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arundelo comments on No One Knows What Science Doesn't Know - Less Wrong

38 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 25 October 2007 11:47PM

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Comment author: arundelo 12 February 2010 01:31:31AM *  4 points [-]

I don't think you understand something until you understand the mechanism.

How do you know when you've "hit the bottom" of a stack of explanations?

When I first learned about curved space and spacetime, I took some of the standard metaphors too literally. I remember speculating that space was a trampoline, but extending in three dimensions rather than two, infinitely thin in the fourth dimension, accelerating (forever!) in the fifth dimension, and of course not actually made of anything. (The acceleration was necessary to make the pieces of matter sitting on the trampoline stretch it.)

Years later I ran across the writings of a crank physicist (edit: I think I found him) whose big idea was that everything is constantly getting bigger (or maybe smaller), and that this explained gravity and maybe some of the other forces too.

Now I see both of these as taking a metaphor too literally because it seems to provide a mechanism. John Baez's Crackpot Index provides

10 points for arguing that while a current well-established theory predicts phenomena correctly, it doesn't explain "why" they occur, or fails to provide a "mechanism".

(This artice by Ronald Merrill, "Sufficient Reason and Causality", is related, though it's been a long time since I've read it.)

Comment author: dclayh 12 February 2010 02:37:36AM 6 points [-]

Scott Adams of Dilbert fame has also proposed the "everything is constantly getting bigger" theory of gravity.

Comment author: Jack 12 February 2010 02:50:37AM 0 points [-]

So I suppose asking how a crank physics theory is supposed to work is like asking Lewis Carroll for proof of concept but... what exactly is the the appeal of this? I don't even see the surface plausibility.

Comment author: byrnema 12 February 2010 03:03:34AM 1 point [-]

I liked Ali's review best. She wrote,

As for the "Expansion Theory", it cannot explain gravitation. This idea was tried before, and it fails. Maybe if McCutcheon learned some science, then he could do some science.

Comment author: dclayh 12 February 2010 03:06:03AM 9 points [-]

You jump into the air -> Earth expands -> voila, now you're touching the Earth again.

Comment author: Jack 12 February 2010 03:22:04AM 0 points [-]

Bwahahahaha. Alright. I see it. Thanks. :-)

Comment author: JGWeissman 12 February 2010 03:22:58AM 1 point [-]

But what does this theory say about orbits? or escape velocity?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 12 February 2010 06:42:35AM 3 points [-]

"Shut up"

I think a better question would be, what does this theory say about mass? As opposed to volume and distance? How can an object be equidistant between two other equally-sized objects and be attracted to one of them more than the other?

It fails even as a crank theory.

Comment author: Polymeron 01 May 2011 10:15:21AM 0 points [-]

I too have stumbled on "The Final Theory", and was wondering what it was all about - though not enough to actually spend money on the book. Thanks for digging this up!

Comment author: wnoise 12 February 2010 05:02:39AM 0 points [-]

Ah, yes. Another one for the "engineers are more likely to become cranks" files.

Comment author: Jack 12 February 2010 05:31:37AM 0 points [-]

"engineers are more likely to become cranks"

Why is this anyway? Are engineering degrees just easy to get? Maybe they don't have to internalize the scientific method? Not enough experimentalism?

Comment author: wnoise 12 February 2010 05:42:01AM 6 points [-]

My personal belief is that they learn simplified models that aren't quite correct, without enough explicit warnings that they aren't fully correct. Then, later on, they're smart enough to figure out that the models aren't good enough, so start building their own, without the requisite background of what the physicists' actual model are, and why certain approaches have and haven't been taken, and how counter-intuitive experiments have forced certain choices.

Comment author: bigjeff5 24 February 2011 11:55:43PM 1 point [-]

It's like the artillery officer who thinks you can't use GR to calculate the trajectory of an artillery shell - you have to use Newtonian mechanics to do it. Not that it wouldn't be practical go use GR, but that it could not be done. He doesn't realize that not only can you calculate it with GR, but that it would be far more accurate, too (it would, of course, be horribly impractical, however).

Comment author: JGWeissman 12 February 2010 05:45:57AM 0 points [-]

Scott Adams is not an engineer. He is a cartoonist who writes about engineers.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 12 February 2010 06:07:30AM *  2 points [-]
Comment author: JGWeissman 12 February 2010 06:27:43AM 3 points [-]

Yes, he worked with engineers, but he would be the first to tell you he is not an engineer himself. From his book The Dilbert Principle (page 171):

For the record, I am not an engineer by training. But I spent ten years working with engineers and programmers in a variety of jobs. I learned their customs and mannerisms by observing them, much the way Jane Goodall learned about the great apes, but without the hassle of grooming.

Comment author: wnoise 12 February 2010 08:50:42PM 2 points [-]

I stand corrected. (But I do think he has absorbed enough of the engineer's viewpoint to make it noticeable.)

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 12 February 2010 06:39:37AM 5 points [-]

I'm pretty sure that Scott Adams is not a crank, but a troll.

Comment author: arundelo 07 May 2011 12:24:57AM 0 points [-]