Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The crisis in physics is not only about physics

downward spiral
In the foundations of physics, we have not seen progress since the mid 1970s when the standard model of particle physics was completed. Ever since then, the theories we use to describe observations have remained unchanged. Sure, some aspects of these theories have only been experimentally confirmed later. The last to-be-confirmed particle was the Higgs-boson, predicted in the 1960s, measured in 2012. But all shortcomings of these theories – the lacking quantization of gravity, dark matter, the quantum measurement problem, and more – have been known for more than 80 years. And they are as unsolved today as they were then.

The major cause of this stagnation is that physics has changed, but physicists have not changed their methods. As physics has progressed, the foundations have become increasingly harder to probe by experiment. Technological advances have not kept size and expenses manageable. This is why, in physics today we have collaborations of thousands of people operating machines that cost billions of dollars.

With fewer experiments, serendipitous discoveries become increasingly unlikely. And lacking those discoveries, the technological progress that would be needed to keep experiments economically viable never materializes. It’s a vicious cycle: Costly experiments result in lack of progress. Lack of progress increases the costs of further experiment. This cycle must eventually lead into a dead end when experiments become simply too expensive to remain affordable. A $40 billion particle collider is such a dead end.

The only way to avoid being sucked into this vicious cycle is to choose carefully which hypothesis to put to the test. But physicists still operate by the “just look” idea like this was the 19th century. They do not think about which hypotheses are promising because their education has not taught them to do so. Such self-reflection would require knowledge of the philosophy and sociology of science, and those are subjects physicists merely make dismissive jokes about. They believe they are too intelligent to have to think about what they are doing.

The consequence has been that experiments in the foundations of physics past the 1970s have only confirmed the already existing theories. None found evidence of anything beyond what we already know.

But theoretical physicists did not learn the lesson and still ignore the philosophy and sociology of science. I encounter this dismissive behavior personally pretty much every time I try to explain to a cosmologist or particle physicists that we need smarter ways to share information and make decisions in large, like-minded communities. If they react at all, they are insulted if I point out that social reinforcement – aka group-think – befalls us all, unless we actively take measures to prevent it.

Instead of examining the way that they propose hypotheses and revising their methods, theoretical physicists have developed a habit of putting forward entirely baseless speculations. Over and over again I have heard them justifying their mindless production of mathematical fiction as “healthy speculation” – entirely ignoring that this type of speculation has demonstrably not worked for decades and continues to not work. There is nothing healthy about this. It’s sick science. And, embarrassingly enough, that’s plain to see for everyone who does not work in the field.

This behavior is based on the hopelessly naïve, not to mention ill-informed, belief that science always progresses somehow, and that sooner or later certainly someone will stumble over something interesting. But even if that happened – even if someone found a piece of the puzzle – at this point we wouldn’t notice, because today any drop of genuine theoretical progress would drown in an ocean of “healthy speculation”.

And so, what we have here in the foundation of physics is a plain failure of the scientific method. All these wrong predictions should have taught physicists that just because they can write down equations for something does not mean this math is a scientifically promising hypothesis. String theory, supersymmetry, multiverses. There’s math for it, alright. Pretty math, even. But that doesn’t mean this math describes reality.

Physicists need new methods. Better methods. Methods that are appropriate to the present century.

And please spare me the complaints that I supposedly do not have anything better to suggest, because that is a false accusation. I have said many times that looking at the history of physics teaches us that resolving inconsistencies has been a reliable path to breakthroughs, so that’s what we should focus on. I may be on the wrong track with this, of course. But for all I can tell at this moment in history I am the only physicist who has at least come up with an idea for what to do.

Why don’t physicists have a hard look at their history and learn from their failure? Because the existing scientific system does not encourage learning. Physicists today can happily make career by writing papers about things no one has ever observed, and never will observe. This continues to go on because there is nothing and no one that can stop it.

You may want to put this down as a minor worry because – $40 billion dollar collider aside – who really cares about the foundations of physics? Maybe all these string theorists have been wasting tax-money for decades, alright, but in the large scheme of things it’s not all that much money. I grant you that much. Theorists are not expensive.

But even if you don’t care what’s up with strings and multiverses, you should worry about what is happening here. The foundations of physics are the canary in the coal mine. It’s an old discipline and the first to run into this problem. But the same problem will sooner or later surface in other disciplines if experiments become increasingly expensive and recruit large fractions of the scientific community.

Indeed, we see this beginning to happen in medicine and in ecology, too.

Small-scale drug trials have pretty much run their course. These are good only to find in-your-face correlations that are universal across most people. Medicine, therefore, will increasingly have to rely on data collected from large groups over long periods of time to find increasingly personalized diagnoses and prescriptions. The studies which are necessary for this are extremely costly. They must be chosen carefully for not many of them can be made. The study of ecosystems faces a similar challenge, where small, isolated investigations are about to reach their limits.

How physicists handle their crisis will give an example to other disciplines. So watch this space.


  1. typo: have been known for more than 80 [y]ears

    1. Ha, and what a funny one! Thanks for pointing out, I have fixed that.

  2. Some proposed edits:

    more than 80 ears ->
    more than 80 years

    never comes by -> never materializes

    to put to test ->
    to put to the test

    personally much every time I try ->
    personally every time I try

    that they propose hypotheses and revising their methods, ->
    that they propose hypotheses, and revising their methods,

    Awesome article.

  3. Great post as usual! 80 ears should be 80 years :)

    1. Oh-uh, must have hit "delete" at the wrong place. Thanks for spotting this :)


    1. Is this an example of the stagnation or resolving inconsistencies?

      Do u'all think the link is modeling how to progress or how to stay stuck?


  5. Overall I agree with you but this quote is a stretch "...experiments in the foundations of physics past the 1970s have only confirmed the already existing theories...". As an example The Supernova Cosmology project and the High-Z Supernova search Projects are two such experiment. Now with the tension building between CMB (Planck) and "near distance" experiments thats were to look for new physics.

    1. I do not know what your problem is with that quote, could you please elaborate.

      As I say, investigating inconsistencies is the thing to do so I do not understand what your problem is.

    2. Sabine. A gut reaction from my side. What I meant was that in the foundation of physics there has been groundbreaking experiments since the 70s. What I think you mean with foundation of physics is limited to particle physics. The bigger question question for me is, are experiments, big or smal, in general designed to confirm theories or verify earlier experiments or spot differences? As an amateur I suspect the first two.

    3. It is perhaps a minor point because I agree with the essay above. However to state "None found evidence of anything beyond what we already know" confused me. At least for the Calan/Tololo Survey and the HZT which I co-founded, we were trying to measure q0, the deceleration parameter not because there were inconsistent measurements of its value, rather there was *no* meaningful measured value for this critical parameter in cosmology. While we were doing these projects, interesting (believable) inconsistencies appeared as it became apparent that the Universe from theory should be flat, but from observations the amount of matter did not reach the critical density. But perhaps astronomers trying to measure q0 would not be considered research into fundamental physics per se. I guess I have never really been sure of what "fundamental physics" means.

    4. The foundations of physics are those areas of physics that deal with the laws that, for all we currently know, cannot be derived from any further underlying law. No, this is not just particle physics. If I had meant particle physics, trust me I would have said particle physics.

      " are experiments, big or smal, in general designed to confirm theories or verify earlier experiments or spot differences? As an amateur I suspect the first two."

      There is no "in general" answer to this question. All of these happen.

    5. nsuntzeff,

      I think what you mean by "inconsistency" is not what I mean by "inconsistency". If you can explain an observation with an existing theory that's not an inconsistency.

  6. You suggest that physics should be trying to resolve inconsistencies. Is your prescription, specifically, that theorists should be thinking about areas of inconsistency like the quantization of gravity?

    How does "resolving inconsistencies" differ from the motivations that led to things like string theory in the first place?

    1. The motivation for string theory as a theory of quantum gravity is fine. Except that it was never shown to actually solve the problem, people have given up even trying to show that it does, and instead they have made the theory increasingly less plausible by adding one fix after another when the idea ran into conflict with observation.

  7. Sabine: Insightful as usual. I stumbled across the following article which also shines a bit of a light in the same place:

  8. build a working fusion reactor. that has the possibility of changing the economies of experimentation by an order of magnitude. first there was a wave of experiments and theories coupled with a massive war that changed everything - and since then nothing but little bits and pieces. nuclear physics opened the door to a modern world during a huge war. the next best way to open the door again is to harness fusion. investors are starting to take risks with fusion. running and upsiszing and dealing with fusion reactors would create tons of new found wealth to start experimenting again. its time for physics and associated maths to pay the price again like it did with the manhattan project.

  9. Very good article. But this is only a first step. It is necessary to suggest specific measures, which would limit variety of possibilities of the basic research to increase its effectiveness. Secondly it is necessary to suggest general ideas for development of physics. E.g. physics speaks about reality, but it doesn’t know what reality is. But it was crucial for great physical changes that time dilation or quantisation are real, not only mathematical tricks. Or there are many basic rules, which are valid for all fields, and physics knows almost nothing about them (e.g. axiom of infinity non-existence; axiom of absoluteness non-existence = everything is relative, only seeming to be absolute of our notion horizon; axiom of emergence of everything = everything is just phenomenon; chance is only hidden determinism, but chance is in every system; everything moves etc.)
    Mathematics is very useful, but must be only a tool, not the master of physics, what it is. Math is a good servant but a bad master. Maths needs completely different way of thinking. Only a few persons can combine very exact thinking with very general, philosophical one. That is why philosophy is pushed out of modern physics. So, even if philosophical ideas, which can help physics, exist, they are ignored.

    1. Thank you. I wonder why physics has this blindness of phenomenological principles. Feynman and I think Pascal already showed that Newtonian mechanics is non-deterministic because of hidden precision. Maxwell's field theory was already holographic because phenomena can only reach you by crossing a surface. Einstein showed several types of relativity. Now we have surprising dualities of AdS-CFT and black hole complementarity. We're struggling with the measurement problem which in my bumble opinion is much easier to see as a viewpoint dependent and emergent phenomenon. Why aren't these higher mathematical-philosophical principles that you mentioned not informing the field in general?

    2. Dear Jan,

      Yes, indeed; we do need to continually view issues from a more balanced perspective than the one we inherit, or to which we are currently committed.

      For instance, I find it convenient to differentiate between:

      (i) The Natural Scientist's Hat, whose wearer's responsibility is recording---as precisely and as objectively as possible---our sensory observations (corresponding to computer scientist David Gamez's `Measurement') and their associated perceptions of a `common' external world (corresponding to Gamez's `C-report'; and to what some cognitive scientists, such as Lakoff and Nunez, term as `conceptual metaphors');

      (ii) The Philosopher's Hat, whose wearer's responsibility is abstracting a coherent---albeit informal and not necessarily objective---holistic perspective of the external world from our sensory observations and their associated perceptions (corresponding to Carnap's explicandum; and to Gamez's `C-theory'); and

      (iii) The Mathematician's Hat, whose wearer's responsibility is providing the tools for adequately expressing such recordings and abstractions in a symbolic language of unambiguous communication (corresponding to Carnap's explicatum; and to Gamez's `P-description' and `C-description').

      We could view this distinction as seeking to address the questions of:

      (a) What we do in scientific disciplines;

      (b) Why we do what we do in scientific disciplines; and

      (c) How we express and communicate whatever it is that we do in scientific disciplines.

      Philosophically, we could go even further and view the above activities holistically: as providing merely the means by which an intelligence instinctively strives to realise its own creative, largely latent, potential within the evolutionary arrow of a, perpetually-changing, environment that not only gives birth to, but nurtures and encourages, a species to continually adapt to survive unforeseen, and unforeseeable, life-threatening challenges (including those that may be created by the species shooting itself in the foot).



  10. I'm afraid, you have raised an important point.
    But it sounds precariously like the problem we see in politics: how to agree on something reasonably without sufficient mutually agreed knowledge or a judge but divergent interest - even if only to win in the end.

  11. "Physicists need new methods" and (perhaps) new ways of expressing things:

    Beyond being trapped into (what seems to be an endless stream of) various frameworks and theories based on its current (and historical) mathematical languages, fundamental physics should explore more programmatical languages (those that have come into being in the current age of computing).

  12. Sabine,

    Excellent article, thanks! Your succinct one sentence of advice struck me most:

    "I have said many times that looking at the history of physics teaches us that resolving inconsistencies has been a reliable path to breakthroughs, so that's what we should focus on."

    Beautiful! Those darned dangling threads that don't quite fit into our otherwise beautiful models are, as you have just stated so eloquently, precisely the points at which science has had the richest history of uncovering the profound and unexpected insights.

    So what is needed to treat such inconsistencies as the gold they are?

    Not giving up on explaining them. Yes, they are hard, yes they are annoying, and yes perhaps they will prove trivial in the end.

    Or... just maybe, as in the case of the structural clue provided by those exactly-equal-molecular-count pairs DNA residues that were screaming "ladders!", simply analyzing persistent oddities from perspective of 'if taken seriously, what must this oddity mean?' can end up opening a whole Pandora's box of insights, and in doing so start a revolution.

    I'll make this blunter by repeating a real example I've already discussed:

    You can call it nothing more than a silly coincidence, but it is also unforgiving and resolutely true: The charges of every particle and antiparticle ever found are most simply explained by doing the unthinkable: demoting electric charge into nothing more than a special anisotropic case of color charge. More specifically, electric charge displacement becomes the vector component in the r+g+b direction of a color charge 3-space. The charge of every particle ever found then becomes a simple vector sum in this 3-space.

    If taken as a serious data point, this observation implies that attempts to unify the electric and strong forces failed for an oddly simple reason: The two forces never separated. That is, the only reason electric is labeled as a 'separate' force is because historically, folks like Gauss and Maxwell who worked at scales far larger than protons and neutrons could only see this special case of color space displacement. They would have needed instrumentation with nuclear resolution to realize that charge displacement really has three axes, not just one.

    Don't take my word on the completeness of the anisotropic rgb 3-space for describing particle charges. Look at page 19 of S.L. Glashow's 1979 article "The Future of Elementary Particle Physics". There he shows one of the two charge displacement cubes into which the charges of all fermions and antifermions fit. Glashow described this cube as a "mnemonic" for remembering the odd mix of color and electric charges uncovered in fundamental fermions.

    Thus my point is not even to bring this idea up as something new, since S.L. Glashow of all people was fully aware of this unforgivingly universal charge pattern forty years ago.

    My emphasis instead is to provide a fairly pointed example of what Sabine is talking about: Go back and pull hard on the dangling threads! That is, look for the anomalies and inconsistencies that may be brain-dead simple, but also just refuse to go away. Just like those residue pairs in DNA, such patterns are practically yelling to be treated as more than just 'mnemonics'.

    How can I as an adamant non-physicist presume to make such strong assertions? Very simple: My entire working life has revolved around working with information and patterns, and I know an overlooked clue when I see one… especially one that is so simple that I don't need to know much more than chiral quaternion vector spaces to understand at least some of its implications.

    1. Very speculative!

      A more obvious question concerning anti-particles is: why do matter and antimatter annihilate. In the current SM the answer is - that's just what they do!

      This is not satisfactory.

    2. Terry,

      As you know, I agree with you with regard to electric charge IMO being entirely derivable from colour charge.
      My amateur lego-like preon model has only four preons and can make all the Standard Model particles in all generations, including the higgs. And this model has electric charge entirely dependent on colour charge.


      Although I see the electric v colour charge relationship as an important issue, it is IMO less important to the issue of unblocking 'tangled threads' than what happens when matter and antimatter annihilate.

      In my preon model, collections of preons dis-aggregate and then re-aggreggate at interactions. Every preon coming into an interaction is subsequently tracked out of the interaction. All interactions balance preons in and out. No preon is annihilated, even at matter-antimatter interactions. This is very much like a simple chemical reaction where atoms are counted in and then out.
      The biggest issue IMO is continuous emission of photons from accelerated electrons. In my preon model the photons are made from preons and I balance these emission in terms of preons in and out and again, no preon is created or destroyed at the emission of a photon.

      Austin Fearnley

    3. @Terry, @ben6993: Would you please sketch at least some of the experiments which could test these ideas? Highlighting those which should be feasible given today's technology (and which would not cost ~$40billion!).

    4. Dear Terry,

      Well said. So what does discourage us from pulling on those 'darned dangling threads'? Could it be a psychological need to convert information into facts even in the absence of evidence?

      From a psychological perspective, I would argue that, both qualitatively and quantitatively, any piece of information (i.e., the perceived content of a well-defined declarative sentence) that we treat as a `fact' is necessarily associated with a suitably well-defined truth assignment which must fall into one or more of the following three categories:

      (1) Information that we zealotly believe to be `true' in an, absolute, Platonic sense, and have in common with others holding similar beliefs zealotly;

      (2) Information that we prophetically hold to be `true'---short of Platonic belief---since it can be treated as self-evident, and have in common with others who also hold it as similarly self-evident;

      (3) Information that we scientifically agree to define as `true' on the basis of an evidence-based convention, and have in common with others who accept the same convention for assigning truth values to such assertions.

      Clearly the three categories of information have associated truth assignments with increasing degrees of objective (i.e., evidence-based) accountability that must, in turn, influence the perspective---and understanding (in a cognitive sense)---of whoever is exposed to a particular category at a particular moment of time.

      In mathematics, for instance, self-confessed Platonists who hold even axioms which are not immediately self-evident as `true' in some absolute sense---such as Kurt Goedel and set-theorist Saharon Shelah---might be categorised as accepting all three of (1), (2) and (3) as definitive; those who hold axioms as reasonable hypotheses only if self-evident---such as David Hilbert---as holding only (2) and (3) as definitive; and those who hold axioms as necessarily evidence-based propositions---such as L. E. J. Brouwer and Ludwig Wittgenstein---as accepting only (3) as definitive.

      In the first case, it is obvious that contradictions between two intelligences, that arise solely on the basis of conflicting beliefs---such as, for instance, the classical debate between `creationists' and `evolutionists' or, currently, that between proponents of the theory of `alternative facts' and those of `scientific facts'---cannot yield any productive insight on the nature of the contradiction.

      Although not obvious, it is the second case (2)---of contradictions between two intelligences that arise on the basis of conflicting `reasonability'---which yields the most productive insight on the nature of the contradiction.

      Such conflicts compel us to address the element of implicit subjectivity in the individual conceptual metaphors underlying the contradictory perspectives that, then, motivates us to seek (3) above for an appropriate resolution of the corresponding contradiction, as in the case of:

      (i) The evidence-based argument that Hilbert's and Brouwer's interpretations of quantification are not only both belief-based, but complementary and not contradictory; and

      (ii) The dissolving of the Hilbert-Poincare debate by demonstrating that PA has a weak, evidence-based, interpretation that justifies Poincare's belief; and a strongl, finitary, interpretation that justifies Hilbert's belief;

      (iii) The dissolving of the Bohr-Einstein debate by the argument that any, evidence-based, mathematical representation of a law of nature is necessarily expressed in terms of functions that are algorithmically verifiable---hence deterministic---but that such functions need not be algorithmically computable---and therefore predictable.

      The third case (3) is thus the holy grail of communication---one that admits unambiguous and effective communication without contradiction but, significantly, is attained only by recognising, and pulling, those 'darned dangling threads' in (2).



    5. Bhup, thank you for your thoughtful and well-argued analysis. One of the great pleasures of Sabine's group is the way it encourages interactions between a broad variety of perspectives and backgrounds.

    6. (Um… I'm not doing very well at getting a quick start on my vacation, am I?… :)

      Sorry, here are a couple of brief replies to thoughtful comments I overlooked:

      Greg Feild, in another subthread you said: "There are no physicists here!"

      That got a good chuckle! But hmm… we do have a moderator named Sabine… :)

      JeanTate, Austin (aka ben6993),

      I can't speak for Austin's ideas of course, but I would note again that while the anisotropic rgb model captures all known particle charge combinations, it is flatly not a mathematically complete particle theory, and thus cannot be used to make predictions. Two things missing are: (1) a mathematically precise characterization of the anisotropy; and (2) a mathematically precise characterization of the closely linked and complementary 3-space needed to prevent neutrino degeneracy in the charge model.

      The second issue is fascinating, since it implies a fundamental weak isospin symmetry between electrons and neutrinos, despite their marked chirality differences. It also leads in representations of all fermions as three-antinode open strings in a 'bent' 6-space.

      However, it is the first issue, the lack of mathematical characterization of the anisotropy, that makes the rgb anisotropy non-predictive in its current form.

      The rgb anisotropy would need to be fully characterized by a saturation angle (might as well keep the optical analogy going) that goes from: colorless at 0°, giving the colorless gluon infinite range, and giving them properties identical to photons; to pure colors (all three axes) at about 54.7°, giving gluons whose range is confined to circa 1 fm.

      Almost certainly, a complete mathematical model would make gluons look a lot more like photons, giving them linear polarization, circular polarization, and (I think most interesting) a "color magnetism" component that becomes identical to the photon magnetic displacement at 0°. Such a mathematical quantization would at the very least lead to new ways to reinterpret existing data. For example, I think a mathematically quantified asymmetric rgb model would be quite likely to provide a simple resolution to the proton spin "crisis".

      The reason you cannot jump directly to "gluons are like a photons" predictions is that the anisotropic transformation would almost certainly involve some of those same photon properties. That is, a red gluon would most likely not have the same spin polarization options available to it as a green or blue gluon. I say that mostly because the spins of color-charged fermions appear to be constrained within nucleons, becoming what is better known as weak isospin. At the same time and quite intriguingly, the sign of nucleon-internal spin, or isospin, becomes identical to the electric charge sign. This is what forces the delta minus and delta++ baryon ground states into 3/2 spin, since if any of their quarks 'flipped' to reduce spin it would also create a non-integer electric charge sum. Or, stated another way: The reason why the first ugly version of isospin from the early days of particle physics looked a lot like ordinary spin is because it was ordinary spin, just confined and forcibly linked to electric charge by the anisotropy of rgb space.

  13. OMG what was in those roses? :)


  14. OH I have so much to say about this.

    Maybe the current generations are just poorly educated? Or maybe there are only 4 generations of physicists, and we're over the limit.


    1. Poorly educated == indoctrinated

    2. No, I mean exactly what I said, poorly educated. For example, I'm pretty sure people are getting a bad education in relativity just about everywhere. No one seems to know much about the old core curriculum, e.g. continuum mechanics. Sommerfeld and Landau offered complete courses in physics in wonderful multi-volume sets. I have Sommerfeld, Pauli, and Landau-Lifshitz complete. I just don't see this level of erudition and "physical competence" these days. I remember getting my first disquieting sense of things not being OK during the mid-1970s. It was a sense that a shift to a more bourgeois era in fundamental physics had occurred. I remember in particular that Sky and Telescope began to publish speculations as articles. That bothered me for reasons I didn't understand then. I was too young to have opinions, but that didn't stop me :)


  15. What if all of what happens is totally depends on ideological framework an existing paths of thinking? All the structure is built to get "profit" and unfortunately, poor physics is not an exception. There should be liberated minds to mix all relevant disciplines and feel the freedom of "thinking" and "doing" afterwards. Only highly organized society can dedicate more resources to find ways to advance in what we could see with our weaken capitalist eyes. In a society which spending high amount of money is possible for humanity not for a profit. I think this is the major bottleneck for today's physics. All of the rest can be surmountable.

  16. I believe Einstein said it would take someone very creative to figure out this puzzle, not by intelligence or hard work.

  17. Perhaps AI could help? If we could train an AI in physics fundamentals and get it to come up with some interesting ideas to be reviewed that might offer a new way to view the current state of affairs.

    1. There is an active area of using deep neural networks in particle physics and cosmology (like CosmoFlow).

    2. Maybe start with something that costs almost nothing but is almost certain to produce surprising results ... the Zwicky Box.

  18. Bravo. "Such self-reflection would require knowledge of the philosophy and sociology of science, and those are subjects physicists merely make dismissive jokes about". "I have said many times that looking at the history of physics teaches us that resolving inconsistencies has been a reliable path to breakthroughs, so that’s what we should focus on." I'm entirely convinced that the next breakthroughs theoretically will come from a very solid knowledge of history of science. With respect to quantization of gravity, the breakthroughs will likely come with a combination of small scale experimentation (not giant colliders, as Sabine has convincingly argued) *and* a very solid knowledge of 19th and 20th century foundational work and attention to its classical papers. One thinks of the grasp of knowledge that Einstein had of classical physics and his philosophical mindset, which enabled him to make momentous moves forward. Again with respect to quantum theory and efforts to quantize it, a really deep knowledge of parallels between quantum theory and classical physics, and where they differ, will be important. Regarding empirical work, we probably just don't know enough observationally and empirically to make the next big advance. But it is only people with a deep knowledge of the history of their discipline who will be able to exploit that empirical knowledge. (Take the example of how empirical work ushered in 19th century thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, or how without Faraday there would not been Maxell.) It's important to study philosophy, which obviously becomes more important (as has been pointed out) when there is crisis in physics.
    Here are some library guides about these issues. See:
    History of Science in Learning and Teaching Science:

    1. Berzelius was a name in chemistry. He said that organic compounds cannot be synthesized in the laboratory. This is a case of a learned bias that was instilled in the psyche of the chemists of his day and that which influenced where they looked. If you don't look or if you refuse to look then you can't see. If you can't see, you can't discover. To refuse to look, is to ignore; and the act of ignoring is ignorance. You ignore based on a learned bias; you don't look in learnedly sanctified forbidden places. A learned bias influences observation, which is no observation at all. If Wohler had given in to the learned bias that organic compounds cannot be synthesized in the laboratory, then he couldn't have synthesized urea. Other learned biases are hypothetical ether and Newtonian absolutes. They were a great impediment to the discovery that the velocity of light is independent of the observer or the importance of the observer and his influence on observation.

    2. . . . A learned bias is what makes the observer. The observer influences observation, dictates the approach, and the steers the logic and the reasoning.

    3. . . . with the observer in the driving seat, right from the beginning you might have taken the wrong turn.

    4. correction: with the observer in the driving seat, right [at] the beginning, you might have taken [a] wrong turn.

  19. I suspect the problem is sociological. First, most involved are academics, and to get advancement, or maybe even keep tenure, they have to publish. To go right back to the beginning and question where to start, and worse still, come up with an alternative and make it work, requires a lot of time. Career stagnates, and once that happens, if funding gets reduced, guess who is due for the chop? Much better to stick with the tried and true and generate stuff, after all it is not as if you are the only one doing that. Alternatively, you can be none of the very few not doing it, and, sorry, your career is marked as "eccentric". (As an aside, I am one of the very few who was labelled by my government employer as an eccentric in a survey in "Nature". It does not help the career.)

    The next point is that the peer review system is not designed to support radical change. As an example, planetary accretion is regarded as a problem for physics because astronomers etc work on the topic, and while it has spread, it is mainly physicists who participate, and a particularly fruitful area is computer simulation of the accretion of large objects by gravity. There is a real industry here with many papers produced that effectively say, "if it started here, and if we assume these parameters (some of which are plain loopy; the viscosity f hydrogen is well known but bears little relationship to what is used in such publications) one gets a wide range of possibilities, which means lots of papers. However, nobody as the foggiest idea how to get to their starting position. My view was the start was chemical (which is why our planets all have their own characteristic composition that differs from the others) but when I tried to publish, I was told that the referees had stated that it would be rejected unless I did computer simulations. The fact that I had equations that produced agreement with observation was irrelevant - no computer simulations. In other words, if you wish t enter this field, get into line. I suspect that attitude is wider than you might think.

    1. Ian Miller wrote:
      >First, most involved are academics, and to get advancement, or maybe even keep tenure, they have to publish. To go right back to the beginning and question where to start, and worse still, come up with an alternative and make it work, requires a lot of time. Career stagnates, and once that happens, if funding gets reduced, guess who is due for the chop? Much better to stick with the tried and true and generate stuff, after all it is not as if you are the only one doing that.

      That's pretty much it. People respond to incentive structures, and those who don't get kicked out of the field.

      While I agree with Sabine that looking into "inconsistencies" is one of the most fruitful approaches (hey -- it worked for Planck and Einstein!), I know from personal observation that anyone who tries this will be told "If you really understood this stuff, you would realize there is no inconsistency at all -- you're just too stupid to get it!"

      And the problem is that often this is true -- there really is no inconsistency in special relativity, for example, although any thoughtful student starting to study the subject sees a lot of apparent inconsistencies.

      Having been involved in and an observer of both academic physics and engineering in industry, I can say that there is a pseudo-macho culture of oneupmanship in academic physics that is really destructive of progress: I'm so much smarter than you that I do not need to explain my brilliant idea in clear English. That kind of attitude would just kill any engineering firm out in the real world.

      This does not by the way mean that engineers are tolerant and tender towards other engineers' ideas! Quite the contrary. If you make a mistake in engineering you want your peers to shoot it down as soon as possible (before the company puts big bucks into it).

      But there is less of an attitude in engineering that my own brilliant but ineffable idea is clearly right even though I cannot explain it to the lesser breeds: that attitude would produce circuits that do not work and bridges that fall down.

    2. Dave,

      Well, yes, figuring out what really is and isn't an inconsistency is part of the task. That in and by itself would already be helpful.

    3. PS:

      I am not sure if it's really the case that many of them do not want to explain their ideas in "clear English". I have come to the impression that for the most part they cannot. I say this as someone who has interviewed quite a number of physicists about their research. It's not that they don't want to explain what they are doing. They can't.

      That wouldn't be a problem per se, if at least they could write down a mathematically clean formulation so that someone else could "translate" that into plain English (to the extent possible). But most physicists don't pay attention to a clean mathematical formulation either. Starts with the problem that pretty much no one ever writes down assumptions. (There are exceptions to this. Eg, fwiw, in quantum foundations folks like to derive theorems and do state their assumptions for this very carefully.)

      This lack of careful math is basically where the idea comes from that supersymmetry solves some problem. It has never been cleanly formulated just what the supposed problem is. Instead you get this community narrative that keeps people thinking there must be something to it. And such a shared belief is basically impossible to correct once you have sufficiently many people on it.

    4. Sabine wrote to me:
      >I am not sure if it's really the case that many of them do not want to explain their ideas in "clear English". I have come to the impression that for the most part they cannot.


      We should add that most of these people are not bad people, and, of course, most of them are very bright. But even bright, well-intentioned people respond to incentives, and when those incentives are misaligned, the results are unproductive.

    5. Supersymmetry was advanced as a way of circumventing the Coleman-Mandula obstruction to unification of Yang-Mills gauge fields with gravitation. It did so by demonstrating how a transformation of quantum statistics, Bose-Einstein vs Fermi-Dirac, gives Poincare symmetry. This is in line with recent ideas on how quantum principles, in particular entanglement, build spacetime. SUSY might then fit into some more general framework with the equvalency or duality between quantum mechanics and general relativity.

    6. Thinking clearly and explaining in words is a tightrope. Pop-sci analogies like "the universe is a balloon" don't help. Platonic word-salad that sounds good also doesn't count. But in between there's a clear scientific concept you can explain simply: Space expands so that every volume of space creates more space. You could say "cosmological constant" or "dark energy" to tell non-physicists to get off the bus, or you could just explain clearly. And then a lay person could ask "do you mean everywhere or only in empty regions away from matter?". Then you have fruitful communication and deeper understanding.

      Most concepts, even the hard ones, are possible to explain if someone who really grasps the formalism takes the time to express what the math says. Thermodynamics is complicated but not hard to grasp what it says. Special relativity is hard to get in the math but easy once you see an animation of the Lorentz transform. Feynman described some totally weird and hard to calculate phenomena, but with lucid explanation and his diagrams the principle is easy to grasp. Carroll I think comes close, although I'm still waiting for as good an explanation of decoherence. Maybe there's something hidden in that desk ;)

      Professional physicists may think this explaining is a waste of time, but really as a group do you understand the subtleties of Rovelli's LQG vs Superstring? How about Arkani-Hamad's spin-helicity variables? He makes a mathy argument why certain spin combinations result in certain interactions, but I can't help thinking if he explained how spacetime is supposed to emerge from that there would be more progress. Explaining is not just time consuming outreach (although I'm grateful) it also forces you to distil the concept you're working with.

    7. Pavlos wrote (I think to me):
      >Thinking clearly and explaining in words is a tightrope. Pop-sci analogies like "the universe is a balloon" don't help. Platonic word-salad that sounds good also doesn't count.

      Yeah, I should have been more explicit: I meant not just simple English that could have been understood by a medieval peasant but rather scientific English, which will often include some math, but that is as simple as possible.

      The key thing here is really that we physicists need to think things through ourselves as carefully as possible, looking at specific examples, apparent paradoxes, etc.

      For example, most of the apparent paradoxes in special relativity hinge on failing to understand the "relativity of simultaneity." But to "get it," it is not enough to be able to write a thousand-word essay on the relativity of simultaneity. You actually need to be able to see how and why that dissolves the apparent paradoxes.

      Pavel also mentioned:
      >Professional physicists may think this explaining is a waste of time, but really as a group do you understand the subtleties of Rovelli's LQG vs Superstring? How about Arkani-Hamad's spin-helicity variables?

      Or even simpler: what is the Hilbert space in bosonic string theory? What is the time evolution operator on this Hilbert space? How about string theory vs. string field theory? Now redo for superstrings vs. bosonic strings. And why do light-cone quantization, Gupta-Bleuler, etc. magically give the same answers?

      Perhaps Lubos or Susskind or John Schwarz intuitively grasps the answers to all those questions. Maybe the answers are obvious -- to them. If so, I would certainly appreciate it if they would write it all up so that the answers can become intuitively obvious to me! (To anyone who suggests that I merely need to read Polchinski or GSW, I have all four of those volumes as well as other stringy books: no, they do not make the answers intuitively obvious. They teach you to calculate.)

      Pavel also wrote:
      >Explaining is not just time consuming outreach (although I'm grateful) it also forces you to distil the concept you're working with.

      Agreed: Feynman told our QM class that he taught undergrads because it forced him to clarify things in his own mind.

      I think you, Sabine, and I are on the same page.

    8. PhysicistDate wrote:

      “what is the Hilbert space in bosonic string theory?”

      Bosonic string theory can be written as an infinite tower of fields and each field has a Fock space associated with it.

      “What is the time evolution operator on this Hilbert space?”

      I don’t think it is a good question. In string theory as in QFT the basic observables are scattering amplitudes. The Hilbert space, by itself is not physically meaningful.

      “How about string theory vs. string field theory?”

      String theory’s formulation is perturbative. In the bosonic case, string theory has a tachyonic instability making the perturbative formulation useless. String field theory is the non-pertubative formulation.

      “Now redo for superstrings vs. bosonic strings.”

      Superstrings add world-sheet supersymmetry to get rid of the bosonic tachyon.

      “And why do light-cone quantization, Gupta-Bleuler, etc. magically give the same answers?”

      I’m not familiar with GB. Light-cone is just a a gauge choice, so it must give the same answer as other gauges.

      These are just one-line answers giving the general idea. Clearly, there are lots of important subtleties that I didn’t go into.

    9. Sabine,

      “It's not that they don't want to explain what they are doing. They can't.”
      Also, the basic aspect of communication is that it always takes two parties, therefore also “rhetorical means” come in handy to convey your point: These here and here are two highlights for me – great!
      While I am at it: Cute cat kets.

  20. What a good article Sabine. I agree with what you say about physics and physicists these day. Your emphasis seems to be on better methods and this is indeed important. But, I feel that before putting any method to an idea, one first has to develop better ideas. Who was it said "Imagination is more important than knowledge"? What we need first are better hypotheses, ones based on logic, common sense, and proven science. Then we can apply our "better" methodology. Did you read my book yet Sabine? I took the trouble to send you a free copy at some expense. Maybe this is one hypothesis that demands investigation and better methodology? "The Binary Universe" - A Theory of Time.

    1. Have you put what you consider to be the best of the better ideas you have come across up on the internet somewhere, where anyone who is interested could read them?

  21. Well put, right on. Proton decay, or lack thereof, is one of the open problems with SM physics I'm personally familiar with. I say, "Physicist, know thyself!' Many of us struggle to recognize our place in the system we seek to explain. We are all physical systems!

    1. PhysiSyst,

      No, proton decay or lack thereof is not an "open problem with the SM". Protons are stable in the SM and there is absolutely nothing problematic about that. You are demonstrating exactly the problem that I am talking about. Please read this for further details.

    2. Protons are not stable in the standard model. They are stable to perturbative processes, and to some non-perturbative ones in the usual lattice QCD formalism (added to perturbative electroweak interactions) but are NOT stable to processes which are the quantized version of tunneling through what amounts to classical passage through high barriers in the standard model Lagrangean. This process is vastly slower than proton decay in the "usual" higher broken symmetry SUSY GUT models (i.e. much greater than 10^38 years). If I recall correctly the smallest thing that can actually decay that way is a full helium three atom (not ion). The probability is that no occurrence has happened, not even one, since the neutrino cooling after the big bang. At very early times (high densities and energies) it and its inverse is perfectly well allowed.

    3. I wanted to reply to "Please read this for further details". But alas, a missing feature. So, Sabine, here is my reply to a few of those highlighted points.

      Dark Energy

      "the Planck mass is not a good problem because there is nothing wrong with just choosing it to be a certain constant. "
      Yes, assuming that one actually understands what the word "mass" refers to. I.e., assuming that Newton or Einstein were right is one approach, but maybe there are other approaches. And if the current assumptions of mass are wrong, most of physics will need corrections. Some minor, some not so minor.

      And you might have noticed that this is one of those kinds of considerations that makes many physicists roll their eyes. But for me, that something can exist and have a property like "mass" is interesting to me.

      The Hierarchy Problem
      "There is nothing contradictory about this, hence not a good problem."
      That physicists think there is a hierarchy problem might be one of those killable assumptions. I.e., a deeper understanding of mass, energy and interaction might prevent one from ever even considering any kind of hierarchy.
      And that makes this a good problem not to solve but as a title for a paper "Why the Hierarchy Problem is Stupid" ( I couldn't resist :)

      Grand Unification
      "nothing wrong with the three different forces. "
      I completely disagree with this. You are assuming that "there is nothing wrong with three different forces." And this goes back to how something can exist and have an additional property like "force".

      Black Hole Information Loss

      "So while it’s a good problem, I don’t consider it a promising research direction."
      Probably won't lead to anything you might patent. But could test your understanding of the physics of gravity at the quantum level.

      Particle Masses
      "but there is nothing wrong with these masses just being what they are. Thus, not a good problem."
      In your opinion. Me? I think this is a great problem. In my opinion I would say don't do what you are complaining about.

      The Monopole Problem
      "It is quite plausibly solved by them not existing. Also not a good problem."
      Well, for them to not exist when they are required by the model says to me that the model is wrong. To solve the problem means, to me, a new theory is required. I.e., the solution isn't just a refinement. I would say this is a great problem.


      N. Bohr: "You'll never understand it... " ... "shut up and calculate" ... blah blah blah
      Henry Ford: "Believe you can, believe you can't either way you're right."

      Choose one.

    4. dtv,

      Yes, I apologize for the inaccuracy, but it's an irrelevant detail for my reply.

    5. For Example wrote:
      > And this goes back to how something can exist and have an additional property like "force".

      Hmmm... What about the deep problem of how something can exist and also have the property of bigness?

      With all due respect, most people (and I would guess most physicists) suppose that for the universe to exist at all, it has to be some particular sort of universe, and similarly for the individual things that make up the universe.

      Indeed, what would be hard to grasp is something that exists but that has no properties at all. Indeed, Leibniz, as I understand him, thought that was impossible. (But, hey, what did Leibniz ever do for the progress of human knowledge?)

  22. "But for all I can tell at this moment in history I am the only physicist who has at least come up with an idea for what to do."

    What is this idea? Is there a reference?

    1. It's at the end of it's paragraph.

    2. The rest of the paragraph that comes before the sentence. Have you considered switching on your brain before commenting?

  23. Our success has painted us into a corner. We may have to let everything we know go and start over from first principles.

  24. Well, well,,even ants can make it better nowadays..

  25. The practical problem is that to examine physics on ever smaller scales the wavelength of a probe must become very small and the momentum p = h/λ is then very large. The energy with v = λν ≈ c then also becomes large. So this leads to the odd situation where to explore physics on ever smaller scales the apparatus must become far larger. Practical limits are are being reached long before physics limits of the “Planck wall.”

    Of course we can let nature do the heavy lifting. The coalescence of two black holes may transmit BMS symmetries that encode information about quantum gravitation. Measurements of the electron electric dipole moment may provide a test of superstring theory. Cosmic ray detection may over time take up the pursuit of trans-electroweak physics.

    Much of modern physics is based on the ideas of Einstein, Weyl, Yang and Mills and we might give a bit of note to Gustav Mie as well, who prior wrote some ideas along these lines. This is the idea that on every point of a manifold there is a vector space that define tangent flows for gauge connections. In general relativity these flows are determined by the tangent on the manifold itself. This is how modern gauge theory is formulated, and these internal vector spaces have some group structure. As a result the main trajectory of theoretical physics has been to unify field theories according to group embeddings and the Cartan decomposition of larger groups. It might just be that this is not what is important.

    If we are interested in looking for simplicity of some kind it might then be questioned why we are looking at ever more complex mathematical groups and algebras. These things may still play a role, but maybe the heart of the matter is in lower dimensional spaces.

    There is progress in theoretical physics, it just is not largely in high energy physics. The work on quantum critical points, edge states, symmetry protected topological orders and others in condensed matter physics has been quite spectacular. These are being followed up by experimental work. The field of cosmology is pretty active these days as well.

    1. “It might just be that this is not what is important” – agreed, but it definitely was important.
      Yang and Mills were motivated by Cartan (here) and SR and QM themselves are central extensions of the Galilean algebra (here).
      Instead of seeking unification in ever bigger groups like SU(5) and E8+++ we might need to “Go back and pull hard on the dangling threads!”
      We should e.g. ask what Wigner's ‘little group’ is trying to tell us with "the gauge transformation is contained in the Lorentz transformations!"

    2. Lawrence, you said:

      "... maybe the heart of the matter is in lower dimensional spaces ... There is progress in theoretical physics, it just is not largely in high energy physics ..."

      Excellent points. Expanding dimensionality too often is the cheap way out, the combinatorial explosion path along which all things can be found, but only at the benumbing price of discarding uniqueness. Also, the degree of innovation in recent years in solid state, both in theory and in practice, has been a joy to watch. (And since I'm a heretic who feels that a powerful case can be made that space is created by matter, I would further speculate that at least some of this work may be profound in ways and to depths we do not yet understand.)

      Reimond, yes! Wigner is one of several amazing early folks whose thoughts really need to be re-examined more closely.

    3. An interesting question!
      Something to look into, for sure.

      What are the consequences of excluding mass from electrodynamics ...

    4. I think with quantum gravitation what is important is the stretched horizon. This is a surface comprised of quantum states that are about a Planck length above the mathematically idealized event horizon. The spatial coordinates on the stretched horizon are then q = (θ, φ). This means the quantum states there have some interesting properties. Think of a state as determined by each coordinate point on the stretched horizon as a coherent state with

      ψ(x;q, p) = (x|q, p) = e^{-ipq/2 + ipx - (x - q)^2/2}}

      for x the Gaussian center of the q coordinate. The overlap of this state is then

      (q', p'\q, p) = e^{i(qp - q'p')/2} e^{(q - q')^2 + (p - p')^2}

      where the first term is the value of a symplectic form and the second is a Riemannian distance. So we could see the states on a stretched horizon as in a coherent condensate, which is a form of entanglement. These quantum states are in effect are nonabelian anyonic states. The nonabelian group is SU(1,1), which is a reduced Lorentz group.

      This horizon in 2 spatial dimensions has a time coordinate as well, since it is not on the actual horizon itself where proper time is zero. It is not hard to see that time dilation between the stretched horizon and I^∞ is T ≈ g^{-1}exp(gt) for g ≈ 10^{53}m/s^2, or in natural units 10^{45}s^{-1}, the Planck acceleration. So a Planck unit of time on the stretched horizon is ΔT ≈ 10^3T_p seen outside. For much larger time intervals however this is impossibly long. For t = 10T_p this is 10^{-45}s exp(100) or about 10^{-2} sec. For 1000T_p it is “infinity.” So the stretched horizon for the duration of most black holes only has a few Planck units of time! It is extremely unstable, but time dilation means we observe the decay over an extremely long time period.

      These fields on the stretched horizon, which for this tiny unit of time it exists, is a sort of transmission line. What it communicates is the holographic projection into the bulk. This is then where things do get interesting. There is Bott periodicity and Hopf fibration. The Bott periodicity is a cyclic group structure starting from dim = 3 to 10, similar to Baez et al proposed last decade. The Hopf fibration then leads to high information content groups such as E8.

    5. As usual, a lot of what you write is spot on, Lawrence Crowell. I myself was going to write something about advances in theoretical physics outside particle physics, but you put it much better than I could.

      Also, the universe has particle accelerators that make the LHC look like a child's toy; maybe if $40 billion were spent on observing them in far greater detail we may get some hints? Or in-your-face inconsistencies?

    6. In part there needs to be advances in new ways to accelerate particles. The plasma wave approach might be a way. Those cylinders one sees in the LHC tunnel are radio frequency cavities with quadupole magnets to steer the beam. If we could get those reduced in size or the electric field energy density ½E^2 is increased by an order of magnitude, then reaching 100TeV or beyond starts to make some sense.

      If there is physics beyond the standard model it might be lurking in the trans-EW threshold of energy. So writing off experiments in this energy region is problematic. On the other hand we have to question how much can the world science budget bear the cost of the FCC as it currently is estimated to stand.

      The universe does have these "accelerators" and some cosmic ray surges are identified with high energy astrophysical events such as supernovae and burstars. The statistics is lousy though. You have no control over the energy of particles that collide. Also since this is a fixed target process the scattering is directed in a narrow cone, which makes it harder to measure particle energy and so forth. However, cosmic rays may be one thing we have to learn to work with more effectively.

    7. @ Terry Bollinger: String theory has the cart before the horse. It is best if we could get the fundamental physics on lower dimensional spaces, such as the 2 space + time on a stretched horizon of a black hole. From there we can expand out.

      I though have a great respect for the bosonic string. The mathematics hits on Jacobi theta functions and Klein functions and other things. It also embeds the Leech lattice of 24 dimensions. The bosonic string then has 26 Lorentian dimensions, and it looks as if the two dimensions are dual to the other 24. In a Jacobi J^3(O) in 27 dimensions the diagonal 3 entries are a 2-space plus time. So it seems we can have some potential duality between huge higher dimensional groups and low dimensional states.

    8. This is one area where there is room for improvement in the differing languages of physicists and mathematicians. It took me a while to understand that what physicists called the gauge group was called the structure group by mathematicians, and what mathematicians called the gauge group was not even named by physicists! And don't get me started about fundamental or defining representations ...

    9. @LC "I think with quantum gravitation what is important is the stretched horizon. This is a surface comprised of quantum states that are about a Planck length above the mathematically idealized event horizon."

      When I see something like this, I just feel that people are hopelessly trapped by the quantum gravity problem. There are plenty of problems with GR as it stands - why should anyone believe that it provides a good guide to quantizing gravity? There is really no evidence as such that gravity even needs quantizing - even if it were much, much stronger. If you have a system with a definite Hamiltonian then quantization is a no-brainer. If not, forget it. Go find one. There is no quantization without a Hamiltonian. Unless that is, you intend to build spacetime and matter from spinors, new statistics, topological objects etc. And why then would you make reference to the old models built on the naive continuum and quantization rules?

      GR is background-free. Unless you can find a background-free idea that allows the Yang-Mills potential, forget it, no unification. You could start with Weyl's old idea and hope to exhibit the YM potential in two guises, one involving quantum fields and the other involving Weyl geometry. Then figure out how the two are really related. The fiber-bundle tangent-space approach seems not to work.


    10. I believe you mean background-independent, not background free

    11. @drl: I presume that what you are objecting to is the quantization of gravity or general relativity. I will agree this has a checkered history, and as yet nobody has found a renormalizable perturbative quantum gravity that even converges to weak linear quantum gravity that is almost identical to QED. String theory does give a graviton that is an excitation of a string on a flat background.

      I think more fundamentally what is likely to emerge is where spacetime is a form of condensate or large N entanglement of quantum states. In effect quantum mechanics and general relativity are dual systems or equivalent.

      There has to be some relationship between the two if we think nature has some wholeness to it. Of course Doug Adams had in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy the Deep Thought computer warn that while it had the answer they would not like it. It could turn out the universe is just a fluke of chaotic and coincidental junk. We can't prove that it is not that.

    12. Lawrence, yes, string theory generates all kinds of enticing incidents and accidents, hints and allegations. Simon says this will always be so, and thus it has proven out.

      It's also why string theory can be such a delight to explore and navigate. It's like an endless sea — pretty much literally — in which the siren call of reflected reality lies anew just around every corner, luring sojourners a bit further in, building hopes that someday they will find that jewel whose beauty the siren so sweetly describes.

      Such reflections can be found elsewhere in math. For example, in the Mandelbrot set you find mu-molecules, which are almost-dupicates of the top-level Mandelbrot set. These marvelous reflections pop up unexpectedly and ad infinitum as you descend still deeper into Mandelbrot complexity.

      And therein is the rub.

      The deeper explanation for the Mandelbrot set can never be found in the mu-molecules, however lovely and enticing and varied they may be. Mu-molecules are a kind of mathematical inevitability for any journey of open-ended combinatorial expansion that begins with a small but rich set of founding axioms. It cannot be otherwise. The founding axioms are the walls of the box, the finite shadows that keep reappearing in almost infinite variety. Whether the expansion is a bosonic string, a Mandelbrot mu-molecule, or patterns from other examples of rich and open-ended combinatorial explosions, reflections of the original box must reappear. Within the depths of the expansion they may, however, become as richly decorated, lovely, and cryptic as illustrated versions of ancient holy scripts.

      One could argue — I would argue — that the very existence of entities such as myself and those who are reading these words is one example of such illustrated reflections. We can talk and interact precisely because we are mutually similar mu-molecules within the vast combinatorial expansion that we call our universe. As mu-molecules of this universe we are enough alike to comprehend and share each other's differences, and by doing so further enrich that complexity with subtle quantities we call pain and sorrow, joy and love. And remarkably, the history of science practically shouts at us that this complexity emerges from rules not much more complex (and perhaps even less so) than the rules that create the Mandelbrot set. We call the rules behind our universe physics.

      And therein lies my final point: While we can and should treasure the many forms of complexity, the joys not just of physics and math but also of cherry sundaes and friends and close family, and even of the clarifying and terrifying angst of our finite existence, we must always guard against confusing complexity with the rules that gave rise to it. We need to follow the Spekkens Principle of always seeking the deeper causes of the diversity, whether it is in the math of string theory or the diverse interpretations of quantum mechanics. It has not been a quick or easy journey, yet I strongly suspect that when someday we do uncover the core rules, they will turn out to have a searing simplicity that takes us aback and makes us say in astonishment "That's all it was?"


      A final note: This may be my last comment in Backreaction for a few weeks, perhaps longer. I'm taking a break and getting back to my own work, which (no surprise) is just that of a poor, foolish computer scientist searching for a bit of simplicity in physics. Decades ago I selected as my driving physics research goal the problem of why spin ½ exists, and how it gives rise to fermion exclusivity. I chose that goal specifically because Feynman worked on it for a lifetime, and failed. Thus I was able to know my fate in advance: I too will fail. Relieved of the guilt of failure by its very inevitability, I thus have been freed (mostly) to focus only on the delights of the journey… and that's all I ever really wanted.

    13. Terry wrote:
      >Decades ago I selected as my driving physics research goal the problem of why spin ½ exists, and how it gives rise to fermion exclusivity. I chose that goal specifically because Feynman worked on it for a lifetime, and failed.

      Well... the same question has haunted me for more than four decades, indeed since about the time I took QM from Feynman (along with related questions such as why it is so hard to put fermions on a lattice). My wife has heard about "the fermion problem" more than she might have liked!

      Feynman, by the way, had a love-hate relationship with the problem: he loved the "Filipino plate trick" that shows how SO(3) is doubly connected, and, of course, he knew that there is a rigorous proof that fermions have to obey the exclusion principle (see the famous Streater-Wightman book). And the math of spinors is not much harder than vector algebra.

      And yet... Feynman (and I) continued to think there must be some way to explain this clearly at an elementary level. I mean why did the universe have to get itself entangled with the covering group of SO(3) at all?

      Possibly a question without any real answer, but maybe thinking about it sometimes gives new insights: indeed, I have come up with some alternative ways of placing fermions on a lattice, though not in a way that really cures my mental itch on the subject.

    14. “... why did the universe have to get itself entangled with the covering group of SO(3) at all?”
      You need tetrads, local frames, the “square root” of the metric, i.e. -g=e² (see here) for Fermions to propagate in a static (no backreaction) curved spacetime. For Bosons the metric g suffices. You need both Fermions and Bosons to get entanglement (anti-/symmetrizing). IF spacetime is not quantized, i.e. cannot be in superposition, you further need a threshold for a triggered measurement, so the superposition doesn´t get too fat (for this gravity must be very week and ... miracle ... it is very week ;-).
      And finally, amplitudes need to be “squared” to get probabilities for a measurement for something to happen at all (including backreaction).
      So, my best bet is that e.g. SU(2) double covers SO(3) (*) is needed to square with the rest of the “squaring”.

      E.g. gauge transformation U(1) for QED, i.e. A. -> A.- ∂.Λ (.,=μν) and for linearized, weak field gravity h,. -> h,. - ∂,ε. - ∂.ε. looks alike and a “square” is visible, d(x²)=2xdx=x(dx+dx).

      In a flat spacetime the generators for translation ∂/∂x and ∂/∂y commutate, i.e. [∂/∂x, ∂/∂y]=[ ∂., ∂,]=0.
      But covariant derivatives D.= ∂.-Γ’., do not commutate, instead [D. ,D,]=-R’,., defines the Riemann curvature tensor. Gauge derivatives D.=d.-iA. do not commutate, instead [D. ,D,]=-iF., defines Maxwell’s electromagnetic field strength.

      In every measurement energy/momentum is shifted from here to there, i.e. in x, and particles get boosted, i.e. get another momentum p=ℏ∂/∂x. We should not be surprised that in the exclusively unitary, linear evolution of QM x and p do not commutate any more, i.e. [x, p]=iℏ (<>0) and stuff is quantized when QM and nonlinear GR are supposed to work together.

      Measurements, observer independent triggered ones, happen everywhere all the “time”. In between measurements, the getting entangled is unitary. At an LHC event only outcomes for a single unitary evolution between preparation and detection are measured and the probabilities match with the calculations, the SM works like a charm. And yes, renormalization (mass, charge, ...) is a complicated business, because mass/energy is just the boundary between QM and GR. But the energy dependent S-matrix only needs to be calculated once then you simply reuse it for each event – a trivial statement. But maybe nature also reuses it. Certainly it could, since spacetime is locally flat.

      The Mandelbrot set, which Terry brought up is a nice example. It is also governed by a simple algorithm, a non-linear mapping z->z²+c and a threshold, that puts the color on the pixels. The colorful boundaries, surfaces are determined by this nonlinear process. This makes it a fractal. Fractals are not smooth, not differentiable. Not the realm of calculus.

      In our world calculus is an excellent approximation, e.g. Navier-Stokes works as long as we ignore the scale of molecules, where turbulences dissipate energy. Newton and Leibniz told us how to use infinitesimals and integrate these tiny bits. But letting these tiny bits go to zero and then integrate an infinity of them up again is an idealization, it is math and we should not get “lost in math”. But of course, it was and still is an excellent and utmost successful approximation without question. Laplace’s clockwork universe with its determinism is based on calculus.

      In Mandelbrot you can explore the complexity by zooming in infinitesimally, the real number line has no limit. In our universe there might be a limit at the Planck scale. Our complexity instead unfolds in “time”.

      (*), i.e. is locally isomorph like e.g. SO(4)=(SU(2)⊗ SU(2))/Z2 while SO(4) is analytic continued from SO(1,3).

    15. PhysicistDave: Interesting comments, thanks! You noted that "[Feynman] knew that there is a rigorous proof that fermions have to obey the exclusion principle."

      I recall my disappointment the first time I went through that proof, expecting deep enlightenment. Instead, I described what I found to my family this way: "Thus we have proven the escaped tiger is contained somewhere within the 5 km by 5 km walls of our city. QED, you can now go home and relax."


      Reimond: Looking at your web site reminds me of my frustration with the current state of physics. You have splendid mathematical expertise and experience from your day job and your other publications; you work closely with folks at an amazing institute; and the arguments you just gave are far more precise and less speculative than all sorts of well-funded, let's-just-break-all-rules silliness in areas like string theory (-1/12 anyone? OMG folks, and that bit of redefinition of millennia of math is deep in its foundation concepts!). Yet I suspect few folks who can assess and provide good feedback have ever taken a look at your approach.

      It's the folks who eat matrices for breakfast and snacks every day who need to be reading and assessing works like yours, not enthusiastic but slow-reading computer types like me. Yet national and international research incentive structures in such areas directly or indirectly encourage thinking "Meh… he's not NSF [or whatever] funded for this topic, so there's no good reason to read what he says…"

      Thanks for mentioning Mandelbrot and contrasting it to Planck! One of the main reasons why I don't easily see any supportable argument for the existence of Planck foam is that Planck foam is not necessarily in a universe whose rules expand into smoothness instead of into fractal detail. That is, a universe like ours that exhibits smoothness emergence at many levels has no need for a huge volume of mostly rigid space to be represented by near-infinite levels of detail. A universe that becomes asymptotically smooth can instead rely on a "stretched-bits", cubist-like level of approximation to guarantee absolute preservation of all information generated by the past history of the universe. I am genuinely baffled why so many very good physicists reflexively think otherwise, but then that is likely my information bias coming through. In this case, however, I think it's a bias that more physicists should at least try to comprehend. It is simply not a given that our universe "must" be unbelievably and grotesquely inefficient and redundant in how it implements its own physics.

      Sabine: Tangential, but someone mentioned they would like you to interview Lee Smolin. I have no idea how you two get along, but wow, I would absolutely love to see the report on that conversation! Dr Smolin has a nicely prickly irreverence that seems pretty healthy these days. Now that I finally understand that by "time is first" he really just means "change is first," with classical time emerging only later via what I would call state machine dynamics, I am even more intrigued by his work. I hope someone will let me know if a Smolin interview takes place and I'm not back from my 'vacation' yet.

      Why the break? I'm tired. I love science and I'm good at it, but interacting with theoretical and mathematical physicists is… well, just different. I've had molecular biochemists and advanced materials researchers look oddly at me for about 30 seconds because I am computer person, before they realized I really did know what I was talking about… and I am not joking, after that I almost always got respect. But physics and mathematical physics? Hah! You can know someone for years, know that they know you are not stupid, know that they know you really do understand at least most what they are saying… and in the end, all that proves to them is wow, you must be an especially arrogant and irritating crackpot! :)

    16. There are no physicists here!

  26. Not all new ideas about the foundations of physics need big expensive machines to probe, of course. Sabina mentioned that before. Example:

    1. Dead end, Martien:

    2. Martien,
      The Quanta magazine article demonstrates a significant problem with the interpretation and reporting of highly complex theoretical ideas. Firstly speculative conclusions,even when the authors of papers are careful to identify them as such, are often reported as 'fact'. Secondly it may be to the authors advantage to 'talk up' highly speculative conclusions. Thirdly the popular press has to excite readers.
      The paper on which the Quanta article was based ( comprises 109 pages of highly technical analysis. The title of the Quanta article is one interpretation. "New Theory Of Time Based On Inspired Guesswork" is another (see section 8 of the paper).

  27. I totally disagree with you.

    I'm not saying that everything is perfect. The scientific community of fundamental physics does suffer from the publish or perish mentality, and other similar issues. But these issues are common to all fields of science. Moreover, most scientist I speak to are fully aware of these issues. They play the game because they need to survive, but it doesn't mean that they like it.

    Fundamental physics, in addition suffers from luck of experimental input. In the last 50 years we got a few parameter for the standard model and a few cosmological parameters. Everybody in the field is fully aware of that.

    Considering these constraints, I think the field is fairly healthy. There is an inflow of new ideas, most of which are fairly technical. I wish that ideas of the caliber of AdS/CFT would appear more often, but unfortunately this is not the case.

    “resolving inconsistencies” is a great idea. It is such a great idea that everybody is thinking about it. The problem is that the inconsistencies we have in the foundation of physics are very illusive and very hard to tackle.

    1. Udi,

      "They play the game because they need to survive, but it doesn't mean that they like it."

      Indeed, everybody knows the problem and no one does anything about it.

      "resolving inconsistencies” is a great idea. It is such a great idea that everybody is thinking about it. The problem is that the inconsistencies we have in the foundation of physics are very illusive and very hard to tackle."

      No shit. Unfortunately "playing the game" does not encourage working on that.

      "Fundamental physics, in addition suffers from luck of experimental input.."

      It's not luck. It's a failure to learn from null-results. Read my blogpost again, maybe you understand it on second try.

    2. Sabine wrote:

      “No shit. Unfortunately "playing the game" does not encourage working on that.”

      It slows you down, but eventually, nobody works on the foundation of physics because it is an easy way to make money. They might publish a few redundant papers so that they can keep their job, but eventually everyone wants to make a meaningful contribution to the understanding of nature.

      “It's not luck. It's a failure to learn from null-results. Read my blogpost again, maybe you understand it on second try.”

      I read your blogpost again. It made me think that in “null-results” you mean no theoretical progress. I was talking about lack of experimental results. In any case, I don’t understand what you claim that I or other researchers are failing to learn.

      Let me put it in a different way. I have my own opinions of what are good research directions and what is a waste of time. For example, I think that studying the “measurement problem” in quantum mechanics is a waste of time. I might advice you, but I don’t think that it is my job to tell you or anyone else what to work on. At the end of the day, you have to choose what research you want to work on.

      Reading your blog, I get the impression that you think that it is actually your job to tell others what to work on. You seem to think that other researchers do not study history, or philosophy, or understand the sociological aspects of their work environment. From my experience, most researches care a lot about these issues.

    3. Udi,

      "but eventually everyone wants to make a meaningful contribution to the understanding of nature."

      You are displaying exactly the type of unfounded optimism that prevents physicists from solving their problems.

      "It made me think that in “null-results” you mean no theoretical progress. I was talking about lack of experimental results."

      A null-result is a result that confirms the null-hypothesis. It is not a lack of experimental result. It is an experimental result. But it is an experimental result that does not help you to develop new theories.

      "Let me put it in a different way. I have my own opinions of what are good research directions and what is a waste of time. For example, I think that studying the “measurement problem” in quantum mechanics is a waste of time. I might advice you, but I don’t think that it is my job to tell you or anyone else what to work on. At the end of the day, you have to choose what research you want to work on.

      Reading your blog, I get the impression that you think that it is actually your job to tell others what to work on."

      This is patently wrong. The reason I spell out what I think people should be doing is that if I do not then they will complain that I supposedly have no better suggestion. I have said many times, and also say this in the above blogpost, that important thing is not that agree with me on what research should be done, but that they think about it to begin with.

      And just saying "I have my own opinion" is not an argument. Everyone can have opinions. Come up with an argument for why this or that research is promising. I have made it abundantly clear why the measurement problem is a good problem, though I have the impression you do not understand it.

      "You seem to think that other researchers do not study history, or philosophy, or understand the sociological aspects of their work environment. From my experience, most researches care a lot about these issues."

      Well, we seem to have very different experiences here.

    4. Udi,

      You wrote:
      >It slows you down, but eventually, nobody works on the foundation of physics because it is an easy way to make money. They might publish a few redundant papers so that they can keep their job, but eventually everyone wants to make a meaningful contribution to the understanding of nature.

      The problem is that very, very, very few physicists ever make "a meaningful contribution to the understanding of nature."

      In all the work done during the last fifty years aimed at applying string theory to elementary-particle physics has anyone made "a meaningful contribution to the understanding of nature"?

      On the face of it, churning out one ill-motivated model after another seems unlikely to advance physics: at least, it rarely has in the past.

      I'm not just picking on string theory: look back at old issues of Phys. Rev. from the 1930s or 1940s and see how many papers really made any significant contribution. "Significant contributions" are necessarily fairly rare, or they would not be "significant."

      But if we look for (apparent) inconsistencies in the theories we already have, we should at least come to better understand those theories ourselves and hone our skills at explaining those theories to students and the general public. For most of us, that is all we will accomplish.

      But every now and then, someone will see that the inconsistencies in electromagnetism can be resolved by adding the "displacement current" (Maxwell), or that the paradoxes involving black-body radiation vanish if you assume radiation is quantized (Planck).

      Fewer papers but, perhaps, more significant results.

    5. Sabine wrote:

      “I have made it abundantly clear why the measurement problem is a good problem, though I have the impression you do not understand it.”

      From what I understand you claim that if you have a superposition of two states, the detector should be able to measure this superposition of states. The math clearly tells us that what happens is that you end up with a superposition of two detectors, where each detector measured a single state. So it is not clear to me why you think that there is a measurement problem.

      “Well, we seem to have very different experiences here.”

      I find it surprising. I used to work on string theory which is on the border between theoretical physics and math. Now I work in material science, on the border between applied physics and engineering. It is worlds apart, yet the mentality is exactly the same. Yes, most of the time we spend in lab worrying about the nitty-gritty details of our research. Still, we never stop looking at the big picture, study the history and our place in it. Constantly questioning if we are going in the right direction.

      Will I make a U-turn in my research tomorrow? The chances are very slim. Without perseverance there is no way to make any meaningful progress. Yet I and people around me never stop questioning where is the limit between perseverance and stubbornness.

    6. PhysicistDate wrote:

      “The problem is that very, very, very few physicists ever make "a meaningful contribution to the understanding of nature."”

      I don't agree. From the thousands of scientists working on LHC, which ones would you count as making significant contributions? We have a tendency to glorify a few prominent scientists, but behind people like Einstein, Dirac and Feynman there is a whole community of people, some better know some less, that made their own contributions. I’m sure that Einstein read papers of hundreds of other scientists, most I probably never heard of, because he felt that it contributed to his own research.

      “I'm not just picking on string theory: look back at old issues of Phys. Rev. from the 1930s or 1940s and see how many papers really made any significant contribution. "Significant contributions" are necessarily fairly rare, or they would not be "significant."”

      Probably way more than you think. Still, percentage wise, I’m sure that very few. Yet even in hindsight it would be hard to tell exactly which papers made a significant contribution. Do you think that the editors of these journals could tell? Do you think that you could tell?

      For example, Gell-mann thought that Yang-Mills theory is a useless idea. For sure it didn’t solve any inconsistencies. What a waste of paper.

      “Fewer papers but, perhaps, more significant results.”

      With fewer paper, each paper might have more significant results, but progress would slow to a halt.

    7. Udi wrote to me:
      >I don't agree. From the thousands of scientists working on LHC, which ones would you count as making significant contributions?

      I should have made clear that I was talking about work in theory.

      Udi also said:
      >Yet even in hindsight it would be hard to tell exactly which papers made a significant contribution. Do you think that the editors of these journals could tell? Do you think that you could tell?

      Valid point. But the point I was trying to make was a different one. Too many theoretical physicists nowadays are eager to make a mighty superhuman leap by ginning up a new (and unmotivated) theory or set of models rather than struggling to understand the somewhat adequate theories we already have and what the possible holes and inconsistencies are in those theories.

      Up above in the discussion with Pavlos, I gave some examples of some -- apparently simple -- questions about string theory that I have never seen explained by string theorists. You worked in string theory: can you tell me the answers? (I'm not playing "gotcha": I'd actually like to know.)

      Udi also wrote:
      >With fewer paper, each paper might have more significant results, but progress would slow to a halt.

      You really think so? You don't think it is obvious that most of the theory papers posted to the arXiv nowadays have no value except to pad the author's list of publications?

      I'd say that the glut of obviously CV-padding papers makes it hard to find the papers that might possibly be of value.

    8. PhysicistDate wrote:

      “You really think so? You don't think it is obvious that most of the theory papers posted to the arXiv nowadays have no value except to pad the author's list of publications?”

      The fact that the current system encourages publication is not necessarily bad. If you plan to work on an idea for the next five years, it is a good idea to publish your intermediate results every once in a while.

      The problem with the current system is that discourages you from taking risks, being original and taking your own direction. I’m not sure how things can be improved. If you are so original that no one can understand what you are doing, then it is also a problem. One thing that the current system is very good at is teaching young researches how to communicate with their piers.

      Sabine keeps pushing the idea that we should look at inconsistencies. But this is an obvious recommendation that everyone is already considering.

      What I can recommend young researchers is that before you solve a problem, make sure that you understand what problem you are trying to solve. If everyone did it, redundant research fields like foundation of quantum mechanics as well as most quantum gravity approaches would not exist.

    9. Is the measurement problem a waste of time? We can't know for sure. I can imagine that most physicists admonish students away from this, and many physicists who do enter this fray are somewhat accomplished beforehand. I suspect the problem is not solvable, and further as I have indicated I suspect it is no solvable from a formal perspective. Quantum mechanics is almost as much a physical logic as it is a theory, and it is possible the unsolvable nature of the measurement problem is a matter of formal undecidability. We can't know if this is a waste of time or not, and we can only get a negative, or not a waste of time, if there is either an answer or that we show it is undecidable. Otherwise we are in unknown waters.

      String theory has not been a waste of time. This is even if it should prove to have little to do with gravity or gauge field physics. It has a lot of structure that could have an impact elsewhere.

      The real problem with string theory is that it does pertain to a scale of physics at the string length ℓ_s = √(8π)ℓ_p for ℓ_p the Planck length 1.6×10^{-35}m. This the same problem that afflicts all hypotheses of quantum gravitation. The scale of this physics is by reciprocal relation between length and energy at 10^{15} times the energy we can currently probe. This scale then can only be observed if nature does the power lifting or if we look at how physics on this scale in some integration or summation influences physics we can observe. What comes to mind are more detailed observation of gravitational radiation or in the latter with dispersion physics or measuring the electron-electric dipole.

    10. Lawrence, just to mention it, I do agree with your observation that "[string theory] has a lot of structure that could have an impact elsewhere". Deep work in any formal system, especially when done by innovative folks who are looking for insights, can end up having unexpected applications in other areas. Thus I respect this aspect of such work, even while adamantly and pointedly [pun?] objecting to its foundational assumptions.

    11. Terry

      I hear what you say about taking a rest. Let's hope you can manage that. I, myself, am trying to run down to zero my (amateur) physics activities but it is taking a while to let go. I am now 70 years old and have had a 10 year spell on physics post retirement. I don't know about you but 'not knowing answers' leaves a gnawing feeling which is best put aside by trying a new field. OTOH I feel I have learnt a lot of physics answers already in that ten years :)

      Before you go, a few points in relation to your and my posts. Esp. string theory, complexity and fundamentality.
      When I retired I could not even name all the SM particles. My pursuit of a preon model was partly to find a pattern in the SM particles so I could remember them all. A sort of mnemonic to derive them from memory. I think my model is useful for that alone. Using four entities to construct all the SM particles. I eventually found four entities (preons), but speculated on what they were made of: my hexarks. I subsequently realised that the hexarks (96 or a multiple of 96 hexarks per electron) fitted as strings. (I used the name hexarks after reading that Gerard 't Hooft suggested the name quinks for sub-quarks, referring to a fifth level, but the term preons unfortunately prevailed.) I have no easily- found writing on hexarks being strings as it is buried in an old USE NET forum. So I did not put absolutely everything into my online preon papers :) For example, one end of each hexark is on a colour brane and the other end is available to attract/repel other hexarks which can lead to structures such as hopf fibrations. But that makes for a lot of strings within each preon which would make the maths more difficult than one string per electron or per photon which was the baby version of string theory that I met previously in a Susskind online lecture.

      In relation to colour charge, note that having colour branes within the preons and within the electron supports your colour charge theory.

      With regard to complexity, we both entered essays in the most recent FQXi competition about fundamentality. I did not notice any consensus as to there being fewer and fewer turtles on the way down? To me it is a symmetric situation which is as complex downwards as it is upwards.

      Best wishes

  28. At least you are not the only one sounding the alarm:

    "there's a large and powerful group of (mostly) theorists who will go to their graves as true believers in not only SUSY, but electroweak-scale SUSY, regardless of what the evidence says. Yet with every new proton the LHC collides, we see the same answer again and again: no SUSY. No matter how often we fool ourselves, nor how many scientists get fooled, nature is the ultimate arbiter of reality."

    1. Sergei,

      This "alarm" has been sounding for 20 years, yet nothing has changed. As I said, that's because there is nothing and no one who can stop this business.

    2. How about the popular press?

      Rigorous and skeptical science reporters who do not mindlessly regurgitate and salivate over every, almost daily, press release from universities, etc.

      Call out stupid ideas rather than calling them wild, mind bending, mind boggling, etc.

      Stop making physicists into genius/ heroes/celebrities/cultural icons.

      Just a thought.

    3. Greg Field,
      The popular media exists to entice and excite readers. Failure to do so will lead to closure. So we're all used to headlines like "Breakthrough In Cancer Treatment" which turn out to be based on small scale speculative treatments given to laboratory mice - if the reporter has an iota of conscience there may be a qualifier such as "scientists say treatment may be available within twenty years".
      It seems unfair to blame the popular press for presenting speculation as fact. They're in business to make money and lack the technical resource to critically examine complex research - name one 'popular' media outlet that could make sense of e.g mentioned elsewhere in this comment blog. The media relies on a filter process where ideas are 'talked up' from science 'fiction' (highly speculative outcomes based often on complex mathematics) to "science fact" for the general public. Unfortunately the start of the process is all too often researchers putting an overly optimistic slant on speculative conclusions.

    4. Every thing you say is true.

  29. If the foundations of physics is to progress in any revolutionary way, it (they) should apply epistemology seriously. This would give it the tools it needs to examine what it has as its corpus of standard work, against the possible underlying objective truth, and ask necessarily difficult questions. For example, those little corrections to a core idea: are they real, or are they errors given labels? Where reconciliation is needed between incompatible ideas (that work well in their respective domains), there should be big clues that the foundations are built on assumptions or generalisations that need work, where theorists should be rubbing their hands with glee, eager to present new foundations that can derive both of the incompatible ideas, and explain why and where they fail. In other words, new foundations should expose our errors, and explain what they really are: subjective differences, or objective truths.

  30. I would like to see you have (as in your LIM book) a conversation with Lee Smolin. He has much the same philosophical complaint about the physics community. He seems very interested in fleshing out strange ideas to try and bring them to a point they could be tested.

  31. Nice article! Some of the same things have been worrying me for a while, but since I am a philosopher and not a physicist, I didn't know if there was a basis for my thoughts. I am relieved, therefore, to read your thoughts.

    I see the basic problem in there being the notion that there is a 'real world' out there and that the aim of physics is to find THE answer to what that world IS. The 'real world that is 'out there' is akin to looking God, unobservable yet 'out there'.

    While physicists are banging its heads against that notion, they will be forever be frustrated. Once it is understood that whatever there is, is approximate and can never be found as objectively real, physicists can relax in the knowledge that their aim is to find ever better theories that will attempt explanation of what might be within human perception.

    Ronald Green

  32. Sabine, you identify various problems, some sociological and some scientific, but what would you say if you had to define positively what physics is for?

    Is physics about writing equations and then reasoning what systems these equations give rise to? That seems to be what physicists are doing, especially the SUSY and superstring groups. Theoretical physics seems to be flourishing if its job is to make models, and these models are now very far removed from reality. At this point you could compare physicists to economists. But physicists are much less dangerous because they don't make predictions about the real world with their theoretical models!

    Or is physics a highbrow form of engineering? I think Newton and Boltzman and the early QM crowd were interested in practical inventions, understanding the world so that you can do things with it. They called it Quantum Mechanics and not complex matrix theory for that reason. Today experimentalists are pushing the limits of engineering. The precision of LIGO, the amount of data gathered by the Event Horizon and other synthetic telescopes, quantum computing advances pursued by private firms. Physics as engineering is doing well, I think.

    Or is it physics's job to explain the world? From time to time some unusually clear thinkers come along like Einstein, Noether, Everett, Feynman and more recently people like David Deutsch. They combine the ability to both grasp the formalism and to explain in simple terms what reality is like. They give us an intuitive, yet accurate, understanding of nature. Inasmuch as physics is the project of the whole humanity, I think it's this ability to reach better explanations that matters and it's what the world expects.

    If physics is an intellectual pursuit or a technology initiative, it's probably doing well. The need for more satisfying answers, which I think comes from a metaphysical or transcendental place, has been neglected. And maybe that's why.

    1. Physics, as all sciences, is about describing observations.

    2. In that case what's wrong with a practical calculating toolset, including the Born rule, empirical determination of vacuum energy, classical GR etc? Is the right course of action to stop theorising and only investigate where there are experimentally testable inconsistencies?

    3. @Pavlos Papageorgiou: A good place to start might be to tally the inconsistencies?

      Sabine, over the course of several blogposts, has identified several. There's this group of physicists who get excited about doing experiments (and another group - call them astrophysicists - who get excited about making observations).

      One could fairly quickly think of a dozen ways to incentivize/reward these physicists, for proposing, designing, and carrying out experiments which look deeper at the "top" inconsistencies. However, the means to do any of this are currently lacking. Instead, $millions are given to theoretical physicists who do little more than wonder how many angels can dance on a pinhead.

  33. The award to Professor Sikivie (of UF) also states "devising novel methods to detect it..." That is a step in the right direction. Perusing his 2011 paper "The Emerging case for Axion Dark Matter" we learn much of his "methods." Such as: "numerical simulations," or "statistical distribution in a set of 32," "WKB approximation." It is a paper replete with the assumptions spelled-out.That is good--to spell-out the assumptions.
    I believe the issue lies with a phrase such as "scientific method," which is a meaningless phrase. Also, it has always been an "existing system that does not encourage learning." That is hardly new.
    Recall the 1964 lecture when Richard Feynman said the first thing scientists do to find new laws is to "guess"...with that, the students laughed;Feynman continued "don't laugh, that's really true." ! In my limited experience, "guessing" is not encouraged.
    Finally, I am astounded to read physicist Sean Carroll say this: "Just how many versions of you might there be ? We don't know whether the number of worlds is finite or infinite, but it's certainly a very large number." That said during a book tour supporting his latest best-seller ! In contradistinction to Carroll, Feynman writes "I am certain of nothing."
    Those are the words of a scientist !

    1. Gary,
      I'm never too happy with appeals to authority. Feynmann allegedly said;
      “The laws of physics could be like an onion, with new laws becoming operational as we probe new scales. We simply don't know!” which sort of argues for the status quo and larger colliders. But then he also allegedly said
      “The female mind is capable of understanding analytic geometry... The difficulty may just be that we have never yet discovered a way to communicate with the female mind. If it is done in the right way, you may be able to get something out of it.”
      Maybe he was just a man of his time and should be treated as such.

    2. First, Feynman made this comment about the layers of an onion in the 1960s. He didn't know one way or the other - he was just making idle speculation.

      But more importantly, I think you missed the most important part of what Feynman said in his lecture. It was:
      Now I am going to discuss how we would look for a new law. In general we look for a new law by the following process. First we guess it. Then we compute the consequences of the guess to see what would be implied if this law that we guessed is right. Then we compare the result of the computation to nature, with experiment or experience, compare it directly with observation, to see if it works. If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is. It does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is - if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. That is all there is to it.

      From "Feynman on the Scientific Method"

      This is not an appeal to authority - this is the definition of what we mean by the scientific method. It doesn't matter who said it.

      But the important point to emphasize is his statement "If it disagrees with experiment it is WRONG.". And if you can't even do an experiment, then it is not Physics.

    3. Joel, thank you kindly for the reference !

    4. Joel A Seely2:04 PM, November 01, 2019

      " this is the definition of what we mean by the scientific method."

      If this is true that this is the accepted definition of the scientific method, I know why science going to "Wolckenkuckucksheim":

      This definition is at most the half of the truth. If at all. Give some chimpanzees test tubes, balances, particle colliders, ..., and wait for the results ...?

  34. The inconsistencies in the physics of how neurons communicate is another example. The conventional understanding is inconsistent with universal principle of conservation of mass, momentum and thermodynamics. However instead of solving these inconsistencies the focus is on new technoligies that can image the structure brain in more and more details based on the assumption that the structure would lead to an understanding of function (e.g. and

  35. What ever happened to dividing the sciences into applied and theoretical? The writer is talking about a crisis in theoretical physics.(I think) Applied physics/engineering has been doing very well. And its pace of providing innovation is accelerating. As far as theoretical goes - new Laws in physics will never come at a predictable pace nor can they be found by just throwing money around.

    1. I am talking about a crisis in the foundations of physics, as I have said very clearly. No, I am not talking about a crisis in theoretical physics.

    2. What is the difference in the foundations of physics and theoretical physics? Let's get down to brass tacks.

    3. kevinkin,

      The foundations of physics are those areas of physics concerned with the laws of nature that, for all we currently know, cannot be derived from any underlying law. That's currently parts of particle physics, astrophysics, cosmology, quantum foundations, and quantum gravity. All these areas have theory and experiment.

      Any area of physics has an experimental and theoretical side. Saying "theoretical physics" doesn't tell you anything about what part of physics you are even talking about. Hope that clarifies it.

    4. OK we a caught up in semantics. I will restate: "The foundations of physics are those areas of physics concerned with the laws of nature that, for all we currently know, cannot be derived from any underlying law" (your words) and will never come at a predictable pace nor can they be found by just throwing money around (my words). Now we are on the same page. That was easy.

  36. I agree with you on this, but I was hoping you would offer some ideas about a solution to the measurement problem:"What does it take to actually solve the measurement problem? I will get to this, so stay tuned." Those words gave me the impression that you had some more thoughts on the measurement problem and perhaps some ideas about how to think about it in a new way, or how to model it in a new way, or some thoughts about constraints on any possible solution. So, I'm hoping to hear more about this subject.

    1. Rick,

      Yes, I do have thoughts on this and I have two papers in the works about this and - if time permits - also another video, but there are only 24 hours in my day. So may I please ask for some patience?

    2. Absolutely! Not trying to hurry you. You do an enormous amount already. Just very interested in your ideas...

  37. Sabine,

    Do you have any take on the "quantum Bayesianism" of Christopher Fuchs? Is that part of a fruitful way forward? or is it part of the crisis? or is it just another case of somebody using the word "quantum' in the service of some pop-culture woo?

    1. Christopher,

      qBism is basically the combination of all about quantum mechanics that everyone agrees on, just wrapped in a language that some people find offensive. It is not wrong, but it is not a way forward.

  38. Another very good article, well done!

    However, I disagree with your comments about medicine.

    Take "medicine" to mean, roughly, surgery, devices (from crutches to pacemakers), and drugs. Surely the biggest challenges in medicine today have to do with getting it to the hundreds of millions who need it (in rural Indonesia, say)? Even if you focus solely on drugs, the biggest challenges have nothing to do with the difficulty of running large scale drug trials but the need to find drugs for mosquito-born diseases, say, or how to wean the world off its overuse of antibiotics?

    And "Medicine, therefore, will increasingly have to rely on data collected from large groups over long periods of time to find increasingly personalized diagnoses and prescriptions. The studies which are necessary for this are extremely costly." is surely overblown: it's certainly true in one or two cases, but the existence of easily accessible, rapidly growing, databanks of cancer mutations, say, makes finding people for trials of new drugs (or approaches, e.g. CAR-T) quite cheap. And, sadly, there is no shortage of people for Alzheimer's trials.

    1. JeanTate,

      I was talking about research problems. You are talking about the practical problem of actually getting scientific insights to work for people who need them. I agree with you that this is actually a far bigger problem at the moment (as I have said previously, eg in my blogpost about climate change).

    2. Thanks for the clarification, Sabine. I agree with you that some research problems in medicine could very well face the sorts of challenges you outline.

      On the other hand, at least here in the US, there has been some quite amazing work done to make it far easier to do clinical trials (of all stages, or phases) with patients enrolled from all over the country (indeed in some all over the world). And these patients have been identified (and screened) far more easily and at less cost than historically, due in part to $$ spent on developing databases, protocols, etc (much of it leveraging what was already known, but "hidden" in one way or another).

  39. Lawrence Crowell's points addressing recent work in condensed matter physics echo sentiments that you have also expressed. They show that the equations we rely on do not always reflect the physical reality assumed at their creation. Chemistry, biology, medicine, engineering, and even computer science have all advanced recently through re-examining earlier certainties.
    Perhaps the foundation equations of physics do not mean exactly what we think they mean. Maxwell's equations and De Sitter's geometry were enough to start us on the road to general relativity. However, many sophisticated scientists find it necessary to seek modifications. Evidently there is an appeal to authority in operation. Such appeals have plagued every field of human endeavor.
    So yes, it is a sociological problem that is only solvable by recognizing that the Old Boy was almost exactly right, but maybe there is something else going on.

  40. Science has become a religion for the industrial mass society. Since people need something to believe, and since religions fading away, they take science. And so, science has to hold its promise of salvation: all has to become bigger and better and going higher and better known. Fails and backward steps are impossible. So, the corpus of science collects more and more faults and applies more and more forces to hide this faults. Nobody is able to say: "Okay. This billions of dollars had been wasted. What a pity. Let's try it completely another way."

    1. That's a bit extreme, wouldn't you say?

      Sabine wrote about the foundations of physics, not all of science. Engineers have taken results from physics (and other disciplines) and given you a smartphone. And the internet. Perhaps there are failures of sociology or economics in this, but surely no failures of science? I mean, GPS on your smartphone works pretty darn well, doesn't it?

    2. JeanTate2:57 PM, October 31, 2019
      "That's a bit extreme, wouldn't you say?"


      "Engineers have taken results from physics (and other disciplines) and given you a smartphone."

      Engineers makes things working - with or in spite of ostensible correct theories. An engineer who is not able to change an algebraic sign to have a try if the mechanism would then work, is not worth his money. Good engineers don't stick spineless to theories. They also have free tries.

    3. @weristdas So scientism is holding science back. It needs a Reformation.

    4. We need to come out of the political and sociological abuse of science.

      More and more has "science" (the popular outcoming of academic work) become a tool of "mind control".

      Look at the flood of statistics in the media which try to make the people believing in political opportune things.

      And politics and business leaders need "science" as ideological background to make the people believe that we could endless expand productivity and energy consume - because people who doesn't believe in that are unwilling to do their senseless jobs which has only one function: generating more and more indecently rich people.

      Greeks, like Aristoteles, in their time had founded independent schools. Perhaps we should do like them.

      And we should don't forget that in the history of science, much tremendous ideas had come from laymen which had have the possibility (the money) to work for themselves. I don't have to name them.

      So "Yes!" It needs a reformation - or better - a revolution. The academic circles have to be breakup. The sovereignty about education has to be re-democratized.

    5. But my dear friend a fact is non-democratic, in that, numbers don't count. Though primeval and medieval ancestors, the unflinching tradition, and the long, grey beards of yore have said that the sun rises and sets or that the earth is static, does their astronomical numbers sanctify sense data as a fact? Surely, a fact is not based on sense data or the numbers who sanctify sense data. Can a coterie of highly literate and erudite individuals come together and reach a consensus on what should be a fact? In that, a fact is not consensual. If that is not the case, then all the village and tribal heads can pool their heads together and arrive at a consensus on what should be sanctified as a fact, and then let that so called fact gain currency. This pooling of heads and framing of laws by popular vote and rigorous propaganda may work for democracy but surely it is a disaster for science. Even if one man sees it and the rest of the billions dismiss it, it is still a fact; either you see it or you don't see it.

      The feather is light, and the shotput ball is heavy, therefore, the shotput ball must fall to the ground first when both are dropped together from the top of a building. This is common logic. But is it a fact? A fact can defy logic.

      It is all about asking the right question. In a democratic setup, you can sanctify a wrong question by popular vote or by consensus. The numbers do the counting and the accounting.
      For example, who is God is a wrong question, because the moment you ask who, you have already given the unknown an anthropomorphic identity. So, what is God?

      One of the most difficult things is to ask the right question. If Newton had to ask what is it that fell? The answer is in the question. Apple! The question dictates the answer. Instead, Newton asked why that which fell fall at all?

  41. True, the crisis in physics is not only about physics but essentially about the humans who do physics. These humans are having a disposition of thinking which has a lot to do with a kind of religious attitude. After they have once learned, what present understanding is regarding the fundamentals of physics, this is generally not questioned later on.

    Two examples: relativity and quantum mechanics in its fundaments.

    Relativity: There was the approach of Lorentz 15 years earlier than the one of Einstein. But Einstein was the winner because the assumptions of Lorentz did not seem acceptable by the understanding of 1900. But this understanding has heavily changed since then in favor of Lorentz. And looking at these inconsistencies: Dark Energy, Dark Matter, and the Horizon problem, these inconsistencies are existent only in the relativity approach of Einstein. The issue of Dark Energy is not at all existent with Lorentz. And solutions for Dark Matter and Hierarchy can quite conveniently be deduced from the way of Lorentz.

    Quantum mechanics: There was in the 1920s a decision to be made between the approach of Heisenberg and Bohr on the one side and Schrödinger, de Broglie, and Einstein on the other one. This decision was formally made at the Solveig conference in Brussels in 1927. John Bell has analyzed the discussion, where Heisenberg dominated with his approach primarily over de Broglie, and Bell stated that Heisenberg was not the winner because of better arguments but because he appeared as a much stronger personality than his opponent de Broglie. But this turned out as a final decision.

    I know physicists who attempt to re-discuss these decisions, but they are not able to find someone willing to discuss these topics. I understand this as a main cause for being in a dead end.

    1. I have studied the origin of relativity (so named by Poincare in 1904; Poincare was teaching E = mcc as early as 1899 at the Sorbonne). What do you mean by the "Lorentz" version?
      For the rest, agreed... De Broglie was terminally blocked by a fake mathematical argument of Von Neumann, a few years later.

    2. You've made this point, and similar ones, in several comments across many blogposts.

      Can you please point to something in the public domain, on the topic of physicists who are (or have) attempted to "re-discuss these decisions"?

      Have you yourself done any work - that you have put in the public domain - on this?

    3. I very much agree with Sabine's argument. I also agree with you in the general sense that I think people should be able to make a career out of re-examining various foundational theories on which later work is based.

      I can well understand that that re-examination makes a lot of people very uncomfortable because it might destroy vast swathes of work that depend on these theories. Nevertheless, this is obviously worth doing.

      Even mentioning some of those potentially faulty theories makes some people explode with disgust, and that is a big part of the problem.


    5. antooneo10:56 AM, October 31, 2019
      " And looking at these inconsistencies: Dark Energy, Dark Matter, and the Horizon problem, these inconsistencies are existent only in the relativity approach of Einstein."

      Is that true?

      So no wonder why science is at its end: the relativity theories are blatant wrong.

      Nothing changes its length by changing the inertial frame and there is no need of space bending by masses since other forces like magnetism also works without space bending as I and everybody know.

      Relativity is the greatest hoax ever. And any mind is able to see that - if he isn't dazzled by the glare of academic dogmas and the pomp of its representatives.

    6. Patrice Ayme:
      Difference of Lorentz to Einstein: Lorentz did not base relativity on space-time, but dilation is the slowdown of clocks caused by the internal motion in elementary particles with c, and contraction is the (known) contraction of fields. The constancy of c is in the understanding of Lorentz not a true constancy but only the result of speed measurement as caused by dilation of clocks and contraction of rulers.

      Who made the attempt to re-discuss fundaments?

      Regarding relativity, there was the Italian theorist Franco Selleri, who was quite well known in the physical community. He followed the Lorentzian relativity and published a lot about it. But as soon as he argued that the constancy of c is only a measurement result, nobody of the mainstream community was willing to talk to him. - Another one is Joao Magueijo, who was originally a ‘normal’ cosmologist of main stream. But when he as a member of a brain storming team mentioned the idea of a possibly variable c (over the time), the other members of that team stopped talking to him.

      Regarding particle physics, I met several young physicists who wanted to make a career in science. They told me that they were instructed that, if they followed own ideas (e.g. questioning QCD), they would not have any chance for a job in research.

      My own experience: After my activity in research I had a job in the industry. During that time I met again my PhD adviser who was the research director of a big accelerator. When I told him about my own ideas about particle physics, he said: “You can be very happy not to earn your salary in research. So you are in the comfortable situation that you can have an own opinion.” Isn’t this like in the dark ages?

      Regarding my own activities: If you search with Google the string "the origin of gravity" you find an entry with the sub-title "relativity without Einstein". Please follow this link.

      David Bailey:
      Also you are stating a good point. Thanks.

      Count Iblis:
      Thank you for the link to this interview with Paul Dirac. What Dirac says is typical for what we discuss here. Dirac is in full agreement with Einstein and critical about Lorentz by the reason that he appreciates the higher level of abstraction of Einstein’s view of the notion of time. He does not argue physically. He appreciates the attitude of Einstein to symmetry, here to the symmetry of space and time. In his view the understanding of the importance of symmetry was a great intellectual achievement by Einstein. And Einstein’s GRT is in his understanding an example for the importance of symmetry in general. Sabine should applaud!

      From his detailed explanations it seems that the development of his famous Dirac equation of the electron brought him to this opinion. He at first wondered what to do with the part of his result with a negative sign. And later he could assign this result to the detection of the positron. It seems that this has guided him to believe the universal importance of symmetry.

    7. weristdas:

      I strongly disagree with your general statement about relativity. The phenomena described by it are clearly existent. However, Einstein's way to formalize it by assumptions about space and time have been caused by the general spirit of his time and made the whole issue unnecessarily complicated.

      The problems of Dark Energy and the Horizon question are easily answered if we accept the possibility that the speed of light c did have a greater value in the past. In the case of Dark Energy this leads to a higher speed of the older supernovae by the Doppler determination. So there is in fact no acceleration and no Dark Energy is needed.

      The Dark Matter problem can be solved if some specific conclusions are drawn from the Lorentzian approach. But that is not such a straight consequence but needs specific assumptions.

      The bending of a light beam cannot be explained by magnetism, because there is no magnetism in the vicinity of the sun for instance. But it can be classically deduced from the known variation of c in a gravitational field. The application of classical refraction yields the same results as Einstein's way.

    8. weristdas and antooneo what is it that both of you are trying to say?

    9. antooneo7:07 AM, November 02, 2019
      " The phenomena described by it are clearly existent. "

      The phenomena are pure observational effects. All lengths remain themselves equal and everywhere time passes with the same "speed".

      The phenomena don't stick to the observed objects - but to the observer. That's all.

      Like persons in the far aren't smaller and sirens don’t change their oscillation frequency as they pass by. Just observational effects.

    10. antooneo7:07 AM, November 02, 2019

      "The bending of a light beam cannot be explained by magnetism, because there is no magnetism in the vicinity of the sun for instance."

      I've never claimed something like that.

  42. Hi Sabine,
    "But for all I can tell at this moment in history I am the only physicist who has at least come up with an idea for what to do."

    Please, would you read Wolfgang Smith's "The Quantum Enigma" ?

    1. Because he might be onto something, going in the same direction as you - You're not alone.

      Wouldn't hurt to give that book a try.

      And from what I've heard, he thinks highly of your work, especially "Lost in Math".

    2. Because Wolfgang Smith realized that the origin of the conundrums of quantum theory do not derive from the technical side of things to begin with. As you well know, in the mathematical formalism itself there is absolutely nothing amiss. Wolfgang has demonstrated that the etiology of paradox is not in physics of itself but rather in the philosophical interpretation of physics, and his ontological resolution to the quantum reality problem is decisive, if one only has ears to hear. Moreover, I think that what Mesjer Esfen has in mind by making this recommendation to *you specifically* is that in your reflections you seem to be one of the few physicists in the world who in fact "has ears," often making precisely the kinds of points that Prof. Smith himself has been making since he first published said monograph 25 years ago.

    3. Mesjer,

      I have like 100 books under my desk that I am supposed to review and I get a couple of unsolicited crackpot books each week. Is not like I have a lack of reading material. "Wouldn't hurt" is not a convincing argument.

    4. "Wouldn't hurt" was I believe attempting to put it mildly. This short intro may suffice if random recommendations don't convince one to read a book (You wouldn't be alone there).

  43. Philosophical progress, the art and desire of guessing new utmost significance, guided our progress in understanding physics for the last three million years, and always will, indeed.

    Neglecting this importance of the philosophical method, for the last two generations may have been caused by the militarization of physics: obeying and pleasing those who order military spending requires yes men, shutting up and calculating, not deep thinkers. History is full of examples of period of stasis, or even massive backsliding, of the understanding of nature, due to the hostility of the establishment to further understanding. This is why the Greeks’ progress in “Physis” stagnated after the establishment of Greek and Roman dictatorships. Soon after the Macedonian dictatorship grabbed Greece, Euclid wrote his elements… completely forgetting the non Euclidean geometry established a century before! (And it stayed forgotten for 21 centuries!)

    Once the will, desire, and methodology of deep thinking has been forgotten, it takes a long time to get restarted: Europe tried half a dozen attempts at a sustainable Renaissance, over a millennium. What had happened? Books and scholars got deliberately eliminated for 250 years: starting in 363 CE, religious fanatics systematically burned libraries and tortured to death intellectuals (see Hypatia’s tragic assassination directed by Christian “saint” Cyril).

    Spending in physics is good… if nothing else, new technologies can be developed, especially involving high energies. But it shouldn’t focus on only a few avenues of inquiry. However, “High Energy” physics is a revealing term: do we live in a “High Energy” world? No. So why don’t we also focus on “Low Energy” fundamentals?

    Sociological considerations of career advancement show it is safer within the herd, and the herd thinks alike. “Cathedral schools” were mandated 13 centuries ago, and then turned into universities. However, when one looks at quantum jumps in understanding, one realizes that most such jumps happened outside of the career mainstream. Master thinkers such as Abelard, Buridan, Leonardo da Vinci, Kepler, Descartes, Fermat, Leibniz, Papin, Du Chatelet, Lavoisier, Lamarck, Cuvier, Faraday, Darwin, even Poincare, De Broglie, are examples of master thinkers who didn’t have conventional careers. There are too many of them for it to be an accident. And the reason is very simple: it’s easier to be an intellectual hero, and jump out of the box, if you are mostly out of the box of obsolete logic already.

  44. Thank you for this article Sabine!
    I think that you hit the nail on the head when you wrote
    "I have said many times that looking at the history of physics teaches us that resolving inconsistencies has been a reliable path to breakthroughs, so that's what we should focus on."

    I worry that the fact that the two advances of the last century (relativity and QM) had such wide-sweeping implications that required a great deal of mathematics to derive those implications.
    This led to the idea that mathematics itself can used to derive everything, rather than understanding that advances, real advances require new ideas, new models, new ways of looking at things. This important aspect of revolution was replaced by the shut-up-and-calculate mentality. Sure string theory, at its heart is a new model, but it relies too much on simply applying known physics to this model.

    I am hopeful that this dark matter, dark energy business will be sufficient to kick us into thinking harder about the foundations... not through mathematics, but through ideas.

    Thank you!

  45. Sabine wrote: "resolving inconsistencies has been a reliable path to breakthroughs"

    A glaring inconsistency is that we attribute both wave and particle properties to "quantum objects". Does Heisenberg's uncertainty principle remove the inconsistency? (Or blur it?)

  46. Sabine,

    Is the problem of the mathematical foundations of renormalization the kind of thing you mean by "resolving inconsistencies"? I'm way out of my depth here, but I recall reading that e.g. Feynman was never happy with it.

    1. no. There is nothing inconsistent about renormalization. Personally I suspect there is a better way to deal with renormalization than we presently do, just that we haven't found it. But in any case, there is no contradiction here that requires a solution. I don't know how it matters whether Feynman was happy with it.

    2. I like how Steven Weinberg writes, that: "non-renormalizable theories are just as renormalizable as renormalizable theories, as long as we include all possible terms in the Lagrangian."(page 518, Quantum Theory of Fields, Volume One).

    3. I.e. Feynman thought it was probably mathematically invalid. Wouldn't that be a problem?

    4. I don't know what's supposedly "invalid" about renormalization. But to be fair, the mathematical techniques that were used in the early days of QFT were indeed not mathematically kosher.

  47. The use of good methodology is imperative to become a good theoretical scientist and not a fundamental case.

  48. If physics has lost its way, it may be that it has taken a wrong turn or perhaps as Antooneo has suggested two wrong turns.

  49. As a philosopher once put it: "If a scientist says that he is not engaging in philosophy, he is already engaging in philosophy, and a bad one on top."

  50. >But theoretical physicists did not learn the lesson and still ignore the philosophy and sociology of science. I encounter this dismissive behavior personally pretty much every time I try to explain to a cosmologist or particle physicists that we need smarter ways to share information and make decisions in large, like-minded communities. If they react at all, they are insulted if I point out that social reinforcement – aka group-think – befalls us all, unless we actively take measures to prevent it.

    I agree completely, and well done for pointing out to everyone. My personal bug-bear is the difference in languages in mathematics and physics - especially when it comes to tensors. I can't have been the first person to discover that the way a tensor is defined by physicists - transformationally - as completely opaque. Its never used by mathematicians, but the definition used by mathematicians via universal properties, is even worse. Yet it is possible to define tensors as algebraically and geometrically as vectors. I just did that this morning and feel quite pleased with myself.

  51. It should be a requirement that for any theoretical paper there is a section on "Predictions and how we can test them.". If that section is missing or it requires "alien technology" in order to do the testing, the authors should be summarily banished to a 3-month time out in their respective math departments. The mathematicians will all point and laugh at them because they're not actually doing rigorous math either.

    1. Joel,

      This is not a well thought-through suggestion. It only gives physicists an incentive to make up theories that will soon be testable. We already see this in much of cosmology and particle physics. This is emphatically *not* a good way to fix the problem.

  52. Sabine,
    I agree with your thoughts whole-heartedly, but I would like to add that with the increased participation of so many physicists, mechanisms have been created to filter research by historical publication stature, academic affiliation and collaborative profiles. Ideas arise with the individual and develop from there. Unfortunately, a new idea with promise simply can’t be brought into the spotlight for this reason and one more. Any solution to the current impasse would have to address how we interpret the foundational principles on which the standard model stands.
    By example, measure. A scan of the archives will show almost no research on our understanding of measure. In fact, since the introduction of relativity, there has been minimal interest in measure, whether there are other relativistic effects at work, why length, mass and time are affected by frames of reference, what relativistic effects might be at work with respect to the frame of reference of the universe and how might that look. Indeed, these are all very important questions.
    Now, imagine that a physicist did look at these questions and did find something substantial. We are talking about a physically significant effect that doesn’t change any of the expressions of modern theory, but changes how we understand those expressions. Such discoveries would change the very foundations of everything, perhaps requiring a completely new view of modern theory and potentially leading to straight-forward classical solutions of dark matter, dark energy, expansion, early universe processes, the creation of the CMB, the physical origin of constants, physical laws of behavior, etc.
    Well, what turned out a simple investigation of our understanding of measure would now have such a huge impact on modern theory, that a journal board (much less a single physicist running her own blog) would seriously question attaching themselves to such research for fear that 1, 3, 5 or 10 years down the road, should they whether the spotlight, be found a ruse, another false path in our quest for knowledge. Such a fear would not lead to an outright rejection by a journal board because of conflict with experiment or lack of physical evidence. In fact, such research would often be recommended for transfer from one top-tier journal to the next, having eventually been seen by every major journal in the world and as I mentioned (actually 10 to date), having never been rejected for any particular element or even receiving any comment at all, despite an evolution resulting in 4 separate papers, all going to peer review on several occasions with of course the customary recommendation for transfer and/or consideration elsewhere.
    So, such a researcher might even attend a major conference and then present the material before 200 of his or her peers (i.e. the Cosmic Controversies Conference recently held in Chicago early October 2019) and at such a conference take in the feedback of several Nobel laureates among well recognized experts in quantum gravity, expansion, dark energy and dark matter research, all of which who are equally puzzled having never heard of such a ridiculous story and that such a thing could go on for more than three years, having crossed the desks of so many great minds in modern theory not to mention the conference presentation itself. But again, as noted at the outset, we are talking about research that asks us to look at the foundations of modern theory anew and of course who would admit that something as simple as measuring a stick could need reanalysis. Indeed, this is quite a story and I could list so many conversations and name so many well-recognized leaders in our community, but that isn’t the point.

  53. How much of what's in this blogpost is new?

    Apart from what's in your book, Bee, I think much of the content has been covered in other blogposts of yours. Many of those who've written comments are 'old hands' (they've been commenting on your blogposts for quite a while); is this your impression too?

    Maybe you could add blogpost-named links at the end of this blogpost, to older blogposts which are directly relevant? I think this would make it much easier for readers dig deeper, for example reading more detail of particular points you make in this blog. You've done something like this before, with a direct link to a paper.

    1. I haven't said anything new in 10 years, but people still don't get it, so I am damned to repeat this until I die: Science is a community enterprise. It only works if we pay attention to how humans make decisions in large groups. It is currently working badly. Loads of money is being wasted, and I am speaking of billions per year.

      It is beyond me why people don't understand that this is a real problem.

  54. Isn't the best hope for the foundations of physics to get data from a quantum-gravitational environment - detecting primordial gravitational waves, gradually bootstrapping information about Black Holes, creating a small black hole in a collider, etc.?
    One of the issues for theoretical physics is clearly evident in the comments of this blog - Lawrence Crowell, Phillip Helbig and Luke Barnes all trained as physicists and all fail to understand that physics is an empirical science and a theory is not true unless it has been confirmed by observation. It's incompetent, anti-scientific crankery. The quantum behaviour of an electron, time dilation, electromagentic phenomena are confirmed in technology quintillions of times a second; branches of the MWI, the multiverse, universal fine-tuning, strings have *never* been observed. Is that really so difficult to grasp? When you have a Physics Nobel Prize winner writing the preface to a book written by 2 physicists that claims baby Jesus' papa made the universe as a physical theory, then the field has reached the level of complete laughing stock. As well as sociological and philosophical issues, physics clearly has psychological issues - some of its practitioners are delusional.

    1. For two years I have been working on this problem of how to get signatures of quantum gravitation from gravitational waves. This has been an amazingly difficult problem. I and a co-author are getting a paper ready. The idea is to let nature do the big work. We are not going to get black holes in a lab. Creating black holes in a collider would require that it can produce more than 10^{15} times the beam energy of the LHC. So this is an effort to try to detect quantum gravitation.

      With the list of things, many have been detected. The classic case is the lifetime of a muon in cosmic rays being longer than the muon at rest. Quantum properties of particles have been demonstrated in many thousands of experiments.

      String theory and MWI are empirical out-liers. String theory has a lot of mathematical structure that is interesting. A study of the basic bosonic string, with Lorentz spacetime of 26 dimensions, is a big course on complex variables and holomorphic spaces. This does not make it real, though it is suggestive. The supersymmetric string is also interesting. However, this puts the cart before the horse, for it would seem best to have this tied to lower dimensional spaces before climbing to large dimensions. Even worse MWI is not even an hypothesis such as string theory. It is a quantum interpretation that by its very nature is not testable. This does not make it useless particularly, any more than Bohr's Copenhagen or QuBism are useless.

      Smolin wrote an interesting paper ( on the Jordan matrix J^3(O) and duality. There is a Chern-Simons actions for two sectors. This matrix is in 27 dimensions, 24 being three E8, or octonions if you prefer to see it that way, and 3 dimensions as scalars. A trace condition puts this on 26 dimensions. The 2-space plus time surface has its dynamics reduced. Quantum fields on the 2 spatial dimensions are anyonic, and this constraint means in effect the dynamics are a single string on this surface given by a Chern-Simons actions. The correspondence on the dual 24 dimensions is then a form of superstring. This duality means the important dynamics can be seen in the simple 2-space plus time spacetime.

      Luke Barnes wants to insert intelligent design (ID) into cosmology. This has a checkered history and epistemology. In the case of biology ID seeks to show there is some irreducible complexity (IC) in biological systems or molecular biology that can't be understood according to evolution. The obvious issue is that irreducible complexity is a falsification of biological evolution. Darwinian and its modern genetic and mol-bio variants are falsifiable theories. If something is indeed found to be irreducibly complex, then that is a fact that can't in Popper sense of falsificiation by itself be a cornerstone of a scientific theory. The ribosome has a level of molecular complexity that it is disturbingly close to being IC. However, showing definitively that something is IC seems to be similar to showing that a sample of water is absolutely 100% pure, which is not possible by the 3rd law of thermodynamics. I would tend to say much the same holds for any ID concept in cosmology.

      This does mean that any “God concept” in science sort of sticks out like a sore thumb. I injured my right big toe last weekend, black toenail with it still hurting a lot, so a sore thumb or toe is not all a good thing --- whether on you or in a scientific theory. If God should raise his face into science it would not be a particularly great sign for our intellectual future. It would be similar to the end of the Roman-Hellenic world where philosophy descended into kvetching and quibbles, and this odd theology over a man claiming to be God who sacrificed Himself to Himself became popular.

    2. The paper cited above ("The exceptional Jordan algebra and the matrix string", Lee Smolin, February 18, 2001) is a perfect example of the theoretical physics problem that continues to occur. It can all be interesting and good pure mathematics, and maybe even applied mathematics somewhere, but what achievement is it in the goal of physics - to describe nature?

      I get the idea that many physicists think their mathematical toys (in competition with others' toys) are actually what nature is.

    3. "This does not make it real, though it is suggestive. "
      And it is impossible to calculate the probability of it being real, so that however suggestive you think it may be, it is completely unknown whether it is real. So ultimately it isn't suggestive at all.

      "Even worse MWI is not even an hypothesis such as string theory. It is a quantum interpretation that by its very nature is not testable."
      MWI, despite its name, is more than interpretive as it claims that reality branches, that this branching is real, which is beyond what has been observed. There are apparently people who "believe" MWI. But it is not a question of belief, it is a question of observational evidence, and there is none to support MWI. You claim it can never be tested. But you mean it doesn't currently look like there will be ways of testing it. I never wrote that it was useless nor that it isn't a wonderful idea, simply that it isn't known to be empirically true.

      "Luke Barnes wants to insert intelligent design (ID) into cosmology."
      Luke Barnes wants to insert the story of Genesis and the nativity into cosmology, you mean. He has dishonestly claimed that there is evidence the universe is fine-tuned - there is no evidence of universal fine-tuning, it's pure speculation. He claims the fine-tuner fathered a child in Bronze Age Palestine - a sign of delusional insanity.

      "The obvious issue is that irreducible complexity is a falsification of biological evolution."
      There are ways for apparently IC biological systems to be produced by natural processes e.g. "scaffolding" processes. Therefore, irreducible complexity is probably not a good concept. A broader concept of unevolvable systems would be better. This might be close to impossible to show, so ID proponents could always provide positive evidence of their crazy ideas rather than flailing at science.

      "The ribosome has a level of molecular complexity that it is disturbingly close to being IC"
      Until you remember that the human brain isn't very good at reverse-engineering billions of years of evolution on immediate inspection. And then the biologists come up with lots of plausible ways it could have evolved, and suddenly it's not disturbingly close to IC at all.

      "I would tend to say much the same holds for any ID concept in cosmology. "
      There is no ID concept in cosmology, there is simply a religio-delusional attempt to desperately scramble around trying to attach an almost zero probability to some natural observation. $340,000 from the Templeton Foundation to say "ooh, what a lot of leading zeroes there are in the decimal expansion of the Cosmological Constant".

    4. Luke Barnes is an advocate of fine tuning, and leaps into suggestions of a fine tuner. We have to be careful by what we mean by fine tuning. This also runs into issues with the anthropic principle (AP). A weak AP would say the universe has to be of a certain nature in order for life and us humans to exist. Bethe used a similar introductory argument for proposing a nuclear energy source for the sun. Other energy sources did not operate long enough to account for the ancient age of Earth and its natural history. Similarly the WAP would suggest the coupling constants by some means must be of a value or at the terminus of an RG flow such that life and us can exist. There seems to be nothing in our theories of physics that point to some determinant of known coupling constants as interaction energy E → 0. If coupling constants were so determined they would in a funny way be similar to mathematical numbers such as π.

      The converse of this really could be advanced, that if the structure of nature were such that life were impossible and we could not exist, then something very unique is going on. When looked at this way it means life and us humans are really tuned to the universe more than the other way around.

      We have no general theory of renormalization group flows (RG flows) and for quantum gravitation they may be a moot point when fundamentally it may be nonperturbative. At part of this is of course how the physical vacuum of low energy determines the cosmological constant and how this was determined by a quantum transition from a high energy vacuum near the Planck scale. This is a form of RG glow, or what determines that, for the mass-gap in this transition produced radiation and particles. Does the multiverse help? If there is this multiverse then these pocket worlds can have almost any possible RG flow to low (or lower) energy with a vast number of possible coupling constants. In this setting physical structure that is not impossible must almost be determined to exist.

      Switching to MWI, there is no empirical way that I can see to demonstrate that amplitudes split off into different worlds. David Deutsch some time back was certain there was some way to do this, but nothing I know of came of that. From a phenomenological perspective there is no particular difference between a collapse and this unobservable splitting off of worlds. Trying to observe this splitting off of worlds is a bit like trying to observe a quantum wave in its entirety, which in a pure sense is impossible.

    5. There is no evidence for universal fine-tuning, MWI, or the multiverse. Fine-tuning implies it is physically possible for the universe to be of a different nature - nobody has any idea whether this is true or not. e.g. could the Cosm. Const. be any other value than the observed one? Ans: Dunno

      Not a single successful scientific prediction has been made based on AP - you can't determine where the soup of quarks came from by considering human biology - it's too far up the hierarchy of complexity. Just like you can't determine whether a YouTube video of a cat is running on Intel or ARM by observing the feline motions.

      Almost all real numbers are transcendental like π.

      "if the structure of nature were such that life were impossible and we could not exist, then something very unique is going on. "

      We do exist, though!

      "When looked at this way it means life and us humans are really tuned to the universe more than the other way around."

      Humans are biologically adapted to the biosphere. It's a fact! That's where it gets its name.

      Quantum collapse and splitting off clearly refer to different phenomena, thus their different names.

      Anyway, my point was that it is tautologous that Nature is the only arbiter in Natural Science. Several times I have read comments on here where people claim theories are true for which there is not a shred of empirical evidence.

    6. "Not a single successful scientific prediction has been made based on AP - you can't determine where the soup of quarks came from by considering human biology..."

      I'm trying to understand how any prediction - scientific or otherwise - can be made without a human doing so. And you do mention that "We do exist, though!" Yes, we do. How, then - and based on what? - would one come to the conclusion that our actions are based on nature, rather than the other way round?

      The laws of nature did not spring into existence without humans discovering (or inventing) them. Isn't it obvious how the biosphere got its name?

  55. -------------------Part I----------------------------------
    Summarizing the examples so far on observer is the observed.

    1. Conditioning is programming. If I am conditioned as a Hindu, then I am programmed as a Hindu. When the Hindu program runs, I believe in reincarnation. Here, the hindu-program is the observer, and the belief in reincarnation is the observed. When the Hindu-Program stalls, the belief disappears. Only when the Hindu-program runs, there is the Muslim, and the Christian. As soon as the Hindu-Program stops, the Muslim and the Christian disappear, they are now just human beings; you see them as humans and not Muslim etc. Here, the Hindu-Program is the observer, and the Muslim and Christian identity that you see is the observed. When the observer stalls, the identification stops, therefore, the observed is the virtue of the observer, that is, the observer is the observed. The Hindu-Program, the Christian-Program, and the Muslim-Program are all software programs. I need not change the hardware of the brain to become a christian. All I need to do is get reprogrammed or reconditioned as a Christian to convert to christianity; the brain is intact after the conversion, only the software program has changed.

    2. There is a tree. A botanist and a woodcutter look at the tree. The botanist has a taxonomical view of the tree, whereas the woodcutter sees timber in a tree. How can the same tree mean two different things to two different people? The botanist-program is the observer and the taxonomical view is the observed. Likewise, the woodcutter-program is the observer, and the timber-view is the observed. Both are not looking at the actual tree, are they? Each is describing or interpreting the tree according to his programming. The description or the interpretation, which is either the taxonomical view or the timber-view is the observed. The observed is not the actual tree because they both miss the actual tree for the view or the description or interpretation. So, the observer or the botanist-program or the woodcutter-program is the observed or the interpretation or the taxonomical view or whatever. Again, the botanist-program and woodcutter-program are software programs because if I train the woodcutter to be a botanist then his view will change. Again, the brain is intact after the change

    3. There is rotten stuff. The fly-program finds it attractive, and the human-program finds it offensive. How can the same stuff present two opposite odors? If I swap the fly-program for the human-program, then the human will find the stuff attractive. Here, the fly-program or the human-program is the observer, and the offence or attraction is the observed. When I swap the observers, the observed also gets swapped. Therefore, the observer is the observed. However, the fly-program and human-program are hardware programs, in that, during swapping, I must change the physiology and biochemistry of fly to the human and the human to the fly. The hardware (the physiology and biochemistry) is responsible for the offence or attraction.

  56. ---------------------Part II-----------------------------------
    4. The frame of reference is the observer. Take a ruler and measure a straight line. Say, the ruler is not a standard, rather I can alter the length of the ruler. Now, the ruler is the frame of reference and the straight line is the observed. When I increase or decrease the length of the ruler, the straight line correspondingly decreases or increases in length. How can the same straight line have two different lengths? The observed, the length of the straight line, changes when the frame of reference, the ruler, alters its length. This means that the length of the straight line, the observed, is the virtue of the frame of reference or the observer. Therefore, the observer is the observed.

    5. Industrial machines are hardware programs because they take raw material as input, apply a mechanical or chemical process on the input, and produce goods as output. A black-and-white-tv is a hardware program because it receives waves as input and after processing turns them into black-and-white images that appear on the screen, which is the output. Here the observer is the function of the hardware, which is producing black-and-white images. The black-and-white images are the observed. If I want color images, then I need to change the function or the observer. This change is enacted by changing the hardware of the tv. Because I need to alter the hardware to change the function or the observer, it is a hardware program. (In the software examples of the observer, remember, the brain was intact.) The color-tv-function or the black-and-white-tv function is the observer, and the color images or black-and-white images are the observed. When I alter the observer, by modifying the hardware, the color of the images, the observed, changes. Therefore, the observer is the observed.

    6. A have discussed the mathematical approach to the observer is the observed in my previous comment.

  57. The function of hardware, for example the function of industrial machines or black-and-white-tvs or color-tvs is the subject of the hardware. Likewise, the function of the detector in the double slit experiment, is the subject of the detector, which means what? Detection is subjective!!

  58. The problem of 'groupthink' is apparently not confined just to fundamental physics. A very scholarly poster over at the 23andme (genetic) forums, with the handle "Frigwides", and whose specialty is paleoanthropology, has made hundreds of posts whose theme is that the paleoanthropology community has been going down the wrong path in the interpretation of human evolution for decades. This very much parallels the "Lost in Math" approach that has plagued fundamental physics for decades as well. The last sentence of Frigwides post introduction titled "Implications of the Younger Dryas Impact", posted today, was so appropriate and universal, across all disciplines, that I just had to mention it. In his words: "The peer-review "echo chamber" may be at the root of the problem". His posts are just incredibly informative, and deeply thought out, and this one small quote doesn't remotely do justice to his extraordinary scholarship, expressed in probably hundreds of thousands of words. Indeed, his posts could fill up numerous books, and as with Sabine, evince his frustration with a community that self-reinforces a viewpoint that leads to no progress in solving underlying problems.

  59. How can elementary particles carry so many different 'labels':spin, charge, flavor,color, weak charge, etc.?

    How do these properties attach/inhere/adhere to the particles?

    Why are these properties so randomly and asymmetrically distributed among the different particles?

    Why are so many 'hidden from view'?

    Why is mass not even considered one of these inherent features??

    Note: These are only one of many questions that should be asked .

    1. It is my understanding that particles lost their mass because the rest mass became an inconvenient term in constructing the Dirac Lagrangian.

      The sad thing is that this Lagrangian is still a total kludge and does not represent the classical T - V.

  60. Hugh Everitt writes "for any interpretation, it is necessary to put the mathematical model of the theory into correspondence with experience." (page 455, 1957, Reviews of Modern Physics).
    Of quantum measurement, recall the 1977 conference "Problems in the Foundations of Physics," here we read: "it is only by comparing quantum mechanics with its predecessors, in particular with classical mechanics or classical statistical mechanics, as generally different structural theories, that a problem of interpretation is introduced." (Bub, The Measurement Problem in Quantum Mechanics). Unruh writes in 1995: "at least in part, the measurement problem in quantum mechanics is the disquiet that physicists feel for the concept of determination." (page 562, 1995 Conference on Fundamental Problems in Quantum Theory).

  61. A project that was actually canceled because it was thought too expensive was the Overwhelmingly Large Telescope (OWL), which was much cheaper than the next collider will be, and possibly would have even shed more light on particle physics (let alone the rest of astronomy).

  62. correction: The function [performed by the] hardware, for example the function [performed by] industrial machines or black-and-white-tvs or color-tvs is the subject of the hardware. Likewise, the function [performed by] the detector in the double slit experiment, is the subject of the detector, which means what? Detection is subjective!!

  63. I put the 'subject' in the hardware and made the software into a 'subject'--subject in the sense of subjective. So, in all my humbleness, if I may ask most politely, is this something new?

  64. I was wondering what is the difference between a frame of reference in relativity and a frame of reference like the human-program or fly-program; or the function performed by the hardware like color-tvs, industrial machines etc.; or software programs?
    There is the observer on the railway platform, which is a static frame of reference, and there is the moving train hooting its horn. When the observer is on the platform, he experiences dopplers effect of sound, but when he jumps into the moving train, dopplers effect disappears. We alter the frame of reference when the observer jumps from a static one to a moving one. They are 3 dimensional frames of reference which are either static or moving, in that, there is no function or program involved. That is, when we refer to such frames of reference, we don't imply functions or programs. These frames of references are objective, whereas the other frames of reference are subjective. We can now safely infer that the frames of reference in relativity are objective, and that the frame of reference of the detector in the double slit experiment is subjective, namely a hardware program, which is a function performed by the detector.

  65. You might like this quote from 100+ years ago (from Peirce for the Perplexed by C de Waal)
    CS Peirce insists that science is an inherently social affair. The interaction with fellow inquirers is crucial for filtering out the various idiosyncrasies that individual inquirers bring to the table—it allows us, as he puts it, “to grind off the arbitrary and the individualistic character of thought” (R969:3f). The solitary genius so favored by novelists, like Shelley’s Frankenstein or Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll, is to Peirce not a scientist at all. In fact, not even his observations count: “one man’s experience is nothing if it stands alone. If he sees what others cannot see, we call it hallucination” (CP5.402n).
    In contrast to the first three methods, error plays a central role in science, as it is precisely when we are wrong that we are given the strongest evidence that there is a world out there that is independent of what we may think it to be, and with which we are somehow in direct contact. Hence, there is an important sense in which error is to be encouraged rather than avoided. This too speaks to the idea that science is a communal enterprise, and one that should involve people with different backgrounds, inclinations, and talents, so that the greatest variety of angles is explored. Part of what is at play here are Peirce’s conceptions of self and mind, which are decidedly anti-Cartesian. Peirce defines the private self not in terms of anything exquisite or divine, but in terms of error and ignorance. What makes our private selves unique is that we differ from others in that we are wrong about different things and that we are ignorant about different things. Hence, for Peirce, scientific inquiry—which seeks to alleviate error and ignorance—is in essence a process of self-effacement.

  66. Dear Sabine,

    Let us agree that 'the crisis in physics is not only about physics'. So what is it about?

    Let us also agree that 'just because they can write down equations for something does not mean this math ... describes reality.' So what does it describe?

    Let us agree further that 'the existing scientific system does not encourage learning'. So what does it encourage?

    The reason I phrase these questions thus is because of your intriguing remark that 'what we have here in the foundation of physics is a plain failure of the scientific method'; although I too would argue that, from an evidence-based perspective, the foundational issues raised by you need to be addressed from a philosophical perspective concerning cognition that verily transcends that of physics.

    However, from such a perspective, the failures that you ascribe to individual limitations in transcending the scientific system of one's education are more systemic; they are symptomatic of a mathematical education in which postulation of putative mathematical limits---such as that, say, of Hawking's radiation, or of Einstein's equations of General Relativity at the putative 'Big Bang'---are mistakenly taken to describe a plausible reality.

    Mistakenly since, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the physical states which such mathematical/Cauchy limits postulate are purely platonic; and the actual physical phenomena that corresponds to what the extrapolated mathematical limits purport to describe could, sometimes, be discontinuities corresponding to phase changes of the system that are not reflected in, and are not entailed by, the postulates of the theory.

    So, might not the systemic failure be not of the scientific method, but of the classical mathematical education that we all unsuspectingly shared in our formative years?

    An education which ignores the need for evidence when claiming that the provable propositions of a formal mathematical theory that admits---unarguably unambiguous---symbolic representation of our primary and secondary conceptual metaphors in the language of the theory, must interpret as true in the structure, say ExternalReality, which gave birth to the primary conceptual metaphors that the theory was initially intended, and designed, to represent symbolically---even when there is no evidence-based interpretation of our secondary conceptual metaphors in the ExternalReality!

    I seek to highlight this issue in Chapter 16 of my book (under proofing/indexing) that I have uploaded for discussion in Academia:

    'The Significance of Evidence-based Reasoning for Mathematics, Mathematics Education, Philosophy and the Natural Sciences'.



  67. Science is not religion. Religion is fixed and caught in a rut. It always moves from the known to the known. You are confined to and constrained by an extremely rigid framework. You can't step out of the framework and come upon something totally new. If you did then you are condemned as blasphemous and sacrilegious. You are irreligious and an outcaste; you no longer belong to that religion; you are ostracized and denigrated.

    In religion, there is authority, tradition, ritual, and orthodoxy. And what is expected and must be fervently avowed is strict conformity. There is no room for questioning and enquiry. Questioning is forbidden and can invite and spell insurmountable trouble. The believers or followers are steeped in dogmas, doctrines, and ideologies. There are Gods, deities, and Godmen. These are absolute, unquestionable, and beyond criticism. (In all these respects politics in Tamil Nadu is the new religion, and the political leaders are demigods.)

    The followers and believers being steeped in dogmas, doctrines and ideologies, and avowed conformity to dictates and execution of fatwas, refuse to look at facts. Such a morbid mind made morbid because it has become insensitive to other’s sensibilities, will refuse to look at facts. To refuse to look, is to ignore. It ignores facts and becomes impervious to reason. When you ignore, there is ignorance. And born out of this ignorance are suicide bombers and those who kill in the name of safeguarding dogmas, doctrines and ideologies. They are so meticulously brainwashed and indoctrinated that all that matters to them is the doctrine or the ideology.

    Aldous Huxley said "Einstien broke the Newtonian orthodoxy". Then what happened to Einstien and this theory? That pretty much sums up science and the apple scope for enquiry and questioning in science.

  68. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Add to this that these doctrines or ideologies are often easily enforced because they serve certain personal and group interests. People rarely commit suicide because of religion alone, it stronger force is (perceived) exploitation.


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