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Wilczek: Enlightenment, Knowledge, Ignorance, Temptation

  1. Dec 14, 2005 #1


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    Enlightenment, Knowledge, Ignorance, Temptation
    Frank Wilczek
    10 pages, 5 figures. Summary talk at "Expectations of a Final Theory'', Trinity College, Cambridge, September 2005

    "I discuss the historical and conceptual roots of reasoning about the parameters of fundamental physics and cosmology based on selection effects. I argue concretely that such reasoning can and should be combined with arguments based on symmetry and dynamics; it supplements them, but does not replace them."
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  3. Dec 14, 2005 #2


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    ---sample exerpts---
    ...With those words and images in mind, let me lament our prospective losses, if we adopt anthropic or statistical selection arguments too freely:

    1. Loss of precision:
    I don’t see any realistic prospect that anthropic or statistical selection arguments – applied to a single sampling! – will ever lead to anything comparable in intellectual depth and numerical precision to what these icons represent. In that sense, intrusion of selection arguments into foundational physics and cosmology really does, to me, represent a genuine lowering of expectations.

    2. Loss of targets:
    Because the standard models of fundamental physics and cosmology describe the world so well, a major part of what ideas going beyond those standard models could aspire to achieve, for improving our understanding of the world, would be to fix the values of their remaining free parameters. If we compromise on that aspiration, there will be much less about the physical world for fundamental theory to target.

    Of course, physicists have had to adjust their expectations before. In the development of Copernican-Newtonian celestial mechanics attractive a priori ideas about the perfect shape of planetary orbits (Ptolemy) and their origin in pure geometry (Kepler) had to be sacrificed. In the development of quantum mechanics, ideas of strict determinism (Einstein) had to be sacrificed.

    In those cases, sacrifice of appealing philosophical ideas was compensated by the emergence of powerful theories that described many specific features of the natural world and made surprising, impressive predictions. In America we have the saying “No pain, no gain.” There’s a big difference, however, between those episodes and the present one.

    Resort to anthropic reasoning involves plenty of pain, as I’ve lamented, but so far the gain has been relatively meagre, to say the least. Even if we can’t be precise in our predictions of fundamental parameters, we can still aspire to clear thinking. Specifically, we can try to be clear concerning what it is we can or can’t be precise about. In this way we can limit our losses, or at least sharpen our discussion. In that spirit, I’d like to suggest a chart (Figures 4 and 5) that draws some helpful boundaries....

  4. Dec 17, 2005 #3


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    Max Tegmark at Not Even Wrong

    Peter Woit started a thread on a talk he heard Wilczek give which covered the material in this paper ("Enlightenment, ..., Temptation")


    Both the talk and the paper are closely intertwined with the "31 Dimensionless Constants" paper that Wilczek recently signed his name to along with Max Tegmark and others.

    Dimensionless constants, cosmology and other dark matters
    Max Tegmark (MIT), Anthony Aguirre (UCSC), Martin Rees (Cambridge), Frank Wilczek (MIT)
    29 pages, 12 figs
    "We identify 31 dimensionless physical constants required by particle physics and cosmology, and emphasize that both microphysical constraints and selection effects might help elucidate their origin...."

    We had a thread about that paper here:

    so Tegmark is part of the discussion and he just showed up at Woit's blog

    Tegmark comes in around post #73 on that thread, currently 4 from the end
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2005
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