminars in Japanese education … 85
What endures from school … 89
Four benefits any teaching innovation must have … 119
Teaching science like a foreign language … 120
America’s 19th century middling standard for knowledge … 128

History and Philosophy of Science
Max Planck confidently explaining a wrong theory of Uranium, 1929 … 6
All explanations end with ‘it just does’ … 13
Difference between a cathedral and a physics lab? … 18
Study of nature far superior to other human activities? … 19
In praise of theory and speculation … 25
Heisenberg’s Failed Prophecy for Particle Physics … 37
Cicero on cosmology in Roman antiquity … 51
Prof. von Jolly’s 1878 prediction of the end of theoretical physics, reported by Max Planck … 61
Ginzburg’s regret at not being the first to discover the BCS theory of superconductivity … 68
The “vagrant and unfocused” career of Leonardo da Vinci … 78
Pascal’s Conformal Commitment … 79
Fundamental physics is not yet simple enough … 90
Voltaire says true physics is to calculate, measure and observe … 100
I think therefore I am … hated … 105
Leibniz thought belief in atoms was a youthful folly … 115
The value of studying history of science … 116
Humean destruction and Artificial Intelligence … 117
Big bang cries out for a divine explanation? … 121
Darwin’s flaws make him a scientist … 123
Rationalism is alive and kicking … 134
The technician and the scientist … 135

Requirements of Success
Excellent scientists can have life balance … 9
Successful people work insanely hard … 10
You can still succeed in science with a non-science background … 10
Traits of extraordinary achievers … 71
No success without total devotion … 88
IQ and conscientiousness are keys to success … 92
Genius is infinite capacity for taking pains … 93
Five characteristics of successful people … 98
All have will to win but few have will to prepare … 104
Non-cognitive skills as the ‘dark matter’ of success … 111
Suppress unnecessary impulses … 113
Determine never to be idle … 122
Odious qualities bring progress? … 127
Greatness requires change, improvement, and renewal … 130
Advice for the work life … 131
Legendary boxing trainer’s advice on becoming a champion … 132
Success through commitment … 136
How to generate luck … 137

Language and Writing
English dominance may be hurting science … 3
Athenodorus teaches Roman Emperor Claudius how to write well … 16
Suggestions for How to Spell English in International Reports … 40
Chris Rock on writing … 87
Cultivate the ethic of the essential … 103
Reflective versus reflexive novels in modernity … 108
Foucault : j’aime bien le beau style … 110
Thomas More and Martin Luther’s vituperativeness … 118
Wisdom from Steinbeck’s journal of a novel … 124

Citation inflation and its remedies … 1
Completing Hirsch’s h-index measuring scholarly impact … 32
Reprehensible behavior in a large population theorem … 64
Breakdown of the 1994 Agreement between the US and North Korea … 65
“Please, sir, I want some more citations” … 70
1936, the year of the first Fields Medalist, and the year MIT kicked him out … 81
Live mice versus dead lions … 95
The real advantage of truth … 96
Bad weather makes good academics … 97
True workers die in a fidget of frustration … 99
The will to prove destroys art … 101
Nothing is my last word on anything … 102
Alien infiltrator reports … 114
The more we want it to be true the more careful we must be … 129

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