Sunday, January 27, 2019

New Scientist creates a Crisis-Anticrisis Pair

A recent issue of New Scientist has an article about the crisis in the foundations of physics titled “We’ll die before we find the answers.

The article, written by Dan Cossins, is a hilarious account of a visit at Perimeter Institute. Cossins does a great job capturing the current atmosphere in the field which is one of confusion.

That the Large Hadron Collider so far hasn’t seen any fundamentally new particles besides the Higgs-boson is a big headache, getting bigger by the day. Most of the theorists who made the flawed predictions for new particles, eg supersymmetric partner particles, are now at a loss of what to do:
“Even those who forged the idea [of supersymmetry] are now calling into question the underlying assumption of “naturalness”, namely that the laws of nature ought to be plausible and coherent, rather than down to chance.

“We did learn something: we learned what is not the case,” says Savas Dimopoulos. A theorist at Stanford University in California, and one of the founders of supersymmetry, he happens to be visiting the Perimeter Institute while I am there. How do we judge what theories we should pursue? “Maybe we have to rethink our criteria,” he says.”
We meet Asimina Arvanitaki, the first woman to hold a research chair at the Perimeter Institute:
“There are people who think that, using just the power of our minds, we can understand what dark matter is, what quantum gravity is,” says Arvanitaki. “That’s not true. The only way forward is to have experiment and theory move in unison.”
Cossins also spoke with Niayesh Afshordi, who is somewhat further along in his analysis of the situation:
“For cosmologist Niayesh Afshordi, the thread that connects these botched embroideries is theorists’ tendency to devote themselves to whatever happens to be the trendiest idea. “It’s a bandwagon effect,” he says. He thinks it has a lot to do with the outsize influence of citations.

“The fight now is not to find a fundamental theory. It is to get noticed, and the easiest way to do that is get on board a bandwagon,” he says. “You get this feedback loop: the people who spend longer on the bandwagons get more citations, then more funding, and the cycle repeats.” For its critics, string theory is the ultimate expression of this.”
The article sounds eerily like an extract from my book. Except, I must admit, Cossins writes better than I do.

The star of the New Scientist article is Neil Turok, the current director of Perimeter Institute. Turok has been going around talking about “crisis” for some while and his cure for the crisis is… more Neil Turok. In a recent paper with Latham Boyle and Kieran Finn (PRL here), he proposed a new theory according to which our universe was created in a pair with an anti-universe.

I read this paper some while ago and didn’t find it all that terrible. At least it’s not obviously wrong, which is more than what can be said about some papers that make headlines. Though speculative, it’s a minimalistic idea that results in observable consequences. I was surprised it didn’t attract more media attention.

The calculation in the paper, however, has gaps, especially for what the earliest phase of the universe is concerned. And if the researchers find ways to fill those gaps, I would be afraid, they may end up in the all-too-common situation where they can pretty much predict everything and anything. So I am not terribly excited. Then again, I rarely am.

Let me end with a personal recollection. Neil Turok became director of Perimeter Institute in 2008. At that time I was the postdoc representative and as such had a lunch meeting with the incoming director. I asked him about his future plans. Listening to Turok, it became clear to me quickly that his term would mean the end of Perimeter Institute’s potential to make a difference.

Turok’s vision, in brief, was to make the place an internationally renowned research institution that attracts prestigious researchers. This all sounds well and fine until you realize that “renowned” and “prestigious” are assessments made by the rest of the research community. Presently these terms pretty much mean productivity and popularity.

The way I expressed my concern to Turok back then was to point out that if you couple to the heat bath you will approach the same temperature. Yeah, I have learned since then to express myself somewhat clearer. To rephrase this in normal-people speak, if you play by everybody else’s rules, you will make the same mistakes.

If you want to make a difference, you must be willing to accept that people ridicule you, criticize you, and shun you. Turok wasn’t prepared for any of this. It had not even crossed his mind.

Ten years on, I am afraid to say that what happened is exactly what I expected. Research at Perimeter Institute today is largely “more of the same.” Besides papers, not much has come out of it. But it surely sounds like they are having fun.

74 comments:

  1. Coupling to the heat bath made perfect sense to me.

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  2. I have a silly noob question: if sm is low energy effective theory of some yet unknown theory, can sm appear unnatural while the "real" theory is natural? What about simpler toy theories? Can something be said in general about low energy effective theories and their naturalness?

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  3. You need to couple to a high temperature heat bath on one side, and a low temperature one on the other side. With that, you can generate useful work.

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  4. I've hoped for new advances in physics for decades. Only more questions and pretty theories. Can't wait another century, the Higgs was almost a consolation prize. Einstein, Einstein, wherefore art thou, Einstein. 😭

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  5. bee

    is the anti universe an explanation for anti matter or is it something else

    where is this anti universe now?

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  6. neo,

    Dirac already explained antimatter, we don't need Turok for that. Where is the anti-universe? Well, not here. Somewhere in the multiverse, presumably.

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  7. Has anyone done the cluster analysis by key word (or standard theme) of articles (if not by author citations) in fundamental physics to affirm this bandwagon effect. Not easy to categorise, nor to bias your sample if contrarian views dont make the editorial cut in the first place. Perhaps a dynamic catalogue cut by theme with some value weighting to benefit those less cited who must by definition be going against the grain.

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  8. Where is the anti-universe? It's in what I'd call 'belief space' along with all the other multiverse variants. I still like what Wheeler said: "No phenomenon is a real phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon." What is real is what is experienced. Not a popular viewpoint among today's high-profile physicists; but stay tuned.

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  9. Even though the article from new Scientist is pay-walled, the part involving Neil Turok reminded me of an article or rather about a book specifically, - First Principles: The Crazy Business of Doing Serious Science by Howard Burton.

    The book was previously reviewed here by Dr. Hossenfelder herself.

    For anyone interested, here is the link to the article,-
    Even though the article from new Scientist is pay-walled, the part involving Neil Turok reminded me of an article or rather about a book specifically, - First Principles: The Crazy Business of Doing Serious Science by Howard Burton.

    The book was previously reviewed here by Dr. Hossenfelder herself.

    For anyone interested, here is the link to the article,-
    https://www.nature.com/articles/461477a

    The link to the book review,- https://backreaction.blogspot.com/2009/04/howard-burton-first-principles.html

    Dr. Woit had also reviewed the book in his blog, while mentioning that he had learnt about the book from this very blog and here is the link to it, - https://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=1805

    I just want to say, that though I may not be able to read the New scientist article, I have already ordered the book (used one from Amazon in my country), and even if it is an indirect connection, yet, -thank you Dr. Hossenfelder very much!


    The link to the book review,- https://backreaction.blogspot.com/2009/04/howard-burton-first-principles.html

    Dr. Woit had also reviewed the book in his blog, while mentioning that he had learnt about the book from this very blog and here is the link to it, - https://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=1805

    I just want to say, that though I may not be able to read the New scientist article, I have already ordered the book (used one from Amazon in my country), and even if it is an indirect connection, yet, -thank you Dr. Hossenfelder very much!

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  10. Coincidentally, I also just read Burton's book about the founding of PI a few days ago. A fun and breezy read with many anecdotes about individual physicists, some hilarious. It helped me appreciate some of the social pressures that influence even a field as rarefied as theoretical physics.

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  11. "Where is the anti-universe? Well, not here. Somewhere in the multiverse, presumably."

    Did I misunderstand something? I thought the claim was that the anti-universe was "on the other side" (temporally) of the big bang. That is, if t=0 is the big bang, then the anti-universe is just the universe before t=0.

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  12. I actually just subscribed so that I could read the article. I'd forgotten that New Scientist articles are typically very short; reading this one took considerably less time than the online subscription process. Not much in it that isn't mentioned in this blog post.

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  13. It's not the matter—it's the theory that got dark.

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  14. Those who deny empirical falsification of failed theory to seek social validation of failed theory are unclean.

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  15. Neil Turok is one of my favorite physicists. I think he is one of the few physicists, like you, who at least acknowledge that there is a crisis in modern physics. He happens to also be the head of a physics research institute which puts him in a unique position to encourage the young physicists to come up with new ideas.

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  16. I think there is something to say for "successful innovation" as a trait. In CS, at least, I see those that think out of the box and get something to work are rare, but repeating that feat is not nearly as rare; which makes me think it is a trait.

    I qualify successful because there is no shortage of thinking outside the box, but there is a difference between doing that out of plain contrariness or a lack of understanding, and doing that with enough insight to find something "real", like a new algorithm or solution to an issue.

    It could be luck, but if we're betting money on people coming up with earth-shaking ideas, my money would be on people that have at least caused a tremor or two.

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  17. Part 1 of 2

    Excuse me, but am I currently the subject of a hidden-camera episode of The Twilight Zone? Should I be searching for hidden cameras? Last night, I watched this video:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1x9lgX8GaE

    I can't recall having heard of Neil Turok or the Perimeter Institute... ever. Now I get up this morning to find that Dr. Bee has uploaded this post. Such has been the norm since my discovering this blog at the beginning of January. Of course, the first thing that caught my eye on BackReAction was Lost In Math, and the words on the cover alone stopped me in my tracks. Was someone from the inside saying what I had long surmised from the outside looking in?

    I am not completely through Lost In Math yet but, it appears, that is exactly what has happened. Some of the passages in the book, both the musings of Dr. Bee as well as those of the interviewees, are near-verbatim duplicates of assessments I have arrived at previously. In short, I would definitely recommend the book to a friend... if I had any left in this life.

    Note that this is despite(?) the fact that I took "advantage" of an offer to dispense with any requirement for math courses in high school. Yes, I got a bit of a crash-course in the early 1980s when taking some Engineering courses, but that was it. I resort to math when it is a necessity, but have never viewed it as the basis for everything. And, as I have told others, I have largely chosen to depend on my own intuition, deductive reasoning, and powers of observation in lieu of what passes for "education", thus, my opinions are largely of my own synthesis. Lost In Math has done much to validate those choices.

    While watching the video with Turok, one of his contentions really stood out, as it seemed to me to highlight a possible point of failure in our quest to understand the most daunting mysteries. The following link starts the video at the pertinent point:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1x9lgX8GaE&t=1h26m25s

    So: Is Turok really saying that we should continue on the path of reverse-engineering the Cosmos with contrived equations that assume that what we can currently detect is all that exists? Prediction: This assumption is incorrect, and "leads us astray". I recently submitted a comment that didn't pass muster, asking a couple of short, simple "yes or no" questions in this area that, if seriously considered, might divert billions of dollars in research into a more productive direction. Laugh all you want.

    Can anyone deny with a straight face that scientists 2,000 years in the future will view the scientific dogma of today with the same level of derision with which the scientists of today view the descriptions of the Cosmos in the Bible? Or that even Einstein's postulates might one day be consigned to the dustbin of history? (Yes, the math "works", but read on) Or that, if there exists a Creator with the ability to create everything that exists, that Creator would have the ability to leave a trail of breadcrumbs designed to test our faith, and that that trail of breadcrumbs could be the apparent utility of mathematics and numbers in decompiling its creation? Leading some scientists to declare:

    "See! 2+2=4! Thus, there is no need for a Creator!"

    (continued in Part 2)

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  18. Part 2

    Maybe the problem is an imbalance between the pursuit of theoretical proof and the necessity of exploration. Imagine if the Europeans were still sitting around cranking out theoretical formulae in an attempt to describe the characteristics of the New World, having never sailed West. At some point, someone needs to strap their ass in and go for a ride. At least that was the conclusion I came to in 1969... at eight years of age. Go figure.

    I'm no China expert, either. But, in the early 1980s, I said that our opening to China with an "all-carrot-and-no-stick" approach could only lead to war... a war that might never occur absent that opening. Were our leaders idiots? Closet communists? War profiteers? Was their "education" to blame? A leading China expert at the time, and an advisor to the U.S. government on China for four decades, describes his belief at that same time thusly:

    " ...he and many other China experts were taught early on to view China as “a helpless victim of Western imperialists” and that as such, assistance should be provided almost unquestioningly."

    More recently, he has written this:

    https://nypost.com/2015/02/08/chinas-secret-plan-to-topple-the-us-as-the-worlds-superpower/

    Of course, he could've just asked me nearly forty years ago!

    Here's another "Asia-Pacific expert", Van Jackson, that was late to the game, quoted in an article published just a few hours ago:

    "China is seeking to push out the US... and the future of the US in the region is less certain now than any time since the 1970s.

    "If something doesn't change, I expect some kind of serious crisis to break out at some point, unfortunately."


    Sorry, but I couldn't think of any way to comment on the above without cursing! Not least of all because Johnson worked from 2009 to 2014 in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, focused on the Asia-Pacific, and now makes a living in the private sector from, among other things, "Asian security issues". People like this are no better than tire-store owners who go around dumping boxes of nails in the roadways.

    https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/why-a-military-spat-between-japan-and-south-korea-could-snowball-into-crisis/ar-BBSMpCM?li=BBnb7Kz

    You know what? I'm satisfied with the choices I've made, with my thoughts and opinions, and with my beliefs... totally comfortable in my own skin. Even Dr. Bee says:

    "To rephrase this in normal-people speak, if you play by everybody else’s rules, you will make the same mistakes.

    If you want to make a difference, you must be willing to accept that people ridicule you, criticize you, and shun you."


    Couldn't agree more.

    I almost want to say:

    "Drop your education on the ground, and back away slowly with your hands in the air!"

    Jeez...

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  19. Dear Bee,

    The future is very bright and happy. Happy days are here again. It is always darkest before the dawn. Science is on the verge of a new epoch. There will be enough work to last everybody a century or two. The road to new knowledge will be well marked by experiment and open wide into new vistas.

    On Thursday of this week, a new patent protected product will enter the marketplace that no one will understand how it can possibly function. This product will start making money by the boatload and when that money is being made, that focuses attention.

    You along with many others will be asked about how this product can possibly work and the great adventure of the new millennia will begin in earnest. R&D money will begin flowing like water and excitement and happiness will build and build seemingly without limit. All the old misdirected theories will be forgotten and the ultimate truths of the cosmos will be gradually revealed.

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  20. Sabine: Not just in terms of research productivity. If you look at the seminar speakers before and after 2008, you can see a difference. Earlier, you would find people giving talks on non-mainstream/non-fad ideas.

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  21. neo and Sabine,
    I think what you meant to ask was does it explain why there is overwhelmingly more matter than antimatter in this universe?
    Yes the idea does explain why this is so. In the anti-universe, the situation is opposite.

    Where is the anti-universe?
    It is not in the multiverse, it is the universe before our universe, or it is the era before big bang. Observer in the anti-universe would see time as going perfectly forward. But to a supposedly external observer it is as if the anti-universe's time is moving backwards, then bounced back to turn into our universe.

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  22. Theoretical physics is in need of an efficiency manager and housecleaning.. Someone who can wade through volumes of research papers and separate out what is accepted as fact by the community and what is 'interesting conjecture'. Keep the facts, toss out the the papers that are conjecture, turn the dial back to 1980 or so...and start over at that date.

    A house of cards is an oft over used phrase but certainly applies toto the discipline as it sits in 2019. Conjecture based on conjecture to prove 'belief systems'. Its not that some may not be correct but that credibility is gone. Apple, Google, industries in China are where physics is thriving...practical application in the real world. Theoretical physics is no longer blazing the trail for applied physics to follow. Instead it's stuck in surreal Multiverses and parallel 'whatever's.

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  23. Kevin,

    Yes, but that answers the question when it is, not where it is.

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  24. Axil,

    Yes, we're all waiting for cold fusion to save the world. That would be nice.

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  25. neo, tytung,

    Yes, they claim that they can explain the matter-antimatter asymmetry. They do this by setting the stage for leptogenesis (see here).

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  26. > If you want to make a difference, you must be willing
    > to accept that people ridicule you, criticize you, and shun you.

    Can you give a few examples of who would have fitted
    this bill?
    You?

    What do you mean by "accept"? Hire on a permanent position?

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  27. Unknown,

    I find it fascinating how many people there are who are unable to read and then leave anonymous comments to share their misconceptions with the world. It would never occur to me, of course, to think anyone would do this deliberately. So let me simply point out that in the sentence you quote I was referring to my conversation with Neil Turok. I was referring to leading an institution. I was saying that if you want go where no one else has gone, you must be willing to accept that people laugh about you because they think you're on the wrong path. How you came out thinking that I was talking about my job is beyond me.

    Also, please sign with your name.

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  28. One positive development at the PI is that it has expanded its outlook beyond particle physics and cosmology -- hiring researchers working in fields such as quantum computing and topological states of matter. Sure, these are trendy endeavors, but at least there is a wider diversity of physicists there as compared to when the institute first opened.

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  29. Your statement did not tell what "people"
    you meant. I indicated my interpretation
    and asked for clarification.
    You clarified, I stand corrected, thank you.

    Why did you insult me as somebody who
    is "unable to read"?

    In Turok's shoes what would you have done?
    Two of your recommendations are
    "dark matter research" and "foundations
    of QM".
    Weren't both subjects core acticities at Perimeter
    under Turok?

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  30. Unknown,

    Ok then, glad it's sorted.

    I'd have had a long list of recommendations, some of which very specific to PI, some of which more general. The more general ones are what's in my book.

    In brief: I am not recommending to go for this or that particular topic. Instead, create an environment in which scientists are free to follow the topics they think are most promising. This is not currently the case.

    I have said this several times already, but here we go once again. In my book I did deliberately not make specific recommendations for topics to pursue. I am as biased as everybody else. My opinion isn't worth more than anyone else's opinion. The whole point of my book is to say that everyone should think for themselves. My major recommendation is to create a system where scientist can follow their own interests, are aware of how their interests are influenced by hype and social reinforcement, and take steps to prevent these social effects from streamlining research.

    The only reason I sometimes offer some specific topics or examples is that otherwise people complain I don't. It's a lose-lose situation. If I name something, they'll complain I'm just promoting my own interests (and they will do this even if it's not something I work on). If I don't, they'll complain I have nothing to say. It is an obvious attempt to discard my arguments without even thinking about it.

    Also when it comes to the question what to fund. What I am asking for is an argument. I have offered an argument, if I follow that argument I come out not in favor of a next larger particle collider. Of course I know that particle physicists don't like that, but so what? What argument do they offer in response? Well, nothing really. Basically they say that, well, the money wouldn't be entirely wasted. Certainly true but frankly not very convincing.

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  31. The SM is already completely magical.
    This is why people *don't understand* that extra dimensions, worlds, and universes are not good ideas. Thinking is dead.
    Dead and gone.

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  32. > Instead, create an environment in which scientists are free
    > to follow the topics they think are most promising. This is not currently the case.

    Why is this not the case? What mistake exactly did Turok make?
    From your blog post I only get the info:
    "He did not consider to move research into a direction which
    would have been ridiculed and shunned by many outside physicists."

    Is this even true? At least I find e.g. this stuff of "quanta of spacetime"
    pretty ridiculous, don't you?

    Yet, Turok did try to support scientist who attempt to work
    "truly new" ideas such as "quanta of spacetime",
    e.g. by establishing "Research Initiatives":

    "By definition, truly new approaches and ideas in physics don’t fall neatly
    into any established framework – and yet often such new approaches are exactly those which can most benefit from sustained, intense, cross-disciplinary attention."
    (https://www.perimeterinstitute.ca/research/research-initiatives)

    OK, you might argue "by supporting it, he made the subject "fashionable"".
    But what more could he do?

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  33. This comedy/tragedy wil go on and on and on... - till the donators and taxpayers will cut off the financial contributions.

    And then "there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (The Holy Bible, Luke 13:28)

    Full stop!

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  34. Unknown,

    "Why is this not the case? What mistake exactly did Turok make?
    From your blog post I only get the info:
    "He did not consider to move research into a direction which
    would have been ridiculed and shunned by many outside physicists."
    Is this even true? At least I find e.g. this stuff of "quanta of spacetime"
    pretty ridiculous, don't you?"


    It is fashionable right now. I don't know how it matters what I think. Also, you are missing the point. I already told you that the problem is not the topic. The problem is that if you run an institute based on the desire to make it renown and prestigious (and getting in grants) you are letting your agenda being set by other people.

    If you want to avoid this from happening you must take concrete steps against it. That starts with making sure all your employees have a basic education in the sociology and philosophy of science and scientometry and decision science and so on. And even if you get them to temporarily decouple from the heat bath, you have to find a way to make sure they don't suffer too much when they have to leave your place. You must accept that that you'll miss out on funding and on publicity and on Nobel Prize winners wanting to visit you.

    There are other issues, like assigning people to groups. It's long been know that just assigning people to groups promotes in-group and out-group behavior. It's in the way of information exchange.

    At the time I probably had a list of more specific problems on my mind, but I left PI in 2009 and while I still visit regularly and have friends there, I don't know much about what's going on there now.

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  35. Turok et all are working a model that goes back a ways in time. Hawking had some development along these lines back in the 70s. There is this biverse sort of idea that comes from the fact the de Sitter spacetime has a Penrose diagram with two regions separated by split horizons. The two conformal patches then have oppositely directed timelike Killing vectors. This should be seen in some ways as similar to the idealized Penrose diagrams for the Schwarzschild metric, where there area a pair of regions where observers in each see identical black holes. While this may point to some underlying structure, there probably is no other region. For all we know these other regions or universes may just be a mathematical gadgets.

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  36. Quantum mechanics and general relativity are observed flawless to 15+ decimal places. They conflict: entanglement versus separability; Heisenberg versus Newtonian measurement. QM fails re Hund's paradox. GR fails re Equivalence Principle given baryogenesis' Sakharov criteria. An unmeasurable observable is excluded by physics' beauty-defined postulates.

    Healing physics requires abomination (e.g., crafted enantiomers' rotational spectroscopy). Denied!, no matter how many DOIs are thrown at it. Look at the blue rose.

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  37. Uncle Al

    "QM fails re Hund's paradox"
    Does it now... See link
    http://panda3.phys.unm.edu/nmcpp/gold/phys492/hunds-paradox-PTO000016.pdf

    "GR fails re Equivalence Principle"
    god I hope so, I would love for all those silly reaction-less thruster projects based on "Mach Effect" to be more then people pissing about with high frequency RF and torsion pendulums. Unfortunately we live in the measurable world and I suspect the violation of conservation on momentum leads to some form of perpetual motion, but man the ships we could make if it was real...

    Not meaning to rain on your parade but I would like to know if the linked article will pass the review of a real physics brain not just some shlubby engineer like me.

    J*

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  38. "... Cossins writes better than I do."



    In that case, a suggestion: for 'future plans,' use 'plans.' Redundancy is the enemy of clear writing and pleasurable reading.

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  39. "Dirac already explained antimatter, we don't need Turok for that".

    Sabine, Dirac didn't explain antimatter. I've read his papers, and to be perfectly blunt, they are dire. He was totally in love with mathematical beauty, and totally clueless when it came to the electron and the positron. Graham Farmelo talked about it in his 2010 article did Dirac predict the positron? He says Dirac’s “close friend Patrick Blackett, one of the leading players in the story’s denouement, denied it”. And that “very few physicists took Dirac’s hole theory seriously”. He also says “Victor Weisskopf later recalled the idea ‘seemed incredible and unnatural to everybody’”.

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  40. “…The only way forward is to have experiment and theory move in unison.”

    How unconventional tying physics to empirical evidence; could that work?

    ““The fight now is not to find a fundamental theory. It is to get noticed….”

    The issue is not unique to “now” in some form or another history shows it has always been a natural part of human behavior and research goal. What’s different “now” is the widespread acceptance for uncoupling theory from empirical predictions. Somewhere along the way Sci-Fi predictions became what got you noticed. Now it seems the more bizarre your theory’s predictions and interpretations are, the more popular you become.

    In my opinion part of the problem also, is a “faith” in math that’s cult like. Of course I don’t mean faith in math’s ability to precisely predict outcomes. I’m talking about an unquestionable belief that if the calculations accurately predicts some verifiable outcome, then the entirety of the equation must also be the physical way nature gets there; which I’ve begun to think is likely not the case for every prediction that’s been verified.

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  41. Sabine wrote: "The way I expressed my concern to Turok back then was to point out that if you couple to the heat bath you will approach the same temperature. "

    I think I got the meaning of that immediately - you really don't want to end up with everyone focused on the same ideas, because you need competition between different ideas - something that has clearly turned out to be true. Hiring an expert in string theory (say), will probably result in an entire group focused on string theory, and if that happens in too many places and string theory isn't actually the answer, you can end up with nearly everyone barking up the wrong tree!

    Maybe pushing to higher and higher energies isn't very productive any more, but experimentally pushing something else might be. For example, if quantum computing actually became possible, science would have produced hugely entangled states that might push QM into failing in some interesting way. That failure might be disappointing from the POV of computing, but reveal something important about QM.

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  42. What about Drs Smolin and t'hooft? They have both proposed quite radical ideas and ways of thinking about physics.

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  43. Nick,

    Yes, what about them? Can't follow, sorry.

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  44. >>At least I find e.g. this stuff of "quanta of spacetime"
    >>pretty ridiculous, don't you?"

    > I don't know how it matters what I think.

    It matters because if you'd agree, your reproach that Turok
    did not encourage research on topics deemed ridiculous by others
    would be mistaken.
    So?

    >That starts with making sure all your employees have a basic education in the sociology and philosophy of science and >scientometry and decision science and so on.

    So in Turok's shoes, you would have made a course on these topics mandatory for
    every employee. Do think that would have changed anything at Perimeter?

    > You must accept that that you'll miss out on funding and on publicity and on Nobel Prize winners wanting to visit you.

    You make it sound as if lack of recognition is a value in itself.
    Do you really think it is?

    ReplyDelete
  45. Dr Bee, I think they both work or hold some kinds of positions at PI. Dr Smolin does for sure, I think maybe I just saw a video of Dr t'hooft speaking there.

    Dr Smolin has proposed a philosophical strategy of creating axioms stating observed physical phenomena, and then attempting to create mathematical description that would follow from the axioms. I may not have said that right. An example axiom would be: an object in orbit always has the same total energy, with some expressed as kinetic and some as potential. Dr Smolin proposes this for modern ideas rather than classical ones. This is the way Newton did physics, but it seems to have been lost recently in favor of "beauty" and "symmetry".

    He has worked on causal set theory, which is not yet even wrong, but is very interesting in how it re-imagines time, and a bunch of other projects which require very different ways of imagining the universe.

    Dr t'hooft has proposed a cellular automata view of the universe and provided some toy models of how events in such a universe might work. This idea is also more of a toy universe, but also is a very interesting in how it re-imagines spacetime and the events in it.

    I find something intriguing about the 'discrete-universe' ideas.

    ReplyDelete
  46. Nick,

    I believe 't Hooft holds a visiting research chair at PI, or whatever it's called. I know both his and Smolin's work, but I am afraid I don't see what this has to do with anything.

    ReplyDelete
  47. Unknown,

    "It matters because if you'd agree, your reproach that Turok
    did not encourage research on topics deemed ridiculous by others
    would be mistaken."


    I didn't say anything like that and have no idea how you got there. I already spelled out explicitly what I was referring to. Please stop re-arranging my words into nonsensical statements.

    ReplyDelete

  48. WRT "Unknown said...
    > If you want to make a difference, you must be willing
    > to accept that people ridicule you, criticize you, and shun you.

    Can you give a few examples of who would have fitted
    this bill? "

    My longtime favorites are:

    Ignaz Semmelweis – a doctor who recommended washing hands before surgery and more pertinent to physics, Georges Le Maitre, a priest who had the temerity to suggest that Einstein erred, and for whom, Hoyle coined the term “Big Bang” to mock him.

    A simple search on scientists whose ideas were rejected are too long to name, but some:
    Gregor Mendel
    Alfred Wegener
    Nicolas Copernicus
    Johannes Kepler

    I speculate that pretty much all of them until DATA PROVED THEM RIGHT.

    ReplyDelete
  49. For several generations most people have entered the field of physics because it is spooky, mindblowing, etc.

    These people are not going to figure out anything.

    Let's make physics boring again!
    No more silly clickbait.

    ReplyDelete
  50. @Sabine
    "This all sounds well and fine until you realize that “renowned” and “prestigious” are assessments made by the rest of the research community".

    This is true, but it raises a real problem. How should the director hire people? resources are not infinite, the number of applicants is large, so how do you choose them? You can try to choose those that are recommended by renowned scientists, have published in prestigious journals, etc, but then you "couple to the heat bath" and you're back to square one.

    But what to do if you do not want to proceed like that? How do you discriminate between a promising young scientist and a crank? Would you offer a position to Fleischman and Pons (cold fusion) just in case? If not, why?

    There is no clear cut answer to this. There is no supreme authority that can tell you who is the future genius. One way or another, you must rely on the community of scientists (who else!?). That's why attempts to create "anti-establishment" institutes by decree usually fail.

    ReplyDelete
  51. Opamanfred,

    Yes, brillant, you have identified the problem very well. Except that the director doesn't normally just hire people on their own, usually there's committees and such.

    The best thing you can do is that you make sure people in your committees are aware how biases can creep into their judgement, and that they do not base their judgment on the judgement of others (or maybe just on pure luck). This happens implicitly if they rely on information such as how many grants someone brought in or how often their work has been cited (which strongly depends on the size of the community to begin with) or how often they have heard about the person/their research (a statement more about network connectivity than about quality of research).

    There are other obvious steps you should take. Eg, it's well-known that the way people make decisions in groups depends on who puts forward an opinion first and on whether they thought about the topics of discussion ahead and on whether the rest of the group knows the decision of others and so on.

    If you do something like this, most people will have little to go on with other than their personal interests. (After sorting out those candidates who obviously do not reach the current quality standard in the field.) What I'd hope would happen when you do this is that they come up with some individual method of judging the promise of an applicant and their work. It's at this point, I think, when you start having a useful discussion.

    This is why I said above, everyone should have a basic education in the sociology of science, philosophy of science, and decision making in groups.

    Other things you should definitely not do is give your people the impression that you care about community trends or about decorating your institute with important names with the aid of great amounts of money, or by boasting with the number of papers produced in your annual research and similar such things.

    Finally, let me say that I do think Hanson's idea of a market-based assessment of research promise is a good one. However, I don't see a way to make use of this as a single institution.

    (Oh, yeah, I'm great with giving advice. I know everyone hates it. But what else can I do?)

    Best,

    B.

    ReplyDelete
  52. Typo: annual research -> annual report

    ReplyDelete
  53. @Jonathan Starr...

    DSSD’s racemization rotational barrier is 5.7 or 8.0 kcal/mole (2000 or 2800 cm^(-1), DOI:10.1063/1.1597491). Hund's paradox sums handedness kets to zero inside Schrödinger's box. Barriers are observations.

    D_3-trishomocubane is formally pentacyclo[6.3.0.0^(²,⁶).0^(³,¹⁰).0^(⁵,⁹)]undecane. Four carbon-carbon bonds must be simultaneously broken, the ball turned inside out (plus hydrogen tunneling), then four bonds reform. Expect a 350 kcal/mole barrier (15 eV, 122,400 cm^(-1), 176,100 kelvin) operating around 2 kelvin in the grating near field. The vacuum supersonic expansion molecular beam travels 100 - 300 m/s: less than a microsecond for grating traversal.

    The 2-position is substituted with three skeletal carbons and a -CF3 group (69 amu). No tunneling inversion! Either quantum mechanics or thermodynamics hugely fails. Look.

    ReplyDelete
  54. Follow the white rabbit :) !

    Evolution is the best selector not only in a population of living organisms, but for scientific ideas.

    Program for:

    Institute of Advanced Risk Research.

    1. Provide the variations in a population - grant relatively small amount of money to almost all candidates, including "Fleischman and Pons", for applied research projects. Allow almost all creasy ideas.
    No big labs, only individuals with free access to core facility and assistance by one or two technician. Collaboration is free in house and outside.

    2. Apply natural selection - select result reports after a while (1-2 years) using as a criterium new adaptive features - new results, not like slightly modified form the mainstream, but new results.
    The selection process should be applied in broad environment outside the institute, blindly (only project and results no authors information) - including AI computing facility using novelty as a parameter.

    3. Prolong financing to the selected individuals after first selection step.

    5. Time limit - 5 years to get something new on the table.

    6. Every year start the new 5 years selection cycle.

    ReplyDelete
  55. This AI physicist is capable of teasing out several laws of physics in mystery worlds deliberately constructed to simulate the complexity of our universe.

    An AI physicist can derive the natural laws of imagined universes

    Teaching an AI system the tricks physicists use to understand the real world produces an extraordinarily powerful machine.

    by Emerging Technology from the arXiv November 1, 2018

    https://www.technologyreview.com/s/612358/an-ai-physicist-can-derive-the-natural-laws-of-imagined-universes/

    ReplyDelete
  56. Does anyone remember Julian Schwinger? Do you remember why he resigned from science?

    The pressure for conformity is enormous. I have experienced it in editors’ rejection of submitted papers, based on venomous criticism of anonymous referees. The replacement of impartial reviewing by censorship will be the death of science.

    Julian Schwinger

    Schwinger deserved the abuse that he got, considering forbidden ideas like LENR.

    https://www.infinite-energy.com/iemagazine/issue1/colfusthe.html

    ReplyDelete
  57. I'll try this here, since I don't do Twitter. Never saw the utility in it, since I have curse words longer than 140 characters...

    re: Oumuamua, here's an article with pronunciation and all, not to mention some unintentionally comical (in my opinion) characterizations of whatever it was as well as its motion and possible origin:

    https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/technology/what-is-oumuamua-heres-what-we-know-so-far/ar-BBSRWkD?li=BBnbfcL

    ReplyDelete
  58. Sabine,
    Thanks for another stimulating post. I admire and appreciate you taking particle physicists and the associated theorists to task. Too few people are prepared to think this critically, ask the questions you do, particularly publically. Your NY Times piece was much needed. Sadly, Neil Turok's limited and impoverished vision for Perimeter is not unusual. Indeed, I fear that most people in senior management at research universities, particularly in Australia and the UK, have a similar pedestrian vision: hire "high profile" people who will get lots of grants, graduate lots of students, and publish lots of papers in "high impact" journals. Promoting creative and rigorous science relevant to reality is an after thought.
    Keep up the great work.
    Ross

    ReplyDelete
  59. Wow... wow!

    VYT said:

    "The selection process should be applied in broad environment outside the institute, blindly (only project and results no authors information) - including AI computing facility using novelty as a parameter."

    And inMatrix.ru said:

    "This AI physicist is capable of teasing out several laws of physics in mystery worlds deliberately constructed to simulate the complexity of our universe.

    An AI physicist can derive the natural laws of imagined universes

    Teaching an AI system the tricks physicists use to understand the real world produces an extraordinarily powerful machine."


    OK, neither one of these comments refer to utilizing AI in the hiring of researchers but, before these comments showed up, I read the comment by Dr. Bee that begins with:

    "Opamanfred,

    Yes, brillant, you have identified the problem very well. Except that the director doesn't normally just hire people on their own, usually there's committees and such. "


    And thought:

    How about bringing AI into the "hiring" process? Either by having two completely independent selection tracks wherein one is handled exclusively by AI and the other exclusively by Human selectors, or by having a single track with Humans running the show, but with a weighted input of AI in the process?

    The reason I didn't submit the idea previously was because, of course, guess who sets up the AI? Would the results really be that different? And with the "two-track" process, you'd have to come up with a method for deciding which prospects get fed into the machine, and which ones get fed to the Humans... no pun intended.

    But what do I know?

    Where is Dr. Castaldo when you need him? : )

    ReplyDelete
  60. > Oh, yeah, I'm great with giving advice. I know everyone hates it.

    The problem with your advice is, that it seems tailored to
    recommend your "ideal academic world", in which your job prospects
    would be better than they are in the actual world.
    This then allows you to (privately) blame your personal job problems on the
    failure of your peers to follow your advice.

    E.g. you gave the following advice:

    > ... make sure people in your committees ... do not
    > ... rely on information [about] ...
    > how often they have heard about the person/their research (a statement more about network connectivity than about quality of
    > research).

    Good net-working is a desirable activity, in the academic world and elsewhere!
    Your recommendation to disregard it in hiring decision does not seem to be a good one.
    Why do you make it? My suspicion is that you gave it because you consider yourself as a
    high-quality researcher but not as a good net-worker.

    ReplyDelete
  61. Unknown,

    "Good net-working is a desirable activity, in the academic world and elsewhere!
    Your recommendation to disregard it in hiring decision does not seem to be a good one.
    Why do you make it?"


    At this point I begin to suspect you really do have trouble understanding what I am writing. I said it is a statement about network connectivity, which you turned into "good networking". These are not the same things. I was talking about committee members making their judgement based on who they know. I was not talking about the candidates' skills whatsoever.

    Yes, one could make a point that networking is a valuable skill. Depends on the purpose you are hiring for. As I said, people should come up with their own way of assessment. There isn't any one "best" method.

    " My suspicion is that you gave it because you consider yourself as a high-quality researcher but not as a good net-worker."

    I suggest you stop your attempts to psychoanalyze me. You're not any good at it.

    ReplyDelete
  62. > I said it is a statement about network connectivity, which you turned into "good networking".
    > These are not the same things.

    They seem to be:
    Who achieves a good "network connectivity" independent
    of the quality of her/his research must
    be a good net-worker. Do you agree?

    ReplyDelete
  63. Unknown,

    You are still misunderstanding me. I said a statement about network connectivity. About the connectivity of the network. Not about anyone's connections in particular. If person A knows person B this means they are connected in some social sense. Does this tell person A how many social connections person B has? No it does not. Can person B have many connections and not be connected to person A. For sure. What happens if a committee member makes decisions based on who they know is that they prefer people from their own network and people from outside their network are at a disadvantage. Hope that clarifies it.

    ReplyDelete
  64. @Unknown: I wouldn't agree with that. There are celebrities in physics just like in any field. My advisor was (and is) extremely well-known in our community; and I currently work for (two levels of management up) the most cited researcher in our field.

    When these people talk, or publish, or write opinion articles, people listen. That doesn't make them good net-workers, they really don't have to make any effort to network at all, so why assume they are "good" at it? Network connectivity doesn't require being good at networking. They are just famous for their results.

    Similar to a TV or movie star, or music star, or sports star, or even a political star: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez currently has 2.7M twitter followers; but not because she is soliciting them. Because she has become famous for her political accomplishments (youngest congresswoman ever elected in the USA) and political speech and positions. So people are seeking her out and increasing her "connectivity" by thousands of followers every day.

    ReplyDelete
  65. Your post reminds me of an interview that I read by Alain Connes a few years ago where he remarked that physicists were like bosons. And by that he meant that they jumped on the latest bandwagon. He felt it important that researchers were given time and resources to pursue ideas some of which that might not come to anything and maybe over years. It sounds similar to your own criticism of the field.

    I also recall Peter Higgs saying he felt sorry for younger researchers these days because of the pressure to publish. He said that if he had been under same kind of pressure he might not have done the work he did.

    ReplyDelete
  66. "Your post reminds me of an interview that I read by Alain Connes a few years ago where he remarked that physicists were like bosons."

    When I studied physics, one day a professor observed the students coming into the lecture hall, most sitting by themselves, a few seats away from the nearest neighbour. This led him to the conclusion that physicists are fermions.

    ReplyDelete
  67. Unknown,

    I do not generally recommend against paying attention to personal connections. There are cases where that's important information. I was commenting here specifically on wanting to make breakthrough discoveries. If you rely on who-knows-whom, you run a risk of staying in the always-same circle of ideas. I don't know why you are now talking about "difficult personalities".

    ReplyDelete
  68. So where is the life-changing product promised by Axil for Thursday?

    ReplyDelete
  69. Pascal,

    I didn't approve his/her comment including a link, I hope you understand why. Rest assured that if "excitement and happiness will build and build seemingly without limit" and "the ultimate truths of the cosmos will be gradually revealed" then my blog is not necessary to spread the awesome news.

    ReplyDelete
  70. Phillip wrote: a professor observed the students coming into the lecture hall, most sitting by themselves, a few seats away from the nearest neighbor. This led him to the conclusion that physicists are fermions.

    I realize he was joking, but my memories of university physics courses are of friendly students and professors. Chemistry and biology courses were friendly also. The students and professors in mathematics courses were somewhat less friendly and the least friendly students, oddly enough, were in my literature courses.

    This was just my personal experience and I have no idea if any generalities exist on a statistical scale.

    ReplyDelete
  71. @Philip
    "When I studied physics, one day a professor observed the students coming into the lecture hall, most sitting by themselves, a few seats away from the nearest neighbour. This led him to the conclusion that physicists are fermions."

    What else? To be categorized as bosons, they would have needed to sit on each other knees.

    I think Connes' full citation is that physicists are like bosons (they like working in big collaborations on a few fashionable topics) while mathematicians are fermions (they work mainly alone or in pairs (spin-up spin-down?) on idiosyncratic topics).

    ReplyDelete
  72. Mathematics is no more sophisticated than any other language. It has its syntax and building of logical arguments.

    If you must use a thousand convoluted words in saying something simple, you are probably incorrect. Today's theoretical physics are astray due to errors in its core theories. These errors create a need of ever-expanding explanation models to correct the failed assumptions of the core theory. These errors give rise to "dark" and "black" concepts that can only be derived indirectly. Black holes, dark matter, dark energy, in short all sorts of shadow phenomena that has no basis in a traditional scientific method of empirical experiments

    ReplyDelete

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