Monday, November 15, 2010

Physics Envy?

The social sciences are all supposed to want to be like the natural sciences and especially physics because, variously, they have great data, they can do experiments, they have complicated maths, they can predict with accuracy events in controlled settings, etc. etc. I've read this sort of thing before but here is a quote from a post about Stephen Hawking which brings the emulation of physics into a new light:

"M-theory suffers from the same flaws that string theories did. First is the problem of empirical accessibility. Membranes, like strings, are supposedly very, very tiny—as small compared with a proton as a proton is compared with the solar system. This is the so-called Planck scale, 10^–33 centimeters. Gaining the kind of experimental confirmation of membranes or strings that we have for, say, quarks would require a particle accelerator 1,000 light-years around, scaling up from our current technology. Our entire solar system is only one light-day around, and the Large Hadron Collider, the world's most powerful accelerator, is 27 kilometers in circumference."

So, basically, they have posited (i.e. made up) a bunch of theoretical entities the existence of which it is completely impossible to determine. And this explains everything. But that's alright because it is logical:

Hawking recognized long ago that a final theory—because it would probably involve particles at the Planck scale—might never be experimentally confirmable. "It is not likely that we shall have accelerators powerful enough" to test a unified theory "within the foreseeable future—or indeed, ever," he said in his 1980 speech at Cambridge. He nonetheless hoped that in lieu of empirical evidence physicists would discover a theory so logically inevitable that it excluded all alternatives.

Maybe rational choice should be driving at more becoming more tautologous rather than less. Then it would be more like physics.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Disinterestedness and Charity in Reviewing,

Or Advice to 1st Year Grad Students.
From an old guardian column:

As the novelist Richard Ford has said, "Writing even a bad book is hard work." Nobody who has struggled in front of a screen or paper for three years deserves a pasting written in half a day by a 23-year-old, though the pasting might be justified in terms of what exists on the page.