On Crackpotism and Other Things

I haven’t posted anything new here in a while, with the holidays and trying to get over a bad cold keeping me otherwise occupied. Partly because of this the comments section has been to some degree taken over by people who want to discuss things I have no interest in. I’ll try and put up something new soon (comments on Penrose’s new book), but I did want to make some remarks about the problem of crackpotism in theoretical physics, something which is especially a problem for open forums on the internet like the comment section here.

When I first started studying particle physics during the 1970s, it was pretty clear to me how to tell the difference between serious people and crackpots. The Standard Model had just recently been formulated and it had started to accumulate an impressive amount of experimental evidence in its favor. So, at least in particle theory, serious people were doing one of a small number of things. The more phenomenologically inclined were analyzing the new experimental results to see if they further validated the Standard Model, or suggesting new experiments that would test different parts of the model. More mathematically inclined sorts were trying to understand the rich structure of the model, trying to get a better grasp of its aspects that were still poorly understood. People inclined to speculation were working on ambitious extensions of the model, hoping to find something compelling that would both explain some of the model’s parameters and make new, testable predictions.

So, to my mind, crackpots were those claiming to have new ideas about particle physics, but refusing to really engage in some way with the Standard Model quantum field theory. There were plenty of them around, including S-matrix die-hards like Fritjof Capra, those who wanted to go on about what happened before the big bang and how that explained all properties of particles, and a wide variety of people with their own private TOE that completely ignored the Standard Model. All you had to do was learn to ignore such people.

During the last 20 years, distinguishing crackpots has become a lot tougher, and it has gotten much more difficult recently. Famous professors from the best research institutions in the world go on about the properties of the universe being determined by colliding branes, or by an anthropically determined point in a multiverse, or any number of similar ideas. The dominant idea in the whole field makes nothing like what would normally be considered a testable scientific prediction, and those pursuing it don’t seem too bothered by the increasing evidence that this situation will never change. Personally I haven’t much changed my criterion for crackpotism in particle physics: if someone is not engaging in a deep way with the Standard Model and/or the kind of mathematical structures it involves, they’re probably a crackpot.

When I first wrote a critical article about string theory and made it public about four years ago, I got quite a lot of reaction. Almost all of it was gratifyingly positive, but I ended up hearing from quite a few people who were convinced that since I didn’t like string theory, surely I would like their alternative. These alternatives spanned a wide range, from very serious work to complete crackpotism, including all shades of in-between. The one thing that caused me to worry that there might be something wrong with my criticisms of string theory was the nature of a small number of my supporters. Some of these people still write to me regularly, and my e-mail is full of crazier things than what appears in the comments on the weblog. It’s embarassing to get cc’d on an e-mail to a long list of very prominent physicists by someone who is quoting my criticisms of string theory to back up their own even sillier ideas.

I’ve gotten very good at hitting the delete key or, in extreme cases, using procmail to automatically filter this stuff out of my inbox. I suggest similar tactics in reading the comment section here. The first line of defense against people who you think are not making any sense is just to ignore them. Do not give in to the temptation to point out to them that they are not making sense, because all this will accomplish is to clutter things up as they respond to your response to them.

I’m not about to start just deleting comments that I think are of a crackpot nature, partly because it is now hard to set up a clear criterion for what is crackpotism (should I delete Lenny Susskind’s comments if he decides to write in some day?). But to the extent that the volume of off-topic comments starts to overwhelm those that are interesting and related to the postings, I will have to take some sort of action. If you are posting large numbers of comments, mostly far off the topic at hand, please stop doing it now. If you are responding to such off-topic comments, please stop doing that too, don’t encourage them!

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68 Responses to On Crackpotism and Other Things

  1. D R Lunsford says:


    Do non-crackpots invite you to give seminars and generally let you present your case, or do they tend to suppress your views?

    Oh heavens no, in both cases. I’ve talked about it in not too much detail in the usual public places, sent it to a few people who I thought might be interested, but the proper way to do it is to put it on arxiv. I don’t know why they blacklisted it – all I know is, it got sponsored, got put up, and then vanished – never got any explanation. I would like for the thing to be on arxiv just on general principles, but now that it’s actually been peer-reviewed and published, it’s not a big issue to me any more. (In any case the publisher now owns the copyright.)

    I do enjoy talking physics though. That’s what you really miss being an outsider.

    -drl

  2. Doug says:

    drl wrote:

    Whether or not I’m a crackpot (I could not care less), the idea was really Riemann’s, Clifford’s, Mach’s, Einstein’s and Weyl’s. The odd thing was, Weyl came so close to getting it right, then, being a mathematician, insisted that his theory explain why spacetime is 4D, which was *not* part of the original program. Of course if you want to derive matter from the manifold, it can’t be 4D. This is so simple that it’s easy to overlook.

    Well, if you are a “crackpot” then, you are in some pretty good company. Do non-crackpots invite you to give seminars and generally let you present your case, or do they tend to suppress your views?

    Weyl wrote:

    The question of the ultimate foundations and the ultimate meaning of mathematics remains open; we do not know in what direction it will find its final solution or even whether a final objective answer can be expected at all. “Mathematizing” may well be a creative activity of man, like language or music, of primary originality, whose historical decisions defy complete objective rationalization.

    So, again, it’s a question of the meaning of mathematics. I believe that the non-crackpots should consider their own, canonical, forms in this light, and admit that they have no special claim to the one and only “correct,” creative, mathematized solution. The problems they face may eventually yield to the considerations of higher and higher abstractions, but most wise men seem to sense that they will not.

    I believe that the importance of maintaining a connection with correct physical concepts is key in all this “creative activity.” For instance, your observation that “if you want to derive matter from the manifold, it can’t be 4D,” might make perfect sense in the context of creative mathematics, but we should always ask ourselves, whether in regard to your recourse to six dimensions, or to Witten’s recourse to ten dimensions: “can this make sense in a physical way?”

    Clearly, no one has ever detected a unit of space, in any form, whether 3D, 4D, 6D or 10D. These dimensions of space are mathematical creations and nothing else, as far as the non-crackpots have been able to determine. Then, is it such a “crackpot” idea to take this physical observation at face value, and admit that there is no such thing as space, and stop continuing to give something that doesn’t exist properties that our mathematics need, such as “viscosity” (earlier generations), “warpage” (today), or “smooth tension” (tomorrow). We have filled it with fluctuating fields, made it a virtual sea of particles, and now want to roll it into tiny pieces and even say it’s a maze of glued together tetrahedrons!

    Isn’t it clear that the true “crackpot” here, is the one who thinks that we can just freely invent dimensions of something that clearly doesn’t exist? Isn’t it the one who insists on giving space properties so that he/she can continue “mathematizing,” and indulging in the “creative activity of man,” as Weyl puts it? Present company excluded of course.

    I realize that this “crackpot” point of view is like a voice crying in the wilderness, not likely to be heard today, but I want it on record that, like Diogenes, someone needs to hold the lamp in our faces: Honestly, where’s the space guys? Minkowski was right, when he predicted the ultimate union of space and time, but we have only unified space and time in the most unusual and unnatural way. Today, as the complexity of our perplexity grows, Witten predicts that space and time, as independent entities, are doomed, and Gross says that they are “emergent.” Well, I hope so, since they never existed as such anyway, except in our “mathematizing” activities.

    The only way that space and time can be unified that makes any physical sense at all is as the reciprocal aspects of motion, as we clearly see in the simple equation of motion, v = ds/dt.

    Think about it, it’s not hard to see. Can we measure either space or time without the other? No, we cannot. I defy anybody to do it. To measure space, we need time, and to measure time, we need space. Why is this so? It is so, because 3D geometry is a result of motion’s three degrees of freedom: ds/dt can take three, and only three, mutually orthogonal directions physically, and I defy the whole world to prove otherwise.

    We may be able to easily format space in an endless number of ways to form manifolds, strings, or branes within our mathematical creations to our heart’s content, but we can’t move an object, or draw a figure, in more than three, mutually orthogonal, directions, no matter how hard we try. This physical fact ought to temper our “creative activity” of “mathematizing” in regards to investigating nature, but it won’t, and why is that? Because we are non-crackpots by social definition and we get paid so much for playing the role. But if we will only look in the mirror, we will have to conclude: “we have met the “crackpot,” and he is us!”

  3. D R Lunsford says:

    Whether or not I’m a crackpot (I could not care less), the idea was really Riemann’s, Clifford’s, Mach’s, Einstein’s and Weyl’s. The odd thing was, Weyl came so close to getting it right, then, being a mathematician, insisted that his theory explain why spacetime is 4D, which was *not* part of the original program. Of course if you want to derive matter from the manifold, it can’t be 4D. This is so simple that it’s easy to overlook.

    I always found the interest in KK theory curiously misplaced, sicne that theory actually succeeds in its original form, but the success is hollow because the unification is non-dynamical.

    -drl

  4. Doug says:

    drl,

    You lost me on that one, it’s too abstract for me. It’s beside the point too, because I’m not defending Hestenes’ treatment of spacetime, but only attempting to show how a mathematical model can work under certain circumstances even when the physical intrepretation is wrong or even non-sensical.

    This intrigues me though:

    The GR program was to derive matter and spacetime on a common ground. This never really happened because Tmn was posited on the right in analogy with (backgroundful) electrodynamics. This leads to the energy and scaling problem of GR which leads to its confounding the quantizers. Solve the matter problem and the rest should take care of itself.

    I am not skillful enough to understand your paper, but I have never heard of this idea before. Are you considered a “crackpot” for this approach? Why did they blacklist your paper?

  5. Momentus says:

    “If it disagrees with experiment, it is wrong.”
    I was googling on this phrase,because I have a simple experiment, which I cannot get to behave ‘right’. I also have not found any one who can tell me what the expected experimental result should be.
    The experiment is to hang a spinning wheel(Gyro) from a long cord.It does not Rotate (precess)about the c of g.
    My study of this observed fact has revealed a new force. Now that is crackpot, by definition.

    So most learned and erudite scholars, please what should the suspended mass do? Where have I gone astray?

  6. D R Lunsford says:

    Doug -

    The standard answer is that a change of basis casts the Dirac eqn in the form

    (y_mu d_mu – m y_5) psi = 0

    You could now start from this eqn and get the “real” one in the same way. So matter-antimatter is encoded in m – under spacetime parity m -> -m and matter antimatter. This isn’t mystical – you could have started with -m and have -m -> +m. You have to treat y_5 correctly to have this symmetry, and it seems to me Hestenes doesn’t do that. That’s why he gets a “thorn” in his eqn, an explicit appearence of y_2.

    -drl

  7. Doug says:

    Oops,

    Was in a hurry. Meant to say:

    I wouldn’t argue the idea that the role of antimatter is NOT crucial. Also, spacetime parity may not be as important as space/time parity in another context, but I’d have to explain that.

  8. Doug says:

    drl wrote:

    His [Hestenes'] reformulation does violence to spacetime parity, so I don’t have much faith in it.

    But there is the issue of “hidden” changes of basis. I’m “looking through a glass darkly” here and quickly getting in over my head, but I wouldn’t agrue that the idea that the role of antimatter is crucial, only that the mathematical abstractions seem to take on a life of their own.

    Here is a paper that rings true for me, although I don’t understand it all:

    Parra Serra’s paper

    And here is a quote that rings true to me as well:

    I sometimes wonder if obession with the ineffable realm of abstraction is a sort of drug addiction that is clouding the collective judgment. drl

    And finally, this one:

    God has chosen the world that is the most perfect, that is to say,
    the one that is at the same time the simplest in hypotheses and the
    richest in phenomena.
    – Gottfried Von Liebniz

  9. D R Lunsford says:

    Doug wrote

    Nevertheless, Hestenes writes that, by reformulating the mathematics of the Dirac equation, he can show that “the zbw is a ubiquitous phenomena with manifestations in every application of quantum mechanics, even in the nonrelativistic domain.”

    His reformulation does violence to spacetime parity, so I don’t have much faith in it.

    “Similarly with GR – the problematic aspects are artifacts of approximation.” – I don’t see how this follows. The incompatibility of a background free theory like GR with a background dependent theory like QFT cannot be attributed to “artifacts of approximation,” can it?

    Sure it can – the GR program was to derive matter and spacetime on a common ground. This never really happened because Tmn was posited on the right in analogy with (backgroundful) electrodynamics. This leads to the energy and scaling problem of GR which leads to its confounding the quantizers. Solve the matter problem and the rest should take care of itself. I have a proposal if you’re interested.

  10. Doug says:

    drl wrote

    Well, this is also true for example of the Pauli spin theory. Only the Dirac theory showed how right Pauli really was. Pauli’s was actually the harder problem, and within the Dirac theory, he was totally justified, as an approximation.

    But what this really indicates is that the mathematical interpretation must be related to the physical concept employed. If it were not so, we would stop with the mathematical formulation. We don’t, because we want to understand a physical model, not just a mathematical one. Hence, there is still a lot of dissatisfaction in the non-crackpot community because of the metaphorical interpretation of spin: we want to know what it really means.

    This has led to many attempts to show that it really is generated by some kind of rotation. Hestenes regards Schroedinger’s zitterbewegung (zbw) model for such motion especially noteworthy because “it is grounded in an analysis of solutions to the Dirac equation.” However, zbw doesn’t result in anything real. Nevertheless, Hestenes writes that, by reformulating the mathematics of the Dirac equation, he can show that “the zbw is a ubiquitous phenomena with manifestations in every application of quantum mechanics, even in the nonrelativistic domain.”

    So, here we see, once again, that the mathematics can work, even when there is an incorrect interpretation of the meaning of the mathematics, or even when there is a non-sensical and metaphorical interpretation, but when a correct interpretation of the mathematics accompanies a solution, great advances result.
    (see http://modelingnts.la.asu.edu/pdf/ZBW_I_QM.pdf)

    BTW, part of Pauli’s “harder problem,” was never really solved by Dirac’s formulation: quantum mechanics still cannot account for the structure of the periodic table accurately.

    Similarly with GR – the problematic aspects are artifacts of approximation.

    I don’t see how this follows. The incompatibility of a background free theory like GR with a background dependent theory like QFT cannot be attributed to “artifacts of approximation,” can it?

  11. D R Lunsford says:

    Doug wrote:

    However, there’s a possibility that, for some reason, the level on which “GR is undeniably correct,” is not a physical level, but a mathematical level. In other words, it could be that it is an interpretation of physical concepts that works mathematically, but is physically wrong.

    Well, this is also true for example of the Pauli spin theory. Only the Dirac theory showed how right Pauli really was. Pauli’s was actually the harder problem, and within the Dirac theory, he was totally justified, as an approximation.

    Similarly with GR – the problematic aspects are artifacts of approximation.

    For instance, Einstein’s theories are based on Maxwell’s equations, which show that the law of conservation leads, not only to symmetry, but to electromagnetic waves that travel at the same speed in all directions, at the speed of light. There does not appear to be an error in these equations, yet the physical concept at the time included the idea of an all pervasive aether. Contrary to popular belief, Einstein didn’t eliminate the aether concept, he just modified and renamed it.

    It turns out that SR is not based on Maxwell’s theory, but that the latter exhibits relativistic behavior in an essential way, because light goes at the fundamental speed C. In fact SR doesn’t need any specific field theory at all to hold it up – it’s just group theory and projective geometry (Klein’s program, light cone = ideal domain). And so Einstein really did eliminate the aether (for a while, in my reducible, lambda days, I believed as you do :) He eliminated it by refining the idea of space and time in such a way that propagation becomes a primitive fact, like ponderability, that doesn’t require factitious causes.

    Here’s an idea, let’s go down to the basement and rummage through the dusty trunks of history. Who’s afraid of the dark? Us “crackpots” aren’t, because we have nothing to lose.

    Indeed! But watch for spiders.

  12. Doug says:

    drl,

    I whole heartedly agree with this:

    Nevertheless, my own opinion is that some things in science just can’t be ignored or you aren’t doing science, which is not a series of wacky revolutions.

    Yet, many times that is exactly what is countenanced in non-crackpot science, and in a glaring fashion to boot. One example is Ivor Catt’s anomaly. You would think that science has progressed way beyond elementary concepts such as those Oliver Heaviside wrestled with in stringing the Atlantic with telegraph cables. However, like the old farmer said, “It’s not what I didn’t know that done me in, it’s what I knowed that weren’t so!”

    This is not just true in the field of physics; it’s also true in the field of mathematics, where David Hestenes discovered that “some things…[that] just can’t be ignored” are being ignored nevertheless. In fact, when it turns out that things aren’t adding up, like the enigma faced today in the form of quantum field theory’s incompatibility with GR, then it’s a pretty good indication that something that “just can’t be ignored” probably is being ignored.

    However, it’s usually the investigators labeled “crackpots” who are motivated, for some reason or another, to go back to the basics to find what it is that has been ignored. Usually, this is so because only “crackpots” can afford to challenge long held beliefs. Non-crackpots, even tenured ones, must protect their careers, pensions and reputations and, thus, are not likely to go down into the basement and rummage through the old, dusty trunks of history, searching for clues as to what went wrong.

    Instead, they keep on trying to build on the existing foundations, because they trust and believe that what they know isn’t going to “do them in,” contrary to the folk wisdom of the old farmer. If we are so sure that

    GR is undeniably correct on some level – not only does it make accurate predictions, it is also very tight math.

    then we are going to seek to incorporate it in our efforts to understand Nature. However, there’s a possibility that, for some reason, the level on which “GR is undeniably correct,” is not a physical level, but a mathematical level. In other words, it could be that it is an interpretation of physical concepts that works mathematically, but is physically wrong. We see this all the time in other cases, and we even acknowlege it in the gravitational area where, in the low limit, we interpret the physical behavior of mass in terms of a physical force formulated by Newton. When we need the accuracy of GR, however, Newton’s physical interpretation of force between masses changes to Einstein’s interpretation of geometry that results from the interaction between mass and spacetime. Then, when we get to the quantum level, neither of these physical concepts serves us, so we again employ mathematics to rescue us and come up with the Higgs field, or something else – actually, the race is on to see who can come with something first that can be verified.

    What is actually happening, though, as us “crackpots” can easily see from the outside looking in, is that what is being verified is the mathematics, not the physical concepts. Physically, what we have verified is that light and energy are quantized, that the speed of radiation is constant relative to matter, that gravity is equivalent to acceleration, that distant galaxies are receding from our location in all directions, and that this universal expansion is not slowing down for sure, and may even be speeding up.

    We can predict the behavior of subatomic particles with mathematical precision, if we measure certain quantities first, and if we limit the range of our calculations in just a certain way. However, we haven’t verified the physical concepts involved in the nuclear model of the atom, we have only found a mathematical solution that enables us to interpret the observed physical behavior.

    All this means that there is always the possibility that another mathematical approach to interpreting the same results would, if successful, lead to a different physical concept.

    But, as you say:

    There are certain steps in the evolution of science that are not optional – you can’t make a gravity theory that doesn’t in some sense incorporate GR at this point, any more than you can make one that ignores Newton on that level.

    This is only true if you are building on all the existing foundations. If an error is discovered in the foundations, then some dismantling is inevitable. For instance, Einstein’s theories are based on Maxwell’s equations, which show that the law of conservation leads, not only to symmetry, but to electromagnetic waves that travel at the same speed in all directions, at the speed of light. There does not appear to be an error in these equations, yet the physical concept at the time included the idea of an all pervasive aether. Contrary to popular belief, Einstein didn’t eliminate the aether concept, he just modified and renamed it. Today, the concept of a physical field is as indispensible to modern concepts of physics as the concept of the aether was in Maxwell’s day. However, now we know that, although Maxwell’s equations were correct, the physical interpretation of the meaning of the math was not. So, it’s just as likely that the physical concept of the field is as incorrect as the physical concept of the aether was, but the mathematics works in either case. Therefore, it’s true that

    Anyone who claims that Einstein’s analysis is all wrong is probably really a crackpot.

    because it’s obviously not wrong. That is, it’s not mathematically wrong, but the interpretation of the mathematics may incorporate incorrect physical concepts that will not work except in special cases, such as when we see GR’s spacetime concept unable to work at quantum scales, and QFT’s field concepts unable to work at large scales. While the maths in both cases work fine within the prescribed limits, the two physical interpretations of these mathematical concepts are incompatible; one is background dependent, and the other is background independent: obviously there is something wrong!

    Here’s an idea, let’s go down to the basement and rummage through the dusty trunks of history. Who’s afraid of the dark? Us “crackpots” aren’t, because we have nothing to lose.

    (I can’t end this without saying how pleasantly suprised I was to learn that you have considered three dimensions of time in your own work. I very much appreciate the invitation to discuss these things with you via email, too. I’ll probably take you up on it.)

  13. D R Lunsford says:

    Doug –

    Perhaps I misunderstood you. I see you accept the 4Dness of SR at least.

    I certainly know from experience that your point about the behavior of the gatekeepers is true – I worked out and published an idea that reproduces GR as low-order limit, but, since it is crazy enough to regard the long range forces as somehow deriving from the same source, it was blacklisted from arxiv (CERN however put it up right away without complaint).

    Nevertheless, my own opinion is that some things in science just can’t be ignored or you aren’t doing science, which is not a series of wacky revolutions. GR is undeniably correct on some level – not only does it make accurate predictions, it is also very tight math. There are certain steps in the evolution of science that are not optional – you can’t make a gravity theory that doesn’t in some sense incorporate GR at this point, any more than you can make one that ignores Newton on that level. Anyone who claims that Einstein’s analysis is all wrong is probably really a crackpot.

    (BTW my work has three time dimensions, and just as you say, mixes up matter and space and motion. This is not incompatible with GR, and in fact seems to give it an even firmer basis. On the level of GR, matter and physical space are decoupled the way source and radiation are in elementary EM. Feel free to send email if you want to discuss it or your own ideas.)

    -drl

  14. plato says:

    Arun said: So, string theory embraces both General Relativity and not-General Relativity!!!! In other words, string theory says nothing definite.

    Plato said:And about Arun’s comment about GR. Phase transitions would be reduced holographcally from higher dimensions( the standard model would have been decribed from earlier states ), would finally show up there?:)

    If one did not recognize earlier states of existence and just accepted the cosmological playground sight seen, it always existed in this form then:) That is, if we take the standard set by observation:)

    I for one thought, topological considerations would have been formulated from earlier cosmic designs, but aparently this might have been subject to scrutiny, and thought out. Rejection of the soccer ball design as well?:)

    I’ll have to readjust accordingly. I’ll be posting the reasons why on my own blog soon.

  15. Doug says:

    drl,

    I know it’s hard to believe that anything else could work, but the truth is there is another alternative. The reason GR works is because the speed of light is constant relative to matter and because gravity is an acceleration, not equivalent to an acceleration, mind you, but is a time rate change of motion. The question to be answered, then, is actually, “what is the nature of the gravitational motion?” not “what is the nature of the gravitational force?”

    GR doesn’t answer either question really, but instead eliminates the need for a force through an adjustment of the reference system mediated by covariance. Nevertheless, I’m afraid the discussion of GR is way off topic, which is “crackpotism.” Hence, my point is not that GR or a 4D union of space and time is wrong, but that another point of view, especially one that not only works, but addresses the very foundations of our physics, cannot exist EXCEPT in the minds of “crackpots” by fiat.

    Suppose that I claimed to have discovered that there exists, after all, an absolute frame of reference of motion, but I’m not a reputable physicist, just an honest investigator. What do you suppose the reaction of the non-crackpots would be? Would those who referee journals allow my findings to be published? Would those who teach at Universities take the time to listen to my arguments? Would those who advise philanthropists and public agencies brook my ideas?

    The prevailing sense of the scientific enterprise is that at the core of its dynamics lies a merit-based ethics, but this is just not so. Discovering this is more traumatic than uncovering the deceit inherent in the alleged fact that the NY Times’ real credo is not “All the news that’s fit to print,” but actually “Print all the news that fits,” because scientific truth is so sancrosanct.

    Nevertheless, it’s a fact: regardless of merit, any concept far enough outside the accepted line of thinking will be labeled a “crackpot” idea by the guardians of the orthodox doctrine, and, of course, many people don’t read beyond the label. Ironically, though, the really “crackpot” idea of string theory and its poly-dimensional approach and parallel universes of colliding branes, originating on the “inside” so-to-speak, has now emerged and overtaken orthodoxy, making the situation even more ludicrous.

    Now, the completely ad hoc idea that space has 10 dimensions, and that seven of them are “compactified,” and that the “strings” of gravity escape into a parallel universe, is embraced by Universities and published in thousands of journal articles and funded by public and private entities to the tune of untold millions of dollars.

    However, if a voice of reason is raised, that points out that we live in a three-dimensional universe, where there are only three degrees of freedom observed, and that space has no properties of its own that can be observed, in spite of every effort to do so, except for the properties it has as an aspect of motion, and that it is more reasonable to assume, therefore, that time has three dimensions, and, with three dimensions of space, forms three dimensions of motion, that voice truly might as well be crying in the wilderness, for no one will hear it. If they do hear it, though, you can be sure that they will most likely just moan, and grunt, and mumble the word “crackpot.”

  16. D R Lunsford says:

    Doug -

    It’s totally wrong-headed to think of the transition to 4D as a “correction”. Rather, 3+1 is an approximation to bulletproof reality. I can well understand having a distaste for relativity, since it is usually very badly taught and written about (e.g. all the idiotic problems with pole vaulters in barns and the like). You’ll have to get over any resistance to the idea before you can make real progress in any direction.

    -drl

  17. Doug says:

    drl,

    I assume that parts of your post are missing, but I think I get the gist of your point. I do not say that at high speeds the covariant technique does not produce the correct results. I only insist that the success of the procedure doesn’t mean that the world is necessarily four dimensional.

    For instance, I can get the same correction in a 3D world that includes time motion (the reciprocal of motion in space), as demonstrated in the correction accounting for the excess advance of the perihelion in the orbit of the planet Mercury. The effect of time motion is small at everyday speeds, but at high speeds, it accounts for the same descrepancy as your 4D approach.

    The wonderful thing about it too is that it is the natural result of homogeniety and reciprocity!

    Regards,

    Doug

  18. D R Lunsford says:

    Looks like this wonderful software mangled my post.

  19. D R Lunsford says:

    Doug -

    In the everyday world where speeds are

  20. Doug says:

    Hi drl,

    You wrote:

    The world is really, really 4D on some level. It can’t go back to being 3D – this is quite impossible in the light of experience. It can’t be anyD unless (any-4) has a damn good explanation.

    Of course, you realize that you just violated Peter’s admonition not to respond to “crackpots” don’t you?! LOL. Don’t worry though, I’m not going to harrangue you with a myopic and stubborn insistance that living in ignorance in the age of enlightenment is better than embracing the “reality” of 4D consequences. If I were to do that, Peter might put me in his filter.

    However, to be honest, your comments do cause me to wonder at the conviction that the world “can’t go back to being 3D.” Actually, the “world” has never stopped being 3D in the minds of some of us “crackpots.” While the theories you non-crackpots have embraced have given you a way to understand the apparent “force” of gravity in terms of non-3D, both the crackpots and the non-crackpots still move in three dimensions, right?

    You see, if you combine one dimension of space with one dimension of time, as one dimension of motion (ds/dt), something magical happens: you can move one-dimensionally in a three-dimensional world. And guess what happens if you combine two dimensions of space with two dimensions of time (ds/dt)^2? or even more innovatively, dare to combine three dimensions of space with three dimensions of time (ds/dt)^3?

    Well, enough of that from this crackpot, I’m probably overstepping my bounds in a non-crackpot 4D world where such nonsense is unwelcome. Nevertheless, I want to go on record as testifying that assuming that four dimensions of spacetime is real, is not necessary to understand the 3D world of motion. The only thing that is necessary is that you understand motion: the only KNOWN relationship of space and time.

    Regards,

    Doug

  21. Peter says:

    Hello anonymous,

    I had no intention of promulgating a general theory of crackpotism, my comments were purely restricted to particle theory. Crackpotism in cosmology is a whole other subject, one I have no intention of entering into.

    Peter

  22. Quantoken says:

    Lubos said:

    “But there are loads of backgrounds where string theory gives absolutely unique, quantitative, sharp, and theoretically crosschecked predictions for a given Universe, and these contexts of course always agree with GR at low energies.

    If someone believes that string theory is mathematically vague, then he completely misunderstood everything about it. The “fictitious” new Universes predicted by string theory, especially those with a lot of supersymmetry, are completely rigid and sharply defined.”

    Lubos: have you nothing to say since I pointed out the fundamental error you made in your 4*ln(3) paper?! See the comment section of the Strominger Interview. Basically I point out that writting down ANY differential equation that takes derivatives against space and time, and deal with quantities about or below the Planck Scale, is fundamentally wrong, because at Planck Scale there is no longer continuous space and time.

    No one was able to argue against the notion that derivatives against Planck Scale space and time is wrong. They could only defend for you by claiming that the math symbols in your equation (1) does not mean derivaties (which is laughable), or that you are not dealing with Planck Scale (how could it be a black hole if the mass scale involved is less than one Planck mass). Both are invain arguments.

    Now, about your “predictions” about a “given universe” or any “virtual new universes”. Let me assure you that it takes me 20 minutes instead of 20 years to come up with a self consistent 13 dimentional self consistent theory about an alternative “given universe”, outside this one we known, and I will make predictions. And certainly no one can prove me wrong because no one can observe the other universe in any way direct or indirect.

    Physics deal with observsations we can make in this universe, which is the only one known, as far as physics is concerned. Any study or even meantioning of alternative universes, which we can not provide observation evidence for, are NOT physics, but religion.

    The whole landscape and alternative universe nonsense in ST seem to be pushing itself out of physics and towards the religion end, since to believe in something no evidence can be provided, faith in the deep of your soul may be the only way. Don’t you see that in deed deep in your heart, you have that kind of faith towards ST? You want to curse every one who is infidel, right?

    Quantoken

  23. Anonymous says:

    Peter ,
    would you consider Narlikar , Hoyle, Arp,
    Burbidge and others who still think Steady state theory of cosmology, is correct as cracpots?

  24. plato says:

    Of the infinite forms we must select the most beautiful, if we are to proceed in due order…. Plato, in the Timaeus

    DRL said:abandoning their little shadow-cave would force them to come to terms with their lack of insight and to stop hiding behind Platonic ideals.

    Ho, Ho, Ha, Ha:)DRL, I know you are smarter then this. They understood that there is a natural progression to the topological considerations valid in dimensions.

    John Baez said:The story goes on… but in higher dimensions one usually uses the term `regular polytopes’ instead of `Platonic solids’. All the faces of a regular polytope must be lower-dimensional regular polytopes of the same size and shape, and all the vertices, edges, etc. have to look identical. Maximal symmetry, that’s the name of the game! (Also, I’ll only be talking about convex polytopes.)

  25. D R Lunsford says:

    Peter -

    Speaking from experience – taking the SM seriously does not get you off the crackpot roster :) But, nice try!

    (What is *really* hard is to take both the SM and GR seriously. Hard but not impossible…)

    -drl

  26. D R Lunsford says:

    Doug -

    The world is really, really 4D on some level. It can’t go back to being 3D – this is quite impossible in the light of experience. It can’t be anyD unless (any-4) has a damn good explanation.

    It’s worth repeating – the 4D of relativity is not just a bookkeeping convenience, like say, virtual photons. It’s real and has real consequences.

    -drl

  27. Doug says:

    The interpretation of Newton’s program of research, as a dictum to focus on forces, has led to the goal of describing nature in terms of a few interactions among a few particles. The standard model attempts to do that, but it leaves out a huge piece of the picture. It also must start with a large number of empirical observations, and, of course, it is completely at odds with recent cosmological observations.

    The development of string theory started as an attempt to address the SM’s many problems, and in fact received its biggest impetus when it seemed to offer a solution to the missing piece – gravity. If Supersymmetry and string theory can never succeed, what will happen to the SM? After all, it is an attempt to extend the SM, so what should young particle physicists replace string theory with? Should they abandon the SM altogether, concluding that “you just can’t get there from here?” Or, alternatively, should they abandon the current interpretation of Newton’s program of research as a dictum to focus on forces, and seek a new, innovative, intrepretation that might yield better results?

    Would it be a crackpot idea to suggest that a alternative interpretation of Newton’s program might be that we should focus on motion as prior to force, and thus examine the nature of space and time as two, reciprocal, aspects of motion? Might that simple idea offer some real prospects for describing nature in terms of a few types of motions, combinations of motions and relations between motions (forces)?

    It’s obvious that we live in a 3D universe, and we even see two types of 3D motion, the outward motion of the receding galaxies and the inward motion of gravity. The force aspects of these motions are interesting, but why not investigate these motions themselves? What are their characteristics? How do they originate? Can we simulate them someway without a 4D spacetime, but with just 3D motion?

    These are some simple suggestions of a possible new line of inquiry that doesn’t ingnore the successes of the SM, Peter, but does recognize that its limitations, as a means for describing nature in a satisfactory manner, call for some fresh ideas. Does that have to be a crackpot thought by definition?

  28. D R Lunsford says:

    One more comment to “X” and his claim that ST is a natural progression (?) from the idea of point sources – of course this is completely false: a natural progression would have been, say, an infinitely thin vibrating shell, retaining spherical symmetry. Of course such an idea is also laugable in the light of relativity – that it was taken seriously by the likes of Poincare and Lorentz just shows what a rare commodity is sound physical insight. I doubt that the latter can be taught, which is why the stringers defend their dysfunctional world so vehemently – abandoning their little shadow-cave would force them to come to terms with their lack of insight and to stop hiding behind Platonic ideals.

    -drl

  29. D R Lunsford says:

    “X” wrote

    Frankly, I don’t understand why ST was not a natural progression (eg. Lunsfords belief that it was obviously ‘horseshit’ from the outset) from the standard model..

    My advisor thought that ST was horseshit from the beginning. Given his pedigree (Weisskopf) and his achievement up to that time (it speaks for itself), I think I was well justified in agreeing with him for my own reasons, which were actually different than his but just as deeply felt.

    ST is horseshit because it is postmodernly anhistorical and revisionist. Nothing in physics is ever revolutionary. Everything proceeds from past experience. Winding the clock back to before Democritus was a laughable idea that became pernicious. I thought it would die of its own accord. I’m totally amazed that anyone with half a brain takes it seriously for any reason (even if they are purely mathematical ones).

    -drl

  30. Anonymous says:

    “X” wrote

    I don’t suppose D.R. Lunsford will ever be banned despite his enormous arrogance in calling a *mathematical* physicist such as Witten a failure while paradoxically demonstrating his admiration for other predominantly *mathematical* physicists such as Dirac and Einstein.”

    Well this is rather self-evident, and you are mistaken. Dirac and Einstein were actually physicists. Even their side work is crammed with interesting physics (e.g. Dirac’s superconducting vacuum and large numbers hypothesis; Einstein’s Brownian motion). Both Dirac and Einstein used math as the means to the end – physics – and did not set it up as the end in itself.

    Of course you must have actually sought out and read the side work, to know this. Since there is no time for detours in the usual sausage grinder curriculum, the chances are slim that the typical student will ever know anything about this side work. Nevertheless it is great physics and was to me very suggestive. I don’t think I would have been able to solve my particular problem in the unexpected way that actually came about, if not for Dirac’s side work. So, I have a very personal attitude about it.

    (Ban me? I had no idea I was so formidable.)

    -drl

  31. Luboš Motl says:

    No, I don’t see any difference. The LQG team also claims that they have a theory of a fundamental interaction at the Planckian energies, while they ignore the Standard Model.

    You can’t really go beyond the electroweak scale without properly explaining the electroweak and lower scales, i.e. the Standard Model.

    Other crackpots say, for example, that all matter is made of letters X and T. They show how proton is constructed – and their goal is not to describe the Standard Model either. Their goal is to construct a theory of particles.

  32. Peter says:

    Hi Lubos,

    No, I certainly don’t think LQG is crackpotism. The LQG people are not claiming to say anything about particle physics, their claims are restricted to quantum gravity. And they are doing this using a mathematical set-up (connections and loop holonomy variables) which is close to the mathematical set-up of gauge theory. They’re definitely not doing what crackpot particle theorists do, claiming to have a theory of particle interactions that ignores the standard model and its mathematical structure.

  33. plato says:

    Don’t be hard on your self Lubos. When one plays with certain models, you can get burned?:)

    The basis of the argument could be an + or – thing, and things will oscillate all day long, and no ones happy with the shape of things.:)

  34. Luboš Motl says:

    The criterion about taking the actual structure and the required math of the Standard Model seriously is of course very important.

    Incidentally, Peter, do you agree that not just Wolfram, but also loop quantum gravity and many other directions squarely fall to your definition of crackpotism?

  35. Luboš Motl says:

    Maybe I should not have written the post about MOND at all if it is misinterpreted.

    It’s a complete speculation of mine that in cosmological setups, new phenomena may arise.

    But there are loads of backgrounds where string theory gives absolutely unique, quantitative, sharp, and theoretically crosschecked predictions for a given Universe, and these contexts of course always agree with GR at low energies.

    If someone believes that string theory is mathematically vague, then he completely misunderstood everything about it. The “fictitious” new Universes predicted by string theory, especially those with a lot of supersymmetry, are completely rigid and sharply defined.

  36. Luboš Motl says:

    I kind of agree with what Peter wrote, and it is comforting to see that he at least looks at the problems in this way. Sorry, I have not read any comments yet, it’s just too much of it.

    The definition of the past crackpots 30 years ago is much less of a controversy than the definition of crackpots today. I believe that in 2030 they will have a better and more unifiable idea who were the crackpots back in 2004.

    The S-matrix, bootstrap approaches etc. were not quite scientifically sound, and it’s a matter of historical coincidences that a related line of research has led to something useful and deep – string theory in this case.

    But don’t forget: the history is written by the winners. The bootstrap people were simply losers, at least in the 1970s, and it makes them much more vulnerable to an attack. A reasonable person will resist the temptation to attack them, especially because some of their ideas were vindicated by recent research in string theory.

    I am happy that Peter realizes that most of his supporters are much clearer crackpots than the worst idealized string theorist he can imagine, even though he can’t state this fact as clearly as I can (because his blog is partly driven by them). ;-) Crackpots can be annoying, but someone similar to crackpot can, in very special cases, propose a great idea. People have different approaches, and I am sure that Peter understands the huge difference between Lenny Susskind and the unsophisticated crackpots.

    Lenny is a genius, in some sense, and this can’t be obscured by a couple of talks that many of us find too vague.

  37. Quantoken says:

    Arun said:

    “String theorists are not crackpots. The problem with string theory is exemplified by the exchange on sci.physics.strings, where it is said that one can IMAGINE that string theory and holography have their ways to induce corrections needed to explain the Pioneer anomaly and others, and a MOND-like alternative to dark matter. So, string theory embraces both General Relativity and not-General Relativity!!!! In other words, string theory says nothing definite.”

    String theory and holography could only “imagine” (i.e., wishful thinking) to have a way of explaining Pioneer anomaly. But I see no solid and unambiguous solutions of such published. On another hand, Generalized Universal Information Theory And Relativity naturally leads to prediction of abnormal “acceleration” like the Pioneer, and it gives the correct quantitative calculation.

    I used quotation around “acceleration” because it is actually not an acceleration, but a relativity effect proposed by my theory. The two are equivalent just like gravity field and acceleration field are equivalent.

    In a nutshell, the principle that the total quantum information in the universe being a finite and conserved quantity, necessarily leads to the conclusion that our spacetime do not extend to infinity. Our spacetime is curved to be enclosed. That’s because flat and infinite spacetime would require infinite amount of quantum information to describe and decipher each individual spacetime coordinate point.

    Keep in mind when spacetime is curved and enclosed, that does not just mean space. Time is curved, too!

    Now, when Einstein developed his special relativity, he made one assumption which is correct in a flat and infinite spacetime, but which is wrong in our universe. Einstein recognize that in different inertial frames, clocks may tick in different speed, and spontaneous events at different locations in one reference frame may not look spontaneous in another reference frame.

    However, Einstein did presume that in the same inertial frame, as long as there is no acceleration or gravity to cause the clocks to change, all clocks at all different locations would all tick at exactly the same pace when observed by the same observer. Such an assumption is only true when the spacetime is infinite.

    In a curved spacetime, you can NOT have all clocks ticking in exact synch. Having such means the time is still flat and extends infinitely, while as the space is curved and finited. That’s impossible. The time axis would necessarily be curved and enclosed too.

    So that’s the conconsion of QUITAR, there is a universal relativity that any observer will see a clock at a remote location will tick slightly slower than his own. The further away the other clock is placed, the more it is slowed. That slowing is in addition to any special relativity or general relativity time dilation effect. At the edge of the universe, it will be slowed to a complete halt.

    The time dilation described by universal relativity is relative: A sees B’s clock slower than A’s own. But B also sees A’s clock slower than B’s own.

    How do we know two clocks at different locations are ticking at the same pace or not? We may bring the two together to verify they tick at the same pace. But that doesn’t tell us because it’s position dependent, once you move the other clock away, it slows down again. You can bring them together once in a while to see if the slowness has accumulated, but in the process of bringing them together you have accelerated them and that destroys comparability of the two clock, because acceleration causes time dilation.

    In similar reason like Einstein did, the only feasible way to verify whether two clocks at remote distance are ticking in sync or not, is to use light signal as beacon and see if the beacon arrives at the correct interval or not.

    And that’s what we actually do!!! We observed that the light beacon from remote stars indeed are arriving ever slower, depends on the distance. That, we call Hubble Redshift, has been observed.

    You can explain the slowdown of light beacons as evidence that the remote light source is moving away, or you can explain it as a universal relativity effect that remote clocks simply tick slower. The two explanations are equivalent, just as gravity and acceleration are equivalent.

    However, the Doppler explanation would have to presume the remote clock ticks at the same pace as ours. We do not have evidence for that. On another hand, remote clock slowing has been mandated by quantum information conservation, which is very reasonable and logical. So, indeed, Hubble Redshift is indeed the universal relativity caused time dilation effect.

    The same can be used to explain the Pioneer Anormalcy. Since we presumed the clock on Pioneer would tick in sync., we instead explain the observed discrepancy as an anormality acceleration towards us, the observer. The amount of such “acceleration”, based on my derivation, is

    (4/PI)*C^2/(Radius of Universe)

    Quantoken

  38. plato says:

    Might this satisfy why astronomical valuations in Peter’s eyes are not worth doing because of the magnitude of the orders of dollars associated?

    Delivered by David Politzer on December 8, 2004 in Stockholm

    There is a very active field of theoretical research which seeks to go beyond the Standard Model. Success in these endeavors would mean explaining the apparently arbitrary aspects of the Standard Model; success would mean bringing an account of gravity into the picture; and success would mean illuminating the previously mentioned issues in astrophysics. However, we now face a very serious problem in advancing the experimental frontier, a problem which few people like to discuss. It seems to me that ever since Leeuwenhoek, advances in the resolving power of our “microscopes” have come with similar investments of capital and manpower. I.e., an increase by an order of magnitude in the one required an increase by roughly an order of magnitude of the other — at least once we average over fits and starts and brilliant insights. The last big machine planned and canceled in the U.S. was to cost about $10 billion. (That’s .) That would have allowed us to reach distances small enough to study the interactions of weak bosons directly. The realm of the conjectured “unification” of the forces of the Standard model, the realm of their possible unification with gravity, and the basic physics of String Theory, the most widely pursued approach to a physics more fundamental than the Standard Model, are all more than a dozen orders of magnitude further away. However, is simply not available for this line of research (or anything else for that matter).

    And about Arun’s comment about GR. Phase transitions would be reduced holographcally from higher dimensions( the standard model would have been decribed from earlier states ), would finally show up there?:)

  39. Peter says:

    Hi Arun,

    Actually there was nothing in this posting about string theory. In general string theorists are trying to reproduce the Standard Model, or even use string theory to solve QCD, so they’re not crackpots by the criterion I was talking about.

    The one part of the recent string theory enterprise that has definitely veered towards crackpot territory is the whole “Landscape” business.

  40. Peter says:

    Thanks for the link to the Politzer Nobel lecture. I’ll update that posting to include it.

    By the way, I’ve been closing the comment sections for posts that are more than a couple weeks old. Unfortunately this is necessary to keep the problem of “comment spam” under control.

  41. Anonymous says:

    Mathematica makes errors on simple problems? I use Mathematica at times, and if that is really true…

    Can you give some examples I can check for myself?

  42. Arun says:

    Using Peter’s definition of crackpot, it is only because of crackpots that European sailors broke the confines of the Western Atlantic and Mediterranean.

    It is crackpotism if Columbus continues to insist that he has found a passage to India.

    String theorists are not crackpots. The problem with string theory is exemplified by the exchange on sci.physics.strings, where it is said that one can imagine that string theory and holography have their ways to induce corrections needed to explain the Pioneer anomaly and others, and a MOND-like alternative to dark matter. So, string theory embraces both General Relativity and not-General Relativity!!!! In other words, string theory says nothing definite.

  43. as says:

    This should have been a comment on the post “Nobel Lecture”, but it looks like it’s not possible to comment on that post.

    David Politzer has put his Nobel lecture on his website at
    http://www.theory.caltech.edu/people/politzer/

  44. plato says:

    I thought the least I can do is help to lead you in the direction of Penrose and the picture I gave you.

    Remember Smolin was quite clear here about the three roads to quantum gravity, that I wonder how this road would seem more comfortable to you then the other two?:)I will wait and see what materializes I guess.

  45. plato says:

    Peter said,“As long as you stick to this particular variety of speculation, you’ll have no trouble getting all sorts of silliness published. I don’t think this is progress”

    ….was in response to Serenus and Brane theory models.

    I would think that the brane models would set up new mathematical structures for consideration? If such cyclical natures was to assume an idea about the existance of this universe, then fundamental positions had to be assumed as well? In regards, to building the mathe structures that you want to deal with?

    You then assume, that if it has always existed that the ability to formulate such structures would be relevant to the mathe you want to use?

    You would have to forgive my ignorance on such technical matters, that I wonder if I should be warying or not, by speculatives opinions coming forth from all areas?:)

    Just pretend I am the public, and remember what you are saying.

    Already one clarification on the subject of this post, and a reference now to quantum gravity. I think as time goes on, the distilliation of what you want to say, should be mathematically voiced!

    This would stand in support of what all of you demand. A position from which you speak in regards to the math you use and speak about the abstract world you deal in.

    I would like to see how this world is represented by and what you people speak of, can be married to the real world we live in:)I characterize my self as plato and am well aware of my illusions which I can create and models I can play with.:)

    I took a fundamental position of the post presented on crackpotism, and ciphered the demands placed, and was going to deal with the issues of the standard model and how these materialize, but as one realizes, many here who want to hold to a set way of speaking are all over the map.:)

    Unbeknownst to you Peter you selected one of three roads to quantum gravity by Roger Penrose?:)

    So indeed it can be quite fun to live by the rules that people would like to institute, but do not live by, and maybe then characterize it, as a freeflowing quorum of ideas?:) Non! Qui!:)

  46. Doug says:

    I’ve mentioned before that Hawking characterizes the standard model as “ugly and ad hoc,” and if it were not for the fact that he sits in Newton’s chair, and enjoys enormous prestige in the world of theoretical physics, he would certainly be labeled as a “crackpot.” Peter’s use of the standard model as the criteria for filtering out the serious investigator from the crackpot in the particle physics field is the natural reaction of those whose career and skills are centered on it. The derisive nature of the term is a measure of disdain for distractions, especially annoying, repetitious, and incoherent ones.

    However, it’s all too easy to yield to the temptation to use the label as a defense against any dissent, regardless of the merits of the case of the dissenter, which then tends to convert one’s position to dogma, which, ironically, is a characteristic of “crackpotism.” However, once the inevitable flood of anomalies begins to mount against existing theory, no one engaged in “normal” science, can realistically evaluate all the inventive theories that pop up in response. So, the division into camps of innovative “liberals” vs. dogmatic “conservatives” is inevitable, and the use of the excusionary term “crackpot” is just the “defender of the faith” using the natural advantage of his position on the high ground.

    Obviously, then, this constant struggle, especially in these days of electronically enhanced communications, has nothing to do with science. If those in either camp have something useful in the way of new insight or problem-solving approaches, they should take their ideas to those who are anxious to entertain them: students and experimenters. The students are anxious because the defenders of multiple points of view helps them to learn, and the experimenters are anxious because they have problems to solve.

    The established community of theorists, on the other hand, are the last whom the innovators ought to seek to convince because they have no reason to be receptive to innovation that threatens their domains, and clearly every reason not to be. So, if you have a theory that suggests an experiment that Adam Reiss can reasonably use to test the nature of dark energy, by all means write to him. Indeed, he has publically invited all that might have an idea for an experiment. But don’t send your idea to Sean Carroll because he is not going to be receptive, even though he too publically acknowledged that “we need all the help we can get,” (see the Science Friday archives).

    “All the help we can get,” in addressing the problem of dark energy, is to be understood in terms of the standard model of particle physics and the consensus model of cosmology. To suggest to Sean that the 4D “fabric” of space-time is not real, or to Peter that the quantum field fluctuations don’t exist, that they are, in reality, merely ad-hoc expedients employed to solve the problems of earlier generations, is going to inevitably get you labeled a crackpot. No matter how convinced you are of the merits of your innovation, and no matter how strongly they insist that they would entertain logically derived and “observationally supported” arguments, if only they existed, the truth is that they will not! (see Ivor Catt’s experience for a good example in a less complex field.)

    It’s not a question of bad guys vs good guys, or smart guys vs dumb guys, or the foolish vs the wise, as much as the adherents to the different camps would like to believe that is in order to boost their egos as innovators or as defenders of the truth. Nope, it’s just a matter of social economics, the only science that might benefit from the study of the phenomenon.

  47. Wow! Amazing how can such simple a post generate so much noisy! (Sorry Peter, i donīt mean to diminish you, your post, your thoughts, etc… itīs just that i donīt remember seeing this kind of “heat” around here for quite some time now… >8-)

    Also, thereīs so much stuff here to talk about that i could probably go on and on for quite some time… but, if you guys excuse me, itīs still New Yearīs day (here where i am) and i donīt want to miss my familyīs cookout! >;-)

    To begin with, let me say something which is a lot more pragmatic but, to my understanding, seem to reasonate with the “overall feeling” buried in some of the comments here: “This beautiful idea of freedom and democracy of ideas and thoughts only works on very restricted geographical regions of this planet of ours!” And, if any of you need an example of this, get a plane to anywhere below the equator; iīm sure itīll be an enlightening experience. (An old joke comes to mind: “Democracy is when i say and you do; Dictatorship is when you say and i do.” >;-)

    As for Penroseīs comments on the precision of GR, thereīs a very nice paper on the arXivs, which also happens to be on The Living Reviews of Relativity, that should help to clarify this issue: .

    The new term added to my lexico: “psychoceramics”! Outstanding! >:-)

    As for the more serious matter, one thing that is key to all of this meta-discussion but was introduced late into it, is FASHION. Or, as Peter put it, “orthodoxy”. I agree wholeheartedly with the idea behind this comment by Peter: “Fashion cannot, and shoud not, lead anything, let alone science!” Unfortunately, because we all happen to be human beings, thereīs always a “personal” touch on everything we do. From Newton vs Leibnitz to Clifford vs Boltzmann, science (as any other human endeavor) has been filled with “ego fights”. As is usual with most animals, this can easily be translated into “mine is bigger than yours”. Even a man like Newton could profit from some (not to say īlotsī) ideas from other folks, like Leibnitz for instance. Ditto for Boltzmann.

    But, as we move higher in the “food chain of thought/academia”, it becomes increasingly more difficult for us to learn from other people, to take responsibilitie for our mistakes… it becomes harder for us to keep our cool, to be humble.

    [Un]Fortunately, or not, (for me, personally) i have participated and been involved in several discussions of the sthereotype “Strings vs Rest of the World”. I have heard quite a few people that i respect say quite a lot of things that are just [mathematically/physically] wrong: I know it, they know it. However, no one does anything to change the pattern… (Iīm sure that both Freud and Yung would have a LOT to say about patterns and their repetitions. >;-)

    Thereīs a LOT of stuff to be done in physics, in math, in chemistry, in biology, in computer science, etc, etc, etc… in science in general! Using fashion to limit the highway of ideas is simply unfair.

    Nowadays, in our posy-industrial society, called “Informatin Society” (not the band: ! >;-), our media/press plays a very crucial role. So, when one of us, physicists and/or mathematician, goes “out there” and writes a book selling an idea… Do you see my point, or should i spell it out?!

    Good ideas do not need advertising…

    As for Mathematica, the software, PLEASE: “Do NOT feel overwhelmed by it; it is quite crappy!” Do you want to talk about symbolic math…?! Try going back a bit in time and searching for “algebar” (or one of its GPLed versions). Maybe even “derive”! Those were very good indeed; they cared about the algorithms behind them. Mathematica chokes (or gives you the WRONG answer) even on quite simple problems… and this happens basically because they “cranking software” was really crappy! The one thing that it can really do well is plotting and PS graphs! Did you know, or did you ever wondered, why was Mathematica completely rewritten in this past couple of versions?!!!

    This is just the begining, the tip of the iceberg… On top of this, the argument that someone smart enough to “create” Mathematica (BTW, Wolfram did not do that alone; there was a huge crew behind him) can be smart enough in some other area; this is called “argument of authority” and, as the name suggests, has very little reasoning behind it. If you really want to argue pro/con Wolfram, i suggest you ready some of his work, maybe from the 80s.

    As for me, i do think that he is a quite smart person, i also think that his cellular automata are good for quite a number of things. What i donīt like is the fact that, after you read his bible-book, you have a sense that everything in the Universe has been understood BUT you have no evidence for it. ;-)

  48. Quantoken says:

    Steve Wolfram’s ideas are interesting but I do not know enough of it to make judgements. But a guy who created Mathematica shurely could not possibly be a complete idiot and there may be some thing in his “new science”.

    What do you think of Seth Lloyd’s “computational universe”, Peter:
    http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/lloyd2/lloyd2_index.html

  49. Peter says:

    Hi Robert,

    Glad to hear that was a joke, I was worried about you for a minute there.

    Actually Wolfram is a perfect example of my particle theory crackpotism criterion. From what I remember his chapter on particle theory pretty much completely ignores the standard model, while claiming that properties of particles can be understood using his ideas about cellular automata (and providing no evidence of this). This is crackpotism in a pretty unadulterated form.

  50. Quantoken says:

    Peter said:

    “I should clarify something. My remarks about identifying crackpotism were specifically restricted to the subject of particle physics, where a huge amount of experimental data and a very successful theory exist. Other subjects, e.g. quantum gravity, are a whole different story, and I didn’t intend to say anything about the much more difficult question of how to identify crackpotism in that area.”

    I do not think you can clearly separate particle physics from other areas of fundamental physics theory research. They are interweaved so tightly nowadays, especially in the view that a theory that unified GR and QM will necessarily deal with both the microscopic particle world and the macroscopic cosmological world.

    Roger Penrose has his own share of crackpotism. One of his claim that impressed me very much is that he claimed often that GR has been verified to be correct up to 12 decimal places. One would thought that means to find any discrepancy between the GR and the nature one has to look beyond the 13th decimal place after the decimal point. What he actually meant is in the binary pulsar observation data by Taylor, who got a Nobel Prize for it, has to be accurate up to 12 decimal places to show any GR effect at all. If the accuracy of the observational data is less than 12 decimal places, then the GR effect portion would be too weak to be seen and be buried in statistical noise.

    So the 12 decimal places claim actually put the Taylor data into credibility question. The raw data of individual pulsar pulse period is in no way accurate at all: they vary by as much as a few percentage. Only though statistical average of bizillions of data can you achieve better accuracy. The question to ask is did Taylor’s statistical model really provide that 12 digits accuracy through statistical average?

    Back in the 70′s there wasn’t even a 32 bits computer CPUs yet, so the computers can’t even represent a number up to 12 decimal places. I checked the Fortran computer code of the original software Taylor used, there wasn’t even any data types of double precision floating points defined in Fortran language at that time. Even on a 32 bits PC today, double precision floats, which takes 64 bits, gives you just 19 decimal places accuracy.

    That puts Penrose in the rank of Sr. Eddington, who claimed his observational data from 1919 solar eclipse, obtained using a portable 4 inch telescope he brought to South America, confirmed the GR prediction of 0.75″ star light bending near the Sun’s surface. In reality, neither the optical resolution of his 4 inch telescopy, or the exposure film, or the disturbance of atmosphere “seeing”, would have allowed any credible measurement of that tiny bending.

    When looking at experimental data, you have got to take a grain of salt. There are too much of an urge to bend the data to fit what one believes in, for various none-scientific reasons. And too little effort spent on verifying the credibility of experimental data. The “12 decimal places” of the Penrose kind is a good example.

    Quantoken