"Non-mainstream" physics is often equated to fallacies and fringe theories, including on this forum. Mainstream physics is rigorously categorized in specific historical scientific contexts, subject to unscientific beliefs of the time. As physics advances as a science, it corrects itself. What was mainstream to wrongly presume gets falsified by corrected mainstream knowledge.

Given these premises, are future corrective physics discoveries properly categorized as mainstream, in advance, or not?

[Thanks Buzz, for moving this to Meta, despite the rules. I'll use edit function to work around my lack of user powers. I've now edited the question for better clarity and detail. The following comments are what I can manage as a new member with a low reputation of 1.]

Its very confusing to newbies that a "mainstream" physics Q&A forum does not have the virtues of a Physics Forum as a friendly place, but rife with anonymous down votes and poorly supported deletions.

Social media like this can in fact do some good for open peer-review questions. Its Turing complete. Planck could just as well "question" Einstein with a fountain pen, or here, and it would be helpful peer review.

How did "reputation" become elevated to mainstream physics? Traditionally, Appeal to Authority was classed as a logical fallacy.

I see now Stack Exchange was created by Jeff Atwood, whom I know via Discourse meta discussion we have had. Great guy. His life has become increasingly occupied with unintended social consequences. Physics Stack Exchange is one more curious instance, in that physics and software Q&A and cultures are not really the same.

Atwood's Discourse forumware would be a better match to physics as a community that both answers questions and allow a Galileo and a newbie to co-exist more equitably, provided Moderation settings and Moderation were enlightened. Atwood said there is not much hope when a draconian whack-a-mole moderation culture takes hold, although architectural mitigation meta-analysis in Atwood's circle continues to seek solutions. Discourse Forums do not inevitably devolve into flamewars that only downvotes and deletions can prevent.

A reductio ad absurdum example of how this site is so weird-

Question about non-mainstream physics: "Is non-mainstream physics allowed here?"

Paradoxical Answer: "No, questions and answers about non-mainstream physics are not allowed here."

One cannot ask about what Newton got wrong (like absolute space and time, point masses, and so on), as its no longer be mainstream physics.

Comments below help answer "meta" questions facing this software platform as a basis for physics community.

  • $\begingroup$ Possible duplicates: physics.meta.stackexchange.com/q/4538/44126, physics.meta.stackexchange.com/q/7516/44126 $\endgroup$
    – rob Mod
    Oct 19, 2021 at 1:16
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ Why was this question migrated here? It doesn’t seem on topic here either. $\endgroup$
    – Dale
    Oct 19, 2021 at 2:42
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ This is not a forum. It is a Q&A site. $\endgroup$ Oct 19, 2021 at 14:29
  • $\begingroup$ Re "Atwood said there is not much hope when a draconian whack-a-mole moderation culture takes hold": Do you have a reference? I will not believe he said that before I see a reference. $\endgroup$ Oct 19, 2021 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ The canonical is Is non-mainstream physics appropriate for this site? (part of the FAQ). $\endgroup$ Oct 19, 2021 at 14:53
  • $\begingroup$ The canonical answer contains a paradox in that it tolerates the question that is claimed disallowed "questions and answers about non-mainstream physics are not allowed here". Atwood's comment was made on his Discourse meta site sometime last year. To whomever it may concern, Mathematical Physics and Mathematical Philosophy are both recognized (therefore mainstream) academic fields, and naturally there is a rich intersectional concept space. $\endgroup$
    – wave
    Oct 20, 2021 at 2:06
  • $\begingroup$ Everyone also please recall the Pythagorean precept, "All is Number". Any attempt at no-go disproof would be encodable as number. Shannon Energy-Information equivalence applies. Newtons's Laws and Laws of Thermodynamics indeed are equivalent in either their natural language or numeric equations. Predicate Calculus is an intermediate morph of computable natural language. This is all mainstream. $\endgroup$
    – wave
    Oct 20, 2021 at 2:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The Stack Exchange main and meta Q&A sites are not forums, and they are most certainly not social media. We do have various chat rooms, though, and admittedly there's a social component to the comments posted on the Q&A sites. $\endgroup$
    – PM 2Ring
    Oct 21, 2021 at 0:53
  • $\begingroup$ Anti-social media then? $\endgroup$
    – wave
    Oct 21, 2021 at 2:33
  • $\begingroup$ What Newton got wrong is mainstream physics. $\endgroup$
    – ProfRob
    Oct 28, 2021 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ By logical extension, what we get wrong will be mainstream physics. $\endgroup$
    – wave
    Oct 29, 2021 at 16:21

3 Answers 3


Given these premises, are future physics discoveries properly categorized as non-standard?

And precisely how do you propose we determine which of the completely whacko theories and the vaguely plausible theories might turn out to have some practical use in the future?

Most scientists do not even live long enough to see their theories completely validated or fully accepted. Many do not even live long enough to see their work gain enough evidence to make it from "wild or interesting speculation" to "promising theory".

Do we consult our crystal balls or just build time machines out of DeLoreans? Scientists have proposed multiple theories which for many years were considered crackpot, then for one reason or another became more widely investigated, only to be discarded as wrong in the end. At which point in the imagined future of theories do you propose we decide on how to treat them.

At best we can only go by what we know now about theories. Not what we expect/hope/believe will happen.

We're not a discussion forum and opinion based question (almost everywhere on SE and SO) are off-topic. The site is neither intended to have discussions or designed to handle discussions.

You are asking for the site to do something it's not designed for and not intended for and not adaptable to.

One cannot ask about what Newton got wrong, as it would no longer be mainstream.

Both Newtonian physics and its replacements are considered mainstream here. We deal with questions on Newtonian physics all the time, although many more questions break the homework-type question rules.

Physicists use Newtonian physics rather a lot and it works extremely well. Newton didn't get much wrong if you allow for the limits of the knowledge he had to base his theory on, so the basis of that question would be flawed.

Its very confusing that a "mainstream" physics Q&A forum is not classified as a Physics Forum. Its not a friendly place for answers when what is produced is anonymous down votes.

It is intended to help people understand mainstream physics. The definition of mainstream is certainly not rigidly defined here.

Anonymous downvotes (which is Stack Exchange and Stack Overflow wide policy) are there to prevent people starting wars with other users. If you publish the names of voters and how they voted, you get warfare on the site. Close votes are published and frankly that's as far as the site should go. I was recently the victim of serial downvoting (detected and reversed by the site's software I think) and it's quite clear that some of the site's users are not mature enough to behave fairly to other members. So publishing downvotes would be a nightmare scenario and create chaos IMO.

If you don't like downvoting you need to propose a mechanism that will achieve the same end result without introducing more problems that it tries to fix. Given the extreme nature such a change would be for the site engineers and users, it's hard to imagine any better system. There is also the issue of what to do with *existing downvotes (and upvotes) on questions for such a change (and note that these votes affect reputation score). If you think you have a solution you are free to post it on Meta.

  • $\begingroup$ "If you don't like downvoting you need to propose a mechanism that will achieve the same end result without introducing more problems that it tries to fix." How about I just don't downvote anyone? The worst thing would be someone who downvotes without regard for the emotional damage it might do to a sensitive person trying their best. $\endgroup$
    – wave
    Oct 19, 2021 at 5:34
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ @wave Frankly anyone who gets "emotional damage" from a down vote on an internet forum has issues we have no way to fix. If they're that sensitive they couldn't survive a day in real life. And I speak as someone with PTSD, so no sale on that nonsense. This site already handles people with kid gloves. - if we make it any more touchy feely we might as well stop posting in case we offend creationists, flat-earthers and the myriad of other people offended by, you know, actual science. $\endgroup$ Oct 19, 2021 at 7:46
  • $\begingroup$ Its fatalistic and unscientific to believe nothing can be done about emotional pain caused by social media. There are factors of age, gender, culture. that can be optimized. For example, if Hawking would have struggled to edit a comment here within the 5 minute deadline, maybe its the deadline, not his condition at fault. A creationist might indeed find solace in knowing that a sort of sadistic dynamic can exist in a scientific setting like this one, as a lack of emotional intellegence. $\endgroup$
    – wave
    Oct 19, 2021 at 18:06
  • $\begingroup$ "And precisely how do you propose we determine which of the completely whacko theories and the vaguely plausible theories might turn out to have some practical use in the future?" By patiently keeping an open mind. There is no rigorous way to prove any theory "completely whacko", but a "vaguely plausible theory" is exactly how every revolutionary scientific paradigm advance starts. And its not just "practical use" but joy in sharing physics knowledge, like knowing about Black Holes, say. $\endgroup$
    – wave
    Oct 19, 2021 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ "Actual science" is far more than what is understood here as mainstream or standard. For example, the science of QFT as embodied in phenomena predates our slowly expanding knowledge. We are not inventing it, but discovering it. $\endgroup$
    – wave
    Oct 19, 2021 at 18:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @wave No. QFT is just a model for the bahvior of the world under certain types of conditions. It is not an uncovered existing truth. Physics does not, contrary to common believe, claim that it's models are some kind of ultimate truth. They are just stepping stones to more refied models. We can in fact be reasonably sure that QFT does not fully represent the way the universe really works because mainstream QFT does not incorporate general relativity (QFT's are based on SR not GR). More advanced theories have flaws and problems. $\endgroup$ Oct 19, 2021 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ No one is confusing theory with reality. Lets agree QFT is a mainstream description for observed phenomena presumed to exist independent of theoretical formulation, including the distant past and far future. Its a matter of opinion if one insists QFT has not been developed by "uncovering existing truth" but by some other means. $\endgroup$
    – wave
    Oct 20, 2021 at 2:01
  • $\begingroup$ I cannot agree that QFT existed in the past if you mean before humans invented it. We'll be agreeing to disagree I think. $\endgroup$ Oct 20, 2021 at 2:08
  • $\begingroup$ Agreed, the theory did not exist, except perhaps elsewhere in the Universe, or if the future can be said to have existed. Underlying science waiting to be discovered did exist, in the mainstream view of science. $\endgroup$
    – wave
    Oct 20, 2021 at 2:25

I will answer just the physics-related question here.

"New discoveries in physics" typically means either 1) new data from experiments which unexpectedly (or not) furnish new verification of existing physics (for example, the Standard Model or special relativity), 2) new data from experiments containing discrepancies which hint at physics beyond (i.e., not derivable from) an existing physics model (for example, neutrino masses), or 3)(most rarely) a new mathematical structure which furnishes an explanation of puzzling data and which makes specific (though possibly untestable) predictions about other phenomena (for example, string theory).

It is rare for physics originating in the "nonstandard" realm to represent new physics, because "nonstandard physics" usually refers to assertions (often untestable) which either are 1) presented nonmathematically, 2) premised upon concepts already known to be flawed, or 3) mathematically consistent but incommensurable with observational facts.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks Niels. My question is only about corrective new physics being non-standard, and non-typical as well, as well as some portion of standard physics typically being wrong. $\endgroup$
    – wave
    Oct 19, 2021 at 3:18
  • $\begingroup$ Here is an example- "Mainstream" physics insists nothing can move faster than the speed of light. On the other hand, due to cosmic expansion, everything beyond the Hubble Sphere is moving away from us faster than the speed of light, which means everything in the Universe is moving faster than the speed of light in relation to most of it. Which view is best here? The correct view or the mainstream error? $\endgroup$
    – wave
    Oct 21, 2021 at 1:43
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @wave, the mainstream is not in error here. You need to have a closer look at the reasoning being applied in that case. John Rennie (moderator here) is an expert on this. $\endgroup$ Oct 21, 2021 at 4:29
  • $\begingroup$ Please see new Question on this in Main Q&A; "Does Cosmic Expansion cause everything to travel faster than light, relative to almost everything else?". In any case, the history of physics is full of Mainstream error, like when Copernicus was suppressed. Looking forward to John Rennie's opinion on Mainstream Physics errors getting corrected over time, if not allowed here. $\endgroup$
    – wave
    Oct 21, 2021 at 4:54

Are future physics discoveries properly categorized as non-standard?

They are not, in this site. Discoveries from new experiments is how the present "mainstream physics" expands its theories and any discovery is allowed. View the g-2 discussion here. https://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/362960/experimental-g2-measurement?r=SearchResults&s=2|71.6445 , https://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/588160/muon-g-2-experiment-at-fermilab?r=SearchResults&s=3|64.5020 .

It is the theories that fit the measured data that may be considered non mainstream and questions not allowed.

If you know anything about the development of Physics theories you would know that there are various mathematical models, that fit the present data, these are called mainstream, well validated. A basic criterion for a theoretical model to be classified as mainstream here is that at the limits of its validity it mathematically approaches well validated theories.

Take General Relativity, for low masses and velocities it can be shown that Newtonian Physics emerges. Take quantum mechanics, for macroscopic dimensions the classical theories can be seen to emerge mathematically.

String theory is considered by many as an extension of mainstream, because it can model the well validated Standard Model. The Standard Model of particle physics is the mathematical fit to the data base of all experiments, with few exceptions now. If you read the history of the standard model it is continually modified to fit new data.

Any new mathematical theory, not hand-waving suppositions, should be able to demonstrate mathematically that the theories that fit the data emerge from the new mathematics. If so, than it would not be classified as "non mainstream" as it would contain "mainstream" . Hand waving "what if" propositions without the mathematics, is not physics , that is all.

  • $\begingroup$ So the answer to my question is that here "future physics discoveries" are considered standard rather than non-standard. Where is the math? $\endgroup$
    – wave
    Oct 19, 2021 at 5:49
  • $\begingroup$ In the links and quotes the questioner provides to validate his/her statements. Possible string theories are thousands, but there peer reviewed mathematics behind the models discussed. $\endgroup$
    – anna v
    Oct 19, 2021 at 6:07
  • $\begingroup$ Its all very odd. Jeff Atwood created this social media as anything but a physicist. Every logical natural language expression, like the one you are reading, is mathematical, the proof being that it is converted to bit streams and back into prose. No, downvoting is not the only or best way to deal with social community, absence of upvoting would do. In the extreme case of say, a high school questioner who is stomped and commits suicide, but otherwise might have become a talented physicist, does anyone care? Not just Atwood should be concerned. And peer review is any peer help one gets. $\endgroup$
    – wave
    Oct 19, 2021 at 15:04
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ There is also a lot of fine physics that is not numeric as such, like Faraday's Lectures. No one need require Democritus to produce his math for his atomic theory. Heuristic reasoning is part of "standard" physics, Yes we can speak meaningfully about future unifications for which the math does not yet exist, and yes errors do slip past peer review, and are not really validated. And much of what is "standard" today will become fringe tomorrow, as its invalidated by time. $\endgroup$
    – wave
    Oct 19, 2021 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ @wave You are living three centuries ago. From the time of calculus and Newton physics has theories that are as strict as mathematical theories, with extra axioms to pick up from the mathematical solutions the ones that fit data. $\endgroup$
    – anna v
    Oct 19, 2021 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ No, we agree that rigorous mathematical models are essential case by case. Where we disagree is whether that's all there is. For example, interpretations of QM can vary heuristically over the same agreed mathematical foundation. These are not three century old questions, and they are standard. Then there is mathematical philosophy like number theory, where the meta-analysis is not calculation as such, but deeper. The standard texts can be free of anything explicitly like ordinary math. $\endgroup$
    – wave
    Oct 19, 2021 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ @wave if there is no math it is not physics but philosophy, imy opinion. So those questions should go to the philosopy site, philosophy.stackexchange.com, which has a philosophy of science tag $\endgroup$
    – anna v
    Oct 19, 2021 at 17:09
  • $\begingroup$ Here is another great question in physics- What is the Future, or the Past, for that matter? Surely this is core standard topic, as all of physics exists in time, and deals with temporal effects. But mathematical content alone does not address the question adequately. If a child here asks- What is the Future?, is all they deserve is downvotes? Where is the math validating each downvote? Are downvotes really the right "standard"? $\endgroup$
    – wave
    Oct 19, 2021 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ @wave the question should go to the philosophy site, so it will be migrated from physics. $\endgroup$
    – anna v
    Oct 19, 2021 at 17:14
  • $\begingroup$ Science was first called Natural Philosophy, not by accident. Interpretations of QM are both physics and philosophy, without contradiction. "Philosophy" simply means "lover of knowledge". Physics is knowledge. $\endgroup$
    – wave
    Oct 19, 2021 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ Lets also agree that any statement of relation like equal, greater-than, lesser-than, is mathematical. Any standard science or math Professor can write equations while speaking out the content in prose. Its all math. $\endgroup$
    – wave
    Oct 19, 2021 at 17:38
  • $\begingroup$ @wave I disagree, it is my bedtime anyway. by by $\endgroup$
    – anna v
    Oct 19, 2021 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ Its ok to disagree. Einstein had this now presumably mainstream physics opinion: "A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background (of physics) gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is—in my opinion—the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth." $\endgroup$
    – wave
    Oct 19, 2021 at 18:48
  • $\begingroup$ Recalling analysis regarding social media that is "Gamified", with game-like incentives like popular scoring as currency. It creates a sort of Hunger Games dynamic, where the software engineer effectively plays God. Naturally the high scorers would prefer the narrative of a noble cause, like creating enduring physics answers, when data-mining AI will soon enough do a better job than the best efforts here. Advancing science, mathematical physics, math, and so on, are a different game, based on more enduring logic. $\endgroup$
    – wave
    Oct 20, 2021 at 0:55
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry that I have no way to post anywhere with no reputation. This clarifies how there is legitimate doubt about what is "mainstream physics" and whether reputation counts- "Here is an example- "Mainstream" physics insists nothing can move faster than the speed of light. On the other hand, due to cosmic expansion, everything beyond the Hubble Sphere is moving away from us faster than the speed of light, which means everything in the Universe is moving faster than the speed of light in relation to most of it. Which view is best here? The correct view or the mainstream error?" – wave 27 secs $\endgroup$
    – wave
    Oct 21, 2021 at 1:54

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .