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Insights Why Won't You Look at My New Theory? - Comments

  1. Apr 8, 2016 #1

    PeterDonis

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  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 8, 2016 #2

    Borg

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    Nice article PeterDonis. I liked the reasons why nonscientists choose B over A. From the crackpot threads that I've seen, it often seems that the basic motivation for them is wanting to be famous for coming up with a new theory - regardless of how little sense their theory makes. Some of them do go to great lengths to 'prove' themselves but they really don't know even the basics.
     
  4. Apr 8, 2016 #3

    Dale

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    Excellent Insight!

    I don't know if it would fit in with this Insight, but I have always found it interesting how scientists and nonscientists view the status of a theory in the light of contradictory evidence. The example of Mercury is relevant.

    Nonscientists tend to categorize theories as "right" or "wrong". So regardless of how many experiments confirm a theory, a single counterexample (of type B) makes it "wrong". In this sense confirmatory evidence is considered much weaker than contradictory evidence.

    Scientists tend to think in terms of domains of applicability. A counterexample (of type B) does not destroy all of the supporting evidence, it simply places a limit on the domain where we believe that the theory applies. Newtonian gravity is not "wrong" but it only applies in a certain region of experimental conditions and can be inaccurate outside that domain.

    A couple of nice features of the scientific "domain of applicability" view are that it places value on both confirmatory and contradictory evidence. It also applies well to the type A contradictions. Since we never know the entire state of the whole universe, whenever we attempt to apply a theory to a scenario we always use some simplifying assumptions. A type A contradiction tells us that our simplifications have some limited domain of applicability. Even if the theory still applies, some previously neglected term is no longer negligible in this new domain.
     
  5. Apr 8, 2016 #4
    This is absolutely true. The scientific definition and use of a theory is vastly different than what a layman thinks. To many layman, theory means a "guess" which could have conceivably come by way of day dreaming. It's immensely frustrating.

    There is also much confusion over the difference of a theory and a law.
     
  6. Apr 8, 2016 #5
    btw, great Insight Peter!
     
  7. Apr 8, 2016 #6

    sophiecentaur

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    A good bit of writing there, Peter! I enjoyed it a lot.
    I know I can be a grumpy old devil but my 'explanation' of the attraction of the type B theory for the non-Scientist is that it takes away the guilt about not having the basics. If the next successful theory that comes along, turns the existing stuff upside down then the (implied) lazy non-Scientist can feel that it would have been a waste of time to get to grips with the 'old stuff' because it no longer applies. This is, of course, a ridiculous attitude in the case of nearly all Physics and Chemistry and all but a very few theories in Biology. As mentioned previously, all the brilliant workers who broke new ground, had been through the mill and knew all the basics well enough to make a valid extra step which allowed them to come up with something radical.
    But there is no pleasing the Public. They all love what they know about Edison and his many inventions but a lot of his success come from very long winded and painstaking series of measurements. Likewise they are highly appreciative about the Pharmaceutical Industry, in which many valuable products are the result of a vast amount of precise trial and error.
     
  8. Apr 8, 2016 #7

    PeterDonis

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    Actually, in my terminology, this would be an example of a type B situation. As you say, one could view the discrepancy in the orbit of Mercury this way: Newtonian gravity was almost right for the Solar System, but there happened to be an extra term (the perihelion precession that GR puts there) that became non-negligible when Mercury's orbit was measured accurately enough.

    A type A contradiction, as I am using that term, is a situation in which there is no new term at all--nothing needs to be changed in the current theory. The discrepancy is due to either a problem with the data, or a problem with the calculations based on the current theory.
     
  9. Apr 8, 2016 #8

    ogg

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    I'm not sure I agree with the OP. Could you confirm that Newtonian Gravitation (with instantaneous interactions) is consistent (with classical physics ca 1890-1900)? My impression is that "neo"Newtonian Gravity (finite speed of c & force) is quite consistent with the Solar System's orbital mechanics - is this right or wrong? Anyway, I think that the OP confuses theory with model predictions using that theory. Epicycles comes to mind as an example where a theory's inconsistency with observation were "swept under the rug" by "just" adding more circles to the model. We need to be humble enough to always be aware that NONE of our theories have universal domain of applicability - with the corallary that we are ALWAYS considering a specific (sub)domain when considering any theory. So, the idea of consistency is nebulous at best. BTW, how many (and which) of our theories are confirmed at an accuracy of 99.9999% ??? (as opposed to a few predictions being confirmed at that level, with most not). Finally, could you provide a citation for Einstein's "poor" grades? (and the reason why this thread isn't philosophy? LOL:)
     
  10. Apr 8, 2016 #9

    ZapperZ

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    And just in case people missed it, I will highlight it once again of Helen Quinn's wonderful article in Physics Today back in 2007 that addressed the same issue with regards to the difference in the language used in physics/science and in everyday terms:

    https://ned.ipac.caltech.edu/level5/March07/Quinn/Quinn.html

    This essay, to me, is a must-read for everyone.

    Zz.
     
  11. Apr 8, 2016 #10

    ProfuselyQuarky

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    It seems to me that the mentors are gushing over this article because they have to deal with crackpots first hand all the time :smile:

    Anyway, this was a great article. I’m probably going to print it out and share it with my physics class (I’m thinking of very specific classmates, btw).
     
  12. Apr 8, 2016 #11

    Dale

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    This is what I meant by a previously neglected term. One where the existing theory already includes a term that we just neglected in our analysis because we incorrectly assumed that it was too small to matter. Such as the additional terms due to other planets in the moon example. Those terms are small but not always negligible.

    Perhaps a different word than "term" would be better, but one isn't coming to mind.
     
  13. Apr 8, 2016 #12

    klotza

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    One thing I've wondered: suppose somebody is not crazy, but is also not in the physics community, but has read a lot and think they have come up with something new. How do they get people to read it, to help them figure out whether their idea is right or wrong? Pretty much every serious online physics community has rules against this. They can write up a paper and submit it to a journal, but the role of peer review isn't really to be a first-pass vet of peoples' ideas, and a person not in the field will likely have papers rejected pretty quickly. So where should non-crazy people turn to, to get help?
     
  14. Apr 8, 2016 #13
    Is it wrong to say, if you are this interested in a subject, why are you not studying at an education institution which would have the resources you'd need?
     
  15. Apr 8, 2016 #14

    PeterDonis

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    Of course. What do you think prompted me to write it in the first place? :wink:

    Seriously, although this issue does come up on PF, and Mentors are exposed to it more than other members, I don't think it's confined to PF. I encounter similar misconceptions in other discussion forums, and I'm sure others do too.
     
  16. Apr 8, 2016 #15

    PeterDonis

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    Are we to also suppose that this person has the same level of understanding of current physical theories as, for example, Einstein had when he submitted his historic papers for publication in 1905? If the answer is "yes", then in the course of gaining that understanding, that person is virtually certain to have gotten the attention of someone who can validate that their idea is worth publishing, and help to get it approved for publication. (Einstein, even though he had been out of academia for several years in 1905, had plenty of contacts that were disposed to take him seriously.)

    If the answer is "no", then the obvious advice is to fix that problem first. That will do two things: (1) it will help them to evaluate whether the idea they think is new and worth considering, really is (the vast majority of the time, it won't be); and (2) it will, as above, give them the contacts they need to get their idea seriously considered.
     
  17. Apr 8, 2016 #16

    Dale

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    Maybe Brian Greene?

    But seriously, people need to form and rely on their own personal networks.

    If I had produced a piece of music that I thought should be "mainstream" then I would talk with my professional musician friends. They are professionals and could give me substantive feedback and information, but they are also friends so they will be willing to at least hear it.

    I think that it is unreasonable to expect strangers to be willing to spend a substantial amount of professional effort for a 0% likelihood of personal benefit. One of the reasons that PF exists is because we minimize exactly that kind of expectation.
     
  18. Apr 8, 2016 #17

    ZapperZ

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    I also seriously question the odds that these people will actually produce anything worthwhile. I haven't seen it for as long as I can remember. So then are we trying to find a solution to a non-existing problem? Or is this a solution waiting for a problem?

    Zz.
     
  19. Apr 8, 2016 #18

    john baez

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    Yes. Maxwell's equations of electromagnetism are not consistent with pre-special-relativity ideas about how things should look in a moving frame of reference, but that's a separate matter. Newtonian gravitation is perfectly consistent with these ideas. In fact it's the best theory that uses these ideas.

    If you say the gravitational force moves at the speed of light and obeys a "delayed" force law, conservation of angular momentum breaks down. In other words, suppose each a particle is attracted to where it would see each other particle was, feeling an inverse square force. Then the particles are not attracted toward their current center of mass! This means angular momentum is not conserved. Orbits would spiral down.

    This effect is big enough that we can be sure by now that's not how things work. Interestingly, in general relativity this effect does not occur, even though nothing can move faster than light!

    For details see the physics FAQ:
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2016
  20. Apr 8, 2016 #19

    sophiecentaur

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    If you have something worth saying then it will not be just out of the blue. Einstein had a track record and so does anyone who can break new ground. If they haven't done the established stuff to a reasonable level then anything that they come up with is little better than monkeys and typewriters. If they introduce a 'glimmer' of something worth while then how will it ever be spotted amongst all the rubbish that they compete with? We just have to wait a bit for someone else to have the idea. It will happen.
     
  21. Apr 8, 2016 #20
    This is a ridiculous question. There are so many reasons not to, all specific to different people.
     
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