Saturday, July 24, 2021

Can Physics Be Too Speculative?



Imagination and creativity are the heart of science. But look at the headlines in the popular science media and you can’t shake off the feeling that some physicists have gotten ahead of themselves. Multiverses, dark matter, string theory, fifth forces, and that asteroid which was supposedly alien technology. These ideas make headlines, but are then either never heard of again – like hundreds of hypothetical particles that were never detected, and tests of string theory that were impossible in the first place – or later turn out to be wrong – all reports of fifth forces disappeared, and that asteroid was probably a big chunk of nitrogen. Have physicists gone too far in their speculations?

The question how much speculation is healthy differs from the question where to draw the line between science and pseudoscience. That’s because physicists usually justify their speculations as work in progress, so they don’t have to live up to the standard we expect for fully-fledged scientific theories. It’s then not as easy as pointing out that string theory is for all practical purposes untestable, because its supporters will argue that maybe one day they’ll figure out how to test it. The same argument can be made about the hypothetical particles that make up dark matter or those fifth forces. Maybe one day they’ll find a way to test them.

The question we are facing, thus, is similar to the one that the philosopher Imre Lakatos posed: Which research programs make progress, and which have become degenerative? When speculation stimulates progress it benefits science, but when speculation leads to no insights for the description of nature, it eats up time and resources, and gets in the way of progress. Which research program is on which side must be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Dark matter is an example of a research program that used to be progressive but has become degenerative. In its original form, dark matter was a simple parameterization that fit a lot of observations – a paradigmatic example of a good scientific hypothesis. However, as David Merritt elucidates in his recent book “A philosophical approach to MOND”, dark matter has trouble with more recent observations, and physicists in the area have taken on to accommodating data, rather than making successful predictions.

Moreover, the abundance of specific particle models for dark matter that physicists have put forward are unnecessary to explain any existing observations. These models produce publications but they do not further progress. This isn’t so surprising because guessing a specific particle from rather unspecific observations of its gravitational pull has an infinitesimal chance of working.

Theories for the early universe or fifth forces suffer from a similar problem. They do not explain any existing observations. Instead, they make the existing – very well working – theories more complicated without solving any problem.

String theory is a different case. That’s because string theory is supposed to remove an inconsistency in the foundations of physics: The missing quantization of gravity. If successful, that would be progress in and by itself, even if it doesn’t result in testable predictions. But string theorists have pretty much given up on their original goal and never satisfactorily showed the theory solves the problem to begin with.

Much of what goes as “string theory” today has nothing to do with the original idea of unifying all the forces. Instead, string theorists apply certain limits of their theory in an attempt to describe condensed matter systems. Now, in my opinion, string theorists vastly overstate the success of this method. But the research program is progressing and working towards empirical predictions.

Multiverse research concerns itself with postulating the existence of entities that are unobservable in principle. This isn’t scientific and should have no place in physics. The origin of the problem seems to be that many physicists are Platonists – they believe that their math is real, rather than just a description of reality. But Platonism is a philosophy and shouldn’t be mistaken for science.

What about Avi Loeb’s claim that the interstellar object `Oumuamua was alien technology? Loeb has justified his speculation by pointing towards scientists who ponder multiverses and extra dimensions. He seems to think his argument is similar. But Loeb’s argument isn’t degenerative science. It's just bad science. He jumped to conclusions from incomplete data.
It isn’t hard to guess that many physicists will object to my assessments. That is fine – my intention here is not so much to argue this particular assessment is correct, but that this assessment must be done regularly, in collaboration between physicists and philosophers.

Yes, Imagination and creativity are the heart of science. They are also the heart of science fiction. And we shouldn’t conflate science with fiction.

324 comments:

  1. This is an utterly reasonable opinion piece. It is actually shocking that the APS finds it too controversial for print.

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    1. I agree, this seems entirely reasonable. I can see where some physicists might like to push back here and there but I can't see why they would find it too controversial to publish.

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    2. Perhaps they are concerned with the manifold ramifications that might follow from their being perceived as gnawing on the hand that feeds them.

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    3. The censorship of dissenting views is the foundation of peer review.

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    4. Competing viewpoints is the sign of a healthy society; and vice versa.

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  2. The article seemed fine to me but I think I can see why it was killed. However, asking Sabine Hossenfelder to write an opinion piece on the state of physics research -- what else did they think they'd get1?! :-/

    This is a great piece and video to explain to laypeople how to think about and appraise scientific literature and pop-science reporting.
    Thanks Dr. Hossenfelder for sharing this with us all.

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  3. I agree that inventing new Dark Matter models is too easy and it's becoming irrelevant. But I don't understand this: “dark matter has trouble with more recent observations”? What?

    PS The fact that criticising current research in physics is not allowed tells more about the problematic state of the field more than the cancelled criticism.

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  4. I agree with your assessment on string theory; this is a set of hypothetical structures that have some universality to them. I also agree with your statement on the 5th force and the Oumuamua alien conjecture. I am a bit less certain about multiverse and disagree with dark matter.

    The multiverse, which BTW is a term I really disdain, is a consequence of inflationary cosmology. Inflationary cosmology is consistent with CMB observations and so it has some measure of support. Inflationary cosmology has yet to pass a clear test, such as unambiguous measurements of B-modes, and so has one foot in theory and another in hypothesis. I would say the multiverse is not bad science so much as it just might be wrong. Most of the estimates of vacuum energy of these other cosmologies are many orders of magnitude larger than the Λ cosmological constant of the observable universe. These other cosmogonies may then be with unstable or false vacua and thus are not real. It may be these are some quantum cosmological off-shell condition. Whether this means the observable universe is the only cosmogony is unclear.

    From all that I read, the ΛCDM passes observational tests. So far while consistent with observations, it has not passed a salient test that passes dark matter hypothesis into an established theory. It is then not clear to me this is obstructionist or bad science. The main problem is these consistency checks are all minor supports that do not qualify ΛCDM as a real theory. Your work with this in a competing hypothesis is probably reflected here.

    As such I am over all in about 70 to 80% or so agreement with your assessment.

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    1. Hi Lawrence,

      The other week PBS Space Time put out a video titled 'Where are the worlds in Many Worlds?' that explained how physics could work to manifest different timelines/worlds. I mention it because if you haven't already watched it you might find it interesting.

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    2. The many worlds interpretation is a ψ-ontological interpretation, which means the quantum wave has some reality to it. This property is shared with Bohm's QM and the GRW objective collapse interpretation. On the other hand there are ψ-epistemic interpretations, such as the standard Copenhagen interpretation and the newer quantum Bayesian or QuBism interpretation. In this perspective the quantum wave has no existence, but is just a calculation tool quantum experimenters use to understand data.

      I think quantum mechanics is uncertain with respect to ψ-ontology/epistemology. I do not think QM is decidedly either, or on other words there is an uncertain or ambiguity on this issue. In fact I have worked this, but there is a funny obstruction with the two-state system.

      Based on this I do not see quantum interpretations as much to hang one's had on. I see them mostly as ways we try to mentally grasp quantum mechanics with imagery and mental ideas we have. We might think of there being on the X axis all ψ-ontology and y all ψ-epistemology. A quantum system is then a vector from the origin pointing in some direction, so it is a superposition of ψ-epistemology and ψ-ontology.

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  6. Quantum Holonomy Theory (QHT) must fit into this somewhere, as an approach to understanding what we take to be physical law from first principles. Simple first principles that lead to some complicated math. I guess that approach could be fruitful if it leads to something that could be tested but I'm not sure that's happened, or ever will happen. No singularities, for instance, but how would you verify that? Gravity not quantized but how would you verify that? Someone needs to think about observable consequences. David Deutsch would disagree about observable consequences of a multiverse. And then you've got constructor theory...

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  7. "The origin of the problem seems to be that many physicists are Platonists – they believe that their math is real, rather than just a description of reality."
    They forget that mathematics works on its model whether that model has any relevance to reality is different case. As physicist Sean Carroll says" Math is the logical structure of all possible worlds physics is about the actual world".

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  8. Nowadays there is such an obsession to spare egoïc sensitivies that the rude Isaac Newton himself would be banned from the conversation. Newton was certainly not playing nice with Leibniz (and others) ego. But you're lucky, burning heretics is faded out.

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  9. Science as a general human endeavor has gotten itself degenerative, and is now plagued by lots of similar problems. It is not difficult to do good science, there is a long tradition of it behind us. We must strive not to ruin this, or face dire consequences (like we are beginning to witness in the form of antiscience).

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    1. Your first sentence is incomprehensible broken English, carried forward as gobbledegook over remainder of your post.

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    2. and you are a very rude person.

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    3. The fuck is your problem?

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    4. I'm sorry your English wasn't good enough to understand the first sentence. For me the entire article was clear and easy to understand. It seems your comment indicates you were emotionally triggered by the article.

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  10. I have heard David Deutsche suggest that if we are able to carry out certain kinds of quantum computations then this would constitute a confirmation of the many worlds view of quantum mechanics. He is saying (I think) that we would eventually be performing computations that are not even in principle possible in one universe. I wonder if you have heard this and what you think of it.

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    1. The strongest such argument put forward by Deutsch is based on the ability to at least in principle reverse the measurement process. One can then consider an AI implemented by a quantum computer. That AI performs a spin measurement, the spin is implemented by a qubit and there is also a measurement device, but ultimately everything including the AI itself is just implemented by qubits and the whole system evolves under unitary time evolution.

      Then after a measurement of a spin in a direction that's not the same or opposite to the spin polarization, you'll end up with two branches of the AI that find different results. But in either branch the AI cannot see what it has found on the other branch, so how can the AI verify that the other branch exists at all?

      The solution is to implement a unitary evolution of the system that has the effect of restoring the original state by erasing the measurement result, but such that a record is kept of the fact that a measurement was in fact carried out. As Deutsch has shown, such a unitary transform exists. Also, any unitary transform can be executed by a quantum computer.

      So, at least in theory, the AI can end up with having a record that the measurement was actually performed, but with the spin restored in the original state. The AI can then also verify by measuring the spin that this is indeed the case (this requires repeating the entire experiment multiple times and recording the statistics of the measurements).

      If after the measurement before restoring the initial state, only one branch really exists, then the unitary transform that aims to restore the initial state would fail in its goal, and that would then show up in the subsequent spin measurements that verifies if the spin has indeed been restored to its original state.

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  11. The initial purpose of string theory was to explain the strong nuclear force, not the "missing quantization of gravity". QCD was better theory to explain the strong nuclear force and turned early string theory obsolete.

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    1. I explained this in my book and in my video on string theory, yet you still come here to talk down to me?

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  12. I've heard this, and it would help to know what is in principle possible in one universe, without engaging in some sort of circular argument. And I'm not sure that quantum computation can provide anything beyond the bare fact of quantum computation. How could we know, in effect, that it is necessary to invoke many worlds? That isn't clear to me.

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  13. This rejection is a symptom of an age-old problem:

    "What need you, before you have showed me one syllable of a reasonable argument in opposition to what I assert, thus trample my person, my gifts and graces, have I any, so disdainfully under your feet? What kind of a YOU am I? And why is MY rank so mean, that the most gracious and godly among you may not duly and soberly consider of what I said?"

    John Bunyan (in response to a put-down from William Kiffin).

    Bunyan is justly famous as a writer of imaginative fiction (or what George Orwell might have described, approvingly, as "fables") but such works constitute about 4% of what Bunyan published. The rest was argument and instruction about the issues of the day, which were mainly religious because in 17th century England (as opposed to 18th century England) that is where the battles for intellectual freedom were being fought. He never once pretended to be a member of the educated class, and he never ceased fighting for the right of even uneducated men and women to be heard if they made a reasonable argument. Intellectual freedom was Bedford's gift to England, not that of Oxford or Cambridge.

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  14. Sabine,
    I think that he was talking about you.
    "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly." Albert Einstein.
    Yes, that guy again.

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    1. 'Some do not like what I write, some are afraid I will bite...'

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    2. "Ev’ryone can what I can’t
      Ev’ryone comes to comment
      Ev’ryone here understands
      What I said is not what I meant"

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    4. :)

      Deep in the night when you sleep
      Nothing is quite what it seems -
      I will be there
      To sing you a prayer
      Every time that we meet!

      - SH just before serving the senior editor of the APS their arse on a plate

      Also, that song is the perfect antidote to other people's manipulative, backstabbing bullshit.

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    5. "
      Haters will hate
      Lovers will fade
      Nothing will stay
      ..." [Sabine Hossenfelder, This is how I pray, ~2018]
      But I think:
      I'll love this song
      as long as I can stand (8)

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  15. Marvelous piece of writing. Periodically, though in no way predictably, science advances via breakthrough. One wonders if such advances are, at the end of the day, inevitable. That is, while we sift through multiple lifetimes worth of journal articles describing ever more nuanced and therefore fringe theories there exists somewhere a person, hunched over a desk, receiving a transmission from the aether. The possible becomes actual and science advances. Of course science rarely proceeds by miracle, however I think the divine spark that leads to a life of work and possibly discovery of important new ideas cannot be approached scientifically. Or, it can be, in much the same way we approach dark matter: There is something there, but darn if I can't fit a theory to all its observed phenomena.

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  16. Sabine,
    Excellent video!

    My only concern is that some scientist may take the title of your article "Can Physics Be Too Speculative?" as a warning not to oppose the conventional way of looking at the world. Examples of this have occurred through out history. Galileo was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life for supporting the Copernican view that the Earth was not the center of the universe, around which all other heavenly bodies revolved. At first many of Einstein's ideas, such that distance and time are not absolute but relative, depending on the motion of the observer, or that gravity could curve space seemed unbelievable. Not to mention the early reaction to some of the postulates of quantum mechanics, like elementary particles being both particles and waves, and not occupying any particular position in space until a measurement (interaction) took place.

    As it turned these weird ideas were testable, and the resulting evidence seemed to support those theories.

    I guess the question is not so much how bizarre sounding a theory is, but 'is that theory testable?'

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    1. It could also be seen as one more honest scientist being frank about the conventional viewpoint and the entrenched 'peer review' system. The physics community does need to talk about how to make room for dissent in a way that contributes to progress. Nobody wants to hear that billions were spent searching for pink elephant particles but making the decision is much harder than deciding what colour widgets to make tomorrow. Ptolemy's epicyclic model a nd QED are both testable but when testing, one needs alternative models and physical principles to test against. QED predictions have been wrong but theorists have then been allowed to 'correct' their calculational error either by finding the calculational mistake or calculating additional Feynman diagrams. Dr. Albert Einstein did not know about antimatter in 1905. Maybe Mendel Sachs was right and photons don't exist. Maybe David Hestenes is right about photons being a chiral relationship between an electron and a positron.Planck wasn't sure about Einstein's photon idea. Newton made no hypotheses about the source of gravity. Heisenberg's Matrix Mechanics turned out to be mathematically isomorphic to Schrodinger's Wave Theory so the criteria for acceptance of the Copenhagen interpretation isn't testability. Testability is only one of many criteria that need to be taken into account. Even then, there is the case of Hermann Weyl's idea about how to unify EM and GTR that Einstein claimed would lead to a second clock effect but apparently, Dr. Einstein got the math wrong when applying his own ideas of the invariance of the laws of Physics.

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  17. As an amateur armchair physicist with no lab experience, my opinions may not be of much use. On retirement, I followed all of Susskind's online courses in his Theoretical Minimum series. So I have been inducted in his ideas on string theory, SUSY, cosmology, Standard Model, QFT, Bell's Inequalities, special relativity, GR and QM. But anyway I have ideas about what is likely to be relevant to progress.

    DUBIOUS
    Quantum computers: will never happen. Fantasy land.
    Multiple worlds: I do not believe in this in the slightest degree. I have my own version of many universes where each elementary particle is its own universe with its own individual spacetime.
    Alien technology in the solar system: There is already evidence of intelligent life in the universe ... and we are it.

    SO-SO
    Fifth force: the leptoquark could be a boson for a fifth force. But who knows.
    Gravity may be a force. But does it matter? Mass tells space how to curve, but was space forced to curve or did it do so of its own free will.
    Higgs boson/ field is probably an agent of force, certainly an agent of interaction. An agent that changes the speed of a particle fronm c to v seems like it exerts a force. There is more to come from understanding how the higgs works in simple particle interactions.
    SUSY: I can see the desire to relate fermions to bosons mathematically when their individual maths are so different. I like that idea and it fits in with my preon model where a preon can be swapped between a fermion and a boson at an interaction. But I do not really understand the need for super partners. Superpartners just do not form with my preon model and I gave up trying to make them fit as I decided superpartners were iffy.

    USEFUL?
    String theory: maybe only useful for mathematicians? But that is OK for me as I am only an amateur physicist with maths/stats/psychometrics as my background. I really enjoyed Susskind's course on string theory. It left me with a gut feeling that I could see how dimensions were quantised in physics due to string speeds at close to c plus special relativity. I believe it is an ongoing issue, though, and Peter Woit referenced this month a lecture by Witten on 'quantization by branes as a partial solution'. I am not tempted to follow up as my physics aim is to use only simple maths.
    Dark matter and Dark energy: I agree with Jamie Farnes.
    Action at a distance: well, not in the spacetime of our universe. But what if there are particle spacetimes acting as quasi wormholes when their particle wavefunctions collapse? Retrocausality of positrons, alternatively, would not require quasi wormholes but would still give apparent action at a distance.
    Time: I believe James Chappell's geometric algebra paper on 'time' (2016) is a key finding for physics.
    Higher dimensions: yes. Fully agree with more dimensions. I blame Susskind's string theory course for influencing me.
    Preons: Very useful. But I would say that as I have a preon model!

    Austin Fearnley

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  18. Hi Sabine. Excuse me for calling you this way, but I am a huge fan of you (and old enough, 69 y/o, to be your father). Although I am not a scientist I have a blog where I eventually publish articles and post from Axios Science, Stars With A Bang and similars. May I translate this piece to Portuguese and publish in my blog (with due credits, of course)?

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    1. Hi Fernando, Yes, that's fine with me, just include a link to the original.

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    2. https://laboratoriododoutornin.wordpress.com/2021/07/26/ha-limite-para-especulacao-na-ciencia/

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  19. Science is a social enterprise. Approaching it with logic creates great disappointment. A better way to approach it is to uncover the human element. What is the motivation behind not publishing this? What would be the repercussions if a journal/society that publishes or has members in these areas labels these areas degenerative, pseudo-science or bad science? I am not sure that progress is the first thing on the mind of a scientist. In fact all metrics that academics are measure by have nothing to do with progress. But this is a longer story and you might have covered it elsewhere.

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    1. Hi there, I think that these are great questions and not sufficiently explored by science writers who tend focus very narrowly on the science or the big personalities, like Newton or Einstein, instead of exploring the kind of questions you are suggesting. This is important because of the many ramifucations that science and technology has on society.

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    2. (8)bbb
      I think so too. Or casually, provocatively asked into the void:
      Aren't we all prisoners of the internet?*

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    3. @muck, der:

      The internet can't hold anyone prisoner, legally speaking. It has to be a someone. In this case, since Big Tech is in charge of the net, then it's Big Tech who are holding us all prisoner. Since Big Tech is predicated on Capitalism, one can be broader and say that it is Capitalism which is holding everyone prisoner.

      But this is why Marx and Engels said in the Communist Manifesto:

      >Workers of the world, unite and throw of your chains.



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    4. @muck, der:

      In other words, it's not at all provocative but something that has been said for around 200 years. It's only provocative in our turbocharged neoliberal era when so many critical voices have been silenced or at best, marginalised.

      Another interesting question to add to the above would be to what extent has science and technology been an enabler of capitalism.

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    5. Hi, Mozibur (8)
      My first thoughts on this: Scientific progress and its implementation in society drive specialization and differentiation of the members of society. The socialist system is finding it difficult to adapt to this problem because one of its principles is the equal treatment of its members.
      At least the capitalist system has no problems with that.

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  20. this is the greatest thing i have read in a very long time on the state of physics. you are bang on the money re. platonic thinking being at the source of the current confusion. shame on the APS for burying their heads in the sand. a lot of careers depend on continuing to produce this bullshit.

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  21. @Dr. Hossenfelder:
    Did my reply to Lawrence get eaten, or did it not meet requirements for posting?
    Sorry if it's the latter.

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  22. In the past there has been a continuous competition between theoretical science and experimental science, where in most cases experimental scientist scrambled to come up with ways to test theoretical models. But we may now be at state in time where technology has advanced to the point that flaws seem to have been detected in even the most well established theories like general relativity and quantum mechanics, and theoretical physicists are the ones doing the scrambling to try to correct those flaws or even to come up with new theories that don't appear to have those flaws.

    That's what's so intriguing about science; it's like a game within a game, where everyone who participates has a shot at their "15 minutes of fame"!

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  23. Unfortunately physics field has very strong human biases, like publication necessity emphasizing new exciting theories to free your mind, and forgetting old boring ones (like that Gravity Probe B has in fact confirmed theory from 1893: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravitoelectromagnetism ).

    Another huge bias is for status quo - authorities have built their power on the old view, hence will defend it as the only way, repairing all problems with series of corrections (nice deconstruction of SM Lagrangian: https://www.symmetrymagazine.org/article/the-deconstructed-standard-model-equation ).


    Can such biases be repaired?

    The only way is to stop ignoring the problems, go back to neglected questions ... like e.g. what is EM field configuration of single particle, starting with electron.

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  24. For what it’s worth I’m in agreement with all your examples. But, I might have been more politic with reference to Avi Loeb. The current fashion is to criticize only the hypothesis. And that’s the only problem I see with this paper. With regard to the Dark Matter…Newton/Einstein works ‘here’…MOND works ‘there’…doesn’t that cry out for some overarching principle? My opinion? It’s time to speculate with respect to the Dark Matter phenomenon. But, only if the speculator has some science to back it up.

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  25. There are too many nutters in Physics. That's the problem. Ed Witten still hasn't got round to showing us a string; the Astronomer Royal just co-authored another evidence-free pile of drivel book on fine-tuning; Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt puts his name to a "Physics" book in which "God" is apparently a physical concept.

    These are not methodological errors. These people are all delusionally insane. They don't need to collaborate with philosophers, they need to get psychiatric help.

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    1. Hello Steven.
      Are you a threat to yourself or someone else?

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    2. He thinks it's okay to use mental illness as an insult, so just nasty.

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    3. "Nasty" writes the fascist:

      "C Thompson1:38 AM, June 22, 2021

      "P.S. I'd rather not see brute force used but brute force has is often used to"

      C Thompson8:30 AM, June 20, 2021

      "Gender Critical Theory (the proponents of which ought to be fired into active volcanoes, not just from their jobs, in my rather biased opinion) "

      C Thompson1:59 AM, June 24, 2021

      "We're also looking forward to when all the conservative transphobes are pushed out of power and die off."

      Watch out if you accept the empirical facts of biology - fascists like C. Thompson want to kill you if you dare point out a man can't be a woman.

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    4. Steve Evans:

      If you use the word 'man' and 'woman' only for biological entities, you are correct (if we are allowed to ignore the numerous exceptions for a moment).

      Not all people these days consider gender as 'only a biological thing'. So your view is not the only view.

      It is commonly accepted that is possible that a man is a woman. That is possible if we use the words 'man' and 'woman' for both biological entities as well as mental identities. In that scenario persons with a male body can have a female identity and vice versa (again ignoring the shades of grey).

      There is nothing wrong with the use of words in different ways by different people. It happens all the time, and language is constantly changing and evolving. Dictionaries are adapted all the time trying to catch up with evolving reality.

      The best way forward is probably to explain what you mean with a man and with a woman, when you say that a man cannot be a woman. That might help your audience to understand the message you try to get accros. And in the same spirit try to understand what others mean with the word 'man' and 'woman'. SO move the discussion the the level of defining the terms. If you than say, "well, sorry, but that is how I define these words," than nobody can say that you are wrong. Though people might point out that your view is a minority view.

      That is not an offense. Once my daughter, she was 14 at that time, complained that her views were so different from her class mates. She said: "I want to be normal".. I forgot my reply, but she never did, and she has often reminded me. I told her: "Ah... Elles... if this world comes to end due to a disaster, than the normal people are the main cause... not the ones who think differently.

      This, does not imply that I agree with your definition of man and woman. I am just advocating mutual respect.

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    5. Martien,
      Yes, but we thrashed this all out before. And the problem is if you define a woman as someone who feels like a woman then it's a vague circular definition. Nobody would really know whether they were a man or a woman under these definitions. So definitionally it simply doesn't work. Which is not a surprise as all sex- and gender-related phenomena are based ultimately on the clear biological fact of sexual reproduction and the 2 sexes.

      I have no respect for bad definitions and have no respect for the mouthy TRAs who threaten violence because they don't have an argument. Of course, I am not against trans rights. I am simply saying that a transgender woman is not a woman and it's not transphobic to say so. It's not about thinking differently or o.w., it is about having a clear argument for one's position. Whether I am in the minority or not with my belief is of no interest. I'm right, that's all that matters. Legally and scientifically gender ideology will be ignored because it is vague nonsense dreamed up by crazy social "scientists". Gender ideology is already losing court cases in the UK as logic and hard science, or "facts", have to be taken into account. Commonwealth country legal systems will follow suit.

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    6. Evans keep bringing up this gender issue. I have to ask a certain question on this. Before, I admit that a person who is XX has genotype female and another with XY has genotype male. Now there are instances of XXY and even YYX, but those are minority cases due to some polyploidism that is not generally related transgenderism. This is maybe more related to cis-genderism, though there this is most often not genetic but fetal developmental.

      We then have the issue of expression, and this might be thought of as maybe phenotypic. This is where things become subtle and complicated. Now there are those who insist that a person's social gender claim must conform to their genotype, or usually according to their sex on a birth certificate.

      The question I have to those who make this insistence, is why is this important? For what reason do the legislators and other elected officials of the nation, thinking of the United States where this has become a big issue, devote just efforts? In fact from the right wing it is also passion? Why is this the case?

      I will offer an answer. I think this is tentatively the standard case. Since this is coming from the right wing, which is an extremist form of conservatism, I think it is to erect barriers between people and to make reasons for exclusionary policies. This is something the right wing is known for, from gerrymandering of voting districts, restriction on voting rights, to other policies that are meant to define people who are less deserving of the rights and goods of the nation. I think we are seeing much the same here.

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    7. Well said, Martien, except that saying 'a man cannot be a woman' is nonsensical and Steven's arguments are flat-out wrong. I, Dr. Hossenfelder and others went to some pains to explain to Steven how transgender, non-binary and gender-fluid identities are not strictly correlated to sexual traits of male or female biology (or cisgender people's identities at that) and he refuses to acknowledge he is continuously mistaken on these matters.

      Delete
    8. *Reproductive biology and secondary sexual characteristics, not 'male and female' is what I should've said. Gah.

      Delete
    9. Hi Evan,

      I understand your view and what you are trying to say.

      Interestingly gender identity usually evolves when a boy starts feeling a boy etc. (Though often expressed or recognized at a later age). This usually happens before children can read and understand the agreed upon definitions of the words man and woman. At that age definitions do not influence identity. and it also does not matter whether the parents and other persons in the child's direct environment are straight, gay, trans etc. It seems to be genetic, but not well understood ho exactly.

      Delete
    10. C, Thompson

      *Reproductive biology and secondary sexual characteristics, not 'male and female' is what I should've said."

      Yep, but I have no problem with Steven Evans defining his own terminology, as long he makes that clear, and I think he did so.

      In my view the real issues come up when ones tries to define implications for law and inclusive policies and such. The debate touched upon these kind of issues, but didn't get anywhere (except to anger and frustration) because there is no agreed upon set if definitions.

      Delete
    11. There are. I gave them on the blog a few weeks ago.

      Delete
    12. Stevan Evans

      Consider this. Trans-children who grow up in a supporting environment generally do well. The suicide rate among trans-children who do not get moral and emotional support is very high.

      So, a caregiver who defines 'man' and 'woman' in biological (body) terms only, is likely to respond to a girl who says: "I am a boy", "No, you aren't, because you don't have a penis."

      It would be very difficult to give such a child a supportive environment after such denial.

      So, define terms in whatever way you like, but try to think through the consequences, and avoid causing harm.

      Delete
    13. Lawrence Crowell8:58 AM, July 26, 2021

      I'm sure there are socially conservative people who are anti-trans, on the left and right. However, I'm simply saying the gender theoretical definition doesn't work. If the starting point is a person is a man or a woman based on their feelings, then this is not an objective definition - literally no-one would know if they were a man or a woman. All policy or other considerations aside, the words would be meaningless. One would not know oneself if one is a man or a woman.

      Delete
    14. Steven,

      "If the starting point is a person is a man or a woman based on their feelings, then this is not an objective definition - literally no-one would know if they were a man or a woman."

      Have you still not understood that no one is asking for an "objective" definition. You ask people what gender they are. They give an answer. That's it. How can that possibly be so hard to understand? It is pathetically untrue that "no-one would know" if the person themselves knows.

      Delete
    15. Martien7:52 PM, July 26, 2021

      I'm not suggesting transgender women should be branded with "bloke" on their foreheads.
      You've missed the point.
      Under the gender theoretical definitions, a "man" is someone who feels like a man is someone who feels like a man is someone who feels like a man is someone...
      You have a penis? Irrelevant. You have XY chromosomes? Irrelevant. You are traditionally manly? Common characteristics based on clearly defined biological sex are irrelevant.

      So are you a man or a woman, Martien? You have no idea. Nobody does. That's the point. It is definitional nonsense.

      Of course, socially people can present as the Queen of Sheba if they so fancy. Who cares?

      Delete
    16. Thanks for replying Steven Evans.

      I understand that you are advocating that the 'body-related' definition of gender is the only one which makes sense (apart from the exceptions, which you recognize and respect).

      I do not know anybody who wants to exclude the straight forward biological definition of a man or woman. You are completely right that this makes no sense.

      I doubt whether you have understood other opinions correctly, feel free to elaborate.

      Delete
    17. Steven

      I belief you can look at a body and indentify it as say female . If the person (because of the same set of genes, not because of fashion) identifies genuinely as male, than that person is a male with a female body.

      Call that person a female with a male identity, if you like, but care about what your words do to others.

      Delete
    18. C Thompson9:30 AM, July 26, 2021

      "*Reproductive biology and secondary sexual characteristics, not 'male and female' is what I should've said. Gah."

      Hahaha! You have no idea what you mean yourself. If an old conservative had written what you first wrote, you would be calling for them to be hanged.

      So finally, after your false start despite studying this for a decade, this is the complete nonsense you are claiming:

      " transgender, non-binary and gender-fluid identities are not strictly correlated to sexual traits of reproductive biology and secondary sexual characteristics,"

      Whether we use the term gender in the scientific sense or in the whacko social "scientist" (non)sense, gender traits are fuzzy or apply to populations rather than individuals.

      In the scientific case, sex is a clearly defined binary (apart from a small number of intersex people) and so we can ask e.g. how tall men and women are and we find a bimodal distribution with a peak at a taller height of mostly men and a peak at a shorter height of mostly women, and there are suggested biological reasons for these bimodal distributions. It doesn't mean we can't have individual women who are tall or individual men who are short. All this is logically and scientifically sound, because it is based on the scientifically clear, binary definition of sex.

      The problem with the cis-trans continuum is that it is a continuum not a binary - people may feel more or less comfortable with their biological sex. Where is the line between a tom-boy and a transgender woman? There isn't one. The only option is for people who experience gender dysphoria to discuss it with a doctor and make a subjective decision on partial transitioning (partial because it is impossible for a human to change sex). But you cannot base the definition of "man" and "woman" on fuzzy, vagye feelings along a continuum, because everyone would be unclear whether they are a man or a woman.

      You may be able to define transgender and cis-gender, which like all gender traits are vague and fuzzy, but the problem is you can't define "man" and "woman" clearly. Doh!

      Delete
    19. More spew.
      The line is with the individual, you knob.

      Delete
    20. @Steven Evans: the problem is you can't define "man" and "woman" clearly.

      Who cares? The dictionary is full of definitional looping; you also cannot define "pain" clearly, or "love", or "grief", or "happiness", or "anger", or even "funny".

      All of these are experiential states, and so is feeling like a "man" or a "woman" regardless of physical gender.

      We don't need a clear or precise definition to refer to our experiential states. We label them, they are what they are; fuzzy or not.

      That's just how language works.

      Delete
    21. Evans: Objectivity of this sorts works with genetics and so forth. With gender this is more of a social construct. Again, I wonder why you find this so important?

      Delete
  26. It seems to me more of a problem with too many people doing (arguably) not so well motivated research than that such research is done at all. There should be academic freedom for people to pursue whatever scientific argument there is to pursue, even if in some cases one can question the topic on its scientific merits (e.g. is the multiverse a well defined scientific topic), or if the topic looks like not all that fruitful to research for other reasons.

    But you would then expect that not so worthwhile topics would end up being researched by a handful of people, instead of becoming dominant research topics. I think that Sabine has written about this issue in the past.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Once the theoretician no longer cares about the theory being consistent with what is established or with experimental data, then it is no longer science. Maybe it stops being science before that point, but this is an easy cut-off. Before this point there can surely be a sliding scale of judgement. I don't know the fine details of the relevant theories here, but suspect those involved mostly haven't crossed this particular threshold. Some may be getting a tad desperate to a degree possibly. I'm a mathematician though, so I'm somewhat biased in valuing the exploration of equations even beyond what is in principle observable, but it's important to clarify uncertainty in a defensible way. As long as the math is sufficiently connected to real physics, I still consider it "theoretical physics." It may not be "science" in the strictest sense, but it is tightly connected to real science in a broader sense. It's connected in a way that, say, loose philosophical speculation like arguments for or against the existence of God are not at all remotely connected to science. Where the specific threshold is, is very hard to say though.

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    Replies
    1. Joe, I'm in complete agreement with your conclusion that arguments for or against the existence of God are not at all remotely connected to science. It's interesting to note that in earlier times many of the top scientist and mathematicians, including Isaac Newton (1642-1726) were also Christian theologians, and spent as much time, if not more, on trying to prove the existence of God (their God the 'Christian God') than they did on the things they were really good at; science and math.

      As far as the somewhat non-standard scientific theories like string theory, or the even more speculative and controversial ones like the multiverse theories, I have mixed feelings. As yet they haven't resulted in any testable predictions, and it may be they never will. But I do feel that scientific knowledge has been gained in the process. And to completely abandon these kind of theories may be unwise in the long run.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    3. Jonathan, no theory, even well established ones, should ever be accepted as fact. "Today's headlines often end up in tomorrow's trash cans".

      Delete
    4. Hi Howard,

      It seems to me there's theories a in, ideas that have been poked, prodded and had equations done on them, they've been tightened up a bit and so far they work pretty well for being unconfirmable.
      Then, there are theories that are like, 'but what if it *is* aliens though?’.

      Delete
  28. For people trying to help MOND gain traction an additional problem is that Dark Matter is pre-written into the Standard Cosmological Model. See http://background.uchicago.edu/~whu/intermediate/driving.html
    “The series of higher acoustic peaks is sensitive to the energy density ratio of dark matter to radiation in the universe.”
    So people looking for the Dark Matter particle are pre-authorized. And people trying to rid cosmology of the Dark Matter paradigm must re-explain results like this. It’s an uphill battle against an entrenched theory.





    ReplyDelete
  29. And for people like me who don’t believe that modifying either side of Einstein’s equations is a good idea, there’s even less room. MONDians don’t think I’m alert to their progress, and Dark Matter proponents just consider me illiterate. I think all avenues to an overarching principle haven’t been explored. DM adherents won’t even consider one.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Is physics too speculative?

    As amateur practicing mathematical physics which is strictly speaking no scientific research, I cannot give a well informed answer about a professional community to which I do not and shall never (too old) belong.

    I can only tell my opinion as citizen. I agree that there is a kind of "zwischen" zone where some professionals spend much energy to attract the attention of the public with ideas lying at the border of science-fiction. Real science is made some where else far from the public arena for evident reasons. As you say, we should not conflate the topics.

    I also think that physics is a really hard and large domain. I would add that fundamental physics seems to be the most dangerous part of that infernal world. Dangerous for the mental equilibrium since people practicing that art have to discover, imagine and prove subtle connections between diverse fields. This is where psychological biases occur and where the concerned persons may loose themselves, I suppose. Data, experiments and contradictory discussions with colleagues are the unique methods saving us from drowning.
    That is why I like to visit and read your backreaction blog, even as amateur.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Sabine,

    Thank you for an excellent analysis of the role of speculation in science!

    Regarding your article first being requested and then rejected by a prominent component of the American Physical Society, the Streisand effect comes to mind. Had the second Physics editor accepted your polite and well-written critique, a relatively small group of physicists would have seen it. Those who disagreed with it would have been enormously more likely to skip reading it than take serious action against APS.

    By instead rejecting a critique from someone as highly regarded as yourself, the editor created a scenario that Associated Press or CNN may find quite interesting. If that editor is lucky, your analysis will not land up in the evening news. In any case, your essay will now reach a far larger audience simply by you having posted it on YouTube.

    The Physics editor who tried to “protect” Physics magazine thus did quite the opposite. People respect candor, especially in the sciences. When people censor well-argued analysis based solely on concerns about how it will be received — an art also known as politics — it seldom plays well with the audience.

    --------

    Regarding the analysis itself, another tool that might be useful is to distinguish elaboration from speculation. For example, the rock-solid experimental and mathematical work in the 1960s showed pretty conclusively that nucleon families exhibit string-like vibration modes. That finding did indeed provide a plausible basis to speculate that something similar might be going on with gravity, albeit at an astronomically smaller scale.

    However, this speculation merited no more than a few papers, not half a century of elaboration. Quark theory, which emerged in parallel, quickly showed that the string-like behavior is due to the strong force increasing strength with distance. That causes quarks to behave like bolas rotating around a cord, explaining the odd emergence of string vibrations in nucleon math. Once that happened, gravity string theory advocates should have taken it as their duty to explain what new forces and particles they were using for their much smaller strings. Relying instead on just the equations as if they did not need to connect to reality is the very height of the kind of dumb mathematical oversimplification that Feynman warned about pointedly in his Lectures for first-year physics students. The result is amusingly similar to spending half a century of research using pogo-stick-bounce equations to model reality. After all, fully abstracted pogo stick equations are so gosh-darn powerful, especially when generalized to 11 dimensions! Even better, pogo sticks were proven to exist in the 1960s by nuclear physics researchers whose kids used them daily. May I have my funding now, NSF?

    --------

    On a different note, I must add that in my own experience, I’ve found APS to be an exceptionally courageous and honest organization that looks out for its members.

    APS took a brave stand against blatant, policy-level US Federal discrimination and intimidation against ethnic Chinese physics researchers. That discrimination included arresting and handcuffing researchers who had done absolutely nothing wrong by the later statements of that same federal government. So when I saw and participated in an APS webinar [1] on the atrocious things that have been going on right under the noses of folks like me, who naively assumed that the general lack of Asian discrimination I’ve seen in the US Department of Defense research communities applies to all parts of the US federal government, I was horrified literally beyond words.

    Yes, APS may have flaws. But they are also brave and stand up for their members in situations where I’ve seen powerful politicians cower and cringe over the possible consequences of speaking up forcefully for what is right. Well done, APS!

    --------

    [1] Impact of Security Concerns Regarding China on the Physics Community
    https://aps.org/programs/minorities/webinars/researchsecurty.cfm

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ... "(citation) That finding did indeed provide a plausible basis to speculate that something similar might be going on with gravity, albeit at an astronomically smaller scale".

      I beg your pardon for this Intermezzo without relation with the main topic here. I have seen recent simulations representing the cosmos (e. g. NASA website). Intergalactic filaments are obviously omnipresent.

      My questions:
      1) Isn't it a clear indication that strings should be introduced, not at an astronomically smaller scale, but at a quite biggest one; precisely at an astromical scale?
      2) Do you or does someone on this forum know authors who have elaborate on this remark?
      3) Are these simulations giving a correct image of the matter répartition or are they elegant films having the unique purpose to stimulate the imagination of people like me?

      Delete
    2. Hi Paps57,

      First and most importantly: Cool beard you have there! Graybeards rule!

      >… “(citation)” [for the emergence of quantum gravity “superstring” theory]

      Scherk, J.; Schwarz, J. H. Dual Models for Non-Hadrons. Nuclear Physics B 1974, 81 (1), 118–144.

      I’ve not found any free copies, and frankly, it’s a plodding read. Remarkably, this rather dull paper was more responsible for theoretical physics abandoning reality in favor of unlimited-precision, math-as-reality exploration of pure formalisms than any other paper of which I’m aware. In the narrow window of time just before the original abstract-strings concept died a sharp death when folks realized it was just describing rotating quark bolas attached to strong-force cords, the idea of “pure” abstraction of mathematical vibrations found fertile new ground when it set fire to the quantum gravity community like a match in a dried-out a west-coast US forest.

      >… “1) [Shouldn’t] strings … be introduced… at an astronomical scale?”

      The most massive objects in the universe, cosmic filaments, are certainly string-like in shape. Recent findings show they even rotate:

      Jaime Chambers, Cosmic filaments may be the biggest spinning objects in space. Science News, June 22, 2021. https://www.sciencenews.org/article/dark-matter-cosmic-filaments-biggest-spinning-objects-space

      >… “2) Do you … know authors who … elaborate on this remark?

      The two arXiv paper citations at the very bottom of the above ScienceNews article give the latest info on both observations and simulations of how filaments attract galaxies and spin as they do so. Exciting and unexpected stuff, that.

      >… “3) Are these simulations giving a correct image of the matter repartition, or are they [just] elegant films [to] stimulate the imagination of people like me?”

      It sounds like you may have already seen that ScienceNews article, which shows just such a simulation of a cosmic string rotating like a dust devil and pulling in galaxies like dust as it does so. Such simulations are a matter of considerable debate in cosmology right now since, as Sabine aptly noted in this video, the very existence of dark matter is debatable.

      This particular video seems to have enough actual observational data in it to merit being a “pretty good guess.” So I certainly think it’s saying something valuable and non-trivial. But, on the other hand, cosmology has a habit of entrenching “pretty good guesses” as dogma so absolute that even the raw data gets massaged before publication to reflect those assumptions. So it’s good to keep in mind that unless and until more observational data proves such assumptions valid or invalid, they remain just that: Assumptions.

      Delete
    3. Thank you very much for this answer.
      I did not buy the first reference you mentioned.
      Eventually, you may appreciate the free arXiv:0708.1917v3 [hep-th] 3 Apr 2009 by J. H. Schwarz himself: The early years of string theory, a personal perspective.

      Delete
  32. Steven,
    Regarding people who write books conflating God and physics, it is not necessarily true that they believe all of what they write. Perhaps you could entertain the possibility that they simply understand the market for which they are writing. In short, it could be hypocrisy all the way down.

    I am of two minds about this. 1. It promotes ideas about god that I don't accept, 2, It raises the question is harnessing god to promote science justifiable?

    I do think that if you are going to write about science for a popular audience you have to start by writing to them where they are. I guess a little hypocrisy makes the medicine go down. This apparently is true even for the editors of science journals.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Steve,

      With respect to you, religious belief does not correlate with mental illness all the time, Steven Evans doesn't know what he's on about.

      Delete
    2. "If you are going to write about science for a popular audience", you probably want to make sure you understand the science yourself first - Barnes, Lewis and Schmidt fell at this first hurdle.

      I think popular accounts of Physics try to avoid Maths as much as possible. But there is no room for lies in science - if the fundies don't like it, they can go back to kneeling on the ground and grovelling to the sky.

      Delete
    3. Religious belief *is* a mental illness. You think believing all that nonsensical drivel is a sign of sanity? How much glue do those people sniff in their temples?

      Delete
    4. "Religious belief *is* a mental illness. "

      No it isn't. Illness is qua definition something that impairs a person. I am pretty fed up with your nonsense and will not publish further rubbish that you submit.

      Delete
    5. The Christians I know have great strength of character, they can get through life without grovelling or having to put others down unlike yourself. You must be horribly insecure.

      Delete
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      Delete
    7. Religion is an organized from of mythos. Virtually all cultures have this. I suspect that it stems from the evolution of language, which is a part of brain evolution. I hypothesize the telling of stories and myths were a way of communicating information about the environment from generation to generation. Stories about spirits in the forest and the gods that decide seasons and the ebb and flow of rivers are a way of telling young people about the cycles of nature, and when to hunt and gather.

      Around 7000BCE in northern Iraq and along the Indus people began building shrines. It also corresponds with the beginning of sedentary life in towns and agriculture. The little demiurges and spirits began to be fused together into larger agricultural gods and into sky-gods. With writing later religions were recorded and by the iron age monotheism began. The modern organized religions began to take form.

      Since the scientific revolution Christianity has waned and waxed. Much of the theological worldview collapsed with Galileo and theology lost much of its intellectual foundation. Later came Darwin, which was a serious religious collapse and now cosmology is chipping away at religion. In the US religion made a surge from the 1970s to the 1990s and has become a political force. The Pew Research on Religion and Society cites that in 2000 about 80% of people identified with a religious denomination and half of them were regular attendees. A recent report finds that only 47% identify with religion and maybe ⅟4th are regular attendees. This is nearly a half. The most often cited reason people left religion is a problem with science and religious affiliation with the right wing.

      I think there are psychological reasons why people believe religions. Even with the decline in religion there has been in the last 2 to 3 decades a big growth in the interest in superheroes, Comic Cons are big these days, or other alternative mythic-narratives ---- even Pokémon. There seems to be this psychological need people, or many people, seem to need. Even traditional religion may make a rebound if it shakes off the politics and makes better truce with science.

      Delete
    8. C Thompson6:04 AM, July 26, 2021

      "The Christians I know have great strength of character,"

      Yes, I'm sure that's true and you aren't just making it up as you go along. Ask these "Christians" you "know" what they think of trans rights.

      Christians have such great strength of character that they can't get through life without thinking they have a daddy in the sky to protect them and they are so pathetically afraid of death they have made up an eternal afterlife in paradise. Great strength of character? Great weakness of mind more like.

      "or having to put others down unlike yourself. You must be horribly insecure."

      Nope, I have admitted my mistakes several times on here. I am interested only in the truth and am 100% honest. So the polar opposite of you.

      Delete
    9. Lawrence Crowell6:10 PM, July 26, 2021

      "Around 7000BCE"
      But it's 2021 now and they're still bowing to the sky and eating crackers made out of Jesus.

      " A recent report finds that only 47% identify with religion and maybe ⅟4th are regular attendees."

      Hallelujah!

      "The most often cited reason people left religion is a problem with science"
      I think Matt Dillahunty has turned them.

      " and religious affiliation with the right wing."
      Oh no, so they've all become Woke instead.

      "I think there are psychological reasons why people believe religions."
      Yes, they are mental.
      Get into Maths and science, then they'll never be bored.

      Delete
    10. @Spewer of Excrement:

      They support and accept transgender people.
      Also, you can go to hell for insulting both people with mental-health issues to deal with and my family and friends, who are kind, smart and better than you. You're one of the people I like to think that you'll find their way into the Hell that Christians believe in. You've been told how and why you are wrong so many times in so many ways but you insist you aren't, any other time you happened to admit you were incorrect doesn't give you any credit now.
      I myself as an atheist feel no compunction about being rude as you deserve.

      Of course I want people who think like you with your arrogant ignorance and prejudice gone since you're committed to those opinions; the world would be a better place. I'm not the one saying an entire sort of humanity is not worth giving the respect of believing them about who they are.

      Lastly, why the f_ck are you commenting here, if we're supposedly so stupid and/or brainwashed and you're supposedly superior?

      I've got plenty of time for your answers to keep me entertained.

      Delete
    11. ... they're still bowing to the sky and eating crackers made out of Jesus.

      Well sure, and I grew up with that as a part of my reality. I also ate Challah on Shabbat, and found all of that a bit more cool. The Christian God is believed to give answers, and the Jewish God asks questions.

      Which ever is the case it is better people are eating eucharist host crackers instead of Soylent green crackers. That might be coming.

      Delete
    12. :D Look up the phrase 'bitch eating crackers', lol.

      I was part of an evening service congregation in a newer denomination of Protestants. I was part of the young-adults Bible-study group, we'd make jokes about Christianity then joke that we were waiting for God to hit us with a lightning bolt.
      One evening after the relatively informal Communion service some of us were in the kitchen wondering what to do with the rest of the loaf of bread we'd used. I ended up taking Jesus home and making some 'fairy bread'.
      I had much love and support from those people.
      I went to a Hindu temple with a friend while she did some devotions. The building, shrines and idols were exquisite.

      Delete
    13. This IS so x~citing !!! ^.^ ,
      I admit that on days like this I actually only look in here to watch you throw crap at each other.
      Wow!!! You are in a class of your own (8)

      Delete
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      Delete
    15. Muck, if Steven Evans keeps bringing his favourite toys, er, insults back to the blog repeatedly to toss at me, who am I to spoil his fun.
      On a more serious note, I don't want his vileness to be seen to go uncgallenged but I've done all the seriously explaining things to him in previous posts' comment sections.

      You're welcome to bring popcorn.

      Delete
    16. @Jonathan,
      You're not wrong. I do have better things to do with my time and new gift of life than indulge in aggravation. It has been somewhat fun coming up with insults to meet S.E. with.
      Muck can still enjoy their popcorn with the rest of the blog.

      Delete
    17. @C.,
      Please don't be so hard...
      I think 'Foreward Stem' (<> Steven, [German]) did a great job adding some speed to you on a matter that obviously matters to you.
      And I think that I would be very satisfied to see that Steven to gain some self-confidence and is thus able to understand other people's point of view and to take into account that they are also valid.
      However (at least: with or without popcorn)...
      you're welcome. ^.^ ,

      Delete
    18. muck, der4:55 AM, July 29, 2021

      " other people's point of view and to take into account that they are also valid."

      Unless they are scientifically and logically invalid. This idea that everyone's opinion counts is nonsense. Most people are complete idiots.

      Delete
    19. Steven...
      Exactly, that's what I mean.
      I keep my fingers crossed that one fine day you will manage to like all these idiots and yourself at least a little. I can tell from my experience as a carer that people with the most eccentric attitudes, which they have developed under circumstances unimaginable to me, can be very amiable and can live to a very old age... I think that in itself confirms the validity of their point of view.
      Warm greetings.

      Delete
    20. @Muck
      One can hope. :)

      *I meant, Steven, whatever.

      Delete
  33. Not at all, this would not have been too much to stomach for physicists! I find it sad that the APS and other scientific journals do not provide a platform for discussion but only advertisement for people's work. My assessment would also put most of these theories in the red bin. But my intention is not to argue that my assessment is correct, either.

    Sure, there are a lot of cranks who want to publish their pet theory, but good scientists should be able to defend why some proposals are too speculative. When the crank comes back repeating the same arguments (and they will), publish a second answer explaining why the idea is inappropriate and then reject further attemps at publicizing someone's pet theory. If another author finds something useful in the idea, let them publish and explain why.

    The important thing is to publish the discussion and agree to disagree, while constantly questionning our methods.
    Journals have insecurity issues and are not brave enough to publish a discussion that could be good for science.

    ReplyDelete
  34. The answer to your question is "No". Physics cannot be too speculative. That's because speculation is not physics nor science in general (best case "not yet"). You should know.

    ReplyDelete
  35. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but when Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder Ph.D. writes something, I read it. Perhaps the second editor didn’t realize her popularity. Not knowing this he missed his opportunity to increase the readership of his publication.
    OR
    The thought has just occurred to me that perhaps there is a misunderstanding here.
    I’ve read your article, and there is nothing too honest about it. It is actually quite tame.
    Perhaps, what the editor really wanted was more of your usual in-your-face brutal honesty style of writing.

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    Replies
    1. I'm still at, but why?? about the whole shambles.
      It is actually a pretty sedate piece, a bit drier than usual. Different audience, I suppose. I'd read Dr. Hossenfelder's shopping list even, though.

      The video is pure vintage Sabine though. Bad science can literally get in the bin!

      Delete
    2. Is thinking dreams predict the future good or bad science?
      How about thinking a man can be a woman - good or bad science?

      Delete
    3. Not everything is science. I don't think you actually care that much either, it's just stale drivel coming from you.

      Delete
    4. C Thompson,
      You'd even read her shopping list!
      I bow down to you as her biggest fan.
      Congratulations.
      By the way, How are you?

      Delete
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    6. Hey Jonathan,

      Yes my I did, so you're someone to blame for bank-rolling these controversies ;)
      I'm a sucker for expressive, clever writing and exuberant self expression and there's plenty of that around. (I also reckon you shouldn't delete half your posts, they're not all that bad, many are quite interesting. You've a knack for writing yourself.)

      My idolising is tempered by remembering that Dr. Hossenfelder is the one who goes and fishes out lost comments and deals with us herself on this blog.

      I'm pretty good. I have a diagnosis, I'm getting a pacemaker implanted tomorrow (finally) and I'll be good to go on Wednesday. I hope you're going well.

      Delete
    7. C Thompson,
      Wishing you well with your procedure. Peacemakers have been testifiable for several years now. You'll be okay.
      Half of my postings are rubbish and I never should have pushed the send button.
      Oh, and thanks.

      Delete
    8. 'Half of my postings are rubbish and I never should have pushed the send button.' Hahaha, have you read some of my earlier comments on Backreaction yet?
      I got mine implanted this morning, the pain was awful and I'm still very sore, but I'll be released tomorrow when I'll go with my mother and my cat to Mum's place where I can recover in peace and do some star-gazing.

      Delete
    9. C Thompson.
      Here, in Mew Mexico, when someone says they're be released tomorrow they're usually not talking about the hospital.
      While you are recovering search Sabine's blog. I've found some good reading there.
      While you're stargazing... I was wondering if you have ever seen the Goal Sack?

      Delete
    10. C Thompson [is] a sucker for expressive, clever writing and exuberant self expression.
      I recommend Brian Keatings book, Losing the Nobel Prize.

      Delete
    11. I will put that book on my list, should have plenty of time to read it.
      I got hellacious pot-op nausea so I'm still here, going tomorrow.
      I think I have seen the Coal Sack :)

      Delete
    12. PS: or with big, strong hearts full of consideration and affection.
      All the best & stay better, dear ones (8)

      Delete
    13. P.S. I have been reading other bits of the blog, there are some real gems of writing.
      I've also being gigglimg about exposed TOEs.

      Delete
  36. Totally agree. I know it flies in the face of sexual selection but it would be great if there was more attention given to the grounding question "What's the chance that we have got this totally wrong?" In my schema, if physicists can't get epistemology and evidence right, no one else has a chance.

    ReplyDelete
  37. I'm going to get me a dog, and name it Theory.
    Get it? Pet Theory? Or, is that an old joke?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've been thinking for a while now that I want to get a couple of dogs or cats and call them Mondo and Susy.

      Delete
  38. What pisses me off about this dark matter dark energy garbage is they base it on a computer model where they had to increase the mass of the universe by 6 times in order to get galaxy formation in 14.8 billion years.....this is B.S. has it not occurred to these morons that the problem might be the age of the universe is VASTLY older than we think it is. "JUST" because 14.8 billion years is as far as we can see with a telescope DOES NOT MEAN there is nothing beyond this range. I can think of at least 2 explainations that can accomodate the observations and can allow for a much more ancient universe. I thought these scientists were smart ....this doesnt seem like a very smart tangent to take scientific research ....unless the idea is to fund decades of futile worthless research to simply keep the grant money coming in. Which only delays real logical scientific inquiry on things that are actually real and ultimately beneficial to learn and expand our real knowledge of the universe. Thats what it seems like science has become to me in the last decades ....just a ponzi scheme or a grift to keep the grants rolling in. The dark matter "hypothesis" which they openly say they "cant detect" is a joke it is a fantasy theory. THERE "IS" NO SUCH THING AS DARK MATTER OR DARK ENERGY for that matter. They have simply wildly underestimated the mass of the universe (as evidenced by the previously unknown gas and interstellar dust clouds recently discovered) and wildly underestimated the age of the universe ( the universe is hundreds of billions if not trillions of years old). And it really is as simple as that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. has it occurred to you to consider that maybe you are the one who doesn't understand general relativity?

      Delete
    2. From reading science blogs for many years, I have seen several cases where someone writes that they have caught a simple error that is being made by main-stream science. It has never been true so far (including the above case) and I don't think it ever will be. People who have worked in a field and become experts at it don't make simple mistakes in that field en masse. They make complicated, difficult-to-unravel mistakes.

      (One factor is that science has to be explained with simplified analogies for those who don't know the math, and analogies are never perfect; but an error in the analogy doesn't mean the math is wrong.)

      Delete
    3. Hi JimV.
      Good point, on the one hand.
      On the other hand, I think that the mistakes in the analogies are real mistakes too, as they become part of the basic idea in the minds of people who cannot understand that they are mistakes. Pointing out 'mistakes' or that an analogy does not do what you want it to do is therefore an important part of the response...
      After all, scientists want to be understood outside of the scientific community. And I think that you can see directly from the sales figures of their generally understandable publications how well the feedback works...
      I also think that 'the difficulties in unraveling the errors' can also bee seen as a measurement for the quality of the whole system.

      Delete
  39. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It happens sometimes that a comment goes into the spam queue instead of the moderation queue, in which case I never get to see it. If you suspect that's what happened, please submit a brief comment addressed to me in which you let me know approximately when you submitted the comment that got lost.

      Delete
    2. If there is one thing that all science bloggers seem consistent on, it is that they don't want to hear about your TOE which no science journal will accept taking up space and moderation time in their blog.

      I suspect that it can be said of TOE's that we all have one, but it is not polite to show them in public, on somebody else's blog.

      Delete
    3. Sabine,
      No worries. I'm sure that it belonged in the rubbish bin anyway, or that I probably would have deleted it.
      My big TOE is usually sticking out of a hole in my sock. I wonder if that makes it emergent?

      Delete
    4. Thank you, JimV.
      That makes perfect sense to me. I will remember your tip on blog etiquette.

      Delete
  40. Sad to hear your case with your article as an example of censorship in Physics, but I am not surprised. Many peopla (including myself) are suffering of censorship and discrimination because we follow and pursue different ways, that someone has banded as unappropiated.

    With respect to the topic of the essay, it is difficult to judge.One should not forget that the many of the most relevant theories in physics implied at the moment huge doses of imagination and speculation, together with ingenuity, independence of thought and curiosity. If you want examples, Newton invention of calculus and practical implementation, Maxwell theory of fields, Einstein special relativity, Einstein general relativity and Boltzmann theory of atoms.
    Sometimes, there is a ferocious opposition, sometimes will be embraced by many almost immediately. But they should appear as speculative theories at first. And these are the theories that prevailed.... Many others have disappeared from memory because they do not resist comparison with time. Which theories will survive (even if they need modification) with time? I think that nobody knows. Therefore, in order to not bury the "correct theory", the theoretician should be allowed to be speculative as pleased.

    This does not mean that speculative theories are correct. To be correct, you need to be mathematically correct and be non-trivially predictive. And of course, if you have a theory that predicts something, the idea is to test it, in order to disregard the speculation as soon as possible. It seems to me that this is a point not fully pursued by many groups.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Excellent Sabina! Simply excellent.

    That kinda method for finding essentials in more specific sciential cases is much more than only recommendable.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Sabine, I didn't read beyond the title of this article but there are two thoughts worth mentioning. 1. Yes, Physics has gotten too dam speculative &, 2. I love the face you are making in the beginning of the video it gave me a huge laugh, I appreciated it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I laughed too, but she is actually a very attractive woman and I wish that she wouldn't do this.
      ;)
      Oops! I probably shouldn't have done that. She's probably tired of guys winking at her.
      :|

      Delete
    2. 'A thing of beauty is a joy forever', and Dr. H does scrub up pretty well.

      Delete
  43. A good video for the physics community of practice. Is there a tool, even as simple as a giant spreadsheet of linked data, itemized evidence and validated models that one could work with to track progress and maybe even the probabilities of success for further progress based on a collected knowledgebase of physics experts? For example, there is a 'Web of Stories' video in which Freeman Dyson mention's Oppenheimer's response to his assertion that 'the old Physics works'. Edwin T. Jaynes wrote an article in which he pointed out the importance of physical principles over math. Dr. Albert Einstein stated that there is no inductive method which could lead to the fundamental concepts of Physics. Could these statements be incorporated into a Cognitive companion that can distinguish between fiction, pseudoscience, speculative hypotheses and validated alternative models worth working on? Something like a Jaynesian Probability Theory Bambleweeny 57 processor or a nice hot cup of tea. I want a kind of map showing where physics has been, where it is and where it might be going.
    One lesson from the Torah and the Holy Book of Christianity is the story of Babel where building construction progress was halted by disrupting communication between workers. Something that Dr. Mendel Sachs tried to do was get Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity speaking the same mathematical language using quaternions and spinors. Dr. David Hestenes has gone one better, however, by incorporating tensors, differential forms and multivectors into a unified mathematical language amd notation for Physics with geometric algebra as the base.
    See Anthony Lasenby's Youtube video on a new language for Physics.

    ReplyDelete
  44. JimV,
    While I do have my own TOE, I only know enough physics to shoot myself in the foot, so I keep my shoes on.

    ReplyDelete
  45. Lawrence,
    The Titanic disaster, early in the last century is sometimes seen as a marker for the passing of the old order and the rising of a new social and political order for the twentieth century.

    Now, in the early years of this century, something similar is happening. We have the rise of China and the disappearance of the cold war, which gave a kind of stability to the last years of the last century. There are also changes happening in America.

    On the right in America there is a circling of the wagons as the racial mix of the country becomes less white and more diverse. Old social norms are evaporating. Many conservatives feel under attack. They don't like change.

    Trans phobic attacks and racial resentment are useful wedge issues for conservative leaders. They generate votes and cash. They generate even more anger and fear. They motivate the base. Essentially, such issues are political ploys for a party whose future for now does not look all that bright.

    Conservatives look to the past for guidance and see the future sneaking up behind them. Along with the other fears add in Covid and climate change. At least the anger and fear is a bit understandable. How all this change plays out neither they or anyone else knows. Me, I'm somewhat hopeful. I take anti- depressants.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Steve,

      I find pockets of hope in places like YouTube, Facebook and blogs where people are sharing facts, working to tear down toxic conservatism and Right-wing thinking and keeping a sense of humour.

      This blog is one such haven, offered by a beacon of truth and hope (and sass). Despite my uncouth behaviour at times I do think hope and joy are part of our arsenal along with a desire for facts; I think we'll win out.

      Delete
    2. Conservatives are not a monolithic block of anti-scientific racists and the last I checked Caitlyn Jenner (a trans woman) has openly come out as a Republican. Conservatives do not look to the past for guidance they build upon the past. I would say that we do not need to destroy the past in order to secure the future, rather time is like a chain with multiple links. We see that some of the links are old and rusty and likely would not support much weight. For instance the Earth was at one time considered the center of the Universe, however with better observations it became more and more obvious that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Science advances in this way. And no one group owns such progress, it is a shared effort.

      Conservatives are also not afraid of change. I am a super-conservative who believes in the rights of gay people to own guns and refuse experimental vaccines. But by all means live in an echo chamber where it is somehow OK to malign an entire class of people for being other than yourself.

      Are you aware of how close-minded you sound?

      Delete
    3. Hi J.W.

      Thanks for sharing your views.
      Thing is, Caitlyn Jenner is not well-thought-of by many trans people and their allies, me included. She supported Trump who allowed transgender people to be legislated and discriminated against on his watch, and she this year stated that Transgender girls and women shouldn't play in n women's sporting compromising before going off and competing in a woman's golf competition. She's a hypocrite.
      As far as I'm aware no vaccine currently offered (certainly not fit COVID-19) is offered to the public untested. You're willing to experiment with the heath and life of your loved ones and everyone else who is in your community.

      I am pretty intolerant of that, I'm not ashamed of saying so.

      Delete
    4. *Women's sporting competitions. Damm phone.

      Delete
  46. As the article is speculation on its own.

    ReplyDelete
  47. I am a Biochemist but I find Sabine's videos highly informative on Physics. She is perhaps the clearest, most lucid presenter of the current state of affairs in Physics! The same situation applies to other fields as well. There is a lack of honest discourse. Dogma rather than rational thinking is more and more common and hostility to different opinions even commoner! with vested interests of individuals and organizations which profit from such positions. I am wondering: Are we entering a sort of postmodern dark ages? Thank yu Sabine for illuminating all these issues so clearly and honestly!

    ReplyDelete
  48. I'm in the possession of a good speculation: considering dark matter and dark energy are well named and since E = mc^2, part of dark energy is being converted into dark matter by Einstein's famous equation. It all adds up, no dark energy no dark matter! :p

    ReplyDelete
  49. You should have left out the bit about the asteroid and alien technology. It's not as if that interpretation was actually a "movement" in physics like string theory or dark matter or multiverse. Only a very few serious physics people lent their names to such an outlandish joke. Doing that made your article too easy to dismiss as an attack piece, or a whine. Better luck next time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Indeed, I agree with you, but keep in mind that the topic wasn't my idea. That was what the editor wanted me to comment on. (I suspect that the Loeb episode was the reason they wanted to commission the piece to begin with.)

      Delete
    2. We may live in an age of science and technology, but asteroids and alien technology still sell newspapers.

      Delete
    3. I, for one, am glad that alien mongering was included. It shows just how fine the line is between belief and disbelief. Some day, perhaps, the “dark” fiasco may be debunked and it will be discussed at the same level as alien visitation.

      Delete
    4. Loeb got 1,75 million dollars. The philanthropic Galileo project is launched. sciencemag.org, Jul. 26,2021, news.

      Delete
  50. Jeez, I see this very interesting piece and there are 136 comments, and instead of an interesting discussion of what you said, there is a blizzard of nonsense about religion and other crap that is irrelevant to the piece.

    Anyway I would only argue with the comment about "Platonists". You can perfectly well believe that math is real and be completely sane and a good scientist and never come close to philosophy (in other words leave it to philosophers). I think they are just bad scientists, whether they are Platonists or Materialists or Dadaists. The model is quite clearly utterly sterile and a failure. It's not the first time that happened in physics. I could name a dozen examples but I will not bore you.

    -drl

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. drl,

      I agree that you can believe that math is real and be a good scientist. The problem isn't that they believe math is real. The problem is they believe it's real and don't realize they use this belief as a metaphysical assumption.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  51. Sabine - minor edit

    Jeez, I see this very interesting piece and there are 136 comments, and instead of an interesting discussion of what you said, there is a blizzard of nonsense about religion and other crap that is irrelevant to the piece.

    Anyway I would only argue with the comment about "Platonists". You can perfectly well believe that math is real and be completely sane and a good scientist and never come close to philosophy (in other words leave it to philosophers). I think they are just bad scientists, whether they are Platonists or Materialists or Dadaists. String theory in particular is quite clearly utterly sterile and a failure. It's not the first time that happened in physics. I could name a dozen examples but I will not bore you.

    -drl

    ReplyDelete
  52. I’m just the guy who sweeps the floors, but here is my take on dark matter.
    I’m not sure which rubbish bin to file it in, but here we go…
    This idea occurred to me when I was contemplating why dark matter is always over there and never over here. And If there is anybody over there, are they asking the same question about us over here? Sounds circular, but it isn’t.
    It occurred to me that as a private pilot I’ve frequently had to fly through haze. One thing about haze is that it’s always over there and never over here. Haze is caused by particles, usually, water particles, suspended in the air. That the particles near me can’t be seen doesn’t mean that they are not there. There are just as many particles over here as there are over there. It’s just that I have to look through the accumulative effect of them before they become noticeable.
    I’m trying to equate dark matter with atmospheric haze. I’ve coined the term gravitational haze for it. We have to look through this gravitational haze before we notice its cumulative effects over distance. We don’t notice it over here because there is not enough of it in our local vicinity to be noticeable. What are the particles that constitute gravitational haze? I don’t know, gravitons? Maybe just the cumulative effect of spacetime over distance? Empty space isn’t quite empty?
    Atmospheric haze is visible because the suspended particles scatter light in the air that you’re looking through. Gravitational haze is noticeable because it scatters the gravity waves of distant galaxies, similar to gravitational lensing.
    If I could turn my broom into an Alcubierre Drive I’d take a trip over there where the view is better without all of this haze hanging around. But right now I have to figure out which bin to sweep all of this rubbish into. I think that I’ll pick the blue one marked, nonsense.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My finger hovers above the delete button.
      Should I press it, C Thompson?

      Delete
    2. Nope. I'm thinking of what Dr. H said about Dark Matter not being a particle, that people haven't found it because they've been looking for the wrong sort of substance. Your conjecture might even be falsifiable, if someone throws the right mathematics at it.

      Delete
  53. Nobody in Physics ever explained, or was ABLE to explain, why atomic electrons don't emit radiation and collapse the atom. (Quite simply, nobody knows what an "atomic electron" IS, much less a "quantum spin", or a "photon".)

    There has been unending, ridiculous speculation throughout Physics (the academic consensus "physics") since Bohr and "Copenhagen".

    It has been "shut up and do the math (with NO UNDERSTANDING of the physics -- if any)" all the way down, ever since.

    The dogma lies deep, and thoroughly embedded.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have good speculations but needing yet more cross-checkings before antipodal magnetic monopole feature can be published.

      So much I can say that the monopoly has no mass as does the electric charge.

      Delete
    2. And yet all the semiconductor chips in the world confirm the physicists' description of the behaviour of the electron quadrillions of times a day. Strange. All those computers running on "dogma".

      Delete
    3. 'Who is Dog-pa married to?'

      (I'msorrynoIliedI'mnot)

      Delete
  54. Sabine?
    Follow the Science? Nonsense, I say.
    In which [you] express [your] dismay about journalists who conflate fact with opinion.

    Now that's what I call an opinion piece!
    You go girl!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is a video that Sabine made last year.
      Google it on youtube. It's well worth watching.

      Delete
  55. Whether or not one accepts the so called Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics in which quantum effects spawn countless branches of the universe, the personal life of Huge Everett (1930-1982) its originator is a fascinating and tragic story. He suffered from depression most of his life, some believed intensified by the rejection, and some times ridicule of his fellow scientist for his controversial ideas, and died when he was just 51. In 1996 his daughter Elizabeth killed herself with an overdose of sleeping pills, leaving a note saying she was going to join her father in another universe.
    Ref: Scientific American 'The Many Worlds of Huge Everett, Peter Byrne Oct 21, 2008

    ReplyDelete
  56. "At the Big Bang, the universe and time itself came into existence, so that this is the first cause. If we could understand the Big Bang, we would know why the universe is the way it is. It use to be thought that it was impossible to apply the laws of science to the beginning of the universe, and indeed that it was sacrilegious to try. But recent developments in unifying the two pillars of twentieth-century science, Einstein's General Theory of Relativity and the Quantum Theory, have encouraged us to believe that it may be possible to find laws that hold even at the creation of the universe. In that case, everything in the universe would be determined by the laws of science. So if we understood those laws, we would in a sense be Masters of the Universe."

    - Stephen Hawking (Cambridge, July 28, 1997)

    ReplyDelete
  57. Amazing how intelligent people still make the same mistakes. In this day and age of social media, thinking that refusing an article from a well known blogger and youtuber, will prevent the publication, is pretty naïf. Instead of having an opinion piece in their publication that will be forgotten by their readers in 2 days, now they have more that twice the number of people who think that the ASP has a bunch of (-add preferred word here-) as editors. And this will stick much longer.
    Somebody should tell the ASP, that they can not control this like before the internet. Almost 3000 comments over at youtube about the ASP refusing the article.
    Now the ASP is probably pretty p****d about it, but hey, they should have seen it coming. Brilliant. Perfect textbook case of naïvety about the power of social media.

    ReplyDelete
  58. I have written this many times before, but it has some relevance to the topic, so here I go again. In my opinion:

    Progress in anything is made by trial-and-error evolution, which requires three factors:

    1) Sources of variation (mutations, wild ideas, etc.).

    2) Selection criteria which weed out the bad variations and promote the good ones.

    3) Some sort of memory to pass on good results through time.

    The issue with speculation in science, or anywhere else, is not that it occurs. It has to occur, just as thousands of bad mutations have to occur in E coli before it is able to digest a particular citrate solution.

    The issue is in the selection criteria. Nature has absolute criteria: survival and reproduction (in a particular environment). (Note: despite this, random, neutral mutations can succeed.) Science has a fuzzier one: empirical confirmation--fuzzy because of experimental uncertainties, random effects, and personal biases.

    Possibly there is also an issue with memory, in that the growth of science has made it difficult for individuals to encompass all the data that is necessary to make a valid selection among alternatives.

    (I believe Dr. Hossenfelder and others here know all this, and in greater detail, but some other readers may not, or may not agree.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. @JimV I think this is an insightful comment. However I think the problem with modern physics isn't that empirical confirmation is fuzzy -- while experiments can be fuzzy "in the moment", on long time scales there is no better way to weed out wrong ideas than confronting them with experiment. The problem is that there are no experiments that are usefully constraining the kinds of speculations theorists are engaging in, and so other, less powerful methods must be used for selection.

      Two other comments...
      1. It's interesting to compare the selection criteria in theoretical physics with mathematics, which is naively similar and of course does not use empirical validation as a selection criterion. In mathematics, I think the selection criteria for good ideas are a combination of (a) rigorous proof and (b) "broader impact", which is a very fuzzy sociological element that I would loosely define as mathematicians outside of your field finding your work interesting. I think some theoretical physics speculation is rigorous and interesting to mathematicians, but a lot of the problems Sabine is mentioning fail to satisfy up these criteria of good mathematics, as well as not meeting empirical tests.

      2. The role of memory is also a very interesting and important one. I think a relevant failure mode for modern theoretical physics, is inertia: once people have invested a lot in an idea, it is difficult to "put the cat bag in the bag."

      Delete
    2. But there are some obviously dead-end, hopeless theories that seemingly a lot of physicists mistakenly think are physical - String Theory, universal fine-tuning, inflation, naturalness.

      It's not a subtle problem. There is no empirical evidence to support these theories and given that there are absolutely no reasons to think these theories are physical, the chances are they're not.

      So ending wasted research on these garbage theories might free up some bandwidth.

      I was shocked to see this recently from Peter Woit "I’m actually much more sympathetic than most people to the idea that there is a serious and very interesting question about how to evaluate ideas about theoretical fundamental physics in the absence of viable experimental tests."

      Even in Junior High School Physics you needed to get at least 5 measurements before graphing them. Which seemed quite comical at the time, but non-Empirical Physics?? It's not even wrong.

      Accepting theories that only exist in the mind as physics would be mental.

      Delete
    3. 'Accepting theories that only exist in the mind as physics would be mental.'

      Yes, because the word 'mental' means 'pertaining to the mind'...

      Delete
  59. J.W.,
    You are correct in that it is a mistake to paint any group of people with a broad brush. There are always exceptions in any group of people.

    However, I grew up in the very conservative American south in the 50s and 60s, I was more conservative in my youth than I am now. I draw on that experience when I write about the ills of modern American conservatism.

    The people around me as I grew up did not see the past as a way to advance the future. They seriously desired to maintain the social order of the past and project it into the future. They were so fearful of the changes taking place around then that they were wiling to resort to lynchings and violence to maintain the past.

    in the years when I supported Ronald Reagan conservatism had a principled and intellectual foundation which is missing now. I know from personal experience that there are still principled, educated, intellectual conservatives. They are just over whelmed and out gunned by the others.

    to differentiate further, my main problem is with conservatism as a political movement. Political conservatism has lost its way. It now revels in anti science, gas lighting, and racial dog whistles. For too many years it depended on votes from people like the people around me as I was growing up. But now it's base of white voters is declining while the country becomes less white and more diverse. There is no future for that type of conservatism and no way for it to change.

    A healthy democracy needs a principled intellectually sound center right and center left party. Our danger is that we don't have that now on the right.

    ReplyDelete
  60. Sabine,

    I tend to agree with the opinion you expressed in your book 'Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physic Astray' (2018) : "The belief in beauty has become so dogmatic that it now conflicts with objectivity ... "

    But it is not that difficult to figure out why 'beauty' or the somewhat more definable term 'symmetry' is so often relied on in judging if a new theory is correct, and skipping the part about it being testable or not.

    "The symmetries of the physical laws are very interesting at this level, but they turn out, in the end to be even more interesting and exciting when it comes to quantum mechanics. For reasons which we cannot make clear at the level of the present discussion - a fact that most physicists still find somewhat staggering, a most profound and beautiful thing, is that in quantum mechanics 'for each of the rules of symmetry there is a corresponding conservation law;' there is a definite connection between the laws of conservation and the symmetries of physical laws. We can only state this at present, without any attempt at explanation.

    The fact, for example, that the laws are symmetrical for translation in space when we add the principles of quantum mechanics, turns out to mean that 'momentum is conserved.'

    That the laws are symmetrical under translation in time means, in quantum mechanics, that 'energy is conserved.'

    Invariance under rotation through a fixed angle in space corresponds to the 'conservation of angular momentum'.

    These connections are very interesting and beautiful theories, among the most beautiful and profound things in physics."

    - Richard Feynman (The Feynman Lectures on Physics)

    ReplyDelete
  61. Perhaps the best known example of a theory that seeks to preserve symmetry, yet in the long run may never be testable, is Huge Everett's controversial Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.

    'The many-worlds interpretation is an interpretation of quantum mechanics in which a universal wavefunction obeys the same determinist, reversible laws at all times; in particular there is no (indeterministic and irreversible) wavefunction collapse associated with measurement. The phenomena associated with measurement are claimed to be explained by decoherence, which occurs when states interact with the environment producing entanglement, repeatedly "splitting" the universe into mutually unobserved alternative histories - effectively, distinct universes within a greater multiverse.'

    Ref: Wikipedia 'Interpretation of quantum mechanics'

    ReplyDelete
  62. The following is a story about Susy von Claussen.
    Circa post WWII era, the von Claussen family moved from Heildelberg, Germany to Seattle, Washington in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. Following the American Dream, the von Claussens opened up a shop manufacturing hand sewn work clothes for the booming logging industry there. Susy grew into a young lady in the American schools there. She learned American English, but could never quite say that damn ‘th’ correctly. Being smarter than the boys, with beautiful blue eyes and perpetually untamed hair, she quickly became very popular in school. On graduation day, Susy decided that it was time to change her name. She never liked the name Susy because it seemed unreal to her. Instead she started going by her middle name of Beatrice, which was soon shortened to just Bee.
    In the Pacific Northwest, boys grow into men. Many of them work as loggers in the town that Bee grew up in. Bee was a head-turner, and one of the heads that she turned was Tim’s. Tim was a logger and a big burly man who earned himself the nickname of Timber, Northwest Timber.
    One day a new man walked into town with his chainsaw on his back. His name was Larse, Larse Norwood. Larse was a logger from Norway. He was every bit as big as Tim was and soon earned himself the nickname of Norwegian Wood.
    Larse and Tim, a/k/a Norwegian Wood and Northwest Timber vied with each other for the attentions of Bee. They became legends in their Herculean feats of strength trying to impress her. One as good as the other, they took turns throwing axes, scaling trees, or rolling logs. The winner earning the right to hold her hand at the movie theater that night.
    The day eventually came when Bee would have to choose one or the other to spend the rest of her life with. Norwegian Wood or Northwest Timber?
    Which will it be? Unable to make up her mind, Bee devises a test and tells the boys that whoever passes the test wins her hand in marriage. Excitedly the boys prepare for the final test by lifting heavy weights, running for miles and doing thousands of push-ups. Thinking themselves ready, they tell Bee that they are ready for the test. She hands them both a piece of paper with beautiful maths equations on it and says, solve for x.
    While Larse and Tim scratched their heads wondering what this was all about, a new man walks into town. His name is Stefan.

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    1. I'm trying not to laugh too much so I don't hurt my surgery wound and you're not helping. Please don't delete this one.

      Delete
    2. x
      "Sorry, Mom...
      I just had to do it." [from: Fishbone, The Reality of My Surroundings,~1991]

      Delete
  63. Dr. Hossenfelder;
    Another great topic and one that think really does deserve some serious discussion. The way I see it, we as a species, including some but not all current physicists have the mistaken belief that we are the top and/or only dog in the universe and that we are on the cusp to solving the physics of the universe we know today. The God Equation is just around the corner and that will solve everything for us. So I would ask one question, just exactly what is the God Equation going to do for our species beyond the unification of the four fundamental forces?
    Recently the US government released a report on observed and investigated UAPs Unidentified Arial Phenomena aka UFOs. 140+ of these investigations the craft could not be identified or classified and in some case unknown physical characteristics were being used. What if one of these 140+ observations was some type of off world craft? Would not this conclusions tell us that there is a whole lot of physics that we do not know and understand, stuff beyond the God Equation? And if we take a very hard look on what we know, what we have discovered and learn and what goes on around us in our universe we can see that mother nature of the universe is providing us so many hints and clues to more physics than we have discovered.
    Now is a great time for some educated speculation. Think about the standard model for a moment, 3 generations of elementary particles. What purpose doe the second and third generations serve in our current thinking? Where are the second generation protons and neutrons? Is that they do not exist or is it that they exist in a manner that we have never taken the time to think about?
    Thanks Dr. Hossenfelder, your topics and writings always keep me thinking.

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  64. On the issue: "But Platonism is a philosophy and shouldn’t be mistaken for science." -> But there is "Philosophy of science" subject i.e. scholars studying what the philosophy of science is based on -> and some people as you point out believe that philosophy which science is based on is Platonism. If science is not based on the philosophy of Platonism then that just raises the question what philosophy you think it based on...

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    1. "some people as you point out believe that philosophy which science is based on is Platonism"

      This isn't what I am saying. I am saying they base their science on Platonism but don't realize that that's a philosophical assumption. The problem isn't the assumption per se, it's that they fail to realize it isn't scientific.

      "If science is not based on the philosophy of Platonism then that just raises the question what philosophy you think it based on..."

      Different scientists have different philosophies of science.

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    2. The study of the cognitive role of deep assumptions is a fascinating one. In the case of mathematics and the sciences, issues such as the Gödel-devastated veracity of Hilbert's optimistic certainty for formal systems that were once debated fiercely are now so deeply ingrained in much of the education system that people do not realize the assumptions exist in their minds. Artificial intelligence is an unsettling business for folks who have such philosophical assumptions but do not realize them, since when you want a machine to navigate such issues, what was once implicit and unrecognized as an arbitrary assumption becomes a quite real piece of code that can be Gödel-level difficult to validate.

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    3. In a nutshell 'Platonism is the philosophy that actual things are copies of transcendent ideas and that these ideas are the objects of true knowledge apprehended by reminiscence.' This may or may not be the case.

      Regarding the question of what philosophy is science based on, this is how I look at it. Science attempts to answer the 'how' questions, while philosophy attempts to answer the 'why' questions.

      Cosmologists try to explain 'how' elementary particles came into existence.

      Physicists try to explain 'how' these elementary particles like electrons, protons, and neutrons combined to form atoms, and atoms combined to form molecules.

      Biologist try to explain 'how' molecules combined to form living organisms, and eventually living, thinking beings.

      On the other hand philosophers and theologians try to explain 'why' all of these extraordinary events took place.

      But the fact remains all of these did take place, regardless of any particular (or religious) opinion of 'why' they did.

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  65. Many scientist have more or less given up on controversial theories, like string theory, a theoretical framework in which the point-like particles of physics are replaced by one-dimensional objects called strings. But it might be beneficial to keep in mind the famous quote:

    "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated"
    - Mark Twain

    Also watching the video: "Cumrun Vata: String Theory| Lex Fridman Podcast # 204", may help you keep an open mind on the subject.

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