Blog Round-Up

Lots of travel last week delayed the second installment on my D-Wave visit write-up, but I came across some worthy re-blog material to bridge the gap.

inholeI am usually very hard on poorly written popular science articles, which is all the more reason to point to some outstanding material in this area. I found that one writer, Brian Dodson, at the Gizmag site usually delivers excellent content. Due to his science background, he brings an unusual depth of understanding to his writing. His latest pieces are on General Relativity compatible alternatives to dark energy and a theoretical Quantum black hole study that puts the gravity loop approach to some good use. The latter is a good example as to why I am much more inclined to Loop Quantum Gravity rather than the ephemeral String theory, as the former at least delivers some predictions.

Another constant topic of this blog is the unsatisfying situation with regards to the foundational interpretations of Quantum Mechanics.  Lack of progress in this area can in no small measure be attributed to the ‘Shut up and calculate’ doctrine, a famous  quip attributed to Feynman that has since been enshrined as an almost iron rule.

To get a taste for how prohibitively this attitude permeates the physics community, this arxiv paper/rant is a must read. From the abstract:

If you have a restless intellect, it is very likely that you have played at some point with the idea of investigating the meaning and conceptual foundations of quantum mechanics. It is also probable (albeit not certain) that your intentions have been stopped in their tracks by an encounter with some version of the “Shut up and calculate!” command. You may have heard that everything is already understood. That understanding is not your job. Or, if it is, it is either impossible or very difficult. Maybe somebody explained to you that physics is concerned with “hows” and not with “whys”; that whys are the business of “philosophy” -you know, that dirty word. That what you call “understanding” is just being Newtonian; which of course you cannot ask quantum mechanics to be. Perhaps they also complemented this useful advice with some norms: The important thing a theory must do is predict; a theory must only talk about measurable quantities. It may also be the case that you almost asked “OK, and why is that?”, but you finally bit your tongue. If you persisted in your intentions and the debate got a little heated up, it is even possible that it was suggested that you suffered of some type of moral or epistemic weakness that tends to disappear as you grow up. Maybe you received some job advice such as “Don’t work in that if you ever want to own a house”.

At least if this bog post is any indication the times seem to be changing and becoming more permissive.

One thought on “Blog Round-Up

  1. I have a problem with polls, which suggest that it somehow matters what most physicists “think,” when the evidence tells us that they simply follow the whims of fashion, as witness Gell-Mann’s observation that Bohr brainwashed a generation of physicists into thinking quantum theory was a done deal.

    Here’s a bit of what Einstein wrote on science and philosophy:

    The reciprocal relationship of epistemology and science is of noteworthy kind. They are dependent upon each other. Epistemology without contact with science becomes an empty scheme. Science without epistemology is – insofar as it is thinkable at all – primitive and muddled. However, no sooner has the epistemologist, who is seeking a clear system, fought his way through to such a system, than he is inclined to interpret the thought-content of science in the sense of his system and to reject whatever does not fit into his system. The scientist, however, cannot afford to carry his striving for epistemological systematic that far. He accepts gratefully the epistemological conceptual analysis; but the external conditions, which are set for him by the facts of experience, do not permit him to let himself be too much restricted in the construction of his conceptual world by the adherence to an epistemological system. He therefore must appear to the systematic epistemologist as a type of unscrupulous opportunist: he appears as realist insofar as he seeks to describe a world independent of the acts of perception; as idealist insofar as he looks upon the concepts and theories as the free inventions of the human spirit (not logically derivable from what is empirically given); as positivist insofar as he considers his concepts and theories justified only to the extent to which they furnish a logical representation of relations among sensory experiences. He may even appear as Platonist or Pythagorean insofar as he considers the viewpoint of logical simplicity as an indispensable and effective tool of his research.

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