Giddings on crisis in physics, firewalls
Edge.org asked their annual question to 151 or 152 scholars,
Katinka Matson and John Brockman of Edge.org.
Among the 152 contributors, there are lots of people whom I don't quite recognize. Let me discuss those whom I do recognize.
Seth Lloyd thinks that we should worry about the black hole of finance. An interesting analogy between the black holes with a negative heat capacity and some instabilities in the financial sector is being presented. I am very sympathetic to these analogies because, as I recently said, the laws of economics morally resemble the laws of thermodynamics, indeed.
Lisa Randall is worried that big experiments such as the SSC will always be canceled. Well, I think that even the insights that an experiment may tell us have a finite value and even physicists should be able to say "No" in certain situations. Of course that non-physicists are much more likely to say "No" because their perceived value of pure physics insights is lower. But even for physicists, it shouldn't be infinite. It's clear that direct experiments at the cutting edge of fundamental physics have become very expensive and the approval of a new experiment that tries to go beyond the predecessors is inevitably far from a formality. The right conclusion should be that a careful theoretical research is often preferred for financial reasons, I think. Too bad that people aren't usually deducing this obvious conclusion.
Craig Venter who presents himself as a libertarian as well as an alpha male talks about various things including vaccinations. Please offer your own comments.
Lawrence Krauss talks about some limits of knowledge, e.g. because of laws of physics whose form is probabilistic by itself. I am convinced that the evidence points to the conclusion that this ain't the case so I am not "worried" about such scenarios. Worries are often smaller or greater than they seem (video below via Petra J., thanks):
Frank Wilczek is worried that opportunities will be blown and a new Dark Age awaits us. His contribution is very short.
The most notorious crank of Waterloo, Canada wrote a rant against quantum mechanics that, he believes, is not final. If you find a sequence of at least 4 sentences in the text that is coherent, let me know. His fellow thug of Columbia University is worried about the nightmare scenario in particle physics – the originality of his answer is zero.
Arianna Huffington is worried about the stress and high blood pressure in the society.
Gavin Schmidt is worried about the disconnect between news and understanding and that's one thing I am worried about, too. Too bad that Gavin Schmidt, a representative of misunderstanding, is one of the reasons behind my worries.
Anton Zeilinger is worried, using [my] word I learned to use after I read a book by Feynman, about the fragmentation of knowledge. Different approaches to learning are diverging from each other and no one knows all of them. I am afraid that this has taken place a long time ago so I am no longer "worried" about this transition. I am worried about the last isolated fragments. ;-)
Max Tegmark is worried that machines will replace us, if I pick a catchy summary. That's surprising given the fact that much of his fame among the armchair physicists boils down to speculations that our life is an artifact of some algorithm running on some machine-like entities, anyway.
Steve Pinker is worried by prospects of a war caused by underestimated reasons. Well, I am mostly not even though I was educated by the propaganda that every war is essentially the end of the world.
Finally, Steve Giddings, physicist in Santa Barbara, is worried about a crisis at the foundations of physics. He essentially talks about the black hole information puzzle. He dismisses the firewalls as a preposterous scenario proposed by otherwise serious physicists (I would mostly subscribe to it) – his co-existence next to Joe Polchinski at UCSB may be somewhat tense these days – but he also talks about the (near) invalidation of the black hole complementarity (I don't know what results or arguments he's referring to.)
At any rate, the impossibility to agree about certain basic – and, according to the opinion of some serious folks, settled – things even in the "elite" circles is kind of frustrating. One gets used to the fact that 7 billion people don't have a clue. Even 7 million people in the world who are kind of interested in physics don't know much about the cutting edge. You go to 2,000 people close to string theory who could have a clue and you may pick something like 100 folks who are actively producing and sorting ideas, the real opinionmakers. You could expect some kind of shared optics among them but what you get is a pretty random disagreement about everything, including basic conclusions from the research of the last 40 years.
I don't want to use nuclear words such as "crisis in physics" but I find it frustrating, too. It's surely a reason for me to be sad to be nearly the only person in the world – among 10? 20? – who understands those things correctly. The value of cutting-edge research of "topics of 2013" for the mankind becomes questionable if the number of people who may derive all the right conclusions out of any research of similar topics in the recent 40 years is of order "dozens".