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Rob Sheldon on Roger Penrose, and physics gone off the rails

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bookjacket MathematicianRoger Penrose recently published Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe, reviewed by Richard Dawid in Nature. Dawid is peeved:

There are similar issues with Penrose’s claim that fashion is the main reason for string theory’s influential position. His analysis of its problems is not up to the task of debunking proponents’ physics-based reasons for confidence. Penrose’s main complaint about string theory is that it lacks a clear specification of its number of degrees of freedom. He tries to show this in several contexts. However, he tends to omit information that could make the situation less confusing than he takes it to be. For example, he expresses unease about ‘gauge–gravity duality’, the claim that string theory is empirically equivalent to a quantum field theory in a lower-dimensional space. (If generally valid, that would mean that a string theory in three extended spatial dimensions was empirically equivalent to a quantum field theory in two spatial dimensions.) Such a claim looks startling, because one would naively expect that a three-dimensional theory has more degrees of freedom than a two-dimensional one. Penrose presents this as one of many questionable implications of string theory. More.
Rob Sheldon retorts:

I have the greatest respect for Roger Penrose. Despite being a member of the British Humanist Association, he is an old-school atheist, of the sort that Sir Fred Hoyle and Anthony Flew belonged to. This is to be separated from the new, angry atheist epitomized by Richard Dawkins.

So when Penrose writes a new book entitled “Fashion Faith and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe”, he isn’t just channeling Denyse’s blog posting*, but he expressing as calmly as only a rational Brit can, that theoretical physics has gone off the rails.

Alas, who do they get to review his book? Richard Dawid, they guy who so wants string-theory to be true that he says experiment is no longer required. So naturally when Penrose is ripping into string theory, Dawid takes offense. Here’s Dawid,

There are similar issues with Penrose’s claim that fashion is the main reason for string theory’s influential position. His analysis of its problems is not up to the task of debunking proponents’ physics-based reasons for confidence.

Wow. So Dawid’s aesthetic judgment that string theory is true because (as Peter Woit documents,

The currently predominant philosophical conception of theory confirmation (Bayesianism) equates confirmation with the increase of the probability that a theory is true or viable. For that reason I speak of “non-empirical theory confirmation.”

But more importantly for our discussion, the arguments for the viability of string theory are based on meta-level observations about the research process. As described before, one argument uses the observation that no-one has found a good alternative to string theory. Another one uses the observation that theories without alternatives tended to be viable in the
past.

Ergo, Roger Penrose’s alternative to string theory shows he isn’t “up to the task” because string theory has no rivals.

Poor Dawid. Poor Penrose. If human rationality is our god, then we will all be sacrificed on the altar of human irrationality.

More.

String theory is one of those dangerous theories that just must be true, principally for cultural reasons, and thus the road to reality is the one not taken.

*Note: Penrose is more likely to be channelling cosmologist George Ellis’s concerns, as expressed in Nature, than News’s (Denyse O’Leary).

See also: Breaking: Article in Nature defends integrity of physics against multiverse, string theory

Peter Woit contemplates the end of physics

and

The bill arrives for cosmology’s free lunch

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7 Replies to “Rob Sheldon on Roger Penrose, and physics gone off the rails

  1. 1
    jimmontg says:

    I wonder what these theories that still cannot explain gravity would be like if they had listened to Nikola Tesla’s theory, or assertion really, that gravity was a form of electromagnetism. He showed how it would work. Something that no physicist has shown for gravity as a force unto itself. The papers of Townsend Brown showed some of how this was possible before the Military classified his research. Dr. Paul LaViolette unfortunately to raise funds allied himself to the Foil Hat people. I strongly recommend you look at his lecture at the Secret Space Program Conference in Bastrop TX.

    Here is a link, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWEsVtZRhUA

    Now I don’t say listen to everything he says as being a proven fact, but from my experience in the aerospace field much of what he says is accurate. If you watch his lecture turn the speed of the video up to 1.25 as he talks unbearably slow. I would hate to be a student in his class. Please watch and listen to the part where the guy in charge of Northrop’s Skunkworks said before he died that the possibility of traveling to the stars is already in our grasp before he died, but he said getting them to release the technology would require an act of God. SubQuantum Kinetics has been proven and there is no explanation for the Meissner effect using standard thermodynamics, but just google it and ask yourself how or where does the power come from to lift the cube and hold it there, Google The Nassikas thruster for an eye opener. Tesla was far ahead of Einstein who only spoke of our four dimensional effects and had scorn for much of the Quantum theories which have since, many of them have been shown to be true. Google these things and broaden your horizons, not to mention proving Tesla’s theory.

  2. 2
    David Pollock says:

    As to “Despite being a member of the British Humanist Association, he is an old-school atheist, of the sort that Sir Fred Hoyle and Anthony Flew belonged to. This is to be separated from the new, angry atheist epitomized by Richard Dawkins”: This is ambiguous but suggests that the British Humanist Association is for “the new, angry atheists” which is far from the truth. The BHA is concerned with protecting human rights in general and specifically those of non-religious people and with promoting the non-religious ethical lifestance Humanism. It is only marginally concerned with religion – principally when it acts as an obstacle to these objectives, e.g. when religious institutions seek to impose their values on others.

    BTW, Antony Flew spelled his name without an H.

  3. 3

    DP @ 2: Ah, but don’t you see my dear friend, yours IS a religion, and you believe in it so deeply (cherish it?) as to join a group that is “specifically” concerned with protecting one group (non-religious people).

    Like you, I am a religious person…but not afraid to admit it. I sit on the opposite side of the table. So, (to borrow your phrasing), I am only marginally concerned with atheism – principally when it acts as an obstacle to my theistic objectives, e.g. when atheist institutions seek to impose their values on others.

  4. 4
    David Pollock says:

    Dear anonymous person going under the soubriquet “Truth will set you free” –

    No: Humanism is not a religion – why waste a useful word by watering down its meaning to the point of uselessness like some homoeopathic medicine?

    (NB the Supreme Court description of religion: “Religion could summarily be described as a belief system going beyond sensory perception or scientific data, held by a group of adherents, which claims to explain mankind’s place in the universe and relationship with the infinite, and to teach its adherents how they are to live their lives in conformity with the spiritual understanding associated with the belief system” – see para 57 at https://www.supremecourt.uk/decided-cases/docs/UKSC_2013_0030_Judgment.pdf. Humanism could never be so construed.)

    What I concede to you is that Humanism is a lifestance – or a ‘belief’ as under human rights and equality law: it is a set of beliefs and attitudes that fulfils some of the functions that a religion fulfils for its followers – see http://www.thinkingabouthumani.....-in-short/

    And as a humanist I am concerned NOT to impose my values on religious people but to find a just balance between their freedom of religion and my freedom of belief and both with everyone’s rights to equality and non-discrimination – see http://www.thinkingabouthumani.....-religion/ and http://www.thinkingabouthumani.....objection/.

  5. 5
    bornagain77 says:

    Southwestern University Law Review: DEALING WITH THE ENTANGLEMENT OF RELIGION AND THE ORIGIN OF LIFE IN AMERICAN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
    Excerpt: But each time we present a theory of life’s origin to our schoolchildren, we are showing preference. And by actually looking at the theories and what they represent, as well as looking at what religion provides for people, we can see that the government, even in limiting the teaching to only evolution, is endorsing a religious ideology. A message exists behind this endorsement – the same message people feared would exist if we allowed schools to teach biblical creationism theories or even intelligent design theory. The message itself is an endorsement. Accordingly, the government is endorsing a particular religious belief – the belief that no supernatural being exists. In effect, this endorsement not only advances that particular religious belief and inhibits other religious beliefs, but also it shows an utter failure of maintaining the government’s requisite neutrality involving religion and the government.
    https://litigation-essentials.lexisnexis.com/webcd/app?action=DocumentDisplay&crawlid=1&doctype=cite&docid=37+Sw.+U.+L.+Rev.+1&srctype=smi&srcid=3B15&key=90873d971bf3d768563adad5bf41fe28

  6. 6
    Vy says:

    No: Humanism is not a religion – why waste a useful word by watering down its meaning to the point of uselessness like some homoeopathic medicine?

    According to the court, it IS.

    And so is Atheism, and these days the difference between Humanism and Atheism seems to be a matter of difference in letters used to describe the same idiocy.

    And as a humanist I am concerned NOT to impose my values on religious people but to find a just balance between their freedom of religion and my freedom of belief and both with everyone’s rights to equality and non-discrimination

    Tell that to the birds.

  7. 7
    Vy says:

    The BHA is concerned with protecting human rights in general and specifically those of non-religious people and with promoting the non-religious ethical lifestance Humanism. It is only marginally concerned with religion – principally when it acts as an obstacle to these objectives, e.g. when religious institutions seek to impose their values on others.

    What an absolutely unrealistic and simplistic description of the BHA and Humanism.

    The reality is less “lovely”.

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