The Scientific Lexicon: Theories, Laws and So Forth - Page 2

The Scientific Lexicon: Theories, Laws and So Forth

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This is a discussion on The Scientific Lexicon: Theories, Laws and So Forth within the Science and Technology forums, part of the Topics of Interest category; [strictly speaking, there's no such thing as a theory that's widely accepted before it's possible to test] I'm not sure ...

  1. #11

    [strictly speaking, there's no such thing as a theory that's widely accepted before it's possible to test]
    I'm not sure if string theory is considered widely accepted in the scientific community, but it certainly gets a lot of attention and seems to be getting a fair amount of acceptance from respected physicists. While at the same time, other respected scientists consider it "philosophy" at this point. This is a theory that is a long way from being tested, yet many universities are now offering courses on string theory in their science departments. Things like this just make it all more confusing.

  2. #12

    Quote Originally Posted by marsal View Post
    I'm not sure if string theory is considered widely accepted in the scientific community, but it certainly gets a lot of attention and seems to be getting a fair amount of acceptance from respected physicists. While at the same time, other respected scientists consider it "philosophy" at this point. This is a theory that is a long way from being tested, yet many universities are now offering courses on string theory in their science departments. Things like this just make it all more confusing.
    String "Theory" is a bit of a misnomer. A theory is basically just a hypothesis that gained backup by empirical evidence. In case of String "Theory" the latter is still missing.

    Anyway, String Theory has received a very mixed reaction in the theoretical physicist community. There are scientists who argue that it is inherently untestable, i.e. unscientifitic. Renounced scientists like Lee Smolin think that string theory is indeed a dead end. Guys like Ed Witten (arguably the greatest theoretical physicist of our age) have spend years remodeling string theory (in his case into M-Theory) and obviously believe that it is a viable option. So, there is no general consens on the topic.

    Basically, what makes a few physicists partial to it, is, that it provides a theoretical model that describes the 4 main forces (electrmagnetism, weak force, strong force and gravitation) in a succint concept. So far physicists made contributions to understand 3 main forces as a unified model, except gravity. As of now, we have no theory that can unifiy general relativity and quantum mechanics/quantum field theory.

    As string theory seems to provide this unification, it has been pursued and endorsed by many notable physicists. However, this does not imply that it is correct. It is indeed strange that a hypothesis, that has been around for decades remains untested. And a test would be the main objectve to discern the validity of it. Perhaps it is really just a dead end.

    Stuff like higher dimensions may be beyond humans grasp to falsify. There was actually an experiment conducted in CERN that ought to test wether higher dimensions might have some sort of "effect" on "our" dimensions. It was negative and is deemed by some scientiest as the sole empirical test String Theory has faced (and failed). All in all the situation with the testabilty of string theory is a major concern for physicists. Providing hard evidence for or against it, might change the landscape of modern physics.

    And if you want to explore String Theory try Barton Zwiebachs "A first course in string theory". Most textbooks about string theory are graduate level stuff and deman a myriad topics of higher mathematics like algebraic topology. I haven´t read that much of this text, but it seems very accessible for anyone with a moderate knowledge in undergraduate math/physics. It is generally considered the easiest introduction.

  3. #13

    It's easier to find widely accepted theories that proved false if you go back further in time....basically all of ancient Greek science has been replaced. But the feed-back loops in the scientific method (well shown in the diagram) make this increasingly less likely.

    That's not to say we are converging on the Truth of the Universe but merely that most of what we know gains more credibility as we add more self-consistent knowledge to the system.

    So the more modern tendency ...in the more formally developed sciences....is not so much to replace theories as much as to supersede them. In the less formal sciences like biology and especially in the "soft" social sciences you will still find turnover.

    For instance neurobiology is a field filled with unwarranted assumptions (conjectures) such as the "fact" that the mental representation of objects of perception is rooted in the neurochemistry of the brain. You see this commonly in the "chemical imbalance" theory of just about every major mental disorder -- great theory for the drugs companies though.

    In fact it is unknown how the brain represents these states....on the level of neurons, systems of neurons, virtual "programs" running on the neural substrate, some kind of sub-cellular QM mechanism, etc. Yet much of psychology and medicine is being built upon this bed of sand.

    Another example is in the field of Paleoanthropology. There have been several competing theories on the evolution of humanity. Molecular biology started to add data to this field in the 90s which overturned some previously widely held ideas. There is still much debate but it seems the "out of Africa" hypothesis is the current consensus.

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  5. #14

    Quote Originally Posted by Orchidion View Post
    String "Theory" is a bit of a misnomer. A theory is basically just a hypothesis that gained backup by empirical evidence. In case of String "Theory" the latter is still missing.

    Anyway, String Theory has received a very mixed reaction in the theoretical physicist community. There are scientists who argue that it is inherently untestable, i.e. unscientifitic. Renounced scientists like Lee Smolin think that string theory is indeed a dead end. Guys like Ed Witten (arguably the greatest theoretical physicist of our age) have spend years remodeling string theory (in his case into M-Theory) and obviously believe that it is a viable option. So, there is no general consens on the topic.

    Basically, what makes a few physicists partial to it, is, that it provides a theoretical model that describes the 4 main forces (electrmagnetism, weak force, strong force and gravitation) in a succint concept. So far physicists made contributions to understand 3 main forces as a unified model, except gravity. As of now, we have no theory that can unifiy general relativity and quantum mechanics/quantum field theory.

    As string theory seems to provide this unification, it has been pursued and endorsed by many notable physicists. However, this does not imply that it is correct. It is indeed strange that a hypothesis, that has been around for decades remains untested. And a test would be the main objectve to discern the validity of it. Perhaps it is really just a dead end.

    Stuff like higher dimensions may be beyond humans grasp to falsify. There was actually an experiment conducted in CERN that ought to test wether higher dimensions might have some sort of "effect" on "our" dimensions. It was negative and is deemed by some scientiest as the sole empirical test String Theory has faced (and failed). All in all the situation with the testabilty of string theory is a major concern for physicists. Providing hard evidence for or against it, might change the landscape of modern physics.

    And if you want to explore String Theory try Barton Zwiebachs "A first course in string theory". Most textbooks about string theory are graduate level stuff and deman a myriad topics of higher mathematics like algebraic topology. I haven´t read that much of this text, but it seems very accessible for anyone with a moderate knowledge in undergraduate math/physics. It is generally considered the easiest introduction.
    My whole department is -devoted- to these beautiful but scientifically unprovable theories.
    We even named the department after them!: Mathematics

    But seriously the down side of string theory that I see is for graduate students who get caught up in it and are left holding the bag when (if) it finally gets shot down or grinds to a halt because of lack of progress.

    But this kind of style of theoretical physics....using mathematical beauty as an Ansatz....it has worked before albeit in much more conservative contexts.

  6. #15

    Quote Originally Posted by azdahak View Post
    My whole department is -devoted- to these beautiful but scientifically unprovable theories.
    We even named the department after them!: Mathematics
    Lol. Hey, nothing against mathematics. I love me some topology and real analysis.

    But on a serious note, mathematics itself does not make statements about nature. Once you have a priori proven a mathematicatal conjecture, via the stringent use of logic and a basis of evident axioms, it is enough to show that the conjecture is true. String theory might display inner stringence, but this does not matter as far as it claims pertain to the empirical world. I personally will not grant string theory anything until it comes up with potential experiments to make it testable.

    If I may ask, in which field of mathematics did you specialise?

    But seriously the down side of string theory that I see is for graduate students who get caught up in it and are left holding the bag when (if) it finally gets shot down or grinds to a halt because of lack of progress.
    Yup. That is the number one reason why I will not specialise in string theory. Quantum Gravity on the other hand has a lot of potential (no pun intended). (OK, it was a pun and the only reason I brought it up was to make a pun)

    But this kind of style of theoretical physics....using mathematical beauty as an Ansatz....it has worked before albeit in much more conservative contexts.
    Zombie-Dirac? Nah seriously, I can see what you mean. Theoretical physics has to entertain seemingly unlikely and speculative ideas all the time. Even though many of them turned out to be wrong, they might haven given rise to better models, one way or another. I have to think of Weyls unified field theory which turrned out to make heavily inaccurate predictions and was soon discarded, but turned out to use an approach that happened to be suitable for quantum field theory.

    I am afraid that string theory is more metaphysics then physics.

  7. #16

    So a scientific theory does not necessarily affix an idea firmly in the field of science for some scientists. I asked a physicist once if time could "possibly" be a construct of life. To him, this wasn't even a question for a scientist to even consider. He said that was a philosophy question. Yet string theory and the possibility of a holographic universe seem to be open to discussion amongst scientists now. I personally think the idea of "time being a construct of life" would fit very neatly into both of those ideas. I guess my problem with science is that there doesn't seem to be clear boundaries on topics of discussion...and different scientists seem to have different boundaries. Hmmm...which forum should I post this question in :)

  8. #17

    Quote Originally Posted by marsal View Post
    So a scientific theory does not necessarily affix an idea firmly in the field of science for some scientists. I asked a physicist once if time could "possibly" be a construct of life. To him, this wasn't even a question for a scientist to even consider. He said that was a philosophy question. Yet string theory and the possibility of a holographic universe seem to be open to discussion amongst scientists now. I personally think the idea of "time being a construct of life" would fit very neatly into both of those ideas. I guess my problem with science is that there doesn't seem to be clear boundaries on topics of discussion...and different scientists seem to have different boundaries. Hmmm...which forum should I post this question in :)
    The difference is that string theory is a hypothesis based on observation, that makes predictions, and is, in theory, falsifiable. The idea that time is a construct of sentience offers absolutely nothing, other than philosophical musing.


     
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