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

Horgan's review of Not Even Wrong

  1. Jul 27, 2006 #1

    marcus

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    2015 Award
    Dearly Missed

    to keep track of the response to Peter Woit's book here is a review by John Horgan, a well-known science writer, in the August 2006 issue of
    PROSPECT magazine. Horgan's review is titles "Stringing us along":
    ====quote====

    Stringing us along

    The tide seems to be turning against string theory and its speculative attempts to produce a "theory of everything." Not a moment too soon
    John Horgan

    John Horgan is director of the Centre for Science Writings at Stevens Institute of Technology, New Jersey

    Not Even Wrong by Peter Woit
    Jonathan Cape, £18.99

    "String theory is still promising," I once heard the physicist and Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek quip, "and promising, and promising." String theory is a so-called unified theory, which attempts to wrap quantum mechanics and relativity into one tidy mathematical explanation of all nature's forces, and it has been promising for more than 20 years now without delivering.

    Depending on which variant you prefer, string theory holds that reality is woven out of infinitesimal strings, or loops, or membranes vibrating in a hyperspace of ten, or 11, or whatever dimensions. Advocates—I will call them "pluckers"—claim that string theory represents a "theory of everything" that will answer the most profound of all questions: how did the universe come to be? And why did it take this particular form rather than some other form that would not have permitted our existence?

    In his 1988 blockbuster A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking nominated string theory as the best candidate for a solution to the riddle of the cosmos. Since then, proponents have continued...

    ====endquote====
    the Prospect Magazine link is:
    http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/article_details.php?id=7585

    other links and review material are here:
    https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=122442

    thanks to Peter Woit for pointing out this review

    I highlighted Horgan's word advocates to clarify something in a later post.
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2006
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 27, 2006 #2

    marcus

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    2015 Award
    Dearly Missed

    John Horgan has this blog
    http://www.stevens.edu/csw/cgi-bin/blogs/scientific_curmudgeon/index.php

    his Prospect magazine review of Peter Woit's book is not up on the blog, at least so far

    I would expect some discussion of the review, maybe at Horgan's blog
    and will try to find it, to give a link.
    ====================

    here is a list of Horgan's other writings
    http://www.johnhorgan.org/works.htm

    I was unable to find an alternate source for his review of Woit's book
    (it costs a couple of bucks to read it on Prospect unless you subscribe)

    here is more discussion at Woit's blog:
    http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=435#comment-13883
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2006
  4. Jul 28, 2006 #3
    "Pluckers." Brilliant!

    Did he come with that, or was it someone else originally?
     
  5. Jul 28, 2006 #4

    marcus

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    2015 Award
    Dearly Missed

    I am not sure I like it though.
    Is it a pun on "pluggers"?
    referring to admen who "plug", that is to say hype, stuff to sell it
    to the public.

    Actually, Mickey, I am not sure I personally like Horgan's style, particularly this epithet.

    But the review is news----Horgan was a senior writer at SciAm for quite a few years---he has written for Edge.com and the New York Times. His own books get attention. here is some bio:
    http://www.johnhorgan.org/index.htm
    With someone of his stature, what he says in his review of Woit's book is apt to be discussed. So I report it, and hope for both sides of the issue to be represented in discussion.

    The first thing is it would be nice if someone had actually seen the whole text of the review.
    Anybody, if you have seen the whole thing please let the rest of us know!
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2006
  6. Jul 28, 2006 #5
    No, I think he meant it in the way that plucking a string makes it vibrate, typically for a very brief and underwhelming moment.

    I play the violin (well, I used to...) and "plucking" is the technical term for playing a note without the use of the bow and using the fingers to directly strike the string instead. Compared to the long smooth sound and gentle contact of the bow, plucking is delightfully savage and flighty. Since the sound is so weak, it's used for moments of lightness. It's often associated with imagery like dancing fairies or prancing small animals, like you'd see in Fantasia and other animated films.
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2006
  7. Jul 28, 2006 #6

    marcus

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    2015 Award
    Dearly Missed

    the cuteness of pizzicato, I see. by coincidence I've played violin some too (second fiddle in our small family ensemble).
    Maybe it is a forked pun involving BOTH ideas.
    It still doesn't make it as an epithet, for me----or maybe I'm just bothered by the fact that he uses any epithet at all for string advocates.

    if it is a pun then it is plucker because it has to do with string
    and plugger because he is explicitly talking about people who advocate

    I guess it is time to make the point that I know of people who just quietly do string-related research without hyping it or making a public pitch and who seem to know about alternatives and acknowledge that they are interesting. And they are some of the best young ones that I know.

    So you can be a string researcher without being an advocate. Horgan was specifically talking about advocates---he used that word.

    Two good examples that come to mind are Andy Strominger and Urs Schreiber. (harvard, and uni hamburg). AndyS has been articulate about acknowledging that there are good reasons to do non-string QG and to support it with funds---altho he does string himself since that's his line.

    UrsS asks intelligent questions at web forums that show he understands some of the latest work in non-string QG---instead of having a closed view based on what string folks might tell themselves about Loop Gravity from 10 years ago, i.e. stereotypes. He is a committed and aggressive young string researcher, but he knows some of the newest non-string work and in fact some of his research seems related to it!

    so my critique of Horgan is that altho I think he is brilliant and presents novel ideas about science in an original and persuasive way, I nevertheless suspect him of presenting a picture that is too monolithic. but I cant tell for sure because I cant find a free download of his article.
    In any case one should try to reflect the complexity of the situation, and not only give a broad sweeping vision.
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2006
  8. Jul 28, 2006 #7

    selfAdjoint

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    Excellent to make that distinction! Even older workers, even Witten!, are not so triumphalistic in general. I think triumphalism indicates something amiss in the relation of individual and the field he is being triumphalistic over. I've noticed this in the cases of super-patriots, fanatic religionists, flaming atheists, and of course folks like the ineffable L.M.
     
  9. Jul 28, 2006 #8

    marcus

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    2015 Award
    Dearly Missed

    now your flaming atheist is, to my way of thinking, the only kind worth bothering with---for he harbors a devout soul.:smile:
     
  10. Jul 28, 2006 #9

    selfAdjoint

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    I was thinking of atheists who can't be fair to religionists. I recall a young lady I dated a couple of times; her atheism was blatant but skin deep because she hated (the traditional Protestant) God. And she hated God because her father was an overbearing bully; transference.

    The dialectical term for people in this sort of fix is Denial of the Antithesis. It's a hang-up. And it's no wonder that the Bolsheviks, who gloried in describing themselves as DotA, came up with "The Stupidest Idea of the Twentieth Century".

    But I'm getting farther and farther OT.
     
  11. Jul 30, 2006 #10
    Oh, I see now. Yeah, I suppose it could mean that. Too bad, I kind of liked the whimsy of the word.

    Maybe we can just say that a non-advocate string researcher is a "pizzicato." :smile:

    This talk about God makes me wonder if there are any "string theists."
     
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2006
  12. Jul 30, 2006 #11

    marcus

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    2015 Award
    Dearly Missed

    Of the different versions, I suppose the most pizzicato would be perturbative string theory because it deals with tiny pluctuations.

    :uhh: :biggrin:
     
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2006
  13. Aug 5, 2006 #12

    marcus

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    2015 Award
    Dearly Missed

    Last edited: Aug 5, 2006
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?



Similar Discussions: Horgan's review of Not Even Wrong
  1. Not Even Wrong (Replies: 139)

  2. Not Even Wrong, THE BOOK (Replies: 39)

Loading...