>From "A Different Universe" by Robert Laughlin (winner of the Nobel Prize in physics in 1998):

"Greek creation myths satirize many things in modern life, particularly cosmological theories.  Exploding things, such as dynamite or the big bang, are unstable.  Theories of explosions, including the first picoseconds of the big bang, thus cross Barriers of Relevance and are inherently unfalsifiable, notwithstanding widely cited supporting "evidence" such as isotopic abundances at the surfaces of stars and the cosmic microwave background anisotropy. One might as well claim to infer the properties of atoms from the storm damage of a hurricane.  Beyond the big bang we have  really unfalsifiable concepts of budding little baby universes with different properties that must have been created before the inflationary epoch, but which are now fundamentally undetectable due to being beyond the light horizon.  Beyond even that we have the anthropic principle- the "explanation" that the universe we can see has the properties it does by virtue of our being in it.  It is fun to imagine what Voltaire might have done with this material...String theory is immensely fun to think about because so many of its internal relationships are unexpectedly simple and beautiful.  It has no practical utility, however, other than to sustain the myth of the ultimate theory."

Laughlin goes on to argue that string theory is a "textbook case of a Deceitful Turkey, a beautiful set of ideas that will always remain just barely out of reach."  Essentially, he is arguing these pursuits into cosmology have taken us beyond our ability to reliably test theories, and therefore beyond the bounds of meaningful science.  He does not argue we should stop pursuing  science, but instead that we should focus on emerging laws instead of a reductionist attempt to create a TOE.  The main thing is he wants scientists to be more cognizant of these areas where they cross Barriers of Relevance, and can no longer reliably produce verifiable data. 

Is Laughlin right that so many of these topics we discuss are beyond the reach of "real" science?  Should certain questions be put on hold until science/technology has caught up with our ability to test questions?
I don't know the answer, but it seems reasonable to ask the question as to whether science can take us only to a certain point, from which we must then apply logic, circumstantial evidence, etc.

It occurred to me while reading Laughlin's book that in Cosmology reductionism can be roughly compared to a study of the past, while emergence can be roughly considered a study of the future, or at the least of the evolution of states into the more recent past.

Danny Mayes

PS- another book I'm reading, Schrodinger's Rabbits by Colin Bruce, quotes Penrose as telling Bruce "David [Deutsch] seem to disagree on every conceivable point."  That two individuals so imminent in the field could disagree so thororoughly on matters seems to make Laughlin's point.

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