“I prefer to think of my bank account as limitless.”
“I prefer to think of myself as universally charming.”
“I prefer to think of traffic laws as suggestions, meant to be followed by others but as mere recommendations to skilled drivers such as myself.”
No sensible person talks like this about money, relationships, or the Motor Vehicle Act. But sensible people, even brilliant ones, talk all the time like this about God.
What put me in mind of this distressing habit was not a religion book, however, but two new science ones.
Sabine Hossenfelder, a research fellow at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, has just released a volume with a powerful warning. Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray points to recent scientific theories that are beholden to scientists’ love of beauty rather than their commitment to data and theories that match:
“Whether pondering black holes or predicting discoveries at CERN, physicists believe the best theories are beautiful, natural, and elegant…. This is why…we have not seen a major breakthrough in the foundations of physics for more than four decades. The belief in beauty has become so dogmatic that it now conflicts with scientific objectivity: observation has been unable to confirm mindboggling theories, like supersymmetry or grand unification, invented by physicists based on aesthetic criteria. Worse, these ‘too good to not be true’ theories are actually untestable and they have left the field in a cul-de-sac. To escape, physicists must rethink their methods. Only by embracing reality as it is can science discover the truth.”
This seems a strange message to bring. Scientists needing a serious slap on the wrist to conform their thinking to the dictates of their findings, not their preferences?
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