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Against Symmetry Smolin in Paris June 14

  1. May 30, 2006 #1

    marcus

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    "Against Symmetry" Smolin in Paris June 14

    Prof. Smolin will be speaking at an amphitheater of the Ecole Polytechnique (Paris version of MIT). The talk is part of an historical controversy.
    Here is a short advance summary of the talk copied from Christine Dantas' blog:
    http://christinedantas.blogspot.com/2006/05/lee-smolin-against-symmetry.html

    ===announcement of Smolin's Paris talk===
    Against Symmetry

    From the Leibniz-Newton debates to the present debates between string theorists and loop quantum gravity theorists two notions of fundamental physics have stood opposed. On the one hand is the Newtonian vision, which is based on a belief in a fixed absolute space and time and which holds symmetry to be fundamental and its breaking to be contingent. Leibniz's conception of space and time is an ever evolving network of relationships in which complexity is fundamental and symmetry is unnatural and accidental. This distinction characterizes the divide between background dependent theories like string theory and relational, background independent theories such as loop quantum gravity.

    In this talk I analyze the present status of the two traditions and the plausibility of their contemporary incarnations. I show that the crisis of predictability facing string theory is a direct consequence of a conception of unification that is opposed to the principles that underlie the successful modern unifications such as general relativity and gauge theories. I close by describing a new kind of unification which emerges from background independent theories.


    Amphithéâtre A, entrée par le 25 rue de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, Paris 5ème
    Contact : Alexei Grinbaum (alexei.grinbaum@polytechnique.edu)
    ===end quote===

    Shortly after the Paris talk, Smolin will be speaking in London.
    He is scheduled to give "The Annual Public Lecture" at the London School of Economics CPNSS
    http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/CPNSS/events/Conferences/AnnualPublicLecture.htm

    Anyone who happens to be in London around that time, if interested in science issues, may wish to attend. The lecture is open to the public and admission is free. Prof. Smolin will be introduced by Jeremy Butterfield of All Soul's College-Oxford.
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2006
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  3. May 30, 2006 #2

    marcus

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    I expect that the Paris talk titled Against Symmetry will be based in part on Smolin's recent paper The Case for Background Independence.
    http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/0507235

    The talk will present two diametrically opposed views of physics which lead to different concepts of unification.

    Some confusion which we experience on a day to day basis (about what unifications one might expect, and what would a "theory of everything" look like) can be traced to the divided point of view which Smolin will be discussing.
    ==============

    The London talk has more bearing on science research POLICY, and the scientific ethic----in particular there is the question: what does it take to foster a robust theory establishment capable of making the necessary break-throughs and providing predictive theory for empirical testing.

    In the past year Prof. Smolin has published several essays bearing on these questions. One was in Physics Today June 2005 issue, just a year ago.
    Why No 'New Einstein'?
    http://www.everythingimportant.org/relativity/no-new-einstein.pdf

    Smolin is critical of the conduct and funding of physics theory research as currently organized in the US.
    He believes the system of allocating support to the "camp" instead of to the individual mind does not sufficiently foster mental independence particularly in young researchers. He gives some examples of different systems used in some other countries, such as France, which depend more on assessment of the accomplishments and drive of the individual researcher, rather than what program he or she fits into.
    This article ruffled some feathers last year, when it came out, which I suppose is why it is now available online outside the American Physical Society's Physics Today archives.


    Another source might be an essay by Smolin
    A Crisis in Fundamental Physics
    http://www.nyas.org/publications/UpdateUnbound.asp?UpdateID=41
    published in "Update" magazine of the New York Academy of Sciences.

    An essay discussing criteria for scientific theories is Smolin's
    Scientific Alternatives to the Anthropic Principle. The background to this paper is the crisis in predictability and controversy surrounding appeals to the Anthropic Principle.

    I understand Smolin is preparing a book (scheduled for release by Houghton Mifflin some time in the next year) that also touches on these issues.

    My guess is that the talk at the London School of Economics---bearing on science policy and delivered at a school for future policy-makers---will be another part of the picture that he is pulling together for his book.
    So we will hear all about it when the book finally comes out.
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2006
  4. May 30, 2006 #3

    wolram

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    The earth is the only lab we have, forget these out there theories and work with what we can see test, if the answer can not be found on our own planet then, one may as well play poker and hope to come out a winner.
     
  5. May 30, 2006 #4

    Hurkyl

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    I don't follow.
     
  6. May 30, 2006 #5

    marcus

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    wolram has one song he often sings these days which is "remember to test the sucker"
    It don't mean a thing unless you can check its predictions.
    I think that may be the point he's making here. It is a friendly point.
    Smolin and several of the perimeter people are much engaged with making theories testable.
     
  7. May 30, 2006 #6

    Hurkyl

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    Oh. I thought he was taking a jab against astronomy and cosmology, and I didn't see how that fit into your post.
     
  8. May 30, 2006 #7

    marcus

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    :biggrin: good thing with wolram is you can never quite be sure.

    thanks to you both for reading this post! It's got some ideas in it and I'm very glad to be sharing them. Just found about the 14 June talk this morning
     
  9. May 30, 2006 #8

    Kea

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    Hi Marcus

    AISYK, over on Woit's blog Bert Schroer has responded to the news of Smolin's upcoming talk by mentioning the monades of AQFT. Schroer has naturally demonstrated a reluctance to accept the possibility that the spin foam formalism is capable of probing QFT to this depth. Until recently, he would have been right. I wish I could be in Paris as a sparrow in the rafters.

    :smile:

    P.S. Poor old Newton. It's not like he didn't understand the problem. He only had the mathematics of his time.
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2006
  10. May 30, 2006 #9

    marcus

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    yeah, it is a talk I wish I could attend. and most likely it's open and there will be plenty of room.

    I cannot follow most of your extensive discussion at Woit's blog with the algebraic quantum field theorist Bert Schroer. I see at one point he asked something and you passed the question along to Vaughn Jones!

    Last time I checked Jones had not responded, but I certainly hope he does.

    I confess to have heard about Leibniz monads but was reluctant to say anything for fear someone would explain them to me. You know better than to try. One must budget one's wits.
     
  11. May 30, 2006 #10

    Kea

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    LOL. Actually, the Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gottfried_Leibniz
    is not too bad. To quote:

     
  12. May 30, 2006 #11

    marcus

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    Monads are purported to solve the problematic:
    * Interaction between mind and matter...*

    People have tried a number of ways to solve the problematic interaction between mind and matter. I am told Viagra sometimes works.

    :straightface:
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2006
  13. May 30, 2006 #12

    Kea

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    Well, I'm going to get Leibniz' book (in English) out of the library and have a look at it. Of course, that means that I'll have to walk to the Arts library... :smile:
     
  14. May 30, 2006 #13

    Kea

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    Later...

    The whole Monadology is only 13 pages, in the translation by N. Rescher which I am looking at. Leibniz wasn't much of a coherent writer. Fortunately, he gave references to his more substantial Theodicy and many people have since linked the phrases of the Monadology to other pieces of work by Leibniz. The Monadology is a summary of Leibniz' system of philosophy, written late in his life. Notoriously, Leibniz was against the idea of atoms. A couple of passages (emphasis is Leibniz's):

    Hegel said of Leibniz:

    Leibniz followed the same general plan in his philosophy as the physicists adopt when they advance a hypothesis to explain existing data. He has it that general conceptions of the Idea are to be found, from which the particular may be derived; here, on account of existing data, the general conception, for example the determination of force or matter furnished by reflection, must have its determinations disposed in such a way that it fits in with the data. Thus the philosophy of Leibnitz seems to be not so much a philosophic system as an hypothesis regarding the existence of the world, namely how it is to be determined in accordance with the metaphysical determinations and the data and assumptions of the ordinary conception, which are accepted as valid - thoughts which are moreover propounded without the sequence pertaining to the Notion and mainly in narrative style, and which taken by themselves show no necessity in their connection.

    Rescher tells us that Leibniz began to talk about monads in 1690. The word goes back at least to Bruno in 1591. Hegel influenced the likes of Fregel and C.S. Peirce. Unfortunately for Frege, Russell came along and demolished some of Frege's ideas with his famous paradox. Russell, as great as he was, didn't understand Leibniz at all. Later, of course, Goedel revolutionised some of our preconceptions about mathematics, and began a course in the right direction....

    (I had a boyfriend once who just loved Russell, and it drove me nuts)
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2006
  15. May 30, 2006 #14

    Kea

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    Somehow I doubt it. The lively discussion at NotEvenWrong http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=396 is a perfect example of this bitterness of centuries (epitomised by Leibniz and Newton) to which Smolin refers. :smile:
     
  16. May 31, 2006 #15

    marcus

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  17. Jun 1, 2006 #16
    oh! :bugeye:

    Thanks a lot!
    Christine
     
  18. Jun 1, 2006 #17
    perhaps in the physics department string theory is a failure, but im sure that in maths it's hardly a failure, isn't the rise of string theory which brought to us noncommutative algebra and geometry?
     
  19. Jun 1, 2006 #18

    marcus

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    I know what you mean:bugeye:

    Dear loop, I hope this is not too much of a stretch: Failure or NON-failure in various departments is not the issue! Other people have already discussed that---they have pointed out both the shortcomings and the inherent interest (both mathematical and physical) of string research. I myself see a lot of value to string research. As I understand it, from what Smolin himself has said, his point is different.

    His book is not simply meant to add to the flames of the Wittendämmerung. Smolin is trying to make a general point about the CONDUCT OF SCIENCE POLICY that would be arguable EVEN IF STRING THEORY DID NOT EXIST and some other research monopoly had taken over.

    I think according to Smolin the point now is not to criticize string thinking per se, but to ask WHAT if anything DID WE DO WRONG in the past couple of decades in the way US funding agencies and research leadership went about supporting theory?

    We have had a couple of decades of HEP theory "monoculture"---you might say---in which support for young researchers and faculty jobs were bestowed rather more on the basis of allegiance to a program than to individual qualifications. Maybe this is right and maybe it is wrong, but it is what Smolin is claiming. For his point, IT DOESNT MATTER THAT IT HAPPENED TO BE STRING THEORY that happened to be the monoculture.

    the key thing his argument is that he can point to the fact that in the whole US there is only one university (Penn State) which has a non-string quantum gravity research group with more than one faculty person in it.

    Talented non-string researchers with proven track record are walled out of US academia.

    This strongly suggests there is a monoculture---one which is not empirically justified or accountable to traditional scientific evaluation. I believe his point is that this is likely to contribute to the decline of a scientific field regardless of what doctrine has the monopoly.

    Try this:
    https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=121501

    And yes, my forthcoming book is not an attack on string theory, it is an examination of how this kind of situation can develop, which hurts not just many of the best young researchers but the progress of science itself.


    One can choose not to believe Smolin and to think that the discussion of science policy is a cynical sham, while the real message is an attack on string theory. That is your choice. I've read enough of what he says to be persuaded that he is serious about the policy issues and general principles.
     
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2006
  20. Jun 1, 2006 #19

    arivero

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    You need to put some irony marker somewhere in the text, or you affirmation risks to be taken seriusly.
     
  21. Jun 1, 2006 #20

    marcus

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    Loop, I think what arivero is referring to is the fact that string theory did NOT bring us noncommutative algebra and geometry. They were already around, or arose by themselves independent of string.
    But your main point is quite good, that string research has been the inspiration of much interesting mathematics, almost certainly of longterm value.

    Maybe not noncommutative geometry, but other things.

    If you were actually speaking ironically, then I beg your pardon for taking it literally.
     
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2006
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