# Greene/Krauss debate at Smithsonian

1. Mar 14, 2007

### marcus

http://entropybound.blogspot.com/2007/03/string-debate-07.html

announcement from the Smithsonian
http://residentassociates.org/ticketing/tickets/reserve.aspx?performanceNumber=81193

The event is co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Museum of Natural History (the Smithsonian) and will be held 28 March at the Museum.

It's interesting to see who they got to be the moderator: Michael Turner----he's a top cosmologist (roughly speaking and in no particular order, he's in the same league with people like Ned Wright, Charles Lineweaver, David Spergel)

Cosmology (rather than high energy particle physics) is where many of us see the big unknowns and most glaring questions these days---things like dark energy, dark matter, the constitution and dynamics of spacetime. why does expansion accelerate. what preceeded the start of expansion. and so on.

So having a cosmologist, with that perspective on the big fundamental questions, serve as debate moderator strikes me as a possibly significant choice.

http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=524
Some years back there was a debate (on merits and shortcomings of string think) along the same lines in New York at the Hayden Planetarium.
http://haydenplanetarium.org/programs/asimov/archive/2001/
The director there is Niel deGrasse Tyson, who writes popular cosmology and astronomy books and may have some of the same perspective on particle physics as Michael Turner. Tyson was moderating---a parallel with the event now planned at the Smithsonian.

Last edited: Mar 14, 2007
2. Mar 15, 2007

### marcus

I'll quote the announcement, to give a better idea of what the debate will be about.
===quote===

String Theory: Brian Greene and Lawrence Krauss Debate

Co-sponsored with the Department of Energy’s Office of Science

Wed., March 28, 7 p.m.

It comes down to this: Are all things in nature actually super-tiny bits of strings that are vibrating strands of energy? If so, string theory would merge general relativity and quantum mechanics, and would explain the origin of space, time, and the universe itself. Or is the theory, as some critics claim, just extraordinarily complex mathematics which may have nothing to do with physics and a theory of nothing, not everything? If so, physicists are back to the drawing board in their quest for the Holy Grail of physics—an ultimate theory of everything.

Lawrence Krauss and Brian Greene, two world-renowned physicists, square off in a spirited debate and discussion moderated by noted cosmologist Michael Turner. Greene’s research focuses on superstring theory, which proposes a quantum theory of gravity as well as a unified theory of all forces and matter. This requires that the universe have 10 or 11 dimensions, not just the 4 we’re aware of.

Krauss works at the boundary of particle physics and astrophysics, cosmology, and general relativity. His research deals with black holes, the very early universe, the future of the universe, dark matter, and dark energy. He is skeptical about string theory because it has yet to make a prediction that can be verified by experiment and has not solved any major physical puzzles about nature, including why the expansion of the universe is speeding up, the most profound question of our time.

Greene is a professor of physics and professor of mathematics at Columbia University; Krauss is Ambrose Swasey professor of physics and a professor of astronomy at Case Western Reserve University; and Turner is the Rauner Distinguished Service professor in the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago.

The Dept. of Energy’s Office of Science (www.science.doe.gov) is the United States’ largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences.
===endquote===

Last edited: Mar 15, 2007
3. Mar 15, 2007

### marcus

My feeling is that it's obviously a good thing to have debates like this and it is a hopeful sign that US top DC institutions are sponsoring a highly visible debate---the DOE Science Office and the Smithsonian (The National Museum of Natural History)

I think it would naive to imagine that we would be seeing this kind of thing if the Smolin and Woit books had not had a substantial public impact.

In Britain they just had a similar debate sponsored by the Royal Institution---some of us listened to it online at the RSA website.
(Chris Isham of London Imperial moderating a three-way tussle between Lee Smolin, Michael Duff, and the impressive Nancy Cartwright )

and they also just had a three-way debate at Oxford, letting Smolin square off against a string thinker and a philosophy of science person.
Chronon was there and posted his report:
http://www.chronon.org/articles/trouble_physics_debate.html

Again I think this sort of thing is highly beneficial and reasoned debate is the life-blood of science and key to it's long-term vitality. And I think it's totally unrealistic to suppose that the London and Oxford debates (essentially about supporting non-string approaches to understanding the quantum dynamics of spacetime---non-string quantum gravity research) would have taken place if the Smolin and Woit books had not gotten the public's attention

Last edited: Mar 15, 2007
4. Mar 28, 2007

### marcus

Today the Krauss/Greene debate was held!

and on 7 April, a week from this Saturday, there will be a similar event at the Berkeley Lawrence Hall of Science, the local science museum, sponsored by an offshoot of FQXi (Foundational Questions, a private funded basic science support institution led by Max Tegmark and Tony Aguirre)

the Berkeley event will feature Lawrence Krauss and a UC Davis particle theorist named John Terning.

http://www.multiversaljourneys.org/...ons-String/Extra-Dimensions-String-Theory.htm

the titles of their two talks are:
String Theory: A Theory of Anything? A Theory of Nothing? A Theory?

and

String Theory: What is it Good for?

Last edited: Mar 28, 2007
5. Mar 29, 2007

### marcus

The online adjunct of Washington Post had a story 28 March related to the KRAUSS-GREENE DEBATE about string-th that was happening that day.

The article was called "Frayed String".
It is kind of entertaining, maybe I will get some exerpts.
===quote WaPo "Express"===
STRING THEORY ISN'T fodder for small talk. After all, the idea that matter is not made up of particles but rather vibrating "strings" has the potential to turn our understanding of the universe on its head, even expanding the number of dimensions from four to 10 or 11.

Yet, it's also a theory that many physicists explicitly deny, stating that string theory isn't cohesive and should be disregarded.

On Wednesday, the Smithsonian will host "String Theory: Brian Greene and Lawrence Krauss Debate" at the National Museum of American History. Cosmologist Michael Turner will moderate.

Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University and author of the New York Times bestsellers "The Fabric of the Cosmos" and "The Elegant Universe," is a strong proponent of the theory and its 11 dimensions.

Krauss, however, thinks string theory is nonsense. In fact, Krauss — a professor of physics and astronomy at Case Western Reserve University and the author of books including "The Physics of Star Trek" — said he was hesitant about participating in this debate for that reason.

"There are two things: First, it's like the 'X-Files' — people want to believe," he said. "If you throw cold water on something, inevitably you always appear to be a villain. Secondly, to some extent, the question you might have is 'Why bother?' Why debate this subject? Why not talk about the many other things that are going on in physics? I know the public is fascinated by it, so I think it's important to try to explain to them that, in fact, it is really a theory in crisis, or not a theory at all."

Krauss has spent much of his career making science accessible and understandable to the general public, which is why he does these public appearances. "I think we owe it to the public and I think some of these ideas are among the most fascinating ideas humans have come up with. It's kind of a shame if we don't talk about them."

Tonight's debate is the third meeting between Krauss and Greene on string theory, and though it has been a topic of discussion for the past couple decades, Krauss said there is still something to be gained by such debates.

"The questions that string theory seems to address are questions that are intrinsically of interest to everyone," he said. "They may not involve building a better toaster, but questions of where we come from and where we're going and what is the fundamental structure of the universe are, at some level, questions that everyone asks themselves."

Describing string theory as "much ado about nothing," Krauss explained what the dispute is all about. "The debate is twofold. A: Does string theory have anything to do with the real world. And B: Is it, as I like to put it, ready for prime time? Is it worth all the hype and has it made any progress? I think the answer is no. It's been incredibly unsuccessful. It's a theory in crisis — it hasn't really achieved any of its major goals as espoused 20 years ago. I'm not saying a physicist shouldn't be looking at this stuff. I just think it's not worthy of a lot of attention. Now, there are no really good alternatives, but I can guarantee when there is, everyone is going to drop string theory like a hot potato and go onto something else."

» National Museum of Natural History, Baird Auditorium, 10th Street & Constitution Avenue NW; Wed., 7 p.m., $15 Smithsonian members,$25 general admission; 202-633-1000. (Smithsonian)

===endquote===

Last edited: Mar 29, 2007
6. Mar 30, 2007

### marcus

The magazine Science has an account of the Krauss-Greene debate

http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2007/329/1

===exerpt from ScienceNOW Daily News===
String Theory, With No Holds Barred

By John Simpson
29 March 2007
WASHINGTON, D.C.--If Michael Turner had known what he was in for, he might have stayed home. As the moderator of a debate held here last night at the National Museum of Natural History, the University of Chicago cosmologist had the unenviable task of trying to crown a winner in a match-up between Brian Greene and Lawrence Krauss, two physics heavyweights duking it out over the merits--or lack thereof--of the so-called Theory of Everything.

String theory assumes... The claims are deep, and opponents of the theory say the findings so far have been shallow, even nonexistent. Last night's debate did little to settle the argument, but a packed house of academics, physics geeks, and just-curious laypeople seemed to enjoy themselves nonetheless...

...A professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and an expert on black holes, dark matter, and dark energy, Krauss said he has grown tired of string theory's hyped but hollow antics. In 37 years, he noted, the hypothesis has explained little while confusing a lot. "It doesn't make predictions," he said. "It usually makes excuses."

Greene shot back that, like any great masterpiece, string theory will take time to be completed--and fully understood. After all, noted the Columbia University theoretical physicist, mathematician, and darling of public television, it's a lofty goal: "trying to answer the most profound, difficult question in science."

Krauss wasn't impressed. "I don't want it to answer a profound question," he said. "I want it to answer one question." The audience erupted in laughter, but Krauss wasn't through. "Some of my students have gone on to be relatively well-known string theorists," he continued. "Of course, I wouldn't want my daughter to marry one."

Susan Isaacs's teenage daughter is unlikely to become one of those brides. A home-schooled student who's also an intern at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, Alex Isaacs always circles debates like this on her calendar. The burgeoning physicist was impressed with Greene's charisma, but she wasn't impressed with his strings. "When I first heard of [string theory], I thought it was the next coming," she said. "But anything that's been around this long and has had this much intellectual talent that hasn't shown anything, it must not be it."

The master of ceremonies was less decisive. Although famous for coining the term "dark energy," Turner was at a loss for words when it came to picking a winner. In the end, he awarded the prize--a long piece of orange string--to both Greene and Krauss. The pair playfully began fighting over the string, tugging it back and forth as the audience clapped. It was a fitting end to the evening: both a microcosm of the debate and of the world of string theory, in which the winner is still unknown and the whole thing is still over just about everyone's heads.

Related sites...

===endquote===

the complete article and, of course, lots more is available at the ScienceNow website
http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2007/329/1

Last edited: Mar 30, 2007
7. Mar 30, 2007

### marcus

A TRANSCRIPT of the three-way London debate
is now available.

Go here
and click down at the bottow where it say PDF.
Audio is available at the same page if you want to listen too--but its nice to have the transcript so one can be sure to get the actual wording of key points. the debate is very lively and so much goes down that it is hard to remember all the highlights if you are just listening

the transcript is 24 pages and features moderator Chris Isham and the three debaters
Lee Smolin
Michael Duff
Nancy Cartwright

the transcript also includes questions from the audience and discussion with members of the audience at the end. but it is mostly the debate of the three main speakers

To get the transcript directly without going to the Royal Instition webpage:

http://www.rsa.org.uk/acrobat/smolin_050307.pdf

Last edited: Mar 30, 2007
8. Apr 2, 2007