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Rob Sheldon: “Naturalness” in physics is dead, says Sabine Hossenfelder, and that’s a good thing

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From Sabine Hossenfelder at her blog Backreaction:

I was elated when I saw that Gian Francesco Giudice announced the “Dawn of the Post-Naturalness Era,” as the title of his recent paper promises. The craze in particle physics, I thought, might finally come to an end; data brought reason back to Earth after all.

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.

Rob Sheldon, our physics color commentator, writes to say,

I’m beginning to like Sabine Hossenfelder’s blog–this latest is a critique of a fad in theoretical particle physics called “naturalness”. Briefly, the idea of “naturalness” is that we don’t have enough data to constrain the theories, so we have some sort of Darwinian selection “in theory space”, where two theories that behave nicely in regions we can explore (say, Energy < 14TeV threshold of CERN collider) are compared in regions we can’t explore (say, E>1000 TeV) and the one with better manners is preferred.

Sabine doubts that there is any merit to the hypothetical comparisons of hypothetical theories–not because hypotheticals aren’t real (after all, they may be someday), but because there is an infinite supply of them. So what if your hypotheticals are better than his hypotheticals, there’s an infinite line of contestants to defeat. Thus vendors of “naturalness” must also restrict the venue to truncate the line, and it is that arbitrary choice of venue that makes all objectivity fly out the window.

Sabine concludes:

“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 [a founder of naturalness] 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.”

This same argument against naturalness, works for multiverses (as Sabine alludes) as well as Darwinism.

And I don’t want to be a spoilsport, but it applies to “Fine Tuning” arguments equally well, where the conclusion is instead “unnaturalness”. But if “naturalness” is poorly defined, so is “unnaturalness”.

See also: Did Karl Popper really kill particle physics? Would a jury convict him? Rob Sheldon relects on a point made by Sabine Hossenfelder.

and

The multiverse is science’s assisted suicide

8 Replies to “Rob Sheldon: “Naturalness” in physics is dead, says Sabine Hossenfelder, and that’s a good thing

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    We don’t need “progress in the foundations of physics”. What we need in all of science is experiments to solve real problems.

    Absolutely nothing in the realm of physics is aimed at solving real problems, therefore the whole field doesn’t need to be funded by governments using forcibly acquired tax money.

    If super-rich weirdos want to pay for their own delusions, that’s fine.

  2. 2
    Seversky says:

    The problems physics is trying to solve are real. It’s just that some of them seem to have no immediate bearing on our everyday lives. But then it takes a certain amount of hubris to think that the universe revolves around insignificant little creatures like ourselves. The other problem is that it is very difficult to predict which lines of research are going to be the most fruitful. That was, after all, the main point of Carl Sagan’s little parable of the Westminster Project in The Demon-Haunted World.

  3. 3
    PaV says:

    Seversky:

    You say this:

    But then it takes a certain amount of hubris to think that the universe revolves around insignificant little creatures like ourselves.

    . . .

    but then I bet you believe in ACG—man-made global warming.

    So, I guess we’re not so “insignificant”!

  4. 4
    PaV says:

    Eric Weinstein—in a link from “Not Even Wrong”—says that there is no group of scientists who are more accomplished in mathematical methods than present day ones.

    His contention—and I ‘second’ it—is there is not enough theorizing going on that involves actual concepts.

    This is overstating things a bit, since there are scientists who, e.g., take novel approaches to unifying QM and GR, though they’re considered second-tier, you might say.

    But what is usually done in these “novel approaches” is to simply ‘tweak’ one, or a few, components of an already recognized formal structure. That’s simply not going to be enough.

    What’s needed is another Albert Einstein, who, outside the normal confines of the scientific elite—and, hence, free to think as he/she desires—reformulates the majority of established models with some new, simple insight.

    All of Einstein’s “genius” comes down to this: he understood the implications of five Church towers ringing at the same time. He understood it first in the “x-direction” and “time” (SR), and then in the “y-z-direction” (GR).

    But no one was there to tell him how wrong he was. Governmental funding agencies now tell young scientists just how they ought to think. Who can survive this PC culture that science has established in most all of the sciences?

  5. 5
    FourFaces says:

    Seversky @2,

    That was, after all, the main point of Carl Sagan’s little parable of the Westminster Project in The Demon-Haunted World.

    We must not forget that Carl Sagan was the crackpot who spent his life looking for little green aliens.

  6. 6
    groovamos says:

    Seversky: a certain amount of hubris to think that the universe revolves around insignificant little creatures like ourselves.

    Kind of stunning. You could look at a statement like that and try to unpack it with logic, and/or psychology.

    So to go with the former, lets say insignificant humanity, to be insignificant, would suggest a cosmic category of ‘insignificant’ outside of human understanding, and as such would require a superhuman intelligence such as could judge humanity. But such a superhuman intelligence would, I would think, be able to answer the question of whether ‘random’ mutations actually occur randomly; that is to say, as causeless, and thus the superhuman intelligence would be omniscient. But then let’s assume a materialist is asserting that humanity is insignificant. Then the assertion would indicate the materialist (who would dread superhuman intelligence) is playing the role of superhuman intellect, and of course asserts as absolute truth of all morphogenetic mutations are ‘random’, or statistically uncorrelated, based on a kind of purported omniscience. Thus we have materialists living a logical inconsistency. They play the role of super-intellect which is both superior and insignificant, a brutal logical inconsistency. Thus we can surmise that materialists are living with a type of mental aberration; or at worst mental illness.

    Which then introduces the second approach, that of the psychological. We assume the mental aberration as somewhat indicated by logic, and can thus assume that any person considering humanity as insignificant, is probably pissed off at humanity (sometimes especially Christians), which indicates to being pissed off at the world. And at the root there is no more efficient way to be pissed off at the world than to be angry at God. And there is no better way to act out anger at God than to unconsciously deny that such a being can exist. And to let the denial seep into everyday consciousness and then to evangelize for the belief. On the blogs too like this one.

  7. 7
    smordecai says:

    “groovamos” Well said

  8. 8
    Seversky says:

    PaV @ 3

    but then I bet you believe in ACG—man-made global warming.

    So, I guess we’re not so “insignificant”

    On the scale of our little planet we’ve become a significant threat to its environment and ecosystem. On the scale of the Universe we’re still vanishingly insignificant.

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