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Years ago, I posted a question about using transfinite arithmetic in relation to renormalization, and if memory serves me right, my question was closed for being "fringe." So imagine my surprise a few weeks ago, upon reading Bruno Augenstein's "Links between physics and set theory" and seeing him ask exactly the question I had asked, except with way more details and fully indicating that the question was admissible in the mainstream-physics context (e.g. by citing Ulam's own musings).

To my knowledge, Augenstein was not a fringe scientist, much less was Ulam an outlier. So why was my question closed? Was there a different SE that the question was a better fit for (I've seen that there used(?) to be a Theoretical Physics SE or something, for example)? Would it have been possible to migrate my question from here to a better-fitting locale?

Now, I have no interest whatsoever in my question being reopened, here, since having read Augenstein's essay, I got pretty much all the answers I could reasonably expect to have gotten in this connection. I just think it was weird that the question got the response that it did on this site. I've only just started learning calculus in detail (via Keisler's book) and I don't think that I would, on average, be a good contributor to the PhysicsSE, since I wouldn't be able to answer other people's questions helpfully at this time. So I'd rather not dilute the PhysicsSE with weak attempts at contributions. But all that being said, I don't see that this one contribution years ago (of two or three total, I don't remember for sure), was all that bad, since it would have been easy enough to answer (someone could have just cited Augenstein's essay).

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    $\begingroup$ If you take graduate courses in quantum field theory, it is very very unlikely that the textbook or the professor will mention transfinite arithmetic when discussing renormalization. This idea is “fringe” in the sense that most physicists are unfamiliar with it. Personally, I have never encountered it and have no idea whether Augenstein’s approach to renormalization makes sense. If it had some advantage, it would likely be widely known. $\endgroup$
    – Ghoster
    Aug 10, 2023 at 19:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Ghoster that's understandable, and I can see people being unresponsive to a post whose content they're unfamiliar with, but hostile? Then again, the SE as a whole has a recurring problem with unethical hostility, so maybe in the long run (if the newer CoC isn't effective enough) either aggressive members will have to be censured more rapidly, or the SE itself will have to face a lawsuit like Facebook did of late (for a technically different but morally similar reason, after all). $\endgroup$ Aug 10, 2023 at 20:27
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    $\begingroup$ I don’t agree with your attitude at all. Users here have a right to express their opinions on question quality by voting, and this is not “unethical hostility”. $\endgroup$
    – Ghoster
    Aug 10, 2023 at 22:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Ghoster I don't know that Internet ethics is theoretically settled enough for me to be sure about that in general; in particular, even if downvoting is justifiable as a practice (which is debatable), a refusal on the part of members to accept/use peer-reviewed citations as a basis for questions and answers is worrisome, I think (IDK how much of an issue that is on the PhysicsSE, but on the PhilosophySE, well...). But again, the newest CoC might help temper the problem, here; I'll have to wait and see (and build my case in the background, if worse comes to worst). $\endgroup$ Aug 10, 2023 at 22:43
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    $\begingroup$ Your question had no peer-reviewed citations! I will venture to say that to the typical physicist it reads like gibberish. I have a Ph.D. in physics and have no idea what the aleph-zeroth root of the continuum means. $\endgroup$
    – Ghoster
    Aug 10, 2023 at 22:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Ghoster I would have to look through the PhysicsSE more to make the point with respect to this part of the network. I can say that the MathSE and PhilosophySE do have a serious problem with unnecessary hostility, but I don't follow the PhysicsSE enough to say that in this case. I would still use the reaction to my post as very slight evidence for my claim that the SE network as a whole has a misinformation problem, but only very slight evidence (indicative more of the symptomatic drift of the network generally than the PhysicsSE in particular). The bulk of the evidence would be elsewhere. $\endgroup$ Aug 10, 2023 at 22:53
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    $\begingroup$ even if downvoting is justifiable as a practice (which is debatable) Downvoting is part of the intentional design — by a profit-seeking corporation — of all Stack Exchange sites. The company does not have to justify its decision to make upvoting and downvoting key features! People who like these features probably like SE sites, and those who don’t probably don’t. Personally, I would not use a site where only upvoting was allowed, as that horribly misrepresents opinion. I hate that comments can’t be downvoted. $\endgroup$
    – Ghoster
    Aug 11, 2023 at 4:49
  • $\begingroup$ Relevant history: physics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/9822/…. The Theoretical Physics stack exchange site indeed existed, from October 2011 to April 2012 (ie for six months, more than ten years ago). $\endgroup$ Aug 21, 2023 at 5:15

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A single article on a topic does not make the topic mainstream. Moreover, one can do perfectly good mainstream science yet still dabble in fringe stuff.

Many (if not all) truly novel ideas will initially not be part of mainstream physics: if they were mainstream, they wouldn’t be that novel. However, if the ideas are good, they are eventually assimilated in the mainstream: how an original idea survives digestion through the passage of time determines if the idea is or is not mainstream. In this perspective, “non mainstream” is not a synonym for “crackpot-ish”.

For this reason, I would not call the specific case that you have highlighted as mainstream. I’m not sure where is the threshold for “mainstream”, but I know that a single paper “a few weeks ago” does not meet it.

I don’t have an issue with this policy. It would be very difficult to provide a definite and useful answer to a truly novel idea shortly after this idea has been published. The best anyone can state is an opinion that it would look like a good idea (or a bad one), and I’m sure smart people would immediately see refinements to do away with the more immediate issues that come with novel idea: imaging having to answer a question on the Bohr model immediately after Bohr’s publication.

So: I’m not sure what your point is beyond bragging rights that someone else has an idea similar to yours.

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    $\begingroup$ Augenstein's paper was published years before I asked my question, and his citations of Ulam go back to, well, Ulam's writings decades earlier. My point is that rather than close my question for an unclear reason, someone could have simply cited Augenstein or Ulam to me and that would have been that. I found out about Augenstein's essay via the MathOverflow so it's not like it was particularly obscure. $\endgroup$ Aug 11, 2023 at 3:02
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    $\begingroup$ If it was just something that happened to me this one time, on one part of the SE, with respect to this one post of mine, I would probably conclude that it reflected more on the quality of my post than on SE ethics/culture broadly, but I have seen similar reactions to other posts by other people, over the intervening years, and so I wonder if there's something "wrong" with the SE overall, as such. For the time being, I accept the semi-recent CoC adjustments as compensating for this apparent "wrongness" in the sense that the network administrators are aware of the problem, and dealing with it. $\endgroup$ Aug 11, 2023 at 3:11
  • $\begingroup$ @KristianBerry I found out about Augenstein's essay via the MathOverflow so it's not like it was particularly obscure. It’s obscure (actually, unknown) to the typical physicist. Most of the math on MathOverflow is research-level mathematics that the typical physicist never learns and never uses. I can understand almost nothing on MathOverflow with my physics Ph.D, but that’s OK because I don’t feel that I need to pay any attention to it whatsoever. $\endgroup$
    – Ghoster
    Aug 11, 2023 at 4:08
  • $\begingroup$ @KristianBerry ah! I see this is an old paper indeed: I had misunderstood one of your comment. It is nice to see someone harping on the topic, but in my opinion 25+ year later the topic hasn’t really punched through the mainstream: the author hoped that “future researchers will take up” the challenges presented in the paper and this hasn’t really happened.. This doesn’t make the topic bad or uninteresting, just not mainstream. $\endgroup$ Aug 11, 2023 at 12:25
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    $\begingroup$ @ZeroTheHero I can accept my posts here on the PhysicsSE being nonstarters (again, I don't even know calculus very well, so I wouldn't be justified in trying to contribute much, if anything, here). For now, my conclusion will be that my limited experience on the PhysicsSE is not a reflection of my concerns with other parts of the SE; and maybe those concerns aren't sufficiently grounded elsewhere, either. $\endgroup$ Aug 11, 2023 at 12:45
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    $\begingroup$ @KristianBerry I would not say it’s a “nonstarter” although I agree it is unlikely there is someone here with such a specialized expertise, but I’ve always been surprised by the quality of some contributions to less well known aspects of physics. There’s nothing wrong with your original question, except that it’s unlikely to be answered in a definitive way, and this is possibly a working definition of “mainstream” on this site. Certainly this is not a crackpot question and does not refer to crackpot work. $\endgroup$ Aug 11, 2023 at 12:58
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    $\begingroup$ I admit I looked up papers by the same author and some are definitely “fringe” although not without interest for me. I would still consider something like this paper as non-mainstream but I will read it. $\endgroup$ Aug 11, 2023 at 13:01
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Scientists are not equally competent in all fields, nor does their competence necessarily remain the same over their entire careers. Somebody who is extremely knowledgeable in one area may nonetheless harbor deep misunderstandings of even relatively closely related fields. Moreover, skilled scientists can still develop totally crackpot ideas—like Linus Pauling's beliefs about the curative effects of large vitamin C doses.

Bruno Augenstein was a respected scientist in ballistics and space science. However, his ideas about quantum mechanics (to say nothing of quantum field theory, which he does not seem to have understood) are typically considered crank-ish at best.

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  • $\begingroup$ I have not read all papers of Augenstein work but what I read is not crank. Sure, it’s waaaaay out there and definitely not mainstream (who writes papers on the axiom of choice and quantum mechanics ?) but I have yet to read something I would classify as crank. $\endgroup$ Aug 14, 2023 at 3:02
  • $\begingroup$ @ZeroTheHero I consider that paper you linked to be crank material. It's been a long time since I read it carefully, but even if you accept the "theorem" that paper purports to prove (and, as I recall, I was not convinced by his argument even at that level), I don't think it says anything about the validity of von Neumann's formulation of quantum mechanics, since no actual physical computation or observation can ever depend on the Axiom of Choice and its infinite number of arbitrary choices. $\endgroup$
    – Buzz Mod
    Aug 14, 2023 at 3:52
  • $\begingroup$ well… we have to agree to disagree here. $\endgroup$ Aug 14, 2023 at 3:54

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