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New Calculations May Lead To a Test For String Theory

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the string-washing-powder-what's-the-difference dept.

Math 284

dexmachina writes "A team of theoreticians, led by a group from Imperial College London, has released calculations that show string theory makes specific, testable predictions about the behaviour of quantum entangled particles. Professor Mike Duff, lead author of the study from the Department of Theoretical Physics at Imperial College London, commented, 'This will not be proof that string theory is the right "theory of everything" that is being sought by cosmologists and particle physicists. However, it will be very important to theoreticians because it will demonstrate whether or not string theory works, even if its application is in an unexpected and unrelated area of physics.' In other words, string theory may finally have shed its critics' most common complaint: unfalsifiability. However, given the second most common complaint, I can't help but wonder: which string theory?" Update: 09/03 23:34 GMT by S : Columbia University's Peter Woit, author of the Not Even Wrong blog, says these claims are overblown, and adds that a number of string theorists said as much to Wired.

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Well... (5, Funny)

Korbinus (589005) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462576)

That's a good news for Dr. Leonard Leakey Hofstadter...

Re:Well... (2)

Jason Kimball (571886) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462592)

He may finally get his bazinga!

Still hasn't got his Penny (1)

syousef (465911) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463312)

That's a good news for Dr. Leonard Leakey Hofstadter...

But Penny will forever be a bitch and a traitor for letting Will Wheaton spook her into dumping him!

Re:Still hasn't got his Penny (1)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463330)

But Penny will forever be a bitch and a traitor for letting Will Wheaton spook her into dumping him!

Don't blame her, blame the writers. But she'll be back. He's ruined her for dumber men.

Re:Well... (0)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463392)

"With all due respect, Dr. Hofstadter... are you on crack?" -- Dr. George F. Smoot III
(link) [wikipedia.org]

Oops; that was a misquote (correction) (2, Informative)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463454)

"With all due respect, Dr. Cooper... are you on crack?" -- Dr. George F. Smoot III

Oops (5, Informative)

dexmachina (1341273) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462612)

It seems I may have jumped the gun [columbia.edu] on this one. My bad for being such an easy mark of sensationalist pop science headlines.

Re:Oops (0, Troll)

Adolf Hitroll (562418) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462658)

yep, you indeed suck, especially when that very news was yesterday morning on Reddit and you did not add anything valuable besides shamelessy self promoting your white thrash asshole.

Re:Oops (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33462710)

We can all see that popular science journalism with their associated actors in PR isn't that far from tabloid-quality Pavlovian-level attention capturing industry. But, can anyone explain how University PR works? How does it connect to funding and reputation, and why does a university of all places put out misleading stories at all?

Re:Oops (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33462738)

I first read that as:

It seems I may have jumped the gun [columbine.edu] on this one.

String theory now testable (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463108)

It's gonna be so cool if it says "wrong!"

Re:Oops (5, Interesting)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463562)

Indeed, it's worse. While I don't know much about string theory, I do work in the field of entanglement. And there's no way you could experimentally test this classification, for the simple reason that it's a classification. It may be a more or less useful classification, but you cannot experimentally test whether a classification is right (apart from that an reasonable entanglement classification has to be SLOCC invariant, which this classification is, but of course the others are as well). Trying to experimentally test if a classification is right is like doing an experiment on whether classifying a fruit on its color or on its size is more correct. What you can do is to evaluate the usefulness of a classification (i.e. does it tell you something interesting about the state, like what you can do with it; in the fruit example, you might find that classifying fruits on nutrition value may generally be more useful than classifying on water content).

You and Me Both, Buddy (3, Interesting)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463618)

It seems I may have jumped the gun [columbia.edu] on this one. My bad for being such an easy mark of sensationalist pop science headlines.

Don't feel bad, I submitted it a day before you did [slashdot.org] . What really blows my mind is that Not Even Wrong used my submission as evidence that Slashdot was running a story on it:

Update: No press campaign for a “finally string theory is testable” claim is complete without a Slashdot story

Big news for theoretical physicists who are fed up with the inability to test String Theory

(that's from my submission)

And when it fails this test too (1, Interesting)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462644)

People will change their mind about it ? Oh right ... string theory already failed every test that was ever thrown at it ... and they didn't drop it (probably for lack of an alternative, and prior investment, but still ... scientists are supposed to be above that sort of thing).

The one real test String theory was subjected to was the long-term evolution of the universe. All (10^55) possible string theores seemed to predict a slowing expansion of the universe. Then it was measured, and as we all know we observed an accelerated expansion of the universe. Whoops.

So with a lot of "probably" correct hocus pocus (and we're talking some serious trickery here) a few (billion) string theories were shown to allow for (mostly temporary) accelerated expansion ... with a *lot* of side conditions. And all sorts of unobservable conditions, like other branes taking up specific positions compared to our own ... etc. As I said, lots of magic values needed to make these things work.

Believing in String theory is a bit like searching for the Aether in 1900, or assuming the correctness of math before Godel (who proved math is not consistent, whoops)

Re:And when it fails this test too (1)

zero.kalvin (1231372) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462660)

All 10^55? Who had the time to calculate them all ? Calculation of one configuration already takes a lot of time!! So please Citation!

Re:And when it fails this test too (1)

IRWolfie- (1148617) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462718)

Yikes, I see you've never heard of exaggeration for effect. There are many different forms of the the hypothesis, and alternative hypotheses, check google.

Re:And when it fails this test too (1)

OrangeCatholic (1495411) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463194)

Actually, check Wikipedia, it says 10^500. Wikipedia can be wrong, or imprecise, but they're not known for sarcasm.

It's under "Superstring Theory" [wikipedia.org] below the yellow table.

Re:And when it fails this test too (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33462702)

Hey if it doesn't work out then they will invent dark strings? Seriously though when is someone going to answer the BIG question... can you really make something out of nothing?

Re:And when it fails this test too (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33463610)

I predict when your 'dark strings' fail to explain everything, someone will come up with dark theories and dark unification.

can you really make something out of nothing

Just rabbits.

Re:And when it fails this test too (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33462706)

Believing in String theory is a bit like searching for the Aether in 1900, or assuming the correctness of math before Godel (who proved math is not consistent, whoops)

or like believing in god. God has also failed every test thrown at it.

Re:And when it fails this test too (5, Funny)

guyminuslife (1349809) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462746)

God is love. You believe in love, don't you? So there must be God, because there is love.

Obviously, it follows that love created the world in six days. Then love created a flood that destroyed just about fucking everyone, because you don't fuck with love, love is a sociopath.

Re:And when it fails this test too (3, Informative)

Jason Kimball (571886) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462832)

"What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons. You're born alone and you die alone and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts." -Don Draper, Mad Men

Re:And when it fails this test too (1)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463062)

Mmmmm.... Nylons....

Re:And when it fails this test too (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33463206)

"What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons. You're born alone and you die alone and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts. -Don Draper, Mad Men" --Michael Scott

Re:And when it fails this test too (2, Insightful)

jamesh (87723) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462762)

God has also failed every test thrown at it.

I don't believe in God, but if he (i'll use the 'he' pronoun for convenience) exists then he's the one making up the rules not us, so 'testing' for God is a bit dumb. We can prove that the universe could have happened without God but we can't prove he doesn't exist.

And if he does exist I bet string theory is giving him the best laugh he's had in centuries :)

Re:And when it fails this test too (1)

Krahar (1655029) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462816)

Apologizing for referring to the Christians' god as a he insults the English language just as much as saying "he or she" everywhere.

the english language is broken (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463204)

it is missing a required pronoun.

Re:And when it fails this test too (1)

agnosticnixie (1481609) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463086)

The gender neutral pronoun is singular they anyway (it's only a late 19th century phenomenon that people get pissy about not pretending "he" is gender neutral), no need to be apologetic.

Re:And when it fails this test too (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463192)

The gender neutral pronoun is singular they anyway

Singular they didn't mean it that way. Singular was talking about "singular they" instead of "it".

In singular our humble opinion, of course.

Re:And when it fails this test too (1)

Jurily (900488) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463098)

We can prove that the universe could have happened without God

Umm... how exactly?

The whole question is like P2P clients trying to figure out kernel internals and whether or not we're running in a VM, while others argue about the existence of the Programmer.

god is a natural progression of ignorance (1, Flamebait)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463170)

ignorance and vanityfirst there were spirits everywhere, then as we learned to understand the world, these became pantheons of gods, then as we learned more, reduced to the one god. God is then just our ignorance of the world and the vanity of those who cannot answer 'i do not know'.

Re:And when it fails this test too (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33462748)

Just for the record: Gödel did not proof math to be not consistent. He showed two things:

1. That in every axiomatic system strong enough to capture aithmetic there necessarily are true sentences that can be expressed with the means of the system but cannot be deduced from the axioms (he presented a method to construct such sentences).

2. You cannot deduce a system's consistency from the axioms of such a system. (Which is something completely different from prooving that math is not consistent).

Re:And when it fails this test too (5, Informative)

Haxamanish (1564673) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463258)

Well, propositional logic can be proven to be consistent (there are no contradictions) AND complete (all true propositions can be proven out of the axioms), so can first order predicate logic (in the PhD dissertation of Gödel, 1929 [stanford.edu] ).

To construct arithmetic out of logic, we however need second order predicate logic. Gödel (1930, published 1931 [wikipedia.org] ) showed that axiomatic systems in second order logic are either incomplete (true non-provable sentences can be constructed) OR they are inconsistent (containing contradictions).

Re:And when it fails this test too (1)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463360)

(incidentally you forgot the assumptions Godel made for 2), showing that for example, there are consistent maths, we just don't use them, as they're not infinite, and not "generally useful" whatever that means)

Additionally you forget the followup proofs, there are no consistent theories that can prove the consistency of "meaningful" mathematics (ie. +, -, *, /, n -> n + 1, ...). It's not just that the consistency of Peano arithmetic cannot be proved inside Peano arithmetic, it can't be proved, at all (in any meaningfull way : the only way to "prove" it is to accept it's correctness as axiom).

So really math is not consistent (if something cannot be proved, even if not actually disproved, you cannot reasonably say that it *is*, because it isn't). You can NOT say that math (arithmetic) is consistent, that's WRONG. You *can* say it's inconsistent (if you've proven, correctly, that a plane can never be observed flying, is it really such a stretch to say that it's going to crash when it's haning up in the air and time is frozen ?).

This is also not the sole problem with numbers. There are all sorts of unsolved paradoxes with even the natural number "infinite". (more general there are paradoxes that apply to any collection with infinite elements)

And this is talking about *just* natural numbers. rational numbers and, God help us, real numbers have much, much worse problems than mere doubts. It is known that rational numbers are inconsistent, and real numbers cannot be proven to even exist. There are no known ways to construct real numbers that are not simple extensions of rational numbers.

Re:And when it fails this test too (2, Insightful)

Haxamanish (1564673) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463440)

So really math is not consistent (if something cannot be proved, even if not actually disproved, you cannot reasonably say that it *is*, because it isn't).

You are confusing "consistency" with "completeness".

Re:And when it fails this test too (1)

Walt Dismal (534799) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462778)

Well hell, I still haven't given up believing in the aether. or that ghosts can pass through solid objects, except for the floor. A man's not a man without something to believe in, I say. Nixon for President in '012. And I have a proof a bit too large to scribble in the margin here about P and NP.

Re:And when it fails this test too (2, Funny)

Krahar (1655029) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462786)

[...] or assuming the correctness of math before Godel (who proved math is not consistent, whoops)

You got to improve your trolling - you have to be irrational and coarse enough to be enraging, yet not so loony that you self-identify as a troll. I rate you a 6 out of 10 for aggravating, which is OK I guess. What puts you over the top is stating that Godel proved that math is inconsistent. At that point the trolling just becomes too obvious.

But.. (3, Insightful)

Entropy98 (1340659) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462680)

However, given the second most common complaint, I can't help but wonder: which string theory?
 
Exactly, if this turns out to be false it won't disprove all string theory.
 
--
  windows media codec pack [cnet.com]

Not a test (4, Insightful)

UnHolier than ever (803328) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462704)

I scanned through the article and from what I see, they have made an equivalence between the maths used in string theory and the maths used in entanglement. This is interesting in itself, because this allowed them to port a result from string theory to entanglement theory, a result which was not known before and could be falsified.

However, this is like saying that the mathematical theory used to count apples harvested from an orchard (addition of natural numbers) is the same as the mathematical theory behind the algorithm the slashcode uses to count the number of comments below threshold (addition of natural numbers). It allows one to port result from ancient mathematics to modern applications without having to rederive everything from first principles; it does not mean that sub-threshold comments are, deep down, really made of apples.

Re:Not a test (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33462728)

Nice try. Next time better try with cars rather tan apples.

Re:Not a test (1)

CProgrammer98 (240351) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463422)

tan apples.

I prefer Green Apples personally

Re:Not a test (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462850)

it does not mean that sub-threshold comments are, deep down, really made of apples.

Youtube comments would be oranges.

Re:Not a test (2, Funny)

kandela (835710) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463434)

Are you comparing apples with oranges?

Physicist speaking (5, Informative)

JohnFluxx (413620) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462732)

As a physicist, I do get a bit annoyed at the constant attacks on string theory in public media.

Let me just state a few points please:

  * We have Quantum Mechanics for the realm of the very small
  * We have General Relativity for the realm of the very heavy
  * Both of these theories fit observational data and work very well
  * The two theories contradict each other in the case of very heavy and very small object (e.g. tiny black holes)

So, we need a new theory that gives the same predictions at QM and GR in the realms that we can measure them. This is where string theory etc comes in. But we do not yet have experimental data for very heavy and very small objects. If you want to complain about string theory not being testable, then accept that your same complaint is going to apply to EVERY grand-unified-theory that we know of.

Conclusion
=========

If you complain at string theory, then PLEASE state what you are proposing. What is the use in complaining when you have no alternative? The main scientific proponents against String Theory also just happen to have their own pet theories (e.g Quantum Loop Gravity) which are in an even worse situation.

If you complain about string theory taking so long, then what do you expect? It has taken 16 years just to do a single experiment (The LHC).

The only way we can make String Theory etc testable is by further research. If you dislike, please propose a better solution rather than just complaining.

TL;DR - People complain at string without proposing anything better.

Re:Physicist speaking (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33462784)

You can tell someone is used to writing academic papers when they show a small bullet point list of statements (10% of the text), then reach a conclusion (another 10% of the text), then proceed to spend the other 80% of the text repeating the conclusion over and over again.

Re:Physicist speaking (1)

Krahar (1655029) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462804)

That's exactly opposite from usual academic papers.

Re:Physicist speaking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33462940)

I am assuming your experience is not on Philosophy papers...

Re:Physicist speaking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33463132)

Like the person said, "That's exactly opposite from usual ACADEMIC papers."

Re:Physicist speaking (4, Insightful)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462798)

If you dislike, please propose a better solution rather than just complaining.

It's turtles . . . all the way down . . .

Nylon theory (nylon is made of strings, you see) (4, Funny)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463094)

No, it's nylons... and they only go down from the thigh (otherwise we're talking about pantyhose, which are a creation of the devil.) From the thigh up, it's garters. If you find turtles, retreat immediately. It's likely to get worse, and you don't want to know about that... guys that want to know about that become gynecologists. And no one with any sense at all wants to encounter dark matter. Also, garters first, panties (optional, of course), second.

Experimenting in this realm is highly recommended. Repeat a lot - you want to be sure.

Re:Physicist speaking (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463626)

There are only three Ninja Turtles.

Re:Physicist speaking (2, Interesting)

OrangeCatholic (1495411) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462826)

So wait, we have two theories that describe different realms and no data for the intersection of the two realms, but people are trying to come up with a theory for the intersection?

That's like saying, I know how to fly a plane, and I know how to drive a car, but neither skill applies to flying cars, which I've also never seen.

But they must exist, right??

Re:Physicist speaking (3, Funny)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463008)

Did you just use a car analogy in an article about testing string theory?

Re:Physicist speaking (1)

m50d (797211) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463076)

Except you're talking about the universe here. We may not have built a flying car, but it is possible to have a very small black hole. Unless you're suggesting that it isn't possible, but that's really just another theory that you're going to have to justify in the same way.

Re:Physicist speaking (1)

OrangeCatholic (1495411) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463424)

>Unless you're suggesting that it isn't possible, but that's really just another theory that you're going to have to justify in the same way.

That's quite easy. Black holes are formed when gravity overwhelms all other forces, which I take to mean nuclear strong/weak forces. (If you look at a neutron star, it's density is the same as a nuclear density.)

In everyday life, it takes about 7000 cubic kilometers of volume before you have enough space to pack in enough mass to do this (calculated from a 12km schwarzchild radius typical of a neutron star).

And you want to do that on a smaller scale? Where oh where will you get the gravity?

Re:Physicist speaking (3, Informative)

MartinSchou (1360093) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463198)

So wait, we have two theories that describe different realms and no data for the intersection of the two realms, but people are trying to come up with a theory for the intersection?

We know that very very small objects exists (subatomic particles). We also know that very very massive objects exists (stars).

Usually the two are linear. The smaller an objects, the less mass it has.

Unfortunately there IS a crossover point. There are objects with a density of approximately 370,000,000,000,000,000 kg/m^3. These can be modeled with regular physics for 'large' objects, and they affect things far outside the realm of Quantum Theory (i.e. you can orbit a human around such an object). Get too much above this point though, and you end up with an object that seems to be smaller than the smallest subatomic particles (Quantum Theory) yet affects things that are far outside the realm of Quantum Theory - these items are commonly known as black holes.

How do they work? Well ... they're insanely massive. And they're really tiny. As to what goes on inside them ... we've no clue. We can't use Quantum Theory because it's too massive, and we can't use regular physics, because it's too small.

Re:Physicist speaking (1)

tenco (773732) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463574)

How do they work? Well ... they're insanely massive. And they're really tiny. As to what goes on inside them ... we've no clue. We can't use Quantum Theory because it's too massive, and we can't use regular physics, because it's too small.

How do you know they are tiny? Sure, GRT predicts a singularity. But has anyone ever actually measured the size of a black hole's mass distribution beyond the event horizon?

Re:Physicist speaking (1)

OrangeCatholic (1495411) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463632)

>you end up with an object that seems to be smaller than the smallest subatomic particles

I think the important word here is "seems". Black holes were discovered when Schwarzchild found a way to get 1/0 in Einstein's field equations.

From then, it's been 95 years of madness perpetuated by people who have never seen a "limit" drawn on a graph.

Re:Physicist speaking (1)

Mikkeles (698461) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462828)

Since I have a physicist here :^)

Since string theory cannot be distinguished from , e.g., QM (i.e., string theory is untestable), does that not also imply that QM cannot be distinguished from string theory (i.e., QM is untestable)? So why is QM given precedence?

Re:Physicist speaking (3, Funny)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463146)

does that not also imply that QM cannot be distinguished from string theory?

That's what I've always said!

The quality manager didn't find it funny.

Re:Physicist speaking (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463286)

Since string theory cannot be distinguished from , e.g., QM (i.e., string theory is untestable), does that not also imply that QM cannot be distinguished from string theory (i.e., QM is untestable)? So why is QM given precedence?

Because string theory builds on QM. Therefore there are only three logical possibilities:

  • Both QM and string theory are right.
  • QM is right, but string theory is wrong.
  • Both QM and string theory are wrong.

Note that this does not include your suggestion (ST right, but QM wrong). Given that experimental data overwhelmingly confirmed QM, of those three options only two remain, which only differ in the question whether string theory is right.

Re:Physicist speaking (1)

DougBTX (1260312) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463522)

I think that quantum mechanics can be distinguished from string theory. Your computer probably wouldn't run so fast without an understanding of QM, eg, your computer running is a test of QM.

Re:Physicist speaking (3, Insightful)

Capt'n Hector (650760) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462872)

I think the public media attacks string theory on the grounds of its impossibility to test because they don't know any better. Those of us in physics and math have very real and strong arguments against string theory that have little to do with testing.

Re:Physicist speaking (1)

addsalt (985163) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462882)

If you dislike, please propose a better solution rather than just complaining.People complain at string without proposing anything better.

The major concern is not that people continue to investigate string theory, but that it is done en masse at the expense of following competitive theories. The string theory trail has certainly gotten colder, and it is time to start investigating other alternatives. I'm all for a few physicists beating the dead horse because it just may come back to life, but we don't need everyone doing it.

I think the complain about string theory (4, Interesting)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462894)

Is that it isn't. What I mean by that is it doesn't seem to make any testable predictions. At this point, it is just a bunch of math wanking. Now there's nothing wrong with purse math. A lot of useful theories start out that way and I like the Bacon quote "If in other sciences we should arrive at certainty without doubt and truth without error, it behooves us to place the foundations of knowledge in mathematics."

However when all you've got is a bunch of neat math with no real testable predictions, it is not a theory and it is not the sort of thing to be crowing about to the general public. XKCD, as usual, did a humorous job summing it up: http://xkcd.com/171/ [xkcd.com] .

If you are going to complain that people complain about the lack of testability then you need to do two things:

1) Read The Logic of Scientific Discovery again and brush up on what a theory is and isn't.

2) Don't go making press releases. I'm not saying you personally have done this but physicists are awful happy to talk to the press about something they can't prove.

Part of it is simply wanting accuracy in the use of the words because let's face it: In science accuracy matters. Being pedantic about terms is important in science. Another part of it is this is the kind of thing that confuses normal people. With evolution, scientists have gone to a lot of trouble to explain that a theory is NOT a guess, NOT a wild idea, etc. They show other theories and how they work, how many things we accept as true are theories.

Well something like this undermines that to an extent, because here is something being called a theory that is not only untested, but that they can't even figure out how to test. It is the kind of thing that can make people say "But wait, if this is a theory then theory doesn't mean what you said."

If we're going to be pedantic... (1)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463154)

...then let's not throw around phrases like "theories accepted as truth."

A much better way to construct such a remark is "theories we presently have (very|extremely|) high confidence in."

Because I gotta tell ya, "truth" is one of those nasty words, like "belief", that usually - outside of logic and math, where it means something else - means someone is glossing over something, and it's probably not insignificant.

Just saying. You want a way to write about worldviews - including scientific ones - that doesn't trip you up, the best English-language concept I've ever run into is confidence. "Highly confident"; "Very little confidence"; it even allows for zero confidence and 100% confidence but it doesn't go around anointing ideas with either one by default the way the words "truth" and "believe" do. Allow for the possibility of change, and the acknowledgment of previous differences with "presently" (or whatever time frame is appropriate) and all of a sudden you sound like a reasonable person, because you're speaking reasonably.

It's much easier to speak accurately about everything from the big bang to Boyle's laws for gasses when you drop the truth thing and use confidence instead - it's *very* good for teaching, too.

Re:If we're going to be pedantic... (1)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463186)

I'm speaking of regular individuals. Yes I understand that when you get down to it, nothing outside math can be prove true as in no room for anything to dispute it ever (and of course just because something is true in math doesn't mean it applies in the world, could all just be in our heads). However normal people accept things as true, and they accept much of science as true. So truth is a useful thing to talk about.

Re:If we're going to be pedantic... (1)

OrangeCatholic (1495411) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463466)

Wow I hope this is a troll for your own sanity. Use ctrl+F on "truth" and see your epic fail.

Useful vs. Right (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463572)

I guess I'm currently in the 'so what' camp. If a String Theory covers all of QM, Relativity, and Gravity, and it makes useful predictions that can be tested and leads to further knowledge and useful engineering - I guess I don't really care if the underlying assumptions are right or not.

By all means, keep working on something better, but if the above is true, it's a good theory to work with. We got quite a bit of useful work done with Newtonian physics, and QM/QED have gotten us much further, even if they're not quite 'right'.

If a String Theory is correct, then it will lead to insights we currently don't understand. If it's wrong it'll disagree with observation. I guess the fear is that it'll be wrong and agree with observation, which is the point where I diverge from those who worry too much.

Re:Physicist speaking (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33462908)

...

If you dislike, please propose a better solution rather than just complaining. ...

I think a group physicists should come to some kind of "consensus", then get blind, fawning agreement from celebrities.

Then attack anyone who dares to be a "denier".

Think of all the billions of dollars of grant money you could scare up. Imagine, a railroad engineer could even start a company and siphon off a few million dollars of that money for his swimming pools, and even participate in an over-the-top alarmist panel at the UN.

You'd improve your chances of getting a Nobel Prize.

Hey, it worked for climate "scientists"...

Re:Physicist speaking (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33462932)

If you complain at string theory, then PLEASE state what you are proposing. What is the use in complaining when you have no alternative?

Which by an astonishing coincidence is the same argument in favor of god-did-it theory.

Re:Physicist speaking (2, Insightful)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462944)

So, we need a new theory that gives the same predictions at QM and GR in the realms that we can measure them. This is where string theory etc comes in.

Not really. Last I checked, String Theory hasn't made any useful predictions about systems like this. No one has managed to fold gravity into a Theory of Everything yet, unless I missed an important update. (Feel free to correct me if I have.)

TL;DR - People complain at string without proposing anything better.

A theory that offers no new powers of explanation and prediction is itself no better than the pre-existing paradigms. Until String Theory can show itself to have some value (leaving aside the issue of whether it's the best such model), there's no reason to cling to it. "Better" implies that ST was somehow useful to begin with.

Re:Physicist speaking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33463012)

Ok, I don't know much about string theory. lol.
I'm just not happy about the approach. It seems so arbitrary to me. I read a bit about some years ago. It seems to leave like it room for almost arbitrary universes and you need to make it fit to our universe by finding the right parameters, calabi-yau space or whatever.
Seems to me like some mathematician said: 'Let's try this.' and since then thousands of scientists are working on it to make it fit by bruteforce ... mmmh, 1-dimensional strings don't work, lets try n-branes etc ...
Well, maybe I see it totally wrong. I'd like to hear, how it really is.

I'd be more happy, if there was a theory that needs less tuning. Someone sensing the connection between quantum physics, gravity/relativity etc. and coming up with something that explains it all and then the already known formulas fall into your hands without much tuning. Ok, you don't always get what you are wishing for. ^^

( The latter approach is something I'm following out of fun. If I write a bunch of interesting phenomenons and some physical laws down plus my thoughts about them, then I intuitively sense that this stuff is all related in a certain way and I feel roughly, how, quantum mechanics and relativity suddenly make 'sense' when seen in a context, but I'm not sure, how to mathematically approach it yet. My main problem is to get time and space out of my head as a stage. There not more fundamental than anything else imho. It's just difficult to abstract from time and space in your mind, trying to see thing on a more fundamental level. )

Then don't call it a theory, ya know? (5, Interesting)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463048)

Actually, it seems to me like we don't call those grand-unified things a proper scientific theory either. As long as there are no testable predictions, and it fails Occam's Razor, it's not a theory, plain and simple. It's a hypothesis.

Yes, there is a name for a theory which hasn't yet been tested: hypothesis.

And really, as someone who's gotten tired of hearing Young Earth Creationists go "well, evolution is just a theory" and having to explain to them "yeah, but theory in science doesn't mean what you think. It means it already made testable predictions and is the best we have"... it's getting annoying to see that a whole bunch of physicists are actually using it exactly as the YECs and conspiracy theorists think: as just an untested and untestable supposition, which may or may not actually hold any water at all.

Yes, I realize that calling it a "theory" is more science-y sounding and good for your funding. But it devalues the whole idea of science for everyone. If we accept that some untested and untestable calculation is just as worthy of being called a "theory" with a straight face as GR or electromagnetism just because it's the pet supposition of some physicist, then basically why wouldn't Behe's pencils-up-the-nose ID idiocies be a "theory" too? I mean Behe _is_ a professor of biochemistry.

Call it the String Hypothesis, and you'd see a lot less complaints, basically.

Re:Then don't call it a theory, ya know? (1)

Haxamanish (1564673) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463482)

Yes, there is a name for a theory which hasn't yet been tested: hypothesis.

A hypothesis is the starting point. A theory is the hypothesis and everything which follows from it. The hypothesis can be true or false, a theory can also be true or false.

Re:Then don't call it a theory, ya know? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33463510)

No account means no mod points for me.

Haxamanish is correct. In mathematics (which basically includes physics), any body of axioms and resulting theorems is a "theory", even if it doesn't have (known) real-world application.

E.g. "Ring Theory" is a theory not because it is correct, but because of how it was derived.

Re:Physicist speaking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33463130)

If you were a real physicist you'd know that the LHC has nothing to do with string theory.

Re:Physicist speaking (1)

thesandtiger (819476) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463188)

TL;DR - People complain at string without proposing anything better.

What ever happened to "we don't know"?

You can criticize a theory without proposing anything better if you don't have a theory yourself - because you can point to flaws in the other theory. Observations that seem to go against the theory, the impossibility of falsifying the theory, etc.

For example, I can point at "intelligent design" and say it's a bad theory because it is not falsifiable and I don't have to offer an alternative theory of abiogenesis because I'm not saying "my theory is better" but merely "that theory is not scientific."

I can say "God gets involved when we talk about very small, heavy things, because God is just fascinated by those things, too, and that's why we find it so difficult to bridge the gap between our two major ways of understanding the universe when it comes to those" and it is *every* bit as good as string theory because it's *exactly* as testable, and it's based on *exactly* as much evidence as string theory is based on.

"I don't know, but I know that your theory isn't scientific, so until you can make it testable, I'm going to treat it as nothing more than speculation" is a PERFECTLY acceptable starting point.

Re:Physicist speaking (1)

thesandtiger (819476) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463216)

Forgive the self reply - I wanted to amplify:

Saying "don't criticize a theory unless you have a better one" is actually counter productive because it encourages the championing of pet theories rather than the actual doing of science.

Re:Physicist speaking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33463368)

This. A thousand times, this. The above 'physicist' has scant knowledge of scientific method if ''you can't think of anything better!'' is supposed to count as an argument. That's exactly the reason we DON'T trust string theorists.

Puppet on a string (1)

arth1 (260657) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463238)

If you want to complain about string theory not being testable, then accept that your same complaint is going to apply to EVERY grand-unified-theory that we know of.

And why do you think this would be a problem? My complaint about the Christian god not being testable does also apply to other deities, but the Christians are the ones pissing in my back yard, so those are the ones I complain about. Similar with the string faith.

If you complain at string theory, then PLEASE state what you are proposing.

That's a fallacy. Complaints are just as valid without the complainer presenting alternatives.

What is the use in complaining when you have no alternative?

What's the use in complaining about the Christian faith when you have no alternative? In my opinion, having no alternative is not a bad thing in itself. There are many things we do not know yet, but the answer isn't to come up with an explanation that can't be disproved and gather followers. IMO, string theory is worth putting in a drawer with a note saying "do not open until testable", lest it cause confirmation bias due to lack of falsifiability.

People complain at string without proposing anything better.

People complain about a LOT of things without proposing anything better, and often rightly so. It's the job of the scientist to look for something better, not reinforce her own beliefs.

Re:Physicist speaking (1)

alaffin (585965) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463242)

Just to add to the crowds already responding to this, but my real questions "why"?

Now you'll have to pardon me, because I'm not a physicist. I won't pretend to know all that much about string theory. For that matter I don't know all that much about quantum mechanics or general relativity either. Enough to keep my geek card valid, but that's about it. But I don't think my ignorance of the topic invalidates my question, as it's more of a question of methodolgy than actual science.

As I understand it (and as you have presented it) physicists have (at least) two models of the universe. QM handles really tiny things. GR handles really massive things. But neither is a perfect model - the so-called "Theory of Everything" or what have you. They each break down as they approach the domain of the other.

Now obviously, if we want to truly understand the universe we must reconcile these two conflicting theories. String theory does it nicely (or not so nicely, depending on your point of view) but in all honesty why do we have a theory for explaining the behavior of something we can't observe? At this point you're just throwing some numbers around - which is fine if you're a mathematician, but not so fine if you're a physicist.

Before the math folks in the audience get up in arms - I love you guys, I really do. And I'm sure the work that you're doing with category theory or whatever will benefit the world greatly one day. But, in the world of science you're the tool-makers. Or, since this is Slashdot, you're the auto-makers. You don't actually drive around in one of those nice, expensive Italian sports cars (well, maybe some of those cryptographers who work for the government) but none of us would be driving at all if you weren't doing your very important work.

Back on topic. You're a physicist. It's your chosen task in life to unlock the deepest secrets of the universe. Hell, you're ultimate goal is so much more than just unlocking the secrets. You should be looking at creating your own, new universe. And you do that by understand the rules and laws that govern our universe.

But string theory doesn't do that. String theory is a universal law looking for a universe to impose itself upon. We think - well, you think (you being all physicists) - that this theory will work, that it will fit two pieces of the puzzle together. But, at least as far as I understand it, it's bad science to run around looking to prove a theory you just came up with. Theory should be based on observation, not obscure eldritch maths. And since we haven't observed anything yet, we shouldn't have anything beyond a basic, testable, hypothesis. Otherwise we're in danger of limiting our vision. What if string theory continues to fail every test it is subjected to? When do we say "hmm... this isn't working - maybe it's time for a new theory". We tend to put blinders on when we get attached to something.

Maybe it's time we set string theory aside until it's concievable to observe such things. Otherwise we may come to regret it.

Re:Physicist speaking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33463248)

I am sick and tired of people simply not trying. I constantly hear the excuse is that it's just too hard. So, people screw around with string theory, or work on other things, rather than attack the hard problems. If you are willing to make a lot of unjustified assumptions you can make lots of nonsense calculations. e.g. that gauge invariance, or gravity, or Lorentz invariance are exact symmetries and we've got them exactly correct in field theory, and our formulation holds to arbitrarily high energies. AdS/QCD is perhaps the most interesting to come out in the last decade, and it's a conjectured relationship between two theories that are definitely not realized in nature. Thousands of papers screwing around with a theory that is demonstrably not realized in nature. Any predictions coming from it cannot be related to the real world. String Theory has had 50 years to make a prediction. If you spend your entire career on a topic and do not do anything that has any prediction or explanation of any experiment, you cannot call yourself a physicist, and are not using the tools of physics (e.g. experiments). Instead you can only be a mathematician, and the tools you must use are proofs. String Theory instead is full of "physics inspired" ideas which are neither mathematically rigorous, nor testable, and therefore are in the doldrums with fields like Anthropology and Sociology, with no mechanism to select good work from bad. It's just a lot of noise. No attempt is made to attack the fundamental problems shared by string theory and field theory, they're "too hard". On the other hand there are 10^500 vacua. That's more than 10^500 papers with still no progress, so it's a noise (and citation) machine, rather than a real theory.

Conformal Field Theory is a fine mathematics topic, but it's not physics, and neither is String Theory, until an experiment is performed. 50 years is enough. Time for new ideas. You'll be hearing from me.

Re:Physicist speaking (1)

syousef (465911) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463318)

>If you complain at string theory, then PLEASE state what you are proposing.

Turtles all the way down! Everybody knows that!

Re:Physicist speaking (1)

matunos (1587263) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463332)

MAGIC MAN DONE IT!

Re:Physicist speaking (1)

rapierian (608068) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463342)

Interesting...As a physicist, I attack string theory.

My main problem is it's method of development. Unlike most of the rest of the theories in the history of physics, string theory seems to be developed with a preconceived notion about what the solution is. If you look at the rest of the physics world, the theories were developed after data came in and partially upset the previous theory, and they were developed in accordance with the new data.

Re:Physicist speaking (1)

Saib0t (204692) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463550)

As a physicist, I do get a bit annoyed at the constant attacks on string theory in public media.

Let me just state a few points please:

If you complain at string theory, then PLEASE state what you are proposing. What is the use in complaining when you have no alternative?

What kind of scientist are you? It doesn't matter if I can offer an alternative suggestion or not.

The use of "complaining" is to determine the validity of the theory. You can't test it, you can't determine if it's true. Simple enough for you?

If I were to say that invisible pink unicorns like small massive objects, you'd have every right to tear my suggestion apart without having to offer an alternative, that's the way it works...

Re:Physicist speaking (1)

plumby (179557) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463570)

If you complain at string theory, then PLEASE state what you are proposing.

I never get this line of argument. Surely if you've got evidence that demonstrates a particular theory is clearly wrong, it's better to flag that up even if you've not got any specific alternative. If nothing else, it should encourage others to stop wasting their time pursuing something that's clearly wrong.

I'm not saying that string theory is wrong (I'm not a theoretical physicist, and I've got no particular views on this theory), but the principle of not being allowed to point out that something is wrong unless you know what the right answer is always annoys me.

String theorie isnt that bad at all. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33462760)

I think the one thing people forget, is that there is currently no theory that can describe everything.
So string theory isnt bad because it is one of the theories that it can not be proven by todays physic test, neither can other theories.
However most important point is that it is a framework of math.
And just to remind you all, it is math that is the front runner of physics.
For example Einstein was first to find blackholes based only on his math, and some years later they where indeed found.
And gravity waves we are still looking for it, because Einstein predicted them. (but perhaps we never find them, as we know to little about what is the carrier of gravity currently).

However, and this happened to other theories as well, if they can describe 'other' physics processes. Then it might be that the framework has potential, as it can describe more then the area it originated from. For a theory of everything that's on thing that it should be able to do.
However we still know to little about it all, so if this doesnt work out, it might be because we dont understand string theory enough (íts damn complex) or we dont understand the real world enough on it various scales (from photons to planets, and star clusters).
Realy finding a theory of everything could keep us busy for the next 2000 years that wouldnt surprice me at all. However most people think that the discovery of string theory was a huge step forward, almost a to big step. Therefore it surprises us it so many ways, we know a bit about the framework of this math, but we dont know how it is used by nature. And thats why we still have a long long long way to go.....

Just start thinking of something that results in time or in our dimensions... thats the thing string theory complexity, way beyond the 'simple' quantum mechanics, and way beyond our current imagination too..

Re:String theorie isnt that bad at all. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33463320)

For example Einstein was first to find blackholes based only on his math

Uhm, wouldn't that be Karl Schwarzschild [wikipedia.org] ?

which string theory? (4, Funny)

jamesh (87723) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462774)

which string theory?

The one that will come out of the renormalization that they'll need to do to make it fit the observed outcome of this experiment, obviously.

Easy Peasy! (1)

Rouverius (1183105) | more than 4 years ago | (#33462980)

mTheory = isString("foo") Sorted! VBA Rules! ... Wha?

Rediculous. (3, Funny)

AntEater (16627) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463252)

This has been solved for quite a long time. Perl's built in regular expression tests have had the ability to check for strings for many years now.

if( $var =~ /\w/) {}

Falsiability is old (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33463316)

Science is not about disproving stuff. All theories (unless you made them really wrong) account for some measurements. All you can do to theories is measure their range of applicability. You cannot say it's entirely false out of one measurement. You can only say that measurement is out of its range of applicability.

Plus, theory background stories (like 'all is made of strings') are not 'reality'. Even if they are the reality, you cannot be sure of that.
All that matters to science are ways to relate measurements. That's it. The rest is sensationalism.

Maybe the numbering system is the problem... (1, Interesting)

courteaudotbiz (1191083) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463358)

While we are trying to use maths to solve pretty much everything, maybe the thing that is flawed is our numbering system?!?

Remember the roman numbers? It was supposed to be the most logical thing in the world back then. Then we came up with base 10 / positional numbering system. All of a sudden, everything was simpler, everything was easier to calculate, and it opened up our eyes on a lot of things.

But then, maybe we reached the end of what our numbering system / way of thinking about maths, can do.

Just asking. I'm not that good at maths, I'm not a physician nor a chemist. But looking at history, we may be all the way wrong again.

Second most complaint? (1)

Burnhard (1031106) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463370)

The second most complaint I have with String Theory is how ordinary people can possibly understand the mathematics. I can just about grasp Einstein, Tensors and so forth. Multidimensional manifold's, M-theory and the like leave me feeling intellectually inadequate. Is it all just some obscurantist joke, or is reality really that complicated?

Where is... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33463504)

the pizza analogy guy on this one?

So, what we've got here by analogy (0, Troll)

Guil Rarey (306566) | more than 4 years ago | (#33463518)

Is a bunch of people trying to hack on physics to bridge GR and QM. There are a couple different ways to do this. Strings are one, loop quantum gravity is another.

Right now, everyone is still in pre-release debugging, not even beta-testing. It's ALL VAPORWARE. Complicating things, as always is money - grants, funding, publication, as well as ego and rep - appointments, tenure, etc. The truth will out eventually - the theories WILL mature and develop; testable, falsifiable hypotheses will be formulated - patience, grasshopper.

What I'd like to know, now, is who's the "Home Brew Computing Club" of this mess and who is the "Bill Gates writing bitchy whiny letters complaining about shit"?

Witten and Greene I've heard of. String theory and string theoreticians are carrying the day (in political / "marketing" terms) in the academy. Who is losing and bitching? Apart from their economic incentive to bitch, should they be?

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