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String theory has come to be seen as faith, not reason?

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Readers may remember science writer Philip Ball, who described the many worlds multiverse as a fantasy, verging on nihilism.

At Prospect Magazine, he narrates the string theory showdown:

One of the key predictions specific to string theory is that the three dimensions of space (up-down, left-right and front-back, say) and the one dimension of space (past-future) are not all there is to the fabric of reality. String theory insisted that there are in fact not four but ten dimensions of spacetime—and Witten’s M-theory added one more. We don’t see these dimensions because they are “compactified:” in effect rolled up and hidden away, much as the three-dimensional form of a hosepipe looks like a one-dimensional strand from far enough away.

Proposing something as dramatic as seven extra dimensions, without offering the slightest prospect of testing to see if they are there, is a step too far for some physicists. String theory develops its arguments carefully and systematically, extrapolating from the physics we already know using sound mathematical reasoning. But it cannot avoid making many assumptions on the way, which we have no means of validating, and so it can seem to be nothing but a tissue of speculation. That’s why nailing your flag to the mast of string theory has come to be seen as an expression of faith rather than reason, and physics has become polarised into believers and sceptics. Those tensions have been ramped up by the fact that, during the past several decades, string theory looked a little like a monopoly that you had to buy into if you wanted to make an impression in fundamental physics. (It’s important to remember, though, that this was only one highly specialized enclave of the entire discipline.)

As in, you can buy it, but you can’t sell it?

See also: Multiverse cosmology: Assuming that evidence still matters, what does it say?


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4 Replies to “String theory has come to be seen as faith, not reason?

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    A little history into the attempt to find the ‘theory of everything’:
    It is interesting to note that special relativity is found to ‘merge’ with quantum mechanics whereas general relativity does not ‘merge’ with quantum mechanics:

    Theories of the Universe: Quantum Mechanics vs. General Relativity
    Excerpt: The first attempt at unifying relativity and quantum mechanics took place when special relativity was merged with electromagnetism. This created the theory of quantum electrodynamics, or QED. It is an example of what has come to be known as relativistic quantum field theory, or just quantum field theory. QED is considered by most physicists to be the most precise theory of natural phenomena ever developed.
    In the 1960s and ’70s, the success of QED prompted other physicists to try an analogous approach to unifying the weak, the strong, and the gravitational forces. Out of these discoveries came another set of theories that merged the strong and weak forces called quantum chromodynamics, or QCD, and quantum electroweak theory, or simply the electroweak theory, which you’ve already been introduced to.
    If you examine the forces and particles that have been combined in the theories we just covered, you’ll notice that the obvious force missing is that of gravity.

    Precise measurements test quantum electrodynamics, constrain possible fifth fundamental force – June 04, 2013
    Excerpt: Quantum electrodynamics (QED) – the relativistic quantum field theory of electrodynamics – describes how light and matter interact – achieves full agreement between quantum mechanics and special relativity.,, QED solves the problem of infinities associated with charged pointlike particles and, perhaps more importantly, includes the effects of spontaneous particle-antiparticle generation from the vacuum.,,, Recently, scientists,, tested QED to extreme precision..,,, can be interpreted in terms of constraints on possible fifth-force interactions beyond the Standard Model of physics,,

    As to the claim that ‘QED solves the problem of infinities’, that claim is not quite true. Richard Feynman, rather than saying he solved the problem of infinity, called his solution “brushing infinity under the rug”.

    THE INFINITY PUZZLE: Quantum Field Theory and the Hunt for an Orderly Universe
    Excerpt: In quantum electrodynamics, which applies quantum mechanics to the electromagnetic field and its interactions with matter, the equations led to infinite results for the self-energy or mass of the electron. After nearly two decades of effort, this problem was solved after World War II by a procedure called renormalization, in which the infinities are rolled up into the electron’s observed mass and charge, and are thereafter conveniently ignored. Richard Feynman, who shared the 1965 Nobel Prize with Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga for this breakthrough, referred to this sleight of hand as “brushing infinity under the rug.”

    Feynman voices his discomfort with “brushing infinity under the rug” here

    “It always bothers me that in spite of all this local business, what goes on in a tiny, no matter how tiny, region of space, and no matter how tiny a region of time, according to laws as we understand them today, it takes a computing machine an infinite number of logical operations to figure out. Now how can all that be going on in that tiny space? Why should it take an infinite amount of logic to figure out what one stinky tiny bit of space-time is going to do?”
    – Richard Feynman – one of the founding fathers of QED (Quantum Electrodynamics)
    Quote taken from the 6:45 minute mark of the following video:

    I don’t know about Feynman, but as for myself, being a Christian Theist, I find it rather comforting to know that it takes an ‘infinite amount of logic to figure out what one stinky tiny bit of space-time is going to do’:

    “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
    of note: ‘the Word’ in John1:1 is translated from ‘Logos’ in Greek. Logos is also the root word from which we derive our modern word logic

    But alas for mathematicians, infinity is not so easily ignored. Infinity pops up again in the attempt to reconcile Special Relativity-Quantum Mechanics (QED) with General Relativity.

    Excerpt: The biggest challenge to today’s physicists is how to reconcile general relativity and quantum mechanics. However, these two pillars of modern science were bound to be incompatible. “The universe of general relativity is a smooth rubber sheet. It is continuous and flowing, never sharp, never pointy. Quantum mechanics, on the other hand, describes a jerky and discontinuous universe. What the two theories have in common – and what they clash over – is zero.”,, “The infinite zero of a black hole — mass crammed into zero space, curving space infinitely — punches a hole in the smooth rubber sheet. The equations of general relativity cannot deal with the sharpness of zero. In a black hole, space and time are meaningless.”,, “Quantum mechanics has a similar problem, a problem related to the zero-point energy. The laws of quantum mechanics treat particles such as the electron as points; that is, they take up no space at all. The electron is a zero-dimensional object,,, According to the rules of quantum mechanics, the zero-dimensional electron has infinite mass and infinite charge.

    Michio Kaku – The Collapse Of Physics As We Know It – video

    It is also interesting to note in pondering this ‘infinity problem’ that Godel brought Cantor’s ‘logic of infinity’ to completion with the incompleteness theorem.

    Georg Cantor – The Mathematics Of Infinity – video

    Kurt Godel’s part in finally bringing the incompleteness theorem to fruition can be picked up here

    Kurt Gödel – Incompleteness Theorem – video

    As you can see, somewhat from the preceding sort video clips from the original BBC ‘Dangerous Knowledge’ video, mathematics cannot be held to be ‘true’ unless an assumption for a highest transcendent infinity is held to be true. A highest infinity which Cantor, and even Godel, held to be God.

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    I point all this out, i.e. the ‘infinity problem’ and incompleteness, to highlight the most profound confusion in modern physics. The most profound confusion in modern physics is the fallacious belief that mathematical description is superior to agent causality in terms of explanatory power.

    A Professor’s Journey out of Nihilism: Why I am not an Atheist – University of Wyoming – J. Budziszewski
    Excerpt page12: “There were two great holes in the argument about the irrelevance of God. The first is that in order to attack free will, I supposed that I understood cause and effect; I supposed causation to be less mysterious than volition.
    If anything, it is the other way around. I can perceive a logical connection between premises and valid conclusions. I can perceive at least a rational connection between my willing to do something and my doing it. But between the apple and the earth, I can perceive no connection at all. Why does the apple fall? We don’t know. “But there is gravity,” you say. No, “gravity” is merely the name of the phenomenon, not its explanation. “But there are laws of gravity,” you say. No, the “laws” are not its explanation either; they are merely a more precise description of the thing to be explained, which remains as mysterious as before. For just this reason, philosophers of science are shy of the term “laws”; they prefer “lawlike regularities.” To call the equations of gravity “laws” and speak of the apple as “obeying” them is to speak as though, like the traffic laws, the “laws” of gravity are addressed to rational agents capable of conforming their wills to the command. This is cheating, because it makes mechanical causality (the more opaque of the two phenomena) seem like volition (the less). In my own way of thinking the cheating was even graver, because I attacked the less opaque in the name of the more.
    The other hole in my reasoning was cruder. If my imprisonment in a blind causality made my reasoning so unreliable that I couldn’t trust my beliefs, then by the same token I shouldn’t have trusted my beliefs about imprisonment in a blind causality. But in that case I had no business denying free will in the first place.”

    The Christian founders of modern science understood the distinction between a mathematical description of a law and the agent causality of the lawgiver quite well.

    “God is not a “God of the gaps”, he is God of the whole show.,,, C. S. Lewis put it this way: “Men became scientific because they expected law in nature and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver.”
    John Lennox – Not the God of the Gaps, But the Whole Show – 2012

    Perhaps the most famous confusion of a mere mathematical description of a law and the causal agency required to be behind the law is Stephen Hawking’s following statement:

    “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.The universe didn’t need a God to begin; it was quite capable of launching its existence on its own,”
    Stephen Hawking

    Here is an excerpt of an article, (that is well worth reading in full), in which Dr. Gordon, in fairly rough fashion, exposes Stephen Hawking’s delusion for thinking that mathematical description and agent causality are the same thing.

    BRUCE GORDON: Hawking’s irrational arguments – October 2010
    Excerpt: ,,,The physical universe is causally incomplete and therefore neither self-originating nor self-sustaining. The world of space, time, matter and energy is dependent on a reality that transcends space, time, matter and energy.
    This transcendent reality cannot merely be a Platonic realm of mathematical descriptions, for such things are causally inert abstract entities that do not affect the material world,,,
    Rather, the transcendent reality on which our universe depends must be something that can exhibit agency – a mind that can choose among the infinite variety of mathematical descriptions and bring into existence a reality that corresponds to a consistent subset of them. This is what “breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe.” Anything else invokes random miracles as an explanatory principle and spells the end of scientific rationality.,,,
    Universes do not “spontaneously create” on the basis of abstract mathematical descriptions, nor does the fantasy of a limitless multiverse trump the explanatory power of transcendent intelligent design. What Mr. Hawking’s contrary assertions show is that mathematical savants can sometimes be metaphysical simpletons. Caveat emptor.

    Now, if we allow agent causality back into math as rightly it should be, then a solution to the ‘infinity problem’ between General Relativity and Special Relativity/Quantum Mechanics readily pops out for us.

    The End Of Christianity – Finding a Good God in an Evil World – Pg.31
    William Dembski PhD. Mathematics
    Excerpt: “In mathematics there are two ways to go to infinity. One is to grow large without measure. The other is to form a fraction in which the denominator goes to zero. The Cross is a path of humility in which the infinite God becomes finite and then contracts to zero, only to resurrect and thereby unite a finite humanity within a newfound infinity.”

    Namely, the resurrection of Christ from death provides a empirically backed reconciliation of Quantum Mechanics/Special Relativity, (Quantum Electrodynamics), and General Relativity into the much sought after ‘theory of everything’.

    The Center Of The Universe Is Life (Jesus) – General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Entropy and The Shroud Of Turin – video

    Verse and Music:

    Colossians 1:15-20
    The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

    Empty (Empty Cross Empty Tomb) with Dan Haseltine Matt Hammitt

    It is also interesting to note Godel’s view of God:

    The God of the Mathematicians – Goldman
    Excerpt: As Gödel told Hao Wang, “Einstein’s religion [was] more abstract, like Spinoza and Indian philosophy. Spinoza’s god is less than a person; mine is more than a person; because God can play the role of a person.”
    Kurt Gödel

    Supplemental notes:

    Two very different ‘eternities’: Special Relativity, General Relativity, Heaven and Hell

  3. 3
    Me_Think says:

    The compactified dimensions can be probed only at Planck level energy scales, which will remain a dream for decades to come, so there is no way to falsify the clever String theory proponents.It should be noted that the most audacious papers are always based on string theory. IMO String theory is harming the reputation of scientists.

  4. 4
    kairosfocus says:

    News, rather than faith vs reason [–> cf. here: reason always in the end rests on finitely remote first plausibles that are taken as givens on trust], a better phrasing would seem to be that a good slice of string theory has crossed the border between science and philosophy. Particularly, where want of access to empirical confirmation or testing is concerned. One should be aware, of the unifying impact, but should be cautious for the lack of access to observational testing. KF

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