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I Physics: Science and Understanding or Tool of Prediction

  1. Jul 5, 2017 #1
    What do Physicists understand the role, purpose, and proper subject of Physics to be ? Is it a science? Does it seek to gain knowledge or understanding? Of what (if not reality)?

    I've heard a number of physicists shying away from words such as "reality" and distancing themselves from basic (I.e. fundamental questions) of whether an aspect of observable phenomena exist between measurements, etc. It being now in perfectly acceptable for a "hard science" to speak of things (including an entire universe) popping into existence (i.e. from nothing)

    Some physicists (NOT all) seem to be afraid of dealing with or discussing the fundamentals of knowledge and the basis upon which Physics is to be built, others simply dismiss such discussion as irrelevant. [EDIT: [Removed: Many dispense] [Insert: Some "Pop-Physicists" play loose]] with both reason and reality ... making fantastic claims (with no evidence) on the premise that "everything" is possible.

    Anyone have any thoughts as to how Physicists should think about Physics itself and the processes (logic, scientific method, reason) which govern it?
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2017
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  3. Jul 5, 2017 #2

    phinds

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    A specific example please. And NOT from a "pop science" presentation where you do see that sort of crap all the time.
     
  4. Jul 5, 2017 #3

    Dale

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    Physics is a science which seeks to build simple models that accurately predict the outcome of experiments. Experimental verification and falsification is the "reality check" used in science.

    The word "reality" is a philosophical term used in the philosophical discipline of metaphysics. The physicists who avoid the term are probably aware that it is a term of art for another discipline that they do not want to pursue.

    I agree with @phinds that this is a claim that needs a clear reference.

    It may not be business, it may be personal. I.e. They may not be reluctant to discuss such things with colleagues whose opinions, knowledge, and expertise they respect, but you may not be viewed as having worthwhile opinions, knowledge, or expertise on the topic. Alternatively, you may be looking for such discussions in an inappropriate venue.
     
  5. Jul 5, 2017 #4

    russ_watters

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    With reservations about the tone and your username, I'll answer in brief, off the top of my head and we'll see where this goes...
    The purpose of physics is to construct accurate [mathematical] models that make testable predictions about the behavior of physical phenomena in the universe.
    This seems like a lead-in to word-play to me. Knowledge and understanding are the same thing. And of course, of reality.
    As @phinds said, "I've heard..." is not a very good starting point for a discussion. Heard from whom? In what context? What, exactly did "they" say?
     
  6. Jul 5, 2017 #5

    A.T.

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    Endless recursion initiated....
     
  7. Jul 5, 2017 #6
    I'm including instances where, what both you and I would call "pop science", is uttered, written, or anecdotally referred to as true by any Physicist, whether only a professor, whether famous, whether dabbling in media presentations of "science", etc. or not.

    I could "define" a "real" Physicist as only those who do not do this.. but that would be an evasion. Simply put, some physicists engage in that sort of thing, others do not. From what I have seen of your posts you do not. For that you are to be commended.
     
  8. Jul 5, 2017 #7

    Dale

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    @ObjectivelyRational three members have asked you for a reference. Please see the rules for a description of acceptable references and post your source promptly.
     
  9. Jul 5, 2017 #8
    I'm referring to the exact sorts of things phinds is referring to.

    By "many" I do not mean the majority. The one that disturbed me most in the past few years was the claim that we are likely living in a simulation. I read it at Phys.org. Most Physicists know its ridiculous to make an assertion like that. It is arbitrary and without evidence. I'm concerned that ANY Physicist would make that kind of an assertion... looking up more info.
     
  10. Jul 5, 2017 #9

    russ_watters

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    Please post a link to the article so we can see and comment on what it actually says. This discussion can go nowhere unless you start honoring requests for references to what you are trying to discuss. We don't do hearsay here.
     
  11. Jul 5, 2017 #10
    What it actually says, is that some Physicists take the claim "we could all be in a simulation" seriously enough to devote time and effort to calculate the constraints of the problem, how the simulation might reveal itself etc.

    https://arxiv.org/abs/1210.1847

    Again, what some Physicists do, claim, or believe is "possible" does not reflect on everyone. This is not an indictment of the field in its entirety.

    The mere existence of such a paper does raise questions though. My aim was to ask the questions, not to volunteer answers.

    I really want to hear what everyone out there - the average physicist - thinks.
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2017
  12. Jul 5, 2017 #11

    PeterDonis

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    It raises the question of whether our universe is a simulation, and attempts to deduce testable consequences from that hypothesis. Sounds like straightforward science to me.

    If you think the simulation hypothesis is "ridiculous" (your word in an earlier post), on what basis are you making such an assertion? It seems to me that ruling out hypotheses a priori on the basis of someone's subjective opinion that they are "ridiculous" is not at all what scientists should be doing.
     
  13. Jul 5, 2017 #12

    phinds

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    And as you have discovered, the way you phrase you questions may result in your being asked questions that require you to answer (as you have done in this thread). Asking questions is fine but when you make a categorical statement you may be asked for references (NOT pop-sci references) and will be expected to respond.
     
  14. Jul 5, 2017 #13
    An assertion A is not ridiculous when there is some evidence pointing towards A being true. Even a little evidence might suffice. An assertion which has no evidence whatever, is ridiculous precisely because it was asserted in the complete absence of any evidence to make it.

    The issue of whether a claim is ridiculous has nothing to do with subjectivity or feeling, but with objective evidence and reason.

    Do you have reason to judge the proposition "we could all be living in a simulation" any more or less ridiculous than a claim that your house is haunted or you are possessed by the Devil? I mean there is no evidence ... but "anything" is possible... (note carefully the error here)
     
  15. Jul 5, 2017 #14

    russ_watters

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    You altered your wording from the previous post where you said some physicists were claiming we live in a simulation. From this new (accurate) wording, we now see that that wasn't the case and the pursuit was scientifically sound. See now why exact wording and context is so important?
    Except that not only did you volunteer your own answers, you didn't respond to the answers given. So what is it you really want to discuss? We've been focusing on what, from your posts, it appears you really want to discuss. If it isn't, you can change that by re-focusing your posts. It's your thread, and up to you to lead it!
     
  16. Jul 5, 2017 #15

    russ_watters

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    That isn't how it works. In practice, scientists are entitled to - even forced to - make speculations with no evidence and then go looking for the evidence. The Michelson-Morley Experiment comes to mind. I think that is a great example of how challenging a baseless assumption about how the universe "should" work can produce interesting results. It's kind of the other side of the coin from what you suggest.
    I'd be interested in seeing the rubric for scoring that!
    [edit: That was sarcastic - I'll be direct:] An assumption or logic follwing it can either match observations or fail to match observations. "Ridiculous" is a value judgement that in your use isn't even based on whether the assumption/logic panned-out, but your a priori judgement of it! That could scarcely be less scientific!
    No: *you* claim to make that judgement. A good scientist would never judge something "ridiculous" that they had no evidence for or against!
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2017
  17. Jul 5, 2017 #16

    PeterDonis

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    This claim is much, much too strong.

    First, you use the word "assertion" instead of the word "hypothesis". Nobody is claiming our universe is a simulation. People are taking that as a hypothesis and trying to deduce testable consequences from it. Scientists do this all the time with hypotheses for which there is no evidence. The goal is to figure out what kinds of experiments could be run to get evidence one way or the other.

    Second, by your criterion, until there is some evidence about a given hypothesis, scientists can't even think about it. For example, any time and effort spent by physicists on quantum gravity is "ridiculous", because we have no evidence whatever about quantum aspects of gravity. The reasons for pursuing a quantum gravity theory are purely theoretical. But again, this happens all the time in science: scientists see issues with limitations of current theories and try to address them, even if those limitations are in areas where no evidence exists and often where no evidence can be reasonably expected any time soon. (If the current conjecture that quantum gravity effects only become significant near the Planck scale is correct, we are about 20 orders of magnitude away from being able to get any evidence about quantum gravity.)
     
  18. Jul 5, 2017 #17

    PeterDonis

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    Nobody except you is "judging" anything. Formulating a hypothesis and trying to deduce testable consequences from it is not "judging" whether it's correct or "ridiculous".
     
  19. Jul 5, 2017 #18
    I think Physics and Physicists are incredibly important to advancing knowledge of ourselves and the universe, of reality as knowable to man. In the face of pseudoscience, supernaturalism, and very bad philosophies, I see Physics as a last bastion of reason and science. I see a field which should embrace a rigorous unshakable philosophy at its foundation and a flawlessly logical science as its goal, and thereby bring the light of sanity and reason to the world. I wanted to see if others held the role of Physics in the same high-esteem and whether they note the problems which plague it from the fringes of pseudoscience and pop-culture (and unfortunately occasionally supernaturalism).

    I have not crafted the questions well but my intent was to frame the issue and learn from the responses.

    Anyone who recognizes these as issues and cares to respond, in an open ended way, I would greatly appreciate hearing your thoughts.

    @phinds I especially would like to hear your honest sentiments.

    Sincerely,
    OR
     
  20. Jul 5, 2017 #19

    russ_watters

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    Ok: so I think we did correctly perceive that you wanted this thread to primarily be about discussing these problems that you see.
    The way that is phrased excludes most of the responses you got: you should be open minded to the possibility that you are misreading/misinterpreting the "problems". It appears to me that you are generating them out of a misunderstanding/over-interpretation of un-stated motivations behind certain research or perhaps provocative pop-science interpretations thereof.
     
  21. Jul 5, 2017 #20

    PeterDonis

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    And with that, this thread is closed.
     
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