Saturday, January 30, 2016

Is Current Physics An Atheist Tower of Babel?

John Horgan has a post at Scientific American about what even some physicists are beginning to wonder isn't the decadent state theoretical physics is in.   For those who think I'm over the top in stating the same thing.  For me I think the tipping point came with Hugh Everett's first of many "many world interpretations" of quantum mechanics.  I'll forego any discussion of, from what I've read of him, Everett's pretty obnoxious and self-centered atheism and its implication in his invention of universes. *   His idea that, because a photon can be expressed in a perhaps infinite number of ways, mathematically, means that, not only must there be an actual universe in which that state of that photon has an actual existence.  His faith in the creative potency of mathematics was so extreme that he believed that every single action in the actual universe, so much as the flickering of every fluorescent tube light creates universes in which the opposite (and I would guess every possible variation on that) happens.   Instead of being considered at least the extreme eccentricity of someone who has spent too much time in the theoretical instead of actual life, Everett's "Many World Interpretation" set off  more than half a century of physicists and cosmologists inventing many, many world interpretations of quantum mechanics, the invention and "study" of such stuff has driven much of theoretical physics during the entire lifetimes of most of the people living, today.   Instead of people wondering if theoretical physics, in lieu of actually making predictions that could have actual verification in nature, has been living on the enormous repute that the generation working at the beginning of the last century earned by actually producing knowledge instead of speculation,  this stuff is the very hottest of hot stuff among the sci-ranger set.

I happened to read Horgan's post after I posted that quote of Christian Afinsens in Rupert Sheldrake's book Science Set Free.  Not three pages later, there is another quote, from the eminent French mathematican,  René Thom

The excellent beginning made by quantum mechanics with the hydrogen atom peters out slowly in the sands of approximations in as much as we move toward more complex situations…. This decline in the efficiency of mathematical algorithms accelerates when we go into chemistry.   The interactions between two molecules of any degree of complexity evades precise mathematical description … In biology, if we make exceptions of the theory of population and of formal genetics, the use of mathematics is confined to modeling a few local situations (transmission of nerve impulses, blood flow in the arteries, etc.)  of slight theoretical interest and limited practical value… The relatively rapid degeneration of the possible use of mathematics when one moves from physics to biology is certainly known among specialists, but there is a reluctance to reveal it to the public at large … The feeling of security given by the reductionist approach is in fact illusory.

My question after considering what Thom said about the sharp drop off in the efficiency of mathematical algorithms being "certainly known among specialists" and the "reductionist approach is in fact illusory" isn't at work in all of this wheel spinning and tail chasing in physics and cosmology.  The idea that because the mathematical description of the tiniest things (not even objects, really) that quantum physics studies CAN BE made to perform in many different ways  MUST MEAN that there are jillions of  actual, real universes which, by the way, no one knows how to verify in nature, and that that should be what physics does would certainly need to be considered in light of his declaration.  Have these physicists even considered that what they are doing is just playing around with equations and that the equations don't have creative power?   The Oxford based mathematician and Christian apologist, John Lennox, has pointed out that even many scientists have a totally irrational belief in the creative power of mathematics and the equations of physics that rational mathematicians would never claim in the modern period.  Yet even the biggest names in this physics-cosmology game fully believe that they do.**

I mean, IS THIS "REALLY KNOWN AMONG SPECIALISTS"?   AND IF IT IS, WHEN WERE THEY GOING TO LET THEIR BIGGEST FAN BOYS IN ON THAT TRADE SECRET?   I can absolutely guarantee you that the common received wisdom does insist that numbers have that creative power, something which, in my youth, we were taught had been given up not long after Euclid wrote down his geometric axioms and the rest of it.  The common superstition in such matters in the college educated population in 2016 is rather mind boggling, unless you believe, as I'm reluctantly coming to conclude that we are in a new dark age.  I'm afraid that this one is going to make the alleged darkness of the last one look brilliant by comparison.  In unawareness but, more so, in violence and the destruction it generates.  Thanks to science.

Some real, basic clarification of what science is and what it does needs to be done.   In the review of Richard Lewontin that I quoted from earlier in the week, he directly attributes the intellectual environment in which the skepticism of creationists has flourished to be in part self-created by scientists who have promoted half-baked ideas and claims that have not turned out to be true.   Considering the ignorant faith of so many that science has infinite power to reveal the truth and that we must all genuflect and accept, on faith and believe what a scientist says - no matter what the status of its verification in natures is - the capacity for bait and switches, once exceeded, the backlash will be fierce.  As I've also recently mentioned, science is going through a self-generated scandal in the failure to test its claims in many life-threatening ways, much to the surprise, obviously, of many of the greatest fans of science, who never seem to even read such prominent journals as Nature.

Back to Horgan who is obviously disappointed in the state of physics and who yearns for some new spark that will set things going in reality instead of the neo-medieval state that it seems to be stuck in. It looks to me like the ambitions of physicists and cosmologists may have been led astray by their own superficial grasp of the nature of what they do.  Applied science, ideally, is forced to face the nature of what they do through valid experiment and the process of attempted replication, but theoretical science, relieved of the necessity of backing up their publications with actually showing what they are claiming is true, looks, ever increasingly, as if it's gone on the ultimate snark hunt but which no one is allowed to question because Einstein, Planck, Bell, etc.  I wonder if the problem doesn't boil down to the philosophical ignorance or just the plain dishonesty that is a result of scientists having no real belief in morality at work.

Modern physics of this kind demands enormous public resources to operate, the CERN project is, I'm sure, hardly the end of what these Lords of Creation are going to dream up and demand be built at public expense as their right, using their repute to gull completely ignorant politicians to build ever bigger colliders and other toys for them.  In the wake of the much touted verification of the Higgs boson (something which Horgan, correctly, states was mere verification of the so-called completed standard model of physics, nothing really new) I found out that asking what practical use such multi-billion dollar discoveries were in real life would get a furious reaction.  But we don't really owe these guys that level of blind faith.  There are certainly more pressing needs for physics and other sciences than in allowing atheist-cosmologists to claim they have a complete theory that means that, in their favorite interpretation, God isn't needed to create the universe.  Of course, if they had enough philosophy, they would know that even if they knew every last fact about the physical universe, they would still not be able to refute a belief that God was the origin of that universe.  The first sentence of Genesis is quite able to contain anything they discover about the universe.

We should tell physicists and cosmologists and the rest of scientists that that's nothing they have to worry about, it's not in their syllabus.   Maybe they can get something done once they realize that.  I'm sorry, philosophy will be required.   It might keep them from wasting decades and decades.  I'm really convinced that most of this stuff is, really, motivated by atheism, not curiosity about the real universe.

*  Though I think any consideration of his career as a Pentagon nuclear weaponeer in reference to his atheism would be an interesting one.

**  For example, in this essay.

 The laws of physics can explain how the jet engine works, but not how it came to exist in the first place. It is self-evident that a jet engine could have not have been created by the laws of physics on their own – that task needed the intelligence and creative engineering work of Whittle. Indeed, come to think of it, the laws of physics plus Frank Whittle could not on their own produce a jet engine – there needs additionally to be some material around the place that is subject to those laws and that can be worked on by Whittle.

For, not only did scientists not put the universe there, neither did science or the laws of mathematical physics. Yet Hawking seems to think they did. In A Brief History of Time he hinted at this kind of explanation in suggesting that a theory might bring the universe into existence: ‘The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing? Is the unified theory so compelling that it brings about its own existence? Or does it need a creator, and, if so, does he have any other effect on the universe?’5

The idea of a theory or physical laws bringing the universe into existence strikes me as a serious misunderstanding of the nature of such laws – or am I missing something? Scientists expect to develop theories involving mathematical laws that describe natural phenomena, and have done so with spectacular success. However, the laws that we find cannot themselves even cause anything, let alone create it.

Note:  Sorry for the screwed up HTML in this post earlier in the morning.  It took some time to track it down and fix it.

1 comment:

  1. "His idea that, because a photon can be expressed in a perhaps infinite number of ways, mathematically, means that, not only must there be an actual universe in which that state of that photon has an actual existence. "

    Somewhere between Plato's metaphysics and Anselm's "proof" of God, with a strong side of Pythagorean mysticism.