Not Even Wrong

NotEvenWrongSuggested by Brad Nelson • When does physics depart the realm of testable hypothesis and come to resemble theology? Peter Woit argues that string theory isn’t just going in the wrong direction, it’s not even science.
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4 Responses to Not Even Wrong

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I’m sure this book was suggested in one of Stephen Meyer’s books, probably “Signature in the Cell.” I’ve just started reading the Kindle sample of it. It’s the bookend to another book I’ve read in its entirety which is Lee Smolin’s excellent The Trouble with Physics.

    Both books take a look at superstring theory and its shortcomings. “Not even wrong” is a typical expression for a theory that is so rough and unformed that it can’t even be falsified. It’s so rough that it can’t even yet be put to a test to either prove it or falsify it. As PeterWort says, this is often the case when developing new theories from scratch.

    Woit says there is another kind of “Not even wrong” and it applies to string theory:

    But there is a second connotation of “not even wrong”: something worse than a wrong idea, and in this form the phrase often gets used as a generic term of abuse. In the case of superstring theory, the way some physicists are abandoning fundamental scientific principles rather than admit that a theory is wrong is something of this kind: worse than being wrong is to refuse to admit it when one is wrong.

    This book is summed-up at Amazon with: Not Even Wrong shows that what many physicists call superstring “theory” is not a theory at all. It makes no predictions, not even wrong ones, and this very lack of falsifiability is what has allowed the subject to survive and flourish.

    I think it’s fair to say that there is a religious-like zeal behind superstring theory. But I’ll wait for Woit to tell his story and see how he characterizes it. Certainly he has related his own accounts already of his attraction for mathematics. The draw is that you can see deep inside of nature.

    That’s an interesting proposition. You can’t knock the mathematics. Surely it is consistent with something that is real. But one wonders what one is actually seeing in both the mathematics and the fine-grained particle physics. Is this really a deeper understanding of the way things work? Is this micro reductionist view preeminent in its ability to know how the world “really is”? Considering (as Berlinski points out in “The Devil’s Delusion”) that such fundamental physics have nothing to say about, nor can they even predict, the interesting stuff that occurs on the macro level, there is a reason to hold such views with a grain of salt.

    I don’t know if I’ll purchase this. But so far it seems fairly well written. My main concern is that it will become too technical to be comprehensible. One Amazon reviewer says:

    Despite its challenges I highly recommend this book to anyone seeking to understand the current state of thought in advanced physics. It gives a glimpse of the dark side of science, where university politics and trendy ideas all too often decide how research dollars will be spent.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Not even capable of being falsified? Who do they think they are, anyway, climate alarmists?

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        No friggin’ kidding. If it’s warmer than usual, it’s said to be a sign of global warming. If it’s colder than usual, it’s said to be a sign of global warming.

        The absurdity of that began to hit home in the public’s mind so they went to “climate change.” And unless Einstein was right about the steady-state conception of the universe, it’s impossible to have an unvarying climate. And so this term may be ditched for something else soon, if it hasn’t already.

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