• Wayfarer
    8.9k
    This bet was made in 2002.

    "By 2020, no one will have won a Nobel Prize for work on superstring theory, membrane theory, or some other unified theory describing all the forces of nature."

    Reported in Peter Woit's blog

    For those not familiar with John Horgan, his blog is Cross Check in Scientific American and the bet is also mentioned there.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    6.2k
    Speculative physicists are headed in the wrong direction.
  • TheMadFool
    4.3k
    In an interview Michio Kaku, himself a theoretical physicist, appeared quite enamored by string theory and even boasted, ever so slightly, about how his unified theory equation was just an inch or so long. No surprise there on who was being "too" optimistic.

    In Michio Kaku's defense John Horgan's "prediction" isn't that interesting or surprising given that experimental verification of string theory is nigh impossible or so I heard.
  • Wayfarer
    8.9k
    Speculative physicists are headed in the wrong direction.Metaphysician Undercover

    Agree. What if, after all, the Universe isn't actually physical? Then what? Rewind to, oh, 1350 or 1500 and start again>
  • Janus
    8.7k
    Yeah, no one's ever won a Nobel prize for philosophy either!
  • Wayfarer
    8.9k
    What would be the criteria?

    At least with science there are measurable outcomes. Or ought to be. Hence, the bet!
  • Janus
    8.7k
    What if, after all, the Universe isn't actually physical? Then what?Wayfarer

    How could that ever be tested? What could it even mean to say that the physical world is not physical? It is physical by definition.

    Are there measurable outcomes in literature or economics theory?

    As Popper says metaphysical speculation (which, along with mathematical practice, string theory is) always has had and always will have a place in science, because science is not just about observation and experiment, but also involves creative imaginative conjecture. String theory may not now, or ever, be testable; but it may lead to other theories which are.
  • Bitter Crank
    8.4k
    No one has won a Nobel prize for philosophy because there isn't one. Old Alfred figured that If philosophy hadn't accomplished its aims after 2500 years, there was just no likelihood of prize-worthy breakthroughs in the future.

    That seems to be true. Do you know of any living philosophers who have done anything even slightly noticeable (never mind jaw-droppingly outstanding) in philosophy? Does Alfred's invention, Dynamite, offer a solution to philosophy's centuries-long boredom?

    "See those barges loaded with philosophy books being hauled up river to the new State University library?"

    "Yes, why?"

    "Blow it up. Dynamite. Tonight."
  • Coben
    1.1k
    Physical has no meaning anymore. It's a placeholder term.
  • Possibility
    771
    What if, after all, the Universe isn't actually physical? Then what?
    — Wayfarer

    How could that ever be tested? What could it even mean to say that the physical world is not physical? It is physical by definition.
    Janus

    The argument is only confusing because you’ve assumed that ‘the Universe’ = ‘the physical world’. But ‘universe’ refers to a particular sphere of activity or experience - not necessarily to the ‘physical world’. That our entire sphere of activity or experience includes more than the physical world (ie. four-dimensional spacetime) is certainly plausible. That’s what metaphysics is, isn’t it?

    That we’re unable to ‘prove’ it perhaps pertains to the requirements of a proof, as such. What would it take to prove the trajectory of a photon, for instance? I think probability and potentiality waves suggest that we need to accept the relative mathematical uncertainty of the metaphysical, and find alternative ways to gain confidence in the structure of reality at the five and six dimensional levels, beyond attempting to reduce it to two dimensional information.
  • Janus
    8.7k
    The totality of the physical world or domain just is usually defined as the Universe Even if there were another separate "ideal" domain (and how would we know there was since all our means of detecting anything are physical) it would not be thought to be part of the universe, but something transcendent.
  • Janus
    8.7k
    No one has won a Nobel prize for philosophy because there isn't one.Bitter Crank

    Of course that's true, and it is what I meant, but I spoke ambiguously: as though there might have been a prize to be won and no one had won it rather than there being no prize.

    I think you're right about the reason there is no prize for philosophy; there is no practical significance to it, even as aesthetic enjoyment like literature, for most people.
  • Isaac
    1.7k
    Speculative physicists are headed in the wrong direction.Metaphysician Undercover

    How can you possibly judge the 'rightness' or 'wrongness' of the direction of speculation? The idea doesn't even make sense. Speculation is just that, meaning we don't know if it's right or wrong before we test it.

    The only measure we can use is likelihood, the potential of some course of speculation, based on previous experimental results. If you've got some data the rest of the physics world is lacking, I suggest you publish it immediately.
  • Wayfarer
    8.9k
    Speculation is just that, meaning we don't know if it's right or wrong before we test it.Isaac

    The whole issue with string theory is that it can’t be tested. There’s a bitter dispute going on in philosophy of science about this very thing - in fact the two people mentioned in the OP are part of it, namely John Horgan and Peter Woit. The dispute is about whether some major parts of speculative physics is science at all.

    Ever heard the term ‘popperazi’? Like to have a guess (or a google) at what it means in this context? I think you’ll find it illuminating.
  • Wayfarer
    8.9k
    ’Physical’ has no meaning anymore. It's a placeholder term.Coben

    I’m inclined to agree.
  • Wayfarer
    8.9k
    No one has won a Nobel prize for philosophy because there isn't one. Old Alfred figured that If philosophy hadn't accomplished its aims after 2500 years, there was just no likelihood of prize-worthy breakthroughs in the future.Bitter Crank

    I’m convinced that many of major cultural problems occur because of an insufficient or faulty philosophical outlook. The problem is, we’re all situated inside it, so we generally won’t see it for looking.
  • Isaac
    1.7k
    The whole issue with string theory is that it can’t be tested.Wayfarer

    So? How does that have any bearing on the statement "Speculation is just that, meaning we don't know if it's right or wrong before we test it."?

    I made no claims as to whether it was testable. I leave that kind of judgement to the experts, and there seems to be some debate there.

    The point is that speculation is happening anyway. MUs point about it going the 'wrong' way is also based on speculation which can't be tested, so what's 'wrong' about it?
  • Wayfarer
    8.9k
    Fair point. :up:
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    6.2k
    How can you possibly judge the 'rightness' or 'wrongness' of the direction of speculation? The idea doesn't even make sense. Speculation is just that, meaning we don't know if it's right or wrong before we test it.Isaac

    I disagree, metaphysics can guide us in the right direction through the use of logic. So for example things which are impossible and don't need to be tested, because we can know that they are impossible without testing them, ought to be excluded from speculation. But I'm not saying that string theory is speculation into impossibilities, because I don't know enough about it to make that judgement. This is just an example of how it is possible to know that speculation is in the wrong direction.

    Furthermore, all speculation proceeds from principles, fundamental judgements, and I believe that some judgements at the base of modern speculative physics are incorrect. Principally, they employ a notion of time which is inconsistent with what we experience. That's what's wrong about it.
  • Isaac
    1.7k
    I believe that some judgements at the base of modern speculative physics are incorrect.Metaphysician Undercover

    But other people believe that they are correct. What are you going to do, shout at each other until one gives up?

    You talk about ensuring things are in line with our experience, yet you maintain this bizarre notion that what is 'correct' can be ascertained by thought alone in complete contradiction to our overwhelming failure to do so.

    People still disagree now about exactly the same matters they disagreed about thousands of years ago. If a thousand years of discussion hasn't yielded a sufficiently convincing answer, where does that leave your 'belief' when measured by your own standards of correspondence with experience?
  • Possibility
    771
    The totality of the physical world or domain just is usually defined as the Universe Even if there were another separate "ideal" domain (and how would we know there was since all our means of detecting anything are physical) it would not be thought to be part of the universe, but something transcendent.Janus

    For something to be transcendent, it doesn’t need to be a separate domain from the universe - it only needs to extend beyond the four dimensions of space-time that we currently understand to be the ‘normal’ (physical) human experience. When we eventually recognise all six dimensional aspects of the universe as ‘real’, then it won’t be ‘transcendent’.

    We refer to experiential qualities such as colour, texture, taste, smell and sound as part of the normal human experience, yet there is an aspect even of these qualities that is subjective in value - relative to the observer’s experience - and therefore not reducible to the ‘physical’ as such (ie. not provable). How do you prove that something is green and not blue?

    Other kinds of value information that are detectable in ‘normal’ human experience - such as aesthetics, ambience, energy, will, vibe, love, etc - lose significant information when reduced even to four dimensional data. Some of these may even be considered ‘transcendent’, but they’re hardly a separate domain from the universe.

    What we understand to be ‘real’ from normal human experience is already unprovable.
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    Nice to see when people are confident enough about the claims they're making that they'll put money behind them.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    6.2k
    But other people believe that they are correct. What are you going to do, shout at each other until one gives up?Isaac

    No, reasonable people discuss things. Sometimes it takes a long time, many years of discussion, but there's no rush, and no need to shout, that's impatience.

    You talk about ensuring things are in line with our experience, yet you maintain this bizarre notion that what is 'correct' can be ascertained by thought alone in complete contradiction to our overwhelming failure to do so.Isaac

    Actually, success in "doing so" requires motivation, the desire to determine what is "correct". And we can only proceed towards determining what is correct if we have a good understanding of the difference between right and wrong, and this is obviously based in an understanding of morality. Morality is the knowledge which deals with the difference between good and bad, right and wrong.

    People still disagree now about exactly the same matters they disagreed about thousands of years ago. If a thousand years of discussion hasn't yielded a sufficiently convincing answer, where does that leave your 'belief' when measured by your own standards of correspondence with experience?Isaac

    This is because we've had a regression, the resurgence of monism. The philosophical problems discussed by the ancient Greeks were mostly resolved through the application of dualism. This lead to many centuries of advancement. It is false to say that the knowledge of today hasn't advanced from the knowledge of thousands of years ago. But with that advancement has come a turning away from the very principles which allowed for the advancement, and a return to the monist arguments of those ancient societies.
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