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The Hidden Reality Draws Ire From Physicists

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the don't-anger-the-physics-nerds dept.

Books 387

eldavojohn writes "Scientific American is running a piece by science journalist John Horgan attacking pop physicist Brian Greene's latest offering, titled The Hidden Reality. He's not entirely alone; Not Even Wrong backs him up and reminds us of a growing list of multiverse propaganda. The journal Nature ran a short piece (subscription required) trying to remind everyone that Greene's book is more theory than fact, but apart from those three responses, the popular press seems to be gobbling up this tantalizing concept of a multiverse. NPR offers an excerpt while SFGate and The Wall Street Journal entertain us with interviews of the controversial Greene. The New York Times and Salon seem to think it's worthwhile, with Salon even calling it 'the science behind' the multiverse theory. The New York Times thought it worthwhile to give Greene an op-ed column. For better or for worse, Greene has certainly brought this great debate to the public's attention — similar to his exhibition of String Theory."

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not science (0)

z-j-y (1056250) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060080)

what does it have to do with this world? multiverse cannot be science, it's talking about unobservables.

if we entertain the thought of multiverse, we might as well entertain the thought of a God. what's the difference?

Re:not science (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35060130)

Kaku is particularly guilty of this. I seem to recall him talking about dark matter on %RandomShow% some time ago and excitedly stating that it may be the gravitational pull from an alternate universe. It's fun as a thought game, but little else. It's Mickey Mouse anti-physics, and we could do without.

Re:not science (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060350)

and excitedly stating that it may be the gravitational pull from an alternate universe

The difference is that any such model would be testable via dark matter observations.

Re:not science (5, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060388)

And that's the problem. It's one thing to play with various mathematical models like M-theory, and to some extent it is science in that researchers in these areas are trying to work out mathematical models that might give us a quantum theory of gravity. But something pretty peculiar has happened, particularly with some of the string theorists, in that they tend not to speak in the normal, cautious language that physicists usually do when talking about very hypothetical models. They seem to start talking in terms that would suggest to an uninformed layman that they have the Answer, so to speak. Science journalists, sadly, are among the most gullible of laymen, and will happily give guys like Greene far to much credence, and guys like Greene in return seem to take this as an opportunity to try to fight the scientific battle in the public press, which to my mind is quite inappropriate. Greene, will of course, in front of the proper audience (his peers in the physics community) speak much more cautiously, and though I hesitate to call that duplicitous behavior, I sometimes wonder. Being a science popularizer like Sagan or Hawking, is a delicate balancing act. On the one hand you want to include hypothetical solutions to long-standing problems to give an account of the state of physics and cosmology, but at the same time you want to make sure that your layman audience understands that these are in fact hypothetical solutions, currently untestable (and with variants on M-theory and its kin, for all intents and purposes pretty much completely untestable with the level of technology at our disposal for the foreseeable future, if ever).

Another thing I don't particularly like about Greene and his gang of string theorists is that they tend to poo-poo the major competitor, loop quantum gravity. While LQG isn't currently testable either, unlike the various superstring theories, which just seem to get messier as you look at them, LQG works within the 3+1 dimensional framework of classical physics. It too may be wrong, but it has a certain attraction in its own right.

Re:not science (2)

OzPeter (195038) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060492)

loop quantum gravity .... It too may be wrong, but it has a certain attraction in its own right.

Hmmm .. gravity? .. attraction? ... You may be on to something there!

Re:not science (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35060140)

if we entertain the thought of multiverse, we might as well entertain the thought of a God. what's the difference?

Atheists don't get quite so up-in-arms?

Though in all seriousness, I agree, mutliverse is just the atheist equivalent of God. Instead of being omnipotent and omniscient, it is simply everything that could ever be. They like it though cause each one is random, rather than having one that is designed. Though neither are science.

Re:not science (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060396)

I agree, mutliverse is just the atheist equivalent of God. Instead of being omnipotent and omniscient, it is simply everything that could ever be. They like it though cause each one is random, rather than having one that is designed. Though neither are science.

Right conclusion, wrong reasoning. Its the equivalent because no experiments can be performed that would falsify the theory. Or rephrased the theories are both non-falsifiable.

Also your description of an atheist is a description of a non-christian, not a non-theist. Superficially, a multiverse does not appear to be compatible with native animist religious beliefs or even classical greco-roman paganism, so its not much of "God" for atheists.

Re:not science (2)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060154)

We may one day have the science to punch a hole in the universe and go elsewhere. To do the same with a god you need to epic level handbook and a munchkin like devotion to being a rules-lawyer.

Re:not science (4, Funny)

largesnike (762544) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060294)

Absolutely. Any decent cleric can plane shift, but meeting their God (other than by the usual means) requires a very friendly DM.

Re:not science (1)

grimJester (890090) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060194)

what does it have to do with this world? multiverse cannot be science, it's talking about unobservables.

If there's a proposed mechanism that causes observable effects and also produces many bubble universes, why would the side effect make it unscientific?

Re:not science (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35060628)

Because its a theory in which everything can and does happen randomly in universes we will never see and we're just one of those. There is nothing that supports the theory, its all just "what if this happened!" with no proof at all and no clue pointing in that direction other than "wouldn't it be neat?" Its a garbage theory, untestable and not even hinted at in the universe as we observe it. Its just a possibility, it could work. Good science fiction, bad science.

Re:not science (3, Insightful)

sgt101 (120604) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060224)

Errm - well, the double slit experiment is kind of observable, and there are lots of sort of explanations of it that don't involve a multi-verse.

But you could say that Feynman should have been taken literally, although he didn't want to be.

To be frank, Feynman should have been taken literally (and with a bucket full of worship) full stop.

Re:not science (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060448)

But you could say that Feynman should have been taken literally, although he didn't want to be.

Oh I think he was quite serious about his rationalizations for men visiting "gentleman's clubs" and he had some pretty good insights into the problems of lower level science education and also some insights into the dating scene. Oh wait you're talking about his physics work.... thats different, I think?

He had some good ideas, generally, but for some reason people latch on to the flakey woo woo stuff instead of his sobering insights into science education.

Re:not science (2)

foobsr (693224) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060240)

unobservables

Irrespective of whether I agree with Green or not — these can be inferred. Dark matter and dark energy come to mind.

CC.

Re:not science (1)

lumpenprole (114780) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060276)

I would argue that the effects are observable, and they're against it. If every choice is available somewhere, why does probability work so well? Why can we somehow navigate this infinite sea of all possibilities with confidence?

Re:not science (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060394)

If every choice is available somewhere, why does probability work so well?

Localization and abstraction. Somehow we're able to restrict our viewpoint to a simple dynamical system with initial conditions (or similar set ups that have relevant partial knowledge) and assign probabilities to the outcome (or unknowns of the system).

Re:not science (1)

foobsr (693224) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060664)

probability work so well

Does it? Kahnemann and Tversky might have thought otherwise.

CC.

Re:not science (2, Insightful)

hypergreatthing (254983) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060596)

what does it have to do with this world? multiverse cannot be science, it's talking about unobservables.

if we entertain the thought of multiverse, we might as well entertain the thought of a God. what's the difference?

Ohh you mean like dark matter, the big bang theory, string theory, the god particle, comet extinction theory, or even evolution?
All of them are theories. Theories try to explain something that may or not be observable. They're made because there's a problem of why something happens that isn't very straightforward. A lot of times they're wrong, but that's also part of scientific progress.

Really? (2)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060088)

The press repeating pseudoscience as fact? Say it ain't so!

So... (1)

Kid Zero (4866) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060094)

His sole beef is that it's impossible to prove or disprove. I don't suppose he'd mind if we at least thought about it? From the tone of the article it seems he'd rather we worry about what's possible, rather than flights of fancy. If we worried about the possible, what would we really have?

Re:So... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35060114)

His sole beef is that it's impossible to prove or disprove.

So like fairies then. What's the point?

Re:So... (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060216)

Don't forget Him Upstairs.

Stories are fun. I enjoy reading and watching them. But some people find their own lives so unbearable that they need to incorporate them into the stories that other people made up, rather than writing their own. Of course there's nothing wrong in getting involved with the stories of others, but we're better off if we can enjoy life on our own terms.

*goes back to munching on toast*

Re:So... (3, Informative)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060182)

His sole beef is that it's impossible to prove or disprove.

Which means it is not and cannot be science. Unless someone comes up with a way to test the "multiverse" theory, it is nothing more than a mental exercise.

Re:So... (5, Insightful)

keytoe (91531) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060280)

Which means it is not and cannot be science. Unless someone comes up with a way to test the "multiverse" theory, it is nothing more than a mental exercise.

He actually addressed this when he was on Colbert the other night. His point is that the maths indicate that this may be true, but that there is no way to scientifically prove it given current technology and understanding. This is similar to the fact that several aspects of Einstein's theories were indicated via math but not verifiable via experimentation. Einstein didn't even believe them. They were ultimately proven true as technology advanced to the point that the relevant experiments became possible.

The premise of his position is simply that math, while ultimately a mental exercise, can help guild the focus of scientific experimentation by indicating possibility. That's not really a controversial position in and of itself.

What the media are doing with this, on the other hand, is pretty much par for the course in science reporting.

Re:So... (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060524)

This is similar to the fact that several aspects of Einstein's theories were indicated via math but not verifiable via experimentation.

Crucial difference: One is an experimental failure due to limits of engineering at that time, one is scientifically unprovable.

Examples: Fusion reactor is an engineering / financial problem. An antimatter powered star trek warp drive is a flight of fancy. Both are currently impossible but they are two very different classes of impossible.

Re:So... (1)

keytoe (91531) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060702)

Examples: Fusion reactor is an engineering / financial problem. An antimatter powered star trek warp drive is a flight of fancy. Both are currently impossible but they are two very different classes of impossible.

How far back do we need to go before 'Fusion Reactor' was classed as 'Flight of Fancy'?

Re:So... (1)

Empiric (675968) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060392)

Then, the Copenhagen Interpretation is also "not science" as it is experimentally indifferentiable from the Everett Interpretation?

As I understand it, as it stands, if the Copenhagen Interpretation holds a "preferable" scientific status at all, it is merely because it seems more "common sense". If Everett fails due to nontestability, so does Copenhagen, and were are left with no interpretations of quantum behavior at all that are still "science".

Or, of course, we could accept that direct inference from established scientific knowns, individually testable or not, are still in the domain of "science".

Re:So... (1)

moteyalpha (1228680) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060434)

I agree it is not science since there is no observable, but as the GP says, it doesn't hurt to consider things that might spark imagination. I can think of conjoined multiverses that act in the same way as something like a DNA with a SNP that happens 1 in 4 billion and the reverse SNP that happens 1:16 billon billion creating the same universe with two paths to the same point. I think the book http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worlds_of_the_Imperium [wikipedia.org] among others considered the subject long ago.
This multiverse is so pedantic.

Re:So... (3, Insightful)

HiThere (15173) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060452)

Unhh... but that's true of every single interpretation of quantum mechanics. The multiworld hypothesis is just as reasonable as the Copenhagen interpretation is just as reasonable as ...

There's a bunch of results that put fairly tight constraints about which theories are reasonable, but they don't uniquely identify which one is correct. When you've got 5-7 different theories that make exactly the same prediction everywhere you can check, then to favor any one of them over the others is unreasonable. And it might just be something that you haven't thought of yet.

So this guy is the devotee of the multiworld (Everett-Graham-Wheeler) hypothesis, and the other guy (I'm guessing) is a devotee of the Copenhagen interpretation (Niels Bohr, etc.). Neither can be shown to be wrong. Just because the Copenahagen interpretation came first historically doesn't make it any better. In fact, I'd argue that without evidence one should go with the mathematics, and not collapse the state function. (MultiWorld.) But you can't even use Occam's Razor to choose between them. They just make different simplifying assumptions when translating the math into English. They don't disagree on what the math says. And it can't be translated without simplifying assumptions.

Re:So... (0, Flamebait)

msauve (701917) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060190)

"His sole beef is that it's impossible to prove or disprove."

Just like AGW [wikipedia.org] , which people keep saying is widely accepted science.

Re:So... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35060456)

AGW would be easy to disprove if it wasn't true. I can think of half-dozen things off the top of my head which would disprove AGW.

1) Sustained decrease in global temperatures(i.e. not a one year fluctuation down or not being higher than a one year fluctuation up) without a decrease in greenhouse gas presence in the atmosphere.
2) Stratospheric heating rather than stratospheric cooling.
3) Relative decreases in nighttime temperature versus daytime temperatures rather than the reverse.
4) Relative decreases in polar temperatures versus equatorial temperatures rather than the reverse.
5) Much greater increases in solar output than have been observed.
6) Decreases in global CO2 levels.
7) Lack of evidence that the carbon in atmospheric CO2 isn't coming from fossil fuels via isotopic measurements.

Obviously all of those conflict with the world as we observe it to an almost ludicrous degree which is why the scientific consensus is that AGW is occurring.

Re:So... (1)

Tenebrousedge (1226584) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060522)

We can not run a single experiment to prove it. Nor can we "prove" evolution, in that same sense. We cannot test for single variables in a system as complex as the entire earth. Once we've established that a simple experimental proof is out of the question, the question becomes, "What can we do? What experiments can be performed? What experiments have already been performed?"

Finding out the answers to those questions is the beginning of education and the foundation of knowledge.

AGW is pretty simple. Postulate two systems, equal in all respects except relative abundance of CO2. Apply equal amounts of solar radiation to each, and the system with a greater abundance of CO2 will retain more heat. The 'A' part of AGW is simply based on emissions data, which you can argue with as you like, but beforehand, you should really come up and visit here in Alaska. Take a trip out to Shishmaref, which will be counted with the polar bear as the first victims of global warming. Hell, just compare any photo of any glacier with one fifty or a hundred years older. Do you know we have a lot of those here? The effects of AGW are felt first at the poles; my advice would be to avoid beachfront real estate. Halting the engines of industry at this point is somewhere between foolish and futile; we're going to learn the lesson of sustainability good and hard.

Re:So... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35060206)

I think a good metric as to whether or not you have any idea what you're talking about is to take a step back and look at your post, then ask if it could just as easily be applied in defense to something widely understood to be BS, such as the following:

[Joe Q. Random writes a book talking about how unicorns are real]

[Media reports that unicorns are real]

[Actual scientific journals roundly reject Joe Q. Random's book]

[Kid Zero posts the following:]

His sole beef is that it's impossible to prove or disprove. I don't suppose he'd mind if we at least thought about it? From the tone of the article it seems he'd rather we worry about what's possible, rather than flights of fancy. If we worried about the possible, what would we really have?

Yeah. Pretty sure here that you have no idea what you're talking about, and it's exactly people like you that are responsible for society growing stupider. "SURE it's impossible, but hell, let's consider it anyway! Everybody and everything's opinion is equally valid! Everyone should have a say! Hey, why aren't you listening to me?! I'm just as smart as those 'scientists'!"

Re:So... (1)

foobsr (693224) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060334)

impossible to prove

Could you please explain how to prove somthing within the context of empirical science? As always, I am ready to learn about progress regards epistemology and related fields.

CC.

Re:So... (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060480)

If we worried about the possible, what would we really have?

political "science" or philosophy? Poli Sci is the art of discerning and implementing the possible? Philosophy is about semi-internally self consistent flights of fancy?

Nothing wrong with it, as long as you acknowledge its not even remotely a real science like physics.

Colbert (4, Informative)

just_another_sean (919159) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060108)

You can check out a fairly entertaining interview of Brian Greene by Stephen Colbert from last Thursday on Colbert's web site [colbertnation.com] .

I can't say this will educate you further one way or another and I am certainly not qulified to weigh in on either side of the debate but the guy was pretty candid with Stephen and, well, I found it entertaining...

Re:Colbert (2)

radtea (464814) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060256)

You can check out a fairly entertaining interview of Brian Greene by Stephen Colbert from last Thursday on Colbert's web site [colbertnation.com].

No I can't. Neither can anyone else outside the United States.

Re:Colbert (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35060310)

You can check out a fairly entertaining interview of Brian Greene by Stephen Colbert from last Thursday on Colbert's web site [colbertnation.com].

No I can't. Neither can anyone else outside the United States.

Works fine here (Isle of Man in the British Isles)

Re:Colbert (2)

NiteShaed (315799) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060360)

No I can't. Neither can anyone else outside the United States.

People in parallel universes are excluded as well. Stupid licensing, I wanted to find out who this "Colbert" person that does interviews is. The only famous Colbert here is Vice-President Stephen Colbert, who ran on the Stewart/Colbert ticket in 2000, beating O'Reilly/Hannity in a surprise upset. Enough about politics here in the Dominion of North America though, I'm sure it's probably not that different in your part of the multiverse.....

Re:Colbert (1)

arcsimm (1084173) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060418)

So... what's the Dominion's policy towards inter-universal immigration?

Re:Colbert (1)

NiteShaed (315799) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060648)

There's a good chance that you're actually already here, so you'd have to work that out with yourself....you don't have a goatee do you? The you that's already here may take that as a bad sign. Sorry, can't help referencing old episodes of "Stellar Voyage". I love that episode where Captain Curt and Mr. Stock go to the "evil" universe though.....

Re:Colbert (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35060364)

I am from Holland and I can watch it just fine.

Re:Colbert (2)

stiller (451878) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060506)

I can. In the Netherlands. No tricks required. We even get dutch commercials (joy)

Re:Colbert (2)

Monkey-Man2000 (603495) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060572)

You can check out a fairly entertaining interview of Brian Greene by Stephen Colbert from last Thursday on Colbert's web site [colbertnation.com].

No I can't. Neither can anyone else outside the United States.

I'm in France and can also watch it here (without a proxy). The trick with it and the Daily Show is to watch all the video clips and not the full episode in one go (i.e., that is, use this link [colbertnation.com] and not this [colbertnation.com] ).

Re:Colbert (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35060592)

I'm in the UK and this [ozsoapbox.com] proxy method works for me.

Re:Colbert (1)

just_another_sean (919159) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060678)

Ah yes, Viacom, sorry, forgot how idiotic our entertainment companies can be here. Wasn't trying to tease anyone!

Draws Ire From Physicists (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35060124)

But the conservation of ire insures that an equal amount of economists will chill out.

I will be the one... (2, Insightful)

Stregano (1285764) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060136)

This means that I can travel to the other universes, kill off the me from other ones and become stronger? I am pretty sure that the awesome Jet Li movie came out first (seriously, when he is going in regular motion and the sparks are in slow motion at the end, awesome). And yes, this is all 100% on topic since the movie discusses the multi-verse (it is not everyday that I can figure out a way to shove a Jet-Li reference into /.)

Re: ...kill off and become stronger? (1)

snikulin (889460) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060504)

Nah. The multi-verse wave function (whatever it is) should be more or less smooth enough. By killing off all your "twins" you convert your wave function into Dirac delta function. I guess at that moment the multi-verse will respond with a loud "gulp" sound (in hard vacuum) and eliminate you and entire history of our your existence (also it will edit out all ./ logs, I guess).

Wait, to whom am I talking right now?

Re:I will be the one... (1)

slinches (1540051) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060600)

This means that I can travel to the other universes, kill off the me from other ones and become stronger?

No, this means that the book the article refers to is no more science than the terrible Jet-Li movie you're alluding to. Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing. It just can't be called science. Instead, I think it would more qualify as the philosophical extension of a few scientific theories. As long as Greene doesn't misrepresent untestable muti-verse theories as hard science, then I'd say that this book would at least be an entertaining read. I'd rather people read thought provoking psuedo-science than the newest Harry Potter or vampire tripe. At least psuedo-science might inspire someone to investigate further and has a chance (albeit extremely small) to be useful if someone figures out a way to test it.

Re:I will be the one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35060614)

I was out seeing this movie with some friends. Before the movie started my girlfriend called, and I told her I was out seeing a movie with the guys, so she asked me what movie we were going to see, and I said, "The One". Then she said, "Yeah, that one, with that guy." And I laughed and said, "Oh shit! No, I'm not being cute, the name of the film is really called 'The One'. It has Jet Li in it."

"more theory than fact"? (2)

grimJester (890090) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060174)

Sounds like the submitter doesn't know the meaning of the word theory?

Re:"more theory than fact"? (4, Insightful)

jfengel (409917) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060220)

Even scientists, when they're not being absolutely rigorous, use "theory" in the "hypothesis" sense. It's common in culture, and scientists are still human, especially when off the clock.

This is a scientific context and the summary really should be rewritten to use the more precise and accurate word "speculation", but "hur hur evolution is a theory not a fact" is so spectacularly and deliberately misinformed that no amount of rigor on the part of scientists is going to stamp it out. Those who grasp it will understand what was meant; those intent on misunderstanding will find a way to do so regardless.

TFS: "more theory than fact" (1)

foobsr (693224) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060188)

Now tell me about a scientific fact, proposing that we talk about empirical science here.

CC.

Theory vs. Fact (2)

mfwitten (1906728) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060198)

more theory than fact

To scientists, these terms are not mutually exclusive.

more hypothesis, not "theory" (1, Insightful)

jdgeorge (18767) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060202)

What's so freakin' hard about getting that concept right? Oh, yeah, people can't spell (much less pronounce) "hypothesis".

Theory = Fact (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35060212)

The term theory only colloquially means conjecture.

A scientific theory is something that does have fact backing it up!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_theory

Theory != Fact (1)

snowgirl (978879) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060700)

No. Theory is not fact. Theory is a well tested and accurate model of the facts, but it is not the fact itself.

For example, the Theory of General Relativity does not precisely match up with reality as we see it. We're not exactly sure what's wrong with it right now, and the errors are ridiculously insignificant, but it is clear that it's not entirely fact. And despite not being fact, and despite being wrong at some ridiculously small epsilon, it is still by far the most accurate theory that we have.

And besides, if Theory were Fact, then Newton's Theory of Motion would still be true today, as it was when he formulated it, and it was widely accepted.

And of course a "theory" can be discredited, and falsified. Such as "Caloric theory".

Bad use of theory (3, Insightful)

plopez (54068) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060246)

OK, it seems that even people who should know the difference can't distinguish between the word theory and hypothesis. What was meant in the write up when this was said "Greene's book is more theory than fact" is "Greene's book is more hypothesis or conjecture rather than theory". A theory has been tested and more than once. It is as close to fact as humans can get. This watering down of the word theory is bad, it causes people to be confused and discount theories. Which is why people doubt the theory of evolution or global climate change.

Use the word right or don't use it.

OK, I'll stop ranting.

Re:Bad use of theory (2)

HiThere (15173) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060586)

(N.B.: I'm *assuming* that this book is just asserting the Everett-Graham-Wheeler multi-world interpretation. If this is wrong, then please tell me so.

But the thing is, here the proper word is neither theory nor hypothesis, but rather interpretation.

Quantum theory has several different interpretations. These various interpretation agree on what the math says, and on what the known experiments say, and (usually) about what any experiment that has been designed would show. They all make the same predictions in these areas. So what people are arguing about is how to translate from the math into English.

It's completely silly to call any one of the interpretations wrong, without also calling all of the others wrong.
(N.B.: There may someday be an experiment that would allow us to choose between the interpretation, but only if they are all wrong, and one of them can be extended to be more correct in a way incompatible with the others.)

Oh yeah? Well there's a universe... (2)

RevWaldo (1186281) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060300)

...where this book is up for a Pulitzer, so sticks and stones, ya haters!

.

Re:Oh yeah? Well there's a universe... (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060398)

Even more surprising, somewhere there exists a universe in which slashdot posters actually get laid!

Re:Oh yeah? Well there's a universe... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35060618)

I doubt it. You can't break the laws of physics in any universe.

Re:Oh yeah? Well there's a universe... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35060672)

Still more surprising, somewhere there exists a universe in which only slashdot posters get laid.

Hypothesis vs theory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35060316)

I think the problem is that some of the stuff is neither hypothesis (a testable conjecture) nor theory (a tested unfalsified hypothesis) but simply conjecture and speculation.

Fine. I'm totally fine with that. I have no trouble with the public being slightly misled or confused about a rational dissection of the universe instead of debating the benevolence of angels on Oprah or wondering if the invisible man in the sky made us as is or just guided evolution. This is progress people. Progress. Give Dr Greene a break. He's just trying to make a living like the rest of us and he's doing some fair amount of good in the process.

Uhhh... whut? (5, Insightful)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060318)

Why all the negative spin in the summary? As far as I can tell, nobody is accusing Greene of "propaganda." Rather, this is /. propagandizing at its absolute worst.

  • Why call Greene a "pop physicist"? That seems to imply he's not qualified in his field, when one of the articles referenced calls him "a physicist at Columbia University" who is "is an immensely talented science explicator." It describes his other books as "smart, witty bestsellers."
  • TFA says Greene "draws ire from physicists," then goes on to explain that a journalist from Scientific American has written an editorial, and another blog agrees. Where are the physicists? I can't read the article from Nature, but just the abstract calls Greene's book "beguiling."
  • TFA goes on to accuse Greene of being "a cheerleader" for multiverse theory, a stance that puts him in the same camp, it says, as other notable physics propagandists.... such as Stephen Hawking. Whoah, hanging out in some bad company there.

Here's the real summary: Brian Greene has written on string theory for a popular audience in the past, and he's also fascinated by some of the more fringe-y elements of physics, such as the multiverse theory. He has a new book out. He has not taken any public stance on the Tea Party, abortion, or the Iraq war -- and honestly, I think it's sad that it seems to have become a requirement of modern journalism to pretend that he has.

Re:Uhhh... whut? (2)

plcurechax (247883) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060570)

While John Horgan [johnhorgan.org] (author of the Sci Am blog piece) is not a crank, he does appear to be on thin ice, given his past works, of Rational Mysticism: Dispatches from the Border Between Science and Spirituality in 2003, and The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Science in the Twilight of the Scientific Age in 1996.

Horgan does have a B.A. (as in Arts) from Columbia University (1982), and an M.S. from Columbia's School of Journalism (1983). I take it that is a Masters of Science, except how you can manage to get a graduate Masters degree in Science from a school of Journalism in a single year is an interesting concept in its own right.

Re:Uhhh... whut? (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060604)

I have no direct experience with his books. However, a good operational plan is whenever someone in the mass media describes anything as "smart" that is actually a codeword for "really freaking stupid" and/or its supposed to be an aspirational conspicuous consumption item for young college grads. This crappy overpriced car is "smart". Or voting for this professional liar is "smart". Or "smart" people eat this breakfast cereal. In other words assume the opposite when the mass media uses the word "smart". Doesn't by any means prove his books are worthless, but they're being promoted with a very tired almost anti-marketing message, so, its not looking good.

Re:Uhhh... whut? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35060644)

It's not so much that he's unqualified as much as it is that he writes these books on string theory and multiverses as if they were 100% accepted fact. They aren't, no scientific experiment has shown agreement with these hypotheses, and in fact there really aren't that many ideas on even how to test it (IANA particle physicist though, so feel free to correct me). So the problem comes in because he presents a hypothesis as fact and writes a whole treatise about the possibilities, and it goes beyond what science can measure -- which is exactly what we DON'T want to do in an age where people are already skeptical of science from the viewpoint of the big bang and evolution. They can't see these things happening in everyday experience, so to them it seems like science is just proclaiming certain things to be true; throw in alternate realities and crap, and it seems even more like scientists are simply spouting off a mythology that you should just believe to be true because scientists say so. It might work better if he could describe the logical and mathematical foundations of the theory in more depth, but he can't do it to any great degree or the public won't read it or understand it. So, he just lists consequences of the theory with a matter-of-fact tone, because HE says the math says so. It sounds so close to religion that, why bother learning science if all it does is tell you what to believe, might as well stick with the beliefs they grew up on and accuse the science of trying to take religion's place.

To Greene's credit, I saw his interview on the Colbert Report and he did stress once or twice that he was writing about the "theory" and now it was up to science to do experiments and check it. Science is all about experiment, so I'm glad he mentioned that it stills needs experimental data to back it up. However, I don't know that he's done enough to put the idea of real science coming from experimental data out there in the public's eye. Going on talk shows to describe his theory without any scientific evidence just further affirms in the public that scientists are at best lazy and worthless daydreamers, and at worst, people actively trying to impose beliefs on them by force and name-calling. It could be that Greene strongly believes string theory will lead to a better understanding of nature, and in his mind, by talking about all the weird almost paranormal-sounding consequences of the theory, he's giving pep rallies to the public to keep enough public support and interest for tax-payer-funded research to let him keep working on it, but sometimes I wonder if he realizes the negative impact he has of going around and talking about hypothetical mathematics research as if it were widely-accepted fact.

Re:Uhhh... whut? (1)

jdgeorge (18767) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060654)

Here's the real summary: Brian Greene has written on string theory for a popular audience in the past, and he's also fascinated by some of the more fringe-y elements of physics, such as the multiverse theory. He has a new book out. He has not taken any public stance on the Tea Party, abortion, or the Iraq war -- and honestly, I think it's sad that it seems to have become a requirement of modern journalism to pretend that he has.

You had me for two sentences, then lost me with the lament about the state of journalism in a way that seems to apply neither to the actual topic at hand, nor to the discussion thereof here on Slashdot.

Re:Uhhh... whut? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35060686)

yes, confusing summary, it reads like 'ha, ha, we caught charlatan'. Never heard of John Horgan before, but I read the article, he sounds like a confused dickhead who some blogger relates to, no science backing there, he's a journalist. he seems to be making some point about people researching things that he thinks they shouldn't as immoral. then starts to talk about 9/11. wtf. he actually does. he is a gluebag short of a psychiatrist IMHO.

Brian Greene, I'm a fan of his excitement for wild theories. an he also states this isn't fact. on Colbert he specifically states that he is NOT telling people there is a multiverse and goes on to explain issues with math pointing to something more, which ends in speculation, it is that speculation he is writing about.

if mainstream media came out of reading that book thinking scientists have told them there is a multiverse, that is a reader problem, id10T, PEBCAK, or whatever you would like to use. if your going to attack an author for an audience misunderstanding your talking to the wrong person. the book, while heavy and confusing, is very clear about this being a far reaching speculation and not hard science.

Re:Uhhh... whut? (1)

snowgirl (978879) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060720)

"pop physicist" doesn't mean that he's unqualified. Neal deGrasse Tyson is a pop astronomer/physicist but that doesn't make what he says wrong or bad.

Some people are so adapted to the alternative and underground music scene that they fail to recognize real musical talent in the pop music market. Just because someone is a pop artist, doesn't mean that everything they churn out is shit.

Not a hack (2)

thewebsiteisdown (1397957) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060354)

The guy is out on the most feeble of limbs with his multiverse idea, since 'string theory' itself is little more than conjecture... but to take the edge off the 'not science' rhetoric here, the guy is a very well regarded theoretical physicist. Is it any less scientific-wild-ass-guess than Hawkings' notions about black holes? No. He at least has enough clout to get data access to the CERN supercollider experiments, so its not like its -me- throwing this crap out there hoping it will stick.

String Theory - not 100% sure I'd call it science (2)

jbrodkin (1054964) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060362)

I read Fabric of the Cosmos and thoroughly enjoyed it. I then read the Elegant Universe and grew more and more frustrated with each page as Greene delved into theories that can never be proven or disproven. At a certain point, this become little more than fantasy and has as much credibility as religion and mythology, both of which can also never be proven or disproven.

Re:String Theory - not 100% sure I'd call it scien (1)

thewebsiteisdown (1397957) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060594)

By that same logic, though, you can flush most of Einsteins work too. We do not posses, nor are we likely to posses in our lifetimes barring alien intervention, the technology to directly test and observe either the General or Special theories of relativity. The math works, its elegant, and is therefore the best explanation people can come up with. String theory tries to tie the quantum aspects together with the space time and forces described by AE. Its only as credible as the information that its based on.

Oddly enough... (2)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060376)

In a parallel universe, Brian Greene is lauded as a genius and his interpretation of multiverse theory is universally accepted!

Re:Oddly enough... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35060716)

Yeah, but in a parallel universe version of Soviet Russia, the party still finds you!

Re:Oddly enough... (1)

eiiiI'monslashdot (1951772) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060746)

brilliant! :)

Lies, damn lies, and science popularization (4, Insightful)

jfengel (409917) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060406)

Science popularizers like Greene have to tread a careful line. They're not paid to talk about the most important work, which most people wouldn't understand. Real cutting-edge physics is comprehensible only to those extremely skilled in the art, which cuts out even the vast majority of scientists. But people like believing that they're getting dispatches from the front, especially in physics, because that's where people imagine lays the answer to Life, The Universe, and Everything.

You can't even pretend to know much about string theory without some very advanced work in quantum mechanics AND general relativity, which means knowing an awful lot of very, very difficult calculus. For 99.9% even of readers of Scientific American, they're skipping straight past all of that.

Which means, in essence, telling comforting lies. That's common in education, simplifying a subject to the point where it's essentially false. It's common in science (cf. genetics), but in other fields as well. History, as taught in schools, is so far from reality that college professors have to spend a full year (at least) undoing the damage.

It's similar to the situation with space research: most of the actual science is done by the robots, but people like the human stories associated with manned flight. The real science is done practically with the rounding errors in the budget.

In the case of string theory, that means that a bunch of people doing interesting but (bluntly) irrelevant speculation get far, far more attention than they deserve. It's not that they're right, wrong, or Not Even Wrong. People want to know what they're doing, because they've been told that we're Just Around The Corner from The Big Answers. It's a lie, and essentially everybody familiar enough with the work knows it. But they also know it's where the funding comes from.

I mean seriously... a multi-billion-dollar supercollider? How on earth does that get funded? Because a bunch of people who can't tell a fermion from a boson imagine that they're part of a grand human experiment. And maybe, in the grand human scheme of things, it is worth the money, though I personally doubt it. Still, it's the dirty little secret of scientific work: popularizers write a lot of books about stuff that's really of very little earthy interest, in order to attract enough attention to the field of science to keep the actual work going on. The grad students counting bacterial colonies or coming up with new protein folding algorithms or other tedious stuff that slowly an un-telegentically advances understanding.

I don't like the little turf war going on between the string theoriests, who get more attention than they deserve, and the anti-string-theorists, who are doing equally unproductive work. Both are intriguing speculations that might one day be of intense interest, but at the moment are of little value either practical or philosophical. They get attention only because they're right at the edge, but most of us are so far from the edge that they'd be invisible under any other circumstances. Both should be left to labor diligently in quiet, and let their little funding turf war be lumped in with the rest of the academic bickering rather than become a great philosophical debate.

Re:Lies, damn lies, and science popularization (1)

jeffc128ca (449295) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060462)

Mod this comment up please! Well said.

Re:Lies, damn lies, and science popularization (1)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060516)

"You can't even pretend to know much about string theory without some very advanced work in quantum mechanics AND general relativity, which means knowing an awful lot of very, very difficult calculus."

I disagree. Certainly working in the field requires this, but understanding it at a basic level just as certainly doesn't.

Re:Lies, damn lies, and science popularization (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060530)

The supercollider probably never will prove the existence of the Higgs Boson or any other new particles, but look at the spin-off benefits to engineering: we now have an infrastructure in place to build really, really big helium cooled electromagnets! I mean, they must have learned something just by building all this exotic equipment!

Re:Lies, damn lies, and science popularization (1, Interesting)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060714)

People want to know what they're doing, because they've been told that we're Just Around The Corner from The Big Answers. It's a lie, and essentially everybody familiar enough with the work knows it.

Jesus, paranoid much? The public is intellectually curious because they're being lied to. People like Stephen Hawking and Brian Greene have some ideas about how the universe might be organized but they're liars! They're lying to you! Don't listen! LA LA LA LA LA LA!

Settle the fuck down. Brian Greene wrote a book in which he tries to explain some modern avenues of conjecture about physics in a way that you don't need to know "a lot of very, very difficult calculus" to understand. Period. Sorry if that cost you your funding, or whatever you've got your panties in a wad about, but you're sounding like a serious ass right now.

Re:Lies, damn lies, and science popularization (1)

snowgirl (978879) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060748)

because that's where people imagine lays the answer to Life, The Universe, and Everything.

Grammar Nazi alert: It's where the answer LIES. "To lay" is the act of putting something somewhere where it will then "lie".

Wait, what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35060416)

So respected scientists write about a theory of how the universe really is, and these journalists work themselves into a tizzy and attack their writings as if they were some sort of moral outrage? Which side has the ignorant savages on it again?

For my part, I read David Deutsch's argument for multiverses in The Fabric of Reality over a decade ago and it seemed sensible, even if some of the other stuff in that book did not. You don't need string theory to argue in favor of a multiverse; even simple double-slit experiments appear to show that photons from different universes are somehow able to interact with (or collide with) each other.

Anyway, the bottom line is that most journalists are not physicists and have only the most superficial grasp of how the physical universe really works, which means they are totally unqualified to judge the value of these theories.

Re:Wait, what? (1)

jameskojiro (705701) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060450)

[ You don't need string theory to argue in favor of a multiverse; even simple double-slit experiments appear to show that photons from different universes are somehow able to interact with (or collide with) each other. ]

this is exactly how on Fringe Walter was able to make a window to view the other universe.....

Einstein quotes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35060426)

"Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school."

"The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination."

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction."

"All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree."

It is not a multiverse without... (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060430)

He's selling the idea of a multiverse, but if he can't tell us how to get to Tanelorn nobody should take him seriously.

not science (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35060460)

The problem as I see it is this: science deals with the observable universe- taking evidence that we can see and drawing conclusions from it. Alternate universes are obviously not a part of our universe, and as such we have no way of directly observing them- if they exist at all. This would in my opinion put them in the category of 'supernatural'. If we are going to call this 'science' then ghosts, god claims, unicorns, leprechauns and all other manner of supernatural claims can also be considered 'science' on the same grounds. It is OK to speculate on the idea but just understand that it is nothing more than that- speculation.

Umm, what? (1)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060490)

"more theory than fact"

That is a non-sequitur.

WTF is this shit? (4, Insightful)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060498)

Someone who whines that the multiverse theory must necessarily be false because it leads him to uncomfortable conclusions regarding his personal belief in morality has no business criticizing any scientific theory, no matter how speculative it is.

And seriously people, pseudoscience? You are claiming that Susskind and Hawking engage in pseudoscience, like Deepak Chopra?

This criticism isn't based on scientific merit, this is envy of popular attention.

complaning about escapism as immoral as escapism? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35060532)

Horgan's argument can be redirected at himself. "Do better things with your and our time, Greene." Do better with your and our time, Horgan, and stop being a curmudgeon.

...theory than fact... (1)

pseudorand (603231) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060540)

I'm not sure if "remind everyone that Greene's book is more theory than fact" was from Nature or the story submitter, but no wonder the general public is quite confused about science in general. The sentence implies that it's "just a theory" and that theories aren't highly thought of by scientists, yet the same types of people who object to Mr. Greene's work being though of as useful rant and rave when the theory of evolution is treated as anything other than fact.

If his work is a theory and is supported by enough empirical evidence that we assume it's correct in most circumstances, then it really is interesting and I'd like to know about it. If it's not, don't call it a theory (even if he does). Call it a hypothesis or science fiction or some such thing.

dungeons and dragons proves the multiverses (1)

jsepeta (412566) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060562)

I've believed in a Multiverse since I was 12, before I dug my fingers into my Players' Handbook and DMG. If 20 million people play D&D, it must be true.

Sounds like a buy, actually (1)

DCFusor (1763438) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060568)

Hey -- yes, string theory makes few provable predictions, and if you understand the concepts in "the Elegant Universe" you'd know why, and also why Ed Witten is a hero. Yeah, it only predicts gravity, no big deal there. And it looks like handling the real issues with standard model, according to which, either quantum physics or relativity are dead wrong. That's gotta be the least talked about tiny flaw in current thinking -- and it's not a tiny flaw, it's an utter catastrophe in the existing theory, period, full stop. Can't both be right, but both give good numbers when used in the correct domain. Neither are all that predictive -- just explanatory after the fact, and why does standard model need all these arbitrary constants plugged into it for it to work, just tell me how that makes it a good theory again?
.

String or M theory presents the possibility of a theory that doesn't need a ton of constants, just a description of a Calibu-Yau geometry, and the rest "falls out". It's that description that is currently lacking, the search space is enormous and makes a computer search for the answer to the traveling salesman problem look trivial. So yeah, it's far from proved, because it's far from done, and that step isn't in the cards till the right shape for that space is discovered.
.

The multiverse also solves some otherwise very nasty problems in similar fashion, or it could.
.

Neither is proved, of course, but they hold out the hope that a theory of everything is even possible, and the light was getting really dim on that -- so we can hope. All such things of course deserve skepticism, but until proved wrong, they are in some sense more right than the current models which we KNOW have to be wrong because they can't be reconciled with one another at the limits. They are just useful until we find something better.
.

Such is science.

What sucks... (1)

thewebsiteisdown (1397957) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060696)

Is that somewhere out there exists a universe where beer is free and all the girls look like Natalie Portman, and here I am stuck with you nerds reading flaimbait on slashdot.

Include Michio Kaku, Steven Hawking, Neil Tyson (2)

scorp1us (235526) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060704)

For they all are guilty of mental masturbation when it comes to physics. Oh, and include whomever postulated that the Higgs is so abhorrent to nature that it comes back through time to prevent its discovery. [timesonline.co.uk]

It is a general "parallel universe" or "alternate reality" problem, and not any problem with your understanding. You (and everyone else) have failed to identify the matter/energy constraint. That is to say, if there is an alternative, it must be expressed in matter, and maintaining more than one reality requires additional matter (or base state of energy). I've conceptualized it with a familiar software developer concept: MVC: Model-View-Controller. Anytime when looking at gobs of data (including the state of reality) you need to look and interact with data in a uniform way. MVC allows for this. The model is the data model - the structure of, and data itself. List, tree, etc. The universe would probably express this as dimensional (3 or 10) planes of energy. Next is the view, with is the manifestation of the model. This would be an instantaneous snapshot of the universe, including velocities, etc. Finally the controller are the laws that work on the data. They do not work on the view, as the view is dependent of the model.

Every time you propose an alternate time line, then you need to copy the model (you can share the viewer and controller (if you didn't things would be "noticeably different")) But to copy the model is to acquire the energy to express a whole other universe, and not once, but at every decision point on the time line.

Physicists are just now starting to realize this and many are starting to argue that space-time is quantized on the order of Planck length (and time). While this is infinitesimally small, it vastly reduces the possible outcomes from infinite to a manageable number, possibly 1. Quantized space time locks down the source state and limits the possibilities of the next state, so it is feasible that the laws of the universe would only allow 1 possible next state. Heim was the first (that I know of) to argue for quantized space-time. I've since seen other people derive it on their own and get a similar (yet not identical) result
(but all are some close value to Planck length)

   

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMm38apPNUs Charlie (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35060738)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMm38apPNUs Charlie Rose - Lisa Randall 1/4

John Horgan is an idiot (0)

nessus42 (230320) | more than 3 years ago | (#35060742)

John Horgan is utterly misguided. He has apparently decided, for instance, that the entire field of Cosmology is a moral outrage because it doesn't gel with his myopic notion of how science should work. But contra to what he asserts, Science does not require direct evidence. No one will ever see a quark, for instance, with their own eyes. Or even with a microscope. We know that quarks are there because when we theorized their existence, it made our theories simpler and gave them more predictive power. Likewise for multiverses.

In any case, you don't have to take my word that multiverses are on sound scientific footing. There's an excellent article on the topic by the renowned cosmologist Max Tegmark in Scientific American here [mit.edu] .

|>ouglas

P.S. Don't take any of this to mean that multiverses are now an accepted scientific fact, but they are a very plausible scientific theory for which we do have a significant amount of evidence. Also, Horgan's notion that scientists should stick to the more mundane is ridiculous. Scientific theories that promote wonder (especially if they have a good chance of being true) are essential for generating interest in science amongst the general populace, and for enticing future generations of scientists.

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