Monday, October 27, 2014

"The Trouble With Physics" Again

Nearly two years ago, I published my own review of Lee Smolin's The Trouble With Physics. Watts Up With That now uses the book as an example of how group think arises in the scientific community (climate research being the other example of group think).  From the latter article/review:
“The Trouble with Physics” is a controversial book by one of the giants of Quantum Physics, Lee Smolin. In an eerie parallel to the failings of climate science, Smolin argues that a fundamental error at the heart of String Theory, and rampant groupthink, has diverted uncounted scientific man hours of effort down a blind alley. Physicists are wasting lifetimes of effort constructing ever more elaborate mathematical models, models which can never hope to be reconciled with real world observations. 
The fundamental error, according to Smolin, is that String Theory is background dependent. String Theory assumes a Universe in which time and space is constant – a Universe in which Einstein never discovered General Relativity. 
The reason for this error goes back to the origins of Quantum Physics. The pioneers of Quantum Physics had to do their calculations by hand – horrendous mathematical transformations, which in some cases took weeks of effort to perform, even when attempted by the most capable mathematicians and scientists on the planet. Adding General Relativity to the mix made the equations impossibly difficult – and for most purposes at the time, for say calculating the shape of the electron field around a hydrogen atom, or designing a transistor, the effect of Relativity on the calculated result was so small that it simply didn’t matter. 
The problems with this convenient simplification only emerge when you attempt to reconcile Relativity and Quantum Physics – when you try to create a theory of everything, to calculate what happens in the vicinity of a black hole, to work out what really happened during the Big Bang, to understand why physical constants have those particular values, or say try to build a wormhole – a gateway through time and space, and a possible solution to interstellar travel. In these extreme conditions, a background dependent theory simply doesn’t work. 
It is at this extreme edge of reality that String Theory begins to break down – it produces (or fails to produce) solutions which have no applicability to the real world. Trying to eliminate the paradoxes it yields spawns the need to pile on ever more complicated additional dimensions and forces, artefacts which, so far at least, cannot be reconciled with observations. 
So String Theorists go model happy. They play with the giant atom smashers when they can, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter that the String Theory models cannot be reconciled with observations, because String Theory is almost infinitely adjustable. ...
 Read the whole thing.

(H/t The Woodpile Report)

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