June 12, 2014 | 14
I suppose I should be grateful that, 18 years after the release of my book The End of Science, people still care enough about it to knock it.
The latest whack was a book review published in The Wall Street Journal last weekend. British science writer John Gribbin, reviewing The Island of Knowledge, by physicist Marcelo Gleiser, notes approvingly that Gleiser views science as an infinite, never-ending quest.
Gribbin continues: “Mr. Gleiser’s assessment of the future of science is distinctly different from that of many scientists and commentators. Back in 1996, John Horgan made a splash with The End of Science; his argument was that the foundations of science, such as the Big Bang theory, the structure of DNA and evolution by natural selection, were well established and were not going to be changed, except in detail, by new discoveries.”
As a rebuttal of my thesis, Gribbin asserts that cosmologists could be on the verge of demonstrating that our observable cosmos is just “one bubble in an infinitely large and eternal metaverse with no beginning and no end.” (For some reason Gribbin here prefers metaverse to the more common multiverse.)
“Grrr,” I thought. I was also annoyed that Gribbin repeats the apocryphal tale that in 1900 the great British physicist William Thomson—a.k.a. Lord Kelvin—declared, “There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.” As Gribbin would know if he had read The End of Science, it was Albert Michelson, not Kelvin, who suggested that “most of the grand underlying principles [of physics] have been firmly established,” and the year was 1894, not 1900.
Michelson added: “An eminent physicist has remarked that the future truths of Physical Science are to be looked for in the sixth place of decimals.” Although some pundits have identified Kelvin as the “eminent physicist,” historians have found no evidence for the claim.
I was trying to decide whether to whack Gribbin’s review when mathematical physicist Peter Woit whacked it for me on his blog “Not Even Wrong.” After noting that Gribbin wrote “the 2009 multiverse-promotional effort In Search of the Multiverse,” Woit adds:
“The really odd thing about the review is that Gribbin uses the multiverse to argue that John Horgan’s claims about physics in The End of Science are wrong. This is just bizarre. Gribbin and his multiverse mania for untestable theories provide strong ammunition for Horgan, since it’s the sort of thing he was warning about.”
Thanks, Peter. I couldn’t have said it better myself.