With Physics Like That, Who Needs Reality?

The quest for reality has been exemplified by science. However:

From a recent New York Times op-ed, “A Crisis at the Edge of Physics:”

“DO physicists need empirical evidence to confirm their theories?

You may think that the answer is an obvious yes, experimental confirmation being the very heart of science. But a growing controversy at the frontiers of physics and cosmology suggests that the situation is not so simple.”

In December 2014 famous physicists George Ellis and Joseph Silk, published in the journal Nature…Scientific Method: Defend the Integrity of Physics…Attempts to exempt speculative theories of the Universe from experimental verification undermine science.”

Science is immensely old. I pointed this out for dogs in “Very Ancient Relationships“. The Ancient Greeks had more than six breeds of cattle which had been evolved in Greece, specifically, to genetically modify them in a suitable manner:

Obtained By Ancient Greece Artificial & Natural Selections

Obtained By Ancient Greece Artificial & Natural Selections

[The Greeks were famous for their mix of natural and artificial selection of cattle.]

Ellis and Silk wrote that:

“This year, debates in physics circles took a worrying turn. Faced with difficulties in applying fundamental theories to the observed Universe, some researchers called for a change in how theoretical physics is done. They began to argue — explicitly — that if a theory is sufficiently elegant and explanatory, it need not be tested experimentally, breaking with centuries of philosophical tradition of defining scientific knowledge as empirical. We disagree. As the philosopher of science Karl Popper argued: a theory must be falsifiable to be scientific.

Actually, Ellis and Silk are completely wrong there. The theory that the Earth turned around the Sun, originated by Aristarchus of Samos (a Greek island in sight of Anatolia, presently swamped by refugees). Its competitor was the geocentric theory. However, there was a strong argument against geocentrism: it stretched credulity. Indeed, the Greeks could compute that the Sun was much much larger than the Earth. It made sense that the little thing turned around the big thing as Buridan pointed out (around 1330 CE). To this geocentrists could only reply with silly arguments such as: man and his creator are big, etc.

So Karl Popper was also wrong. In the most spectacular case.

The Heliocentric Theory was a full blown scientific theory, so was the Geocentric Epicycles. However only a careful study of the illumination of the phases of Venus showed definitively that the the latter was wrong. This happened only in the mid-Seventeenth Century.

Ellis and Silk: “Chief among the ‘elegance will suffice’ advocates are some string theorists. Because string theory is supposedly the ‘only game in town’ capable of unifying the four fundamental forces, they believe that it must contain a grain of truth even though it relies on extra dimensions that we can never observe. Some cosmologists, too, are seeking to abandon experimental verification of grand hypotheses that invoke imperceptible domains such as the kaleidoscopic multiverse (comprising myriad universes), the ‘many worlds’ version of quantum reality (in which observations spawn parallel branches of reality) and pre-Big Bang concepts.”

In other words, many leading physicists are arguing for leaving behind the search for evidence, the old fashion way, leaving no stone unturned, just like smart prehistoric men did. Instead:

“These unprovable hypotheses are quite different from those that relate directly to the real world and that are testable through observations — such as the standard model of particle physics and the existence of dark matter and dark energy. As we see it, theoretical physics risks becoming a no-man’s-land between mathematics, physics and philosophy that does not truly meet the requirements of any.

The issue of testability has been lurking for a decade. String theory and multiverse theory have been criticized in popular books1, 2, 3 and articles…. In March 2014, one of the founders of inflation theory, theorist Paul Steinhardt wrote5 in Nature that “the theory of inflationary cosmology is no longer scientific because it is so flexible that it can accommodate any observational result”.

As I said above, Popper was wrong: falsifiability is neither necessary, nor sufficient to qualify a theory as scientific.

Another example of untestable theory was biological evolution through natural selection: they Greeks knew it to be true. One can read the theory explicitly stated in Lucretius’ giant poem about the universe. However the Greeks did not. know how to test it. The only tests they knew were indirect, they had to do with ARTIFICIAL selection.

Still biological evolution was a valid scientific theory, although untestable for millennia, and perhaps even hundreds of thousand of millennia. Many a shaman is bound to have stumbled upon it.

New York Times: “Implicit in such a maneuver is a philosophical question: How are we to determine whether a theory is true if it cannot be validated experimentally? Should we abandon it just because, at a given level of technological capacity, empirical support might be impossible? If not, how long should we wait for such experimental machinery before moving on: ten years? Fifty years? Centuries? …

Are superstrings and the multiverse, painstakingly theorized by hundreds of brilliant scientists, anything more than modern-day epicycles?”

Not even that. Epicycles were useful and observable. They actually are true in some sense, because they reflect Fourier Analysis of periodic motions.

Today’s most brandished “scientific” theories have nothing good about them, and worse of all, they don’t pass the smell test. Just as the Geocentric Theory did not pass the smell test. Just much worse. Theories were a gazillion universes get created in every cubic millimeters are just insane. Arguable even more insane as the worst from Daesh.

And guess what? Both insanities are related. If all what our supposedly best minds, our most rational, most scientific minds can produce, and brandish, is sheer insanity, why can’t Islam Fundamentalists, Saudi despots, North Korean dictators, and hordes of degenerated plutocrats not be crazy too?

So why not go with the flow? There are jobs to be had there. Saudi Arabia is looking for more eight more executioners to execute those who “insult Islam“. No experience necessary. Just a willingness to whip and “amputate”.

Patrice Ayme’


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12 Responses to “With Physics Like That, Who Needs Reality?”

  1. gmax Says:

    Civilization rots by the head, as you said.

    And madness propagates. The blogger in Saudi Arabia condemned to be whipped one thousand times, plus ten years in jail, plus fines, you talked about him before. All because he insulted the retarded religion of the weak, Islam?

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      I did not mention him explicitly this time, but I have several months ago. The case of Saudi Arabia is hard. Ideally, the plutocracy would be reforming. But it’s not. And it’s a worse case than Iran.

  2. ianmillerblog Says:

    Patrice, while agree more or less with what you say, you still avoid the issue of what a theory should be. You are correct that falsifiability is not a valid requirement, because as you say, you cannot falsify evolution theory. Some say you should predict observations, but that has two problems. The first one is the order in which things are done. Thus Newtonian dynamics and the inverse square law of gravitation predict that orbital motion should follow the conic section paths, but it is not really a prediction because Kepler had more or less shown it. Furthermore, despite the fact that it is in certain detail wrong, I am very happy to call it soundly scientific. So, for me, being wrong is not a critical failure. I am of the opinion that a theory that accounts for observations and rationalises them, whereby you can state a relationship that summarises a lot of observations is scientific because it enables the user of the relationship to know what is likely to happen when something is done, without having to wade through a huge amount of data or to guess. (I suppose that borders on a prediction.) Being irrational would be a killer for me, as would the impossibility of observational confirmation.

    One of the problems for assessing a theory, though, is if the theory is not an extension of a standard theory, but rather it competes with the standard theory, it is remarkably difficult to get scientists who make a key observation to actually admit the result if it tends to falsify standard theory. I have a small collection of papers that have confined my theoretical work, but the results are merely presented with an exclamation mark. An interesting example (to me, if not to anyone else) occurred in my younger days. My first theory had a prediction in one paper that the tetrahedrane structure, if it could be made, would be so susceptible to degradation by acid that water could be sufficiently acidic. (It required unsubstituted tetrahedrane and, since it would be a hydrocarbon, and probably a gas, mixing would also be an issue, but the statement was made not so much as a prediction, but to warn people who were trying to make it.) I actually got mail on the issue (the days of letters!) where somebody asked me if I were insane, did I mean it, or was something wrong? I confirmed I meant it, and if he ever made it, I would be interested in the outcome of a test. Well, he made a highly substituted version of the hydrocarbon, and never mentioned this issue.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Ian: You are very right that any new theory is going to be confronted to a standard theory. One contributes to science by fostering an improved theory. So, for example, when the heliocentric theory was presented, it contributed to science in the sense that if fostered knowledge by augmenting the possibilities of what real science could end up being. (So my fanatical position that science is only what “IS” depends upon what “IS” means, as Clinton would point out…

      “Wrong” is indeed relative: String theories are “right” (mathematically), but wrong philosophically (they suffer from the same basic problem of General Relativity, namely that they are tautologies… Yet, differently from GR, there are an infinity of them. At least GR because the Levi Civitta connection, is unique!)

    • gmax Says:

      Tetrahedrane? A four headed hedrane? What’s an hedrane?

      • ianmillerblog Says:

        Tetrahedrane is a hydrocarbon comprising four carbon atoms at the vertices of a tetrahedron. When I say it is a hydrocarbon, technically it is as yet not, because it has yet to be made. It is a real challenge for organic chemists. The carbon carbon bonds are suppose to have an angle of 109.3 degrees to other bonds (the carbon is at the centre of a tetrahedron!) whereas in this configuration they are all bent around to 60 degrees to each other, and this causes a lot of strain energy. The fourth bond to each carbon atom is to a hydrogen in the parent compound, although these hydrogen atoms can in principle be substituted by just about anything, although in practice by very little. (The sample made that i referred to had four tetrabutyl groups.) My favourite that just about could be made (within my theoretical work) would be tetranitrotetrahedrane. It would be stable, but as an explosive it would make nitroglycerine seem relatively harmless.

      • Patrice Ayme Says:

        A tetrahedron has 4 equal triangular faces, 4 summits… The idea apparently would be to connect each carbon to each other carbon through 3 bonds, but see what Ian is saying…

  3. brodix Says:

    What if we thought of theories as chemical bonds. Stable, except when they are not.
    So what happens when you have lots of fairly stable theories and virtually everything about life is a theory on some level, then change becomes a function of using one instability to unleash others. Much as chemical explosives are used to break nuclear bonds, to create atomic bombs.
    Then we consider where the direction society might go, the weak spots in various memes supporting it and how they might be leveraged to drive society in a positive direction.
    I can think of three theories central to civilization that might be subject to destabilization.
    1)That time is a narrative vector from past to future, on which the whole linear theory of history is based, but that it would be more effectively explained as change creating and dissolving said events, such that they come and go, future to past and only the present physically exists.
    2) That a spiritual absolute would be some ideal father figure from which we are fallen, when the absolute is elemental, not ideal, so a spiritual absolute would be that most raw sense of aware being shining through all sentient creatures and possibly all biotic entities.
    3) That money is a commodity that can be manufactured and stored to infinity, when it is contractual notes in an extended voucher system, in which stores of excess amount to fat in the system and need to be kept to a fairly minor amount, for a healthy economy and that as much exchange as possible be sustained on the communal level, especially when most of what most people need to save for, housing, child rearing, retirement, etc, are all fairly predictable and can therefore be put back into the organic functions of the community and not require an external exchange system that has been explicitly designed for rent extraction, by those who manage it.
    Obviously there are lots other deeply embedded assumptions in human culture, that could be brought to the surface and examined under a critical eye, should there emerge a larger desire to really study the nature of our reality.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Nobody can accuse you to lack imagination! A few remarks:
      1) I don’t use “memes” the idea of idea is enough of an idea. Dawkins tried to say something which is not even true in biology.
      2) Instability in civilization is a positive. Because ecology does not stand still.
      3) Time is not a “vector” but what is called in physics, a “scalar”.

      • brodix Says:


        It is a useful concept for dealing with ideologies and belief systems, in terms of how believers/those on the inside act as though they are organically whole. It’s more an expression of sociology.

        Civilizations are more stable when they can act as an ecosystem, in which the component organisms live and die. Invariably though, they coalesce into a larger whole and then go through the cycle of growth, stability, stagnation and degeneration.
        Presumably what makes capitalism and democracy resilient is they are supposed to function as the ecosystem, but those who reach the top of the wave like to freeze the stability, so it becomes a stagnating entity.

        Physics treats time as a scalar because it treats it as the measurement, not what is being measured. Of course, physics argues time is symmetric and can’t explain why it appears asymmetric, other than entropy.
        Now if we consider what is actually being measured, action, then the reason time only goes one direction is inertia. The primal fact of action is that it is occurring one way and not any other.
        One of the consequences of making math a religion.

  4. John Rogers Says:

    This is a little off topic, but I previously told you about being censured on DailyKos for making a comment about the obvious CIA connections of Obama’s family.

    Just to test the waters, I posted a much shorter, much more innocuous comment along the same line and the hammer instantly came down!

    These people are sooooo much smarter than us they don’t realize how they give themselves away,

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Well, John, thanks for the information! It connects to the theme, because this general dummification, or stupidification, is what being led by insane physics led us to. It’s part of the same set-up when we are led to believe that organizations founded by the plutocratic machine (in the case of the Daily Kos, the CIA) are from the left, or interested to change things for the best.

      I came to this conclusion interacting with the likes of the Daily Kos, for years. Then, I finally understood… So I never, ever go to the Daily Kos. I often get more left wing basic data from the WALL STREET Journal (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) than from loud and official (sort of) left-wing bladder bags.

      I know very well that the NYT censors my comments according to how much they threaten the established mental order…

      I have extended my critique to Noam Chomsky (who is so extreme as being INEFFECTIVE… That’s why he makes such a great Pluto pet…) https://patriceayme.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/chomsky-mit-bimbo/

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