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Should scientists trust untestable theories?

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File:Calabi yau.jpg
5 dimensions in 2
The answer to that question will decide what science is. And scientists are asking it now.

From Quanta:

String theory, the multiverse and other ideas of modern physics are potentially untestable. At a historic meeting in Munich, scientists and philosophers asked: should we trust them anyway?

The crisis, as Ellis and Silk tell it, is the wildly speculative nature of modern physics theories, which they say reflects a dangerous departure from the scientific method. Many of today’s theorists — chief among them the proponents of string theory and the multiverse hypothesis — appear convinced of their ideas on the grounds that they are beautiful or logically compelling, despite the impossibility of testing them. Ellis and Silk accused these theorists of “moving the goalposts” of science and blurring the line between physics and pseudoscience. “The imprimatur of science should be awarded only to a theory that is testable,” Ellis and Silk wrote, thereby disqualifying most of the leading theories of the past 40 years. “Only then can we defend science from attack.”

They were reacting, in part, to the controversial ideas of Richard Dawid, an Austrian philosopher whose 2013 book String Theory and the Scientific Method identified three kinds of “non-empirical” evidence that Dawid says can help build trust in scientific theories absent empirical data. Dawid, a researcher at LMU Munich, answered Ellis and Silk’s battle cry and assembled far-flung scholars anchoring all sides of the argument for the high-profile event last week. More.

Columbia mathematician Peter Woit’s comments are most interesting:

Natalie Wolchover has a very good article at Quanta, entitled A Fight for the Soul of Science, reporting on the recent Munich conference discussed here. David Gross sounds a little bit like John Horgan, emphasizing the problem of HEP physics getting too difficult, with an “End of Science” danger. I think he has the problem right:

“The issue in confronting the next step,” said Gross, “is not one of ideology but strategy: What is the most useful way of doing science?”

I hadn’t realized quite how radical Dawid is. He seems to have moved on from discussing theory “assessment” to theory “confirmation”. Even the most devoted string theorists like Gross may be unwilling to sign on to this, comfortable with the idea that string theory deserves a positive assessment, as a promising idea still worth working on, much less so with claims from Dawid that one can sensibly discuss string theory as a “confirmed” theory, one that belongs in our school textbooks.

Once a theory is in the textbooks, it needn’t be science at all. Popular culture takes over. Hence the drive to get to textbook. After which, the textbook, however irrelevant to reality, rules.

It becomes a religion funded at public expense.

See also: The war on falsifiability

and

The Dover case, John West, and intelligent design
I’m glad if the American public education scandal is no longer a big part of the ID community’s issues.

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6 Replies to “Should scientists trust untestable theories?

  1. 1
    jimmontg says:

    They have simply taken their theories to prove atheism and are trying to present them as fact. That is precisely what Darwin did. There is a chapter about Darwin’s attitude in the Mere Creation book edited by Dembski. The You Guys Lost chapter by Nancy Pearcey. She reveals that Darwin simply would accept nothing but a naturalist answer.
    Dawid and others are trying the same thing, but it is at the wrong time as even atheist scientists are not willing to give up without at least some empiricism. These people don’t even have finches beaks level of proof. It is amazing as your article says, it’s religion. I remember a long time ago reading a book about apologetics dealing with Secular Religions. I think one of the authors was Don Stewart. This would appear to be somewhere on the same plane.
    It is simply amazing that anyone would give them a soapbox to stand on. No proof, no evidence and Dawkins thinks I abused my children for believing in God. What is he doing?

  2. 2
    Robert Byers says:

    I don’t think testability is the most important thing.
    Who says it is?
    Its about intelligent accumulation of evidence. Testing just may bev a aspect.
    Yet to stop all conclusions from being science ones because of testability is imprisoning the human intellect.
    can’t be tested, Yet the conclusions are said to be scientific!
    They may or may not.
    Yet I think they could be without testing.
    Science is just like a important court case.
    Just prove it. Trests or no tests.

  3. 3

    See ya at Dover II.

  4. 4
    Mung says:

    Do you have tickets?

  5. 5
    YouThinkSo says:

    I think the bigger question should be…. Do you think that scientists should trust testable theories.

    If something is testable, it still does not mean that the theory is actually correct. If it is correct, then it’s correctness should connect you directly to the next correctness, whatever it may be, and do so since there is no error/barrier residing between the two. But if you stick to accepting a theory simply because it seems to have been testable, then an error/barrier may have been given permanent support.

    For instance, Einstein’s Special theory of Relativity seemed to me to be incomplete, yet tests seem to have given such a theory immense support. So, I decided to start from scratch and analyze motion independently. The outcome produced all of the special relativity equations, yet also it provided a different view of SR by exposing the absolute foundation of which SR resides within. But who cares, since less than absolute has been accepted.

    If interested, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....Bh-Mq7HdoQ

  6. 6
    bornagain says:

    YouThinkSo, you may be interested in this:

    The God of the Mathematicians – The religious beliefs that guided Kurt Gödel’s revolutionary Ideas
    by David P. Goldman – August 2010
    Excerpt: In a Festschrift for Einstein’s seventieth birthday in 1949, Gödel demonstrated the possibility of a special case in which, as Palle Yourgrau described the result, “the large-scale geometry of the world is so warped that there exist space-time curves that bend back on themselves so far that they close; that is, they return to their starting point.” This means that “a highly accelerated spaceship journey along such a closed path, or world line, could only be described as time travel.” In fact, “Gödel worked out the length and time for the journey, as well as the exact speed and fuel requirements.”
    Gödel, of course, did not actually believe in time travel, but he understood his paper to undermine the Einsteinian worldview from within.
    http://www.firstthings.com/art.....ematicians

    Of note; In the following study, through a fairly ingenious thought experiment, challenged the assumption of length contraction as being valid for ‘photon clocks’. In doing so, they cleared up some loose ends in relativity concerning time’s relation to space. Loose ends that had been ample fodder for much of the speculation of time travel being possible in relativity:

    Physicists continue work to abolish time as fourth dimension of space – April 2012
    Excerpt: “The rate of photon clocks in faster inertial systems will not slow down with regard to the photon clocks in a rest inertial system because the speed of light is constant in all inertial systems,” he said. “The rate of atom clocks will slow down because the ‘relativity’ of physical phenomena starts at the scale of pi mesons.”
    He also explained that, without length contraction, time dilation exists but in a different way than usually thought. “Time dilatation exists not in the sense that time as a fourth dimension of space dilates and as a result the clock rate is slower,” he explained. “Time dilatation simply means that, in a faster inertial system, the velocity of change slows down and this is valid for all observers.,, Our research confirms Gödel’s vision: time is not a physical dimension of space through which one could travel into the past or future.”
    http://phys.org/news/2012-04-p.....space.html

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