Many college entrance exams in the early s were specific to each school and required candidates to travel to the school to take the tests. The College Boarda consortium of colleges in the northeastern United States, was formed in to establish a nationally administered, uniform set of essay tests based on the curricula of the boarding schools that typically provided graduates to the colleges of the Ivy League and Seven Sistersamong others.
Although no longer employed in academia, he regularly attends conferences and writes book reviews for The Observatory, as well as the occasional journal paper. Phillip is a regular commenter on this blog. One could also think that Sabine is a native speaker or, rather, a native writer of English.
The style is breezy without rambling, and direct quotations make it clear what the illustrious interviewees actually said, without any filter of interpretation but see below for a caveat. Sabine's own position is very clear; this is almost an op-ed.
Whether or not one agrees with her, this approach is preferable to introducing one's own biases into what might appear to the uninitiated as an objective description.
Enough praise; now for the critique. Let me emphasize, though, that I agree with everything which I don't discuss here, which is most of the book.
In the interest of stimulating discussion, I'll concentrate on those few areas where I see things differently. It is not always clear what needs to be explained. In discussions of fine-tuning and so on, one often reads about numerical coincidences, which imply that two numbers are roughly the same, but also about small or large numbers, which allegedly also need an explanation.
Since the inverse of a large ratio is a small ratio, I will speak only of small numbers in what follows. It needs to be clear what is even potentially puzzling: In other words, if the smallness of some quantity is the result of a near cancellation, then that implies a ratio near 1 of the quantities which almost cancel; if the number is just small in relation to some other quantity because it has nothing to do with that other quantity, then it certainly needs no explanation.
Another aspect of the presentation I disagree with is the claim that the standard model has been "souped up" with dark matter and dark energy, as if these were some sort of epicycles, fudge factors brought in so that theory and observations match. On her blog, Sabine has often pointed out that general relativity says nothing about the sources of gravitation, so while dark matter might be interesting or even mysterious because we don't know what it is, it is not some sort of addition to general relativity.
The same goes for the cosmological constant. Yes, Einstein initially introduced it as a fudge factor, and later abandoned it, but the universe is independent of the contingent history via which we have learned about it.
From a mathematical point of view, one could just have easily included the cosmological constant from the beginning. Indeed, in other areas of physics, what is not forbidden actually happens, and if someone claims that something doesn't happen, that some quantity is 0, etc, then the burden of proof is on the person making the claim.
Actually, what is interesting is that no fudge factors have had to be introduced. Despite a huge amount of cosmological data, a model with just a few parametersall of which were known even back when there was almost no datawhich was derived when there were some data but considerably less than now still fits the observations.
I have tremendous respect for George Ellis. However, I don't always agree with him, even on matters of science. I think that Sabine lets him too easily off the hook because they seem to agree on many issues. Ellis dismisses the idea that we could be living in a simulation, but is careful to point out that science cannot disprove the existence of God.
One could just as well say that we cannot disprove that we are living in a simulation and dismiss the idea of God. Strictly speaking, one can disprove neither, but can use various arguments to discuss the probabilities of both.
Also, after criticizing certain ideas as being non-scientific, Ellis says of one of his own ideas, that nothing is physically infinite: But we should use it as a principle.
I think that this is a good example of confirmation bias. Interestingly, Tegmark is also critical of the idea of physical infinity but, in contrast to Ellis, is a strong proponent of the multiverse.
My main disagreement with Sabine concerns fine-tuning. I think that this is due to an unnecessary attachment to probability. Many normally think that fine-tuning and low probability go hand in hand.
As Sabine points out, though, without knowledge of the underlying probability distribution, one cannot say whether an anthropic explanation involving the multiverse leads to likely values.Despite the fact that, as Shakespeare said, "the pen is mightier than the sword," the pen itself is not enough to make an effective writer.
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