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Science’s Nightmare Scenario

I just finished reading a blog entry at a website about high-energy physics. I won’t give the name; but you can easily google the quote.

A very serious concern that I wanted to raise is that of the long-term danger that fundamental physics faces in the combination of string theory ideology and the possible “nightmare scenario” of the LHC finding nothing that disagrees with the Standard Model. For decades now the theoretical side of the subject has been dominated by one specific set of not very compelling ideas: 10d superstrings at the Planck scale, with a SUSY GUT at slightly lower scale, and low-energy SUSY explaining the supposed “hierarchy problem” created by the vast difference between those scales and the scale of electroweak symmetry breaking (of order 100 GeV). The force most likely to challenge the hegemony of this ideology has always been the LHC, which was supposed to see superpartners responsible for stabilizing the electroweak scale. Watching the speakers at Strings 2012 made clear that the failure of this experimental prediction would not cause them to give up on this ideology, but instead to redouble efforts to prop it up at all costs.

The fundamental problem is the deeply entrenched nature of string theory ideology in the power centers of the academy and among the most talented theorists. Milner’s choice to provide out-scale rewards to such talented people is not the main problem, although he provided a convenient target for me in the piece. If we really do end up with the “nightmare scenario” of experiment not coming to rescue, it’s now all too clear where we end up: the textbooks of string theory and supersymmetry have already been written, and that will be codified as humanity’s best understanding of fundamental physical reality for the indefinite future.

We are witnessing the demise of science, completely devoured and destroyed by political correctness. All you Darwinists out there, if this is happening in a field that is predicated upon experimental results, what about evolutionary biology, where all the evidence remains “invisible” (all those invisible intermediate forms and propitious mutations)?

” . . . the textbooks of string theory and supersymmetry have already been written, and that will be codified as humanity’s best understanding of fundamental physical reality for the indefinite future.”

IOW, the ‘Darwinization’ of physics.

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19 Responses to Science’s Nightmare Scenario

  1. 1

    amazing article

  2. It is at the “Not Even Wrong” blog, which often criticizes string theory. That’s one of the blogs that I regularly follow.

    I haven’t been trying to keep up with high energy physics, so I don’t have an opinion on the particular issues.

    We are witnessing the demise of science, completely devoured and destroyed by political correctness.

    That is surely an over-reaction. Most science is not physics, and most physics is not string theory. String theory has never been more than a speculative hypothesis.

  3. Dr Woit has made the same case abour string theroy as Dr Lee Smolin.

    Smolin offered three explanations for biofriendliness

    1) Nonsense
    The infinite universses of the string theories.

    In the infinite universe “all outcomes, consistent with the laws of conservation, will occur, and infinte number of times. So in an infinite number of universe, there is life. And in a smaller infinite number Lee defeated Grant.

    2) Cluelessness
    There is a theory, as yet undiscovered, with unknon laws, that explains things.

    3.) ID

    Times are looking good.

  4. ‘The “Darwinization” of physics’ Or, as it will soon become, ‘the physics of Darwinization….’

  5. That is surely an over-reaction. Most science is not physics,

    Sure. There’s also stamp-collecting. ;)

  6. This reaction to a cherished but failing theory is normal. It does not spell the demise of science. I wrote this in my book over a year ago:

    I believe string theory is currently in the process of being disconfirmed by observations at the Large Hadron Collider. Go tell all your friends, but make sure you pronounce “Hadron” correctly or there will be some awkward moments. It is still too early to say for certain, but already several predictions of supersymmetry have not materialized. String theory is an attempt to theoretically unify relativity with quantum mechanics, a problem even Einstein couldn’t solve and responded to by rejecting quantum mechanics. The problem with string theory is that until now it has never generated testable predictions. If string theory fails this test it will be difficult to believe there is anything to it. String theory has many different manifestations, and scientists are people too. Many who have spent their entire careers pursuing string theory will refuse to let go of it, will find a way to “save” it from the facts, and will announce to the world that the LHC observations are but a bump in the road. This is always the way science works. It is usually up to younger generations with no attachment to old theories to make headway in the face of the demise of an old theory. Either way, it’s an exciting time in physics.

    http://www.amazon.com/A-Mishma.....paddywhack

  7. This is always the way science works

    “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is.” — Yogi Berra

  8. Neil:

    That is surely an over-reaction. Most science is not physics, and most physics is not string theory. String theory has never been more than a speculative hypothesis.

    I think you’re under-reacting. But maybe not. Time will tell.

    But look at the bigger picture. Look at what’s happening in so-called evolutionary psychology and neuroscience.

    Look at what’s happening to physics in general: multiverses—an infinite number of infinite universes??!! This is a flight to the ‘invisible’. That is what Darwinism does: Darwin appeals to ‘invisible’ intermediate forms; modern Darwinists appeal to ‘invisible’ special mutations (they’re special because no one sees them happening via neo-Darwinian processes).

    And why? So that we can do away with the Big Bang (which conforms to the Creation account) and the Anthropic Principle (which points as well to a Creator.)

    How should one react when supersymmetry predicts certain particles and then these particles don’t show up? Well, truly reasonable persons would abandon the theory. This is what Woit is concerned about—this lack of reasonableness, which appears to have been replaced by “orthodoxy.” (I always find it rather entertaining when those on the left act worse than what they accuse those on the right of doing.)

    As well, in parallel fashion to Darwinian hegemony in evolutionary biology, he says that “textbooks of string theory and supersymmetry have already been written, and that will be codified as humanity’s best understanding of fundamental physical reality for the indefinite future.”

    What were seeing is “intellectual hegemony,” and it isn’t pretty. And this ‘intellectual hegemony’ is spawning the seeds of science’s own destruction.

    Put another way: science is demonstrating, for the whole world to see, that it is NOT free from all biases. It is NOT the ‘savior’ of science, nor of the truth. This will have sizable repercussions for society, and especially concerning the place of religion and philosophy in society.

    I’m just pointing out the signs of this impending crisis. Physicists live and die by experimental results. When experimental results are ignored by physicists—the so-called ‘queen of sciences’—then science is in really bad shape. (Materialists beware!) ;-)

  9. Neil:

    String theory has never been more than a speculative hypothesis.

    Read Lee Smolin’s “The Trouble with Physics.” He says that if you aren’t a “string theorist,” well, you’ll probably not be offered a position from any prestigious physics department. How many conservative journalists does the NY Times hire? You see my point?

  10. See Bert Schroer’s very interesting article “String theory and the crisis in particle physics II or the ascent of metaphoric arguments”, at ArXiv: http://arxiv.org/pdf/0805.1911.pdf

  11. PaV (#8):

    I think you’re under-reacting. But maybe not. Time will tell.

    Your comment suggests to me that I have it about right.

    Look at what’s happening in so-called evolutionary psychology and neuroscience.

    Is there anything to look at?

    As best I can tell EP is about 99% nonsense. Neuroscience is a tad better, perhaps only 90% nonsense.

    Look at what’s happening to physics in general: multiverses—an infinite number of infinite universes??!! This is a flight to the ‘invisible’. That is what Darwinism does: Darwin appeals to ‘invisible’ intermediate forms; modern Darwinists appeal to ‘invisible’ special mutations (they’re special because no one sees them happening via neo-Darwinian processes).

    In the meantime, mathematicians talk about uncountable sets, with uncountably many levels of uncountability.

    It is the nature of science, that scientists speculate. Historians probably speculate, too. Contrary to what ID proponents seem to think, this is not some grand sinister conspiracy to attack religion. It is just scientists exploring possibilities so as to guide future research. The physicists seem to understand very well that until they can connect their speculative hypotheses to a substantial body of empirical data, they have got nothing. My guess is that multiverse speculation will go nowhere. However, it isn’t a waste. The physicists are honing their skills at mathematical modeling.

  12. Neil:

    It is the nature of science, that scientists speculate. Historians probably speculate, too. Contrary to what ID proponents seem to think, this is not some grand sinister conspiracy to attack religion. It is just scientists exploring possibilities so as to guide future research.

    Who said anything about science attacking religion? I didn’t bring that up.

    What I did say was that science was losing its way because of a kind of “political correctness.” (Here’s the quote: “We are witnessing the demise of science, completely devoured and destroyed by political correctness.”)

    So why not rebut this charge. Why bring in religion?

    The physicists seem to understand very well that until they can connect their speculative hypotheses to a substantial body of empirical data, they have got nothing.

    You say this, yet, this is the whole point of the blog I’m quoting from: viz., string theorists, fully expecting to have the LHC find their beloved “supersymmetric” particles, nonetheless continue to propound string theory despite none of these particles having been found. (N.B. At “Of Particular Significance”, Matt Strassler points out that the data produced at LHC has to be gone over more meticulously before SUSY can be thrown out. Yet, not even caution on the part of the string theorists—although, to his credit, Dr. David Gross (whom I’ve met and spoken with) has been saying for some time now that perhaps superstring theory is wrong.)

    The real point here—the one I’m attempting to make—is that if in the realm of particle physics ‘tenure’ and ‘textbooks’ are keeping the ‘orthodoxy’ alive despite direct evidence that the theory is wrong, then what about Darwinians—a much ‘softer’ kind of science? That’s the point. How do you respond, Neil?

    My guess is that multiverse speculation will go nowhere. However, it isn’t a waste. The physicists are honing their skills at mathematical modeling.

    And I’ve said that eventually Darwinism will be jettisoned and looked at as the most bizarre theory of all time. But in the meantime, everyone IS wasting time.

    And, let me add, you’ve missed the whole point of the multiverse theory: it is an appeal to that which cannot, in theory, be substantiated. In this, it mimics Darwinism. And Darwinism is not real science. (It is only a collection of “just-so” stories. Stephen Gould: Darwin’s critical theory of functional shift, usually (and most unfortunately) called the principle of “pre-adaptation,” has been with us for a century. I believe that this principle has made so little headway not only because the basic formulation seems paradoxical and difficult, but mainly because we have so little firm, direct evidence for such functional shifts. Our technical literature contains many facile verbal arguments—little more than plausible “just-so” stories. The fossil record also presents some excellent examples of sequential development through intermediary stages that could not work as modern organs do—but we lack a rigorous mechanical analysis of function at the various stages.)

    So, in the end, ‘science’ faces a ‘nightmare.’ In the meantime, Darwinism is a nightmare.

  13. Here’s a part of a 2009 Discovery Magazine interview with Roger Penrose:

    Discovery Magazine:In general, the ideas in theoretical physics seem increasingly fantastical. Take string theory. All that talk about 11 dimensions or our universe’s existing on a giant membrane seems surreal.

    Penrose: You’re absolutely right. And in a certain sense, I blame quantum mechanics, because people say, “Well, quantum mechanics is so nonintuitive; if you believe that, you can believe anything that’s non­intuitive.” But, you see, quantum mechanics has a lot of experimental support, so you’ve got to go along with a lot of it. Whereas string theory has no experimental support.

  14. I meant to include this in the last post:

    . . . “I blame quantum mechanics,because people say, ‘Well, quantum mechanics is so nonintuitive; if you believe that, you can believe anything that’s nonintuitive.’”

    And, of course, Darwinism is “nonintuitive.” Varieties are ‘incipient species’; thus standing common thinking on its head.

  15. What I did say was that science was losing its way because of a kind of “political correctness.” (Here’s the quote: “We are witnessing the demise of science, completely devoured and destroyed by political correctness.”)

    So why not rebut this charge. Why bring in religion?

    I cannot rebut the charge, because I don’t see any charge to rebut. What I see is the kind of empty paranoid rhetoric that seems to only come from religious circles.

    You say that there is “political correctness”. How about a very specific example of political correctness, and a detailed argument explain why you see that as political correctness?

    And, let me add, you’ve missed the whole point of the multiverse theory: it is an appeal to that which cannot, in theory, be substantiated. In this, it mimics Darwinism.

    Sigh!

    A scientific theory is never a factual description of reality. Rather, it is a framework to be used in developing descriptions. Theories are never substantiated. They are accepted or rejected, based on their usefulness.

    Scientists have always preferred deterministic theories, for they find those the most useful for making predictions. The evidence for QM was discomforting. They could have a deterministic QM theory by making it a theory about probabilities. The multiverse theories started as an alternative way of having deterministic theories. The probabilities would, in effect, be absorbed into the probabilistic choice of which of the multi-universes one is in.

    This is not an attempt to make physics Darwinian. It is an attempt to keep physics deterministic.

    You quote Penrose. Don’t you see that he is agreeing that these theories come out of trying to find ways of accommodating the oddities of quantum physics?

  16. Neil:

    I’ve already given an example of political correctness: Craig Sternberg.

    Why don’t you rent the DVD: “Expelled.”

    As to your “sigh”, let me just add my ‘sigh.’

    In a cocky, “I’m much smarter and well-informed than you”, attitude, you turn a blind eye to legitimate criticisms thinking you vision is so much clearer and more probing. And, thus, you become a part of the ‘political correctness’ that enthrones ‘orthodoxy.’

    The ‘emperor has no clothes.’ Only the ‘sophisticates’ think that he does.

  17. Neal:


    You quote Penrose. Don’t you see that he is agreeing that these theories come out of trying to find ways of accommodating the oddities of quantum physics?

    The multiverse theory is a way of getting around the problem of an initial singularity, not the oddities of QM. The oddities of QM have to do with how it is interpreted.

    And Penrose’s point is that when you go in the direction of non-intuition (i.e., that there is no underlying reality to the Schrodinger equation but simply a superposition of states!—so that reality is only an appearance, or completely indeterminate), then you open yourself up to believing anything.

    That the sun, and not the earth, is the center of the universe (solar system) is non-intuitive. But that doesn’t mean that every theory that is non-intuitive is correct, including Lyell’s ‘gradualism’ and Darwin’s ‘natural selection.’

    Simple as that.

  18. Enezio:

    Thanks for the link. It’s a fascinating overview.

  19. The multiverse theory is a way of getting around the problem of an initial singularity, not the oddities of QM.

    Nevertheless it started with Everett’s many worlds interpretation of QM.

    And Penrose’s point is that when you go in the direction of non-intuition (i.e., that there is no underlying reality to the Schrodinger equation but simply a superposition of states!—so that reality is only an appearance, or completely indeterminate), then you open yourself up to believing anything.

    It is my understanding that quite a few physicists are anti-realists about QM, which means that they take it as a useful predictive mathematical model but not something that they believe to be correctly describing reality.

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