Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Collateral Effects

  1. The Standard Model as it is

    0 vote(s)
  2. A minor extension of the Standard Model

  3. Technicolor or some extension of it

    0 vote(s)
  4. Fundamental Strings as we know it

    0 vote(s)
  5. A yet-to-be-concreted entity of M-theory

  6. A SUSY extension of the Standard Model

  7. A GUT, not SUSY, extension of the Standard Model

Multiple votes are allowed.
  1. Jun 25, 2004 #1


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I am pondering if the supremacy of fundamental string theory as a model for the smallest description of nature has implied, as collateral damage, a decrease in the interest for the particle quest around the Standard Model. And same for SUSY and other extensions. What do you think?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 25, 2004 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    I think what distinguishes theoretical physics (e.g. from mathematics) is that it guides experimental work in real time

    not 20 years later in retrospect or in some fantasyland scenario when everything will have been worked out

    and is reciprocally guided by it.

    this implied engagement with experiment----involving testability and falsifiability---distinguishes theoretical physics from mathematics, and is a kind of discipline

    when theoreticians abdicate responsibility and take leave of their experimental "senses" for an extended period (like the last two decades) it is destructive

    there is collateral damage to more than one facet of the scientific enterprise---missed opportunities for solid progress, diminished credibility, degradation of training, erosion of tradition

    Peter Woit has speculated that when the string binge is over the roughly 20 year period 1985-2005 (or 2006, 2007 whenever) will become an episode that theorists prefer to forget.

    somehow the field went collectively haywire sometime in the mid 1980s and stopped making testable predictions----little appeared of utility to experimentalists---eventually, I suppose, they will just have to pick up where they left off and get on with it.

    this is not to say that fancy-free mathematics----developed according to its own criteria of logical subtlety and beauty and explanatory elegance----in a world of its own disengaged from experiment----is bad (it merely fails to fill the role of a different discipline which it is not)
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2004
  4. Jun 26, 2004 #3
    Theoretical Physics as Applied Mathematics

    When comparing theoretical physics to mathematics, it is necessary to distinguish between pure and applied mathematics - even though new mathematics has certainly emerged from theoretical physics.

    Pure mathematicians often work in small, yet rigorous steps. Proof, these days, is at the heart of their technique. Making large, creative leaps, is usually not productive, when working at the pure mathematician's level of rigor.

    Mathematicians who dare to work on theoretical physics, are usually dubbed applied mathematicians by their colleagues. The title applied mathematician, is viewed as inferior to its pure mathematician counterpart, even though the work of the applied mathematician may be uncovering fresh mathematics.

    An excellent mathematician wears both pure and applied hats, depending on what day, or even hour, it is. Sometimes it is fruitful to make courageous guesses, and try to prove (or disprove them) later. Even lowly numerology can be a significant tool when making wild conjectures.

    A mathematician need not worry much about experiment, whereas a theoretical physicist should. One of the problems of current theoretical physics, however, is the high temperature of the fundamental interactions. For now, the physics community can only continue to find ingenious ways to experimentally detect indirect effects of the high temperature interactions.

    This is an exciting time to be working on physics and mathematics. Unification, in the form of tying together disparate parts of a discipline, is under way in both mathematics and physics. M-theory, as untestable as it may seem, is probably the most beautiful and exciting mathematical endeavor in recorded history.
  5. Jun 26, 2004 #4


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    kneemo, this post is excellent, but I might make a few corrections. Not all mathematicians who work in the direction of physics are "applied mathematicians". I might mention the exciting growth of understanding of nonlinear partial differential equations in the last forty years, beginning with the inverse scattering method, and then the Backlund transformations that can turn one type of equations into another (the KdV into the nonlinear Schrodinger, for example), and then the Lax pairs, and the extension to infinite dimensions and the important subject of symmetry, and so on and on. This is all just as much pure mathematics as number theory is. Or consider a field that overlaps both math and physics, differential geometry. Tremndous amounts of work in it by pure mathematicians, as well as the focussed work by physicists.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook