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

You guys don't actually believe any of this stuff, do you?

  1. Oct 12, 2008 #1
    What, with all the talk of branes, parallel Universes and other controversial hypotheses it makes it hard to have any confidence in the field of theoretical physics.
    Theoretical physics came to a standstill more or less with the introduction of the Standard Model, and even that model is built upon experimental result rather than actual theory. The last real "manly" theory was the General Relativity theory, which is now approaching its 1st Century.

    Don't you guys feel a sense of a lack of confidence in physics; that a radically advanced theory must be proposed that will finally explain things, such as entanglement, or provide a decent model for the Big Bang? Instead, we're getting dubious concepts like superstrings, branes and other absurd ideas that cannot be subject to the experiment, and that do not make heuristic or theoretical sense.

    Do you guys see the Ultimate Truth as ultimately elusive? That we as a species are just not evolved enough to learn the Secrets of the Universe? Secrets that go beyond relativity or particle physics?
    That it would take an artificially-intelligent computer with immense processing power to learn these secrets?

    Entanglement is a 30-year old mystery that has eluded some of the best minds our species can generate. At this point, I'm ready to give up. I'm ready to surrender any faith I have in our species ability to understand the Ultimate Truth.

    I just don't think we can do it.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 12, 2008 #2
    Also, when will we grow up? How long must we live with preposterous ideas like singularities, for example? "We don't understand anything even though we've committed the best minds in the field ever since Einstein proposed Relativity, so when matter collapses to the point where our equations fail us, we'll just call it a 'singularity' and call it a day."

    Is it just me, or is there anyone else who feels we are entering the 'Dark Ages' of theoretical physics?
  4. Oct 12, 2008 #3
    You're right. It's the Physics-pocalypse. Civilization is doomed.
  5. Oct 12, 2008 #4
    Piss poor attitude, to not understand something does not make it unanswerable, and all the more reason to investigate further. This is the most fundamental issue I have with religion, when confronted with a complex problem, the answer of religions is to chalk it up to god, allah whatever the flavor of the day, which is a sure way to get nothing accomplished.

    The strange spectral lines seen in atomic spectra were completely without an explanation before the quantum era, the answer to the problem from the religious side would be that "well, we don't understand these strange spectra, none of the physical theories can explain them, they must be from god." It just took some clever people with lots of patience and perseverance to figure out what is going on there.
  6. Oct 12, 2008 #5


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    It seems that the real difficulty you have is impatience. It seems you want us to know everything right now.
  7. Oct 13, 2008 #6


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    This thread is not about religion. Nor will it be. Unless you want it locked.
  8. Oct 13, 2008 #7


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Obviously we are not even close to understanding 'everything'. And if you do physics only because you want to understand 'everything', it just shows that you need to get a better perspective. It may not even be possible for us to know the 'ultimate truth', whatever that means; it's not even clear that there is such a thing that one can know.

    Superstrings and branes are not 'dubious concepts' or 'absurd ideas'. We may not be able to test string theory at the moment, but no one has shown that it can never be tested; that's just a myth. And it does make heuristic and theoretical sense, why do you think otherwise? If it didn't make any sense, people wouldn't be studying it, let alone some of the greatest physicists on the planet.

    You're ready to give up because entanglement is a 30 year old mystery? You are aware that physics has been going on for a while, and probably will go on for thousands of years to come (or more)? You can't expect all the mysteries to be solved in your lifetime.
  9. Oct 13, 2008 #8


    User Avatar

    For this to be a constructive statement, it begs the question "surrender to what"?

    Do you have a better, more promising idea?

    IMO, one of the virtues of life, is that it doesn't give up. Why? Because it doesn't have a choice if it's going to stay alive.

  10. Oct 13, 2008 #9


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    In many areas of science, the experimentalist still interprets his results - he is also the theorist. An experimentalist who interprets his results only in accord with his favourite model is usually considered biased. He has to discuss all models that are logically compatible with his results.

    In physics it is different because the logic is very difficult, and it is not immediately clear how to list and classify all models compatible with existing data. If the logic had been much easier, Einstein would be a biased experimentalist who only talked about his favourite model of General Relativity, and failed to discuss alternatives consistent with the data - and such alternatives do exist! The first consistent relativistic theory of gravity was actually Nordstrom's. This point is emphasized in Weiss's presentation: http://www.aapt-doorway.org/TGRUTalks/Weiss/WeissTalk1of9.htm [Broken]

    Experiment is crucial for theory. Where would we be, for example, without Tycho or Faraday or Michelson and Morley? As Isham says, "So the situation concerning experimental tests is not completely hopeless. But it is something we must continually strive to improve if studies in quantum gravity are not to become the 20th century equivalent of the medieval penchant for computing the cardinality of angels on pinheads: an ever-present danger at this extreme edge of modern theoretical physics!" (Ironically, since I meant to argue against you, this quote actually supports your point:rolleyes:) http://arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/9510063

    Anyway, there's still a chance the LHC doesn't find the Higgs ....
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  11. Oct 13, 2008 #10
    The ultimate truth has always been elusive. We are components of the system reasoning about the system. This has "paradox a la Godel" written all over it. To think that we could understand everything is terminally naive. But the human ego likes to feel in control of its destiny, and what better way is there to do so than creating accurate destiny-predicting theories.

    Really, if the standard model turns out to be as hugely accurate as we hope it should be, the next frontier will be in computation. Right now, that is the real bottle neck in physics. Our physical theory predicts everything imaginable, but we can't extract those predictions in any reasonable amount of time. Our theory can make useful predictions, but only in theory!

    If we're lucky (and the LHC might show us we're not), we may have come to the end of frontiers in physics. Is that a problem? The same thing happened with navigation a few hundred years ago. It turns out the Earth was round. After a while, every piece of useful land has already been explored and some rich man has already claimed ownership of it. Or maybe astronomy is a better analogy... nothing keeps us from seeing what happens far from Earth, but yet our ability to comprehend what the hell is going on is limited by the sheer vastness of what is in front of us.

    But the next step is to make sure our theory isn't going to waste. The limits of what we can smash together in an experiment are nowhere near as narrow as the limits of our ability to teach the theory of physics. Our world is dominated by people who have only the slightest, blurry understanding of physics and mathematics. I once met a guy who was so absolutely sure that relativity was nonsense, I almost lost it with him. His teacher had not properly explained it to him why relativity is undeniably true, and he decided from this that it must be nonsense. There are millions of people like this, though. People who reap the benefits of technology, brought into existence by the study of physics, but who sharply deny parts of the theory. (For example, I'm sure that kid probably has a personal GPS by now, which requires corrections for relativity).

    I think that one sorely needed advance is to bring the barrier of physics and math education down. There is absolutely no excuse why anyone in our modern era should be allowed to deny the theories of relativity, quantum mechanics, or to confuse them with pseudoscience ******** that is so popular on the Internet and at bookstores. The math is hard, but even a qualitative understanding would do. In this world, if you are seeking truth in how the world works, physics is king and his principle advisor is mathematics.
  12. Oct 13, 2008 #11
    The fact that a rational and realistic accounting of paradoxes that mystify has not yet been produced is not evidence that one cannot be produced.

    And when a complete solution might come forward is not something that can be predicted, therefore neither can an doubtful “Dark Age of Physics” by predicted or assumed.
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2008
  13. Oct 13, 2008 #12
    In all my years, there's one thing I noticed, and that's that people are good at picking up on things quickly. For example, Gabor invented holography in 1947. In 13 long years, not a single transmission hologram was created. But what happens when the he/ne laser gets invented? Yep! Two short years later, people are making hi-resolution transmission holograms! Kodak invents the reflection hologram a couple years ofter that.
    Ditto for Relativity. The M/M experiment fails to detect the ether, and what happens? Yep! That's right. Less than two decades later, two Physicists not just one came up with the most revolutionary idea in physics: Special Relativity. When impurities were doped in silicon, the 1948 patent on the transistor soon followed. When controlled chain nuclear reactions were performed in a lab, five short years later we were detonating fission bombs in the desert. I could go on and on andon andon andon andon and...

    But we have had this pesky entanglement phenomena without explination now for almost 1/2 a Century. We've had the singularity problem now for almost an entire Century. We have no clue whatsoever with regards to what happened to the known Universe before 100,000 years after it's predicted creation; only absurd theory, and what's so lol-sad is that we didn't even predict our Universe was made up of 85% dark matter; we discovered dark matter by accident!

    85% of our known Universe wasn't even predicted by theory. If this isn't pathetic, I don't know what is! We had the internet, microprocessors, relativity, microbiology and we were utterly unaware that we were only looking at 15% of the Universe whenever we pointed our telescopes into interstellar space. It took a freak accident for us to learn otherwise.

    This isn't an issue of impatience; it's a fundamental problem with our learning curve!

    Physics seems to be entering a very long and fruitless, unprofitable stage: The Dark Age of physics.
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2008
  14. Oct 13, 2008 #13
    But strong evidence that there's a problem with our learning curve and that there is a limit being placed on what we can learn is evidenced by the fact that for over five decades the brightest people our species has to offer have been assigned to the work. The result? Dark matter. Discovered. By accident no less.
    Very, very sad.
  15. Oct 13, 2008 #14
    Wrong. Carl Sagan advocated it, but the idea is trumped by Einstein's famous saying: "Physicists aren't made; they're born."
  16. Oct 13, 2008 #15
    It may be 85% by mass perhaps, but by other measures, dark matter is barely a spec of nothing. To turn your argument around, we have internet, microprocessors, relativity, and microbiology all without needing a single particle of dark matter to realize it.

    It's called a learning "curve" for a reason. It isn't a straight line. Discoveries and breakthroughs are more accidents than anything else. Einstein wasn't the greatest genius or the hardest working scientist of all time, but his efforts were all directed at the right problem (relativity) and he was hugely successful in that area. But on the other end of his work, his dealings with quantum theory, he worked just as hard, but his approach to the theory was completely wrong, and he was left feeling uneasy and distrustful of the results of his own work.

    Don't be so horribly bleak about it. Is almost-perfect understanding of nature the sign of a dark age? A more adequate analogy is that we have run out of frontier. There are no more amateur scientists in the world. That may be a sad thing to some, but we have such a good understanding of how nature works compared to a hundred years ago. And to people a hundred years ago, we would be mightier than lesser demigods.

    Wrong. Carl Sagan had a more modern view of the world, and so what he says trumps Einstein.

    Not really of course. It's stupid to seek truth based solely on authority. Einstein was smart, but that doesn't mean everything he said was correct. Especially not philosophical comments like the one above.

    I'm not advocating making every student a student of physics. I'm saying that it is important to bring down the barrier to education. To make an example, algebra used to be something that was only studied at the university level, but is now taught to all students in all major countries in middle school. For physics, the major stumbling block is calculus. It is taught inefficiently, carrying four hundred years of "emotional baggage". I remember spending about a month on learning "trig" identities in calculus, but how many times have I ever had to find the integral of arcsine or cotangent? And every time I see "+ C" tacked onto the end of an indefinite integral, I want to shoot someone. That "+ C" is there to get you the right answer without paying more than passing respect to *why* it comes about or what it is!

    Physics is an old subject. Language changes. Theories have are debunked and unified. There's a lot of "junk" floating around for historical reasons. I'm saying it would help to clean up that historical junk and give future generation a clean, in-focus vision of how physics works.
  17. Oct 13, 2008 #16
    One thing is certain. Human beings have an incredible capacity for imagination. That's why when you walk into a book store or a library the bookshelfs are dominated with fiction. We just love to make stuff up. Scientists are no different in that regard, first they make a hypothesis. But what separates scientists and non-scientists is that they go an extra mile to do an experiment to prove or disprove the hypothesis. Sometimes something completely unexpected can show up. That's normal. We are not perfect. After an experiment has been performed we will have a greater confidence that what we are dealing with is valid or not. Otherwise you risk yourself believing in something made up by someone out of the blue.
  18. Oct 13, 2008 #17
    ...how many other five-decade periods in human history are you comparing this to, that it's coming out so unfavorably? I think there can be at most a single other five-decade period you're getting all in a huff about.

    This seems to me a very Wall Street or American corporate attitude to take towards science - "We gotta make the quarter-century numbers so the board doesn't see a big drop from Q1! Volume, people, volume!"

    Another thing is that many people would say that Ultimate Truth isn't by any means the point or domain of science. That's more the domain of religion or philosophy and theoretical physics has definitely beat out the progress in those two spheres during the past five decades.
  19. Oct 13, 2008 #18


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Hear hear. BT is looking at the knowledge of man through a microscope when he should be looking at it through a telescope.

    BT, do you also feel that evolution has "stopped" because you don't see cheetahs evolving eight-legged running during your lifetime? Preposterous analogy of course, but I'm not as eloquent as Quasar was.
  20. Oct 13, 2008 #19


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    "This thread is not about religion. Nor will it be. Unless you want it locked."

    I don't think the poster who commented on the "problem with religion" was looking to bring it in: it was (to me) either a general comment or a reference to the name of the O.P.

    (And no, I don't want to introduce religion into science or get this post shut down either).
  21. Oct 13, 2008 #20
    That is quite the self-centered and elitist remark to be made by a guy as humble as Einstein always showed himself to be.
    That is one particular bit of “Stuff” I don’t believe can be attributed to Einstein.
    For me you will need a pretty solid reference on where and when, including the context he made such a remark to believe that.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook