False Demands for Falser Progress

“Lost in Math” author Sabine Hossenfelder, in a recent piece in IAI, laments that there has been no fundamental progress in physics for nearly 50 years.

My retort to this is simple: why would you expect otherwise?

Physics is not politics or fashion. A physical theory is either true, or false, or so close to true that there is little worldly use or intellectual interest in filling it out to more decimal places; or, in mysterian fashion, it may be simply inaccessible to human intellection.

Here, in handy condensed form, is the whole metaphysical view underpinning science itself:

1) there is an external Reality, that contains some kind of order;

2) at least parts of that order are knowable by aligning theory with experiment; and

3) once you do know those parts, you are done. Literally forever (if a science’s basic truths don’t stay true, it is not a science.)

To demand anything of science beyond 3) ends up simply injecting postmodernism into the sciences–which is to say the scientists, ensconced in their institutions and flush with an unfulfilled self-importance, grow bored with having nothing fundamental to discover and so begin either rediscovering the same things under new sophistic names, or expanding irrelevancies into “fundamentals”, or simply making things up per their taste.

All of these are forms, not of discovery, nor of knowing, but of epistemic breakdown–plain and simple.

This is, alas, happening all over now. Hossenfelder seems to be no exception, with her strange insistence that the way to new fundamental physics depends on physicists learning more about “sociology of science”.

This idea, that the fundamental structure of the physical world must somehow limitlessly depend on the social patterns of the people studying it, is pure postmodernism. It is not a way to “save” science, but rather a way of poisoning it by reducing it to the social.

The wide and un-careful dissemination of Kuhnian views of science, lamentably, has allowed this confusion–between science as world-exploring and science as arbitrary world-creation–to metastasize.

We had an Age of Discovery, an Age of Reason, an Age of Information. Now, right on schedule, begins the Age of Navelgazing–to be followed soon I fear by an Age of Pandaemonium, in which the full Jaynesian or Jungian psychotic potential of the human mind bursts loose, untethered by any unified loyalty to or grasp of external reality. (Even Nietzsche, espouser of the end of morality and the value-creating Overman, thought this would be abysmal if everyone did it.)

The real remedy for science? Same as for government: take about 95% of scientists, tell them thank you for your service, and retire them immediately with a nice pension.

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