When does an idea die? Plato and string theory clash with data

How long should one wait until an idea like string theory, seductive as it may be, is deemed unrealistic?

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  • How far should we defend an idea in the face of contrarian evidence?
  • Who decides when it's time to abandon an idea and deem it wrong?
  • Science carries within it its seeds from ancient Greece, including certain prejudices of how reality should or shouldn't be.
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Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to 3 scientists for black hole discoveries

Roger Penrose used mathematics to show black holes actually exist. Andrea Ghez and Reinhard Genzel helped uncover what lies at the center of our galaxy.

Credit: © Nobel Media/Niklas Elmehed.
  • Half of the prize was awarded to Roger Penrose, a British mathematical physicist who proved that black holes ought to exist, if Einstein's relativity is correct.
  • The other half was awarded to Reinhard Genzel, a German astrophysicist, and Andrea Ghez, an American astronomer.
  • Genzel and Ghez helped develop techniques to capture clearer images of the cosmos.
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Paradox-free time travel is 'logically' possible, say physicists

Grandfathers, take heart. You'll survive the paradox that's been gunning for you since the 1930s.

Credit: Warner Bros
  • For a century, the specter of paradoxes has loomed over physics theories and science fiction scripts.
  • A University of Queensland undergraduate and his supervisor ran the numbers and found paradox-free time travel to be mathematically consistent.
  • But the practical hurdles to time travel vastly out distance the mathematical ones.
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    How math predicts life on Earth and the universe beyond

    Math doesn't suck. It is one of humanity's greatest and most mysterious journeys.

    • There is a pervasive cultural attitude against mathematics, but it is actually a mind-blowing tool for analyzing and predicting the world around us—and far beyond. We asked mathematicians Edward Frenkel and Po-Shen Loh, and physicists Michio Kaku, Michelle Thaller, Janna Levin and Geoffrey West to explain the wonders of math.
    • West explains the rule of 'quarter-power scaling' in biology—there is a mathematical equation that predicts how much food an organism needs to eat to survive and it's remarkably consistent, whether you're looking at ladybugs, cats, elephants, and even trees and flowers. Math underpins our lives in incredible ways.
    • Infinitesimal calculus—the math that describes how moving bodies change over time—turns out to predict not just phenomena on Earth but far out in the universe. The 11-dimensional math used by physicists turns out to predict the exact results of particle physics experiments. Humanity is on an incredible journey with mathematics and every day it opens up the world and universe in eye-opening ways.
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    Stephen Hawking thought black holes were 'hairy'. New study suggests he was right.

    The outer edges of a black hole might be "fuzzy" instead of neat and smooth.

    • A recent study analyzed observations of gravitational waves, first observed in 2015.
    • The data suggests, according to the researchers, that black holes aren't bounded by smooth event horizons, but rather by a sort of quantum fuzz, which would fit with the idea of Hawking radiation.
    • If confirmed, the findings could help scientists better understand how general relativity fits with quantum mechanics.
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