The Proselytizing of Physics

This post is about a slow motion reddit exchange where I wrote a comment about Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder’s social media outreach and then four months later someone responded and I read the response two months after that. The long timeline isn’t of interest — what is of interest is the proselytizing to the newly converted and indoctrination in preparation for ordainment. Enjoy.

J Mark Morris – February 15, 2020

I find Sabine’s channel to be very well done with regards to her physics education, physics field critiques, and also her music videos. I admire her intellect and her willingness to challenge the field.

However, it bothers me that she will not engage with outsider ideas. She disallows comments with new ideas on her blog and doesn’t respond to new ideas on YouTube or Twitter. While I do understand that scientists get pestered with a lot of nonsense ideas, having a blanket ignore stance is simply being part of the D.I.S.C — Distributed Idea Suppression Complex.

Is it not possible that some of the billions of people outside the field of physics and cosmology, with access to tremendous educational material on the web, might have some decent new ideas? Who cares how much nonsense you have to wade through to find a nugget that moves the fields along after stasis of 45, 93, or 133 years depending on where you start counting? (45=cessation of particle physics productivity, 93=wrong turn at Solvay, 133=wrong turn at Michelson-Morley).

It is a simple fact that throughout history scientists have rejected paradigm shifting ideas because they are so locked in to the prior regime of thinking. Scientists, knowing this pattern, ought to be far more adventurous in looking for new ideas. There are polite ways to deal with utter nonsense. But there are also creative problem solvers and innovators who have new ideas, that while not expressed in the language of physics (e.g., math) may nevertheless be interesting ideas that could spur further insight.

Let me give you an example of how crazy all of this is. Modern physics is at best doing particle experiments where they think they can interpret results to the scale of 10-19 meters. The Planck scale is 10-35 meters. How can they truly think that their effective math at 10-19 describes nature which likely has a foundation at a far smaller scale? Possibly sixteen orders of magnitude smaller!!! Argghhhh. What complete rubbish and nonsense. Sure their math is effective at matching observations at the proper scale and domain of applicability. What they don’t seem to understand is that their math emerges from an implementation of nature at a much lower scale. My friend says ‘the map is not the territory,’ and this is exactly true — GR-QM era math is not nature.

I know this reply is late, but I stumbled on this post through a search. I don’t know what this sub is or what the community is like either so… anyway.

The problem with unsolicited ideas from laymen is that physics being done now is based on a VERY well established framework. I have done a 4 year undergrad majoring in physics, I found it very difficult, and the content we covered doesn’t scratch the surface. The more of that degree I did, the less useful I realised my contributions could be without going even further and learning every minute detail about the field, what works, what doesn’t, and how it interacts with other fields of research.

A layperson in a YouTube comments section could only possibly help in a completely uninformed way without mathematics, by effectively just suggesting some broad qualitative framework. The problem is:

If whatever you have to say is logically consistent with the field, it’s almost definitely already crossed the mind of many a physicist, who have either looked into it or dismissed it because it didn’t fit with things with a strong mathematical and/or experimental basis. Are they dismissing it unfairly? Maybe. But you (and me, with a physics degree) are completely unqualified to judge or understand the reasons they may have dismissed it. And at that point it doesn’t matter because your role as a YouTube commenter was made completely irrelevant the moment those physicists thought of the idea initially. You have no role whatsoever in what is done with the idea once you suggest it. Which brings me to the next point…

You only serve as the inception to introduce what can only be a relatively random suggestion. Ideas that follow logically from a layperson’s understanding of physics will have all been considered, which means that the only potentially helpful options left for you to suggest are things that have no real bearing on the logic of physics but could potentially describe unintuitive phenomenon. But the problem there is that you, the layman without mathematics, have no useful grasp on physics beyond the intuitive. This means that any useful suggestion you have will be accidental and essentially random. Your conscious thought and analysis will not be the thing of value in that circumstance, in which case an idea of equal value is just as likely to be raised by a physicist taking a walk and looking at random stimuli in their environment. In fact, since you’re likely to suggest something that IS logical from a layperson’s perspective, which will almost always fall into the realm of already considered ideas, your ideas will be statistically LESS useful than random stimuli.

Now, my whole point here is not to dump on you. Not being able to contribute to physics research doesn’t make you any less valuable as a human, it just means that Physics is really fucking hard.

What I DO want to demonstrate here is the true existential horror of being an undergraduate physics student slowly coming to terms with the fact that the more they learn, the more they realise they are of absolutely no use to the field as a whole unless they study for another 6 years on increasingly arcane and niche details, and either get very lucky or toil on relatively trivial problems for the rest of their life.

Reddit user : TheGloriousHole

I wasn’t able to respond on reddit because the thread had been archived. Here is what I might have said in the heat of the moment.

Holy cow, the hubris! I mean to say thank you for carving into the tombstone of physics and cosmology the attitude that has caused their miserable failure and will be canonized as the epitaph to their lack of creativity to solve the most obvious of puzzles.

J Mark Morris : San Diego : California