Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Book review: “On The Future” by Martin Rees

On the Future: Prospects for Humanity
By Martin Rees
Princeton University Press (October 16, 2018)

The future will come, that much is clear. What it will bring, not so much. But speculating about what the future brings is how we make decisions in the present, so it’s a worthwhile exercise. It can be fun, it can be depressing. Rees’ new book “On The Future” is both.

Martin Rees is a cosmologist and astrophysicist. He has also for long been involved in public discourse about science, notably the difficulty of integrating scientific evidence in policy making. He is also one of the founding members of the Cambridge Center for Existential Risk and serves on the advisory board of the Future of Life Institute. In brief, Rees thinks ahead, not for 5 years or 10 years, but for 1000 or maybe – gasp – a million years.

In his new book, Rees covers a large number of topics. From the threat of nuclear war, climate change, clean energy, and environmental sustainability to artificial intelligence, bioterrorism, assisted dying, and the search for extraterrestrial life. Rees is clearly a big fan of space exploration and bemoans that today it’s nowhere near as exciting as when he was young.
“I recall a visit to my home town by John Glenn, the first American to go into orbit. He was asked what he was thinking while in the rocket’s nose cone, awaiting launch. He responded, ‘I was thinking that there were twenty thousand parts in this rocket, and each was made by the lowest bidder.’”
I much enjoyed Rees book, the biggest virtue of which is brevity. Rees gets straight to the point. He summarizes what we know and don’t know, and what he thinks about where it’ll go, and that’s that. The amount of flowery words in his book is minimal (and those that he uses are mostly borrowed from Carl Sagan).

You don’t have to agree with Rees on his extrapolations into the unknown, but you will end up being well-informed. Rees is also utterly unapologetic about being a scientist to the core. Oftentimes scientists writing about climate change or biotech end up in a forward-defense against denialism, which I find exceedingly tiresome. Rees does nothing of that sort. He sticks with the facts.

It sometimes shows that Rees is a physicist. For example in his going on about exoplanets, reductionism (“The ‘ordering’ of the sciences in this hierarchy is not controversial.”), and his plug for the multiverse about which he writes “[The multiverse] is not metaphysics. It’s highly speculative. But it’s exciting science. And it may be true.”

But Rees does not address the biggest challenge we currently face, that is our inability to make use of the knowledge we already have. He is simply silent on the problems we currently see in science, the lack of progress, and the difficulties we face in our society when trying to aggregate evidence to make informed decisions.

In his chapter about “The Limits and Future of Science,” Rees acknowledges the possibility that “some fundamental truths about nature could be too complex for unaided human brains to fully grasp” but fails to notice that unaided human brains are not even able to fully grasp how being part of a large community influences their interests – and with that the decision of what we chose to spend time and resources on.

By omitting to even mention these problems, Rees tells us something about the future too. We may be so busy painting pictures of our destination that we forget to think of a way to reach it.

[Disclaimer: Free review copy.]

91 comments:

Shantanu said...

I am now reading your book now (as my holiday reading) :-) Did you finish Janna Levin's book related to LIGO. Another nice to read (if you haven't) is Fulvio Melia's book on cracking the Einstein code

Lindsay Forbes said...

My quote from Martin Rees is Sir Martin Rees, the U.K.'s Astronomer Royal, calls the multiverse "speculative science, not just metaphysics." He said he's confident there is far more to physical reality than the vast domain that we see through our telescopes, and he would be amazed, he said, "if the universe didn't extend thousands of times beyond what we can see."
At least I agree with someone.

Greg Feild said...

I would not trust anyone who believes in the multiverse to speculate seriously on such a wide range of complicated issues.

We cannot even bring ourselves to believe projections and predictions for the LHC upgrade.

Count Iblis said...

The knowledge we have will lead to our demise before we'll get a chance to complete our quest to understand the universe. So, what is bound to happen is that new advances in biotechnology will lead to the creation of viruses capable of wiping out all of humanity. Such viruses cannot evolve in Nature but they can in principle be made in the lab. The human body is bound to have zero-day vulnerabilities in evolutionary inaccessible sectors.

It has recently become possible to make viruses as complex as the smallpox virus ab initio in the lab, as demonstrated by the ab initio synthesis of the related horsepox virus:

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/07/how-canadian-researchers-reconstituted-extinct-poxvirus-100000-using-mail-order-dna

This means that one can think of producing much more complex viruses for which there is no evolutionary path. It's very likely that some of these viruses are Nemesis viruses that can kill all of us. Such a virus and a vaccine against it can be used by a country to kill everyone except its own population and then claim the entire World for itself.

Uncle Al said...

1920s' physical theory derived "methane," right angle HCH. 1930s' chemistry burped black box LCAO and tetrahedral CH_4. 2019, LCAO plus Woodward-Hoffmann rules empower pen to paper. Chemical theory better than measurement is software oblivious to chemistry, density functional theory, DFT.

Physics' “beauty” is empirically sterile. Whatever concept accurately models reality begins with beauty-rejected baryogenesis. this is testable. All else is ground to dust.

https://vimeo.com/100888579
… Dust.

Rick said...

Minor grammar error: “is how we make decisions in the presence” I think should be “present”.

Steven Mason said...

I haven't read this book yet. I'm tempted to ask Sabine questions, but it would just be easier to read it.

I normally don't read books that make predictions about the far-flung future, but Sabine seems to be saying that Rees addresses present-day issues too, so now I'm interested.

Lawrence Crowell said...

The human prospect relies very much on human psychology. We have lots of ideology about humans as rational beings, and over years I have found myself abandoning this idea. Studies of human evolution often tend to stress the human ability to solve problems and reasoning. While humans have a greater ability along these lines than most other animals we are not as a result rational beings. I say most animals for it is maybe not so exclusive to us. All life forms evolve according to those most able to pass their genes to the next generation. With human there is no exception and there can be a range of behaviors with genetic underpinnings that facility differential fertility or fitness. This can involve things such as persuasion and control.

I read this article by Jerry Coyne on the incompatibility between science with religion. If you had never heard of Christianity before and somebody started hammering you with it you might think these were the ravings of a delusional lunatic. It is very magical, and the epistemic difference between Jesus turning water into wine is not much different from Cinderella's fairy godmother turning a pumpkin and mice into a horse drawn carriage. Yet belief in the first is treated as laudable and belief in the latter cause for psychiatric therapy.

https://www.alternet.org/yes-there-war-between-science-and-religion?src=newsletter1098989

I agree with Coyne that religious and scientific thinking are not commensurate. People who are both scientists and religious have some sort of compartmentalized thinking and where there is a boundary there must be some measure of cognitive dissonance. Religiously faithful scientists tend to populate the history books prior to the late 19th century. Darwin dropped a big bomb that reduced religious thinking in scientists. Probably the last great brilliant physicists who was religious was Maxwell, who with his work on thermodynamics argued that Darwinian evolution violated the laws of thermodynamics. Today Don Page is a fundamentalist Christian, so this still happens a bit. By the time relativity and quantum mechanics was starting to be developed in the early 20th century few physicists were religious.

continued

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Rick,

Thanks for pointing out, I fixed that!

Bill said...

"Oftentimes scientists writing about climate change or biotech end up in a forward-defense against denialism, which I find exceedingly tiresome."

The denialists don't find ignorance and arrogance tiresome, so if no one speaks out against them they'd be seen as winning the argument. But I get your drift.

Thank you for another worthwhile book review, Frau Professorin.

Denis Boers said...

Sabien,

I know you don't like history. Still, you may want to have a look at the books by Helge Kragh, especially " Higher Speculations,Grand Theories and Failed Revolutions in Physics and Cosmology". He points to grand schemes of the 19th and (mainly) 20th century : Thomson's vortex atom theory, Mie's field theory of matter, Eddington's TOE, Milne's, the Steady State Theory ... each grand schemes that influenced a generation. Only the Steady State was disproven by observations, the others died a protracted death after people lost interest. In a second part, he discusses current schemes regarding varying constants of nature, anthropic science, the multiverse, string theory as a theory of quantum gravity. 1/2

Denis Boers said...

The bad news is that in each case, observations were needed to either kill off a dead end, or to point to a better way.Philosophers didn't bring relief. Communities were much smaller, with more financial security for researchers, and less pressure. Biases, well, they've always been with us. The good news is that physical science has had a whole series of dead ends, most of them proposed by masterminds of their time, and each time people have gotten out of it.

Cheers,

Denis

Michael John Sarnowski said...

I believe scientists are still religious. They still think that they can make things better with science and statistics. Only evolution can make things better with gazillions of iterations.

Unknown said...

You fixed "Minor grammar error: “is how we make decisions in the presence” I think should be “present”. Sabine, this interests me. I noticed your (minor) slip, but you did not when you made it. I every do often get a letter from Sweden inviting me to nominate people for the Nobel prize in physics; the authors (like you) know English extremely well, BUT not natively. And they write something like "we write to ask your nomination for the Nobel prize in physics." My heart beats wildly for a moment, and then I realize that they are non-native English speakers. In the same vein, when Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands spoke in 1950 at my elementary school in Ottawa, where her daughter went during WWII, she said the first time her daughter (speaking no English at all) came home, she asked her did you learn any English? Her daughter replied "Mairsy Doats and Dosey Doats and Little Lamsy Divy."

Steven Mason said...

Lawrence wrote: continued . . .

I'll wait until you've finished your comment to see what your prognosis is for the human race. :-)

Have you read this book, or do you plan to read it?

Otilia Kloos said...

Thank you for pointing out the practical side of the written text; I am sure that once it uses the scientific language, it was so much easier for Sabine to read it; I wish I knew if there was anything in the book that stressed at all the educated hypothesis of the picture of the future ( matterr and energy)upon the conventional present( whether we can make decisions or not is not the point yet). There must be something of the sort(?!).

Steven Evans said...

Martin Rees who accepted 1 million quid from the Templeton Foundation. "Prospects for the Future"? Not good if even the Astronomer Royal can be corrupted by Templeton's billions.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Denis,

I read Kragh's book "Higher Speculations". I also met him, as I mention in my book. (His book "Quantum Generations" is also very recommendable.)

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Unknown,

Not sure I understand the question, if there is one. There are various types of mistakes. One is the crap-I-hit-the-wrong-key-mittake. Another one is the didn't-notice-it's-the-wrong-world-mistake. This happens if two words look similar and your eyes gloss over it. The mistake here was one of these. Then there are the kind of mistakes where I really don't know how to use a word. This still happens every now and then. Example: When I interviewed Arkani-Hamed, he said something to the extent "they were not sitting on their hands" which I transcribed as "they were not sitting on their pants". (Luckily my copyeditor fixed that.)

On the other hand, there are mistakes that non-native speakers are less likely to make. Eg, the typical then/than their/there/they're confusions are just something you don't have if you have learned those words as translation of other words rather than from hearing them being used.

(And then there's autocorrect. Which is the reason why my mom once accidentally addressed me as "Dear Bible".)

Phillip Helbig said...

"Martin Rees who accepted 1 million quid from the Templeton Foundation. "Prospects for the Future"? Not good if even the Astronomer Royal can be corrupted by Templeton's billions."

Quid pro quo? :-)

Yes, he did accept a million from Templeton. Yes, I disagree with Templeton's agenda. Yes, I think that Rees should have publicly declined the prize. However, if you believe that 1 million pounds (note: Rees was already a millionaire before the prize) corrupted him, i.e. caused him to write something Templeton wants which he wouldn't have otherwise, you need to prove it.

Steven Evans said...

@Phillip Helbig

"Quid pro quo?"
Very good.

Simply by taking the money Rees associated his name as Astronomer Royal with a bunch of fraudsters trying to corrupt science and gave them credibility when they deserve opprobrium. In doing so, he sullied the position of Astronomer Royal and science in general. So, the mere acceptance of the money was corruption. Medical doctors would be struck off for this kind of unethical action. Rees has disgraced himself and his post.
(Granted "Astronomer Royal" is a contradiction in terms - Astronomer a scientist, when not working for Templeton at least, and Royal the head of the CofE. But that's a complicated legacy issue buried 100s of years deep in society. However, telling anti-scientific delusional cranks like the Templeton Foundation to take a hike shouldn't be difficult unless your children are starving.)

Marco Parigi said...

Sabine said : -wrong-key-mittake. Another one is the didn't-notice-it's-the-wrong-world-mistake.


I love it - Making the mistake in the sentence describing the mistake - real method writing there. I actually imagined a multi-verse style explanation with the "wrong world" reference. however on re-reading it is quite clear the facetious use of t instead of s to make mittake, and the word "world" being used instead of "word" clearly answers or not answers the question if there is one. Quite a Copenhagen interpretation on the *Unknown* commenter's comment.

regards

Marco

Phillip Helbig said...

"Quid pro quo?"
Very good.


Thanks for the great setup! We should become a double act. :-)

Simply by taking the money Rees associated his name as Astronomer Royal with a bunch of fraudsters trying to corrupt science and gave them credibility when they deserve opprobrium. In doing so, he sullied the position of Astronomer Royal and science in general. So, the mere acceptance of the money was corruption. Medical doctors would be struck off for this kind of unethical action. Rees has disgraced himself and his post.

I tend to agree. Still, it doesn't prove that taking the money influenced his work.

There are many examples of scientists taking Templeton money where I can see no hint at all that it influenced their work, other than by providing financial support. (I am somewhat less critical of scientists who are openly religious, such as John Barrow and George Ellis, though here as well I see no evidence that taking the money caused them to write something they wouldn't have if the funding had been from a secular source and also their religion is quite different from that of Templeton.)

One might even go out on a limb and accept the money, knowing that that will do less damage than it going to an anti-evolutionist or whatever.

Had I been Rees, I might have considered accepting it, then donating it to some cause trying to undo the damage Templeton has done.


On the one hand, it is perhaps more difficult to fault a student, say, for accepting a Templeton scholarship. Funding is difficult, and not always fair, so it might mean the difference between staying in research and leaving. On the other hand, there is some evidence that Templeton has influence on these people and/or people with fewer qualms about accepting Templeton money can stay on whereas moral secularists can't. :-)

Lawrence Crowell said...

@ Steve Mason, I thought I had transmitted that. I needed to break this up due to size limitations of 4096 characters. Here it is:

This then raises concern over whether religious belief is a natural aspect of human thought. I was given the URL below on neurotic behavior:

http://sciencenordic.com/single-personality-trait-foundation-almost-all-mental-illness-study

A part of the problem I see with the DSM approach is that when you sum all the statistically independent clusters up for psychiatric illnesses almost half of humans are mentally ill. This suggests to me that in ways what we call mental illnesses are just a range of behaviors in the human species. Often they are marked by what we call disordered thinking, which means irrationality or thought and speech that is not coherent. The idea is we humans evolved to be rational beings, which as time goes on I suspect is false. So those individuals less capable to coherent and ordered thinking we tend to regard as ill, when I more suspect they just represent cases within a range of human behavior.

Neurotic behavior almost saturates fundamentalist religion. I dated a couple of women who were into that, and my observation was there are a large number of religious people with neurotic sorts of behaviors. These were marked by phobias and obsessive concerns over bizarre conspiracies (anti-Christ nonsense etc) and deep worries over small or fake moral problems and so forth.

It seems reasonable to think neurotic behavior is a well spring for other personality disorders, such as borderline and narcissistic personality disorders. It is less clear to me with schizotypal disorders such as the worst being schizophrenia. These tend to have marked changes in neural net structures. Neurotic behavior though is endemic in the human species. I would hazard a guess, without going to the reference section of the library and looking at the DSM, 10 to 20% of people are neurotic.

If neurotic behavior is deeply embedded in a significant percentage of the human population then it seems reasonable to think there is some "naturalness" to religion. If we abandon the idea that humans evolved to be rational beings, which I increasingly, especially in this age of t'Rump, have come to abandon, then disordered thinking is just in the natural range of human behaviors. About 25% of humans fit in the category of authoritarian behavior, which I suspect has a strong overlap with people exhibiting neurotic behavior. Many Nazi officials had issues such as phobias over germs etc. We might just have to throw in the towel of rationality and admit we humans on some level may be just f***d.

Then back to the “God problem,” I see God as little different than a supernatural form of George Orwell's Big Brother in 1984. We are in a time where there is this unfortunate rise in authoritarian personality cult-like behavior; not the MAGA types at t'Rump rallies. This seems to happen about every century or so and we are about due for the next upsurge in this. Curiously this is happening most in the presumed bastion of democracy USA. It also takes us into the problem of why knowledge has often little impact; for people quite often regard truth as anything that confirms their inner narrative. We have a president like this, and in serious cases they are often called pathological liars. Religion and this sort of authoritarian politics go hand in hand, they have similar behaviors and thinking. If our species is not able to rise above this sort of thing our prospects for the future are very clouded and dim.

Steven Evans said...

I presume it hasn't influenced his work at all, but such a high profile scientist accepting the money gives Templeton a huge and undeserved boost in credibility.
It cost Templeton around $350,000 to buy Luke Barnes (!), so 1 million pounds to bag the Astronomer Royal is an absolute bargain. It would be like the Metropolitan Police Commissioner accepting a donation from the mafia.

Templeton's M.O. is clear: fund some real scientific research to cover up their agenda, and simultaneously fund a bunch of cranks to try to blur the line between science and "philosophy" and "theology". $2 billion to fund "spiritual studies"! - the paedos in the Vatican must have been laughing their skullcaps off. What a return on their child brainwashing programme - some investor who made his money buying stocks when the bombs started falling, contributing $2 billion to the noble cause of covering up the criminal fraud of the churches.

Phillip Helbig said...

"I presume it hasn't influenced his work at all, but such a high profile scientist accepting the money gives Templeton a huge and undeserved boost in credibility."

Yes, and that is why Rees should have declined it.

"It cost Templeton around $350,000 to buy Luke Barnes (!)"

Maybe he will weigh in personally. My guess is that Templeton did not buy Barnes, i.e. pay him to write something he doesn't believe, but rather that he, being a theist anyway, naturally turned to Templeton for funding.

It is an old rule of logic that the beliefs of a speaker are independent of the the truth of their statements. The biggest fool can say that the Sun will rise tomorrow, but that doesn't mean it won't. By a similar (not the same: don't misquote me) token, the fact that Barnes is a theist and sees fine-tuning as evidence of divine (in some sense) intervention is irrelevant to the question whether fine-tuning exists. 19th-century arguments about well adapted organisms were used to demonstrate the benevolence of the Creator; we now understand how evolution leads to the same result. For that matter, just this morning I was reading (guess where) that for Newton the question of God's role in the universe was an important part of natural philosophy. That doesn't mean that as an atheist I must reject the Principia.

Steven Evans said...

@Lawrence Crowell

"Many Nazi officials had issues such as phobias over germs etc. "

Is that why we also called them "germans"?

Lawrence Crowell said...

I always found it amusing how different languages translate other countries. German in Russian is Немецкий, or transliteration Nemetskiy, which I always sensed had a feeling of meaning "nemesis." Given 20th century relations between Germany and Russia it sort of fits. Germany in Russian is Германия, trans-lit Germania, which is close to the Latin.I took two years of Russian. I had four years of French and Germany is Allemagne which is taken from a Gothic or German tribe that troubled the late Roman Empire. The term Germany then extends back to the Roman Empire and I am not sure how that term got going. To be honest I suspect some of these stem from early derogatory meanings.

Steven Evans said...

@Phillip Helbig
Luke Barnes is a bought and paid for crank. He is using the fact that he trained as a physicist to try to pass off nonsense in popular "science" books as actual science. Templeton is paying him a bundle to simulate lots of different universes on his ZX Spectrum - but his ZX Spectrum isn't reality unfortunately. Doh!

I understand that it is the scientific record that is credible, irrespective of the personal delusions of some of its contributors. This is exactly the misunderstanding that Templeton and people like Luke Barnes are exploiting. Publish on the scientific record according to the rules of science, but then give talks and write books on "metaphysics" which are simply unjustified waffle, and the fundies lap it up - look an actual physicist is saying Jesus's daddy made universes - it's scientifically true!

The point is that the church is simply carrying out criminal fraud - knowingly telling lies to take money off ignorant people. So any academics helping them "rationalise" their lies are party to that fraud. I read that a New York psychic was arrested by police for fortune-teller fraud - so when are the police going to arrest the Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury for massive, centuries-long fraud by their organisations?

For fine-tuning there is simply no evidence - it is not known whether it is physically possible for the Cosmological Constant to be any other value than the one it's observed to be, so as soon as one says, "If the Cosmological Constant were slightly different", one has entered the realm of pure speculation. Ditto every other supposed fine-tuning. Previously, you characterised this as me claiming the statistical distribution of Cos Const values was a delta function. But, despite you being the King of Logic, this is mistaken - I am simply stating that there is no evidence that it isn't a delta function. And this is all extremely obviously true.

Phillip Helbig said...

I don't go to Luke's popular talks, so I don't know what he peddles there.

It is certainly possible to do good work in cosmology and be religious. Cases in point: Lematire, George Ellis, John Barrow. You might argue that these separate their science from their religion. But Newton didn't, and still did good science. (Personally, I am not religious, and reject the religions of Lemaitre, Ellis, and Barrow for the same reason that I don't believe in Odin, Zeus, or Quetzelcoatl.)

Yes, there is no evidence that the "constants of nature" could be different. On the other hand, the universe is definitely fine-tuned, not in the sense of lack of technical naturalness, but in the sense that if the values were much different, then life would probably be impossible. One can discuss the idea of fine-tuning and explore its consequences independently of whether there is evidence that the constants can vary. I think that everyone must agree that fine-tuning in this sense exists. The question is what is the explanation. The multiverse is one. You seem to believe that no other values are possible (which is equivalent to a delta function for the probability distribution). Smolin had some idea that the universe evolved via black holes. Maybe it's coincidence. Maybe life can arise even in very different universes. Maybe we are in a simulation. There are many explanations other than a creator. The question is which is the most probable.

I think that it is certainly possible that the constants of nature couldn't be other than what they are, and just happen to enable life, but I haven't seen a theory which calculates them from first principles, much less one which shows that no other values are possible.

Steven Evans said...

Phillip Helbig
"if the values were much different, then life would probably be impossible. "

*** IF ***
Everything after the if is pure speculation. It is not known they can be different at all. And nothing is known about the possibilities or conditions for “life”. It’s not even known how common it is in the universe.

"One can discuss the idea of fine-tuning and explore its consequences independently of whether there is evidence that the constants can vary. "

You and others are not "discussing" it, you are saying that it is true - that the universe *is* fine-tuned. This is simply *not known*. You have no idea how the nature of the universe might be able to vary as physics isn't a complete theory.

"I think that everyone must agree that fine-tuning in this sense exists."

No, they don't. For the completely obvious reasons above. There is *zero* evidence the universe could physically be any different to this one. Natural explanations have been found for so-called fine tunings in the past.

"The question is what is the explanation."
No, it isn’t, because fine-tuning hasn’t been demonstrated. The question is what the question has always been in physics - can the universe be explained with fewer and fewer assumptions?

"The multiverse is one."
The multiverse is a speculation based on a speculation. There is no physical evidence for it.

" You seem to believe that no other values are possible (which is equivalent to a delta function for the probability distribution)."
(Bangs head against desk). I stated very clearly that there is no physical evidence that the constants *can* be other values. I didn't say I believe no other values are possible. What I "believe" is irrelevant, only the physical evidence counts.

"Smolin had some idea that the universe evolved via black holes."
Great. And if an observation supports this speculation, it will become physics.

" Maybe it's coincidence."
Maybe what's a coincidence? You have shown no coincidences. The current fundamental laws and constants of nature that physics has to assume *may have natural explanations* in the future. That's what physicists have been doing for the past 2,500 years - explaining more and more physical phenomena with fewer and fewer assumptions and laws. Why would physicists stop this process now, when there are still plenty of research leads?

" Maybe life can arise even in very different universes. Maybe we are in a simulation. There are many explanations other than a creator. The question is which is the most probable."
More speculation which has led *nowhere*.

"I think that it is certainly possible that the constants of nature couldn't be other than what they are,"
At last! Hallelujah! Thank you. And more than this, the *only* values that we *know* the constants of nature *can physically* take are the ones that they have been observed to be.

" and just happen to enable life,"
Pointless speculation that leads *nowhere*, tells us *nothing* about the universe.

"but I haven't seen a theory which calculates them from first principles, much less one which shows that no other values are possible."

This is the whole point! Physics isn't a complete theory. Whether a theory can be found which can calculate the constants from 1st principles is not known. Trying to claim that it is more unlikely that a 1st principles theory will restrict the constants to what they have been observed to be rather than predict a range of values is insanity - where on earth are you getting the information from to make statements like this?? It's speculation to the power speculation. You seem to think you can just write anything down and that'll do.

Anyway, you have essentially agreed - “fine-tuning" is pure speculation, and it has so far told us *nothing* about the universe. Your feelings about the probability of certain theories or explanations are irrelevant without physical evidence.

Steven Mason said...

Lawrence wrote: I thought I had transmitted that.

You gave a lot of clues, but I didn't want to assume too much.

Lawrence wrote: The idea is we humans evolved to be rational beings, which as time goes on I suspect is false.

I wouldn't say it's false. It's more like what you said about perhaps only half of all people being rational enough not to be too reckless (for lack of a better word).

I agree that irrational thoughts and behavior are not "unnatural" human traits. But the more rational half of humanity is burdened with the problem of dealing with the more irrational half, sort of like trying to save someone from drowning when he's trying to pull you down with him in a panic. Hopefully the rescuer is strong enough and lucky enough to save himself and the victim, because in this metaphor, the rescuer doesn't have the option to let the victim go and save himself. We're all in this together.

Thanks for clarifying.

Steven Mason said...

Phillip wrote: Still, it doesn't prove that taking the money influenced his work.

Hold on, folks. I'm planning to read this book, but I have mixed feelings about this award. I've tried to do a little research on exactly why Templeton gave Rees the award. The closest thing I could find is this statement from Robert Williams, president of the International Astronomical Union: "[Rees] is very unusual in that he constantly touches on spiritual themes without dealing explicitly with religion. I do not know whether he is a theist, for example."

I'm not familiar with Rees. Does anyone know what Williams meant when he said that Rees constantly touches on spiritual themes? Does anyone know why Williams might think Rees could be a theist? Does this particular book contain any spiritual ideas, or does it play it straight?

Steven Mason said...

Evans wrote: fine-tuning hasn’t been demonstrated

Let me ask this way:

Our models predict that matter as we know it couldn't exist, and humans couldn't exist, unless all the fundamental constants are precisely as they are.

In this context, are you suggesting that there's no way of knowing if our models can make accurate predictions?

Evans wrote: It is not known they can be different at all.

By "they," I assume you're referring to the fundamental constants. I agree that it's not known if they can be different, but going back to my question, do you think our models can make accurate predictions about what would happen if the fundamental constants were different?

Evans wrote: You and others are not "discussing" it, you are saying that it is true - that the universe *is* fine-tuned. This is simply *not known*.

This statement is precisely why I'm asking for clarification. I interpret this to mean that you don't think our models can make accurate predictions. So, for example, if the gravitational constant were significantly weaker or stronger than it is, do you think we have no way of knowing, or predicting, that matter as we know it couldn't exist?

I wonder if we agree on what is meant by fine-tuned. There isn't universal agreement on the concept. Some people equate it with various anthropic principles. Some people insert gods into the concept. When I encounter this sort of thing, I generally don't try to argue that their concept is wrong. As long as it's clearly defined and not too unreasonable, I try to work with it.

Evans wrote: Not good if even the Astronomer Royal can be corrupted by Templeton's billions.

Well, since you said it, I'll ask: Do you have any evidence that Rees has been corrupted? I wonder if we agree on what is meant by "corrupted." Maybe you think that accepting money from Templeton is de facto corruption. I'm inclined to say I don't have enough information to pass judgment, but it raises my eyebrows. :-)

Steven Evans said...

@Steven Mason

Of course, you can play around with models, change the value of a constant and plug it into an equation, but models are not reality.

" I agree that it's not known if they can be different"
Exactly. This is all that really needs to be said. Fine-tuning is pure speculation and has led to no physical knowledge thus far.

"I wonder if we agree on what is meant by fine-tuned. "
We appear to be talking about the same idea. But anyway, I have never heard of fine-tuning of any definition leading to even one piece of actual scientific knowledge.

"Some people insert gods into the concept. "
Yes, delusionally insane people.

Of course, I'm not saying speculation shouldn't be carried out. But there needs to be an honest assessment of whether the speculation is producing actual physics. There are plenty of people, including professional physicists, going around saying the universe *is* fine-tuned. This is simply and blindingly obviously not known to be true.

"Maybe you think that accepting money from Templeton is de facto corruption. "
Templeton are religious apologists who are trying to corrupt science. If the Astronomer Royal accepts money from Templeton, he is giving them credibility simply by that act.

Steven Mason said...

Evans wrote: models are not reality

I think everyone here understands that. Models make predictions that fit observations, and that's all they do.

So, my question was: Do you think our models correctly predict that matter as we know it couldn't exist if the fundamental constants were different? I offered the example of the gravitational constant, so you could work with that.

Evans wrote: This is all that really needs to be said. Fine-tuning is pure speculation

But you seem to be saying several things. I understand and agree with one thing you said: It's not known if the fundamental constants could be different. There are still two things I don't understand. I can't understand what you mean by "fine-tuning is pure speculation" until you define fine-tuning. I define it this way:

Matter as we know it couldn't exist unless all the fundamental constants are precisely as they are.

As I said in my previous comment, there isn't a standard definition of fine-tuning. I'm not suggesting that my definition should be the standard and I'm willing to accept other definitions. Please give me your definition of fine-tuning, so I can understand why you're saying it's pure speculation. And please tell me if you think my definition of fine-tuning is pure speculation, and tell me why.

Evans wrote: delusionally insane people.

Maybe you're being funny. But in case you're not joking, let's look at your model. You're saying that people who believe in gods are delusional and insane. Typical polls I've seen indicate that about 90% of people and 50% of scientists believe in some form of deity or higher power. Therefore, your model tells us that 90% of people and 50% of scientists are delusional and insane. Your model also tells us that people like Newton, Steno, Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, etc. were delusional and insane.

Ordinarily, we use words like delusional and insane only when someone is dysfunctional because he's lost his grasp of reality. I don't think it's useful to say that 90% of people and 50% of scientists are delusional and insane when they aren't dysfunctional. I'm an atheist, so you don't have to tell me there isn't any evidence that gods exist.

Humans are capable of abstract thought. We can construct abstract concepts like scientific models and god models. As you point out, models are not reality. As long as abstract models are useful, they will be used. We discard scientific models that are no longer useful, and we have discarded god models that are no longer useful.

As an atheist, I argue that scientific models are more useful than god models. From what I can tell, god models continue to be popular because they offer social/emotional benefits. In fact, I know atheists who regularly attend church because of the social/emotional benefits. Even I'll go to church once in a while for the music, food and coffee. As an atheist, I think there are other ways for people to get social/emotional benefits, but no one's going to listen to me if I say they're delusional and insane.

Atheists and theists have something in common: We see the universe, the Earth, and all the life on it, and we are awestruck. Even hardcore atheist scientists think it's miraculous. We've only barely started to look for natural explanations for this miracle. We've discarded god models before, and we'll probably continue to discard them. In the meantime, is it really going to help anything if you insist that all theists are delusional and insane?

Dr. A.M. Castaldo said...

@Steven Evans

He could make it backfire on Templeton; use part of their money to pay for his own time doing pointless experiments (and say so in any report produced), then use the rest of the money to fund graduate students, projects or scholarships for students that would actually do interesting things. Like, "I'll do your one dumb thing if you'll pay for five smart things."

Steven Mason said...

Evans wrote: If the Astronomer Royal accepts money from Templeton, he is giving them credibility simply by that act.

It still depends on how you define corruption. I assume you agree that free speech is a good thing.

In the US, half of all scientists believe in a deity or a higher power. Are all those scientists giving credibility to religion, or delusions, and are they therefore corrupted?

It's possible that Rees has spiritual beliefs. I don't know what they are, but I do know that Robert Williams, president of the International Astronomical Union, said that Rees "constantly touches on spiritual themes." The Templeton Foundation also touches on spiritual themes (to put it mildly).

Rees may not agree with everything the Templeton Foundation says or does, but he might have *some* common interests with them, and maybe he thinks they do more good than harm. And if he does, he has every right, as a matter of free speech, to accept an award from them. I'd need more information before I could judge whether there's any actual corruption, in the context of how Rees presents science in his books.

If Rees wants to give credibility to Templeton, and he's transparent about it, I'm not sure that's enough for me to say he's corrupted.

I'm at a disadvantage because I don't know the extent of Templeton's anti-scientific activities. As I said in an earlier comment, from what little I know, it's enough to raise my eyebrows.

I admit that it bothers me that Rees has any association with Templeton. I considered not reading his book because of it. But I don't want to paint myself into a corner, where my standard of "corrupted" forces me to state that half of all scientists are corrupted because of their endorsement of woo woo.

I guess my bottom line is that I understand your concern, but I'm not ready to pass judgment. I've decided that I'm going to read the book after all, and I'll be extra vigilant for any woo woo. In any case, I tend to be a critical reader, and if I find fault with anything Rees says, you'll be hearing from me. :-)

Steven Evans said...

@Steven Mason

Universal fine-tuning is roughly saying that the nature of the universe would be very different if certain physical constants were even "slightly" different. But even if that's true, we don't know if they can be different for starters.

"Matter as we know it couldn't exist unless all the fundamental constants are precisely as they are. "
Who knows? But we don't know why the currently fundamental constants are what they are. There may be underlying natural reasons that determine their precise values and therefore this is the way the universe has to be, or there may be underlying parameters which have vast latitude but still always lead to this kind of universe. The real test for concepts like fine-tuning is whether they are useful in providing new physics. The concept of fine-tuning has led to *zero* scientific knowledge, and such a concept is termed *completely useless*.

Thinking it is true that a supernatural creator of the universe fathered a child with a human woman in Palestine around 2000 years ago is stupid beyond belief. As you point out, some people who were stupid beyond belief have made significant contributions to science.

The Astronomer Royal is one of the most prestigious positions in UK science so he shouldn't be receiving money from an organisation actively trying to corrupt science .

Steven Evans said...

@Dr. A.M. Castaldo "He could make it backfire on Templeton"
It was a prize. He can go and spend it down the pub if he likes.

Dr. A.M. Castaldo said...

@Steven Evans: "He can go and spend it down the pub if he likes."

Precisely my point. Thus if Rees believed taking the money was somehow an endorsement of Templeton's views, then Rees could use Templeton's money to counter those views. As could you or anybody else offered a Templeton prize; not only does it remove the money from Templeton (so it isn't used elsewhere), the result can be far more of a secular promotion than any promotion of religion. Rees could spend it in the pub, or he could spend it helping science.

I'm not sure I believe that religious belief is a choice anyway; nor do I think I have much choice in being an atheist. I think "endorsing" or "not endorsing" likely makes no material difference in the number of atheists or supernaturalists. But a big pile of money for a modest amount of work could be effective in advancing science, or educating children so the natural atheists among them have a chance to succeed, or helping somebody join the ranks of professional scientists.


Steven Mason said...

Evans wrote: Who knows?

Okay, so, for example, you want to say that even if the gravitational constant is much weaker or stronger than it is, we have no reason to have any confidence in our models when they predict that matter as we know it couldn't exist.

Is that a fair statement of your position? Keep in mind that I have no intention of debating against your position. All I'm trying to do is understand your position.

Evans wrote: we don't know if they can be different

I'll agree with you on that point for a third time. On New Year's Eve, at one minute to midnight, I'll propose a toast in your honor on that very point. :-)

Evans wrote: As you point out, some people who were stupid beyond belief have made significant contributions to science.

Well, don't put words in my mouth. I wouldn't say they were stupid beyond belief. All of us have had crazy beliefs of one kind or another, either about ourselves or other people. Religious beliefs are a special case. The culture one grows up in has a strong influence, even on the smartest, sanest people.

Sixtus said...

Rees' published writings may indeed not show evidence of Templeton money influence. But what disturbs me is the distinct possibility of opinions he did not voice, or subject matters he did not explore, because of that corrupting gift. The sin here would be one of omission. The various popular YouTube videos from the World Science Festival are equally suspect in this regard.

Vincent van der Goes said...

Sounds like a good read.

As for "our inability to make use of the knowledge we already have", people struggle with that even on an individual level. How many people persist in bad habits even though they know it works against them, or outright kills them in some cases? Smoking, drinking, drug abuse, those are just the more obvious examples.

Pollution and addiction to high energy consumption are like that, except we have billions of patients that need a collective treatment. I can't blame Rees for staying silent on how to address that. Maybe a psychiatrist can write part two?

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Vincent,

Yes, indeed, it's a similar problem, just on the collective level. But on the individual level, at least the problem is known, and every once in a while we are actually successful addressing it. I've known some people who went through rehab and thanks to it actually managed to kick their habits.

Steven Evans said...

@Steven Mason
"All I'm trying to do is understand your position. "
Well, then try actually reading what I wrote!

You are not paying attention. You are making an extremely basic logical mistake in what you claim is fine-tuning, when it's just a physical fact.

It follows from the nature of the universe that matter can clump together. This is not a surprising fact once we have the nature of the universe as observed. So matter clumping together is simply a consequence of the nature of the universe and therefore can't possibly be considered fine-tuning. The question is why is the nature of the universe the way it is, and the answer is nobody has the first clue currently.

You are trying to claim that it is an amazing fact that matter can clump together because if the nature of the universe were even "slightly" different, then it wouldn't be able to clump together. But, it's not an amazing fact, it's a simple consequence of the nature of the universe. And we don't know if the universe can be any different, and speculations about universes of a different nature have led to *zero* scientific knowledge thus far.

"you want to say that even if the gravitational constant is much weaker or stronger than it is, we have no reason to have any confidence in our models when they predict that matter as we know it couldn't exist. "

No, I don't. That's not what I wrote. You are saying that if you fiddle with the basic constants of a *model universe* in a way that is not known to be possible in reality, then you end up with a *model universe* of a completely different nature. No sh*t, Sherlock! But that has not been shown to have anything to do with reality.

If my aunt had balls she'd be my uncle.

Steven Evans said...

@Dr. A.M. Castaldo

Templeton don't care if Rees or anyone else spends their funds on real science. They simply want the credibility of association with top scientists. Their M.O. is twofold:

1) They give funds to proper scientists doing real science. This is to provide themselves with credibility by association and cover up their agenda. It doesn't matter what the scientists discover, because religious loonies will always say Jesus' daddy made it all.

2) Blur the line between natural science and religion and philosophy, by funding dodgy seminars, dodgy courses and dodgy academics who will witter on "metaphysically" about how science and religious belief are compatible. e.g. around $1 million funding an MSc in Philosophy, Science and Religion at Edinburgh University. MSc! - religion is now a science, it seems. They especially love funding formerly brilliant physicists who have gone mad, I mean, discovered an interest in theology.

The Academy is being corrupted by lunatics pushing voodoo as science.

Reimond said...

“Atheists and theists have something in common: We see the universe, the Earth, and all the life on it, and we are awestruck. Even hardcore atheist scientists think it's miraculous. We've only barely started to look for natural explanations for this miracle.” Steven said here.
“… religious people are much more careful about separating belief from fact than non-religious people. In my book, George Ellis is the obvious example, but I have noticed that on various occasions.” Sabine said here a while ago as well as “… the Higgs-mass is fine-tuned. So what?”

I am very sympathetic with what Sabine and Steven said. I am also an atheist and convinced that all complexity, nature is able to generate is based on simple laws. Thus, no supernatural intervention needed while the world evolves. But this sober, reductionistic view does not at all diminish my ability to be thrilled - on the contrary, I can be awestruck when I simply watch e.g. water flowing over rocks. I also can just say “thank you” and this is not directed to some arbitrary manmade god. I am simply grateful that I can be a part of all this and that I have a brain that evolved to be complex enough so that what I call me is aware of all this amazing nature. We already know ”Why apples fall off trees” now it is time to ask ”What was the apple doing up in the tree in the first place?”

A while ago Steven asked: “… John Horgan's latest book, Mind-Body Problems. Anyone else read it?“. Although John Horgan’s “The End of Science” never attracted me, because my impression is like Peter Shor´s that “Science in many fields is currently alive and kicking?“ with the one exception of particle physics, I got interested, flipped through it and got stuck on chapter 4.

CONT.

Reimond said...

Before I continue, here my own simple take on consciousness (1) and qualia (2) - in short it is nothing other than "… an outcome of physical law…"..

I agree with Horgan's mocking of "… Hameroff for his aggressive promotion of quantum theories of consciousness" in here. I was always irritated that Roger Penrose has fallen for this idea - Steven Weinberg here has two comments on Penrose (see also Sabine´s blog post). As I said in (1) I am convinced that consciousness is entirely classical physics.
But of course, classical physics (of particles) emerges from QM. The question is whether or not fundamental QM randomness enters and this depends on how the measurement problem is being solved.

John Horgan’s chapter 4 is about Stuart Kauffman.
“… Kauffman, together with Smolin, conjectured that reality is fundamentally unpredictable and creative”
“The universe “is not an is. It’s a becoming.” Kauffman constructed a non-deterministic metaphysics based not on probability—the key concept of quantum mechanics—but on possibility. The switch makes causation looser, allowing for more wriggle room. Causation becomes akin to enablement.”

This short audio “Listen to Kauffman talk at Tucson April 28, 2016.” comprises the idea: QM just determines the probabilities for real outcomes. It is just a process of realizing possibilities.




---------------
(1) Consciousness, self-awareness (not being unity with the environment) is just an evolutionary advantage. If we wait 50 years AI will also be endowed with it. A neural network has a combinatorial huge number of possibilities (connections between neurons). But only a small region in this combinatorial configuration space can ever be realized. In attributing weights to connections, the neural net is learning. Non-linearity (feedback), randomness and a selection process that´s how new information and stable structures are generated. This is entirely classical physics – no QM, qubits needed.
With a bit of randomness one can decouple complex systems. This loose coupling will finally solve the mind-body problem, how the big (brain) can influence the small (body), i.e. making top-down causation possible without striking a blow to reductionism.
(2) My take on qualia, beauty and stuff is even simpler: the bunch of neurons that are active when you look at e.g. a color this is your sensation. And of course, your sensation is different from mine, since my bunch of excited neurons connect to different bunches of neurons. Nothing miraculous, but “only” mind-blowingly complex. I interpret that Sabine’s approach here on qualia to be similar: “The issue of qualia is more a problem of finding the circuits that encode self-reference than one of emergence.”

CONT.

Reimond said...

Contrary to e.g. Stuart Kauffman and George Ellis, almost all physicists cling to the implicit assumption that the evolution of this universe must be exclusively deterministic. This is the heritage of Newton, classical physics and the unitarity in QM. Unlike Sabine most physicists are further totally oblivious of the ”… the measurement problem in quantum foundations” and the prospect that this internal inconsistency holds.

Here a talk given by George Ellis and Stuart Kauffman where they clash with the determinism of e.g. Sean Carroll in a Lee Smolin workshop about time.
0:21:00 randomness
0:25:00 determinism
The Stuart Kauffman talk starts at 0:45:00.
0:50:00 Stuart Kauffman: “there is no Newton like law whatsoever for the evolution of the biosphere”
0:58:00 Andreas Albrecht: “the swim bladder is part of the phase space”
1:04:00 Lee Smolin: “Liouville´s equation is not enough“
1:11:30 Carlo Rovelli: “What is the challenge to reductionism?”
1:15:00 Stuart Kauffman: “you cannot explain that it will become into existence”

So far, I never realized that also Martin Rees is mentioned at 0:23:00 – fits even better as comment in this blog post.

Dr. A.M. Castaldo said...

@Steven Evans: I don't know why you'd think I don't understand that; but this is the nature of freedom of speech and religion, people can say and believe things others don't believe in. Do you propose nobody be allowed to entertain or research fine-tuning without your blessing? Or the blessing of some panel of the anointed kings of science?

I understand your position, but "It is the way it is" is not a satisfying answer. It sounds much like the circular answers given by the religious when we try to probe the nature or limitations or origin of God.

Perhaps you have overlooked the possibility that money is not the corrupting influence, perhaps the people taking the money are actually intrigued by Templeton's goals; perhaps that is why Templeton funds them. In which case it isn't corruption at all because the recipients are not changing their minds or goals in exchange for money, they are taking money from a benefactor to fund the pursuit of inquiries that really do interest them. I don't see that as different than writing up a proposal to a government funding agency and then happily receiving the funds to do an experiment.

Should Templeton (or anyone else) not be permitted to seek out scientists that agree with their agenda?

Or -- and I know I am getting radical here -- Perhaps we should let people do whatever they like with their own time and money (short of crime or scientific fraud) and trust that science will be self-correcting in the long run.

Steven Mason said...

Evans wrote: it's not an amazing fact

You find nothing amazing about the universe and all the life on our planet? I'm sorry for you. :-)

Are you denying that scientists aren't at least partly motivated by a sense of amazement?

Evans wrote: You are not paying attention

I didn't say it's amazing that the physical constants are what they are. Since I've agreed with you no less than three times that we have no way of knowing if they can be any different, that should give you a clue. Please pay attention.

Evans wrote: you end up with a *model universe* of a completely different nature. No sh*t, Sherlock!

So now you're saying, quite emphatically, that fine-tuning is not pure speculation after all. Now you're saying it's blindingly obvious.

Evans wrote: that has not been shown to have anything to do with reality

Consider the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. In order to understand how it works, you have to understand all of its pieces, including all the physical forces acting on it. One of those physical forces is gravity, of course, but there are countless other forces, such as the load (cars and people), the wind and water. Engineers make models that take all these forces into account. They can tell you that if you tweak any given parameter too much, the bridge will fail.

Evans, some people (not you) think that the universe and the Brooklyn Bridge are pretty amazing, and want to understand how they work. So they create models. In our models for the universe, we notice that if we tweak any of the physical constants very much, the universe as we know it "fails."

As far as I'm concerned, that's all there is to this concept we refer to as a fine-tuned universe. All the physical constants have to be just as they are for the universe to be just as it is. In the context of reality as we perceive it, fine-tuning has everything to do with reality.

I could say that the human body is fine-tuned. For example, if someone lacks just a single protein or enzyme, he will die. Recent studies suggest that humans might require minuscule amounts of arsenic.

Maybe you're okay when the concept of fine-tuning is applied to bridges and humans, but you bristle when the concept is applied to the universe. Go figure.

Evans wrote: The Academy is being corrupted by lunatics pushing voodoo as science.

According to you, the Academy has always been corrupted. Indeed, you might as well rail against the corruption, voodoo and woo woo in all the scientific organizations, because they are all infected with delusional, insane, lunatic scientists who believe in God, deities or higher powers.

I point out bad science when I see it. My poster boy for a corrupted scientist using pseudoscience to promote religious views is Michael Behe. Some scientists claim that a fine-tuned universe is evidence for God or an intelligent designer. I'm certain you and I would agree that is bogus.

Tomer said...

I'm hearing you. I just want to make sure that I understand correctly - our main issue is that we don't know how to work together globally so we can't address global problems?

The way we deal with it today is, just like players in an orchestra, by making sure that each individual does the best he could in accomplishing his meaning in life as it is presented to him "from above" (by the environment, society, and internal states).
Trying to act in the level of global decisions from the bottom has turned out badly in the past, and we should be really careful about it.

But maybe it is time to try again, carefully?

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Tomer,

The problem is that the interaction of large numbers of individuals can have consequences that those same individuals actually do not want and yet cannot prevent on the individual level. The only way to deal with that is structural changes in the way that interact. Social media is the prime example. Most people actually don't approve of shame storms and fake viral news and such. They take part in it because it's an emergent feature that arises from human behavior paired with the structure of the system they use.

It's a similar problem with the way that we evaluate information for political decision making. Most of our systems are set up to systematically distort information. It's unsurprising that this way the outcome is ineffective, especially when it comes to integrating scientific facts. Again, I think it's not what most people want, it's just a consequence of our lack to intuitively comprehend the consequences of our actions.

Why aren't we doing anything about it? Because we don't understand the problem exists to begin with. And, unfortunately, science is the best example for this. The problem has been known and much written about for decades. Yet, nothing has changed. And if scientists can't solve the problems in their own communities, it seems unlikely to me that we'll manage to do it for society by large. Sorry for today's pessimism. It comes and goes.

Best,

B.

Steven Evans said...

@Dr. A.M. Castaldo

I take your points, but the issue here is that Templeton are deliberately trying to blur the lines between science and philosophy/religion. They can't get their delusional nonsense on the scientific record, but they can, for example, pay professional scientists to write a popular "science" book in which they state the universe *is* fine-tuned, which is not known to be true. This becomes ammunition for the religious apologists and the general public don't know the difference between peer-reviewed papers in journals and a popular science book. As a UK taxpayer, I don't want to see UK tax-funded scientists supporting voodoo in their professional capacities. I also find it utterly bizarre that a reputable institution like the University of Edinburgh, also tax-funded, should have a Religion and Science MSc. What next? Quantum Witchcraft? Relativistic Astrology? UK universities and academics are funded by the taxpayer to find the truth, not allow themselves to be corrupted by dodgy religious lunatics. A Nobel Prize is awarded for academic work; a Templeton Prize is awarded for being "spiritual". It's complete tosh.

Steven Evans said...

@Steven Mason said...

I think you have entered stupid beyond belief territory.

You are saying that if the fundamental constants were not precisely as they are, then matter could not exist as it is. And that therefore the universe is fine-tuned.

But this would only make sense if the fundamental constants could take a range of values, and that matter could only exist if the fundamental constants took values in a tiny part of that range. But this is simply not known to be the case *physically*. So you don't get to say the universe is fine-tuned, because the fundamental constants may only be able to take the values they have, and then it follows that matter is *bound to exist*. You think because something can exist in the model (matter-free universe), then it can exist physically. This is obviously not the case.

I can't make it any simpler for you.

There are plenty of models used in physics which also predict things *in the model* which are not known to be *physically* true or even known to be impossible *physically*: Godel famously found a solution to Einstein's GR equations which would allow time to run backwards, but this is not known to be possible *physically* because it has never been confirmed by observation; also, physicists use the real numbers so they can do calculus, with real numbers (in R^3) you can create 2 spheres out of 1 sphere, with the 2 spheres being identical to the original 1 sphere (Banach-Tarski), but clearly *physically* you can't make 2 moons out of 1 moon that are identical to the original moon.

You haven't understood that a model is not reality. Anything predicted by a model would have to be confirmed by observation before it would be considered physics. So fine-tuning is not considered physics. It is not on the scientific record as an empirical fact, only as a speculation. You claim the universe *is* fine-tuned so apparently you know more than the scientific record! Publish your evidence of fine-tuning and you will receive a Nobel Prize.

Steven Evans said...

@Steven Mason

"Maybe you're okay when the concept of fine-tuning is applied to bridges and humans, but you bristle when the concept is applied to the universe. Go figure."

Bridges are designed by engineers, so they are tuned. Humans came about via evolution, a process of adaption to the environment, so have in a sense been tuned by evolution. Are you quite well?

"I point out bad science when I see it."
But you don't even know what science is. You think models are reality.

Steven Evans said...

Reimond said...

"Contrary to e.g. Stuart Kauffman and George Ellis, almost all physicists cling to the implicit assumption that the evolution of this universe must be exclusively deterministic"

The universe is at least apparently deterministic at a macro level and so can be treated as such for the purposes of getting classical results. We can even assume it exists separate to our consciousness. Even at the quantum level, the evolution of the Schrodinger equation in time is deterministic, and it is not known what the "reality" is. Does the deterministically-evolving wave function represent reality? Is reality only seen after the apparent collapse of the wave function? As the author of this blog has stated, the weird thing is the classical nature of the macro level that emerges in aggregate from the quantum, not the quantum. That the quantum transcends human intuition is not surprising given our intuition is based on perception in the classical world. If our intuition were quantum then maybe the quantum world would appear "quantum" deterministic. Didn't someone release a paper about this recently.

Steven Evans said...

@ Dr. A.M. Castaldo
" Do you propose nobody be allowed to entertain or research fine-tuning without your blessing?"
No, I've said clearly that people should speculate. The problem is that there are professional physicists who are stating (off the scientific record obviously as there is no scientific evidence) that the universe *is* fine-tuned. This is not known to be true. Physicists should state clearly that it is a speculative idea that has so far led nowhere. I would expect any physics department worth its salt to sack for incompetence a physicist who persisted in claiming in their professional capacity that the universe is actually fine-tuned. 2 of the originators of the idea of fine-tuning, Rees and Carr, are quite clear that fine-tuning is not currently an empirical fact.

Scientists who are funded by taxes should stick to being scientists, not talk rubbish.

Dr. A.M. Castaldo said...

@Sabine: To put a computer science spin on that, I think the #1 decision mechanisms evolved in animals (and thus humans) are all "Greedy algorithms". Taking the best choice immediately available to the organism at the time. In choosing food, entertainment, shelter, mates, schools, jobs, careers, colleagues or research studies. Short of random actions, I think it is the organism management algorithm requiring the fewest neurons to begin implementation.

Greedy algorithms only achieve the optimal solution on some simple problems. They lead to either failure or sub-optimal solutions when the optimal decisions require any kind of sacrifice; because the Greedy algorithm avoids sacrifice if it is not immediately necessary, and thus leads us into dead ends and traps. But this form of short-term thinking works well enough for most decisions animals have had to make for half a billion years, and most have evolved nothing else (other than involuntary reflexes and instincts).

Humans seem to be the only animals evolved thus far capable of planning around imagined consequences more than a day or two (even thinking a few hours ahead is quite rare). But that capability is built on top of a half billion years of our animal ancestors evolving brains dedicated to Greedy choices; through the mechanism of emotions and apprehensions of very immediate predictions (on the order of seconds or minutes).

We still fall prey to our Greedy algorithms. Our rational brains have helped us enormously when choosing the optimal path doesn't require great sacrifice, or when a goal is clear and individuals can guess whether the sacrifices to achieve it will be worth it. In this way it is an extension of the Greedy algorithm: Still greedy and flawed but capable of judging consequences a few moves out; and thus capable of short-term sacrifices for clear future goals.

But the big problems like global warming or the state of physics fall prey to the Greedy algorithm. I think most physicists won't change until the money supporting the current state of physics dries up or is redirected. Then their Greedy choice will be to follow the money and work on whatever is being funded, and convince themselves it is the new correct thing.

Hopefully your book will contribute to that state change, along with other peers publicly criticizing the current state. Or the funding dries up for lack of tangible progress and publicly funded fundamental physics ends; we will move on to applications of the SM like materials science. Because I think ultimately that funding is seeking new physics to lead to new technology, so that is where money will be redirected.

Sid said...

Lawrence Crowell
Using Jerry Coyne as a crutch to help hold up your distaste for people who have non “scientific “ beliefs is quite laughable .
To quote Coyne “

"What good is a discipline that tries to tell us about the qualities of a nonexistent object? .

I have just finished reading Bee’s post and comments on the LHC and the general state of theoretical physics research at present and maybe Coyne needs some self reflection before he , like yourself , slag off people who have a different perspective on what is the true reality of nature and mans place in it . Sid

Dr. A.M. Castaldo said...

@Steven Evans: but the issue here is that Templeton are deliberately trying to blur the lines between science and philosophy/religion.

I get what you think the issue is; I don't think it matters. Is that going to influence physicists? No. Or their students? No. Templeton might convince the already religious, but who cares? My family is loaded with them, they love me (an atheist), but they will never be convinced by any scientific argument that there is no God because they are so emotionally invested in his existence it would destroy them. Contradictions don't matter to them. Logic doesn't matter. They would not be convinced there is no God even if every physicist and philosopher on the planet personally claimed to have proof.

So whatever you are hoping to accomplish by punishing the free statement of beliefs (you said: "I would expect any physics department worth its salt to sack for incompetence a physicist who persisted in claiming in their professional capacity that the universe is actually fine-tuned."), you will fail to accomplish. The claims of such physicists will not sway anybody to switch sides.

Further, it makes no difference what a physicist believes if their papers are sound. Such is the nature of science, and when you stray into punishing people for their beliefs (or advocating for that) you do damage to science and society and set a wrong-headed example of censorship. To me the biggest danger to science is precisely scientists being punished or censored for their justifiable beliefs about God, the climate, evolution, or any other uncomfortable truth.

Steven Mason said...

Evans wrote: I think you have entered stupid beyond belief territory.

Beyond delusional and insane territory? :-)

Evans wrote: You are saying that if the fundamental constants were not precisely as they are, then matter could not exist as it is. And that therefore the universe is fine-tuned.

All I'm *saying* is what the models tell us. I'm also explaining how some people use "fine-tuned" in reference to the models. How many times are we going to repeat this?

Evans wrote: this would only make sense if the fundamental constants could take a range of values

That makes no sense. Physicists make models and obviously they're going to examine what the models predict if the parameters change.

Besides, you stated that we don't know if the parameters could be different. Now you're talking as if you *know* they can't be different, and that's a contradiction.

Evans wrote: You think because something can exist in the model, then it can exist physically.

If you're trying to get into the mind-reading business, don't quit your day job. I never said anything like that and I never thought anything like that.

Evans wrote: There are plenty of models used in physics which also predict things *in the model* which are not known to be *physically* true or even known to be impossible *physically*:

Tell me something I don't know.

Evans wrote: You haven't understood that a model is not reality.

You haven't demonstrated that I don't understand.

Evans wrote: fine-tuning is not considered physics

Who said anything about it *being* physics? It's an adjective that can be used in a physics context. More on that later.

Evans wrote: you don't even know what science is

So you say.

Evans wrote: you think models are reality

You think that if you repeat something often enough, it will be true.

Evans wrote: Humans came about via evolution, a process of adaption to the environment, so have in a sense been tuned by evolution.

If organisms can be tuned by evolution - a natural process - why can't our universe be tuned by natural processes? I wonder why you have trouble with fine-tuned only when it's applied to the universe.

I could say that our solar system is fine-tuned, if I consider all the parameters that make life as we know it possible on Earth. In our search for exoplanets, I'm sure you've heard that we're looking for so-called "sweet spot" parameters. In some contexts, "sweet spot" and "fine-tuned" are synonymous concepts. I could just as well say that, according to our models, our universe appears to be in a sweet spot. I suppose you'd object to that, too.

I can't help but notice your angry and irrational outbursts. One of the parameters in your emotional fine-tuning seems to be out of whack. You're the kind of guy who calls someone stupid merely because he doesn't share your hatred for an adjective. Fine-tuned is an adjective that describes the observation that multiple parameters have to be just-so in order for a given phenomenon to be possible. You are adding a bunch of nonsense stuff to it.

Evans wrote: [Templeton] can, for example, pay professional scientists to write a popular "science" book in which they state the universe *is* fine-tuned

Please offer an example of a popular science book that makes objectionable statements about a fine-tuned universe. Let's work with a concrete example.

Steven Mason said...

Evans, I'll give you a concrete book to consider. Michael Behe, the biochemist who wrote popular science books such as Darwin's Black Box, states that organisms are complex. I assume that you don't find anything objectionable about that observation. Behe also states that organisms are fine-tuned. Since you stated that organisms are "tuned" by evolution, I assume you have no objection.

But then Behe claims that all this fine-tuning can't be explained by natural processes; it can only be explained by an intelligent designer. The term he coins for this concept is "irreducible complexity." It's a variation on the theme of the blind watchmaker argument.

In this context, I don't object to harmless adjectives like "complex" and "fine-tuned." But Behe jumps to a conclusion that isn't supported by evidence. Behe assumes that if we don't completely understand the natural processes that result in complex and fine-tuned phenomena, that's compelling evidence for an intelligent designer. It's Behe's logic and conclusions that are objectionable, not his use of adjectives like "complex" and "fine-tuned." Don't blame the adjectives for Behe's bad science.

It's scientists like Behe who give fine-tuned a bad reputation. Similarly, if any scientist claims that a fine-tuned universe is evidence for an intelligent designer (or God), it makes no sense to blame the adjective for bad science. That's what you appear to be doing, and it's faulty. This seems to be a case of guilt by association.

Steven Mason said...

Castaldo wrote: We still fall prey to our Greedy algorithms.

I enjoyed the way you presented this concept.

Steven Evans said...

@Steven Mason
OK, I get it you're a troll. Very clever, ha ha!

Steven Evans said...

@Dr. A.M. Castaldo

I completely agree with you that believers are never going to be persuaded by logic, argument or evidence, otherwise they couldn't hold such ludicrous beliefs in the first place. It would be like trying to teach a monkey quantum mechanics or Steven Mason that models aren't reality.

Of course, I accept that a believer can be a perfectly competent physicist, but *in their professional capacity* they shouldn't be making statements like God may exist or the universe is fine-tuned, when these are clearly nonsense. Why would you continue to employ a physicist who is talking nonsense about physics in their professional capacity? Like any other profession, incompetence has sometimes to be dealt with by sacking. What they do in their free time is up to them, of course.

And it would all be fine and dandy if religious loonies didn't try to force their crazy beliefs on others through politics and through organisations like Templeton trying deliberately to corrupt science and universities. Granted there is a broader problem of rich corporations dodging taxes (Templeton apparently dodged taxes on an industrial scale, too) then funding university academics directly themselves. It would be better (especially in the UK where all universities are public) if the government went hard after tax-dodging corporations and only the government funded universities. In particular, the Astronomer Royal made a huge error of judgement in giving credibility to a fraudulent organisation like Templeton, especially given he was in no need of the money. I think it would be good to have some kind of audit of the universities in the UK, as I reckon a large minority of academics are involved in studying nonsense. One could start by shutting down all Theology departments and a large chunk of Philosophy departments. Many of these people are churning out palpable nonsense, but they egg each other on just like the particle physicists as described in this blog.

It is a cultural war with the religious. They cannot be reasoned with so they need to be fought - disestablish the CofE, kick the bishops out of Parliament, keep the religious loonies well out of the Academy, and convert the 30% of religious state schools in the UK to secular schools. The religious can then go to their churches, synagogues and mosques and do whatever they do without it being imposed on the sane.

Steven Evans said...

@Dr. A.M. Castaldo
" justifiable beliefs about God"
Belief in "God" isn't justifiable - it is a delusion. Academics' jobs are to seek out the truth not try to rationalise ridiculous primitive superstitions. How are we still having these conversations? How did we ever have them? Of course, the stupid are allowed to be stupid, but you don't grant them the title "Professor".

Steven Evans said...

@Dr. A.M. Castaldo

"I get what you think the issue is; I don't think it matters. Is that going to influence physicists?"

It has. There are physicists, like Luke Barnes, being funded by the Templeton Foundation to gather "evidence" of "fine-tuning", so that they can declare that Jesus' daddy made the universe. This is happening now. Science is being corrupted. These people are corrupt cranks.

See this in the Sydney Morning Herald (not a science journal but that's the point)
https://www.smh.com.au/national/bad-news-for-the-multiverse-it-s-still-not-likely-20180513-p4zf1o.html

When the purported fine-tunings turn out not to be a fine-tuning (at least on Luke Barnes' computer), then that's a strike against the multiverse, but the universe is still very particular, apparently.

There's no multiverse, but the universe is fine-tuned...Mmmmm, what idea could these cranks be trying to push, I wonder....

And there are physics departments who actually hire clowns like this.

Steven Evans said...

@Steven Mason

OK, one last attempt to penetrate the denseness of your skull.

You wrote intially:
"Our models predict that matter as we know it couldn't exist, and humans couldn't exist, unless all the fundamental constants are precisely as they are."

This is not true. The "fundamental constants" are thought to be *constant*, that's why they are called "constants". If you change them in the model, then you will get answers from your model, but the model is no longer known to be modelling a physically possible reality.
Also, you can't exhaustively check all mathematical possibilities for your model, so your statement is not even known to be true for your model, never mind reality.

"In this context, are you suggesting that there's no way of knowing if our models can make accurate predictions?"
There is only ever one way in physics - by observation. But no-one has observed other universes in which the fundamental constants are different and confirming the predictions of the model.

Let's take a really simple example that even you might understand:

E=mc^2

So if you choose an amount of matter,m , you can plug it into this equation and determine how much energy that matter can be converted into, and the result applies to reality, because, empirically, this equation models reality.

Similarly, if you choose an amount of energy, E, you can plug it into this equation and determine how much matter is required to be converted to get that much energy. Again the result applies to reality.

Now if you change the value of the *constant* c, to say 10,000 miles a second, you will end up with different results for E and m than obtained above, but *this is now not known to be modelling a physically possible reality*, because the fundamental constant has been changed.

Granted, in this example the model wouldn't give a qualitative change in the nature of the universe by tweaking the value of c, but it makes the point. As soon as you change c, a *****constant******, E=mc^2 is no longer known to be modelling a physically possible reality.

You are talking about La La Land as soon as you change any constants.

Maybe that was the problem, you don't understand what "constant" means. Here's the dictionary definition:

constant, noun:
a number that is assumed not to change value in a given mathematical discussion

Dr. A.M. Castaldo said...

@Steven Evans: You write It has. There are physicists, like Luke Barnes, being funded by the Templeton Foundation to gather "evidence" of "fine-tuning",

That is not proof of anything; you haven't proven that Luke Barnes has been swayed in his beliefs by being funded, nor have you shown that anything Luke Barnes does will change the minds of any other physicist. Is there some experiment he can perform that would change your mind? If not, then where are these other physicists you hold in such low regard that you think cannot possibly follow your own simple (and accurate) argument? Or physicist students or laymen, for that matter.

Luke Barnes may very well be getting money from Templeton because he is already on-board with the fine-tuning argument, or is actually religious. Unless you can prove otherwise, then once again you stray into censorship and punishment of people pursuing experiments according to their own beliefs, and set yourself up as the king of what investigations physicists should be allowed to pursue without fear of your wrath. Or you want to set limitations on who can fund any scientific inquiry, with their own money, based on their motives for doing so.

But if you allow motives into consideration, I remind you that 90+% of the world is religious and there is a likely a majority that would be happy to outlaw blasphemy, including the implied blasphemy of atheists like us. For our lifetimes and those of our children, we will remain a distinct minority, both in the world and in nearly every country (I suspect Nordic countries are the only places we might form a majority).

In other words, freedom of speech and freedom of religion (or not having a religion) are the only protections we have, and advocating for less of it is more likely to backfire and restrain those of us with minority beliefs than it is likely to restrain those with a religious agenda.

Leave well enough alone, freedom of speech and religion are good things even if they result in stupid claims you don't want to hear.

Dr. A.M. Castaldo said...

@Steven Evans: You write Belief in "God" isn't justifiable - it is a delusion.

You have misread my post. I said: To me the biggest danger to science is precisely scientists being punished or censored for their justifiable beliefs about God, the climate, evolution, or any other uncomfortable truth.

Clearly in that context the "justifiable beliefs about God", that are also an uncomfortable truth, and are also something we might be punished about: Namely the belief that God doesn't exist. I did not say belief in God is justifiable.

That said, I do not think any governing body should be in the business of punishing people for their beliefs. Individuals withholding their business or vote, that's fine, but IMO this should never rise to the institutional level of law or policy and "thought police".

Steven Evans said...

@Dr. A.M. Castaldo

I misread that bit, yes. I see.

But it is the religious who are the thought police. They are the ones brainwashing kids in 30% of the UK's state schools.

Again, I'm not suggesting people should be stopped believing or saying whatever they want outside their professional duties. A physicist who believes in God or voodoo or whatever in their own time is fine. <--- Can you see this? I've written it several times already....

But the institutions of universities do not have Witchcraft Departments or Astrology Departments for a reason. Believing in witchcraft or astrology is not illegal, nor should it be, but any academic who subscribed to them *in their professional work* would be booted out of their job, and rightly so, because witchcraft and astrology are known to be nonsense. The same applies to religious belief. Anyone teaching it as if it is true should be immediately booted out of the university. A university is a place for seeking the truth, not promoting primitive superstitions as truth. It's utterly bizarre that it still goes on on such a huge scale at even the supposedly best institutions.

The question of fine-tuning is a question of competence. Anybody who thinks the universe is actually fine-tuned needs to go back to primary school and learn some basic logic, so obviously shouldn't be being paid to do research in a university.

Steven Evans said...

Dr. A.M. Castaldo

"Leave well enough alone, freedom of speech and religion are good things even if they result in stupid claims you don't want to hear. "

But yet again you completely misrepresent what I have written. I am not suggesting any curbs on freedom of speech or religion. I am simply saying that in the academic world it is better that the academics are funded by the government, that they come to agreements amongst themselves as the experts about what research programs are most useful, and definitely NOT be swayed by the money and agendas of organisations like the Templeton. You are correct that Luke Barnes is aligned with the agenda of the Templeton Foundation - he wants to corrupt science,too ,and he's not the only such "academic". Luke Barnes' co-author on a book about fine-tuning, publishing presumably paid for by the Templeton Foundation, is a professor of astrophysics, so real physicists are already being corrupted by this money - signing their names to nonsense.

You are right to be wary of the religious - they are stupid and dangerous - and that's why religion needs to be kept out of science and the universities. People like Luke Barnes are Trojan horses who are well-funded and know exactly what they are doing. The universities need to be wary of such nutters. They don't want science to have the right to say religion is nonsense and they are very angry and don't get much sex.

Sid said...

Steve Evans
Probably the most important question in the Bible is the one directed at Jesus from Pilate who asks “ What is Truth “ . You say the university is a place for seeking truth . I would then ask you the same question “ What is Truth “ . It’s rather ironic that institutions founded by people who had spiritual beliefs that drove them to build these centres of learning , especially in the sciences , are now being asked to frogmarch people of a likemind out of the same hallowed halls based upon the personal opinions of people such as yourself . A true cultural poverty is all that awaits if minds like yourself become the arbiters of what is “ truth “ . Sid

Steven Mason said...

Evans wrote: OK, I get it you're a troll.

If your definition of a troll is anyone who disagrees with you.

Evans wrote: one last attempt to penetrate the denseness of your skull.

I hope you made a New Year's resolution to calm down, Evans. :-)

Evans wrote: the model is no longer known to be modelling a physically possible reality.

We have both agreed on that point several times. It doesn't change or invalidate what is meant by "fine-tuned." It's irrelevant.

Evans wrote: This is not true.

According to you, it *is* true. You contradict yourself in your next statement when you say, "If you change them in the model, then you will get answers from your model." We're talking about what the models predict. Obviously.

You'll recall in a previous comment you wrote "No sh*t, Sherlock!" So not only did you think what I wrote was true, you thought it was obviously true.

I suppose you're going to tell me again that models aren't reality. I know, Evans.

Evans wrote: There is only ever one way in physics - by observation

That's the only way to confirm a model. Tell me something I don't know. You mention Einstein's models for mass/energy equivalence. It took time to confirm his models with observations. Physicists set up experiments based on the predictions made by Einstein's models.

Until Einstein's models were confirmed, maybe you'd insist that they were pure speculation. If someone like me tried to talk about what Einstein's models predicted, maybe you'd tell me that models aren't reality and you'd call me stupid and a troll. From my perspective, you'd be getting upset over nothing.

It remains to be seen if we'll ever understand the fundamental nature of matter and the physical constants, and if matter and life can exist in universes with different constants.

As I've said, when physicists make models of the universe, it's only natural for them to see what the models predict if the parameters change. Some models suggest that the physical constants can't vary by much; other models suggest quite a lot of wiggle room.

You insist that a fine-tuned universe hasn't been demonstrated (i.e. proven by observation), but you haven't offered an example of a scientist who claims it's been demonstrated. If you do offer such an example, you and I can both have fun criticizing that scientist. As I've said, I point out bad science when I see it.

My view of a fine-tuned universe is broadly shared by physicists. The concept has acquired a bad reputation because of all the nonsense various people try to associate with it. A fine-tuned universe is a proposition, not a hypothesis, because we currently don't have any way to test it. I don't share your view that it is "pure speculation," because we do have some evidence and models that make predictions.

I'll say something else in defense of a fine-tuned universe: As a proposition, it isn't scientifically objectionable. If it turns out that the universe is fine-tuned, via natural processes, there's nothing woo woo about it. Indeed, it wouldn't shock or surprise anyone, just like it doesn't surprise anyone to learn that the Earth is in a sweet spot. Our models predict that the Earth couldn't exist as we know it if it were in the same orbit as Pluto, and it would be *interesting* to see what our models predict if Earth were in the same orbit as Mars. Don't let "reality" get in the way of making predictions with models just because there's currently no way to observe or confirm the predictions. One never knows when opportunity is going to knock.

Dr. A.M. Castaldo said...

@Steven Evans: Yes, some religious people are thought police; and with you as proof by example, so are some atheists! Restricting your policing activity to people speaking in a professional capacity does not diminish the fact you are policing thought.

You say Witchcraft and Astrology are "known" to be nonsense, and the same applies to religious belief. Known by whom? I've become acquainted with PhDs in the top management of at least one large American university that have no qualms about expressing their belief in God, but I doubt they believe in Witchcraft or Astrology or consider those equivalent to belief in God. You are proposing a false equivalence, religion and Astrology are not in the same league.

And besides, I've never seen a professor refer to their belief in God as a justification for anything. (In Sociology, Mythology, Art, History and Law religion is often referenced as a motivating factor for something, but that is not the professor asserting their own beliefs.)

As for fine-tuning, belief in that is also not the equivalent of believing in God or religion. It can be belief in the multi-verse or infinite big bangs hypothesis or the Big Bounce. You cannot rule ideas out because there is no evidence of them; the whole point of the speculation is to develop details that might lead to ideas about identifying testable evidence for them.

All physicists don't agree on everything. The field is clearly in a state of disarray and various theories cannot be reconciled. You don't know the future, you cannot be certain there will never be a widely accepted theory in which some fundamental constants can change. For a few years there it seemed the fine structure constant wasn't as "constant" as advertised.

Based on your assumptions fine tuning is not possible; but your assumptions do not have to be shared by everybody, and you can't prove your assumptions are superior to all other possible variations of assumptions. In fact if fundamental physics ever finds its way out of the woods, it will likely alter something in our fundamental assumptions about space-time, gravity, and/or matter.

Steven Mason said...

Castaldo wrote: without fear of your wrath

I doubt that physicists fear Evans to the degree that Trump fears Ann Coulter. :-)

Evans wrote: I'm not suggesting people should be stopped believing or saying whatever they want outside their professional duties.

But you are a BIG believer in insulting people for saying things you disagree with. Evans, in your own childish way, you *are* acting like the self-appointed thought police. According to you, 90% of people and 50% of scientists are delusional, insane or corrupted. You call me a stupid, dense troll because I won't share your irrational hatred for a harmless adjective.

"Outside their professional duties"? "Shouldn't be paid to do research at a university"? So you ARE in favor of heavy-handed censorship after all. Under your regime, Martin Rees wouldn't be Astronomer Royal, Luke Barnes wouldn't be employed at any university, and Isaac Newton wouldn't have been president of the Royal Society.

Evans wrote: See this in the Sydney Morning Herald

How does that article prove that Barnes is a "corrupt crank"?

Evans wrote: There's no multiverse, but the universe is fine-tuned

We don't *know* if there is or isn't a multiverse. If it turns out that our universe is fine-tuned, we don't *know* if a multiverse is the only way to explain it.

I'm not surprised that you don't give credit to Barnes for testing his models with a computer simulation. That doesn't fit into your "corrupted crank" narrative.

Evans wrote: Anybody who thinks the universe is actually fine-tuned needs to go back to primary school and learn some basic logic.

That's rubbish. As a proposition, a fine-tuned universe is at least a scientific possibility. There's nothing implausible, unscientific or woo woo about it. As a proposition, it sounds less fantastic than, say, Einstein's models. Einstein's models were surprising, while a fine-tuned universe, if true, would not be surprising.

Anybody who thinks that the universe *can't* be fine-tuned needs to go back to primary school.

Evans wrote: Witchcraft, astrology . . .

More rubbish. You are equating the proposition that the universe might be fine-tuned with demonstrably false supernatural propositions like witchcraft and astrology.

Look what you did with Phillip. You claimed that Rees was corrupted by Templeton. Phillip asked you to prove it; you didn't. Instead you changed your story, saying that Rees was giving Templeton credibility. You never acknowledged that your original accusation was reckless and unsupported.

Then you moved the cheese to Barnes, claiming he is a "bought and paid for crank." Again Phillip did not agree with you, again Phillip needed to see your evidence, and again you didn't provide it. Another reckless and unsupported accusation. It's clear that your emotions sway your judgment. You make claims that you have no intention of supporting. You shoot from the hip and the mouth.

When Phillip said he believes the universe might be fine-tuned, you never said he was stupid or dense. And yet, when I say that the universe might be fine-tuned, you say I'm a stupid, dense troll. Go figure.

Phillip stopped talking to you, I guess because he said all he wanted to say and he wasn't interested in having a debate. You should thank me for keeping this discussion of your pet peeve alive.

I'm curious, Evans: Do you think I'm more stupid than Phillip? If so, what do I believe that makes me more stupid than Phillip? :-)

Steven Evans said...

"Until Einstein's models were confirmed, maybe you'd insist that they were pure speculation."

Yes, of course, you complete halfwit! That's exactly how the physics world treated Einstein's predictions until they were confirmed by observation, as speculation. Same for Newton predicting the elliptic orbit of the Earth, same for the Higg's boson, etc.
The reason physicists do this is because *a model is not reality*, a model has assumptions. There are plenty of examples of failed/failing models - String Theory, fine-tuning, SUSY, etc. Without confirmation by *observation*, it's not natural science.

You haven't even understood what physics is! You are a stunning specimen of stupidity.

OK, let's keep trying with you. No child left behind and all that.

We are agreed that it is perfectly possible that the fundamental constants *physically* have to be the values they are i.e. the universe might NOT be fine-tuned, the universe might have to be this way.

But then you go on to say the physical universe *is* fine-tuned. Not "might be fine-tuned", but "is fine-tuned". And you say the physical universe *is* fine-tuned, based on a *model*, not an *observation*. You cannot say a model's predictions are *physically* true without observing them.

You are saying that the *model* shows *physical* fine-tuning, but without an observation to support the model's predictions, this is pure speculation.

You are simultaneously saying the universe might have to be the way it is (i.e. it might not be able to *vary* i.e. it might not be *tuned*) and that a model shows it *is* fine-tuned.

You are completely contradicting yourself. This is a rare kind of stupidity. You are Schrodinger's idiot - simultaneously believing the universe is and might not be fine-tuned!

Even if we accepted your definition of fine-tuning (which I accept you just put forward provisionally for discussion):
The universe is fine-tuned if it can be shown that a slight variation in the fundamental constants leads to non-existence of matter.

Even if we accept this terrible definition, you've only shown (maybe) that it applies *in a model*. You haven't shown it's true *physically*. So you cannot conclude that the *physical* universe *is* fine-tuned.

Do you understand, thicky?

You cannot conclude *physical* results from the results of a model *without confirmation by observation*. Otherwise, we could all conclude that Italian plumbers could *physically* exist who could jump 5 times their own heights and do a little mid-air twirl, after a game of Mario.

Do you understand that Mario brothers isn't a possible reality, thicky?

In your model, the model universe is fine-tuned. (according to a dodgy definition)
In the video game model, the Italian plumbers jump really high and do a cute little mid-air twirl.

But these are not known to be *physically* possible.

Do you get it, thicky?
For a theory to be accepted as *physics*, it has to be *physically* observed. Otherwise, it's just *imagination*.

Steven Evans said...

@Steven Mason
Phillip finally admitted that fine-tuning was pure speculation, although he was still making other nonsensical statements as he did it. It took far more effort on my part than it should have to convince Phillip of the blindingly obvious, but I think he used to be a professional physicist/astronomer, so in the end he had to admit the obvious truth. I said that the simple act of the Astronomer Royal receiving money from Templeton constituted corruption, because by receiving the money as the Astronomer Royal he was giving them huge credibility. That was the quid pro quo here - money in return for undeserved credibility = corruption.

Since you ask, you are one of the most stupid people I have ever come across. You argue like the religious - sticking to your belief for dear life, pronouncing clearly incorrect statements, and responding line by line to try to flood me with your nonsense, instead of addressing the point. You are not interested in the truth, you simply don't want to admit you're wrong and have been deeply stupid.

A model is not reality. You are claiming the model is reality. You haven't understood this after several thousand words of explanation - it's difficult to imagine deeper stupidity than this (except my stupidity in getting into conversations with irrational morons...)

Steven Evans said...

@Dr. A.M. Castaldo

Again, you are misrepresenting what I'm saying. You keep accusing of me of thought policing when that is exactly not what I am saying.

Of course, we should support free speech and the freedom to believe primitive superstitions and these are important rights. And within the universities we want a wide range of people thinking and speaking their mind. But they shouldn't tell outright lies and they shouldn't be incompetent in their fields.

Witchcraft, astrology and religious belief are known to be delusional nonsense. By whom - by the credible records of natural science and history, built up over hundreds of years by competent people applying well-tested techniques. Granted billions of people, including those with PhDs, don't understand this, but that's not the problem of the universities. The universities shouldn't provide courses in voodoo just because most people don't understand basic logic. I would have thought there would be a natural mechanism in universities whereby people who talked insane, delusional nonsense professionally wouldn't end up with a job at the university.

On fine-tuning, as I said, it's a matter of competence. If someone is speculating about ideas like fine-tuning and trying to see where they lead, great. But they need to be clear that it is speculation and not be so incompetent to state that there is evidence when there clearly isn't. This should be basic for physicists. I'm surprised that anyone with a GCSE in physics or above would think fine-tuning is an empirical fact. Subjects should have basic *standards* - that's not thought policing.

You make the point about who decides what is true and what isn't, but with religious belief and fine-tuning we are talking about basic academic competence - like does a mathematician know that 1+1=2 or does a historian know the Battle of Hastings was in 1066? People who claim religious tenets are true never provide any argument; people who claim fine-tuning is a physical theory provide no physical evidence - basic, basic academic incompetence. If I were this incompetent in my job, I would be sacked immediately.

I'm talking only about the content of academic output, not interfering in personal beliefs or no-platforming or any of that nonsense. If academic output is continually nonsensical or incompetent, why should the academic keep their job?

Why should a "theologian" paid with taxes get to write and speak utter and complete gibberish for decades in a comfortable job? This should be fought. At least, these delusional nutters shouldn't be given a helping hand by the Astronomer Royal.

Anyway, I take your points. You want, as far as possible, total freedom of expression inside and outside the universities. My original point about the Astronomer Royal is that he unnecessarily gave credibility to an organisation which has shown by its actions that it is blatantly trying to blur the lines between science and "religion"; it was an own goal for science.

Steven Evans said...

@Dr. A.M. Castaldo

"Based on your assumptions fine tuning is not possible"

I've never said that, and I don't see how you could think that is what I'm saying. Of course, fine-tuning is *possible*, it's just not known to be an empirical fact and as a concept has so far led to *zero* scientific knowledge. My point is that anybody who doesn't understand the previous sentence is incompetent as a scientist. There should be no need for discussions about this point - any competent scientist should see it immediately. Of course, if people want to pursue the concept in research, go for it, but people should be clear about the current scientific status of the concept.

Steven Evans said...

@Dr. A.M. Castaldo

" In fact if fundamental physics ever finds its way out of the woods, it will likely alter something in our fundamental assumptions about space-time, gravity, and/or matter. "

I have never suggested otherwise. You seem to think I'm against speculation. No. I'm against people calling speculation empirical facts - this basic failure is part of the reason the fundamental physicists are in the woods.

Phillip Helbig said...

In the US, half of all scientists believe in a deity or a higher power.
Are all those scientists giving credibility to religion, or delusions,
and are they therefore corrupted?


Corruption implies quid pro quo at some level. There is a difference between being religious and taking money from a religious organization, especially if in the latter case there is reasonable fear that the money might influence the recipient, or at least buy credibility.

Phillip Helbig said...

They can't get their delusional nonsense on the scientific record, but
they can, for example, pay professional scientists to write a popular
"science" book in which they state the universe *is* fine-tuned, which
is not known to be true.



Note that there is a difference between "not known to be true" and "known to be not true". Any objective appraisal of the discussion would say that it is still an open question. There are many serious scientists, some of them avowed atheists, who are not convinced that there is no fine tuning, and even some who are convinced that there is fine-tuning.

You seem to be saying that since some religious people use fine-tuning as an argument for God, a serious scientists shouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole.

Phillip Helbig said...

It's scientists like Behe who give fine-tuned a bad reputation.
Similarly, if any scientist claims that a fine-tuned universe is
evidence for an intelligent designer (or God), it makes no sense to
blame the adjective for bad science. That's what you appear to be doing,
and it's faulty. This seems to be a case of guilt by association.


Right. Behe is wrong and does not understand evolution.

Quantum mechanics works. We shouldn't be sceptical whether it works or not just because Fritjof Capra, Jack Sarfatti, Brian Josephson and so on abuse the concept to promote their own agenda.

Steven Evans said...

@Sid

OK, Sid, I'll bite the sad little worm on your hook. It's rude to ignore people. Steven Mason loves the attention I lavish him on really.

"Probably the most important question in the Bible is the one directed at Jesus from Pilate who asks “ What is Truth “ ."

On the subject of truth, it is not known as a historical fact that Jesus Christ was a historical figure. It's possible, but it is not recorded in Roman records, so it's not known for sure.

"It’s rather ironic that institutions founded by people who had spiritual beliefs that drove them to build these centres of learning , especially in the sciences"

Yes, and we've learned that religion is nonsense. That's the irony.

"are now being asked to frogmarch people of a likemind out of the same hallowed halls based upon the personal opinions of people such as yourself . "

The barefaced cheek of the bloody religious who have been oppressing and torturing for centuries people who refused to believe their lies.
I have never said this. I have simply said that incompetent academics should get the sack. People claiming primitive superstitions like witchcraft, astrology or religious belief are true *in their professional output* are clearly incompetent as academics. There is no problem with people privately superstitious being academics as there are objective methods for confirming validity of the research in many fields. There are places where people can practise these primitive superstitions, like churches, but the university shouldn't be one of them. If an academic tried to publish a paper on the personality of Sagittarians, they would quite rightly get the sack. You just want religious belief not to be subject to the same academic standards, because you believe in this delusional nonsense. Go to your church, kneel and bow and mumble to your sky daddy, Sid, and stop God-bothering the rest of us.

"A true cultural poverty is all that awaits if minds like yourself become the arbiters of what is “ truth “ . "
I am not claiming to be an arbiter of truth. In science, the peer-reviewed, objective scientific record is the arbiter of truth: it tells us that there is no evidence that the universe was created, and in fact there is no concept in science of what a universe being "created" might even mean i.e. it's meaningless gibberish. In history, the peer-reviewed, objective historical record is the arbiter of truth: and, surprise, surprise, there is no evidence on the historical record that if Jesus Christ even existed, his parents were anything other than ordinary human beings. The biological record has no evidence of "supernatural" sexual reproduction.

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

But you know more than the cumulative objective knowledge of 10s of thousands of professional scientists and historians, don't you, Sid? Because your tiny little brain tells you that Jesus' daddy made the universe, and it is even written so in some dusty old scrolls. Quod Erat Demonstrandum

Here's a New Year's Resolution for you Sid: Get a brain.

Phillip Helbig said...

"I get what you think the issue is; I don't think it matters. Is that going to influence physicists?"

It has. There are physicists, like Luke Barnes, being funded by the Templeton Foundation to gather "evidence" of "fine-tuning", so that they can declare that Jesus' daddy made the universe. This is happening now. Science is being corrupted. These people are corrupt cranks.


There is no evidence that Templeton corrupted Barnes. My own impression, which seems to be supported by Barnes's own comments, is that he was a theist and believed that fine-tuning is evidence for God before he received a penny from Templeton. I don't agree with Barnes on God (as far as I can make out his actual position), I don't like what Templeton is doing, but you are throwing the baby out with the bathwater with exaggerrated claims. Of course, religious people believe all manner of nonsense and usually don't care if it has some pseudoscientific background or not.

I don't think that a single person has said "Hey, maybe their right; fine-tuning is evidence of God" as a result of Templeton, or as a result of anything else. I don't think a single person has ever become religious because of such arguments. Yes, such arguments are often touted by people who are already religious, but that is different from saying that science is being corrupted.

Again, one must separate the discussion of fine-tuning from claims based on it. I feel more confident that there is no God than I do about almost everything else. With regard to fine-tuning, I think that there is good evidence that it exists. But the literature is confusing because people use the term to mean different things. You have to look at each argument in detail in order to discuss it, and not just think that all people are cranks who mention "fine-tuning" just because some people draw the wrong conclusions.

By the way, the book is by Lewis and Barnes. Lewis is the first author, presumably because he did more work on the book (note that the order is not alphabetical). It is clear from the book that Lewis doesn't believe that fine-tuning is evidence for God.

To sum up, the fact that some people abuse an argument does not ipso facto make the argument per se invalid. That would be like saying that evolution could not have happened because it explains why organisms are adapted to their environment---because some people use such adaptations to claim that God exists.

Phillip Helbig said...

Do you think I'm more stupid than Phillip? If so, what do I believe that makes me more stupid than Phillip?

Finally we're getting to the really important questions. :-)

Steven Evans said...

@Phillip Helbig

"is a difference between "not known to be true" and "known to be not true"."

What a fine mind you have.

*You* are telling *me* this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
You are the one who was originally claiming there was evidence that the universe is fine-tuned. There isn't. You need to understand the difference between "pure speculation" and "physical evidence", and a model and reality. You have written nonsense after nonsense after nonsense in this thread and in your blog post. And you are lecturing me about logic????? I took apart every comment you wrote, and then you ran away. You write gibberish, have it pointed out to you that it is gibberish, then move on to your next gibberish. You're almost as bad as Steven Mason, just not as prolific.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

It looks like this comment thread is decaying to insults. I will therefore close it. Thanks everyone for their contributions.