In this SFI Community Lecture, science writer and theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder of the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies explains why the concept of beauty in physics has led to stagnation in the field over the last 40 years and points a way forward for the field can move on.
Key message: Before you try to solve a problem, make sure it really is a problem that will resolve real inconsistencies. Lack of beauty is not an inconsistency.
14:23 The foundation of physics: those natural laws that cannot be derived from any underlying laws.
15:33 Physics may be in crisis, but it is certainly is stagnating.
19:40: Progress in physics is slowing down because physicists are focusing on problems that are beautiful.
27:42 There are three types of beauty in physics. 1. Simplicity: relative and absolute.
31:00 2. Naturalness: general and technical.
35:20 3. Elegance.
41:15 The idea that successful theories have to be beautiful did not work very well, such as Keppler’s platonic solids.
47:21 Ugly ideas work well also, such as quantum mechanics.
49:40 Using beauty and esthetics as criteria in hypotheses has been shown not to work but physicists keep on using them, which is unfortunate because testing new theories takes increasingly more time and money.
52:24 Failed predictions from theories based on naturalness include the theta parameter in the standard model of physics, weakly interacting massive particles and supersymmetric partner particles.
1:09:04Measures that count the number of publications and citations as a way of assessing productivity and popularity only create perverse incentives for scientists to continue to work on failed predictions.
1:16:27Sabine has been working on a web-interface to evaluate research: see SciMeter.org.
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