[quote author=“Carbon based”]
He knows that it’s not scientific. That’s all he needs to know.
Aren’t you making a classic logical error? Setting up Glashow as the authority, and only authority on string theory due to his nobel status?
No, not at all. Science by definition involves actual observation of matter and testing. If you remove empirical observation then it ceases to be science.
Superstring theory is merely a theory, divorced from the element of empirical observation which science depends on.
I could/would counter with: David Gross shared the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics and is the director of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
Gross: The big bang theory is the idea that if we go back early enough in the history of the universe—and we can do this, of course, by looking at starlight coming to us from billions of years ago—we will see a very hot and dense period where the universe was much smaller, denser, and hotter. And that explosion or hot state left remnants that we can observe today in the microwave background. So we know that that aspect of the theory is true.
You see, now that sort of theorizing is scientific because actual observation is involved in the theorizing. In otherwords, there is a healthy balance between theory and actual emprical observation.
If we push back even farther, that hotter or denser state becomes even hotter and denser. And if we extrapolate using Einstein’s theory of general relativity, we find total disaster. That is, we find a singularity, in which the forces that act on particles become infinitely strong. Things break down completely, and the theory no longer makes sense.
Our conclusion is not that the universe doesn’t make sense, but that the equations are wrong. They’re applicable maybe at later times, but they’re not applicable at the beginning of the universe. So we desperately need something like string theory appears to be—a theory that is consistent.
NOVA: Basically you need a theory that’s going to work under those conditions.
Gross: Yes, and one that can provide an answer to questions that with our present theories we can’t dream of answering, such as: How does the universe begin? What starts it off? What is the state of the universe at the beginning? Is that unique or arbitrary? Who fixes the initial conditions? There are questions that can’t be answered within the standard theory. We’re not sure that string theory, or any theory, could provide answers to the beginning of the universe, but it’s a goal that many of us are desperate to try to reach.
I would say desperate is a very apt word indeed to describe these people. Naive and lopsided would be a good way of putting it as well. They are not acknowledging the fact that scientific instruments are not going to be able to determine whether or not the singularity causing the big bang was a seed among billions of seeds. And sadly, as is typical of human nature, they are hoping that the singularity is the edge of the world, or the center of the universe.
NOVA: And string theory can help provide these answers?
Gross: String theory is the best hope at the present. And the questions are some of the most interesting questions that we can ask. All of us would like to know: Is the universe arbitrary? Could it have been otherwise than it is? Could there have been different laws, different constants of nature? Has it begun only once, or is it cyclic? Was there beginning to time? Does time have any meaning before it began? These are wonderful questions, and we’re now in a position to address them. We have no guarantee that we will find the answers, of course, but the effort is as important as finding the answer.
Philiosophical enough for you?
No, not really. I’m not impressed with people who think theorizing is enough. I’m more impressed with people who assert the value of developing theories along side of accumulated data, and who think about the context and logical implications involved in attaining the sort of instruments and power required to peer back into the moment before the big bang, or the sorts of instruments and power required to observe the level that superstrings reside in.
I’d like to address a comment Glashow makes in his interview about superstrings:
NOVA: If it’s not testable, how useful is it?
Glashow: It leads to many interesting ideas. It is important in mathematics. String theory has had an impact on modern mathematics. They may even have a practical impact some day, these things that string theorists do. One never knows, just as number theory, the most useless of the mathematical sciences, has given us cryptography and has given us a secure way to encode information. The string theorist may also produce something equally useful.
And this I agree to. I am not condemning SS theory. I’m just deflating what I see as a lot of naive hyperbole.
Here is another comment by Glashow:
It’s something that began to develop in the ‘80s, grew in the ‘90s, and today attracts many of the best and brightest physicists. It’s called superstring theory and it is, so far as I can see, totally divorced from experiment or observation. If not totally divorced, pretty well divorced. They will deny that, these string theorists. They will say, “We predicted the existence of gravity.” Well, I knew a lot about gravity before there were any string theorists, so I don’t take that as a prediction.
But in and of itself, it has failed in its primary goal, which is to incorporate what we already know into a consistent theory that explains gravity as well. The new theory must incorporate the old theory and say something more. String theory has not succeeded in this fashion. String theory has said something more, but it does not incorporate the details of the structure that preceded it, that is to say the standard theory of elementary particles. Until it does that, it is not yet physics in a conventional form.
[Troublingly] The best and the brightest young theorists, instead of being concerned about the experimental enterprise, are going off among themselves and doing their thing [in superstring theory] with the doors closed. Because no one else is interested in coming, they’re all making these secret signs to one another and putting incomprehensible formulas together that to them are, of course, central and simple and predictive and whatnot but to us are a little bit irrelevant.
Now, what happens if there are suddenly some major experimental discoveries? There is a big accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, which is scheduled to be completed in another five years or so. That should make lots of discoveries. Who will be interested in trying to fit these discoveries into the theory? It will be people like me, except we may be dead by then or if not we’ll be rather old. Or it will be the young theoretical physicists, but the young theoretical physicists are doing string theory, and they ain’t interested in the results of the experiments. Not now, and not then. So who’s going to be there to continue the role of building a better theory of particle physics? That’s why it’s a problem.
To me, the interest in string theory by young people and their disintrest in actual raw data, reflects a certain laziness and a certain lack of restraint when it comes to being able to put aside what is most immediately gratifying, in order to do the hard work of developing a theory along side actual observation.
I also find the hope that the big bang singularity as the ultimate begining of everything to be rather anthropocentric, and reflects the human tendency to come to conclusions like: the world is flat and the edge of the horizon is where the world ends, the earth is the center, the sun is the center, etc, etc.
Also could you please supply your source on the 1,000 light year accelerator.