Philosophy of Science on Bloggingheads.tv

Today’s Bloggingheads.tv diavlog features Sean Carroll and philosopher of science David Albert, discussing a variety of issues. Albert tells about his unfortunate experience with the What the Bleep? film, a good example of why it’s not always a good idea to get involved with people doing a supposedly science-related media project. He also discusses the hostility towards study of the quantum measurement problem from within the physics community over the years, a situation that has changed recently. The two also had a long discussion concerning Carroll’s claims about the arrow of time, about some of which Albert seemed to be rather skeptical.

The discussion of criticisms of string theory were on the whole ill-informed, misleading, and devoted to ferocious attacks on straw men. For some reason, only John Horgan was mentioned, with the existence of trained theoretical physicist critics and two recent books on the topic completely ignored. Albert insisted repeatedly on the idea that Horgan and other critics were not acknowledging the “spectacular predictive success” of string theory. He was referring to claims that string theory “predicts gravity”, since it contains a massless spin-two particle (ignoring the fact that it is in the wrong dimension; to quote Lisa Randall “string theory predicts gravity: 10d gravity”). Later on Carroll did explain the problem with this, that string theory seems to allow an infinite variety of ground states with different physics, many of which don’t have 4d gravity. Carroll told about having asked various string theorists if they could imagine any kind of experimental result at any energy that would be incompatible with string theory, and getting the answer “No” from at least some of them. This seemed to rather shock Albert.

There was no real discussion of the multiverse, a topic where philosophers of science might be able to perform a public service by taking a serious look at what physicists are up to and analyzing what they learn. Carroll launched the standard attack on string theory critics as having a “sophomore-level” understanding of the philosophy of science, unaware that there is anything to the problem of what is science and what isn’t other than Popper’s falsifiability criterion. He also claimed that string theory critics have created a “20 year statute of limitations” criterion, that theoretical work must lead to a falsifiable prediction within 20 years or cease to be science, chuckling with Albert about how ignorant people must be who think such a thing. This kind of willful misrepresentation of the views of people you disagree with seems to me to be less than honest. From what I remember of Lee Smolin’s book, there’s a long section about his engagement with the philosophy of science, and his sympathies are not with Popper, but with Feyerabend’s “anarchistic” views on the subject, which are very different. In my book there’s an entire chapter devoted to explaining what is wrong with just invoking falsifiability. I assume Carroll has read at least one of the two books, so it’s unclear why he thinks it’s acceptable to go on like this. He does make one more accurate accusation, that critics of the multiverse are stuck in an out-dated 1960s particle physics paradigm of what it means to test a theory. I suppose this is true enough. Not the first time I’ve been accused of being stuck in the 60s, which, if one has to be stuck somewhere, doesn’t seem like that bad a choice…

Update: Evolving Thoughts has a link to The Ideas of Quine on Youtube, an interview of the philosopher Willard Van Ormond Quine by Brian Magee. The relation of physics and philosophy was one of Quine’s main concerns, and one of the main topics of the interview. I suppose that to the extent my own philosophical views could be characterized by picking one philosopher I find most sympathetic, Quine would be a good choice. Perhaps he’s responsible for my “sophomore-level” philosophy of science, since I took a course from him as a sophomore.

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30 Responses to Philosophy of Science on Bloggingheads.tv

  1. Bee says:

    Indeed what I don’t get is that people don’t want to understand it’s not a do-or-don’t question, but one of balance. Except for the occasional misinformed commenter in the blogosphere I haven’t encountered any serious scientists who thinks one should drop string theory, and I too am all for live and let live. The question instead is whether the amount of people working on a research program and the resources invested are appropriate to the promises it holds. This, (as I have said repeatedly, but just to make sure) is not a question constrained to the case of string theory but of a much larger interest: are resources, human and financial, optimally distributed in the academic system? The answer is no, and it seems to me the problem is precisely that today it is not the case that ‘anything goes’. Instead, we have a very strong influence on the allegedly ‘free’ marketplace of ideas that goes back to social phenomena as well as business tactics that are not appropriate to scientific research. (See also my post on The Marketplace of Ideas).

    Btw, Peter, did you see this paper?

    http://arxiv.org/abs/0806.1431

  2. Peter Woit says:

    Bee,

    I agree, the crucial question is that of evaluating whether and how the string theory research program is making progress, an evaluation that should then carry implications for how it is pursued. The problem is not that string theory unification makes no predictions, it’s that no progress has been made over the last 24 years towards predictions, actually quite the opposite.

    I took a quick look at the paper you mentioned. It seems to make the claim that the low energy modes of a superstring will not look like Dirac particles satisfying the Dirac equation, but instead like Klein-Gordon particles. I don’t understand the author’s argument for this, I do understand the conventional argument for why you get the Dirac equation (Ramond’s work on the superstring uses a Dirac operator on loop space, Fourier modes satisfy a Dirac equation).

  3. Not a string theorist says:

    Dear Peter,

    I am a mathematician working in areas adjacent to string theory; I know a little but not a lot about the subject, but more importantly for the purposes of this post, I have no strongly formed opinions about the fundamental philosophical issues it raises.

    I think much criticism of your approach is entirely due to a perceived (whether accurate or not) unwillingness to learn about the frontiers of the subject on your part – even the more mathematical aspects of string theory.

    If you limited your criticism to the poor statistical techniques of the multiverse protagonists you wouldn’t really be saying anything outside mainstream string theorist opinion, from what I can gather talking to my stringy colleagues.

    But what seems to rankle is the dismissive tone with which you (do not) properly discuss developments such as the recent Beasley Heckman Vafa paper, together with a lack of technical discussion (200 pages is not really that long if you are prepared to make the effort – an advanced graduate student or postdoc in string theory would expect to read and understand it in a week or so if they wanted to).

    What my colleagues (and to some extent, I) take greatest issue with is not the fact of the criticism but the manner of it. They see you talking about Geometric Langlands with great enthusiasm, but without mention of the underlying string theoretic concepts which underlie the calculations – or the fact that such profound understanding depends on string theory in absolutely crucial ways. They see you limit your criticism to the easy targets of the multiverse and Lubos and hubristic paper titles and anthropic stuff and bad journalism and the one-line pithy quotes from prestigious figures therein, and couching your discussion in matters of philosophy and sociology.

    Whilst these things are incredibly important, and not to be brushed under the carpet, ultimately, the technical stuff is what counts – and one of the reasons why you are not taken particularly seriously as a critic is that you haven’t presented DETAILED criticisms of the latest directions (or even slightly dated directions) in string theory. To illustrate: if you discussed (or even better, found flaws in) Bagger-Lambert theory, or the Sen conjectures, or the ideas of conifold transitions, or dyon partition functions, you would be taken incredibly seriously. But repeating “Sean Carroll is misrepresenting me again” (even if true) will get you little respect.

    Your mathematical posts are always interesting, but in my opinion, such as it is worth, your criticism needs to be elevated if you want it to be taken seriously. And at some point, you need to address the question of how to value the astonishing mathematical consistency of string theory (I seriously doubt you can find many practising mathematicians in whose fields conjectures have been raised who do not believe this).

    (For what it’s worth, my own job does not depend on string theory in any way, but I have had great fun in the past few years proving mathematical conjectures which have partial stringy origins).

    Whilst it is of course your own blog and you can do as you see fit, I agree entirely with a comment by John Baez in that I would love to see more equations here and less vitriol.

  4. onlooker says:

    “how to value the astonishing mathematical consistency of string theory” is a question that answers itself. There is a high value of string theory (and related ideas) for mathematics, to the point that the mathematical aspects and connections of string theory will be pursued whether or not the intended physical applications materialize.

    The question that I think Woit and others are raising is about the discrepancy between string theory’s dominant status as a particle theory research program and it’s not-astonishingly-high contribution to observable physics.

  5. Buffon says:

    Dear “Not a string theorist”,

    You must be new here. All your points are 100% correct and have been explained to Peter a gazillion of times yet he refuses to listen and bring home at least 1% of the arguments made. Hence it’s a total waste of time to argue with him which fact is correctly recognized by the particle physics community i.e. nobody takes him seriously.

    His blog is still amusing for casual reading :)

    Best,
    Buffon

  6. Peter Woit says:

    “Not a String Theorist”

    First of all, please think seriously about whether it’s a good idea to post this sort of comment anonymously. Because of the nature of this controversy within the physics community, physicists sometimes have a legitimate reason to hide their identity when discussing it. There is no such controversy among mathematicians, everyone (including me) agrees that string theory research has led to all sorts of interesting mathematics. I can’t think of any valid reason for you to hide who you are. In addition, it makes it hard to respond intelligently to your criticisms, since all I have to go on about your background is your own admission that you don’t know a lot about this subject.

    Your attack on me completely ignores that this posting and much of my concerns motivating this blog are about physics and have nothing at all to do with mathematics. As a mathematician, there’s no reason you should be concerned about the physics question of evaluating whether string theory, as a physical idea about unification, is a failure or not. My discussion of the Beasley/Heckman/Vafa paper was about this issue, not about the details of their calculations, which quite likely are fine, since these are highly competent people. The issue I was discussing was that of what physical predictions they get out of their model, and I tried to do that carefully.

    As for Bagger-Lambert, the Sen conjectures, conifold transitions, dyon partition functions, I haven’t posted any criticisms of such work, much less detailed criticisms, and don’t intend to, because I’m not critical of such work in any way. I probably think more highly of it than most physicists do. As long as no one is making bogus claims that such ideas solve the problem of making string theory unification predictive and successful, I see nothing to criticize. I’m perfectly happy that some people are working on these topics, they just don’t happen to be close enough to my own research interests for me to try and become expert on them and write about them here.

    Geometric Langlands is a different story, since it is closely related to my own research, which focuses on the relation of representation theory and QFT. Because of this, I’ve spent a lot of time learning about Geometric Langlands, and have enthusiastically in some of my blog postings outlined some of what is going on in the subject, while pointing to some of the excellent expostions of this material from people much more expert than me. Witten, David Ben-Zvi, Ed Frenkel and some others are wonderful expositors, and I’m not going to try to compete with them on this. I’m working on some of my own ideas related to the subject, and am in the middle of writing a paper, which I hope to have completed by the end of the summer. The technical details of what I have to say will be in a paper, perhaps with some blog postings giving some general comments and explanations.

    As for the relation between string theory and Geometric Langlands, I just don’t agree with you that string theory underlies the subject. The relations between Geometric Langlands and physics are almost entirely about QFT, not string theory. This quickly becomes a technical discussion, which isn’t worth entering into unless we can agree on what “string theory” is, in particular what the difference is between a string theory and a 2d conformal quantum field theory.

    Similarly for the “astonishing mathematical consistency of string theory”, to address this, I need to first know precisely what you are talking about. “string theory” is a research program trying to understand a class of physical models, some of which are understood well enough to see that they are likely consistent, but don’t work as unified models.

    I’m trying here to address your criticisms seriously, if you want me to continue to do so, please use your real name. I’ve come to intensely dislike trying to have a serious scientific discussion with people not willing to take responsibility for their arguments.

  7. Peter Woit says:

    “buffon”,

    As to whether no one takes the kinds of arguments I’m making seriously, you might want to consider whether string theorists from UCSB such as yourself posting stupid anonymous comments on blogs encourages your colleagues to take string theory seriously or not. Are you tenured and thus not worried about this? If not, have you noticed that physics departments have stopped hiring string theorists and asked yourself why this might be?

  8. anon. says:

    ‘… [Smolin's] sympathies are not with Popper, but with Feyerabend’s “anarchistic” views on the subject…’

    Popper’s approach that theories must make falsifiable predictions has the problem that it doesn’t include useful ad hoc theories which formulate an equation empirically that summarises existing experiments. If existing experiments already cover the whole range of possibilities, such theories don’t make falsifiable predictions.

    E.g., if the deflection of light by the sun’s gravity (and the many other consequences of general relativity) had been observed prior to November 1915, would general relativity have been dismissed for not making falsifiable predictions?

    If so, the only reason for dismissing general relativity as unscientific would be the historical accident that observations and experiments happened to discover phenomena before Einstein and Hillbert came up with a theory for it. It’s a paradox if historical accidents determine whether a theory is scientific or not scientific.

    So clearly, falsifiability isn’t the key criterion for science.

    Feyerabend’s Against Method takes the pragmatic view that there isn’t a scientific method. Whatever theory turns out to be most useful is the most scientific. Because string theory has in the past been the most useful fundamental physics research in helping theorists to get books to sell and to get research grants, it has been the most practical and therefore the most scientific of the various options. Even while it flounders in the landscape problem, because no better theory evident, so string theory remains the leading contender for a scientific theory of everything. [I am not a string supporter; I'm just explaining why string can't be undone.]

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  10. Arun says:

    Whether you go Popperian or Feyerabendian, in both philosophies, science is seen to be dealing with facts, i.e., statements about how the “real world operates” (or “consequences” as anon. at 5:47 AM put it, as in “and the many other consequences of general relativity”). Falsifiability is simply one prescription of the relation between the facts a theory generates and whether the theory is scientific or not. Even with Feyerabend, even if a new theory need not be compatible with all known facts, or not produce any not-already observed facts, it nevertheless has to produce some statements of fact, some consequences. This is where superstring theory as a theory of particle physics seems to be deficient. What the the consequences of a superstring particle physics theory? It would seem that there are none.

    “Carroll told about having asked various string theorists if they could imagine any kind of experimental result at any energy that would be incompatible with string theory, and getting the answer “No” from at least some of them.”

  11. Garbage says:

    I find the following ad pretty funny:

    “Eat s*it… trillions of flies cannot be wrong”

    It’s a delicate subject. No one is going to deny the influence of string theory, or better said string theorist, in high energy physics.
    String theory provides some sort of *educated EFT guessing*, and promoted the XD revolution, the ADS/CFT correspondence and lots of fun math.
    Given the fact that we’ve been playing this game for the last 20 years, I think finally here it comes the time the bushiting is over. Let’s turn on the machine for physics’s sake! And elect Obama by the way ;)

    Unfortunately, the era of phenomenologists looks quite grim to say the least…

    G

  12. Bee says:

    Anon:

    Popper’s approach that theories must make falsifiable predictions has the problem that it doesn’t include useful ad hoc theories which formulate an equation empirically that summarises existing experiments.

    [...]

    Whatever theory turns out to be most useful is the most scientific. Because string theory has in the past been the most useful fundamental physics research in helping theorists to get books to sell and to get research grants, it has been the most practical and therefore the most scientific of the various options.

    Did it occur to you that the word ‘useful’ has two very different meanings in the context you give? A theory can be ‘useful’ to understand the world we live in. It can also be ‘useful’ to get research grants and to become famous by writing books about it. The problem arises if both versions of usefulness are disconnected from each other.

    Best,

    B.

  13. milkshake says:

    I grew up in the same country as Lubos Motl and I remember being told that a critique was ofcourse needed – but to be taken seriously one should make a constructive criticism, one should work withing the framework of the regime – and while there were some minor difficulties they were to be viewed in the context with the past achievements. We were told that there were also some enemy detractors who were professional failures, bitter men with a clear agenda but no future.

  14. anon. says:

    The marketing usefulness which string theory enjoys as being the leading theory of everything helps to fund the useful ongoing research that seeks to apply the theory to observables. So the two uses you distinguish are interdependent, not disconnected.

  15. Eric says:

    String theory is useful in the sense that it is possible to construct models that agree with the Standard Model, which in addition include gravity. Even if it were not possible at the present time to uniquely predict the values of all the SM parameters, it is still very significant that such a consistent framework exist. Do you know of any other theory which can do the same?

    In any case, all of this talk about being successful at selling books and getting grants is nothing more than petty jealousy. If your research area were as promising then you would have no difficulty doing the same.

  16. Buffon says:

    Peter,

    And if in 5 years the number of string theory hires are even lower will you stop blogging and start doing actual research? The assumption that the lower number of string theory hirings are due to your acitivities is uber hilarious and comments like that are the main reason I like reading your blog :) If you did not assume that then I have no idea what makes you believe anyone takes you seriously.

    Actually, that’s a question on its own: what makes you believe that more than 2 people in the particle physics community take you seriously?

    Paragraph insulting others and characterizing non-string theorists as crackpots deleted

    All the best to everyone, keep up the good work, it’s always fun to let out the steam :)
    Buffon

  17. Peter Woit says:

    “Buffon”,

    You’ve completely misunderstood my point. The fact that US physics departments have pretty much stopped hiring string theorists has little to do with me, and a lot to do with string theorists like you. Many of your non-string theory colleagues do read blogs, and haven’t failed to notice that string theorists feature prominently, often engaging in anonymous insult of anyone who disagrees with them. Would you want someone like that as a colleague? And since the anonymity means you can’t tell who is who, wouldn’t you be tempted to just not hire any string theorist to be safe? It’s not like the field is having great successes these days anyway…

    You’ve now used up your allotment of juvenile anonymous insulting here. Bye.

  18. Buffon says:

    Peter,

    Honest question: have you ever been on a hiring committee in particle physics? If yes, you would know that the selection criteria does not include anything related to blogs and neither do personality issues matter. In other words if someone does good work but at the same time is a real SOB who likes insulting people he/she will be hired no matter what since the requirement is that good work should be done.

    Cheers,
    Buffon (not a string theoriest, by the way)

  19. woit says:

    “Buffon”,

    I’ve been on hiring committees in mathematics, not particle physics. Sure, it’s possible to be an asshole and get hired. All you have to do is be a much better candidate than the non-assholes.

    Who knows who you are, but if you’re really not a string theorist, with friends like you string theory doesn’t need enemies….

  20. Bee says:

    Anon,

    You completely miss my point. What I am saying is that ‘marketing’ and ‘advertising’ shouldn’t influence what scientists consider interesting and work on. But this is, as you say, de facto the case. If you allow that, you allow a kind of ‘usefulness’ to arise that originates in social, political, financial ‘usefulness’ which a priori has nothing to do with the actual ‘usefulness’ for describing nature. You can produce completely empty bubbles of nothing in this way. (Bubbles of nothing is a phenomenon we know pretty well from the stock market, this is not a coincidence.) You say, there is a connection between funding and thus how much effort goes into the field. Right! What I am asking is, how can we expect the funding and the resulting research effort to accurately expect the actual promise of a research field if we distort the judgement deliberately with marketing tactics? Best,

    B.

  21. anon. says:

    ‘I grew up in [Czech Republic when it was a Warsaw Pact satellite of the USSR] and I remember being told that … to be taken seriously one should make a constructive criticism … We were told that there were also some enemy detractors who were professional failures, bitter men with a clear agenda but no future.’ – Milkshake

    That’s not just communist brane-washing! It’s actually an American disease too, for similar reasons (social niceties). See Dale Carnegie’s argument for sycophancy in his bestseller (over 16 million copies sold) How to Win Friends and Influence People:

    ‘Principle 1: Don’t criticise, condemn or complain
    ‘Principle 2: Give honest and sincere appreciation …’

  22. Peter Woit says:

    “Buffon”

    I’ve deleted your latest comment, you seem incapable of writing one that doesn’t trash someone or other. Doing this anonymously is extremely unprofessional and juvenile behavior. If you want to engage in discussion here, act like a grown-up, put your name to your words and take responsibility for them and for your behavior.

  23. Popper’s “falsifiability” is just one leg of “decidability”.

    The pre- and post-Popper criterion of what is or is not science seems to be whether a model might generate ‘predictions’ which would be decidable, WITH SOME CONFIDENCE, by past or future INDEPENDENT empirical observation.

    By this broader and more rational criterion, string theory is still found wanting – as is pure math.

    Hope this helps.

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  25. “If you can’t dazzle them with Brilliance, baffle them with B***SH*T”
    “If you can’t convince them..CONFUSE THEM”

    Marketing & PR (BS’ing to varying degree) is an evolutionary tactic. Insects use camouflage extensively.

    “War is about DECEPTION”
    – Sun Tzu, “Art of War”

    Science is no different from War: it involves competition between groups. Politicians are the best example of “using lies to defend an absurditiy”:

    “Every absurdity has its Champion”

    Lying quotes

    If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it…………..The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.
    — Joseph Goebbels, German Minister of Propaganda, 1933-1945

    “A lie told often enough becomes truth”
    – Vladimir Lenin.

    My view of all the “way out” theories (which have gone beyond any hope of experimental verification) is that they are defended with equally “way out” explanations for predictive power. In engineering, there’s a phrase for hardware hacking: “kludge upon kludge”. I was at SUSY ’06, & somebody walked past me muttering “making stuff up”.

  26. S Halayka says:

    Bee, Peter,

    I mentioned arXiv:0806.1431v2 in another comment thread here, but I’ve been told that it is incorrect.

    http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=684#comment-39048

    http://www.haloscan.com/comments/lumidek/1137486680928497948/

    Just an FYI.

    - Shawn

  27. onlooker says:

    Eric,

    re: string theory providing a “consistent model” of *some* unification, what are you referring to, and what value is it supposed to have? We already know that some logically consistent unification should be possible (since the universe exists and contains both QM and gravity). On the other hand, there is no known consistency in the mathematical sense of a rigorously constructed model of axioms that demonstrates their non-contradiction. We don’t even know what the axioms are, exactly, because string theory is not precisely defined at the moment.

    It’s true that there are a number of nontrivial consistency checks that the string formalism satisfies (or might satisfy once formalized precisely). That suggest a mathematical project of formalizing at least SOME of the expected properties of a string theory as axioms, and giving a “consistent model” of those. But that would be open to the objection that it’s not really the full string theory. It could be that there is a consistent mathematical core (e.g., a topological M-theory) that accounts for all the fragments of string theory currently shown to be consistent, and that things beyond that are wrong and need some further correction to BECOME consistent.

    In short, string theory is at the moment a promising web of (not always precise) calculations still under construction, and it seems premature to talk about its “consistency”. The rules of calculation are progressively specified and re-specified (fixing various problems over time) so that contradictions are eliminated, and we know that two degenerations of the theory are logically consistent (QFT, GR), so why is it a major surprise that the set of rules converges or doesn’t run into fatal problems over time?

  28. Eric says:

    Dear onlooker,
    I am referring to the fact that gravitation and quantum mechanics are unified consistently into the same framework. It is consistent framework because of the absence of anomalies. Thus, it is possible to build specific quantum field theories from string theory, which also include gravity. In fact, it is now believed that gravity and quantum field theories are dual viz Ads/CFT. Now, it may be the case that there is no single unique quantum field theory, at least at the present level of understanding, but at least it is possible with string theory to bring gravity into the story

  29. onlooker says:

    Absence of anomalies doesn’t mean that the theory is consistent, only that one particular type of inconsistency in a particular family of calculations doesn’t show up. This is a “consistency check”, not consistency as such. If the theory itself is ill-defined, i.e., the rules separating valid from invalid computations are not completely specified, then however impressive the anomaly cancellation calculation, it doesn’t rule out that there is an equal and opposite calculation giving a nonzero anomaly.

    Also, is it ruled out that anomalies re-appear nonperturbatively, as an obstruction to writing down a consistent theory (rigorous mathematical model) whose expansion near some point(s) is perturbative string theory?

  30. Rob Heusdens says:

    anon said
    –quote–

    Popper’s approach that theories must make falsifiable predictions has the problem that it doesn’t include useful ad hoc theories which formulate an equation empirically that summarises existing experiments. If existing experiments already cover the whole range of possibilities, such theories don’t make falsifiable predictions.

    E.g., if the deflection of light by the sun’s gravity (and the many other consequences of general relativity) had been observed prior to November 1915, would general relativity have been dismissed for not making falsifiable predictions?

    If so, the only reason for dismissing general relativity as unscientific would be the historical accident that observations and experiments happened to discover phenomena before Einstein and Hillbert came up with a theory for it. It’s a paradox if historical accidents determine whether a theory is scientific or not scientific.

    So clearly, falsifiability isn’t the key criterion for science.

    Feyerabend’s Against Method takes the pragmatic view that there isn’t a scientific method. Whatever theory turns out to be most useful is the most scientific. Because string theory has in the past been the most useful fundamental physics research in helping theorists to get books to sell and to get research grants, it has been the most practical and therefore the most scientific of the various options. Even while it flounders in the landscape problem, because no better theory evident, so string theory remains the leading contender for a scientific theory of everything. [I am not a string supporter; I'm just explaining why string can't be undone.]

    –quote–

    By all means, theories are not to be valued at the basis of how many books it sells, how many blog entries are attributed to it, or other such qualifications, since that has nothing to do with what scientific theories are for, namely: to explain facts about reality in a cohorent and consistent way such that predictions made by the theory can be tested, and using the least assumptions.

    Further, I do very much oppose the idea of a ‘theory of everything’ since any real physical theory can only explain specific facts and only part of reality (and besides, there is already is a trivial ‘theory of everything’ namely the theory that ‘everything is caused by everything’ which is true in the tautological sense, yet does not explain anything in particular, and hence has an information value of exactly zero).

    Perhaps this is just a matter of terminology, and such ‘theories of everything’ (such as string theory) should be better termed ‘frameworks’ or ‘models’, which could be quite usefull to develop specific theories, which are scientific theories in the sense of the definition mentioned above. A tool, framework or model can be very handy, indeed, but does not qualify as such as a theory, unless it makes specific new testable predictions.

    Specific theories should have specific testable predictions.

    The example given about the theory of general relativity is a bit non-sense, since the theory makes many predictions which can be tested, and which makes it possible to distinguish the theory of gravity of Newton with that of General relativity since it leads to different outcomes. There are numerous new predictions that can be made which can test for that.

    Wether a new theory can be said to be a new theory, if it merely explains facts already covered in existing theories in a new framework (and supposedly more generic way) is a bit of an acedemic question, but one should expect that such a new theory covers some new ground, and on that is able to make new predictions that could be tested, which the theories it mererely replaces, could not.

    Rearranging or reformulating a theory without increasing the level of understanding, or making any new predictions, would not qualify as a new theory in my opinion. Rearranging the seats of an old car, does not qualify the car as “new” either. Which does not contest that such could be usefull in some cases.