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Lee Smolin and Brian Greene on Science Friday show

  1. Aug 18, 2006 #1


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    Lee Smolin and Brian Greene on "Science Friday" show

    http://www.sciencefriday.com/pages/2006/Aug/hour2_081806.html [Broken]

    Tomorrow (18 August) the second hour of "Science Friday", a weekly feature on NPR (US national public radio) hosted by Ira Flatow will include conversation with Lee Smolin and Brian Greene about the current situation in fundamental physics and presumably some of what Smolin's book is about.
    If you live in the US and can get NPR, you might want to tune in.

    Tom Siegfried had an article in 11 August issue of Science magazine called “A Landscape Too Far?”. This covered some discussions at the SUSY06 conference and the article been made available at the conference website
    Alternatively go to the conference proceedings page
    and select it from the “susy06 on the web” listing.

    I just learned that Discover magazine has a review of the new books by Lee Smolin and Peter Woit that have a stir by criticizing institutional concentration on string (to the exclusion of non-string alternative approaches).
    The review is titled "Tangled Up in Strings".
    http://www.discover.com/issues/sep-06/departments/septreviews/ [Broken]
    The review is by Tim Folger---here is background on him:

    September 2006 issue of Sci Am has a review by George Johnson
    of the new book by Lee Smolin.
    The title of the review is "The Inelegant Universe"
    Here is some background on George Johnson

    Time magazine just had a review of Smolin's book by
    Michael Lemonick (senior science writer for Time for past 15+ years).
    The review is posted on web, free for download.
    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/printout/0,8816,1226142,00.html [Broken]

    I am glad to see so much of the recent book review and media comment on Smolin's and Woit's books is freely available on the web.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
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  3. Aug 18, 2006 #2
    For those outside of the US, and for anyone who misses the program, you can still download it by subscribing to the Science Friday podcast.
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2006
  4. Aug 20, 2006 #3
    Interesting interview.

    Smolin sounded a little shaken. He had me a little shaken when he mentioned his research about the correlation between the rate of scientific progress and the level of democracy in a society. In other words, he seemed to imply a relationship between the lack of results from string theory and the state of modern democracy. It really makes me want to read his book.

    Greene said the words, "you can't predict..." a number of times. It was in the context of "you can't predict the rate of progress," but he said it enough times for me to question what his actual job is. Aren't you supposed to make predictions, Greene? :wink:
  5. Aug 20, 2006 #4


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    Back during the cold war, we (US people) used to tell ourselves that dictatorship was incompatible with scientific and artistic progress. Now that the c.w. is over we can admit that great things were done under Stalin (Shostakovich, Akhmetova, Kolmogorov, etc., etc.) and Brezhnev (Fadeeyev and Popov, Tyiuvin).

    I don't think there is much connection between, say tapping phones, or knocks on the door at 3 AM, and physics, math, or the arts, in fact there may be a positive correlation as smart people avoid the nastiness of public life and flee to intellectual pursuits. You can do theoretical physics on damn small budgets.
  6. Aug 20, 2006 #5


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    he gave a talk in July of this year about Science and Democracy at the London School of Economics. The abstract of the talk suggested that what he was talking about was some ANALOGIES rather than historical correlation

    to get democracy to work, there has to be a willingness to play by the rules---the committment to the ethic has to be deeper than to one's individual ideology. So if a party gets voted out, they voluntarily step down rather than ordering out the tanks and clinging to power.
    To get democracy to work there has to be enough tolerance of different opinion to allow diversity. You can mock and heckle the other guy but you stop short of using police or economic power to silence him.

    I don't think there is an historical CORRELATION, or anyway not a 100 percent correlation, because the SCIENTIFIC ETHIC that makes a healthy scientific community is DIFFERENT from the ethic of political fair play that allows democracy to function. SelfAdjoint mentioned examples of healthy scientific communities living within totalitarian political systems.
    As long as one does not interfere with the other, why not?
    But I think there are interesting analogies between the two ethics.

    In science you don't vote---you do experiments instead. If you are "in power" and the experiment goes against you, you "step down". the community has to be united by a notion of reasonableness and good-faith playing by the rules that goes deeper than commitment to one "ideology" or other. And a scientific community has to allow, even encourage, certain limited kinds of diversity. Fringe and imcompetents and crazies can be instantly ignored, but among the good faith reasonable members of the community, playing by the rules, there is a whole lot of room for disagreement. If a postdoc is impressive---has a creative track record and independent selfmotivation---you might hire them even though they're doing a different brand of Quantum Gravity from you. Simple things that keep a healthy scientific community going---ability to recognize talent and achievement across ideology lines.

    certainly the analogies between the two ethics are not perfect.
    every type of community has its own (partly unspoken, undefined or undefinable) ethic, that is passed on from generation to generation partly by word and partly tacitly by example. Certainly the ethic is essential to the health of the community.

    And scientific communities are obviously quite different from democratic polities and the ethical basis of each are clearly different. But there still are these interesting analogies.

    Personally I don't know if I'd want to stress the analogies too much. I imagine that Smolin being a US emigré to Canada is especially conscious of the differences in both politics and science. Canada has a different style of politics (although it catches tendencies from us) and Canadian science scene, at least in fundamental physics theory, is less dominated by a single large enterprise. So maybe his SITUATION makes him extra sensitive.

    Being at Perimeter, which has half a dozen string and half a dozen non-string QG people working in the same building using the same bathrooms and cafeteria without any apparent trouble----in fact is doing GREAT---must also make him think.
  7. Aug 20, 2006 #6


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    Instead of printing or saving some of her poems on paper, which might be found, she used to get her friends to MEMORIZE things she wrote, and she would check, every year or so, to make sure they remembered right. I think you know this well, but Mickey may not.

    She was worried for family members safety, not just her own, if one of her poems were found to be subversive. I am used to spelling her name Akhmatova. A woman by name of Lyn Coffin is among the many who have tried to translate Akhmatova. Here is from a book of Lyn Coffin translations

    This is a short sample exerpt from Lyn Coffin's translation a longer poem called Requiem

    This happened when only the dead wore smiles—
    they rejoiced at being safe from harm.
    And Leningrad dangled from its jails
    like some unnecessary arm.
    And when the hosts of those convicted
    marched by in mad, tormented throngs,
    and railroad whistles were restricted
    to singing separation songs.

    The stars of death stood overhead,
    and guiltless Russia, that pariah,
    writhed under boots, all blood-bespattered,
    and the wheels of many a black maria.


    The above is a sample exerpt from longer poem found in Lyn Coffin, "Anna Akhmatova—Poems", Norton, 1983.
    Here is a rough transliteration to suggest sound and rhymed prosody:

    Eto bilo, kogda oolibalsya
    tolko myertvii, spokoistviyoo rad.
    I nyenoozhnim privyeskom boltalsya
    vozlye tyoorem svoich Lyeningrad.
    I kogda, obyezoomyev ot mooki,
    shli oozhye osoozhdyennich polki,
    i korotkooyoo pyesnyoo razlooki
    parovozniye peli goodki.
    Zvezdi smyerti stoyali nad nami,
    i bezvinnaya korchilass Roos
    pod krovavimi sapogami
    i pod shinami chyernich maroos.
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2006
  8. Aug 20, 2006 #7
    Oh, analogy. That's much less controversial.

    Although, I could see the analogy working more for the string theorists. If "democratic opinion" is swaying toward one ideology, it goes as far as it sways. There are no voters who vote against their conscience for what they see as an undesirable level of diversity. If "scientific opinion" sways toward one theory, than why should anyone feel obligated to go against their own convictions for diversity? Both Greene and Smolin agreed not to tell any one scientist what to do, so they shouldn't have to tell them how to hire their postdocs, either.
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2006
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