Saturday, April 03, 2021

Should Stephen Hawking have won the Nobel Prize?

[This is a transcript of the video embedded below.]

Stephen Hawking, who sadly passed away in 2018, has repeatedly joked that he might get a Nobel Prize if the Large Hadron Collider produces tiny black holes. For example, here is a recording of a lecture he gave in 2016:
“Some of the collisions might create micro black holes. These would radiate particles in a pattern that would be easy to recognize. So I might get a Nobel Prize after all.”
The British physicist and science writer Phillip Ball, who attended this 2016 lecture, commented:
“I was struck by how unusual it was for a scientist to state publicly that their work warranted a Nobel… [It] gives a clue to the physicist’s elusive character: shamelessly self-promoting to the point of arrogance, and heedless of what others might think.”
I heard Hawking say pretty much exactly the same thing in a public lecture a year earlier in Stockholm. But I had an entirely different reaction. I didn’t think of his comment as arrogant. I thought he was explaining something which few people knew about. And I thought he was right in that, if the Large Hadron Collider would have seen these tiny black holes decay, he almost certainly would have gotten a Nobel Prize. But I also thought that this was not going to happen. He was much more likely to win a Nobel Prize for something else. And he almost did.

Just exactly what might Hawking have won the Nobel Prize for, and should he have won it? That’s what we will talk about today.

In nineteen-seventy-four, Stephen Hawking published a calculation that showed black holes are not perfectly black, but they emit thermal radiation. This radiation is now called “Hawking radiation”. Hawking’s calculation shows that the temperature of a black hole is inversely proportional to the mass of the black hole. This means, the larger the black hole, the smaller its temperature, and the harder it is to measure the radiation. For the astrophysical black holes that we know of, the temperature is way, way too small to be measurable. So, the chances of him ever winning a Nobel Prize for black hole evaporation seemed very small.

But, in the late nineteen-nineties, the idea came up that tiny black holes might be produced in particle collisions at the Large Hadron Collider. This is only possible if the universe has additional dimensions of space, so not just the three that we know of, but at least five. These additional dimensions of space would have to be curled up to small radii, because otherwise we would already have seen them.

Curled up extra dimensions. Haven’t we heard that before? Yes, because string theorists talk about curled up dimensions all the time. And indeed, string theory was the major motivation to consider this hypothesis of extra dimensions of space. However, I have to warn you that string theory does NOT tell you these extra dimensions should have a size that the Large Hadron Collider could probe. Even if they exist, they might be much too small for that.

Nevertheless, if you just assume that the extra dimensions have the right size, then the Large Hadron Collider could have produced tiny black holes. And since they would have been so small, they would have been really, really hot. So hot, indeed, they’d decay pretty much immediately. To be precise, they’d decay in a time of about ten to the minus twenty-three seconds, long before they’d reach a detector.

But according to Hawking’s calculation, the decay of these tiny black holes should proceed by a very specific pattern. Most importantly, according to Hawking, black holes can decay into pretty much any other particle. And there is no other particle decay which looks like this. So, it would have been easy to see black hole decays in the data. If they had happened. They did not. But if they had, it would almost certainly have gotten Hawking a Nobel Prize.

However, the idea that the Large Hadron Collider would produce tiny black holes was never very plausible. That’s because there was no reason the extra dimensions, in case they exist to begin with, should have just the right size for this production to be possible. The only reason physicists thought this would be the case was an argument from mathematical beauty called “naturalness”. I have explained the problems with this argument in an earlier video, so check this out for more.

So, yeah, I don’t think tiny black holes at the Large Hadron Collider was Hawking’s best shot at a Nobel Prize.

Are there other ways you could see black holes evaporate? Not really. Without these curled up extra dimensions, which do not seem to exist, we can’t make black holes ourselves. Without extra dimensions, the energy density that we’d have to reach to make black holes is way beyond our technological limitations. And the black holes that are produced in natural processes are too large, and then too cold to observe Hawking radiation.

One thing you *can do, though, is simulating black holes with superfluids. This has been done by the group of Jeff Steinhauer in Israel. The idea is that you can use a superfluid to mimic the horizon of a black hole. If you remember, the horizon of a black hole is a boundary in space, from inside of which light cannot escape. In a superfluid, one does not trap light, but one traps sound waves instead. One can do this because the speed of sound in the superfluid depends on the density of the fluid. And since one can experimentally control this density, one can control the speed of sound.

If one then makes the fluid flow, there’ll be regions from within which the sound waves cannot escape because they’re just too slow. It’s like you’re trying to swim away from a waterfall. There’s a boundary beyond which you just can’t swim fast enough to get away. That boundary is much like a black hole horizon. And the superfluid has such a boundary, not for swimmers, but for sound waves.

You can also do this with a normal fluid, but you need the superfluid so that the sound has the right quantum properties, as it does in Hawking’s calculation. And in a series of really neat experiments, Steinhauer’s group has shown that these sound waves in the superfluid indeed have the properties that Hawking predicted. That’s because Hawking’s calculation applies to the superfluid in just exactly the same way it applies to real black holes.

Could Hawking have won a Nobel Prize for this? I don’t think so. That’s because mimicking a black hole with a superfluid is cool, but of course it’s not the real thing. These experiments are a type of quantum simulation, which means they demonstrate that Hawking’s calculation is correct. But the measurements on superfluids cannot demonstrate that Hawking’s prediction is correct for real black holes.

So, in all fairness, it never seemed likely Hawking would win a Nobel Prize for Hawking radiation. It’s just too hard to measure. But that wasn’t the only thing Hawking did in his career.

Before he worked on black hole evaporation, Hawking worked with Penrose on the singularity theorems. Penrose’s theorem showed that, in contrast to what most physicists believed at the time, black holes are a pretty much unavoidable consequence of stellar collapse. Before that, physicists thought black holes are mathematical curiosities that would not be produced in reality. It was only because of the singularity theorems that black holes began to be taken seriously. Eventually astronomers looked for them, and now we have solid experimental evidence that black holes exist. Hawking applied the same method to the early universe to show that the Big Bang singularity is likewise unavoidable, unless General Relativity somehow breaks down. And that is an absolutely amazing insight about the origin of our universe.

I made a video about the history of black holes two years ago in which I said that the singularity theorems are worth a Nobel Prize. And indeed, Penrose was one of the recipients of the 2020 Nobel Prize in physics. If Hawking had not died two years earlier, I believe he would have won the Nobel Prize together with Penrose. Or maybe the Nobel Prize committee just waited for him to die, so they wouldn’t have to think about just how to disentangle Hawking’s work from Penrose’s? We’ll never know.

Does it matter that Hawking did not win a Nobel Prize? Personally, I think of the Nobel Prize in the first line as an opportunity to celebrate scientific discoveries. The people who we think might win this prize are highly deserving with or without an additional medal. And Hawking didn’t need a Nobel Prize, he’ll be remembered without it.


  1. Hello Sabine,
    very very interesting
    Have a nice day

  2. The Nobel committee, while it has made some changes (prizes for work before the last year, up to three people), tends to be conservative with regard to Nobel’s will, especially the “invention or discovery” part. I think that the reason why Penrose didn’t get the prize until 2020 is indicated by who got the other half of the prize: people who showed that black holes actually exist, not just that they follow from theory, or could be a possible explanation, but one among several, for some phenomena.

    Had Hawking still been alive, he could have shared it with Penrose. There might have been another one for Genzel and Getz. (Several of the recent prizes have been for astrophysics, so why not another?)

    1. Phillip Helbig8:31 AM, April 03, 2021

      My jaw has hit the floor. The level of cognitive dissonance that occurs as you write this must be off the charts:

      "people who showed that black holes actually exist, not just that they follow from theory, or could be a possible explanation, but one among several, for some phenomena."

      Really? Is that how Physics works? It's based on observation, you say?

      They should've given Hawking Brian Schmidt's Nobel Prize, after the publication of "A Fortunate Universe".

  3. I agree that black holes at the LHC was a long shot. However, if they had been found, and shown to evaporate with a thermal spectrum, then Hawking would probably have received a Nobel Prize for his black-hole thermodynamics stuff (along with, had he still been alive, Jacob Bekenstein).

  4. Thank you for explaining not only black hole non-production but also superfluid simulations of black holes.

    Unlike some doomsayers I never worried our world will be swallowed up by an LHC black hole as it'd be too short-lived to do any damage, yet in the back of my mind I feel uneasy about the possibility of strange matter forming, its contagion converting surrounding matter causing the whole Earth to become a strangelet. It doesn't keep me up at night but there's still a part of me that worries. Any thoughts on that?

    1. Simple answer: cosmic-ray collisions happen every day which are more energetic than the LHC, so any doomsday scenarios would already have happened, if that were a real danger.

      Yes, they could also have formed small black holes, but there would have been no way to detect the thermal decay spectrum.

    2. I just read again about the Oh-My-God particle's energy, which I think adds to what you just said. Even though this matter doesn't make my Top10 Things To Worry About list, I still appreciate your answer, thank you very much!

    3. You're talking about the Kurt Vonnegut Ice 9 Award.

  5. Given that two calculations by the most prominent candidates for quantum gravity, loop quantum gravity and string theory, make a great deal of rederiving Hawkings formula in their formalism as an expression of microscopic entropy rather than in the bulk - Hawkings original calculation; it seems that Hawking should have won a Nobel prize in theoretical physics. It seems a little curmudgeonly for the Nobel Prize Committee to not distinguish between experimental and theoretical physics and award prizes accordingly.

    1. As I've said before, the Nobel Prize isn't a community award. It's handed out by a group of people tasked with executing the will of a man who's been dead for more than a hundred years. Instead of second-guessing the committee, blame Nobel for not foreseeing that science would change and note down a clause that allows revisions to the criteria.

    2. @Sabine Hossenfelder:

      Well, maybe the physics community ought to get themselves organised and have a yearly awards ceremony. If hollywood can do it, so should we.

      Apparently, Wigners father was concerned when he heard his son wanted to go into theoretical physics. And he asked how many jobs were in it in Hungary. Three, maybe four in Europe, said Wigner.

      Thats certainly not the case now. It seems parsimonious in the extreme to have just one physics prize per year given the size of the physics community globally.

      I can think of quite a few others:

      1. Best large-scale experiment

      2. Best small-scale experimemt

      3. Best single-authored theoretical paper

      4. Best collaborative theoretical paper.

      5. Best Science writing

      6. Best Science Administrator

      Etc, etc.

    3. It seems clear that the Nobel prize committee is awarding theoretical research that has experimental confirmation. It's telling that the idea of confirmation with reality is seen as as a curmudgeonly requirement.

      Also, even the theoretical calculation of Hawking radiation isn't very rigorous. Unless you think a black hole that radiates a constant amount of energy for eternity and has constant mass for eternity is realistic.

      So, the Nobel committee would be right to not award based on the mathematical derivation of Hawking radiation.

  6. This is important when we consider the failures of the Nobel Prize committee when looked at historically. After all, Einstein did not win a Nobel prize for either special relativity or general relativity - a failure, if there ever was one. And one that would have been rectified had they acknowledged the divide between experiment and theoretical thought.

    1. I guess it's a bit like the Olympic Games; it's not the competition/award out there for merit but it gets the lion's share of attention.

    2. And Tolstoy did not win the Literature prize.

      If Katalin Karikó does not win this year's prize for Medicine, the whole system should be abolished.

    3. I meant, it's not the only competition/award.

  7. I would say someone is arrogant if they consider themselves better than others so then treat others with contempt. It's not arrogant to back yourself, if you've got a realistic assessment of your capabilities. I've no idea if Hawking was nasty to people but he seemed ready to poke fun at himself as well as boast. If anything, the world could always use more of that attitude.
    (Shout-out to Dr. Hossenfelder for also bringing the party to science!)
    As bizarre as black holes are, they made more sense to me than String Theory did, which I had thought of as true because, 'science'.

    1. C Thompson11:22 AM, April 03, 2021

      Do you reckon you will get a Nobel Prize for your discovery of dreams predicting the future? You don't do horse races or lotteries, do you?

      There has never been any observational evidence to support strings being physical. You are confusing speculation with observation. And "observation" in physics means observed 1 quintillion times and to the precision of 1 billionth of the diameter of a human hair. Not just a fancy that something might be the case (e.g. telepathy, clairvoyance, dreams of the future).

      So yes, because "science". You just don't know what the word means, that's all.

    2. Of course I don't think I'll get a Nobel,I don't DO anything they give out prizes for. I don't think String Theory is correct. I could have been clearer originally but now you know!
      Let it go, that was last week and this is a different discussion. Good grief.

    3. C Thompson5:15 AM, April 04, 2021

      But you wrote that you had thought of String Theory as true because "science". But there has never been any empirical evidence that String Theory applies to physical reality. It has always been and remains pure speculation.

      So you didn't think String Theory was true because "science", but because you misunderstood the difference between confirmed empirical facts and theoretical speculation.

    4. That was because there are those who work on it that believe in it and I was getting my information on it from mass media as well as information from more correct sources.
      I'm not a follower of SH just for her jokes, for f_ck's sake.

    5. C. Thompson

      "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen" (Harry S. Truman)

    6. marten,

      Your comment is hostile and uncalled-for. Please stick to the science.

    7. @Steven Evans
      Why is it you care so much that you'll keep telling me and others here about our supposed lack of understanding?
      My interest in science/physics is that of an interested lay-person, not a specialist; I already know I'm half- full of shit, thanks.
      Dr. Hossenfelder is probably more clever than both of us put together and I assume if she cared to, she would pull everything I suggest into tiny pieces more effectively than you ever could.

      Your constant haranging does nothing but make me think of you as the resident troll; great work, if that's what you're aiming for.
      I can't stop you but you aren't using your time or supposed intellect to best effect.

    8. C Thompson3:02 PM, April 04, 2021

      I am trying to make it clear to you that "science, occult and psychics" don't belong in the same list. Why? Because you put them in the same list.

    9. Because I wanted to. That's it. No grand anti-science agenda or anything. Trying to stick more to science, but not to suit you.

  8. The issue of TeV scale black holes was not just extra dimensions, but extra-large dimensions. There have been other attempts to look for this. The expectation is that in a scattering experiment there should be some energy-momentum that goes into these extra dimensions if large enough. Also, if wrapped up with gravitation these extra-large dimensions would result in a small-ranged form of gravitation with F = GMm/r^n for n > 2 and some different or dimensionally renormalized G. None of any of this was ever found, including TeV scale black holes.

    I am not so sure this was so much naturalness as it was recklessness; it was a sort of desperation. The Planck scale is 15 orders of magnitude different from the TeV scale. Without some sort of “fudge factor” that says the scale of quantum gravitation is much larger, with Calabi-Yau manifolds wrapped on larger scales etc. This was a popular idea back around 2000 to 2005 or so. I have not read much about it lately. This appears to be another dead idea in theoretical physics.

    Or is it entirely? In quantum optics there are squeezed states of the vacuum and light. There is an operator of the form a^†a^† - aa that corresponds to a counter rotating wave of a photon. This operator puts the uncertainty principle off quadrature so Δx → 0, Δp →∞. A similar operator may let Δx → ∞, Δp → 0. This might then of increase the Planck scale so compactified dimensions show up on larger scales. Even if this is possible, there are a couple of difficulties. This requires setting up dressed quantum states that are somewhat delicate. Particle physics is, apologies ahead of time, more brutish in that particles in separable states are just slammed together. Getting such dressed states are higher energy is difficult, even with something like soft X-rays. Another problem is the theory of squeezed states is hard to develop with nonabelian gauge groups. So, we might just be best to let sleeping dog lie.

    Hawking would have shared this with Penrose. The Nobel committee tend to favor experiment, and this is where Ghez comes into the picture. The Nobel committee also has a precedence of giving prizes to very applied results after giving a prize for more cosmic or theoretical results. This years award will go to something more applied. There are a number of developments in solid state physics that I think are Nobel worthy.

  9. As Sabine points out, Stephen Hawking never needed a Nobel Prize to be well known. Both scientists and the general public are more likely to recognize his name than at least 99.9% of all Nobel Prize winners and likely will continue to do so for eternity. While I can easily see both sides of this debate, I would have liked to see Hawking win a Nobel Prize for this reason: More than anyone else, he alerted multiple theoretical and observational academic communities that something closely related to both information and thermodynamics is going on at the event horizon of black holes. Without his decidedly non-obvious insights on that issue, the next half-century of conceptual and mathematical contemplation of black holes might instead have focused almost solely on the inaccessible internal dynamics of black holes, rather than on the more experimentally exciting issue of how black holes continue to interact with the rest of the universe at their event horizons.

    1. Hawking, an excellent theorist, did good work; never rose to the level of a Nobel.
      He extended theoretical frontiers, but the inspiration for his work was not his own. Hawking Radiation was based on the work of Zeldovich and Starobinsky. His black hole laws were completed by Bekenstein.
      His intuition was weak. He lost every bet he took. He said the Higgs would never be found.
      I red one of his books “A Brief History of Time”. Physicists mostly disregard the physics (the north pole hypothesis), and philosophers question the philosophy. I didn’t think it worth reading any of the others.

      Developed as a BBC-poster-child for disabled academics his burial next to Newton in Westminster Abby is a tribute to the BBC propaganda machine.
      Possibly that other BBC creation, an incredibly gifted tv producer, masquerading as a serious biologist, will one day join him.
      Peter Woit has just put up a good and respectful review of Hawking.

      Stephen Hawking
      requiescat in pace
      nili nisi bonum
      TV is stronger than truth.

  10. I remember an article by Hawking where he responded to someone who accused him of being Positivist, the answer that Hawking gave is extraordinarily pragmatic and honest, I believe that we were awarded with Hawking

    1. Hi Luis,
      I replied to your comment about chess yesterday but it got eaten.
      I'll just say that Hawking was one of the Grand Master players of the Universe.

    2. C Thompson,

      There's no comment from you in the queue and not in the spam folder either, sorry.

    3. All good, Dr. Hossenfelder. I just found it by reading the newer comments in previous posts. I assumed that it wasn't going to appear.
      I'm spacing my comments out more, that's working better. Thanks for looking.

    4. Hi C Thompson, I read it and I understood what you meant, thank C Thompson

    5. @Luis
      My pleasure. :).

      @Dr Hossenfelder: Here's hoping our next conversations are something other than blog issues. Thanks for sorting it all out.

  11. Regarding my own earlier comment about the exceptional fame of Stephen Hawking, I would like to make a modest proposal:

    Some person or group with substantial finances and a penchant for the importance of science — the Allen Institute, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos come to mind as possible examples — should consider creating a Stephen Hawking Prize for Science, Mathematics, and Society. It would be explicitly and without apology a competitor of the Nobel prize, one without age limits, available posthumously in cases where the work itself is historically recent, and of course, explicitly open to mathematicians. It would be unrelated to the existing Stephen Hawking Medal for Science Communication, an essential but much narrower prize category.

    1. Terry, there is the "Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics", which does more or less what you suggest. I think Sabine is not a big fan of it, though.

  12. It's sad that something as paradigm-changing in cosmology as singularity theorems took half a century to get "officially" recognized as such. Hawking should have shared a Nobel with Penrose at least a decade earlier, once the ubiquity of black holes was beyond any doubt.

  13. I haven't studied the physics, but Hawking radiation is popularly described as virtual particles become real near the event horizon. Since virtual particles are a mathematical algorithm for doing calculations, it is a bit surprising that they would become real just because they are near a black hole. Some experimental confirmation would be welcome.

    1. Google "Casimir Effect" or the Wikipedia article on virtual particles. There is evidence for virtual particles--necessarily second-hand because if they last long enough to be observed directly they are no longer virtual.

      Philosophically I like the idea that nothing can split into something and anti-something. If nothing exists, what could stop it? Of course there is the energy problem in that we don't observe negative energy. Perhaps there is a whole negative-energy universe which balances ours but they repel each other somehow. (Probably not.)

      Given that they do exist, there is no problem with black holes making them real. They occur in pairs with opposite polarity, and if one of the pair goes into the black hole and the other doesn't, the remaining one then must last long enough to find something to cancel it, which is likely to be a long time. "Virtual" is perhaps a misleading term anyway. As long as they exist they are real, it is just that they attract their annihilation pair so they usually don't last very long.

    2. Just because you can calculate something using "virtual particles", doesn't make the "virtual particles" real. Feynman diagrams are a way of solving the Schrödinger equation, not a description of real things.

    3. I don't think I'm allowed to give a link here, but I recommend "Virtual Particles: What are they?" a post by Dr. Matt Strassler on his blog "Of Particular Significance".

      You are correct that they are used in quantum mechanical calculations and not considered real particles, because they don't have all the properties of what we call particles, so my interpretation was wrong, but I still think they are not considered "unreal", just different. That is, they were thought of by Dr. Feynman and others as real effects which had to be accounted for in calculations, not simply mathematical tricks. As is often the case, I think the name given to them has caused more confusion than simplification.

      All science is provisional, of course, and maybe the sun will disappear tomorrow, but as far as we currently know, "virtual particles" ("secondary field disturbances" might be a better name--or probably not) exist. (As do quarks and gluons, which have never been seen either.) Their existence is affirmed by the fact that calculations made assuming their existence predict the results of future observations, which is the same basis I have for believing in your own existence. Although logically we are both allowed to disbelieve in each other's existence--it could all be due to massive coincidence.

    4. See "Feynman's Path Integrals and Bohm's Particle Paths" by Roderich Tumulka, European Journal of Physics 26: L11-L13 (2005), arXiv:quant-ph/0501167.

    5. Thanks for the link, although I don't see it as adding anything to my last comment. Yes, wave equations imply secondary effects which must be included in the mathematics--because those effects are real, and can be seen in table-top wave-table experiments for classical waves. Yes, Feynman's diagrams are an approximation--but nowhere does the paper you cite state that they are not an approximation of real effects. They must be included in the calculations in order to make accurate predictions. In physics, the whole point of mathematics is to describe reality accurately.

      Yes, there are different ways of calculating those effects, but that does not make them unreal. Calculate the time evolution of a quantum system any (accurate) way you prefer and plot the results. You will see the secondary disturbances in the plot. (See my reference for examples.)

      If they are not real effects why do they continually give good results?

      Similarly, both our posts could be the results of cats running across keyboards, but I think it more likely that these traces we have left affirm our existence, although we cannot see each other.

  14. So Nobel nominates Barack Obama? If ever there were spooky action at a distance.

    1. I saw a comic strip published at the time with the joke that it was an award from the future for him combating Sarah Palin's high-tech assault on the world.

  15. If there'd been a ParaNobel, he surely would have won that.

  16. The Black Hole image came 3 years too late.

  17. And why didn't Cabibbo won the Nobel Prize?

  18. This is somewhat off-topic and something of a silly question maybe, but would the mechanism for the projection of the information of the holographic Universe in AdS/CFT resemble Hawking Radiation or some sort of 'hair' as from black holes, or would it be more like wave-patterns as in an actual hologram?

    1. You are assuming what happens on the boundary gets projected into the volume. I prefer to think what happens in the volume projects onto the boundary, as that seems more natural to me, but I don't know if projection is even relevant. All I think I know is that a physicist named Maldacena showed that there is an equivalence between one (important) mathematical form in the volume and another on the boundary, in a universe with a negative cosmological constant (which is not our universe). As I think Dr. Hossenfelder's post explained, holograms are really not a good analogy for Maldacena's result. Just a catchy title.

    2. Thanks, JimV. I was trying to ask about the volume projecting onto the boundary. I looked into Anti-de Sitter spaces to see how they worked, and if I'd missed anything try understanding more. (Missed the point that AdS spaces are mathematical and not physical, apparently.)

    3. I guess I was thinking of a Star Trek hologram when I read "...more like wave patterns in an actual hologram", which would imply projection into a volume.

      I'll go further out on a limb and state that my vague idea of Maldacena's result is not that there is any projection, but that it can convert a difficult calculation of General Relativity in a volume (such as black-hole calculations) to an easier calculation of quantum field theory in a lower-dimension boundary. Sort of like some differential equations can be simplified by the Laplace Transform. So more of an interesting and surprising mathematical trick than a physical process. (If I am correct.) An ADS space could be physical if it existed, but ours is not one. Ours is DS not ADS. So the black-hole calculations using Maldenca's technique probably don't apply in our universe.

    4. I think I understand better now, thanks. I tend to over-think things sometimes.
      On a bit of a tangent,I do wonder how the conformal AdS boundary thing would appear if it were physical.
      (That might be better as a rhetorical question, perhaps)

  19. I wonder what you think about this new book:,7B8X7,KEF8MA,TO5OG,1

  20. If there was a Nobel prize for beeing one of the coolest people on the planet, he would win easily.

  21. Barack Obama did not win it for being Barack Obama. He won it for 1) not being George Bush, and 2) for symbolising a dramatic shift in American thinking, which allowed a black man with a foreign sounding name to become president. Unfortunately, in 2016, reality came crashing down so hard that it went through the floor and into the umpteenth pit of hll.

    1. @Rat:

      I agree. I didn't think I was going to see a black president in my life time. Kamala Harris would not have been vice-president without his precedent.

      That's not to say there wasn't plenty to criticise in the Obama administration. He had a golden opportunity to really take Wall St to town after the crash of 2010 and he blew it.

      Maybe it was too much to ask that one man take on the reigning orthodoxy for the last half a century or so - I mean neoliberalism. It's probably going to take more than a president or a pandemic to do this.

    2. I've wondered if the USA and US-foreign relationships would have hit those depths a lot sooner with Sarah Palin at the helm instead.

    3. The thing with Obama and Hawking is, they're both flawed as humans usually are.
      So many current and historical figures of greatness have massive flaws and/or behave like jerks. It's bizarre to me how they're held up as paragons of virtue when they were not so crash-hot to their contemporaries.
      Obama seems like a relatively decent person, but I agree he could have done better.

  22. To the non-scientists, Hawking’s strength was in being able to explain his thoughts and findings in layman’s speak. He was brilliant and human!

  23. @Terry Bollinger, @Mozibur:

    I'm imagining in the future there ought to be the Hossenfelder Award for Theoretical Physics (That's Actually Useful), to help channel resources towards innovative research and projects that help advance scientific knowledge and away from areas that aren't fruitful.

    1. C Thompson11:13 AM, April 06, 2021

      Would you consider research into telepathy, clairvoyance and dreams predicting the future "actually useful" or not "fruitful"?

    2. Neither useful nor fruitful if they don't follow the criteria of actually being applicable to advancement of scientific knowledge. (Let's remember this award would be aimed at physicists and their work, not random blog commenters' pet ideas.)
      Especially not if such research isn't part of physics.
      Not if the eponymous physicist also considers such research as not useful and not scientific. I don't imagine she would.
      I said already several days ago that Dr. H would likely not agree with me, and I have noticed what I said on the matter went unremarked upon by her; I don't think such work would even be in the running.

    3. Why are they your "pet ideas" given they have been carefully investigated and there is no evidence that they are real phenomena? Why do you think things are true for which there is absolutely no evidence that they are true? This for me represents the greatest mystery in the universe.

    4. As a general treatise on my thoughts in case anyone else cares as well as an answer to you, Steven:
      Because I find them interesting. I still hold that there's no evidence found YET, and I've already read on how psychic phenomena have been tested and debunked in experimental settings. I'm also aware it's considered pseudo-science. If that is ridiculous of me then so be it.

      I also find how humans come up with all these ideas and myths fascinating. Why do people keep thinking of beings and places that don't fit into our four dimensions, and are believed in by entire groups and cultures. Turns out physicists do something like that too, with concepts like MWI and string theory, and extra dimensions where baby wormholes might emerge from, rather than Shangri-La. They have more maths, too.
      Scientists are and should be held to exceedingly high standards and need to be kept to account for their methods and results.
      Science, religion and the occult have an entwined history, like it or not. We've sorted out the woo but too many people still buy wholesale into that shit (I just share silly ideas on the blog of an instrumentalist unrealist skeptical scientist, 'cos I can.)

      On the flip-side, I want to know - how does the Universe actually work.

      Links that point to how my pet ideas have been debunked are welcome but beyond that IDGADFWYT.

    5. C Thompson3:20 AM, April 08, 2021
      A "treatise" on telepathy....!
      Telepathy, clairvoyance and dreams predicting the future would only be fascinating if true, which they have been shown not to be, There is no suggestion that evidence might be found that shows them to be real phenomena. So you don't have to write "yet" in all caps like evidence is expected to be found next week. They are nonsensical ideas and are expected to remain so.

      There is zero empirical evidence of Many Worlds or the multiverse or extra dimensions of String Theory. Again, you are getting the basic facts wrong. Natural Science is a collection of observations.

      Science is not like religion or the occult. Science is based on evidence, while religion and the occult are meaningless, evidence-free dogma. People come up with these ideas or believe in them because they haven't received an elementary school-level education in science and logic, or they have but didn't understand it.

      "Links that point to how my pet ideas have been debunked"

      You mean links that you will take to mean there is some 50-50 debate going on about whether dreams can predict the future or the tooth fairy is real. The only reason scientists even mention these ideas is because there are so many people still stuck on the other side of the enlightenment that happened centuries ago. Your ideas are considered to be nonsense:

      "In 1988, the US National Research Council concluded "The committee finds no scientific justification from research conducted over a period of 130 years, for the existence of parapsychological phenomena."

    6. I put ST, MWI, etc. In the same category as Shangri-La - non-existent.
      Go and look up alchemy. Check out who were in secret societies. I don't believe any secret society had the esoteric knowledge they claimed, but I still find them interesting. My fondness for that kind of subject has soured as QAnon, anti-vaxxers and the Bill Gates 5G idiocy has swept the internet and taken in people I thought knew better.
      No, I don't mean that at all... it's been decades since I believed in the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and I stopped believing in God, Jesus etc. last decade.
      I'll take your word about that quote but you've already said my ideas are nonsense so you're not really bringing anything new to the table.
      This blog's other readers might be tired of our debate and I pretty much am so I'm ending it here.

    7. Also, Steven, you talk like you're hot shit but you're merely a bully, not a beacon of scientific rigour.
      You're far from the first I've encountered and like the rest, your insecurity and need for attention and for validation shines through. I'm not responding to you again, it's a waste of time.
      Have a good one.

    8. C Thompson9:47 AM, April 08, 2021

      I am on the record in the comments as admitting I was wrong to PhysicistDave, Dr H., Lawrence, and JimV. There's no shame in being wrong. That's how we learn. What's interesting is people like you who will stick by evidence-free nonsensical ideas rather than admit you are wrong. Who is insecure?

      >I stopped believing in God, Jesus etc. last decade.
      You mean you realised gods and demi-gods are fictional characters in primitive people's tales. It's not a question of belief, but being mistaken about the plain facts.

      >Bill Gates 5G idiocy
      Dr. H. did a post on this. Apparently, scientifically it's not necessarily complete idiocy.

    9. I mean, who cares apart from you. Dr. Hossenfelder doesn't. Pretty sure nobody else does. I sure as heck don't any more. It doesn't matter, this blog and science will proceed no matter what I think.

    10. Why do you need to use the internet to tell me you believe in telepathy and clairvoyance? Why don't you send that message directly to my mind from yours, or via a dead person?

    11. Because you're a pain in my mortal arse and I'm not going to indulge your pestering.

  24. Personally I find it a bit depressing how this prize has become so culturally important within physics; it seems to be talked about within physics far more than within fields such as literature or medicine for which there are also Nobel prizes.

    PS it is similar to how irritatingly frequently they go on about Michelin stars in Masterchef

  25. Scientists should be in the business of self promotion as well. I think the idea that scientists should not self promote goes back to Christian ideals where, one should be humble and not boast. While these are admiral traits, marketing is important as well. How will your ideas get known without marketing?

    1. Education and its priority. Promotion of science is like trying to sell eye drops after previously invested in gouging them. Works for Hollywood and buffoonery, and denies the purpose for something substantial. Knowledge works only when it's shared and has to be socially recognized as a major priority in the first place. Not dealing with ever escalating problems afterwards. Hence, infrastructures, priorities and outreach must change.

      Yes, educator and scientist are different functions. Scientist is not necessarily an effective educator, nor does he have desire, resources, nor time for that (most serious professionals don't, and... that's one of the societal problems). But he should not be excluded from public, social live and communication by the wall of misunderstanding. I.e. implicitly or explicitly has a capacity to shape culture (in the first case, the culture of communication, e.g. helping to write textbooks, science fiction, etc.).

      Hence, the social structure must support that (e.g. infrastructures of support, de-commercializing platforms, lowering taxes, etc.) and work out high regard for those functions, invested in communication. At the very least, promote educator and scientist as superheroes (in that sense those buttons and ribbons work, but it's the work of social structure and people priorities to organize it). To change investment from investment into 'enemies are around us, but we will protect you' into 'let's explore this amazing world and find out how to communicate to each other'.

      The other way around, which we are following by default - choosing a hero and building an obscure pyramid - does not seem to work (don't get me wrong, it's great when it works! it just reflects a haphazard way to structure societal organization). As nobody is up to understanding of what's going on (i.e. knowledge is not capable of sharing, which is oxymoron as it only works when shared) and it cannot scale (un-maintainable). Hence, it turns into new religions, their respective beacons and energy dispersion for the general public. Chaos.

      So it's not up to a scientist to sell something to the market. It's up to those markets (i.e. each of us) to grow up and understand what's what. Can we do that?..

  26. I don't know if the following quote attributed to Hawking is accurate. If it is not please educate me and stop reading.
    "I think the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing, according to the laws of science,If you accept, as I do, that the laws of nature are fixed, then it doesn't take long to ask: What role is there for God?" If accurate, does the circular logic not offend? Either God or what I say.

    1. Hi Morris,
      That's a great quote either way. I think the laws of nature work with or without God; it's fool-hardy arrogance and ignorance for religious people to insist that a Creator is a necessity however.

    2. It's probably accurate, but it's not very relevant here I'd think; whatever Hawking said about this is definitely not what he'd have won a Nobel prize for. The quote in question doesn't have anything to do with physics; it is metaphysical speculation. And for the record, not very sophisticated.

    3. The laws of nature work without "God", because "God" is not real.

      Gods and demi-gods are fictional characters in pre-scientific, primitive tales. This is a common sense fact based on knowledge of human civilisation. We know this fact just like we know Harry Potter isn't real.

    4. Rollo5:20 PM, April 08, 2021

      "The quote in question doesn't have anything to do with physics; it is metaphysical speculation. And for the record, not very sophisticated."

      It doesn't need to be very "sophisticated". Fairy tales aren't true, petal.

    5. Rollo5:20 PM, April 08, 2021

      "The quote in question doesn't have anything to do with physics; it is metaphysical speculation. And for the record, not very sophisticated."

      Additionally, Hawking produced a theory based on quantum theory and GR which *was* extremely sophisticated (for example, you couldn't understand it if you tried for 100 years). This theory, though not proved physically true, is consistent with empirical evidence and doesn't require that the universe has a beginning nor that Zeus is real, or whatever "sophisticated"Iron Age fairy tales, sorry "metaphysics", it is you believe in.

    6. 1. You can't valdily infer anything about what I believe in from what I said in the comment above.

      2. Hawking's theory is completely irrelevant to belief in God

      3. You have no knowledge whatever of my intelligence or level of education, so it is very foolish of you to speculate as to what I could or could could not understand.

      The point I was making, to which your rude and stupid post completely fails to respond, is that Hawking's various attention-grabbing statements about religion and philosophy made late in career have nothing to do with his real physical research.

    7. My question remains unanswered. Is the quote attribution accurate or not? Opinion on significance of the connection between existence of god and H's theory is a separate question. No? Allow me to try to reach my own opinion.

    8. @Rollo
      Responding to Steven Evans is a lost cause.

    9. I have better things to do than check quotes for people who comment on my blog.

    10. "Hawking's various attention-grabbing statements about religion and philosophy made late in career have nothing to do with his real physical research."

      Not true. He came up with a physical theory that required no universal beginning, never mind Zeus or any other Iron Age superstitions, sorry, "metaphysics".

  27. Does anyone have any thoughts on how awards, prizes, etc. could help incentivise advances in physics that are practically useful and not rehashes of unproductive theories?

    1. Just some top-of-the-head thoughts, but I would like to see more awards for group collaborations, as well as a different type of award, in the form of low-level, continued support like a stipend, to enable more people to work in science, giving lectures and seminars on research topics, and educating the public (such as this blog, and writing books). There are research grants which cover some of that, but I mean less specifically-focused and more long term and broader-based. Maybe just as simple as, if you have a legitimate job in science, we will add 10% to your funding.

      There are so many billionaires in the world now who could never spend all their money that I feel certain the money exists to do much more of that sort of thing. (I could and would contribute a few thousand euros a year, at least until General Electric finds a way to eliminate my pension--which they would like to do.)

    2. The issue I see with a stipend is that we may end up with a variation of the same problems that there currently are amplified if the system isn't rigorously managed to avoid popular and 'pretty' science taking precedence.
      Otherwise I think this would be great. Add it to the pile of 'things I'd do if I were very rich', ha!
      Group awards will help dispel the 'cult of personality'.

  28. Do a video on the M87 black hole!

  29. I am seeing a lot of writing here that involves supernatural ideas. This is being argued I think wrongly on both sides.

    If something, call it X, exists and is generated by a cause or some agency then we can say that it necessarily exists. This is symbolically represented by □X, as again meaning X necessarily exists. It is a fairly self-evident axiom that if □X then X or □X → X. However, what cannot be inferred is the converse X → □X. The statement □X → X is logically equivalent to ~X → ~□X, for ~ meaning not or the logical complement, or if X does not exist then it is not the case that X necessarily exists. This is then equivalent to ~X → ~□~~X. The ~□~ = not necessarily not, written as ~□~ = ◇, which means the same thing as possibly. So this say that if X can not be found to exist, then possibly X does not exist. Think of the old idea that never finding a black swan is evidence there are none, but does not prove there are no black swans.

    This can be seen to derail creationist arguments, which usually go along the lines of “this thing, usually a living thing, is complex and it could only exist if there is a God that created it, or in other words it necessarily exists. The creationist argument is not only an ineffective scientific statement, it is a logical fallacy. This is related to why Anslem’s proof for the existence of God fails and Hume’s argument that causality does not imply logical truth.

    This does not though support some statements being made here. You cannot conclude that there is no necessary existence in the sense of X → ~□X. That is equivalent to ~~□X → ~X or that □X → ~X, or that if something necessarily exist it must not exist, which is a contradiction. We might think of X as being scientific or causal theory, and that if we say it entails it must not necessarily exist, eg there is no God, then we run into trouble. Science cannot prove atheism.

    1. I think many who discuss these things are either not up to a challenge of understanding those principles properly, or don't develop arguments enough as it's not their primary concern. In general, points of both categories are usually different from their texts.

      The first category often does not know the subject matter even in their respective frameworks, be they mythical, religious or not, as myths and mythical component of religions (a necessary one, as it's 'an installer') can also be studied (albeit, arguably so), as they indeed still represent an instrument of societal dynamics, ideology and control (i.e. they represent precise schemes to grab the attention which resonate well with the nervous system, e.g. the usual play-toys of intelligence agencies in order to slow down societal reactions - conspiracy theories).

      Not sure if sociology studies the influence of myths on social dynamics. In principle, it should check for correlations, in practice, it might be impossible as it spans generations. But people who think that humans on average are beyond myths are naive. Myths just take different forms and mediums in different strata as they represent simplified frameworks to approach life (w/o the need to work out for oneself how to behave, as it's genuinely hard and energy-consuming for 'no good reason').

      Entertainment is an example. But not an obvious one. It's only loosely ideological. Yet, the line is there (one can check any recent movie, if it can be endured long enough - it has all the elements of basic power structures, good-bad dichotomies, and other mythical components, only diluted and dumbed down to the utmost). Religions in the past made sure that the framework is properly installed by means of ritual (behavior), and QA by means of teachings.

      By the end of industrial revolution old cults were dead ("God is dead"). But nothing took their place proper, i.e. nothing provides the components religion provided - myth (easy to understand and resonating framework), teaching (implementation of simple societal rules), ritual (reinforcement and patterns of organization of life in society, usually generation-wise). Hence, prevailing attitudes of 'feeling lost' and 'nothing matters'.

      The trouble is that religion provided a ready and simple enough framework which was enough for most cases to structure interactions. In absence of such standardized solution, it can only be accomplished by proper communication, holistic education and hard intellectual work (i.e. ethics and reason must be personally worked out). And that's where we still find ourselves.

      Regarding logical derivations. Pre-assumption of a definite single entity that is an active agent is a strong claim not everyone assumes (even religions themselves do not claim it in the core). I.e. existence, causality (as cause-effect chain) and agency are taken as a convenience by some (i.e. 'is' more in line with 'appears as'). Some negate it (mainly to show it's unnecessary; negating existence is not proving non-existence, one cannot prove non-existence of pink rabbit; yet if one sees pink rabbits one may be alarmed that something is wrong, right? hence, the paradox is only seeming), most don't see why bother clarifying any further as the burden of proof lies on one claiming such existence (again, to some the very principle of immutable existence is positively unsupported according to either analysis or some personal experience).

      In parlor of Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika (among the first treatises around 2AD to attempt such analysis):
      "Here the intent is to negate existence,
      Not to prove nonexistence."

    2. Lawrence Crowell3:47 PM, April 09, 2021

      But scientific evidence and formal logic are not the only way to determine likely truths. If you take telepathy, there's certainly no physical theory to suggest minds can communicate directly, but it can also be checked phenomenologically by a careful psychologist that no information is transmitted this way. Granted, it's not hard science, but we can say it's a commonsense fact that telepathy is not a real phenomenon.
      Similarly, that "God" is a fictional character and "atheist" is a redundant word are commonsense facts. Also, science *does* refute or at least show untenable the main tenets of any actual human religion e.g. it's untenable to claim the universe was "created" (whatever that is supposed to mean) because physics tells us we don't even know if the universe had a beginning (given finite precision of measurement, I guess you could even say it is an unscientific claim to talk about the universe at t= exactly 0).

    3. Suppose someone told us there is a pink unicorn with purple polka dots that does a dance that guides the universe. This unicorn does so on the Martian volcanic shield Olympus Mons, and whenever the Mars Surveyor camera HiRISE looks at this feature the unicorn disappears. It is not exactly possible to disprove this, but I can dismiss it without much concern. The mythic narratives of the Tanach or Bible could well be regarded similarly. Many of these stories are very magical, such as the two from recent past holidays, the depiction of the passing over of the angel of death in Shemot, “The Names,” aka Exodus, and the resurrection of a savior God based on a kludge of Hellenic and Judaic myths.

      We cannot disprove the existence of God, nor can we prove that any religion is false. Though of course if some religion is true, it would mean the rest are false, but alas we do not know which is which. Then unfortunately these questions get decided on battlefields, or fights in the back alleys of Belfast or in West Bank olive groves. The issue becomes not one of reason, but of values or what is of emotional importance to people. People will continue I suspect to hold onto some type of God, or gods, because it gives them some sort of emotional support. Even if the traditional religions fall to the wayside, which they are doing, there are new things coming up. The great interest in comic books and superheroes is the emergence of a neo-polytheism. Go to Comicon to see how passionate people are about these.

      My background was Catholicism and Judaism. I chose Judaism because it had none of the guilt that Catholicism dishes out, and those nuns in CCD or catechism are good at that, and Judaism was a lot more fun and frankly way more cool. Also, Judaism is very long in the tooth, and it is at a stage depicted in “Fiddler on the Roof.” Why does the fiddler stay on the roof? Tradition, and that really is about all that is left. Even that is getting rubbished up by some of the hypocrisy seen by Israel. The God of Israel can be safely said to not exist, and those who marched into gas chambers prayed for the Messiah to come and He did not. The Christians have Jesus coming back soon, and He has been coming back soon for nearly 20 centuries. That is not exactly soon for time measured in human terms or history. Now Christian America is starting to go into some collective manic episode, repeating what has been seen over and over. The Muslims are not better of course, and with a somewhat younger religion they might have more staying power.

      I wish we would give up on these things, but that will not happen directly because of any proof against God. How this will play out is hard to say, and with the rise of comic superheroes maybe Superman will emerge as the next Zeus over a pantheon of gods. Will Marvel or DC Comics rule?

    4. It's even more radical and has many layers.

      First things first. "We cannot disprove the existence of God" We don't question god (let's say for now non-Judaic concept of god, as Torah is not so obvious as pagan cults), we question the principle of existence itself. So it's not even about objects (in limit, any objects, including the subject) but what is meant by 'is' and taken as something unitary, *independent*, continuous, obvious and tangible.

      The key to a rabbit hole here is independent (I think), i.e. something with it's own independent nature, like an active agent. We tend to intuitively think of it as 'something added' to a 'dead thing' (spirit, soul, etc.) and further we extrapolate this to all other processes and make it eternal, hence, the birth of eternalism and the concept of pagan gods (for some - animism, for other - ancestors, for yet another anthropomorphizing nature in such way - doesn't matter). It's the software that currently runs the show.

      So it's not that god as agent does not exist, but that existence itself is not what we take it to be. And because of that unexamined assumption, we blow it up and extrapolate to a single anthropomorphic entity (constructing a golden calf in fact). Some good physiologist have already noticed it in the end of 19th century (e.g. Ivan Sechenov mentions in his treatise "Who Should Develop Psychology and How", he had troubles with church in Russia), so it can be approached behavioristically. No need for mysticism and hand-waving.

      Now, since you've mentioned Torah, I think (and my background is not Jewish, but I had some personal interest, a kind of testament), it's quite different from the rest. It suffers from two things immensely - translation and inattention.

      Translation. Firstly, as I understand the ancient Hebrew is not traditional SVO language but places verbs at major position, i.e. actions or processes. And secondly, Tanakh mentions tetragrammaton around 7,000 times but is transliterated as adonai or lord.

      Inattention. As Torah does set tetragrammaton in Exodus 3:14. Saying in effect, "I am - that 'I am' " [which is inside everything that is]. So Torah defines it's major principle (be-ing, as process) not as an active agent-dude, but basically as the principle of pure being from which stems 'all that is'.

      Remembering that the ancient Hebrew was supposedly high on action, to the one who was hearing/reading it and encountering the variable, it was not meant, "The Dude said to rain! And it was rain.", but to stop, touch to the principle of his very being (personal, and 'mystical' as it cannot be transferred or explained to another, but for obvious reasons) and ponder, as it presumably was interpreted to something like, "The very principle which makes me feel alive now, is-ness, is also beyond rain." And that's why I think, "The name is not pronounced". How do you pronounce being? I am? "Right! What is he telling me, it's I am, not you!"

      And so the reader stopped and wondered for... 7,000 times and touched for present moment, i.e. "presence". Which in terms of physiology means - developing an inhibition, basically an interruption to, "Stop and ponder." And that was personal and that meant... practice with attention.

      It also might be one of the reasons (among other things) why rabbis where skeptical about someone who read the book without proper preparation and "claimed knowledge". And the rest - rules, etc., was just enough to keep the show going and keep kids out of slavery (by relativization of authority).

    5. Lawrence Crowell2:48 PM, April 10, 2021

      "It is not exactly possible to disprove this, but I can dismiss it without much concern."

      Sure, but the wording is wrong. We wouldn't say that "we can dismiss the possibility that 'Harry Potter' is a real person without much concern". We would say that "Harry Potter is a fictional character". Because he is.

      For any question we may bring a combination of evidence in the appropriate paradigm or logical proof to bear. Even for a purely formal logical or mathematical proof, there is still the question of correctness which is addressed by peer review by credible experts. So ultimately everything is evidential, even our trust in logical proofs.

      Based on the sum of human knowledge, these are all equally credible facts:
      The Battle of Stalingrad happened
      "God" and "Allah" are fictional characters

      The point is that logic and scientific evidence are part of the evidence for the last 2 facts, but obviously we are not required to provide a formal logical proof that Stalingrad happened as it's a historical question not a purely logical one; similarly, the fictional nature of "God" and "Allah" are largely questions about human culture not purely logical ones. So people asking for or claiming to provide a "proof of God" are (deliberately usually) missing the point.

      So if we value truth, we should not excuse the madness of religion by stating the irrelevance:
      "Science cannot disprove God"

      but always state the 100% fact of the matter:
      "God, like Zeus, is a fictional character"

      One cannot but question the sanity of any person who doesn't understand this simple fact.

    6. There is a level of existential uncertainty with quantum mechanics. We have a firm sense of a classical reality, but that is built up from quantum physics where there is an ambiguity or uncertainty by what is meant by reality. Are wave functions real? Arguments over this continue to this day.

      The issue of what is reality will only get more insane. Wait until VR and AI are unified into a massive alt-reality machine. Already with what we have, 4G and some 5G, internet and so forth, people are getting lost About 25% of Americans think the Democratic Party runs an international pedophile ring out of the basement of a pizzeria. We are seeing the explosion of "alt-facts" and “ alt-reality" such that people are getting lost. There is with this a growing existential neuroticism that prevents people from accepting things sensibly demonstrated, and this runs from rejection of biological evolution and climate change denial to various hoax ideas about moon landing and vaccinations. We may be just at the beginning of this meltdown of the human mind.

      We better figure out quantum gravity or cosmology fairly soon before either AI does it for us, or things become so crazy that humans are too lost in their own virtual synthetic world.

      Whether God exists or not is a question of judgment, not so much logic. I personally do not waste a lot of time over ideas about disembodied entities, particular when they have infinitely self-contradicting properties such as omniscience, omnipotence and omnibenevolence. Other people see these paradoxes or contradictions as mysteries to worship. Why do people funnel life savings into gambling and slot machines? Because the human mind is a problem-solving system and such people are certain they can beat it, when of course they cannot. People read the Bible over and over --- endlessly in fact, because they are certain they can come ever closer to this thing called God.

    7. Actually, I don't share pessimism about technologies. But only about the way they can be used. Basically, a good video game delivers a lot of benefits, to release running processes, stress responses, learn something, feeling of accomplishment, and... to have fun (well, to some). Without any need to enter a cult or risk one's life for stupid endeavors. It develops ability to concentrate and develop a sense of entrainment (i.e. a trance, what attracts some to religions, others to sports, psychedelics, etc.). The trouble is with 'good' part. As many (usually termed 'casual') use cheap feedback loops and trivial hoarding instincts.

      The point is it's all about attention. And we've got much better instruments for that than going to church to expiate sins. Communication was always a big problem. It just wasn't so obvious. The trouble is that we don't have so big delay anymore - it's constant gratification. No time to go from place A to place B, or think things out. In most cases it leads to desensitization (some physiologists claim it's common, changes in cell's action potential).

      Concerning information overload I also see quick changes. That after some point of satiation, many people start learning how to regulate and organize all that and how to filter and process it. So are more active in the process of what they consume. The trouble is that it also has to be learned. And it also comes back to attention management.

      About power structures. Those are the effects of low education and attempts to hold for centralized power. The good thing is that they lose power everywhere as ideology doesn't make sense and everyone sees everyone else. You think US stuff is crazy - check Eastern Europe... They all are going down. The trouble is that they will certainly want to drag it all to a turf they know - to the Dark Ages and pre-enlightenment era. But it's futile. The real troubles are what they were all along with us - communication and education.

      All that actually may produce a change, as we are forced to process lots of information and manage attention.

      About centralized religions in general, it was a way to gamify society, so that all elements - rich, poor, sick, healthy, how to process death, debilitating illness, etc. would have something in common, some framework. And it's going down with the power structures, as it's too low bandwidth to serve all the needs.

      For pagans god represented objectification of the unknown to make sense of the complexity. For Jews, Greeks and Brahmins it was equivalent to the principle of existence itself (though implemented in different ways, Greeks were the most secular), and something personal that united people. So I assume for the ancient Jew to ask of god's existence was like asking, "Is existence exist?" I.e. no meaning.

      And you are much more competent than I to approach a question about QM experiments and how they are modeled in math. But it's the assumption of uniform existence taken for granted (and consequent implied realism of objects) or what is called consciousness (also taken as monolithic), are what I think will be up to a revision (as well as understanding of time).

      I'm not pessimistic. I think that we can do a lot by 'just' communication and talking to people (especially younger or more confused) on different subjects. And ourselves learn how to manage attention. Small steps go a long way.

    8. Lawrence Crowell3:59 PM, April 11, 2021

      I don't disagree with what you write. Except that we should be clear on the point that science does refute or at least makes untenable the main tenets of religions, as it refutes or makes untenable any superstitions.

      Science tells us that the question of whether the (observable) universe had a beginning is open or possibly unscientific (I think this is what Physics says), so claiming that the universe had a beginning is an untenable claim. As Hawking showed, it's easy mathematically to come up with a model of the universe without a beginning - it could have a closed and finite topology.

      Do you agree that Physics tells us that claims that the universe had a beginning (e.g. that it was "created") are untenable?

    9. Lawrence Crowell3:59 PM, April 11, 2021

      "Whether God exists or not is a question of judgment"
      It's a question of sanity, as with any superstitious "belief". You wouldn't write "whether Harry Potter is real or not is a question of judgment", so why give the Fundies more leeway than their crazy claims deserve? The obvious truth is the obvious truth. (Same goes for any other whacko ideologies like those of the CCP and the Woke brigade.)

    10. @Steven I think what Lawrence means here is more about "how to structure life in society" and basically navigate in complexity without going insane. So that many people are home and food deprived, many are lonely, many are uneducated and poor. And even for the person himself, if it's relatively ok, there's a lot of uncertainty and anxiety about that chaos, seeming inability to affect anything, help or do something. Even physiologically some people are more prone to anxiety than others.

      So the role of tradition is to create that support. Think of it that way. 3000 years ago a parent went to another stupid war, he was not sure if he returns alive, and he had to make sure that his kid a) survives, and b) whenever he will be, in whatever circumstances, he must not became a slave. To leave him a chance for a good life, even if he will not be around anymore. So that father wrote a book, where it is in fact said "don't let anything ever to be a lord over you, except for *what is*, existence". A testament.

      In that book he attempted to organize the best knowledge he had *at the moment* (from Egyptian, Sumerian sources, etc.), how to organize life, how to structure society, etc.

      So even when the father is no more, no one is around to support a child, and another caesar wants to make that child into a slave. He may lose his freedom, or money, or health. But he will not let anyone rule over him except for existence.

      So that was a godspeed, a wish of good luck of a parent to a child, who attempted to take care of what was most important to him.

      And when a reasonable person speaks of the tradition, he does not speak in sense 'mine better than yours' or not trying to prove anything to anyone. It's just that feeling that connects him to people and lets him not to worry about all that misery and stupidity. It's not about superiority at all, but like a palliative to anxiety. That feeling of support and connection to existence, feeling whole.

      That what is meant really. So one can say it can be described as a psychological support, social engineering and other things, like an empirical model how to structure life. Whether it was successful or not is not discussed here. I think, it's just a bit of confusion, when people confuse different levels of abstractions (especially dangerous for young as they take everything in absolutes). Empirical models and scientific ones. As even empirical models are not necessary to believe in (in fact, last of all by definition). But they can pack some computational irreducibility, i.e. something that is easier to check than to formalize. Try and see. When it doesn't work, do something else. The trouble is only in compulsion.

    11. Vadim6:30 AM, April 13, 2021

      The main tenets of religions are superstitious nonsense and have been easily refuted by science. As a way to live, unsurprisingly, the morals of Iron Age religions are suspect by modern standards. I have no idea what the point is in most of what you have written. It sounds like waffle.

    12. This comment has been removed by the author.

    13. @Steven "It sounds like waffle."
      That I don't argue with. Specifically including the Iron Age part. It's not apologetics. It's exactly that - thinking model of the first big Iron Age communities. Which fails miserably. As such mode of thinking is quick to delegate authority to another on basis of power, promise of protection and popularity. That's it's failure. No self-reliance, whatever primary intentions may have been.

      I presented a consideration of what I think was a driving motif behind all of this, how such an intention developed at all and how it operates. Dynamics. And as it is a prevailing intention still, it has to be processed and understood (whether we like it or not), not denied nor agreed, but understood. And some of functions (actual) that it covers. In order to understand something, it has to be considered and expressed. So here it is.

      What's the big deal? The driving motif behind religion is not only taken care of (including proper care, nourishment, upbringing, education, social relations, freedom, etc.) - but in many communities around the world it only got worse. Yes, it mutates and takes more and more ugly forms. But it cannot be suppressed nor denied based on whatever you or I might think.

      One can think in idealistic scenarios that providing shelter, food, protection and sane social organization will help to get rid of this (leaving out here questions how to process death, illness, etc. which are even less covered). Or otherwise think that eradication of that kind of thinking will lead to proper shelters, food, protection, etc. in the result. Even forgetting that 'what if' scenarios are useless, I don't think that would happen. It is not cause-effect problem. They are intrinsically linked. Sane organization of life develops into potential (not guarantee) of sane thinking. Sane thinking may develop into more sane organization of life. Those are the statements.

      But we can consider the tapestry, so to speak, and see where it's coming from. And see the needs that it covers without blaming/shaming anyone. What can we do with it? Might that help to anyone? Can we provide shelter, food, security with that? It's not that. To me it helps to process what's going on without going into blind rage or attempts to forcefully overwrite thinking of another (even if it worked). I think it might help to clear the air a bit.

      To see what really works, how and what is a crutch. It's almost if we are unable to admit to ourselves that we are feeling lost, confused and lonely. Don't know where to get support we need and turning to something that covers that need even if artificially. But we must start seeing what that kind of personal cowardice leads to (tribalism, ignorance, support of misinformation, control) and have courage to drop it and work with the need directly. Start seeing our weakness simply for what it is, learn to process it and talk to another directly about it (what you are doing exactly, so appreciate it; it's just you cannot transfer your thinking, clarity, personal experiences, etc., what has been developed, to another). In a phrase, to get over ourselves. But that's some sort of personal practice which does require work. Exercise. Study. And clear up thinking.

    14. @Steven For you I could've shortened the text.

      You may think of it as this. There is hardware and software. Bee and hive. Bee is hardware, its software is what's labeled I. Hive is hardware (collection of bees plus emergent behavior), its software is what's called spirit/god (initially by pagans, and currently by all).

      And asking whether they are real or not is asking whether abstractions from 10,000 years (and still operating) can be interpreted in abstractions of 3,000 years (also operating).

      It does not necessarily mean "has no meaning". As whether what is written has any meaning or not is up to a reader to decide. But in general case, I tend to agree with you.

  30. "nor can we prove that any religion is false. Though of course if some religion is true, it would mean the rest are false, but alas we do not know which is which. Then unfortunately these questions get decided on battlefields"
    You see, it's the other way around (mostly). Many intellectuals now claim that Christianity was a sole reason for the Dark Ages, or Muslims this, or Jews that, or Brahmins whatever, or, or, or. But you personally are not creating any problem, whatever culture you identify with, not actively engaged in cutting some head nor planning to exterminate anyone. Why? The fact is that people, i.e. homo, unless properly brought up, are doing the horrible shit they would do *anyway*. The stories which we tell post factum or explain those events are just idiosyncratic fairy tales in order to deal with guilt, etc.

    Some historians wonder, "How is it that same set of ideas reached spatially separated civilizations and manifested in similar ways?" (not just religions, myths, but early scientific and philosophic ideas) But if you think behavioristically, there are no big surprises in exactly that phenomena, as it's exactly what happens when big enough settlements form (neolithic) and writing develops. Interactions structure contents of thinking (objects, 'what to think') and the way of thinking (process, 'how to think').

    What is more surprising is not "sameness of ideas in different places", but difference in thinking of some particular individuals! That is quite surprising (and how they managed to survive! that's the biggest mystery to me, one has to be a genius for that) As the space of commonly held ideas is rather limited, uninspiring and frankly just boring. So one can see same ideas among different cultures, they may differ in implementation (usually not so much), but represent the same way of thinking ('how to think').

    In that sense, I truly think no matter what mess we are in, we're just beginning to realize what a creature we truly are. And instead of being horrified blaming each other for a tail and some horns, and arguing what's better, we also have the potential to move on.

    So the culture as such is not the problem. The problem is - it's not the solution either. We just have to learn to process it and see what works and how (unification and globalization is the most stupid attempt). And the most lasting cultures are usually those which provide rich intellectual structures (Judaic, Greek, Brahmanical, Buddhistic, etc.) which are capable to sit the monkey down and start processing its cognitive models (to pay attention to how one thinks), i.e. developing a proper physiological inhibition to distinguish that things are not what they appear to be, or "the word is not the thing" (Korzybski's motto). To think.

    Like a fractal or a developed kaleidoscopic structure cultures present some objects to thinking that may help in development of our cognitive processes and attention. And that's a good thing. As only through such work (inhibition of reflexes) we work out how not to "run & gun", which is simply the default installed behavior (yeah, not very flattering to 'children of gods', i.e. all cultures claim such beginnings in one form or another). The "bad thing" is we are to realize it consciously, drop the plainly harmful load, and start working with attention smartly, i.e. in education and communication and to make it a priority. And here we are :-)

    1. Missed a thread. It was meant as a consideration on Lawrence' thoughts.

  31. Not least because of his terrible illness Hawking is probably the most overrated and overestimated physicist ever. The future will show wheather his main theorem - the Hawking radiation - existst at all and some of his ideas simply failed (i.e. imaginary time, claimed loss of information in black holes, pretended nonexistence of the Higgs boson). He promoted and marketed his Ideas clever and well but hardly anything could be proven.



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