Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The mind of god tied around his neck: Michio Kaku handwaves to Neverland

The misguided Michio Kaku was on the radio today promoting his new book by declaring superstrings to be The Mind Of God that Einstein sought, and that the strings define physics as the harmony of the universe, chemistry as the melody, and the universe as a symphony. It's high time for Berkeley to revoke his Ph.D. for crimes against public understanding. What do any of those poetic claims have to do with any actual theoretical framework for explaining quantum mechanics?

He feels no need to interrupt his flights of flourishing hand-waving to distinguish between actual discoveries, well-supported theories, and speculative theories that have made no falsifiable predictions supported by subsequent observations that might distinguish the theory from competing possibilities, and to make clear that superstrings belong squarely in the third category. Sure, you can't get the general public to understand non-commutative geometry and anti-de Sitter space in the space of one radio show - but trying to do so would be less unhelpful than making authoritative pronouncements that spontaneous inflation of our universe out of the multiverse shows that the judeo-christian creation and the buddhist timelessness of the world both had part of the truth. Yech.

He led straight from superstrings into the discovery of dark energy without a hint that dark energy, like all other recent important new physics discoveries, spectacularly failed to have been predicted by any flavor of string theory; or, conversely, that all predictions that have been made by superstring theory have been either impossible to observe or were confronted with contradictory evidence (proton decay...) in which case the predictions were tweaked to remove the possibility of observation. Or, that despite more man-hours of study prior to any confirming observation than any other theory in the history of physics, it still hasn't adequately incorporated spacetime, instead just assuming spacetime to be a flat background for stringy particles. I.e., it still hasn't gotten past, or even to, the "assume the chicken is a sphere" stage; even a sphere has the same fundamental physical basis as a chicken.

We've known that space and time can't be treated as a flat background for 80 years. Superstrings are not the height of today's physical knowledge; they are eighty years behind the times, and counting.

And don't even sully yourself to read Kaku's arguments that we must remove RTGs from space probes to keep from exposing outer space to dangerous radiation. Seriously, Berkeley, maybe at least an apology for granting this guy his degree?

(P.S. - An automated Google ad on a search on Kaku produced this delightful Zen koan: "How You Can Master Holographic Time To Gain Extreme Wealth & Success!"

Still, does the ad's love of hyperbole match Kaku's own?)

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