Scientific Orthodoxy Kills Truth

January 10, 2010 at 8:09 pm Leave a comment

This pas week the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Northwestern University hosted the Heilborn Symposium. Our guests were James York, Jacques Laskar and Murray Gell-Mann, and the program focussed on complexity in nature. The Heilborn Series is meant to enhance the intellectual experience of students and faculty, and as part of the scheduled activities, Gell-Mann met with the particle physics group for about an hour and a half.

Gell-Mann’s comments were really quite interesting. He likes to talk in simple declarative sentences, and one of them was:

Scientific orthodoxy kills truth.

This is not a shocking assertion, and I would bet that books have been written about it. Gell-Mann provided some nice illustrations, including the assertion that Mayan hieroglyphics were not writing aside from the texts associated with their calender, and the hygienic theories of Semmelweiss. Gell-Mann emphasized the need to pay attention to the facts – always nice to hear from a theoretical physicist in the days of anthropogenic and multi-verse explanations fundamental particle physics. Of course, he also added that most challenges to established theory are bogus – again, it is the facts and their interpretation which matter.

Gell-Mann was a wonderful guest and his lecture was great. I could try to relate more of the interesting and amusing things he said while at Northwestern. But that is not the point of this post!

Scientific orthodoxy kills truth. We certainly have an orthodoxy when explaining fundamental particles and their interactions, spanning the standard model and including low-energy supersymmetry and theories of extra dimensions, etc.

If the LHC presents facts which belie this orthodoxy, will we be able to see it, and set aside the orthodoxy? Perhaps we should think carefully and seriously about that, unlike the generation of anthropologists who passed over Mayan civilization, and the generations of physicians who refused to wash their hands before performing surgery…

portrait of Murray Gell-Man

Murray Gell-Mann - portrait from the Sante Fe Institute

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Entry filed under: Particle Physics.

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