Mathematician wonders about the respectful reception new multiverse book is getting
|January 25, 2014||Posted by News under Cosmology, Intelligent Design, News|
Columbia mathematician Peter Woit offers some interesting comments on Max Tegmark’s The Mathematical Universe. We’d noted it last weekend, because the New Scientist review comprised one of the few instances of critical thinking on multiverse theory we’ve encountered in popular science media. Anyway, here’s Woit:
Tegmark’s career is a rather unusual story, mixing reputable science with an increasingly strong taste for grandiose nonsense. In this book he indulges his inner crank, describing in detail an utterly empty vision of the “ultimate nature of reality.” What’s perhaps most remarkable about the book is the respectful reception it seems to be getting, see reviews here, here, here and here. The Financial Times review credits Tegmark as the “academic celebrity” behind the turn of physics to the multiverse:
As recently as the 1990s, most scientists regarded the idea of multiple universes as wild speculation too far out on the fringe to be worth serious discussion. Indeed, in 1998, Max Tegmark, then an up-and-coming young cosmologist at Princeton, received an email from a senior colleague warning him off multiverse research: “Your crackpot papers are not helping you,” it said.
Needless to say, Tegmark persisted in exploring the multiverse as a window on “the ultimate nature of reality”, while making sure also to work on subjects in mainstream cosmology as camouflage for his real enthusiasm. Today multiple universes are scientifically respectable, thanks to the work of Tegmark as much as anyone. Now a physics professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he presents his multiverse work to the public in Our Mathematical Universe.
It’s part of the “mainstreaming” of the multiverse—quite apart from any evidence in support—that I wrote about here:
Hailed as the “world’s smartest man,” with cameos to his credit on The Simpsons and Star Trek, Stephen Hawking has blessed the multiverse for popular culture. Denouncing philosophy (and religion) as “outdated and irrelevant”, he announced that science dispenses with a designer behind nature because the law of gravity explains how the universe “can and will create itself from nothing.”
Those who want to be in the know, whether or not there is anything to know, will not know enough not to ask about evidence.
Especially when they learn things like this (Woit’s post is must reading):
1. The Templeton Foundation gave Tegmark and Anthony Aguirre nearly $9 million for a “Foundational Questions Institute” (FQXi)
2. Tegmark has little interest in mathematics, it turns out, and
There are no mathematicians among those thanked in the acknowledgements, and while “mathematical structures” are invoked in the book as the basis of everything, there’s little to no discussion of the mathematical structures that modern mathematicians find interesting (although the idea of “symmetries” gets a mention).
3. The book closes with a plea for scientists to “get organized to fight things like ‘fringe religious groups concerned that questioning their pseudo-scientific claims would erode their power’.” This, let’s understand, is from a well-funded multiverse advocate whose discipline rests on no evidence at all.
Woit says he doesn’t understand the attraction of the multiverse. If he means “scientific” attraction, I don’t either. If he had meant “political” attraction, the answer is obvious. Stay tuned.
See also: The Science Fictions series at your fingertips and
Popular science writer “sort of” gets it about the multiverse scam
Hawking [now] says there are no black holes?
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