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A Tear at the Edge of Creation

by ensabah6
Tags: creation, edge, tear
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ensabah6
#1
Apr8-10, 07:03 AM
P: 716
http://books.simonandschuster.com/Te.../9781439108321

Overturning more than twenty-five centuries of scientific thought, award-winning physicist Marcelo Gleiser argues that this quest for a Theory of Everything is fundamentally misguided, and he explains the volcanic implications this ideological shift has for humankind. All the evidence points to a scenario in which everything emerges from fundamental imperfections, primordial asymmetries in matter and time, cataclysmic accidents in Earth’s early life, and duplication errors in the genetic code. Imbalance spurs creation. Without asymmetries and imperfections, the universe would be filled with nothing but smooth radiation.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2010/0..._creation.html

Marcelo like many of us began his career as a true believer. He beautifully recounts his own journey, his own heart felt desire to read the "mind of God" through physics (though like many of us he is an atheist). But after years of working at the frontier of these ideas Marcelo found his faith shaken. As he writes,

During the past 50 years discoveries in experimental physics have shown time and time again that our expectations of higher symmetry are more expectations than reality

Abandoned the search for symmetries as the ultimate meaning in physics Marcelo turns in the other direction. Using examples from the study of time, space, matter and life he argues that asymmetry and imperfection are just as often the real guiding principle behind what we see. In this way there is lots of good science in Marcelo's book to sink your teeth into.


http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/

Gleiser started out his professional life as a string theorist, enchanted by the prospect of finding a unified theory, and for many years that motivated his research:

The fact that the [lightest, stable superpartner] particle has so far eluded detection doesn’t bode well. To make things worse, results from the giant Super-Kamiokande detector in Japan and the Soudan 2 detector in the United States have ruled out supersymmetric GUT models, at least the simpler ones, based again on the proton lifetime. If SUSY is a symmetry of Nature, it is very well hidden.


Over the years he began to become disillusioned with this quest, not only with string theory, but also with other closely associated ideas (e.g. GUTs and supersymmetry) about how unification is suppose to happen. Hopes that GUTs would give predictive theories of inflation or proton decay have fallen by the way-side, and about supersymmetry he is “very skeptical”:

In his book, he argues repeatedly against the fundamental nature of symmetries in our understanding of physics, seeing the failures of GUTs and supersymmetry as a failure of the idea of getting unification out of larger, more powerful symmetry laws. For him, symmetries are always just approximations, never exactly true principles. The problem with both GUTs and supersymmetry is that one posits a new symmetry only to be faced immediately with the question of how to break it, with no good answer. To be successful, any new symmetry principle needs to come with a compelling explanation of how it is to be realized in fundamental physics.


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Physics Monkey
#2
Apr8-10, 07:45 AM
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The phrase "Overturning more than twenty-five centuries of scientific thought" made me laugh out loud. I don't think I've ever seen such a claim in a book description.

Haha, Gleiser should have talked more with his condensed matter friends. We've known the universe is a messy place for a long time!
humanino
#3
Apr8-10, 09:03 AM
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Symmetry principles in fundamental physics is by far the most fruitful path we have. The description of this book seems to be merely a criticism rather than a concrete proposal. It will take much more than this to convince people otherwise.

This is perhaps the most important lesson we learnt from the standard model of particle physics as a gauge theory, that all physics can be derived from symmetry principles, including dynamics. The running couplings of the standard model do seem to converge at a unification scale, and miss each other by very little. It is well known that supersymmetry modifies the running in such way as to realize that unification, and this result robust. If if we did not have any other argument in favor of supersymmetry, it would still be a very strong motivation to search for it. But this unification also carries over with the gravitational coupling constant, and has a taste of uniqueness in the extension of the Poincare symmetry.

Yet I am not especially a fan of supersymmetry, and despite this personal inclination, still the argumentation presented above seems very weak to me. Finally, the publication of this book is very untimely with the ongoing start of the LHC. If supersymmetry is not found at the LHC, the next thing to investigate is hidden sectors which will take a very long time to rule out. To me, there is nothing but political trends in the book above.

ensabah6
#4
Apr8-10, 09:46 AM
P: 716
A Tear at the Edge of Creation

Quote Quote by humanino View Post
To me, there is nothing but political trends in the book above.
What about popular books on string theory from Kaku, Hawking, Green, and GUT like Weinberg and others stemming from the 1980s and continues unabated to this day?
humanino
#5
Apr8-10, 10:17 AM
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Quote Quote by ensabah6 View Post
What about popular books on string theory from Kaku, Hawking, Green, and GUT like Weinberg and others stemming from the 1980s and continues unabated to this day?
I never liked Kaku's style, because he ventures into science-fiction speculation without enough warning for the reader. By Green, I think you are referring to Brian Greene, I did read his Elegant Universe and I did not appreciate it at all : I think he spends too much time explaining simple concepts, too little time explaining more important concepts, and I do not think he presents a fair view of the speculative status of string theory.

The books by Hawking and Weinberg are much more worth reading IMHO.
ensabah6
#6
Apr8-10, 10:23 AM
P: 716
Quote Quote by humanino View Post
I never liked Kaku's style, because he ventures into science-fiction speculation without enough warning for the reader. By Green, I think you are referring to Brian Greene, I did read his Elegant Universe and I did not appreciate it at all : I think he spends too much time explaining simple concepts, too little time explaining more important concepts, and I do not think he presents a fair view of the speculative status of string theory.

The books by Hawking and Weinberg are much more worth reading IMHO.
we're on same page -- what about woit & smolin?
Naty1
#7
Apr8-10, 10:27 AM
P: 5,632
All the evidence points to a scenario in which everything emerges from fundamental imperfections,
Haven't such quantum irregulairites been a cornerstone of big bang theory for quite a while...leading to planets,galaxies,etc....as evidecned by expected variations in the cosmic microwave background radiation....

Symmetry principles in fundamental physics is by far the most fruitful path we have.
maybe,maybe not.....but one thing for sure: such principles sure have led to incredible advances and theoretical understanding so far....
humanino
#8
Apr8-10, 11:09 AM
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Quote Quote by ensabah6 View Post
we're on same page -- what about woit & smolin?
"Not even wrong" and "The trouble with physics" were interesting to read. It should not be mistaken however, that those are personal political opinions about science rather than pure physics books. I personally disagree with many strong claims made by those authors. I do not think those books deserve much over-reaction, once we recognize they are political rather than scientific arguments. In fact, if string theory survives such acid critics, their authors eventually strengthen our confidence that string theory has been sufficiently challenged !

I am not sure about social balance/fairness in the US, but I am certain that the problems described in Woit and Smolin's books do not apply to Europe scientific community. Different social organizations for research in different parts of the world have respective strengths and drawbacks. Eventually, we all contribute somehow to the same universal scientific story.
ensabah6
#9
Apr8-10, 12:45 PM
P: 716
Quote Quote by humanino View Post
"Not even wrong" and "The trouble with physics" were interesting to read. It should not be mistaken however, that those are personal political opinions about science rather than pure physics books. I personally disagree with many strong claims made by those authors. I do not think those books deserve much over-reaction, once we recognize they are political rather than scientific arguments. In fact, if string theory survives such acid critics, their authors eventually strengthen our confidence that string theory has been sufficiently challenged !

I am not sure about social balance/fairness in the US, but I am certain that the problems described in Woit and Smolin's books do not apply to Europe scientific community. Different social organizations for research in different parts of the world have respective strengths and drawbacks. Eventually, we all contribute somehow to the same universal scientific story.
What if LHC, DM searches, proton half life, magnetic monopoles, cosmic strings, domain walls, experiments continue to produce null results? Heck, what if the LHC does not find Higgs or no new physics? Would you regard these null results as supportive of Gleiser thesis?

What are the ramification to string theory and GUT if there is no higher symmetry in nature like SUSY SU(5)-SO(10) that gets broken down to U1-SU2-SU3?
oldman
#10
Apr9-10, 03:00 AM
P: 622
Quote Quote by Physics Monkey View Post
.....
Haha, Gleiser should have talked more with his condensed matter friends. We've known the universe is a messy place for a long time!
Good arboreal wisdom, PM.

But one can have some sympathy with Gleiser's disillusion.

The lack of progress in much of modern theoretical physics, say since 1975, that Woit and Smolin describe so acidly, has dissipated much of the deep respect for the subject engendered by tne interplay of theory, experiment and observation in the first half of last century, culminating in the impressive role physics played in WW II.

Successes --- say like microelectronics, lasers, tomographic analysis in medicine and geophysics and nowadays observational cosmology --- are what keeps the flag flying, as it were.

But there have been long years during which physics has ridden on the back of the public purse without much yield in the way of either practical or intellectual rewards. I'm thinking of long-running industries like plasma physics, string theory and of the present proliferation (see the arXiv) of theoretical speculation and mathematical ratiocination unchecked by prediction, observation or experiment.

No wonder someone whose career has involved sterile stuff becomes disillusioned.

Roll on new discoveries made with the LHC, and long live my own squalid-state messy but practical stuff as well.
humanino
#11
Apr9-10, 10:56 AM
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Quote Quote by oldman View Post
But there have been long years during which physics has ridden on the back of the public purse without much yield in the way of either practical or intellectual rewards.
If we did not have theoretical speculations beyond the standard model, there would be quite less motivation to (say for instance) build the LHC. It is not possible to list all the practical benefits society enjoys from such long term endeavor without well-defined practical benefit to start with. I will just take two examples.

The computing Grids : although not solely motivated by the LHC, the largest Grids were explicitly organized for the LHC physics, and the development is largely driven by them. Those Grids already have users in the medical community, for instance studying cancers.

As you mentioned, it is well known that all medical imaging technology stem from fundamental physics. The most powerful machines for MRI, around 9 T in Chicago, and in the future 12 T in Saclay, will push the limits of our understanding of the central nervous system. It is not by chance that both those research institutes are located next to two of the largest fundamental physics institutes. It is in those places that the development of ever more powerful magnets takes place. A better understanding of powerful magnets also leads to other applications, outside medical physics. There are businesses manufacturing magnets after all, and it is quite common that fundamental physics, which defined those industries, now buys magnets from them to build some parts of the accelerators.

I do not think it is fair to claim that :
  • There is no theoretical progress in fundamental physics. Maybe you just do not understand them ? If you consider such a possibility, then the appropriate formulation is the interrogative form, not the affirmative one. It makes quite a difference for those of your readers who you claim make not progress.
  • There is no practical application for society. Maybe you just lack the perspective to be aware of them. Also, maybe you already have or will soon benefit from those applications !

Besides not being able to take time to write a longer list of practical applications from the LHC, I further remind that fundamental physics is not solely studied at the LHC, or even at high energy. There are medium energy labs which produce a lot of patents, it is easy for you to search for this information.

Gleiser's book, from my point of view, is not a thesis as it does not offer any solution. It is just ranting motivated by personal failure, it is a political position to sell a book in order to compensate for this failure, not a scientific argument.
oldman
#12
Apr10-10, 01:58 AM
P: 622
Quote Quote by humanino View Post
....Gleiser's book, from my point of view, is not a thesis as it does not offer any solution. It is just ranting motivated by personal failure, it is a political position to sell a book in order to compensate for this failure, not a scientific argument.
You are probably right in your rather harsh judgement of Gleiser's book. I can only wish that he, Woit and Smolin had had no justification for writing so critically about the present state of theoretical physics.

And I do hope for lots of practical spin-off from building the LHC, etc. But patent-production is not the only return one has come to expect from physics, as welcome as this activity is. There is also great satisfaction for curious humanity in describing as best we can the physical circumstances we find ourselves in --- at as fundamental a level as Homo Sapiens can manage.

It is here that theoretical physics seems to have been stymied for the last 25 years or so, perhaps because (through no fault of its own) it has become disconnected from the essential cycle on observation, experiment and prediction that distinguishes it from stamp collecting. Perhaps the LHC will provide reconnection.

Are you satisfied with the progress that physics is making? Do you think that more speculation and ratiocination in the presently fashionable way will help? Or could simple stuff, like re-examining the connection between thermodynamics and gravity, be the way for theory to go if reconnection fails?
petergreat
#13
Apr10-10, 02:47 AM
P: 270
Quote Quote by ensabah6 View Post
What if LHC, DM searches, proton half life, magnetic monopoles, cosmic strings, domain walls, experiments continue to produce null results? Heck, what if the LHC does not find Higgs or no new physics?
Magnetic monopoles started with Dirac in the 1930s. After 80 years without experimental support, physicists still can't get over it! The other examples of speculative physics are just not on the same level.
Naty1
#14
Apr10-10, 07:56 AM
P: 5,632
Smolin had had no justification for writing so critically about the present state of theoretical physics.
of course he did...he explains his reasons. You may disagree with his conclusions but should not claim there is "no justification"....

The core of our failure to complete the present scientific revolution consists of five problems, each famously intractable. These problems confronted us when I began my study of physics in the 1970's and while we have learned a lot about them in the last three decades, they remain unsolved.
fromTHE TROUBLE WITH PHYSICS, Chapter 1, page 3.

In contrast, a few pages later page 12,

Over the last century, our physical description of the world has simplified quite a bit......Twelve particles and fource forces are all we need to explain everything in the known world. We also understand very well the basic physics of these particles and forces.
Does NOT sound like a rabid dog critic to me. Overall, I found the book very worthwhile.
Naty1
#15
Apr10-10, 07:59 AM
P: 5,632
that those are personal political opinions about science rather than pure physics books.
Can your proivde a quote or two to illustrate your claim? I don't remember reading anything "political" in THE TROUBLE WITH PHYSICS....or are you referring to Smolins views of relative progress in different branches of physics??
oldman
#16
Apr10-10, 08:43 AM
P: 622
Naty1 --- I said exactly the opposite . Let me rephrase what I said more explicitly:

I wish that Smolin and Woit's criticisms of theoretical physics were unjustified (it would be better for physics in this case). But their criticisms are justified.

I was just trying to be polite about the mess that theoretical physics now finds itself in, as Woit and Smolin have so correctly (but acidly) pointed out.
Fra
#17
Apr10-10, 08:49 AM
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Quote Quote by humanino View Post
"Not even wrong" and "The trouble with physics" were interesting to read. It should not be mistaken however, that those are personal political opinions about science rather than pure physics books. I personally disagree with many strong claims made by those authors. I do not think those books deserve much over-reaction, once we recognize they are political rather than scientific arguments.
As I read it, part of Smolins points in that book, is that actual science developments, does have politicial dimensions, simply because the scientific progress contains sociological and political mechanisms. This as such contains no particular bias, it's just a conclusion. To me it's an accurate description, and I think it's not much to do about it either except that the next point is that, set aside the scientific society, fundings, job opportunities and other "real life" constraints on science, the individual scientist may want to be intellectually concerned and aware of this.

I think this is Smolins point - to increase awareness of how science actually works. To not see the sociological dimensions in this process is not seeing what it really is. This has nothing do to with wether are into string theory or something else.

To me the main point is just to encourage intellectual awareness of the individual. The sociological and political dimensions of the game are unavoidable.

Quote Quote by humanino View Post
but I am certain that the problems described in Woit and Smolin's books do not apply to Europe scientific community.
I think it does, although maybe it's worse is US, I cant tell. I've witnessed statemets from "superiors" (string theorists) as a student that confirm things Smolin mentions and I live in Europe.

/Fredrik
oldman
#18
Apr11-10, 12:39 AM
P: 622
Correction: my last post was directed to Humanino, not Naty1. My apologies to both of you.


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