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Blog Wars: Woit and Smolin vs Motl

  1. Apr 8, 2007 #1
    I am one of those laymen who wish to go beyond the popularizations of Greene, Randall, Smolin and others. I thought it might be worthwhile to follow the blogs of scientists/researchers such as Peter Woit, Lubos Motl, etc.

    Unfortunately, those blogs are little more than mud-slinging contests between string theorists and their critics. Motl's blog in particular is a harsh rant against anything and anyone who dares question string theory. Smolin, among others, is called an idiot, imbecile and crackpot.

    Woit's blog is better. He doesn't resort to personal attacks.

    I wish these folks, Motl in particular, understood they have a huge audience of interested readers, folks who don't know the ins and outs of all the math. It's dismaying when you find out that Harvard profs such as Motl are no better than fundamentalist preachers, who go on the rampage against anyone questioning "The Truth" as they see it.

    Thank goodness for Physics Forums.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 8, 2007 #2


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    Welcome B.W.,
    Yes, it is a real difference between the blogs. And it makes an appreciable difference in quality.
    Another thing is that over the past 3 years some string folks such as Urs Schreiber and Aaron Bergman have been frequent commentors at Woit's blog. John Baez and Lee Smolin have also dropped in there now and then.

    Opposing views are not suppressed. Peter is patient, even with obviously hostile individuals.
    This lets a mix of people with various viewpoints participate without too much quarreling.

    We have lively (sometimes heated) discussion here but I do think that personal attack is normally discouraged. It isn't very effective anyway.
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2007
  4. Apr 8, 2007 #3
    "Thank goodness for Physics Forums"? All I see here is a rant by you that has nothing whatsoever to do with the subject of this forum. Your no better than Woit.
  5. Apr 8, 2007 #4
    I don't see that this is a rant. It's a comment. I tried to find the best place for the comment, which has to do with research beyond the standard model. But perhaps I found the wrong place. Yes, you are right -- as a mathematician and physicist I am a lot worse than Woit, Motl, Randall. Smolin, Rovelli, any of those people, which is why I read their books and blogs. My point is that Motl, and some of the others, are shooting themselves in the foot by ranting and belittling, rather than talking things through amicably.
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2007
  6. Apr 9, 2007 #5


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    We live in a chaotic universe. No need to go into attack mode here. Who cares if they set logic traps for each other. Lubos has been shooting himself in the foot for years with his condescending remarks about everything and everyone who questions his world views.
  7. Apr 9, 2007 #6
    You`re wrong about lubos and woit. Lubos uses genuine physical arguments to back up his views. Even if some of these don`t hold up to closer scrutiny - though by and large they do - at least you can point to these arguments and say this is where I disagree with you: Motl`s blog is for physicists, not laymen or dilettantes. By the way, the physics community does agree with motl`s point of view, they just don`t say anything about it because they view it as a waste of time. Woit on the other hand does not offer these sorts of detailed arguments. His comments are simply shallow, manipulative and dishonest rhetoric designed to appeal to people who simply don`t know enough to see the difference: He and smolin lost their battle in the arena of science a long time ago, so now they`re trying to win it in the court of meaningless public opinion. I`m so sick and tired of these know-nothings coming here and creating more opportunities for the idiots here to engage in exchanges that have nothing whatsoever to do with what`s actually going on in twenty-first century physics. One simply can`t learn from polemicists like smolin or woit why it is that an overwhelming majority of physicists continue to have so much confidence in string theory and virtually none in lqg.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 9, 2007
  8. Apr 9, 2007 #7
    it is this sort of reaction that reveals the most about the state of Theoretical Physics right now- I have mentioned before how ironic it is that Lubos' Asperger-esque rants have turned more blog-reading physics students from String Theory than Smolin/Woit books ever could!

    a side comment: the truth is that neither ST nor LQG could be described as dominating theoretical physics right now- it's the "Third Road" that has been exponentiating in research/funding and technology- Quantum Computation Cosmology/ Information Theory/ Causal Sets/ Black Hole Thermodynamics/ etc- both Strings and LQG offer insights to this- but are taking a second seat as computer technology exponentiates allowing us to see how simple rule systems like cellular automata can emerge all the complex dynamics we observe- and that 'quantum gravity' should really be understood as the complex pattern of interactions that simple algorithms generate and evolve when ran- and so QG cannot be a fundamental TOE- but rather an abstract model of an emergent structure produced by a simple rule-system- in quantum computing we are seeing that ideas like Quantum Gravity are actually abstractions of the probabilistically distributed sum-over-histories of many rule-systems in superposition [Hawking's BHIP stuff deals with this] so the very concept of any TOE at this level is probably wrong-headed

    computer science/ sets/ formal systems are taking over where theoretical physics has been sort of stagnating-simply because we have the technology to run ever more complex toy universes on computers [with total physical equivalence between simulations and the 'real' world projected by most computer scientists within only decades http://www.idsia.ch/~juergen/computeruniverse.html ]- this is the concept behind what Wolfram calls "A New kind of Science" that started with Turing/ Von Neumann/ Zuse/Feynman but is now exploding due to the exponentiation of computing technology- so it hardly matters if physicists are still clinging to String Theory or if they turn to LQG- at the end of the day it is computer scientists and mathematicians who are advancing the actual WORK now-

    most classical and quantum computer scientists expect to see something like Strings [or spinfoams] emerge from cellular automata at the proper scales- however it is not the abstract statistical models of the output of the CA that corresponds to our universe which will be printed as a TOE on t-shirts- but the CA's description ITSELF
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2007
  9. Apr 9, 2007 #8
    With all respect, Josh, you are missing the point. Also, you are not the board's policeman telling us what we can and cannot talk about. If you find my posts tiresome, ignore them, don't waste your time responding. Who are you to call anyone an idiot?

    What makes you think I come down on one or other side? I am interested in where physics is headed. For you it is headed in one direction: string theory. Believe that if you must.

    By the way, Motl's blog is about physics some of the time. He also wastes a lot of space and energy ranting about politics, global warming, etc, subjects about which he obviously knows nothing.
  10. Apr 9, 2007 #9
    So you`ve been wondering where physics is headed. Good. My question to you is how should someone who is not a physicist with specialized knowledge answer this question?
  11. Apr 9, 2007 #10
    I don't find that a very interesting question. If someone wishes to answer it, feel free.
  12. Apr 9, 2007 #11
    Okay, I`ll take you up on that by answering instead the question how should one not find out where physics is headed. The answer is that one should learn about the various research programs from the people that actually pursue them rather than hate them. This sort of physics is quite hard and takes a lot of time and energy to learn about. If 99% of the people in quantum gravity and high energy theory work on string theory, wouldn`t you agree that this should be an important consideration in deciding what you should learn about? Would you really want to devote equal time to something like lqg which is only a popular subject on blogs and websites like this one? Do you really believe that string people believe what they do because they have a bad attitude? I know that you think your position to treat lqg and strings equally is reasonable, but it really isn`t. If it was, it would be reflected in the work of researchers. After you understand what goes on in the mainstream, you`ll be in a better position to assess other ideas. I will tell you that my efforts to change the opinions of people who show up here with your attitude have by and large failed. I'm guessing that this will be the case with you. I guess I'm not much of a politician.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 9, 2007
  13. Apr 9, 2007 #12


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    Hi Bohr-Wars

    Given the current climate in physics, I believe your posts are far from 'off-topic'. The reason such heated debates exist is really very simple: they are all wrong. You should spend some time famaliarising yourself with the condensed matter point of view, which is closer to the heretical Third Road.
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2007
  14. Apr 9, 2007 #13
    None of his posts in this thread are off-topic since he initiated the thread.

    I'm unsure what you meant by this.
  15. Apr 9, 2007 #14
    So, have we changed your mind yet? :smile:
  16. Apr 9, 2007 #15


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    With the word wrong, I only include the physics of conventional string theory, LQG and other mainstream approaches. I do not include various categorification programs, condensed matter ideas, foundational QM ideas or some recent work in spin foams.
  17. Apr 10, 2007 #16


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    Interesting. Like most resident idiots here, I find enlightenment a refreshing oasis in the sea of ignorance. Do you have specific claims in mind, or is this merely a soliphistic exercise?
  18. Apr 10, 2007 #17
    Josh, I am a newcomer here. You seemed to assume that I should know there were folks favorable to LQG here. I did not know that. As an outsider interested in physics I have no bias: I am not qualified to have a bias. I interest myself in current research, books, papers, and blogs.

    I don't know what makes you think I hate any researcher or research program. I am as interested in String Theory as anything else. As a non-specialist I am dependent on folks such as Motl making the subject intelligible to me. I believe he does physics a disservice by ranting and spewing bile on research programs outside his own field.

    Smolin and Woit are clearly not idiots. They might not be string theorists, and they might be wrong, but they are not fools. Seth Lloyd is no fool either. I follow all approaches with interest.
  19. Apr 10, 2007 #18
    The kid is funny. Maybe he should inform Nobel crackpots like

    Sheldon “string theory has failed in its primary goal” Glashow - http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/elegant/view-glashow.html

    Martinus “string theory is a figment of the theoretical mind” Veltman - http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/981238149X/701-5527495-9406712

    Phil “string theory a futile exercise as physics”Anderson
    - http://www.edge.org/q2005/q05_10.html#andersonp

    Bob “string theory a 50-year-old woman wearing way too much lipstick” Laughlin - http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2005/03/14/MNGRMBOURE1.DTL

    that they are idiots.
  20. Apr 10, 2007 #19
    Clearly these scientists aren`t idiots. By "idiots" I meant only certain members of PF, as a careful reading of my post should show. Duh!!!

    Having said that, the overwhelming majority of their colleagues find the stridency in the attitudes of people like Glashow to be mystifying. After all, what do these critics expect us to do? Just give up on the only really good idea we have? Just forget about the fact that string theory appears to have all the ingredients one would expect in a theory uniting gravity with all other interactions? Their attitudes simply make no practical sense, and since they're all giants of the physics community, one wonders how much of their difficulties with string theory are just psychological. Perhaps they simply can`t adjust to the fact that, at least for the time being, this sort of research is going to be largely theoretical. It's not like people aren't trying to discover in what ways string theory might be testable. What more can we do right now? Not everyone can be an Einstein.

    But even these scientists agree that string theory - such as it is - has no serious competitors. The message I'm trying to get across is simply this: First learn about what's going on in mainstream research, which at present is dominated by string theory. It simply makes no sense whatsoever for neophytes to start anywhere else.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 10, 2007
  21. Apr 10, 2007 #20
    Those of us who are spectators, and who can therefore make no contribution to the science, are dependent on the opinions of experts and popularizers. It would be stupid and pointless for someone like myself to suggest that one theory is correct and another false. For example, I read about Smolin's current interest in DSR. It seems serious and interesting. Then I read Motl's remarks about DSR, which suggest that the entire notion of DSR is based on crackpot misunderstandings about the speed of light. It's baffling.

    I suppose I could play the numbers game and assume that because string theory has attracted most attention, money and scientists, it is more likely to be right than other theories. The problem with that, and contrary to what Motl says (perhaps tongue in cheek), is that I can't accept that Smolin, Rovelli, Markopoulou, etc, etc are cranks and crackpots. I don't think you get to be a physics prof at a reputable university/research institutue by being a clown/crank/idiot/crackpot. But I might be wrong.

    In short, I follow the subject and debates with interest and bemusement. It beats watching American Idol.
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2007
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