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We don’t know everything, but we know enough

Sean Carroll explains the sufficiency of physics. Magic disproven with Feynman diagrams!

Wait, I saw this talk at Skepticon, and I think it was close to an hour long. They’ve edited down to 10 minutes? And it still makes sense? This bodes ill. I fear they’re going to take my talks now and distill them down to 30 seconds.

By the way, Skepticon 6 has been announced: 15-17 November in lovely Springfield, Missouri. Will I see you all there?

They’ve also created a Skepticon blog in which they promise to reveal the dark, hidden secrets behind running a free conference, and I hope embarrassing stories about JT (maybe they’re waiting for more donations before they unveil the juicy stuff). Everything has a dinosaur theme, too, which is good, because I’d like to go to Skepticon this year and talk about fossils.

Comments

  1. Rich Woods says

    Maybe this version will get through to certain woo-tastic co-workers who responded to my suggestion of viewing Sean’s original talk as ‘TL;DR’.

    I can hope, can’t I?

    “Fuckin’ Feynman diagrams, how do they work?”

  2. Rich Woods says

    Oops. Better to have written ‘with’ instead of ‘as’ in that first para. Or ‘described’ instead of ‘responded to’. Take your pick. I’m easy on this.

  3. says

    How odd. I was having this conversation elsewhere in the interwebs.

    I said just because we don’t know everything, that doesn’t mean we don’t know enough to rule out the supernatural.

  4. says

    Of course the IDiot “answer” is that something like “mind” simply is outside of physics, if interacting with physics in some magic manner. Like I argued against Berlinski in a letter to the editor that “mind” can’t be something beyond the brain due to thermodynamics, and he simply “answered” that if the “mind” happens to be something that is beyond physics my argument doesn’t count. Well duh, the point is that if you have no empiric reason to “circumvent the laws of thermodynamics” you don’t get to glibly assume that “mind” does so, that you accept thermodynamics for “mind” unless and until you can show that it must be otherwise.

    OK,, so they insist on being stupid, and that’s nothing new. I’m just saying that there is a host of both deliberately and accidentally ignorant people for whom Carroll’s sense “makes no sense,” just because they’ve already decided or assumed that some things are magic, and that’s their a priori “truth.”

    Glen Davidson

  5. says

    [Skepticon 6] has a dinosaur theme

    Good theme. Of course, I say that as someone who became a scientist because of dinosaurs, space, and explosions.

  6. voidhawk says

    How many times have I had this argument, especially with ghost-believers?

    “It’s the imprint of a soul. You can’t detect souls with your fancy-pants science” Really? it reacts strongly enough to lower the temperature in the room, knock on walls and push glasses over but we can’t detect it?

    “The mind lives after the vessel dies” Really? That implies that it uses some sort of energy to keep those interactions going, what energy? How does a ghost ‘eat?’

    I once got extremely pissy with a friend of a friend who was visiting from America. The last straw was when I offered to pay for the round of drinks with ghostly money (money which died suddenly and violently and was not carefully saved) apparently she believed that complicated human souls can leave an imprint on the world but not metal or paper.

  7. unclefrogy says

    is the complete lecture available some where. I was having such fun listening when it just stopped.
    uncle frogy

  8. says

    In real life you need to speak at a norma rate, gather your thoughts, give time for people to read from a distance, answer questions, preface and endcap the interaction… And breathe. None of this takes time in a pre-recorded video.

    Of course, you don’t get all the detail and you can’t ask questions, so…

  9. truthspeaker says

    Ghosts are totally outside physics, man.

    They just happen to emit light in the visible spectrum that can interact with our eyes.

    And they can make sounds.

  10. glodson says

    When I finally realized how silly it was to give a special deference to religion, it was these lines of thinking that helped me to come to a conclusion that there’s no god. Or at least, no reason to believe that there’s a god.

    Education and treating religion like it should have proof is not good for religion at all.

  11. Lofty says

    Magic tends to be suppressed when there’s a sceptic in the room. Measuring tools dampen woo, sad to say.

  12. gingerbaker says

    There still might be some room for the supernatural. Dr Carrol does a good explaining what we know about matter and energy in this universe.

    But what do we know about other universes and how they might interact with this one?

  13. glodson says

    But what do we know about other universes and how they might interact with this one?

    If they interacted with this universe, there would be some evidence. In the form of a force interaction that we could observe. So far, no evidence for that. There’s no indication that there are even multiple universes. A multiverse is mostly a conjecture. It is an implication of a few interpretations of quantum mechanics, but that doesn’t mean there is one.

    So, the dodge is to speculate about other universes to account for supernatural effects we don’t see in this universe? Well, what other horrible things would you like to do to the law of parsimony while you’re at it?

  14. says

    Okay… I agree with his premises, I agree with his conclusions, and the Feynman diagram is nice…

    But…

    Would not the same argument have applied in 1896 prior to the discovery of radioactivity? We knew everything then… but our ability to detect the forces behind alpha and beta and gamma were insufficient. Even so, manipulation of particular isotopes gave rise to nuclear power, which can certainly affect the gross physical world. It is very UNLIKELY that there are ‘woo particles’ that can affect matter, but there could be particles not predicted in the standard model that interact infrequently, like the neutrino family, that could still be available under the right conditions. Not via a magic wand… unless you consider the LHC a magic wand… and certainly, there is very little likelihood that such artificial arrangements would ever be found in nature, no matter how much prayer and fasting and spell casting and ghost hunting someone did.

    Yes, I agree with him… but I doubt we are ready to shut down the patent office yet. I just get very wary whenever someone uses ‘impossible’ and ‘science’ in the same sentence, no matter how simple and convincing their argument. It has been done too often before.

  15. says

    unfrogy #8
    Yes, it’s here:
    Higgs Boson and the Fundamental Nature of Reality – Sean Carroll – Skepticon 5
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vrs-Azp0i3k

    I just watched it and it’s great! I understood* better a lot of concepts about physics (wave/particule thing, and the Higgs field of course).

    * Well, when I say “understood”…

  16. glodson says

    Yes, I agree with him… but I doubt we are ready to shut down the patent office yet. I just get very wary whenever someone uses ‘impossible’ and ‘science’ in the same sentence, no matter how simple and convincing their argument. It has been done too often before.

    He said multiple times that physics wasn’t done. But he looked at what we know, and he ruled out possibilities eliminated by what we know. There’s no room for the supernatural, for the afterlife.

    Like the argument about a supernatural force. It has to be weaker than gravity to even exist. It would have no impact on our day to day life. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a force weaker than gravity, it just means it could have zero impact on our day to day life. Which would mean that it couldn’t be a force for ghosts, goblins, psychic powers, god, angels, devils, or any other supernatural force.

    It doesn’t take a complete knowledge of a field to rule out the some possibilities. Our current understanding of science is enough to eliminate the possibility of the supernatural, of the woo-peddler’s claims. That’s the point. Like the title of this post says, we don’t know everything, but we know enough. And that bit we know, we back up with mountains of evidence to support.

  17. erik333 says

    @12 glodson

    Well, it’s not only the fact that they can’t present convincing evidence, the dogma tends to be absurd. A god creating the universe cares about what humans on earth do and think? Given our complete irrelevance on the cosmic scale, the very concept seems unfathomable to me. Almost as unfathomable as the idea that you might attain knowledge or guidance by trying to communicate with it by thinking (praying) at it. The exchange must be as meaningful for the god as our conversations with bacteria.

    @14 gingerbaker

    What we need to remove the room is a brain smasher. Smash brains together hard enough and magic will come out, if it exists. His argument that evidence of magic would necessarily show up in atom smashers is unconvincing, the superstitionists will just say that magic interacts in a directed fashion that is controlled by minds. So it won’t show up in an atom smasher unless somebody is trying to use telekinesis on the protons as they collide. Clearly, a brain smasher is required. ;-)

  18. says

    Hi,
    I don’t have Adobe Flash player installed on my computer because it’s proprietary, and it’s not possible for me to get the URL of the video. I typically use a script with mplayer for the dwb browser to watch youtube videos, but I need the URL of the video on youtube to do that. Could someone do me a quick favor and post the URL of the video in PZ’s blog post?

  19. cicely says

    By the way, Skepticon 6 has been announced: 15-17 November in lovely Springfield, Missouri.

    Yesssssss!

    Will I see you all there?

    Hell yes! (Barring another bout of Family Meltdown, or a Completely Uncalled-For Medical Drama.)
    -

  20. Lofty says

    erik333

    woofunction

    I read that as woof-unction, ie blessed by dogs. This may be a new avenue of woo-finance attracting research!

  21. John Morales says

    [OT]

    Isaac, doesn’t your browser let you look at the page source?

    Here: “http://www.youtube.com/watch?&v=1ypyVjSaj4w”

  22. Snoof says

    [The multiverse] is an implication of a few interpretations of quantum mechanics, but that doesn’t mean there is one.

    The many-worlds hypothesis is sufficiently convincing that there’s a good number of physicists who subscribe to it. (And a great many who don’t.)

    It’s irrelevant in these discussions anyway, because, as far as I understand, all of the many worlds hypothesized obey the same laws of physics.

  23. robro says

    Snoof — “…all of the many worlds hypothesized obey the same laws of physics.” I’m no expert…shoot, I’m barely intelligent when it comes to physics…but I’ve read and heard numerous times speculation that other universes in the multi-verse could obey different laws. In fact, I heard an interview on NPR this weekend with Krauss where he said “maybe” these other universes, if they exist, have different fundamental laws.

  24. Joe says

    Robro – you are talking about different ‘multiverses’. The one Krauss talks about is, as far as I know, related to how the big bang happened and inflation. These universes could (and if they exist, probably do) have different laws of physics. In this case, the universes are too far away from each other to interact (think of our universe as a bubble, and the other universes as other bubbles, floating some distance away)

    The multiverse Snoof is talking about is a quantum mechanics thing – put simply, it argues that Schrodinger’s cat ends up both alive and dead, in two separate ‘universes’. These universes do have the same laws of physics, and can be said to exist “on top of” each other, but because of the way quantum mechanics works they cannot interact – if they could then how we understand quantum mechanics to work is fundementally wrong.

  25. John Morales says

    robro, if the laws are different in those putative different universes, then they’re definitionally not fundamental.

  26. consciousness razor says

    Since the animal rights thread is just plain depressing….

    It’s irrelevant in these discussions anyway, because, as far as I understand, all of the many worlds hypothesized obey the same laws of physics.

    According to many-worlds, they cannot interact with one another anyway. That is just not the sort of thing the many-worlds do; so even if somehow one could have a different law than another, it would make no difference at all.

    I’m no expert…shoot, I’m barely intelligent when it comes to physics…but I’ve read and heard numerous times speculation that other universes in the multi-verse could obey different laws. In fact, I heard an interview on NPR this weekend with Krauss where he said “maybe” these other universes, if they exist, have different fundamental laws.

    The confusing thing is that when people say something like “multiple universes,” that can mean lots of different things. A many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is not about the same thing as a theory of a multiverse caused by some form of inflation, for example. Only one of those could be true or both or neither — any of those are valid possibilities (unless the physics turns out not to work with some, but I’m ignorant of that), because they’re different concepts even though they may sound similar. Krauss makes lots of noises about the universe-from-nothing cosmology stuff, which has to do with multiverse theories but isn’t the same as interpreting quantum mechanics.

    As for those other universes in a multiverse possibly interacting with ours, there is no evidence for that either, not even that those other universes exist. Besides, those pretty clearly aren’t what Carroll meant by the “supernatural” anyway, so it’s a moot point.

  27. Snoof says

    robro: Well, there’s the general idea of a multiverse, and then there’s the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. The former is pure speculation[1], the latter is a mathematically-constructed attempt to explain “quantum weirdness”, and that’s the one which requires the laws of physics be the same in all branches.

    [1] Interesting and entertaining speculation, at times, but still speculation.

  28. says

    I get an HTML5 viewer via a plugin that can extract the video’s URL.

    So I don’t buy ‘it’s proprietary so I don’ wanna’.

  29. Muz says

    The video is exactly the sort of thing particle physics folks need to talk about more if we want to make a dent in Quantum Woo (which is very large, ironically). The whole concept of ranges of interaction is so important to the whole thing, but I think it’s been skipped over or taken for granted for 30 years in favour of just wowing people with the mindblowing incomprehensibility of the sub atomic (I’m sure actual physics students know this stuff, but it really hasn’t seeped through to the public, I feel).
    A talk like this is going to have a hard time against the ‘common sense’ feeling that tiny factors necessarily have some impact on large scales, even if its seemingly irrelevant or immeasurable. But it’s a start.

  30. Anri says

    gingerbaker:

    But what do we know about other universes and how they might interact with this one?

    Correct me if I am wrong, but if it interacts with this universe… it’s part of this universe, not another, yes?

    I was under the (possibly quite wrong) impression that was inherent in the definition of the term.

    . . .

    John:

    Would not the same argument have applied in 1896 prior to the discovery of radioactivity? We knew everything then… but our ability to detect the forces behind alpha and beta and gamma were insufficient

    Not really, no.
    Marie Curie died of radiation exposure – we could detect the radiation (if in no other way than watching it make people get sick and die), we just didn’t quite know yet what we were looking at.
    What’s being said here is that, barring some revolutionary new experiment that brings the entire edifice down, we’ve got explanations for pretty much every phenomena we see in the ‘everyday’ world.

    We’re all waiting on that paradigm shifting experiment that shows that everything we know about Life, the Universe, and Everything is wrong – but the rigor required for such an experiment just isn’t something you can work up poking around in your garage.

    That’s the difference.

  31. says

    @24 John
    Thanks!

    I can view the source, but I hate navigating my way through a bunch of html code looking for one small thing.