Friday, May 21, 2010

Terra Incognita

As you know, I am presently at a workshop at Perimeter Institute about the Laws of Nature: Their Nature and Knowability. Yesterday, we had a talk by Marcelo Gleiser titled “What can we know of the world?”. It occurred to me somewhat belatedly that I recently read an article by Gleiser in New Scientist, “The imperfect universe: Goodbye, theory of everything.” In that article, he writes that after “Fiften years [as] a physicist hard at work hunting for a theory of nature that would unify the very big and the very small” he has come to the conclusion that “the very notion of a final theory is faulty.” In a nutshell, that was also what his talk was about.

The only thing that's interesting about this insight is that it took him 15 years to arrive there. And maybe, why it got printed in New Scientist. Of course the notion of a final, fundamental, theory of all and everything is faulty. For the simple reason that even if we had a theory that explained everything we know, we could never be sure it would eternally remain the theory of everything we know. As Popper already realized about a century ago, one cannot verify a theory, it can only be falsified. Thus, theories we have are forever out for test, always on the risk that some new data does not fit in. That's exactly what makes a theory scientific. It's also one of the points I made in my FQXi essay. You see, I'm an even Newer Scientist.

That we can never know whether a theory is truly fundamental and able to explain all observable phenomena of course does not mean there is no fundamental theory. It just means we can never know - so your believe that such a theory exists belongs in the realm of religion, not science.

In any case, in his talk (video and audio here), Gleiser touched on another topic that reminded me of something else. He had a sketch of our expanding knowledge, with a filled circle representing “The Known” in the middle, that is expanding into what is now the unknown (“perennial ignorance”) outside:



I used a similar, though slightly different analogy for the progress of science in my PI public lecture some years ago (which incidentally has the same title as the FQXi essay, I'm very into recycling). In this case though, I used a map of Middle Earth.

The message that I wanted to convey is that the process of knowledge discovery is very similar to exploring unknown territory. There are parts that you have already seen and that you know very well, though details may be missing. And let me be clear that with “The Known” (in contrast to Gleiser) I don't mean laws themselves but the data from which the laws were extracted. Otherwise you lose information that is possibly important about the range of applicability (information you at first possibly didn't think was relevant).

You try to explain the known by a theory, and if everything fits you point somewhere into the unknown (make a prediction). Ideally, experimentalists go there and find what you told them they would find. You don't want to point out too far because people today are quite impatient, and if your prediction is not measurable within their lifetime it won't help you get tenure. The other way progress happens is that there is data available for which a theoretical explanation is missing. Or a theory might be sketchy and not work very well. That's the situation of the experimentalist saying: we've seen something on the horizon, please explain that. The body of knowledge that we have is usually not neatly simply connected, but typically has some pieces that don't really match with anything else.

Which brings me back to Gleiser's article then. The essential question is not whether you do or don't believe in a fundamental theory of everything. The essential question is what is a good and promising way to expand what is known. You can believe in flying spaghetti monsters, reincarnation, or a theory of everything: if it helps you with your research, by all means, go ahead, just don't put your believes in the abstract of your paper.

Experimental input is of course essential to progress all along. On the theoretical side, the obvious reason why people are looking for a unification of the known forces is that unification has worked previously and has been tremendously successful. The same holds for symmetry principles. Sure, that doesn't mean these procedures will continue to be successful, but it's the obvious thing to try. It's the same reason why a band's second hit sounds like the first, and why, after my move to Sweden I first had to learn that asking to speak to a supervisor and complaining about lacking customer service is not a very successful tactic in this country. Similarly, we might have to reconsider our tactics and learn new ways of thinking if we remain unsuccessful making headway on today's big questions in physics. For example when it comes to resolving the apparent tension between General Relativity and quantum mechanics, or to explain the arrow of time, rspt the initial conditions of the universe: It's terry incognita and there may be dragons.

That's why I find meetings like the current one at PI very useful to become more aware of our standard mode of thinking, for awareness and acknowledgement of limitations of a procedure is the first step to improvement.

100 comments:

Len Ornstein said...

Bee:

One slight correction:

Theories can be supported OR falsified, only with finite confidence.

Therefore Popper's qualification about falsification is 'equally' unachievable!

Len Ornstein

Bee said...

Hi Len,

Yes, of course, all with only finite certainty. It's what I referred to in my mentioned earlier post as "implausification." I didn't want to repeat myself here. Best,

B.

Arun said...

To me, if we were drawing a map, the known is like an archipelago, with bridges between some of the main islands, and the fractal coastline between the known and unknown.

Bee said...

You mean, it's like Stockholm? ;-)

Arun said...

Yes! :)

stefan said...

Dear Bee,

thanks for the reporting!

You can believe in flying spaghetti monsters, reincarnation, or a theory of everything: if it helps you with your research, by all means, go ahead, just don't put your believes in the abstract of your paper.

This sounds to me like a great formulation of what Feyerabend wanted to convey with "Anything goes" in "Against Method" ;-).

Cheers, Stefan

Neil B said...

OK ... Is Garrett Lisi on to something?

Mitchell said...

You and Gleiser are saying different things. You're saying we could have the right ultimate theory but that we couldn't know it to be right. I think Gleiser is denying even that we can get that far - and for very bad reasons. Fundamentally he's disillusioned about the particle physics quest for unified theories. It's been a long time and string theory is harder than people anticipated, but with the LHC about to give us new data and thereby elevate some models and falsify others, and with string theory entering a new era of phenomenology with the F-theory GUTs, I think his timing is really bad.

I actually think it's possible that the truth might be knowable in the strong sense, if it is simple in essence. Again, consider string theory. People occasionally suggest that it might be the unique quantum relativistic theory of extended objects. So if that is right, if you could know that reality is quantum, relativistic, and contains extended objects, you could know *deductively* that you're in a stringy reality. Of course, to know that reality is quantum or relativistic, you're going to require some other deductive beginning, since those things are only known empirically. You'd have to go right back to the Cartesian-Kantian-Husserlian beginning, and say, OK, all I know for sure is that my experience appears to have a certain form, what can I deduce about a reality in which such an experience exists? We are talking about a level of logical/mathematical/ontological insight that is still far beyond us; there would still be the problem of whether your private reasoning was fallible; and there is a long history of people fooling themselves into thinking that they knew such things apriori when they didn't. Nonetheless, I would not exclude the possibility of such knowledge, especially *after* a unified physical theory has been found with the help of experiment.

Robert L. Oldershaw said...

Len,

I would say the Ptolemaic cosmological model has been completely and utterly falsified.

The theory of a 4,000 year old Earth has been completely and utterly falsified.

Absolute space and absolute universal time have been completely and utterly falsified.
Well, close to it anyway.

To my satisfaction, evolution of life is a proven fact of nature.
etc., etc. ...

Neil,

Yes, onto the gravy train.

;)
RLO

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

Thanks for this very thought provoking post. It is also one this fly truly appreciates your links to the walls he’s been wishing to find himself on:-) However to be honest I never agreed with the limitations Popper placed on the level of certainty that’s possible in respect to what can be known, as it being reliant on the premise there being a limit to the abilities of consciousness and subsequently logic, which would have absolute certainty precluded, that I find in itself to be a hypothesis not able to be supported by evidence of sufficient certainty.

I rather think this is more consistent with once again human arrogance having many to think that neither it nor any other specie could evolve to a point as to develop intellects and with it methods to have things able to be known in ways that we could have never have imagined.

I find instead that from the time of the introduction of Quantum theory, the role of doubt in science has shifted, from not having it enough to settle for logical conjecture, to it instead acting as a permanent barrier to what can be known. This has then has many resigned as to be convinced, that aspects of nature itself serve to limit what can be known, which I find to be itself a belief and thus having no place in science as originally defined and conceived. That’s to say its object is to have Terra Incognita give way to Terra Firma, rather than to be restricted by it.


I think what it boils down to is to ask oneself, if you find reality to be a reasonable construct or not, for which if the answer is yes, then it should be able to be entirely understood by way of reason; and if the answer is no, then to ask how is it that the manifestation of reason could have found its way into a reality which has it denied as its most fundamental aspect as being found necessarily unreasonable.

So then I find the most fundamental question to be asked, is if reason itself is fundamental or emergent, which I would answer it being fundamental, as to think otherwise would have science itself to be a belief, only in this case a reasonable one, well at least within the limits it imposes currently on reason.Then of course it is possible I may change my mind after listening to the speakers you have offered here:-)



Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Dear Stefan,

Indeed, I hadn't made the connection to Feyerabend. You could also say it with Kohl "Wichtig ist was hinten rauskommt." ;-) In any case, I agree with Feyerabend as far as the individual level is concerned. If you're dumb, you just won't make it and somebody else will take your place. It is however not true when it comes to the aggregate (social, community) level. There are irreversible mistakes that lead to dead ends and simply don't go anywhere. A typical example is lack of diversity. Problem is of course that a community doesn't "make" decisions in an organized way, but it's an emergent phenomenon, thus the difficulty in noticing and preventing problems. (Similar considerations hold for ecosystems etc.) Best,

B.

Bee said...

Mitchell,

It is very likely true that Gleiser and me are saying different things. I haven't read his book and can't read his mind. However, I don't quite get what your differentiation is supposed to mean. If it's not possible to know whether a theory we have is truly fundamental then the "getting so far" you are talking about is meaningless. Your elaborations on truth being knowable in the strong sense assumes that you can know anything about Nature by logical deduction alone. That's of course not true. To know a theory is correct, you have to go and compare it to Nature, you have to observe it is a correct description. Logical deduction is merely a means to arrive at a good guess (of pointing out into the unknown, telling the experimentalists where to look, see post.) Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

"I never agreed with the limitations Popper placed on the level of certainty that’s possible in respect to what can be known, as it being reliant on the premise there being a limit to the abilities of consciousness and subsequently logic,"

As I said to Mitchell above, the question isn't whether your logic is right or wrong, but whether Nature conforms to your logic. That's what you don't know, thus you have to go and compare your conclusions to observations. And that is where the limitations come from, since our observations are, and will always be, limited by time and technological possibilities. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

I understand the point you are making, yet that is what I would call the Bacon conception of what is the limitations of science, as opposed to those of Descartes’ that has reason as what dictates the limits of what we find, rather than have what we are able find to have reason limited. This than has my initial question as still needing to be addressed, rather than avoided, which is to ask if reality is a reasonable construct and if finding it as not to still then requiring it be explained how it can both contain and has demon stated its action and substance can so often be reasoned. Without having such as explaintions as self referential.. That’s I find it strange that the vanguards of reason find so little significance in the ability on which they are most dependant and find as their the only way possible to discovering truth, whether it be limited or not..

Best,

Phil

P.S. As I write this I’m listening to . Gleiser’s talk for which I again thank you for the link. Oh yes I haven’t yet heard you to haved entered the fray :=

Steven Colyer said...

Much Ado about Human Limitations

Thanks for that, Bee. I've long felt there were TOE's, an infinite amount, each being different at each point in space, and thanks to you I have to expand my view that there may be one at each moment in time as well.

Ah, Spacetime! What a concept! I love GenRev. Good old Albert.

What would Einstein have thought about our present limitations, those imposed by the universe and our own limited ability to understand it? He sought beauty in Simplicity, and the near-Atheist concept of Baruch Spinoza's version of God. He would not have been able to deny the wonderful unfalsified results of quantum field theory, at least to 9 decimal places, but likely would have thought that any change from point to point of his non-Euclidean spacetime to be so insignificant it may as well not even exist. He probably would have loved Alan Guth's Inflation and Loop Quantum Gravity.

At the end of the day, we know what we know and we have but the hint of something greater on the scales of the large and the small. Our measuring apparati are our limits, the Atomic Force Microscope and the LHC and the Telescopes in space.

Will any of them explain the Pioneer anomaly? Stay tuned. In the meantime, too much thinking hurts my head. We'll leave it to the Philosophers to decide the extraneous "mental interlopers" as Musser puts it. Maybe the speed of light (in a mythical vacuum) can vary, maybe no two protons are exactly alike thanks to their quark-antiquark virtual atmosphere, maybe singularities don't exist, particularly the naked ones, except in the heads of mathematicians.

What little I do know is that Discrete Geometry more that likely rules the universe, and we haven't the IQ's to figure it out, let alone the theories tantalizingly suggested by the data of our limited experiments.

But it's fun to try to build on the known, step by incremental step, at least until the aliens land in 2067 and explain it all to us. ;-p

Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

Sorry I stand corrected, as I just heard you enter the fray, with making the point you did here in your post that theorists prefer to have their theories predictions not extendable much past what can be promptly confirmed. This I also find as being the result of what limits considered are to be placed upon the significance and ability of reason. I also just heard Rob Spekkens in a very guarded manner at the end essentially argue the point I was making, that science should be guarded as to what limits it places on reason being restricted solely to what is thought to be our limits of observation. That’s why I’m glad to find foundationallists among those employed at PI and in fact wished there were several more represented at such discussions.

Best,

Phil

Mitchell said...

"I don't quite get what your differentiation is supposed to mean."

I think what I really meant is that Marcelo Gleiser has closed his mind against string theory, and you haven't.

But it would be more interesting of me to defend the possibility of a knowably correct final theory of physics, so let me do that. Advance warning, this is a very hypothetical discussion about possibilities.

Arithmetic is a sort of 'final theory of discrete quantities'. In the evolution of humanity and in the individual life, there are presumably stages where there is some authentic personal uncertainty about how numbers work, but eventually most of us get the idea. It's still possible to make an error in calculation, but people aren't going to doubt that, e.g., if you have a collection of things, take one away, and then replace it with another, you have the same number of things that you started with. Your concept of quantity advances to the point that you can see this as a matter of logic; it doesn't need to be empirically tested.

The idea is simply that our insight into the other elements of reality might advance to the same point, of knowing how it must work as a matter of logic. You would still need experience to deal with the complicated details of the world. Pure reason can't tell you in advance how many moons Jupiter has, you have to go and look for them, but it can tell you that if one of them blows up, there will be one less moon than before. The idea is that our conceptual understanding of substance, dynamics, space, time, causality and all the other qualitative ingredients of reality could become as solid as arithmetical understanding, and that together it would imply a particular fundamental theory, including dynamics and basic degrees of freedom.

Of course a number of people have thought like that in history, and got it wrong. So everyone is very skeptical about such deductions now and prefers empirical validation. But that traumatic experience of repeated error doesn't actually prove the impossibility of a knowably correct physics; it just means that no-one managed to do it yet.

An interesting question would be, what do we take as input? The very structure of consciousness somehow guarantees certain things. We know that something exists, that reality is there; we know that time passes, that there is such a thing as change; and there's a lot more that we know directly, though you have to be careful about the mode of existence that is asserted. For example, if I go to the Cartesian extreme of doubt, I may not know that space exists physically, but I do know that the appearance of space exists. So a deductively derived physics might start just from the knowledge that appearances exist as appearances; or it might be conditional on these appearances being assumed to represent reality. In the latter case, we would be saying, OK, we don't know that space exists, but if it does, then we know XYZ about it.

You Germans were probably best at this sort of thinking in recent centuries, by the way. :-)

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

It’s not necessary for you to wonder what Einstein thought about such matters, as he is clearly on record in such regard. I have quoted him before and yet perhaps you missed it, so I beg the blog authors to permit me to have it stated again. The point is the conference now being held is to address these concerns he had in such regard and athough some who attend may not as to agree with other of his insights certainly by their very presence haved agreed this particular concern of his to be still relevant enough not able to be found as being trivial.

“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- hysics and Reality”= ournal of the Franklin Institute [Volume.221, No. 3, March 3, 1936]


Best,

Phil

Arun said...

Pure reason can't tell you in advance how many moons Jupiter has, you have to go and look for them, but it can tell you that if one of them blows up, there will be one less moon than before.

There might be many more moons. Of the argument remans "Depends on what you call a moon", in the same way as "is Pluto a planet?". Pure reason can define away all the new moons created by one moon blowing up; but doesn't describe reality any more.

Similarly the arithmetic of addition squares with our physical intuition because objects remain discrete. What if you had rabbits or amoeba? What if matter was bosonic instead of fermionic?

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Arun,

Again I find this to be more of a statement born of human arrogance, that is to find what we know to be reason defines as being its limits. If there is one insight I’ve gained from the discoveries of Godel, is that even mathematics cannot have reason contained as to defined and as proven to have such limitation. In my way of thinking it is the job of science to discover the potential of reason, rather than to find without justification what limits it has in such regard. That’s to say I find such thinking reprehensive more to be the program of religion, than the goals and aspirations of science.

Best,

Phil

Kay zum Felde said...

Hi Bee,

I've red your essay. Do you believe in reductionism, when it comes to psychology ? Do you think you can describe psychology by means of a deterministic chaos theory ? I am not sure about this. May be it's too complex.

Best, Kay

Steven Colyer said...

Phil, let's try to take Einstein's comments with a grain of salt, given the times he lived in and the baby steps Physics found itself in at the time, compared to what we know today.

It should surprise no one Einstein felt that way. "Philosophy" was then in the realm of Quantum Mechanics, particular in non-locality and especially interpretations of QM. Over in Copenhagen, Bohr and Pauli and Heisenberg were debating each man's slightly different take on the Copenhagen Interpretation of QM, but all 3 agreed Einstein was out to lunch and time had passed him by. Planck and Schrodinger and DeBroglie would have had Einstein's back. Oh, what a great row they all had in the day.

My own feeling is that I never ask anyone who their favorite Scientist of all time was. I ask who their 3rd favorite as. (currently, I favor Dirac). Because if one is asked who their 3 favorite scientists are and the first two aren't Einstein and Newton, then they simply don't know Science IMO.

But neither man was completely right all of the time. Human limitations, once again.

Arun, I will always think of Pluto as a planet and not a "Plutoid." Heck, I even think of Ceres as a planet. :-)

Pluto is also one of only two double planets in the Solar System, along with it's mate, Charon. The other is Earth-Luna. But Pluto's and Charon's size are more similar to each other that Earth-Luna's, and they travel together like bolas closer to each other than Earth-Luna as well, which lack the bolas thing (Earth rules!). I'm jealous. :-p

And yes, I know what bolas translates to in Spanish. I'm feeling a bit punny today, sorry.

I can't wait for New Horizons to take pics of P-C that will make even Phil Plaitt's mouth water. 4-1/2 years and counting. Hopefully we'll get some sneak peaks before then. Philosophize that!

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

The point I was making (or at least trying to make) in my comment at the end of the talk was actually a different one. Namely that it is abundantly untrue that physicists stick closely to "The Known." Just look at hep-th or gr-qg on a random day. It's full with papers inventing more or less reasonable models that have little if any motivation grounded in reality. As I said, I find the assertion that there is to *much* attachment to "The Known" quite cynical.

I did not say that science itself is limited, I said that there are limits to what we can know by pure reason. At the end of all your reasoning you have to go and look. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Kay,

I think it's possible in principle. I am not sure it's possible in practice. And I have strong doubts it will be possible to us any time in the soon future. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Mitchell,

Sorry, but your argument is fundamentally flawed. Even your simple example doesn't work. It's not sufficient to know the natural numbers and the rules of addition. You also need to know a property of Nature that you consider is additive. As Arun points out, not all are. And the particle number, as another example, is not a conserved quantity. You can very really take 2 particles away and still be left with the same amount. So what does all your logic help you figuring out what properties the real world has?

Point I'm trying to make, you can reason all you want about what's logically true, that doesn't tell you what of that is real. It's maths, not physics. And that doesn't even take into account the question whether there's possibly different sorts of logic, or (heretic!) things that cannot be described by mathematical logic at all. Best,

B.

Kay zum Felde said...

Hi Bee,

cells are build of molecules and these of atoms and these of electrons protons and neutrons. So you mean in principle then the dynamics of a deterministic chaos theory of psychology is build of a dynamics theory of atoms and molecules. So you say any mental state is the result of a complex deterministic chaos theory build of atoms and molecules.

Best, Kay

Bee said...

Hi Kay,

I'm not a biophysicist, I don't know if atomic level is sufficient. Neither do I know exactly what the theory would look like. The human mind doesn't seem to me all that chaotic, it's more likely what Kauffman calls "on the edge of chaos." But yes, I think at the bottom of it all our mental state is a deterministic process. If that itself is useful to know however is a completely different question. Best,

B.

Kay zum Felde said...

Hi Bee,

you're right, my description was too special. I'm not a biophysicist either. All that I know, is that the nerve system depends on cells firing electronic impulses.

Best, Kay

Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

I would agree that at present the limit to reason for us is that it must be checked by having ro look as to have confirmed that it is indeed reasonable. This however I would say is more indicative of our current level of understanding in respect to the depth, power and significance of reason, than they are to the ultimate abilities and application of reason itself.

Best,

Phil

P,S. I have now moved on to the Unger/Smolin talk which I find I identify much with except that they fail to either mention or have perhaps considered what needs to be fundamental to have a reality other than time. Unger describes time as “the transformation of all transformations”, which I find as reasonable and yet only if time itself has also something on which it can have to be transformed.

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

I think what you are saying is exactly what I was writing in my post is religion, not science. You believe that "pure reason" will allow us to find the one correct description of Nature. I would agree that it has not been shown this is not possible. I would also agree that logical deduction has unexploited potential. What I am saying however is that either way you cannot know your deduction does actually describe Nature unless you go and look. Our mind can invent fantasies that are not to be found in the real world. We can invent "toy models" that have nothing to do with the real world out there (see also my post on Models and Theories). These models are not logically wrong, they are just not descriptions of reality. (Unless of course you're with Tegmark and all of maths "exists" in some sense that doesn't make much sense). There's no science without observation. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

Not to be taken as insulting or condescending, yet the statement you made regarding what formed to be Einstein’s concerns for me indicates a lack of understanding, as to what they actually were. In such regard I can say, that at least for myself, it took several years just to discover as to have it become clear what these concerns actually were. I would however acknowledge your take on them being consistent with the common view, wth that also still being the same as the one expressed by many of his peers today. The thing being however there still exists good reason for these waves of doubt Einstein mentioned and as a result of the same thing which he held such great concern

. Interestingly enough I discovered the root of Einstein’s concerns being acknowledged as to be recognized by Unger, who co presented his lecture with Smolin this week. That is when he agreed with Einstein insisting that we should pay attention to what science has done and discovered, rather then what it says it has done and discovered. That is to say Unger finds as Einstein did, that science today is directed more by what it says it has done and discovered, rather then what has been done and discover and this frames to be what stood as being Einstein’s more general concern.

Best,

Phil.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

As I first conceded earlier, what we call to be reason currently, clearly has its limitations, yet to address this another way let me frame things in the form of a question. I think you would acknowledge that we in terms of living things are not much if at all different then other creatures. With agreeing on this, what would you say forms to have us able to currently dominate the world in which we live, as that being superior in how we can have things observed or how we can consider what it is we observe or better how we can project such observations as to predict what may happen in future? Would then you acknowledge it has a lot more to do with our minds, in as how we are able to recognize what being reason, rather than in our acumen in being able to having things observed? Now by extension, would you further agree that as reasonable beings we are at best primitive ones, with the potential for improvement being great? So if we can agree on these points, is it such a stretch ,as to find as unreasonable, in being convinced that one’s powers and depth of reason in of itself is the most important element as to being able to have things be known. In further support I would say that both the contention and hope of the conference you are attending is that this indeed be the case, as realizing our powers of observation, rather than our ones of reason, is rapidly approaching its practical limits; that is at least until reason can have us discover ways to have them extended.

Best,

Phil

tspin said...

Yes, we can never prove our theories are really correct but so what? It doesn't make them any less useful and in the same way it won't make a TOE any less useful.

Your objection only makes sense if you require a TOE to be a theory of literally everything but what we usually mean by TOE is not a theory of everything that can possibly exist but rather a theory which explains every experimental observation done so far - meaning it unifies QM, GR and all interactions.

It is also possible that such a TOE will indeed prove to be a theory of literally everything, we won't ever know it for sure but if billions of years worth of experiments won't turn up anything unexplained it will be good reason to think so.

A TOE in the common sense almost certainly exists - there are many tantalizing clues suggesting that it does. Once found it is bound to revolutionize our understanding of Nature and physical reality - which is why searching for it is one of the most worthy causes in physics.

As for Gleiser if there was more to his essay then the "I couldn't find the TOE so it doesn't exist" argument I missed it.

Steven Colyer said...

Dolly (Dear Old Lubos) has his own take on your views here, Bee. Sweden and Germany both lost in the Whatzis Ice Hockey World Championship something? Really? Wow, that didn't make the American sports pages. Maybe it's because we threw off nationalism a while ago.

Phil, Einstein is my favorite Scientist. I recognize his flaws. He did too. Well, not all of them, but he didn't live long enough to know what we know now.

Arun said...

Hi Phil,

I have no doubt there are plenty of improvements that man can have in the realm of reason. But the very basis of reason is inductive. Each concept in "I think therefore I am" was arrived at inductively; how can you get a result of pure reason from it?

Yes, maybe we'll be able to get along much further with much less experimental evidence, because our reasoning power will be so much greater. If we were supermathematicians so that the full consequences of any mathematical theory that you write down were quickly arrived at (instead of the current case where N years after QCD is invented we still don't have a proof of confinement, or we limp along trying to get beyond a two-loop string amplitude) then yes, we'd be much better at arriving at reality by pure thought.

But then maybe if any entity gets to that level, the problems also get much more difficult.

I believe, no matter what, we will always have to refer and defer to nature. Pure thought will never cut it.

-Arun

Arun said...

Dolly (Dear Old Lubos) has his own take on your views here, Bee

Steven, are you a migraine medication salesman? If not, why, why, why?

Robert L. Oldershaw said...

Steve,

You say:

"Einstein is my favorite Scientist. I recognize his flaws. He did too. Well, not all of them, but he didn't live long enough to know what we know now."

In that last sentence, you might have put it: "what we THINK we know now."

Personally, I have bet the farm on an intuitive trust that the old man's "nose" never failed him (as is fashionably assumed today) and that in the long run QM, particle physics and quantum gravity will look far more like something he would have expected than what is currently in fashion.

Should be decided in 0-10 years.

GW said...
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Phil Warnell said...

Hi Arun,

Well I guess it comes down to what one considers to be the nature of consciousness in respect to reality and admittedly in terms of Bee’s definition one would have to have such considered opinion at this point in time relegated as being religion. So I suppose then at least for now it would be pointless to press the point, yet if they ever do get quantum computing to work to be as capable as some imagine I might find reason to call you on it again:-)

Best,

Phil

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

Hi Steven,

The point being it was not what Einstein didn’t know that was important, yet rather what he realized that no one knew and yet many thought that they did and why. The fact is the reason why hasn’t changed and this was the point Unger was making when he sided with him in sharing his concern..

Best,

Phil

Steven Colyer said...

I'm not sure what upsets you, Arun. I think Dolly's character assassination of Bee, Lee and Peter just makes me like the 3 of them all the more. He's an embarrassment to science IMO, and one for whom I hold out hope will grow up some day. With small probability, perhaps, but there's always a chance. Also, we're both Rutgers grads who know Busch campus and Serin Physics Lab very well, so I take it personally (probably shouldn't) when he makes such a fool of himself. He's certainly not helping the reputation of his beloved String theory when he rants so.

Calling him Dolly has several sources. He reminds me, in his performance here, of singer/actress Barbra Streisand in the Broadway musical, "Hello Dolly." Then there's Dolly the sheep, the cloned mammal. Many sheep in extremism. Or Mr. Magoo, the myoptic cartoon character, another Rutgers grad. He called it Dear Old Rutgers, hence Dear Old Lubos, Dolly.

Oldershaw, I liked what you wrote in the sense that many of Einstein's ideas may well be vindicated someday. I am also as I suspect you are a simplistic causal determinist of the Planck/Einstein/DeBroglie/Schrodinger school, but at the end of the day, we're speculating and we (Humanity) simply haven't the tools (yet) to prove we're right. And maybe we're not right. Time will tell.

Then there's Quantum Entanglement, especially Quantum Non-Locality and Relativity: Metaphysical Intimations of Modern Physics by Rutgers Philosophy Professor Tim Maudlin; one of many favorite books, that explores the seeming incompatibility of SR and QE non-locality existing in the same universe. I won't spoil his conclusion for you. Read the book. There's a Rutgers man to believe in. Go Scarlet Knights! Beat Russia! Beat Czechia! Oops, wrong league. Wrong sport. Sorry.

tspin said...

RLO: "Personally, I have bet the farm on an intuitive trust that the old man's "nose" never failed him (as is fashionably assumed today) and that in the long run QM, particle physics and quantum gravity will look far more like something he would have expected than what is currently in fashion."

This is exactly my view also. As far as I am concerned Einstein was by far the best physicist of the previous century, no one else came close to his insight.

It is especially pathetic that many physicists feel the urge to ridicule Einstein's later GE/EM unification attempts when in fact despite a century of attempts no one has yet been able to succeed where he failed (or top his contribution to this subject) so there is no way to know if he was on the right track or not.

It is also notable that the likes of Bohr went so far as to reinvent history in order to discredit Einstein, here is an interesting article which debunks some of the usual myths associated with Solvay conference and Einstein-Bohr dialogue:
http://www.scientificblogging.com/don_howard/revisiting_einsteinbohr_dialogue

To me all the Einstein bashing is nothing more then a psychological mechanism used to prop ones own confidence - "I can understand what even Einstein missed..."

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

" what would you say forms to have us able to currently dominate the world in which we live, as that being superior in how we can have things observed or how we can consider what it is we observe or better how we can project such observations as to predict what may happen in future?"

As I've said several times before, the one doesn't work without the other. If we had no observations, and increasingly better tools to make observations, all our reason would not help us. Of course we have advantages over other species when it comes to reason, and I have already agreed that of course there is more potential to deduction by pure reason in the future. I'm simply saying it will only get you so far, in the end you have to go and look. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi tspin,

"Yes, we can never prove our theories are really correct but so what? It doesn't make them any less useful and in the same way it won't make a TOE any less useful."

Indeed, and I never said that a theory of everything we observe would be useless. I think you have misunderstood my point, please reread what I wrote. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Steven,

I halfway expected Lubos to use this post to once again proclaim my stupidity while just demonstrating his own ignorance. It is entirely unnecessary you post links to his writings here, I have long lost interest in discussing with him.

His current rant is quite comical since it only demonstrates that he didn't get my point. Of course the paragraph he quotes is not a "proof" that a TOE can't exist. I never said that. I said, carefully, the same as Gleiser, namely that the notion is faulty. To be concrete, I mean it's scientifically faulty. His claim that I haven't proven that a TOE doesn't exist rests on the same level as a religious person claiming nobody has ever shown that God doesn't exist. I'm not interested in religion.

Neither am I interested in Ice Hockey btw. The rest of his babble is as usual a misinterpretation of my opinions. I said very explicitly that the question is not whether one does or doesn't believe in a TOE but whether an approach to arrive at new insights is useful. Best,

B.

Steven Colyer said...

UFT = Unified Field Theory = The Unification of Electrodynamics and Einstein'[s General Relativity Field equations, without knowledge of the Weak and Strong forces. Einstein's playground in the last decades of his life.

GUT = Grand Unified Theory - The unification of the only two known forces, Electroweak and Strong (at low energy) into one theory at high energy (I still consider gravity to be a geometrical consequence ... it's certainly not a "force" like the others).

QG = Quantum Gravity = the unification of Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity

TOE = The Theory of Everything = the unification of all of the above, which may or may not exist, but may, but won't be found if it does unless the answer to the two above it are found.

I hate it when people confuse those 4 things. Not you, Bee, I'm sure you know the difference.

QG is my hobby. I do not claim to be a professional in any way, shape or form in the field. But I have noticed this uber-important field may be a bit ambitious. Jacobsen, Verlinde, et. al. may well be onto something.

(Btw tspin, thanks for that link to Dan Howard's article. It always warms my heart to see Boltzmann, Bose, and Bell mentioned. Hey Bee ... that's THREE B's, Bee!)

Consider the possibility that to understand QG, we may have to expand our thinking, to QTG. Verlinde started the discussion, or maybe just reminded us of it, so:

1) Quantum Mechanics (10 men ... and Hermann Weyl)
2) Quantum Thermodynamics (Boltzman)
3) Classical Thermodynamics (Carnot, Clausius)
4) Gravitational Thermodynamics (Jacobsen, Verlinde)
5) General Relativity (Einstein, Riemann, Grossman)

4) is the hottie of the moment, maybe the decade, maybe the key.

Peter Woit coined the term: "The Entropy Decade", a bit skeptically. He may have been spot on, regardless.

Bee said...

GW:

"Waiting for a theory to be falsified does not mean that a TOE is impossible---perhaps a "perfect" TOE is.
That is sort of like sitting in the living room refusing to breathe because the air might all rush up to the left corner ceiling in the distant future."


The same to you as to tspin, I think you either misunderstood or didn't actually read what I wrote. I did not say that a TOE is impossible (or cannot exist). I said very clearly: the notion is faulty. It's not a scientific claim to say a theory is one of everything, that's the point. I said explicitly that does "of course does not mean there is no fundamental theory."

Your comparison between the possible future falsification of a theory that at one time might explain everything observable to the unlikeliness of atoms collecting in a corner of a room vastly overestimates human achievements at such a young time in our history. I think this is beautifully demonstrated by the following quotation:

“The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote.”
~ Albert Abraham Michelson, 1903

Best,

B.

Steven Colyer said...

It is entirely unnecessary you post links to his writings here, I have long lost interest in discussing with him.

OK Bee, that will be the last time. I agree with your viewpoint regarding the content of your article, I just wished to point out the extremist viewpoint of spin as exemplified by extremists like Lubos. They always quote out of context, then extrapolate into nonsense.

His rants of course are quite comical. Good for a laugh, and I admire your attitude of looking at it that way. I also admire your husband's restraint. If it were my wife who was bashed as much as Lubos bashes you, it'd be hard for me not to drive down to Pilzn and punch the guy in the nose. Stefan is a fine man not to do that. Cooler heads prevail. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle taught us that, to lose revenge for logic. Also, good for Lee for completely ignoring the guy. More maturity, in a world going increasingly rude.

Thanks for keeping your cool, Bee. I feel better now. May this be the last time I mention L's name.

GW said...

Yes, Lubos sometimes misinterprets things, but his actual posts on science are impressive and, imo, correct.
This quote from Alan Sokal and Bricmont show the problem with Popper-
"Sokal and Bricmont write, "When a theory successfully withstands an attempt at falsification, a scientist will, quite naturally, consider the theory to be partially confirmed and will accord it a greater likelihood or a higher subjective probability. ... But Popper will have none of this: throughout his life he was a stubborn opponent of any idea of 'confirmation' of a theory, or even of its 'probability'. ... [but] the history of science teaches us that scientific theories come to be accepted above all because of their successes." (Sokal and Bricmont 1997, 62f)"

Of course a theory can be (partially) verified. And my entropic example and the accuracy of QED and QCD are of the same sort. Popper's denial that a theory can be verified goes against what (nearly) all working scientists actually do and believe.
Of course, I think we are getting down to some semantics of the Clintonian variety--"It depends what the meaning of "is" is " :)

GW said...

Steven: Laugh at Lubos' posts on details and interpretations of physics at your peril. You are the one who will look like a flat-earther.

Arun said...

tspin, tx for the link.

Bee said...

GW:

Your argumentation is very confused. You are mixing up praxis with principle. I do of course agree with you that in praxis a theory will be considered partially confirmed and scientists will regard it more likely to be true if many of its predictions have been successful. I don't even say this is unreasonable. I am just saying that you can not ever verify a theory, simply because you can't know what the future will bring. You'll never be able to exclude new discoveries and surprises. Thus, claiming that any theory you are working on is a "theory of everything" is not a scientific statement. It is, if anything, a statement of both your arrogance and ignorance of the philosophy of science. Best,

B.

Kay zum Felde said...

GW,

I don't see, that Popper denied his whole life confirmations of theories. He was more occupied to explain the difficulties of theories or experiments. For example he developed an (thought-)experiment to prove or falsify quantum mechanics.

Best, Kay

GW said...

Hmmm, resorting to name-calling Bee.
I simply disagree with Popper about theory verification, as do Sokal and Bricmont. That is not confused, arrogant, or ignorant.

Bee said...

GW:

I haven't called you names. Funny that you think so... I have simply pointed out that your quotation does not address the point I was making. Best,

B.

Steven Colyer said...

Steven: Laugh at Lubos' posts on details and interpretations of physics at your peril. You are the one who will look like a flat-earther.

I totally laugh at L's posts on Physics, except for the basic stuff that has long been passed on to Mechanical Engineering. He is passionate, intelligent, well-educated, a great teacher on the basic stuff, but has since, quite obviously, sucked up to the whole Murdoch/Fox/ExxonMobil-Halliburton Pollution-Controls-Are-Wrong-Overpopulation-Isnt-A-Problem-Dont-Tax-Corporations-Just-Trust-Them mantra bullcrap in Economics, and in Physics, promotes Leonard Susskind and Ed Witten as being 100% right and has a "don't anyone even dare THINK" of criticizing them attitude, God (or fate) help you if so. Oh, please.

He is lost to us, for the time being. Don't be susceptible to a slick line of ... semantics (was thinking of another word that begins with "s"), GW, you strike me as too intelligent a person to be so, but I and others (unlike L), reserve the right to be wrong.

Do you?

Summation: Think critically. Or not. But if not, you do so at your personal peril.

Luke said...

Bee,

Now that the conference is over, are there any talks you thought really stood that I should check out? I watched the Smolin/Unger so far and it was interesting. I've heard they intend to publish a book on the subject. Any word about that?

Bee said...

Hi Luke,

I'll probably have another post on the workshop in the next days and say some words on the other talks. Best,

B.

Plato said...

As soon as I seen the title of this post of yours Bee it rang a bell.

You see why?:)

Also made me think of John Ellis's Christopher Columbus and the new world.

As with some of you, gravity is of great interest to me as well. I have my reasons, although they might not fit into any of your classifications.:)

Been doing some reading on a book called Re(inventing)g(ravity)by John Moffat. Only up to Chapter 5.

Seems to fit nicely into your post Bee on the idea of the Elusive Planet Vulcan, Moffat's Prologue to his book.

A nice historical lesson on what I thought might be consider part of the territories of the unknown, as John refers when he saids, "we can use the term "dark matter" to characterize the predictions of Neptune and Vulcan."

Does this work well with the idea of a map of the unknown?

I think Steven you will know what I mean.:)

This is indeed the lesson here about advancing the knowledge of what is current in science thought, and what these thoughts evolve too. When data is brought to show the reformed needed in one's thinking..

Everybody knew of Steven Weinberg's first three minutes, yet, you needed some insight in order to reduce that to the microseconds of the universe. How would you do that and push back your views?:)

Whether you understand this or not in regards to the Arch, the inductive/deductive stance with which you take in life will always leave you with a "final word" to yourself as self evident. At that point there is no right or wrong yet. As you have drawn conclusions in your own life, it is quite similar in some respects to the role science plays as it evolves.

You will only see the error of your ways when you have been proven wrong. You have to be open to that.

Best,

Zephir said...

Eric Zaslow: Physmatics

"I am acutely aware of the fact that the marriage between mathematics and physics, which was so enormously fruitful in past centuries, has recently ended in divorce." [Freeman Dyson, Missed Opportunities, 1972]

Steven Colyer said...

Hi, Zephir, thanks for the Freeman Dyson quote. There's another guy who fulfills inclusion in the "Abe Vigoda Set of People You Thought Were Dead, But Aren't."

Like Martin Gardner until a day or so ago. Or John Wheeler until 2 years ago.

John Nash of "A Beautiful Mind" isn't dead yet, either. Or John Moffat. Or Yang of Yang-Mills (he's living in China, back to family, nice). Or Leonard Susskind.

Plato, thanks. I have no idea why you invoked me in your last post, pls explain. But in the meantime, thanks for turning me on to the pre-Socratic philosophers. You rule there, man. I'll forgive you your love of Superstrings for helping me out that way. Between you and Phil Warnell and our mutual love of all things Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, that's all the Philosophy I need in a lifetime. No time for Kant, Sartre ("Mr. Happy") doubly so.

Zephir, I'm re-reading Hawking at the moment. Yup, the 20th century officially divorced Philosophy and Physics, from the point of view of the Philosopher. In the 1800's, a Philosopher also considered himself an everyman, including Scientist. Laplace and Determinism is the perfect example. Hawking has a nice take on when the split happened:

The doctrine of scientific determinism was strongly resisted by many people, who felt it infringed God's freedom to intervene in the world, but it remained the standard assumption of science until the early years of the 20th century. One of the first indications that this belief would have to be abandoned came when calculations by the Britush scientists Lord Rayleigh and Sir James Jeans suggested that a hot object, or body, such as a star, must radiate at an infinite rate.
...
In order to avoid this obviously ridiculous result, the German scientist Max Planck suggested in 1900 that light, x-rays, and other waves could not be emmtted at an arbitrary, but only in certain packets that he called quanta.
...
[Hawking then goes off on Heisenberg and Uncertainty, and rightly so, to conclude...]
....
The uncertainty principle had profound implications for the way in which we view the world. Even after more than fifty years they have not been fully appreciated by many philosophers, and are still the subject of much controversy."

... Stephen Hawking, "A Brief History of Time", pp 68-72

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

Hi Bee,

Well I would admit that in respect to what we now consider the current limits of logic and reason, what you say to be undeniable. However, if we look around at what remains as unexplained, with what has been currently observed, ie. dark energy, dark matter and the phenomilogical observations with which they are connected, I would say it’s in the realm of logic and reason where we are currently behind.

That’s to say I don’t buy into current thought (paradigm), that only if a prediction of theory precedes its discovery can we find such a theory as acceptable. As for instance, say the degree of bending of star light around the sun had been measured before GR had been proposed, should that have us able to ignore its significance? The fact is many of our current theories are in tatters, as they can’t adequately explain observation and instead of finding better more reasonable theories, many have instead shifted to passing the blame onto nature, as finding that in one way or another it as being unreasonable.

If there is one observation that Unger made with which I find empathy, it’s that science has had many to believe its current theories tell us more than is reasonable in their extension. That’s to say I agree that despite what many think, the fault currently lies with our powers of reason, rather than what we are restricted in observing. That is Io agree, just as Copernicus gave us a more reasonable universe, it being our owm unreasonable doubts, born of arrogance, that had it to be centuries before being accepted. In the time of Copernicus they added cycles and epicycles to preserve their vision of truth, where today we add realities and universes in the same desperate attempt to preserve our own; not to relieve our doubts, which truly is the purpose of science, yet rather so they might be retained. So perhaps you feel that what I understand to be religion and yet I would maintain that what science has become more aptly fits the description.

Best,

Phil

Robert L. Oldershaw said...

Do people here understand that determinism does not necessarily conflict with uncertainty and severely limited predictability?

If you doubt that mathematically verifiable and empirically testable fact, you might want to take a look at Part 3 of Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos by Steven H. Strogatz.

A lighter version of the presentation of nonlinear dynamical systems and chaotic systems is given in Ian Stewart's book: Does God Play Dice? This is an excellent and very readable book.

Another far-ranging and in all ways impressive read on this specific topic is Ivars Ekeland's book: The Best Of All Possible Worlds.

This general topic is required reading for science in the 21st century.

Arun said...

Phil:

"They added cycles and epicycles to preserve their vision of truth" -i.e., their theory did not square with reality and so they kept adding ad hoc elements to their theory to make it square with reality.

You claim that this is the situation with particle physics today? The matter of fact is that adding a symmetry - hidden or otherwise - has worked well for the strong and the weak interactions. Maybe the epicycles are the attempts to continue adding symmetry - but none of those attempts is taken to be anything other than research projects in physics, except by some of the weak-minded.

Also, we have no real indication yet from nature that the answer cannot lie within this set of ideas. Some of our reasoning has led to e.g., Woit's "Not Even Wrong", but we cannot say that nature has decisively indicated that this train must be derailed.

-Arun

Arun said...

In the introduction to Kip Thorne's "Black Holes & Time Warps : Einsteins' Outrageous Legacy" (1994), Frederick Seitz terms Einstein's general theory of relativity as "one of the greatest creations of speculative science" (emphasis added).

Plato said...

Hi Steven,

Let's take a little trip down memory lane.

Ha HA! Whoo hoo! Dark Matter has NOT been detected, or it "may have been" in Minnesota, but only within 1.5 Sigma, which is the same as background noise!

What an inCREDible disappointment!

Looks like we'll have to take a closer look at John Moffat and his MOdified Gravity Theory. See:Sounding Off on the Dark Matter Issue


If you had not shared your point of view I might not of come to realize some of the wording of John Moffat's historical journey might not have awaken the ancient mind to current day travelers of the work of gravity?:)

Bee,

You can believe in flying spaghetti monsters, reincarnation, or a theory of everything: if it helps you with your research, by all means, go ahead, just don't put your believes in the abstract of your paper.

You might not like the new post I wrote today, but as I relay about Moffats view of te dark matter and Vulcan, the ancient idea was about "a heaviness" with which those historical figures Phil speaks about. They were the predecessors of the subject about gravity.

Einstein in his later years talked about the total field

As I mentioned before, gravity is a subject that has caught my attention in more then the ways that we can look back historically, yet heaviness for me, requires an understanding, not just from looking at the cosmos. It is about understanding ourselves as well.

Best,

Steven Colyer said...

A most interesting post, Oldershaw. Somebody should look.

You wrote:
Do people here understand that determinism does not necessarily conflict with uncertainty and severely limited predictability?

I do. It's a question of length scale. We simply can't see smaller than that which the Atomic Force Microscope let's us, unless we go electron-volt crazy and smash near-light speed protons and other particles into each other, which is great, but still limits the tiniest length scale we can explore.

More directly, "quantum foam" leaves me dry. It must have some structure. It may not look like it does, but neither does the Mandelbrot set, at first. Chaos theory should be called Order-in-Chaos theory. Look around, right Robert? Where do we NOT see a fractal universe?

If you doubt that mathematically verifiable and empirically testable fact, you might want to take a look at Part 3 of Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos by Steven H. Strogatz.

One of my favorite books! Thanks for mentioning it.

A lighter version of the presentation of nonlinear dynamical systems and chaotic systems is given in Ian Stewart's book: Does God Play Dice? This is an excellent and very readable book.

Another far-ranging and in all ways impressive read on this specific topic is Ivars Ekeland's book: The Best Of All Possible Worlds.

This general topic is required reading for science in the 21st century.


I haven't read either, but thanks for turning me on to them. I am afraid I have fallen off the wagon (relapsed) so to speak on my Science book addiction. I was doing so well for a while, but ... oh well. Next up: "The Strangest Man" by Farmelo, about Dirac. 2nd strangest man really after Michael Jackson, but MJ was still alive when Farmelo wrote it, so he's close.

Arun and Plato: good points as usual. My current re-reading of Hawking (with a much better knowledge base than previously) reminds me of how much Einstein and Eddington hated the ideas of Subrahmanyan Chadrasekhar's "speculations" regarding the directions of star evolution (brown dwarf, white dwarf, neutron star, or black hole) based on mass. Einstein ever wrote a paper dismissing it.

It's fine to me wrong, given current knowledge. The shoulders of giants are large, but not infinite.

But it's not fine to not be up on current knowledge. I'm still learning.

Robert L. Oldershaw said...

Steve said:

"I do. It's a question of length scale. We simply can't see smaller than that which the Atomic Force Microscope let's us, unless we go electron-volt crazy and smash near-light speed protons and other particles into each other, which is great, but still limits the tiniest length scale we can explore."

Actually the unpredictability and uncertainty of nonlinear dynamical systems theory is NOT scale dependent.

See Poincare's results regarding the stability of the Solar System, for instance.

Back to the books, buddy. You have missed some key principles of nonlinear dynamical systems, which are the majority of all systems found in nature, if not all of them.

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

Actually the unpredictability and uncertainty of nonlinear dynamical systems theory is NOT scale dependent.

It's not Mathematically, but the problem with Mathematics is when actual experimental results result in kicking its butt, which then leads to ... even more Mathematics (cough...superstrings...uncough).

Sorry. Frog in my throat. ;-}

Example: Gravity is VERY scale dependent. Next to negligible to the point of actually being negligible on the quantic scale, yet Gravity is the very most important thing on the cosmological scale.

Buddy.

:-)

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

Hi Arun,

I wasn’t referring to adding symmetry as with dimensions, yet adding worlds, universes and realities. Symmetries always come as to reveal some new truth with indicating what needs to be conserved. Perhaps it’s simply my failing, yet I’ve never been able to fathom how adding worlds, universes or realities have anything to be conserved, yet rather the contrary. None the less, the view that I share with Unger is the one I noted to Steven, being researchers should look to what science has done and shown, rather then what it says it has done and shown. The funny thing about what Unger is saying being it’s not revolutionary at all, yet merely to indicate where science has strayed from its mission as self defined.

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Steven: Chaos is deterministic. It has nothing to do with length scale. If you chose twice the same initial values, you get twice the same answer. Problem is that the outcome is extremely sensitive to the initial conditions (butterfly effect and all.)

All: Could you please come back to the topic, thanks.

Plato said...

So what I wanted to point out Bee is that there is a difference of opinion about the dark matter issue, that a part of the establishment of science is involved in experimental design of the phenomenology of the subject, while there are those in science that would think this is counter to the proposals of reality defining while comparing it to the explanation of the evolution toward Einstein's work?

Do you find this at all in your adventures?

That there be dragons in the idea of a cosmological universe containing the dark matter/energy issues?

CXC: What's your interest in dark matter? Why is it important to understand the behavior of dark matter?

MM: The nature of dark matter is one of the most important topics in astronomy, so everybody is interested. Little is known about it -- all that the numerous searches for dark matter particles have done is ruling out various hypotheses, but they never got any "positive" results. So any new piece of evidence is valuable.


Best,

Plato said...

I just put "There Be Dragons on the Dark Matter Issue?" quickly to help push the point I am making about the process going on in science with regards to the cosmological relations, while it could be seen as some counter to proposals of the theoretical definitions of superstring theorists, to actually look at the universe in new ways.

Hope this helps in giving an example on the "Laws of Nature: Their Nature and Knowability."

Best,

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

I'll bet anyone a state of the art turbo-charged Stephen Hawking wheelchair that we learn what Dark Energy is before we learn what Dark Matter is, and when we do so, Dark Matter will fall out of the equations ... naturally. :-)

All: Could you please come back to the topic, thanks.

Part pooper. What?! No stream-of-consciousness intellectual random exploratory brainstorming allowed? :-( OK, Bee, it's your blog, your "house" so to speak, so therefore your rules. I can respect that. Forgive me for stepping a tad too far outside of the box, thanks.

Back on topic:

You wrote:
Experimental input is of course essential to progress all along. On the theoretical side, the obvious reason why people are looking for a unification of the known forces is that unification has worked previously and has been tremendously successful. The same holds for symmetry principles. Sure, that doesn't mean these procedures will continue to be successful, but it's the obvious thing to try. It's the same reason why a band's second hit sounds like the first, and why, after my move to Sweden ...

The first sentence pretty much defines what you're about, right Bee?

The second part has me thinking every last song by ABBA sounds like every other song by ABBA, first, last, middle, doesn't matter. Mama mia!

Bee said...

Hi Steven,

I forgive you :-) But please let your consciousness stream elsewhere.

"The first sentence pretty much defines what you're about, right Bee?"

As in all things in life, it's a matter of balance. Experiment and theory go best hand in hand, and whenever one is too much ahead of the other, both get lost. It just happens that the field I'm presently most interested in, quantum gravity, has for a long time had a lack of effort of exploring experimental possibilities. That is not to say I don't think mathematical consistency is also important. It comes in via the question what models to you use to point out into the "terra incognita." Best,

B.

Steven Colyer said...

That is not to say I don't think mathematical consistency is also important. It comes in via the question what models to you use to point out into the "terra incognita."

Agreed, the problem with "equations", or analytical reasoning as some call it, is that we meet a wall venturing down said road, a wall quite explicitly pointed out to me by my Calculus IV (Differential Equations) Math professor in the spring semester of my Sophomore undergraduate year, when he said:

"Mathematicians don't know everything about Mathematics."

Huh, what?! What the HELL?!?!

You could have knocked me over with a feather. In my naive youth at the tender age of 18 (and a half), I thought Mathematicians knew everything!

But what he said next was no less important, indeed it gave me great hope to continue my studies, when he said:

"But where analysis fails, Numerical Methods (Computer Science) picks up."

Phew. At the end of the day, it really does come down to the slope of the line and the area under the curve, doesn't it? And so what does it matter what the method of reaching your result is, for in the end, it is the result that matters most of all.

Robert L. Oldershaw said...

Steve opines:
"Example: Gravity is VERY scale dependent. Next to negligible to the point of actually being negligible on the quantic scale, yet Gravity is the very most important thing on the cosmological scale."
-------------------------

I believe that this is a false statement. It is based entirely on the untested assumption that the gravitational coupling factor is the same on every Scale of nature.

I have theoretical and empirical evidence that this is NOT the case.

Steven Colyer said...

I believe that this is a false statement. It is based entirely on the untested assumption that the gravitational coupling factor is the same on every Scale of nature.

No, if I'm wrong and you're right, it's probably based on my reading too many popular science books and science magazine articles, many of which contradict each other.

I have theoretical and empirical evidence that this is NOT the case.

Great, but please don't pontificate here. Bee has the right to discourage "non-Mainstream" theories on this blogsite of hers. However, I think it would be cool if you briefly provided a link to your blog. It wouldn't take up much space, and I've lost the link and would like to give it a gander again, since I know so much more Physics now since the last time I looked at it.

Respect our hostess, is all I'm saying. This is a wonderful place.

Robert L. Oldershaw said...

Right, and who am I to rock your cozy little boat?

Anyone who has not heard about discrete fractal cosmology, and has basic skills, can find free access to the new paradigm in milliseconds.

I was not disrespecting the lady of the house, just challenging an untested assumption that is all to commonly taken on faith.

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

just challenging an untested assumption that is all too commonly taken on faith.

Interesting. Have you heard of Charles Broad? He was a Philosophy professor, and one of the handful of teachers that influenced Paul Dirac's education in a very profound way.

Briefly (further details may be found on pages 38-45 in Graham Farmelo's, "The Strangest Man", about Dirac) ...

It is September 1920. 18-yr-old Dirac has returned to his native Bristol to take up the final year of his undergraduate education, in which he will specialize in Electrical Engineering.

His real passion, however, is Relativity, Albert Einstein having become a great celebrity just less than a year before. Being frustrated with the lack of good technical descriptions of how Relativity was derived, he finds himself attracted to a newly offered course taught by Broad, a new Professor of Philosophy at the University of Bristol, who wrote this:

"A philosopher who regards ignorance of a scientific theory as insufficient reason for not writing about it cannot be accused of complete lack of originality."

Broad originally wanted to be an engineer, but he trained in both philosophy and science at Cambridge and acquired more expertise in relativity theory than the great majority of physicists of the day. He taught Dirac and other final-year engineering students Spec and Gen Rev, in tandem. Most of Dirac's fellows dropped out thinking the subject not practical until only Dirac remained.

Among other tidbits, Broad "was skeptical of the contribution philosophy can make to advance the understanding of the natural world (he called it 'aimless wandering in a circle'), but his lectures persuaded Dirac that the subject was worth pursuing."

This would lead Dirac to acquire "A System of Logic" by John Stuart Mill, and the rest as they say, is history.

So what I am saying Robert is yes, question the assumptions if you will. I constantly do. I suppose we should all learn better philosophy, as a tool, toward that end.

Off-topic: my favorite Mill quote:

"A second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience."

:-p

William said...

So, in a nutshell, Popper had a theory that a theory can not be verified, it can only be falsified. Hmmm. So that theory itself can not be verified, only falsified. Hmmm.

As the song says ... Philosophy
... is like the talk on a cereal box.


@Mitchell, I would think "extended objects" = "objects" and that therefore "extended" is redundant ... so I guess you are modifying "objects" in order to exclude "mathematical objects" (such as strings and points and lines and planes and spherical surfaces)? But I think those "mathematical objects" quite obviously are not equal to "objects" which exist in the 3D/4D reality we experience, all of which are by default "extended".

Perhaps the need to modify the word "objects" with "extended" indicates an unfortunate blurring of "modern" physicists' perspective on what is (existentially) real and what is (abstractly) mathematical.

Robert L. Oldershaw said...

Steve says:

"So what I am saying Robert is yes, question the assumptions if you will. I constantly do. I suppose we should all learn better philosophy, as a tool, toward that end."
-----------------------

Yes, but it is one thing to SAY the words, and quite another to actually look at nature from a different set of assumptions, to physically try some retrodictions, to actually explore where the new assumptipons lead, and to develop definitive predictions by which the assumptions can be scientifically tested.

How many people can say that they have actually DONE this?

For those who wish to see what happens when you question the assumption that the same value of G applies on all global Scales of nature, search on Discrete Scale Relativity.

Motivation: unification of GR and QM, particle mass/stability spectrum without tooth fairies, smoke and mirrors, and 25-30 adjustable parameters. Then there is a resolution of the vacuum energy density crisis, an explanation of the physical meaning of the fine structure constant, a definitive prediction for the exact nature of the galactic dark matter, etc., etc., etc,...

Don't just talk-the-talk. Walk-the-walk!

Pmer said...

It is obvious there is a theory of everything. If there were not everything would be random.

Bee said...

Pmer: First, a theory can have a random element. Quantum theory that, presently, is a fundamental theory is to some extend random. Second, I think you didn't get the point. The question is a) whether there is one theory of everything (as opposed to many theories of something) and b) whether we would ever know that we have found such a theory. With regards to a), please read my post What is fundamental. With regards to b), please reread this post. Best,

B.

Pmer said...

I know all that. I'm saying if there were no unifying structure, at bottom, then everything would be random and we would not see the regularities we find in nature.

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

Out of the mouth of babes, man. Did you actually READ the links Bee was kind enough to supply? I mean, your question is valid, but your attitude belies a bit of ignorance as to how the world really works, and that is to say: how quantum mechanics works.

Here's the basic problem, and it's a huge one:

If we do something to an atom, specifically to one of the outermost electrons on the atom, it will shoot off a photon.

We know this. We know how to do this. But here's what we don't know:

We have NO way to predict in which direction that photon will shoot off. Not at all with any degree of precision, or accuracy. We know a probability, and that's it.

And that bugaboo vexes us all. Been vexing humanity for a hundred years.

So what I'm saying is, what you and I and Bee and everyone wants is ... some way to predict that, some ... mathematical equation that will predict it, and in doing so, show the world to be as deterministic as Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Louis de Broglie, and Erwin Schrodinger wanted it to be.

But we don't have that equation. Not yet. We're getting closer, but we're still far away.

Before we get there though, we'll need a theory that combines the continuous with the discrete, Quantum mechanics with General relativity. But before we get THERE, it sure wouldn't hurt to have a theory that combines the strong force with the electroweak force, called GUT for Grand Unified Theory.

We can't have a TOE before we have a theory of QG and GUT. And if we do, we have no hard evidence that a TOE is universal, that it applies at every point in spacetime.

Hopefully that helped, but if it didn't, look on the bright side:

There's plenty of work to be done.

And you asked a good question.

Pmer said...

I know there is objective randomness in quantum mechanics. But it is not true that a quantum system has *no* properties before it is observed. For example, it may have the property that its probabilities evolve according to the Schroedinger equation. If there were no underlying rhyme or reason to what's going on then the Schroedinger equation itself would not be valid. The Schroedinger equation is one of the regularities I referred to. It is perfectly plausible to have randomness, i.e. quantum mechanics, within some kind of TOE that would not violate objective randomness. Right?

Plato said...

Let's just say, "you choose a background?" :)

Best,