Monday, November 10, 2008

Bullshit with Equations

    “In [high energy] quantum physics, to observe something, you have to create it. Now this sounds scarily close to bullshit. But if it is bullshit, then at least it's bullshit with equations.”

~Frank Wilczek, at PI's recent public lecture

via Sundance Bilson-Thompson, thanks :-)


Evan said...

So very awesome.

stefan said...

Ah, Frank Wilczek... BTW, are the public lectures on PIRSA?


Plato said...

The lecture by Ben Schumacher may be of interest to Phil? Since lecture took place on 5th, how long does it take to Pirsa?

"to observe something, you have to create it"....I kind of find this a little troubling. It always had ot be there in order to observe it?


Moshe said...

Brings to mind Cliff Burgess' quip about the Drake equation. To paraphrase, it demonstrates that just because you can write an equation doesn't mean you know what's going on.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if anyone has ever had the nerve to hint to FW that most people regard his axion cosmology as bullshit. [The others regard it as not even bullshit....]

mat said...

Most of the Public lectures are online

or directly on PIRSA, but PI has been quite slow to put the most recent ones online. Last time I checked Brian Greene's public lecture was still not there (nor any of the other recent ones)...

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

“But if it is bullshit, then at least it's bullshit with equations.”

Well now you have me feeling a little sad as I wasn’t online in time to get a ticket to see Prof. Wilczek’s lecture last week. The way things have been going lately it would be easier to get Leafs tickets:-) As Mat noted eventually they do end up on PIRSA, yet as he also reminded they have been really slow to do so as of late.

I also noticed this quote was brought to your attention by Dr. Sundance Bilson-Thompson, that sometimes humorous Aussie post doc you have out at Perimeter. I’ve always wondered how far he was able to take his braided preon theory in relation to coupling it to Loop Quantum Gravity. He was generous enough to give an overview of it at a Black Hole session I attended a few years back. At the time he had much of the standard model accounted for with gravity still posing to be a problem. It seems for some time gravity has given many a problem. Perhaps as Prof. Wilczek alludes one reason may be we haven’t as of yet been able to create it to observe. I mean the particle responsible that is. It has however shown up in what some might discount as being simply a few bullshit equations:-)



Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

Just as a follow up I would like to point out the PI public lecture with the highest level of what I would call razzle dazzle content that I’ve ever seen presented. At first I thought perhaps this is all it would amount to and yet as the lecture unfolded it revealed to have a lot of content. At the end it left me wondering how many physicists like Dr. William Phillips are out there that have the combination of knowledge, innately infectious curiosity and showmanship to be able to put something like this together. It would be nice to believe there are at least a few.


Phil said...

Theory predicts observation. Gravitation is classical metric (isotropic vacuum) and teleparallel (chiral vacuum), or quantized (sans prediction). Only socks or left shoes plus right shoes detect a left foot.

Do opposite shoes vacuum free fall identically? Crystals in enantiomorphic space groups P3(1)21 and P3(2)21 (quartz) are atomic mass distribution shoes. A parity Eötvös experiment detects bullshit. Somebody should look.

Nathan Bell said...

Public Lectures are on PIRSA. PIRSA #C04001 or you can go on PI website at

Frank's lecture is not up yet but should be in a a few weeks

Nathan Bell said...

Sorry forgot to add that due to copywrite issues with his book, Brian Greene's lecture wasn't recorded for PI.

Qubit said...

Yeh but it's still bullshit! Equations have two sides and one side is just a different view of the other side, I think if the universe could think it would think "this sounds scarily close to bullshit" and who are them idiots in the middle that observe both sides? Thats not a contradiction?

stefan said...

Hi mat, Nathan,

thanks for the links and the explanations about the public lectures on PIRSA!

Best, Stefan

Plato said...


Bullshit! Bullshit? You need to place a bracket after "it" to complete the paraphrasing. Maybe you can elaborate more when you have time. Moshe or any others who would help to define this better.

William Thurston of Cornell, the author of a deeper conjecture that includes Poincaré’s and that is now apparently proved, said, “Math is really about the human mind, about how people can think effectively, and why curiosity is quite a good guide,” explaining that curiosity is tied in some way with intuition.

“You don’t see what you’re seeing until you see it,” Dr. Thurston said, “but when you do see it, it lets you see many other things.”

Elusive Proof, Elusive Prover: A New Mathematical Mystery

Moshe:To paraphrase, it demonstrates that just because you can write an equation doesn't mean you know what's going on

Uncle Al:Theory predicts observation

Now of course better science minds here then mine could elaborate more. You know, I believe these things "always exist and we just become aware of them," then, equations are developed according to the need to describe "that process" or, the predictability of it.

Theory then, in mind, is a gradual process, from the idea to the ideal?


Phil Warnell said...

Hi Plato,

“Theory then, in mind, is a gradual process, from the idea to the ideal?”

In my view it comes down to being the difference in the roles played by inductive and deductive reasoning. One could say inductive reasoning is to recognize your nose as being in front of your face and deductive is to consider why?

As I see it then the fact that all noses one observes on other’s faces are in front of them, so therefore your own nose is in front of yours; which forms to be the inductive part. Now I know with many being solipsists they accept their own existence as being the only one real, which of course can’t be denied resultant of Rene Descartes’ most powerful deductive statement “I think therefore I am”. The why for the nose then forms to be the olfactory extension of this premise where one can’t deny reality since “If it stinks therefore it is”. Since bullshit certainly satisfies these criteria it then must also be real:-)



Plato said...

Hi Phil,

It got me to thinking, about what's in front, and what's behind.:) Really now, I mean in regards the nose with regard too, "memory and emotions."

Could it be that olfactory receptors most readily receive information from the physical world and therefore are readily able to code memories for things like emotion or events?

You would have to know of a "similar situation" in order to categorize the smell of the bullshit?:)Then, if you did not ever meet the most definitive correlate in all aspects, how would you know if it's true or not?

What criteria did you use?

Infinite regress as to what is self evident, takes a lot of analogizing in order to get to the essence of the smell?:)

Okay now, I'm getting a little carried away.