[FOM] Question about theoretical physics
Timothy Y. Chow
tchow at alum.mit.edu
Sat Mar 2 00:23:31 EST 2013
Arnold Neumaier wrote:
> See the citations from ''Is QED consistent?'' mentioned above.
I took a brief look at a couple of these. Now that Joe Shipman has
clarified that his objection is simpler than the "caricature" that I
painted in previous posts, I think that his complaint is analogous to the
complaints that have been leveled against the Appel-Haken-Koch proof of
the four-color theorem and against the Hales-Ferguson proof of the Kepler
conjecture. Namely, the excessively detailed computations involved have
not been documented in a fully satisfactory manner. For example, Passera
(hep-ph/0606174) writes:
The exact expressions for these coefficients are rather complicated,
containing hundreds of polylogarithmic functions up to fifth degree (for
the light-by-light diagrams) and complex arguments (for the vacuum
polarization ones). Indeed, they were too long to be listed in [19, 20]
(but were kindly provided by their authors), although series expansions
were given for the cases of physical relevance.
I interpret "kindly provided by their authors" to mean a private
communication with Passera.
The fact that the computations involve non-rigorous mathematics arouses
additional anxiety in a mathematician, who may wonder if a non-rigorous
calculation is independently reproducible. But it seems to me that the
lack of rigorous mathematical foundation for QED is something of a red
herring, if Shipman's main concern is being able to reproduce the
calculation. The real problem is that both the mathematics and the
physics communities haven't completely solved the problem of adequately
documenting extremely complicated calculations. I think this is a
legitimate concern, though Shipman's use of the term "scandal" in a way
that implies that QFT is a particularly egregious offender seems a bit
over-sensationalized to me.
Tim
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