Thursday, May 13, 2010

Paradigm Shifts

One day, when I'm old and my hair is grey, and I'm sitting in a rocking chair stroking a cat on my lap when the neighbor's son comes with a book on the history of science, I want to say "Yes, I was there."

There are as many different motivations to become a physicist as there are physicists. But one of them is certainly the wish to be part of something greater, an event of historical importance. It's the wish to be there and have a say when our view of the world fundamentally changes; when a new picture comes into focus that will be passed on to future generations.

The change of our fundamental understanding of Nature, the emergence of a new way of thinking about the world is what is known as a "paradigm shift." It's a notion that occasionally creeps up in a discussion. It most often does so either as a means of defense, when a new proposal is widely rejected or when the speaker tries to make himself more interesting.

I was wondering the other day what paradigms there are that might be shifting today. In the 22nd century's textbooks, what of our today's understanding will appear in the historical appendix instead?

There's three such potential paradigm shifts that I've come across.

The first one is about the limits of reductionism. With the incredible success reductionism has had in physics in the first half of the century, there came the believe that one day we'll be able to explain everything by taking it apart into smaller and smaller pieces. This paradigm has by now pretty much shifted over in favor of acknowledging that emerging features might not be possible to explain, either in practice or in principle, by reduction to more elementary constituents (see also). This change on our perception came along with the rise of chaos theory and complexity, features that are both very common to natural systems and hard if not impossible to address by reductionist approaches. It is funny in fact how silently this shift seems to have taken place. You sometimes find today people in talk vigorously arguing that reductionism has limitations, just to find there's nobody actually disagreeing with them. Except for the old professor in the front row.

The second potential paradigm shift that has crossed my way is the multiverse. The multiverse I have in mind is the one forced upon you from the string theory landscape, a vast number of possible universes with different laws of Nature, versus the previously prevailing idea that our universe is unique and is so for a reason that we have to find. Various other sorts of multiverses seem to creep up from other considerations. The multiverse is presently a very hotly discussed topic, with strong defenders both for and against it. I have previously expressed my opinion that the multiverse isn't so much a new paradigm but a new way of thinking about an old paradigm. Instead of finding a way to derive the parameters of the standard model as a 'most optimal' configuration of some sort, one now searches for a measure in the multiverse by means of which our universe is (ideally) most likely. It's a watered-down version of the same game. In any case, I recall that Keith Dienes (the guy with the String Vacuum Project) spoke about the probabilistic attempt as a new way of thinking about "why" we have exactly these laws. And yes, I was thinking, maybe he's right and in some decades from now that will be how we think about our reality. That we're embedded in a vast number of different universes which different laws of Nature and our grandchildren will laugh about that we once thought we were unique.

The third potential paradigm shift is that spacetime might not be a fundamental entity. I think that everybody who works on quantum gravity (whatever sort of) is familiar with the idea. But I noticed on occasion, most recently when I was talking to Sophie about Verlinde's emergent gravity scenario, that the idea that space-time is only seemingly a smooth, continuous manifold with a metric on it and on small scales might be nothing like this is not very widely spread outside the community. While there are many approaches towards finding a more fundamental description of spacetime, they each suffer from their own problems. So I think it is pretty unclear presently whether this will turn out to be a true (and useful) description of Nature in some way. But it's certainly a thought hanging in the air. On the completely opposite side is the idea that space-time instead is the only fundamental entity and that matter indeed emerges from it (an idea that dates back at least to Kaluza and Klein). Or that neither is fundamental, but arises from something unified that's neither matter nor space-time.

These are all ideas that physicists have been chewing on for quite some while now. I am curious how people will be think about them in the future, if they will laugh about or foolishness or admire our imagination.


169 comments:

XiXiDu said...
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Bee said...

XiXiDu: I think you're misunderstanding me. I'm a particle physicist, of course I believe in reductionism "in principle." I think however there's limits to it in practice, and possibly we will learn at some point that there are examples where the derivation of emergent features from the fundamental ones is indeed not possible, even in principle (see post I mentioned). Most people I know seem to agree on the limits in practice, opinions diverge on limits in principle, but I think we'll know more about that within the next decades. That "mind perceives math" is true but, excuse me, blabla and is tremendously unlikely to have much of scientific impact to the extend of a comeback of reductionism.

XiXiDu said...
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Bee said...

Hi XiXiDu,

I see, thanks for the links then I'll have a look. You might also be interested in my post on emergence and reductionism. Of course the word "emergent" as well as the word "complex" is frequently used without having a proper meaning, that's hardly surprising. Best,

B.

Christine said...

Based on current trends I would extrapolate to conclude that the main 21st. century paradigm shift in physics is the weakening of the scientific method and the raise of "speculative sciences".

All the rest ("applied physics") will be viewed more like technology (engineering) than physics per se.

(...) the neighbor's son comes

Not your own??? :)

XiXiDu said...
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XiXiDu said...
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XiXiDu said...
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XiXiDu said...
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Plato said...

Mrs. and I are on a trial run 5th wheeling excursion. Gave ourselves two years with trips to see how we like it, while continue to work from current location. Anyway

In terms of running to limits and the idea of reductionism has been on my mind for a while now too.

So the question of energy and the higg's field imbue particle mass from a ultimate limit(speed of light?) is one I find interesting. Corrections always appreciated.

Untangling the Quantum Entanglement Behind Photosynthesis: Berkeley scientists shine new light on green plant secrets

Also in regards to the limitations of information on computerization architecture and how we might meet this in the future. Quantum Chlorophyll for example.

Ultimate limits of the law

Atomisic simulation result for formation of inversion channel (electron density) and attainment of threshold voltage (IV) in a nanowire MOSFET. Note that the threshold voltage for this device lies around 0.45 V. Nanowire MOSFETs lie towards the end of ITRS.[38] roadmap for scaling devices below 10 nm gate lengths

On 13 April 2005, Gordon Moore stated in an interview that the law cannot be sustained indefinitely: "It can't continue forever. The nature of exponentials is that you push them out and eventually disaster happens." He also noted that transistors would eventually reach the limits of miniaturization at atomic levels:


Bold added by me for emphasis.

Thomas Kuhn(paradigmatic shift) has been a major part of your blog in my view, as well as meeting the "mathematical limits" of interest.

Best,

XiXiDu said...
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Robert L. Oldershaw said...

Discrete Scale Relativity addresses each of these three paradigm-changer issues.

1. Strict Reductionism is a fool's errand. Proof: ontogeny from cell to adult human. Reduce that to paricle physics! What a laugh.

2. Multiverse concept is more or less right, but all "multiverses" have the same physics and constants. And the whole thing is organized into a discrete hierarchy.

3. You do not throw out 4-d spacetime! You shift to discrete self-similar (aka fractal) 4-d spacetime. Whole new ballgame. No tooth fairies required. Reasonable Planck scale. Fine structure constant explained. Particle mass spectrum explained. Galactic scale physics explained for the first time. Big Bang properly interpreted. Etc., etc., etc.

Fundamental error of the old paradigm was the assumption that the gravitational coupling parameter was the same on all scales of nature. Pure assumption, and a very bad one.

Best,
RLO

XiXiDu said...
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Neil B said...

For deep logical reasons there never was, or could be support for "the previously prevailing idea that our universe is unique and is so for a reason that we have to find." Arguments such as put out by modal realists make clear (IMHO) that math and logic do not have any tools to bless some possible worlds with why they should be "materially real" and instantiated beyond the math model, and not others. Scientific theories can't do it, they must use models which don't have an extra special ingredient about realness in them. Think, how could they? It can be horned in semantically by just referring to it but that doesn't validate the distinction: why this possible model world, why not others additionally or instead.

Just put aside the strong MR idea that there cannot even be the distinction, but rather accept the weaker MR idea that selections for "realness" can't be justified or explained logically. Math and logic simply allow models and descriptions and takes it from there. As far as we know, there is no way to find more about a model universe, some special hidden trait, that would make it suitable "to exist" in the sense we feel that we do. It would be like saying "the number 23 has an additional, non-mathematical property not accessible to logical analysis (like number theory) that makes it special and suitable for reification as a real thing and not just an abstract number."

It was never tenable and never excusable, and we must admit one of the following:

1. There is some special "why" about this or some set of universes, that they "really exist" and there is no way to explain that in terms of theory. (Modal realists rightly argue, what that means is only intuitively given by experience and not math/logic.)

2. "All possible worlds" exist equivalently since there is no logical way to specify or explain a special distinction. But then we have Bayesian problems, such as our expectation is of a universe only just orderly enough to get us this far (and would be littered with tiny inconsistencies etc. that did not impede our current status, since all possible models means just that - descriptions that are messy and ugly, not just "beautiful."

3. "Someone" or some foundational Something orders what can exist, even if not at detail level (~ Deism in broadest sense and forms spectrum with #1.)

Bee said...

Hi Neil,

No, there never was a deep logical reason, but that's not the point. Point is it was the prevailing mode of thinking and it is indeed still prevailing with many. The question is whether there *is* a reason that we just haven't found yet, or whether there is no reason after all. Best,

B.

Neil B said...

For deep logical reasons there never was, or could be support for "the previously prevailing idea that our universe is unique and is so for a reason that we have to find." Arguments such as put out by modal realists make clear (IMHO) that math and logic do not have any tools to bless some possible worlds with why they should be "materially real" and instantiated beyond the math model, and not others. Scientific theories can't do it, they must use models which don't have an extra special ingredient about realness in them. Think, how could they? It can be horned in semantically by just referring to it but that doesn't validate the distinction: why this possible model world, why not others additionally or instead.

Just put aside the strong MR idea that there cannot even be the distinction, but rather accept the weaker MR idea that selections for "realness" can't be justified or explained logically. Math and logic simply allow models and descriptions and takes it from there. As far as we know, there is no way to find more about a model universe, some special hidden trait, that would make it suitable "to exist" in the sense we feel that we do. It would be like saying "the number 23 has an additional, non-mathematical property not accessible to logical analysis (like number theory) that makes it special and suitable for reification as a real thing and not just an abstract number."

It was never tenable and never excusable, and we must admit one of the following:

1. There is some special "why" about this or some set of universes, that they "really exist" and there is no way to explain that in terms of theory. (Modal realists rightly argue, what that means is only intuitively given by experience and not math/logic.)

2. "All possible worlds" exist equivalently since there is no logical way to specify or explain a special distinction. But then we have Bayesian problems, such as our expectation is of a universe only just orderly enough to get us this far (and would be littered with tiny inconsistencies etc. that did not impede our current status, since all possible models means just that - descriptions that are messy and ugly, not just "beautiful."

3. "Someone" or some foundational Something orders what can exist, even if not at detail level (~ Deism in broadest sense and forms spectrum with #1.)

Steven Colyer said...

I'm looking forward to the number one paradigm shift of all time, when the aliens come and laugh and tell us what dumb bunnies we've been.

Just before they harvest us for our livers (in particular the alcohol-soaked ones), if Hawking is correct, yet again.

We should have been a 1,000 IQ average species, but, no. At least we're not earthworms!

The REAL paradigm shifts will most likely come from medicine and other biological fields. For some reason, some people seem to think living a long time on Planet Earth is important, even if you have a chicken neck, a prune face, and a good day is one when you remember your own name.

Computer Science has helped, and is only getting better. Social Anthropology and advanced Psychology (which is still so young) will engineer greater peace and more tranquil living arrangements. If not then forced anti-depressants will become the law.

And then the aliens will come.

Dinner time!

:-)

XiXiDu said...
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Christine said...

Clearly, the universe is, *by definition*, all that exists.

Everyone with me?? Ok.

There is no meaning whatsoever to "various universes", except if one is willing to change the meaning of that word.

If one is talking about the possibility of different physical laws, etc, still those must be realized in the universe, because, again, by definition, the universe is all that exists.

If one is speculating on the existence of a set of physical "universes", then, clearly, this person have a very confusing mind and if she/he earns her/his money from tax payers by speculating over such conceptually wrong matters, than she/he is no better than an astrologer. But, again, to be complete in the phrasing, those "regions" or whatever cannot be termed "universes", obviously, because "all that exists" cannot have a multiplicative meaning by construction -- all is all only once and it is enough.

Even conceiving such a set of "universes", as somehow physically unconnected regions or whatever with different laws, still such a set is the universe, because, again, by definition, the universe is all that exists.

Ad infinitum et ad nauseam.

The multiverse "idea" is the most non-scientific and uninteresting diversion ever created by the human mind, a big *yawn* even in sci-fi terms.

Please do not argue on the statistical validity of the use of an ensemble of universes, I've seen and read enough, a very embarrassing reading BTW and, really, sad.

XiXiDu said...
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Christine said...

What is:

self-contained?

logical?

possible?

system?

induction?

sensible?

influence?

...

Sorry, a bad day.

Best,
Christine

Bee said...

Hi Christine,

Yes, I agree that multiverse is a misnomer since by definition the universe is all there is. It has however, unfortunately, become common terminology for to mean parts of the universe with potentially different laws whereas "universe" is most often used to mean the observable universe or maybe another somehow specified patch of the full multiverse. In any case, terminologies, once they have spread, are quite impossible to change whether or not they make a lot of sense. Another example for such a misnomer is of course "Theory of Everything." Best,

B.

XiXiDu said...
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XiXiDu said...
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Arun said...

There are plenty of real-world problems (in corporations) which can be solved only by looking at the system as a whole, and where reductionism cannot solve the problem or sometimes even is at the root of the problem.

E.g., any kind of "quote to cash" optimization of the flow of work and material in the company generally founders on the optimization of a subsystem without considering its effects on the whole. In general, optimizing the system as a whole will require many subsystems to be suboptimal - e.g, having spare capacity.

Uncle Al said...

Noether's theorems ignore conservation of angular momentum if anisotropic vacuum is observed. That (selectively) falsifies quantum field theory and gravitation. Paradigm shift.

The limits of reductionism Extrinsic, extensive, emergent phenomena are alien to physics prior to observation. Perturbation theory specifically excludes them. Physics' paradigm shifts arising from aggregation are labeled "Do Not Open."

the multiverse is physics for "the dog ate my model. On, wait... there it is!" Economics calls it "heteroskedasticity." Honest people say "wrong."

that space-time is only seemingly a smooth, continuous manifold If spacetime is discrete it can configure. Configuration (topological defect) is testable. Michel Petitjean derives ab initio quantitative geometric parity divergence in two or more dimensions. Erica Flapan characterizes topological chirality. Composition chirality is irrelevant to gravitation, as is massless chirality.

http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/erotor1.jpg

Somebody should look. The worst it can do is succeed.

stefan said...

Dear Bee,


I think a more "tangible" shift for people outside physics could be caused by evidence that some form of extra-dimensions actually exists. Is one of the models with large extra dimensions true? Does AdS/QFT hold, and what does this imply for our understanding of "reality"? Maybe there are answers to these questions in the coming decades. I wonder what it feels like to experience such developments.

On a "smaller" scale, there may be examples such as high-Tc superconductivity or the cosmological constant. I remember reading books of the late 80s where the cosmological constant was mentioned as a quite esoteric, even slightly crackpot concept.

Or for an even more "hands-on" example (of technological "paradigm shift" related to science), I have a few splendidly illustrated astronomy books from the late 80s - before Hubble, and before the huge modern active/adaptive optics telescopes. Photos in these books simply look poor today.


Cheers, Stefan

Luke said...

Bee,

I totally understand your feeling. I know a physicist out at TRIUMF (Dr. Erich Vogt) who was at Princeton in the 40s under Wigner. He met all the legends of the first generation of modern physics and knew much of the next generation. He actually got to work with Einstein at one point! The sheer amount of history he has lived through makes me insanely jealous.

Every time I am at PI I get this feeling (and especially so yesterday at Dr. Verlinde's talk) that one of the people in this room could make the next big breakthrough in physics and be immortalised forever.

"These are all ideas that physicists have been chewing on for quite some while now. I am curious how people will be think about them in the future, if they will laugh about or foolishness or admire our imagination."

I'd say that the way we do physics and mathematics changes all the time, no one has any idea how it will be 10-15 years from now. I imagine if we went back to 1995 and asked what we would be doing in 2010, we'd probably be way off base.

Before Einstein introduced GR, differential geometry wasn't being used heavily in physics. Before Heisenberg introduced matrix mechanics (he actually had no idea what a matrix was and I believe Born pointed him to the theory of matrices) matrices weren't being heavily used. Before Wigner introduced group theory into physics, it wasn't being used heavily. We know use all the theories and more. To my mind, it's just too difficult to even guess at what we'll be doing 10-15 years from now. But it's fun to speculate.

Eric said...

Regarding ADS/qft it seems to me that people always ignore that ADS means (anti)deSitter space. That's significant. I think the next paradigm shift will occur when it is finally realized that both types of curvature of space in the universe exist simultaneously :de Sitter and anti de Sitter.

The normal expansion of the universe is caused by de Sitter space. It is caused by the usual suspects: anhililation of massive particles and anti-particles. It is similar to the reheating when 99.99999% of protons and anti-protons anhilated shortly after the big bang. The universe is accelerating apart now at a vastly lower rate than in that previous reheating. However the cause is the same anhilation of particles.

The reason the acceleration is so much less is because the virtual particles that now are anhililating are on a different scale. That is, after modification of scaling due to changes in Newton's coupling constant, those "particles" are actually galaxies. And when opposite spinning galaxies collide the dark energy in their outer haloes anhililate, just like the scaled down version of the universe did when protons and anti-protons anhilated.

As for anti-de Sitter space. Hell, that's just the low pressure surrounding a spinning particle, be it a light producing massive particle or the dark matter in galaxies. Opposite direction of curvature like a low pressure atmospheric system giving energy to the hurricane at its center.

Not that hard to understand really. One just has to look for self similarity at varying scales - the holographic principle.

Eric Habegger

Eric said...

I should add the main point which somehow got lost in the details. The significance of the Planck length is that it points to the energy density of the universe at the (time?) when the universe split into de Sitter and anti-de Sitter space. Now that will be a real paradigm shift when people realize that.

Eric

Neil B said...

(BTW, I would remove dupe post upthread but can't find a trash can yet.)

Christine, Bee to lesser extent - you have fallen prey to a logical fallacy in semantics. It is, that a name that has intrinsic meaning would necessarily have found corresponding *usage* of the normative sort. That may or may not happen. The word "universe" was supposed to mean, all that exists. It also became *by convention* used to refer to what we move around in, in effect contiguous space time.

Well, calling something by a name that means something can't make it so, or else Venus would really be a star, native Americans would really be from India and so on. So if people are mistaken about whether more exists than all we can get to, then the name "universe" was misapplied in descriptive principle - but still has use by convention. Then "the universe" is like saying "Indian tribes" when talking native Americans.

Some physicists may be speaking of "regions" of our own space-time, but when Max Tegmark and many other speculators mean "other universes" and/or the multiverse, they mean truly disconnected "other universes" in the perfectly legitimate sense I explained. I know, I have carefully read their writings and seen their illustrations, etc. (Max went over it in his astonishing Sci Am article. He carefully distinguished regions from independent domains.) It's like saying, "Now I mean the real Indians and not the native tribes of America" etc.

Rastus Odinga Odinga said...

I'm quite sure that people in the 22nd century will *not* look back to the 21st and say that "spacetime was found to be emergent" was a paradigm shift. First of all, I am sure that the whole "emergence" fad will be utterly forgotten by then. Second, nobody knows what might replace spacetime --- we don't even have credible proposals as to what that might *mean*. I think that if the idea that spacetime is not fundamental is correct [I don't believe it, and I'm convinced that those who do are motivated by non-scientific factors], then you can expect progress some time in the 25th century. Certainly not in this one. It's not just that nobody has a good theory of quantum gravity that can reproduce classical GR [string theory doesn't even come close] --- it's worse: nobody even knows how to start on this problem.

It's very depressing in fact that a paradigm shift in physics is most unlikely to occur during the lifetimes of anyone reading this. It's hard to avoid the feeling that we are all wasting our lives. Sorry, I have just come from reading today's arxiv, hence the gloom....

Craig said...

I believe the driving force behind the paradigm shifts you mention are that of knowledge and communication and the emerging consciousness as new information captures the imagination.

The reductionist view has been one of exploring new frontiers and collecting details where there were none, while out of those details, theory - like the string theory landscape and multiverse - has been about piecing the details together into a systems view. For me they're the same view, just from different reference frames. Determinism or free will; which side of the reference frame are you? One simply drives speculation of the other in a feedback cycle that evolves toward an attractor. This for me is analogous to the paradigm shift from point particles toward waves and then to the dualist view.

I know for me the biggest paradigm shift has been away from what I consider is possible, to what might be possible, and now to what I can know is possible. Analogous to P time, to NP-complete and on to NP-hard.

Knowledge limitations of which I now acknowledge themselves evolve within in a feedback cycle. Which for me is a continuum, where everything unifies. Details of which I will only ever know an approximation.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

If becoming old and gray has anything to do with the advent of paradigm shifts, then the good news is I don’t have long to wait:-) Sadly however I think we are still sometime away from such an event and perhaps you may be disappointed despite being much further from such concerns. I think primarily because over the last century or so, humanity has gotten used to dramatic new discoveries coming at such an incredible pace, that we naturally assume this will continue. My own sense of it being that things have slowed down considerably as of late, finding the early 1980’s marking a turning point, where despite the unprecedented numbers to be found in the general brain trust, what we have learned since has amounted to very little in terms of paradigm shifting breakthrough.

Strangely enough I think some of our most fundamental questions, if they are to ever become answered, will not so much result by us pondering about them, yet rather in our technological effort to exploit what we believe is already possible; with quantum computing being central to all this. That is to say there are expectations in regards to what such technology will allow us to do, in terms of the questions we might have answered in respect to how those questions can be asked, which depending on the outcome of such endeavours may tell us more about what and what isn’t fundamental, then all the rest of our pondering has so far accomplished.

This will come as the result of finally and hopefully having understood what if any limit is there to logic and reason, along with discovering if consciousness being only a mirage or perhaps itself fundamental to having what we call to be reality. Currently there is a great effort going on to write the software required for machines that are expected to have a certain capability, which until themselves are made real we won’t know precisely if these types of questions can be asked to have answered in such a way or even if they will ever be able to. That is I feel until the outcome of such inquiry is known, that then and only then will those paradigms you mentioned or perhaps others stand to be readied to be known as then being found as capable of causing a shift.

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Luke,

I imagine if we went back to 1995 and asked what we would be doing in 2010, we'd probably be way off base."

I'm not sure about that. In '95 you'd probably have predicted lots of people will be doing LHC physics and indeed they do. By 2000 you'd have predicted lots of people will be working on AdS/CFT and indeed they are. Actually, this reminds me that sometimes on conferences they have question rounds to the extend what do you think we'll be doing in 10 years or so. Makes me wonder if not somebody did this a decade ago and what the outcome was.

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Dear Stefan,

Yes, you're of course right, I should have mentioned the idea of holography which seems to spread further and further. About the extra dimensions, well, it just seems to me that there isn't much paradigm to shift. The idea that our world might have more dimensions has been around for so long, it's more a matter of evidence than a change of thought. If you think about it, it's not a very radical idea actually, it's basically "more of the same." Best,

B.

Bee said...

Neil,

" - you have fallen prey to a logical fallacy in semantics. "

There's no logic in semantics. I simply share Christine's point of view that "multiverse" is a dumb word, but in the end what matters are the definitions, so it's pointless to argue about it. I actually find it quite ironic that one would for a scientific construct chose a name that implies it doesn't exist. Best,

B.

XiXiDu said...
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Bee said...

XiXiDu: There's no clear line between science and pseudoscience, but at least in physics there is very little in the greyzone. There are a few blogs dedicated to debunking pseudoscience, eg this one. You'll find a few others if you look around. I don't write about pseudoscience because I don't have the time and there's nothing for me to learn there. Best,

B.

Bee said...

PS: "So where are the scientists that educate the public about the shortcomings of one idea opposed to the other."

That is an excellent question indeed. Let me be really clear on this: I am presently (mostly) tax-paid, but my job is not to educate the public. I am writing this blog in my free time because a) I like writing and b) I appreciate the reader feedback, but that's not part of my job description and not what I get paid for. I have expressed several times my opinion that communicating our research to the public is part of science and it should be more explicitly acknowledged. But as a matter of fact that is presently not the case. (Perimeter Institute btw is an exception, they explicitly encourage engagement in public outreach activities.) Best,

B.

GW said...

"You sometimes find today people in talk vigorously arguing that reductionism has limitations"----

Don't you mean "talk vacuously"?

Bee said...

I meant what I said.

Luke said...

Bee,

Fair enough. I'd be curious to see the results as well.

Christine said...

Bee wrote:

There's no clear line between science and pseudoscience.

The scientific method clearly divides both in principle. If, at a certain moment, it cannot divide them, it is not because of a failure of the method, but because not all of its steps could be fulfilled, for some reason, practical or otherwise.

Bee said...

Hi Christine,

What I mean is that ideas in their early phases sometimes are quite immature and vague and can easily appear as pseudoscience. It takes a lot of time and effort to work out a well-defined framework and testable predictions. During that phase (which I suspect did in earlier days rarely happen as publicly as today) it is quite hard to reliably decide whether an idea will ever be put on solid ground. However, as I said above, it is in physics indeed in most cases quite easy to distinguish one from the other mostly because it's immediately apparent how seriously the idea has been thought through even in its early phases. It's more a question of procedure than a question of content. Best,

B.

Christine said...

Hi Bee,

Yes, but the scientific method has various steps of increasingly "hardness". So as I mentioned, if not all steps were fulfilled, it may be for some reason -- immaturity of the idea to be subjected to all steps up to the end is one of them. It just means that the subject is still an "idea", but not a theory ready to be subjected to its various steps of scientific validity. It doesn't mean as well that just because an idea is immature one should disregard it under the fact that it does not fulfill the rigor of the scientific method. The worst one can do, however, is to claim an idea or speculation as a theory and be comfortable with that.

Best,
Christine

Tim vB said...


..."multiverse" is a dumb word...

Sure, but we are all used to "subatomic", which plays in the same league.


There's no clear line between science and pseudoscience.



The scientific method clearly divides both in principle.

I hope someday someone will explain to me what the "scientific method" is. Until then I think that Paul Feyerabend was right when he said that there isn't one and that there shouldn't be one, see for example his book "Against Method".

Steven Colyer said...

I hope someday someone will explain to me what the "scientific method" is.

Well then, todays your lucky day. Here goes:

THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD IN FOUR WORDS

1) Identify
2) Hypothesize
3) Test
4) Conclude

Superstrings Mathematics Theory fulfills the first two. Can't seem to go the distance, yet, and maybe never.

Robert L. Oldershaw said...

Hi Tim,

(1) Study and observe nature, with emphasis on empirical rather than an exclusively abstract approach.

(2) From (1) hopefully a hypothesis arises. Usually this is some sort form of proposed pattern recognition solution.

(3) The hypothesis or proposed pattern leads to a DEFINITIVE PREDICTION, which is feasible, quantitative, non-adjustable, prior to the tests, and unique to the hypothesis being tested.

(4) Empirically test the definitive prediction. Repeat (1)-(4). Also use retrodictions to increase confidence and provide guidance.

(5) ACCEPT NATURE'S VERDICT. Don't fudge the results, or tweak the theory in an ad hoc manner. Go back to square one and check your assumptions and do more observing.

There ya go, pilgrim.

RLO

GW said...

Oh, so you meant "talk fatuously"...

Bee said...

You are probably trying to be witty, but it's actually just dumb. If you have nothing to say, I recommend you say nothing.

Uncle Al said...

"It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong," Richard Feynman.

GR is a triumph of theory, as was Newton. Neither quantizes. Quantum gravitation is a 30-year ongoing disaster. SUSY is no less distasteful. A definitive observation is missing from both.

Physical theory cannot handle emergence and does not tolerate geometric chirality. Contemporary physical theory arises from postulated maximum symmetry, then jury-rigged with symmetry breakings. What better place exists to hide a fundamental observation than in plain sight?

Physics won't consider aggregation as a fundamental entity. Somebody should observe the phenomenon not the model. If theory is thereafter inconvenienced, whose fault is that?

A paradigm shift can have a simple fulcrum: Terrifically incomplete models were obviously correct (e.g., Euclid, Newton, Yang and Lee).

GW said...

Thats funny, I sort of thought it was witty. Obviously I disagree with you about the limits of reductionism.
It is useful also to look at emergent phenomena, but there is always a reductionistic underpinning.
"Emergent" has become for many the new way to hand wave.

Bee said...

See my replies to XiXiDu above, 2nd and 4th comment in this thread.

Christine said...

@Tim vB

It appears that you are misreading Feyerabend. It is clear that science does proceed at a certain extent with the influence of external, random elements, human components (after all, science is a human activity) and not strictly by the scientific method, as many other meta-judgements may influence the output of a scientific breakthrough. However, it is clear that the scientist must adhere as much as possible to the scientific method in his/her professional activities otherwise he/she is not proceeding as rationally and as unbiased as possible. External, chaotic, random, whatever, influences, will always operate in the process at any level. These may induce good or bad outcomes. You can only judge them in retrospect.

Best,
Christine

GW said...

Ok, Bee. I believe in it more than "in principle", but I understand that there are limits to it "in practice".

Eric said...

I often wonder if paradigm shifts really have that much to do with new discoveries. Often people with little social status, (I consider myself one of those), discover ideas or extensions of ideas that few if any have thought of before. Those ideas are often not credited to the original discoverers because of their low social status. Generally everyone will find out about the ideas in some way,(perhaps the blogosphere) and everyone will proceed from there.

The paradigm shift occurs when someone of high social status presents the idea in a formal way and through approved channels. Then everyone says "Wow, what an idea!" Then after the idea is formally presented by the cognoscenti we recognize a paradigm shift.

People are very dishonest today on so many levels. Despite our being more and more interconnected fewer and fewer people get credit for their ideas while more and more ideas from people with high social status get the credit. In the meantime while those people are waiting to get new ideas from the low social status folks they endlessly discuss retread ideas in the blogosphere while trolling for new ideas.

I have no doubt that my idea of reheating through cosmological anhilation of the dark matter in galaxies will take off. Because I have no social status I put it up here just to watch people visibly ignore it. It is amusing to watch later when those same people try to pawn off that idea as their own. That's why I'm so open to discussing revolutionary ideas on the blogosphere. People like me would never be accepted formally into the scientific world anyway. But it is amusing to me to watch the scurrying and flitting about while the cognoscenti distance themselves from the idea that they didn't actually come up with ideas themselves. Even Bee wants to give credit to Stefan for being reminded of the importance of the idea of holography. It gives me the shivers to think of where she'll give credit for her next "new" idea. That idea damn well better not be galaxie anhilation reheating.

Bee said...

Hi Eric,

Yes, it's true, a paradigm shift is in the end a social, not an intellectual effect. There's also a long time delay between shifts in the community and in the public. Best,

B.

Eric said...

Bee, I said
"It gives me the shivers to think of where she'll give credit for her next "new" idea. That idea damn well better not be galaxie anhilation reheating."

Actually, I didn't mean you can't use the idea in the future. I just meant you have to credit the original idea, (if you don't think its stupid) to me. Anyone else reading this blog should do the same.

Eric Habegger

Bee said...

Eric: Thanks for the offer, but I have sufficient ideas myself. Don't we all? Best,

B.

Arun said...

Credit in science goes more often to the person who made an idea a workable idea rather than to the person who first conceived of it.

Just like lots of people imagined up of flying machines, and even built many such; but the credit goes to the persons who actually built the first working machine.

Bee said...

Credit in science goes more often to the person who made an idea a workable idea rather than to the person who first conceived of it.

Rightfully so. Science is all about making an idea work. Otherwise it would be science fiction.

Luke said...

I think it's appropriate to bring up Stigler's law.

stefan said...

Concerning the allocation of credit, though, the Matthew effect is real.

I wonder if, historically, it may have been related to the mundane practical problem to get hold of more obscure and less widespread sources- books or texts by well-known people just had a wider circulation. Perhaps the paradigm shift ;-) of the internet in spreading and archiving information is changing this?


Cheers, Stefan

Eric said...

Arun, Bee

Even Bruno was remembered for his ideas that were later developed by others. Yet today even he would not be remembered because the scientific aristocracy is too threatened by giving a crumb of recognition by someone who is not in the club. Where is your humanity? Is it all a zero sum game where only the elite can share the credit.

Both Arun and Bee's responses here show an underlying contempt for the common man who can think intuitively. While talking the talk about the problem with reductionism when people actually come along that don't think reductively, but intuitively, you have nothing but contempt for them. That is because intuitive and reductionist thinking often does not come in the same package.

You think my lack of mathematical backup is horrid. Yet without the intuitive leaps that people with an intuitive grasp have you would never have thought of it. It is obvious after the fact yet I'm confident neither of you with your underlying reductionist personalities would have come up with it. Obviously from your points of view no credit can be given because the idea is obvious ATER THE FACT. You are both hypocritical and very ungenerous.

Bee said...

Eric: You don't get the point. Having an idea is not the problem. I have 2 dozens ideas every day, most of which I notice by the end of the day are bullshit. The part for which you get recognition in science is not having an idea but working it out such that it becomes a useful scientific theory.

Both Arun and Bee's responses here show an underlying contempt for the common man who can think intuitively.

I'm a common woman and I can think intuitively too. What are you trying to say? My job is just to not stop at the intuition but to go beyond that. Best,

B.

Luke said...

Eric,

"Both Arun and Bee's responses here show an underlying contempt for the common man who can think intuitively."

Perhaps it's because such ideas have all ready been proposed in our known framework and have been discarded as un-physical. Similarly, what a common man might think is intuitive, is not at all what is going on in complicated theories and their intuition does not work.

Take something like quantum mechanics. I cringe whenever I hear people who have never formally studied quantum mechanics in any sense try and discuss it. For example, you hear people talk about collapse of the wavefunction quite often yet when I press them further, they don't actually know why it arises. Heck, the foundations work I've seen left that problem in the dust years ago.

Perhaps I have misunderstood your comments but that's my feeling anyway. I find that given the high level of sophistication of our current physical theories that require many intense years of study to understand, I am more likely to listen to the ideas of a qualified expert then a layman.

Eric said...

Bee,

Yes, you have 20 ideas before you brush your teeth in the morning. You "are" a genius. It doesn't matter that 99.9% are probably not very good ideas. You've said yourself in many blog entries that you mostly develop ideas started out by others, or even more preferred, proving others wrong.

You are ignoring the fact that this is a very, very good idea. I know you know it. I also know it pains you terribly that it is so obvious after hearing about it. Maybe if you got off your high horse and admitted that there are very very few really good ideas that are created you could step down and give the originality of the idea, and not just the proving of it, some credit.

There is a huge difference in quantity of original ideas versus quality of original ideas. I'll better you anytime, anywhere on that score.

Eric said...

I think I better state this. It "is" possible others have thought of this idea or parts of this idea. People come to the same conclusions independently and with no communication.

So, while I state uncategorically that I haven't read discussed etc about this idea it doesn't "neccessarily" mean others haven't written about it previously. (Dates are important here.) I think it must be pretty obvious by now that I wouldn't have made such a big deal of it if I had previously read about it or discussed it with anyone. However, if someone had come up with it previously and there is some written, auditory, or visual evidence, then more power to them and they have the priority.

Eric Habegger

Robert L. Oldershaw said...

Recent posts have concentrated on how new ideas come into being, and who has them, and who does not, and who gets credit.

Personally, I think we are side-stepping the much more important issue of how, in science, we distinguish good ideas of principle from dubious Ptolemaic model-building, or pure speculative rubbish.

Science does have a definitive way to do this, and woe be to us when we forget it.

In Old Testament mode today,
RLO

Eric said...

Robert,

Much of your own work concentrates on the self similarity of the universe at varying scales. Wouldn't my ideas fit in with yours, especially considering scaling self-similar effects do occur as the universe expands.

I really do think a lot of these arguments against recognition of quality ideas have much more to do with the sociological aspect of physics than anything else. When a savant comes up with the 100 digit of Pi , (and I'm not calling myself one), do we call it speculative rubbish? No, the reason it isn't is because we can use computers to calculate it and corroborate it. But while the calculators are buzzing do we go ahead and call it rubbish. No.

Do you think we should call a new idea that an individual is very sure about deluded rubbish if it fits with many other parameters and principles of the universe. I know you know that we could also call your ideas about self similarity rubbish but I agree with a lot of them.

Let's be very honest. I mean really honest. The proclivity to accept a new idea in physics has very little to do with its initial provability. It is much more about who says it. This is physics today. I see it everywhere including on this blog. Physics is sociologically busted.

Part of the proof is that even you would prefer to believe self-similary of anhilation of dark matter in galaxies to anhilation of protons and anti-protons is speculative rubbish. I'm pretty sure you wouldn't be saying that if someone more prestigious than me said the same thing in a journal, even with a similar lack of concrete evidence backing him up. I'm pretty sure of this because it agrees with the principles of most of your writing.

People are just brainwashed to believe only certain people with certain fixed credentials can say certain things. Sometimes one just knows.

Eric



However that does not mean

Neil B said...

@Luke:
I cringe whenever I hear people who have never formally studied quantum mechanics in any sense try and discuss it. For example, you hear people talk about collapse of the wavefunction quite often yet when I press them further, they don't actually know why it arises. Heck, the foundations work I've seen left that problem in the dust years ago.
Hmmm, the problem of collapse of the WF came about years ago and recognized first by the great quantum theorists. It arises because measurement somehow selects and localizes one of the alternative states in superposition and no one really understands how. The problem is not left in the dust, unless you thought fallacious circular arguments like regarding decoherence do the trick (see my handle link.)

Robert L. Oldershaw said...

Eric,

Please tell us about the best definitive prediction that your idea leads to.

Then we will have something tangible to work with. Opinions are too subjective.

Best,
RLO

Luke said...

@Neil B

I can easily remove the problem of the collapse of the wavefunction without references to decoherence. Consider instead of letting the |\psi> be the objective state of the system, let it be the information of the system. No more measurement problem or collapse of the wavefunction. This is because I am simply updating the information I have about a system. This is not an objective property and hence, there is no measurement problem. This is characteristic of the more statistical points of view of Dr. Fuchs (at PI) or Ballentine. Similarly, Bohmian mechanics has no collapse of the wavefunction due to determinism.

Robert L. Oldershaw said...

Ahhh, Friday night.

Time to kick back with a very strong cup o' java and a good cigar.

Enjoy, me hearties!

;)

tspin said...

I don't think any of those examples mentioned in the article qualifies as a paradigm shift.

The talk about emergence is empty IMO. Yes, reductionism is not perfect but there is simply no alternative, and there won't be an alternative. Our primitive minds can only process one simple thought at a time. Our language can only communicate one property at a time. Abandoning reductionism amounts to endless pondering of complexity without ever coming to any practical conclusion.

Multiverse is just plain BS, complete and utter nonsense, theology disguised as science. Inventing a measure on fantasy universes to "prove" that ours is somehow optimal, it like "explaining" the shape of humans by positing that we were created in the image of God. Both approaches are equally scientific and have the same chance of being experimentally verified.
It's really sad that such nonsense is seriously considered by physicists but this is what you get if you keep producing physicists unable to solve real problems and at the same time demand that they keep publishing - they simply invent imaginary problems and work on those.

Finally emergent spacetime would be a paradigm shift if one could convincingly show how it can emerge from something more fundamental. Verlinde approach however is just speculative hand waving.

Tim vB said...

Christine said:

It appears that you are misreading Feyerabend.

That may well be...


It is clear that science does proceed at a certain extent with the influence of external, random elements, human components (after all, science is a human activity) and not strictly by the scientific method, as many other meta-judgements may influence the output of a scientific breakthrough.

Yes, and it is clear to me that this sociological aspect was one point of Feyerabend. Karin Knorr Cetina is one of the sociologists who did research
about how science is actually done and in what aspects that is different from what is often described as the "scientific method".
The book that I read is obviously available in German only, its "Die Fabrikation von Erkenntnis".
But there is one in English, "Epistemic Cultures: How the Sciences Make Knowledge", which I suspect has similar content.


Robert L. Oldershaw said:

(1) Study and observe nature, with emphasis on empirical rather than an exclusively abstract approach.

Another point of Feyerabend was that there cannot be a definition of "empirical fact" without any theoretic context. So you first need a theory
that tells you what an "observation" really is. The concept that a "particle collider" will provide observations
rests for example on the assumption that it is irrelevant where on earth you build it. More specifically: you first need a theory that tells you
where to look and what to expect. If one believes in the standard model that could lead to the dismissal of some effects as noise, that
a "newer" or "better" theory would actually identify as an "effect". And this is, I think, not avoidable, not even with perfect conditions that let
you work along the "scientific method" without any random, external, human influences.

Tim vB said...

tspin said:

I don't think any of those examples mentioned in the article qualifies as a paradigm shift.

For Thomas Kuhn a paradigm shift means that you see concepts that existed before in a completly new way, like space and time in Newtonian physics and in general relativity. Many physicists will say that Newtonian physics approximates general relativity for small velocities and weak gravitational fields, but Thomas Kuhn (but my memory may trick me here) stressed that the very concepts that the theories use are not compatible.

In this sense the multiverse concept of string theory would be a paradigm shift (but one that neither you, it would seem, nor me would approve of :-).


Finally emergent spacetime would be a paradigm shift if one could convincingly show how it can emerge from something more fundamental.

"Emergent spacetime" is kind of a misnomer, because the people that I know of all say that one should be able to fully construct the classical spacetime as a classical approximation from whatever quantum model one has, i.e. they are all reductionists. That's what a lot of people in LQG say and try to do, for example. "Emergent" in the senss of "reductionism does not work" would mean that one would say "well, here is my microscopic quantum model of spacetime, but we cannot deduce GR, because that is emergent".

Bee said...

Hi Eric,

"You've said yourself in many blog entries that you mostly develop ideas started out by others, or even more preferred, proving others wrong."

I am very sure I never said anything like that, it is abundantly untrue. I might have said (not here, but at Peter's blog) that I actually don't like proving others wrong. To some extend we all develop ideas stated out by others, standing on the shoulders of giants and all.

"You are ignoring the fact that this is a very, very good idea. I know you know it. I also know it pains you terribly that it is so obvious after hearing about it. "

I am quoting this statement of yours because it's such a nice example of how people like you overestimate their own relevance. Eric, I haven't even read your comment. I read the first sentence and when it was clear you are promoting your own theory for whatever I almost deleted it, read our comment rules. The only reason I did not delete it is that you're not commenting here very often so I was thinking I'll give him some tolerance. I see now that it was a mistake.

I thus want to remind you that the topic of this post is "paradigm shifts" and I will delete any further off-topic comments. And rest assured that I will not "steal" your oh-so great idea. I recommend however that you discuss it elsewhere. Best,

B.

Bee said...

tspin: I didn't say that the multiverse or the idea that space-time is not fundamental are paradigm shifts, but that I think they could potentially turn out to be so. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Tim:

"Emergent spacetime" is kind of a misnomer, because the people that I know of all say that one should be able to fully construct the classical spacetime as a classical approximation from whatever quantum model one has, i.e. they are all reductionists. That's what a lot of people in LQG say and try to do, for example. "Emergent" in the senss of "reductionism does not work" would mean that one would say "well, here is my microscopic quantum model of spacetime, but we cannot deduce GR, because that is emergent".

I don't know why you say that is a misnomer. That it is emergent means exactly that on the fundamental level a continuous space-time does not exist but, when you pursue the path of reductionism, you will find that fundamentally there's no such thing as spacetime (there might instead be, say, a network) and it is only in a limit that is (in some sense) classical, that we see to good approximation a smooth spacetime. This does of course not mean that reductionism does not work. It means exactly this: that spacetime is not fundamental. Best,

B.

XiXiDu said...

I noticed that in all my comments I haven't really said anything about the topic.

So here is something that I understand as a true paradigm shift.

P versus NP is the example par excellence of a mathematical mystery that human beings lacked the language even to express until very recently in our history.

http://scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=377

Now I'm not sure if mathematics is seen as a kind of science or if it was this kind of knowledge you had in mind when writing this post but since you mentioned a concept like emergence, I think this is on topic.

Anyway, I don't see that there is any way we could talk about a future paradigm shift. As the example above shows, we sometimes don't even have the language to express future findings. That's the reason why all those techno-nerds talk about a 'Singularity' when refering to future progress. We just can't look beyond the event horizon.

Mitchell said...

If I was seriously working in theoretical physics at this time, I would be learning everything I could about the F-theory GUT models coming out of string theory. It may not be a paradigm shift, but it looks like a fundamental advance, that's happening right now.

Neil B said...

Luke, you can't just let psi be our state of knowledge etc. For one thing, it has to be able to cause actual interference patterns - something about or associated with real particles needs to interact with both slits or how can we explain the build up of that pattern? It isn't knowledge anyway, we don't necessarily know what's there until the experiment is over, and what if no one is there? No quantum nature of things? So why don't atoms radiate etc? No, the WF is needed to explain why things happen the way they do up until measurement, it is about the interaction up to that point. *Then* we don't understand what happens to it.

Bohmian mechanics is different anyway, saying there is a real deterministic guiding wave and determined local particle - but how does it deal with entanglement etc., still need superluminal connections to force distant correlations? What keeps guided electrons from radiating, requires white dwarf degeneracy, makes for distributed atomic orbitals etc? I've seen claims these can be handled but BM (aptly abbr. IMHO) is a clunky crock IMHO.

XiXiDu said...

@Bee, got this question:

Would you argree that if we can think about it at all, to talk about possible paradigm shifts we first have to define what is missing, what are the unexplained gaps in our understanding of reality?

As I learnt in a video featuring Scott Aaroson of MIT, "born probabilities are the huge gaping hole in our understanding of the fundamental physical processess of the world". If you agree, then taken as an example of a possible paradigm shift we would have to decide if this problem can be tackled by science at all and hence if the possibility for a paradigm shift if given in the first place.

Video:
http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/21857

Bee said...

Neil: Please stop it. This thread is not about the foundations of quantum mechanics. Luke knows what he is talking about. I strongly recommend you watch this colloquium by Chris Fuchs, read the papers and continue any further discussion elsewhere. Thanks,

B.

Bee said...

Hi XiXiDu,

I roughly agree that paradigm shifts are most often caused because there is a gap in our understanding that at some point becomes apparent and necessitates a rethinking. However, I don't think that "having to define what is missing" is a useful approach, simply because it might not be clear what is missing. Indeed, I would say that pinning down what it is that is missing is what is needed to fill the gap. Best,

B.

Plato said...

The explanation of scientific development in terms of paradigms was not only novel but radical too, insofar as it gives a naturalistic explanation of belief-change. Thomas Kuhn

Here's the thing.

As Bee mentions, ideas can be a dime a dozen, and it is more in the efforts to materialize, projective planning, and instituting that become the work tha goes into it. Imagine a business plan projected two years into the future to see if it can fly?

Let's take the PI Institute for instance. It began with an idea and by example, Burton was hired to materialize the dream.

You see?

The effect of the dream of PI can be dramatic on the science world given the mandate behind the formation of the institute.

Lazardis had a expectancy, as well as others with the feeling about what was on the horizon. They were open. What does that mean? If you close yourself down, the conclusion is inevitable.

Because this by any of the leaders of string theory it was left to someone like me, as a quasi "insider" who had the technical knowledge but not the sociological commitment, to take on that responsibility. And I had done so because of my own interest in string theory, which I was working on almost exclusively at the time. Nevertheless, some string theorists regarded the review as a hostile act.

The trouble with Physics, by Lee Smolin, Page 281


So how is this interpreted? That fact the the Institution stills practices an openness to research and development means that the work continues on the idea of formation and continued process of the idea implement for change

This was a paradigmatic shift whether one is vociferousness against it(string theory) or not yet a revolution is worked from the inside as well as the work they are pursuing on the outside resulting.


LEONARD SUSSKIND:

And I fiddled with it, I monkeyed with it. I sat in my attic, I think for two months on and off. But the first thing I could see in it, it was describing some kind of particles which had internal structure which could vibrate, which could do things, which wasn't just a point particle. And I began to realize that what was being described here was a string, an elastic string, like a rubber band, or like a rubber band cut in half. And this rubber band could not only stretch and contract, but wiggle. And marvel of marvels, it exactly agreed with this formula.
I was pretty sure at that time that I was the only one in the world who knew this.


In one's quietest moments how do ideas materialize? And then there is all that work that will come after. Was string theory dramatic in the way people looked at things? Discreteness and Continuity?

cont/...

Plato said...

cont/...

Symmetry and the way in which one could have reacted to it, as fundamental positions from which to work?

Fundamentals steps to inclusion?

"In 1680, Isaac Newton worked on the abstract problem of gravity and he changed the world. In 1820, Michael Faraday discovered a connection between the exotic phenomena of electricity and magnetism and his discoveries electrified the world. Einstein's 1905 conceptual obsession with space and time led to nuclear energy and the operation of accelerators for knowledge, for cancer therapy and for machines that provide luminescent x-ray photographs of viruses and toxins. In 1897, the "useless" electron was discovered. In 1977, Fermilab discovered the bottom quark and in 1995 the top quark was found. The lessons of history are clear. The more exotic, the more abstract the knowledge, the more profound will be its consequences." Leon Lederman, from an address to the Franklin Institute, 1995

Bold added by me for emphasis.

Best,

Phil Warnell said...

“Buddy, Can You Spare a Paradigm?”

-Barbara Weinstein

XiXiDu said...

@Bee

So the question is if science in what it does pursue is fundamentally based upon practicability, as in trying to reach certain goals, or coherence of explanation regarding observed phenomena. That is, does science base its objectives, its goals, on the aim of reaching a consistent model describing known reality or on an intended practical purpose.

Science is for what falsifiability is given by making predictions. "No conclusion can be drawn if you fail to build a contradiction". But I'm not sure of how scientists decide what to look into.

I suppose if I was a scientist I'd either go and research something that I don't understand, like why the moon appears to be larger when near the horizon. Or I would go and do research on something I want to achieve, like AI.

In other words, if the approach to define what is missing isn't a useful one to pin down what it is that is missing, can science rely on trying to explain given reality or do we have to pursue certain practical goals as well and see if they are realizable?

Plato said...

Not that kind of dream?:)That's just a review

BEE said:

Last night I had a nightmare! Bigfoot knocked at my door and wanted to talk to me about the existence of the string theory landscape. Still on east-coast time, I wiped off the sweat from my forehead but couldn't fall asleep again. I switched on my laptop, and decided its time to post the review on Lee Smolin's new book.


The very word "Paradigm" itself had to have countered viewpoints with which to consider change in society? Only because you do not like the word "multiverse?":)

You have to do better then that.

If one is to accept such a cultural change then you have actually counter the opinion, as Weinberg did, when he contracted/reviewed with effort the Kuhnian views of the times in science?

The Revolution that Didn't Happen by Steven Weinberg

I first read Thomas Kuhn's famous book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions a quarter-century ago, soon after the publication of the second edition. I had known Kuhn only slightly when we had been together on the faculty at Berkeley in the early 1960s, but I came to like and admire him later, when he came to MIT. His book I found exciting.

Evidently others felt the same. Structure has had a wider influence than any other book on the history of science. Soon after Kuhn's death in 1996, the sociologist Clifford Geertz remarked that Kuhn's book had "opened the door to the eruption of the sociology of knowledge" into the study of the sciences. Kuhn's ideas have been invoked again and again in the recent conflict over the relation of science and culture known as the science wars.


It does not mean one has to practice insolence by adversity to an idea, just that one is civil and constructive in their arguments. Leaders of, by eliciting such insolence are not explaining anything by acquiesce too a conduct becoming by association.

I am not saying that by association countering a word, a phrase, is insolence only that it is done in the right way.

Opposition to the ideas of symmetry understood in this way lead to a thinking that is part and parcel of a movement away from, that Lee thought to invoke after giving such time to the subject but for every time a way the general consesus can lead to a divide in this knowledge of, by those that continue to work the idea. He had to choose which road to take.

Best,

Tim vB said...

Bee said:

I don't know why you say that [ermergent spacetime] is a misnomer.
...
It means exactly this: that spacetime is not fundamental.

Maybe I misunderstood "emergent", as you explained in the beginning of the thread:

I'm a particle physicist, of course I believe in reductionism "in principle." I think however there's limits to it in practice, and possibly we will learn at some point that there are examples where the derivation of emergent features from the fundamental ones is indeed not possible, even in principle.

When I wrote "emergent spacetime is a misnomer" I was only thinking of "emergent" in the sense of

...the derivation of emergent features from the fundamental ones is indeed not possible, even in principle.

So what I meant to say was: As far as I know the goal of every research program about "emergent spacetime" is to
derive "emergent spacetime" from more fundamental principles, I do not know a physicist who would say that this is not possible, in principle.

Somehow I got the impression that "emergent" is used in other parts of science like the life sciences only in this sense, and that on the other hand it
is "pretty clear" that spacetime cannot be a smooth manifold, but must be a classical limit of some microscopic quantum notion - combining both prejudices made me say that "emergent spacetime" maybe misleading...

Bee said...

Hi Tim,

Sorry for the misunderstanding. As I said to XiXiDu above, as a particle physicist I of course believe in reductionism. Whenever I refer to emergence, I mean that in the sense of weak emergence, see my post Emergence and Reductionism. It basically means that there is, at least in principle, a derivation from a more fundamental theory. I fail to see why some people seem to think such emergence is an empty concept. It explains, ideally, features we observe as arising from some underlying structure in a potentially quite intricate and non-obvious way. Thing is that knowing about the fundamental description gives ideally rise to more than reproduction of the emergent properties but hopefully testable deviations from those.

The first point I was mentioning in my post above is alluding to the question whether reductionism is in all instances useful and whether we will one day be able to replace biology and chemistry with elementary particle physics. Half a century ago, many people, especially physicists probably thought so. Chemistry you see, is not fundamental. It's actually all physics. Point is that I think we've come to realize that whether or not it's in principle fundamental, working with the emergent features at the respective energy range is an appropriate description. I think that the reason for this change of thought is the spread of effective field theory which puts this separation of scales on a rigorous basis. I only noticed recently, more or less coincidentally by a literature check, that the formalism of effective field theories is actually fairly recent. Best,

B.

Plato said...

How is one to contend with the higg's field(particle reductionism taken too?) if one did not believe that the speed of light and derivatives thereof, cannot be seen "as a mass given?"

One would have had to believe that symmetry was based in the idea of, the "Speed of light?":)

As a perfect symmetry?

Plato was not wrong then in perceiving the light in behind and would still counter Lee's position on "Against Symmetry?:)"

So what are the thoughts of those in particularization when they work on the LHC?

Plato said...

Anomaly and the Emergence of Scientific Discoveries Kuhn now moves past his initial topic of paradigm to scientific discovery saying that in order for there to be a discovery, an anomaly must be detected within the field of study. He discusses several different studies and points out the anomaly that invoked the scientific discovery. Later in the chapter he begins to discuss how the anomaly can be incorporated into the discovery to satisfy the scientific community.

There are three different characteristics of all discoveries from which new sorts of phenomena emerge. These three characteristics are proven through an experiment dealing with a deck of cards. The deck consisted of anomalous cards (e.g. the red six of spades shown on the previous page) mixed in with regular cards. These cards were held up in front of students who were asked to call out the card they saw, and in most cases the anomaly was not detected.

Plato said...

"Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration." - Thomas Alva Edison, Harper's Monthly (September 1932)

The deck consisted of anomalous cards (e.g. the red six of spades shown on the previous page) mixed in with regular cards.

Or perhaps, the four of hearts?

You have to be observant?

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

In as the concept of dimension is what comprises to be a degree of freedom, is your conceptualizations of soace-time to be what constitutes to be these dimensions or simply phenomena accommodated by their existence? What I’m trying to get a handle on is what you fundamentally consider as being a space.

Best,

Phil

Luke said...

Bee,

Sorry for the divergence into foundations of quantum mechanics. It just really gets me annoyed about the lack of knowledge about the subject and people try and debate it. That lecture by Dr. Fuchs is excellent. In fact, they are part of a series of excellent lectures done at IQC and PI this past semester for a course in foundations of quantum which I took. Highly recommended.

Otherwise, thanks for the excellent reading.

Bee said...

Sure, I understand.

Bee said...

Hi Phil,


"is your conceptualizations of soace-time to be what constitutes to be these dimensions or simply phenomena accommodated by their existence?"

What's the difference?

"What I’m trying to get a handle on is what you fundamentally consider as being a space."

Well, I don't know. I am very undecided on the question on whether space-time is fundamental or not and if not, what else it is.

Best,

B.

Arun said...

Aha Luke, perhaps interpretation of QM is a paradigm shift in the process of happening?

I listened a bit to Chris Fuchs' talk and got the impression that this is still a work in progress.

Bee, if that is true, then you have a chance of observing a paradigm shift in the making.

XiXiDu said...
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Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

The difference is essentially found in the question, as considering first a dimension being a specific manifestation of a degree of freedom or simply a place where such a manifestation is accommodated a space in which to be realized. So for instance the confusion often for some in having time imagined as a dimension, being not measurable the same, as not with rods yet rather with clocks, as to have many believe one is more real or fundamental then the other. This further subsequently leading to the debates of whether time can exist without space and vice versa.

I suppose another way to express this would be mathematically, as to ask what are the dimensional qualities (degree of freedom) of the natural numbers, in respect to the reals, as one found to have a specific degree (level) of freedom, in regards to all those potentially allowed within the other.

I guess what I’m eluding to being, that it is possible to imagine space more holistically, without having it limited to a specific function, as being nothing other than a place required for things to become real. In terms of the exclusive quantum perpective, this would be called possibility and yet for others it would be seen as to what has things able to have potential. Interestingly enough the central question it raises being are the possibilities unlimited by the space provided or are they mandated by the potential it presents? When and if this question is come to be answered is what I imagine will have to cause a paradigm shift.


Best,

Phil

Luke said...

Arun,

Dr. Fuchs has this idea that every object has a Hilbert space dimension which is a measure of how efficient they are as a quantum computer. Or some variation thereof. I've talked with Dr. Fuchs about it and there is still much work to be done and he hasn't settled in on the terminology or idea completely. If you read his paper QBism at the Perimeter he talks about it near the end. He brings up the analogy that Newton discovered a law of attraction between every object. In other words, he is describing the law of one thing that everything else in the universe feels, which is gravitational attraction. The Hilbert space dimension is similar. I apologize if I've misconstrued his views but that's something I really like about his viewpoint: finding properties that all objects have and building a theory from there. It's an interesting new way of thinking. It's a different way of looking at physics.

Look at quantum information theory and the vast wealth of knowledge that has arisen from that relatively new field. It takes a different viewpoint of quantum mechanics, as I mentioned above, and has seen a lot of progress. I suppose it ties in with the ideas of Dr. Verlinde a bit. I know his talk this past Wednesday was how spacetime emerges from thermodynamics, which has close ties with information theory. I do get the impression that the information paradigm is seeping its way into many branches of physics.

Actually, Bee, given that you know more about this then I do, what are your thoughts on the whole information idea?

XiXiDu,

There is far from a general consensus of which interpretation is correct. Anyone who tells you otherwise is fooling themselves. One important thing I got from the course is that there is still much to be done in quantum interpretations.

Neil B said...

Bee, Luke first brought up QM when he wrote "I cringe whenever I hear people who have never formally studied quantum mechanics in any sense try and discuss it" and then re psi and being knowledge in response to my critique of that comment etc. And no he does not know what he's talking about but tx for that link. I'll be happy to stop talking about it and hope he does too. (BTW for any readers not hip to multiverse v. many-worlds interpretation, who may have been confused by injection of QM arguments: multiverse implies variations in laws of physics, but MWI implies reality of various possible outcomes of events in e.g. our world as given.)

Luke said...

Neil,

I am a bit offended that you state I don't know what I'm talking about. I am not an expert in the foundations of quantum mechanics, but I did just take a course at PI/IQC this past semester called the interpretations and foundations of quantum mechanics where we discussed various interpretations including many-worlds. So I did get to debate and discuss interpretations with many of their most prominent supporters. I do have a good idea of what I am saying.

As Bee said, we are not here to debate quantum interpretation. If you would like to I am more then willing. As for the \psi being information comment, I can provide you with the literature that espouses this viewpoint if you desire.

XiXiDu said...
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Steven Colyer said...

XiXiDu - You've obviously been influenced by MWI advocates. You should know by now it's the 2nd most popular of the top 3 top QI theories. Copenhagen still is number one, and nobody knows what the heck is up with deBroglie-Bohm; for some reason it's getting a lot of press lately. It also suffers from being the number one QI of crackpots, which means the noise is so loud that if there's anything to it, who can tell? Shrug.

But in any event, I would advise staying open-minded about ALL QI interps for the time being. We simply can't probe deeply enough, yet, to decisively prove or disprove any of them. The maths in all of them work out fine. Anthropic maths work out. Fine, but so what? Until they can be tested and either proven or falsified, they remain speculative, and to come down hard in favor of one over the other is more likely than not a result of being influenced by a mentor(s), who may or may not have a political agenda. My advice would be to listen to advocates of all the various theories and don't try to jump the gun on coming to a strong conclusion on any particular one as of yet.

An analogy I like is imagining you're Columbus on that fateful day one day out from hitting the beach on San Salvador, when all you know about the New World is the birds your sailor has just spotted, and trying to extrapolate what the New World is like from that. You can't, except it has land. That's where all QI's are. We need more data. We're getting more data and LHC will provide a tidal wave of same very soon. I caution patience, thereby. Also Alexander, props on loving Egan, Vinge, Reynolds, and Banks as your fav current sci-fi authors. They are the core of mine as well, along with Hamilton and Sterling. However I often find too much with the MWI in all of sci-fi. We need to be inspired by sci-fi but not get caught up in it too much. Easier said than done at times, I know.

Luke, I'm not envious or jealous of you being where you are, but only because I learned to throw off those counter-productive negative emotions a long time ago. Instead, I feel happy for you the opportunity you have. Keep up the good flexibility of mind you seem to have, and the tremendous opportunities before you. Good posts.

Neil, try getting Rowan Univ. Dept. of Mechanical Engg. to run your experiment. Hell, if they'll run stuff for Randall Mills and his crackpot Hydrino Theory, they'll run anything. But as XiXiDu said, this is a page for discussing paradigm shifts. The shift in QI will happen when Columbus hits the beach and not before; we can't rush the currents.

XiXiDu said...
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XiXiDu said...
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XiXiDu said...
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Steven Colyer said...

Oh, stop being so defensive. No matter who you are or what you believe you will run into opposition. Planck didn't believe Einstein's assertion that light really WAS quantized, Lorentz never let go of the aether, yet both admired him.

And as far as Occam's Razor goes, Science looks at the razor as a goal. Real Science is about finding the next step up: Occam's Short Sword. Each element that is unified is a razor, but when you unify them you get the sword. No need to explore long swords, or twin short swords or twin scimitars like the dark elf Drizzt Do'Urden in Salvatore's D&D-verse, let alone the Norse God Thor wielding his magical hammer Mjollnir in a full roundhouse swing to smite his enemy's skull.

In other words, keep it simple, but not too simple. Extrapolation gets us in trouble, but that's the job of the Pros: to decide when things get, or are getting, out of hand.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

I would agree that researchers shouldn’t come to believe any particular interpretation of QM over another and yet think they should rather look at what each of them represent ontologically and metaphysically in terms of the nature of the realities they imply and the potentials and limits that come as a consequence, so that they can relate better what they observe to what it is they are theorizing. The feeling I have is if the questions that present as being the current focus are to be ultimately answered, which would then have a shift in our thinking to occur, such things simply can’t be ignored as essentially they will form to be key aspects of the answer.

“It has been often said, and certainly not without justification, that the man of science is a poor philosopher. Why, then, should it not be the right thing for the physicist to let the philosopher to the philosophizing? Such might indeed be the right thing at a time when the physicist believes he has at his disposal a rigid system of fundamental concepts and fundamental laws which are also well established that waves of doubt cannot reach them; but, it cannot be right at a time when the very foundations of physics itself become problematic as they are now. At a time like the present, when experience forces us to seek a newer and more solid foundation, the physicist cannot simply surrender to the philosopher the critical contemplation of the theoretical foundations; for, he himself knows best, and feels more surely where the shoe pinches. In looking for a new foundation he must make clear in his own mind just how far such concepts which he uses are justified, and are necessities.”


Albert Einstein-Physics and Reality- Franklin Institute Journal [Volume.221, No. 3, March 3, 1936],

Best,

Phil

XiXiDu said...
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Bee said...

Luke,

I know next to nothing about the foundations of quantum mechanics, I just happened to sit through one or the other seminar during my time at PI, so I have a vague idea what's going on. I have a lot of sympathy for Chris and he's a really smart guy. It might well be that he's on to something. But I have the feeling that he's only scratching on the surface and that his story, if it turns out to be the right way to think about Nature, is only a small part of what we need. I would say pretty much the same about literally all other interpretations of QM.

I was actually about to add something about the foundations of QM to this post. I personally think indeed it is likely that this will be an area that will initiate the next paradigm shift. However, it is so far entirely unclear what that will be, so I didn't really know what to write.

Best,

B.

Bee said...

XiXiDu:

"I don't see why physicists cannot agree?"

Enforcing premature consensus in science is a sure way into stagnation. Steven is right, if there is no clear consensus yet scientists should in their education be exposed to all approaches under consideration. I wrote in this post: dealing with uncertainty how unfortunate it is that many people tend to think science is about agreement. In fact, science is about disagreement, because that's where progress comes from. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

Sorry, I'm trying, but I can't figure out what your question is. Let me put it like this: I'm a phenomenologist. If it looks the same, it is the same. All other distinctions are meaningless. Best,

B.

XiXiDu said...
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Steven Colyer said...

I thought not reply to Steven Colyer saying that you'll always run into opposition. That's really sad, because it shouldn't be that way.

I don't want it to be that way either, but that's the way it is. Physicists are human, they have jobs and careers they wish to protect. I also went through the phase you are apparently going through, which is the realization that Mathematics and Physics (Reality) are so pure, there SHOULD NOT be disagreement about something as fundamental as ... the Truth!

But there is. Get over it, get over it sooner rather than later, would be my advice. Or not, doesn't matter, I'm just trying to give you sage advice to help you focus your obvious passion into whatEVer you wish to focus on, without allowing the political ugly aspirations of certain humans to overly depress you. You're young. You have time. Time enough to make a difference. Don't hamstring yourself before you start. One must start with passion, which you obviously have in abundance. That's the base without which no further advancement, in any field, is possible.

But passion is not enough, just a start as I said. For example, Lubos Motl has passion. What else does he have? Nothing else as far as I can see. If you develop like that, then I can't help you, and neither can anyone else.

A final example: Captain Kirk to Charlie X, a Heinleinesque "Stranger in a Stranger Land" human raised by aliens and rescued by Kirk et. al. in Star Trek TOS, when he said:

"There are a million things in the world you can have and a million things you can't, and she [Yeoman Janice Rand] is one of the things you can't."

Mmm, Yeoman Rand. ;-) Well, she WAS Kirk's girlfriend. :-) :-)

Damn Politics, but don't ignore them or do so at your peril. they exist.

Bee said...

XiXiDu:

Whenever you read an argument that relies on declaring something "an obvious fact," be careful. Best,

B.

XiXiDu said...
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Bee said...

XiXiDu,

Not sure what you're trying to say. Sorry, but I don't work well with analogies. If shades of grey are supposed to be shades of right and wrong, you missed the point. When it comes to different scientific theories, you can't neatly order them on a scale from white to black, that's exactly the problem. There are many aspects that have to be factored in (and, to be fair, not all of them are objective). You could say it's a multi-dimensional space that can't be ordered. Best,

B.

XiXiDu said...
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Bee said...

XiXiDu,

"'Truth' is a very simple concept, understood perfectly well by three-year-olds, but often made unnecessarily complicated by adults."

Yes, sorry, but I'm one of the complicated adults. Best,

B.

Luke said...

XiXiDu,

You'd be surprised when it comes to actual interpretations and how the researchers all interact. For example Roderich Tumulka, who is a big proponent of Bohmian mechanics, has done work in collapse models and many worlds. Or take Lev Vaidman, who is a large proponent of many worlds. He's done work in Bohmian mehanics. All of the speakers I saw would like to say that their own interpretation is correct. However, you cannot experimentally distinguish any of them so at the end of the way, it comes down to personal choice.

Steven,

Thanks for the kind words. I've realised I'm very fortunate to be close to PI and it's opened a lot of doors. As getting truly upset, I can't say I am. In fact, I like debating with people about interpretations since it's good fun.

Bee,

Interpretations suffers from the lack of researchers/interest. It's too bad. Sure it's more philosophical (there is still math to be done) then other parts of physics, but indeed does give you a new appreciation for quantum mechanics. It gave me a new appreciation for Einstein.

Chris is indeed a very approachable and smart guy. Check out his short paper on the arXiv for an overview of his ideas. I agree with your statement about a small part of nature as well. I recall that he used those words in his paper to describe Newton as he describe a little part of nature that effects everything, i.e. gravity. Of course his was much more lucid.

I talked with Chris one afternoon and basically all the answers to my questions were "I don't know." He's not entirely clear where it leads. This is a common theme in interpretations.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Like,

It appears that a very young age you’ve already managed to find a balance between what one would like to be true and what science mandates as to how such things are to be decided. It’s also nice to hear that Einstein is one that serves as an inspiration for you and yet would remind the spirit of what he said and did to be more important than any particular opinion or position that he held as being dear to him.

That is I have always found as being the most important of this aspect of Einstein, is him being convinced that in order to be able to learn and perhaps to discover, it’s more contingent on what one has been able to gather about the thoughts and ideas of others, both of the past and present, than any that are considered as being your own. That’s to say while many believe paradigm shifts in science to be resultant primarily due to those few like Einstein, he himself would have not agreed, as the complete collection of those like himself and all that participate, is what has it to have science to become what it is and promises to be in future.

“Somebody who only reads newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses. He is completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of his times, since he never gets to see or hear anything else. And what a person thinks on his own without being stimulated by the thoughts and experiences of other people is even in the best case rather paltry and monotonous. There are only a few enlightened people with a lucid mind and style and with good taste within a century. What has been preserved of their work belongs among the most precious possessions of mankind. We owe it to a few writers of antiquity (Plato, Aristotle, etc.) that the people in the Middle Ages could slowly extricate themselves from the superstitions and ignorance that had darkened life for more than half a millennium. Nothing is more needed to overcome the modernist's snobbishness.”

Albert Einstein-Ideas and Opinions- (1952)

Best,

Phil

XiXiDu said...
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Phil Warnell said...

Hi XiXiDu

only non-magical one

I would simply say that what constitutes as being magic is what serves as to what still as being as of yet to be understood and yet science has and will continue to make strides despite acknowledging that such things are present within its theories. This serves for me to be able to make the distinction between those who are primarily concerned with righteousness rather than rightfulness.

“But hitherto I have not been able to discover the cause of those properties of gravity from phænomena, and I frame no hypotheses; for whatever is not deduced from the phænomena is to be called an hypothesis; and hypotheses, whether metaphysical or physical, whether of occult qualities or mechanical, have no place in experimental philosophy. In this philosophy particular propositions are inferred from the phænomena, and afterwards rendered general by induction. Thus it was that the impenetrability, the mobility, and the impulsive force of bodies, and the laws of motion and of gravitation, were discovered. And to us it is enough that gravity does really exist, and act according to the laws which we have explained, and abundantly serves to account for all the motions of the celestial bodies, and of our sea.”

-Isaac Newton- Principia Mathematica”[1687]

Best,

Phil

P.S. I also find a difference between those that would address others who write as being “at” someone as opposed to it being “to” someone; a mere subtlety for some and yet not for me.

XiXiDu said...
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Phil Warnell said...
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Phil Warnell said...

Hi XiXiDu,

No offence taken as the rhetoric you mention from those on either side of the issue almost always comes down to those who chose to find being righteous the goal over being rightful and thus not really relevant to the intention or spirit of either of their disciplines or philosophies. However, at the core of each I do find them having commonalities, when understood as to either to be practiced correctly, with that being necessary for each to be introspective and extrospective, if they are to be found to have any utility.

However, although not offended, I’ll admit to being disappointed that you seem not to understand what I had by say,, by finding it simply being rhetoric, as that means my communication of ideas still needs much improvement. The only thing I can offer further about this relates to what you quoted, as the author finding it necessary for nature to prove him to be wrong, rather than to discover ways to have nature find him to be right.

In the case of Many Worlds this would constitute finding evidence, other than that being circumstantial, to consider this to be reasonably true; such as going to another world, then returning with evidence you had been there, where upon I believe Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and the vast majority would then come to concur. I can tell you in all sincerity. I have no prejudice in respect to any of this in the end, other than to say that to practice science we are to learn from nature, rather than to have us make its decisions. This finds us the ones that have our paradigms shifted, while nature finds such shifts for it as being unnecessary.



Best,

Phil

P.S. I do appreciate you not coming “at” me, as I never have responded well to intimidation, whether it comes to either matters of reason or conscience :-)

Luke said...

Bee,

Sorry for the diverting this into a discussion of quantum foundations!

XiXiDu,

So as not to turn this into a forum, I'd be more then happy to have an e-mail exchange to discuss matters further so we don't clutter the forum.

Phil,

Einstein wasn't as active in quantum mechanics as he was in relativity, but he was there, behind the scenes, pointing out all the flaws of the theory. In fact, he seemed to have planted the seeds of the Schroedinger cat in private letters to Schroedinger. He was very skeptical of the ideas of Dirac/von Neumann and especially Bohr. It reinforced that his fame is well deserved. Actually, the whole idea of taking a long hard look at the foundations of a theory did lead to the modern physics era. Taking a long hard look at E&M theory and Newton's Laws, Einstein was able to piece together a brand new theory of gravity. I do think that looking at the very foundations of theories and taking a long hard look, such as Verlinde, leads to new insights we didn't see before.

Another note, it would be interesting tio see how Einstein reacted to Bell's Theorem. I'd imagine it would send him into many sleepless nights.

I think the most important thing I've learnt is to keep an open mind about things. Sure many worlds is science fiction to me, but that doesn't mean I should neglect it. One should study with an open mind and try to understand what they don't agree with and why.

Robert L. Oldershaw said...

tspin,

Regarding your comment:

"The talk about emergence is empty IMO. Yes, reductionism is not perfect but there is simply no alternative, and there won't be an alternative.",

there is an alternative.

It is variously called systems theory, or hierarchical systems theory, or general systems theory.

Basically it says that (1) nature is hierarchical, (2) reductionism works well for some segments of the hierarchy, but not all, and most importantly that (3) there are fundamental objects and fundamental physics at various levels of the hiearchy, not just at the assumed "bottom".

Take an organism, for example. The strict reductionist would say the "bottom" level' of partciles rules the organism. Well, take away the cellular structure, and what do you have left?

Systems theory says particles are important, molecules are important, cells are important, organelles are important, organs are important, and so is the whole organism.

It is wrong to think one could explain the whole organism with strict reduction to subatomic particles. It is completely impossible and incomprehensible even if you could fake it.

Likewise "emergence" sounds like reality bubbling up from lower in the hierarchy. Systems theory says study the organism at all levels because they are all crucial to understanding the organism. The hierarchy itself is a fundamental and irreducible thing.

When you apply systems theory to the whole cosmos, then strict reductionism is the ultimate fool's errand, and fundamental objects and physics can be found on widely different scales, including very large scales.

There are always alternatives. Never give up on questioning prevailing assumptions.

Best,
RLO

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Luke,

Although I would say you underestimate Einstein’s contributions to Quantum Theory, I would agree at the time he was very wary of the direction in which it developed. As for thinking Einstein suffering sleepless nights in having knowledge of the confirmed revelations of Bell, I think you might be underestimating him again. That is I find he was quite willing to admit being mistaken, as Hubble’s results had him quickly admit as being such as to abandoning the steady state thoughts he had in regards to the universe.

I would say on the contrary it would have been Bohr who would rather slept a little less soundly, as him considering entanglement as an anomalous misunderstanding of QM’s actions in regards to its formalism. No for my money between all of his contemporaries he more than others would not only have accepted such a shift of paradigm, yet if it was shown to be supported correctly, would be the first to embrace it. In such regard I will always be reminded of his comment to Born about Bohm’s proposal, with only being able to criticize it by calling it “cheap”. When it comes to the critiques of Einstein, I always thought I’d rather be considered as cheap then being incomplete; that in realizing nature itself with its adherence to conservation is found often as being cheap:-)

Best,

Phil

Steven Colyer said...
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Steven Colyer said...

Hi Luke,

I gave up debating Interpretations of Quantum Mechanics a long time ago, but only after I learned QM's limits, that is to say it has significant ones, and until we can probe deeply enough, to debate it is a waste of time, to me personally. The debate is 80 years, and counting ...

Still, QI's make a damn fine teaching tool. You can see the light bulbs lighting up over the students' heads, right after you present the problem and their brows furrow en masse.

At the end of the day, Bohr won all his debates with Einstein, except EPR in which they were both wrong. The new student to QM doesn't believe that. How could mean old Bohr take on good Dr. Einstein?!! But he did, and he won. Which Solvay Conference was it, 1927 or 1930, of the famous picture of Einstein striding tall and triumphant, with Bohr stooped and unhappy in argument astride him? Whenever it was, it was taken at lunchtime, just before which Einstein posited a problem that stumped Bohr.

But after lunch, Bohr came back, and beat Einstein, yet again.

And yet, Einstein prevails. That's fine. He really did help QM, as you said, by questioning it. It needed questioning. Bohr stood up to the challenge, Einstein made Bohr think. All to the good, all around.

My interpretation of Copenhagen is not the "positivism" attributed to it, but rather Bohr's REAL message, which to my way of thinking was:

People! We know THIS! We know the HOW and what WHY we have, so far, explains the experimental results. Instead of endlessly debating the WHY of the HOW we know, would not our precious and limited valuable time be better spent devising methods and mathematics and experiments that would lead to more accurate HOWS, to achieve more data, that one day, we can actually answer the WHY, with the proper data to do so?

That's my take. In 2010, the new HOW has arrived, the LHC. In 1-2 years, the new results will spill out, and all kinds of new debate will ensue.

Bohr had the right attitude for his times. He was practical in a time that called for practicality. Einstein was a dreamer until the end. Both are needed. But what is needed most, is a theory that suits the times, based on the experimental limits of the times.

I see no reason to further debate that which was a "hot" topic 80 years ago. This old geezer is bugging out. But if the young turks of our times wish to rehash debates of the young turks of older times, we older gents should listen, and let them have at it. It's how they learn. It has the added benefit of amusing us older guys.

But XiXiDu, before you even THINK of responding, think long and hard of your fellow countryperson Bee's advice, when she advised you and rightly so:

Whenever you read an argument that relies on declaring something "an obvious fact," be careful.
... the ever busy Bee

XiXiDu said...
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XiXiDu said...
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Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,


Not bad advice given to Luke, except to clearly have it understood why exactly all this has been debated for so long, which actually has less to do with the machinery of QM, yet rather where it leaves us in respect to the limits of what can be known and in particular what it means for us in actually knowing things.

That being what’s central to all the interpretations, including Copenhagen, is that they impose a limit on this. On the other hand what distinguish each of the interpretations is the reasons assigned for this. With standard QM the reason is, there is no reason and with the rest one is either limited by the number of realities you can be aware of or by some aspect of physical structure itself placing limits on not what there is to be known, yet rather in the ability to have it be known.


The bottom line being, is to ask, if there is any importance assignable to such differences, if the end result is in not being able to know? From my point of view there is, as I find the reasons for limits to be as significant as the limits themselves. So the debate really is about whether if this should be a concern of science or not and that answer can only be given by the scientist themselves. That I guess is just another way to agree, that there certainly is knowledge for which having it be known being its only value and that knowing on its own can have our paradigm shift.

Best,

Phil

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Bee said...

XiXiDu:

I have great sympathy for your point 1, but I wouldn't say it's a paradigm shift in the sense that it changes our fundamental understanding of Nature, rather, it's a (potential) change in operation. (You might be interested in having a look at my post We are Einstein for what the 'wisdom of the crowds' can and can't achieve in science.)

"Forget about the naive definitions of truth and 'obvious facts' you thought to be reasonable but which are plain silly. "

In fact, you are the one who did and continues to believe that one gains anything from calling something 'obvious' or 'true,' so who is being silly here? 'Truth' is only well defined when it comes to (simple kinds of) mathematical logic. In these logical system, a mathematical statement is either false or it's true. The truth value of such a, possibly quite complex expression, might be obvious or not to a three year old, but that's a subjective assessment. In either case, physics isn't maths. Statements about reality you'll never know are true. You can in the best case find out whether they're wrong, and you can tell to what precision they are useful descriptions. So whenever somebody says some description of Nature is "obviously true" he has very fundamentally misunderstood what science is. And yes, I'm German. Best,

B.

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Bee said...

XiXiDu:

"Creationism is obviously false and evolution obviously true, it's an obvious fact. A scientific theory is a collection of so called facts."

They are both hypothesis and the evidence clearly speaks in favor of evolution. You can falsify a hypothesis, but you'll never know whether a description of Nature is fundamentally true, since it could be falsified tomorrow.

Of course the words "true," "obvious," "theory" and so on are frequently used in common terminology whether or not they are appropriate. I don't argue about the common use of words, there's nothing to learn from that. Best,

B.

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Neil B said...

Well, I'm surprised how much talk of QM foundations continues here, I guess people just can't get it out of their heads! (Heh, also inside joke about MWI: heads for each person ...) OK, it was suggested I try moving discussion of that elsewhere - such as to my own blog - so I will. I invite readers to click my name link and there are several posts about QM you can add comments to. One is a way to test whether decoherence actually collapses superpositions before measurement, so it isn't just philosophy. Another point I've made, is the first BS in an interferometer should split the photon into different worlds - but then no later interference. BTW, it's odd to say there would be no experimental difference (ergo, "meaningless" per positivism) but then that one alternative must be true for logical reasons? What if our universe just isn't entirely logical?

PS: Luke, I shouldn't have been so blunt. I just meant, you were wrong IMHO about those particular issues and as pushback. Not, you DKWYTA in general. You would find my threads interesting, and some of these regulars commented there.

Bee said...

XiXiDu,

I don't have time to read every 30 pages pamphlet the link to which somebody dumps in my comment section, which is why I'm not commenting on it. I am simply telling you that yes, scientists have to be careful to accurately word their statements and yes, this sometimes has the side effects that the general public mistakes accuracy and carefulness for there to be much more uncertainty as it is, but that's a communication problem. I am very against pretending we know more (claiming "truth") than we really do, and calling something "obvious" is, as I said, a subjective statement. Instead, the public should come to learn that uncertainty is an inevitable part of science.

Since you are new here, I'll explain it to you explicitly even though our comment rules state it pretty clearly: This is my blog. We discuss what I'm interested in. If you have other question, please ask them in some forum or elsewhere, this is not the place to do it. Thanks,

B.

Torbjörn Larsson, OM said...

Heh. I wouldn't agree with any of that. (o.O)

First I would note that there is no universal and testable definition of "paradigm". Deutsch in his "The Fabric of Reality" rejects it soundly.

Second I would note that reductionism in the general sense is to reduce to simpler systems, or more precisely the scientific method of theory. This doesn't preclude understanding of emergent phenomena. And in fact they have to be considered the best _successes_ of reductionism, as such phenomena make systems immensely simpler for theory, so extremely reductionist.

Third I note that deriving the parameters of the standard model as a 'most optimal' configuration is not a multiverse model. It works out like trying to apply the idea of evolution on individuals instead of populations, there are no distributions and no actual selection. I.e. what is "optimal" here, if not "the result we want". It is testable, but not natural; not even reductionist simplest as it have to add this ad hoc non-naturalness uniqueness assumption to the the assumption of a single class member.

Fourth, and we have tested this, even though space-time is considered to be emergent on more dimensions it is a smooth, continuous manifold with respect to relativity. Supernovae timing of quanta have allowed testing smoothness beyond Planck limits, the astronomers results are on arxiv btw.

My uninformed guess is that string theorists aren't surprised by a positive testing of "smooth manifolds" all the way down (presumably). But at a guess the "quantum gravity" community should have been dealt a fundamental blow as it directly rejects in a "no go" way the most basic prediction that would follow from accepting such a theory.

Neil B said...

Torbjörn (OM = "Order of the Molly" from Pharyngula - not to be confused with Order of Molly Pitcher, Order of Merit, _____? I dug Molly Ivins, even if oft not agree with PZ): awhile ago, maybe 80s, it seemed fetching or even necessary that space-time would have to be foamy at Planck scale. The experiments you note cast some doubt on that, since Planck-grade photon would presumably scatter off that structure (as if off a sloppy grating.) However I wonder if they took into account the superposition idea, and that a crude notion of specific "real configurations" in time and space might be misleading. (Sorry, I am just winging this middle-brow.) In any case - should we be surprised we didn't find that structure?

Robert L. Oldershaw said...

Oy vey, there is always a theoretical way to "Save The Phenomenon" in Ptolemaic fashion, if you do not approve of nature's empirical verdicts.

That has become standard operating procedure in theoretical HEP and cosmology in recent decades.

Funding and status never need be at risk in the postmodern era.

Mitchell said...

XiXiDu - MWI, like Bohmian mechanics, is not conceptually relativistic. If you divide a wavefunction into component "worlds", there is no way to "Lorentz transform" that construction, you just have to start again with the transformed wavefunction. In other words, a division into worlds is frame-dependent (as well as being quantum basis-dependent), just as the Bohmian construction is.

This might be regarded as evidence that the wavefunction is not a real thing, but rather a calculation tool like a probability distribution. So probably you should be looking at interpretations which do not reify the wavefunction.

Tim vB said...

XiXiDu said:

Creationism is obviously false and evolution obviously true, it's an obvious fact. A scientific theory is a collection of so called facts.

When reading a math textbook it takes me two hours on average to understand a statement that contains the wort "obvious"
:-)

But seriously: To state a fact you need a theory. In Newtonian physics there is a definite answer to the question
"what is happening on Alpha Centauri right now"? The answer to this question is a fact.
In General Relativity the question is meaningless, therefore there cannot be an answer that is a fact.

Let me be the advocatus diaboli of evolution theory. Can you falsify evolution theory? Let's see:
1. If we do not find any more fossiles or species we are save.

2. If we find more fossiles or species that resemble already known ones we found "missing links in the evolution".

3. Well, maybe we cannot match the similarities to missing links, because we already know that the new found species
cannot have evolved from already known ones (for whatever reasons). No problem, so they evolved on their own.

4. Why do disconnected species evolve in the same way, i.e. why do so many different species have similar eyes?
Simple, these kind of eyes are an advantage in the selection process. No problem.

5. If we find new fossiles or species that don't fit in anywhere, no problem, these are just completly new species then. Someday we will find the "missing links" for them, too.

6. If we find a fossile of a dinosaur and one of a human of the same age, no problem: Then the time scales
that we believed in are wrong. I'd say: humans evolved much earlier than we thought.

7. If several different species develop new features within one generation (like all butterflies becoming gray
which is a better camouflage in a town with considerable air pollution), no problem: Evolution can be really fast.
In fact, as fast as we want it to be.

8. Now I'm running out of ideas. What if God reveals himself and tells us that evolution did not happen?
No problem, we just think that was an halluzination. If God does not reveal himself to us but to other, we think they are nuts.

Any other ideas?

One observation of Feyerabend was that theories are often not overthrown by their own inconcistencies or failures, but because they are overtaken by a competing theory. In this sense it is unfortunate that intelligent design is the only theory that I know of that tries to compete with evolution :-)

stefan said...

Steven, XiXiDu,

you are invited to repeat your last exchange, if you insist, without becoming ad hominem/nationem.

Best, Stefan

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Phil Warnell said...

Hi XiXiDu,

So you have no strong opinion, yet are more or less looking around. To be truthful I don’t have a fixed opinion either, yet I am fairly familiar with the central issues. I would recommend if you ever want to look at all this more seriously, that is from the ground up, a book by David Albert entiltled “Quantum Mechanics and Experience”. In this book Albert takes you through the basics in a very clear cut and logic focussed manner, to then only latter discuss the implications of the various interpretations.

In the end he takes no sides in matters himself, yet rather leaves the reader with what there is to think about. I found it to be very well written and a book that while approachable by the general reader has a depth that serves to challenge the most serious researchers of the foundations. Not a book meant to give one the answers, yet rather one designed to better frame the questions. I would almost guarantee that if you give Albert your full attention your level of certainty in respect to this issue will fall rather than rise :-)

Best,

Phil

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XiXiDu said...
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Phil Warnell said...

Hi XiXiDu,

You don’t require any math to read and have this book understood, yet only to be able to use and apply logic, as that is the direction from which it is taken. The thing is the mathematical formalism of most if not all theories are directly mandated, as to be the consequences dictated by the logic of the initial premise(s), rather than the other way around. Case in point, Special Relativity’s central premises leads one inescapably to the math that would serve to describe its actions. That is the whole focus and intent of the book to give one the logical foundation from which QM’s mathematical formalism is built, rather than the other way around, I then would recommend this one go to the top of your list as a result of your concerns in such regard.

Best,

Phil

Tim vB said...

XiXiDu said:

Do you go thru this tirade just so you can discredit the person I linked to without reading what he wrote or are you having serious doubts in evolution?

Neither, as an advocatus diaboli I try to shed light on the weaknesses of evolution theory, but I do not have to disbelieve in it myself.

As Bee said:

They (evolution theory and intelligent design) are both hypothesis and the evidence clearly speaks in favor of evolution. You can falsify a hypothesis, but you'll never know whether a description of Nature is fundamentally true, since it could be falsified tomorrow.

My point is that it is less than obvious if and how evolution theory can be falsified.

XiXiDu said:

I was expecting everybody to agree here that it is a fact compared to alternatives of creation myths.

Well, I'm trying to explain in what respects there are difficulties to distinguish "facts" and "myths".
The easiest way to do this would of course be to point out that many "facts" turned into "myths" in the course of history...

BTW: Yes, I think I know if it is raining outside right now, and I am sure that we would agree on this, if we were in the same room. So, yes, there seem to be some situations where it is pretty simple to state and agree on facts...

XiXiDu said:

...all you need to find to disprove evolution is to show some features that require a half-way stage that would be of no use.

One of the arguments of intelligent design against evolution is that there have to be intermediate stages that cannot survive: did I get your point?
And the best argument of evolution theory against intelligent design - in my opinion - is that the design of most organisms is not intelligent,
for precisely this reason (e.g. the appendix of humans is useless, but still there).
Now my point is: It is impossible to prove that some "feature" of some organism cannot have developed in stages.
A supporter of evolution theory can always say "there is a way, we just have not discovered it yet". How do you prove him wrong?

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Bee said...

Guys: This post is neither about pubic hair nor creationism. It's about paradigm shifts. If you don't stay on topic, I'll close this comment section. Thanks,

B.

XiXiDu said...

This might lead to a paradigm shift?

Why Do We Have Stuff? Hints from Fermilab

New results from Fermilab hint at this CP-violation

If it holds up, this would be a solid sign of physics beyond the Standard Model, which has proven unreasonably effective for the last couple of decades.

The physics issue in question is why we have more matter than antimatter in the universe, as symmetry would seem to demand they be created in equal amounts in the Big Bang. Had that happened, though, all of the matter should've annihilated with the antimatter very quickly, leaving us with a big empty space full of photons and not much else. So there must be some breaking of fundamental symmetries, the technical term for which is "CP-violation," in order for there to be all the matter we see around us.

http://scienceblogs.com/principles/2010/05/why_do_we_have_stuff_hints_fro.php

Robert L. Oldershaw said...

I am curious about why you do not do a bit more of what Woit does, i.e., weed out the wingnut posts and insist on on-topic, evidence-based discussions.

It seems like interesting ideas in your threads quickly are overcome by crank posts and/or uninteresting schmoozing.

Sorry if that is a bit candid, but I am curious about why you tolerate so much @#^%$. To increase participation?

Bee said...

Robert: Because I don't have the time to read all these comments and don't want to delete them without a good reason. It's not usually a problem. Not sure what ticks people off about this topic in particular.

XiXiDu said...

I deleted all my comments not directly concerned with the topic.

Although I think it's not the best idea to demand strict on-topic rules:

Person A: QMI might lead to a paradigm shift. Person B: QMI isn't science. Person C: Define paradigm shift?

Hard time to stay on-topic if nobody agrees on the basics?

And my links and quotes have all been evdience based, just nobody looked at them.

If anyone cares what I said, here a backup:
http://xixidu.net/paradigm-shifts.html

P.S.
Robert, if you were referring to me with 'crank posts' you out of all would do best reading the links I posted. If not, never mind.

Bee said...

Hi XiXiDu,

Well, thanks for that. Your a posterori deletion of comments has now finally made this comment section completely impossible to follow. I strongly recommend next time you think before you write. I don't give a shit if you like our rules, you're not the one who has to sort through all these comments.

With apologies to all those who were actually interested in the discussion, I will close this comment section now. Thanks for your participation,

B.