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Particle physicist: Science is suffering from “baked in” bias

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From Sabine Hossenfelder, author of Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray, says science has a problem and we need to talk:

For the past 15 years, I have worked in the foundations of physics, a field which has not seen progress for decades. What happened 40 years ago is that theorists in my discipline became convinced the laws of nature must be mathematically beautiful in specific ways. By these standards, which are still used today, a good theory should be simple, and have symmetries, and it should not have numbers that are much larger or smaller than one, the latter referred to as “naturalness.”

Based on such arguments from beauty, they predicted that protons should be able to decay. Experiments have looked for this since the 1980s, but so far not a single proton has been caught in the act. This has ruled out many symmetry-based theories. But it is easy to amend these theories so that they evade experimental constraints, hence papers continue to be written about them.

People said it was just the maturity of the field.

But this doesn’t explain the stunning profusion of blundered predictions. It’s not like we predicted one particle that wasn’t there. We predicted hundreds of particles, and fields, and new symmetries, and tiny black holes, and extra-dimensions (in various shapes, and sizes, and widths), none of which were there.

No, and crackpot cosmology around the non-evidence-based multiverse has begun to play too big a role in the science news cycle as a result.

Lost in Math

Of course I am not the first to figure beauty doesn’t equal truth. Indeed, most physicists would surely agree that using aesthetic criteria to select theories is not good scientific practice. They do it anyway. Because all their colleagues do it. And because they all do it, this research will get cited, will get published, and then it will be approved by review panels which take citations and publications as a measure of quality. “Baked in bias” is a pretty good summary. Sabine Hossenfelder, “Science has a problem, and we must talk about it” at BackRe(Action

The challenge is simpler than sometimes supposed. People must be willing to accept a truth they don’t like. If the universe is not as we would like it to be, imagining a different one is fun and maybe profitable, maybe aesthetically pleasing. But it is not science.

See also: The fight over the universe has turned ugly, with accusations of “cheating”

Sabine Hossenfelder: The multiverse is “a fringe idea”

and

Free will is compatible with physics (cf Sabine Hossenfelder)

4 Replies to “Particle physicist: Science is suffering from “baked in” bias

  1. 1
    chris haynes says:

    Dr Hossenfelder is sounding foolish when she claims that the multiverse is a “fringe idea”. It is anything but.

    A fringe idea is not necessarily a lunatic one. A fringe idea is merely an idea promoted by obscure persons, against the opposition of the top people in the field.

    By contrast, the Multiverse idea is a promotion of the top names in Physics, including Drs Steven Hawking, Brian Greene, Lisa Randall, Leonard Susskind, Lawrence Krauss, , Juan Malcadena, Sean Carroll, Alan Guth, Lubos Motl, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson. With such endorsements, the Multiverse is mainstream Science. Dr Hossenfelder is damaging her credibility when she denies an obvious fact. It would be far better if she were to call it a “lunatic idea” instead of a “fringe idea”. Certainly no one but but a militant Atheist activist, or perhaps an aspiring physicist hungry for tenure would dispute that characterization,

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    Might I suggest that Sabine Hossenfelder’s finding the lack of empirical confirmation to be “ugly” is actually confirmation to the general rule of truth being related to beauty?

    Perhaps beauty has been too narrowly defined by some physicists and now physicists overlook the ‘ugliness’ that crops up in their theories?

    For instance, string theory started out “beautiful” but morphed into something ugly. Perhaps physicist, being the humans they are, ignored the ugliness since they fell in love with the theory in its youth when it was “beautiful”?

    The part of the book (‘The Trouble With Physics’) I found most interesting was the part which tells how the string theorists were scammed by Nature (or Mathematics). Of course, Smolin doesn’t put it exactly like this, but imagine the following conversation.———
    String theorists: We’ve got the Standard Model, and it works great, but it doesn’t include gravity, and it doesn’t explain lots of other stuff, like why all the elementary particles have the masses they do. We need a new, broader theory.
    Nature: Here’s a great new theory I can sell you. It combines quantum field theory and gravity, and there’s only one adjustable parameter in it, so all you have to do is find the right value of that parameter, and the Standard Model will pop right out.
    String theorists: We’ll take it.
    String theorists (some time later): Wait a minute, Nature, our new theory won’t fit into our driveway. String theory has ten dimensions, and our driveway only has four.
    Nature: I can sell you a Calabi-Yau manifold. These are really neat gadgets, and they’ll fold up string theory into four dimensions, no problem.
    String theorists: We’ll take one of those as well, please.
    Nature: Happy to help.
    String theorists (some time later): Wait a minute, Nature, there’s too many different ways to fold our Calabi-Yao manifold up. And it keeps trying to come unfolded. And string theory is only compatible with a negative cosmological constant, and we own a positive one.
    Nature: No problem. Just let me tie this Calabi-Yao manifold up with some strings and branes, and maybe a little duct tape, and you’ll be all set.
    String theorists: But our beautiful new theory is so ugly now!
    Nature: Ah! But the Anthropic Principle says that all the best theories are ugly.
    String theorists: It does?
    Nature: It does. And once you make it the fashion to be ugly, you’ll ensure that other theories will never beat you in beauty contests.
    String theorists: Hooray! Hooray! Look at our beautiful new theory.
    ———- Okay, I’ve taken a few liberties here. But according to Smolin’s book, string theory did start out looking like a very promising theory. And, like a scam, as it looks less and less promising, it’s hard to resist the temptation to throw good money (or research) after bad in the hope of getting something back for your effort.
    http://www.amazon.com/review/R2H7GVX4BUQQ68/

    Bottom line, beauty is a subjective property of mind that is in the eye of the beholder. And, while useful as a general rule for “truth”, is, because of personal bias, useless as a hard and fast rule for science.

    Moreover, “beauty” is in and of itself an argument for Theism:

    Aesthetic Arguments for the Existence of God:
    Excerpt: Beauty,,, can be appreciated only by the mind. This would be impossible, if this `idea’ of beauty were not found in the mind in a more perfect form.
    http://www.quodlibet.net/artic.....etic.shtml

    Of related note, Darwin himself held the existence of beauty to be a falsification of his theory.

    “The foregoing remarks lead me to say a few words on the protest lately made by some naturalists, against the utilitarian doctrine that every detail of structure has been produced for the good of its possessor. They believe that very many structures have been created for beauty in the eyes of man, or for mere variety. This doctrine, if true, would be absolutely fatal to my theory.”
    (Charles Darwin – 1859, 199)

    I guess this leaves the Darwinist arguing that nothing in reality is really beautiful?

    Sad!

  3. 3
    Axel says:

    I believe it was Einstein, who, when questioned concerning the criterion upon which he based his hypotheses, stated that it was aesthetic.

    But there has always been, since Einstein’s own day, a certain slavish, ‘myrmidonnish’, uncomprehending adoption of his insights into empirical science by the atheist ingenus of the Establishment that he so roundly despised.

    They are less enthusiastic about his spiritual and metaphysical insights, which they continue to paper over with nonsense, such as their frequent references to counter-intuitiveness, which a rational person recognises as illlogicality, counter-factuality, etc ; the very antithesis of ‘counter-intuitiveness’. Of course, ‘counter-intuitiveness’ can apply in many cases, nevertheless.

  4. 4
    Axel says:

    Yes, bornagain77, we all have differing capacities for recognising beauty and ugliness, hence Yahweh’s commandment via Moses, not to seethe a kid in its mother’s milk.

    The importance of remaining sensitive to moral beauty is imperative for the christian soul, as it evidently was for the ancient Hebrews.

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