I got a PhD in theoretical particle physics in 1995. My thesis was about the supersymmetric flavor problem, where we tried to infer information about physics we couldn't measure based on the naturalness criteria she criticizes. My thoughts on pursing this: well, I left physics. I thought it was too hard to make any progress. I went into software. I don't have any regrets.
I shouldn't admit this but I occasionaly daydream in a Walter Mitty sort of way about doing great things. I have had a few physics ideas related to things like quantum gravity that I think about occasionally. Just a few months ago I was daydreaming about me pursuing one of these back in graduate school and it being very successfull. I intertrupted my daydream with a thought, "I'm glad that didn't happen. Then I might have stayed in Physics."
So that is my answer to the question about investing my own time in searching for new physics. None the less, I wouldn't say people are crazy because they think there is some value to pursuing physics as is currently being done.
I was on my way starting masters on Mathematics when I discovered I would be a father, I had to find and start a career so that I could make ends meet.
From my perspective I am glad that happened, I was excessively ambitious, comparing myself with the great ones in the field, measured my self-worth on regard of my ability to solve problems.
Having to swallow my pride, learn to talk with other people as equals so that I could provide for my family made me a better person. I am not sure I would have done this breakthrough isolated on my intellectual bubble, not even talking about the difficulties of engaging with egos at the academia.
Sometimes I miss the excitement of learning something really difficult or solving some problem from a new perspective, but I am glad I am mentally healthier. I am not saying that it's not possible to be healthy and pursue a high level on Mathematics or other intellectually challenging field, but that can enable bad patterns for some people.
I have definitely seen that in other people when I was doing my physics undergrad. And to some extent, I probably experienced that myself.
I was on the road to starting a Cosmology PhD with incredibly high aspirations but my (then) girlfriend gave me an ultimatum: physics or me. To be fair, she was the primary bread winner and a graduate lifestyle would have been an even greater strain on the relationship. So, I opted for the latter and went into software. Also, like you, I have no regrets.
I still miss physics incredibly and, you’re right, there is something exceedingly sexy about solving those (including mathematics here) sorta problems. I sort of see it as a way to reach across generations and walk the same paths as the giants have. Anyway, I do find a great amount of joy in software problems, but nothing beats that first love.
This is something that I have observed in the sciences: a pernicious, unquestioned, and false great man theory of how science progresses (I wrote about it a little more here: http://madhadron.com/into_the_sciences-sample.html).
So since the early seventies there was an interplay between discovery machines, accelerators that prioritize high energy over high precision, and precision experiments. In practice these are proton accelerators, which accelerate to very high energies since protons are heavy, but have the downside that protons are itself very complicated objects, and electron accelerators, that have the opposite trade off, electrons are light and therefore lower energy but are very simple and analyzing the results is therefore very easy.
The way the interplay worked is, that the precision experiments would constrain the parameter space for the next generation of discovery machines, and then the discovery machines would give the next generation of precision experiments a target.
This is to a large extend just research by timetable, and funding agencies love it. Physicists can write a proposal including a list of expected discoveries and funding agencies can then just check that list quarterly.
This paradigm will most likely come to an end after the next accelerator. The next accelerator will be a Higgs factory to measure with very high precision the properties of the Higgs boson.
Now theory did progress a lot in the last four decades, but it closely mirrored this path of experiments and therefore did work within a quite well defined paradigm. That is what she means with "no progress," there was a lot of progress, new calculation techniques, new techniques for model building, the entire effective field theory ideas and so on, but that is all in service of a narrowly defined paradigm.
So it is probably a good idea to start looking for more risky research, because we a pretty sure the boring predictable stuff is coming to an end, but I think that the characterization of "no progress" is a quite unfair characterization of a very fruitful endeavor.
At this point physics seems to be in the business of adding epicycles to a model that does some very good modelling, in an epicyclic way, but cannot possibly be complete as a paradigm.
OP's point is that new paradigms are desperately needed, and it's looking unlikely that we'll get them by building a $20bn thing that bangs the same old rocks together a bit harder.
It doesn't help that people who are smart enough to make a difference don't stay in physics long enough to do what they could do. There's more money and less pressure elsewhere.
Collectively, this is not a good situation to be in. Nothing has more potential to change the future than new physics, and CERN-style HEP seems much less likely to get to Quantum Gravity than a new academic and financial paradigm in fundamental research.
Think about it: Finding confirmation for the Higgs Boson required building a particle accelerator of 27 kilometers. For the larger part of humanities existence it was probably unthinkable to design such an experiment.
What if the next level of yet unknown physics requires building a machine that's as large as the equator? Or larger than anything that can be built on earth?
Similarly, the math required to put calculus on a decent theoretical foundation was unknown until more than a century after Newton's time.
Other areas of science... how do humans think? Can we cure pain without killing people?
Physics experienced an incredible series of lucky breaks over the past few centuries, but each breakthrough doesn't come with a schedule for when the next one will arrive, and we never know when the next one will be a real stumper. We don't know if it will take a month, a year, or a century.
This is highly doubtful.
The moment you have "something <mumble> is a wave" you immediately perform an interference experiment.
The photoelectric effect demands a particle interpretation.
The combination of the two in a double slit experiment is almost immediate and obvious.
We went from Millikan in 1913 determining the charge on an electron to DeBroglie hypothesizing electrons also having wave/particle duality in 1924 to the Davisson-Germer experiment in 1927. That's really fast given the technology of the day.
I've been having a field day learning about pilot wave theory and recent (this century) research that helps empirically visualize it. David Bohm had quite the mind.
Not completely. Some of the issue is actually the technology available at the time.
Einstein (who propounded a fields explanation for things) vs Bohr is the great debate and Bohr won.
The problem, at the time, is that Einstein's formulations predicted certain things. For example, if Einstein's fields formulation is correct, you don't have electron levels that decay. And that's clearly incorrect.
It turns out that the better and better you isolate an atom, the longer and longer it takes for its electrons to return to ground state.
So, Einstein was correct, but it's only been in the very recent decades that we can create isolated, single quantum state systems which we can probe.
Physics is often constrained by the technology of the time. How long did it take until Einstein's predictions were finally tested and confirmed?
Look at how much engineering it has taken to bring the Kibble balance up to enough accuracy to become the new kilogram standard.
Then we need to fund that engineering.
That's part of the argument. Will a bigger collider really be the best use of funds?
Pouring enormous sums at, for example, the solid-state physics of superconductors and figuring out how to make an actual room temperature superconductor could advance many things simultaneously. (For example: room temp superconductors probably enable fusion at reasonable scales--and fusion at decent sizes gates most megascale engineering projects. Another example: quantum computers have several open questions about them that may mean that they never achieve generality--we should probably probe that intensely).
Nobody is saying to never build another collider. But the real question is "Do we have a good reason to build another collider right now? Or should we shunt that money elsewhere in physics?"
$20B is nothing compared to the world's GDP. If there aren't more compelling research projects of similar magnitude in fundamental physics, then we should build it. Of course, I'm not qualified to make that judgment, but I think we have good reason to trust that smart and reputable people are working hard to make the right call.
We should always be investing a proportion of our accumulated wealth and resources into exploring the unknown and making scientific discovery.
Nobody is arguing against spending (lots of) money for scientific experiments. The problems that arise are qualitative rather than quantitive. As the original post outlines, there are many experimental domains one could allocate that money towards. One of the issues is that of cutting your losses. When does one accept that enough is enough and starts doing something else? Smart and reputable people are not infallible or less prone to making terrible (self-centered, ego-driven, profit-seeking) decisions.
One of the points that the original post is making is that high energy physics is dominated by these kinds of people. Predictions repeatedly invalidated yet still clinging to the same ideas. That is starting to look more like a religion or mania than science.
As a couple of examples of this consider the fact that a geocentric universe means the planets that orbit us must travel in these really peculiar swirly type patterns. This happens nowhere else in nature and doesn't really make any physical sense, but when you assume a model of a geocentric universe it's not really a problem - you can just massage it into the model. Another example of a very bizarre oddity that would be seen nowhere else was in things like Mercury suddenly having to stop and start going backwards in its orbit. Again this is not seen anywhere else and doesn't really make much of any physical sense, but if we take a model as reality - then sure, you can massage it into it. Why not?
These lead to the real problem. Model based science is a really bad idea, because it's really hard to falsify models. In the case of the geocentric universe it ultimately required being able to see the starts 'through the eyes of god'. A good deal of physics today is built around models. And as these models have absorbed more and more 'oddities' they've started to be seen not as models but as simple reality whose proof is but a mere formality. And as is the case with the geocentric universe, you reach some point at which time further discoveries start to seem ever more elusive. Imagine trying to research orbital mechanics when you start with the assumption that planets travel in 'swirlies' and some can even stop and go backwards!
As this articles mentions, modern physics adopted some very substantial changes to the model of universal thinking in the 70s. And those adoptions have now, though unproven, become defacto 'reality.' Yet since then, there's been nothing. And maybe one of the worst problems with models is that they can be completely wrong but you give you valid answers. For instance you could (and can) determine the orbital periods and locations of planets using the geocentric model. And that was done for more than 1500 years! It was incredibly complex, but it was possible. That, in turn, could then be used as 'proof' of the model's correctness, when in reality it was anything but.
I was just thinking about how Schroedinger 'worked up' his famed equation. A physics historian told me (not in these words) that he didn't actually 'derive it' but sort of ... 'arrived at' it.
The WP bio says that in his fourth paper on the subject (which first involves time), he greatly simplified the -equation- by introducing complex numbers ... and then:
"something magical happened, and all of wave mechanics was at his feet.... Schrödinger was not entirely comfortable with the implications of quantum theory. He wrote about the probability interpretation of quantum mechanics, saying: 'I don't like it, and I'm sorry I ever had anything to do with it.'"
Introducing complex numbers -made the equation more beautiful-. The equation e^(i*pi) = i^2 is amazing, but may also suggest that we're not looking at the math's basement level.
It's been suggested that all of the pyramids' stones couldn't have been cut with two-foot-long copper saws. It may be that the 'beauty' people are seeking is limited by their tools, as much as their imaginations.
Pyramid stones are made of concrete and cast in place. It's very primitive technology, which is known for few thousand years.
The pair believe that the concrete method was used only for the stones on the higher levels of the Pyramids. There are some 2.5 million stone blocks on the Cheops Pyramid. The 10-tonne granite blocks at their heart were also natural, they say. The professors agree with the “Davidovits theory” that soft limestone was quarried on the damp south side of the Giza Plateau. This was then dissolved in large, Nile-fed pools until it became a watery slurry.
Lime from fireplace ash and salt were mixed in with it. The water evaporated, leaving a moist, clay-like mixture. This wet “concrete” would have been carried to the site and packed into wooden moulds where it would set hard in a few days. Mr Davidovits and his team at the Geopolymer Institute at Saint-Quentin tested the method recently, producing a large block of concrete limestone in ten days.
I saw picture of cement klin (oven?, non-native speaker) in Peru, built more than thousand years ago, which looks _exactly_ like freshly build cement klin near to my home (Rivne, Ukraine), but labeled as "an ancient temple, filled with dirt".
: Lea's Chemistry of Cement and Concrete
The same is true today. Except we know our theories are incomplete and in many cases we know under precisely which conditions it's incomplete. We simply can't access those energy levels to reach the next step yet. We also know constraints on what can be possible while keeping most of what we think is true, we lack the ability to go further than that however.
So we are waiting for the technological breakthroughs to prove or disprove our many candidate theories. It's like Kepler waiting for Tyco's telescope data. We can't rule things out without stronger accelerators or radical ideas that are actually testable.
The trick was understanding that circles+epicycles around earth are in fact equivalent earth and everything else rotating around some other point. Which is a relatively easy insight with analytical geometry, but is hard to see without it, and people noticed it only after they had more detailed data, and had to describe epicycles for ellipses instead of simple circles.
So if this teaches us something, it is that most likely we already have all the data that we need, we just need to look at it differently. But to look at things differently we need more math, and more experiments.
It is very similar to the formulation of classical mechanics in terms of least action principle. Both formulations make the same predictions, but least action principle leads to a simpler formulation of quantum mechanics: Feynman's path integrals.
It's also really questionable if another game could make logical sense. Kant's stuff on speculative reason comes to mind.
If you can create a model of physics that makes predictions matching what we've already verified, and it is simpler than the Standard Model, then I'll bet there's a Nobel in it for you.
Well, one thought is that we already have access to much higher energies - via cosmic radiation.
Of course, a lot about that radiation is uncontrolled, which makes things difficult...
There's much to be done with lower energy experiments, including understanding the weak nuclear force and possibly LENR.
From the NASA archives:
"Low Energy Nuclear Reactions is a source of thermal energy. It is an immature technology that requires further research to determine the best propulsion system integration on a vehicle platform. LENR has the highest specific energy of the alternative energy sources mentioned at about 51,000,000 Wh/kg.3
This is a conservative estimate from the recent LENR reactor test that was conducted in March 2013."
And yes, by scientific standards 20-30B EUR over ~25 years is a large sum, even though 1B/year is about the current CERN budget, about 1/5 of the current ESA budget, 1/20 of NASA budget, and 1/500 of the US military budget, etc -- so not that outrageous by other standards.
And yes again, there are multiple cheaper experiments with a more certain outcome. For example the Japanese Hyper-Kamiokande neutrino detector will provide enough data to solve neutrino mass hierarchy problem at the cost of ~2B EUR; or the space-based LIGO successor, LISA, which will improve over LIGO's ability to detect gravity waves by half of a dozen orders of magnitude for about 1B EUR or so.
And yet, those experiments can not bring more understanding into the "fundamental" physics -- i.e. to find a breach in the Standard Model. Only two kinds of experiments can:
1) cheap detectors constructed to test special classes of SM extensions (e.g. detectors like ALPS, which consist of a laser pointing at a wall to search for e.g. axions) -- if by some luck the particular extension turns out to be true;
2) a collider with higher energies like FCC, CLIC or ILC.
Now, there's no shortage of the cheap experiments, but up till now they've only excluded certain classes of "beyond standard model" theories, while confirming the SM even more. We'll probably continue building these in the forseeable future, but overall it doesn't seem likely that we'll find anything here.
So if you want any progress in the "fundamental" physics -- there doesn't seem to be a way without a bigger collider to show deviation from the SM. Without such an experiment, all people are left with is speculation, and that is how you get the string theories, supersymmetries, and the dreaded "naturalness" criteria, which the author of the article dislikes so much.
But before we had better reasons to want to build larger colliders: to observe more of the SM particle zoo. Utimately it was to observe the Higss boson. If the SM has run out of predictions we can only test with bigger colliders, and the only reason left to build bigger colliers is to test SM more finely, or to hope for a break in the SM, well, these reasons aren't quite as compelling. I think this is TFA's author's argument, and I don't think it's wrong.
We might still decide to build a bigger collider, but we should admit that the arguments for it are not that compelling.
On the other side how the hell can she justify her salary and grants to taxpayers? Why isn't she doing some biology or something? It's all so incoherent.
I used to read her when she was less crazy. But I really can't stand her anymore ... it's just too much.
It's all very strange. Two of the most popular and active bloggers in HEP are totally crazy and politically extreme (although in opposite extremes). Blogging seems to be an unhealthy activity for physicists.
Says who? This isn't a debate and you're not the debate moderator.
For my money, interesting things about the author are absolutely on topic. They help us put what we're reading in context.
And opinions are okay here too.
It's not as though the author's biases or background are completely irrelevant; but discussing them is unhelpful without additional clarifications on the mistakes, ignorances, or dishonesties alleged.
Imagine a different context: maybe I have a strong opinion as a lay citizen on campaign finance issues. It's all well and good for someone to enter saying "I'm a political operative/lobbyist/etc, and you don't know what you're talking about"; but it's a zero-information statement until they describe what they know that I don't (which would be just as helpful and pertinent if I had turned out to be an expert anyway).
I don't think it's a zero-information statement at all. If S. Weinberg tells me that my physical arguments are wrong but he doesn't have the time to say how/why, then it's certainly a non-zero information statement and I'll scrutinize my line of thoughts thoroughly after that. Dismissing this as a zero information statement would be pretentious from my part. The same goes for you against the expert in political finances.
It seems that there's an underlying assumption in your argument that we're all equal and equally capable of having opinions on anything unless someone comes to us, and spends time thoroughly showing us why we are wrong. Or that we are all correct until proven wrong. This is problematic because 1/ we're not all equal, and acknowledging that we dont know everything is important, 2/ it's unlikely that there's always an expert around willing to spend time educating us everytime we feel the need of commenting on things we dont know, and 3/ we may not comprehend why we are wrong by lack of proper education.
You don't have to be mean when you have a real point to make. In fact, you don't want to. If you have something real to say, being mean just gets in the way.
It's a public discussion of an important matter, and these tend to go best when people present arguments based on their positions. When someone like you fails to do this, then I tend to assume that it is because they lack such.
edit: here is a link from below that is an example of such an argument: https://slate.com/technology/2019/01/large-hadron-collider-f...
The second commenter follows a similar logic. He doesn't seem to engage the point that we don't expect the discovery of something new, he seems to suggest that scientists should build bigger accelerators simply because we can.
But he must know that this is not how science works. Chemists don't just simply perform all imaginable chemical reactions just to completely map the space of chemistry. We allocate scarce resources like time and money to experiments that, according to our best models, may yield promising results. We have ideas for experiments like this in physics, they just happen to not involve a larger accelerator. Scientists are not blind cartographers.
There is no way of predicting which line of work is likely to yield new physics as you suggest there is.
This kind of observation is valuable, I think, even if it's only statistically true. Certain disciplines encourage practitioners to work within conventions and with capabilities that closely match the activity of blogging (or being on Twitter). For other disciplines, tweeting/blogging is very far from the core competencies, so practitioners who do pursue it are more likely to be outliers.
The other, not-so-neutral aspect of this is the narcissism problem. People who do a lot of personal PR are more likely to be narcissists—and this is a more negative indication in disciplines where self-promotion is an anomaly.
In the far more conservative physics community, there are (essentially) only two ways of communicating that are acceptable: writing academic papers, or delivering academic talks. Online presence is seen with suspicion.
I am not sure if this is a good or a bad thing.
>People who do a lot of personal PR are more likely to be narcissists—and this is a more negative indication in disciplines where self-promotion is an anomaly.
Could you give some specific examples of each, name some names?
Then there's this:
> Finding out that there are no particles where we had hoped tells us about the distance between human imagination and the real world.
Which is Not Even Wrong. It sounds like it was generated by a Markov bot trained on quotes from Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Really, there was a golden age of particle physics when it was easier to theorize and find things. Maybe the allocation of money should be different, but that has more to do with politics and how governments make funding decisions. How do they view the benefits of what we learn building an LHC, collecting, and analyzing the data? You can argue about whether those benefits matter to physics... but Tim Berners-Lee had to work somewhere.
May I ask who the other crazy person is?
Also, not making progress for 40 years is not really long, we just tend to view everything relative to our own lifespan and we were also pretty spoiled with the marvelous discoveries we made in the last 100 years, but it’s entirely possible that we have now worked out all the “easy” stuff and that making further progress will take 1000s of years (though I think that’s unlikely).
Isn't that a little cyclical? Why should we do "high energy physics" as opposed to just physics? Aren't there other ways to come at fundamental particles than smashing things together and seeing what happens?
>Also, not making progress for 40 years is not really long
Compared to the previous 100 years rate of progress, which was the baseline, it is huge.
That's kind of cherry-picking, isn't it? 1850-1950 basically rewrote the sum of human knowledge when it comes to physics. That isn't a "baseline", it's a major breakthrough.
And we're at the end of the sigmoid curve of that breakthrough...
And telescopes to study objects like quazars that too are just sitting there demoing high energy physics 24/7.
It was meant to get a follow-up 7x the size in Colorado but it was defunded by NSF as a result of the 2008 crisis.
The exciting prospect of this was that at extremely high energies of cosmic rays (where they get very sparse: 1/km^2/century), these charged particles have a relatively short range (in astronomical terms - they're not from our galaxy; look up the GZK effect). That meant that they wouldn't be deflected by magnetic fields as much and could - thus the intent - be traced back to their sources. The clou: we have no credible theory for any process that would put this much energy into a single particle, so knowing their sources would be a step towards solving a physics mystery.
Source: worked on my PhD there.
LIGO? Gravity waves?
Neutrino detectors made big contributions in thier day.
In the last 2000 years yes. In the last 250 years, no, there was a constant barrage of new insights.
This is what has changed for the last 4 decades.
Which is neither here not there, since we were talking about specific fields such as physics that did have a constant barrage.
Many of the brightest phds in today's society are working on platforms to gather and retain people's attention to get clicks on ads. Maybe this is part of the reason.
Reaching children with education who don't have access to it will bring more of this random forward progress.
Example, I was interested in doing a BSc/B.Eng in software engineering online only (in the UK) and it was silly how difficult it was to find out basic details and pricing.
But then I see games like KSP, which are engaging and interesting enough (downright fun enough) to drive people to learn about orbital mechanics. Not because it was on a test, but because it was a tool that could get them get to Duna. Or Minecraft, which can teach critical path analysis and Boolean logic. There's a lot of potential in games to present you with a goal you want to attain, and allow you to discover the usefulness of any given subject as a tool to achieve that goal.
Instead we get this "gamification" of education, which essentially means using the nastiest tricks of the F2P market to make kids do their homework. Bonus: we can sell you tablets!
Just seems strange that an online degree/masters costs the same as in-person one.
I'd have been quite happy to teach myself the entire syllabus, what I really want is them to certify via the exams that I've learnt the stuff.
Of course if they ever actually do go that route they damage themselves economically.
Universities have had the exclusive market for higher education cornered for what a millennia or so.
- Academia believes they own knowledge, curriculum and delivery, when they are losing relevancy in all 3. They haven't kept up.
- The rate of change in society has surpassed academias ability to keep up. Calculus and traditional topics do not change every 2-3 years, but disruption does.
- The 2000 year old model of lectures and seats in butts is changing with, or without institutions. Recording lectures and surrounding it with questions is the height of what we have, and hasn't changed since the 90's.
- Academics largely are not competent with technology but try to implement it, or oversee it. Academics also don't professionally learn how to teach, unlike teachers. As a result, teachers of k-12 students are more tech literate than their post secondary lifers, and the wave of k-12 students heading towards post secondarys that have a worse digital learning experience than their schools.
- Employers hire competency and not just education alone. Curriculum is outdated often by the time it's released in more and more industries.
- While self directed learning is growing into many professions, instruction needs to evolve. I don't believe instructors can be replaced, but they need new and better digital supports.
- Powerful factions in government find an educated populace threatening, and are taking concrete steps to respond to the threat.
That may be one of the more difficult problems to address, just because it's self-sustaining.
As far as that remains true I see little to no hope for any displacement of "The Academy" from its current position of significance.
Wise institutions are working on this but the average rate at which they react may be a challenge.
That said I'd like to do something academic and I'm getting older and given the ageism in tech a degree/masters might tip the balance.
Mostly though I just like learning and if I'm going to do it anyway I might as well look to see if I can get more than just gratification out of it.
But why exactly should 'high energy physics' be considered more 'foundational' than other domains of physical observation? Particle physics pursues description of effects that can occur at very small sizes - but are there _really_ such tight linkages from the observational domain of particle physics to observable 'larger scale' physics such that one truly deserves to be labeled 'foundational' for the other?
Just to pick a domain out of a hat, when modeling things like electromagnetic potentials in material science, actively investigated theoretical models are coarse grained so far beyond the scale of the probing done in particle physics that I have wonder how much are the 'foundational' theories and the larger scale ones ever really expected/required to be consistent with each other ...?
If 'foundational' isn't a statement about the direction of the consistency requirements the components of argument - then what exactly is it a statement about?
There's nothing wrong with studying condensed matter physics, and there is a huge amount to learn. But I don't see a conceivable way in which discoveries made by studying complex behavior closer to our scale will help solve quantum gravity or dark matter.
Then again, if humanity were one big game of Civilization, I'd be directing my tech tree towards engineering and applied physics research at the moment: we probably don't need any more fundamental physics to build sustainable fusion reactors.
In the main I only see reason and balanced in this post, but this particular statement is a bit risky. Historically, big breakthroughs in the sciences happen when new measurement techniques become available or existing measurement techniques are refined to produce a "significantly" greater level of accuracy.
A breakthrough in our understanding of reality could come from anywhere that anyone pushes the bounds of what we can measure; which admittedly is probably the folk with the budget for a big particle accelerator, but one could imagine a path for almost anybody to make a contribution. One of the take-aways of the whole quantum vs classical business is that just because the evidence seems to be converging on a well respected model doesn't mean that the evidence is actually going to converge.
Overall I find Hossenfelder's attitude to be far too negative. I'm fine with canning the big particle accelerators, but apart from that, there is a huge amount of exciting research going on in physics, theoretical physics (not just high energy stuff!), and mathematics.
Interestingly, this does actually work out. Excitations in solids are often described by quantum field theory, and many of the exotic ideas of field theorists in fundamental physics turned out to be things you can actually find in a sufficiently exotic material.
We know that the foundations are incomplete because the Standard Model cannot be combined with General Relativity, although there is overwhelming empirical evidence in favor of both. They also fail to predict Dark Energy and Dark Matter. So we know that there is something foundational we don't know. One of the hopes of finding out what this is is to gather more empirical data (also allowing one to put many hypothesis to the test along the way). On the side of the Standard Model, high particle physics provides the theoretical and experimental framework to gather more such empirical data, that being the purpose of the particle accelerators. The author is lamenting that these efforts did not produce the results we were hoping for, and that they did not lead to any breakthrough on the foundational mysteries.
I do not quite agree with your foundations of Computer Science. For me, these are the theoretical constructs that give sense to everything else, for example Turing Machines and the main results on Turing Machines. Perhaps also Lambda Calculus, or at least combinatory logic and so on.
Another example: in modern Biology, the concept of "imperfect replicator" is foundational. If you remove that piece, the whole edifice crumbles into stamp collecting.
Can you share some references to this concept? Google Scholar with "imperfect replicator" doesn't help me much. Thank you.
All organisms are self-replicating mechanisms, in the sense that they can generate a new organism that is built from the same DNA program (replicator) with mutations and possibly recombinations in the program (imperfect). The fact that the replications are imperfect is what allows for evolution to emerge. Together with survival-of-the-fittest mechanisms, this explains why life is so complex, why this complexity tends to increase with time, why there are so many species and so on.
It is possible to understand many details of nature by building on this idea. Higher-order theories if you like: why do organisms from different species sometimes look so similar? Why do certain organisms, such as the peacocks, have features that seem so unpractical, etc. Without it, we would be left with just cataloging stuff, as we once were.
There are actually many more mechanism in evolution, such as genetic drift or geographic separation. You're merely focusing on one special aspect of evolution here.
Biology in practice is a quite messy science.
Another curious aspect of the theory of evolution is that everybody thinks he understand it. I mean philosophers, social scientists, and so on. While in fact very few people understand it, actually as it stands, even as it stood when Darwin expressed it, and even less as we now may be able to understand it in biology (Jacques Monod)
No, it's not some ad-hoc aspect among many. Notice that I was trying to illustrate what it means to say that some theory is foundational in a field. It means that, if you remove it, the rest of the edifice falls apart.
Imperfect self-replication and survival-of-the-fittest are foundational in that sense. You cannot make sense of concepts such as speciation through geographical separation, neutral mutations, theories about why genders exist, kin selection, eusociality, etc etc etc without those foundational pieces.
What you say is a bit like saying that the Theory of Relativity is just one special aspect of theoretical physics: there's also planetary dynamics, for example.
> Fitting quote:
The danger with these types of quotes is that they tend to end up applying to oneself.
There is experimental progress in physics, but it seems to be at the low energy end. Down near absolute zero, where quantum mechanics dominates.
Many of the stranger predictions of quantum mechanics have been confirmed experimentally. Useful applications, such as quantum cryptography, are emerging.
That's where the action is.
Both Smolin's book 'The Trouble with Physics' and Woit's 'Not Even Wrong' are well worth a read.
"I don't believe that there exists a competent physicist who doesn't agree that Lee Smolin is a hardcore crackpot"
$20 billion spent is a lot of high tech jobs being made. I'm for it. Think how much we spend on wars.
> I’m not making the much stronger claim that this is the best possible use of $20 billion for science. Plausibly a thousand $20-million projects could be found that would advance our understanding of reality by more than a new collider would. But it’s also important to realize that that’s not the question at stake here. When, for example, the US Congress cancelled the Superconducting Supercollider midway through construction—partly, it’s believed, on the basis of opposition from eminent physicists in other subfields, who argued that they could do equally important science for much cheaper—none of the SSC budget, as in 0% of it, ever did end up redirected to those other subfields. In practice, then, the question of “whether a new collider is worth it” is probably best considered in absolute terms, rather than relative to other science projects.
There’s definitely better things it could be spent on. It’s just that that will never happen. So we pick the best of the worse things.
" No one wants to live in a world where the little German lady with her oh-so rational arguments ends up being right. Not even the German lady wants that. Wait, what did I say? I must be crazy."
This is meant to sound self-deprecating (I think) but in the context of the articles comes across as arrogant to me because clearly she thinks she is not the little lady, and others are irrationally ignoring her superior insights. Could be a cultural artefact but it makes her articles uncomfortable to read for me.
While many of the modules have been tested separately, certain combinations may not work as proclaimed. I find this problem already with the physics of the sun. So many things are way off normal physics. I have seen models that do not exist anywhere else. Predicted values are 10^6 order off. These things need retesting and the modules likely need to be redesigned.
But just stating that something might be off, already triggers many scientists. They see it as an attack on "their" science. This is clearly an attack on the messenger. Usually mixed with logical fallacies. So there is a real problem with the involved scientists as well. They do not want to see errors in their system, as it hurts their status. And there is the real problem with science. The ones involved do not want to admit that there might be something wrong.
If I would tell programmers that something might be wrong with one combination of modules, they are (more) often happy to look into it. So scientists, be more like programmers.
Either there is a loophole in physics or there is not. By 'loophole' I mean 'some of the physics we don't yet know, has useful applications such as faster than light travel or unbounded computation, that could potentially be tapped by terrestrial civilization'. (As opposed to the alternative state of affairs where the Standard Model suffices to describe everything that will ever happen in our solar system.)
The expected value of research in fundamental physics is much greater if there is a loophole than if there is not.
Proposal: we should try to figure out what qualities the as yet unknown physics must have, conditional on a loophole existing. Then we should proceed on the assumption that it does indeed have those qualities, in order to maximize expected utility.
What she's talking about is all stuff that's well known in the physics community. She is willing to say it publicly.
Seriously. I read at least three comments suggesting arcs of her argument are held by physicists with the requirements between the legs. Is it just how she says it, or is it because she has a vulva?
If there is, then I have an idea to get funding. Build it above ground along the US/Mexican border, so that it could also serve as the wall President Trump wants built.
> But the problems that theoretical particle physicists currently try to solve do not require solutions. The lack of unification, the absence of naturalness, the seeming arbitrariness of the constants of nature: these are aesthetic problems.
What are some examples of problems that do "require solutions"?
That said, I would be very surprised if we discovered anything with as much practical use as say, quantum physics or electricity or thermodynamics.
History keeps proving that we will.
Its presence is implied in a variety of astrophysical observations, including gravitational effects that cannot be explained unless more matter is present than can be seen.
The primary evidence for dark matter is that calculations show that many galaxies would fly apart instead of rotating, or would not have formed or move as they do, if they did not contain a large amount of unseen matter. Other lines of evidence include observations in gravitational lensing, from the cosmic microwave background, from astronomical observations of the observable universe's current structure, from the formation and evolution of galaxies, from mass location during galactic collisions, and from the motion of galaxies within galaxy clusters.
[so mismatch in gravitational effect with Einstein General Relativity is the only reason why people think there “must” be dark matter out there. Imagining dark matter would help to keep Einstein General Relativity correct in its current form, in other words it’s a HACK!]
Although the existence of dark matter is generally accepted by the scientific community, some astrophysicists, intrigued by certain observations that do not fit the dark matter theory, argue for various modifications of the standard laws of general relativity, such as modified Newtonian dynamics, tensor–vector–scalar gravity, or entropic gravity. These models attempt to account for all observations without invoking supplemental non-baryonic matter.
[means without the need for the hypothetical, non-observable dark matter. And because the standard model can not explain gravity, dark matter or modified gravity theory has nothing to do with the standard model as stated in my original comment]
Incidentally, I also think you're getting your history of science confused; the "cosmological constant" term Einstein used to make relativity consistent with his belief in a static, non-expanding universe was a "hack" (he himself wound up admitting it was unjustified.) But that's entirely unrelated to dark matter. Similar modern theories to the cosmological constant have been termed "dark energy," but the use of the word "dark" in both doesn't imply a real connection- it simply means that they each haven't been directly observed.
As an aside, Physics is not even suffering from true scientific issues such as reproducibility and direction of research.
she did just that in the NYT piece that is also linked to in the blog post.
"And there are other avenues to pursue. For example, the astrophysical observations pointing toward dark matter should be explored further; better understanding those observations would help us make more reliable predictions about whether a larger collider can produce the dark matter particle — if it even is a particle.
There are also medium-scale experiments that tend to fall off the table because giant projects eat up money. One important medium-scale project is the interface between the quantum realm and gravity, which is now accessible to experimental testing. Another place where discoveries could be waiting is in the foundations of quantum mechanics. These could have major technological impacts."
There really is no argument in favour of why building a new, extremely expensive accelerator is reasonable. We don't expect to find anything at those energy levels, it is pure guesswork.
I liked Stephen Wolframs ideas around cellular automata and network based structures -- it seems that if we could look at physics as more of an information transfer problem -- paired with network optimization and information storage optimization, on a network: this is where real progress will be made. There have been theories around emergent spacetime from thermodynamic processes that were abandoned and IMO need to be re-investigated.
I highly doubt that wave function collapse is just completely random. We just don't see the structure that is creating the "random" distributions we observe.
I'd say this resolves the hidden variable and locality conflict beautifully, by changing the concept of locality to something much simpler than the infinite continuum. And it is also somewhat similar to ER=EPR  hypothesis Susskind talks about. But unfortunately it is only a vague idea so far.
What you're talking about is some form of hidden variables theory. This has been the topic of significant research since the days when Einstein and Bohr had their great debates before WW2. We've had sufficient development in both theory and experiments on this topic to say that either
i) there is "just" standard quantum mechanics
ii) you must abandon local realism, i.e. it is impossible to do independent separated measurements of a quantum system
iii) the world obeys superdeterminism, i.e. there is no free will
> iii) the world obeys superdeterminism, i.e. there is no free will
Superdeterminism doesn't simply say that there is no free will. (Normal determinism says that too!). The problem with superdeterminism is that it requires the hidden variables to work in a very complicated way.
If Alice asks her friend to play mario and give her sequence of 1s and 0s for winning and losing, and Bobs friend plays golf, superdeterminism requires the outcomes of this games to be exactly correlated with the experiment with photons Alice and Bob will do next year!
This is not quite fair, after all Wolfram himself have worked as a physicist.
What physicists do not do, is they do not usually talk much about ideas for which they had not found any mathematical model or any analogy with existing theories.
Wolframs idea is very enticing, especially if you like the idea of digital physics and want to get rid of real numbers in the theory. But unfortunately it is very hard to get some working mathematical model from it.
All evidence suggests that quantum mechanics is probabilistic.
Source? On the contrary, this survey of physicists https://arxiv.org/pdf/1612.00676.pdf
(Fig 13.) indicates Copenhagen is dominant, followed by no preference, with Everett a long way behind. This is also matches my perception as a former member of the community.