Intelligent Design

A Nobel prize in Physics for what?

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Nobel PrizeI don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Everyone expects the Nobel Peace prize to be a joke. For one thing, the Norwegians who select it are elected officials,I mean what else would you expect from a professional politician? But the Nobel prize in Physics is awarded by the Swedes. It is supposed to be for lifetime achievement, which explains why the Medicine Nobel was given to a fellow who up and died two days before. (No, they aren’t taking it back from his widow.) So you would think the Physics prize would go to a whitehaired professor with baggy trousers and leather elbow patches on his jacket. I mean a whole pile of previous Nobel prize winners vote on it!

Oh. I see what you mean. I suppose that is a weak point too. Positive feedback can be quite devastating. Well, maybe that is what afflicted this year’s choice. But I suspect worse. Well, what was the award for?

It went to three astronomers for carefully measuring the light from distant supernovae–fifty of them–to be precise.

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10 Replies to “A Nobel prize in Physics for what?

  1. 1
    junkdnaforlife says:

    In the past 25-30 years the greatest accomplishment of physics has been the standard model. But comparatively, when impact is measured against the early to mid 20th century bombs-of-physics, it is more of a mild tremor. Visionaries giving way to meticulous mechanical workmen. Effective but not sexy. However, despite the un-sexiness of the standard model, physics managed to drop a bomb with the dark energy. Dark energy = sexy. A groundbreaking observation and pure sexy all rolled up into 1. The noble imo, was not a bad choice given the state of affairs in physics, with much of the contemporary models not anchored in testability. And the problems in physics are persisting with the dubious results at cern, with neutrinos beating c signal and the Higgs non-signal. What would the odds on: Higgs will not signal but c may be beaten, at this stage of the game have been three years ago?

    To move physics foreword, we will need a new crop of cage rattling visionaries, exactly what contemporary science dislikes. Thankfully physics is not a cult like darwinism, and although there will be some pouting and foot dragging, physicists will follow the evidence, and physics will be sexy again.

  2. 2

    junkdnaforlife,
    I understand your interpretation of “sexy” to mean “novel” and “interesting”. Certainly you can’t get a PhD without it. Or as Wigner drily observed at a PhD defense, “Your PhD is both novel and interesting. Unfortunately what is novel is not interesting, and what is interesting is not novel.” The difficulty for modern physicists is to be both. And since that is truly difficult, our schools and institutions replace “interesting” with “renumerative”. If we can get research money for it, then it is worth doing. So that is how I interpret “sexy” in your comment–something that you can sell.

    However, selling is quite another thing from science. One of the major problems with science is its impracticality, which is to say, it doesn’t sell.

    Oh, but isn’t the cosmological constant a totally impractical theory? And isn’t NASA dumping $1.6 billion on it? Why then do you say it doesn’t sell?

    Dark energy is precisely a practical theory because it sells a metaphysical view. Or to say it differently, the epicycles of Ptolemy were not very efficient, but they permitted the data to be predicted while maintaining the fiction of heavenly bodies obeying the perfection of circular motion. They did not upset the metaphysical apple cart. They reinforced the metaphysical status quo.

    And in a similar way, “multiverses”, “dark energy”, “string theory” reinforce the metaphysical status quo by insisting that the foundation of reality was geometrical, was math.

    What else could it possibly be?

    Epicurus said atoms. John Wheeler says information.
    (See http://procrustes.blogtownhall.....info.thtml) ID says intelligent information. In other words, a far more upsetting metaphysical viewpoint is Big Bang + Contingency = ID.

    Now a theory of origins that explains both Big Bang and Fine Tuning as Design would be both novel and interesting. (Or as GK Chesterton put it, “Break the Conventions; Obey the Commandments.) But it will never be sexy.

    And that is why physics is in serious trouble today: precisely because it desperately seeks to uphold the metaphysical status quo with renumerative research.

  3. 3
    junkdnaforlife says:

    Yes the CC does sell, for exactly the reasons you stated: data+meta wonder. The standard model is too dry and strings etc have little or no data. So dark energy splits the difference and goes in the showroom.

    “Epicurus said atoms. John Wheeler says information.”

    I think information is the future. But it will take some outside the box thinkers that are ideologically neutral to shift in this direction.

  4. 4
    Eocene says:

    JunkDNA:

    “I think information is the future.”
    =====

    Careful. Don’t get them started on what is your definition of “information”. I don’t want to have to debate about how my neighbour’s spiraled Doggy Doo on my lawn is information.

  5. 5
    MedsRex says:

    The only dog doo is your comment.

  6. 6
    MedsRex says:

    here we have physicist Robert Sheldon and regular commenter Junkdnaforlife having an incredibly interesting conversation about the future of physics and how it could grow beyond the ideological constraints that seem to hold it back. Then enters Eocene with nothing to add but pointless & unwarranted snark. Great to see the Bill Maher approach has fully infiltrated adult discussion: if all else fails, mock them.
    Classy. . .

  7. 7
    MedsRex says:

    here we have physicist Robert Sheldon and regular commenter Junkdnaforlife having an incredibly interesting conversation about the future of physics and how it could grow beyond the ideological constraints that seem to hold it back. Then enters Eocene with nothing to add but pointless & unwarranted snark. Great to see the Bill Maher approach has fully infiltrated adult discussion: if all else fails, mock them.
    Classy. . .

  8. 8
    MedsRex says:

    Sorry for the double post. And my previous less-than-polite comment.

  9. 9

    Snark I can handle. It’s the defunding I mind.

  10. 10
    MedsRex says:

    Many apologies. I believe I sorely misunderstood your comment.

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