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Not Even Wrong

  1. Mar 24, 2004 #1

    selfAdjoint

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    Peter Woit has a blog! . Much good stuff, not too hard on string theory, plus check out his links.
     
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  3. Mar 24, 2004 #2

    marcus

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    Fascinating. Very interested by his summary of the points in
    David Gross talk.

    will check out his links after lunch.
     
  4. Mar 24, 2004 #3

    selfAdjoint

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    Note that in his post "The Holy Grail of Physics" Woit mentions Jackiw. Jackiw has a retrospective paper, http://arxiv.org/abs/physics/0403109 for the 50th anniversay of Yang-Mills, in which he discusses the helicity puzzles that Woit speaks of.
     
  5. Mar 24, 2004 #4

    marcus

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    some gems from Woit's blog

    Woit's March 19, 2004 blog was especially informative. As senior faculty at Columbia, in mathematical physics---the guy teaching grad students their QFT and Representation Theory---his judgements on the past 20 years progress in Particle Physics are especially crisp and authoritative.

    --------Woit's comment on David Gross talk----
    Gross's talk contained the usual tendentious pro-string theory points, here's a few of them with commentary:

    1. " String theory is in a period like that of 1913-1925, it's like the Bohr model, we're waiting for the analog of Heisenberg's or Schrodinger's breakthroughs"

    The problem with this is that the Bohr model was actually predictive, for instance it predicted a lot about atomic spectra that could be experimentally checked. There clearly was something right about the Bohr model, there is no good evidence there is something right about string theory.
    ...
    ...
    4. "String theory is a consistent, finite quantum theory of gravity"

    Simply not true. Peturbative string theory is a divergent expansion, non-perturbative definitions don't work for four large flat dimensions, rest small.

    5. "String theory inspired brane-world scenarios, although I don't really believe these"

    Why would you think that an argument in a theory's favor was that it inspired some clearly wrong models that you don't believe and that don't predict anything?

    --------end quote-------
     
  6. Mar 24, 2004 #5

    jeff

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    Re: some gems from Woit's blog

    Peter woit is just an instructor, not a professor. If you search the arXiv's, you'll find two papers by him, with one of them being a five page polemic on string theory in the subject class of 'physics and society' and with not a single reference. If you want to learn about string theory, this isn't the place to start.
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2004
  7. Mar 24, 2004 #6

    marcus

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    So we have on good authority that string theory is not
    a viable quantum theory of gravity.

    Since it has been hugely hyped as exactly that, it's time for major debunking.

    ----at the end of Woit's March 19 report on Gross talk------

    ...I noticed that two string theory postdocs I know were in the audience. They've both told me that they think the subject is at a point of crisis and they are thinking of quitting. I don't think anything Gross said was likely to encourage them to continue.
    -----------end quote---------
     
  8. Mar 24, 2004 #7

    marcus

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    I may be mistaken about Woit's standing in the math and physics departments at Columbia. I am remembering from some months back when I happened to visit his website and saw the graduate level courses he was teaching.

    Would be glad for fuller information. In which department? Mathematics or Physics?

    Answered my own question!
    The math department at Columbia has this link
    http://www.math.columbia.edu/people/faculty.phtml

    It shows that Peter Woit got his PhD in 1985 from Princeton.

    So he was probably born around 1960 and must be in his Forties.

    In some sense senior---I would guess tenured faculty. No doubt we will learn more.
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2004
  9. Mar 24, 2004 #8

    Haelfix

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    Woit is a smart guy, I've met him before. He's echoing publically what we often hear in private conversations with mathematicians, who work on physics.

    Theres a huge literature that is often overlooked by physicists, (aside from a select few like Witten) that deals with QFT/string theory etc using modern approaches and topics that are just recently becoming rigorous in mathematics.

    Advances in K theory, infinite dimensional lie groups, etc etc

    The fact of the matter is, its perfectly normal to expect skepticism from mathematicians, since the tools to treat String theory in a manner that makes sense to them doesn't exist yet. Its no coincidence physicists say its a 21st century theory that happened to be stumbled upon in the 20th century.

    AFAICS, Woit's main beef is that the lvl of funding is so lopsided and other lines of inquiry seem to be supressed monetarily in favor of the orthodoxy.
     
  10. Mar 24, 2004 #9

    marcus

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    Re: Re: some gems from Woit's blog

    have to see about whether a professor or instructor
    instructor was usually a title for young faculty
    not yet on tenure track. I suspect that Columbia math dept
    has no instructors on the faculty---full-time positions
    would most likely be all assoc. prof. or asst. prof. or full professor. But you could be right! No doubt we will see in time.
     
  11. Mar 24, 2004 #10

    marcus

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    Haelfix do you happen to know if Woit has made professor.
    We have someone here saying he is "just an instructor" which
    would seem bizarre given the other signs of senior faculty standing.
     
  12. Mar 24, 2004 #11
  13. Mar 25, 2004 #12
    which "other signs" were you talking about? the fact that he teaches classes? i know lots of people who teach, and yet are not professors.

    anyway, you can see from the math department website that he is a "Director of Instruction", and not a Professor (associate or otherwise)

    i guess you just chose not to see that when you were looking at it.
     
  14. Mar 25, 2004 #13

    Haelfix

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    No clue what position he holds, other than that he works at Columbia, not that it matters.

    I do know that he knows what hes talking about w.r.t to field theory. But I don't think he is an expert on String theory, there are others at Columbia that know a lot more about that sort of stuff. Phong, Greene et al.

    Typically mathematicians are introduced to String theory, when a physicist wanders over to their department when they're confused about something and nead expertise in some archaic form. The mathematician then has the distinct horror of trying to figure out a problem, without even knowing where its coming from.

    The conversation will go something like
    Mathematician 'whats that measure'
    Physicist 'its undefined'
    Mathematician 'what?!?'
    Physicist 'ignore it, just tell me what Hodge theory says about this right here'
    ...

    I exagerate, but thats often how things can go. The physicist will go off pleased, and the math guy left wondering about their sanity.
     
  15. Mar 25, 2004 #14

    selfAdjoint

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    Re: Re: Re: some gems from Woit's blog

    The university site has him as "Director of Instruction", which is surely not the same as "Instructor"? And he is the only individual included on that site who is not listed as some kind of Professor.
     
  16. Mar 25, 2004 #15

    marcus

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    not to confuse Director of Instr (admin position some places comparable to Associate Dean) with Instructor (pre-tenure-track grade for young hires) for example
    Greg Miller at U Washington
    got his Phd in 1983
    became Assistant Professor 1984
    Associate Professor 1988
    Professor 1995
    made Director of Instruction 1998

    be patient, more will probably come out about Woit's standing
    he is a very interesting person
    he watches theoretical physics closely
    and at Columbia he teaches the graduate level courses in
    Lie Groups and Representations
    Quantum Field Theory
    he has ideas about what direction EXPERIMENTAL hep should take
    he is not exactly Haelfix's model of a periferal mathematician
    shaking his head in disbelief at the vagaries of physicists
    he strikes me more as a centrally knowledgeable type of math/physicist.

    in any case I do not accept the dismissive estimate that Woit is "just an instructor" and I am happy to wait and learn more about this very interesting person

    I do not know that he is a professor or not a professor and I am not convinced that this matters, but he seems senior to me---resepected, with some adminstrative function in the department---in his 40s---very smart----with a sense of history and a complex perspective
     
  17. Mar 25, 2004 #16

    marcus

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    Haelfix I really like your sketch of the encounter between the mathematician and physicist. It is majorly true to life.
    But I think Woit's beef is more interesting than that.

    An important part of it is that the mathematics of string theory is not very interesting (or forward-looking) mathematics
    and he points to more interesting directions in math/physics
    where theoreticians could be going if they were not so
    bogged in string

    he is highly critical of the bromide about "a bit of 21st century that happened to plop down prematurely in the 20th century" or whatever Witten's inspired prophesy was

    You have got me interested now. So I will go back to Woit's essay and see better what his beef is
    I know it is about more than lopsided money, but I want to be refreshed as to details.
     
  18. Mar 25, 2004 #17

    jeff

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    I think it does matter since

    (1) It's his ideas that are the subject of this thread.

    (2) These ideas are by his own admission polemical.

    (3) Marcus is trying to convince members that woit is more credible and more of an authority than he actually is.

    Correct. So how seriously should woit be taken? Well, he isn't a researcher, as is clear from the absence on his homepage of any mention of, or links to any research papers. And notice, as I already mentioned, that even woit himself refers to his paper criticizing string theory as a polemic, which means that he himself wouldn't counsel anyone to take his paper - which by the way is listed under the subject class of 'physics and society' and not 'high energy theory' where research papers on strings are listed - as seriously as marcus does (especially since marcus is unable to understand physics at this level, as he's shown repeatedly. In greg's words, "marcus isn't very smart".)

    Anyway, given that woit got his PhD in 1985, we can say that after 20 years he ended up as head TA.
     
  19. Mar 25, 2004 #18

    jeff

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    This isn't just you being mistaken marcus, this is you knowingly misrepresenting the facts, which from what I understand violates site guidelines.
     
  20. Mar 25, 2004 #19
    Wow, a whole internet thread about my academic qualifications!

    I'd certainly prefer that people spend their time arguing over what I have to say than my qualifications for saying it, but here's an accurate outline of my peculiar academic career for those interested:

    1979: B.A. and M.A. in physics, Harvard University. As an undergraduate spent one summer working on a particle physics experiment at SLAC.

    1984: Ph. D. in theoretical physics, Princeton University, advisor Curtis Callan, thesis title "Topological Charge in Lattice Gauge Theory".

    In my thesis I developed a workable way of calculating the topological charge of lattice gauge fields. This lead to joint work with collaborators including N. Seiberg at the Institute in Princeton and about seven published papers on the subject in the mid to late-eighties.

    1984-87 Postdoc at the Stony Brook ITP
    Got interested in spinor geometry,TQFT and representation theory, started talking to a lot of the mathematicians at Stony Brook

    In 1987 it became clear to me that someone who didn't believe in string theory but wanted to apply mathematics to QFT didn't have much of a future in physics depts in the US. I spent 1987-88 as an unpaid visitor at the Harvard physics dept., earning a living teaching calculus in the Tufts math department.

    1988-89 Postdoctoral fellowship at MSRI in Berkeley. Published a couple papers on spinor geometry and the standard model, TQFT and representation theory.

    1989-1993 Assistant professor, math department, Columbia

    At this point the "Director of Instruction" position became available in the math department. It is an unusual untenured but permanent position, with responsibilities that include making sure the dept computer system runs, teaching a course, participating in research activities of the department.. I've held that position for ten years.

    I'm not a tenured full professor at Columbia and have never claimed to be. On the other hand, I've spent a lot of time learning mathematics, often by teaching it. I've taught many of our undergraduate courses and some of our graduate courses, including Representation theory and QFT for mathematicians.

    So that's my weird academic background and status. make of it what you will.

    My experience arguing with string theorists over the last few years has been that the ones that don't know me often spend their time refusing to respond to my arguments and personally attacking me instead. I'll let you decide what that says about how strong their case is.
     
  21. Mar 25, 2004 #20
    Exactly. Stick to the matter at hand. Truth or falsehood is independent of its vessel. It is logically fallacious to suggest otherwise.
     
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