Friday, February 18, 2005

Approaching the end of an epoch

The following quotes from the page Suppression, Censorship and Dogmatism in Science" serve as a good introduction to the recent sad situation in science. Do not miss the chronological ordering. "Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense." Buddha (563BC-483BC). "There must be no barriers to freedom of inquiry. There is no place for dogma in science. The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors." J. Robert Oppenheimer, quoted in Life, October 10, 1949. "The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote.... Our future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth place of decimals." Albert Abraham Michelson, speaking at the University of Chicago, 1894. "The great era of scientific discovery is over.... Further research may yield no more great revelations of revolutions, but only incremental, diminishing returns." Science journalist John Horgan, in The End of Science (1997).

Suppression in science

Anyone who has devoted life to some new idea has experienced the arrogance and cruelty of those who are in power. This applies also to me. I have used 26 years of my life to a revolutionary idea and I have summarized the resulting world view in 4 books making about 5000 pages full of original ideas developed in highly detailed manner. Both in quality and quantity this output is exponentially higher than that of an average professor. One might think that with this background it would not be difficult to find a financiation for my research which is still continuing. The reality however loves paradoxes. There is absolutely no hope of getting any support in my home country for my work, and I do not believe that situation might be better elsewhere. Even worse. Average theoretical physicist colleague refuses to read anything that I have written, and there is absolutely no manner to communicate these ideas to a mainstream career builder living in a typical academic environment. I am doomed to be a crackpot. Although American Mathematical Society lists Topological Geometrodynamics in Mathematical Subject Classification Tables, something which can be regarded as a rare honor for a physicist, I am a crackpot. It is easier to change water into wine than change the conviction of an average research person receiving a monthly salary in University about my crackpot-ness. I am not of course alone. The suppression in science has become rule rather than a rare exception, and even Nobelists like Brian Josephson, are punished with censorship for the courage of talking aloud about phenomena not understood within the confines of existing dogmas recent. The victims of this suppression cannot publish anything and even e-print archives such as are closed for those who think in a new manner. These people have started to organize. For instance, at the web page scientific dissidents tell their personal horror stories.

End of an epoch as an era of moral degeneration

One might try to interpret this sad state of theoretical physics (and science in general of course), which affects deeply also experimental physics, in particular particle physics, using notions like sociology of science, and talking about the fierceful competion about positions and research money implying that people with keen brain but without intelligent elbows are doomed to be destroyed. I think however that there is something deeper involved. My conclusion from what has happened during these decades, and from a personal work in wide range of topics ranging from particle physics to cosmology to biology to consciousness, is that we are living an end of an epoch, not only in science but also in the evolution of western civilization. Epochs are always characterized by some sacred philosophical ideas, and when they lose their explanatory and guiding power, the civilization breaks down and experiences a phase transition to a "New Age". The irony is that the end of epoch is always seen as the final victory of the old dogmas (see the last quotations in the beginning of these musings!). In physics only this and comparison with what happened for a century ago, helps to understand how M-theories, regarded now by most professionals (privately of course!) as a pathetical failure, are still successfully sold for media as the final word about physics. Of course, things have begun to change rapidly. For instance, for some time ago the physics department of Boston University made the decision that string models cannot be regarded as physics so that string theorists must find their positions from Mathematics department. Do not take me wrongly: many of the mathematical ideas of string models are fantastics and will be pieces of future theories. The problems is that the utterly wrong philosophy makes it impossible build a physical theory based on these ideas. In physics several philosophical dogmas have lost their power during the last century. For century ago before advent of quantum theory the idea about deterministic clockwork universe was the final truth. The attribute "Newtonian" is often assigned with this clockwork. This does injustice to Newton, who was five centuries ahead of his time and regarded even planetary systems as living systems. This was described in some popular science document as "the dark side of Newton"! Although quantum physics in microscopic length scales turned out to be in conflict with the clockwork idea and although the evidence for macroscopic quantum effects is increasing, the average physic is still, at the temporal distance of century from Bohr, stubbornly refuses to consider the possibility that quantum effects might be important in our everyday life, and that we might not be deterministic machines. This collective silliness has meant after the days of von Neumann nothing interesting has been said about quantum measurement theory so that its paradoxes are still there, virtually untouched. What a gem for a brilliant theoretician these paradoxes could be but how few are those who are ready to spend life in science as crackpots! The sad consequence is that theoretical physicists have practically nothing to add to what they could had said about biology and consciousness before Bohr. Second sacred and very dead idea is reductionism. String theories and M-theory amplify this idea to sheer madness. The dogma is that the whole physics reduces to Planck scale: a very short distance about 10^(-33) meters. After a huge amount of theoretical activity during last 20 years we have a a theory which cannot predict anything even in principle, and the proponents of this theory are now seriously suggesting that we must accept this state of affairs since M-theory is the final theory! I know...! I know that I have said this many times before but this is so scandalous that it must be said aloud again and again. Of course, one need not go to Planck length to see the failure of reductionism: again the phenomenon of life tells that reductionism is wrong. In fact, all transitions in the sequence quark physics--> hadron physics --> nuclear physics ---> atomic physics --> molecular physics --> ... are all ill-defined, and the belief that lower levels predict the higher ones is just a belief without any justification. Despite this most colleagues enjoying monthly salary are still repeating the liturgy which I heard for the first time in my student days: life as nothing but Schrödinger equation applied to a very complex system. It is understandable that a person at the age of 20 years takes this platitude seriously but it is unforgivable that professors of physics still repeat this kind of trash. The seeds of the new age are already here: fractality is now a relatively well established notion even in physics, and means an entire hierarchy of scales giving good hopes of expressing quantitatively how reductionism fails. A lot of new, but already existing mathematics is however needed. Unfortunately, and totally unexpectedly, for consistency of interpretation one cannot avoid talking about physical correlates of cognition once this mathematics is introduced. The transition to the New Age will thus be very painful since cognition and consciousness do not exist for a physicist. Next big idea. Average physicist familiar with special relativity identifies without hesitation the time of conscious experience as the fourth space-time coordinate. This despite the fact that brief analysis shows that these notions are quite different. The sole justification for their identification is the materialistic dogma: in the materialistic world order consciousness is a mere epiphenomenon and has no active role: everything about contents of consciousness is known once the state of the clockwork is known. Despite all the paradoxes that this view implies, it dominates still even neuroscience as I painfully learned during the decade that I devoted to TGD inspired theory of consciousness and learned basics of neuroscience in discussions and by reading. Energy is dual to time and subjectivetime=geometric time problematics repeats itself as the poorly understood relationship between inertial energy and gravitational energy. Einstein's proposal was that they are one and the same thing but even academic person could privately wonder why it is possible that inertial energy is conserved exactly whereas gravitational energy is not. Of course, friendly Einstein has so long a shadow that the academic person does not allow this kind of thoughts to pop up into his conscious mind.

The sociological side

There are also social factors involved and these factors are amplified during a period of degeneration that we are living. To make this more concrete I tell about my experiences in certain discussion groups related to string models and M-theory during last half year. My motivation for spending (or rather wasting as it turned out) my time in these groups was besides satisfying my basic social needs, to learn what the general situation is, and perhaps even communicate something: it is extremely frustrating to see that physics is in a state of deep stagnation and, this I can say without any hybris, to realize that one reason for this is simply that I have not used all my energy to communicate the bottleneck ideas which are the only way out of the dead end. To be specific, I have read the comments at the Not-Even-Wrong blog page administered by Peter Woit. For half a year ago I was enthusiastic: this would be a page where the problems of M-theory and string models could be discussed openly without repeating the usual liturgy starting with "M-theory is the only known quantum theory of gravitation...". It however soon became clear that the discussion group is not intended to serve as a forum for new ideas. The dream about return back to the good old days of quantum field theories seems to be the basic motivation for its existence, and any new idea is therefore regarded as an enemy. For a month or so ago an open censorship was established meaning that everything which is not about the topic of discussion is censored away. To stay in the "topic of discussion" is to repeat the already-too-familiar mantra like arguments against M-theory. M-theory is dead but it does not help to say this again and again: something more constructive is needed. This discussion group has taught me a lot about the difference between western and eastern communication culture manifests. Typically the discussions are battles: people express their verbal skills by insulting each other personally in all imaginable manners. Open verbal sadism is completely acceptable and often regarded as a measure of intelligence. Paradoxically, I myself find that I take seriously Lubos Motl, young extremely aggressive M-theory fanatic who has been continually ranting and raving in Not-Even-Wrong. It is easy to disagree in a well-argumented manner with most of what he says, and most of his arguments are cheap rhetoric, but still! Why do I pay attention to this empty verbalism. Sad to confess, I am part of this culture which confuses aggression with intellect. In Eastern cultures, which we tend to assign labels like "New-Age", both physical and intellectual integrity are the basic values, and my dream is that the New Age would see these people continually insulting each other simply as what they are: uncivilized barbarians. NAMEs are important ghostly participants in any academic discussion group. Again and again I find, that people are asking was it this or was it that what Feynman/Gross/Witten..... said and what is the URL where it can be found. Somehow it seems completely impossible to be taken seriously unless one continually drops names and citations. With all respect to these brilliant NAMEs, one must admit that their often casual comments are just casual comments and that 65 year old NAME probably has not very interesting things to say about forefront science. A further amusing feature of the sociology of academic discussion groups is the attitude towards "crackpots". "Crackpots" are by definition those who have something original to say and strong motivations to do this. The strategy for dealing with crackpots is following. In the first stage "serious researchers" do not notice in any manner the presence of "crackpot", he feels that he is just air. If this does not help, ironic and sadistic comments communicating the conviction that the "crackpot" is a complete idiot begin to appear. If even this does not help, the "crackpot" is told to leave the discussion group since people want to have "serious discussions". If even this does not beat the visitor, his messages are censored away. The irony is that also in this group the "crackpots" have been the most interesting participants. They have something interesting to say, they have a passion of understanding, they develop real arguments instead of cascades of insults and citations from authorities, and they have a strong urge to express clearly what they want to say. This cannot be said about many "respected" contributions, which often contain about ten typos and grammatic errors per line, and from which it is often completely impossible to figure out whether the attempt is to say something or just to teach by example that the writer is an an-alphabet. One gloomy conclusion from these experiences about the sociology of science might be that organized good is impossible. Perhaps this true to some degree. I can however imagine the feelings of those enlightened people who discovered the idea of gathering together intelligent people devoting their lives to science. Certainly they dreamed of spirited debates, endless discussions, openness of minds, evolution of ideas. It is not the fault of these visionaries that in a typical university people sitting in the same room for years know nothing about each other's work and could not be less interested, that hatred and envy are the dominant emotions of an average career builder, and that science has transformed from passion to a fierceful competition to a war in which the best colleague is a dead colleague. Perhaps the New Age inspired by new Great Ideas and Ideals will create a new kind of university in which people could could live like ordinary simple people like to live: listening, helping and loving each other. Matti Pitkanen


At 5:42 AM, Blogger Plato said...

Cheer up Matti:)

Peter is trying as well to maintain credibility and the banter between Lubos and Peter is educational. Even if they may seem adversy in their dialogue, they are scientists at heart, and they both realize this.

I am a laymen with a heart to learn, so I have nothing new to offer that has not already been said.

Although I try to keep abreast of things I do not always understand it all.

Geometrodynamics is interesting to me. Is this the correct interpretation that you have in this regard? Could you generalize what TDG is in simple laymen terms?


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