Friday, August 11, 2006

How to not build theories of everything

I have decided to avoid writing about the situation in string models. After all, anyone with a little bit of intellectual honesty admits at least privately that this theory is dead and the basic reason that we still talk about it as the only known (or even possible!) theory of everything is that very few string theoretician has the moral strength to say "Sorry, this what I am doing has become a waste of money and time so that I do not want to receive my salary anymore!".

Now I however decided to make a few paragraph exception to my blogging habits. There will be a semester long program on string phenomenology taking place in Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics. Wati Taylor had inaugural talk for the program with the title String Vacua and the Quest for Predictions. The main points of the talk are summarized in Not-Even Wrong. What made me optimistic was that the recent situation in string theory was openly admitted and difficulties analyzed. It is really remarkable that a leading theoretician does this and in this kind of context.

Instead of criticizing string theory and its sociology, I find is much more inspiring to report the growth and evolution of my own brain child TGD as the happy and unashamedly proud father. I hope that these often hastily written postings, besides giving an online documentation about the trial-and-mostly-error process what real scientific work always is, would also demonstrate that many important things have been forgotten during last 21 years.

  • Sometimes a real progress in science requires dramatic paradigm shifts but these shifts must be inspired by solutions to the problems of existing theory rather than decision that the model which did not work as a theory of hadrons is the only known theory of everything. The basic idea of TGD was stimulated by a simple question. Could it be possible to solve the conceptual problems related to the definition of energy in general relativity by constructing a Poincare invariant theory of gravitation? The answer to this question stimulated a question-answer process which has yielded 16 online books: not too bad taking into account the miserable circumstances in which this work has done. This continual questioning has also forced me to leave the narrow confines of particle physics and to realize that theory of everything is unavoidably also a theory of consciousness. It is really sad to see the brilliant string theorists to continue beating their big-brained heads on the wall after having narrowed their focus on Planck length scale or to algebraic geometry.

  • What it means when idea really works. What was achieved during early days of quantum theory when no computers were available looks completely mysterious unless one realizes that the basic idea was so full of life that it took care of itself. The evolution of TGD during last 28 years without a single coin of research money should also teach the same lesson. The string story in turn convincingly proves that all the king's horses and all the king's men are not enough to resuscitate an idea which is dead.

  • Real progress in science is not a series of fads and fashions lasting for year or two but requires total life time long devotion. Group think is not the manner to achieve paradigm shifts. Real revolutions are not made at streets nor are they made in palaces.

  • Sticking to hidden philosophical assumptions paralyzes even the brightest thinker. I have heard again and again the evergreen about how standard model works too well, that quantum theories of gravitation cannot be tested experimentally, etc., etc.. My experience is totally different. Having been forced to give up the reductionistic dogma and having developed a network of ideas that really predicts and explains, I have found myself literally swimming in a flood of well-reported anomalies and I find myself again and again wondering how it can be possible that these brilliant theoreticians can be unaware of all this. The biggest anomaly is of course the very phenomenon of life. If your TOE cannot say anything interesting about life and consciousness, it is better to return to the drawing board and start from the scratch again.

During this effusion the inhibitory circuits in my brain have started to counter act (very important for a theoretician to have also these trouble makers) and I hasten to admit that TGD is a zoo of interacting ideas in a vigorous competition for survival rather than a clean and polished theory. Some of these ideas will suffer extinction and it will require time and certainly a lot of collective effort before a precise formulation and construction of the calculational machinery is possible. I also admit that TGD is also an endless error correction process and as such a wonderful means to get rid of self importance and tendency to have very strong opinions (something which should be a first year course in theoretical physics). Returning again and again to texts written for the first time for almost two decades ago is often quite frustrating but always very rewarding process.

In any case, just this morning I feel optimistic. I feel that theoretical physics is not a completely dead discipline after all. As long there is life there is also hope.

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