Friday, May 8, 2020

The Dream Universe

Dr. Bee book review:
The Dream Universe is about “how theoretical physics is returning to its unscientific roots” and that physicists have come to believe
“As we investigate realms further and further from what we can see and what we can test, we must look to elegant, aesthetically pleasing equations to develop our conception of what reality is. As a result, much of theoretical physics today is something more akin to the philosophy of Plato than the science to which the physicists are heirs.”
He then classifies “fundamental physics today as a kind of philosophy” and explains it is now “less about a strictly rational understanding of the universe and more about finding a scenario that we deem intellectually respectable.” He sees no way out of this situation because “Observation, experiment, and fact-finding are no longer able to guide [researchers in fundamental physics], so they must set their path by other means, and they have decided that pure rationality and mathematical reasoning, along with a refined aesthetic sense, will do the job.”

I am sympathetic to Lindley’s take on the current status of research in the foundations of physics, but I think the conclusion that there is no way forward is not supported by his argument. The problem in modern physics is not the abundance of mathematical abstraction per se, but that physicists have forgotten mathematical abstraction is an end to a means, not an end unto itself. They may have lost sight of the goal, alright, but that doesn’t mean the goal has ceased existing.
I wrote a similar book several years ago, and I place the blame on Einstein worship, not math or theory.

While Einstein did much worthwhile work, he is largely idolized today by anti-positivists who believe that finding reality is based on finding aesthetically pleasing equations. You can see this most explicitly in how he is credited for relativity. He is almost never credited for what he actually did. He is either credited for the work of others, or for some anti-positivist philosophy.

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