Mad Scientist Syndrome

I got an e-mail from a friend today. It contained a link to a New York Times article along with the following commentary: Mind=Blown.

The article is about a theory being put forth by two respected particle physicists that says that we have not discovered the Higgs boson because of interference from the future. Their thesis – and I must stress that this is not hyperbole, but as South Park might say, THIS IS WHAT THESE PHSICISTS ACTUALLY BELIEVE– is that the Higgs Boson “is so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one”

You should read the full article. It’s a doozy. I’ll wait.

Back now? Well, what can I say? I had a reaction a bit like my friend’s Mind=Blown, but probably for different reasons. Whereas he was wondering whether there was any truth in this, I was trying to figure out how these guys still have funding. But then this reminded me of another respected scientific figure who, solely because of his previous accolades, was allowed to make some outlandish statements and pursue some, let’s say questionable research, that a new scientist would be outright dismissed for even bringing up. I’m talking about Brian Josephson.

Josephson won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1973 for predicting what is now known as the Josephson Effect whereby current flows between two superconducting materials separated by an insulator. Besides being of incredible importance in understanding the theory of superconductivity, the effect has been exploited experimentally and is used in a number of quantum mechanical applications. Almost immediately following his receipt of the award, however, Josephson turned his back on traditional physics and founded the Mind-Matter Unification Project at Cambridge University. The project studies a number of reasonable things (e.g. connections between music and the workings of the brain), but more famously it studies things like ESP, telepathy and the paranormal. He’s even managed to couch some of his work in terms of string theory. And then, if that weren’t enough, he’s been a loud advocate of the generally debunked claims of cold fusion from the 1980’s

Now I don’t want to seem close-minded here, but I don’t think there’s too much merit to either the work on the self-stifling Higgs search or string theory ESP. Others have gone into great detail on why these guys are a bit off their rocker (see, e.g. this blog that was cited in the NY Times article), so I’ll save you the rehashing.  But as a plea to all you friends out there reading now, if I ever become famous and win awards and gain attention and then use it to spew rubbish, please, please stop me. Seriously.



Filed under Physics

2 responses to “Mad Scientist Syndrome

  1. knowb

    In string theory today, we learned about the renormalization of the vacuum energy of the free string. Apparently Neilsen was one of the co-authors of the first paper on this subject.

  2. Yes, knowb. I’m not surprised he did quite a bit founding the field. You can’t get away saying something like this without first doing a few legitimate, laudable things.

    In other news, Sean Carroll has weighed in on the matter.

    I should point out that even though I’m a bit harsh in my post, I didn’t really defend my points. Carroll actually dissects the original papers and points out where the leaps are. It’s a good read (better than mine). His ultimate conclusion is the same — it’s crazy and almost certainly wrong — but he gives the guys a bit more credit for systematically following through.

    I still don’t get the card game business though.

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