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Kenneth Lane string theory is not physics

  1. Dec 23, 2007 #1
    Kenneth Lane "string theory is not physics"

    Who is Kenneth Lane?

    wikipedia states "Kenneth D. Lane is an American physicist and professor of physics at Boston University. Lane is best known for his role in the development of extended technicolor models of physics beyond the Standard Model.

    Lane received his B.Sc. and M.Sc. in physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology.[1] He was a student of Chung Wook Kim at Johns Hopkins University, where he received his Ph.D. in 1970. His physics research has focused mainly on the problems of electroweak and flavor symmetry breaking. With Estia J. Eichten, Lane co-invented extended technicolor. He and Eichten also contributed to early work on charmonium with Kurt Gottfried, Tom Kino****a and Tung-Mow Yan. Lane has also contributed to studies of supercollider physics and proposed tests for quark and lepton substructure."

    the idea of fermion substructure sounds PREON to me.


    ""I think I can safely predict that string theory is going to wither and die when exciting results start coming out of the LHC," Lane said.

    Cumrun Vafa, a string theorist at Harvard University, said that for a particular faculty member to feel that string theory should be relegated to the mathematics department is wrong.

    "To try to categorically deny the existence of a subject is just childish," Vafa said.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 24, 2007 #2


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    personal opinion

    IMO, wether a particular theory, framework or strategy is "correct" is not the first question to ask since any suggestions need testing. And some ideas seems harder to test than others, and some ideas seem more or less _speculative_ than others.

    Given that nonone knows, what seems to me as a reasonable type of premature judgement is to try to infere how "speculative" a certain idea is.

    Set aside what the future will show, I always felt that string theory is quite speculative, and more so than what's to my taste. The question is more IMO in what direction to invest our attention. Whatever speculative behaviour be undertake, we need to motive it.

    Just respecting my own common sense, I fail to find motivation in overly speculative things. The point isn't wether it will will be proven right or wrong in the future, the point is more wether what direction of research we can defend given our ignorance.

    That's at least how I see it. But I guess different people make different judgement on the direction as well, which seems both healthy and normal.

    If someone expresses his personal opinion that string theory doesn't qualify as physics in their opinions seems at least as reasonable to me (if not more) as those string theoriest who preach to students that the future of physics IS string theory, and that students who don't like string theory might be better off doing soemthing else.

    Now, who is putting all the money on one horse here? :)

  4. Dec 24, 2007 #3
    The logic that lead to string theory is that EW symmetry breaking is done by a scalar higgs field, which requires SUSY to protect it from quadratic radiative corrections, and SUSY GUT is a low energy limit of a string theory.

    If EW symmetry breaking can be explained without a higgs fields, one example is technicolor models which Kenneth Lane works on, and LHC sees evidence for some technicolor model, but no evidence for SUSY partners, can string theory accommodate such results? Can string theory find a way to accept technicolor models as well as higgs models?

    Is there a reason that higgs + SUSY string theory occupies 99% of research on EW breaking, but technicolor and other higgless models occuppy less than 1%?
  5. Dec 24, 2007 #4


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    I doubt that anyone who don't direct their attention to string theory thinks that there is no reason for it's popularity. From the historical perspective there is a logic to it of course. It's not totally taken out of air of course, but it's sufficiently speculative to me to redirect my interest.

    I personally have second opinions on the entire QFT framework. I see current models as effective models, and QFT as an effective framework. And questions posed within the QFT framework may thus not necessarily be the best ones.

    As I understand it alot of the logic that leads to the string threads, avoids questioning the implicit framework in a deeper way. This regards the nature of spacetime itself as well as the nature of information. The questions posed, avoids asking more fundamental questions, probably because they are too hard. That's my personal impression.

  6. Dec 24, 2007 #5


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    Merry Xmas to you all! :)

  7. Dec 24, 2007 #6


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    A merry Christmas to you too, Fredrik!

    BTW the whole topic of this thread seems to be a THREE YEAR OLD NEWSPAPER ARTICLE which contains contrary predictions which, if anybody was interested, we could try to check.

    The article is about math and physics department organization and Boston University presents this interesting paradigm where string research is considered math (very beautiful math as one of the people says) and not included in the physics department.

    And you get various voices, one predicts that this will cause a decline of quality of the BU physics department. Other voices say no, it is OK to do like we do, it will not degrade the performance quality and the importance of our department. So now it has been 3 years since the quotes were gathered and the article written, and we could empirically SEE if one or another predictions are right.

    Would you like to try to check? By some objective indications?

    I read this article back in early 2005, I think. Anyway a long time back. It does not seem so interesting to just renew the old discussion. What I think is good to do with an old discussion is to lay it out and look at what different people said, and see if there is current information to gauge how foresightful their judgement was.
  8. Dec 24, 2007 #7
    Well the physics question I have is this:

    if EW symmetry breaking is done by something other than a scalar higgs field, such as technicolor models or other proposals, what does this mean for LHC-energy SUSY?

    Does technicolor models rule out string theory? What would this mean for LQG?
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2007
  9. Dec 24, 2007 #8
    My understanding, which could be wrong, is that it is technically possible to integrate technicolor with SUSY, but that if technicolor is correct then this would be taken as a strong argument against SUSY-- because technicolor removes (i.e. provides an alternate, superceding explanation for) some of the major motivations for SUSY.

    String theory could probably incorporate technicolor somehow or other. It seems like absolutely anything you can think of, there's SOME string theory which accommodates it. Whether the accommodation would be very convincing is another matter...! (A search for "string theory technicolor" turns up at least one person suggesting you can get technicolor out of string theory, but it doesn't seem many people are seriously working on this.)
  10. Dec 24, 2007 #9


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    I will try to address the issue raised in the first post and by the link given in the first post
    Lane spoke for a consensus of physicists in the Boston University physics department, several others of whom were quoted---the general opinion being that their department is doing fine without a string contingent. Instead, they would have string (which Lane praised as very beautiful mathematics) studied in the math department and keep the physics department focused on readily testable theory and experiment.

    Vafa, a string theorist who chairs the rival physics department at Harvard, responded by arguing that this focus would degrade the quality of Boston University physics and diminish the BU department's standing.

    These are important issues, relating directly to what was said in the article. For concreteness, to be definite about this, I will quote the article
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2007
  11. Dec 24, 2007 #10


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    Here is are some exerpts from the article linked and quoted in the post starting this thread. So if we discuss the issues raised we can be definite about just what they are
    The Thin Line of Theory: Is BU downplaying a passing fad?
    By: Steve Macone
    Posted: 1/25/05
    While the physics departments at many other universities devote significant resources within high energy physics research to study a subject called string theory, BU has shied away from what some faculty call a fad, confident that its physics program is still in the top tier nationwide.
    String theory requires some elaborate, ad hoc mathematics, the acceptance of additional dimensions in space and time and a little willingness to disregard the universe as we know it.

    While string theorists admit their concept is far from perfect, some scientists, including a number of high-energy physicists at BU, extend the criticism further, claiming string theory is far from science.

    Kenneth Lane, a theoretical high-energy physicist at BU, said this area of research is better left to mathematicians.

    "String theory is not physics," Lane said. "It's lovely mathematics, but it makes no physics predictions. We're interested in the outcomes of experiments. If all we did was string theory, our experimentalists wouldn't know what to do. That's why it's not popular at BU."

    Not surprisingly, some debate has risen among string theorists for what they view as BU's snubbing of a vital discipline.

    Cumrun Vafa, a string theorist at Harvard University, said that for a particular faculty member to feel that string theory should be relegated to the mathematics department is wrong.

    If a physics department as a whole chooses not to invest significantly in string theory, Vafa said, it is making a big error. BU is depriving its physics students of learning about one of the most exciting developments in physics that the youngest, most brilliant physicists are studying, he said.

    "It's turning a blind eye to it," Vafa said. "I think drawing lines is against the sprit of science and against the progress of physics. And I think they are doing a disfavor to BU. I don't want to pass judgment, but not having a string theory group puts [BU physics] out of first rate in my opinion."

    Differing in opinion from faculty at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Lane said he is not aware of any BU faculty who think string theory belongs in the physics department.

    "We don't think of ourselves as not doing something," he said. "We think of ourselves as doing physics.

    "Many places have string theory," Lane adds, "not just Harvard and MIT, but Ohio State [University] and the University of Florida. But these other people are followers. We are leaders ... in another area," he said, noting accomplishments BU has made in the area of phenomenology by helping to create the idea of the Little Higgs Boson, a development Lane said is a significant improvement on the current standard model of particle physics.

    "I think we've had an impact in the Boston area and beyond," Lane said. "One of the reasons Sheldon Glashow, a Nobel laureate, left Harvard was because they had become way too stringy. We sort of led the way. We did not emphasize string theory, and we attracted Shelly. It jogged [Harvard] into hiring more experimental physicists."

    Lane describes string theory as a waning discipline he predicts will cease [when LHC begins producing results.]

    Because the LHC, a particle accelerator used to study high-energy physics by smashing particles together, will operate at previously unattainable energy levels, scientists anticipate this new machine will reveal a whole new level of nature's physics secrets.

    "I think I can safely predict that string theory is going to wither and die when exciting results start coming out of the LHC," Lane said.

    But Harvard's Vafa said that string theorists share excitement about the LHC, and that experimental results it yields will not prove or disprove string theory.

    Although string theory is not grounded in empirical data, Vafa said, it has already greatly influenced the way we think about physics and that perhaps 15 years ago BU could have afforded not to give substantial attention to string theory.

    But not today, Vafa said.

    "Theoretical developments have indicated string theory is a very important part of physics," Vafa said. "It has already proven foolish. It's past the point."

    Barton Zwiebach, a string theorist at MIT, said few competitive universities lack string theory research, but that BU has a strong physics department nonetheless.

    "If they wish to grow and become a still stronger group, that would be a good thing to do [to study string theory]," Zwiebach said. "... Most people who are skeptics still believe [the string theory is] worth studying. You seldom find someone who thinks it's not worth studying at all."

    Zwiebach added that the risk for BU in not researching string theory is that it will attract less competitive graduate students.

    Andrew Cohen, associate chairman for undergraduate studies and high energy physicist at BU, described the differences between BU's physics research and that of other institutions as less significant, less stringent and more of a decision to choose one research path than shunning another.

    "Even if string theory is a correct theory of nature - and I am one who thinks that, although not certain, it has a good chance - it will remain only one aspect of high energy theory," Cohen said.

    High energy physics is now very compartmentalized, Cohen said, with most string theorists only researching string theory and most other high energy physicists, or phenomenologists, not working in string theory. He didn't describe the current climate of research among physicists as negative.

    Cohen also said that because only the largest institutions can support enough faculty in string theory and phenomenology to fully represent both disciplines, many smaller universities researching high energy physics have one or the other.

    While the focus of research in high energy physics at BU is not directed toward string theory, Cohen said, there have been occasions when BU faculty have done work in the area. He listed numerous examples of contributions to string theory by BU professors such as Claudio Rebbi, who he said was one of the early string pioneers.

    Richard Brower, a professor in the College of Engineering, continues to publish string theory papers, Cohen added, and several BU post-doctorate students have written papers on the subject.

    "BU has an involvement with string theory," he said, "but many of us currently find the experimentally accessible puzzle of mass more exciting."

    Cohen said there is very little risk in not studying string theory, adding that the phenomenology research at BU is considered to be some of the best.

    BU's curriculum contains nearly the same amount of string theory as most other institutions, Cohen said.

    "We share courses with Harvard and MIT, and many of our students have attended string theory and other particle physics courses at these institutions," he said.

    Cohen said he does not feel there is any disregard for string theory among BU faculty.

    "BU is one of the places where phenomenologists can be found who occasionally do work in string theory," Cohen said, "but graduate students are even more specialized. So students who want to do string theory by and large don't come to BU, and those who want to do phenomenology don't go the institutions that focus on string theory."

    Sheldon Glashow, one of the most vocal critics of string theory at BU, said his views differ from those of his faculty colleagues. Glashow said experimentalists have no contact with string theorists, who often form "colonies" separate from other disciplines within physics departments.

    As Glashow believes, it is the string theorists themselves who are drawing the lines within the discipline.

    He explained that the Albert Einstein, who failed in his search to find a unified theory of forces in the universe, spent the last three decades of his life isolated from the scientific community.

    "It is tragic," Glashow said, "but now, we have the string theorists, thousands of them, that also dream of explaining all the features of nature. They just celebrated the 20th anniversary of superstring theory.

    "So when one person spends 30 years, it's a waste, but when thousands waste 20 years in modern day, they celebrate with champagne. I find that curious."

    Glashow cautioned that particle theory, under which string theory and phenomenology fall, comprises only a small fragment of any physics department.

    "When people say that Harvard is the best physics department in the country, it's because they have wonderful resources in many fields," Glashow said. "Our physics department excels in a number of areas. We do world-shaking experiments, and we're in the headlines all the time for this kind of stuff."

    "We're doing well," Glashow said. "I would put our physics department in the top 20 in the country, easily. String theory is not the dominant area [at BU], as it is at some schools. It is, to a certain extent, a fad, and I think we've really kept a level head. I think we have a properly balanced department."
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2007
  12. Dec 24, 2007 #11
    This is a common but misleading sentiment in one important respect: there is no known string theory vacuum which completely reproduces the Standard Model! I was amazed to learn this, in this era in which we are led to believe that everything is in the Landscape somewhere.

    So if a person wants to work on fundamental physics, and is not completely allergic to string theory, I would suggest that they pick some string model which is "realistic" in the sense that so far it is consistent with the Standard Model (even if it does not yet exhibit all SM features), and try to hack with that until it works or until they know it can't work. That will require you to learn string theory and the Standard Model in detail at the same time.

    There are some possibilities listed here:
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