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David Gross: String confusion

  1. Dec 9, 2005 #1

    marcus

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    http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=308

    As noted in Woit's blog, the current issue of New Scientist has an editorial headlined:
    Physics' greatest endeavour is grinding to a halt

    The hunt for a theory of everything is going nowhere fast


    We are in "a period of utter confusion", said Nobel laureate David Gross, summing up last week's prestigious Solvay conference on the quantum structure of space and time (see "Baffled in Brussels").

    http://www.newscientist.com/channel/fundamentals/mg18825293.200

    In the same issue (New Scientist 10 December 2005) there was an article titled:
    Nobel laureate admits string theory is in trouble

    ---sample exerpts---

    "WE DON'T know what we are talking about." That was Nobel laureate David Gross at the 23rd Solvay Conference in Physics in Brussels, Belgium, during his concluding remarks on Saturday. He was referring to string theory...

    ...“The state of physics today is like it was when we were mystified by radioactivity”...

    He compared the state of physics today to that during the first Solvay conference in 1911.

    ... "They were missing something absolutely fundamental," he said. "We are missing perhaps something as profound as they were back then."

    --end quote---
    http://www.newscientist.com/channel/fundamentals/mg18825293.700
     
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  3. Dec 9, 2005 #2

    marcus

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    My feeling is that it isn't news that String research is bogged
    and some of the researchers experiencing confusion, some leaving the field and moving to other areas of research.
    We have been hearing noises about that at least since 2003.

    But they mostly haven't come from the top. There was some straight talk from Andy Strominger back in July, at the Toronto Strings '05 conference. But it mostly wasnt from the David Gross level.

    So basically I tip my hat to David Gross. A person can be a good scientist or a good mathematician and still be a mediocre leader. A person can be enormously smart but still not show adequate common sense and backbone. I dont have a subscription to New Scientist so I only know a little of what David Gross said. But I get the impression that he was showing integrity of a necessary kind.

    I am sleepy and cant think of the exact words, but in order for the situation to improve there have to be some top people who are forthright. So I respect David Gross for this. (Andy Strominger too)
    So this New Scientist stuff in the wake of the solvay do in Brussels is actually hopeful. what there is of "bad" news in it is what we already knew.

    Maybe now the top physics departments will spread their bets a bit more, or diversify in some other fashion. I have no way of anticipating how, but anyway something will finally happen about the US overinvestment in that one approach.
     
  4. Dec 9, 2005 #3

    ZapperZ

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    Unfortunately, marcus, New Scientist is the equivalent of tabloid journalism in physics. They like hype.

    Far be it for me to defend String Theory since my view of its practice is well known. But fair is fair. I've never paid much respect with what New Scientist has produced before, and I wouldn't put that much emphasis on their "reporting" skills here even if they reflect my own personal views.

    Zz.
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2005
  5. Dec 9, 2005 #4

    arivero

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    Gross' remark is just the usual discourse in string theory to recruit people. Basically they say that there are a lot of thing to do, so they guarantee that to study strings will be productive in a career-wise sense.

    The most typical example of this kind of rethorics is Witten's (?) way to name "M-theory" as "Mistery-theory".
     
  6. Dec 9, 2005 #5

    marcus

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    Hi Zapper,
    I thoroughly agree with your view of New Scientist. It is disgustingly bad science journalism on the whole.

    What I was interested by were the DAVID GROSS QUOTES.

    I was actually reluctant to start the thread since it comes via the N.S. reporter. But I suspect that the quotes are accurate. If they are not, David Gross will certainly speak up. But many of his remarks were taken from his concluding talk, for which there will likely be some record.

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

    If the quotes were accurate, it doesnt matter whether they were reported in the New Scientist or the New York Times. What matters is that David Gross (the only string theorist to win the Nobel Prize, although it was for earlier work) says these things. And says them at a highly visible event where he was the chief organizer and master of ceremonies.

    I think the issue is not the N.S. but the content of David Gross remarks. Was he accurately quoted (as I suspect) and if so, then what's the import? Was his depiction of confusion in the string program just an invitation---as Alejandro thinks---for more researchers to join in the effort and for more institutional support?

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

    Hi Alejandro,

    What you say is a fair suspicion: David Gross could have been just FLIRTING by emphasizing the string mysteries and extensive terrain of the unsolved. You suggest that he was just continuing with an already familiar form of hype.

    I didn't hear it this way. But there was a touch of stringpromotional grandeur in his comparison of the present doldrums to the situation in physics circa 1911. It says "look at us we are at a big historical moment". Which is a dubious claim, certainly.

    Maybe we need more quotes. Peter Woit has more in his blog about this. But we might also have to wait until something comes out in the NY Times about this. I wonder if Science magazine will have anything about the conference.
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2005
  7. Dec 9, 2005 #6

    ZapperZ

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    But this could be said in the same light as when.... what, Feyman who said something to the effect that no one understands quantum mechanics. While you and I know the INTENT of such a statement, the general public (and especially the quacks) don't and will latch on this as "evidence" for whatever agenda they have. I'm not saying that this is what Gross meant, but I wouldn't put it past New Scientist to jump all over such a statement and play it out for as much as it can.

    Zz.
     
  8. Dec 9, 2005 #7

    marcus

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    You are all too right in your dim view of New Scientist :biggrin:

    Probably we need more quotes from Gross. I will try to find some.

    Here's another by way of Woit's blog:


    “Many of us believed that string theory was a very dramatic break with our previous notions of quantum theory,” he said. “But now we learn that string theory, well, is not that much of a break.”

    He said the field was in “a period of utter confusion”, and compared the current situation to that at in 1911, at the time of the first Solvay conference, when no one had any idea what was causing radioactivity.

    “They were missing something absolutely fundamental,” he said. “We are missing perhaps something as profound as they were back then.”
    ===================

    what would tip the balance toward Zapper and Alejandro's interpretation is if it turned out that Gross made NO mention in his talk of other approaches to quantum gravity but continued voicing the line that string is our "one best hope" or words to that effect.

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

    here is a link to a program of the conference which in turn has further links to outlines of 3 talks by each of the 3 panel chairmen (Polchinski, Seiberg, Gibbons)

    http://tena4.vub.ac.be/23Solvay/qsst/
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2005
  9. Dec 12, 2005 #8
    marcus & zapper,
    ur disc' was truly worth.. even i have diff' opinion on Gross' remarks on String Theory.. "We miss something really fundamental" -> wat this means to me is, just the way it took a genius to transit from classical to quantum regime, String theory is awaiting one such miracle to happen !! It is smhow intended to push present S-theorists in quest of innovative ideas & approaches..
     
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