Lost In Math

Sabine Hossenfelder

503.15 HOS BeavLib 2018

blog . wikipedia

Beauty (AKA "naturalness") is an arbitrary aesthetic of mathematics, and determines what is publishable for speculative "physics without data".

Of course, when there is no data, the number of seemingly consistent maps of missing data are infinite. "Rigor" means resemblance to previously accepted maps.

This book is very important, but seems a bit redundant and wandering. The author travelled to interview a handful of renowned theoretical physicists, such as Steven Weinberg at UT Austin, and it seems that most of these interviews were included, with some redundancy. The ideas are very good, and the prose is readable (always a surprise to a US monolingual; she writes better than I do).

My guess is that Dr. Hossenfelder will endure some withering attacks, and also find allies, who will share supporting examples and ideas. She will tighten her arguments, and produce a second book (or second edition) that will change science. Think of this book as "the Voyage of the Beagle"; worth reading, but foreshadowing "On the Origin of Species", which began the transformation of biology from "stamp collecting" to a quantitative, predictive science that is still accelerating almost two centuries later.

My blatherings, "inspired" by Lost in Math

Transforming physics from "theory collecting" into a disciplined search for neglected experimental evidence, maximizing "proven surprise per megabuck", will take us in directions that will shake science to its roots. There's a lot to learn, and we will not find it by staring into a stew of symbols. We've tried to recapitulate Einstein's monumental (and beautiful) reimagining of General Relativity in subsequent theories, but Newton/Maxwell/Einstein moments are rare, and are generated by observed anomalies (that is, differences between "common knowledge" and careful observation), not guessing.

Perhaps someday, we will not just "discover" the physics of our universe, but learn how to alter fundamental physics in very special circumstances. This is almost unimaginable to me, but altering species was unimaginable five centuries ago years ago, and DNA itself was unimaginable two centuries ago. To alter the fundamental fabric of universal law, we must find the loose threads at the empirical fringes of a very strong and complete fabric of reality. We will not find them by wishful thinking, navel gazing, word salad or symbol juggling. We will find them in phenomena, subtle but stubborn anomalies that refuse to fit any "beautiful" mathematical description. 99.9999% of the supposed loose threads will merely demonstrate individual ignorance and gullability. PLEASE do not share yours with me; I have my own anomalies to explore.

The rare and anomalous threads of the "next physics" will only be found by careful, sensitive, and repeated measurements, perhaps in regions of the universe that we won't access for millenia. Lets develop the tools to look; my guess is that these won't be bigger versions of old tools, like a 100 TeV accelerator, but sensors in the Oort cloud, or deep in the Sun's gravity well.

Hell, we can't even measure the gravitational constant G to seven decimal places; that surely requires a zero gee environment far from the Sun and the large planets, rather than torsion pendulums deep in a 1 gee field. Imagine measuring a subtly different "G" with identical experiments in seemingly identical "zero gee" environments; what might we learn from such ultra-small discrepancies? On Earth, experimenters can't even figure out why two different torsion pendulum varients yield 5 ppm different values of G.

So, by all means, let the symbol juggling theorists look for "beauty". They will mark comfortable territories that brave physical explorers will avoid. We will find the best anomalies in the wild and untamed jungle, where beauty theorists will never go.

References to check (notes written too fast ...)

Maudlin T 2015 "Why physics needs philosophy

I think the firewall paradox is simply based on a faulty proof. See Hossenvelder S 2015 "Disentangling the black hole vacuum" Phys. Rev. D 91:044014 arXiv:1401.0288 . Regardless of its status however, it's interesting to see what consequences my colleagues have drawn.

Banaji 2013 Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People Multco, Washco

LostInMath (last edited 2018-10-13 23:24:32 by KeithLofstrom)