Thursday, October 30, 2014

NPR releases another anti-SUSY rant

Exactly half a year ago, Joe Lykken and Maria Spiropulu printed an unwise anti-physics diatribe in Scientific American. In order to prove that it's not weaker in similar fashionable attacks, NPR published its own rant written by a professional critic of science named Marcelo Gleiser:
Are Physicists Ready To Give Up The Chase For SUSY?
It was at the end of April 2014. Now it's the end of October 2014 and NPR printed an anti-SUSY article written by a man named Marcelo Gleiser:
Can Scientific Belief Go Too Far?
If your child couldn't understand what "deja vu" means, maybe you could use these two articles as an example. You may also use these articles to explain the slogan by Joseph Goebbels, "a lie repeated 100 times becomes the truth".

In the new rant, Gleiser suggests that the "belief in science" or "particular scientific beliefs" are analogous to the "religious beliefs". Well, yes or no: the devil is in the details. And most of the details that Gleiser tries to sell are profoundly misleading or downright wrong. He doesn't really understand (or at least neglects, when it comes to particular questions) most of the features by which science differs from religion – and in fact, he tries to force science to accept his quasi-religious ideas how people should decide what the truth is.

To mention something that is right about the article, Gleiser seems aware – at least when it comes to his general words – of the difference that science doesn't allow "absolute dogmas". If something is demonstrably wrong, the amount of evidence ultimately becomes overwhelming enough for every scientist to see that it was wrong. But this "detail" makes quite a difference.

However, everything else that Gleiser writes seems to unmask his misunderstanding what science is and what it is not – and especially what science has to obey and what it doesn't have to obey.
Of course, the product of scientific research must be something concrete: Hypotheses must be either confirmed or refuted, and data from experiments should be repeatable by others. Penicillin does cure diseases, airplanes fly and Halley's comet does come back every 76 years.
The important breakthroughs in modern physics just didn't follow and couldn't have followed this template. A problem with the naive caricature of science above is that in the actual scientific process, the construction of a "viable guess" is actually the most nontrivial part of the whole scientific process, the work for which the theorists get most of their salaries, and (in the happy cases) the achievements for which the most famous scientists are celebrated – while the quote above suggests that it is some triviality, some cheap guesswork at the beginning, and that the "bulk" of the scientific process only occurs later when the guess is being verified.

The process of the "discovery of the special theory of relativity" wasn't really about easily guessing the final form of the theory, and then working hard for many years to verify it. By the time when the final form of special relativity was completed – when the "right guess" or the "viable hypothesis" became available to Albert Einstein – the discovery had already been pretty much completed! The point is that the hypotheses are being constantly modified and have to be constantly modified as new experiments as well as theoretical realizations are being taken into account. And a genius is often needed to make the really big leaps.

My example focused on special relativity; the development of general relativity or quantum mechanics would be even better examples to prove my point. But a similar comments holds for pretty much every important and conceptually deep breakthrough in physics.

Gleiser – and many other people – just don't understand a key fact of the scientific method, namely the fact that the knowledge is constantly evolving which is why the hypotheses that are being developed are evolving, too. It has to be so. He presents this very fact as an "illness" of science when it is done incorrectly. A "good science", as he envisions it, only works with fixed hypotheses. But the truth is exactly the opposite. Science has to work with constantly evolving hypotheses and this is actually a key feature that makes science superior in comparison with religion!

Gleiser also says:
This kind of posture, when there is a persistent holding on to a belief that is continually contradicted by facts, can only be called faith.
His example is the belief in realism – the anti-quantum zeal – held by Albert Einstein, Max Planck, Erwin Schrödinger, and others. Well, Einstein and pals were simply wrong about a scientific issue. I find it deeply misleading and counterproductive when well-defined scientific propositions are being sold as religion.

Einstein et al. could have had "quasi-religious" reasons not to accept the new quantum, probabilistic, non-realist framework of modern physics. But whether one calls such attitudes "religious" is a matter of terminology. What's important is
  1. that Einstein and pals had some rationally, scientifically justifiable but vague reasons for their intellectual inertia;
  2. that Einstein and pals were demonstrably wrong.
The fact that Einstein was imagining that classical physics had to underlie the quantum phenomena was analogous to religion only to the extent that every belief may be called "faith" and compared to religion. However, the reasons why Einstein believed such things were very different from the reasons why people believe in Jesus Christ. People believe in Jesus Christ because they have read texts or heard about this man from others; on the other hand, Einstein had beliefs about the hypothetical foundations of the laws of physics because he extrapolated lots of previous completely scientific successes of completely scientific discoveries confirming completely scientific theories.

It just happens that such extrapolations are unreliable and in this case and many others, they turned out and often turn out to be wrong. Einstein didn't actually have any "solid evidence" that classical deterministic physics was destined to survive. And indeed, we know that it couldn't have survived. On the other hand, the observation that a certain form of the laws of physics has been successful for centuries to explain thousands of phenomena isn't a religious observation. It is an observation of a scientific kind, a piece of circumstantial evidence that legitimately affects a scientist's belief (and that may mislead him if the belief is wrong – which is often so if the scientist is overlooking much stronger evidence pointing to the opposite direction).

A more general type of this reasoning – some extrapolation of the lessons we have learned in the past – is absolutely critical for science. The whole history of science may be presented as an ever more accurate interpolation and extrapolation of the previously found laws. When Galileo measured the distance \(s(t)\) traveled by a freely falling object after time \(t\), he measured \(s(t)\) for integer values of \(t\) only (in some units, in Pisa). He made a guess about the functional dependence,\[

s(t) = \frac{gt^2}{2},

\] which already involves some interpolation – a form of generalization of some formulae to values of \(t\) for which no measurement has been made. Interpolation of functions is a very trivial example. Things become "just a bit more complex" when the functions depend on many variables, perhaps including some integer-valued and "more qualitative" ones. But science in general and physics in particular has been extending the previous insights to situations that may be called "qualitatively different". As it became increasingly capable of describing diverse phenomena with the same underlying laws, it was degrading situations that used to look as "qualitatively different ones" to situations that are "mutually analogous manifestations of the same laws".

If Gleiser wants to ban this extrapolation of the previous lessons of physics because it's "faith", he is surely throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Science simply couldn't work without this kind of interpolation and extrapolation. Interpolation and extrapolation – done in ever more abstract, far-reaching ways – is the most important method in all of science to produce the hypotheses that may be tested, confirmed, or serve as a basis for refinements when they fail the tests. When I read Gleiser's text, it seems pretty clear that he is not getting any of these things. For him, any extrapolation of the previous lessons we learned from science makes science as unjustified as religion. Again, the truth is the other way around: the scientific habit of making guesses about new and unknown questions that are rooted in our previous experience is a specific virtue of science that religions don't share. To sell this virtue as a vice is a complete misunderstanding of the scientific method.

But the most atrocious part of Gleiser's rant begin when he reiterates some common laymen's misconceptions about the "testability":
Bringing things to the present, we are currently going through a curious moment in high-energy physics, where some very popular theories may not be testable. This means that we can't determine whether they are wrong, which flies in the face of what science is about.
Similar aßholes got so used to writing similar trash that it has turned into a dogma and they became literally incapable of seeing how completely wrong these comments are. The truth is that if we can't determine whether a proposition is wrong, it surely doesn't mean that the proposition is untestable. For a proposition to be untestable, it would have to be impossible for any agent that may exist in the Universe now or in the future to test this proposition.

An overwhelming majority of the humans can't test the claim that the Moon has a surface on the other side that we don't see; that a muon decays to an electron and neutrinos; and virtually everything else. Even collectively, we can't really observe the core of the Sun and do millions of other things. But that doesn't mean that propositions about these objects and processes are untestable. It only means that they are untestable with certain very specific and very limited tools which is an entirely different characteristic, one that is surely not needed and was never needed for a question to be investigated by legitimate scientists.

Our ability to connect the observations with the scientific theories is improving in the long run. Most things that particle physicists are seeing today would look like untestable propositions by existing tools just a century (and sometimes decades) ago. Obviously, this fact couldn't have meant that there was something wrong about scientists who studied those things.
Like a zombie that never dies, it's possible to come up with theories that can always be redefined to escape the reach of current experiments. Case in point: supersymmetry, a hypothetical theory where each particle of matter (electrons, quarks) gains a supersymmetric partner.
Holy cow. Give me a Lagrangian of a quantum field theory and I will tell you whether it is supersymmetric or not. This decision is much sharper and much more well-defined and more unequivocal than anything that a sleazy jellyfish such as Marcelo Gleiser has ever investigated – or will ever investigate – in his gelatinous life.

Once again, the comment about "redefining" shows that Gleiser wants science to work like religions, focusing on the original dogmas all the time. I see no other way to interpret his visibly negative labels (zombies, escaping etc.) that he associates with "redefining". In proper science, however, this "redefinition" is a vital and welcome process that pushes the theories closer to the truth so it is absolutely idiotic to criticize science for this process.

Some regions of the supersymmetry parameter spaces have been ruled out, some remaining points of the supersymmetry parameter space are more accessible to the experiments in the near future, while some of them are less accessible. But this characteristic isn't an intrinsic quality of the theory itself. It is a quality that depends both on the theory and the current state of the technological progress. And this "testability by contemporary experiment" is something completely different than the question whether the theory – or the point of its parameter space – is natural or fine-tuned.

Whether a collection of values of parameters in a theory is natural, and therefore likely according to the naturalness paradigm, may be decided by looking at the theory and the numbers themselves. One doesn't have to think about the contemporary experiments at all! And be sure, lots of very natural scenarios that do assume supersymmetry are still alive and kicking, compatible with all the experiments we have. There is nothing zombie-like about these supersymmetric scenarios whatsoever.

Instead, what Mr Gleiser and other demagogues want to do is to "verbally connect" supersymmetry with the "new blasphemies" and the non-supersymmetric models with the "old good dogmas", and prefer the latter. But this dogmatic, asymmetric treatment of two hypotheses is exactly what is not allowed in science. Both supersymmetric models (some of the viable scenarios) and non-supersymmetric models (effective quantum field theories) exist that are compatible with all the observations we have made so far – so they must be considered as possibilities. It doesn't matter at all which of the competing explanations was proposed earlier and which of them is newer. What matters is whether they are compatible with the evidence. The relative likelihood of both scenarios depends on many things – and if there is an asymmetry here, one must realize that the smarter a person is, the more he thinks that the supersymmetric models have a higher prior probability than the non-supersymmetric ones.

Be sure that someone who is willing to misinterpret the current situation as something that eliminates SUSY even though it demonstrably doesn't is dishonest or an imbecile. Sadly, Mr Gleiser is both.


  1. What I would like to hear from these anti-SUSY zealots are some concrete theoretical arguments against SUSY being a fundamental symmetry of Nature. On the contrary we have many theoretical arguments that the opposite is true

    Since they don’t have any I refuse to take their rants seriously; they are just biased with their own personal agenda. They don't care about the truth...

  2. Dear Giotis, of course, these people are much better in presenting sociologically bullšit would-be arguments than scientific arguments – regardless of the question that is being discussed – so they're using their comparative advantage.

    BTW I largely agreed with your exchanges with Sabine Hossenfelder. The information loss paradox may be derived from a combination of GR and quantum mechanics even in realms where they should be a good approximation – the paradox exists whenever the horizon is there and the singularity isn't needed for the paradox to manifest itself.

    The resolution of the paradox – some non-locality visible in the Hawking radiation etc. – does depend on some special features of quantum gravity by which it deviates from the approximations. But the deviation is at the level of "small effects" in otherwise well-approximated situations, not due to some O(1) QG effects that may only be seen near the singularity.

  3. Exactly Lubos.

    But Sabine obviously was not referring to these non local effects; she was referring to the QG effects at the singularity that’s why I was confused by her statement that “Most of my colleagues believe that we need a quantum theory of gravity to resolve this problem and that the inconsistency comes about by using general relativity in a regime where it should no longer be used.” (i.e. at the singularity as she later explained)

    In my mind this statement implies remnants (or even baby universes) which of course is not the solution preferred by the majority of the Physics community.

  4. Dear Giotis, absolutely, that's what she meant. She is genuinely confused about these things, thinking that the singularity - and the QG effects in its vicinity - are what decides about the information loss and what even defines the black hole.

    That's of course completely wrong. She has had years to understand these simple points - that it's the event horizon, and not the singularity, that defines the black hole; and that produces the apparent information loss paradox. But she still hasn't gotten these elementary things.

    This has been discussed on this blog many times:

  5. What credentials and legitimacy does this Gleiser guy have to feel entitled to publicly speak up (or more exactly troll) about modern fundamental physics like this? I suspect he has exactly none ...

    It seems we are once more descending towards some kind of Dark Middle Ages, where power is firmly in the hands of religious leaders and their hordes of sheeplike dumb followers. This time, the religious leaders are not bishops etc but famous anti-science trolls instead. Unfortunately, today s anti-science Guru's and their fanatic lynchmob like followers are not less vigorously attacking science and scientists than it was done by their contemporaries in the Dark Middle Ages... :-(

  6. In fact, already the term "scientific belief" is trolling expression and a contradiction by itself ...

  7. No, it's not a contradiction by itself or in any other way (nor is it a "trolling expression"). For example, I believe that the earth revolves around the sun. Don't you?

  8. No, I understand it ;-)

    Ok one can see it in a good sense as you too, but most people who use that term these days use it to troll about and insult science and scientists ... :-/

    BTW it is strange that they disabled the comments on the trolling rant. If NPR (what does this stand for TW?) does not want to allow trolling the rant of this Gleisner guy should never have been written. So I can just interpret the disabled comments as NPR encouraging trolls and reasonable people are not allowed to contradict the troll ...

  9. My attitude to that was somewhere in between two of you - but with the latest Dilaton's clarification, I think that I am on the same frequency with her (it!).

    Scientists use the term "I believe that" all the time but they simply mean a short form of "I evaluate everything I know and remember and all the partial and circumstantial evidence to conclude that..." - the word "believe" is shorter.

    But the laymen tend to think that the religions have some sort of "monopoly" over "beliefs" and the verb "believe" itself, so when someone uses, it surely sounds as something isn't quite scientific which the word, if interpreted in the scientists' way, doesn't really imply in any way.

  10. "Scientists use the term "I believe that" all the time but they simply mean a short form of "I evaluate everything I know and remember and all the partial and circumstantial evidence to conclude that it's likely or very likely that..." - the word "believe" is shorter."

    Exactly. Indeed it has long been a word that bothers me so I prefer to avoid it altogether — mostly because it turns out that I don't actually believe anything*. The word jars enormously.

    A simple "I think ..." does the trick. "I know..." is fine too, for mundane facts. I guess I don't see a need for anything else.

    "Of course, I don't want to go too far in these analyses because this is a linguistic issue and I am not a native speaker ...."

    Haha! I'd say you've a far better handle on English than most native speakers. About the only things that give the game way are the odd idiom or three-point-six and the occasional surplus definite article. I believe that's about it. :)

    * I think.

  11. 1) SUSY requires proton decay.
    2) 50 kilotonnes of water, two loose protons/molecule, in Super-Kamiokande falsified the original calculated proton half-life.
    3) SUSY then "corrected errors" to give a much longer proton half-life
    4) Super-K, superior data searching, and time have just about caught up to that longer proton half-life. No proton decay.
    5) SUSY? "ACK! THBBFT!"

    The vacuum can be tested for a trace chiral background toward matter in existing bench top apparatus consistent with observation - ending dark matter, killing SUSY, correcting quantum gravitation. Stop talking, start looking,

    Comments. Click "see more" at Uncle Al.

  12. "What credentials and legitimacy does this Gleiser guy have ...? I suspect he has exactly none ..."

    He is a professor of physics at Dartmouth, which doesn't have the best physics department around, but to be a faculty there you are still unlikely to be entirely without credentials.

    What is less clear is just how strong his knowledge of particle physics, QFT, strings, etc is. He may have some knowledge, but I've always thought of him as a cosmologist, more towards the phase transitions aspects of cosmology. Wikipedia states that "Gleiser's current research interests include the physics of the early Universe, the nature of physical complexity, and questions related to the origin of life on Earth and elsewhere in the Universe," and further states that, "He has contributed seminal ideas in the interface between particle physics and cosmology, in particular on the dynamics of phase transitions and spontaneous symmetry breaking."

    He may have been more of a user of certain aspects of the fundamental particle physics theories that he needed for the phase transitions aspects of cosmology that he worked on. His interests in "complexity" and "origin of life" suggest that the direction he evolved in since his younger days is not fundamental particle physics theories. He may have even become a bulsh*tter. Either way, he may well not know the fundamental theories of particle physics in the kind of gory detail that would make him all that qualified to judge them, but I would still be careful declaring him as having zero credentials, unless you know enough about his publications over the years to make that call.

  13. MG is a professor of physics at an Ivy league School,
    author of one-hundred papers with over two-thousand citations and half a dozen popular science books. He appears to have dedicated his (professional) life to physics and popularizing physics. He isn't anti-science; he's as pro-science as one could reasonably be.

    He's an expert, an authority, so he's likely to make an accurate, competent appraisal of the status of fundamental physics. That, I suppose, is his mandate for writing popular books and essays. MG writes professionally. He probably isn't granted the word limit to rant or spend a paragraph explaining a caveat or fully expanding his opinions.

    You disagree with the message of his essay and his opinions. You may,
    but that doesn't make either of you dishonest or an imbecile and you shouldn't expect everybody to agree with you, especially on a contentious topic. That said, I think you misrepresent MG; nowhere does he write anything that could be honestly interpreted as "SUSY is eliminated" (I paraphrase your words). The gist of his article is that SUSY cannot be eliminated.

  14. Ok yes, I have looked at this page a bit

    But still, I dont see what picks him to publicly rant about fundamental/theoretical physics like this.

    He should know better than doing such harmful distructive things to near his own research fields ...

    And he clearly does generally misunderstand the scientific method, as Lumo explains.

  15. Do you honestly think that Gleiser understands how science works?
    Lots of intelligent people don’t get it; he is not alone.

  16. My mathematician friend works in cardinality theory. He derives propositions like "if x is an infinity with a cardinality between aleph-zero and c, it must have the following property: ..." Once he told me: "I hope no one ever proves that there are no cardinal numbers between aleph-zero and c. That would mean I spent my life proving properties of an empty set".

    I am afraid I find your criticism of Gleiser's article unconvincing. One thing that speaks for SUSY or a string theory is their mathematical beauty. That argument puts them in mathematics, not physics. A circle is simpler than an ellipse. Yet planets don't orbits in circles.

  17. MG is an authority on science; I think it is likely that he has considered, learned, informed ideas about the history and philosophy of science.

    As to "how science works, does he get it?" I don't understand your question. Understanding how science works is an integral branch of the philosophy of science. I expect that MG is familiar with the topic.

  18. Sorry but this has nothing to do with the actual evidence in favor of SUSY. String theory is demonstrably the only known consistent theory of quantum gravity and all of its realistic enough solutions that incorporate fermions etc. imply the supersymmetry at scales beneath the Planck scale. So this is really a proof of those things, not similar to your demagogic claims that planets must orbit on circles.

  19. "He's an expert, an authority, so he's likely to make an accurate, competent appraisal of the status of fundamental physics."

    A lot depends on what a person's particular expertise is. Physics consists of a number of different areas, and being an expert in one area doesn't necessarily give one sufficient insight into other branches of physics. One would need to know what his areas of expertise are before making the statement you've made.

  20. Fowlie, I've had enough. This is my blog and a protective shield of myself against the stupidity flooding much of the world around.

    I don't want to return from a trip to see the same stunning garbage in my comment sections as the garbage that I could see at hundreds of other web pages if I had the stomach to open them.


  21. Gleiser: The question, though, is how long can you keep on changing your story before you realize the story is just wrong?

    My impression of Gleiser (based on a very cursory reading) is that the frontiers of contemporary theoretical physics are quite beyond him, so therefore if SUSY is beyond the LHC he would prefer that the field turned in other directions.

    There is a difference between being wrong and being unanswerable for now.

  22. I always enjoy your precise statements about what science is Lubos, it's very refreshing! And a very good article indeed! Halfway down the comments I encountered the word or concept "life", and quickly wanted to ask for the opinion, definition, random thoughts that you and your commenters here have, about this "strange biological phenomena". Surely, it involves very complex systems but isn't the uncertainty principle enough to see that everything is teeming with life? And that "biological life" is an emergent phenomena, too complex to fully "calculate"? What are your thoughts?

  23. Dear Luke, a good comment.

    But if someone loses the touch with the "train of physics" in 1994 - Gleiser hasn't written anything important or semi-important for 20 years - it isn't really possible to "reverse" those 20 years. SUSY is just a part and a symbol of what has happened during that time. Without intense learning of all those things, one simply can't become adequate again.

  24. Understanding history of science, philosophy, and other soft sciences does noboby make entitled to judge cutting edge fundamental/theoretical physics!
    The breathtaking arrogance of philosophers, histirians of science, etc is nothing but disgusting pompous overreach. They are not the peers of physicists and they are by no means entitled to tell physicists how they should do their job, what they are allowed to be interested in and research, etc...

    Those arrogant overreaching clowns should just shut the f*ck up about topics they have no competence instead of pompously trolling in popular media channels!

  25. "A circle is simpler than an ellipse."
    The expression of the general eclipse however encompasses that of the special case and has more mathematical power. Maybe that's more beautiful?

  26. The interesting thing now is whether ST is not just the only theory currently on the table but the only possible theory Apriori. We can argue back and forth about SUSY but if SUSY is not found that only pushes it to a higher energy level. Has anyone advanced a sort of mathematical induction argument to show that ST has to be correct because any other theory would either have to be ST or be forced to be inconsistent? A no go theorem for every possible alternative? ST can then not have to worry about experimental verification. It would be verified Apriori.

  27. Lubos - If that was the same andrew who has been commenting recently (and from your remarks I think it was) all I can say is - Finally! I hope it's permanent.
    Also - 'Fowlie'? Please explain.

  28. You really don’t understand my question, andrew?
    It was: “Do you honestly think that Gleiser understands how science works?”. What about that question mystifies you?

    As I said, there are lots of intelligent people who don’t get it. Then there are those of lesser intelligence, such as yourself, who also don’t get it.

  29. Exactly, this is not the first thread below which he is trolling ;-)

    There also seems to be quite a number of clowns from outside the TRF community lurking here or andrew is sockpuppeting ...
    Otherwise the upvotes of andrew's (and other) trolling comments by "guests" can not be explained.

  30. I agree. The relentless, sanctimonious, and willful stupidity is unbearable.

  31. Incidentally, in Czech, we don't really have two words for "belief" and
    "faith" (if I eliminate the words that specifically mean
    trust/confidence or hope).

    There must be numerous cases in which one language uses the same word for two or more different ideas, while another language uses more than one. Spanish uses exactly the same word, esperar, for hope, expect, and believe. But Spanish-speakers distinguish the ideas - by context. In some probably very few cases they use a different word which does not mean any of the three; e.g., they don't say, "I hope you get better soon," they say, "I desire [deseo] that you get better soon."

  32. Funny, but I see complaints like yours about belief/believe as stupid atheist trolling (not that all atheists are stupid). I see them saying things like "I don't believe anything. I know things" and "I don't believe things. I use evidence." Well, belief is a necessary element of knowing; you can't know something without believing it. Ideologues of various stripes (yes, religious, too) who make arguments based on language. It's all stupid.

  33. If he said: there are these and those great ideas, but nobody explores them because of the prevalent fashion and 'scientific religion', I would think he may have some solid arguments. But all he seems to want to say is: you guys are not producing quickly enough something that can be sold. I am not happy with your productivity! At least that is how it sounds to me.

  34. Exactly. Indeed it has long been a word that bothers me so I prefer to
    avoid it altogether — mostly because it turns out that I don't actually believe anything*. The word jars enormously.

    You're misusing the word "believe." You've bought into the misuse practiced by your opponents - people who argue that scientific belief and religious belief are equivalent.

  35. There is a long comment thread in the beginning about using "belief" in science . Actually it is scientists that have "beliefs". Bear with me for this analogy:

    True physicists are similar to actors. Actors get into a role and believe in it. This does not mean that outside the theater they "are " that personality. though. The best actors are the ones who really believe and enter fully the world view of the person they are impersonating.

    In a similar way, physicists accept a "belief system about how the world is modeled". The best physicists really believe this while they are working on it, because that is how inspiration can be nurtured and connections between data and theory could be extended. Weak "belief" gives weak research results, in my opinion.

    This might make relative outsiders think that there exists an identity between dogmatic religious beliefs , and scientific beliefs. The difference is that there exists a meta level for physicists, (as for actors). They know, that they have to give their full energy and attention to the "belief" system they have adopted, but at the meta level, they are ready to drop the belief system, if it does not pan out with experiments, similar to the way the actor drops the role, leaving the theater. The difference is in the time. It takes a long time to explore the physics against the data. But the meta level is always there, otherwise physicists would discover agreements where there were none, as religions discover miracles.

    It happens that some physicists are so immersed in their "beliefs" that they cannot revert to the meta level when evidence refutes beliefs. I do not think that this is true of the current "belief structure of modelings" . The experimental HEP community is enthusiastically looking for supersymmetry and maybe it will be found and maybe not in this energy range ( am biased and think they will find it ).

    They are also testing far off the main track theories predictions, like compositeness and what not. It is the looking that is important and the impetus that the enthusiasm generates for progress in the frontiers of physics. When, with a one track mind, we were looking for Regge poles and vector meson dominance in the data back in the 1960s the quark model was pushing up the ground and bloomed, on the same data.

    Some people do not understand this, and mistake the enthusiasm for theoretical models as religious enthusiasm. thinking that the actor who played Othello so beautifully, is Othello. Unfortunately it seems some physicists do so too.

  36. Cool ideas. Well, despite the uncertainty principle, most of the outer space seems to be free of life.

    But I feel what you are saying. The uncertainty principle seems to bring life to almost everything it can, here on Earth, but if you could make this observation a bit more quantitative and justified, it might be great! ;-)

  37. Yes, I think that all comments signed by "andrew" in the recent 4 months were his, and "Fowlie" is his last name. He recently got a PhD somewhere in the U.S. and move to a Baltic State to be a physicist in an institute that otherwise employs only biologists, suggesting that these countries don't know what to do with the money.

  38. Dear Smoking Frog, to support your point that belief is a necessary component of knowing, a quote from a guy who is being quoted often:

    “I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of uncertainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here. I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell.” ― Richard P. Feynman

  39. Which great ideas? All great ideas that are already known to be great have been incorporated into string theory.

    Does he mean similar "great ideas" as Lee Smolin does? Just Smolin has guaranteed jobs to dozens and dozens of similar people connected with similar "great ideas", and they haven't produced a damn sensible thing for decades. Their paper output per person is 3 times smaller than the string theorist's, and their citation output is 10 times smaller.

    Should we think that it doesn't matter? How deeply one has to go with the "apparent failure" to admit that it is probably a real failure and the idea wasn't that great?

    Of course that the number of papers and citations don't reliably copy the intrinsic quality etc. But if someone is willing to overlook 45 years of failures - to find some "alternative idea to strings" that is capable of attracting at least a hundred of bright folks on this planet - well, then he probably doesn't give a damn about any evidence whatever. He's driven by dogmas and he will use the term "great ideas" for whatever he likes regardless of any evidence.

  40. Lubos, knowing does not mean "absolute" knowing. Only God could have that. This does not invalidate the concept of knowing.

  41. I believe you're wrong there. Precisely wrong.

    Besides, you're making it too complicated. For me it's really quite simple. Maybe if I thought about it a lot harder I could complicate it up and be happy with that too. Of course I don't know that for sure, but I'm disinclined to make the effort to find out as I think it would be a waste of time.

    I ask myself what do I know, what am I absolutely sure of? The answer is nothing. Everything I think I know is open to revision. Look at all the things in the past that people were sure about and how many of them turned out to be wrong. The history of science and mathematics is littered with them. Surprises around every corner. I have no good reason to think it is any different for me and my time. Indeed, my experience suggests it's just the same.

    "You're misusing the word "believe.""

    When I use a word it means just what I chose it to mean — neither more nor less. So I don't misuse it. If it means something different to you then that's your business.

    "You've bought into the misuse practiced by your opponents - people who argue that scientific belief and religious belief are equivalent."

    Fuck me! You've got some brass neck telling me what I think, especially when you're so egregiously wrong. I've "bought in" to nothing of the kind.

    For one thing, doubt has no place in religious belief. If religion admitted it then it would self-annihilate. No dogma, no religion. In science on the other hand, doubt is essential — without it, there IS no science.

    For me, belief has connotations of finality, of shutting oneself off. I'm not prepared to do that.

    By the way, and for what it's worth given your other comments above, I'm neither an atheist nor a believer. I see them both as different sides of the same coin. To be sure on definitions here, I take an atheist to be someone who asserts the non-existence of any deity, not someone who simply has no religious beliefs like me, for whom I use the term agnostic.

    Wait! I do have one belief!

    I believe I do not like diversity™, but especially when it's forced on people against their wishes. Come to think of it maybe I have a few more beliefs too.

    It IS complicated after all, isn't it? Tsk!

  42. I have a question. But first here's a rough definition.

    I take a belief to mean an unassailable thought or idea of its holder that is fixed for all time and that he takes as true, whatever that means — that it corresponds to reality I suppose, again whatever 'corresponds' and 'reality' mean, and so on ad infinitum. Turtles all the way down.

    Anyway, why does anyone want it — to believe anything, that is? Seriously. Why?

    To be clear, I mean the question in a general rationalist sense and NOT in any psycho-social/individualistic sense — something which here is of no interest to me, being essentially to do with the merely psychological and potentially highly idiosyncratic, as far as I can tell.

    It seems to me that beliefs are simply unnecessary baggage at best. At worst, they can be a killer.

  43. Can't believe a pseudo-physicist names Maria Spiropulu is given so much press. I knew her at Fermilab and she is not an accomplished physicist.

  44. "God" knows there is more than enough stupid deist trolling. I haven't heard an atheist say that he/she doesn't believe things. That is stupid. They just don't believe in a God or gods as a prime creator, or as a nosy auditor who keeps tabs on humans, and must be believed in. Gods exist only if there are enough credulous humans who believe in them. They disappear when that belief fades.

  45. Lewis Carrol predated Goebbels..."Anything I say three times is true." The Bellman's Rule of Three---The Hunting of the Snark

  46. Gordon,

    I know some people get all hot under the collar about theism/atheism but ...

    "I haven't heard an atheist say that he/she doesn't believe things. .... They just don't believe things."

    Erm ... errr ... gosh! :)

    OK then. So how do you know? Do you read their minds?

    Gottit! Maybe they only ever write about them instead? :)

  47. However, he didn't mention *any* alternative. Had he mentioned Smolin, there would be some logic to the argument, at least on purely formal logical grounds: there is A and there is B and, hey, I like B better. Failing to do even that, I don't see any point in his article, short of generic whining. I've been in that frame of mind 10 years ago: hey, these guys seem to just want ever higher and higher energies. Then it occurred to me that I don't have a better idea in the first place. Second, what if Nature just happens to have a window of energies where there is not much of anything to be found. That wouldn't be fun, but I haven't hard of anything that would make it highly unlikely.

  48. I think you may be right, Lubos. This guy is an armchair philosopher. My observation is that certain types of people who get into the sciences, eventually discover philosophy. Especially when they get older. Now, I don't have as negative attitude towards philosophy as you seem to have, being exposed to it, but thankfully, equally well to physics, in my formative ages. However, if find late blooming philosophers kind of annoying.

  49. OK, I find the description of such people as "philosophers" pompous and indefensible. Philosophers were people who were holding most of the humankind's wisdom before the disciplines of human thought began to specialize or segregate. And there were some smart folks - philosophers - after that, too.

    But why would one call this trash "philosophy" as opposed to e.g. "superficial vague delusions about physics" or "physics of the lowest available quality"? I don't see anything philosophical about it. Philosophy is the "love for wisdom". This guy clearly hates wisdom.

    If "philosophy" became an umbrella term whose important/main purpose is to spread the same kind of trash about physics that doesn't withstand physics criteria, then indeed, philosophy has to be liquidated.

  50. Yes, they read and write and talk---things that educated, curious people do. They believe in cause/effect explanations to a point, in modifying their beliefs as new information EVOLVES (sorry, I used a fundamentalist swearword).
    and support theories with marked explanatory power and predictive power about the natural world we live in.

  51. :)

    Hey, I don't think we differ in any fundamental way. I think it's rather a matter of emphasis and perhaps the way these things impact on one personally.

    It so happens that theists don't bother me except when they're actively in-your-face proselytising. But the same goes for atheists when they're in the pulpit too. I find both a pain in the neck when they start preaching. I'm simply not interested much in what either has to say.

    In addition, I gather from most of the comments here that I'm out of tune with the majority in the way I understand or attribute meaning to the word 'belief'. For me it suggests immutability. I see you and others allow it an element of the provisional.

    Maybe I should swing into line. But I'd much rather everyone else change to suit me. Tough decision. :)

  52. Okay, now you're talking :). Couldn't agree more and should have put philosophy inside quotation marks to start with. I was mislead by some posts of yours where it appeared that you equate philosophy with BS.