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Does “naturalness” make sense as a physics term?

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This image represents the evolution of the Universe, starting with the Big Bang. The red arrow marks the flow of time.
Big Bang/NASA

Via Wuthrich at philosophy of physics blog Taking Up Spacetime,

Workshop: “Naturalness, Hierarchy, and Fine-Tuning”

Workshop Description: The requirement of naturalness has long served as an influential constraint on model-building in elementary particle physics. Yet there are many ways of understanding what, precisely, this requirement amounts to, from restrictions on the amount of fine-tuning that a model can exhibit, to prohibitions on sensitive dependence between physics at different scales, to the requirement that dimensionless parameters defining the Lagrangian of a theory all be of order one unless protected by a symmetry. This workshop aims to clarify the relationships among these concepts of naturalness and their connection to the hierarchy problem, as well as to assess arguments for and against imposing various forms of naturalness as a requirement on particle physics model-building. It will bring together researchers in philosophy of physics and theoretical particle physics whose expertise touches either directly on the subject of naturalness or on closely related issues concerning effective field theory, renormalization, and the physical interpretation of quantum field theory.

Location: RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany

Dates: Feb. 28 – Mar. 2 More.

A friend fills us in that “Naturalness” in particle physics is some sort of criterion by which the physics is not fine-tuned. Speakers sound interesting, especially Sabine Hossenfelder.

Our physics color commentator Rob Sheldon writes to recommend Hossenfelder’s recent post, Naturalness is dead. Long live naturalness as a guide to the questions:

I believe what is needed for progress in the foundations of physics is more mathematical rigor. Obsessing about ill-defined criteria like naturalness that don’t even make good working hypotheses isn’t helpful. And it would serve particle physicists well to identify their previous mistakes in order to avoid repeating them. I dearly hope they will not just replace one beauty-criterion by another.

Giudice on the other hand thinks that “we need pure unbridled speculation, driven by imagination and vision.” Which sounds great, except that theoretical particle physics has not exactly suffered from a dearth of speculation. Instead, it has suffered from a lack of sound logic. More.

Here’s the pdf of the Guidice paper. to which Hossenfelder refers.

In the end, the big question is whether people are willing to accept evidence-free arguments against fine-tuning and even arguments that render all attempts to understand the universe meaningless.

Then eventually, the question necessarily arises: How great is the public obligation to support a science for which evidence is irrelevant and the ability to interpret evidence is impossible? How does such a science differ from a peculiar cult of philosophy?

Stay tuned.

See also: What becomes of science when the evidence does not matter?

Post-modern science: The illusion of consciousness sees through itself

One Reply to “Does “naturalness” make sense as a physics term?

  1. 1
    ppolish says:

    Sometimes when I’m deep in sleep and dreaming – something unnatural will happen (in the dream) and I realize I must be dreaming. It is a fun realization – usually I’ll end up flapping my arms and flying or maybe I’ll start acting like Al Franken. Doing stand up comedy ahem.

    Unnaturalness in Science is similar. Something happens or is discovered that just ain’t natural. Like walking into a room and observing a pencil on a table balanced on its tip. It must be glued right? Or a string is holding it up etc. But there must be a natural explanation.

    The big kahunas of unnaturalness in science are the cosmological constant and hierarchy problem. They just aren’t natural – and no glue or strings have yet to be found. Lots of deep searching though. Lots of brainpower expended.

    Unnaturalness in our reality is something those in the “Universe is a Simulation” camp search for. Galaxies not rotating like they should? Is it dark matter or a programming error lol.

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