Blog Go the Heads

By Sean Carroll | July 14, 2007 12:27 pm

The much-anticipated Bloggingheads.tv faceoff between George Johnson and myself is now available. We talk about string theory, religion, love, the anthropic principle, and plates. After this, any further episodes might just be superfluous.

Bloggingheads

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Internet
  • http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/ PZ Myers

    “further episodes might just be superfluous”…and you say this the week before I’m scheduled to go on?

    I’m crushed, Sean, I truly am. My daughter’s been reading Brian Greene, so maybe I ought to just cancel and have her go on in my stead.

  • Pingback: Not Even Wrong » Blog Archive » Carroll and Johnson on Bloggingheads()

  • lt.milo

    PZ Myers, if she is reading The Elegant Universe (or the Fabric of the Cosmos), then she is learning far more then just string theory and it is well worth her time.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    Hi Sean, enjoyed the first half hour …
    tautology – “we are here because the conditions are right for us to be here, duhh”
    lol – is that like we are ‘here’ because we are not somewhere else

    Physics is attempting to track back 13.7 billion years, and all the phase changes of matter since, but I’ve yet to see anyone attempt to explain where yesterday went, or where time goes – where the last ‘instant’ went …
    are we not literally jumping through hoops – even quantum leaping thru space, from inception and inside our skin – even shedding said skin like snakes as we move thru time into the next instant. And where does the next ‘instant’ appear from … and so on and on

  • http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/ PZ Myers

    Well, yeah, that’s what I’m saying — she’ll be better able to talk physics than I will.

    See, Sean Carroll hasn’t made future conversations superfluous. After Skatje discusses cosmology, then it will be the End of Physics.

  • fh

    Re: Just wrong or profound and Lee Smolins complaints,

    Look outside the US, the majority is String Theory, but different view points exist, and are practiced in very strong Universities with lots of positions and it’s expanding, these no QG peers are increasingly convinced that these alternatives are worth putting some money into.

    As a PhD in Spinfoams I don’t think there is any problem with the level of funding for alternatives in Europe. Given the states of the theories and the background they developed from it’s appropriate that String Theory has higher funding levels.

    Compared to that situation the US certainly looks extreme, and it can be argued that this shows that even within the limits of scientific judgment of the theories by the peers, which shouldn’t differ vastly between Europe and the US, there is still plenty of room for cultural factors to play a role in funding levels, and this could then be subject to a cultural debate of the kind Lee Smolin and others want to lead.

  • Haludza

    A great site! The John Horgan discussions are top notch too!

  • http://darwin.gruts.com/weblog/ Richard Carter, FCD

    For some bizarre reason, Bloggingheads.tv had completely escaped my attention until I watched this show. Now I’m hooked. Great stuff. Thanks.

  • Penny

    The bloody internet plug-ins won’t work with my Safari browser! ARGGGGGGHHHH!

    Is there any other way to view this clip??

  • ad

    Just look further down on the right and you will find this http://bloggingheads.tv/completed/bhTV07137XJ-300.wmv ;) Don’t know how well Macs handle wmv though…

  • Tom Ryan

    Sean,

    Top notch work. While I differ in opinion from you about religion, I’ve always found that I respected you and your arguments and deeply considered them, their implications, what I want to be true, and what i feel is true. We still fall off into different conclusions, I can respect how you got to them- which is more then i can say about some other peoples.

    Always enjoy listening to you and your discourse with people. More good, passionate, respectable scientists really need to communicate science, its implications, current theories and idea’s. All American’s, at heart I believe, are proud of countries ability to understand the universe and the technology that comes from that, and the audience is under served.

    ~Tom Ryan III

    P.S.: Loved your paper posted online about Hume (i believe it was Hume, could be Kant, but I think it was Hume. It was a bit ago.). Rather long peice. I found your conclustion that all his doubting doesn’t redress and make a point, all it does is invalidate one argument very interesting. Even more so, I found your passion for which you wished he went FARTHER with his idea’s and took an active stance rather then a reactionary.

    Also, didn’t know about the engagement. Where I come from we have a word for that. Mozel Tov!

  • http://mollishka.blogspot.com mollishka

    Penny: just download Firefox. I’m on a mac, and I was able to watch the clip seamlessly.

  • http://www.theory.caltech.edu/~preskill John Preskill

    Great interview, Sean. It was like Car Talk — suddenly I had wasted another perfectly good hour that I can never get back. It’s too bad I don’t disagree with you; otherwise you might have changed my mind. How did you get to be such a good talker, anyway?

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

    Thanks, John. We’ll have to find something about which we disagree, to see if your prediction is right.

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

    tautology – “we are here because the conditions are right for us to be here, duhh”

    lol – is that like we are ‘here’ because we are not somewhere else

    No, it is exactly the same as saying that “We are meant to be here”, once that you include all of the the highly relevant and anthropically pointed factors, which MOST APPARENTLY do indicate that the forces are constrained by biological factors. -R. Dicke

    That’s not at all tautologous, because the observation indicates that we are specially relevant to the structure mechanism via first principles, so I’m sure that Sean was just being politically correct in context with the imaginary worlds of the cutting-edge, rather than the observed fact.

    The alternative is unthinkable.

  • M Miller

    Sean,

    You and George played very well together and covered many interesting topics.

    I will have to have a look at what you had to say about Hume. I believe that he stated that it was not possible to either prove or disprove the existence of God but suggested that he was himself, like Mr. Rove, not a man of faith.

    Many dismiss this topic out of hand. You do not and that is very much to your credit as a serious student of science.

    Regards,

    MikeM

  • Jimbo

    Sean,
    We met briefly after your colloq. at the U.of Orygun…
    Just wanted to add my congrats to the rising KK tower, which I’m sure is approaching its gravitational radius ! Ya got a great lady there…All the best !

    Jimbo

  • Watcher

    At the June international conference Loops 07, by my count, about one EIGHTH of the participants were from US universities. That is 20 from the US, out of about 160 participants in all.

    The US share could well have been even smaller than it was, but the location favored US participation. It was more remote from Canada and Europe–comparatively close to the US. Despite that, I’d say institutions in Europe, the UK, and Canada put in an impressive showing—in terms of invited plenary talks and contributed talks, as well as attendance.

    In light of that, here are some exerpts from what fh had to say (a PhD student from Germany studying in the UK)
    ==quote==

    Look outside the US, the majority is String Theory, but different [quantum gravity research lines] exist, and are practiced in very strong Universities with lots of positions and it’s expanding,…

    As a PhD in Spinfoams I don’t think there is any problem with the level of funding for alternatives in Europe. …

    Compared to that situation the US certainly looks extreme, and it can be argued that this shows that even within the limits of scientific judgment of the theories by the peers, which shouldn’t differ vastly between Europe and the US, there is still plenty of room for cultural factors to play a role in funding levels, and this could then be subject to a cultural debate …
    ==endquote==

    I agree with fh that the situation in the US looks extreme compared with the rest of the developed world. In the whole US there is only one university (Penn State) that has a non-string QG research group—that is with more than one faculty participant. If they are able, US young people typically have to go out of the country to pursue the QG research they want in the proper environment. If anyone doubts this, and wants names, just say. I’ve been watching them leave.

    Compared with the rest of the world, the situation in the US is bizarre and looks like a case of poor management. The chance to lead in a rapidly growing field of research is being squandered.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    Island, whether random or by design
    the alphabet is created or designed by man

    the alphabet can be put into CODE
    the same CODE can be used (on a keyboard)
    for alphabets that are not greek or western

    Whether by design or pure random chance
    the biology that is man exists here because it is not somewhere else
    and the biology that is man (and woman) is as is because it is not other.

    If ‘life’ would have developed on another planet in our solar system, it would not be as we know it, and if it has developed ‘elsewhere’ what will it look like and will we even recognise it

    We humans would term anything different alien, gosh at times we’ve even termed other humans who had different skin ‘alien’ and the US government still term people of another geographical or political nation ‘aliens’

  • http://www.amara.com/ Amara

    Dear John Preskill, Isn’t it usually the case that these kinds of exemplary speaking skills comes from practice? Sean, you did a great job. Clear, articulate, complete concepts, not too fast to catch, and almost no ‘er’, ‘uh’, ‘uhm’ filler words that usually creep into the dialogs of unpracticed people. And the dialog was fun and interesting too. :-).

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

    If ‘life’ would have developed on another planet in our solar system, it would not be as we know it…

    Getting off topic, but that’s not what the physics predicts, so go ahead and be the first to falsify the observation.

    and if it has developed ‘elsewhere’….

    … then it will also be, “as we know it”.

    FYI… I was being sarcastic when I answerd you, and you really should thoroughly investigate all of the linked papers and websites.

  • http://www.theory.caltech.edu/~preskill John Preskill

    Sean: well, for starters, I am not too keen on moving to LA…

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

    That’s hardly worth an encyclopedia.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    Hi Island, thanks for the informative links

    It is only Life as we know it requires (our) certain pre-requisites be met
    And an earthlike planet in another galaxy (or parallel universe) is no guarantee that life would evolve, nor that it would evolve as on this planet. However it would mean that if we could get there – we would be able to colonise, or who knows maybe even encounter the descendants of our common ancestors.

  • ArrowQuestion

    Hi Sean,

    I really enjoyed your bloggingheads chat. Speaking as someone with just an undergraduate study in physics, I have to say I’ve followed this string blog controversy with pretty good attention. I remember in my undergraduate days being very excited by string theory. However, for me Peter Woit and Glashow really are winning the argument. About the chat:

    You kept repeating that the landscape is just a theory and is neither good nor evil and that whether we *like it* or not it is either true or false.

    But that is the very problem. The question => “Is the landscape true or false” is really not a respectable scientific question. We do not know nor can we seemingly ever know in the realm of scientific knowledge for the near to far future.

    You keep saying you don’t care if it is good or bad you just want to know if it is *true or false* This is exactly the issue that string antagonists insist is the problem. The landscape just does not seem like a proper scientific question.

    Until string theory becomes at least theoretically falsifiable I just don’t see how it can survive as a *scientific* theory. From your chat it seems String theorists are a little hurt by Glashow’s comment. I think they should take it to heart.

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

    AQ– I think whether or not certain theories correctly describe the universe is very much a scientific question. Right now we don’t know how to test string theory, but it’s certainly possible (and people like me are optimistic) that it is testable, but we won’t be able to figure out how unless we keep studying it. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to post on this more soon.

  • ArrowQuestion

    Sean, I look forward to your future post.

    Whether or not string theories correctly describe our universe is not a scientific question precisely because they promote no actual theory.

    All we have is 10^500 possible theories that might in certain limiting cases describe our universe.

    The problem is the limiting cases are not what is interesting. We want to know the why/how/what is going on in the great experimental phenomena and observations of the day. The string theories seem to be silent. All they offer is that when new exciting limiting cases come along they happily pronounce that one of the 10^500 theories probably allows that too.

    Sean, in your future post you tease that you think string theory could at least in theory be ‘testable.’ Do you mean ‘falsifiable’ or do you mean experiments that can be imagined which would bolster string theory?

    I would really like to hear if you think falsifiable tests, as opposed to those which would merely bolster, are even possible for the landscape.

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

    It is only Life as we know it requires (our) certain pre-requisites be met. And an earthlike planet in another galaxy (or parallel universe) is no guarantee that life would evolve, nor that it would evolve as on this planet

    Right, it’s a testable prediction that naturally falls from the physics. The average of extreme opposing runaway tendencies that are common to the anthropic coincidences make many testable predictions about the observed universe.

    It’s the same physics that predicts that life, (past or present), will not be found on Mars nor Venus, (a prediction which is being better and better established to this very day), but it will be found in other galaxy systems along the layer of spacetime that makes-up the goldilocks enigma.

    For example, Venus suffers from the runaway greenhouse effect, whereas Mars represents the cold stagnate equally-runaway proof of what will happen if extremist environmentalists get things all their way too, so heed the lesson of this anthropic coincidence.

    Please take further discussion of this off topic conversation to this post on my weblog.

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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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