A few days ago, having heard nothing since August, 2019, from my good friend, frequent correspondent re all things mathematical physics (MP), dreamer, and really good guy, Tony Smith, I googled his name. It is now mid-December, 2019. At the top of my search results was what I had long dreaded: Tony was no more. I sent an email notifying MP acquaintances that I thought ought to be told. I heard back from one (Carlos Castro), who expressed sorrow at his passing. And that is in part what I want to write about: why did no one else seem to care? Here is my email:
but I am deeply saddened. His spirit was brilliant, inventive – sometimes too much, if that is even possible. I am certain that in the end he left convinced that his core ideas in physics were fundamentally correct. As frustrating as he sometimes was, I am glad he continued to be unconvinced by my arguments that recognition was impossible, that the mainstream had no interest in novelty of this sort. I wish I had been able to understand it better, but it always seemed just out of my grasp, and sometimes, because of his encyclopedic knowledge, much further from my grasp.
The universe is a smaller place without him.
My universe …
High School Metaphor
Imagine you’re back in high school – or whatever school you’d attended as a 16 year old. Naturally, like all your classmates, you can not help but be obsessed with your reputation. You dread being an object of ridicule, a thing that can result from your own behavior, but as well from the behavior of friends and associates. Should their behavior be deemed embarrassing, they – along with any who abide their mortifying habits – may at most be deemed anathema, but at least eschewed. Sadly, you are at this point in your life unaware that these all too human attitudes will never fade, unless you become a hermit and can avoid self loathing.
So, anyway, there you are in high school, and you’ve befriended a brilliant, super nice classmate, who also has Tourette’s syndrome:
It involves uncontrollable repetitive movements or unwanted sounds (tics), such as repeatedly blinking the eyes, shrugging shoulders, or blurting out offensive words.
Most of your classmates, fearing the effect forbearance might have, will avoid this individual, and perhaps ridicule them if need be. You might – and ought to – feel contrite for sharing this attitude. Shame on you.
Anyway, Tony had a kind of intellectual Tourette’s. My wife, who met Tony over 20 years ago, and felt he was a wonderful person, liked my “intellectual Tourette’s” metaphor (is it a metaphor if it’s just true?). She has a dear friend n South Africa, a scientist of a very different sort, for whom the intellectual Tourette’s label could definitely be used. She says that his ideas are 10% brilliant, which is the reason he is put up with. As to the other 90%, well, they’re questionable. But the population of researchers in his field is much smaller than in MP, so it is much easier to put in the time and effort to assess his ideas, separating the wheat from the chaff. And it is not a science that advances rapidly, nor is it expected to. Even so, as was true of Tony, things were made much more difficult by his habit of repeatedly putting forth ideas in preliminary form.
I myself am prone to behaviors that make many people chary of admitting too close an association with me, of even referencing my work in their work when it is clearly warranted. This blog you are reading is not helping matters; quite the contrary, I suspect. But although still alive, nothing I do at this late point in my life is likely to improve my reputation, so fuck it. The joints don’t work as they once did, and I am nothing like as spry as I once was, but age has its benefits. You spend your life as a caterpillar, mindlessly munching leaves and in all ways leading a life dictated by your DNA, and then, if you’re lucky, you reach an advanced age, go briefly into a cocoon, and emerge as a happy, playful Labrador retriever.
Or, if you’re unlucky, you continue to crave recognition from the caterpillars, and if you’re really unlucky, you take that craving to the grave.
Just this morning I went to my old Apple laptop to peruse over 15 years of emails from and to Tony. I started in 2013 (as far back as I could), got to the end of 2014, then jumped to 2019, just two months before his death, and worked backward about a year. (There was almost no intimation in any of the most recent emails of his failing health, although others closer to him knew.) I was only a bit surprised by how similar our earlier exchanges were to those that came just a few months ago. Tony was very stubborn, periodically admitting that attitudinal change was needed, but then reverting … no, that’s not the right word. Reverting implies a change was made, but it did not stick. I don’t believe, despite whatever transient lip service he may have given to my exhortations, that he ever actually changed.
I wish I could see earlier emails, for the ones I have date back to the end of my off-and-on career as a developer of interactive web content, after which I retired from the workaday world. I was initially apprehensive about what effect that might have on me, but then discovering after less than two days unemployed that it was the perfect life for me. I had become Bertie Wooster, one of my favorite fictional characters. By then my last (and proudest) research paper had been published and archived, and I would never write another (although I would publish another based on earlier work, but only because a paper was requested, and this one was perfect for the intended purpose and journal).
So at the time of those earliest of my saved emails my obsession with my MP work was fading rapidly, and I redirected my creative energies into writing travelogues. It felt good. It was fun. I started exhorting Tony to stop obsessing over the reception of his work by the mainstream, which was limited, and occasionally antagonistic,. I was done; he was 6 years my senior; why could he not relax and accept the inevitable? More than once I suggested he go outside and play. Well, it’s complicated, and my understanding is incomplete.
I Read A Lot
I mentioned a book by Robert Hermann to Tony earlier this year. He immediately responded with some cogent comments on the book, indicating deep familiarity. I asked him how he knew the things he knew, which went way beyond things I knew.
As to the problem of how I know stuff about Hermann’s books etc the answer is simple:
I read (a LOT)
Klee Irwin asked one of his physics PhD people (Marcelo Amaral) to read my model and evaluate it. Marcelo said that I put together a lot of complicated things and it is hard enough to understand just some of the things, but putting them all together is just too hard.
For me it is not so hard because I read a LOT and after you read a LOT of things you begin to notice that parts of each thing in the LOT fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.
There is a threshold where if you read enough to get there then all of a sudden a LOT of things become clearly interrelated.
It is like learning a new language by immersion – for a while everything is confusing noise with only a few phrases being clear – but after a threshold of exposure – BANG = verbal diarrhea.
Nobody else makes models like mine because nobody else reads a LOT to get to the threshold. Everybody else sees something interesting as a separate stand-alone thing with which they become obsessed and they stop expanding their view.
Klee sees tetrahedra and QiuasiCrystals;
Schwinger saw sources as finite-volume regions of spacetime but did not see their group structure;
Wyler saw the group structure but did not connect it to sources = Standard Model particles;
Finkelstein saw the underlying Clifford Algebra of Spacetime and Gravity but did not have a feel for the Standard Model;
LIsi started with Clifford Algebra but went to E8 and did not appreciate that E8 was only part of Cl(16) so he missed how to get Bohm Quantum Theory from the TriVectors;
Furey gets C and O but does not see how the Division Algebras all work together;
… etc …
Further, superstring people (Witten, Arkani-Hamed, Gross, Weinberg, … and their followers like Lubos) are so bogged down in useless abstraction that it is hopeless for them to make contact with real physics.
His knowledge of the vast arcana of MP served him well early on. People listened, and understood that Tony knew a hell of a lot. He offered the occasional comment on Peter’s blog, generally accepted as intelligent and relevant; John Baez in the past thought him a fount of knowledge, and exchanged respectful emails.
Tony read a lot, and in MP he made connections of disparate concepts that had not been previously connected. But he didn’t read just material relevant to MP; he read a lot of everything, and at some point, for some reason, he began connecting concepts in MP to things that would necessarily give your average mainstream theorist the heebie jeebies.
I suggested that his MP obsession could occasionally be likened to a hamster in a wheel. That he saw some justice in this was immaterial; he would not change. And things took a turn for the strange – or so I thought. In early 2019 he wrote:
However, there is another aspect of my hamster wheel that has some positive aspects:
Over the past 2-3 years, despite being 74-77 years old, my curiosity has led me to see new aspects of my Clifford Algebra physics, things that have been totally new to me:
Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue corresponds closely to my Cl(16) Physics model and to the history of our universe – like Terence McKenna’s TimeWave.
Rudolf Steiner’s Geisteswissenschaft has as nice a correspondence as does Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue.
Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass corresponds even more closely to Cl(16) Physics than I had ever thought in earlier years.
Penrose-Hameroff microtubules correspond to Cl(16) cells in a Lorentz-Leech-Lattice Spacetime.
Julian Schwinger’s Sources describe Elementary Particles in a very useful way (using Geometry that David Gross hates enough to have destroyed the career (? and life ?) of Armand Wyler).
The shell structure of Palladium atoms permits Deuterium Cold Fusion by Klein Paradox Quantum Tunneling – I have actually had nice email with Tatsumi Hioki who is working along those lines at Nagoya and if my health were better I might get invited there for discussion.
Those new insights give me the same sort of high I used to get from playing in Gulf of Mexico surf (but now my heart is not up to such things) and I guess my challenge is how to keep on getting new insights while getting off the Apply-Rejection wheel.
The hardest part (since David Finkelstein died) is finding anyone around here with whom I can talk about such things.
Well before this time, in 2002, Tony was blacklisted by people at Cornell “from being registered as an author in the arxiv.org e-print archives.” A law suit ensued, one not – never – destined to succeed. If you’re interested, information on this can be found online, at least for now. I have little idea how long one’s online presence survives in the absence of the creator.
I did not follow the saga of this story very carefully. I had never had any trouble posting my work on the arxiv – at least then. (Whenever my thoughts on the work of others was sought, my go-to piece of advice was often this: Make your mathematics unassailable; Make its interpretation (to physics) as unavoidable as possible.) Over a decade later I presented at a conference what I felt – and still feel – is my most important paper, my pièce de résistance. The arxiv gatekeepers rejected it on the grounds that it was too similar to my previous work. As it offered a solution to one of the five biggest unsolved problems in particle physics, I was more than a little taken aback. Once publish in the conference proceedings, however, the arxiv relented and posted it, but in their gen-ph area, not the more highly respected hep-th. This is their way of marginalizing content they feel doesn’t belong.
About this time Luis Ignacio Reyes-Galindo, at the time at the School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, Wales, was putting together an excellent article on the arxiv gatekeeping practices. I was contacted by Luis at the suggestion of John Baez, who was aware of my recent contretemps with the arxiv gatekeepers. If you’re interested, I am given the pseudonym Sisyphus (in the first version I believe I was Pythagoras).
Sadly, I do not believe Tony was ever contacted by Luis. His travails were ancient history, and by the 2010s Tony had rather thoroughly become a pariah to the mainstream, doomed to spend his final years where there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth. He craved dialogue, but over the last decade he increasingly began to introduce connections of his work to things and ideas that left many at a minimum nonplussed. And many of them, failing to persuade him to curtail this sort of extramundane musing, cut off ties with him, increasing his isolation. But a few, myself included, refused to give up on this great, and increasingly seraphic, mind and spirit. I personally found some of his pronouncements disconcerting, and more than once advised him to be more realistic, to curtail what he surely realized were unusual and off putting ideas and connections; to surrender his eternal optimism that if he could just find a sympathetic venue for his work, it might achieve some measure of recognition.
He had the habit of applying for things – grants and positions and such – which I felt were generally intended for much younger and more conservative researchers. I never advised against such sanguine pursuits – not specifically – but did suggest that he might find more peace in his life if he recognized that recognition would not happen in his lifetime, and that this was not his fault, but rather lay with humanity in general, those “poorly programmed mushy bags of DNA”. Meanwhile he should relax, be at peace, and go out and play. He responded in February, 2019, less than a year before his death.
Your analysis leads to the conclusion that I should go play for the rest of my life and not try to present my work to anyone other than myself, and I agree and will try to do that from here on out
with 2 caveats:
1 – You say that I should “… present… a derivation of, say, all particle masses based on sound mathematics …”.
I have done that for years, by extending Wyler’s work to the strong and weak forces combined with simple combinatorics for the second and third generations.
The soundness of the Wyler mathematics has been attested to by Carlos Castro and Gustavo Gonzalez-Martin of Universidad Simon Bolivar, Caracas, Venezuela.
However, their analyses have been as ignored as mine and Wyler’s (they are hispanic and not part of the consensus establishment) but their work makes it clear to me that the problem is not with soundness of math.
2 – You say that I should not have “… connections to things like African divination …”. Years ago John Baez told me the same thing, and I will repeat what I said to him:
It would be disgracefully dishonest for me to disown what is to me a major source of inspiration.
I would rather watch the consensus people wallow in ignorance forever than to allow them to claim that they invented the true TOE.
The record of European (Greek-Roman-British Empire) stealing credit for African ideas is well documented by the works of Gerald Massey.
PS – As to Girls Last Tour – if it or its author is suicidal then I do not need to get into it. From what the web says of the Manga ending it seems as though they die without either clear victory or defeat with respect to their life goals.
Failure + Obstinacy = Success
So, yes, I failed. To the best of my knowledge he did not “go out and play”, but continued to obsess. Here is one of our last exchanges:
Tony: When Armand Wyler got some public notice for his fine structure and proton / electron calculations in Physics Today, David Gross went Ape-Shit crazy attacking Wyler and his approach, characterizing it as mere numerological coincidence and scaring everybody who hoped for establishment careers away from anything to do with Wyler.
Me: I remember when this stuff first made a minor wave and Wyler was invited to spend time at Harvard. I remember being aware when that ended, and it having something to do with the mainstream rejection of his ideas. But I never knew enough about it to get excited. I am not surprised to learn that it died beneath the bile of a major establishment player.
[This found online, possibly in Nature: “Swiss mathematician Armand Wyler … tragically … went mad soon after completing this work and was institutionalized”.]
Tony: I did write letters to the editor of Physics Today defending Wyler and criticizing Gross, but that went about as I should have expected. When I pointed out specific errors in Gross’s statements about Wyler’s equations the Physics Today editors allowed Gross to make corrections as though it were just typographical and then they required that those portions of my letter to Physics Today be deleted.
Tony: It is true that Carlos and a few others also did the sensible sane world calculations (they were all in the Hispanic world which is not so fearful of the Anglo world authoritarians), but they too were ignored and as far as I know Wyler remained back in his home town Zurich in a mental institution.
Me: For many years I have been convinced that immersive obsession in the arcane ideas of theoretical physics and mathematics can drive many people over the edge. BBC did a good two episode series about that. [Episode 1: Dangerous Knowledge] And it’s why I backed away from immersive work. I am 100% positive that I would just be another largely unknown institutionalized statistic. I’d rather go out and play …
[I mentioned to Tony that I would not be attending the next Denver conference on nonassociative mathematics stuff as I felt I’d be too old, and had nothing new to offer.]
Tony: As to your being 73 when the next nonassociatve conference occurs, I am already 77 nearing 78 so I see you as still young and vigourous. Exactly when and where will it be?
That was his way of suggesting I stop playing outside, and to come back inside and get to work.
And that’s about all I can write. There is a great deal of material online. He was a marvelous human.
I do not view Tony’s unwillingness to follow my advice a failure. Well, I failed, but he did not – not in the way that mattered. He did not surrender, and he died on his own terms, in his own home, as sane as any if us.