Friday, June 13, 2008

So, the final theory?

No, I don't have it. I'm just a simple experimentalist (I work with cabling and bookkeeping, you could say), and the meaning of my work is to give the theorists some numbers to work on, some anchorage in reality. My personal preference is to marvel at the ways we can coax nature into revealing more information, but piecing it all together to a great super theory is nothing I worry about daily.

Anyway, I was looking for this website for the novel Final Theory when I stumbled on something completely different: someone who claims that his book really explains the Final Theory about everything. Sort of fun. On this website we are repeatedly told that our usual interpretation of work, energy and gravity completely misses the obvious and brings us into a mess of complicated calculations and assumptions when it's really very simple. We are told that we should be able to understand the universe using common sense -- have we heard this before? -- and that the experts are too involved and have invested too much in the standard physics to be open to the paradigm shift that will be the result of this theory.

I sort of like these crackpot theories. The "party line" seems to be that they are bad because they confuse people and make it harder to get across the real information about our knowledge of the world, but I just cannot help to appreciate the creativity of these thinkers. I also think that they can serve as a good starting point for discussing and explaining real physics, just like the physics of imaginary things.

There will of course always be the people who are much more interested in the conceptually simple or the poetical and imaginative explanations than in just working through the whole accumulated mass of calculations and experiments that are supporting the regular science. It can be frustrating to talk to them (I have a friend who used to work on a book about how everything works, based on numerology and musical intervals), but it probably also teaches us some kind of lession about human nature.

I found this old review of The Final Theory, and it was interesting to read the comments. Here you see all kinds of attitudes. Of course, physicists often discuss crackpot theories and there is no problem finding discussions on the web were people are explaining them, responding to them, clarifying and asking relevant questions. I think the crackpots are necessary, they are important because they make us think about the nature of science and give us a natural starting point for advice and fun.

That being said, I still recommend that you read the thriller instead of the "science book".

No comments: