Actually, I had more or less reached this decision right by the middle of this month, but still, just because there was some time in hand, kept on indulging in aimless, useless, baseless, energy-less vacillations about it. Until it was the evening of August 31st, anyway. … Yes, yes, I know there still is some more time in hand, even if only because India is ahead of USA in terms of the time of the time-zone. The time still in hand (about 15 hours) is enough to write a mere nine-page essay anyway. However, read on to get to know why I would still not be writing. …
The reason, ultimately, turns out to be grounded in the competition topic itself, viz., the question: “Which of our basic physical assumptions are wrong?”
Loosely speaking, the nature of this question makes it a “negative” topic, not a “positive” one. … That could take some explanation. …
OK. No. I am not a New Age idiot. So, I don’t mean to say that the reason I decided to keep away from this competition is because the topic invites some of kind of a criticism of others. That’s not what I mean by the adjective “negative” here.
What I mean by “negative,” here, is: the (logical) compliment of “the positive.” And, by “positive,” what I mean is: a direct existential kind of a statement. … More detailed explanation is called for.
OK. For example: “The Sun exists” is a positive statement. It directly captures a fact of reality. Another example: “The Sun shines brightly,” again, is a positive statement. Not primarily because the word “brightness” has a connotation of clarity, efficacy, joy, happiness, etc., all supposedly positive things, but simply because the adjective “brightly” does not logically negate the sense of the basic truth contained in the rest of that sentence. On these lines, the statement: “A black hole sucks in everything, even light” also is a positive statement. Its purpose is to identify the nature of an existent rather than to deny, qualify, or question one.
In Ayn Rand’s way of putting it: The positive statements are of the kind: Existence is identity. Or: A is A. They are not concerned with what possibly might belong in the non-A. They are not concerned with the logical complement of A.
Alright. … What’s that to do with not participating in the essay competition?
I think I have already ended up hinting at this aspect, right during my last post.
The FQXi competition question does not ask: “What new, foundational thing have you got right?” It asks: Where did physicists got it wrong?
Answering the first question is always easier; the second one is not.
Physics is a science. It establishes its truth via a laborious process, one that proceeds through observations, analysis, hypotheses, experimentation, analysis of data, validation, integration, etc. And, it’s a cyclic or iterative process; the parts of it are interdependent. You don’t begin thinking of integration only after conducting the experiments; considerations of integration are part of the context of analysis and hypothesis generation as well. You don’t do analysis only before experimentation; you need it right during validation, too. So on and so forth. All in all, establishing a new truth requires a whole lot of real, hard, work. Naturally, the progress is slow. Naturally, therefore, there is very little to show in any annual/biennial essay contest, if at all one has produced anything in that time period. Naturally, therefore, it is very easy to identify what one does have to show, if one has it.
However, precisely due to the nature and extent of the hard-work involved, it is very difficult to even summarize what all things one does not have.
In a way, it’s a matter of teleology—and the crow-principle of epistemology. The goals are few. But they lead to a whole big “tree” of issues, factors, possibilities and considerations to manage. It’s always possible to tell the goals—and it’s even easier to tell the actually achieved goals from among them (which are even fewer than the goals). But it’s always too complex to even indicate the extent and scope of the “tree”s directly involved in it: the teleological one, and the epistemological one (by which, here, I mean: the “tree” arising out of the basic meanings of the concepts, generalizations or issues at hand).
Beyond these complex trees, there also is that biggest of all considerations, when it comes to all matters concerning knowledge, viz., the consideration of integration. Integration of the new knowledge with the sum total of all of the rest of the knowledge.
Statements of goals and achievements are easier to make. But since the process of knowledge creation is so intricate, difficult and laborious, statements of what went wrong are far more difficult to make. The “A” is easy enough to identify if it involves the goals and the achievements; the “non-A” is far too voluminous for the mind to separately deal with.
That’s the basic reason why mere polemics never succeeds. Even if a polemics (the non-A) is objectively valid, and even if it’s done very neatly or sharply, the listener’s mind still is simply unable to hold on to much of it, unless the positive part—the “A” of it—is not explicitly identified.
So, you get the idea of why I couldn’t get much past that question.
Of course, as I stated in my last post, I could still have written something on some one important issue and simply dumped it. I did try. … As it so happens, I was participating in a LinkedIn discussion on the nature of randomness (“Is anything truly random?”). I wrote a lot there, and also got misunderstood—at least some, if not a lot. (Expectedly so.) So, it seemed like a good topic on which to write the FQXi essay. I did try along this direction.
However, as soon as I finished my initial take on the “outline” part of it, I realized the essential dissonance. What I was addressing was an identification of the basic nature of randomness. But what I was supposed to be addressing was a survey of the physical assumptions that are not only wrong but also obvious enough in their wrongness as to be ripe to be acknowledged by the (astro)physicist community (at MIT) as indeed being wrong. Too much of a chasm in there. Too much of dissonance.
The essay indeed would have carried some (what I think are) good contents. Indeed, I should sincerely try to bring it all together, give it some good, additional touches—specifically, the scholarly kind of touches (doing a real serious lit search etc.). And, then, submit it to a suitable journal (e.g. Foundations of Physics/AJP/The Physics Teacher/Whatever; not Nature/Science/PRL). However, just the fact that it can make for a good essay, doesn’t mean that it makes for a good essay for this competition.
Could anyone have written a good essay to address that particular question?
For the reasons indicated above, I don’t think anyone could have. There is just too much that is bad with the present-day physics. The situation is so (or such) bad that, as mentioned in my last post, in one’s attempts to condense it all, the first things to strike one happen to be all philosophic in nature. And, rational philosophic principles are not always well-known to people. So, you also have to face the issue of having to explain even simpler among the terms, as you go along.
Further, things have gone bad to such extent that not just the Platonic intrinsicism but even classical subjectivism looks brightly rational in comparison. For example, in the so-called Many Worlds Interpretation, originated in an American’s 1950’s PhD at Princeton, people don’t just create their own reality, as a classical subjectivist would have you believe. The Many Worlds Interpretation’s point is that no people are basically necessary to create world, not even a creator god (the idea of it). Physical processes, occurring in the universe, by themselves, are enough to spawn infinity of universes. Yes, you read it right. That’s the actual thesis. (And, idiots at places like Princeton, Berkeley, MIT, etc., have by now developed a tradition of taking such nonsense seriously.) So, in short, there indeed is a lot of nonsense out there. (It’s precisely because the situation is so bad philosophically that it also is so bad quantitatively.)
But there still is that nine page limit. So, you can’t possibly both write well and comprehensively enough to actually address the essay question. There are objective principles because of which an essay of the kind that the competition question demands, is impossible to write.
So, no, I don’t think that anyone else could possibly have a good essay that also actually addresses the actually posed question. They may have good essays that don’t address the question or bad essays that do. But they can’t possibly have both. Now, that’s something that looks like modern physics, doesn’t it, FQXi?
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No “A Song I Like” section, once again. I still go jobless. Keep that in mind.
[This is initial draft, published on August 31, 2012, 6:31 PM, IST. May be I will make some minor corrections/updates later on]