Uh oh, I've started to "believe" in string theory... What do I do??


by Telos
Tags: started, string, theory
Telos
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#1
Aug15-05, 11:30 PM
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It was a supremely addictive feeling. I don't know how to describe it. One minute I was studying the relationships between fundamental particles and another I all of a sudden found myself wishing they were all just bits of string. How more "elegant" that would be... and it seemed so beautiful it just "had to be true."

What do I do??? Is there some kind of skeptical cold shower I can take?

I'm not joking!
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marcus
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#2
Aug16-05, 07:27 AM
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Quote Quote by Telos
It was a supremely addictive feeling. I don't know how to describe it. One minute I was studying the relationships between fundamental particles and another I all of a sudden found myself wishing they were all just bits of string. How more "elegant" that would be... and it seemed so beautiful it just "had to be true."

What do I do??? Is there some kind of skeptical cold shower I can take?

I'm not joking!
however serious your predicament, Telos, it's a charming post. makes me think "mind candy" and
the idea of skepticism as a cold shower seems just right.

I expect several who read your post will be thinking about your struggle with temptation. Maybe some will have suggestions.
marcus
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Aug16-05, 09:18 AM
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But Telos, why should you be asking for help?
If you feel seduced by the speculative fantasy of an all-inclusive orderly explanation, and want to believe in it, then why can't you?

It doesnt do anybody any harm. that I can see.

I assume you are just a private citizen, managing your own intellectual and spiritual life.

Believers only bother me when they allow unreasoned or aesthetic convictions to influence decisions on practical matters like faculty hiring and research funding. Or when they command media and spew contempt for alternative lines of research.

I am puzzled and interested that you ask for other people's input. What kind of conversation would you like to have? Would you like other people to explain why they don't find stringery interesting? Would you like people to offer you alternative models of spacetime and matter for you to believe in?
Do you want someone to preach you a sermon about how science requires the skeptical restraint of belief, and reasonable acknowledgement that one's theories may be wrong? (But if you are not doing science why shouldn't you just believe what you please about the universe?)

Telos
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#4
Aug16-05, 12:06 PM
P: 147

Uh oh, I've started to "believe" in string theory... What do I do??


Thanks for the reply. ;)

I assume you are just a private citizen, managing your own intellectual and spiritual life.
I am in the market to go back to school for QM, but I am doing as much independent learning as possible to make myself certain of the commitment. So, I ask that you view my concern as "professional," for that is where it is directed.

I am genuinely worried that my future conceptual development could inevitably be mired by what seems a natural intoxication. I assumed that, given the widespread interest and debate in string theory, that others here have gone through a similar psychological transition and found it disturbing? Like a heavy dose of opium?

Are there things scientists do every now and then to reorient their thinking towards an open and skeptical mindset, particularly in this issue?
marcus
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#5
Aug16-05, 01:17 PM
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Quote Quote by Telos
Thanks for the reply. ;)



I am in the market to go back to school for QM, but I am doing as much independent learning as possible to make myself certain of the commitment. So, I ask that you view my concern as "professional," for that is where it is directed.

I am genuinely worried that my future conceptual development could inevitably be mired by what seems a natural intoxication. I assumed that, given the widespread interest and debate in string theory, that others here have gone through a similar psychological transition and found it disturbing? Like a heavy dose of opium?

Are there things scientists do every now and then to reorient their thinking towards an open and skeptical mindset, particularly in this issue?
The obvious answer would be "get acquainted with CDT"

Nonperturbative QG may well not APPEAL to you, but at least you will get some idea of at least one of the QG alternatives to string.

I started a thread here called "Quantum Graffiti" which is about CDT and related stuff.

CDT stems from an attempt in early 1990s by Jan Ambjorn et al to find a nonperturbative formulation of string theory, more precisely matrix theory.

Ordinarily stringy theories begin with a prior spacetime geometry, fixed in advance. The only gravitatonal interactions they model are small ripples or perturbations in that prior geometry. This means stringy theories are in a sense not fundamental---dont deal with what is really there---but are instead perturbative approximations.
It has long been a goal of string theorists to arrive at a NONperturbative, background independent formulation (one not requiring a prior background geometry to be posited.)
The existence of an EVENTUAL nonperturbative background independent version has become something of an article of faith. But it never seems to get closer.

Ambjorn started dynamical triangulations (DT) as part of that quest. It didnt work for some years. Later he teamed up with Loll, who added a feature and in 1998 there was CDT.

I can't promise you that you will LIKE it, but there are only a few CDT papers (most results have come since 2003). So if you are worried about getting hooked on one option too early then one thing to do is to quickly scan one of the other options.

the reading list is easy to get, just search Loll papers at arxiv and dont read anything before 2004 (there is one good 2001 paper I can tell you about).
Read the short papers. Or the introduction and conclusion sections of long papers. Stay away from the Black Hole paper of Loll and Dittrich which is too hard. but basically just skim the recent ones on this list

http://arxiv.org/find/grp_physics/1/.../0/1/0/all/0/1

you can still be hooked on stringery, which is perfectly fine to be, but you wont worry so much about being unaware of alternatives
Telos
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#6
Aug16-05, 01:22 PM
P: 147
Excellent advice. I hadn't even heard of CDT.

Ahhhhh... all is well again.
ohwilleke
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#7
Aug16-05, 02:01 PM
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Start dating solid state research. It may seem like settling, but despite being less handsome, it has a bright future.
marcus
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Aug16-05, 03:32 PM
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Quote Quote by ohwilleke
Start dating solid state research. It may seem like settling, but despite being less handsome, it has a bright future.
Ohwilleke kids you not. Look at these graphs
http://arxiv.org/Stats/

the blue is hep-th (and other hep) postings on the preprint arxiv (high energy physics-theory) and has leveled off

the green is cond-mat postings and is actively growing (condensed matter)

the red is astro-ph astrophysics, also doing pretty well


for a review of what research areas are or were hot in physics, now and in past years, visit the Stanford University Library website,
or more correctly SLAC/Stanford, here:
http://www.slac.stanford.edu/library/topcites/
read Michael Peskin's reviews for past years.

BTW the decline of interest in and citation of string research has been so marked in the past 2 or 3 years, as reflected in Peskin's reviews and the topcite data they are based on, that it may have reached embarrassment level. I wonder if Peskin's review for 2004 will ever see the light or reach the web. The powers that be may have decided to simply cancel that annual SLAC/Stanford Library amenity.
marcus
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#9
Aug16-05, 03:46 PM
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but whatever you do career-wise, take a quick look at CDT
as an upandcoming nonperturbative quantum theory of gravity

here is a one-page nontechnical introduction to it by Loll
http://www.phys.uu.nl/~loll/Web/research/research.html

the main thing is that stringfolk are constantly saying
string is "our one best hope for a quantum theory of gravity".
One has to know that this could well not be true.

You dont need to pursue research in it, just KNOW a little about it,
so you can develop some immunity to the prevailing hype.

that's my advice anyway.
Telos
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#10
Aug17-05, 12:00 AM
P: 147
That graph is interesting!

I suppose I could do solid state as a hobby ;)
marcus
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Aug17-05, 06:05 AM
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Quote Quote by Telos
That graph is interesting!
Arivero, who occasionally posts here, showed us that.
arivero
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Aug17-05, 11:00 AM
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Quote Quote by Telos
I all of a sudden found myself wishing they were all just bits of string.
Actually no geometer should wish it to be "bits of string" because of a simple reason, that geometrical lines have no intrinsic parameters. The next dimensional object, surfaces, enjoys intrinsic curvature. So if you are giving put points it does not follow that strings are a good idea. You must retort the argument and claim that first that you are interested of space-time surfaces, with space strings being a collateral effect.

String theory, in any case, was not found by wishing "bits of strings", it was found first from S-matrix scattering theory (or from its associated theory of Regge trajectories) and then someone found that a proposed lagrangian was the one of a moving string, which was very fine at the moment because the "QCD string" was becoming a way to explain confinement.
Telos
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#13
Aug17-05, 01:10 PM
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Arivero, I had hoped to show that I was ethereally inebriated when I said that.
marcus
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Aug17-05, 01:43 PM
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Quote Quote by Telos
Arivero, I had hoped to show that I was ethereally inebriated when I said that.
don't worry, I think everyone understood the light tone. I think Alejandro was just helpfully volunteering extra information in a friendly spirit (at least I THINK so, I don't always understand his posts).
Arivero has observed the string mania as a theoretician from early days, sometime in the 1980s I think. You can pick up some useful perspective.
arivero
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#15
Aug17-05, 05:02 PM
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Quote Quote by marcus
in a friendly spirit
Marcus, your words are double edged already in an automatic way. But yes, I was just stressing that historically nobody claimed, "enough points, lets try lines".


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