Sound and Fury

Signifying nothing

I am a frog-pasta-tube

with 2 comments

I have been reading some craaa-aaazy stuff today. So this one paper suggested that the fundamental metaphysical nature of the world is that of a graph. An unlabelled asymmetric graph-theoretic entity. OK. It kind of fits in with a lot of stuff about ontic structural realism. Kind of.

Now I’m reading something about the bird-eye view versus the frog-eye view of space and time. The “bird” sees the whole spacetime structure from the outside. What looks like a particle moving with constant speed to the frog looks like a strand of spaghetti to the bird. Two particles orbiting each other, to the bird, looks like two strands of pasta entwined like a double helix. Like the weird blob thing in Donnie Darko. So the bird sees the frog as an ensemble of worldlines for the frogs particles. The frog looks like a tube of pasta strands to the bird. I did not make up any of this up. (Except the Donnie Darko reference). It’s all there in Max Tegmark’s The Mathematical Universe. The weak point in his argument is that he claims that any “theory of everything” will be entirely mathematical. This simply cannot be the case. We have plenty of theories that are entirely mathematical; go ask your local maths professor. If it is to be a theory of the physical world, the theory is going to have to involve some kind of pointers as to how to apply its results to the world. So we had a theory of Riemannian manifolds before Einstein came along, but that didn’t make the (mathematical) theory a scientific theory. Not until Einstein started showing how the manifold could relate to our conception of space. Tegmark pretty much agrees with this point, but then says that that isn’t fundamental to the theory. He says we have a mathematical theory and then the interpretation is done afterwards and isn’t necessarily part of that theory. This is both methodologically backwards and I think just plain wrong. The interpretation is central to that mathematical theory qua scientific theory.

I am sympathetic to the (ontic) structural realist flavour of what Tegmark is getting at, but I don’t think his “derivation” of his “MUH: Mathematical Universe Hypothesis” really works. I have to say I gave up after the first 10 or so pages because it was getting near to dinner time and the two column layout is a pain in the arse to read on the computer.

Tegmark also has that annoying scientist’s habit of not putting the names of the articles in his bibliography. So in the text he will cite “[14]” which isn’t helpful. Then if I scroll to the bibliography I will see that [14] is “J. Ladyman Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 29 409-424 (1998)” God dammit. If he just wrote Ladyman (1998) in the text instead of [14] I’d know immediately that he meant What is structural realism? It would mean much less hopping back and forth. And what about if the author and name wasn’t enough for me to identify the paper? I’d have to bloody well look it up on the internet. I appreciate the practice makes sense in science where knowing the actual paper under discussion isn’t important to the argumentation, and that titles of scientific papers are long and would lead to bloated bibliographies, but come on! It isn’t even as if it would be a lot of work to change it. How hard is it to add the line “\usepackage{natbib209}” to the preamble of your LaTeX document and change your bibliography style to chicago, or similar? I bet the names of the articles are already in the bibtex file…

I did promise to post something that wasn’t a rant. And this started out as a light-hearted look at some of the dangerously bonkers stuff I take seriously every day. But it turned into a rant about bibliography formatting, of all things. I appear to be incapable of not ending up complaining about something. I guess that means I am just a mean spirited cynical rantophile.


Written by Seamus

August 4, 2008 at 5:54 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I think the journals physicists typically publish in demand that citation style.

    Ponder Stibbons

    February 6, 2009 at 8:28 am

  2. That may well be the case, but knowing this doesn’t make reading the paper any less annoying.


    February 7, 2009 at 5:20 pm

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