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- The Concept of Mass - with Jim Baggott
- Jim Baggott
- Jim baggott farewell to reality book
- Farewell to Reality
- Farewell to Reality: How Modern Physics Has Betrayed the Search for Scientific Truth
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- Time Reborn by Lee Smolin; Farewell to Reality by Jim Baggott – review
Jim Baggott has written a very good new book called Farewell to Reality that will soon come out here in the US. It is already out in the UK, where it is stirring up some debate, and perhaps the US will soon see something similar.
The book is divided into roughly two halves, with the first half a well-executed overview of the current state of our theories about fundamental physics, from quantum theory through the standard model and cosmology. It ends with a description of the outstanding problems left unsolved by our best theories, and a good summary of the current situation:.
Several centuries of enormously successful physical science have given us a version of reality unsurpassed in the entire history of intellectual endeavour. With a very few exceptions, it explains every observation we have ever made and every experiment we have ever devised. But the few exceptions happen to be very big ones. And there is no single observation, no one experimental result, that help to point the way.
We are virtually clueless.
This is difficult material to do justice to, but Baggott does a good job of giving an explanation of these ideas that includes some understanding of the problems with them. He ends the book with this advice to the reader:.
Next time you pick up the latest best-selling popular science book, or tune into the latest science documentary on the radio or television, keep an open mind and try to maintain a healthy scepticism… What is the nature of the evidence in support of this theory?
Does the theory make predictions of quantity or number, of matter of fact and existence? The thorniest problems that come up in this sort of discussion are essentially ones about the philosophy of science.
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What counts as evidence for a scientific theory? At what point does pursuit of speculative ideas that are going nowhere stop being legitimate science? Baggott devotes the first chapter of the book to an overview of his take on what the scientific method really is. Some are all too willing to exploit the subtleties of good science to find a way to defend the indefensible, with the multiverse mania pointing to the all too real dangerous endpoint this can lead to.
For some reviews from the UK of the book see here , here and here. Butterworth has written more today here. Duff characterizes the experimental situation of string theory as follows:. Definitive experimental tests will require that the theory also incorporate and improve upon the standard models of particle physics and cosmology.
An impressive body of evidence in favour of this has accumulated, but it is still work in progress.
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I think Duff is being highly misleading here, since the story of the last thirty years is not one of evidence for string theory unification accumulating, but the opposite: the more we learn about string theory, the less likely it seems that it can predict anything. One can argue that string theorists just need more time Duff points to the idea of atoms arising back in BC, taking more than two millennia to come to fruition , but the problem with string theory is not that progress is slow but that it is negative.
As for misrepresentation in the media, there will always be sensationalists and attention-seekers in any field, but in my admittedly biased opinion, the worst culprits are the journalists. This is quite amusing coming from someone who see here had his university put out a press release claiming that he had made the first discovery of a way to test string theory.
He advertises string theory as having found application in quantum information theory, a claim that I doubt is believed by any other string theorist or quantum information theorist.
The Concept of Mass - with Jim Baggott
No, the worst culprits here are not journalists, whose mistake is often just that of taking seriously press releases from people like Mike Duff. String theory unification is an idea now discredited in the scientific community, but getting propped up by TV programs and prizes from Russian billionaires.
According to Duff, I guess, back in the situation was just like that of string theory, with the field experiencing what people were calling an unhealthy domination by the likes of Peter Higgs and others working on the Higgs mechanism. Last Updated on June 29, And I think that it still plays a role, at least here in continental Europe, and elsewhere, e. It seems so. But I am afraid that expanding on this sub — topic would quickly become off — topic.
As for the main topic here, I agree fully that the way string theory has been sold to the general public for too many years has been detrimental to theoretical physics and therefore science at large. Also, I agree that the problem with string theory is hype, the insistence to sold it as the theory of everything and the only game in town. String theory itself seems to me a worthy sub — field of mathematics.
Jim: Many thanks for considered reply, and Peter too. I also think your insistence on a clear distinction between what is well-established science and what is highly speculative is exactly right, I wish more science journalists would observe this.
However, I did wonder about editing — it struck me that several of your points might have been truncated or omitted at editing stage.
I hope not, I know how that can feel! This is of course true, but there is a mirror problem, that this statement does not in itself mean that all speculative theories are doomed to failure! Therein lies the rub, I think. Add to this problem the historical point that in particle physics, the time gap between theory and experiment has tended to widen dramatically from the s onwards, and one has a genuine conundrum…. This might be a great point to note the passing of, perhaps, the last theoretical physicist who can claim to have Revolutionized our view of reality, Ken Wilson.
In Wilson joined the Cornell physics department and was soon given tenure even though he had hardly published. Thanks lun, I never met Wilson, but of course know some of his work.
Jim baggott farewell to reality book
People make fun of theoretical physicists not real scientists. As for those poor theoretical physicists, who cares? Some theoretical physicists even go as far as to put themselves on the same plane as the good old Einstein.
Of course he did, but what those theoretical physicists conveniently forget is that Einstein before he started chasing speculative ideas had already revolutionized science by establishing special relativity, general relativity and some other things also.
So we can certainly excuse the poor fellow in his later years. For example, it would seem that the UK government is feeling the need to presurise universities to ensure their researchers are behaving responsibly.
Farewell to Reality
BUT we were constrained to a very tight word limit for each exchange. The fact that you were unconvinced by my arguments is entirely attributable to my inability to put them in as succinct and yet powerful way that I felt was really needed. My loss. I think if you read the book you will — hopefully — see that I am very much in favour of imaginative and speculative ideas. There are many examples from history. For every attempt to fix a problem in the standard model, it seems we multiply the free parameter space five-fold.
It has the added bonus of allowing me to construct a theory of quantum gravity. But, in our game, I find that this string theory predicts that the mass of the electro-weak Higgs boson should be something of the order of GeV. I make this prediction in When string theory can make legitimate predictions that can be tested, and when those tests are confirmed, only then can the assumptions be regarded to represent aspects of empirical reality, and so become genuine discoveries.
It could still be argued that string theory will get to this, if only we are sufficiently patient.
Farewell to Reality: How Modern Physics Has Betrayed the Search for Scientific Truth
But I think you might be prepared to admit that the majority of the string theory community gave up on this quite some time ago. So long as you stop calling is science. Michael Duff is not arguing that we have discovered these things to be true, he is arguing that we have discovered them to be implications of the string hypothesis. Do you have any evidence for this? Hiring meetings typically contain both non-string-theorists and string theorists.
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I base it on postdoc job application outcomes. These implications may emerge from the equations and allow you to make some logical deductions. These implications can be used to construct another layer of theoretical structure. So, string theory implies hidden dimensions, and if we compactify these in a Calabi-Yau manifold we can build another layer.
If and when the implication or assumption of hidden dimensions leads to a firm prediction, and the prediction is upheld by reference to empirical facts such as the unambiguous observation of KK particles at the LHC , then — and only then — can a consensus form that we have discovered hidden dimensions.
Until then, hidden dimensions represent an assumption within a layer of the theoretical structure. This is a total misunderstanding of what theoretical physics is. Peter, who is no great fan of string theory, will not dispute this. The implication that people like Maldacena should not have careers — you can argue about prizes, but careers!!! Tmark48 , a very short answer. Of course, I do not identify theoretical physics with science, but there is no physics without theoretical physics, or without mathematics, and think of other hard sciences and engineering without physics.
So that is why I think that hype has damaged theoretical physics and therefore science at large. Well, the editors of Nature are also non-practicing scientists and they have enormous influence on hiring in the bio-sciences…. How useful PRL is as a quality measure depends on how seriously the physics community is willing to take it. At the moment it does seem to be taken seriously by pretty much all of the community.
As for its use in hiring decisions etc, I think it can play a useful role as a kind of minimum criterion. Just to show that they can.
PRL publications are also useful as an indicator of the overall health of a field. If interesting and important developments are happening in the field, it will manifest as a regular flow of PRLs.
Absence of such a flow will be seen by the rest of the community as a sign of ill health.
Time Reborn by Lee Smolin; Farewell to Reality by Jim Baggott – review
And if there is no PRL flow, and at the same time practitioners are seen to be actively hyping their field to the public, it looks really, really bad! And even worse when, on the rare occasion the practitioners do manage to get a PRL, they issue an excited and over-hyped press release…. Jim: those are very interesting comments. I especially take your point on word count, my old enemy. Your conversation with Piscador and others is also very interesting because I think the relation between theoretical physics and physics is at the heart of the debate around sting theory, yet this rarely comes to the fore.
Perhaps the problem is when the latter is marketed as the former. For example, SUSY is often portrayed on this blog as an offshoot of string theory.
In fact, it was originally a purely mathematical construct that showed one way of cirmcumventing the no-go theorems of gauge theory — to this day, I gather than one cannot construct a unified gauge theory that includes the strong force without SUSY.
It may have been adopted by string theorists, but that has nothing to do with the theory itself.