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There was a Nova TV show on recently about string theory (which has evolved into something called M theory). I don't see how any of you materialists can hang on to the belief that science already understands the laws of physics, or that reality is ultimately constructed out of subatomic particles.
String theory and M theory have not been proven by experiments, but physicists at Cern and elsewhere are working on trying to gather some evidence. I think a lot of materialists are going to be eating their hats one of these days.
Even if they don't find any evidence soon, watching shows like this (and reading all the physics for the layperson books) should make any materialist stop and wonder if their beliefs might be simplistic and limited.

The Real PC
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Forgive me for missing the previous discussion, but in what way are you using the term "materialist"?

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

I just saw that program last night - it was past my bedtime but I couldn't turn it off. Very good program. I also have read a book about strings as well.

I don't know why you are trying to turn this into a religous debate.  I think strings are just another theory of matter.  Along the lines of Einstein's energy = matter.  This is just another level of detail in finding the ultimate (as far as we can tell) manifestion of matter.  First it was atoms, then protrons, electrons, then quarks and now strings.

DJ
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Real Science = Doesn't Know Everything.

Mr Jack
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

The Real PC: I'm beginning to think that Bob Noxious - the music guy - wasn't the most annoying person at your workplace.

I watched that Nova program, and while there are some physicists who were scientifically skeptical about string theory, no one on the show came off with your attitude.

Builder
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Yes - as DJ said, string theory does not displace classical particle physics, but rather it's a model that unifies the different types of particles we know about, predicts what happens at higher energies and at shorter distances.  It proposes that particles are 1-dimensional loops, not 0-dimensional points; and that at the subatomic level space has either 10 or 26 dimensions.

As such, it is an evolution, not a revolution in thought.

Alyosha`
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

I prefer to adhere to theories and forego beliefs.  So much harder to change beliefs.

B#
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Real PC, I do believe you're setting up a strawman. I can't recall having encountered any materialist who even remotely believes that science already understands the laws of physics, let alone is "hanging onto" that belief.

But the reason I'm really responding is to urge people interested in string theory and so on to pick up Brian Greene's book "The Elegant Universe". Although I didn't see the show, I did read the book last weekend, and given the sticker on the front that says "A major Nova special on PBS," I'm guessing there's some connection ;-)

Actually, it's not entirely fair to say "I read the book last weekend". More accurately, I read about the first half and skimmed the second half to get a feel for things, because I know I'm going to need to go back and read it again much more intensively to extract a fuller understanding. Or perhaps it was because I was nursing my third pint of Guinness by that point. Anyway, if you're looking for an apparently solid (at least to a non-physicist like me) yet still relatively accessible introduction to the various forms of string theory, an understanding of why they seem to require 10- or 11-dimensional spaces and involve Calabi-Yau manifolds, how they attempt to reconcile quantum mechanics with general relativity, implications for cosmology, and other juicy topics, it's an excellent overview.

Question for folks who saw the show: Is Brian Greene the next Carl Sagan, in terms of his ability to be a charismatic popularizer of science?

John C.
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Theres a great transcript from an old BB2 Horizon program from 2002.  It reads like Douglas Adams in places:

MICHIO KAKU: There was a war between the tenth dimension and the eleventh dimension. In the 10-dimensional bandwagon we had string theorists, hundreds of them, working to tease out all the properties of the known universe from one framework: a vibrating string and then we had this small band of outcasts, outlaws, working in the eleventh dimension.

NARRATOR: While String Theory was in its ascendancy, few took seriously the eleventh dimension, but the super gravity guys never gave up hope.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/horizon/2001/parallelunitrans.shtml

I wouldnt put to much faith in these guys.

Ged Byrne
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Uh, where do the Red Lectroids figure into this?

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, November 05, 2003


Still working at Yoyodyne.

John BigBoote (pronounced BigBootay)
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Laugh while you can, monkeyboy!

Dr. Emilio Lizardo
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

One of the important things about string theory and M theory is the idea of higher level dimensions. In M theory you have membranes, or branes, existing on the various dimensional levels. Witten, the M theory genius, says the M stands for Magic, Mystery, or Matrix. Please don't try to convince me there is nothing mysterious or amazing about all this.
In case you know anything about Bohm's theory of implicate orders (and Bohm is one of the mystical physicists, by the way), M theory seems to be compatible.

The Real PC
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

What's that watermelon doing there?

Grumpy Old-Timer
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

I'll tell you later.

Justin Johnson
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Actually, the "M" stands for "mother of theories", which relates the four or five variants of superstring theory into one cohesive whole.

[ Source: http://superstringtheory.com/basics/basic6.html ]

If some advocates want to sex it up in the popular science world by using the words "mystical", "matrix" or "mystery" instead, that's their perrogative; personally I think those words obscure rather than clarify what's going on underneath the hood.

Whether it's an "amazing" theory is a bit of a subjective judgement.  Likely you think it's "mysterious" only because it's new - much like quantum mechanics and wave-particle duality was considered strange and amazing before being so widely accepted.  Some folks like to ooh and aah over the latest theories and ideas - that's their right.

Alyosha`
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Real PC -

Is everything you learn evidence for the ignorance of those who disagree with you?

Devil's Advocate
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

[If some advocates want to sex it up in the popular science world by using the words "mystical", "matrix" or "mystery"]

Those were the exact words of Witten, on the Nova show, which I guess you didn't see. Since he named it M theory, I guess he knows what the M stands for!
And anyone who doesn't thing M theory is mysterious is just a die-hard reductionist.

The Real PC
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Tally:

Alyosha - 2
Real PC - 0

Builder
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

http://fusionanomaly.net/mtheory.html

> Witten calls this deeper understanding of strings "M theory," with M standing, he says wryly, for "mystery, magic or matrix, my three favorite words."

http://online.itp.ucsb.edu/online/plecture/witten/

>  "M" stands for magic, mystery, or matrix, according to taste. Some of these developments will be explained in this lecture.

Builder & Aloysha - 0
Real PC - 3

heh heh! Suck it up Aloysha and Builder!

Ricardo Montenegro
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

"And anyone who doesn't thing M theory is mysterious is just a die-hard reductionist".

Wow.  I've been given a label.  That's *almost* a refutation!

"M" stands for magic, mystery, or matrix, according to taste.

Ah, well, then, if it's according to taste, then my taste is "mother of all theories".

(Also, Alyosha`s Law of Online References states that any URL that egregious violates well-accepted UI principles (e.g., ransom-note fonts and animated GIFs) is to be discounted automatically =-).

Alyosha`
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

I had read Elegant Universe some years ago, and found it fascinating.  Anyhow, some time ago, had asked our resident physicist (PhD from U. Chicago) for his opinion on string theory.

He was very luke warm, and his answer was something like:

"While it may be an interesting theory, string theory has yet to predict any phenomena and has shown no applicable use.  Unlike quantum mechanics and relativity, you can get along quite nicely without string theory.  There may be paradoxes that exist in the models of quantum mechanics and relativity, but they don't begin to compare to the self conflicting contradictions that string theory brings in."

I'm in no position to question support or contradict his statement and opinions, but he was a skeptic.

hoser
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

String theory and M theory are new. It's probably hard to get evidence for them. Just give it a chance, keep an open mind. Narrow-mindedness is not scientific!
Some people just like to stick with the old ideas. You know, like the southern guys with their confederate flags. Sometimes you have to upgrade.

The Real PC
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

And how many years did slavery exist under YOUR flag?

Confederate Dean Fan
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Sorry, I'm just feeling like an a-hole today.

When someone starts a topic with a chip on their shoulder, I'm going to discount everything they say.  Right or wrong, it's just my nature. Then I remembered that The Real PC was the guy with no cajones that whined about his cube neighbor's music for days on end, and I decided he was definitely a flake.

Alyosha, on the other hand, made several unheated, objective comments - much more my style. So while The Real PC argued belief, Alyosha argued science.

I don't know anything about String Theory or M Theory other than what I saw on Nova the other night. But I do remember that many of the physicists conjectured that even if String Theory were true, there may be no way to test it.  And if you can't test it, then it's just philosophy.

Builder
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

The programme I think was also transmitted on Channel 4 (UK) at the weekend.  It was a reasonable attempt (apart from the interminable so Einstein, blah blah blah blah for the umpteenth time).  There's another one this Sunday so maybe its been split up into 3 hour programs.

Unfortunately they did a really bad job at explaining how strings became superstrings and so acted as particles and waves and set up the atomic system.  It kind of just is man.

The one thing they didn't say was that string theory meant they lived in some non-material cubby hole.  Strings aren't anywhere else they're right here and they compose everything (according to the theory).

As was mentioned also in the programme there's not a whole lot you can do to set up a proof or disprove experiment on this there's no observational way to do that and there's no side effect ("oh look a particle of smoke moved Professor"), that couldn't also be described in non string terms.

So it becomes an ontological philosophical theory.

Now if they could discover the 'address' of a string I'd be seriously impressed and we could go ahead and use the theory without caring whether it was true or not and translocate ourselves wherever we liked in the cosmos.  Oh and those of us that can do the 'rewrite a string backwards in its own space' would earn beaucoup moolah.

Simon Lucy
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

"Some people just like to stick with the old ideas. You know, like the southern guys with their confederate flags."

Is there a variant of Godwin's law that allows substituting confederate flags and slavery for Hitler?

Jim Rankin
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

ps If there were all the Democratic presidential debates would be shut down right now, not that this has anything to do with anything.

Jim Rankin
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

> And if you can't test it, then it's just philosophy.

So macroevolution is a philosophy, right, since you can't test it?

Skeptic
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Nah, it's a reference to presidential candidate Howard Dean's recent comment that he wanted to be the candidate for not only northern liberals but "people who have a Confederate flag on the back of their pickup truck".

That gave the other nine candidates ammunition to attack Dean - I'm not sure why, since you only have to listen to Dean for five minutes to find out he's no closet racist, but at any rate some folks down south equate the Confederate flag with the Nazi swastika as a symbol of racism.  At worst he can be accused of a bad choice of words, but the point is pretty clear - he wants to be the candidate for all Americans, not just ivory-tower intellectual liberals.

(sorry.  Another Dean fan up here.  We now return you to your normally scheduled programming)

Alyosha`
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Jim... Salad Cream!

B#
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

[he wants to be the candidate for all Americans, not just ivory-tower intellectual liberals.]

Yeah he wants to represent the really dumb guys also. The ones who don't even realize the civil war is over.

The Real PC
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

The Nova show last night said they can test M theory by seeing if a graviton escapes our membrane into a higher dimension as a result of a particle collision. They are working on this experiment at Cern and elsewhere, I think. They will know if a graviton suddenly disappears, I guess. Graviton strings are not anchored in the membrane, but other particles are. So gravitons, according to the theory, should be able to escape.
Lots of physicists are working on string/M theory now and it is a very hot topic, according to the show. So the progress might be pretty fast. Of course the theory could turn out to be a dead end. But that doesn't seem too likely considering the math makes sense to so many physicists (I have no idea what the math is, I have to admit. But neither do most of you here I bet).

The Real PC
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

And how would they know if a "graviton suddenly disappears" seeing that gravitons are purely hypothetical and have never been detected in the first place?

Bill Nye
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

I think we just have to trust the physicists to figure that out.

The Real PC
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Suppose they do find evidence to support string theory.  Then what?  Then it won't be mysterious, it will just be another materialist  theory along with Newton, Maxwell, QM, etc.

Z
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

A graviton

Done gone away

Why that materialist

Had led us astray

Salad Cream

Burma-Shave
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

whoah. genius.

ktm
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Sting theory is hardly new; it's certainly older than some of the posters to this forum.

There is a serious problem with experiments in particle physics and any attempts to prove the Unified Theory, and that is that the costs get higher and higher, and the real word benefits get lower and lower. And even on a theoretical basis it seems that its the frontier being pushed further back, rather than definite answers being round the corner.

The suggestion that strng theory is a smack in the ey for "die-hard materialists" is a strange one. One would have thought that Quantum Physics would have been quite strange enough.

And one is literally losing a sense of proportion here. Standard "mechanistic" physics and chemistry works fine for the atomic and molecular level, which are the units matter on this planet are arranged on.

It would annoy Real PC much too much if I suggested that the M really stood for Materialism, so instead I will compromise and suggest Mayonnaise.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, November 06, 2003

Yes quantum physics does make one question materialism. What about the idea that two particles can still influence each other even when there is nothing to connect them?
As for materialist explanations still working on our level -- well that's why some people still hang on to materialism. But that is not the underlying construction of reality. Reality is not built from solid little particles, and that idea is the foundation of materialism.

The Real PC
Thursday, November 06, 2003

By the way, I found a page on skepdic last night that I think you (SJ) will like. I'll try to find it again later.

The Real PC
Thursday, November 06, 2003

"Now if they could discover the 'address' of a string I'd be seriously impressed "

Heck... you can even do that in cobol

SET STRING-POINTER TO ADDRESS OF STRING.

Joe AA
Thursday, November 06, 2003

A call for evidence

Is just spurious

We'll believe

If it's mysterious

Salad Cream

Burma-Shave
Thursday, November 06, 2003

I knew someone would take me literally...

Simon Lucy
Thursday, November 06, 2003

"Reality is not built from solid little particles, and that idea is the foundation of materialism".

BZZZZZZT!  Wrong.  Thanks for playing.

Schroedinger showed that matter is not comprised of "solid little particles" in 1925, and materialists have had no problem accepting that.

Alyosha`
Thursday, November 06, 2003

So how do they define "matter?"

The Real PC
Thursday, November 06, 2003

M = E/(C^2)

Devil's Advocate
Thursday, November 06, 2003

http://en2.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matter breaks it down pretty well: matter is comprised of particles (specifically, fermions) which are believed to be fundamental (you can't split them) and exclusive (no two particles can share the same quantum state, according to the Pauli Exclusion Principle).

The Rutherford/Bohr view of matter as "solid little particles" is a bit off in that particles do not have a fixed size, nor even a certain location (the uncertainty in a particle's position multiplied by the uncertainty of the particle's momentum is always less than some constant: Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle). 

Alyosha`
Thursday, November 06, 2003

Bohr also fell in love with his 'planetary' theory a kind of post-modern version of the Qabbalah, As Above, So Below; in that he considered the atomic structure to mirror the planetary structure of a solar system (vice versa) and in this way gravity could be considered a special form of the electro-magnetic bonds presumed in the atomic system.

It kind of lost favour both with QM and the discovery of the problematic strong and weak atomic forces.

And we're still stuck with describing gravity and how it works, gravitons are just a simile for a black box or some kind of universal constant.

It will no doubt turn out to be entirely different and simpler and twisted at the same time. 

We'll still be living in a Material World though.

Simon Lucy
Thursday, November 06, 2003

One of the leading minds in the field of philosophy of science, Madonna Ciccone, said it most succinctly in 1984, "We are living in a material world.  And I, am a material girl".

Alyosha`
Thursday, November 06, 2003

[We'll still be living in a Material World though.]

The word "material" is pretty useless. According to David Bohm's theory, the matter of our universe unfolds from the matter of a higher dimensional level (which unfolds from a still higher level, and so on). His theory could be called materialist, because everything that exists on all these infinite levels is some form of "matter."
According to digital physics, everything is made out of information. However, you could easily say that information is a kind of matter.
I mean, it's ridiculous to say you either are or are not a materialist. Everything boils down to some kind of relationship. Nothing is "solid" when you look closely enough.
The word "matter" got its meaning long before relativity. It's time to get some better terminology for what we're trying to talk about.

The Real PC
Thursday, November 06, 2003

Anyone can create a lexicon of bullshit, combine it with a littany of unverifiable conjecture, and when questioned regarding its verification and application merely claim that the skeptics merely "don't get it".

BFD.

nat ersoz
Thursday, November 06, 2003

Information is fundamentally matter.

So is everything else.

That is the point.

And at no

Point

Does the need

Arise for anything

That does not matter.

Simon Lucy
Thursday, November 06, 2003

The original post reminded me of an important distinction that people often forget.  Science is not about faith, and blindly believing what other scientists have "proven."  Science is about the method of learning about things, and attempting to convince yourself that your ideas match your observations.  Real scientists should not be challenged by new ideas that come along, if the results are achieved using the scientific method.

Science doesn't claim to know all there is to know about things.  It only attempts to use strict methods and observation to describe the phenomenon we see.

People didn't dismiss Newton when Einstein and others discovered that things aren't as simple as Newton thought.  Newton's theories and discoveries are still important, and they are still useful to describe what is happening on a large scale, even if we now believe that this is not telling us the whole story.

Mike McNertney
Thursday, November 06, 2003

If "material" is a useless word, then it's even less informative to say that everything is made out of "information".  I can point to a lump of matter.  I cannot point to a piece of information, unless it has been conveniently encoded onto some material media. 

We've used the word "matter" for a long time now -- and we're still refering to the same thing now as we did back then.  Everyone knows what I'm talking when I use the word "matter" - I'm talking about stuff like protons and electrons and tau neutrinos and so on.  The only thing that's changed over the years is that we have a better understanding of the low-level details of how matter behaves at the subatomic level.

Alyosha`
Thursday, November 06, 2003

Information, unlike matter, typically has neither mass nor energy.

Devil's Advocate
Friday, November 07, 2003

We don't know what information is. Nor do we know what matter is. (If you look closely, it's mostly made of absolutely nothing.) You can say it's a form of energy (Einstein did) but we don't know what energy is either. A lot of physicists would like to know more, especially re. information, which is a very hot topic right now.

If you like to have your head spun, check out the Nov 1 issue of New Scientist, where one of the founding fathers of string theory talks about strings, the cosmological constant and the anthropic principle. A good read. If you like that sort of thing.

Dave Hallett
Saturday, November 08, 2003

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