String theory as simply, truth?

Nancy Cartwright and Roman Frigg of the Department of Philosophy at the London School of Economics, recently wrote here an evaluation of string theory as a viable physical theory, understandably, from a more philosophical point of view, which is in line with the approach taken by Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in his book The Trouble With Physics.

A crucial question raised in the evaluation is whether string theory has the potential to be progressive as a research program, rather than a physical theory in its present form. It is ironic to call to attention the fact that string theory in its present form is neither a theory (being without any underlying equations, as possessed by other physical theories such as Newtonian theory) nor is it based on strings (but on multi-dimensional branes or sheets as you will). The authors reiterate that the capability of a research program to be progressive cannot be based entirely on the falsifiability of its claims and its ability to generate unique predictions. Rather, the progressiveness of a research program should be also be evaluated in the following:

  • its ability to spawn new technologies
  • its ability to answer perplexing problems
  • its consistency
  • its simplicity
  • its explanatory power
  • its unifying power.

However, although the authors acknowledge the viability of string theory in uniting gravity and quantum mechanics, its power to describe phenomena in high-energy energy regimes that otherwise are hard to tackle using other techniques, its contributions to various branches of mathematics, especially esoteric mathematics, and its simplicity and beauty, they question the truth value of string theory, and return to calling to task its inability to make falsifiable claims and unique testable predictions.

The main difference between their evaluation and the evaluation of radical skeptics of string theory then seems to be in using the standard that for a given research program to be counted as progressive, it has to make a substantial level of progress in all the directions listed above. Given this standard, the authors reach a similar conclusion as the radical skeptics and ultimately cast doubt on the progressiveness of string theory as an overall research program. In lieu of this, the more comprehensive approach taken by the authors does, I believe, help us to reach a more rational and all-rounded solution to the more practical questions on dealing with string theory as a research program in the scientific community.


~ by musafiremes on October 6, 2007.

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