In the article Outrageous fortune, Nature argues that the anthropic principle is becoming a dominant view in the cosmogical and stringy circles. I don't think that this statement is true, and explicit polls demonstrate that the anthropic principle is rejected by the majority. But of course having a majority is not the important question for science itself. In science, it is enough if there is one researcher who happens to be correct.
In the Nature article, only Lisa Randall and David Gross argue that we do not have good reasons to accept the anthropic principle as a fact. Congratulations to David and Lisa. ;-) Juan Maldacena argues that the anthropic principle is the best thing we have today, but he hopes that it will be replaced by something better in the future. And several "usual suspects" :-) among our colleagues advocate the idea.
Lisa says the such a dramatic change of the methods in physics is premature and we should better look at the alternatives before we decide to "switch". David Gross says:
- People in string theory are very frustrated, as am I, by our inability to be more predictive after all these years. But that’s no excuse for using such bizarre science. It is a dangerous business.
I think that this is a very fair description. Even if things are more difficult than we would like to, it is still a good idea to remain rational and preserve some basic scientific and moral principles. This discussion reminds me of the debates about the newly-born Christians we had with my ex-GF in the college who was a strongly believing person and who was, of course, attempting to convert me, too.
The usual story was as follows: there has been a gangster or a drug addict, or someone who had some terrible problems, and so forth - and eventually he or she decided to get converted to Christianity and believe that the Bible was literally true. Well, these examples did not work for me. "I will never be SO frustrated to abandon the very rules of honest thinking" was what I always thought. ;-)
I think that some temporary - and even less temporary - problems cannot be a good reason to abandon certain principles or to become corrupt. That may be the end of the good story. Some things don't work as much as you would like? OK, but that's still a very different issue from accepting an attitude that is morally problematic or scientifically flawed. Do you feel more vulnerable to various external pressures just because something else in your life does not work as well as you would like? Think twice.
It is quite clear that we would never think about accepting a viewpoint that is as intellectually weak and as non-quantitative as the anthropic explanation of the fundamental properties of the real world if the progress in science were as fast as it used to be in the happiest periods of science. Do you think that the progress is not so fast these days? OK, maybe, but any kind of dissatisfaction of this sort is insufficient to accept ideas that have no quantitative scientific justification.
You should better live with the fact that the pace of our learning is slower these days, and that eight years of our failure to understand the smallness but finiteness of the cosmological constant does not prove anything. OK, maybe we need nine years. But once we promote our ignorance to a new physical law - a law that says that things must be what they are and we should not ask WHY - then we will need centuries to get back on the track.
We must always keep on asking WHY because this is the most important question there is. We have inherited some ideas that are unnecessary. We have to jettison this excess baggage in order to make progress. (Murray Gell-Mann in an Enron commercial.)
And the answers to very different WHY questions must be different. If the answers to ALL of our WHY question are the same - for example "Wakalixes" or "God" or "We would not be here otherwise", then you can be sure that we're no longer doing science.