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Provocative views of modern physics

My work questions the current orthodoxy and examines the foundations of theoretical physics. But make no mistake, my work is based on a knowledge experimental results and understanding of current theories. Apart form the exposé of string theory,  I have given a couple of provocative talks to our Physics department. It must be stressed that these talks are directed at a scientific audience! They are both making serious points, but are not dismissing current science as wrong.

Quantum theory - the worst scientific theory of all time?

While quantum theory is definitely correct. It has never given incorrect predictions and it has been tested to enormous precision. Indeed it is probably the most successful scientific theory ever in terms of its predictive power and usefulness. I am not questioning any of these facts.

The purpose of the talk is to emphasise the degree to which quantum theory explains very little. It gives probabilistic results for the calculations, but says nothing about any underlying reality.

What is worse, is that its very success has restricted searches for a deeper understanding. Indeed it is widely believed that a search for a deeper theory is not possible or maybe not meaningful. For over 50 years research has been suppressed - in a way that has not been seen since the Catholic Church enforced theories of cosmology and creation

You can download the slides - though they were primarily intended to prompt the speaker! 

Parity Violation - the biggest scientific blunder of the 20th century?

The experiments that showed parity violation were superb and rightly deserving of praise. They were thought provoking, but in fact served to confirm a theoretical proposition. But several interpretations of the results are possible, Scientists have latched on to one set of conventions. That is not necessarily helpful. What is far worse is that the possibility of other consistent explanations is suppressed, it does not appear in the books or scientific literature. (by contrast different ways of representing electric and magnetic fields are well documented.)

You can download the slides - though they were primarily intended to prompt the speaker! 

String Theory - are you fooled by the PR machine?

You may be forgiven for thinking that string theory describes elementary particles as oscillating strings, and that these strings exist in a 10 (or more) dimensional space that consists of the 3 space dimensions that we experience plus 7 more (plus a time dimension). That appealing view of string theory is fed to all the popular science journals and even in scientific meetings of international repute. But it is wrong. Such a description is contrary to experimental facts and is inconsistent with quantum theory.

It is quite easy to confidently describe the popular view of string theory as wrong, in the same way that most cranky "explanations" of quantum theory or alternative theories can be dismissed by a cursory examination. We now know that quantum theory cannot be described by any local hidden variables theory. This is a theoretical fact because quantum theory violates Bell's inequalities and also from the Kochen-Specker theorem. It is also an experimental fact because the violation of Bell's inequalities has been confirmed by numerous experiments such as those of Alain Aspect.

A string that really existed in space would describe a trajectory as it passed through any experiment. We might not know the coordinates and it might have some hidden degrees of freedom, such as the higher dimensions, but these unknowns are local hidden variables. You might consider how the string passes through a two slit experiment, could it pass through one slit and still know about the other? Could two small strings that had real x,y and z coordinates reproduce the EPR correlations that are such a distinctive feature of quantum theory? No, they could not.

So what are the strings in string theory? what are elementary particles? and where are the extra dimensions? I am open to responses from string theorists - email me

As far as I can tell string theory describes particle wavefunctions not the particles themselves. The wavefunctions are like probability distributions that can be used to calculate probabilities of the outcomes of experiments. Put your hand on a dartboard! there is a probability function over the board, and your hand !! that gives the probability of the dart landing in any one spot - what does it feel like? A dart is thrown and hits your thumb - feel the difference. (incidentally, this provides an example of wavefunction collapse - once it hits your thumb you can describe the probable position much more acurately and hence the probability function has collapsed to a point - the point of the dart).

And the extra dimensions? they are not real space time coordinates but points in the phase space that is needed to generate the probability wavefunctions.  This is common to quantum theory and classical theory where a probability function may depend on 3 space coordinates, but could easily depend upon far more parameters. The probability of scoring from a penalty may depend upon where the ball was hit, (x,y,z) and the velocity of the kick (x,y,z,Vx,Vy,Vz) and maybe the temperature or viscosity of the air etc etc. In a similar way the EPR experiment can only be described fully by a wavefunction that depends upon 6 coordinates (the x,y and z coordinates of each particle). The nonlocality of quantum theory is precisely because it cannot be expressed as the product of two separate functions. In the same way the formulation of string theory requires more than three parameters in its phase space.

String theory has nothing to say about what an elementary particle is. The question that has driven science for centuries - the quest to understand the ultimate building blocks of Nature has largely been lost by the end of the twentieth century. The success of using wavefunctions to predict where a particle could be found, has somehow displaced the question of "What is a particle"