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On Unknowns Making Meaningful Contributions


Bignose
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This comes up every so often here in the Speculations forum: the question being can a relative unknown make a meaningful contribution.

 

I saw this today: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/05/twin-primes/ a relative unknown makes a significant step forward towards proving the twin primes conjecture in mathematics.

 

Now, that said, note one of the comments by one of the reviewers of the paper: He nailed down every detail so no one will doubt him. Theres no waffling.

 

This cannot be emphasized enough in this section. Nail down every detail. So, so, so very often speculators come in an leave details very 'unnailed'. And when this is pointed out, they usually get huffy and the perpetual favorite accusing the rest of the forum of being dogmatic and religious in the name of science.

 

But, it can be done. It still has to be done right, but it can be done.

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I think there is a striking difference between this and what's usually being discussed in speculations. What's usually claimed here is that an academic outsider, possibly even self-taught, might make a meaningful contribution. That guy is a lecturer in mathematics at a regular university. Pretty much the opposite of an academic outsider to me.

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That guy is a lecturer in mathematics at a regular university.

I think that must be stressed here. It maybe true that he had not made any major contributions for while to the subject of number theory, but he is well-versed in the methods, style, ethos and culture of modern mathematical research. This seems very different to most of the speculations put forward here.

 

And on that, I better start working harder....

 

I think that before being known you are unknown.

Right, but in this context I think Yitang Zhang being over 50 is a remarkable point. One might have expected he would have produced his best work before this.

 

But then he probabily is well-known in some small circles of mathematical researchers.

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Yes I know the age for scientific contribution from historical records is around 20-30.

I think that

1. this bright mathematician has not being given a chance to develop his idea before, life does not seem to have been easy for him.

2. it is unlikely to make more than 1 contribution in your life, unless with the help of another (young) bright mind that wrote you a letter because all of a sudden you have become renowned.

 

There are exceptions of course.

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1. this bright mathematician has not being given a chance to develop his idea before, life does not seem to have been easy for him.

There is some issue here. When you are young and starting out you need to produce papers and work on something considered interesting by some estabished researchers. Remember you are looking for a job and funding, which means joining an existing group and/or getting hold of grand money. My advice to new PhD students is to consider this carefully when picking a supervisor and topic.

 

Once you are established it maybe easier for your to explore the more speculative ideas you have. There maybe less pressure to publish and this may give you more time to finish your work.

2. it is unlikely to make more than 1 contribution in your life, unless with the help of another (young) bright mind that wrote you a letter because all of a sudden you have become renowned.

I get the impression that most people have one to two really good ideas in their life, though there are of course those that always seem to have good ideas.
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I think there is a striking difference between this and what's usually being discussed in speculations. What's usually claimed here is that an academic outsider, possibly even self-taught, might make a meaningful contribution. That guy is a lecturer in mathematics at a regular university. Pretty much the opposite of an academic outsider to me.

And, well, that's kind of what I was trying to say, too. In other words, I want the speculators to see this and understand what it means to be an 'outsider' and still make a meaningful contribution.

 

For example, while I would not say that having a PhD is a requirement, one does need to perform PhD-level work. The guy at hand here, for example, was reading recent papers and being familiar with the literature and the current theories. This is pretty much never seen in the speculations forum.

 

Another is doing all the work to nail something down. All too often, speculators here expect us to sit and bask in their brilliance, and don't understand that flaws being pointed out are actually opportunities to make their idea stronger. And there is a very distinct lack of speculators wanting to actually do work to support their ideas.

 

In short, one can question his 'outsider' credentials. I don't think arguing the semantics in my point here.

 

My point is that it is possible for someone who is not known to be working on a given topic to come in and still make a meaningful contribution. But there is a lot that goes into making something meaningful -- a lot that the average speculator in here doesn't even begin to imagine, really.

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I wouldn't characterize the mathematician as an outsider. An unknown, yes. But I agree, there is a huge difference between what this guy did and your typical rambling in speculations. And that's what needs to be done to be taken seriously.

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And, well, that's kind of what I was trying to say, too. In other words, I want the speculators to see this and understand what it means to be an 'outsider' and still make a meaningful contribution.

 

For example, while I would not say that having a PhD is a requirement, one does need to perform PhD-level work. The guy at hand here, for example, was reading recent papers and being familiar with the literature and the current theories. This is pretty much never seen in the speculations forum.

 

Another is doing all the work to nail something down. All too often, speculators here expect us to sit and bask in their brilliance, and don't understand that flaws being pointed out are actually opportunities to make their idea stronger. And there is a very distinct lack of speculators wanting to actually do work to support their ideas.

 

In short, one can question his 'outsider' credentials. I don't think arguing the semantics in my point here.

 

My point is that it is possible for someone who is not known to be working on a given topic to come in and still make a meaningful contribution. But there is a lot that goes into making something meaningful -- a lot that the average speculator in here doesn't even begin to imagine, really.

I like the Bask in their Brilliance...statement you made.

 

I also agree it is possible for a person who is an unknown or perhaps never even considered working upon a specific idea or field of work...that person takes a look at what others are stating...and that persons obtains a moment of clarity that all these so called experts never had which allows this unknown to solve the big issue.

 

Now there is the person who comes on a science board or perhaps joins a forum that has some very important to a specific field people on it and then posts something that this person feels is the smartest thing that was ever typed. The people who know a few things might point out this persons mistake...or in many cases...those who feel they are the end all to end all...and quite possibly could be...BASH THIS PERSON OVER THEIR STUPIDITY.

 

This will either cause the person who posted what they believe is Brilliant...to go away quietly and embarrassed...or dig in and argue their point without any basis regardless of how lacking in logic and science their argument may be.

 

THE OTHER POSSIBILITY...is when an unknown or just passing through...person looks at something and posts a REAL CONTRIBUTION which would be considered a discovery or breakthrough in the field of work or research.

 

The reaction to this from those who consider themselves...and they very well could be...the top minds in the field...could be anything from CONGRATULATIONS and EXCITEMENT....all the way to CONDEMNATION, REJECTION, IRRITATION and JEALOUSY. Some of these self anointed or anointed by others...EXPERTS IN THE FIELD...will have an EGO that just will not be able to handle a reality where THEY FAILED...yet an unknown....EXCELLED.

 

Case in point...I joined this forum that has on it a lot of very smart people. People who are tops in their field...or so they think. I joined to LEARN A FEW THINGS as this forum is of a topic that is not my strong point and I joined just to get a feel for it. A problem was presented and although I don't have that great of a knowledge base in this field...I presented a SOLVE for the problem.

 

At first I was just blown out of the water with replies stating things anywhere from...Sorry...this won't work...to....Why does an IDIOT like yourself waste our time? I have a thick skin and since my reality is a very good one unlike the vast majority of these...Never been on a Date...GEEKS...I let the insults go by me...and feeling that my logic was sound kept asking through the continuing insults...WHY NOT?

 

Eventually someone who had a social IQ that was greater than 2...replied to me saying...You know...your idea could work if we just added...this. Since this person who replied to me was the Big Cheese on the site...others started debating and eventually it was attempted and proven my idea worked.

 

I was happy and a bit prideful but I kept that inside thinking that now that my idea was proven...someone at some point would say THANK YOU or CONGRATULATIONS.

 

Instead a whole new topic about the experiment was posted and Congratulations were given to ONE OF THE MEMBERS WHO WAS CALLING ME AN IDIOT! I was stunned. It was not like the credit for figuring this problem out was all that important to me but just out of etiquette I felt slighted so I posted a challenge to those who were giving credit and accepting it.

 

I posted my idea when I posted it and let everyone know it was me that came up with the solve first. In return for that a reply was posted from a MOD saying...Well...this forum is not all about YOU! LOL!

 

That's when I came to understand just how petty some people can become when their EGO will not come to terms to when a unknown presents or solves an issue or problem.

 

Split Infinity

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I also agree it is possible for a person who is an unknown or perhaps never even considered working upon a specific idea or field of work...that person takes a look at what others are stating...and that persons obtains a moment of clarity that all these so called experts never had which allows this unknown to solve the big issue.

That I think can happen in mathematics when ideas and tools from one branch can be applied to another branch. In fact I would say that quite a lot of the important results in mathematics are of this kind.

The trouble is that you need to be exposed to a lot of things to get a chance to see these links, that is where regular attendence of seminars and conferences comes in. Something that true outsiders will lack.

That's when I came to understand just how petty some people can become when their EGO will not come to terms to when a unknown presents or solves an issue or problem.

Do we have any good examples of problems being solved on this forum?
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This comes up every so often here in the Speculations forum: the question being can a relative unknown make a meaningful contribution.

 

I saw this today: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/05/twin-primes/ a relative unknown makes a significant step forward towards proving the twin primes conjecture in mathematics.

 

Now, that said, note one of the comments by one of the reviewers of the paper: He nailed down every detail so no one will doubt him. Theres no waffling.

 

This cannot be emphasized enough in this section. Nail down every detail. So, so, so very often speculators come in an leave details very 'unnailed'. And when this is pointed out, they usually get huffy and the perpetual favorite accusing the rest of the forum of being dogmatic and religious in the name of science.

 

But, it can be done. It still has to be done right, but it can be done.

Well given that Einstein as an unknown came up with the thought experiment of SR 10 years before he got the mathematics. So it took science using a thus incorrect norm because a too high a norm, too long to see it for what it already then at it's conception was worth. Then the question is would it have mattered if we as humankind had got there ten years or so earlier? Of course it would, because then one can expect GR and QM to have come along faster as well or even having SR sooner it its own right. So the answer is yes.

 

The other point is that the indeed nailing down comes after the a priori necessity of getting the integral picture on an issue in order. Like Einstein did on the issue concerning SR even before the mathematics via a thought experiment. That that picture is then inherently vague is just what is true at that stage. The correct mathematical norm in science for working issues with inherently to few data is verbal logic (and pictures). The main problem is the garbage or non garbage in and not the logic. It is pseudo scientific to address issues with a higher degree of accuracy then your available data at that point allow. It is also un-scientific not to address issues that can be addressed in a testable way, like Einstein as a then unknown proved.

 

What you seem to miss is that logic takes precedent over the main stream convention i.e. the norm of having to nail something down before taking any action. The reason for this is because science is about logic and not about a democratic convention of what is to be the correct norm given the stated goal of getting more knowledge asap. The apples don't fly upwards because the majority in science is convinced of that. The convention on the norm of nailing it before action is falsified if you take the ten years of Einstein as a fact.

 

No hypothesis on my part: pure - even mathematically provable - logic!

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Well given that Einstein as an unknown came up with the thought experiment of SR 10 years before he got the mathematics.

Let us take care here.

 

 

Einstein obtained his doctorate from the University of Zurich under Alfred Kleiner in 1905, with the thesis entitled Eine neue Bestimmung der Moleküldimensionen (A New Determination of the Molecular Dimensions).

 

So, yes Einstein should been considered an unknown at the time, he just finished his PhD. However, hes was in no way an outsider and had a good knowledge of the established physics at the time.

 

Also, one should be careful making comparisons with exceptional individuals.

Edited by ajb
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Let us take care here.

 

 

Einstein obtained his doctorate from the University of Zurich under Alfred Kleiner in 1905, with the thesis entitled Eine neue Bestimmung der Moleküldimensionen (A New Determination of the Molecular Dimensions).

 

So, yes Einstein should been considered an unknown at the time, he just finished his PhD. However, hes was in no way an outsider and had a good knowledge of the established physics at the time.

 

Also, one should be careful making comparisons with exceptional individuals.

It is always good to take care. I gave the link where I got this from earlier on, would have to re find it. Anyway as I understand it Einstein dreamt up SR ten years before graduation and publication with the mathematics.

I.e. he dreamt it up long before becoming an insider on the mathematics and physics of his day. Otherwise why didn't he graduate sooner?

 

Given that you always should take care why then should you be more careful in making comparisons with exceptional individuals? I.e. what happened to all the other Einsteins with great idea's like SR but not the stamina to stay at it? Further more is that relevant to anything? In fact it's a hidden argument of authority. Relevant in the sales and production department yet irrelevant in the research department where this topic is at.

 

A good idea is a good idea period. It doesn't become better or worse due to it being worked out or not.

 

This isn't a hypothesis but current applied everyday science. Take a brilliant idea of an artist to build a building like Gaudi. That is brought before a mathematics /building expert to see if it can at all be built given current science. Some buildings we know just needed new materials to be developed before the idea could be materialized. By working together i.e. division of labour it works quicker and safer than having Gaudi first learn mathematics and the science on construction. BTW a hilarious example of this going wrong has been with the Dutch architecture institute in Rotterdam. A beautiful bridge at the entrance failed under the load of a queue. Murphy's law eh.. The examples of lesser gods making aver-edge to greater works of architecture are countless. Thanks to good help of mathematics it is proven to work safe and fast, even when artists build buildings. Even architects who know their mathematics have to see the better trained mathematicians to have it checked (in Rotterdam that clearly failed). Thus no hypothesis but current science!

 

When Einstein came up with SR he was in fact an artist. All it needed was some straightforward mathematics to be put to it and testing. Science then as now should have been organised to spot the good idea and put it to the test of logic, subsequently the test of mathematics and subsequently the test of observation of the predictions. Then as now science failed to do so. Because this isn't done asap it costs not only to much money but also lives. So the position in the OP is busted. Falsified. Combining current scientific insights in a purely logical way based on indisputable facts.

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Um, Einstein's recognition of the constancy of the speed of light wasn't derived by random daydreaming. It was brought about as a result of the presence of c in Maxwell's equations. Einstein's great conceptual leap was realizing that this constant meant that the equations would break down if the speed of light was variable dependent upon the observer's speed, and then working through the implications of that gave rise to Special Relativity.

 

He didn't just randomly have SR pop into his head one day. It very much arose out of knowledge of existing physics and the mathematics underlying it. Whatever source told you otherwise is mistaken and probably drew from the famous anecdote of Einstein coming up with the idea for SR by imagining himself sitting on a beam of light which, like the story of Newton coming up with the idea for gravity when an apple fell off a tree, is frequently used to, usually unintentionally, mislead people about how much pre-existing knowledge and mathematical work actually went into developing these theories.

 

As it happens, Einstein did imagine himself observing light from the perspective of a photon, but there are any number of ways that you could do that which would be physically meaningless. The only reason this thought of his was important was that he realized that the observation you would typically expect to make in that situation (i.e. Light not moving with respect to you) would result in a violation of the field equations for light, which would make that observation impossible, and leads to the conclusion that light has the same speed with respect to every observer.

 

If he hadn't had that familiarity with Maxwell's equations, it would have been impossible to realize they were being violated by his little thought experiment and he would have been unable to draw any conclusions from it at all.

 

 

So yes, he had the idea for SR before he had worked out all the math for it, but he got the idea from working with the pre-existing math for describing the behavior of light. He wasn't a starving artist who suddenly had a great physics idea out of nowhere. One of his most famous quotes, regarding standing on the shoulders of giants, states as much. He built on what had come before, and he knew it. He certainly built more than most, but he was still starting from the point others had left off at.

Edited by Delta1212
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It is always good to take care. I gave the link where I got this from earlier on, would have to re find it. Anyway as I understand it Einstein dreamt up SR ten years before graduation and publication with the mathematics.

I.e. he dreamt it up long before becoming an insider on the mathematics and physics of his day. Otherwise why didn't he graduate sooner?

Maybe because he was born in 1879? That would make him 26 when he got his PhD and 16 when he started thinking about the concepts that would lead him into developing relativity. That's before he had completed his secondary schooling. He enrolled in a four-year program at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in 1896 and graduated in 1901. Then on to looking for and getting work and simultaneously working on his thesis.

 

Where, exactly, is the wasted time in graduating?

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Um, Einstein's recognition of the constancy of the speed of light wasn't derived by random daydreaming. It was brought about as a result of the presence of c in Maxwell's equations. Einstein's great conceptual leap was realizing that this constant meant that the equations would break down if the speed of light was variable dependent upon the observer's speed, and then working through the implications of that gave rise to Special Relativity.

 

He didn't just randomly have SR pop into his head one day. It very much arose out of knowledge of existing physics and the mathematics underlying it. Whatever source told you otherwise is mistaken and probably drew from the famous anecdote of Einstein coming up with the idea for SR by imagining himself sitting on a beam of light which, like the story of Newton coming up with the idea for gravity when an apple fell off a tree, is frequently used to, usually unintentionally, mislead people about how much pre-existing knowledge and mathematical work actually went into developing these theories.

Fact is he had the notion of SR before he had the mathematics for it. Mathematics that some else could - and thus should - of been able to provide. That he got his insight from others makes it no different from someone nowadays taking an insight on physics via Wikipedia and the like, without the capability to provide the mathematics to nail it down as poised in the OP. I.e. Einstein had a notion on how this apple would fall down out of the tree in stead of up with his notion on SR. I.e. you get length contraction or you don't. He at first didn't have for ten years to nail it down precisely how fast the apple would hit the ground.

 

As it happens, Einstein did imagine himself observing light from the perspective of a photon, but there are any number of ways that you could do that which would be physically meaningless. The only reason this thought of his was important was that he realized that the observation you would typically expect to make in that situation (i.e. Light not moving with respect to you) would result in a violation of the field equations for light, which would make that observation impossible, and leads to the conclusion that light has the same speed with respect to every observer.

 

Exactly proving my point, and disproving yours. Had this correct insight of him been spotted sooner we would have had SR GR and QM sooner. I guess you don't dispute the importance of getting there sooner instead of later.

 

If he hadn't had that familiarity with Maxwell's equations, it would have been impossible to realize they were being violated by his little thought experiment and he would have been unable to draw any conclusions from it at all.

 

So? Like I said nowadays taking it in via Wikipedia. You still don't get the simple point: the idea of SR was there TEN YEARS before science caught up. Proving the OP position and science then as now wrong.

 

 

So yes, he had the idea for SR before he had worked out all the math for it, but he got the idea from working with the pre-existing math for describing the behavior of light. He wasn't a starving artist who suddenly had a great physics idea out of nowhere. One of his most famous quotes, regarding standing on the shoulders of giants, states as much. He built on what had come before, and he knew it. He certainly built more than most, but he was still starting from the point others had left off at.

Strawman. I don't state anything to the contrary.

 

 

Maybe because he was born in 1879? That would make him 26 when he got his PhD and 16 when he started thinking about the concepts that would lead him into developing relativity. That's before he had completed his secondary schooling. He enrolled in a four-year program at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in 1896 and graduated in 1901. Then on to looking for and getting work and simultaneously working on his thesis.

 

Where, exactly, is the wasted time in graduating?

Time wasted in graduating is not the issue. Time wasting in reaching SR is. It could and should of been done ten years sooner, that is the point.

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Time wasted in graduating is not the issue. Time wasting in reaching SR is. It could and should of been done ten years sooner, that is the point.

 

Is any of this on topic?

 

IMHO Riemann's story would provide better example of an 'unknown' offering a startling new theory that was not fully formed or without error at presentation, but yet lead us into non Euclidian geometry.

 

Incidentally, Delta, special relativity does not conflict with Maxwell's equations. Further, Maxwell himself realised that c was independent of the speed of the source, as it is with any wave.

 

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Is any of this on topic?

 

IMHO Riemann's story would provide better example of an 'unknown' offering a startling new theory that was not fully formed or without error at presentation, but yet lead us into non Euclidian geometry.

 

Incidentally, Delta, special relativity does not conflict with Maxwell's equations. Further, Maxwell himself realised that c was independent of the speed of the source, as it is with any wave.

 

I didn't say it was incompatible with Maxwell's equations. I actually said the opposite, although perhaps that post wasn't as clear as I thought it was.
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Time wasted in graduating is not the issue.

 

Then why bring it up?

 

 

Time wasting in reaching SR is. It could and should of been done ten years sooner, that is the point.

 

Flat out, unadulterated BS.

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Of course, I could also offer Ramanujan as a prime (pun intended) example of an unknown but then we would have to accept the premise, Galois excepted, that to be such a super being your name would have to begin with R.

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Fact is he had the notion of SR before he had the mathematics for it. Mathematics that some else could - and thus should - of been able to provide. ... Time wasted in graduating is not the issue. Time wasting in reaching SR is. It could and should of been done ten years sooner, that is the point.

 

That is complete baloney. You are singing the siren song of the crackpot. Trained scientists, engineers, and mathematicians do not owe a crackpot one scintilla of their time with regard to the crackpot's purported theory. There is no "should" here.

 

What trained scientists, engineers, and mathematicians do owe society at large is education. Most PhDs don't particularly like teaching physics 101, introductory calculus, etc. They nonetheless do it willingly because training that next generation is their duty. The crackpot has a duty as well, which is to to receive that education. A crackpot who intentionally remains uneducated in some field deserves zero time from the experts in that field.

Edited by D H
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An idea points you in a direction to work. Until you've done the work, you can't really tell how good an idea is. "Light moves at the same speed for all observers regardless of their own motion" is an idea. Until there is a more detailed description of how that even works, and a method laid out for testing whether it is true, it is just an idea. Many people have many ideas, and without testator details, there's very little way to distinguish between the good ideas and the wrong ideas.

 

Metaphor: You and a hundred of your closest friends are all lost in the forest. There are hundreds of different paths branching out from the spot where you're gathered. Everyone thinks a different path is the one that leads out. You each walk down your chosen path for a day, and then walk back. One of your friends picked the right path, so you all follow him down it and out of the forest.

 

But wait, it took three days to get out that way. If everyone had just listened to your friend in the first place, you could have been out of there two days sooner! Wouldn't you agree that one day spent lost is better than three days spent lost?

 

 

It's easy to say in retrospect which ideas deserved more attention than others. It's extremely difficult to tell what ideas will lead to important discoveries ahead of time. That's why you have everyone work on their own ideas until they have figured out all of the details before presenting it, so that if the idea ultimately takes them nowhere, everyone else hasn't dropped everything they were doing to wander down a dead end. There generally aren't a lot of scientists sitting around thinking "Gee, I wish I had an idea to work on." Most of them have their own ideas to work on. Helping Einstein formulate SR ten years earlier would have taken them away from their own project, and until Einstein had actually gotten the math worked out, there was no way to know whether that was going to be a waste of valuable time or not.

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Is any of this on topic?

 

Quote of OP:

 

This comes up every so often here in the Speculations forum: the question being can a relative unknown make a meaningful contribution.

.......

Now, that said, note one of the comments by one of the reviewers of the paper: He nailed down every detail so no one will doubt him. Theres no waffling.

 

This cannot be emphasized enough in this section. Nail down every detail. So, so, so very often speculators come in an leave details very 'unnailed'. And when this is pointed out, they usually get huffy and the perpetual favorite accusing the rest of the forum of being dogmatic and religious in the name of science.

 

End quote.

 

​The discussion on Einstein as an unknown coming up with an "unnailed SR" ten years sooner as a stated position to falsify the position in the OP is thus on topic.

 

Then why bring it up?

? I stated as a matter of fact that Einstein only finished his SR paper ten years after coming up with the notion of it .

Flat out, unadulterated BS.

He who states a BS position should prove that BS position.

 

We know with hindsight that Einstein had an idea worth quickly working out. He missed at that point the knowledge to do so. Others with that knowledge should of been able to spot the good idea that it was for what it was and work it out to the extent that Einstein needed ten years for in a fraction of that time. Pure unadulterated logic: so BS worth dung. (And like I stated on topic and not a hypothesis of mine.)

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