Why trust a theory?
In Munich last week, physicists, philosophers, historians and others gathered to debate the question Why Trust a Theory?
The main topics of discussion were string theory and multiverse theory, although it would probably be better to describe both as frameworks rather than theories, the Nobel Laureate David Gross pointed out. Graham attended the meeting as part of his research for his next book, on the developing relationship between physics and mathematics.
The meeting was organised by a group led by Richard Dawid, whose book String theory and the Scientific Method has stimulated a good deal of debate and controversy since it was published in 2013. Gross is one of the most influential admirers of the book, and he repeatedly endorsed its central idea of non-empirical confirmation in the discussions, some of which were decidedly heated though the tone of the meeting was mostly cordial, though there were flashes of arrogance, impatience and eye-rolling condescension.
In the magazine Quanta, the fine science writer Natalie Wolchover has just reported on the meeting in this article, which Graham strongly recommends. ‘Natalie has a remarkable ability to summarise technical matters and complicated debates in an accessible way’, Graham says, ‘and this is one of her best pieces.’