The Instigator
GaryBacon
Con (against)
Winning
37 Points
The Contender
Sanchez
Pro (for)
Losing
16 Points

String theory

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/20/2008 Category: Science
Updated: 9 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 2,750 times Debate No: 2013
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (17)
Votes (15)

 

GaryBacon

Con

One of the most amazing philosophers of all time is Karl Popper. He came up with the idea of falsificationism. This is a philosophy that applies to science. It states that if an idea is not falsifiable, it is not scientific. This does not mean that the theory is false. That is a misconception. The idea is that if an hypothesis or a theory were false, there would be a way to show it. (E.g. nothing travels faster than the speed of light) This is (to the best of our knowledge) a true statement. However, it is possible to picture a scenario in which this could be proven wrong. If something were measured to travel faster than the speed of light, then the theory would be falsified.
Now we come to string "theory." In string theory there are no testable hypotheses. There are no math equations to verify its plausibility. There are no predictions. There are no scenarios that would falsify it. It is pure philosophy, and crappy philosophy at that. If anyone feels otherwise, I invite them to state their arguments in favour of string theory. I look forward to the challenge.
Sanchez

Pro

I am in favor of string theory.

String theory is an as-yet incomplete mathematical approach to theoretical physics, whose building blocks are one-dimensional extended objects called strings, rather than the zero-dimensional point particles that form the basis for the standard model of particle physics. By replacing the point-like particles with strings, an apparently consistent quantum theory of gravity emerges, which has not been achievable under the standard model. Usually, the term string theory includes a group of related superstring theories and a few related frameworks such as M-theory, which seeks to unite them all.

String theorists have not yet completely described these theories, or determined if or how these theories relate to the physical universe. The elegance and flexibility of the approach, however, and a number of qualitative similarities with more traditional physical models, have led many physicists to suspect that such a connection is possible. In particular, string theory may be a way to "unify" the known natural forces (gravitational, electromagnetic, weak nuclear and strong nuclear) by describing them with the same set of equations, as described in the theory of everything. On the other hand, the models have been criticized for their inability, thus far, to provide any testable predictions.

Work on string theory is made difficult by the very complex mathematics involved, and the large number of forms that the theories can take depending on the arrangement of space and energy. Thus far, string theory strongly suggests the existence of ten or eleven (in M-theory) spacetime dimensions, as opposed to the usual four (three spatial and one temporal) used in relativity theory; however, the theory can describe universes with four effective (observable) spacetime dimensions by a variety of methods. The theories also appear to describe higher-dimensional objects than strings, called branes. Certain types of string theory have also been shown to be equivalent to certain types of more traditional gauge theory, and it is hoped that research in this direction will lead to new insights on quantum chromodynamics, the fundamental theory of the strong nuclear force.

The above three paragraphs are taken from the wikipedia article on string theory.

String theory is an approach to theoretical physics that could, in time, be quite helpful in understanding the way the universe works. That is the goal of science. True, it may not be a verifiable scientific theory as of yet, but it extremely promising nonetheless. It has the potential to teach us worlds about how we should or shouldn't look at the universe.

Something does not have to be testable to be worthwhile. It seems odd that my opponent is against string theory for this one reason. In the next round, I ask my opponent to embellish on any other problems he has with string theory, or to simply expand on what has already been said.
Debate Round No. 1
GaryBacon

Con

Since the main body of your argument was taken from a Wikipedia article, I will first start by attacking this article. From there I will move on to your arguments.

Wikipedia described string theory as an "as-yet incomplete mathematical approach to theoretical physics." Thus far, all attempts to arrive at an equation associated with strings have failed. The equations would be started, but could never be completed. So what these string theorists are left with is a group of incomplete equations and the notion that if an equation could be formed to give (at the very least) some mathematical plausibility to superstrings, it would PROBABLY look like one of the half-completed equations. Now I must ask: Can something without a single complete equation be considered a mathematical approach? I think not.

Secondly, there is the claim that strings lead us to "an apparently consistent quantum theory of gravity." Admittedly, beyond the realm of string theory no attempts have been made to incorporate gravity into quantum theory. But before giving praise to string theory for this accomplishment, we must look at its quantum gravitational proposal.

String theory began back in 1968 with Gabriele Veneziano, a theoretical physicist working at CERN in Geneva. In his attempts to make sense of experiments on the strong nuclear force, he turned towards the Euler beta-function (note: this may seem inconsistent with my statement of no equations, but I cannot consider a formula proposed by Leonhard Euler two hundred years ago a string theory equation). This function worked well with experiments at CERN, but without explanation. Two years later is the point where, in my opinion, science took a dive.
In 1970, Yoichiro Nambu, Holger Nielsen and Leonard Susskind proposed that these vibrating one-dimensional strings could be the true elementary particles and would work with Euler's beta-function. These strings are too small for anyone to see, too small to ever detect even with the most sophisticated equipment, have no evidence to validate their existence, and no predictions can be made based on their existence. Already things are getting fishy. Now this so-called theory incorporated several configurations of these vibrating strings, some of which were labeled gluons (string particles supposedly associated with the strong force). Other configurations were dreamed up and in 1974 Schwarz and Scherk proposed that some of these could be strings associated with the gravitational force that they called gravitons. (Side note: these strings associated with the various forces are referred to as messenger particles by string theorists).
Now this is where it gets interesting (or ludicrous). These strings are all said to have vibrational patterns. These patterns are supposedly related to the mass of the string. Scherk and Schwarz's claim is that the vibrational patterns in these strings can cancel each other out. In the case of the graviton, the vibrational patterns cancel each other out completely! This leads to the outrageous claim that if these gravitons exist, they have a length of approximately ten to the negative thirty third centimeters AND zero mass!! This is by far one of the most inconsistent things I've ever heard of. On the one hand, the string does take up space (however minute) and at the same time has no mass due to some vibrations. Wikipedia calls it a consistent theory of gravity for one reason and one reason only: with this new explanation, all of the known forces are caused by the same thing (i.e. strings). So this quantum theory of gravity is consistent in that it too uses strings as its ultimate underlying cause. But a particle with dimensionality and zero mass is INCONSISTENT with reality.

Now we come to string theory's suggestion that there are ten or eleven spacetime dimensions. For starters, the reason why there is disagreement between the two values is due to the fact that no concrete calculations have been made. Considering that these calculations have been taking place in the realm of string theory for over twenty years, I doubt that they ever can or will be solved. The approximate calculation began with ten dimensions (nine spatial and one temporal). Then in the mid-90's Edward Witten claimed that the approximate calculations left out a space dimension and gave a new approximate calculation with ten spatial dimensions.
Already we are seeing a complete disregard for scientific thought. All science is based on one major premise: we can find things out about our surroundings and the laws of science and nature should be applicable everywhere. In our daily lives, we are only able to experience three spatial dimensions. There is nothing that suggests evidence for more dimensions. But now here is the kicker. String theorists circumvent our daily observations with a clever non-falsifiable loophole. They claim that these other dimensions are "curled-up" in the spacetime fabric in the form of something known as Calabi-Yau shapes.
Calabi-Yau geometry is six-dimensional geometry, and although there are not six spatial dimensions (unless you believe in string theory) it is still a valid branch of mathematics. You can perform calculations on geometrical figures that cannot be seen or even pictured. For example, I can calculate that a 27-sided polygon will have exactly 4,500 degrees. I have never seen a 27-sided polygon, and I cannot begin to picture one. But using the simple formula of (N-2)*180 degrees, I have performed a valid calculation to arrive at a true answer. This may seem like I am going way off on a tangent, but I only included this paragraph to show that in what follows, my attacks are only on string theory itself and not on Calabi-Yau geometry.

So here we have string theorists claiming that there are these tiny Calabi-Yau shapes curled up in the spacetime fabric that are too small for us to see and impossible to detect. You may still call this science, but I call it balderdash!

Now I finally will come to Sanchez's arguments.

You claim that string theory is an approach "that could, in time, be quite helpful in understanding the way the universe works." If you think that proposing tiny curled up dimensions, particles without mass, and vibrating strings that can never be detected will lead us to understanding how the universe works, you are sadly mistaken. You admit that it is not verifiable as of yet, but those last three words are misleading. String theory is not verifiable PERIOD. There is no point in time in which it will ever be verifiable. The idea has been constructed in such a way as to ensure that it can never be verified nor falsified.

Finally, I did not claim that something has to be testable to be worthwhile. My claim is that something has to be testable (either experimentally or mathematically) to be considered science. The difference between these two statements is immense. There are many worthwhile ideas that are not testable. The very idea of falsificationism that I have used to start this debate is one such example. That is why falsificationism is a philosophy and not science. So, in conclusion, string theory does not belong in the field of science and, in my opinion, it is not even worthwhile as a mere philosophy.
Sanchez

Pro

I would like to simply affirm a few parts of my argument that my opponent has chosen to criticize.

Here is what my opponent said:
>>You claim that string theory is an approach "that could, in time, be quite helpful in understanding the way the universe works." If you think that proposing tiny curled up dimensions, particles without mass, and vibrating strings that can never be detected will lead us to understanding how the universe works, you are sadly mistaken. You admit that it is not verifiable as of yet, but those last three words are misleading. String theory is not verifiable PERIOD. There is no point in time in which it will ever be verifiable. The idea has been constructed in such a way as to ensure that it can never be verified nor falsified.<<

String theory is not verifiable as of yet because it doesn't make any predictions as of yet because, as has been stated, it is not complete. In time, it will become more well-defined, and then it will be more testable. It's ludicrous to expect an incomplete hypothesis to make valid predictions about reality. String theory is good because it unifies the universe, and is one of the only approaches from which we can actually explain the fundamental forces. If we ever seek to understand these forces, we must fully explore every lead, and right now, string theory's the name of the game for explaining _why and how_ all these fundamental forces exist.

My opponent said:
>>But a particle with dimensionality and zero mass is INCONSISTENT with reality.<<

It's inconsistent with reality as you understand it. I'm not saying you lack an understanding of reality in general, but don't act like you understand exactly how everything works, especially on a quantum level, where most of the science we currently have breaks down.

My opponent said:
>>Calabi-Yau geometry is six-dimensional geometry, and although there are not six spatial dimensions (unless you believe in string theory) it is still a valid branch of mathematics. You can perform calculations on geometrical figures that cannot be seen or even pictured. For example, I can calculate that a 27-sided polygon will have exactly 4,500 degrees. I have never seen a 27-sided polygon, and I cannot begin to picture one. But using the simple formula of (N-2)*180 degrees, I have performed a valid calculation to arrive at a true answer. This may seem like I am going way off on a tangent, but I only included this paragraph to show that in what follows, my attacks are only on string theory itself and not on Calabi-Yau geometry.<<

The only really meaty part of this is your example, which has absolutely nothing to do with 6-d. A 27-sided polygon would be a 2-dimensional object. I can draw one for you if you want.
Also, you have no reasons to think that there cannot be 6 spacial dimensions. String theory is not the only possible answer to 6 dimensions.

I personally would think that string theory is in fact science. It is a hypothesis in the formative stages, before testing is possible. Regardless, we're not debating whether it's science. Your stance in this debate is that against "string theory." The topic is not "String theory is science."
Therefore, it is worthless to criticize its scientific credentials, since this is of no importance.

You've admitted that it is the only game in town which seeks to explain gravity at a quantum level. I simply cannot be against the only lead we have in areas like this. I am in favor of string theory, and will only abandon it when and if something better comes around.
Debate Round No. 2
GaryBacon

Con

In the last round, my opponent stated "String theory is not verifiable as of yet because it doesn't make any predictions as of yet because, as has been stated, it is not complete. In time, it will become more well-defined, and then it will be more testable."

I will start with a point that I have already made and that my opponent has actually quoted in his last argument. Throughout this debate, we are constantly seeing the words "as of yet" used by my opponent. As I have said before, there is no "as of yet." Even if a prediction is made, it will not come to pass. And when this happens, I can assure you that the string theorists will simply ignore the data. I have already read three books on string theory, and in all of the writings I have seen only two hypothetical scenarios which would help to verify string theory.

The first scenario was described by Brian Greene in his book The Elegant Universe. In it he claims that during the inflationary period of the big bang (another theory I have serious problems with, but that is a separate debate), there may have been some strings that have expanded well beyond the size of 10 to the negative 33rd centimeters. From here he says it would be a wonderful thing if this did happen and someone may one day see a giant string floating through space.

As this notion is ridiculous in and of itself, I will not even bother to make some of the many points against it. Furthermore, since he is the only one that stated it, it would be more of an attack on Brian Greene than on string theorists in general.

The second hypothetical scenario that may give evidence is shared by almost all string theorists. At CERN located near Geneva, Switzerland, the largest particle accelerator and hadron collider is under construction and has been for a number of years. This particle accelerator is known as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and finally, after years of work, it is scheduled to be completed in May of this year.

When the LHC is finally completed, all of the string theorists are expecting it to produce a fictional particle known as a Higgs boson. This is the one piece of experimentation that all of the string theorists are pinning their hopes on. It is a shame that the voting stages of this debate will have ended by then. I can assure everyone that no such particle will be created, and regardless of how you vote on this debate, I encourage all of you to keep up with the LHC project to see in the end that I am right.

I was then attacked for my statement that a particle with dimensionality and zero mass is inconsistent with reality. The counter-argument was that it is only inconsistent with reality as I perceive it.

Now of course it is POSSIBLE that none of us actually have a grasp on reality. We can look through the countless philosophical arguments of us being merely brains in a jar, or being deceived by the omnipotent evil demon. But to deny our own senses and go around believing that there is no truth to anything we perceive is simply not pragmatic. We have to accept what seems clearly real to us as reality, otherwise we all know nothing and sites such as this one for the purpose of intellectual stimulation become meaningless.

I will say that you do make a good point in that things work differently on a quantum level, and many of these quantum properties are beyond our understanding. I will admit that I still do not know the explanation for the two experimental results of the double-slit experiment (depending upon whether or not the particle is "watched.") I cannot figure out superposition, quantum experiments on the polarization of light, or many other things. But I will say this: even in the crazy world of quantum physics, every single particle has at least some mass. Even the neutrino (which may or may not exist) is said to have a tiny bit of mass, however small. The graviton of string theory and other things in string theory are the only particles dreamed up with a mass of zero. In that sense, it is inconsistent even with quantum physics.

Moving on, my explanation of Calabi-Yau geometry was clearly something you misconstrued. I never claimed that a 27-sided polygon has six dimensions. I am well aware of the fact that it has only two, and NO I do not need you to draw one for me. I stated in that paragraph, as I will reiterate that its only purpose was to let readers know that I was not attacking Calabi-Yau geometry, and that I was only attacking string theory which incorporates Calabi-Yau shapes into its framework.

You then stated "I personally would think that string theory is in fact science." To this I will only state that you have a different definition of science than scientists. Popper's idea of falsificationism is supposed to apply to all science, and the larger scientific community accepts this philosophy.

You also have stated: 'Your stance in this debate is that against "string theory." The topic is not "String theory is science."' I will first quote the definition of a theory as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary.

theory-- A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, esp; one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted

The point is the name itself "string theory" implies science. Furthermore, the arguments and points that people try to make in these debates are not defined by the title of the debate alone. The title gives someone an idea of what the debate is about, but then the opening argument should be read as well. Reading this, you can clearly see that I started out attacking string theory's scientific credentials. All of the books on string theory are placed in the science section of bookstores. I will also refer you to comments I've made on this topic LONG BEFORE you took up the challenge.

Your final argument is that it should be accepted because it is the only thing to explain gravity on a quantum level. In the previous round, I explained in detail how it accomplishes this feat, and in doing so have tried to show that its ideas are ridiculous. If I were to claim that every force is created by little invisble elephants, we would then also have an explanation uniting all of the forces. But this does not mean the idea is valid or acceptable simply because it uses one hypothetical object to cover everything. Granted that my example of little invisible elephants is more outrageous than little magical vibrating strings, but given some of the concepts that string theory comes up with, it is not THAT much more outrageous or silly.

You've stated "Also, you have no reasons to think that there cannot be 6 spacial dimensions." I actually have two reasons. The first is that I only perceive three and speculating on other dimensions that cannot be perceived is a fruitless and unproductive quest. The second is that theories, such as Einstein's theories of relativity, function on the basis of three spatial dimensions. To believe in more dimensions would require a restructuring of the framework of such great theories such as relativity. To restructure, manipulate and reformulate a theory that has had such magnificent explanatory and predictive power would be blasphemous. And all of this would be done just so that a vague concept such as string theory would have a chance.

Furthermore, I will say that even if I had no reason to disregard the ten or eleven dimensions of string theory (or six dimensions curled up in spacetime), that is a far cry from saying they should be accepted. I have no evidence against unicorns or big foot either. But it is not pragmatic to cling to such ideas. When it comes to science, a different standard must be used. Despite the claims heard by many in any ontological argument, I will say that when it comes to science, absence of evidence IS evidence of absence.
Sanchez

Pro

Rather than replying to your entire wall of text, I will simply reiterate important points and rest.

I'll start with a little defense.

String theory, as my oppomnent has pointed out, does not contain complete equations, nor is it complete. It also does not make any predictions, but this is due to the fact that there are no complete equations yet. My opponent said in his last post that once there are predictions and these predctions are hypothetically proven wrong, string theorists would simply "Ignore the data." This is a ridiculous assertion made with no clear basis, at least no basis other than my opponent's overall disdain for anyone who doesn't dismiss string theory out of hand.

String theory need not be verifyable to be good.

String theory need not actually be a theory to be good. Keep in mind the debate topic is not "String theory is a theory in the scientific sense of the word." The debate topic is simply "String theory."

My opponent claims that a massless particle is impossible. However, there is no scientific law that states this. My opponent has looked at a lot of roads, filled with automobiles, and decided that it's impossible for a horse and buggy to be on the road. Just because the overwhelming number of observations are automobiles, there is no impossiblity to see a horse and buggy, nor is there an impossibility of a massless particle.

All science does not have to be falsifiable. Any theory must be falsifiable. But string theory is no theory, yet. Nor is it a complete hypothesis. It is a formative work of science. It is _not done_. Any complete scientific idea would have to be falsifiable, but it's quite clear that string theory will not be complete until it at least reaches this point. You know, when it makes predictions based on completed formulas.
Regardless, it matters not whether string theory is considered science, by me, you, the audience, or anyone else. That's not the question at hand.

My opponent has also claimed that string theory is just made-up, and has absolutely no backing. However, he ignores the fact that there _are_ equations, however incomplete, that seem to be quite in line with reality. It's not just some story with absolutely no scientific information involved. My opponent is speaking from apparent ignorance by claiming that it's just a story.

And now, my final, positive reaffirmation.

String theory is the only viable approach which seems to work equally well in the quantum and macro worlds. It is the best lead we currently have in unifying the realm of the very small and the very big. Scientific theories of today, such as quantum mechanics and relativity, simply do not work together. They contradict each other. Both cannot be correct as they are, and string theory seeks to fix that which is broken. It is not as poorly developed as my opponent would have you believe. There are actual theoretical physicists who work on string theory continually. It has content, it's the most promising unifyer of relativity and quantum theories, and the only reasons to dismiss it are faulty. It may sound incredible to some, but that's quite a poor reason to discredit it.
Thumbs up for string theory, the best hope for unifying our theories of how reality works.
Debate Round No. 3
17 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Sanchez 9 years ago
Sanchez
It's the only option that remains viable in any way. That's what he meant, he just didn't want to say it in a way that makes string theory sound appealing.
Posted by GaryBacon 9 years ago
GaryBacon
Perhaps "attempts" was the wrong word. You've got me there.
Posted by Einstein 9 years ago
Einstein
"Admittedly, beyond the realm of string theory no attempts have been made to incorporate gravity into quantum theory."

You've got to be kidding me.
Posted by GaryBacon 9 years ago
GaryBacon
I ask all that will vote to please read through the entire debate. It is unfair to come to a conclusion based on being too lazy to read some of the arguments.
Posted by Sanchez 9 years ago
Sanchez
I figure if you make your point well enough, I'll just award you a free internet. You've had the topic up for two days, so I figured I'd just end it.
Posted by Einstein 9 years ago
Einstein
Because we're not really disagreeing with what you're saying, just the implications of what you're saying.
Posted by GaryBacon 9 years ago
GaryBacon
Why is it that some people disagree with me in the comments section, and yet none will take up the challenge?
Posted by iadebater 9 years ago
iadebater
Great argument, I can't see how anyone could refute it. :)
Posted by Einstein 9 years ago
Einstein
GaryBacon is quite right in his premise; string theory is not a scientific theory with any evidence. However, this is not the point of string theory. String theory, like any other scientific conjecture, is simply a guess. It is a good guess, because it seems to explain a lot of situations accurately. However, the point here is that the way the scientific method operates is, you develop a hypothesis, and then test it. We've come up with the hypothesis. We can't really test it yet, but does that mean you throw it out? No. It provides valuable insights into the way the Universe works, and even if superstring theory is wrong, it could still be the first step in finding the right theory. GaryBacon's point of view is quite misleading; he clearly does not know how scientists feel about it.
Posted by C-Mach 9 years ago
C-Mach
Ever since the 1920-30's, science has become a religion. It is no longer the "search for truth." It is now making up theories that can't be falsified. Sting theory is just one example of the cockamamie bullsh*t of modern science. Why the hell are there quarks, neutrinos, and the strong force? Well, guess what: NONE OF THOSE EXIST!!! I know someone who, with a simple experiment he developed, can disprove the strong force. The strong force says that objects of the same charge repel each other, so you need something called the strong force to keep them together. Well, in actuality, when two objects (such as electro-statically charged squares of plastic film, with the same charge) come in VERY close proximity of each other, they actually attract. I rest my case.
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