By Sean Carroll | April 21, 2007 12:44 pm

I know that you’ve all booked your tickets for Chicago in August, for the big YearlyKos shindig. True, it’s not exactly like going to a physics conference; the halls will be filled with candidates trying to drum up votes, and people who use words like “netroots” unironically. But if last year’s event was any indication, there should be all sorts of fun people there, even if it’s harder to find poker tables in Chicago than in Vegas. (You have to go to the riverboats in Gary.)

Like last year, the inimitable DarkSyde is making sure that science is well-represented, including a high-powered Science Panel. Last year the role of “bearded ScienceBlogger battling against creationism” was played by PZ Myers; this year it will be played by Ed Brayton. The role of “clean-shaven 4-star general who will talk about cosmology and the anthropic principle” was played last year by Wesley Clark; this year it will be me, except for the 4-star general part. The role of Chris Mooney will continue to be played by Chris Mooney. I’m honored to be participating, even if the commenters at Daily Kos are wishing it was my fiancee instead.

I hope any readers who are at the event will give a shout. It will be fun to return to the old haunts, go down to 75th Street to listen to Vonski, maybe indulge at Alinea if we save our pennies. And we all know that the weather in Chicago in August is invariably pleasant and charming, so there’s really no exuse.

  • http://dailykos.com/ DarkSyde

    I’m happy you are able to make it Sean!

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/joanne/ JoAnne

    It’s good to see that science is being well represented at the YearlyKos fest! However, I share the disappointment of several Daily Kos commenters that there are no women on the science panel. Of course with panelist roles such as bearded science blogger and clean-shaven 4 star general, I guess women are kinda automatically eliminated from consideration.

  • anonyma

    I have an OT question. Why is Female ScienceProfssor in the general blogroll, and not in the physics blogroll?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    It would be nice to have some women on the panel in future years. At the informal science bloggers caucus last year, there were a lot of women (at least 50%), and it would be great to get them onto the panel. (I should note that last year, Darwin awards originator Wendy Northcutt was on the panel.)

    anonyma, I have no idea whether FSP is a physicist. She doesn’t talk about physics on her blog; there are other interesting things to blog about!

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Mmmmm….. Alinea…….

  • Alex F

    Ah yes, the pleasant and charming weather of Chicago in the summer. 100 degrees and humid with a good chance of thunderstorms. (I wouldn’t be so bitter if I’d ever had an air conditioner…)

  • Clifton Moore

    Alex F, don’t feel bad. I’ve always had an air conditioner, I’ve just always lived with people who believe it is a sin to use it.

    Is this convention limited invitation, or anything of that sort, or can anyone wishing to attend do so? Although the price is rather hefty on a college students salary (read: sometimes I have to boil old shoes to eat), I would be interested in attending if allowed.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Anyone is allowed to come, all they have to do is register. I think they’re might be some breaks for people for whom the registration fee would be a burden, but you’ll have to look.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    In case some readers are wondering, why should scientists and the scientific minded (the “reality-based community”) prefer Democrats? Well, I know there is a separate ideological/practical argument about reliance on the US Constitution, limited government, state v. federal authority, how much play to give the “free market” (which isn’t really free at base because of how the Federal Reserve works and other things, but I digress….), freedom v. security, etc. However, read or even peruse The Republican War on Science by Chris Mooney (check his site.) The hostility of the Republican Party and the Bush administration against science and rational thinking is simply amazing. One can find good discussions about these issues also at Washington Monthly and Brad deLong at various times, and here of course. I plan to put some posts about all this on Tyrannogenius in due course.

  • http://evolutionarydesign.blogspot.com/ island

    If they want somebody to talk about the anthropic principle, which is a true cosmological stucture principle that includes first principles and causality accountable physics, then they’d better get Paul Davies, rather than someone that’s going to talk about unobserved variant “selection effect” interpretations that came later and have nothing to do with real physics principles, and quite possibly nothing to do with *real* physics, for that matter.

    ZING!!!… sorry, I couldn’t resist… 😉

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Sorry, Island, but I can’t resist either. Ironically, Paul Davies once wrote about the version of the anthropic principle (there are different ways to look at it) that actually asks why the universe had the values of constants that were needed for life to thrive. In The Mind of God, he concluded that there was some kind of purpose involved. Maybe he’s backpedaled some since, but I think he was right. The claim that the anthropic principle doesn’t have predictive power etc. is essentially false: The claim is, that if “design” was behind the universe, then the constants would have values needed for life, like fine structure constant of about 1/137. Well, they do. That odd figure violates the essential character of the principle of sufficient reason, which would have it to be “one” or some such logically straightforward value, but is just what we need. Sure, we wouldn’t be here to say that otherwise, but neither to remark on plenty of other features of the universe that are consequences of it being the way it is (our being here to say it as either explanation or dismissal is a ridiculous circular argument which does nothing to explain why some other self-consistent but barren world didn’t just exist.)

    I have looked at your site in vain for any genuine physical explanation of why for example that life-friendly constant or etc. needs to be that offbeat value, and I don’t think you have ever really given one. At least though, you don’t indulge in hypocritical spinnings of “an ensemble of other universes with other laws of physics.” Such notions completely violate the empirical principles that used to undergird science and positivistic skepticism, but were discarded once they got in the way of attacking the anthropic character of the universe. Note of course that discussions of what science ought to be, what is or isn’t “scientific,” criticisms of these sorts of questions, etc, are just as much “philosophy” as is thinking about the answers to such questions as seem to go beyond science.

  • http://evolutionarydesign.blogspot.com/ island

    Maybe he’s backpedaled some since

    No he has not, but he can’t come up with a better answer than Wheeler’s interpretation, when pressed. Of course, you assume that what we interpret to be “purpose in nature” requires an intelligent “designer”, when, in fact, this is not correct.

    I have looked at your site in vain for any genuine physical explanation of why for example that life-friendly constant or etc. needs to be that offbeat value

    What does “or etc.” mean?… and let’s just hope that it isn’t defining a large numbers relationship to 13.7 billion years… 😉

    The claim that the anthropic principle doesn’t have predictive power etc. is essentially false:

    No, it’s totally false.

    Sure, we wouldn’t be here to say that otherwise, but neither to remark on plenty of other features of the universe that are consequences of it being the way it is (our being here to say it as either explanation or dismissal is a ridiculous circular argument which does nothing to explain why some other self-consistent but barren world didn’t just exist.)

    I agree, but the strong implication is that we ARE that mechanism. To say that the constants are the way that they are because we are here doesn’t address this point, whereas, the Wheeler/Davies approach, does.

    The most “practical” approach is an energy conservation law:

    The observed ultra low entropy configuration maximizes work, as energy can’t be conserved if it goes inert and gets wasted before this occurs.

    That only works if the universe is finte, so the implication is also that the universe is finite, and that modern science is gone in the head for ever believing that this most natural extension of general relativity isn’t correct. Instead, they *conditionally* bring back the cosmological constant without the cosmological model that it belongs to.

    Will Sean Carrol *fairly* represent these facts… not a chance.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Island, I realize that you are trying to do the best you can with “rationalistic” alternatives to the idea of the intentional universe, but it just doesn’t work. I am not sure what you are saying about Davies compared to Wheeler, because you say he didn’t backpedal (about some sort of deliberate purpose behind the universe), but then “can’t come up with a better answer than Wheeler’s interpretation.” As for Wheeler’s point, to the extent that it is even coherent at all: it is a loopy, post-modernist, cat-chasing its own tail boondoggle that explains nothing at all. The idea that we are the mechanism retroactively making the universe the way it was in the beginning is a swindle, and violates rational causality concepts. It is just taking our being here, and running our observations somehow back in time to make the universe have the right properties for us to have been here, or somesuch. Even if I granted it was possible, there is no “strong implication” or particular reason to believe such slop except as a deliberate, closed-minded evasion of possible purposive causality. Even Dennett admitted that the attempted self-contained circular explanation of that sort is phony, because he had to. A universe with just a slightly different value of alpha than ours, for example, is perfectly physically reasonable as best we know. It can expand, it has gravity, entropy, energy conservation, or whatever you talk about improperly as being life-connected. You would have to prove some intrinsic self-contradiction with its existence, to say why not it instead of what we have. BTW, the “etc” in my post #11 meant all the other constants that need to be what they are within a narrow range to be life-friendly, as carefully documented by Barrow and Tipler.

    The trouble is: the stars won’t be able to properly produce planets, carbon, etc. But the whole mess of matter would still be around, just worthless to have anything like us. That’s the problem, and there is no credible physical explanation (just try to make a genuine physical theory for that, out of your musings, for once) for why that or other constants needed their “Goldilocks” values for any reason other than for a life-friendly universe. Yeah, that’s philosophy, so what? That’s what philosophy is for. If that’s what the world seems to have behind it, so be it. As far as scientific method goes: the only thing worse than a guy with a hammer who thinks that everything is a nail, is a guy with a hammer who thinks that something owes him a world made of nails. You never explained why the purposive concept didn’t have predictive value, but it does: the universe being this life-friendly way that it is. The other ideas are phony because they either can’t evade the physical self-consistency of alternatives, or indulge in unobservable ensembles of other universes, with no clear notion of what physically undergirds or bounds the supposed “physics of physics” behind the possible worlds. Or, one can indulge in modal realism (all “logically possible worlds exist.”) That can be refuted because there is no realistic chance a being would find itself in a world with continued order. (The set of disordered behaviors after any particular initial history of orderly action is so much greater than than the set of continued order.)

    BTW, I never said that I thought “the constants are the way that they are because we are here” – that is the pointless, backwardly causal doubletalk of Wheeler et al that I was decrying. I am saying, the constants are the way that they are so we can be here – brazenly, with no apologies.


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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .


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