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Go to: The raw deal of determinism and reductionism

djs56's Avatar Jump to comment 27 by djs56


Interesting discussion, I try not to get too involved because other know a lot more than me, but… I would just like to ask a question or two related to whether or not there can be new physics involved in describing brains. Steve Zara seems quite clear that there can be no new physics.

We have been analysing the kind of physics that goes on in brain cells for centuries and found nothing, absolutely nothing, missing. It's all biochemistry and electrochemistry, and that's it

I have two questions:

First what about the physics of complexity... ? Surely in condensed matter physics, which is way harder than particle physics ;o), it is well known that the cooperative physics of interacting systems can exhibit completely new behaviour not observable in the elements making up the many bodied system. Therefore, why not a new physics related to complexity?


We have the ingredients of nature sorted out up to the TeV energy scale.

well if you think so, but I’m not so sure we have discovered all the possible particles up to a TeV. What about WIMPS and other r candidates.. , The LHC's new particles has a mass of 125 GeV, well below the TeV scales probed by the tevatron for years and years...

We don't look for new particles at the scale of torch battery energies (which is way above that of the processes in the brain),

How much energy does a neutrino have? They have produced loads of new physics over the past decade... I know this second question is probably not so relavent to brains, but all logicophilosophicus said was,

Comment 15 by logicophilosophicus

I'd certainly regard it as an unwarranted act of faith to assert that the known particles and forces, as of this moment in time, MUST be entirely sufficient to explain free will, intention, purpose, ethics, value and the rest.

with emphasis n the MUST.....

Fri, 13 Jul 2012 22:09:16 UTC | #949128

Go to: The Dark-Matter Ages

djs56's Avatar Jump to comment 28 by djs56

Comment 26 by Northampton I think we're talking about two different criteria here.

I not sure i agree. No-one is making a business case for what profits my future massive $10billion experiment will make (apart from maybe ITER). The point is providing evidence from previous experiments to quantitatively demonstrate the ancillary benefits.

By 'good science' I mean that which has the greatest chance to increase our understanding of nature.

I think this a very poor definition of good science, and also not very helpful. Virtually everything we do increases our understanding of nature. I think using your definition we can say "it's all good."

The harder question is not how do we decide what to do, it's how do we decide what to do in the face of limited resources. I am talking about "big science" here, science that is increasingly beyond the limits of most countries, including the USA. The actual science projects to fund are generally chosen by the science community, and that's as it should be.

For example, recently ESO has decided it wants the "Extremely Large Telescope" the community reached a consensus on what science it wants to do. The successor to the LHC is likely to be some electron-positron linear collider, however the communities have not reached a consensus on this machine, and so until that happens it is stagnating.

However it is still up to society to pay the bills. I think the key point, once you have chosen your science, which is "easy", as all science is potentially good, is to get the public to fund it.

When asking for evidence one needs to specify evidence for worthwhile scientific endeavors as well as the trivial consideration that some fool will pay you a few shekels for it

I don't really know what to make of this comment. I think that you are saying that after you have done your worthwhile science it will be easy to get someone (who is a fool) to pay money to exploit it. If that’s what you are saying that sounds callous. Expressing that sort of attitude will probably not help convince the public to fund your science. (Apologies if i have misunderstood you.)

I suppose the question now is why does a society choose to do science? Again, mainly they want better health, cleaner energy, and higher security. That’s what people want. I think the scientist have a duty to convince them that they also want a Higgs Boson and the reason is you're likely to get a whole load of other stuff you actually care about.

Thu, 21 Jun 2012 19:17:03 UTC | #947946

Go to: The Dark-Matter Ages

djs56's Avatar Jump to comment 25 by djs56

Comment 24 by All About Meme


My post was in no way an endorsement of the culture of Livermore, it was just an example of defence spending driving technology forwards.

Although, being European, I would suggest that finding a car-park empty at 7.45 am and again at 6pm does not necessarily mean people are lazy, or is a bad thing. The general work culture in the USA is not something I would vigoursly defend. Livermore's attidue to work-life balance may not be wasteful in the long term.

"Nepotism, cliques, backstabbing and turf wars in every department" is not so good though.

As for people nearly retiring and phoning it in, i think that may be due to the fact that getting top quality health-care and other benefits post retirement seems to be so difficult in the USA, therefore people feel they must stay in the workplace longer.

some of the technology they produce -- including the supercomputer you cited, is cutting-edge

Thanks for agreeing, that's why i used that example to make my point.

The defense industry, by and large, is merely a form of corporate welfare

There are very good arguments for that point of view, but isn't it similar to funding "big science"?

Perhaps we are going off topic now? But the culture of big labs producing the "big science" is probably not too far, and certainly if the public deems these labs to be institutionally lazy and wasteful they will struggle to recieve the funding they desire.

Wed, 20 Jun 2012 17:42:00 UTC | #947921

Go to: The Dark-Matter Ages

djs56's Avatar Jump to comment 23 by djs56

we waste billions on "defense".

While I agree that the USA does has a large defense budget, waste can be an amibiguous term. The new fastest supercomputer at Livermore is designed to model those weapons you speak of. I'm not sure that driving that technology is a waste.

trying to show the kind of immediate causal connection (we funded X million dollars that created Y new industries) that are required for these kinds of cost benefit analyses are difficult to come up with.

Maybe, but i also think that you can't just say funding "big science" creates new industries, there should be more quantative statements. One of the most repeated posts on this entire website must be "show me the evidence," I think that is all that governments are saying.

Just because you think it may be "hard" or "difficult" to show isn't going to be a good enough reason not to do it, and, clearly, teams of scientists are (starting) to do it.

How about this question, which is one governments must answer. What should the science budget be? Given that scientists could spend many times more money than any governemnt has, how do you decide how much to give them?

Or to paraphrase a question in an early post:

The public are mainly concerned with: health, cheap clean energy, and security from terrorism. Why shouldn't tax money go exclusively to those areas?

Wed, 20 Jun 2012 15:45:41 UTC | #947917

Go to: The Dark-Matter Ages

djs56's Avatar Jump to comment 21 by djs56

I think that the US physics, and perhaps wider science, communities are starting to realise that they can't just expect to get the level of funding they previously did without further justification. Generally, and especially to politicians, that means demonstrating increased economic returns.

The UK physcis community has been going through this process for a number of years now, and seems to have convinced the politicians. Recent austerity budgets have not cut science funding anywhere near as much as other departments. I think the USA is just a few years behind in this respect.

I think there is a good case that funding "big" science generates economic growth. For example, here is a back of the envolop calculation of the returns on the 4 Billion dollar Investment in the Tevatron.

Of course, this is only a rough calculation, but it does give an idea of the argument "big science" must make to justify itself.

Here is another, much more detailed report, concerning the old synchrotron light source from the UK, which doesn't arrive at a final number, but does present a wealth of evidence supporting the argument that the payoffs outweigh the expenses.

They claim this is the first report of its type, but i would expect most large scale facilites will be looking to make this sort of case from now on.

Tue, 19 Jun 2012 20:29:47 UTC | #947870

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