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Does String Theory Satisfy Einstein's Conditions for a Physical Theory?

  1. Dec 27, 2005 #1
    Does String Theory Satisfy Einstein's Conditions for a Physical Theory?

    In his autobiography Einstein said:

    Before I enter upon a critique of mechanics as a foundation of physics, something of a broadly general nature will first have to be said concerning the points of view according to which it is possible to criticize physical theories at all. The first point of view is obvious: The theory must not contradict empirical facts. However evident this demand may in the first place appear, its application turns out to be quite delicate. For it is often, perhaps even always, possible to adhere to a general theoretical foundation by securing the adaption of the theory to the facts by means of artificial additional assumptions. In any case, however, this first point of view is concerned with the confirmation of the theoretical foundation by the available empirical facts.
    The second point of view is not concerned with the relation to the material of observation but with the premises of the theory itself, with what may briefly but vaguely be characterized as the "naturalness" or " logical simplicity" of the premises (of the basic concepts and of the relations between these which are taken as a basis). This point of view, an exact formulation of which meets with great difficulties, has played an important role in the selection and evaluation of theories since time immemorial. The problem here is not simply one of a kind of enumeration of the logically independent premises (if anything like this were at all unequivocally possible), but that of a kind of reciprocal weighing of incommeasurable qualities. Furthermore, among theories of equally "simple" foundation that one is to be taken as superior which most sharply delimits the qualities of system in the abstract (i.e., contains that most definite claims). Of the "realm" of theories I need not speak here, inasmuch as we are confining ourselves to such theories whose object is the totality of all physical appearances. The second point of view may briefly be characterized as concerning itself with the "inner perfection" of the theory, whereas the first point of view refers to the "external confirmation." The following I reckon as also belonging to the "inner perfection" of a theory: we prize a theory more highly if, from the logical standpoint, it is not the result of an arbitrary choice among theories which, among themselves, are of equal value and analogously constructed.
    Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, Volume One, 1949, Autobiographical Notes, p 21--23,
    Open Court, Cambridge University Press.

    Does string theory conform to this?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 27, 2005 #2
    What do you think ? :biggrin:
  4. Dec 27, 2005 #3
    I would have to vote no.
  5. Dec 27, 2005 #4


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    Actually the original string hypothesis was very simple with gratifying results. You just assumed the fundamental "thing" was a vibrating relativistic string, and took the simplest action for such a thing and developed it, and you got a graviton that was consistent with Einstein's field equations (so they thought and many still do). You got several other particles, including a tachyon you very much didn't want, but there was that graviton, and there was no 'fine tuning' or 'epicycles' about it.

    The trouble was they never really got better than that first breakthrough, instead they got deeper and deeper into the math of their models and more and more contingent.
  6. Dec 27, 2005 #5
    did string theory ever have an original postulate?

    did string theory ever have an original postulate?

    if so, where was it stated?

    who stated it?

    was the whole point of string theory a way to get rid of points?

    so strange that nobody knows string theory's original postulate, nor the person who stated it.

    we can quote einstein, but who started string theory?
  7. Dec 28, 2005 #6


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    My guess is string theory was started by L. Ron Hubbard. It starts out sounding good, but then takes all your money and gives you nothing. (I suspect "Michael Green" was a pseudonym.)
  8. Dec 28, 2005 #7
    Does anyone know what the annual NSF budget is for string theory?

    Is it worth it?

    Is it a little bit like Enron, where elite insiders are playing a joke on the unsuspecting public, and profiting from it?
  9. Dec 28, 2005 #8


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    I don't know the exact number, but searching "string" on the NSF's awards page gives...
    about 1000 awards, looks like around $100K each. So a hundred million dollars or so. This might be every year, but some might be multi-year grants.
    And more money goes to string research from the DOE.
    In some ways it's not that bad, but in some ways it's worse.
    Most people who invested in Enron had a choice, taxpayers don't.
    But the money goes to many people, rather than a few getting all of it like in most scams. So in that way it's better.
    And I like the idea of smart people getting supported just to have time to think about stuff -- I just don't like that there's a string monopoly. And I'm not thrilled about this coming from taxpayers instead of from private foundations.
  10. Dec 28, 2005 #9
    I think it is necessary to add some reasonable comments here. Let me first say that I am not a specialist in string theory but I certainly do not approve of it (far from). Look, at this moment in time, it seems to me that most researchers are lost: string theory should by all reasonable criteria have been disposed of in the physics community for a long time (especially supersymmetry). However it is an unparallelled mathematical persuit and does produce useful results in this area (so it would be more reasonable at this moment in time that STRT gets more MATH instead of PHYS funds). Loop quantum gravity is in no better state : people are there still turning around those problems which were known to be the main obstacles from the real beginning (Hamiltonian constraint, classical limit, interpretational issues, ...) - some of these issues are very well presented in the recent paper of Nicolai, Peeters and Zamaklar. As I have voiced on many occasions, this indicates that some drastic nontrivial new physical idea is necessary. It is not a coincidence that great thinkers are heading in radical directions at this moment in time such as 't Hooft who wants to find a deterministic planck scale dynamics which reproduces quantum mechanics as the associated statistical theory.

    Moreover, it is only a standard human reaction that the big tend to become bigger and the small need to dissapear. I am sure that the same comments would be voiced to LQG if they had the luxury of STRT.
    If you want to change the system, then one should organize international concours where candidates simply have to take a few exams on standard, well established physics (and perhaps some IQ tests) and have to score in the top 10 procent in order to get a position on the appropriate level. At that moment, the candidate should have absolute freedom to express his/her preferred research and be free to move to these places where more or less equal thinkers are present (of course there are some restrictions to be determined). Anyway, the money should go more to competent, inventive persons and not so much to research programs especially in times when most programs can claim very little. I am pretty sure that more or less the same persons would get the money (lets say 70 procent of the cases), but that those same persons would choose a very different topic than the one they are kind of stuck with at the moment (publication pressure/ job opportunities and so on).

    But the system of reference letters, project writing, popularity of the research topic and so on should better dissapear: theoretical physics should NOT be an industry. I think people should better realize that their theories are just that : theories. One should never cherish one's own child too much and certainly not compare his/her theory with the quest for the holy grail. In other words: relax, cool down, do not put so much pressure on people, do not force any intelligent person in a direction which you are not certain about yourself ... this has nothing to do with string theory; but everything with the market principles entering the acadamic world where freedom of thought and intellecual honesty should prevail and as is well known, this requires chaos and not structure.


    Last edited: Dec 28, 2005
  11. Dec 28, 2005 #10


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    Well said.

    Humans are herd animals and have a nasty tendency to flocking.

    Mathematicians and physicists are social creatures, and so understanding how their work is pursued requires a bit of social science.

  12. Dec 29, 2005 #11
    I motion that we petition NSF to fund every theory that

    1) has no postulates
    2) predicts nothing
    3) is generally useless
  13. Dec 29, 2005 #12
    Jee, where did you get so frustrated ? :uhh: Instead of nagging, you might want to suggest an alternative and take a more positive attitude. There is a difference in uttering well founded concrete criticisms to a particular programme and questioning the investement made into it as opposed to being cynical and hitting in any direction. I am very aware that even if you had a reasonable alternative this would not change anything to the factual situation. Moreover, you would get a lot of nonsensical criticsms by people who never had a truely original idea themselves and you would not get your papers published unless you close up all holes (which STRT and LQG of course do not manage to do). But that is reality : so what are you going to do about it ?
  14. Dec 29, 2005 #13
    I'm not frustrated at all.

    I'm not frustrated at all.

    I am publishing my scientific work elsewhere. If you read the rules here, PF, like academia, forbids publishing new theories that conform to Einstein's requirements for a theory.

    I just think it's funny.

    1) String theory does not conform to Einstein's nor Popper's requirements for a theory.

    2) PF forbids the posting of new theories that do conform to Einsteins requirements.

    Ergo, we can either complain about String Theory or say nothing.

    But logic and reason are forbidden here, every bit as much as they are in academia.

    The reasons for this are numerous, but all one has to do is follow the money.
  15. Dec 29, 2005 #14
    I acknowledge that the demands on papers introducing different points of view are extremly high (you even do not have to speak about a new theory of everything). However, the cautious behavior of publishers is understandable given the huge number of crackpot authors around (and then I only speak about papers which are mathematically flawed) - the probability that something remotely worthwhile can be found amongst these new candidates is extremely small. For the readers who want to read some entertaining detective stories about those ``new research directions´´, check out the website maintained by Arkadiusz Jadczyk - who holds rather unorthodox views on QM himself - in the diametrically opposite direction of mine - to say the least :biggrin: ( his polish background might explain a lot in this matter :rofl: ).

    Nevertheless, this does not imply that logic is not present in academia; reason is something different :biggrin:
  16. Dec 29, 2005 #15
    Would you consider Ed Witten and Brian Greene and the tens of thousands of their disciples crackpots?

    Why are rising physicists held to higher standards than those that get millions from the NSF?

    Perhaps I just answered my own question. :)
  17. Dec 29, 2005 #16
    ??? Ed Witten and Brian Greene are clearly brilliant mathematicians. Wether their math corresponds in any way to physical reality is an entirely different issue :smile: Look, what I called crackpots are people who cannot even get the math right (which is the most basic requirement to do physics) and do nothing but throwing speculative ideas in the air without backing up their claims with some reference material or showing what there is wrong with the standard ideas in the first place.

    People who row against the current are ALWAYS held to higher standards. That is a fact of life in every society.
  18. Dec 29, 2005 #17
    Have Ed Witten and Brian Greene gotten the math right?

    If so, where is the equation?

    Where are the equations that make them brilliant?

    String Theorists have thrown thousands of speculative claims in the air, and not one has been backed up yet with math nor physics.

    And indeed, what is wrong with physics in the first place? Why do we need string theory? What does it explain that is not expalined elsewhere?

    Who says that math is the most basic requirment of physics?

    I would argue that physics is the most basic requirement of physics.

    As Richard Feynman said, "Physics is to math what sex is to
    masturbation." He certainly knew what physics was, did he not?

    "I don't believe in mathematics." --Albert Einstein.

    Since the mathematicians have invaded the theory of relativity, I do not understand it myself anymore.
    Quoted in P A Schilpp, Albert Einstein, Philosopher-Scientist (Evanston 1949).

    Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom. --Einstein
    Quoted in H Eves Return to Mathematical Circles (Boston 1988).

    Most of the fundamental ideas of science are essentially simple, and may, as a rule, be expressed in a language comprehensible to everyone. --Einstein (NOT STRING THEORY)

    Mathematics are well and good but nature keeps dragging us around by the nose.
    Quoted in A P French, Einstein: a Centenary Volume
  19. Dec 29, 2005 #18
    You do not seem to understand my point that even IF string theory is not the theory of nature STILL THEN Ed Witten and Brian Greene are scientists whom you would like to have around. I agree partially with your overall feeling that we should be more concerned with physics and less with mathematics ... . However, that does not invalidate mathematical research in times where good new physical ideas are absent (mainly due to no experimental guidelines). I think this conversation is only useful when you present us your new physical paradigm.


  20. Dec 29, 2005 #19
    OK--so let's keep Brian Greene and Ed Witten around for pop-science books that obfuscate Einstein, TV shows with cool special effects, and half-truths and cover-ups from the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study. :)

    But what about the tens of millions of tax payer dollars that go to all their disciples? Is that right, good, or just?

    Is it helping or hurting physics and greater science? Surely the grad students performing actual work and teaching the science classes should be paid instead. Even the moderators on this board would agree with that.

    My new paradigm will not be announced here as new paradigms based on logic and reason are not allowed here.
  21. Dec 30, 2005 #20


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    Misty, I think Careful makes a good point. You need to show the math. I agree that Greene and Witten are pushing the envelope. While their conclusions are debatable, their math is solid. I say we should appeal to the observational evidence. It does not support their conclusions. You should focus on that part.
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