On the decay of high-level physics into crackpotism
My initial dream was to become
particle physicist. But it finally looks like a bad idea; better may be
to avoid theoretical physics altogether. Here is why.
Here are thoughts I first wrote by email in
French, under the title "Bad weather for physics"...
I explore the web, various blog articles of physicists of various sides, at war
with each other... the supporters of string theory on one side, the opponents
on the other. It seems that the golden age of the success of research
in theoretical physics is behind us.
Someone had warned me not to embark into the ship of theoretical physics
research when I was in ENS Ulm. After all what I continue to observe,
I still think he was right.
It seems that in recent times the main means of giving a public impression
of having important things to say about advanced research in theoretical physics are:
denouncing Smolin as playing the double game above, whose author
(Sabine Hossenfelder) had been awarded the 1st prize in the 2014 FQXI
essay contest (while Smolin proudly won the 2015 one) .
- Hiding one's own weaknesses (to remain stalled in a field such as superstrings
where almost anything serious has been said and there is no way to advance,
or to develop other ideas with comparable weaknesses without admitting it,
or plainly tell nonsensical bullshit)
- Criticizing the weaknesses of others. There can be much to say, it's easy ...
Lee Smolin may have been a good physicist at one time. Blog posts
from Baez about him seem to respect him. But that is old, and it is on
other subjects than those for which I see him behave in clearly
non-scientific ways (and I guess many other physicists would also
reject him as non-scientific by looking at him on these topics, not
those which interested Baez).
The idea of a decay on the way, of someone who was a good physicist
at one time may seem unbelievable, yet such a scenario is explicitly
evoked by P. Woit about someone else : Expanding
"In recent years though, some theorists who definitely understand and
have made contributions to modern physics have started promoting
research which looks depressingly like the typical sad examples of
“unconventional physics”. Many of the products of the ongoing
multiverse mania fit into this category. Lubos is getting quite
worried to see that a very talented and well-known leader of the
string theory community, Erik Verlinde, seems to be engaging in this
sort of research, and getting positive attention for it. Within a
month of its appearance, Verlinde’s “Entropic Force” paper has already
generated a dozen or so preprints from other physicists on the same
topic. It could easily end up being the most influential (in the sense
of heavily referenced) paper of 2010. Seeing this coming from a string
theorist he admires is worrying Lubos and his correspondents."
" I don’t understand why a smart, capable scientist is putting out
this sort of paper, just as I don’t understand why a lot of other
smart, capable people pursue multiverse pseudo-science."
Comment by "Bee" = Sabine Hossenfelder :
"What I find disturbing is how quickly people are jumping on the
topic. I mean, look at this, it’s a matter of weeks! The thing goes
through the blogs, is in New Scientist, and so on, and so on. I mean,
really, what’s this?"
"Its not just formal theory that is having quality control problems. A
large portion of the phenomenology community spends it’s time
shamelessly chasing the statistically insignificant experimental
anomaly du jour. Some phenomenologists I know have privately indicated
disgust at the situation. I’m not sure exactly how Lee Smolin can be
blamed for this, but there must be a way, because he is the devil. But
citations for crappy papers are better than no citations for crappy
papers not written, so it will continue to get worse before it gets
Lubos is himself a strange dude, far worse than me to "insult" people
with whom he disagrees, and not always wisely.
Wars: Woit and Smolin vs Motl
"— I believe [Lubos Molt] does physics a disservice by
ranting and spewing bile on research programs outside his own field.
Lubos himself was a good physicist in some respects, and degenerated
in other respects, particularly his support for the Bogdanov brothers by
his book marked by the open secret that it was actually co-authored by
the Bogdanov themselves, which completely discredits him. But even
if there is some junk in his articles, there is some good too. Up to everyone
to sort it out. In particular, he does not like Woit, of whom I have now
a good opinion based on his article I read in the FQXI essay contest,
which I ranked among the best, contrary to that of Smolin.
— However much vitriol he expresses them with, his opinions represent
virtually to the letter the mainstream view, and this is really all
that should matter"
And just as I agreed with Lubos in his defense of Platonism in mathematics
against Rovelli's article (and I think many mathematicians would agree), he
seems to have some relevant remarks in his criticisms of Smolin:
The page quoted by Woit : Aspects
of expanding crackpottery in physics
kills all Lorentz-violating theories
Lee Smolin is an immoral double-faced fraudster and liar
There is also quite an amount of crackpotism in the web site by Samy Maroun, sponsor of the center
for quantum physics where some physics celebrities are working : Penrose, Smolin, Rovelli...
In a report by R.C. Henry,
"physics Nobelist Steven Weinberg revealed in a Physical Review Letter, on 30 January 1989,
his fundamental lack of understanding of the use of Hilbert space in Quantum Mechanics —
as was pointed out to all the world (in PRL exactly one year later, 28 January 1990) by his colleague
— just down the hall from him — Joseph Polchinski"
Penrose is a famous case of a once good
physicist turned crackpot. Rovelli, other great figure of Loop Quantum Gravity with
Smolin, and who co-authored
a crackpot article with Samy Maroun, also practices crackpotism
in philosophical aspects of mathematics. His "challenge" is something I precisely work
to answer by my site, as I work to focus on the most important concepts at the foundation
of maths and show their elegance (natural simplicity and at the same time, generality). But
I guess he won't be interested to know my answer; he only cared to proudly share one-way
his ignorance about the possible answers to his challenge.
Other link : Physics
Crackpots: "physics conferences, seminars and symposiums tend to attract a small, but
quite visible contingent of physics crackpots"
""It is a huge mistake to theorize before one has data. Inevitably, one begins to
twist facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts." Sherlock Holmes.
to which someone replied with the link to the article in Nature: Scientific
method: Defend the integrity of physics. My reply:
Many "scientists" had forgotten this basic objective scientific principle: People promoting String
Theory as a "scientific" theory, or people talking about Multiverses, or other talking about post-empirical Science, etc."
Philosophers of science are the main ones guilty of theorizing in the absence of data.
Not even that the data would not exist, as it does, but that they are too lazy to inform themselves about it.
In particular I once attended a philosophy seminar about the theoretical possibilities of
determinism or indeterminism, and the whole discourse was based on some a priori range
of possible universes, or possible universal laws, but never raising the question whether
the actually known laws of physics (namely quantum physics) fit in this range (of course,
philosophers not being physicists, it is not their job to learn what the laws of physics look like).
Similarly, philosophers teach about the "causal closure of physics"
regardless that quantum mechanics tells the exact opposite, they put forward the argument for it by the "conservation
of energy" referring for this to an article that reports how the conservation of energy precisely
does NOT imply this, and keep endlessly speculating about the existence of models of consistent
mathematical theories ignoring that this existence is already ensured by the Completeness
theorem. Now how can you blame physicists for theorizing in the absence of new data beyond
what is already explained by current physics ? We do give them fortunes for the LHC to run after
the only hypothetical chance to provide new data with that money, and the only thing sure is that
it has no chance to give any benefit to the world except for the curiosity of the very few physicists
who can understand such high-level physics. Now if that is not enough data for doing more theory
then what do you want the existing population of theoretical physicists paid by public funds to work
on, or do you think they should be fired or forcefully re-oriented to other fields of research, then
which ones and how ?
Another article by Sabine
earlier in that Facebook group)
"Why the foundations of physics have not progressed for 40 years.
Physicists face stagnation if they continue to treat the philosophy of science as a joke."
Physicists face stagnation just because they already succeeded to discover
essentially everything worth knowing and that could be discovered in their field. Philosophers
trying to promote their stuff to physicists in such ways are like a child who always lived on the
beach trying to threaten by phone a mountain climber who already climbed since long and now
lives on the top of Mount Everest, that he will stagnate not succeeding to climb higher if... now
you can already see below that article some other people's replies pointing out the vacuity of
her argument. Now my view here would be rather : since we already exhausted most possibilities
of usefulness of research in fundamental physics, shouldn't we stop fancying about it all and
re-orient our best minds to different and more useful fields of research for mankind ? like, when
the Titanic is about to sink, is there really nothing better to do on it than keep trying to play the
best music there ? that is the real philosophical question I see worth asking. As of course for
example (contrary to a few people's ridiculous dreams), no more discoveries in fundamental
physics will help us finding better energy sources to save the planet...
Now those who did not notice that she is just a fool instead of a genuine thinker, can see
Related pages: Introduction (Leaving academic
"research" behind - From physics to mathematical logic) - irrationality and pseudo-science
- FQXI - Nottale - Smolin - materialism - Crazy
censorship in Physicsforums - quantum idealism and science
Table of contents : Foundations