I made this comment at Ambit Gambit in response to an article about bringing the great theologian Saint Augustine into sub-atomic physics. Now on one level I think its a good thing to be raiding these really smart buggers for ideas. But I came down negative on this approach in this specific instance. I made the following comment:
“We have no evidence for TIME itself. We have no evidence that time is anything more then what you would get when you divide a distance by a steady velocity.
Its a necessary concept but a derivative one.
So its really pushing it for physicists to play make-believe and pretend that there is some unicorn called space-time.
This is why they’ve gotten themselves bogged down and stuck. Because they have let all sorts of arbitrary assumptions creep up into their work.
I like Augustine (Lord give me chastity but not yet) but we ought to be sweeping out as much crud from the models as possible.
Not adding more.”
When you are stuck by all means throw in a speculative assumption and build a new model to try and fit the data…
But in this process that modern physics has been going through they have missed out a necessary step.
You want to then go back and see if the data can be fitted WHILE DEEP-SIXING THE SPECULATIVE ASSUMPTIONS. Or at least some of them.
Can we deep-six attraction-at-a-distance…? Can we deep-six fourth, fifth and sixth dimensions and still fit the data? Can we deep-six time itself (that is; only use it for convenience and not assume it to be some PRIMARY thing)?
Can we deep-six the light-speed limit and still derive E=M(C Squared)?
Apparently Einstein did this in the 40’s. Why didn’t people follow his lead?
Einstein would put arbitrary assumptions in the mix to try and get a working model. Well fair enough. Thats the way to do it. But the above was him pulling out an arbitrary assumption and still deriving a key finding.
This is why physics has been getting bogged down and increasingly ridiculous.
Yes its good to throw the assumptions in if it means you get a working model.
But then the institutional emphasis ought to be on
1. Going after Convergence and
2. throwing the excess assumptions out.
Throw in some sand to make the pearl then get rid of the sand.
The job is not done when you have a single working model. The idea at that point is not to be so stupid as to confuse this single working model with revealed truth.
And the institutional imperative ought to be then to find and perfect COMPETING models that have thrown back out some of the arbitrary assumptions.
This is entirely in line with the thinking of another good Catholic boy. This one not from North Africa like Augustine, but instead from a place near Surrey in England.
Gentleman named William.
And Willian came out of Ockam.