Thursday, January 05, 2006

Dover Judge Declares: String Theory Illegal!


But still, you have to wonder. After all, I am fairly certain Judge Jones would not have been sympathetic to, say, Michael Behe arguing:
"It would be very foolish to throw away the right answer on the basis that it doesn't conform to some criteria for what is or isn't science."
That would have been about as well received as a PZ Myers commencement address at Bob Jones University.

In truth, nobody would dare use that as justification for ID.

It is, however, being used in high energy physics. Prominent scientists are asking the community to accept their String Theory work even though it doesn’t conform to what we have traditionally (and now judicially) defined as the standard for science.

In a January 4, 2006 online article on Nature (subscription required) entiled Our Universe: Outrageous Fortune, correspondent Geoff Brumfiel writes:

For two decades now, theorists in the think-big field of cosmology have been stymied by a mathematical quirk in their equations. If the number [the cosmological constant] controlling the growth of the Universe since the Big Bang is just slightly too high, the Universe expands so rapidly that protons and neutrons never come close enough to bond into atoms. If it is just ever-so-slightly too small, it never expands enough, and everything remains too hot for even a single nucleus to form. Similar problems afflict the observed masses of elementary particles and the strengths of fundamental forces.

In other words, if you believe the equations of the world's leading cosmologists, the probability that the Universe would turn out this way by chance are infinitesimal - one in a very large number. "It's like you're throwing darts, and the bullseye is just one part in 10120 of the dart board," says Leonard Susskind, a string theorist based at Stanford University in California. "It's just stupid."

Amazingly a growing number of physicists are abandoning hope of finding an explanation in the form of a falsifiable, predictive (i.e., scientific) theory and are instead accepting the following explanation: dumb luck. Oh, to be sure, it's dumb luck mitigated by gazillions of unseen, unlucky universes behind the curtain (don't peek)—but it’s dumb luck just the same. Brumfiel writes:

But things have changed in the past few years, says astronomer Bernard Carr of Queen Mary, University of London, UK. String theorists and cosmologists are increasingly turning to dumb luck as an explanation. If their ideas stand up, it would mean the constants of nature are meaningless. "In the past, many people were almost violently opposed to that idea because it wasn't seen as proper science," Carr says. "But there's been a change of attitude."

Susskind, according to Brumfiel, tells us that things are not as bad as they sound—as long as you possess faith, or the belief in what is not seen:

More recently, string theorists have calculated that there could be 10500 universes, which is more than the number of atoms in our observable Universe. Under these circumstances, it becomes more reasonable to assume that several would turn out like ours. It's like getting zillions and zillions of darts to throw at the dart board, Susskind says. "Surely, a large number of them are going to wind up in the target zone." And of course, we exist in our particular Universe because we couldn't exist anywhere else.

Brumfiel reports that Nobel Laureate and director of the prestigious Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at UCSB, David Gross, who is a more traditional scientist—that is one who still believes in what we used to call science, is less than impressed:

It's an intriguing idea with just one problem, says Gross: "It's impossible to disprove." Because our Universe is, almost by definition, everything we can observe, there are no apparent measurements that would confirm whether we exist within a cosmic landscape of multiple universes, or if ours is the only one. And because we can't falsify the idea, Gross says, it isn't science. Or at least, it isn't science in any conventional sense of the word. "I think Gross sees this as science taking on some of the traits of religion," says [Bernard] Carr. "In a sense he's correct, because things like faith and beauty are becoming a component of the discussion."

A criticism that the theory is impossible to disprove—does that sound familiar?

According to Benard Carr, then, Gross sees the megaverse of the String Theory landscape, which is gaining wider and wider acceptance in that juicy intersection of cosmology and high energy physics, as religion.

A criticism that the theory amounts to religion—does that sound familiar?

Interestingly enough, a way, we are told, to look for evidence supporting design the landscape megaverse is to search for even more fine-tuning beyond the well-known cosmological constant miracle. The reasoning is straightforward:
  1. Our universe is fine-tuned.

  2. The only “scientific” (pay no attention to Professor Gross gnashing his teeth) explanation is a String Theory landscape megaverse.

  3. Therefore, discovering even more fine-tuning provides (indirect) support for the megaverse!
If you think I’m kidding, read more from Brumfiel's Nature article, especially the last paragraph quoted below:

In 2007, researchers at Europe's CERN particle physics centre in Geneva, Switzerland, will turn on the Large Hadron Collider, a massive accelerator that will probe particle energies never before seen by researchers. The accelerator might detect so-called supersymmetric particles, predicted by some as a way of unifying the strong and weak nuclear forces with the electromagnetic force, an important step in uniting all the forces of physics within a single theory.

These particles could also hint at whether we live in one of many universes, says Nima Arkani-Hamed, a string theorist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. If the collider detects certain types of super-symmetric particles, he says, it will indicate another fine-tuning in the cosmos — the ratio of the weak nuclear force to the strength of gravity. The anthropic argument is the same: if the number was off by as little as one part in 1030, then we would not be here to discuss it.

It might seem that the detection of a second, perfectly tuned number would only exacerbate the debate, but Arkani-Hamed argues that it will have the opposite effect. Unlike the cosmological constant, which has had a controversial history even in cosmology, this fine-tuning would appear in the standard model, which most physicists consider to be the most complete physical theory ever developed and tested. It would strengthen the case for the arbitrary nature of certain fundamental constants, Arkani-Hamed contends: "These measurements wouldn't directly prove or disprove the landscape, but they would be a very big push in that direction."

The last sentence is quite amazing. Detection of a new, thirtieth decimal fine-tuning won’t directly prove the landscape, but it would be a big push in that direction! Why? Because there is no other explanation of course, other than, well—design, and that’s not science!

We live in a crazy world. Oh, for the good old days when a new example of fine-tuning was considered a definite win for the ID camp. Now everybody wants the universe to be fine-tuned! This is a sort of unforeseen grand unification. We’ll all share something meaningful: the more fine-tuning we uncover, the more we all will have faith in whatever undetectable force we believe is behind it all. It’s a little disturbing. Maybe more than a little.

Susskind, when not writing popularized books on the subject, is apparently concerned. Brumfiel tells us:

Susskind, too, finds it "deeply, deeply troubling" that there's no way to test the principle. But he is not yet ready to rule it out completely. "It would be very foolish to throw away the right answer on the basis that it doesn't conform to some criteria for what is or isn't science," he says.

If I substituted “Behe” for Susskind” in the quote above, you’d probably think he was talking about irreducible complexity. And if Behe actually made such a statement, he’d be lampooned in all the usual places. The community is somewhat kinder to Dr. Susskind.

I have always said ID is not science. I think it is now defensible to say it differently: ID is as much science as String Theory is.

† Stating that 10500 is bigger than the number of atoms in the observable universe is even more drastic than the Innumeracy example of saying "McDonalds has sold more than one hamburger." The actual number of atoms in the observable universe is ~1082.

No comments:

Post a Comment