Conferences Not To Go To

This week in Santa Fe there’s the International Conference on Science and Consciousness, where Michio Kaku will be giving a keynote address. He’ll explain how “Many physicists today believe in the multiverse, i.e. Genesis is constantly taking place in a timeless ocean of Nirvana, creating Big Bangs even as you read this sentence” and will tell about experiments to confirm the multiverse theory. He’s also running a workshop at the conference on “Visualizing Higher Dimensions” in which you can learn about how to capture different planes of existence (connected by wormholes) in simple pictures. His fellow speakers include Gary Schwartz, Ph.D. who will explain how new experiments involving deceased parapsychologists and Princess Diana provide evidence for life after death, Steven Greer, M.D. who “has taken teams around the world to make contact with Extraterrestrial Lifeforms”, and a host of others. Kaku is also interviewed in this week’s New Scientist, where he explains that the Standard Model is “supremely ugly” and string theory is “gorgeous”.

This fall the Metanexus Institute, which is somehow part of the Templeton Foundation will be organizing a symposium honoring Charles Townes called Amazing Light: Visions for Discovery at which the Templeton Foundation will be announcing a “multi-million dollar, multi-year effort to catalyze research and dialogue at the boundaries of physics and cosmology” called Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology. Not clear exactly what this will be funding, but if you check the Templeton website you’ll find that “we do not support what might be called standard or mainstream science research”, so at least it won’t be any of that. In case you’re having trouble keeping them straight, this is real, this is a joke.

If you’re wondering how Templeton has convinced 18 Nobel Prize winners to attend, Sean Carroll has a very interesting posting explaining how he decided to pass up the \$8000 + expenses he could have made by speaking at this conference. Also if you’re wondering why Templeton gave Townes a \$1.4 million prize this year, you can read his remarks upon accepting it, where he explains that “Increasingly, science is showing how special our universe and we are, which has raised questions about whether it was indeed planned or influenced.”

In other news, Susskind seems to have ruined his chances at the \$1.4 million today. In his talk at Brown, according to Daniel Doro Ferrante he “repudiated any connections with Intelligent Design”.

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59 Responses to Conferences Not To Go To

  1. Peter Woit says:

    Well, at least in this posting I’m not hurling epithets, making any ad hominem attacks, or using the words “crazy” or “bullshit”. All I did was accurately quote Kaku’s own words and link to information about the conference he is speaking at. If you drew the conclusion that the conference was devoted to crazy bullshit, I’m not going to argue with you.

    You’re right, this stuff does push buttons with me. I care very deeply about this subject and have been working in it for 25 years. I know exactly where these ideas came from and why they’re getting so much attention, and I’m not happy with it. Kaku and others are devoting their lives to trashing something very important to me. They’ve gone a long way towards turning the field of particle theory from a serious and important science into a depressing pseudo-science, and in recent years this has gone from bad to worse. If you don’t like this point of view and think Kaku’s behavior is fine and I shouldn’t be even implicitly criticizing it, you’re really not going to enjoy this weblog.

  2. Todd Sieling says:

    I’m not a proponent nor an opponent of M-theory, Kaku etc., but I’m wondering why there is such a tendency to hurl epithets and ad hominems just because you disagree with someone. This stuff is obviously pushing some buttons with you, but is it so off the chart that it reduces you to labels like ‘crazy’ and ‘bullshit’ rather than triggering your curiousity about why ideas you hate are getting so much attention? I’m sure the latter would produce a much more interesting discussion than what I’m reading here.

  3. Tom Weidig says:



    I have been reading your blog for a while, and finally I think I have something to say! My background is PhD theoretical particle physics, but I now work in finance.

    Over the last two year, I have been looking at consciousness. I read some books and attending the Consciousness 2004 conference in Tucson last year.

    Here are my impressions.

    1. Consciousness is a very intriguing subject, and certainly a conceptual minefield for the weaker minds.

    2. It should not be dismissed as irrelevant or unscientific. After 2 years, I still dont know what I should think of “consciousness”. By consciousness, I mean “first person experience”, not just “awareness”. You sit at your computer, and ask yourself “Am I conscious now? What do I perceive”. Can you build a computer that will ever have this experience? If not, what is special about conscioussness? If yes, explain me how the brain manages to create this experience, the unity of ourselves. Is it really just a big illusion?

    3. Consciousness is really part of the neuroscience agenda. In the last decade due to new brain imaging technology, scientist can now look into the brain. And it is very fascinating. How can the brain work? How does it generate first person experiences?

    4. Ultimately, it has to have an impact on physics/science itself, because effectively a bunch of neurons consisting of atoms study the universe and create theories (like standard model or string theory). The we-physicists you-nature separation is an extremly well working approximation, but does not really exist.

    5. It is very unclear whether QM has any impact on the functioning of the brain, let alone is responsible for consciouness. But it is valid to ask whether there are QM effects in the brain. For example, the proteion folding can only be described QMically. but is it important?

    6. The field of consciousness attracts a mix of people: serious scientists, “ufologists”, and scientists “who have gone overboard”. The last two give the field a bad name, as serious scientists themselves commit a logical fallacy by dismissing the whole field based on the theories propagated by a few people from the last two categories. The conference I went to was really strange. On the one hand you had very clever people from neuroscience, and on the other hand I had to listen to people telling me that Einstein was wrong and it’s all a conspiracy.

    7. A comment on Kaku and Penrose/Hameroff. I think Kaku is just doing PR for himself. I have read his quantum field theory book, a bit sloppy, and noticed that he semi-copied several parts from other books, like Rajaraman’s book on solitons. He is a 20/80 person. Only do 80% of the quality but in only 20% of the time. I dont know what to think of Penrose, as he has such a high reputation. But I have met Hameroff, and the guy speaks of QM and the brain and a final theory. And he doesnt really understand QM at all.

    Anyone seriously interested in the study of consciousness should read “CONSCIOUSNESS: An introduction”. A textbook by Susan Blackmore. Very well written and very scientific, too. If you think I am wrong, then at least have a look at amazon.


  4. Chris Oakley says:

    Nec spec nec metu,

    I do not agree. Scientific materialism is good. Mystical bullshit is bad.

    Let me take a concrete example.

    Your e-mail address would suggest that you are Tibetan. This is relevant because I spent most of yesterday trying to figure out the Tibetan calendar. It seems that the days are based on 12 degree segments of the lunar month and begin on the new moon, like the Hindu tithis, but despite searching the only book in English on the subject and Googling furiously, no-one seems to want to tell me (a) the criterion for matching lunar days to solar days and (b) the rule for inserting leap months. In the case of (a) somebody somewhere says that the lunar station has to occur between 5 AM on the solar day and the same time the following day, but he did not say which time zone is used, if any, and in the case of (b) the zodiac sign at the new moon determines the name of the lunar month, but it is not clear whether the tropical zodiac is used, like the Chinese or the sidereal one like the Hindus.

    It would seem therefore that instead of one being in a situation where anyone with the ability to calculate or reference lunar/solar tables being able in principle to work out the calendar, as happens in the rest of the world, you have to rely on the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute, or whoever, to generate the dates for the calendar. Why is this good?

  5. D R Lunsford says:

    In the linked interview, Kaku proves that he is crazy (probably from spending too much staring out the window at Manhattan traffic..) He makes the fantastic statement that the Schroedinger equation “looks horrible” because it is not relativistically invariant! No one who understands a fig about the development of science and the theory of differential equations could make such a statement.

    The problem these loons have is with their aesthetic judgment, mistaking their own screwy ideas of “beauty” for truth. Instead of staring out the window, Kaku should amble down to MOMA, or take a course in pottery. (What he says about music in the interview is also ridiculous. The implicit self-comparison with Beethvoen and Mozart made me cringe.)


  6. D R Lunsford says:

    I’m seriously considering throwing out my Kaku book. I saw a show last night on Discovery concerning Einstein (horrible) and as usual, the omnipresent Kaku was there spouting nonsense about both the man and the subject. He’s become a sort of Carl Sagan-san for physics. (I think Kaku is a clone. I swear he was also playing left field for the Mariners.)

    The fact is that there is a rough consensus emerging among those engaged in research about how the future will evolve. Because the laws behind the quantum theory, computers, and molecular biology are now well established, it is possible for scientists to generally predict the paths of scientific progress in the future. This is the central reason why the predictions made here, I feel, are more accurate than those of the past.

    What is emerging is the following.

    The Three Pillars of Science

    Matter. Life. The Mind. [what horseshit]

    These three elements form the pillars of modern science. Historians will most likely record that the crowning achievement of twentieth-century science was unraveling the basic components underlying these three pillars, culminating in the splitting of the nucleus of the atom, the decoding of the nucleus of the cell, and the development of the electronic computer. With our basic understanding of matter and life largely complete, we are witnessing the close of one of the great chapters in the history of science. (This does not mean that all the laws of these three pillars are completely known, only the most fundamental. For example, although the laws of electronic computers are well known, only some of the basic laws of artificial intelligence and the brain are known.)

    This to me is filled not only with mysticism, but also a sickly egoism and pessimism. I could not make such statements with a straight face. Has the large influx of Easterners into hard science since the war also brought along the underlying mysticism, even fatalism?


  7. Nec spe nec metu says:

    There is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy.

    “Official” science shows its arrogance when it either dismisses or “suddenly discovers” that which has been known to many throughout history. “Many dimensions” is old news to the vast majority of the world’s cultures and philosophies. The kind of scientific materialism that your attitude represents is just a blip in the history of human (and non-human) consciousness. Fortunately, you and those who think like you will also enjoy your multi-dimensionality when you overcome your fear and grow up a little.

    It is not felicitous for those who have not made a mark at all to snipe at the brave explorations of greater minds who do not shrink from possibilities that may require major paradigm shifts.

    The greater minds are too busy exploring to gossip, the lesser minds are too busy gossiping to explore.

  8. Anonymous says:

    You ruined it Peter.

    Lenny had it all planned out. He was gonna pocket the 1.4 mil, and then publicly repudiate ID as soon as the check cleared. Your little April Fool’s hoax forced his hand early.

  9. To my opinion one should not lump together the desperate state of M-theory and the fact that leading physicists are finally beginning to realize that physics must sooner or later become also a theory of consciousness.

    Personally I have spent 10 years working with quantum consciousness theory and the purely physical insights gained in this manner have been decisive for the mathematical formulation of quantum TGD proper. This vision about consciousness based on general principles of physics leaves only one conclusion: the standard view about consciousness as epiphenomenon fully deserves the attribute not-even-wrong. What else it could be when even the word “consiousness” has been and still steems to be a taboo for most physicists?

    I have done this as unemployed and have not received a single coin of any kind of research money. Therefore I do like the light-hearted labelling of individuals who see farther than average colleagues as some kind of businessmen cheating money from religious organizations.

    To avoid misunderstandings, I still emphasize that the open minded attempt to understand consciousness and intentionality using physics is something totally different from the desperate attempts to save M-theory by using anthropic principles. The recent miserable situation in M-theory is a logical consequence of the reductionistic and materialistic world view taken to its Planck length extreme, and the only way out is to jump out of the system and widen the scope of physics itself. My personal dream is to see the day when brightest theoretical physicists fully devote themselves to the problem of consciousness.

    Matti Pitkanen

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