Great Letter from a Student Disgusted with Modern Physics
This is a letter from a former physics student who switched to philosophy. He is responding to an email that Steve sent announcing our new book:
Thank you so much! This couldn't have come at a better moment, I literally just finished watching a fractal zoom on the order of e.214 [ http://vimeo.com/
1908224?hd=1 ]. From the author's description, "a magnification of e.12 would increase the size of a particle to the same as the earths orbit! e.21 would make a particle look the same size as the milky way and e.42 would be equal to the universe." I was struck by the immensity of what e.214 could represent, and then your message arrived, and I saw it: the local mega-vortex!
Of course, this moment is not the ideal for that reason alone. I'm a student of physics and mathematics that recently changed major studies to philosophy. Forgive the boring details, but I'm compelled to express my disappointment and regret towards the scientific culture. I'm amazed at the level of dogma in physics today, which is in no doubt due to the complete blackout of education in philosophy for physicists (and I suspect, science in general). It's an intellectual death sentence to march forward without at least an awareness of the premises under which one works. Your mentioning of Kuhn's work, which I am familiar with, is a breath of fresh air. Truly, paradigm shifts are defined in large part by the premises (or scientific assumptions, ch.3) that get overturned, be they epistemological, metaphysical, etc. I had many conversations with professors and grad students; my anecdotal impression is that science is not simply ignorant of these things, science looks upon them with contempt.
In the past I was a computer science (engineering) student at a top 5 university. I went on to do software at a major laboratory, where I was exposed to all kinds of research, a lot of cool machines and a lot of very smart people from all around the world. I thought it was 'engineering culture' that bothered me, the focus on tangible results, ends over means, and so on. I quit my job after 3 years and returned to school, thinking physics (pure science) is what I was looking for. Unfortunately, upon my return, it was never clearer to me that our universities are recruiting grounds for these large entities like the national labs and military contractors. I don't mean to stir up political topics - but, seriously, how are we to pursue truth if our universities are infected by these kinds of interests?
Side note- even mathematics is affected by this! Not the political dimension, but the philosophical. Surprisingly, many mathematicians I met didn't understand or care about Godel's incompleteness theorems!! In addition, I recently read 'God Created the Integers' by Hawking, and it was fascinating to see the early geometers idea of what a number *is*. Numbers were symbolic representations of lengths. Negative numbers in themselves meant nothing; they only made sense in the context of subtraction (one length taken away from another). I like the modern example of so-called 'imaginary numbers' - as if we are forced to accept them for utilitarian purposes, but secretly we think "don't worry, they don't really exist, they're imaginary!", just as once we may have regarded negative numbers from such a perspective.
What struck me most profoundly out of the excerpt you sent is the idea that there are no extra-Euclidean dimensions. Even time is not considered a dimension. I'm so curious to read more about this and the consequences of such an idea!
Also interesting to me is the mention of the role of mathematics. Of course, mathematical feasibility is not enough to suggest that a particular mathematical model is the right one, but isn't it interesting how powerfully predictive mathematics can be (assuming the model is correct)? e.g. predictions made by the equations of special relativity that even Einstein thought were ridiculous (black holes, etc.). I often wonder about the extent to which mathematical truth can be used to infer truths about physical reality.
Sorry for the long email; I'll wrap up and say, I can't wait to pick up a copy of this book!