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American Physics Implosion

  1. Oct 6, 2007 #1

    marcus

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    This is a bit from the October 2007 issue of Physics Today---a letter from J C Philips, condensed-matter physicist at Rutgers University, with an interesting new take on the relation of the American physics establishment to reality. New to me at least.

    http://ptonline.aip.org/journals/doc/PHTOAD-ft/vol_60/iss_10/16_2.shtml

    He points out a connection between US-favored theoretical approaches in two quite separate fields: particle/unification and high-temperature superconductivity.

    In case you want to download the PDF file, the link is:
    http://link.aip.org/link/PHTOAD/v60/i10/p16/s2/pdf
     
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2007
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 6, 2007 #2
    so let me guess, he wants more money put to his field (who doesn't?) of research, correct? (-:
    (i havent read the links youv'e provided).
     
  4. Oct 6, 2007 #3

    marcus

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    Read the link and see if your guess is correct or not :biggrin:

    =======================
    EDIT: IN REPLY TO THE NEXT POST
    D_H
    I've had that experience! The desktop gets scrambled and a lot of the icons turn up in a pile at the upper right corner, just as you say!

    I always assumed it was because I had the righthand margin of the screen too full, because it doesnt happen if I keep dragging stuff out of the righthand margin column and arranging elsewhere or putting it in folders.

    I have clicked on that particular PDF twice, as a test, and it didn't give any problems, so my hunch is that the link itself is not the cause of your mishap. If anyone else has trouble download it, please let me know!

    Sorry about your vexing desktop experience.
     
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2007
  5. Oct 6, 2007 #4

    D H

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    Thanks for that. The pdf link doesn't work. Moreover, downloading this unreadable file somehow made the OS pile all of the icons on my desktop in the upper right corner of the screen. :surprised

    The .shtml link does work. He didn't say it, but he certainly did imply that the Wall Street analogy applies not only to American Nobel lauretes, but to a good chunk of physics in America.

    Now you'll have to excuse me for some time while I clean up my desktop.
     
  6. Oct 7, 2007 #5
    what os your'e using DH?
     
  7. Oct 7, 2007 #6
    Here was a real challenge for theory; no fewer than nine Nobel Prize winners, and many other scientists as well, have contributed theories on the subject… Few readers will be surprised to learn that so many Nobel laureates were wrong. As they say on Wall Street, prior performance is no guarantee of future success. But now comes the interesting part—the three who were right are European, and the six who were wrong are American.”

    Would you please to explain the relation between the Nobel Prize winners, Wall Street and the American physics establishment? I am pretty sure that the nature (reality) use room temperature SC millions years without receiving NP.

    Regards, Dany.
     
  8. Oct 7, 2007 #7

    marcus

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    Sure, I will try. About Wall Street, there is no relation---it is just a joke. Advertisements for Mutual Funds, which show that the investment has performed well in the past, often say in small print "past performance doesn't guarantee future performance". It is a cliché, like advertisements for car with good gas mileage say "your mileage may differ", in small print. He is just pointing out that merely because someone wins Nobel for great past performance is no guarantee of being right in future.

    About American physics establishment, he is talking specifically about THEORISTS and he is suggestings that a CULTURAL DIFFERENCE may have developed between US theorist and European et al.

    He suggests that US theorists are more likely to lose touch with reality, more apt to go for Gee Whiz or attention-getting EXOTIC explanations, and get absorbed in a fantasy. He draws a parallel between two styles of approaching HTSC. The American theorists jumped to a radical new explanation while the European theorists stuck with the old explanation more persistently and finally they made it work. Eventually experiments showed the more conservative theory was right and the exotic one was wrong.

    About Nobelists, he only mentions them because it is a good simple statistic that shows the CULTURAL DIFFERENCE. Nine Nobelists offered explanations of HTSC. Six advocated a radical attention-getting new explanation and they were wrong. Three advocated a less exciting traditional explanation with no pizzazz that you had to work hard on to make happen, and they turned out to be right. He says that is not surprising. What he says is surprising is that the six exotic wrong theorists were US and the three who were right were European.

    Using Nobelists is just a way of taking an informal statistical sample. Probably what the Nobelists thought was representative of leading people throughout their respective establishments.
    ===================

    Now he says, suppose there is this cultural difference. Maybe the American theorists today have too much bias towards the exotic, the fashionable, the fantastic, the attentiongetting. If that is true then it goes deeper than the string monopoly. The monopolization of fundamental theory by string, which is much more extreme in the US than in Europe could be just a symptom. It could be just a manifestation of this cultural tendency.
    ===================

    If you want another example, for many years string theory has been supported by the premise that Einstein gravity is NOT RENORMALIZABLE and therefore must be replaced at highenergy smallscale by an entirely different "new physics" such as might come from string philosophy. The Einstein way of representing gravity by geometry could be replaced by some exotic new physics, even with many new space dimensions!

    A more conservative traditional approach was followed by Reuter and Percacci who have patiently pursued the Asymptotic Safety program for some ten years 1997-2007 and have gradually accumulated a mass of evidence that the string theorists' premise is WRONG and that gravity is actually RENORMALIZABLE but in a different way first thought of by Steven Weinberg around 1976. So they seem to be making a very classical UN-exotic approach work. They have four dimensions and they have the usual Einstein metric tensor. And they just go ahead and quantize it as someone would have done in 1970! Just as Weinberg wanted to but tried and couldnt do it 30 years ago.

    So now we can wait and see who is right. Just as with the High-Temperature Superconductor (HTSC) business.
    Is it the people who took the old GR theory seriously and patiently worked on it? Or is it the people who got enthusiastic about fancy mathematics and a completely new theoretical philosophy or framework (not yet a theory).

    The interesting thing about Jim Phillips letter is how he interprets the presentday situation (with theory more string-dominant in US and more diversified, with more nonstring QG, in Europe) as symptomatic of a cultural difference that has developed.

    It could have to do with the US media culture. I don't know. But it's interesting he points it out.
     
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2007
  9. Oct 7, 2007 #8
    My post above is just a joke also.

    To be slightly more serious. In my opinion it is a general situation, not related specifically to theor physics or physics or science. You consider it statistically; I use the notion of evolution. It is old phenomenon: Americans in average have no historical and cultural roots. They are new great nation. What you consider a new development (stupid Americans) appears on the regular basis in my country in popular TV show “Arez Neederet”.

    “… there is no royal road…” (Euclid).

    I use to use J.v.Neumann notion of “eigenschaften” as inseparable elementary particle of the knowledge (information).

    Regards, Dany.
     
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2007
  10. Oct 18, 2007 #9

    ZapperZ

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    I actually disagree with his view on high-Tc superconductors. We do NOT know for sure that the mechanism for it is due to phonons. Philips has been a proponent of the phonon picture for quite some time, and the evidence that we have so far has certainly not ruled out other mechanism such as the spin channel.

    That alone makes me doubt the validity of the conclusion that he has drawn in this article. I'd say one should stay tune to next month's issue of Physics Today and wait for all the rebuttals that I fully expect to come in by the bushel.

    BTW, why is this posted in this sub-forum?

    Zz.
     
  11. Oct 18, 2007 #10

    marcus

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    .

    That is good to know. Thanks for pointing it out! So Philips has a bias in favor of one answer to an undecided question.

    Well, keep us posted, whether this thread is in Beyond (because of the string connection) or in Condensed Matter forum. I shall be interested to see if anybody agrees with him, as well as to read the rebuttals.

    What struck me about his letter to Physics Today was two-fold. One he points out a US-Europe split that looks like a CULTURAL split. It could also have occurred by chance. I think the sample was 9 Nobelists and they split 3 to 6, with the 3 turning out to be European. It is striking, but it could be explained in several different ways.

    The second thing that struck me is that his letter was about string, and high energy physics theory in general, as well as condensed matter theory. He was trying to GENERALIZE the cultural difference he thinks he sees.

    That seems to me to be a new idea. It may be right and it could also very well be wrong. If your objection shoots down half of his two examples that makes it look pretty weak. But it still is a new idea---a cultural tendency in US physics which is divergent from Europe, which generalizes across fields. Other people may have conjectured a similar difference, but I don't know of any. I would like to see how the idea is received.

    I'm happy anywhere you think it should go if you have a better idea. It has to do with HEP theory and also with Condensed Matter.
    It would be nice if we could get the reaction of people knowledgeable in both.
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2007
  12. Oct 19, 2007 #11

    ZapperZ

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    His "data" on how the Nobel Prizes are being awarded, if you noticed, was based on a very limited sampling. You can't draw any definitive conclusion based on something like that.

    Furthermore, I do not see such divergent in the way US physics is done when compared to Europe. We are also forgetting that US and Europe are no longer just the only 2 dominant region in physics. Japan, Korea and China are as dominant, if not more, in these areas as well. And I know for a fact that in Japan, you can find both the phonon camp and the spin channel camp in high-Tc superconductors. So how come he never cared about that?

    As a physicist, he certainly seems to draw such definitive conclusion based on nothing more than anecdotal evidence at best. That is what I am uncomfortable with. We always hope that physicists would "behave" better than that.

    Zz.
     
  13. Oct 19, 2007 #12

    Demystifier

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    Americans - innovative, like to risk
    Europeans - conservative
    East Asians (Japan, Korea, China) - take the ideas from others and elaborate them in detail
    At least there is a common prejudice that it is so, but no prejudice is without a reason.

    By the way, I am a European but I don't find myself conservative.
     
  14. Oct 19, 2007 #13
    String theory is neither based nor depends on any premise about the renormalization properties of Einstein gravity. In fact, it's not based on any premise at all. It was discovered by chance and not constructed based on some underlying philosophy. Ironically, instead of characterizing string theory, your remarks actually characterize the loop quantum sociology program and it's off-shoots.

    Since you initiated this thread, I therefore insist that you back up your very specific remarks about how string theory depends on such a premise and how the idea of asymptotic safety presents some sort of threat to string theory.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 19, 2007
  15. Oct 19, 2007 #14

    Demystifier

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    :approve:
     
  16. Oct 19, 2007 #15

    arivero

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    Some reservation here. Dual models had some underlying philosophy. And it is not irrelevant that Schwarz and Gross come from the team of Geoffrey Chew
     
  17. Oct 19, 2007 #16

    marcus

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    To put my remarks back in context, for anyone who might be interested

    You might want to read my post, instead of relying on possibly hostile misinterpretation. I have often heard people express SUPPORT for the idea that some new approach to gravity like string research seems to promise is necessary because ordinary perturbative quantization of gravity doesn't work.

    What I was talking about its MOTIVATION offered, and JUSTIFICATION for pursuing that line of research.

    The idea was that because of non-renormalizability something LIKE the string approach (or, as a minority would also mention, the original LQG approach) was necessary. It did not actually single out the string philosophy, but string advocates often assumed that theirs was the only response to gravity non-renormalizabiltiy that really worked. So it was a major justification for that theoretical undertaking.

    =====================

    It still IS an important justification! Obviously Reuter QEG might be wrong. Asymptotic safety might be wrong. The fixed point might not exist. This seems less and less likely to me, but it still might not.

    So one should continue to pursue all these lines of research----I think in the US we need to diversify more, along the lines of how bets are spread in Canada and Europe, but that is a separate issue.

    So this justification based on nonrenormalizability still applies, if more weakly than before.

    What I was doing in the passage quoted above is explaining Philips contrast of the radical versus conservative culture difference. I would say that what Smolin is working on and what string philosophers construct is more radical.
    And what Reuter and Percacci do is more conservative.
    Philips is, I think, stressing the importance of conservative approaches.

    he has a point, but I personally like to see both radical and conservative approaches to QG go forward.
    ============================

    BTW Reuter QEG does not necessarily compete with non-string QG like LQG. Percacci's latest paper, titled Asymptotic Safety discusses ways they may be compatible. Reuter has also speculated how QEG and LQG could fit together but has not written about it. What QEG asymptotic safety does do is remove a SUPPORTING ARGUMENT for the urgency of working on new fundamental physics, there can still be other arguments, and there can be individual motivation without arguments justifying it. Demy, does that answer what you were concerned about?
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2007
  18. Oct 19, 2007 #17
    Veneziano was simply looking for some function with certain properties having to do with solving a puzzle about the strong interaction and the high energy behaviour of scattering amplitudes. At any rate, here we're talking about gravity.

    In view of my above remark, it is irrelevant since the die was already cast by Veneziano and string theory follows inexorably from there.
     
  19. Oct 19, 2007 #18

    arivero

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    Or about uniqueness.
     
  20. Oct 19, 2007 #19

    Demystifier

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    I thought we are talking about American vs European and radical vs conservative physics.
     
  21. Oct 19, 2007 #20

    Demystifier

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    Marcus, I agree with your claims, but I don't remember that I had particular concerns that would be answered by them.
    My motivation for string theory is not quantum gravity per se, but unification. (An additional, more personal, motivation arose from my recent observations that string theory (but not M-theory or string field theory) is closely related to my favored interpretation of quantum mechanics.)
     
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