Saturday, March 21, 2009
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
I never liked physics at school, but love reading the odd pop physics book. As with all these types of books you feel that the explanations often gloss over details and make pretty large leaps of logic, which I suppose is understandable. It reminds me of reading American economics text books back in the day.
In any case, The Trouble with Physics is about how physicists became besotted with string theory in the 80s (while the rest of us became besotted with Wham!) and how String theory has stayed in vogue (even though Wham! are way past their sell buy date and we are all listening to the Jonas Brothers now).
The author, Lee Smolin, critiques string theory and says it's a load of codswallop. It turns out that string theorists have created fancy theories that are not disprovable - they may as well be disciples of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster!.
Smolin then talks about the Physics education system. The people that succeed are good at exams, diligent when learning the received wisdom. They are not people that think outside the box or rock the boat, because if you want an academic job you have to kowtow to your professors (I have seen this happen a few times).
And so 20 years on String theory is entrenched in theoretical physics departments everywhere. 20 years of research probably gone down the drain.
The scary thing is, the same problem exists in economics faculties (plus, economist's theories "proofs" are very very wishy washy) and probably in most academic institutions.
It's not unlike those almost alien-like hardcore religious people, with their labrynthine detailed knowledge of religious dogma.
The real danger occurs when people actually pay attention to these people steeped in string theory, religious, economic and [add social science discipline of choice] dogma.
Harvard Business School alumni include Stan O’Neal and John Thain, the last two heads of Merrill Lynch, plus Andy Hornby, former chief executive of HBOS, who graduated top of his class. And then of course, there’s George W Bush, Hank Paul-son, the former US Treasury secretary, and Christopher Cox, the former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), a remarkable trinity who more than fulfilled the mission of their alma mater: “To educate leaders who make a difference in the world.”
No one gets fired for hiring a Harvard graduate, or so the saying goes. Same thing applies for lots of professional qualifications, CFA, CPA etc.
Thing is, what are you actually learning? It's all just cookie-cutter education, designed to help the HR drones to safely hire you without much worry and open the gates to earning lots of money (or so the theory goes).
People should spend their time studying what they are passionate about, rather what will earn 'em big money.