This Week’s Hype

One possible reaction to the phenomenon of hype in fundamental physics is to not worry much, figuring that it should be a self-limiting process. While there’s a huge appetite in the media and elsewhere for the “exciting new idea”, overhyped “new” ideas sooner or later should pass into the category of no longer “new”, and less capable of producing “excitement”. The problem is that this doesn’t seem to be happening: favored physics hype keeps getting promoted as “new” and “exciting”, no matter how old it is.

In the case of multiverse hype, Andrei Linde was promoting the idea 34 years ago, back in 1982. That hasn’t stopped many people from heavily promoting it as “new” for quite a few years now. Taking this to a new level, a talk by Martin Rees this past week at the Hay Festival advertised the multiverse as not just exciting, but so new as to be one of the main developments in physics of the past year:

The astronomer will share his excitement about recent cosmic ideas and discoveries. Since last festival there have been new searches for life (even intelligent life) in space. One of Einstein’s greatest predictions has been confirmed with the detection of gravitational waves from colliding back holes. Images of Pluto have surprised us, and astronomers have discovered thousands of planets orbiting other stars, some resembling Earth. And there is speculation that physical reality encompasses more than the aftermath of our big bang: we may inhabit a multiverse.

Lord Rees explains in more detail in the Telegraph how exciting this is. It seems that he has been excited about this for more than a quarter century, with a book on the subject back in 1989. Since at least 2003 and a Templeton-funded Stanford conference on the multiverse, he has been publicly expressing willingness to bet his dog’s life on the existence of the multiverse, and he repeats that in the Telegraph article (should someone contact the RSPCA?). Luckily for the Rees family pets, there’s no way to ever resolve this issue, so the last couple generations have survived, and so will further ones.

Update: Also this past week, in the category of hype that will never die, Scientific American has Gravitational Waves Could Finally Help Us Prove String Theory. This particular hype campaign goes back at least a dozen years. See here for a 2004 blog post about a UCSB press release featuring claims that LIGO might produce evidence for string theory in 2005 or 2006.

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9 Responses to This Week’s Hype

  1. Peter Woit says:

    physicsphile,

    I think it was Weinberg who came up with that, here
    https://arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/0511037
    I never knew what to make of that, not knowing how Weinberg felt about either dogs or Andrei Linde…

  2. Neil says:

    Gravitational waves, Pluto pics, and exo-planets. Ergo, the multiverse?

  3. Nick M. says:

    How strange! It would appear that some physicists like wagering on a class of “Not Even Wrong” ideas, producing what can only be described as “Not Even A Gamble”. 😉

  4. Krzysztof says:

    The Big Bang term, coined by Hoyle, was used to ridicule Lemaître’s idea.

    It seems that the most illustrious British astronomers keep a habit of ridiculing themselves.

  5. John says:

    Will anyone take this bet? Give me \$100 now and when the multiverse is proved I will pay you \$1 million.

  6. Scott Church says:

    One small problem John… You may encounter some resistance regarding what constitutes “proof.” Next thing you know you’ll find yourself in a math “beauty” pageant, and if book deals and grants are involved Miss Multiverse’s lawyers might be pretty damn good. 😉

  7. Justin says:

    On a related but more positive note, I think your readers will enjoy the latest at Backreaction. http://backreaction.blogspot.com/2016/06/dear-dr-b-why-not-string-theory.html

  8. Harrison says:

    Justin, thanks for pointing out that write-up, and site for that matter. Some great stuff.

  9. Pingback: Why the multiverse can’t just die of an overdose of hype | Uncommon Descent

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