Townes Symposium

The Townes Symposium will be taking place in Berkeley starting tomorrow, and if you’ve got $500 burning a hole in your pocket, you might want to help subsidize the Templeton Foundation in its efforts to bring science and religion together. If you want dinner on Saturday that will be another $300, although you could buy a whole “Laureate Table” for $10,000, and presumably get to dine with one or more of the 18 Nobel Laureates that Templeton has convinced to attend.

Among those in attendance will be string theorists Raphael Bousso, who will promote the Landscape pseudo-science, David Gross, who won’t be promoting the Landscape pseudo-science (I hope), Michio Kaku, who will speak on science fiction, and Leonard Susskind, who will promote the Landscape pseudo-science and his forthcoming book. One physicist that attendees won’t get to hear from is Sean Carroll.

At some point during the symposium the new fq(x): Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology project will be unveiled. About all I know about this project so far is that it “is a multi-million dollar, multi-year effort to catalyze research and dialogue at the boundaries of physics and cosmology that are related to really big questions” and is based on the idea that “positivistic, deterministic, or materialistic philosophies no longer have secure places” because of modern physics and chaos theory. It will answer questions like “Why existence? What makes meaning?”, and its domain name is registered to Max Tegmark.

Update: The fq(x) website has just appeared. On the whole the project seems more sensible and free of religious nonsense than I had feared. It is being run by Tegmark, assisted by astronomer Anthony Aguirre. The advisory board consists of real physicists (Barrow, Rees, Silverstein, Smolin, Wilczek and Zeh), not religion and science people. It looks like the Templeton Foundation has provided $5 million in seed money, to be spent over 4 years, with the idea that after 4 years the project would have attracted funding from elsewhere. They will announce the first competition for grants on December 1. Grants will be awarded based on “a competitive process of expert peer review similar to that employed by national scientific funding agencies, and will target research unlikely to be otherwise funded by conventional sources.” They hope to “Expand the purview of scientific inquiry to include scientific disciplines fundamental to a deep understanding of reality, but which are currently largely unsupported by conventional grant sources.” I wonder what kind of research they have in mind to fund that isn’t getting funded by the current sources of funding, that will be interesting to see.

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22 Responses to Townes Symposium

  1. Bryan says:

    It is good to combine string theory with religion in my opinion. The advantage is that heretics can be imprisoned if they publically ridicule an accepted religion.

    (A few centuries ago, they’d be burned at the stake for doing what you are doing! Can’t you understand how dangerous you are?)

    One thing a free democracy prevents is ridiculing religion, because a purely belief system can’t be defended rationally. People have a right to believe in witchcraft or 10 dimensional creation without a shred of evidence.

    In the Soviet Union, criticism resulted in being sent to a mental hospital. Too bad it collapsed. I say, string critics should be locked away so that everyone else can be brainwashed with claptrap.

    What is at stake is the reality of the world and the future of physics. How can you be so cold and rational, so heartless in dismissing the work of great mainstream men and women, who did their best and continue to do so, despite difficulty.

    Please buck up and start supporting your fellow scientists!

  2. ali says:

    It’s good to know that in the event that supersymmetry isn’t found at CERN and the NSF et al. decide to defund string theory, fq(x) will make sure that string theorists don’t starve (or end up on Wall Street).

  3. Nigel says:

    “… Michio Kaku, who will speak on science fiction…”

    I’m confused. Do you mean he will be talking UFOs or string theory? Please be more lucid, Peter.

  4. Not a Nobel Laureate says:

    “I’m confused. Do you mean he will be talking UFOs or string theory?”

    As both have the same predictive ability to predict physical phenomena, what does it matter he if talks about strings, UFOs or both.

  5. Chris W. says:

    A little zinger from A. Zee:

    We could suppose either that the entries in [the neutrino mixing matrix] V represent a bunch of meaningless numbers possibly varying from village to village in the multiverse landscape as advocated by some theorists of great sophistication or that they point to some deeper structure or symmetry as some theorists with a more traditional faith in the power of theoretical physics might dare to hope for. It is natural to imagine that there is a family symmetry [2] linking the three lepton families.

    (See hep-ph/0508278.)

  6. I’m really worried about famous scientists being involved in an entreprise funded by Templeton fundation. Don’t they realize that their mere presence will almost certainly end up being used to give credit to stupidity and obscurantism ?
    Something else worries me. The subjects fq(x) deal with have a priori nothing to do with religion. The funds by Templeton will contribute to the wrong but often quoted idea that highly conjectural but science-based ideas and religion converge. I’ll take the example of the big bang, which is not conjectural anymore but was so in the past. The first opponents of big bang models (Hoyle for instance) did not like the religious flavour of it. Recently the Pope (the last one) said that the big bang was compatible with the religion (and in fact gives credit to it). Well the Pope and Hoyle were both wrong : the big bang has really nothing to do with a divine creation. If one wants to believe it has something to do with it, of course one has the right to do it, but there is zero scientific evidence for it. Moreover, a few century ago one could have been burned on the spot by the religious autorities just to say that the world was more than a few thousand years old… I think this example shows well that science and religion should be kept completely separate, and that scientists who wish to promote a religious point of view should do it on a strictly private basis without giving their scientific aura to an entreprise which has really nothing to do with science.
    I should add that I’m really disappointed to see Smolin involved in this.

  7. Steve says:

    You don’t have to try to separate religion from science. They are already separate as physics is separate from literature.

    Now, I don’t think Templeton Foundation is trying to use religious method in seeking scientific facts. I think the Templeton Foundation is doing the converse; They are trying to seek religious truth by scientific methods; And this is more a threat to religious people than to the scientific community because it is as stupid — I didn’t say it’s wrong, but it’s not smart — as trying to prove that my mom loves me by quantifiable numbers and experiment. There are things in this world when seeking truth or facts where scientific method is not the best way; for example, mathematics.

    But of course, when seeking the physical law of nature, there is nothing like the scientific method. So if you ask me why I believe in God, as a scientific person I cannot tell you anything; But as a human being, I might be able to convince you.

  8. Steve, of course you’re right, but you assume that the Templeton people are intellectually honest and will tell it if they fail in their attempt. I can predict the exact opposite. I can predict it on the ground that it has always been this way : people who already have faith (be it in religion or in a political idea for instance) will never give up on their faith because of scientific evidence, but on the contrary will try to bend scientific evidence so as to match their views, even if they end up with gross distortion of the facts. A political example is the Lyssenko affair.
    You say : “this is more a threat to religious people than to the scientific community because it is as stupid…”. On this point I don’t agree with you : first because religious people are long immunized against this sort of threat, they are even immunized against logical contradiction. Second, it can be a threat to the scientific community because the scientific people embarking on this sort of mixing between science and religion will end up being manipulated. This has already happened in France with something called “Université interdisciplinaire de Paris” which managed to “trap” some well known scientists.

  9. Who says:

    Fabien, thanks for warning that the category “interdisciplinary” can be a codeword or an euphemism for putting theo-spin on cosmology. You say:
    Second, it can be a threat to the scientific community because the scientific people embarking on this sort of mixing between science and religion will end up being manipulated. This has already happened in France with something called “Université interdisciplinaire de Paris? which managed to “trap? some well known scientists.

    I think I saw in the program of the Townes conference that there was someone talking on the subject of “interdisciplinary studies”. Those inside the tent must carefully inspect each new hairy object that appears to discover if it is the Nose of the Camel.

    To me, it seems that FQX is different from this already compromised Townes Conference and FQX is not necessarily a tool of Templeton, even though Templeton has given the seed grant. It may be that FQX will “take the money and run”—-that is, it may operate in an intellectually independent manner, which I believe is completely ethical.

    Something I find interesting is that Smolin, on the advisory board of FQX, is indirectly associated with a cosmology model in which the classical “big bang” singularity has been removed and time extends back to a prior contraction phase—this is the Loop Quantum Cosmology model which Smolin’s work indirectly supports and which he has discussed in his survey paper “Invitation to LQG”.

    This raises the possibility that the “big bang” has nothing to do with any creation at all—Divine or otherwise. It was simply not a moment of creation but rather a continuation of the cosmological model. So the issue of whether it was “purposive” or accidental does not arise.

    This might have disappointed the late pope, if what you say is true:

    Recently the Pope (the last one) said that the big bang was compatible with the religion (and in fact gives credit to it). Well the Pope and Hoyle were both wrong : the big bang has really nothing to do with a divine creation…

    I remain undecided about the validity of FQX as a scientific research/education project. The presence of people like Smolin on the board gives it potential legitimacy. The fact of $5 million Templeton seed money potentially compromises its integrity. Have to wait and see.

  10. About the UIP (Université interdisciplinaire de Paris), I just learn from a friend of mine that it is funded by… the Templeton fundation ! The people engaged in this UIP (apart from those who have been lured into it) are well known for their irrational beliefs.
    Who says : “It may be that FQX will “take the money and run?—-that is, it may operate in an intellectually independent manner, which I believe is completely ethical.”
    Well this is this particular point about which I’m most worried. I don’t think such an attitude would be ethical, because basically I don’t think it is possible to “take the money and run”. If you take the money you owe something, it’s as simple as that.
    “The presence of people like Smolin on the board gives it potential legitimacy. The fact of $5 million Templeton seed money potentially compromises its integrity.”
    Precisely ! I really wish Smolin would reconsider working on this project.

    As a sidenote : any cosmological model, with or without big bang, is unable to give credit/destroy a cosmogonical belief, for the latter is irrefutable (unfalsifiable). If the biblical tales were to be taken as scientific statements they would have been refutated long ago. This is why they are now said to be metaphorical, and for this reason can’t have anything to do with any scientific theory whatsover.

  11. Nigel says:

    Who, on big bang religion, please note Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), father of Charles the evolutionist, first defended the big bang seriously in his 1790 book ‘The Botanic Garden’:

    ‘It may be objected that if the stars had been projected from a Chaos by explosions, they must have returned again into it from the known laws of gravitation; this however would not happen, if the whole Chaos, like grains of gunpowder, was exploded at the same time, and dispersed through infinite space at once, or in quick succession, in every possible direction.’

    Weirdly, Darwin was trying to apply science to Genesis. The big bang has never been taken seriously by cosmologists, because they have assumed that curved spacetime makes the universe boundless and such like. So a kind of belief system in the vague approach to general relativity has blocked considering it as a 10^55 megatons space explosion. Some popular books even claim falsely that things can’t explode in space, and so on.

    In reality, because all gravity effects and light come to us at light speed, the recession of galaxies is better seen as a recession speed varying with known time past, than varying with the apparent distance. Individual galaxies may not be accelerating, but what we see and the gravity effects we receive at light speed come from both distance and time past.

    So the acceleration of universe = variation in recession speeds / variation in time past = c/t = cH where H is Hubble constant. The implication of this comes when you know the mass of the universe is m, because then you remember Newton’s 2nd law, F=ma so you get outward force. The 3rd law then tells you there’s equal inward force (Higgs/graviton field). When I do the simple LeSage-Feynman gravity shielding calculations, I get gravity within 1.7%.

    It is suppressed like Tony Smith’s prediction of the top quark mass by arXiv.org

  12. Who says:

    Nigel that Enlightenment (1790) Big Bang story is fascinating, so he was writing a Gunpowder Genesis right around when Mozart was writing the Magic Flute, great days.

    Fabien I like several of your points and will not try to argue against those I disagree with, but rather wait to see if other people want to argue.

    What I disagree with is what you say here: If you take the money you owe something, it’s as simple as that.. I think that someone who accepts funding for a scientific project is in fact ethically obligated to be intellectually independent.
    It is the scientist who thinks he “owes” to his donors to put some bias or nice spin on his findings who is the unethical one, in my view.

  13. “It is the scientist who thinks he “owes? to his donors to put some bias or nice spin on his findings who is the unethical one, in my view. ”

    He does not necessarily “thinks” he owes something. It may be unconscious. There’s a french saying “on ne crache pas dans la soupe” (you must not spit in the soup).

  14. Eric Dennis says:

    There is an American saying. “One must not dip one’s quill in the company ink.” But that is an entirely different matter.

    I think Fabien’s admonition is correct and prescient. Of course a scientist must maintain independence. But by accepting a grant from an organization whose explicit purpose is profoundly anti-scientific, one has already compromised that independence.

  15. Nat Whilk says:

    [Steve:] “it is as stupid . . . as trying to prove that my mom loves me

    [Fabien Besnard:] “The people engaged in this UIP (apart from those who have been lured into it) are well known for their irrational beliefs.

    Just so I get the terminology straight, is Steve’s belief that his mom loves him irrational?

  16. Alain Riazuelo says:

    [Fabien B.] Recently the Pope (the last one) said that the big bang was compatible with the religion (and in fact gives credit to it).

    As far as I know the last Pope was not involved in this. After Hoyle invented the word Big Bang in 1948 or 1950, the Big Bang model became known to Pope Pius XI who officially declared on 22 november 1951 that the Big Bang model was in agreement with the biblic Fiat Lux (probably after having realized that the model had been initiated by Catholic priest Georges Lemaître). Lemaître then requested an audience with the Pope, who later retracted his first statement on 7 september 1953 at some IAU meeting. I never heard John Paul II having had such ambiguous statements.

  17. Who says:

    Alain what you say about Pope Pius XI is interesting. Do you have any sources that you could give us.

    Pope Pius XI who officially declared on 22 november 1951 that the Big Bang model was in agreement with the biblic Fiat Lux (probably after having realized that the model had been initiated by Catholic priest Georges Lemaître). Lemaître then requested an audience with the Pope, who later retracted his first statement on 7 september 1953 at some IAU meeting

    If I understand you, Pius XI went in person to an IAU meeting in 1953 and retracted his official statement made in 1951.

    Or did he perhaps send an emissary to read a retraction statement at the meeting for him?

    It would be fascinating to read the two statements. Are they by chance online at the peternet site? Some historical documents are online there, if I remember correctly.

  18. Alain : in “a brief history of time” Hawking talks about is meeting with JP2 :
    “He [the pope] told us that it was all right to study the evolution
    of the universe after the big bang, but we should not inquire
    into the big bang itself because that was the moment of Creation
    and therefore the work of God. I was glad then
    that he did not know the subject of the talk
    I had just given at the conference – the possibility
    that space-time was finite but had no boundary, which means that it had no beginning, no moment of Creation. I had no desire to share the fate of Galileo, with whom I feel a strong sense of identity, partly because of the coincidence of having been born exactly 300 years after his death!”
    This implies that JP2 identified the big-bang with the moment of divine creation.

  19. Alain Riazuelo says:

    > Who

    I got this from Jean-Pierre Luminet and also read it in several popular science books. Luminet is definitely reliable on this issue, I think. I will investigate and try to find online references. From what Luminet says in his website Pope Pius XII (and not Pius XI) went in person at the IAU meeting in 1953. See (in French, sorry) http://www.obspm.fr/savoirs/contrib/debat.fr.shtml .
    More later.

  20. Who says:

    Alain’s link has this:
    “…A côté de ces justes critiques, de faux procès sont intentés à la cosmologie. L’un d’entre eux a injustement gâché la renommée scientifique du plus grand cosmologiste de ce siècle: Georges Lemaître, inventeur du concept de big bang avec le russe Alexandre Friedmann. On lui a reproché de vouloir confirmer par la science le récit de la Genèse. Il n’en était rien: abbé, certes, mais brillant scientifique, Lemaître tenait à une distinction radicale entre science et religion, pensant que l’on ne pourra jamais réduire l’Être suprême au rang d’une hypothèse scientifique – comme le disait à Napoléon le mathématicien français Pierre Simon de Laplace. Cependant Lemaître joua de malchance : le 22 novembre 1951, le pape Pie XII déclarait devant l’Académie Pontificale : “Il semble en vérité que la science d’aujourd’hui, remontant d’un trait des millions de siècles, ait réussi à se faire le témoin de ce Fiat Lux initial. Vers cette époque, le cosmos est sorti de la main du Créateur”.

    Farouche adversaire d’un tel “concordisme”, Lemaître demanda audience au pape et remit respectueusement les choses en place. Le 7 septembre 1953, devant l’assemblée générale de l’Union Astronomique Internationale, Pie XII tint effectivement un discours radicalement opposé : la cosmologie scientifique ne parlait ni de Fiat lux , ni de création.”

  21. Who says:

    Someone with better French please help. this is from JeanPierre Luminet and is posted at the Paris Observatory website. Maybe you think this exchange between Lemaître and the Pope is unimportant and merely involved a trivial misunderstanding, but I think it might be indicative of a longstanding problem and would like to have an approximate English translation.

    False indictments (as well as these just criticisms) have been brought against cosmology. One of these unfairly damaged the scientific reputation of the greatest cosmologist of the century: Georges Lemaître, inventor of the concept of the big bang, with the russian Alexander Friedmann.

    I have to go, back later to continue

  22. Who says:

    continuing with the passage from Luminet
    ‘…He was accused of wanting to confirm the story in Genesis by science. There was nothing in that: although certainly a priest, Lemaitre was a brilliant scientist and held to a radical distinction between science and religion, believing that one could never reduce the supreme Being to the level of a scientific hypothesis—as the French mathematician Laplace put it to Napoleon.

    Meanwhile Lemaître had some bad luck: on 22 November 1951, Pope Pius XII declared in front of the Pontifical Academy “It seems true that today’s science, going back over a tract of millions of centuries, has succeeded in witnessing the initial Fiat Lux. Around that epoque the cosmos emerged from the hand of the Creator.”

    Lemaître, who was a fierce enemy of this kind of “concordism” [my comment: we might say “Templetonism”], requested a papal audience and respectfully set things right. On 7 September 1953, before the general assembly of the International Astronomical Union, Pius XII took the radically opposite line: scientific cosmology refers neither to Fiat Lux nor to creation.

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