Wednesday, June 25, 2008

When did deep theory become synonimous with inane sophistry? The Rookie Error

In this article from that bastion of learned discourse, Discover Magazine, a physicist is interviewed regarding his 'scientific' theory that the universe is actually made of mathematics, or as he puts it, "there is only mathematics; that is all that exists." At first, this article caught my eye because i thought/hoped that he was making a clumsy epistemological statement regarding the necessity for formal, i.e. mathematical, explanations of physical phenomena, and that heuristic reasoning should be appreciated for its utility in guiding avenues of inquiry but should not be trusted if it can't be formalized. I had even naively hoped that, en route, he was simply going to point out that it is unwise to confer metaphysical significance to the various latent (explanatory) variables of a given theory. Or even to commit to a single theory but rather to accept them in proportion to their relative likelihood given observations, i.e. take a fully Bayesian approach.

Unfortunately, i was wrong on all counts. Honestly, i should know by now that far too many scientists really do believe that the latent variables of their theories have metaphysical significance. So much so that when fundamental theories begin to posit the existence of increasingly abstract entities, at least one physicist is forced to conclude that abstraction is the only thing with metaphysical significance and that all abstract theories (though presumably just the self consistent ones) give rise to universes in which those theories hold.

The article even includes a direct quote which I always affiliate with this kind of pseudo scientific cosmology. Regarding the level 2 multiverse: "No, they share the same space, but we could never communicate with them because we are all being swept away from each other as space expands faster than light can travel." Untestable is unscientific. The interviewer seems to sense that something is fishy and does ask about testable predictions to which the interviewee responds by saying yes there are testable predictions but then, instead of listing any, he effectively seems to say that all we have to do is figure out how things look from outside the universe....unfortunately, the interview ended before we could be told how to accomplish that without firing up a doobie.

Seriously, we need to remember that science is nothing more than prediction and data compression. At best we might say that the Data, being immutable, does have some special significance, but metaphysical significance, even of the data, is irrelevant to scientific inquiry. As such, we might as well take Occam's advice and shave away that pretentious beard, it looks better in a humanities department anyway.

1 comment:

SuperFlunky said...

Its been suggested that i was a little harsh with this post. On the reread i have to agree i was perhaps a bit intemperate, so i've changed the title.