A statement attributed to the brilliant oddball Richard Feynman is “You can recognise truth by its beauty and simplicity.” However,
The problem is that it’s difficult to defend the notion that the truth is recognisable by its beauty and simplicity, and it’s an idea that has contributed to getting fundamental physics into its current mess; for more on the latter topic, check out The Trouble with Physics (2006) by Lee Smolin, or Farewell to Reality (2013) by Jim Baggott, or subscribe to Peter Woit’s blog. To be clear, when discussing the simplicity and beauty of theories, we are not talking about Ockham’s razor (about which my colleague Elliott Sober has written for Aeon). Ockham’s razor is a prudent heuristic, providing us with an intuitive guide to the comparisons of different hypotheses. Other things being equal, we should prefer simpler ones. More specifically, the English monk William of Ockham (1287-1347) meant that ‘[hypothetical] entities are not to be multiplied without necessity’ (a phrase by the 17th-century Irish Franciscan philosopher John Punch). Thus, Ockham’s razor is an epistemological, not a metaphysical principle. It’s about how we know things, whereas Feynman’s and Dirac’s statements seem to be about the fundamental nature of reality.
But as the German theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder has pointed out (also in Aeon), there is absolutely no reason to think that simplicity and beauty are reliable guides to physical reality. She is right for a number of reasons.
To begin with, the history of physics (alas, seldom studied by physicists) clearly shows that many simple theories have had to be abandoned in favour of more complex and ‘ugly’ ones. (July 11, 2018)
Massimo Pigliucci, “Richard Feynman was wrong about beauty and truth in science” at Aeon
Hossenfelder’s comments, as above, in Aeon are here.
See also: Massimo Pigliucci: A Burden Of Proof In Science ThatJust Does Not Make Sense First, we are astonished at Pigliucci’s grand claims for the tautology of “natural selection” to produce adaptive complexity which is about as well demonstrated in the real world as magic…
Massimo Pigliucci Takes No Prisoners In His War On “Denialism”
Follow UD News at Twitter!