Courses, Forces, and (w)Einstein

This week and next, I’m very busy preparing and delivering a new class (four lectures, 1.5 hours each), for a non-technical audience, on the importance of and the discovery of the Higgs particle.  I’ll be giving it in Western Massachusetts (my old stomping grounds).  If it goes well I may try to give these lectures elsewhere (and please let me know if you know of an institution that might be interested to host them.)   Teaching a new class for a non-technical audience requires a lot of concentration, so I probably won’t get too much writing in over that period.

Still, as many of you requested, I do hope soon to follow up last week’s article (on how particle physicists talk about the strength of the different forces) with an article explaining how both particles and forces arise from fields — a topic I already addressed to some extent in this article, which you may find useful.

Now — a few words on the flap over the suggestion that math Ph.D. and finance expert Eric Weinstein, in his mid-40s, may be the new Albert Einstein.  I’ve kept my mouth shut about this because, simply, how can I comment usefully on something I know absolutely nothing about?  (Admittedly, the modern media, blogosphere and Twitter seem to encourage people to make such comments. Not On This Blog.) There’s no scientific paper for me to read.  There’s no technical scientific talk for me to listen to.  I know nothing about this person’s research.  All I know so far is hearsay.  That’s all almost anyone knows, except for a few of my colleagues at Oxford — trustworthy and experienced physicists, who sound quite skeptical, and certainly asked questions that Weinstein couldn’t answer... which doesn’t mean Weinstein is necessarily wrong, only that his theory clearly isn’t finished yet.  (However, I must admit my expert eye is worried that he didn’t have ready answers to such basic questions.)

What I do know is that the probability that Weinstein is the new Einstein is very low.  Why?  Because I do know a lot about how very smart people with very good ideas fail to be Einstein.  It’s not because they’re dumb or foolish.

First, most novel and creative theoretical ideas eventually turn out to be mathematically inconsistent.  Non-experts don’t hear much about such things because this normally doesn’t make it into the press or into books, but any expert has invented theories that weren’t consistent, and thrown them out either before or soon after initial publication.  But let’s see what we can learn from the case of string theory, the poster child for the very clever idea that made a big splash, still is hanging around, yet still hasn’t panned out as a theory of nature.

String theory’s pre-history is a long story, which I’ll tell another day — but it was first recognized as a possible theory of all elementary particles and forces, one that could resolve the conflict between quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of gravity and include all the known forces and particles, in this paper, in 1974.  [About its title: “Dual Models” are string theories, and “non-hadrons” are elementary particles; let me skip the history behind this.] No one went around writing articles in newspapers that declared Joel Scherk and John Schwarz the new Einsteins, even after there was a paper one could read, because the theory wasn’t complete and it wasn’t clear it was consistent.  It took until 1984 for Schwarz and Michael Green to prove that although most string theories are inconsistent, not all of them are inconsistent.  After considerable work, the number of consistent string theories was reduced to a handful, and then, remarkably, in the 90s they were all shown to be related to each other, so in the end there is (in a limited sense) only one consistent theory with strings and quantum gravity in it, called M theory.  It’s nice to have a unique theory; either it’s right, or it’s wrong.  Which leads us to…

Second, most mathematically consistent theories turn out not to be consistent with nature.  In other words, they disagree with experiment.  There’s only one “real world” out there; the number of possible universes that one could imagine is potentially much larger.  M theory is a consistent mathematical theory with quantum gravity in it; that doesn’t mean it’s the theory that describes nature.  Unfortunately M theory is very, very difficult to test experimentally, so that uncertainty may be with us for a long while.

Here’s another example, going back a century, of a theory that was mathematically consistent, but turned out experimentally to be wrong: Nordstrom’s theory of gravity, a competitor of Einstein’s, which was developed over the years that Einstein was developing his own.  (Einstein initially thought Nordstrom’s theory was not mathematically consistent, but found a way to write it that convinced him it was acceptable.)  Nordstrom was very smart indeed!  He invented a theory of gravity that incorporated Einstein’s early work on special relativity, which was just what Einstein was trying to do.  But he’s not famous, because his theory, excellent as it was, just wasn’t in accord with nature.  In other words, even if Weinstein does has a mathematically consistent theory, it is quite likely to share Nordstrom’s fate, along perhaps with Scherk and Schwarz’s great idea.

So even if it turns out (once there’s a paper) that Dr. Weinstein has had a very good idea (and really good ideas are rare), it is unlikely (given that he could not answer the basic consistency questions that Dr. Conlon asked him) that we will know whether some version of it is mathematically consistent for quite some time.  And then it is not clear any of us currently living will see a consensus that it describes nature.  We may, by contrast, know very quickly if it is false; all that has to happen is that one — just one — of its predictions contradicts an existing experiment.

The obstacles that theories that describe nature must overcome should never be underestimated!

However, let me hasten to add — Third — that a theory does not have to be correct, as a theory of nature, to be useful and important.  That’s clearly true of string theory, for many reasons, one of which I wrote about here; it’s useful as a tool for doing many different types of calculations, in giving insights into otherwise difficult to understand phenomena, and in generating various new ideas about how the world might work.  We can hope that, if Weinstein has had a good idea and if his theory is consistent, or if it can be modified to be consistent, that it will represent a valuable contribution to the field, whether it is true of nature or not.  We can hope; there’s no way to know or guess without seeing it in detail.

I have no problems with Dr. Weinstein (as yet) — fresh theoretical ideas, from people who have the training to produce them, are rare and always welcome, and I hope that’s what he has to offer.  But who does Professor Du Sautoy — a mathematician, unfortunately appointed to the post of Simonyi Professor for the Public mis?Understanding of Science — think he is, irresponsibly and unnecessarily disregarding the established procedures of scientific research (which have worked extraordinarily well for several centuries, as evidenced by the modern scientifically-based technological world that we live in), and declaring someone “Einstein II” not only before his theory’s been tested experimentally, not only before expert physicists have considered his theory carefully to see if it is mathematically consistent, but even before there’s a finished paper for experts to read?!  No individual has such a right; it is nature’s, and a community’s, to decide.  Or are we going back to Aristotle, perhaps even before, where a beautiful idea must be true, perhaps even while it is still half-baked, and empirical facts be damned?  Are we going to start seeing announcements like this every year or two, from the latest smart boy or girl who has delusions of grandeur and a friend who writes for newspapers?  I hope Charles Simonyi understands what’s just happened…

It also bothers me that this whole story interacts in unfortunate ways with various myths about Einstein.  Aside from the absurd myth that he was bad at mathematics (he did not fail eight-grade math class, and he taught himself calculus), he is widely said to have been “outside academia as a patent-clerk”.  Really, folks, he wasn’t far. The odd part of the story is that he was an unfunded, unadvised physics graduate student. Like any graduate student in his early-to-mid twenties, he was writing his Ph. D. thesis, reading and writing scientific papers, talking with other physics graduate students; but because he had no advisor and no teaching fellowship, he had to support himself and his family by working in a patent office — no more a patent clerk than the writer William Faulkner was a postmaster.  Why did this happen?  According to Abram Pais’s biography (written for physicists, so you won’t want to buy this unless you’ve got the background to read it), he’d had a bad falling out with one of the professors in his undergrad days; this kept him from getting a graduate student teaching fellowship, and almost destroyed his career. Fortunately he was brilliant enough to overcome this setback.

Meanwhile, there’s the myth that he was a fellow with his head in the clouds, thinking deep and beautiful thoughts with no regard for experiment.  But two of his four famous papers in 1905 are not on some ethereal mathematical theory; they involve solving two of the great and concrete experimental puzzles of his day: Brownian motion and the photo-electric effect.  And his two 1905 papers on special relativity aren’t a complete, over-arching theory that tries to resolve all unsolved issues in physics;  they are short and to the point, mathematically consistent, and brilliant seeds of what he and others developed into a more complete theory later.  Taken together, these papers made Einstein famous among leading physicists within a year or two, though it was still a little while before the relativity ideas were experimentally tested.

Then, as Einstein began to spend much of his time on the problem of gravity — a period during which he was a professor at famous institutions, in Zurich, Prague and Berlin — he made many incomplete attempts at a new theory, some of which he published along the way, sometimes with other people.  So when his final version of his gravity theory came out in 1915, he was no unknown patent clerk!  He was deep within academia, and well-known across physics and mathematics.  And experts around him had seen many previous versions of his theory, and were in a position to evaluate it.  Still, even then, in the public he was unknown.  He became famous in the public eye only after his gravity theory was tested observationally, in 1919.  That’s fourteen years after his first brilliant papers were published.  It was only then was he could be declared the successor to Newton.

[Note Added: Even then, as a reader has prompted me to remind you, it was another several decades before the evidence in favor of general relativity was truly convincing! So in 1919 it was  premature to say Einstein’s gravity theory was clearly right — though it was not premature to say that he had invented a brilliant, consistent gravity theory of great importance in physics, as well as having proposed plausible and inventive solutions to several other important physics problems.]

Compare this with the case of Dr. Weinstein.  I think we have quite a long way to go.

That said, what’s the rush?  You can’t get to the bottom of things if you’re in a big hurry. In our speedy modern world, that can be hard to remember; but for true scientists, it’s impossible to forget.

For other commentary on this hoopla, you can try

http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=5927 (who is moderately sympathetic [he knows Weinstein] though measured, especially since he too hasn’t seen the content)

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cocktail-party-physics/2013/05/24/dear-guardian-youve-been-played/  (who is less sympathetic, but like me, concerned mostly about the potential damage to the scientific process and public understanding thereof)

66 responses to “Courses, Forces, and (w)Einstein

  1. I liked this article and linked to it on Facebook.

  2. Pingback: A Tale of Two Oxford Talks | Not Even Wrong

  3. Out of curiosity, if you can say, where are you teaching this class on the Higgs?

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  5. There is only 1 Galileo, there is only 1 Newton, there is only 1 Einstein, there is only 1 of any bright physicist or scientist (Fermi, Dirac, Heisenberg, Weinberg, Feynman, Majorana, Pauli, Clifford, Riemann, Ramanujan, Chandrasekhar, …). I have never understood the obsession to find out new “X’s”. It bores me. True scientists must be theirselves! Idols are not useful…I don’t mean that those scientists are not important, but every generation must search for his own identity. Perhaps the current “crisis” (economical, political somewhere, physical-no new physics but the Higgslike 127GeV,…) has increased the need for a new “idol”, but we must work harder to be ourselves. The new Einstein will arise when time requires it! Not before, nor after… Sometimes, people think that revolutions are easy in Science, and it is not so…

    • We seek ‘the new x’ because we are creatures that like stories. “First there was Galileo who gave us the sun-centered solar system, then Newton who gave us gravity then Einstein…”

      Einstein himself wasn’t a lone man who revolutionized physics, he was one among many who worked together (or in some cases competitively) to increase our understanding and build theories. He had some nice quirks that lent him to being a sort of icon. Had things turned out slightly differently we might well know Einstein only as some physics guy and instead be seeking the new Bohr.

      In time the media and society will find their new Einstein because any scientist can fill that role so long as they look and sound right. Though I personally think they’ll be treated more as the new Hawking since the public is not as attuned to science as they were back in Einstein’s time.

      • True and false. Newton needed Thomas Hooke for may of his central ideas. Einstein’s GR was really the brainchild of one man (yes Grossman introduced him to Riemannian geometry and the Ricci tensors etc., but ultimately it was Einstein who TAUGHT himself Riemannian geometry). Your critique is deplorable as it gives the impression that Einstein’s fame is due more to hype than substance. Einstein came up with about 3/4ths of the major conceptual breakthroughs in quantum theory, and i haven’t even touched on his other accomplishments. Yes, he became an international celebrity, but it was NOT in a vacuum and, with the clarity of retrospect we see that in many ways his fame was well-deserved. Please read some more, you sound very ignorant.

    • I basically agree; I chose not to address that point in this article, but yes, it is not useful to say “the next Da Vinci”.

  6. PS: The next “Einstein” will be not named Einstein himself/herself…!!!!

  7. John Duffield

    If you’ve got a copy of Graham Farmelo’s “The Strangest Man”, take a look at page 53. It’s talking about 1923, and it says this: “At that time, Cunningham and Eddington were streets ahead of the majority of their Cambridge colleagues, who dismissed Einstein’s work, ignored it, or denied its significance”. Alternatively take a look at Clifford M Will’s “The Confrontation between General Relativity and Experiment”. See page 6, and note this: “the steady accumulation of experimental support, together with the successful merger of special relativity with quantum mechanics, led to its being accepted by mainstream physicists by the late 1920s”. Then see wiki re general relativity “entered the mainstream of theoretical physics and astrophysics only with the developments between approximately 1960 and 1975, now known as the golden age of general relativity”.

    There was rather more hostility to Einstein than some would have you believe. Don’t think it’s any different for the likes of Weinstein.

    • Farmelo is correct about Cambridge (but this was not true everywhere), and his statement is true about GENERAL relativity. But you are also quoting Farmelo out of context, and drawing a horrendously false parallel.

      You are mentioning 1923. Einstein won the Nobel Prize in 1921, for his work on the photo-electric effect that he’d done back in 1905. He was a professor widely regarded around the world. (This is more like Witten today; widely regarded, which means both celebrated and detested, depending on who you talk to, and never ignored.) Famous professors had already been trying to get Einstein to be a professor at their universities for over a decade. Now, in your comment, this is supposed to be parallel to today — we are living today in 2013. When did Weinstein win the Nobel Prize? What was the famous work of his youth? What’s the parallel here that you are trying to draw?

      Certainly the 1919 observational test of General Relativity was NOT powerful enough to convince all physicists — and that is precisely as it should have been, in fact, because it wasn’t overwhelming evidence. Moreover, Einstein’s 1905 proposal that light was made from quanta (photons, as we call them today) was still not accepted even in 1923, despite considerable evidence! (Final confirmation from experiment came only in 1924.) But as I wrote above, it is not necessary for a theory to be correct for it to be useful and important. General relativity was clearly viewed as a consistent, interesting, important theory — just look at the number of famous people who worked on it after Einstein proposed it. The same was true of the notion of quanta, even though that was a naively inconsistent proposal (how could you have particles and interference?) which was tentatively accepted only because it gave correct answers in so many experiments.

      My point is not that 1919 was a clean moment: it was not at that time that Einstein’s theory of gravity was fully confirmed at a level that convinced almost everyone. That didn’t happen for decades. But Einstein deserved to be famous by that point. He’d done plenty of great work, and even if his theory of gravity had failed in the end, it was a terrific achievement.

      Let’s see what Dr. Weinstein has to offer before we draw any conclusions — we are open-minded (though not empty-headed) on this blog — but let’s also not misremember history.

      • John Duffield

        All points noted Matt. But my point remains that there is far more hostility within physics than the public appreciates. And since you brought it up, we do misremember history. In developing GR, Einstein reintroduced an aether and said the speed of light is variable. There’s a lot more examples. When you read that history, you come to appreciate that Weinberg is at least looking in the right place. Since however he referred to a mirror universe, I’m guessing he can’t see the big picture. Maybe somebody else will. And if you wait for somebody to come along with a fully developed coherent mathematical model, then who needs you?

        • John Duffield

          Tsk. Weinstein, not Weinberg.

        • With scepticism and also hostility one has to live with if he wants to put forth new ideas. Thats perfectly normal. You either deal with it or are not ready for discourse. Complaining about hostility helps nothing, arguments regarding the subject of matter helps.

          • John Duffield

            I’m not complaining about it, r.Got, I’m just pointing out that there’s far more dogmatic hostility and rewriting of history than people generally appreciate. Einstein was arguably the beneficiary of Franco-German politics, and definitely the beneficiary of Max Planck’s editorship. Planck said “science advances one death at a time”. And it took 25 and 50 years for SR and GR to become mainstream. Keep that in mind, that’s all.

          • Sure there is, all the time, thats a fact.

      • Professor, for somebody so well-versed not just in the rigorous technicalities of the field, but also knowledgeable about the history of 20th century physics, you really should read up on the history of Einstein and his relationship with quantum theory. The hostility against Einstein was real.
        Link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/a-douglas-ston/einstein-fantasy-physics_b_4948045.html

        P.S. It is written by an established, academic theoretical physicist and not some charlatan.

  8. Predicting a whole zoo of new particles without checking anomaly cancellation. It doesn’t get much funnier than this :-)

    • Well – I don’t know what exactly the question was that Conlon asked. It might have been a more subtle anomaly, such as a gravitational anomaly. So let’s wait to find out exactly what the situation is.

    • Alright Mr. Einberg I’ll bite, what is the ‘anomaly cancellation’? Why don’t we as easily dismiss the tentative observations of dark matter particles at ~ 10 GeV? Shouldn’t we have detected them at our accelerators?

      Also, Mr. EINberg you must be the next half EINstein :-)

      • Marcel van Velzen

        Basically the fact that in the Standard Model the charges all fundamental particles add up to zero is no coincidence. Add the charges of electron, 3 coloured up-quarks and 3 coloured down-quarks: -1+3*(2/3-1/3)=0
        When you add new particles to the existing ones you should check again. Even Einberg knows this, so it can’t be that difficult!

        • Wait… where are the tau and muon (And W\Z bosons) in that equation?

          • Marcel van Velzen

            Sorry, only the fermion charges. But you do find from anomaly cancellation that if you add a generations of leptons (like the muon) you also need a new generation of quarks (strange and charmed).

        • If its necessaty for charges to add up to 0, howcome this does not apply to spin, or colour , or chirality?

          • Marcel van Velzen

            It’s not a general rule that (quantum) quantities have to add up to zero. As you can see the sum over the electrical charges implicitly includes colour (the factor of 3).It is already a short hand version of a few relations that must hold to avoid infinities in certain calculations. It is rather technical but nevertheless a standard part of relativistic quantum field theory.

  9. /… the physical electron is not even “close” to a bare electron quantum, as renormalization tells us that we have to ascribe absurd infinite properties to the latter to end up with a realistic physical electron…/- comment- Edwin Steiner

    /The reason the size and the excitation energy are similar (which is not true for atoms) is that the force that binds the system together is a strong one./- Prof Strassler.

    The idea is to start with a simple system for which a mathematical solution is known, and add an additional “perturbing” Hamiltonian representing a weak disturbance to the system. If the disturbance is not too large, the various physical quantities associated with the perturbed system (e.g. its energy levels and eigenstates) can, from considerations of CONTINUITY, be expressed as ‘corrections’ to those of the simple system.

    /I tend to agree with Roger Penrose that spin has been one of the great mysteries in quantum mechanics. As best as I can recall, he said it was one of two primary mysteries in a talk at NYU back in the late 1990′s. At the moment, I don’t remember what the second one was, but I’d agree that spin’s effect on geometry is a necessary problem to be solved by a complete unification. But until a specific model is proposed, even the magnitude of the effect remains unclear. You are right that it is small in the specific Einstein-Cartan case …/- comment – Oldster says – Eric Weinstein on Geometric Unity.

  10. According to the links you gave and I followed: “The trouble is that we should already have seen some of Weinstein’s new particles, if they exist, says physicist Joseph Conlon of the University of Oxford.” http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23632-how-to-test-weinsteins-provocative-theory-of-everything.html
    He meant in the LHC data. The fact that Weinstein’s predicted particles, which were within the range of energies of the LHC data analysed already, did not appear is a pretty serious problem already it seems to me.

    • It might be a pretty serious problem, but it’s also an obvious potential problem, and you would think that Weinstein would have thought about it already. Well, this is why it would be nice to have a paper to refer to. Without the paper, I can’t check whether Conlon is correct about this or not; I can’t be sure if he’s saying something that every expert would agree with, or if he’s being too quick in concluding what the LHC has and hasn’t ruled out.

      Sigh… at this point I have no idea what we’re dealing with… something brilliant, something not so brilliant but interesting, or something rather obviously wrong.

      • That’s kinda the point. Going to the press without having anything publicly available ensures there can be no immediate debunking. That (probably unintentionally) makes it look like a scam.

        Imagine if this was hyped as a cure for cancer rather than a TOE. People would be talking about motives more than the actual work.

      • David Perkin.

        My quibble is that I would like to know if Weinstein calculated any production cross-sections or made other verifiable predictions. If not, the theory is not ready for scrutiny.
        After all, the production cross-sections might be too low to expect to see anything this early in the LHC’s lifetime, so I wouldn’t (yet) regard the absence of the Weinstein zoo as a definite stopper.
        Regards,

        David Perkin..

  11. Joseph Conlon

    Just to clarify on this. In the question period, a spectrum of predicted new particles was put up (there were about twenty of them in total). These are chiral (at least Eric said they were) and have SU(3)xSU(2)xU(1) quantum numbers. The question on anomaly cancellation was just that: do the standard gauge and gravitational anomalies cancel? The question on their observability is that I think it is very hard to hide new chiral fermions charged under the strong force and electromagentism.

    • Since we are on the subject of additional particles, does anyone know if current LHC data precludes a 4th spin ½ charged Lepton at around 360 to 370 GeV?

  12. In regards to the myth about Einstein being a “fellow with his head in the clouds, thinking deep and beautiful thoughts with no regard for experiment”, Bill Bryson quotes C.P Snow in the book A Short History of Nearly Everything (p.160).
    Snow apparently says “It was as if Einstein had reached his conclusions by pure thought, unaided, without listening to the opinions of others. To a surprisingly large extent, that is precisely what he had done.”
    I realize the mentioning of opinions rather than empirical evidence makes it different from the popular myth about disregard for experiment. However, i wonder if it still played a part in the posthumous characterization of Einstein, and if not, how this myth (among many others) was popularized.

  13. Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

    The Relativity theories “fail” to encompass the quantum principle which is definitely one attribute of Nature. A “failure” cannot be correct. That is, the relativity theories are simply wrong, partially correct at the best. This same logic works on the quantum principle too.

    Einstein simply did not know a simple “super unified” force equation, as below;

    Force (degenerated) = K (degenerated) F(unified), K is the coupling constant.

    F (unified) = ħ / (delta T * delta S) ; T, time; S, space.

    Now, here comes the quantum principle.

    Delta P * Delta S = Force * Delta T * Delta S = K (degenerated) ħ

    The “strength” of the quantum effect is determined by K (the coupling).

    If Weinstein is able to derive this super unified force equation and all those K’s, his theory cannot be wrong. In fact, he needs only derive one of the K, the Alpha, and he will be on the path to the Super Unification. Otherwise, he is … .

  14. Concerning Dr. Eric Weinstein…readers who are interested in some of Weinstein’s views having to do with physics in general may want to check out: “In search of the black swans” from the April 1, 2009 Physics World.

    I personally think our foray into other dimensions through String Theory or Weinstein’s 14 dimensional Geometric Unity is not the way to truth. I think the three dimensions of space and one of time are quite enough thank you. Anyway there has been a lot of talk about Einstein and the ‘next Einstein’. Here is my take:

    There will be no new Einstein – until and unless an Experiment, I repeat – an EXPERIMENT – blows a hole in current theory. Not armchair speculation, not pretty mathematical papers, not a ‘scientific concensus’ that a particular multi-dimensional bandwagon theory is the way to go. An Experiment. Period.

    Wax philosophically about our last great genius all you want. Here are the facts: Einstein was born in 1879. He published Special Relativity in 1905. Did establishment physics tell Einstein: “We loved the paper, hang around for another 16 years and we will give you a Nobel prize”? Certainly not.

    In 1879, the year Einstein was born, the vast majority of physicists ‘knew’ there was an ether – electromagnetic theory that had been developed over the past century demanded it. Basically there was overwhelming evidence that light was a wave, and logically something, the ether, filling all space had to be waving. And every physicist ‘knew’ that the Earth in its orbit about the Sun had to be moving through the Ether at around 3.0×10^4 m/s.

    In 1887 Michelson and Morley conducted an experiment to ascertain the precise value for the Earth’s velocity through the ether. When the Michelson-Morley experiment showed that the Earth’s velocity relative to the ether ~ 0 the world of physics was stunned and went into crisis.

    Had the Michelson-Morley Experiment never been performed, Einstein’s 1905 publication of Special Relativity (if it were published at all) would likely have been considered the work of an obscure ‘crank’, and the history of the 20th century might have been very different.

    Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It is experiment that makes all the difference…no Earth shaking experiment… no new Einstein.

    • kashyap Vasavada

      I agree 100 percent that experiments are crucial in physics. However this particular example of Michelson-Morley and Einstein is not correct historically. May be Matt will correct me. But my recollection is that Einstein was not aware of Michelson-Morley expt when he wrote (at least the first version of) special theory of relativity. His reasoning was that Maxwell’s equations are not invariant under Galilean transformation. In fact, not knowing about MM expt , he suggested that it would be nice to check if the velocity of light was invariant!!

      • Kashyap,

        I did not say that Einstein knew or did not know about the Michelson-Morley experiment. It is a matter of historical dispute: Einstein noted on occasion that he was unaware of the experiment, but on others that he was. Most historians of science believe that he was aware of the experiment but that it did not play a crucial role in the development of Special Relativity. I do not dispute the historical account one way or the other. My post was not about what Einstein thought, but about what physics, early physics, thought…

        The reception of Special Relativity by Physics in crisis was tough enough. Can you imagine if the Michelson-Morley experiment had never been performed! Would Einstein had even been published? And would anyone have taken his idea seriously?

        Einstein did not win the 1921 Nobel Prize for Relativity, but for his paper on the photo-electric effect – In 1921 Relativity was still considered far too controversial.

    • Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

      S. Dino: “… – until and unless an Experiment, I repeat – an EXPERIMENT – blows a hole in current theory.
      … Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It is experiment that makes all the difference…no Earth shaking experiment… .”

      You are, indeed, describing the current situation, but your position is simply wrong. For the modern physics, almost all experiments are “planned”, that is, for verifying a “pre”-diction. Premises are always coming before experiment. No new concept, no new experiment. Concept is the King, experiment the squire.

      S. Dino: “… Relativity has passed every experimental (there is that word again) test thrown at it thus far, …”

      This is the minimum requirement for any theory. But, it again shows that the essence of all experiments is bound by “limitations”, as we know all too well that Relativities are incomplete theory both factually and conceptually.

      Today, every high school student knows that both Relativities and quantum principle are partial theories and to a great extent that they are mutually exclusive. Thus,
      a. Trying to encompass Relativity “by” quantum principle (such as, the quantum gravity),
      b. Trying to encompass Quantum world “by” Relativity (such as, Weinstein’s work),

      are simply wrong even at the conceptual level, and no experiment is needed to reach this conclusion. The only way to success for unifying them is having a “base” underneath both Relativity and Quantum principle. That is, both Relativity and Quantum principle are the emergent of this base. This is the prerequisite for any TOE.

      In essence, experiment is only a squire while its capability is very limited. Yet, the mystery of Nature might be hiding at a place way beyond the reach of any kind of human gadget forever. Now, even many diehard gadget testing supporters are contemplating this dire reality, such as,

      Philip Gibbs wrote: “What happens if a theory is eventually found to be uniquely consistent with all known observations but its characteristic predictions are all beyond technical means?”

      Luboš Motl: “While the divorce may be frustrating, it’s a part of progress and a sign of progress that we may successfully answer questions that are extremely far from our abilities to directly experimentally test them; …”.

      Fortunately, there is “knowledge” which absolutely needs no experiment, as some of them have been experimentally verified zillion times, that is, they have grown out from the experiment-crib. These knowledge gain a new name, physics facts.

      There is another very important kind of knowledge which is based on these physics facts, with two parts.

      a. A system — with a “base”, a set of evolving rules and a set of definite “consequences (not prediction)”.
      b. A set of physics facts as the checking list (or the landmarks).

      If the “map” of this system does not check out with one of the landmarks, something is wrong. On the other hand, if this map marches with all the known landmarks, its other “consequences (not predictions)” can be comfortably accepted as “knowledge-candidate” which is witnessed by all those known physics facts.

      Matt said on March 15, 2013 (http://profmattstrassler.com/2013/03/15/from-higgs-like-particle-to-standard-model-like-higgs/ ), “It is therefore natural to call this a Standard Model-like Higgs particle, shifting the “-like” over a step. That wording emphasizes that although confidence is very high that this is a Higgs particle, we do not have confidence that it is a Standard Model Higgs, even though it resembles one. This is for two reasons.
      First …
      Second, many interesting speculative theories, despite being dramatically different from the Standard Model, nevertheless predict nature will exhibit a Standard Model-like Higgs particle — one that may be distinguishable from a true Standard Model Higgs only after the LHC has gathered much more data.”

      Matt’s conviction above is obviously the result of knowledge, not of the result of any experimental data.

      • Mr.Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong,
        I wonder how you got this flow of words, as Nima Arkani-Hamed said, out of fragile, rigid and incredible architecture built over centuries ?
        Belief in principles like, /Complementarity: Bohr implies that it is not possible to regard objects governed by quantum mechanics as having intrinsic properties independent of determination with a measuring device/ – is a problem because, it was the fundamental truth for a chain of reasoning (mathematics).
        These fundamental truths are the proxies, put constraint on how the nature works.
        The sense of demand by establishments, like in market economy, made tailored products like string theory, or may probably higgs (found in nature, but not SM higgs) ? Science is independent of culture (collectively), to find truth ?
        Truth is not the way we are looking things. Immanuel Kant, who drew a clear distinction between the things in-itself and our experience of it. We think we see the world out there, but all we ever observe is the image created in the mind – we each shape our own reality.

        When two philosophical starting points like quantum mechanics and general relativity is not, appropriate and compatible – why constraints on principles ?

        The philosophical starting point of quantum mechanics: Leonhard Euler was in many ways the antithesis of Voltaire. Frederick also expressed disappointment with Euler’s practical engineering abilities – Vanity of vanities! Vanity of geometry! – Continuum mechanics!

        The philosophical starting point of theory of relativity: I think Mr.Einstein doesn’t discovered relativity. He only, connected the common sense of relativity with the speed of light “c”. This means, it is impossible experimentally, to prove for the object moving at “c” is look different for two observers – independent of observer, basically time invariant – with measurable “c” is constant – space and time should be considered together and relative to each other.
        He localized the experimental possibilities of his time and waded anomalies ? – connected his special relativity with Leibniz- Newton Bucket argument as general relativity – The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687), which established the foundations of classical mechanics and introduced his law of universal gravitation, which yielded the first quantitatively adequate dynamical explanation of planetary motion. ??

      • While I ‘generally’ agree with your premise, I disagree with your conclusions. You said it yourself:

        “For modern physics almost all experiments are “planned”, that is, for verifying a “pre”-diction.”

        Absolutely true, but that is the strength and beauty of the procedure. That is what sets it apart from nearly every other human endeavor (from politics to religion) – Experimental verification (or not) of a prediction. Science progresses through the interplay of theory and experiment. A couple of – ‘or not’ examples:

        The Michelson-Morley Experiment (1887) started out as routine science; an experiment to verify the prediction that the Earth was moving through the ether at around 3.0×10^4 m/s. But the experimental results were not what physicists expected…

        The Perlmutter Super-Nova Observations (1998) started out as routine science; observations to verify the prediction of the deceleration of the universes expansion caused by the mutual gravitation of its parts. But the experimental results were not what cosmologists expected…

        You don’t seem to want to acknowledge the importance that unexpected experimental results play in the structure of scientific revolutions. You note: “Concept is the King, experiment the squire.” Perhaps, but even a King has limitations (every theory has a domain of validity) and it’s up to squire to let the King know what those limitations are (unexpected experimental results often define a given theories domain of validity and often provide direction to the creator of the ‘next theory’).

        • Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

          Veeramohan: “ … I wonder how you got this flow of words, …”

          The flow is as follow:

          1. It was Einstein’s great misfortune of not knowing the “Super Unified force equation”. Otherwise, his theory will definitely be able to encompass the quantum principle.

          2. Richard P. Feynman went upstairs with an irreducible lifetime regret of not knowing how God pushed His pencil of getting the simple number Alpha. Now, we know how a pencil should move to dig it out.

          3. Since 1960, the little squire (experiments) acted as a King. Those data hodgepodge became the Standard Model, that is, the SM has “zero” theoretical “base”, not able to derive most of the free parameters it used in the model. Yet, a simple G-string (no known physic was put-in) can produce the entire SM particle zoo (see http://blog.vixra.org/2013/05/16/why-i-still-like-string-theory/ ). That is, a base for the SM particle zoo is now known.

          4. The Higgs game was only a “reverse engineering” from the data hodgepodge; again without any theoretical base, not even know how to calculate the mass of the Higgs egg, and the search of it went all the way up to 650 Gev. On the other hand, the G-string base gives a “Physics” description of the Weak-scale dynamics. As the producing “u” is one step before the rising of “W” in this G-string music-chair game, it cannot be must heavier than the W, by 50% more at the best.

          As this G-string is also the “base” for the three points above, it becomes “knowledge”. That is, I know that the Higgs game is just a fairy tale, the hallucination; no experiment is needed for reach this conclusion. Of course, for a doubting Tom, he can wait for the test data which might mislead him for generations as many test data now is more political-correct than being scientific correct. But, the “truth” will always prevail sooner or later. This time looks like going to be later.

          S. Dino: “The Perlmutter Super-Nova Observations (1998) started out as routine science;… But the experimental results were not what cosmologists expected… ”

          The acceleration of the expansion of the universe was the direct “consequence” of the “Super Unification”, and it was discussed in the book “Super Unified Theory —- The foundations of science” (US copyright number TX 1-323-231, registered on April 18, 1984)”, and it is available in “many” university-libraries around the world (USA, France, Japan, etc.). I truly feel sorry for those poor cosmologists.

          • The double-slit experiment of quantum complementarity: a quantum particle will act as a wave when we do an experiment to measure its wave-like properties, and like a particle when we do an experiment to measure its particle-like properties. Where on the detector screen any individual particle shows up will be the result of an entirely random process.

            Planck’s view was that quantization was purely a mathematical trick, rather than (as we now know) a fundamental change in our understanding of the world.
            In 1905, Albert Einstein took an extra step. He suggested that quantisation was not just a mathematical trick: the energy in a beam of light occurs in individual packets, which are now called photons. The energy of a single photon is given by its frequency multiplied by Planck’s constant “h”. E = hf .

            If it is not a trick, why we need again “h” ?
            We know by common sense, what is Energy, what is frequency, but both of them individually make no “action” at quantum level – so “h” was added. It can dislodge the electrons in photoelectric effect.
            In relativity, the same “h” was replaced by “c^2″ in E = mc^2. Though the frequency is proportional to energy, mass had been related to E via momentum embedded in c^2 . We know mass make “action” in Newton’s law.

            Constants are AXIOMS ?

            /The last published words of Einstein were that all we do by the moment known in physics “must lead to an attempt to find a purely algebraic theory for the description of reality. These words being the last wish of the greatest scientist of 20th century to be a genial prediction of the general mathematical form of the super unified theory, for we have now obtained in practice not only ‘the basis of such a theory’, but also the theory itself in complete and in consistency!/ ??

            Is it, Jade Mirror of the Four Unknowns of Qin Jiushao’s “Ling long kai fang” method ?
            In contrast, Algebraic geometry is not a AXIOM and studying zeros of polynomial equations. So the “continuum” of the matrix could be achieved ?
            Thus the Togliatti surface of string theory arise ?

          • Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

            Veeramohan:

            You have pointed out some good points. But, I do not know what your point is. We are a bit off topic now. We should not take Matt’s kindness for granted. I will beg his permission for discussing the off-topic comments the last time on this thread, as some of your points are interesting.

            1. “ … but both of them individually make no “action” at quantum level – so “h” was added. … In relativity, the same “h” was replaced by “c^2″ in E = mc^2. “

            “Why was ħ added?” is a history. The important thing is that it was our great luck that it did. The fact that relativity used m in place of ħ is indeed the great hint as the super unification gateway, as the m (mass) is indeed measured with ħ about the internal space-time of an envelope.

            2. “Constants are AXIOMS ?”

            In a nutshell, physics is a science which studies three parameters; the space, the time and the mass. Yet, their measurements were arbitrarily defined by the human conveniences. Why are we able arbitrarily to define them? The answer is very simply. Any arbitrary acts of ours can never mess up the “absoluteness” of the Nature design. Those three “Nature” parameters must be “locked” by Nature with anchor locks. The nature constants are those locks. Then, the Alpha locks those constants one step further. An article “Arbitrariness and the final unification in physics” is available online.

            3. “ … The last published words of Einstein were that all we do by the moment known in physics must lead to an attempt to find a purely algebraic theory for the description of reality.”

            In the book “Linguistics Manifesto (ISBN 978-3-8383-9722-1)”, it lists a “Large Complex System Principle”.

            The “Large Complex System Principle” (LCSP) —- there is a set principle which governs all large complex systems regardless of whatever those systems are, a number set, a physics set, a life set or a vocabulary set.
            Corollary of LCSP (CLCSP) — the laws or principles of a “large complex system x” will have their correspondent laws and principles in a “large complex system y.”

            This LCSP is 100% in agreement with Einstein’s last words.

          • veeramohan

            Thank you Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong,
            First we must thank Professor Strassler for his kindness, allowing us to discuss.
            Iam not having further concrete knowledge to answer. There is “force” we want to define in equations. Nature is arbitrary or absolute design or absurd I don’t know.
            It is for Professor to answer.

    • We have already (nearly) had our own Michaelson Morley moment. The accumulating (though yet to be confirmed beyond reproach) evidence for dark matter. The increasing data from indirect detection experiments (gamma ray from galactic center), ATIC-2 and AMS-2 (seen together, provided AMS-2 confirms the ATIC-2 drop off) and direct detection data for 10GeV dark matter particles already blow holes in both standard model and even then string theory because, super symmetry forms core of string theory. The failure of LHC to detect the 10 GeV particles shows that there are dark sectors and dark forces and the design of LHC is not ideal for detecting particles that dont interact with electromagnetism. As Matt has pointed out before, bulk of LHC data is discarded and not even saved and therefore it is possible that LHC data is biased in favour of extant theories. (you find only what you are looking for).
      There is any chance of creating these particles in LHC only if they have some non-zero interaction with any of the particles produced in LHC like the Higgs boson or W/Z bosons or the quarks.
      So we already have had our Michelson Morley moment, and just like the earlier one, we are waiting for more conclusive evidence.
      The fact that we have not seen new particles in LHC does not mean there are no new particles in LHC nor there cant be any new particles.

      • Ablelawrence,

        You may be right concerning ‘dark matter’, and I myself used the example of ‘dark energy’ – however by ‘blowing a hole in current theory’ I meant something much more drastic and decisive. Yes, dark matter has proved itself quite intractable, but the great majority of physicists have never viewed the possible existence of an additional source of gravity in the universe as a ‘crisis’. They view dark matter more the way that earlier physicists viewed evidence that there was an additional source of gravity in the solar system – and eventually Neptune was discovered. ‘Dark energy’ also does not qualify, as physicists were at the ready with Einstein’s Cosmological Constant .

        Indeed, while dark matter and dark energy both give physicists and cosmologists fits in many ways, both have been fully incorporated into what is known as ‘the standard model of cosmology’ recently and beautifully (I must admit) confirmed by the Planck satellite.

        Twentieth century and so far twenty-first century physics is built upon the pillars of Relativity and Quantum theory. By an experiment that blows a hole in current theory I meant an experiment that destroys one of the pillars of modern physics.

        At the risk of having to promise Matt that I never bring up the possibility again (as I admittedly do all too often) an example would be if physicists discover that antimatter falls up. That would be the kind of crisis I’m talking about! Down comes the great edifice of General Relativity…

        Dr. Weinstein and the rest of physics would then have a lot more to work on then figuring out how to reconcile Relativity and Quantum theory, they would have to come up with a new theory of gravity that accounts for all previous observations as well as the new ones that brought down GR a task truly worthy of ‘the next Einstein’.

  15. kashyap Vasavada

    Dino,
    OK. I see your point. I suppose, there is a general agreement that Einstein did so many revolutionary discoveries, which were later verified by experiments, that it is outrageous to compare anyone with Einstein without detailed verification of his proposals.

    • Yes. Frankly comparisons between Weinstein and Einstein show a complete lack of appreciation and/or understanding of what Einstein achieved. Trust me, I am no lover of Relativity, but I have the greatest respect for the theory and the man that created it. But respect has to be earned. Relativity has passed every experimental (there is that word again) test thrown at it thus far – and there have been many. As to the man, Einstein with a short letter to President Roosevelt, written from his Long Island summer cottage in 1939, changed the course of world history…

      This is not to say that it is impossible for Weinstein to be the ‘next Einstein’ but if so he and his theory (whatever it is?!?!) have a long, long way to go…

  16. Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

    Matt’s description of Einstein’s career is very interesting. But, what is the point?

    “If he were not already a Nobelist, his great works would not have been accepted by the Physics community.” Then, who is the one to loss if this was the case?

    What is the “goal” for physicists? Seeking for “truth”? Or, bragging each other’s works?

    If Nature disguises himself as a retarded kid who sells snake oil in the market while the “final physics equation” was inscribed on the bottom of the bottle, will physicists have the ability to recognize that openly revealed secret? Or, it will be simply rejected, as it is not in accord with the “scientific process”.

    If we lack the ability to recognize the truth which lies outside of the manmade “scientific process”, many of us will finish our lives with failures on our lifetime goal of seeking the truth. Who is the loser?

    While every landmark can be gone around, the “Final” truth can never be gone over, gone under or gone around. We have the right to reject the truth but cannot escape from the failure of our lifetime goal as a physicist. Perhaps, many of us don’t give a damn about our lifetime goal anyway, as the “scientific process” is much more important than that.

  17. Let me point out that the un-detection of the electromagnetic (a)ether in the 19th century is pretty similar to the current “absence” of a clear and neat “Dark Matter” (particle) signal… Of course, there are some differences (both in theory and experiment “state-of-art”), but I would like to emphasize this fact that it is generaly unrecognized…

  18. Interesting story indeed… The reason for Weinsteingate is a very human. We LOVE great stories. Even if you are a scientist. Even in physics, every once in a while there pop up one. Business as usual ;)

  19. I don’t know why Weinstein’s been put up on the celebrity block, but it sure makes a case for more science education :)

    • That won’t help. We’re educated extensively on celebrities down to what underwear they wear and look at the kinds of people that get held up as famous in *that* area!

  20. What esactly is this post of Simonyi Professor for the Public …?

    From just reading this article, it seems that the Professor holding it promoted t(at least in this case) he usual media hype about surfer dudes, new Einsteins, QM is wrong, etc … I am used to by now. I mostly ignore popular science news.

    I like the nice explanation about how the scientific method proceeds to evaluate new potentially interesting theories. What is so hard about the scientific method to grasp, that so many people dont get it?

    The details about how Einstein had to support himself by a job outside university to work on his PhD and why this happend, are very interesting. I did not know that before.

    Cheers

  21. The four “forces” we experience in our daily life, what we call object with mass to undergo a certain change are..
    earth, water, air, and fire – in which “air” we cannot see but feel – “unknown” – no light or photon necessary.
    So Pagans and Germanians had their storm gods (Sturmgeist) like Donar (Thor) – now we called Thursday (Donnerstag).

    They could further deduce into four unknowns: Heaven, Earth, Man, Matter- again reduce into two: Earthly matter and Heavenly soul. They may become one: “NOTHINGNESS”- but it is not zero. They were not axioms.

    Axioms came, when measurements, experiments, and Pythagoreanism came in, based on apeiron and perion.
    Physics and consciousness : Roger Penrose has written books on the connection between fundamental physics and human (or animal) consciousness. In The Emperor’s New Mind (1989), he argues that known laws of physics are inadequate to explain the phenomenon of consciousness. Penrose proposes the characteristics this new physics may have and specifies the requirements for a bridge between classical and quantum mechanics (what he calls correct quantum gravity). Penrose uses a variant of Turing’s halting theorem to demonstrate that a system can be deterministic without being algorithmic. (E.g., imagine a system with only two states, ON and OFF…(Wikipedia)

    Algebraic geometry is not a AXIOM and studying “ZEROS” of polynomial equations. I think this “zeros” are the void between Penrose’s ON and OFF – which makes the world numeric (algorithmic)?

  22. Pingback: The Overhyping of Theories and the Search for Scientific Truth | Anacephalaeosis

  23. Is it ok to request who is right here in this debate?

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2013/jun/16/has-physics-gone-too-far

    • I would find myself siding with Mike Duff. His opponent is stating in essence that physics has ‘made up’ a lot of stuff out of thin air and is saying that these ramblings explain the world, no need for experiment. This cannot be further from the truth. Experiment is central in physics and is the life or death knell for any theory.

      At the same time however speculation is often presented as fact by popular media. Few would question the notion of multiverses and extra dimensions as being ‘somehow truish’ because they are often discussed or used with little attention paid to the fact that in many cases the theory does not have any solid evidence behind it.

      In sum it is not physics that has gone too far but the media who confidently take each new announcement as cast iron fact. In this it is similar to the constant cures for cancer you see in the newspapers.

  24. John Duffield

    Jim Baggot is right.

  25. Pingback: An Old NY Times Article on New China | Of Particular Significance

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    In my opinion, it could make your posts a little livelier.

  28. I was wondering if you ever thought of changing the page layout of your website?
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