Monday, December 26, 2011

Fringe Physics

This is a very good review of "Physics on the Fringe". It has almost everything that I wanted to say whenever a crackpot tells me that I have to pay attention to his or her "theory".

Quantum theory and special and general relativity (which Carter, like many outsider physicists, rejects) aren’t entrenched for no reason. They seem to describe the world in a real way - having proven empirically robust and useful in various applications. Microchips, GPS satellites, and many other inventions rely on the remarkably precise predictions they make about how matter and energy interact. Wertheim points this out, but fails to adequately address the obvious question - given these theories’ successes, is it really all that much to ask that an outsider theory provide at least as much explanatory power?
No, it isn't too much to ask, but it is too much to ask of these crackpots. But the most annoying aspect is equating a field such as physics, where an objective verification and validity exist, to something in the arts, where subjectivity and personal opinion rule.

Some outsider theories of physics might be evocative and beautiful, but if their proponents haven’t done the legwork (read: math) to show why they can compete with other, more established theories, why should we listen to them? Why should physics be an open endeavor in the same way most people would agree art should be (an argument Wertheim hints at repeatedly)? Since she sidesteps these questions, “Physics on the Fringe,’’ while often fascinating, doesn’t quite reach its potential.
I'd say that anyone that equates those two fields is clueless to what science is.



Anonymous said...

There are folks with distinguished reputations for research in biology who, while dismissing Creationism and ID out of hand, always offer fascinating criticisms and comments on Evolution, for example
1) finding a Pre-Cambrian rabbit would disprove nothing;
2) Evo-Devo, marvel that it is, proves nothing (a spatial i.e. display-case sequence is not necessarily a temporal sequence).

Instead of wasting attoseconds on the crew in the `fringe' of physics, how about conducting a forum on the soft spots in QM and QFT? Well-known lab experiments are showing the textbook versions of especially the former to be more and more arthritic.

Boaz said...

I don't totally agree with this. While its certainly true that a full grown/developed theory should reproduce the same results and be equally powerful, if the new theory is really different from the old, it will likely take some time to develop. So, you are basically asking to only look at fully developed theories. If a theory gets a couple things right in an unconventional way and gives a new picture of things, it may be a promising idea. It might not be until very late in the development when it reproduces certain well tested results of the existing theory.

Discrete type physics theories, for example are going to have a challenge for how they mesh with a smooth manifold based theory. So it might be hard for awhile to see how and whether its consistent with relativity. I spent some time trying to understand some of the claims of the "bit string physics", and it seemed there was a beginning to answer questions like this, but more work is required.

P. Woit also reviews this book, and he claims, basically you need powerful enough mathematics. But it could be that some new development in mathematics is required (not easy), or a theory needs to be reformulated.

Anonymous said...

You reminded us of the many amazing triumphs of QM and SR, so this very short note would seem a suitable start for a forum:

arXiv:0912.1475v1 [quant-ph]

Or should we stick to discussing reviews of pop science books?

ps..about Gran Sasso: I looked up the PARMELA point-particle code like you told me to. It has nothing to do with the Cohen and Glashow QFT that you also cited.