Posts Tagged ‘physics’

Waiting For The Revolution In Physics

June 16, 2010

As I indicated in The String Theory Calamity, I am extremely skeptical that string theory will eventually turn out to have been the road to unification of gravitation and quantum theory (as well as deeply cynical about the sociology of the field).  The reasons for that skepticism are in part the “technical” reasons concerning the development of the theory, which are discussed very knowledgeably in two books, “The Trouble With Physics”, by Lee Smolin, and “Not Even Wrong”, by Peter Woit — two books that I recommend to anyone interested in understanding how high-energy theory came to this pass.

However, I have another set of reasons for being skeptical, which have not really been set forth anywhere else, so far as I am aware.  These are not so much technical, as historical/philosophical, and have to do with patterns in how crises in science tend to be resolved by the Kuhnian revolutions that they unleash.

The String Theory Calamity

May 30, 2010

The status of string theory in physics has no historical analogue in modern science, at least so far as I can see.  The theory is at the same time a smashing “success” and a colossal, catastrophic failure.

String theory is a success in the sense that for all intents and purposes, for the subset of physicists concerned with theorizing about the unification of gravity and quantum theory, it appears to be the only game in town.  As documented in Peter Woit’s book “Not Even Wrong”, string theorists have swept the board, seizing control of faculty appointments and grant committees pertaining to high-energy theory (in the U.S., at least), dominating the publication of results, determining the research directions to which resources are allocated, and largely ensuring that graduate students are trained to regard string theory as the single worthwhile stream of research.  Alternative directions are marginalized, and students quickly understand that exploration cutting at cross-purposes to string theory will almost certainly result in unread work and unrequited careers.