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'Theory of everything' tying researchers up in knots

  1. Mar 16, 2005 #1

    Ivan Seeking

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    http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/03/14/MNGRMBOURE1.DTL
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 16, 2005 #2

    Chronos

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    A hot button for sure. The fervor and backlash to stringy stuff is alive and well. I'm not very fond of string. Proponents are not always compelling:

    http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/03/14/MNGRMBOURE1.DTL"To the considerable extent that string theory has been developed, it has turned out to be a logically consistent quantum theory of gravity," says string theorist Raphael Bousso.

    Why hasn't this result been published?

    "Superstringers have now created a culture in physics departments that is openly disdainful of experiments. ... There is an intellectual struggle going on for the very soul of theoretical physics, and for the hearts and minds of young scientists entering our field," says physicist Zlatko Tesanovic of Johns Hopkins University.

    Openly disdainful of experiments? Why would any reasonable scientist find that disturbing.

    Critics mock superstringers because their so-called theory of everything failed to predict this colossal discovery. String theorists fire back that no one else predicted it, either...

    Huh? If you bet me you can jump over the moon, does that mean I can't collect on the bet unless I jump over it?

    That's because string theory is the only existing hypothesis that holds serious promise of merging the two grandest branches of physics -- the theory of gravity, the basis of cosmological theory; and quantum mechanics, the science of the subatomic realm, Schwarz says.

    How can any reasonable person resist such a compelling argument?

    To critics, like Woit, it is a disaster for string theory because the sheer number of estimated universes -- equal to the number one followed by 500 zeroes -- is unimaginably large. If true, it means that string theory is so flexible that it can be used to predict almost any kind of universe you want, no matter how crazy, and hence it predicts nothing specific enough to be scientifically interesting. "A theory that can't predict anything is not a scientific theory," Woit says.

    How transparent. A theory that embraces every possibility will obviously predict what has actually happened.

    Krauss' charge that string theory "has probably been the least successful 'great' idea in physics" in a century is unfair and premature, replies string physicist Brian Greene of Columbia University, author of two acclaimed books on the topic, including "The Elegant Universe." "That's like someone going into Antonio Stradivari's workshop and complaining about the sound produced by one of his as yet unfinished violins." If you had to wait around while they made 10^500 violins before getting one that is playable, you might be tempted to complain.
     
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2005
  4. Mar 16, 2005 #3
    Chronos
    I consider myself a non-partizan in this increasingly vocal and bitter debate, because I have the privilaged position of being outside the struggle for funds. I don't have tenure, position, or funding, and no expectation of receiving any, so all that attracts me to string theoy, and its close sibling theories such as LQG, is an intense curiosity. I have to admit that from this vantage, your attacks seem baseless, full of fury but containing no ideas to spark the imagination.

    You wrote:
    "To critics, like Woit, it is a disaster for string theory because the sheer number of estimated universes -- equal to the number one followed by 500 zeroes -- is unimaginably large. If true, it means that string theory is so flexible that it can be used to predict almost any kind of universe you want, no matter how crazy, and hence it predicts nothing specific enough to be scientifically interesting. "A theory that can't predict anything is not a scientific theory," Woit says.

    How transparent. A theory that embraces every possibility will obviously predict what has actually happened. "​

    The idea that every possible set of conditions has to occur in a system does not mean the system has to have sets of conditions that are not possible. You and Woit are trumpeting a false conclusion as if it negated the premise, which it does not. Multiverse theory, which by the way is a theoretical branching and not essential to string theory itself, does not in any sense predict impossible universes.

    The intensity of your annonymous attack, and its lack of content, make it a publicity campaign, not a scientific inquiry. Your suggestion in another thread that the elders in this community should step aside is not excused, IMHO, by your rather late reply, in that thread, that you were speaking figuratively. You put a brick through my figurative window on the world and then apologise by claiming it was only a manner of speech?

    Ignore this.

    Nightcleaner
     
  5. Mar 16, 2005 #4
    That is why the next breakthrough in physics will come from a non "brainwashed" person who has great abstract thinking capabilities.
     
  6. Mar 16, 2005 #5

    arivero

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    About "innovation", today I am enjoying the reading of an article from Salam,
    Rev. Mod. Phys. 52, 525-538 (1980), and it is astonishing thing to see how all the modern ideas were already planted in the seventies.
     
  7. Mar 16, 2005 #6

    selfAdjoint

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    Are you reading Salam in connection with Ingo Kirsch's paper http://www.arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/0503024 which you posted on Physics Comments and in which he uses Salam's methods from "back when" to derive spacetime from diffeomorphisms via broken symmetries?
     
  8. Mar 16, 2005 #7

    arivero

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    Well, I posted to PhC a pointer to Cabbi Glasses, which was the web actually commenting on Ingo. I was reading Salam more about the electroweak Higgs sector, but it is a bored afternoon, so I am going to take a read of Ingo too :-)
     
  9. Mar 16, 2005 #8
    I too am reasonably independant of the debate. I do not see his attacks as baseless or full of fury. Physics is a very practical science. Either you can predict results better than past theories or you can't. Whether your ideas spark the imagination is not meaningful.

    Currently, string physics predicts absolutely nothing at all. There really is no less useful a tool than one which cannot be used for anything. This does not mean it does not have potential, but given that our society has been funding it, we have the right to be critical of their obvious failures.
     
  10. Mar 16, 2005 #9

    marcus

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    Locrian, I think you make a very reasonable point here. I would add that traditionally scientific disciplines have been self-policing and that their internal checks and balances have usually limited the amount of hype and inadequately qualified claims. "Science is organized doubt" or words to that effect---I think it is a quote from feynmann---means that we have to cut some extra slack for the expression of skepticism. String-skeptics are performing an essential duty when they speak out: not only the Nobel grade physicists like Phil Anderson, Sheldon Glashow, Robert Laughlin, but also prominent non-laureates like Larry Krauss and Carlo Rovelli. This kind of scrutiny, even when it leads to acrimonious dispute, is an important and long-overdue self-regulating function.
     
  11. Mar 16, 2005 #10
    Locrian and Marcus
    I am not suggesting that string theory, or any other idea, should be held above criticism. I am just pointing out that the tone has gone from reasonable inquiry to gleeful personality bashing. Chronos seems to be continuing a poisen pen tactic which is motivated by envy and jealousy, and which uses innuendo. Worse, hos (he or she) is using faulty logic.

    This is a dark moment in the history of science. Funding of many programs, some of them productive, some 'merely' exploratory, has dried up. Once proud national laboratories like Los Alamos are falling into disrepute. Our space program, once the glory of our culture, is being abandoned. Hubble and Voyager, still capable of providing data, are left to die in place. To what benefit?

    It appears that Science is being attacked at the root, branch, and flower. Perhaps an ignorent and confused public is easier to control, or maybe faith based initiatives will feed luxuriously on a return to orphanages, boarding schools, poor houses and work farms. There is a Luddite mood in the nation, and I think that we who love knowlege and reason would do better to close ranks and defend the scientific tradition, rather than fight each other like starving dogs over what scraps remain in the trough.

    As a human being, I am proud of the achievements made by Ed Witten, Brian Greene, and the many others who were willing and able to make the steep ascent. I see little advantage to those of us in the lower camps to lob rocks at them. They climbed up there to get a better look, and they have reported what they have seen with skill and daring. Maybe the pinnacle they have climbed is not high enough to look over the horizon. Meanwhile, the useless rocks you are throwing are raining back down on our heads.

    There are young posters on this forum who think quantum mechanics is no better than Genesis at reporting reality. There are high school graduates who do not know who the major combatants were in the world wars, and they know even less about how lasers work or what makes their MP3 player tick so pretty. That is the threat we face, and we should fear.

    Mathematicians and theoreticians rarely live long enough to see their work bear fruit. But without mathematics and theory, there would be no science, and without science there would be no technology. I know people who think that would be a good thing. It does not help my discussions with them to have Chronos and others grinding axes. Instead, we should honor those who have given their lives to the attempt to see further.

    Bad theories, like bad governments, always fall eventually. We don't have to pull them down on our own heads. If you don't think string theory will stand, get out from under it. Don't stand there next to the trunk with a stupid grin and chop. Go find something better and help it grow. That's the only way to arrive at the overarching view.

    Grow a better theory. That's the only way we as a culture can get any better view. Then maybe you will be the one, finally, who sees what is over the horizon.

    If you can't be well, then please, at least try to be better.

    Richard.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 16, 2005
  12. Mar 16, 2005 #11
    Well, I see nowhere in this thread where Chronos did any personality bashing at all. You, on the other hand, accuse him of holding his opinions because of envy and jelousy.

    People have done science a great disservice by convincing large numbers of the populace that there is some reason to believe they are correct, when in fact there is no supporting evidence at all. This does great damage to science because it separates the theory from the observable. Are string physicists responsible for this, or are journalists? Or both?

    Skepticism can be healthy. I promise now to do as I have always done; whenever anyone proposes a new hypothesis to me, no matter their credentials nor their number, I will always ask: "What does this predict that we couldn't already, and what evidence is there for it?" If string physics cannot provide meaningful answers to those two questions, then I don't mind pulling that tent down,

    because I was never under it.
     
  13. Mar 16, 2005 #12

    marcus

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    we at PF (at least I speak for myself) are not important players and we can simply present our opinions without the need to attack each other. I believe we are saying who our heros are. It sounds like you admire Witten and Greene who "made the steep ascent". I am happy for you and will not quarrel with you about your choice of heros.

    I wish you would allow me to admire the courage of those who are now speaking out against what they see as the hyperbole and excess of string theorizing. My heros are not Witten and Gross: they havent spoken out.
    I admire Paul Steinhardt, a Princeton string theorist, who has. And I admire Nobel laureates like Philip Anderson and Sheldon Glashow (not to mention Bob Laughlin of Stanford)

    You say "bad governments always fall" but think back to the Velvet Revolution of the 1980s. Soviet dominance in eastern europe did not just fall by itself. It took a lot of courage for the people of Warsaw and Prague to oppose that dominance, some went to jail, some died, some had their careers destroyed and were forced into marginal jobs.

    String theorists in the US represent entrenched power in the physics faculties of the major universities and the institutions that control funding. I believe their grip is bad for the development of physics and it is not going to loosen by itself. the only way to curtail it is for people to speak out and don't fool yourself, those who do may be subject to retaliation in certain cases. So I applaud their guts.

    As far as science and education policy goes. I think honesty is the best policy and that openness is best for science in the long run. If string theorizing is unpredictive and largely overblown, then it will be best for science in the long run for people to be told about it.

    I don't see keeping it a secret from a bunch of highschool students "for their own good". Basically we are talking about the Baconian idea of empirical science----theory guided by experiment and observation. Better for those highschool students to be in solid with that basic principle than
    for them to get off on a diet of mostly fantasy.

    Anyway this is where I am coming from and that is why I applaud the
    string skeptics who are quoted in that SFChronicle piece (rather than
    the string apologists.)

    But you can do just the opposite, Richard, and i will not criticize you for it. We each have to choose for ourselves those we admire and respect
     
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2005
  14. Mar 16, 2005 #13
    Ok, thank you for the mildness of your reprimands. And I apologise directly to Chronos for my personal attack. I don't know why I would attack someone I have never met or had a conversation with, but communication is a two way street and I am not the only person who interprets my words. I know Chronos has made valuable contributions, and I wish him or her every success in the future.

    Richard
     
  15. Mar 17, 2005 #14

    Chronos

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    No apologies necessary. I didn't take it personally. The whole point of having these discussions is to air out issues. In our own way, we too are scientists. It is highly probable none of us will ever be famous. But I like to think we all have a voice and listen to each other. This forum would not be fun if we did not disagree. I respect and value your criticism. Your objections made me think. I'm not the least bit offended by that, that's why I'm here. Truce? I think it is vitally important we get these things out in the open and freely discuss what we disagree, and agree upon. I apologize to all and any I have offended on that count. I want to think outside the box, but in a disciplined and constructive way. I respect and have seriously considered what you have to say, Richard.
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2005
  16. Mar 17, 2005 #15
    Truce accepted. I hope always to work for peace and understanding. You have been gracious. I promise to try in future to keep my occasional irritability out of this forum.

    Thanks,

    Richard
     
  17. Mar 17, 2005 #16

    Ivan Seeking

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    Thanks for the demo folks. :rofl:
     
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