The Discoveroids — described in the Cast of Characters section of our Intro page — have undertaken to quote mine Lisa Randall. You already know how highly your Curmudgeon esteems Olivia Judson in the field of biology. Well, your Curmudgeon has even higher regard for Professor Randall in theoretical physics. Here’s Lisa’s page at the Harvard website, which says:
Professor Lisa Randall studies theoretical particle physics and cosmology at Harvard University. Her research connects theoretical insights to puzzles in our current understanding of the properties and interactions of matter. She has developed and studied a wide variety of models to address these questions, the most prominent involving extra dimensions of space. Her work has involved improving our under-standing of the Standard Model of particle physics, supersymmetry, baryogenesis, cosmological inflation, and dark matter. Randall’s research also explores ways to experimentally test and verify ideas and her current research focuses in large part on the Large Hadron Collider and dark matter searches and models.
We have heretofore kept our cyber passion for Lisa out of this blog, but now that the Discoveroids have written about her, we can restrain ourselves no longer. Their article is A Theory of Everything Is Not. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:
In the New Scientist, Harvard theoretical physicist Lisa Randall was asked about the concept of a “theory of everything.” The title of the article sums up her response: “A theory of everything won’t provide all the answers.”
This is the article they’re talking about: A theory of everything won’t provide all the answers. When you read it, you’ll see that she doesn’t disparage the idea of a theory of everything. Rather, she says:
I don’t think about a theory of everything when I do my research. And even if we knew the ultimate underlying theory, how are you going to explain the fact that we’re sitting here? Solving string theory won’t tell us how humanity was born. … It’s not that it’s a fallacy. It’s one objective that will inspire progress. I just think the idea that we will ever get there is a little bit challenging.
She says a lot of other things, especially about the Large Hadron Collider experiments, but the Discoveroids have zoomed in on the article’s unfortunate title and are running wild with it. Let’s read some more from the Discoveroid blog:
Randall’s answer points out the fallacy of the reductionist project in science. Would a theory of everything really be useful? Surely the most important things to us as human beings would remain unexplained.
Fallacy? What are they talking about? The Discoveroids continue:
For instance, suppose someone like Randall answered every question from her husband or teenage daughter with, “Because the big bang happened.” The husband asks, “Why were my car keys left in the car?” “Because the big bang happened.” The daughter asks, “Why don’t the boys at school ever ask me out?” “Because the big bang happened.” A neighbor asks in tears, “I don’t understand why, no matter how much I do for them, my kids don’t respect me.” Our scientist responds, “It’s easy to understand. It’s part of our theory of everything: the big bang happened.”
Aaaargh!! And yet, that’s the Discoveroids’ understanding of the function of science. Or at least that’s the idea they’re trying to promote. Here’s more:
An overarching goal by some scientists has been to explain particulars in terms of universal laws: to reduce lower-level explanations to higher-order principles. The basic idea is: biology reduces to molecular biology; molecular biology reduces to physics; physics reduces to particle physics, and particle physics reduces to the big bang. But it’s not clear that more isn’t being lost than gained by this reductionist project.
Okay, we’ll bite. What’s being lost? The Discoveroids explain:
Often in science, the pursuit of understanding focuses on a far more particular level than universal principles. …. The law of gravitation affects all bodies, but is so negligible in terms of cellular processes as to be useless.
What does that have to do with anything? Be patient. They’re getting to it:
Advocates of intelligent design would argue that a “theory of everything” that leaves out intelligent causation in explaining the history of life is doomed to failure. You cannot reduce the genetic code to hydrogen bonds or laws of mass action any more than you can reduce poetry to the big bang.
Oh. Okay. If a theory of everything — or a theory of anything — doesn’t pay homage to Oogity Boogity!, then it doesn’t do the job. Got it. Here’s their final paragraph:
ID advocates are careful, unlike materialists with their theories, not to slip into the fallacy of calling ID a “theory of everything,” to which everything reduces. ID explains some things well (e.g., specified complexity) but leaves many other phenomena to natural explanations. The quest for a scientific theory of everything is in fact a fool’s errand.
So there you are. The Discoveroids, in effect, claim that one of the highest goals of science is a “fool’s errand,” and they even suggest that Lisa Randall would agree. Somehow, we doubt that. But we like their phrase — fool’s errand. It has more relevance to the Discoveroids’ activities than they know.
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