John Horgan at Scientific American today has an interview with Martin Rees in which Rees says:
It’s presumptuous (as some people like Woit and Smolin have done) to deride the way some manifestly brilliant people choose to dedicate their scientific lives.
I generally try and be careful to criticize not people, but the arguments they are making. Rees and others (including a Cambridge University Press referee for Not Even Wrong, who basically thought I had good points, but was presumptuous to be making them) often seem offended that I or Lee Smolin are challenging arguments from those smarter than ourselves. It’s true that there is a problem with this: bad arguments of the kind I’m criticizing should be challenged by the leading figures in the field, not by me. In particular, many particle theorists smarter and more distinguished than myself are well aware of the problem of multiverse mania, but doing nothing about it, as it destroys the credibility of their field. Among the few personal criticisms of some leading theorists that I have is that they’re not doing the job they’re paid for here, and I’m not happy wasting my time trying to (presumptuously) do it for them.
On the presumptuous behavior front, here’s some more of it:
- Rees’s arguments are the usual multiverse propaganda, including the usual red-herring argument defending the multiverse as science:
It’s sometimes claimed that domains that are in principle unobservable aren’t part of science. But not even the most conservative astronomer would take this line. We’re in an accelerating universe where distant galaxies will disappear over a horizon, and their far future would never be in principle observable. So it’s natural to suppose that there are galaxies that are already beyond the horizon and so forever unobservable. If you’re in the middle of the ocean, you’d be surprised if its boundary lay just beyond your horizon. Likewise, astronomers are confident that the volume of space-time within range of our telescopes — what astronomers have traditionally called ‘the universe’ – is only a tiny fraction of the aftermath of our big bang. We’d expect far more galaxies located unobservably beyond the horizon.
As usual, Rees gives no evidence for his claim that those skeptical that the multiverse is science are just ignoramuses who don’t understand the notion of indirect evidence for a scientific theory.
- Among the more presumptuous things I’ve done, there’s last week’s talk.
- I recently noticed here the analysis that:
I “predict” that if by about 2020 the LHC or cosmology do not show any concrete evidence of supersymmetry or superstrings, physicists will attack string theory the way the Huns attacked Rome. Like the Huns, Lee Smolin, Peter Woit, and Roger Penrose have already started encircling string theory, abiding their time, and waiting for the strike. They seem to have read The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire carefully.
I’ve never read Gibbon. If one accepts the analogy though, I think it’s conventional wisdom that the String Wars were back in 2006, we didn’t wait for 2020. All the evidence I’ve seen recently is that most string theorists have now given up on the idea that evidence for supersymmetry or string theory will appear at the LHC. Those attempting to defend Rome now are trying to backpedal on their claims from a decade ago. They now argue that finding nothing at the LHC isn’t surprising and doesn’t matter, but this rear-guard action likely will not be effective.
- More evidence that hopes for LHC-scale SUSY are now pretty much dead can be found by looking at the slides from the recent Aachen workshop on Naturalness, Hierarchy and Fine-Tuning. The debate among theorists has now moved on to trying to figure out what conclusion to draw from the failure of widely-promoted claims about “fine-tuning”. One motivation for such claims was that in string theory-based models the CC and Higgs potential are supposedly calculable, with expected results from dimensional analysis that are exponentially large (Planck scale) compared to observations. On this front, an obvious conclusion to draw is just that these models (which are complicated and predict nothing else anyway) are wrong.
- I suppose it really is presumptuous to make a snarky comment about a talk by someone clearly more hard-working and smarter than I am. In any case, I just noticed that slides for Nima Arkani-Hamed’s talk Three Cheers for Shut Up and Calculate! are now available here. I had written about this here without knowing what the talk had been about, based on the historical origin of the “Shut Up and Calculate!” slogan (and thus assuming the measurement problem would be a main topic). From the slides, Arkani-Hamed’s talk wasn’t at all about the measurement problem, but largely about quantum gravity, with many slides of speculative claims about new emergent versions of space-time and quantum mechanics (backed by one slide about calculating amplitudes as volumes). I’m quite sympathetic to what he has to say about the importance of prioritizing well-defined calculations over meaningless verbiage, but it seemed to me that in this talk he wasn’t really taking his own advice. I can’t help wondering who it is that Arkani-Hamed thinks should “Shut up” about vague ideas about quantum gravity and stick to well-defined calculations.
Update: For more presumption, see the latest at Backreaction.
Update: Lee Smolin has been edited out of the list of the presumptuous in the Rees interview, but I’m rather proud to be presumptuous, so I’m still there, and a link has been added to this blog posting.