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Theoretical physicist: Present phase of physics “not normal” – but stagnation, not crisis


Lost in Math Theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder, author of Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray, acknowledges the seriousness of the situation but isn’t sure that the term “crisis” describes the current situation well:

I think stagnation describes it better. And let me be clear that the problem with this stagnation is not with the experiments. The problem is loads of wrong predictions from theoretical physicists.

The problem is also not that we lack data. We have data in abundance. But all the data are well explained by the existing theories – the standard model of particle physics and the cosmological concordance model. Still, we know that’s not it. The current theories are incomplete.

So what would she change?

I have spelled out many times very clearly what theoretical physicists should do differently. It’s just that they don’t like my answer. They should stop trying to solve problems that don’t exist. That a theory isn’t pretty is not a problem. Focus on mathematically well-defined problems, that’s what I am saying. And, for heaven’s sake, stop rewarding scientists for working on what is popular with their colleagues. Sabine Hossenfelder, “The present phase of stagnation in the foundations of physics is not normal” at BackRe(Action)

She notes that working on the hard mathematical problems led to breakthroughs in physics but fears that, once again, the continued organization of conferences and production of papers will be the choice. Oh, and nonsense: “blathering about naturalness and multiverses and shifting their ‘predictions,’ once again, to the next larger particle collider.”

Well, she’s got a turn of phrase. Let’s hope she keeps writing.

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See also: Is cosmology in crisis over how to measure the universe? One wonders how much of the problem stems from the need for a different universe from the one we have.

Theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder shares her self-doubts about exposing nonsense in cosmology


Sabine Hossenfelder: Free will is compatible with physics

Can I second what Sabine has so bravely written? And it isn't just particle physics. Stagnation afflicts every branch of science. From my limited experience, here are the fields I know about: evolutionary biology, magnetospheric physics, nuclear fusion, rocket science, plasma physics, cosmology [see the previous article], origin-of-life, and artificial intelligence. And in complete agreement with Sabine, every one of these fields has more people and more money than ever before. So why the universal stagnation? Sabine argues that science has become an insular field, and echo chamber of scientists patting each other on the back. An earlier blog on this site argued that science has become too fragmented, specialists who will not accept criticism from people not in their specialty. Others argue that science is too concerned with jobs and making a living. Others note that peer review is severely damaged--as argued about a recent article in Nature that had glaring statistical errors but was acceptable because it had the "right answer". Is there a single explanation that captures all these problems? Yes, Sabine, it was discussed in Stanley Jaki's history-of-science books (the Saviour of Science, God and the Cosmologists) about the abortive failure of Babylonian, Greek and Chinese science. He called it "bad metaphysics". Let me say it even more briefly: Atheism. Only in classical, trinitarian Christianity is "Science" even possible. Why? Because it bridges the chasm between the authoritarian, dogmatic, transcendant Creator with the immanent, experiential, egalitarian Creation. The first gives us unchangeable rules, the second gives us changeable recipes. But science lives in a precarious balance between rules and recipes. Only under Christianity could it thrive. And as our culture waffles between the rigid priesthood of scientists and the flexible sociology of political correct policies, the one thing that gets squeezed out is science--the pursuit of truth for the sake of truth, the thinking God's thoughts after him, the awe in uncovering the design of Creation. Sabine, science is stagnant toast until it rediscovers the humility of the servant who is invited "to enter into the joy of his master." Robert Sheldon

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