Sunday, October 15, 2006

The End of Physics?

The October issue of 'Discover' has an article titled 'The Final Frontier', by John Horgan. Horgan is author of the book 'The End of Science', which was published ten years ago. In the article he comments on raised arguments against his claim that we are nearing the end of Science.

I haven't read the book, so I can't say anything about it, but the article is interesting nevertheless. I don't think the end of science is anywhere near by, so I was already annoyed before I began to read. But after finishing, it turned out that Horgan's perspective is quite reasonable, or you could say scientific. In the last section he writes:

"I could simply be wrong - there, I've said it - that science will never again yield revelations as monumental as evolution or quantum mechanics. A team of neuroscientists may find an elegant solution to the neural code, or physicists may find a way to confirm the existence of extra dimensions."

I on the other hand have to admit that the question whether there are limits to our knowledge is a good one that I've asked myself. Repeatedly. Whenever I sit in a talk scratching my head.

Since there's been some fuss lately about the trouble with zing-zong theory, the fall of a science, and what goes next to the bottom of the ocean (glubglubglub), it is unsurprising that Horgan also comments on things that aren't even wrong:

"But some mysteries are probably unsolvable. The biggest mystery of all is the one cited by Stephen Hawking [...] 'Why is there something rather than nothing?' More specifically, what triggered the Big Bang, and why did the universe take this particular form rather than some other form that might not have allowed our existence?

Scientists' attempts to solve these mysteries often take the form of what I call ironic science - unconfirmable speculation more akin to philosophy or literature than genuine science [...] A prime example of this style of thinking is the anthropic principle, which holds that the universe must have the form we observe it because otherwise we would not be here to observe it. The anthropic principle, championed by leading physicists such as Leonard Susskind of Stanford University, is cosmology's version of creationalism.

Another example if ironic science is string theory, which for more than 20 years has been the leading contender for a 'theory of everything' that explains all of nature's forces. The theory's concepts and jargon have evolved over the past decade [...] but the theory comes in so many versions that it predicts virtually everything - and hence nothing at all [...]. This problem leads Columbia mathematician Peter Woit to call string theory 'not even wrong' in his influential blog of the same title [...]

Although Woit echoes the criticisms of string theory I made in The End of Science, he still hopes that new mathematical techniques may rejuvenate physics. I have my doubts."

(There is no mentioning of Peter Woit's and/or Lee Smolin's books in Horgan's article).

Well, I've extensively commented on the ironies of the anthropic principle elsewhere, so let me focus on the second point, that is the still to be found theory of everything. The fact that there hasn't been much progress in this regard during the last decades isn't necessary an indication for the end of science. To me it indicates instead that:


  • a) Science has left the regime in which we strive to explain effects directly accessible to our own, build in, senses. We need particle colliders and telescopes up in the earth's atmosphere to reach the frontiers of our knowledge. This makes research more complicated, takes more time, and slows progress down.

    There isn't much you can do about that, unless someone someone comes up with a pill that enables me to IR/UV vision or so. This limit however, indicates the inadequateness of our bodies to our mind's searches, and not a limit to our possible knowledge.


  • b) We just aren't doing our research very effectively. There's no doubt that science on the frontiers has become more and more complex, but we're not dealing with it the right way. There's got to be some rethinking about scientific education and selection of research projects. Early specialization into subfields works well when the direction is clear, but likely to result in many dead ends otherwise. Having an overview on present research topics on the other hand is an underestimated value. It is underestimated not only in the educational process, but more importantly in the selection of researchers which (with luck) are also those teaching the next generation.

    We should realize that the amount of stuff that can be pushed into the human brain in finite time is limited. It has to be choosen wisely. You might say it's a meta-problem that we have here: the neglect of scientific research on how to do scientific research. It goes hand in hand with the separation between science, sociology and philosophy that has taken place, the latter of which has historically always been close to the Whys and Hows of understanding nature.


  • c) Hogan writes: "Just over a century ago, the American historian Henry Adams observed that science accelerates through a positive feedback effect: Knowledge begets more knowledge. This acceleration principle has an intriguing corollary. If science has limits, then it might be moving at maximum speed just before it hits the wall."

    Well, all such unlimited growth scenarios only work under the assumption of infinite resources, which brings us back to a) the limits on our perception of nature and b) the finite number of researchers, and - sad but true - our own mortality. But besides this, such a statement is based on a dubious measure on the 'amount of knowledge'. I am actually not so much concerned with the 'amount' of it, but with the content of it.


Since it is in the nature of men to be curious, I don't see any end of science coming, not until we could literally explain everything that happens, will happen, and has happened - and bore ourselves to death. But I find it indeed possible that the human brain is just not capable to ever do this. It will most likely reach its limits before we get even close to the limits of knowledge that are invoven into the fundamental nature of the universe.

On the other hand, it would be sufficient if we were capable of understanding how to improve our own mind (biologically or technically), and thus kickstart evolution.

However, one way or the other, I don't think we have yet reached our limits, I don't even think we are remotely close by. But I think that we have put big obstacles in our way. If we don't succeed in removing them, then it doesn't matter if its a neurological, a sociological, or a financial end to science.

To summarize:

Proclaiming The End Of Science under the present circumstances for fundamental research is like proclaiming The End Of The Internet because you have seen a lot of dead links lately. It's a sign for inefficient organization, and missing maintenance, but there is much room for functionality to be optimized. So, don't sit around and read other people's blogs, but go look for the Theory of Everything, it might be just around the corner (but not on the internet, believe me).

Epilogue:

Horgan ends his article with an suggestion that I want to echo here (though slighly off-topic), because it's a suggestion that I have made it myself repeatedly. He points out that "scientists might help find a solution to our most pressing problem, warfare. Many people today view warfare and militarism as inevitable outgrowths of human nature. My hope is that scientists will reject that fatalism and help us see warfare as a complex but solvable problem."

I share this hope. Even though it is in the human nature to defend one's own life and that of friends and family with violence when forced to, there is no way anybody can convince me this evolutionary imprint extends to modern warfare in which most of the battle is no longer face to face. Though war will probably always persist as the last and final option, there ought to be non-violent pre-stages to war that should be undergone prior to retreating to mass destruction.



War and terrorism happen if those who initiate it see no other way to pursue their goals, or defend their lifestyle. Terror is likely to come from countries who feel their interests aren't globally acknowledged, and are pushed into a corner where nobody listens to them. Follow that thought: What we need is a global government. Not some countries imposing their idea of civilization upon others.



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43 comments:

Uncle Al said...

Science doesn't solve problems, it renders them irrelevant. Twisted pair and coaxial cable became fiberoptic. Management sends science to solve problems. Management is an ass.

War is economic - too many people, too few resources, and lagging technology to push back Malthus. Europe efficiently killed young males by the tens of thousands/gulp, in meaningless national conflicts when pestilence and famine proved insufficient. Lebensraum is Liebensraum and it all starts again. The only protracted European peace followed the Black Plague.

The Middle East is 300 million Muslims living in 14th century desert. 200+ million deaths would bring peace for maybe 40 years absent birth control. Economic removal of 200 million excess population demands thermonuclear air bursts. Cairo plus suburbia is a 19 million big gulp. All we are saying is "give war a chance."

Arun said...

Fortunately, I'm not looking for a theory of everything, and so I can read interesting things on other people's blogs.

I think there will be war as long as someone thinks they can start and win a war.

Arun said...

Speaking of the end of physics:


"Since World War II, physics has played a dominant role in American science. But today, it faces serious troubles. The standard theory requires the existence of a “Higgs Boson”, which has not yet been found; searching for it requires the Superconducting Supercollider, costing billions and requiring annual appropriation. Then Relativity Theory has led to plans for tests of the existence of gravity waves in an expensive LIGO (Laser Interferometry Gravity Wave Observatory). The study of the Big Bang appears to mix speculation and science. Senior physicists have time to write popular books on the “Final Theory”. For younger physicists it can be hard, with problems depending on the funding for big apparatus or on papers with l90 authors. One such youngster (David Lindler) recently broke ranks to write a book The End of Physics; his main contention is that cosmologists and theoretical physicists encourage each other to wider and wilder speculations."

By Saunders Mac Lane in
"BULLETIN OF THE AMERICAN MATHEMATICAL SOCIETY Volume 30, Number 2, April 1994, Pages 178-207 RESPONSES TO “THEORETICAL MATHEMATICS: TOWARD A CULTURAL SYNTHESIS OF MATHEMATICS AND THEORETICAL PHYSICS”, BY A. JAFFE AND F. QUINN

Anyway, can't find any trace of David Lindler's book.
A Woit before his time?

Dick said...

"So, don't sit around and read other people's blogs, but go look for the Theory of Everything, it might be just around the corner (but not on the internet, believe me)."

How can you be sure it's not there? Everything else can be found on the internet. Have you looked?

Ryan K. said...

Oh, I didn't realise that you were one of those One World Government/New World Order types... Been living in an ivory tower long?

Any kind of globalization of government would be a spectacular failure, much like the United Nations. Basically, because people will never be able to agree. People from different parts of the world will always continue to think differently, and it's quite ignorant to think that there is some way for everyone to get along.

What we really need is population attrition. The earth is not going to be able to support a population of 8-10Bn people.

Bee said...

Hi Uncle,

Science doesn't solve problems, it renders them irrelevant.

That's an interesting point of view. Certainly true in many regards. Every problem that has become irrelevant caused new problems. Maybe that's just the way things are.

War is economic - too many people, too few resources,

It's not about life being as economic as possible, but as good as possible. Besides this I do disagree with you, war is definitely not economic. Give me the money blown up into dust with only a couple of missiles.

There are wars that probably are unavoidable. Most civil wars I'd say. But wars lead for economic reasons are avoidable. What you say can become true if we change the human rights to include a minimum area to live in. That would justify war.

Today the hottest countries are fighting against worldwide economic equilibrium. It's destined to fail. But there are many ways to do so. Some of which cause a lot of turbulence and chaos.

Best,

B.

Plato said...

Bee:What we need is a global government. Not some countries imposing their idea of civilization upon others

What made you think that capitalism has not tried to extend it's reach to all corners of the globe?

"Money" talks, while those impoverished fight the new "inflationary god[oil]" set before us?

When have you ever seen it flunctuate in the market place that us poor souls working our fingers to the bone, would see the decrease at the pump. I've only ever seen it inflate one way, and now this?

But really, about finding things on the internet, one talk, or idea, is a powerful thing where it can change even the smallest corner of society.

And it doesn't even have to be about science. Access to creativity changes our perspective sometimes where we never thought such idea coud manifest into labels and such:)

But yes it can be encompassing view yaken down to a very condensed version of th elaw of RHIC and LHC.

IN 2004, Symmetry magazine had a good article about science.

Searching for the secrets of the Universe in the Depth of Earth by Katie Yurkewicz

Think of the impossible and anomalies to your thinking and what new strange world would ask you to adjust your views to the science of the situation?

Does theoretics allow you to venture into the world in new ways?

Plato said...

What changed B was the "unexpected" and this history became the "window on the universe."

Dead links are a problem. I acknowledge that there.

Bee said...

Dear Plato,

Thanks for the interesting links.

What made you think that capitalism has not tried to extend it's reach to all corners of the globe?

It has tried. Some don't like it. They didn't even have an option to reject it. That's where the trouble comes from. Capitalism is not a form of government, it's an economical system. It doesn't optimize quality of living, it optimizes capital growth. It has its strengths and it has its weaknesses. Most importantly, it needs to be balanced by a social system or it becomes inhuman.

Best,

B.

Torbjörn Larsson said...

Horgan seems to be the sort of writer who dismiss all arguments against his hypotheses. Science is mainly big science. If theories discuss objects that we can't directly observe those theories can be dismissed. (I guess Horgan must discard the discussion of universe minimal size based on observations of curvature et cetera, to be consistent.) If the mind is complex the lack of early explanations is nevertheless worrying. And if those explanations come they may be too complex to count as big science.

The most curious reasoning is when Horgan uses Freud and psychoanalysis as support. That Freud committed frauds and wasn't a proper scientist should be well known, and it has become easy to argue that psychoanalysis is a pseudoscience.

See for example:
Masson, J. 1985. The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Macmillan, M. 1991. Freud Evaluated: The Completed Arc. 1997. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Webster, R. 1995. Why Freud Was Wrong. London: Harper Collins.

Cioffi, F. 1998. Freud and the Question of Pseudoscience. Chigago: Open Court.

Bee's view seems much more reasoned to me. As our knowledge grows the number of questions does too - the communicative border to the unknown grows. The amount of current information in the observed universe may be limited, but the possible combinations are more. Same with formal theories, the number of them grows, and they are supposedly not closed when consistent. To refer those parts that doesn't concern observations to math may be parochial.

"The report of my death was an exaggeration" (Mark Twain)

Anonymous said...

All we are saying is "give war a chance."

HA!... I've been quote-mining Uncle Al for years... ;)

But this might be more along the lines of what Horgan means:

http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=445#comment-14668
If the worst case scenario plays out, and the LHC discovers nothing, then that is the end of particle physics as we know it. And that includes string theory. They may think they are immune, but they are not - they will fall due to lack of funding with the rest of us.
-Joanne Hewett


John Horgan says:
Don’t go into particle physics! Especially don’t waste your time on string theory, or loop-space theory, or multi-universe theories, or any of the other pseudo-scientific crap in physics and cosmology that we science journalists love so much.

John Horgan's position is this, and it's not bad. He essentially thinks that he is fully qualified to know where and when things went wrong, as he was tight in the loop of cutting-edge theory when grand predictions were made by many leading physicists that did not pan out in reasonable time. He sees them as grasping at straws now, because he experienced first-hand, the break in the timeline of theoretical progress, and he is absolutely correct when he says this!

Neither String Theory, nor Loop Quantum Gravity has produced what they should have long ago, so many treasured assumptions about both are becoming more highly suspect every day. Does that stop anyone?... hell no... they just invent some more fantasy fizixes to try to fix a carried flaw, which can't be done.

None of them want to admit this, and they continue to grasp at straws, while thumbing their noses at the possibility that they missed something fundamental in the development of quantum theory, when Dirac's Equation should have unified both, SR and GR with QM, instead of only SR. These people will scoff at any suggestion in this direction, they are the "cutting-edge", after all, and some stuff about quantum theory is verified to extremely high degrees of accuracy, even though they can't tell you what that really means.

Brilliant mathematical physicists like, John Baez, do not just drop completely out of professional physics to purely persue math for no reason. I hope that I don't misquote him, but his explanation was a resigned admission that;

"Somebody will write down a theory of quantum gravity, but it isn't going to be me".

Guys like John Baez don't hang it up if there's any realistic hope in their mind, and I don't care what optimism for background independence or whatever new approach that he may express in public.

Guys like John Baez don't hang it up if there's any realistic hope for the methods that have most-hotly been persued.

This is a clear indication of a more-fundamental flaw than theorists are going to be willing to recognize until they are grasping for literal straws of survival as the walls of modern theoretical physics begin to crumble when John Baez' actions and public admission becomes a fulfilled prediction about a major flaw that exists in all of particle theory.

Mark my words.

Plato said...

Hi B,

Do you recognize the diversity of the very country you are now living in, and the programs that it has that is quite different from the American counterparts.

This is a story about the "Fat cats" and the struggle in this this country around the thirties.

Today, many enjoy the signficance of that time, that is now slowly being eroded by the capitalism.

The idea of selling off to privatization to make us all of society competitive/equal, even if you are poor.

So we are all the same?

The difference is the dollars in ones pocket versus the right/left to spend and move yourself to the head of the line, while others will struggle in the heath care system.

A lot of us want to stop this privatization, while recognizing the resources we have, that can help people in their own country.

While Canada and the US is different, we are very much on the road to being the same.

Anyway, the "Fat Cats."

It's the story of a place called Mouseland. Mouseland was a place where all the little mice lived and played, were born and died. And they lived much the same as you and I do.

They even had a Parliament. And every four years they had an election. Used to walk to the polls and cast their ballots. Some of them even got a ride to the polls. And got a ride for the next four years afterwards too. Just like you and me. And every time on election day all the little mice used to go to the ballot box and they used to elect a government. A government made up of big, fat, black cats.

Now if you think it strange that mice should elect a government made up of cats, you just look at the history of Canada for last 90 years and maybe you'll see that they weren't any stupider than we are.

Now I'm not saying anything against the cats. They were nice fellows. They conducted their government with dignity. They passed good laws--that is, laws that were good for cats. But the laws that were good for cats weren't very good for mice. One of the laws said that mouseholes had to be big enough so a cat could get his paw in. Another law said that mice could only travel at certain speeds--so that a cat could get his breakfast without too much effort.

All the laws were good laws. For cats. But, oh, they were hard on the mice. And life was getting harder and harder. And when the mice couldn't put up with it any more, they decided something had to be done about it. So they went en masse to the polls. They voted the black cats out. They put in the white cats.

Now the white cats had put up a terrific campaign. They said: "All that Mouseland needs is more vision." They said:"The trouble with Mouseland is those round mouseholes we got. If you put us in we'll establish square mouseholes." And they did. And the square mouseholes were twice as big as the round mouseholes, and now the cat could get both his paws in. And life was tougher than ever.

And when they couldn't take that anymore, they voted the white cats out and put the black ones in again. Then they went back to the white cats. Then to the black cats. They even tried half black cats and half white cats. And they called that coalition. They even got one government made up of cats with spots on them: they were cats that tried to make a noise like a mouse but ate like a cat.

You see, my friends, the trouble wasn't with the colour of the cat. The trouble was that they were cats. And because they were cats, they naturally looked after cats instead of mice.

Presently there came along one little mouse who had an idea. My friends, watch out for the little fellow with an idea. And he said to the other mice, "Look fellows, why do we keep on electing a government made up of cats? Why don't we elect a government made up of mice?" "Oh," they said, "he's a Bolshevik. Lock him up!" So they put him in jail.


It's not about the "right and the left" in governments, it's about the people. If someone said your the left, this does not mean communism. But a recogniton of what the humanity is in people who are cared for by their governments, and the governments that are elected by the people.

Many people have blinders on, for various reasons. One of them having immigrated to Canada/US is the history of the European having come from different backgrounds.

Bee said...

Dear Ryan,

Oh, I didn't realise that you were one of those One World Government/New World Order types... Been living in an ivory tower long?

If you need to put me in a drawer, then I'm in first line a theoretical physicist. In second line I'm a dreamer. If you can't take the dreamer, let me put it scientifically: the well being of as many people as possible is not optimized in the present configuration. I can't tell you what an optimal configuration is. What I am telling you is that the variation and optimization mechanism works very insufficiently right now.

Democracy is a well established mechanism to optimize the well being of it's participants. It's a difficult task to realize it on a global level, but it's doable.

Any kind of globalization of government would be a spectacular failure, much like the United Nations. Basically, because people will never be able to agree. People from different parts of the world will always continue to think differently, and it's quite ignorant to think that there is some way for everyone to get along.

People don't need to agree. Disagreement is an essential ingredient for politics to work.

The only thing the participants need to agree on is the willingness to find an optimization, and how it should work. It would already be an improvement just to try. We all share the priorities of human beings: Air to breathe. Clean water. A place to live without the fear to be slaughtered.

Let us try some variations around the present situation, and see if they lead to improvement.

In fact, I hope people will continue to think differently. If the whole world was like the US, I'd rather spend the rest of my life in a hut somewhere in the Canadian Wilderness than to ever open a newspaper again.

Besides this: your skepticism is justified. Your fatalism isn't. Survival of the fittest is survival of those who learn from their mistakes.

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Dear Island:

What we perceive as a 'waste of time' differs from one to the next. I personally don't believe in multiverses, but if somebody has a passion about understanding the world using this approach, I don't mind. There are many things I consider to be a waste of time. Soap-operas on TV for instance. Or vacuum cleaning my car.

You might argue that it's the public that has to pay for these people who waste their time. True. Now we are back to the important part of the discussion. But who judges on what is a waste of time and what isn't? You? Hogan? Me?

That's why I say there ought to be some investigation of how science works best.

Besides this, let me briefly comment on the quotation from JoAnne Hewett you used: If the worst case scenario plays out, and the LHC discovers nothing, then that is the end of particle physics as we know it. And that includes string theory. They may think they are immune, but they are not - they will fall due to lack of funding with the rest of us.

I don't know what exactly she meant to say with it, and whether she likes your interpretaion, but I agree with her words. So let me give you my interpretation (and keep in mind, it's only my interpretation).

If the LHC discovers nothing, high energy particle physics will drastically change. There will be a big disappointment, and huge doubts whether future funding is justified. On the experimental as well as on the theoretical side.

Instead, both kinds of physicists will focus on other areas, like high precision measurements. Or, what I consider to be the most important branch: Cosmology. Also Astrophysics. This will be a dramatic shift in priorities. Part of which you can already notice to begin now.

Best,

B.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bee,

I agree that it's all part of the natural process and things will work out in the long-run.

The theoretical approach due to assumptions that are currently taken for granted are maybe where we differ, but I think that we agree about what it will mean to particle theory:
end-of-particle-theory-joanne-hewett.html

Regarding your statement about the importances of good Cosmology... RIGHT ON!

Which, coincidentally brings us back to me quote-mining Uncle Al:
Those who do not embrace a demonstrably good physical model of the universe exist at the mercy of those who do.
-Uncle Al

I also agree with plato, BTW, as it relates to the *ultra*-elite 1% who own 99% of the worlds' wealth.

Be sure to get out and vote... yeah, right.

Plato said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
nitin said...

Hi Bee

When I read John Horgan's views, I am reminded of the French Jean Baudrillard, who, according to me, personifies all the nausea that could possibly be attributed to an alarmist, nihilist, fatalist, ignorant individual.

Anybody who ventures to announce the end of an endeavour which has persisted and thrived for thousands of years, is clearly very limited in his thinking. How dare he? Even in the field of cosmology, we still have so much to understand. Some of what he says might make sense (thankfully for him), but his general arguments are flawed, and should not be taken seriously.

Horganism is a disease that us physicists must be immune to, and it would be desirable to make others immune too.

It is quite ironic that "Discover" magazine has decided to have in its midst a fatalist, who so ridiculously purports that no more discoveries could be made in science.

Cheers,
Nitin

Anonymous said...

Plato, I've been accused of being overly cryptic, or maybe I'm just completely out of context, but I only meant to agree with you. My statement about voting was meant as a sarcastic shot at the aburdity in supporting an unchecked survival mechanism, aka, "runaway greed".

Arun said...

The job of a journalist is to raise alarms, to ask questions contrary to the popular wisdom. Definitely not to be a cheerleader of the establishment - political or scientific or other.

Ryan K. said...

Bee,

Thank you for your careful and intelligent response. However, your response underlies the intrinsic weakness in your argument. Your incessant need to optimize the system. ;-)

My skepticism is indeed justified, but my stance is determinism, not fatalism. I am a scientist as well... so I would think that as a theoretical physicist determinism should come naturally to you. Simple human nature will not allow a single worldwide government.

You should look at Canada's current political turmoil with regards to socialized medicine and otherwise to understand how hard it is to successfully integrate a diverse population into a standardized system. Which is to say, it breaks.

Plato said...

Thanks Island.

Arun,

Definitely not to be a cheerleader of the establishment - political or scientific or other

.....only the facts then, then you/Woit decide?

In British Columbia

Two decades ago, in 1984, B.C.'s GDP stood at $49.8 billion. In the comparable fiscal period (from April 1984 to March 1985), CRF(Consolidated Revenue Fund) outlays on health totalled just over $3.0 billion, or 6.1 per cent of GDP.

Last year, in 2005, provincial GDP surpassed $168.0 billion, while health expenditures for the 2005-06 fiscal year hit $11.7 billion. That was slightly under 7.0 per cent of GDP.


This "percentage" is enough for introducing onlookers to the situations on the political/scientific scene in part/whole of Canada?

"The cost" of string/lqg/and every other theory?

Bee:Instead, both kinds of physicists will focus on other areas, like high precision measurements. Or, what I consider to be the most important branch: Cosmology. Also Astrophysics. This will be a dramatic shift in priorities. Part of which you can already notice to begin now.

How could we not see this happenng even in face of the direction from quantum dynamical thinking, to a relationship cosmologically/gravitationally to our deepening views of our current universe?

ISCAP or Glast, are cases in point.

You can see how reductionism has changed our views on how we look at the cosmo?

Back to the "end of science."

Thomas D said...

I wonder how this thread turned into a discussion of the Canadian healthcare system.

Just a decade or so ago someone called Fukuyama wrote a book called 'The End of History'. Sound familiar?

The only protracted European peace followed the Black Plague.

So when and where is the next European war going to break out? Presumably the Netherlands, where population density is highest.

The misfortune of high energy physics is logarithmic renormalization group running: to see an order-1 change in physics you need an exponentially large increase of energy, or a lot of luck, and you won't get accelerators funded by saying maybe this time you'll get lucky.

Plato said...

thomas,

Of course that is my fault in regards to "statistics" and how we come to the conclusions we do on a economic/science front?

So I would say this supports Bee point about the cosmological and the astrophysics front in summation?

My point exactly.

as I was saying...back to the "end of science."

Plato said...

Citebase is currently only an experimental demonstration. Users are cautioned not to use it for academic evaluation yet. Citation coverage and analysis is incomplete and hit coverage and analysis is both incomplete and noisy.

So we should be careful about using this as a measure?

Anonymous said...

So we should be careful about using this as a measure?

Since when do appeals to authority supercede the value of the information that is being presented, anyway?

When I give physics, I expect that people can look straight at it and judge the validity for themselves without need of this crap.

Bee said...

Dear Ryan,

Yes, I admit it. I am one of these awful people who think the world could be improved ;-) To be honest, I'd rather sit in that ivory tower, and believe it is perfect.

Thank you for your careful and intelligent response. However, your response underlies the intrinsic weakness in your argument. Your incessant need to optimize the system. ;-)


My skepticism is indeed justified, but my stance is determinism, not fatalism. I am a scientist as well... so I would think that as a theoretical physicist determinism should come naturally to you. Simple human nature will not allow a single worldwide government.


Well, as a scientist you should acknowledge that your deterministic prediction of the human nature is a difficult, if not impossible, and an highly non-trivial task with time dependent boundary conditions, in a changing background.

The easiest way to check whether the current system is optimal for as many people as possible, is to carefully try modifications of it. Whether or not human nature allows a single worldwide government depends on the government, as well as on the present global, sociological, economical, and environmental situation. Your statement is an unproven conjecture.

But besides this, I agree that a global government is presently most likely to fail. A more appropriate term I should have chosen is 'administration'. There are many things going wrong unnecessarily, and people are suffering even though it was avoidable.

Thanks also to you for the scientific answer
:-)
Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Thomas,

I wonder how this thread turned into a discussion of the Canadian healthcare system.

Well, health and social security are the two points where the shortcomings of the political system reach everybody's attention. Closure of emergency rooms causes an obvious string of thoughts along the lines What-if-...?

So when and where is the next European war going to break out? Presumably the Netherlands, where population density is highest.

Nah. I sense trouble coming in the South, at the border to North Africa. Very high temperature gradient there, highly unstable situation.

The misfortune of high energy physics is logarithmic renormalization group running: to see an order-1 change in physics you need an exponentially large increase of energy, or a lot of luck, and you won't get accelerators funded by saying maybe this time you'll get lucky.

Let me try some sarcasm here, on the danger of annoying the British humor. If we'd slam some particles together, find the theory of everything, and could from then on explain all and everything: wouldn't THAT be the end to physics?

Maybe they've found the Higgs but didn't tell us ;-)

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Plato, Hi Island,

The interesting thing is that this warning about the use of the cite index hasn't always been there. At least not that I noticed it. Correct me when I'm wrong. Might have been on a different site or so.

In the last years there have been attempts to come up with some better measure on author's quality, and also to improve the functionality on the peer review system. Both of which are overdue investigations, both of which are need readjustments to the increase of the field and its output.

When I give physics, I expect that people can look straight at it and judge the validity for themselves without need of this crap.

True. That would of course be the ideal situation. But consider you sit in a selection committee, deadline Nov. 30st, you have 200 applications, and 1 month to come up with a shortlist, two weeks of which you will spend drunken on Christmas parties. Whether we like it or not, the Citation index plays a role in many selection processes. And there are some obvious and easy ways to make it, not a good index, but at least a better index. (E.g. by removing self-citations, and rescaling to the size of the community to begin with).

Best,

B.

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

My hope is that scientists will reject that fatalism and help us see warfare as a complex but solvable problem.

Science can help, but only if the world listens. We know now that war *is* rooted in our genes, but we also know a lot about how it can be avoided.

Al's solution to every problem is mass murder, but there is a better way. I have spent many hours playing with this Gapminder statistics display tool and one conclusion jumps out at me. When a nation's fertility rate falls below about 2.5, its per capita GDP begins to grow rapidly. Almost the only exceptions are the former Communist states where the birth rate fell sharply after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the GDP did too. Even in their cases, however, once the fertility rate went below 2.0, rapid growth began.

The archetypical example is China, where the one child policy initiated two decades of unprecedented economic progress, but there are many more including Mauritius, Puerto Rico, and Vietnam.

Equally striking are the rich countries that have last ground to population explosion - Saudi Arabia and the UAE for example.

Fertility rates are dropping almost everywhere, but least of all in the basket case nations of sub-equatorial Africa.

There is, as Al claims, a high correlation between war, violence, and overpopulation. There is a humane, practical, and effective alternative to war for population control though, and one that doesn't render the planet unihabitable by even the survivors.

The most effective things we can do to reduce war and terrorism is to raise the status of women and promote birth control.

Neither is effectively accomplished at the end of a gun barrel.

Plato said...

Island,

Since when do appeals to authority supercede the value of the information that is being presented, anyway?

I was actually looking for statistics that would point out the dramtic increase of grants to unversities supporting string theory over others. I thought this point was held by Peter and wanted to look at this, so I used his search function,"University statistics on string theory."

And this below is what I found.

Peter Woit:By 2004 there were only two post-1999 string theory papers among the list of 50 most heavily cited (the early 2002 Berenstein et. al. PP waves paper, and the early 2003 KKLT paper), and Peskin seems to have stopped writing up a discussion of the list, possibly because there was virtually nothing new to discuss. SPIRES has not yet produced a 2005 list and I don’t know if they ever intend to, but from some data gathered at physicsforums.com it would appear that the only two string theory papers likely to have accumulated the 150 or so citations needed to make the top 50 in 2005 are exactly the same two as in 2004. The subject has come to nearly a dead stop, and that rather than the complaints of its critics is behind the sense of crisis felt by many of its practitioners.

So the point made and process pointed by Bee is the "warning found," so in that selection process to commment would seem, not appropriate?

I know Bee used it in another context.

Uncle Al said...

science will never again yield revelations as monumental as evolution or quantum mechanics.

Michelson-Morley and invariant c, Stern-Gerlach and quantized spin, Yang-Lee and parity nonconservation... A "wrong" answer can obtain if it does not violate prior observation. Theory adjusts, interesting and useful contingencies appear.

Science knew the Bohr magneton to great accuracy before WWII. Stern went to measure the nuclear mageton and was vigorously derided: "We can calculate it more accurately than Stern can measure it." Stern measured the nuclear magneton anyway. Theory was wrong.

http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/lajos.htm#a2

ALL of physics could be wrong for an eldritch footnote. Somebody should look. Reproducible observation is the ultimate arbiter of falsification. Truth belongs to gods' priests - and what a muck of it they have made.

Anonymous said...

Good point Plato, but what happens if somebody writes down the ToE, only it isn't popular among the cutting-edge, so nobody cites it?

Al's solution to every problem is mass murder

Science can help, but only if the world listens.


So, Al is right then?

Thomas D said...

If we'd slam some particles together, find the theory of everything, and could from then on explain all and everything: wouldn't THAT be the end to physics?

...It almost was already, with the Standard Model.

Weinberg has a strategy for that: if your current measurements agree boringly with theory, you can still do science by measuring more precisely.

That now supports a few hundred people looking at electroweak precision measurements and doing theory to X-loop order ... in future, it would be the super zing-zong three-handle corrections to the gravimagnetic moment of the zarquino.

Which reminds me I should get on and read the 50-page paper about the multi-throat scenario where the inflationary branes annihilate in one throat while the SM branes are sitting in another.

Bee said...

Good point Plato, but what happens if somebody writes down the ToE, only it isn't popular among the cutting-edge, so nobody cites it?

It's not like all theoretical physicists are citation-hunting ignorants. I am very confident that we'll be able to recognize the ToE for what it is in a rather short time. You are probably right that it won't be an immediate impact, but the nasty thing about truth is that it comes back and keeps ringing in your ears.

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Thomas,

That now supports a few hundred people looking at electroweak precision measurements and doing theory to X-loop order ... in future, it would be the super zing-zong three-handle corrections to the gravimagnetic moment of the zarquino.

I don't think so. If the SM was it, then they'd eventually try to optimize a numerical procedure that does all the computation.

No, I guess, physicists would proceed to building up effective models on the ToE with increasing complexity. To Nuclei, Atoms, Molecules,... Proteins,... would we somewhere meet a barrier or go on to medicine, biology, neuroscience, psychology, ...

Regarding the throats: oohm, you know, for my taste the multi-throats are too octopus-like.

Best,

B.

Plato said...

As to the Continung Saga

I have written some points about (flux?)on what is supposed to be the end of science?

Anonymous said...

...but the nasty thing about truth is that it comes back and keeps ringing in your ears.

Oh my, I've been quote mining Bee all along, only I simply didn't know it... ;)

The anthropic principle is continually thrust to the surface of the relevant fields of physics and evolutionary science, yet scientists dogmatically ignore the relevant implication for "biocentric preference"... in spite of the fact that it is highly probable that a true anthropic constraint on the forces of the universe will necessarily include the human evolutionary process, which indicates that there exists a mechanism that enables the universe to "leap".

I should have been more clear...

What if somebody produces a fundamental principle that defines the ToE, only EVERYBODY on ALL sides hates this idea so much that they unknowingly conspire to willfully ignore the implication for like ever... ?

Okay, sorry for the plug... not really... ;)

Bee said...

Hi Island,

speaking of comebacks, I think we've had this discussion before.

You can claim that we can't understand the whys and hows of the universe until we include the evolution of life as much as you like, but this is just a belief of someone who comments on my blog - and btw a belief that I don't share.

If you want to convince me or anybody that your view of the universe explains anything, then explain something. Start with the fermion mass spectrum, I'd be interested to know. Write down a definition for life and show me why the mass of the tau is the mass of the tau. Good luck.

Best,

B.

Anonymous said...

Somehow, Bee, I don't think that's gonna do it either, but I left before we finished that conversation, so I didn't call your bluff until just the other day:

backreaction.blogspot.com/2006/07/thoughts-on-anthropic-principle.html

Anonymous said...

Anyway, I'm sorry, I didn't intend to make this conversation about this. It just happened.

Back to John Horgan... who hates the anthropic principle too... ;)

Anonymous said...

see
http://www.cosmosview.com/images/ThisNaturalCosmos.pdf

Anonymous said...

re the reference to "David Lindler". The book is "The End of Physics" by David Lindley (not Lindler). Basic Books, 1993. There was also a paperback edition about 1995. Doesn't seem to be available on Amazon, but I still run across copies in used book stores.

DHQ

Anonymous said...

The end of physics or science? Never. The end of theories that stall physics or science? Always. How long did the earth-centered universe stall science? What discoveries could have progressed if it had been toppled sooner? Why not weed out theories that don't pass muster? That's the scientific method. Sometimes it takes generations to do this (because of our lack of technology, our mortality, etc). We would like to speed it up, to get data more quickly and technology can help. Our brains are not efficient repositories of information - they are efficient correlators of information, though. One important question like "what would happen if I rode on a lightbeam" can stay in a person's mind for many years, finding interesting tidbits to correlate with until one day, the answer pops out.

Based on this, it makes sense to allow our minds to focus on the enigmatic, all encompassing problems, and to program computers (with a little human oversight here and there) to solve the purely redundant problems that use a known algorithm. We could spend decades twiddling over a few signficant figures or arguing over relevant data, but we should focus our minds on the problems that open doors for the next century and let our silicon slaves (OK - I am a have some carbon preference!) do the dirty work.