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String Theory a Disaster for Physics?

timothy posted more than 8 years ago | from the sure-is-a-disaster-for-my-brain dept.

737

BlueCup writes "Mathematician Peter Woit of Columbia University describes string theory in his book Not Even Wrong,. He calls the theory 'a disaster for physics.' Which would have been a fringe opinion a few years ago, but now, after years of string theory books reaching the best sellers list, he has company."

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Man... (5, Funny)

bcat24 (914105) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594071)

Some people really get tied in a knot about stuff like this.

Re:Man... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15594080)

For some reason your post reminded me of that Monty Python string skit

Re:Man... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15594133)

Adrian Wapcaplet: Aah, come in, come in, Mr....Simpson. Aaah, welcome to Mousebat, Follicle, Goosecreature, Ampersand, Spong, Wapcaplet, Looseliver, Vendetta and Prang!

Mr. Simpson: Thank you.

Wapcaplet: Do sit down--my name's Wapcaplet, Adrian Wapcaplet...

Mr. Simpson: how'd'y'do.

Wapcaplet: Now, Mr. Simpson... Simpson, Simpson... French, is it?

Mr. Simpson: No.

Wapcaplet: Aah. Now, I understand you want us to advertise your washing powder.

Mr. Simpson: String.

Wapcaplet: String, washing powder, what's the difference. We can sell *anything*.

Mr. Simpson: Good. Well I have this large quantity of string, a hundred and twenty-two thousand *miles* of it to be exact, which I inherited, and I thought if I advertised it--

Wapcaplet: Of course! A national campaign. Useful stuff, string, no trouble there.

Mr. Simpson: Ah, but there's a snag, you see. Due to bad planning, the hundred and twenty-two thousand miles is in three inch lengths. So it's not very useful.

Wapcaplet: Well, that's our selling point!

"SIMPSON'S INDIVIDUAL STRINGETTES!"

Mr. Simpson:What?

Wapcaplet: "THE NOW STRING! READY CUT, EASY TO HANDLE, SIMPSON'S INDIVIDUAL EMPEROR STRINGETTES - JUST THE RIGHT LENGTH!"

Mr. Simpson: For what?

Wapcaplet: "A MILLION HOUSEHOLD USES!"

Mr. Simpson: Such as?

Wapcaplet: Uhmm...Tying up very small parcels, attatching notes to pigeons' legs, uh, destroying household pests...

Mr. Simpson: Destroying household pests?! How?

Wapcaplet: Well, if they're bigger than a mouse, you can strangle them with it, and if they're smaller than, you flog them to death with it!

Mr. Simpson: Well *surely*!....

Wapcaplet: "DESTROY NINETY-NINE PERCENT OF KNOWN HOUSEHOLD PESTS WITH PRE-SLICED, RUSTPROOF, EASY-TO-HANDLE, LOW CALORIE SIMPSON'S INDIVIDUAL EMPEROR STRINGETTES, FREE FROM ARTIFICIAL COLORING, AS USED IN HOSPITALS!"

Mr. Simpson: 'Ospitals!?

Wapcaplet: Have you ever in a Hospital where they didn't have string?

Mr. Simpson:No, but it's only *string*!

Wapcaplet: ONLY STRING?! It's everything! It's...it's waterproof!

Mr. Simpson:No it isn't!

Wapcaplet: All right, it's water resistant then!

Mr. Simpson: It isn't!

Wapcaplet: All right, it's water absorbent! It's...Super Absorbent String!

"ABSORB WATER TODAY WITH SIMPSON'S INDIVIDUAL WATER ABSORB-A-TEX STRINGETTES! AWAY WITH FLOODS!"

Mr. Simpson: You just said it was waterproof!

Wapcaplet: "AWAY WITH THE DULL DRUDGERY OF WORKADAY TIDAL WAVES! USE SIMPSON'S INDIVIDUAL FLOOD PREVENTERS!"

Mr. Simpson:You're mad!

Wapcaplet: Shut up, shut up, shut up! Sex, sex, sex, must get sex into it. Wait, I see a television commercial: There's this nude woman in a bath holding a bit of your string. That's great, great, but we need a doctor, got to have a medical opinion. There's a nude woman in a bath with a doctor--that's too sexy. Put an archbishop there watching them, that'll take the curse off it. Now, we need children and animals. There's two kids admiring the string, and a dog admiring the archbishop who's blessing the string. Uhh...international flavor's missing...make the archbishop Greek Orthodox. Why not Archbishop Macarios? No, no, he's dead... never mind, we'll get his brother, it'll be cheaper... So, there's this nude woman....

Re:Man... (5, Funny)

Tx (96709) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594082)

Yeah, it feels like these scientists are just stringing us along.

Re:Man... (5, Funny)

Bruce Perens (3872) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594134)

I get a hadron just thinking about it.

Re:Man... (4, Funny)

Surt (22457) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594167)

We recently hired someone who worked at the LHC, and the company email that went out (small company announces all new hires) made that very obvious misspelling. Much hilarity ensued.

Re:Man... (5, Funny)

cgenman (325138) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594209)

What a charmingly strange thing to say.

Re:Man... (2, Funny)

thrillseeker (518224) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594359)

Seemed a little off color (anti-color?)

Re:Man... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15594344)

I get a hadron just thinking about it.

First I thought this must be a typo. Then I realised that I was on slashdot!

Re:Man... (4, Funny)

snuf23 (182335) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594355)

Ack, it makes my brane hurt.

New Hollywood Movie: All Tied Up & Strung Alon (5, Funny)

22RealMcCoy (864375) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594384)

http://physicsmathforums.com/showthread.php?t=56 [physicsmathforums.com]

Tied Up & Strung Out: Hollywood String Theory Movie!!! Looking For Extras!!!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

ALL TIED UP & STRUNG ALONG, a movie about String Theorists and their expansive theories which extend human ignorance, pomposity, and frailty into higher dimensions, is set to start filming this fall. Jessica Alba, John Cleese, Eugene Levie, Jackie Chan, and David Duchovney of X-files fame have all signed on to the $700 million Hollywood project, which is still cheaper than String Theory itself, and will likely displace less physicists from the academy.

"As contemporary physics is about money, hype, mythology, and chicks," Ed Witten explained from his offices at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, "The next logical step was Hollywood, although I thought Burt Reynolds should play me instead of Eugene Levy."

Brian Greene, the famous String Theorist who will be played by David "the truth is out there" Duchovney, explained the plot: "String theory's muddled, contorted theories that lack postulates, laws, and experimentally-verified equations have Einstein spinning so fast in his grave that it creates a black hole. In order to save the world, we String Theorists have to stop reformulating String Theory faster than the speed of light. We are called upon to stop violating the conservation of energy by mining higher dimensions to publish more BS than can accounted for with the Big Bang alone, and I win the Nobel prize for showing that M-Theory is in fact the dark matter it has been searching for."

Greene continues: "At first my character is reluctant to stop theorizing and start postulating, but when my love interest Jessica Alba is sucked into the black hole, I search my soul and find Paul Davies there, played by John Cleese. I ask him what he's doing in my soul, and he explains that the answer is contained in the mind of God, which only he is privy too, but for a small fee, some tax and tuition dollars, a couple grants here and there, and an all-expense-paid book tour with stops in Zurich and Honolulu, he can let me in on it. And he shows me God in all her greater glory, as he points out that we can make more money in Hollywood than writing coffee-table books that recycle Einstein, Bohr, Dirac, Feynman, and Wheeler. I am quickly converted, and I agree to turn my back on String Theory's hoax and save Jessica Alba."

But it's not that easy, as standing in Greene's way is Michio "king of pop-theory-hipster-irony-the-theory-of-everything- or-anything-made-
you-read-this" Kaku, played by Jackie Chan. Kaku beats the crap out of Greene for alomst blowing the "ironic" pretense his salary, benefits, and all-expense paid trips depend on. "WE MUST HOLD BACK THE YOUNG SCIENTISTS WITH OUR NON-THEORIES!! WE MUST FILL THE ACADEMY WITH THE POMO DARK MATTER THAT IS STRING THEORY TO KEEP OUR UNIVERSE FROM FLYING APART, OUR PYRAMID SCHEMES FROM TOPPLING, AND OUR PERPETUAL-MOTION NSF MONEY MACHINE FROM STOPPING!!" Kaku argues as he delivers a flying back-kick, "There can be ony ONE! I WILL be String Theory's GODFATHER as referenced on my web page!! I have better hair!"

But Greene fights back as he signs his seventeenth book deal to make the hand-waving incoherence of String Theory accessible to the South Park generation, senior citizens, and starving chirldren around the world. "Kaku! Kaku! (pronounced Ka-Kaw! Ka-Kaw! like Owen Wilson did in Bottle Rocket)," Greene shouts. "It is theoretically impossible to build a coffee tables strong enough to support any more coffee-table physics books!!!"

"Time travel is also theoretically impossible, but there's a helluva lot more money for us in flushing physics down a wormhole. Nobody knows what the #&#%&$ M stands for in M theory ya hand-waving, TV-hogging crank!!! Get it?? Ha Ha Ha! We're laughing at the public! We're the insider pomo hipsters! Get with the gangsta-wanksta-pranksta CRANKSTER bling-bling program!!"

How does it all end? Does physics go bankrupt funding theories that have expanded our ignorance from four dimensions into ten, twenty, and thirty dimensions? Do tax payers revolt? Do young physicists overthrow the hand-waving, contortionist bullies and revive physics with a classical renaissance favoring logic, reason, and Truth over meaningless mathematical abstractions? Does Moving Dimensions Theory (MDT) prevail with its simple postulate? We'll all just have to wait!

But in the meantime, how do you think it will play out?

Will theories with postulates ever be allowed in physics again? Or will the well-funded, tenured pomo String Theory / M-Theory (Maffia-Theory) Priests send their armies of desperate, snarky postdocs and starving graduate students forth to displace and destroy all common sense, logic, reason, and physics in the academy? It must be so--for the greater good of physics, the individual physicist, and thus physics, must be sacrificed.

MDT's postulate: THE FOURTH DIMENSION IS EXPANDING AT A RATE OF C RELATIVE TO THE THREE SPATIAL DIMENSIONS IN QUANTIZED UNITS OF THE PLANCK LENGTH, GIVING RISE TO TIME AND ALL CLASSICAL, QUANTUM MECHANICAL, AND RELATIVISTIC PHENOMENA.

http://physicsmathforums.com/showthread.php?t=56 [physicsmathforums.com]

Re:Man... (0)

fimbulvetr (598306) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594086)

Agreed. They seem to get all wound up! It feels like you can't unfrazzle them no matter how hard you tie.

Re:Man... (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594331)

"Some people really get tied in a knot about stuff like this."

+5 Funny? I'm a freyed knot.

Re:Man... (0, Redundant)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594363)

You are hurting my brain

Re:Man... (1)

SimonInOz (579741) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594373)

Of course, the real question is ... How long is a piece of string theory?

I'd call this a 'debate', but.... (1, Insightful)

darkrowan (976992) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594088)

... not when one side, his own, acts of the panties are in a wad.

/Thats my opinion, I could be wrong

Call me when (5, Insightful)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594137)

String Theory attempts an actual prediction and then gets it correct.

Till then, it's a bunch of fancy gobbedly gook as far as I'm concerned.

Re:I'd call this a 'debate', but.... (4, Insightful)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594140)

*Sigh* One of the biggest problems of string theory is it is damn near unprovable. It could be true. It might not be. But if the facts don't fit, you just modify the theory again. And yes, this is oversimplification, but not by much.

Makes me wonder if we are near the edge of what humans can know. Growing up, I took it on fiath that it was just a matter of time before we knew it all. Now, I am not so sure. Perhaps our monkey brains simply can't conceive of the true nature of reality.

Re:I'd call this a 'debate', but.... (0, Redundant)

22RealMcCoy (864375) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594351)

http://physicsmathforums.com/showthread.php?t=56 [physicsmathforums.com]

Tied Up & Strung Out: Hollywood String Theory Movie!!! Looking For Extras!!!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

ALL TIED UP & STRUNG ALONG, a movie about String Theorists and their expansive theories which extend human ignorance, pomposity, and frailty into higher dimensions, is set to start filming this fall. Jessica Alba, John Cleese, Eugene Levie, Jackie Chan, and David Duchovney of X-files fame have all signed on to the $700 million Hollywood project, which is still cheaper than String Theory itself, and will likely displace less physicists from the academy.

"As contemporary physics is about money, hype, mythology, and chicks," Ed Witten explained from his offices at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, "The next logical step was Hollywood, although I thought Burt Reynolds should play me instead of Eugene Levy."

Brian Greene, the famous String Theorist who will be played by David "the truth is out there" Duchovney, explained the plot: "String theory's muddled, contorted theories that lack postulates, laws, and experimentally-verified equations have Einstein spinning so fast in his grave that it creates a black hole. In order to save the world, we String Theorists have to stop reformulating String Theory faster than the speed of light. We are called upon to stop violating the conservation of energy by mining higher dimensions to publish more BS than can accounted for with the Big Bang alone, and I win the Nobel prize for showing that M-Theory is in fact the dark matter it has been searching for."

Greene continues: "At first my character is reluctant to stop theorizing and start postulating, but when my love interest Jessica Alba is sucked into the black hole, I search my soul and find Paul Davies there, played by John Cleese. I ask him what he's doing in my soul, and he explains that the answer is contained in the mind of God, which only he is privy too, but for a small fee, some tax and tuition dollars, a couple grants here and there, and an all-expense-paid book tour with stops in Zurich and Honolulu, he can let me in on it. And he shows me God in all her greater glory, as he points out that we can make more money in Hollywood than writing coffee-table books that recycle Einstein, Bohr, Dirac, Feynman, and Wheeler. I am quickly converted, and I agree to turn my back on String Theory's hoax and save Jessica Alba."

But it's not that easy, as standing in Greene's way is Michio "king of pop-theory-hipster-irony-the-theory-of-everything- or-anything-made-
you-read-this" Kaku, played by Jackie Chan. Kaku beats the crap out of Greene for alomst blowing the "ironic" pretense his salary, benefits, and all-expense paid trips depend on. "WE MUST HOLD BACK THE YOUNG SCIENTISTS WITH OUR NON-THEORIES!! WE MUST FILL THE ACADEMY WITH THE POMO DARK MATTER THAT IS STRING THEORY TO KEEP OUR UNIVERSE FROM FLYING APART, OUR PYRAMID SCHEMES FROM TOPPLING, AND OUR PERPETUAL-MOTION NSF MONEY MACHINE FROM STOPPING!!" Kaku argues as he delivers a flying back-kick, "There can be ony ONE! I WILL be String Theory's GODFATHER as referenced on my web page!! I have better hair!"

But Greene fights back as he signs his seventeenth book deal to make the hand-waving incoherence of String Theory accessible to the South Park generation, senior citizens, and starving chirldren around the world. "Kaku! Kaku! (pronounced Ka-Kaw! Ka-Kaw! like Owen Wilson did in Bottle Rocket)," Greene shouts. "It is theoretically impossible to build a coffee tables strong enough to support any more coffee-table physics books!!!"

"Time travel is also theoretically impossible, but there's a helluva lot more money for us in flushing physics down a wormhole. Nobody knows what the #&#%&$ M stands for in M theory ya hand-waving, TV-hogging crank!!! Get it?? Ha Ha Ha! We're laughing at the public! We're the insider pomo hipsters! Get with the gangsta-wanksta-pranksta CRANKSTER bling-bling program!!"

How does it all end? Does physics go bankrupt funding theories that have expanded our ignorance from four dimensions into ten, twenty, and thirty dimensions? Do tax payers revolt? Do young physicists overthrow the hand-waving, contortionist bullies and revive physics with a classical renaissance favoring logic, reason, and Truth over meaningless mathematical abstractions? Does Moving Dimensions Theory (MDT) prevail with its simple postulate? We'll all just have to wait!

But in the meantime, how do you think it will play out?

Will theories with postulates ever be allowed in physics again? Or will the well-funded, tenured pomo String Theory / M-Theory (Maffia-Theory) Priests send their armies of desperate, snarky postdocs and starving graduate students forth to displace and destroy all common sense, logic, reason, and physics in the academy? It must be so--for the greater good of physics, the individual physicist, and thus physics, must be sacrificed.

MDT's postulate: THE FOURTH DIMENSION IS EXPANDING AT A RATE OF C RELATIVE TO THE THREE SPATIAL DIMENSIONS IN QUANTIZED UNITS OF THE PLANCK LENGTH, GIVING RISE TO TIME AND ALL CLASSICAL, QUANTUM MECHANICAL, AND RELATIVISTIC PHENOMENA.

http://physicsmathforums.com/showthread.php?t=56 [physicsmathforums.com]

Re:I'd call this a 'debate', but.... (1, Informative)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594353)

unprovable

You have no idea what you're talking about, do you? What makes something science is whether or not it is disprovable - or to put it another way, testable.

Wait, what? (1, Troll)

Mikachu (972457) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594090)

Okay, so because a theory (or more an idea or almost a philosiphy) cannot be disproven, it becomes a disaster for modern science?

I suppose we should stop looking for what started the universe, since we can't disprove the existance of God or anything. What a load of BS.

Re:Wait, what? (3, Informative)

ResidntGeek (772730) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594112)

No. The parameters of string theory can be bent far enough to encompass almost any observation predictable by other current theories. String theory can't predict anything reliably as a result, and can't be tested. That's why it's a disaster for modern physics. RTFA or STFU.

Mod parent up... (1, Insightful)

PhineusJWhoopee (926130) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594127)

Exactly - String "Theory" is not testable at the current time, so it is largely an academic wank-fest.

ed

Gravitons (1)

kf6auf (719514) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594206)

You're forgetting that string theory is the only theory (at least that I know of) that predicts the existence of gravitons and that if we can calculate more about them, it might tell us something very useful.

The goal of string theory is to create a verifyable prediction. Just because it hasn't yet created a predictable theory doesn't mean it can't.

Re:Gravitons (4, Funny)

fimbulvetr (598306) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594280)

A little coaxing of the numbers, and string theory could prove the existance of Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny and Jesus.
BFD.

Re:Gravitons (2, Funny)

snuf23 (182335) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594370)

Wait a second... you're saying the Easter Bunny isn't real?

*cry*

Re:Gravitons (2, Insightful)

ResidntGeek (772730) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594320)

Yes, good point... because gravitons are detectable and all...

The God Equation (3, Interesting)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594282)

The parameters of string theory can be bent far enough to encompass almost any observation predictable by other current theories.

It is almost like a Turing-Complete programming language where anything definable can be executed (ran) by giving it the right programming code. With 11 dimensions to play with, one has a lot of wiggle room to shape imaginary little sub-atomic string machines that can be just about anything you want, bending it to fit new observations.

Perhaps an equation for God is nearly as hard to test as an actual god.
       

Re:Wait, what? (-1, Troll)

voice_of_all_reason (926702) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594123)

since we can't disprove the existance of God or anything

Oh, sure we can.

God is all Good. God created everything. There is evil. Evil is not good.

Therefore God (at least as depicted in the Magic Books) cannot exist. This is not a difficult proof.

Re:Wait, what? (3, Interesting)

itzdandy (183397) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594141)

yes, BECAUSE:

either string theory is flawed and unproveable and is wasting time and holding back advancement from lack of studies in other directions.

OR

because string theory is beyond us right now and should net be focused on YET, if less of the brilliant people in science wasted time on string theory we might learn more! and become more enlightened by our new knowledge allowing for the possibility to product string theory.

Re:Wait, what? (2, Funny)

chong (67651) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594151)

Unfortunately, this proof only holds true for certain values of good.

Re:Wait, what? (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594172)

Wow. You failed logic 101. God created everything. God is Good. God created free-will and choice. There is evil. His creation chose evil. Evil is simply the absence of God.

Doesn't prove anything one way or another. Simply that your frame of logic is weak.

Re:Wait, what? (1)

itzdandy (183397) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594290)

(warning, scientific athiest. random spew of anti-knowledge comes agead)
'if' -- emphasis
god is good
god created the universe and everything in it
god gave creations freewill
creations would remain good having no influence of evil.

UNLESS

evil can be spontaniously created! good creatures cannot be evil unless they create evil!

so purhaps god is good and evil can be created spontaniously based on special situations. this corresponds with spontanious generation and that life itself may be evil! and that god did not create life but instead created a 'good' universe and life is the 'evil' spontaniously generated!! ...
or maybe the devil is real. who knows

Re:Wait, what? (0, Offtopic)

bcat24 (914105) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594175)

God is entirely good.
God is entirely perfect.
God created everything.
Evil is a lack of good.
Evil (non-good) exists in this world.

Since God is good and perfect, he must have a good and perfect reason for allowing evil to exist. Evil must exist in this world so that it is perfect in the end. After all, if we didn't experience evil at some point, how could we truely understand and appreciate the ultimate good (God)?

Therefore God can exist. This is not a difficult proof.

Re:Wait, what? (1)

wileyAU (889251) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594273)

I think what you meant to say was:
The creation of man whom God in His foreknowledge knew doomed to sin was the awful index of God's omnipotence. For it would have been a thing of trifling and contemptible ease for Perfection to create mere perfection. To do so would, to speak truth, be not creation but extension. Separateness is identity and the only way for God to create, truly create, man was to make him separate from God Himself, and to be separate from God is to be sinful. The creation of evil is therefore the index of God's glory and His power. That had to be so that the creation of good might be the index of man's glory and power. But by God's help. By His help and His wisdom.
-All The King's Men by Robert Penn Warren (my favorite book)

Re:Wait, what? (5, Insightful)

ZombieWomble (893157) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594166)

Okay, so because a theory (or more an idea or almost a philosiphy) cannot be disproven, it becomes a disaster for modern science?

Well, yes, because that's not how science works. Theories have to be put forward which make predictions which can be meaningfully tested. If there is no way to actually test it, then it is, in effect, impossible to develop - by definition it cannot be wrong, and therefore is effectively complete, and science is 'finished', more or less. If such an idea ends up being the dominant trend, then yes, it would be something of a disaster.

I suppose we should stop looking for what started the universe, since we can't disprove the existance of God or anything. What a load of BS.

Would you class the statement "Everything happens because God says so" as scientific? I would hope not - such a statement is inherently impossible to scrutinise or critique, as "God did it" is, in this theory, a perfectly valid response. Science does not advance by pursuing ideas of that sort, but rather putting forward testable theories, and working out ways to stress them and see if their predictions hold, and refining them as a result.

That some ideas cannot be disproven is not a problem for science - instead we content ourselves with studying those that can be.

Re:Wait, what? (2, Insightful)

Tatarize (682683) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594293)

>>Okay, so because a theory (or more an idea or almost a philosiphy) cannot be disproven, it becomes a disaster for modern science?

If it can't be disproven, it's not really scientific. And thus claims a lot of focus that should be given elsewhere. Thus, since it's not scientific it should be disregarded.

>>I suppose we should stop looking for what started the universe, since we can't disprove the existance of God or anything. What a load of BS.

No. This claim is the opposite claim. If we were to accept the existance of God it would also be a disaster for modern science. It's not science. It allows for every answer and is not testible. In your example String Theory is Existence of God. The point is that we should properly disregard both as non-science and focus on other things. They don't make any testible claims. They aren't science. And if you sit around thinking about them, you are just wasting your time.

the universe (1)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594096)

the universe is like a safe with a combination but the combination is locked up inside the safe...

Re:the universe (2, Interesting)

vyrus128 (747164) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594113)

No... the combination's on a post-it note stuck to the front. But _we're_ locked inside!

Re:the universe (0, Redundant)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594144)

lolz!

Re:the universe (2, Funny)

OakDragon (885217) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594181)

The secret combination to the universe is the same as the combination to my briefcase.

Re:the universe (1)

mattcasters (67972) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594193)

42 right?

Re:the universe (1)

LordOfTheNoobs (949080) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594364)

42 _left_ actually.

Re:the universe (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594203)

42?

So clearly (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15594117)

We must blow up the safe. Someone... get me the antimatter.

They should have (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15594102)

asked a ninja [youtube.com] .

Sounds like it's time.. (1)

nimr0d (312173) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594119)

..for me to make up my own theory. I'll write a book, make millions! Maybe even billions!

Re:Sounds like it's time.. (1)

Legion303 (97901) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594217)

You're better off with religion. Just ask L. Ron "worm food" Hubbard.

Re:Sounds like it's time.. (2, Insightful)

Valdrax (32670) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594303)

Worked for Michio Kaku.

Re:Sounds like it's time.. (2, Interesting)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594330)

..for me to make up my own theory. I'll write a book, make millions! Maybe even billions!

Let's open-source it this time. Bullshit should be shared, free, and open; not just for and by oil tycoons anymore.
       

String Theory (5, Interesting)

Stalyn (662) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594120)

I think ST is a very interesting and peculiar theory. I'm not sure it's a disaster. Even if ST is proved wrong in some way the math that resulted from ST is still worthwhile. However I think Woit's point is metascientifical, in that string theorists get more funding than those who are trying to provide alternatives to ST. That ST has become somewhat of a marketing term. This is surely damaging but again science is not excluded from human frailty.

Re:String Theory (3, Insightful)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594176)

In fact, "theory" is a misnomer, since unlike general relativity theory or quantum theory, string theory is not a concise set of solvable equations describing the behavior of the physical world. It's more of an idea or a framework.


I think the article says it best. If we keep letting people use the term "theory" too loosely it just gives more ammunition to the intelligent design idi... proponents.

In truth neither intelligent design or string "theory" is really a scientific theory as neither makes testable predictions yet. Maybe string theory will in the future but until then it is just an idea.

Re:String Theory (1)

Stalyn (662) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594220)

Yeah but String Theory explains while Intelligent Design defers that duty. In a sense String Theory is actually a theory while Intelligent Design is just an idea.

Re:String Theory (4, Insightful)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594228)

It's not a theory yet until it makes a testable prediction. The difference is it has the potential to be one whereas intelligent design does not.

Re:String Theory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15594287)

By the way, nice low UID. If it was a little higher I'd offer to buy it from you. Like four higher.

Re:String Theory (1)

MindStalker (22827) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594221)

I think his ultimate issue is that its not testable. Its like having a physics theory based upon the existance of god. Yea sounds neat, but no possibly testable.

Re:String Theory (2, Interesting)

Stalyn (662) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594238)

String Theory is still very incomplete. I think it's very premature to say String Theory will never make any predictions. Of course it's been a long time but that may just indicate how hard ST is.

Re:String Theory (1)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594224)

Mr. Woit's point is that String Theory is drawing talented people from other work/theories in science without a significant yield. There are so many questions that they can attempt to answer, running after a rainbow can indeed be a waste of time.

Re:String Theory (1)

thrillseeker (518224) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594289)

running after a rainbow can indeed be a waste of time

... till you trip over that pot of gold.

Re:String Theory (2, Funny)

SetupWeasel (54062) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594347)

Or how about that Bananarama cassette without a case? We really scored big on that one!

Re:String Theory (2, Funny)

thrillseeker (518224) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594375)

Now you're Really Saying Something.

The meaning of "theory" (4, Informative)

mblase (200735) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594299)

I think ST is a very interesting and peculiar theory. I'm not sure it's a disaster. Even if ST is proved wrong in some way the math that resulted from ST is still worthwhile.

Think of Newtonian physics. We now know that Newton falls apart when viewed under the lens of Einsteinian relativity. But if you're dealing with relatively small masses, at relatively slow speeds, then Newton's physics works perfectly because relativity is too small a factor to affect the numbers. Likewise with quantum mechanics at the macroscopic level.

Neither of those three "theories" is a complete and accurate view of how the universe works. They are each of them a model for certain situations, and which one you choose depends on which one is most appropriate.

The thing about string "theory" is that it's more of a model than a theory. When physics gets down to this level, it's more mathematics than science. The theory/model that you use is never going to be perfect or complete, but as long as it fits the purposes you want it for, it's good.

Quarks? (1)

Surr3al (800346) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594125)

Wow, that article made absolutely no sense to me... Quarks [wikipedia.org] , leptons [wikipedia.org] ... even with wikipedia I'm having problems.

Re:Quarks? (1)

Fordiman (689627) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594168)

Quarks are little. Protons and neutrons are made up of quarks.
Leptons are littler. Electrons are leptons.

The simple answer is... (5, Funny)

manx801 (698055) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594145)

There exists a universe in which major advances in Phyics would have been made if so many smart scientists were not distracted by String Theory.

Re: The simple answer is... (4, Funny)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594250)

> There exists a universe in which major advances in Phyics would have been made if so many smart scientists were not distracted by String Theory.

Of course, there also exists a universe in which string theory is correct.

String "theory" (4, Insightful)

zephc (225327) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594147)

I've never felt very comfortable with string theory. Not that it threatens some deep-held belief (I have few of those), but that it seems mostly like conjecture, trying to shoehorn increasingly complex theories to fit some phenomena that is probably explainable in a simpler manner which we just yet haven't found. Of course, physics often doesn't adhere to common sense.

Re:String "theory" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15594297)

trying to shoehorn increasingly complex theories to fit some phenomena that is probably explainable in a simpler manner which we just yet haven't found

Over and over again, I read and hear that the physicists (mostly) are trying to find a simpler theory to explain everything. They keep looking for a more mathematically "beautiful" solution.

I suspect that physics will start to leap ahead again once they stop looking for simple and beautiful, and start thinking that maybe the universe really is exactly what it looks like now: ugly and complex. Existance need not satisfy our human preferences.

A Powerful Theory (2, Insightful)

Steve B (42864) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594148)

"When it comes to extending our knowledge of the laws of nature, we have made no real headway" in 30 years, writes physicist Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Canada, in his book, "The Trouble with Physics," also due in September. "It's called hitting the wall."
He blames string theory for this "crisis in particle physics," the branch of physics that tries to explain the most fundamental forces and building blocks of the world.
String theory, which took off in 1984....

Does string theory explain how its own effects are able to reach back in time a decade before its creation?

Re:A Powerful Theory (5, Funny)

ZombieWomble (893157) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594186)

Does string theory explain how its own effects are able to reach back in time a decade before its creation?

Rather elegantly, in fact, by postulating the existance of a universe where "took off" is not a synonym for "created".

Re:A Powerful Theory (1)

epine (68316) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594259)

Rather elegantly, in fact, by postulating the existance of a universe where "took off" is not a synonym for "created".

Unfortunately, the configuration of slashdot where all moles and trolls are whacked down as they so well deserve is unstable, and the shit soon pops off the corners again into a lower energy, higher zithead configuration.

Re:A Powerful Theory (1)

Steve B (42864) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594285)

"Took off" is, however, a prerequisite (if not precisely a synonym) for "became significant enough to have the alleged effect on the development of physics".

Re:A Powerful Theory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15594195)

Mabye everyone had writers block for 10 years before the String Theory was proposed...

Before the consensus ... (5, Informative)

aws4y (648874) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594149)

Let me point out that this has been well known in physics departments for years. The problem is string theory is nowhere near producing any prediction that can be tested, this means that it is not science, any more than mathematics is physics.

Re:Before the consensus ... (2, Interesting)

Stalyn (662) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594201)

There is this lurking idea that Number Theory is very important in Physics. Witten has been investigating this via the Langlands Program [northwestern.edu] . What if saying something is physically possible and mathematically possible is talking about the same realm of possibility. That is surely not how people think but if it was true would dramatically change our view of the world.

Re:Before the consensus ... (1)

MisterBlue (98835) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594261)

There is a reason why Nobel didn't think there should be a prize in mathematics -- it's just a tool until it does something useful.

Re:Before the consensus ... (0, Troll)

MustardMan (52102) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594266)

My favorite part of "pop string theory" is the way they explain strings. Hey guys, there are all these strings, but they are too small for us to ever observe. They might as well say what they really mean - "we can get funding for this stupid ass idea, because right from the beginning we claim it's impossible to prove or disprove our fundamental assumption"

Not so? (4, Informative)

Kawahee (901497) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594164)

Michio Kaku in his book Hyperspace describes why we can't actually get very far with this theory, is because "nobody is smart enough to figure it out". Since it was an accidental discovery in the 80's, he describes it as "21st century math that accidently made its way into the 20th century". The problem is to do with phase shifts and perturbation theory:

(Excerpted from Hyperspace: A scientific Odyssey through the 10th dimension)

    To understand this form of tunneling, think of an imaginary Charlie Chaplin film, in which Chaplin is trying to stretch a bed sheet around an oversize bed. The shit is the kind with elastic bands on the corners. But it is too small, so he has to strain to wrap the elastic bands around each corner of the matress, one at a time. He grins with satisfaction once he has stretched the bed sheet smoothly around all four corners of the bed. But the strain is too great; one elastic band pops off another corner. Every time he yanks an elastic band around one corner, another elastic pops off another corner.
    This process is called symmetry breaking. The smoothly strechted bed sheet possess a high degree of symmetry. You can rotate the bed 180 degrees along any axis, and the bed sheet remains the same. This highly symmetrical state is called the false vacuum. Although the false vacuum appears quite symmetrical, it is not stable. The sheet does not want to be in this stretched condition. There is too much tension. The energy is too high. Thus one elastic pops off, and the bed sheet curls up. The symmetry is broken, and the bed sheet has gone to a lower-energy state with less symmetry. By rotating the curled up bed sheet 180 degrees around an axis, we no longer return to the same sheet.
    Now replace the bed sheet with ten-dimensional space-time, the space-time of ultimate esymmetry. At the beginning of time, the universe was perfectly symmetrical. If anyone was around at that time, he could freely pass through any of the ten dimensions without a problem. At that time, gravity and the weak, the strong and the electromagnetic forces were all unified by the superstring. All matter and forces were part of the same string multiplet. However, this symmetry couldn't last. The ten-dimensional universe, although perfectly symmetrical, was unstable, just like the bed sheet, and in a false vacuum. Thus tunneling to a lower-energy state was inevitable. When tunneling finally occurred, a phase transition took place, and symmetry was lost.
    Because the universe begain to split up into a four- and a six-dimensional universe, the universe was no longer symmetrical. Six dimensions have curled up, in the same way that the bed sheet curls up when one elastic pops off first. For the ten-dimensional universe, however, there are apparently millions of ways in which to curl up. To calculate which state the ten-dimensional universe prefers, we need to solve the field theory of strings using the theory of phase transitions, the most difficult problem in quantum theory.

OCR error? (1)

tjwhaynes (114792) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594189)

The shit is the kind with elastic bands on the corners

Please tell me you OCR'd this before posting it. Either that or your diet needs improvement...

Cheers,
Toby Haynes

Re:OCR error? (1, Informative)

Kawahee (901497) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594246)

Jesus that's a bad typo. But I guess I can claim that for every dupe an editor makes I get a typo... so I'm still in the green.

Re:Not so? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15594233)

That actually made sense to me. So, does that explain why uncertainty exists in the universe?

Re:Not so? (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594332)

What a nice, long block of conjecture. String theory is no more than that. Until it can actually produce something testable, it's just math sculpted to describe certain people's fantasies.

Re:Not so? (1)

MikeWitt (888235) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594390)

This part seems to me to relate more to entropy than to ST. I don't get ST in either case though...

BTW, I've read that book. It's great.

I don't get it, a disaster for physics, or what?? (1, Insightful)

Soulfarmer (607565) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594185)

As I know it, physics does not change based on how we understand it, our understandings of physics might change based on itself. Am I being too narrowminded here? How the hell could anything be a disaster for something that exists with or without us having a theory about it.

Re:I don't get it, a disaster for physics, or what (1)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594302)

Actually, it's the universe that doesn't change. Physics -- the body of science that explores how said Universe works -- changes all the time, relatively speaking.

Remember: the difference between the thing and our model of the thing is rather significant.

Watching the detective.... (2, Insightful)

postbigbang (761081) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594204)

String theory is almost recursive.... a snake eating its tail.

TFA is right in one thing-- it's lead to physicist bigotry.... an increasingly inbred idea that string theory rules and all else drools, but in dimension 9. So many things are unsolved.... and Hawking has helped but the mathematicians that used to rule physicists are finding themselves in a reverse role, where expostulations must be found to match equations which were pimped for expostulation.

It's like curve-fitting, but with unprovable geometry, not Euclidian and not non-Euclidian.

Maybe this is boon to I.D. (4, Insightful)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594236)

Maybe Intelligent Design can get some respect if other hard-to-test and long-shot hypotheses are allowed to be called "science". Just because backers tend to be religious does not by itself make it wrong. If a Darwin or SETI cult formed, would evolution or SETI's hypothesis grow less likely? Human bias does not change the truth values of the universe. If biased people want to hunt down evidence for long-shot hypotheses, so be it.

Re:Maybe this is boon to I.D. (0, Offtopic)

thrillseeker (518224) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594346)

Maybe Intelligent Design can get some respect if other hard-to-test and long-shot hypotheses are allowed to be called "science".

Hardly. Scientists are quite happy to take whatever theory best explains whatever they are trying to answer and discard those that don't measure up or better (mathematically) fits the data. In Intelligent Design, there is only one answer allowed to be considered, and all nonconsideration of it is what was once called blasphemy.

Re:Maybe this is boon to I.D. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15594360)

> Human bias does not change the truth values of the universe.

Maybe it does in "Universe 10."

first Post! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15594254)

Not just a disaster for physics..... (2, Funny)

SubliminalVortex (942332) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594257)

...but also turned out to be a disaster for productivity at work recently. Two developers engaged in a battle of semantics as to whether or not M-theory was actually string theory or a unification of same. Almost an hour later, people had a concern that someone may end up being stabbed in the face; the argument, however, was cut short later when a concerned manager dealt with the high-strung arm-chair physicists.

Two hours later, the local protagonist "pulled their strings" sublimely bringing up the subject in the midst of those two persons and subsequently, another shouting match ensued. At one point, the intellectual conversation had almost degraded into a volley of "momma" jokes. By the end of the day, neither developer realized how close they were to being "strung up" by the rest of the team.

A Physicist's Thoughts (5, Informative)

ichin4 (878990) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594263)

I am an (ex-) particle theorist. I worked on phenomenology, which is how particle physicists describe people try to work with actual data.

I don't think the rise of string theory has been the cause of the dearth of breakthroughs in particle physics in the last 30 years, but rather the effect. For all that time, nothing unexpected has come out of accelerator experiments -- just more confirmations of the predictions of the standard model developed in the 1970s, and more accurate measurements of its parameters. In an environment like that, it's no surprise that theoreticans turn to highly speculative and mathematically challenging models to keep their work interesting.

There are still some related fields generating new and interesting data for good young theorists to cut their teeth on -- cosmology, for example.

What we should look at (2, Funny)

Upright Ape (984654) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594279)

Acording to general relativity there is a link between time and gravity, Hawkins always talked about it, with his Black Hole discoveries. It is Known now that Galaxies are not only moving away from each other as Hubble discovered with Red shift, but they are accelerating, acording to classical physics a force must be acting on them to do so, Now here's the neat part, With General Relativity as gravity gets weaker, Time speads up, it would make sense that because there is no mass we can see outside of galaxies, time has spead up there, and possibly caused a reversal of gravity, because it would make sense that anti gravity comes from accelerated time which comes from the absence of mass...If time is accelerated out there because of the absense of mass it would cause the force that makes galaxies accelerate away from each other. You can prove that gravity is the same as a magnetic field by putting a hyper sensitive clock by either a high powered electromagnetic field or a large mass such as earth and use space as a control, for both nearby clocks will go slower next to the earth and next to the magnetic field. The dimensionality of the fields thus must be studied to find the geometric flow of this one force, take a sphere magnet into deap space and fire it out of a gun so only one force is acting on it, and have it hit a target, it will always hit at the equater of it's fields neither North Nor South will hit the target just the equater, because of the dimensionality of it's reaction with one force, this force that was the gun now represents gravity and in this experiment it isolates the electromagnetic force and it's dimensional reaction to only one single force; gravity, in this model all the forces can be geometricly aligned, and you have 21st century tech. Zukunft.

Our Schools Suxors (1)

ActionAL (260721) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594314)

could it also be that our public education primary and secondary schools suxors so bad that we aren't cranking out any worthwhile new einsteins? no one since einstein has made an astonishing leap in physics with detailed mathematics to back it up. are we in an age of "who the hell cares?"

It's math, not physics. (3, Interesting)

ilyag (572316) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594333)

I think the whole problem is that string theory is misclassified. As far as I understand, the whole reason for its existance is that people have noticed several beautyful equations for strings in 12-dimensional space. On the other hand, we are as far now from seeing a measurable connection between these equations and the world around us as we were 20 years ago.

This is not physics because physics ultimately deals with the real world around us, with things we can measure or at least hope to measure. However, since this is a beautyful theory, this is math.

IMHO, any beautyful math will someday find its application and even if it doesn't, it should be done solely for its beauty. In any case, if string theorists would start calling themselves mathematicians, all the problems with string theory would disappear. Just don't expect it to have any obvious applications.

sounds like intelligent design (1)

aoporto (964515) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594343)

Based on the article it sounds like string theory is just like intelligent design; based on ideas without any concrete scientific evidence. I think the author is being a bit inflexible. It is probably the case the string theory needs further revision and examination before it is fully realized, at which point it will probably be a very different view of the universe. There was a time when it was thought that the atom was the smallest particle, which we now know to not be the case, but this was a good starting point for current quantum theory. String theory is just the beginning...

Some Comments (3, Insightful)

shma (863063) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594348)


First off, I should point out to those that aren't familiar with the world of physics that Lee Smolin is one of the principal advocates, at least in the public discourse, of Loop Quantum Gravity, a competitor to String Theory. That is certainly not to say he's bashing string theory for his own benefit, though. His arguements are all quite sound.

Secondly, in my own experience, speaking to physics professors about string theory, we're starting to see some saturation in the number of students willing to work on topics in string theory for their PhDs, and as jobs become more scarce for those who enter into the field (after all if they don't advance with predictions, there's less and less to do), we'll see more people entering into other areas, ro examining other theories.

And finally, I should point out that the last line, That string theory abandoned testable predictions may be its ultimate betrayal of science , is extremely insulting. I'm sure there's nothing string theorists would like more than to come up with a testable hypothesis that could be tested immediately, but the fact is that it's a difficult subject. Just because we can't test it now is no reason to start crying "pseudo-science".

Carver Mead (2, Interesting)

Ian Bicking (980) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594349)

It's not really related, but I found this interview [blogspot.com] with Carver Mead very interesting. Related in that it's also about progress (or non-progress) of scientific theory.

The truth is that... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15594350)

...you cannot fully understand the machine from within the machine.

Trust (5, Funny)

Oligonicella (659917) | more than 8 years ago | (#15594369)

Never trust anyone who makes up dimensions to make the math work.
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