reply to post by mb2591
Sorry, I was temporarily only able to access ATS by IPhone so couldn't respond properly, either to SkepticOverlord or the people who think that I am
giving this guy credit where it is not due.
The issue here is not that I think the guy could not answer those questions. I'm sure he could. The issue is that he is deliberately not doing so.
It's not as clear with his answer regarding the integral that was originally posted, but it was blatantly clear with his answer to the question about
the double slit experiment.
He actually knows a *lot* about physics. But he's deliberately answering in an evasive way because at the level of someone working in the field the
answers to the given questions are not what you might expect them to be from a low level understanding of physics.
At the level this guy works, the real world is described by probability distributions. We try to simplify things when giving an introductory
explanation of physics by speaking about actual waves and particles. But at the quantum level and relativistic scales, the ordinary intuitions we have
simply don't work any more. These are only simplified intuitions, not the realities. The real world is described by Hilbert spaces and Riemannian
manifolds, Gaussian connections, and various generalisations of Calaubi-Yau 3-folds. You can't describe these things to a journalist or write a
popular book on the subject or a wikipedia article that people will understand if you use this kind of terminology, so you simplify (i.e. lie) to make
the story simple enough that they can get some kind of intuition about things.
What happens, all too often, is that people see these dumbed down descriptions and think that they represent reality. Some people then revile physics
because they perceive the limits of the analogies they are being presented with and claim that physics doesn't make sense. Indeed if physics really
did describe the world in that dumbed down way then it would be wrong. You'd have every reason to reject it.
The fact that they guy answers in the way he does leads me to suspect that he is in fact who he says he is. If he had answered with a simplistic,
dumbed down version that you find in introductory essays on the subject or media articles, I'd have every reason to suspect he wasn't actually a
string theorist. He didn't do that, so I *suspect*, though cannot prove that he is actually who he says.
Now, I must apologise for my comment to SkepticOverlord above. I started a sentence and didn't finish it, and it looks rude. What I think the OP may
have meant is that as a mathematical theory, string theory is not in question. It makes predictions, it is rigorous and not at all "disputed" or
"contentious". Note that I fell for this too. I also complained that I had not read the relevant press releases where it was announced that string
theory had become an accepted theory. But later I realised that from the point of view of a theoretical physicist, the theory is true. It's in fact
indisputable, because it is pure mathematics. Like all mathematics its truth is not relative.
What is (probably) in dispute is whether string theory (or more correctly any particular version of string theory) represents *reality*. That I doubt.
But as a nonexpert in string theory I cannot be sure that its status has not changed of late. I think the OP did explain that these days some versions
of string theory do actually make testable predictions about reality. Thus various versions can be ruled out. What he also stated is that all the
physics we currently know to be true is described in full by the "standard model", a particular theory that is accepted as factual and which is
consistent with every experiment ever conducted to date. Some versions of string theory include the standard model as a subset. Thus it is clear that
every physics experiment ever conducted agrees with those versions of string theory. But these string theories can also explain things that the
standard model does not explain (in a precise sense I am not going to go into here). So, from a certain perspective, string theory is absolutely
I do not know whether the OP was claiming that string theory is absolutely known to describe reality, or if it just satisfies the weaker standard of
being entirely consistent with all known reality (which is not the same thing).
I could also go into a detailed description of why the OP's post on the double slit experiment was correct. But it would take many pages of
description and go into very heavy mathematics. You'd need to understand the entire contents of an undergraduate degree in Physics.
But I think that underscores the problem right there. I nearly have an entire undergraduate degree in physics. I stopped one module short. So I
understand enough. But how many people here are in a similar position and can say anything definitive about this guy? You cannot say that he is
ignorant because he does not give the answers you (who are not an expert) were expecting, but who instead gives answers that demonstrate a knowledge
that goes beyond what you yourself know.
The reason I think his cockiness demonstrates that he is an expert is not on account of the cockiness itself (many experts are not cocky -- in fact in
my experience, true geniuses are almost always humble, with some notable exceptions). But I think he is being cocky because he's aware of the fact
that these simple questions do not have the simple answers people think they do. From the point of view of *his* field, these questions have extremely
complex answers. As I said, reality, as described by his field consists in understanding the universe in terms of complex mathematical objects and
things like probability distributions.
He did make the point that his field explains another field of physics, which explains another, which explains chemistry and many other things that we
*do* have day-to-day experience of. His field is buried many layers deep. To give an example for the benefit of the computer programmer who posted, it
is like someone asking a computer scientist what some Python construct did. The guy might validly protest that it is equivalent to some complex
expression in the lambda calculus. And they might be right. But the guy who only knew Python might have been expecting him to say, oh that's a Python
metaclass. The guy with the less abstract understanding cannot judge that the expert is wrong. He's just working at a whole different level of
Unfortunately, I can say for sure that this is what is happening in this thread, at least at some level.
What I don't know is if this is one smart dude who is not a scientist who has successfully read a detailed book on the subject and is quoting off bits
and pieces of the understanding he got from that book, or if he is a talented undergraduate who has spent a lot of time interrogating his professors
and trying to come to terms with string theory, or if he is just an extremely well-read amateur. Any of these are possible. He'd surely come unstuck
if a real expert in string theory had a conversation with him. I am not such an expert, so at this point I can't tell. Maybe I know enough mathematics
to tell what his level of knowledge is if he talks mathematics at me for a few minutes. Maybe. But what hope do we really have here?
I'm inclined to take him at his word, ask him some interesting questions and see what he says.
Anyhow, I think I've expressed what I meant to say more fully now. Sorry for the partial (and humorous) prior responses which probably didn't
communicate that very well.
P.S: I did see the moderators comments above and I hope what I just typed is "on topic". The topic for me is "I am a scientist" ask me anything you
want. I *think* I am addressing the topic, but feel free to correct me if you see it differently.
By the way, to the people who keep saying "string theory is only a theory" therefore it's not all that, may I ask what a physicist calls something
once it becomes more than a theory? What is the next rung up from theory? What's the physics term for a concept which has been proven more rigorously
than a theory? See the hilarious thing is, there is no rung up from a theory. That's the best if *ever* gets. The top rung in physics is to call
something a theory. It doesn't progress from there. The theory of gravitation, the theory of special relativity, Maxwell's theory of electromagetism,
the theory of quantum chromodynamics. It doesn't matter which field you talk about, they are all theories. The word "theory" in physics, does not
mean, "contentious idea which is yet to be shown to be true".
edit on 27-6-2011 by XtraTL because: Added P.S. and some corrections