Short Items

A few short items:

  • My graduate school roommate Nathan Myhrvold has a new book coming out this month, a five-volume series about the science of bread, based on several years of research into the subject at his laboratory near Seattle. Robert Crease has gone out to visit, and gives a wonderful detailed report on The physics of bread in this month’s Physics World.
  • An article at FQXI on multiverse research they are funding seemed to finally give me an understanding of what this is all about:

    These are the two conceptually hardest questions in cosmology, according to Raphael Bousso, a theoretical physicist at the University of California, Berkeley. They go to the core of what it means to exist as a human being making sense of the universe we find ourselves in. And, he adds, unfortunately, there is very little physical knowledge to go on when it comes to working out the answer.

    Undaunted by the lack of tools to help them, theatrical physicists Eugene Lim of King’s College London, UK, and Richard Easther of the University of Auckland, New Zealand, are…

    This all of a sudden made things clear: what is going on is “theatrical physics”, not “theoretical physics”. Going on like this about the multiverse is performance art.

    Unfortunately I just noticed that this page has been edited (new version here), removing the enlightening characterization of what this is about.

  • I’m glad to see that Natalie Wolchover has just won an AIP award for her writing about physics, in particular for a piece on how physicists are dealing with the “nightmare scenario”. While she’s perhaps the best professional journalist writing about these topics, for coverage of this from a professional physicist, the best you can find is Sabine Hossenfelder’s blogging at Backreaction. I’m pleased to hear that the two of them will be appearing at an event here next month in NYC, talking about Making Sense of Mind-Blowing Physics at NYU on Nov. 16.

Update: Sabine Hossenfelder has a book coming out next year, which should be fascinating (although I suspect I’ll have something to disagree with…).

Gian Francesco Giudice has a long essay about the status of particle physics, post-negative LHC results. For better and worse, I think it captures well the view of many mainstream theorists.

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8 Responses to Short Items

  1. Matty says:

    I totally agree with you regarding the “theatrics” of that FQXI piece on the multiverse.

    One of the reasons I dislike the inflationary multiverse paradigm is because it just seems like an excuse for failure, as you have noted before – to drag philosophical speculation, however empirically based and explanatory or elegant in nature it might be (and I recognize that the multiverse might not even be elegant or explanatory!), into scientific discussion. It amounts to this sort of reasoning imho,

    “Oh well, our ability to test high energy physics is approaching its limits: we can’t seem to calculate the observed value of the cosmological constant and supersymmetry may not be found at the LHC to explain the mass of the Higgs, so yeah – the multiverse must have did it! And even if we can’t actually test it because of the particle horizon etc. that’s no big deal, we should just accept it as the explanation anyway because it accounts for the data and seems to be the only game in town”.

    Umm. Is that how scientific inquiry really worked in the past? From the Aristotelian notion of unmoved movers, the Geocentric model of the universe to Fred Hoyle’s Steady State theory, science has ultimately lived or died in terms of testable predictions. Each of these models was ultimately falsified by tested theories (i.e. the discovery of inertia/momentum, heliocentrism, the cosmic microwave background validating the Big Bang).

    Now we appear to be left with “there is very little physical knowledge to go on when it comes to working out the answer” so BINGO, must be multiverse.

  2. Peter Woit says:

    Unfortunately I don’t think the explanation for the sad story of the multiverse is that physicists have been inspired to become performance artists. Whatever the true reason is, it’s a much more depressing situation…

  3. Matty says:

    It was an amusing Freudian slip though! But yes, the reality does appear to be more depressing……

  4. Natalie Wolchover says:

    Thank you, Peter, much appreciated! See you at the NYU event, perhaps.

  5. neil says:

    Also, there is an interesting article in SciAm by Guy Wilkinson on beauty experiments at LHC and elsewhere.

  6. Pingback: The multiverse as post-modern "performance art" | Uncommon Descent

  7. Robinson says:

    Giudice’s paper was a pleasure to read. Thanks for that.

  8. Jacob Pearce says:

    Hi Peter,
    I enjoyed the ‘theatrical physics’ comment re the multiverse.
    I’ve got an article in MIT’s Perspectives on Science journal entitled:
    “Why These Laws?”—Multiverse Discourse as a Scene of Response.
    It’s open access. Think you and your readers might find it of interest.

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