Tuesday, March 12, 2019

A thing of beauty

Sabine Hossenfelder's new book, Lost in Math:  How Beauty Leads Physics Astray is stirring up quite a stir with multiple reviews.  Hossenfelder has recently stuck her oar into the question about whether a new supercollider should be built as a follow-on to CERN.

The just-look-argument is of course well and fine. But, as I have pointed out many times before, the same just-look-argument can be made for any other new experiment in the foundations of physics. It therefore does not explain why a larger particle collider in particular is a good investment. Indeed, the opposite is the case: There are less costly experiments for which we have good reasons, such as measuring more precisely the properties of dark matter or probing the weak field regime of quantum gravity.
Eli got into this a little bit on Twitter
but the issue of beauty in physics, in science in general, what is worth doing, at least to Eli is of interest.  About a month ago the Rabett in a comment to Hossenfelder thought that beauty in physics was a matter of being terse, spare simple.  She really did not like that, and after all, who is Eli.  Reading the New Yorker this week a rather better description appeared in James Marcus' memorial to his father, a bioscientist, who died a difficult death.
Later, after his death, one of his colleagues noted that my father "believed that beauty would save the world".  My father would never have said that about himself.  Yet it was true, if you understood beauty to encompass not only ecstasy but precision, rigor a relish for the tiniest (literally microscopic) details. And it was true about me, too. We were a religious sect consisting of two people, and now half the congregation was gone. There would be no closure, no healing. I would simply adjust myself to a new and severely depleted reality. The world would come to an end, as it always does, one world at a time.


Supernaut said...

Thanks; currently reading her book. Btw, it's Sabine, not Sabrine.

EliRabett said...

Many thanks, Eli will blame it on spellcheck or age. YMMV

David B Benson said...

I read several reviews. I agree with the thesis so I don't need to read the book.

There is plenty to research without evoking a mistaken sense of esthetics.

Russell Seitz said...

There is plenty to research without evoking a mistaken sense of esthetics.

If aesthetics can't inspire research , nothing can- astrophysics is full of spectacular examples, the latest being one that's too close for comfort , the Wolf-Rayet star Apep


David B Benson said...

A mistaken sense of esthetics, in this case symmetry, is to bother to consider magnetic monopoles just because then Maxwell's equations become more symmetric.

An interesting esthetic is nonrepeating tilings of the plane. Suggests interesting chemistry.