This site comprises a devastating critique of an entire branch of physics that deals with advanced theory. This is not science as described earlier, or as practiced in other disciplines. This requires that we re-examine the nature of science as practiced in this ‘indiscipline’, and contrast it to the way we expect science to act.
This involves revisiting our earlier analysis of science, reminding ourselves how poorly theoretical physics stands up to our scrutiny, and looking at the very human traits that have caused this science to stray.
I have argued elsewhere on this site that science has the capacity to be clear, comprehensible and easy to communicate, and that this is at its most effective when it involves focussing relentlessly on ‘how things work’, the causal connections we infer and hopefully identify. There are nevertheless two aspects that require us to be a little more circumspect.
The first is consistency. A science that is entirely consistent is a dead science. We will always be looking under new rocks and picking at the fabric of what we have already achieved. This is because science is about curiosity, because our knowledge is fallible and because we must therefore seek to challenge it. Science is at its best when it tells us the opposite of what we think we know, but it has a responsibility to come to such conclusions in a properly scientific manner.
Challenge and contradiction are a part of this process, often an essential part. But the answers that science offers must ultimately be consistent. It is not that physics must be deadpan and bland, but that physics has got this the wrong way round. Discrepancy is part of the process of getting things right, it cannot be part of the conclusion.
There is deep disagreement in science over the position and importance accorded to causality on this site. Science does not require that every scientist reason deterministically. Diverse views and multiple approaches are important to our success. Serendipity gave us our first antibiotic, and dogged and systematic examination gave us more. Causal reasoning explains the origin of species, but we properly investigate its molecular mechanisms with the tools of probability and statistics.
The same dichotomy is seen in some aspects of physics: we apply probabilistic analysis to the motion of molecules in gasses and as a consequence understand pressure deterministically.
But as with consistency, theoretical physics fails to see this clearly and muddles the different facets. It reasons deterministically, but only in isolated patches, while embracing the belief that only probabilism works. Each of these runs counter to what works in science, and the negative effects of these practices are exposed across this site.
Determinism may be philosophically problematic, but deterministic reasoning is profoundly important in understanding and explanation.
The failure of authority
Scientists achieve authority through knowledge and clarity of exposition; eminence follows authority rather than the other way round. Science is not an authoritarian activity, but a science needs authorities as part of a system of weeding out the intellectual chaff. Physics lacks authorities in the area of core theory, with one unhappy exception.
No one in physics today claims to understand its theories in a way that is comprehensible to its public and paymasters. It avows that this is a reflection of the complex and capricious nature of the Universe. I have shown on this site that this view is fundamentally flawed.
Instead, its authority is Albert Einstein, and he is unfortunately no longer available for questioning. Queries and challenges are too often answered by quoting or referring to Einstein, but this gives physics the appearance of a religion, together with its reluctance to question and adapt.
Philosophy and psychology
When you react to science on the basis of religion or philosophy, as in the virulent reactions to Copernicus, Galileo and Darwin, then you do bad science. With the advent of relativity and quantum theory, physics was dragged into the realm of philosophy: the wave without a medium of propagation; the photon that has and has not arrived; the (feline) superposition of life and death; the importance of the observer, muddying objectivity with subjectivity; light that is both localised and spread out; the instantaneous transfer of information; interference effects with individual particles; the appearance and disappearance of stars and multiple universes; holes in space and time; the Large Hadron Collider considered to be influencing itself from the future.
All nonsense, but science only defeats non-science when it provides an understanding in place of unbridled speculation. Whether the model offered here is that understanding is yet to be decided.
The underlying philosophical concern is whether you embrace determinism as the basis for effective science, or reject it. And that philosophical rejection appears to have a psychological basis in the sense of self. Determinism tells us that everything that happens follows in an essentially simple manner from what went before, and this contradicts our sense of having and exercising free will.
The psychological acceptance or rejection of determinism might be related to the psychological attachment that is evident to light as a wave or light as a particle. The former route has been taken on this site, and the latter deconstructively critiqued as offering no coherent deterministic explanation.
The sociology of bad physical science is equally instructive. How do you organise a science worldwide that behaves in important respects counter to the methods and principles established over four centuries by that same science? I don’t entirely know the answer, but I do know that it is a unique event in modern science, and that sociologists should move fast to study it because in science understanding can wipe away failed ideas very quickly, and at some point soon that will happen in physics.
Critics of modern physics often liken it to a religion, but if this is so, then it is a devastating criticism of religion. It is possible to demonstrate, scientifically and logically, the sloppy thinking and unscientific behaviour in physics, so to tar religion with the same brush is a serious charge.
In physics, we see a long process of indoctrination into unusual (and essentially daft) ideas. Truth by repetition – very anti-scientific. Questioning and dissent are strongly discouraged from as early as age 16. Critics are given short shrift, and countered with appeals to authority, sarcasm and disdain – visit any physics discussion website if you doubt me. On TV and in lectures, physicists will bend the truth to deflect criticism or the appearance of (genuine) contradiction.
Modern authority tacitly supports these authoritarian and illegitimate scientific and pedagogic practices. By what it chooses to fund and what it chooses to print it suppresses dissidence and any attempt by those in the profession to revisit and examine those theories that have caused the problem. Instead it actively supports building on theories that are readily shown to be flawed. This is the politics of self-protection in place of the science of investigation.
Critics are often just as bad or worse than those they seek to correct, and that seems to be used to justify this blinkered refusal to go back and make a better fist of getting things right.
There is enough social science here for several textbooks.
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