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jordanz

Criticism of String Theory in The New Yorker

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The modern era of particle physics was empirical; theory developed in concert with experiment. The standard model may be ugly, but it works, so presumably it is at least an approximation of the truth. In the postmodern era, we are told, aesthetics must take over where experiment leaves off. Since string theory does not deign to be tested directly, its beauty must be the warrant of its truth.

[...]

The usual excuse offered for sticking with what increasingly looks like a failed program is that no one has come up with any better ideas for unifying physics. But Smolin and Woit have a different explanation, one that can be summed up in the word "sociology." Both are worried that academic physics has become dangerously like what the social constructivists have long charged it with being: a community that is no more rational or objective than any other group of humans. String theorists dominate the country's top physics departments. At the Institute for Advanced Study, the director and nearly all of the particle physicists with permanent positions are string theorists. Eight of the nine MacArthur fellowships awarded to particle physicists over the years have gone to string theorists. Since the fall-off in academic hiring in the nineteen-seventies, the average age of tenured physics professors has reached nearly sixty. Every year, around eighty people receive Ph.D.s in particle physics, but only around ten of them can expect to get permanent jobs in the field. In this hypercompetitive environment, the only hope for a young theoretical physicist is to curry favor by solving a set problem in string theory.

[...]

Smolin deplores what he considers to be the shoddy scientific standards that prevail in the string-theory community, where long-standing but unproved conjectures are assumed to be true because "no sensible person"—that is, no member of the tribe—doubts them.

[...]

The initiators of the dual revolution a century ago—Einstein, Bohr, Schrödinger, Heisenberg—were deep thinkers, or "seers." They confronted questions about space, time, and matter in a philosophical way. The new theories they created were essentially correct. But, Smolin writes, "the development of these theories required a lot of hard technical work, and so for several generations physics was 'normal science' and was dominated by master craftspeople." Today, the challenge of unifying those theories will require another revolution, one that mere virtuoso calculators are ill-equipped to carry out. "The paradoxical situation of string theory—so much promise, so little fulfillment—is exactly what you get when a lot of highly trained master craftspeople try to do the work of seers," Smolin writes.

(UNSTRUNG, by JIM HOLT, Issue of 2006-10-02, Posted 2006-09-25) (Bold added)

Very Interesting! An interesting standard of truth: a theory's aesthetic qualities and what "sensible people" sanction. An interesting social dynamic: social status, relative to a culture dominated by a particular perspective, is the primary determinant of success in one's occupation as a physicist, rather than ingenuity and innovation (i.e.: some objective standard of productivity); mathematical craftspeople, as the social elite, determining the advancement of potential visionaries who are evaluated from the perspective of, and who might produce a vision contrary to, the life's work of the mathematical craftspeople. An interesting view of the role of philosophy in theoretical physics: the philosophical physicists are the visionaries that lead the direction and (I can't help myself) the imagination of the master craftspeople so skilled at mathematics. Is the apparent impotence of string theory and the absence of any new innovation the result of modern physics stripping away the value of the visual imagination and the philosophical language used to express and manipulate it? Isn't this closely related to what we have been discussing on the "Imagination and Causality in Quantum Physics, The Epistemology of Bohr, Einstein and Rand" thread?

As I said, "Very interesting!"

Thanks for the article Jordan.

Paul

Edited by Paul Mawdsley

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Jordanz:

~ THIS is one of the most interesting and 'thought-provoking' summaries (especially for a mag 'column'!) of present day physics in QM, Relativity, and 'String-"Theory"' I've read. I could comment a lot about varied points he brings up, but shan't here. I'll merely say that any who have been even only a bit 'up' on many of the goings-on in this cosmological-cum-astrophysics-cum-'philosophical'-(cum-political?)-funding-biased territory, will find many parts of this quite funny...intentionally, methinks by the writer. He clearly has a knowledgeable background on all this 'ethereal' stuff...and, the behind-the-scenes workings of who gets help (if not specifically from what kind of 'whom') to continue their favored projects.

~ Ok; I gotta make *1* side comment: Re his point about 'beauty and harmony' being a (as I see it) 'holy grail' many String-'Theorists' are oriented at...I can't help but think of one of Robert Heinlein's books, J.O.B. I also can't help but think, given what I've read on such so far, that, all probs nwst, such 'theorists' really are on to something; just didn't get there yet. (Ok; I've spelled out my bias.)

~ An aside: I see all these probs (whether S-T proves valid or not) akin to all the probs AI seems to have also had over the decades. Optimism with chronic reasons to decrease it.

LLAP

J:D

P.S: (sigh...)

Paul:

~ Just after I posted this I read that you beat me to the 1st commenting.

~ You're comments are interesting...as usual. I'd respond specifically, but, I'll hold off 'till I get into your specific thread you named (I've printed the 13-page sucker out and am going over it; damn: I still got to get back to BB's Rage-thread! I hate these distracting-interruptions!) --- Well, ok; I got to comment on 1 'specific' re the "...impotence of String Theory..." (beyond that it's even improperly called 'a' "theory" to begin with)...Al's Relativity can be considered JUST as 'impotent' re explanatoriness/predictability re particle-physics/QM, no? A-N-D, very especially, vice-versa. True, the article pointed up the stress (via 'funding') given to elite 'craftsmen' and none to 'visionaries' (oh, like Von Daniken??) 'Visionaries' are a dime-a-dozen, if you get my drift. How to separate wheat-from-chaff there...oh, my. Glad *I*'m not the 'decider' re who's the next Hawking-or-Einstein-to-get-my-help_vs._all-the-rest-of-best-intentioned-ignoramusi.

Edited by John Dailey

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You're kidding me? This topic had been here for almost a year and only touched twice?

This is a beautiful, well written article, that explains my perspective in relation to string theory/M theory better than I could have done.

I have been a long time independant physicist for some time now, studying Quantum Mechanics, Relativity, and string theory. I am very familiar with all of the mathmatics involved, but I do have a limit as to what I will believe.

Stephen Hawking's book 'A Brief History of Time' tackles ALL of these topics in a very accessible manner, and I've read it over 50 times, and I believe he is doubtful of m-theory's relevance in physics.

String theory is completely and utterly ridiculous. Sure, the math works, but its math is so unneccesary and long that, on first glance, I thought string theory was some sort of theoretical physics joke.

It seems most every influential theoretical physics 'seer' has defined the revolution he initiated with one equation--Einstein, Hawking, etc.

String theory has yet to produce anything observable, usable, or valuable, for that matter.

These physicists just have boners because they think that since string theory cant really be falsified that it must be right. They are so aroused by the concepts of string theory that they often, actually, VERY often overlook the senseless implications that string theory makes:

9 dimensions? Strings? Membranes? Blobs?

What the fuck?

All of this shit that is string/m theory these people are just pulling out of their asses.

Its as if physics has become a religion--A theological movement that preaches that you can only be saved if you believe that string theory died on the cross to save you from your dumbass assertions that the eath was the center of the universe.

Edited by Dodger

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You're kidding me? This topic had been here for almost a year and only touched twice?

This is a beautiful, well written article, that explains my perspective in relation to string theory/M theory better than I could have done.

I have been a long time independant physicist for some time now, studying Quantum Mechanics, Relativity, and string theory. I am very familiar with all of the mathmatics involved, but I do have a limit as to what I will believe.

Stephen Hawking's book 'A Brief History of Time' tackles ALL of these topics in a very accessible manner, and I've read it over 50 times, and I believe he is doubtful of m-theory's relevance in physics.

String theory is completely and utterly ridiculous. Sure, the math works, but its math is so unneccesary and long that, on first glance, I thought string theory was some sort of theoretical physics joke.

It seems most every influential theoretical physics 'seer' has defined the revolution he initiated with one equation--Einstein, Hawking, etc.

String theory has yet to produce anything observable, usable, or valuable, for that matter.

These physicists just have boners because they think that since string theory cant really be falsified that it must be right. They are so aroused by the concepts of string theory that they often, actually, VERY often overlook the senseless implications that string theory makes:

9 dimensions? Strings? Membranes? Blobs?

What the fuck?

All of this shit that is string/m theory these people are just pulling out of their asses.

Its as if physics has become a religion--A theological movement that preaches that you can only be saved if you believe that string theory died on the cross to save you from your dumbass assertions that the eath was the center of the universe.

Dodger, you are 17 years old?

--Brant

Edited by Brant Gaede

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You're kidding me? This topic had been here for almost a year and only touched twice?

This is a beautiful, well written article, that explains my perspective in relation to string theory/M theory better than I could have done.

I have been a long time independant physicist for some time now, studying Quantum Mechanics, Relativity, and string theory. I am very familiar with all of the mathmatics involved, but I do have a limit as to what I will believe.

Stephen Hawking's book 'A Brief History of Time' tackles ALL of these topics in a very accessible manner, and I've read it over 50 times, and I believe he is doubtful of m-theory's relevance in physics.

String theory is completely and utterly ridiculous. Sure, the math works, but its math is so unneccesary and long that, on first glance, I thought string theory was some sort of theoretical physics joke.

It seems most every influential theoretical physics 'seer' has defined the revolution he initiated with one equation--Einstein, Hawking, etc.

String theory has yet to produce anything observable, usable, or valuable, for that matter.

These physicists just have boners because they think that since string theory cant really be falsified that it must be right. They are so aroused by the concepts of string theory that they often, actually, VERY often overlook the senseless implications that string theory makes:

9 dimensions? Strings? Membranes? Blobs?

What the fuck?

All of this shit that is string/m theory these people are just pulling out of their asses.

Its as if physics has become a religion--A theological movement that preaches that you can only be saved if you believe that string theory died on the cross to save you from your dumbass assertions that the eath was the center of the universe.

Dodger, you are 17 years old?

--Brant

Yes indeed.

I apologize for my emotion filled post (I can write better), but its just I'm so sick of theoretical physics being tainted with these...morons.

It is one of my goals to eventually get a Ph. D in theoretical physics, but the more I hear about what these Ph. D holders are wasting their time doing, sometimes I think it would be more productive to be independant.

Brant, are you interested in hearing some of my physics endeavours? :)

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You're kidding me? This topic had been here for almost a year and only touched twice?

This is a beautiful, well written article, that explains my perspective in relation to string theory/M theory better than I could have done.

I have been a long time independant physicist for some time now, studying Quantum Mechanics, Relativity, and string theory. I am very familiar with all of the mathmatics involved, but I do have a limit as to what I will believe.

Stephen Hawking's book 'A Brief History of Time' tackles ALL of these topics in a very accessible manner, and I've read it over 50 times, and I believe he is doubtful of m-theory's relevance in physics.

String theory is completely and utterly ridiculous. Sure, the math works, but its math is so unneccesary and long that, on first glance, I thought string theory was some sort of theoretical physics joke.

It seems most every influential theoretical physics 'seer' has defined the revolution he initiated with one equation--Einstein, Hawking, etc.

String theory has yet to produce anything observable, usable, or valuable, for that matter.

These physicists just have boners because they think that since string theory cant really be falsified that it must be right. They are so aroused by the concepts of string theory that they often, actually, VERY often overlook the senseless implications that string theory makes:

9 dimensions? Strings? Membranes? Blobs?

What the fuck?

All of this shit that is string/m theory these people are just pulling out of their asses.

Its as if physics has become a religion--A theological movement that preaches that you can only be saved if you believe that string theory died on the cross to save you from your dumbass assertions that the eath was the center of the universe.

Dodger, you are 17 years old?

--Brant

Yes indeed.

I apologize for my emotion filled post (I can write better), but its just I'm so sick of theoretical physics being tainted with these...morons.

It is one of my goals to eventually get a Ph. D in theoretical physics, but the more I hear about what these Ph. D holders are wasting their time doing, sometimes I think it would be more productive to be independant.

Brant, are you interested in hearing some of my physics endeavours? :)

Sure, but I won't be commenting much if any, for I am not competent in physics.

I'd be much more interested in your sequential educational/intellectual biography.

My late friend Petr Beckmann wrote a book called "Einstein Plus 2" in which he purportedly debunks Relativity. He also founded "Galilean Electrodynamics," an anti-Einsteinian journal, which might still be published. While a physicist on this site, Dragonfly, thinks such is nuts, if Petr didn't do the job I doubt if it can be done--that is, Relativity is valid. Jack Wheeler, not a physicist, but smart and knowledgeable, thinks Einstein's mistake was not the theory but the title of the theory. He thinks Einstein should have called it "The Cosmological Constant"--i.e., re the speed of light.

Petr was a friend of Edward Teller, "The Father of the Hydrogen Bomb." Teller did not subscribe to Petr's viewpoint.

--Brant

Edited by Brant Gaede

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Yes indeed.

I apologize for my emotion filled post (I can write better), but its just I'm so sick of theoretical physics being tainted with these...morons.

There are no morons earning PhDs in theoretical physics. The math requirement alone makes that impossible. However some of these folk are very misled if they think beauty is a substitute for empirical soundness. The first requirement of a scientific theory is internal coherence (i.e. logical consistency). The second requirement is that the theory make testable quantitative predictions. The third requirement is that experiments support the predictions of the theory and non falsify a prediction of the theory. If a physics theory is not testable then it is of dubious value.

Ba'al Chatzaff

Edited by BaalChatzaf

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By testing components of the theory you do test the theory. Unless you have a better theory which also is in agreement with those tests, the theory is confirmed. What more do you want? That the theory is complete so that we can't learn anything new? That is not relevant. In science you never arrive at final conclusions, if that would be the case we could shut down our universities. We were not talking about the completeness of theories, but about the testability of them.

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By testing components of the theory you do test the theory. Unless you have a better theory which also is in agreement with those tests, the theory is confirmed. What more do you want? That the theory is complete so that we can't learn anything new? That is not relevant. In science you never arrive at final conclusions, if that would be the case we could shut down our universities. We were not talking about the completeness of theories, but about the testability of them.

Dragonfly,.

OK. If you say so.

I still think it is weird to say, "We don't what happened before the beginning of time" and call that science, a tested scientific theory, or even logic.

Also, could you please point me to some tests on the origins of species? I have seen some things about genetic mutations and genetic engineering, but has the origin of a new species (of any life form) actually been developed in a lab or observed or tested?

Michael

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By testing components of the theory you do test the theory. Unless you have a better theory which also is in agreement with those tests, the theory is confirmed. What more do you want? That the theory is complete so that we can't learn anything new? That is not relevant. In science you never arrive at final conclusions, if that would be the case we could shut down our universities. We were not talking about the completeness of theories, but about the testability of them.

Dragonfly,.

OK. If you say so.

I still think it is weird to say, "We don't what happened before the beginning of time" and call that science, a tested scientific theory, or even logic.

Also, could you please point me to some tests on the origins of species? I have seen some things about genetic mutations and genetic engineering, but has the origin of a new species (of any life form) actually been developed in a lab or observed or tested?

Michael

Jesus, Michael. If we don't know we don't know! There can't be a theory about it. There can't be science, only no room for science until we get some observations.

--Brant

Edited by Brant Gaede

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Jesus, Michael. If we don't know we don't know! There can't be a theory about it. There can't be science, only no room for science until we get some observations.

Brant,

What does that have to do with what we are discussing? We are talking about testing.

Of course what we don't know a lot. Is it any crime to say we have been unable to test what we don't know?

Michael

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Testing a theory about some phenomenon does not necessarily imply that you have to reproduce that phenomenon. We can test theories about stars without putting a star in a laboratory and we can test the theory of evolution without creating new species in the laboratory. The possibility of comparing genetic sequences of different animals was for example a magnificent confirmation of the classical theory with its phylogenetic tree. See for example here and here.

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Dragonfly,

Thank you for the links. I only skimmed over them so far and I will read them more carefully a little later (I have to go out right now). From what I was able to gather, they deal with studying existing species (that do not change into another species, at least so far) and fossils.

One would think that with an estimated 30 to 50 million species (with 1.4 million already known), and with the ease of manipulating genes within a species, detecting the origin of a new species would be easier.

Michael

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One would think that with an estimated 30 to 50 million species (with 1.4 million already known), and with the ease of manipulating genes within a species, detecting the origin of a new species would be easier.

That is a misconception. You never can see the origin of a new species in real time, the emergence of a new species is something that can only be inferred much later. See for an explanation Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea Chapter 4.3: Retrospective Coronations:Mitochondrial Eve and Invisible Beginnings. Dennett illustrates this by a rather comical passage from a historical novel "..in which a French doctor came home to supper one evening in 1802 and said to his wife: "Guess what I did today! I assisted at the birth of Victor Hugo!". See also Chapter 4.2: Color-coding a Species on the Tree.

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Dragonfly,

The Hugo analogy was clever, but essentially it is a sidestep.

It is extremely easy to fabricate a new line of dog (and canines seem to be particularly easy for this) and watch them grow. We are able to explode the atom and accelerate subparticles. Mutating one species into another (anything at all, even something unknown in advance) and watching it grow, at least on some very low-level short-duration life forms, should not be such a difficult task under controlled conditions if the theory was correct.

You stated: "You never can see the origin of a new species in real time, the emergence of a new species is something that can only be inferred much later."

Ain't that a convenient explanation? Is that an absolute fact? How about another? "You never can see the true nature of God. You can only infer it from beholding His works."

You can build anything you want on that premise.

Michael

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Dragonfly,

You stated: "You never can see the origin of a new species in real time, the emergence of a new species is something that can only be inferred much later."

Ain't that a convenient explanation? Is that an absolute fact? How about another? "You never can see the true nature of God. You can only infer it from beholding His works."

You can build anything you want on that premise.

Michael

In point of fact one can see bacteria and viruses mutating (hence evolving) in real time. It comes down to the rate of mutation and the rate at which a mutation gets established in a population. In larger organisms this takes hundreds, thousands and sometime hundreds of thousands of years. In the case of bacteria and viruses this takes place in hours, days, and months which is compatible with our rather brief lifetime. To see how larger organisms with slower reproduction rates have evolved one starts with the fossils, which are traces of the process.

The modern synthesis of Darwin's natural selection and the molecular biology of mutations is very well supported in laboratory conditions. It is not a speculation or a "convenient" just-so story. The modern version of the theory of evolution IS the science of genetics well based on molecular biology.

Evolution is a fact. That is to say it is a fact that current living organisms have descended from primitive organisms with modification. Darwin did not use the term "evolution" initially. He spoke of descent with modification. There is no doubt that life started simple on this planet and through purely natural processes modified over the course of time. The current theory of this process (Evolution the theory v Evolution the fact) is very well supported by experiment and observation. The only people who argue against the current theory are Creationists and their Stealth Cousins the proponents of Intelligent Design.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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The Hugo analogy was clever, but essentially it is a sidestep.

No, it was just an amusing analogy. Did you read Dennett's argument?

You stated: "You never can see the origin of a new species in real time, the emergence of a new species is something that can only be inferred much later."

Ain't that a convenient explanation? Is that an absolute fact? How about another? "You never can see the true nature of God. You can only infer it from beholding His works."

Did you read Dennett's argument (I pointed out the relevant paragraphs for you)? If so, can you tell me where it is wrong? If not, spare me the cheap rhetoric of the ignoramus.

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What the fuck?

All of this shit that is string/m theory these people are just pulling out of their asses.

Maxwell pulled the displacement current out of his ass. He postulated the displacement current in order to keep the equations for the electromagnetic field balanced and to uphold the principle that current cannot come out of nothing. There was not an iota of empirical evidence for the displacement current at the time Maxwell postulated it. But his correction to the equations for Electrical and Magnetic fields explained light (to a degree) and led to the development of radio communications.

In the case of displacement current, eventually empirical verification came. The experiments of Hertz in 1887 to test Maxwell's theory was brilliant experimentation and the first instance of a turned radio transmitter and receiver pair (a foreshadow of radio and t.v.).

If String Theory made any testable predictions it would be science and if the predictions were correct it would be the scientific revolution of the millennium. So far this has not happened and Smolin makes a good case that it probably won't happen.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Displacement_current

Bob Kolker

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In point of fact one can see bacteria and viruses mutating (hence evolving) in real time. It comes down to the rate of mutation and the rate at which a mutation gets established in a population. In larger organisms this takes hundreds, thousands and sometime hundreds of thousands of years. In the case of bacteria and viruses this takes place in hours, days, and months which is compatible with our rather brief lifetime. To see how larger organisms with slower reproduction rates have evolved one starts with the fossils, which are traces of the process.

The modern synthesis of Darwin's natural selection and the molecular biology of mutations is very well supported in laboratory conditions. It is not a speculation or a "convenient" just-so story. The modern version of the theory of evolution IS the science of genetics well based on molecular biology.

Evolution is a fact. That is to say it is a fact that current living organisms have descended from primitive organisms with modification. Darwin did not use the term "evolution" initially. He spoke of descent with modification. There is no doubt that life started simple on this planet and through purely natural processes modified over the course of time. The current theory of this process (Evolution the theory v Evolution the fact) is very well supported by experiment and observation. The only people who argue against the current theory are Creationists and their Stealth Cousins the proponents of Intelligent Design.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Bob,

That is exactly the kind of response I was hoping for. Well, almost... too much affirmation of unsupported fact and the inevitable insinuation that if someone asks for consistent standards of proof of evolution, he is a closet Christian, but still, you are glimpsing at what I am asking. I don't deny evolution (actually I believe that it is true). I just don't buy poor logic passed off as scientific fact. If science is going to go into the faith business, then it should say so.

Has there been any research on reproduction of mutated viruses and bacteria actually becoming a different species, or better yet, on life forms with male-female reproduction? I believe the question of totally validating that a new species has mutated would revolve around the question of it being able to reproduce among members of its kind, but not being able to reproduce with the old.

The Hugo analogy was clever, but essentially it is a sidestep.

No, it was just an amusing analogy. Did you read Dennett's argument?

You stated: "You never can see the origin of a new species in real time, the emergence of a new species is something that can only be inferred much later."

Ain't that a convenient explanation? Is that an absolute fact? How about another? "You never can see the true nature of God. You can only infer it from beholding His works."

Did you read Dennett's argument (I pointed out the relevant paragraphs for you)? If so, can you tell me where it is wrong? If not, spare me the cheap rhetoric of the ignoramus.

Dragonfly,

LOL... Oh, stop it.

You're using the rhetorical methods of Randroids.

Michael

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