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BaalChatzaf

Physics is in Trouble -- Yet again

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Toward the close of the 19th century the seeming unbroken triumph of (classical) physics was manifest, but there were dark clouds.

1. Specific Heat was not being predicted correctly.

2. Black Body radiation was not explained correctly.

3. The spectral lines manifested by hot gases was not accounted for

4. Radioactivity was not accounted for.

5. Atoms were considered real, but no decent theory for atoms was in sight.

6. There was a discord between Maxwell's theory of the electromagnetic field and electromagnetic waves and the laws of mechanics.

Physics was approaching a crisis.

So what else is new?

Currently we do not have a theory that accounts for both gravitational and non-gravitational interactions.

The Big Bang theory of the cosmos has dings, dents and holes. That apparent acceleration of the expansion of the cosmos is currently unexplained. The motion curves of stars in their galaxies do not conform to gravitational theory. Currently this attributed to so-called Dark Matter which has these stars in its gravitational clutches. Unfortunately this matter does not emit radiation like ordinary baryonic matter (assuming such Dark Matter exists at all) so we can only detect its gravitational effects (assuming it exists). We seem to be missing 90 percent of the matter in in the cosmos. This is very uncomfortable. Dark Matter is in somewhat the same position as aether was in the 19th century in explaining the propagation of light through space. Eventually it was shown not to exist. An entirely new approach was required and Einstein came through with his Special Theory of Relativity.

In short current physics is in a kind of cul de sac, not quite the same as nineteen century physics was. There are problems without a ready solution, other than ad hoc fiddling (I so consider Dark Matter in this category). What is the solution?

New Thinking.

Max Planck and Albert Einstein came to the rescue of physics in the early twentieth century. Both revolutionized our concept of space, time and energy. Something like that will be required. The most likely saviour, String Theory along with M-Theory and Brane-Theory seems to have failed. Lee Smolin explains the nature of the failure in his book -The Trouble with Physics-.

Yet with all this trouble with have an effective working theory which is somewhat ugly. It is the Standard Model which so-far explains and predicts correctly all interactions other than gravitational interactions. The General Theory of Relativity seems to explain gravitation although it has not been thoroughly tested in ultra strong gravitational fields. GTR has predicted gravity waves, but we have yet to detect them. Could gravity waves and Dark Matter be the "aether" of modern gravitational physics?

The time is ripe for some geniuses to come to our rescue.

Max Planck abandoned common sense and received wisdom and he won. He assumed energy came in lumps. He and Einstein have produced quantum theory which in its latest incarnation violates virtually all of classical epistemology and metaphysics. Yet it is correct to twelve decimal places. Go figure. General Theory of Relativity is a bit strange but it does not savage our most basic philosophical inclinations. It is mathematically difficult, but it is essentially deterministic. Quantum theory simply befuddles us philosophically but it works so well. Facts cannot be denied.

The Next Big Thing in physics is likely to wring our currently accepted version of common sense violently. It will hurt. It will bother a lot of people, but the young generation of physicists will pick up on it assuming the break through can be made.

Philosophy was of no use in the production of the revolutions of the early twentieth century. I predict it will be of no use in saving physics in the twenty first century. Time will tell. Wait and see.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Edited by BaalChatzaf

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Here is a further reason supporting the idea that physics—at least fundamental physics—cannot continue always to progress without philosophy at work in the minds of physicists. This comes from the chapter “The Role of Philosophy” in Michael Friedman’s Dynamics of Reason (2001). Professor Friedman suggests that during the transitions between radically different conceptual frameworks in scientific revolutions, “distinctively philosophical reflections play a special and characteristic role.” During such revolutions, thought at a meta-scientific level is essential.

For example “Einstein was able rationally to appeal to practitioners of the preceding paradigm in (classical) mathematical physics partly by placing his articulation of fundamentally new coordinating principles within the long tradition of reflection on the question of absolute versus relative motion going back to the seventeenth century. But this tradition is itself largely philosophical” (105). “Einstein’s final articulation and elaboration of his theory [GR] was essentially, and rationally, mediated by [a certain] philosophical debate—without which . . . it is indeed hard to imagine how the application of non-Euclidean geometry in physics could have ever become a real possibility and thus a genuinely live possibility” (115).

The preceding was a portion of my contribution to this thread: http://www.solopassion.com/node/2150

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Here is a further reason supporting the idea that physics—at least fundamental physics—cannot continue always to progress without philosophy at work in the minds of physicists. This comes from the chapter “The Role of Philosophy” in Michael Friedman’s Dynamics of Reason (2001). Professor Friedman suggests that during the transitions between radically different conceptual frameworks in scientific revolutions, “distinctively philosophical reflections play a special and characteristic role.” During such revolutions, thought at a meta-scientific level is essential.

For example “Einstein was able rationally to appeal to practitioners of the preceding paradigm in (classical) mathematical physics partly by placing his articulation of fundamentally new coordinating principles within the long tradition of reflection on the question of absolute versus relative motion going back to the seventeenth century. But this tradition is itself largely philosophical” (105). “Einstein’s final articulation and elaboration of his theory [GR] was essentially, and rationally, mediated by [a certain] philosophical debate—without which . . . it is indeed hard to imagine how the application of non-Euclidean geometry in physics could have ever become a real possibility and thus a genuinely live possibility” (115).

The preceding was a portion of my contribution to this thread: http://www.solopassion.com/node/2150

Interesting, as always. I should remind you that David Hilbert almost beat Eintstein to GTR without any of the philosophical exercise. Hilbert preferred find the extremal of the action integral. Hilbert didn't need no philosophy. He used math.

Overall, philosophy has been a burden and somewhat of an albatross around the neck of physics. How much philosophy did Richard Feynman resort to to come up with his sum of histories approach? A good physical intuition and a feel for the math is generally sufficient.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Stephen,

I read the brief review of Dynamics of Reason on Amazon. It says Friedman gives a counter-Kuhn and counter-Quine view of scientific revolutions. Have you read Conceptual Revolutions by Paul Thagard? Can you compare the views of Friedman and Thagard?

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Unfortunately, I have yet to read Paul Thagard’s Conceptual Revolutions.

Thagard had a paper in Philosophy of Science [74(1):28–47] this past January titled “Coherence, Truth, and the Development of Scientific Knowledge.” Here is its Abstract:

What is the relation between coherence and truth? This paper rejects numerous answers to this question, including the following: truth is coherence; coherence is irrelevant to truth; coherence always leads to truth; coherence leads to probability, which leads to truth. I will argue that coherence of the right kind leads to at least approximate truth. The right kind is explanatory coherence, where explanation consists in describing mechanisms. We can judge that a scientific theory is progressively approximating the truth if it is increasing its explanatory coherence in two key respects: broadening by explaining more phenomena and deepening by investigating layers of mechanisms.

Merlin has explored the relations between coherence and truth in his Objectivity essay “Theories of Truth” (1992–93). See especially the section “Coherence Theory of Truth” in V1N5 of the journal. Here is the pertinent entry in the Objectivity Subject Index:

Truth, Coherence in V1N2 23, V1N4 11–13, 15–17, 20–22, 24–25, V1N5 111–13, 114–29, V2N2 6–7.

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I add to Stephen's references in Objectivity V1N6 99-103.

Yes. In fact, make that V1N6 93, 99-103. Thanks!

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