17 December 2010

Ideology, Steven Weinberg, Peter Woit and Lubos Motl

For me, Peter Woit is a hero of theoretical physics. By patiently asking about the correspondence with experiment, he has, almost single-handedly ensured that string theory, M theory and the related theories were exposed for what they are: castles in the air.

Of course, Peter Woit also dreams of the theory of everything. In the 1980s and 1990s, Steven Weinberg held a seminar after the other, across the world, stating that the key to the theory of everything is to find the underlying symmetry. This might be right, but Weinberg spread a second, much more powerful idea: we do not know all the symmetries of nature.

The prejudice that we do not know all symmetries was exactly what everything hoped to hear: Thus we do not know everything, and we know why we don't! For decades, researchers spent their efforts to find more symmetries. The explored GUTs based on SU(5), SO(10) or worse, supersymmetry, theories based on E6, E8, E10, E11, and many more. The result? No higher symmetry was found. Every experimental test disagreed with the theories.

Worse, Weinberg now is backtracking; he suspects that all symmetries are already known. But all the researchers that now are in their 30s, 40s and 50s, including Peter Woit and Lubos Motl, to whom Weinberg was a superstar, did not backtrack. The search for more symmetries became their mantra. In this case, ideology has wasted a whole generation.

So we have two people here, Woit and Motl, who dislike each other's ideas wholeheartedly, but who are united in their ideology that more symmetry is the way to go. But unfortunately, both are equally wrong when they suggest this as the direction that needs to be followed in order to find the theory of everything.

Again, both do not follow experiment; they follow an ideology. Even a hero like Woit has his weak spot. Motl, of course, is not a a hero, but a declared follower of ideology. His role has been described by Augustine already 1600 years ago: "If it weren't good that evil exists, evil would not exist."

No comments:

Post a Comment