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Why I Still Doubt Inflation, in Spite of Gravitational Wave Findings

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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I hope I was wrong about inflation. For decades, I’ve been bashing this theory of cosmic creation, lumping it together with strings, multiverses (which inflation has helped popularize) and other highly speculative propositions sprung from theorists’ fecund minds. [See Addendum below for an exchange between me and multiverse popularizer "Mad Max" Tegmark.]

Inflation, in spite of evidence from the South Pole's BICEP2 observatory, still suffers from the "Alice's Restaurant Problem."

Proposed more than 30 years ago, inflation holds that an instant—10 -43 seconds, according to one estimate—after the Big Bang, gravity flipped inside out, briefly becoming a repulsive rather than attractive force. As a result the cosmos underwent an almost unimaginably rapid growth spurt, which had a profound impact on its evolution, before slowing down to a more leisurely rate of expansion.

Many cosmologists fell in love with inflation, because it seemed to solve riddles posed by the basic Big Bang theory. Why, for example, does the universe appear so uniform in all directions? The answer is that inflation would have smoothed out lumps in spacetime, just as blowing up a balloon smooths out its wrinkles.

But inflation has always been more a product of imagination than empirical evidence. There has never been more than circumstantial, hand-wavy support for its core mechanism, the reversal of gravity. Worse, the theory came in many different forms. My favorite was the eternally self-reproducing chaotic inflationary multiverse model proposed by Andrei Linde, who along with Alan Guth and Paul Steinhardt is credited with inventing inflation. [*For more on Linde and his inflation theorizing, see my 1992 profile of him, which I just posted on this blog.]

Indeed, inflation, like string theory, has always suffered from what is sometimes called the “Alice’s Restaurant Problem.” Like the diner eulogized in the iconic Arlo Guthrie song, inflation comes in so many different versions that it can give you “anything you want.” In other words, it cannot be falsified, and so–like psychoanalysis, Marxism and other overly flexible hypotheses–it is not really a scientific theory.

Inflation enthusiasts have claimed vindication before—for example, in 1992, when the COBE satellite produced a detailed map of the cosmic microwave background, the afterglow of the Big Bang; and in the late 1990s, when astrophysicists discovered that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. But neither of these supposed confirmations of inflation held up.

Just two months ago, inflation pioneer Paul Steinhardt wrote on the website Edge.org: “I think a priority for theorists today is to determine if inflation and string theory can be saved from devolving into a Theory of Anything and, if not, seek new ideas to replace them. Because an unfalsifiable Theory of Anything creates unfair competition for real scientific theories, leaders in the field can play an important role by speaking out—making it clear that Anything is not acceptable—to encourage talented young scientists to rise up and meet the challenge.” (See also Steinhardt’s April 2011 Scientific American article: “Is the theory at the heart of modern cosmology deeply flawed?“)

I’m intrigued by today’s news that observations of gravitational waves provide “direct proof of the theory of inflation,” as my colleague Clara Moskowitz puts it in a terrific, information-packed post. “The Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization 2 (BICEP2) experiment in the South Pole,” she continues, “found a pattern called primordial B-mode polarization in the light left over from just after the Big Bang, known as the cosmic microwave background (CMB). This pattern, basically a curling in the polarization, or orientation, of the light, can be created only by gravitational waves produced by inflation.”

“If corroborated,” Dennis Overbye writes in The New York Times, the BICEP2 study “will stand as a landmark in science comparable to the recent discovery of dark energy pushing the universe apart, or of the Big Bang itself. It would open vast realms of time and space and energy to science and speculation.”

I hope that turns out to be the case, because cosmology and physics desperately need a jolt of energy (which the anti-climactic discovery of the Higgs boson did not provide). But here is what I’d like to see: First, corroboration of the BICEP2 findings by other groups and observatories. Second, experiments from high-energy physics that provide some sort of corroborating evidence of the driving mechanism of inflation. Third, an explanation of why the Alice’s Restaurant Problem isn’t still a problem. Fourth, an explanation of why only inflation, and not other more conventional physical phenomena, can account for the gravity-wave findings.

When these conditions are met, I’ll be happy to admit I was wrong about inflation. But multiverses? Never!

Addendum: I want to draw attention—and respond—to a comment below from physicist and multiverse popularizer “Mad Max” (as he calls himself) Tegmark: “Thanks John for this thought-provoking post!
 When you say ‘But multiverses? Never!’, do you really feel that this is a scientifically defensible stance, or is it more of an emotional conviction? 
It gives me flashbacks from the recent Nye-Ham creationism debate, where Ham was asked whether there was any evidence that would even make him admit that he was wrong about Earth being 6000 years old, and he basically said ‘no’. A key point I make in chapter 6 of my book (http://mathematicaluniverse.org) is that parallel universes aren’t theories, but *predictions* of certain theories, and that’s it’s unscientific to accept a theory while rejecting some of its predictions: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2014/02/04/are-parallel-universes-unscientific-nonsense-insider-tips-for-criticizing-the-multiverse/.”

My response: “Max, so you equate my rejection of multiverses, which are totally imaginary and by definition can never be observed, with a young-earth creationist’s rejection of evolution, which has been confirmed by a virtually infinite number of observations? Really? That’s funny. Here’s my attempt at multiverse humor, ‘Is speculation in multiverses as immoral as speculation in subprime mortgages?‘, which I posted in 2011 in response to Brian Greene’s book The Hidden Reality. The core of that column goes: ‘Multiverse theories aren’t theories—they’re science fictions, theologies, works of the imagination unconstrained by evidence. At their best, science fiction and theology can leave us awestruck before the unutterable strangeness and vastness of the cosmos. Multiverse theories used to arouse these emotions in me. When the Russian physicist Andrei Linde—one of the inventors of the inflation theory of cosmic creation—first explained his chaotic, self-reproducing, fractal, inflationary multiverse theory to me 20 years ago, my reaction was, ‘Wow! That’s so cool!’ Multiverse theories don’t turn me on anymore. Perhaps it’s because of 9/11 and all its bloody consequences, especially the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq… Now, multiverse theories strike me as not only unscientific but also immoral, for two basic reasons: First, at a time when we desperately need science to help us solve our problems, it’s irresponsible for scientists as prominent as Greene to show such a blithe disregard for basic standards of evidence. Second, like religious visions of paradise, multiverses represent an escapist distraction from our world.’”

Photo of BICEP2 observatory at South Pole by Keith Vanderlinde.

 

John Horgan About the Author: Every week, hockey-playing science writer John Horgan takes a puckish, provocative look at breaking science. A teacher at Stevens Institute of Technology, Horgan is the author of four books, including The End of Science (Addison Wesley, 1996) and The End of War (McSweeney's, 2012). Follow on Twitter @Horganism.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. MissionHelpers 8:24 pm 03/17/2014

    “I’ll be happy to admit I was wrong about inflation. But multiverses? Never!”

    If corroborated, cosmic inflation is looking strong now. I’m right there with you on the multiverses!

    Link to this
  2. 2. rloldershaw 10:03 pm 03/17/2014

    I agree with JH that we need a less emotional, more objective, and more empirical assessment of the latest B-mode results.

    Some physicists are running around half-cocked talking about Holy Grails. Others appear to be fully cocked.

    If this is another “faster-than-light neutrinos situation, whereby the wheels come completely off the bus, then a lot of big-name people are going to look rather clownish and unscientific.

    Let cooler heads prevail!

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  3. 3. totallyconfused 6:44 am 03/18/2014

    I am totally confused as I cannot see how inflation can occur if nothing can move faster than light. Years ago I read and actually understood (due to his erudite writing) ‘The History of the Universe’ by Steven Hawkings but was puzzled by his statement that there could be only one universe. I assume this feeling is brought about by humanities last dip attempt to be, however indescribably small, a unique part in the state of being. I noted in later years that Hawkings fairly quietly issued a statement that he found multi universes theoretically acceptable????

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  4. 4. carboncosm 8:09 am 03/18/2014

    …said one bubble amongst the froth of the rest unbeknownst to it beneath Niagara Falls…

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  5. 5. David Cummings 8:12 am 03/18/2014

    Nothing can move faster than light in space but space can expand faster than the speed of light, even without inflation. The radius of the universe, in light years, is greater than the age of the universe. It’s been explained about 10 billion times on the internet, and I’m sure you can find one of those explanations if you do a quick search.

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  6. 6. carboncosm 8:38 am 03/18/2014

    @totallyconfused: it isn’t any THING that is moving or exceeding the speed of light. Its spacetime that is expanding at an exponential rate. Imagine one exceedingly tiny district of space time expanding at a reasonable rate, say doubling in volume over a given very brief span of time, then doubling again in the next same span, etc., for many such spans. Now imagine an adjacent district doing so. Add another next to those, all of them doubling in volume over the same spans of time. It should be easy enough to see that a very large collection of such districts will see districts that were initially in close proximity flying away from each other at speeds wildly in excess of the speed of light, even though the individual regions in their initial doubling of volume was quite tame. Spacetime should be regarded as a playing field that can contain things, so that if a given small district contains a particle of matter, its motion has no meaning without comparison to another: each particle is motionless within its own cozy tiny district, yet during inflation particles initially located within intimate distance from one another will appear to be flung away from each other as they are carried by the inflating field. No violation of the speed of light is ever encountered. Instead, at some characteristic distance where particles apparently recede from each other at light-speed, a given particle will perceive their colleagues pass over a horizon beyond which news of them cannot be delivered back by photons traveling at the finite speed of light.

    I imagine even Oldershaw can grok this much.

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  7. 7. bigbopper 8:53 am 03/18/2014

    I am mystified. Why should we care about John Horgan’s opinions about the BICEP2 discovery? Who is he, and why does what he thinks about the topic matter?

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  8. 8. tegmark 10:31 am 03/18/2014

    Thanks John for this thought-provoking post!
    When you say “But multiverses? Never!”, do you really feel that this is a scientifically defensible stance, or is it more of an emotional conviction?
    It gives me flashbacks from the recent Nye-Ham creationism debate, where Ham was asked whether there was any evidence that would even make him admit that he was wrong about Earth being 6000 years old, and he basically said “no”.

    A key point I make in chapter 6 of my book (http://mathematicaluniverse.org) is that parallel universes aren’t theories, but *predictions* of certain theories, and that’s it’s unscientific to accept a theory while rejecting some of its predictions:
    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2014/02/04/are-parallel-universes-unscientific-nonsense-insider-tips-for-criticizing-the-multiverse/

    Link to this
  9. 9. momofickthis 1:05 pm 03/18/2014

    The BICEP2 results do not confirm cosmic inflation. A
    particular graph in the scientific paper shows that the
    results predicted from cosmic inflation
    do not match the observations of this study. It’s entirely possible that 100% of the
    BICEP2 observations can be explained by non-inflationary
    factors such as gravitational lensing. The BICEP2 study
    relied on some old software called LensPix, and the site
    for that software says “there are almost certainly bugs”
    in the software.

    See my blog post “BICEP2 Study Does Not Confirm Cosmic Inflation”

    http://futureandcosmos.blogspot.com/2014/03/bicep2-study-has-not-confirmed-cosmic.html

    Link to this
  10. 10. rshoff2 1:12 pm 03/18/2014

    Totally confused: Perhaps nothing does move faster than light today. (Can it?). But perhaps, if the universe is in a state for a minuscule moment in time where gravity flips, then why can’t the rule of speed of light. Maybe for a fraction of a second nothing moved slower than the speed of light.

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  11. 11. RobFromLoveland 2:29 pm 03/18/2014

    Horgan tells us that the recent evidence doesn’t convince him that an inflationary universe happened. He goes on to make it known that because of his personal beliefs, it’s unlikely that any evidence could convince him. A mildly interesting but not very informative blog. And he does not present any evidence that supports his own views.

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  12. 12. carboncosm 3:13 pm 03/18/2014

    Tegmark: “…it’s unscientific to accept a theory while rejecting some of its predictions.”

    I agree. I will add that it is also more than a little disingenuous to do so, especially if one pretends to expertise. Opinions don’t mean a hill of beans without that understanding, except in its utility as a kind of scent that draws together ornery flies of like contrarian opinion…a phenomenon that bears as little resemblance to genuine skepticism as it does to scientific thinking.

    Nature doesn’t care what anybody believes, but if we can’t jettison our infantile belief-opinion ethic in favor of a discipline of keeping our conceptual models of nature provisional, very real consequences can indeed ensue.

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  13. 13. JohnDC 6:07 pm 03/18/2014

    The number of mind-wrenching contortions needed to prop up the BB theory makes Fred Hoyle’s “steady state” theory seem almost reasonable. Moreover, we also have discovered a mechanism, quantum fluctuations, that actualy could support Hoyle’s conjecture. While I personally don’t believe Hoyle’s model is quite right, we need to reconsider other models besides the BB.

    At the heart of this debate is the accepted interpretation of the “cosmic background radiation” and red shift. For many years, I’ve asked for experimental data that prove that the frequency of emitted light remains constant within a calculated range of error (taking into account gravity, etc.) I’ve never received a citation. I’ve been told an experiment to test constancy of frequency is impossible. Can someone provide such data or design an experiment to prove constancy of frequency?

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  14. 14. basudeba 12:12 am 03/19/2014

    Today we have submitted a paper to Gravity Research Foundation, USA, in which we have shown that Gravity is an all pervading force that acts on each body linearly. Due to differential mass, the resultant nonlinear movement appears as an inter-body force. Other fundamental forces are intra-body forces induced by gravity. The author is right that the eternally self-reproducing chaotic inflationary multiverse model is the correct picture. The condition of maximum entropy can be viewed in both ways. Once reaching a limit, the opposite process takes over. The mechanism is simple if we accept the so-called dark energy as a background structure. If a boat is pushed into a still water pond, the stationary background induces friction to reduce the motion and after sometime, the boat comes to a halt. Similarly, the inherent instability creates the big bang, which created a boundary that is known as one universe. The consequential ripples interact to generate a secondary expansion that bounces off this boundary to create the “swirls”. This generates spin, which is a universal feature. The galactic cluster spins or swirls giving rise to the redshift at one place and blue-shift at other places and times. This has been erroneously interpreted as the expanding universe.

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  15. 15. Jerzy v. 3.0. 5:28 am 03/19/2014

    Cannot resist:

    You are not supposed to doubt inflation. The line of Scientific American is that if 90% of scientists say something, the public is to believe unquestionally like the revelation from the Church of Scientists. 10% of the rest is fringe and paid by Conservatives. Are you a real scientist, or what?

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  16. 16. jjm319 8:45 pm 03/19/2014

    John, that’s an embarrassing response. It is incoherent and unscientific. I don’t follow the jump that because of 9/11 and bloody warfare multiverse speculation is immoral. I don’t even think you understood what Max meant when he said that the multiverse was not a theory but a prediction of a theory. Save yourself some embarrassment and delete it before anyone else reads it.

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  17. 17. Dr. Strangelove 11:03 pm 03/19/2014

    Tegmark
    Engineering thermodynamics predict work-energy of heat engines must form a polygon in PV diagrams. And you can clearly see that in PV diagrams. Do you really believe energy is a polygon? You’re in good company. The ancient Pythagoreans believed everything in the universe is numbers and geometric shapes.

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  18. 18. larkalt 5:42 am 03/20/2014

    I wonder whether Penrose’s conformal cyclic cosmology predicts such gravitational waves?

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  19. 19. anchmike 1:50 pm 03/20/2014

    If you believe in the plausibility of the big bang theory then what is it that makes it implausible that other universes could equally suddenly exist through a big bang or another unknown force? We’ve heard so many definite “NO, that is impossible”‘s in the past that later turned out to be true (in many other disciplines) that you are setting yourself up to be ridiculed and a fool in the future. I’ve learned that anything is possible until proven false or improbable. Long live forward thinking scientists who have the gall (I would have said ball’s but I believe are also capable) to think outside the universe.

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  20. 20. anchmike 1:52 pm 03/20/2014

    that should have been (I would have said ball’s but I believe women are also capable)

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  21. 21. darkspace 3:18 pm 03/20/2014

    My late father the theoretical physicist James Paul Wesley wrote many books and was published in many journals including Scientific American. One of his books was called “Ecophysics”, a term he coined, a best suggested title for a total overview of casual physics is “Selected Topics in Scientific Physics.” In some of his other books he had long predicted the existence of gravity waves and said he would take their discovery to be evidence AGAINST the big bang. He had also done the same for the cosmic background radiation, shown how its evidence of the distant down shifted light of a steady state universe which downshifts light every time it tries to escape a gravitational field, which also solves Oblers paradox. He calls modern physics a religion and in great mathematical detail upends virtually every spooky conclusion of physics replacing the metaphysical assumptions with strictly physical common sense explanations. Institutions do not tend to do well with theory because of group think, and they do well with math and experiment for the same reason, however in many cases math and experiment can support a false concept just as easily as a correct concept, math and experiment are concept dependent, astrology has math and requires observational experiments. Metaphysics is endless, once one is constrained by the rational knots such freedom allows one to tie oneself into intractable Gordian level problems such as dark energy and matter arise that only a very clever conformist press can turn into a “victory” Both dark energy and mass are a FAILURE of observation.

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  22. 22. hungry doggy 3:22 pm 03/20/2014

    Just like the rest of academia, physics has become infected with the post-modern philosophy that truth doesn’t matter. Science used to consist of theories that could be objectively tested by either experiment or observation. In our post-modern era we have theories that pretend to be science that can never be tested and we have theories where any observation is interpreted as supporting the theory provided the theory is politically correct.

    The multi-verse cannot be tested even in principle. It is philosophy, not science. Likewise string theory has no experimental or observational support. Without evidence string theory is just an enormous waste of effort. While inflation may have happened, before we take it as the new gospel we really ought to remain skeptical until we get some better evidence.

    But like I said, science is coming to resemble sociology. You judge a theory not based on the evidence but based on the politics.

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  23. 23. visibleunderwater 5:27 am 03/21/2014

    it seems there is some confusion here with the word “multiverse”. Some are talking about separate “bubbles” that might have different laws of physics, and “parallel universes” which would be similar to our own.

    My personal theory is that “new universes” are born when a massive black hole “pops” internally. All the matter / energy it sucks in is reduced to it’s most “basic” form inside the BH’s event horizon bubble (due to massive heat, pressure, gravity, etc) and this “black hole quanta” eventually makes it’s own completely separate space-time bubble. Our universe and the “new” one might be “joined” for a few Planck seconds while the energy is drained from our universe into the “new” one, this is the “inflation period” we are now finally tracking down. Once that period is over, the connection between the two is gone, the black hole once again starts “hoarding” energy. The occasional “burps” we’ve observed in super-massive black holes are the creation of these “new universes”.

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  24. 24. DavidMarjanovic 6:54 am 03/21/2014

    Moreover, we also have discovered a mechanism, quantum fluctuations, that actualy could support Hoyle’s conjecture.

    I wonder how. The more energy they cheat out of the 1st law of thermodynamics, the faster they have to pay it back – as far as I understand, the only way a quantum fluctuation can create something lasting is if it has zero total energy, a condition the universe might fulfill but a particle/antiparticle pair doesn’t. What have I overlooked?

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  25. 25. Acorn1 1:27 am 03/22/2014

    Roger Penrose calculated that the chances of an inflationary big bang vs a non-inflationary big bang are 1 in 10 to the googolplex – that’s 1/(10^10^100). Just saying ….

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  26. 26. DavidJohnson 1:04 pm 03/22/2014

    What Tegmark says here is nonsense – it almost boils down to “if you disagree strongly with the opposite view to yours, then you’re like the creationists” – he tries to get people on his side because most of us can’t stand the creationists.

    He also says: “it’s unscientific to accept a theory while rejecting some of its predictions”. Nonsense – theories are very often right in places, wrong in other places. Newton’s gravity theory we accept, but not all of its predictions. GR and QM are incompatible in places, so this will go on. That’s why we test every part of a theory by experiment – we don’t just test one bit and then believe it all. Because of that, his multiverse ideas fail. We can’t test that part of inflation theory, so it could always be wrong, even if other parts of the theory are right.

    Incidentally, Phil Gibbs (who’s an excellent physicist), said today that Tegmark’s taking the evidence for gravitational waves in the CMB to be evidence for Hawking radiation “”does not really make any sense at all”.

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  27. 27. openeyes999 3:15 pm 03/22/2014

    Wow, did you see how emotional and unscientific Horgan got (invoking 9/11 wtf?) when Tegmark offered a critique of his article. (including the ad hom “Mad Max” comment) I don’t know if the multiverse exists, but Horgan’s claim that it can NEVER be proven is false. Some have suggested that the collision of our Universe with another Universe might even be detectable in the CMB. As time goes on I imagine there will be other ways to test the theory. Horgan seems to be putting his own beliefs over science.

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  28. 28. rdfowler 4:45 pm 03/22/2014

    “Max, so you equate my rejection of multiverses, which are totally imaginary and by definition can never be observed…” – John Horgan (2014)
    “We can never learn their (stars) internal constitution, nor, in regard to some of them, how heat is absorbed by their atmosphere.” – Auguste Comte (1842)

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  29. 29. DavidJohnson 5:08 am 03/23/2014

    The fact Auguste Comte was wrong about one thing doesn’t mean that someone nowadays is right about something else.

    But Auguste Compte would have been right if instead of what he said he had criticised someone in his time for letting ideas about the physics of the interiors of stars affect their thinking about the world. That kind of knowledge was so out of reach that it would have been irrelevant speculation.

    In the same way, though they will tell you otherwise, we’re nowhere near pinning inflation down enough to speculate about other universes. We don’t know what causes what we put down to dark matter, we don’t know what causes what we put down to dark energy. We may still not know these things in 2050. There may be fifteen or twenty unknown effects out there affecting our data, and there are almost certainly more things that cause redshifts than the ones we know about. In physics we know a lot, but not in cosmology.

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  30. 30. LenkiMoonshine 6:30 am 03/23/2014

    @8. Tegmark

    “… it’s unscientific to accept a theory while rejecting some of its predictions …”

    Do you accept Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (yes – read your book [http://mathematicaluniverse.org]), while rejecting some of its predictions (yes – those that disagree with quantum theory)? Do you consider yourself a scientist (yes)?

    You’re just spouting nonsense, Max.

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  31. 31. DavidJohnson 8:07 am 03/23/2014

    The reason I’ve criticised Tegmark’s view in these posts is that on another guest blog he lists three possible ways of attacking his view, and calls them “insider tips for criticizing the multiverse”. The three arguments he lists (which he very wrongly says are the only three possible ones) are naturally among the weaker arguments – they’re ‘straw men’, set up to be knocked down. He’s not going to tell you of any strong argument against his view. So I’ve set one out.

    It seems very possible to many that what really happened in the early universe was like inflation, but without the exact mechanism that we have at present, which is speculative, to put it mildly. So some of the advantages of inflation would still apply, and you’d still get gravity waves. But the physics would be different, and so would the implications.

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  32. 32. plynch18 1:29 am 03/24/2014

    I have never heard a scientist describe inflation as “gravity turning inside out” or even relate gravity to inflation in any way whatsoever.

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  33. 33. rshoff2 3:08 am 03/24/2014

    John – You are in a much better position to doubt, or rally behind, any scientific theory, advancement, understanding, etc, than I.

    However, what I’m feeling is a sense of betrayal by the media and the scientific community. What was introduced to us was a media sensation of notifying a theorist that proof has been found to support the Inflation.

    In my ignorance, I have never doubted the big bang, never doubted string theory, never doubted anything that the scientific community had to tell us. What I struggled with was how to understand, as a layman, these theoretical proclamations.

    Being very cynical, it’s clear to me that understanding a concept and accepting it as truth are very different things. Understanding concepts has value in the fact it helps us expand our brain. It also happens to be one of my deficits. Understanding, that is. Accepting, well, that’s a leap of faith. We have no choice but to believe what we are told by the scientific community. There is no way laymen can prove or disprove anything the scientific or research community tells us. So we must expect them to be very matter of fact and sure of what they have to say. And when it’s an idea, perhaps they should explain, “it’s just an idea”!

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  34. 34. John Horgan in reply to John Horgan 7:04 am 03/24/2014

    rshoff2, all science journalists, or at least this one, go through a crisis of faith like yours. You can’t really trust anyone, including me. You’re on your own. Good luck!

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  35. 35. rshoff2 1:25 pm 03/24/2014

    I trust you John to force us to think, and view things from a different perspective. Your views and blogs get us out of our rut. Besides your writing style is enjoyable. You also keep us honest. I’m way too cynical to believe much but I do have to choose how to use information sources. A lemming I’m not, easily manipulated, I fear so. As are many.

    The science community should consider that to lose our trust is to lose funding. When they convince us that science is faith based, or merely a parlor game, they will have trouble justifying their budgets.

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  36. 36. DavidJohnson 7:34 pm 03/25/2014

    It’s not a parlor game, and inflation isn’t ‘just an idea’. Nor was Newton’s theory, it was a major breakthrough. But it was still incomplete, and incorrect in places. We get there step by step, but there are often people saying we’re further on than we are.

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  37. 37. rshoff2 9:58 pm 03/25/2014

    I’m not saying that the idea behind Inflation isn’t sound. There is no reason for me to doubt any of it. My point was, people don’t know what to believe and the scientist have an obligation to be mindful about presenting their findings. They are obligated to the public because the public pays the bills be it via taxes or consumerism. If the public gets to confused and loses the ability to understand the nature of science, it will lose public support.

    One bazaar example is the Italian scientists that were convicted over the earthquake warning.

    Be careful of ivory towers. They fall.

    That was my point.

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  38. 38. dburress 11:46 pm 04/14/2014

    Horgan’s argument against multiverses strikes me as warmed over logical positivism, which was a self-contradictory philosophic theory (in so far as the meaningfulness criteria disconfirms itself). If we ever have a successful, predictive, working theory that also predicts multiverses, then it will be at least as unscientific to claim outside universes do not physically exist as to claim that they do. Moreover, until we have such a theory we cannot be sure there are no detectable interactions between multiverses. In any case, if the concept of multiverses turns out to help scientists actually understand and use a working theory that happens to predict them, then only a fool or logical positivist would ask scientists to stop talking about them.
    Granted it would be nice have theories with no unobservable entities, but modern quantum mechanics has pretty much ruled that out.
    Bottom line: Horgan is making reckless predictions about a theory that does not yet exist, based on an exploded philosophic critique. I believe it is a truism in the history of science that outside philosophic critiques have no impact on the progress of modern science. Theories die only when they are replaced with better theories, or else fail to lead to new experimental facts.

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