Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Josephson's going astray of mainstream physics

  1. Feb 14, 2017 #1


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    So I am reading Strogatz book on chaos, I am now at the Josephson junctions.

    It seems Josephson after winning the nobel prize went beserk and pursued transcendental meditation and spoon bending; I also have the book by Robin Ticciati on QFT for Mathematicians on my shelf and I know that he teaches at Mahrishi university which is not well reputed to say the least.

    What do you think make people to go to pseudo science after they pursued natural science or engineering?
    Do they think they will get to the truth through that? whatever that truth may be.

    Even when I go mad, is just that I am on a streak of learning from my maths, physics, engineering and logic books; but I never tempted on going "spiritual", it's not in my nature.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 14, 2017 #2
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2017
  4. Feb 14, 2017 #3


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

  5. Feb 14, 2017 #4
    I don't think there is anything particularly unusual about combining science and spiritual beliefs. Some of us may not understand partitioning our minds in this way but c'est la vie. Many scientists navigate life this way and produce good results. As long as the beliefs don't infect the science and the science doesn't infect the other beliefs I don't see a problem.
  6. Feb 14, 2017 #5


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    So Newton was a magician.
    Don't your beliefs affect how you interpret your results?

    Beliefs play a crucial part also in science, and if you believe in astrology or spoon bending then it bounds to pop up in your work.
  7. Feb 15, 2017 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Probably a combination of several factors. I suspect one major issue is that people/colleagues are afraid to say something when someone who has won a Nobel prize says something that is not correct or even utter nonsense (because he/she is supposedly by definition brilliant); over time this might lead to someone going off the rails completely. Nobel prize winners are also often asked to comments on things that are way outside their area of expertise.
    Another issue is that there is a lot of pressure to be "clever" and keep publishing groundbreaking results, especially if the person in question won the prize when they were relatively young and still has an active career.
    Most scientists who go to major conferences will have seen talk by people who won the Nobel prize say 10-15 years ago and are still almost automatically given plenary talks despite the fact that their latest results are not that interesting. I've seen quite a few cringe worthy talks.
  8. Feb 15, 2017 #7


    User Avatar
    Education Advisor

    I think you are quite right in your analysis above. I would add that just because someone is trained in the sciences or is an active scientist does not mean that he/she is immune to irrational beliefs or is not susceptible to belief in pseudoscience. We can see examples from physicist David Bohm (who was also a believer in transcendental meditation, as outlined in an article in Martin Gardner's book "Did Adam and Eve Have Navels?")

    Indeed, when it comes to esteemed scientists, the following quote from Nobel Prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling comes to mind, giving among the most eloquent defense of open-minded skepticism I can think of.

    "When an old and distinguished person speaks to you, listen to him carefully and with respect — but do not believe him. Never put your trust into anything but your own intellect. Your elder, no matter whether he has gray hair or has lost his hair, no matter whether he is a Nobel laureate — may be wrong. The world progresses, year by year, century by century, as the members of the younger generation find out what was wrong among the things that their elders said. So you must always be skeptical — always think for yourself."

    [Aside: There is an irony in the above quote, given that Pauling himself has advocated late in his life for the efficacy of high doses of vitamin C for the common cold and various ailments, including cancer. My understanding is that the there has not been credible scientific evidence indicating such efficacy for vitamin C.]
  9. Feb 15, 2017 #8
    Yes of course they do, everything in life is affected by your beliefs. What I am saying is that people seem to be good at partitioning their minds or arranging justification for a particular activity. I know, and I'm sure you do too, people who work in Science who are religious, they seem to cope and are no worse at their jobs than atheists. Many of my cow-orkers are Muslim, they are good scientists and engineers. Now I don't know if they were in a field like genetics or evolution whether this would be true, maybe not.
  10. Feb 15, 2017 #9


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Speculation on my part, but do you think the Dunning-Kruger effect might hit real geniuses really, really hard? These guys are good, they know they're good, and everyone agrees they're good. And if there's something (nonsense or otherwise) that they desperately want to be true...?
  11. Feb 15, 2017 #10


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Well, I don't think highly of psychology (for me it's mambo jambo akin to be science but never quite there), so this is how I judge this effect.
  12. Feb 17, 2017 #11
    I think the main reason some scientists fall for pseudoscience is that they abandon the scientific method and overall intellectual discipline. Once you do that, the door is open to wishful thinking and other errors. Of course scientists should know better, but they still have human weaknesses which may be very hard to resist.

    Still, it's easy to label something as "pseudoscience" just because you disagree with it. I think it's important to not be overzealous in using the label "pseudoscience."

    Some people have mentioned religion in their comments. I put religion in a different category than pseudoscience. A scientist may have been indoctrinated as a child in a particular religion. It can be very difficult to liberate oneself from such indoctrination, since it may not only be mentally and emotionally very painful, but it may involve rejection of one's cultural heritage and perhaps of one's family and friends.

    Even today, in some countries it is very dangerous to leave your religion. For example, in some countries you may be executed for leaving your religion. Even if you live in a free country, you may be in danger from religious fanatics.

    Someone mentioned Newton. Although he had many interests, including religion, I think he was essentially a rationalist. As for alchemy, he was obviously doing lots of experiments and did get some ideas from alchemy. But he used the scientific method in his laboratory. Actually some of his alchemical experiments have been reproduced, and they work.

    Newton was not an orthodox religious believer. He stated that some Bible texts were corrupted. On the other hand, he did write a book on the prophecies of Daniel. So clearly he went off the deep end a bit. Even if he made some mistakes on the matter of religion, Newton took a huge risk at Cambridge when he refused to accept Holy Orders. He might have lost his job or worse. On his deathbed he refused the last rites of the Church of England. It may be that he was an Arian or a Unitarian.

    I think we need to give Newton some slack. We may never know just how much he really believed in religion, because he understood the risks of openly questioning the state-sponsored dogmas.

    My point is that although individuals may be religious in some way, this does not mean their science is necessarily pseudoscience. As has been pointed out, religion and science can coexist in our thinking to some extent. But it is very harmful to scientific progress if there is no separation of religion from state. This is much worse than any pseudoscience that goes on in a free country. State-enforced pseudoscience, such as Lysenkoism in the Soviet Union, is also very dangerous to science.

    You ask, do the pseudoscientists think they will find the truth? I don't know. Perhaps they think they are following "true science" and that mainstream science is pseudoscience!

    Will they actually find truth through pseudoscience? I don't see how that is possible. You find truth by sticking to the scientific method.
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2017
  13. Feb 20, 2017 #12
    Everyday I wake up and ask myself "am i living in reality?" "is this how a normal person in my situation spend the day?" "is this action logical or self destructive?"
    I feel like sometimes I am a fraud and living in a dreamworld, and can't really accomplish anything I want. I have no idea how any pseudoscience would help. Rather, getting "on" with life would help. I never want to investigate these things.
    .I googled this mahrishi universityh and it looks really funny to me:


    hehe they offer bs in mathematics, might apply there later...:-) tho they have an acceptance rate of 38 so chances might be low
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2017
  14. Feb 20, 2017 #13


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

  15. Feb 20, 2017 #14


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Well, I am sure there are alien-life forms; and who knows maybe some humans here are disguised as humans but are really aliens, like in Men in Black. :-)

    Reality is stranger than fiction
    Last edited by a moderator: May 8, 2017
  16. Feb 22, 2017 #15

    Ben Niehoff

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I've met Josephson, I had no idea who he was at the time. :P
  17. Feb 22, 2017 #16
    Michael Shermer, the well-known skeptic, wrote a piece about why smart people believe weird things:

    "Rarely does anyone weigh facts
    before deciding what to believe


    "IN APRIL 1999, when I was on a lecture tour for my book Why People Believe Weird Things, the psychologist Robert Sternberg attended my presentation at Yale University. His response to the lecture was both enlightening and troubling. It is certainly entertaining to hear about other people’s weird beliefs, Sternberg reflected, because we are confident that we would never be so foolish. But why do smart people fall for such things? Sternberg’s challenge led to a second edition of my book, with a new chapter expounding on my answer to his question: Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.

    "Rarely do any of us sit down before a table of facts, weigh them pro and con, and choose the most logical and rational explanation, regardless of what we previously believed. Most of us, most of the time, come to our beliefs for a variety of reasons having little to do with empirical evidence and logical reasoning. Rather, such variables as genetic predisposition, parental predilection, sibling influence, peer pressure, educational experience and life impressions all shape the personality preferences that, in conjunction with numerous social and cultural influences, lead us to our beliefs. We then sort through the body of data and select those that most confirm what we already believe, and ignore or rationalize away those that do not.

    This phenomenon, called the confirmation bias..."

    the rest of the essay here: http://www.michaelshermer.com/2002/09/smart-people-believe-weird-things/

    So, Shermer maintains that smart people are no more immune from weird beliefs than others, because they arrive at those beliefs just as irrationally as everyone else, but, unlike everyone else, they can defend their weird beliefs with vastly more successful rationalizations than most. Their 'smartness' isn't employed in deciding what to believe, it's employed in defending what they believe.

    There's a good chance the view of Newton as a strangely divided person is wrong. The good science he did was probably all part of an ultimate attempt by him to do something like 'prove religion was true,' to find a way to demonstrate, with something like mathematical logic, that God was the only possible rational explanation for things as they are. The excellence of his scientific logic was not evidence of a scientific side that co-existed uncomfortably with an irrational religious side. The whole lock, stock, and barrel, was probably always religious from the start.
  18. Feb 23, 2017 #17
  19. Mar 3, 2017 #18


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Creative people have an innate tendency to think outside the box. This trait leads to unorthodox thinking about almost any subject that draws their interest. Unfortunately, this tends to tip some people into the strange and unbalanced. Mathematicians seem to be peculiarly vulnerable to this malady. History is replete with tragic tales of mathematical geniuses who developed certifiable psychoses and any number who were no less than notoriously eccentric. The mental clarity and rigor necessary for mathematical acumen apparently carries a risk of digressing from causal contact with reality.
  20. Mar 3, 2017 #19


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Reality should really be defined first before saying that someone is "digressing from causal contact" with it.

    And also causality is something that we believe to exist but might be wrong.
  21. Mar 3, 2017 #20


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Reality is basically the consensus description of things that exist and how they interact - i.e., common sense. Causality is the glue that holds the consensus view together. The alternative is called magic.
  22. Mar 3, 2017 #21
    Reality is a punch in the nose. Causality is a moving fist..
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted