Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Physics versus astrology

We all know how mainstream institutions encourage us to think within boxes – boxes they control. They keep their mystique in these boxes, so control the box and you control the mystique. It’s been called credentialism, but I prefer the box idea because it seems to be joined at the hip to box-ticking.

So what about people-boxes such as physicist and astrologer?

Well one is a scientist following the scientific method and one isn’t according to official boxes. But there are numerous slants on what constitutes the scientific method. In my view there is no such thing as the scientific method, but for the sake of our boxy culture, allow me to assume there is. Try this :-

Any scientific statement must in principle be experimentally falsifiable.

Apart from that statement you might add, but please be patient while I cobble the argument together.

How about the multiverse theories pursued by some physicists? These theories are not experimentally falsifiable, so do we make an exception for physicists here? If we do, then the scientific method goes out of the window. Baby, bathwater, soap, tub – the lot.

I have no wish to support the antics of astrologers, denigrate physics or downplay the art of speculation here. I merely wish to poke a stick at the activities of some physicists and the comfy box they inhabit.

Because science frequently violates its own rules.

No ifs or buts or caveats – it does. It’s a fact – freely available data. Multiverse theories are examples of such a violation. String theories are too. So how can we classify multiverse theorists as scientists?

As of course we do.

We class physicists as scientists and whatever they do professionally we class as science. The box they inhabit is made from their qualifications and membership of professional bodies and institutions, but that’s it. Once safely snuggled inside the box, they are in it for life if they so choose.

But what about the entertaining aspect of the multiverse? Because in spite of all the TV programmes on exotic physics clearly intended to entertain and in spite of all those paperback books with the same intent, we don’t classify multiverse physicists as entertainers, do we? Not even Brian Cox.

We leave them in the physicist box, presumably because otherwise it would spoil the entertainment. Does it matter if they can’t support their speculations with experiments? Is the work of multiverse physicists still more scientific than that of astrologers?

If we apply the above rule then no – obviously not. But although astrologers make falsifiable predictions, physicists can be more entertaining.

Sources. My post may not be too serious, but modern physics does have issues with verifiability. These two books on the subject are well worth reading.

Roger Schlafly – How Einstein Ruined Physics.
Lee Smolin – The Trouble With Physics.

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