I suppose I’m posting too much about this, but the ongoing fight over nothing between prominent physicists and philosophers strikes me as perhaps marking some kind of end-point in the multiverse-mania-driven decline of part of theoretical physics from a difficult, serious subject to a trivial and kind of ludicrous undertaking. How can you get any sillier than arguing over nothing? Will this be the end of it, or is there somewhere lower to go that I can’t yet imagine? There’s also a Three Stooges sort of entertainment value to following this fighting. It’s kind of like a segment of Dumb (a multiverse explains everything!) vs. Dumber (bringing religion into it, “pale, small, silly, nerdy”).
If you haven’t been following the story so far, to start see links here, here, and here. Lots of gems there, one I just noticed is the moderated discussion at the Templeton-funded “Philosophy of Cosmology” blog, where the proprietor writes that:
Krauss is a crybaby.
and then goes on to complain that Krauss hasn’t taken him up on his request that he explain himself at the Templeton blog.
In this morning’s developments, we have prominent skeptic Michael Shermer, in Much Ado About Nothing, making the case that the Multiverse finishes off that “God” business, using “multiverse hypotheses predicted from mathematics and physics”. His authority here is the Hawking/Mlodinow popular book, but he’s also convinced that WMAP and LIGO are somehow going to provide evidence for multiverses, something that even the most far-out theorists in this field aren’t claiming. In addition:
Maybe gravity is such a relatively weak force (compared with electromagnetism and the nuclear forces) because some of it “leaks” out to other universes.
Nobody seems to have told Shermer that this is not an idea taken seriously by a significant number of theorists, or that LHC data has shot down the hopes of the one or two such theorists.
Also this morning, with The Consolation of Philosophy, Krauss tries to extract himself from the trouble he got himself into with philosophers with his recent comments about them and their profession. He sticks to his criticism that it’s physicists who have interesting things to say about fundamental issues of physics, not philosophers, but admits that at least they’re not as bad as theologians:
To be fair, I regret sometimes lumping all philosophers in with theologians because theology, aside from those parts that involve true historical or linguistic scholarship, is not [a] credible field of modern scholarship.
Will now go get some popcorn to await further episodes of this comedy…
Update: Two more links. Sean Carroll has a long posting about this, with bottom line that he thinks Krauss is right, but shouldn’t have said mean things about philosophers. David Albert responds to being called “moronic” by accusing Krauss (whose name he has trouble spelling) of being incompetent:
…the business of pontificating about why there is something rather than nothing without bothering to get crucial pieces of the physics right, or to think about them carefully, or to present them honestly, strikes me as something of a scandal.
Update: Brian Leiter, at the well-known philosophy blog Leiter Reports, joins the fight, of course on the philosopher’s side. In response to the Krauss attack on philosophers in general, he has this to say about physicists:
Of course, it was not always so with physicists, but the current generation (at least those who try to speak to the broader public) does seem remarkably inept in logical and rational thought, and unembarrassed to display that to the world. Which raises the question: why? My best guess is that the culture so celebrates physics, that physicists have come to believe the “PR” about them.
Update: The fist-fight between Krauss and the philosophers continues in various venues. Surprisingly, today Leiter’s blog has a philosopher (Justin Fisher) throwing punches on Krauss’s side:
…Albert is clearly just being snide for the sake of being snide.
So Albert published a review that was needlessly uncharitable and snide, berating a good work in popularizing science for not solving philosophical puzzles that it openly acknowledges it doesn’t solve. Albert was a jerk and then (as we all know) Krauss was a jerk back. It’s all very entertaining drama. But why have you picked sides?
My own view is that Albert’s review was an embarrassment to our profession, and a setback for all philosophers of science who want our work to be taken seriously by scientists. When a prominent philosopher publishes a careless snide review like this – and in the NYT, no less! – it should be no surprise that many scientists react as Krauss did, by suspecting that philosophers generally behave as Albert did in this review: shedding much noise and little light. And, you’re not helping when you, as a prominent philosophical opinion-shaper, uncritically take Albert’s side. So I urge you to consider at least staking a more moderate stance, if not actively admonishing Albert for publishing a pointlessly snide review that reflected poorly on all of us.