18 December 2010

The theory of everything and God

Why is it so hard to find the theory of everything? There are two main reasons.

One reason is that researchers must conform to the research topics that are fashionable, in order to remain accepted. Peer pressure is an extremely powerful force, and it is often underestimated. This is ideological pressure, of course.

The other reason is that researchers have been imbibed with ideas such as the following: "Whoever finds the theory of everything has read the mind of God." This sort of statements go back to Einstein himself, and they really are among the most stupid sentences one can make about God and about the theory of everything.

Mixing the TOE with God is stupid, because every theologian will tell you that you can read the mind of God by looking at your  neighbour in the eye, or by praying, or when walking in a beautiful landscape. There is no need for a theory of everything to do that.

Mixing the TOE with God is also stupid because it puts the researchers under the impression that they are nearer to God than anybody else. Or that they must get nearer than anybody else. Or that if they succeed, they are chosen by God. Or alternatively, that if they fail, God did not want them to succeed. What a nightmare! This is the worst psychological environment one can create; with so much pressure, it becomes almost impossible for anybody to think about the problem normally, let alone to solve it.

Modern researchers have put themselves into a tough situation for finding the TOE. And the reason is always the same: there is too much ideology attached to the problem. If you look at the huge load of ideology, it is most probably that the TOE is found by somebody who does not believe in God at all.

David Gross and supersymmetry

The latest LHC results, published yesterday, show that supersymmetry has been excluded at the LHC over a large parameter range.

A few months ago, in summer 2010, David Gross, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics for his research on the strong interaction, stated that if the LHC does not find supersymmetry, this does not disprove the idea. Technically this conclusion is correct. But it is also true of the idea that elementary particles contain little green men from Mars. Indeed, if the LHC does not see the little green men, technically, this does not disprove the idea.

So we are in a situation where a well-known theoretical physicists is not ashamed to speak about little green men – sorry, I meant to say supersymmetry – and nobody dares to say that this is a deeply ideological attitude.

Nobody? That is not true. A little village of disbelievers is left over. We will see who is right...

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."

Motl and Jacobson

In a recent post, Lubos Motl discusses a paper from 1995 by Ted Jacobson. That paper makes an important point: gravitation is a consequence of the thermodynamics of space-time. The paper does not explain what the microscopic degrees of freedom are, but it makes the point that gravitation derives from them.

The argument is old and simple. But Lubos cannot live with it, because he believes that gravity is a phenomenon due to higher dimensions and supersymmetry. He has a problem though: there is not a shred of evidence for either assumption. Both assumptions are ideological.

On the contrary, there is a lot of evidence for Jacobson's argument – the entropy of black holes, for example. Worse, Jacobson makes the point that gravity is due to thermodynamics in three space dimensions. Obviously, anybody who makes such patently false statements (:-) makes Lubos's hormones go ballistic. He writes:

 "First of all, the entropy associated with the Rindler horizon is not "objectively real". It only exists relatively to an accelerating observer who decides not to ever see the space behind the horizon. From the viewpoint of the whole spacetime and coordinates that cover the whole spacetime, random areas in the spacetime obviously carry no entropy!"

Here you see what happens when ideology guides reasoning. In other words, if one observer measures something, and another not, obviously the first one is wrong, says Lubos Motl. Following this reasoning, black holes have no "objectively real" entropy, because an observer falling into a black hole does not see a horizon.

But read for yourself and enjoy how the false conviction that an argument in agreement with experiment cannot be correct makes a theoretical physicist go completely bonkers.

What happens if a researcher does not believe in ideology

In several of his blog posts, Tommaso Dorigo (his blog is in the blog list to the right) has explained that he does not believe that the Higgs boson or superymmetry exist. This view is shared by Tini Veltman, who won the Nobel Prize for physics for his work on the standard model.

It is also worth mentioning a small detail: the view is confirmed by all experiments so far.

What happens to physicists that make statements that agree with experiment but disagree with the ideologies that are common since 30 years? All reactionaries arise and start calling such ideas 'nonsense' and the people behind them 'crackpots'.

The German philosopher Hegel was once told that his theory was in contradiction with the facts. He answered: "All the worse for the facts."

Voltaire said: "It is dangerous to be right when the established authorities are worng." The saying is old, but who woud have believed that it would ever apply to physicists themselves?

Against Ideology in Fundamental Physics

The twentieth century was the time when ideology was rampant. Is the twenty-first century better? Yes and no. There are fewer wars based on ideology, maybe. But ideology has permeated all aspects of life, even aspects where it does not belong.

It is particularly sad that fundamental physics is completely driven by ideology. As I will argue in the coming posts, this is also one of the reasons that theoretical fundamental physics has made no progress since 1967, when the idea of electroweak interaction was born.

Since then, no new idea in theoretical fundamental physics was free of ideology. GUT, supersymmetry, strings, membranes, axions, preons, technicolor, multiverse, anthropic principle, etc.: all these ideas are based on ideology, and none on experiment. How could this sad situation occur?

In the following posts, I will explore these issues, using as examples the topics that are popular at the moment.