Monday, June 26, 2006

String Theory in Physics: Ideas and Frameworks; Predictions and Consequences

Sharon Begley in her Science Journal column in the Wall Street Journal, 23 Jun 06, writes that physics string theory is an "idea or framework" rather than a theory composed of a "concise solvable equations describing the behavior of the physical world." So, presumably a framework might consist of ideas or theories or both. (I suppose these comments may be less on what was said than on how it was said. I'm certainly not able to comment authoritatively on the details of string theory validation.)

It's not clear that a theory necessarily consists of concise equations, though I suppose one would expect the minimum set of necessary and sufficient factors to be used in the mathematical descriptors, the equations, of a compact theory. A complete, though noisy, theory might have extraneous descriptors, not necessarily apparent at the early stages of the theory's validation. What if the results of a theory could be validated though, for some reason, some of the equations weren't compact or concise? Would the theory be invalid or just inelegant?

Also, "solvable equations" as a criterion leads one to ask at what point the equations must be solvable to be valid parts of the theory. Should the criterion be solved rather than solvable? If the equations can be shown to be solvable, but aren't solved, how can one be sure of the results, especially as applied to the physical world, where validating experiments may be difficult or impossible given a current state of technology (or ever). Of course, I'm to lazy to look into the details of theory theory to validate these ideas.

Ms. Begley also says, in describing a success of string theory that seemingly describes correctly the number of quarks and leptons found in nature, "is less a prediction of string theory than a consequence."

It's really unclear how the result of a theoretical prediction is different than a theoretical consequence. Or, coupling this with the thought earlier, how a result of a prediction consistent with a framework is different than a consequence of the set of ideas in a framework. Regardless of whether the predictor of the result is a theory or a framework, there seems to be no difference between a result or a consequence, unless there's some jargon usage I'm missing. (Of course, there's a trivial difference in meaning between a consequence and a prediction, but I can't think that's what's meant.)

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