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NPR: Interview with mathematician re string theory

  1. Mar 12, 2010 #1


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    What do you make of the following interview:


    To me, the whole premise of the interview seems to be a bit loaded. I love NPR, but I would have expected a more objective approach. Take notice of the following quote:
    Does this not seem as if the perception of the theory is that its study is worthless? To be fair, it is not outside the realm of possibility that I have a perception which is altering my view of what could be a perfectly reasonable premise for an interview.
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  3. Mar 12, 2010 #2


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    I too. Always have it on when I'm out with the car doing errands.
    You quote a 2006 interview. How did you happen to come across one 4 years old and get interested by it?

    Frankly, no. It doesn't seem that way to me. I would not say that Simon, the interviewer, has prejudged that research area to be worthless. Also the mathematician he interviews expresses a high opinion of string math research.

    Well, that would be natural. We each have a different perspective on things and it does influence how we see them.

    What we are seeing now is a shift in research emphasis where some of the top people are turning attention away from "extra-dimensions" type string math. And away from the search for stringy "ToE". You might be interested in learning about the new fields and applications they are getting into.
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2010
  4. Mar 12, 2010 #3


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    :redface: It was a product of my rabbit-trail-Google-search which started with an Asimov query.

    For some reason I interpreted his even asking the question to be implying that it is worthless.

    As it turns out, I did not approach reading the interview very objectively! I had assumed the nature of Scott's questions to be that of prejudiced criticism. I am at a loss regarding an explanation as to why; I have nothing against Scott personally. :rofl:
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2010
  5. Mar 12, 2010 #4


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    Will do! Thank you, marcus. :smile:
  6. Mar 12, 2010 #5


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    Well then I will suggest some names of people whose interest has recently all or part shifted.
    Just to get started here is an automatically generated Wikipedia list containing some wellknown string names. We can see which of them have found other things to do. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:String_theorists
    THIS DOESN'T MEAN string approach is wrong or that string math won't find applications to nature!
    I've highlighted some of those whose research interests I want to comment on. I haven't made a highlight designation of all those exploring outside core string. Blue just means I have some comment to make.
    Also just because Wikipedia gives this list doesn't mean that I would classify everybody on the list as a string theorist. But it's a way to get started.

    Nima Arkani-Hamed
    Alexander Belavin
    David Berenstein
    Curtis Callan
    Robbert Dijkgraaf
    Jacques Distler
    Louise Dolan
    Michael R. Douglas
    Michael Duff
    Willy Fischler
    Daniel Friedan
    Sylvester James Gates
    Gary Gibbons
    Peter Goddard
    Rajesh Gopakumar
    Michael Green
    Brian Greene
    David Gross
    Steven Gubser
    Sergei Gukov
    Jeffrey A. Harvey
    Hafeez Hoorani
    Petr Hořava
    Faheem Hussain
    Shamit Kachru
    Michio Kaku
    Renata Kallosh
    Igor Klebanov
    Robert Leigh
    Joseph Lykken
    Juan Martín Maldacena
    Emil Martinec
    Shiraz Minwalla
    Greg Moore
    Luboš Motl
    Sunil Mukhi
    Yoichiro Nambu
    Dimitri Nanopoulos
    Asad Naqvi
    Horaţiu Năstase
    André Neveu
    Holger Bech Nielsen
    Hirosi Ooguri
    Burt Ovrut
    Joseph Polchinski
    Alexander Markovich Polyakov
    Massimo Porrati
    Arvind Rajaraman
    Pierre Ramond
    Lisa Randall
    Martin Rocek
    Joël Scherk
    John Henry Schwarz
    Nathan Seiberg
    Ashoke Sen
    Stephen Shenker
    Maria Spiropulu
    Andrew Strominger
    Leonard Susskind
    Charles Thorn
    Paul Townsend
    Sandip Trivedi
    Cumrun Vafa
    Gabriele Veneziano
    Erik Verlinde
    Herman Verlinde
    Spenta R. Wadia
    Steven Weinberg
    Edward Witten
    Tamiaki Yoneya
    Alexander Zamolodchikov
    Alexei Zamolodchikov
    Barton Zwiebach
    Erik Verlinde has a new approach (4D) and blogs that he doesn't think string is the way to go. He has not been invited to talk at Strings 2010.
    Petr Horava has a new 4D approach which is quite non-string, but continues saying nice things about string. He will be talking at Strings 2010 about his non-string QG.
    Steven Weinberg is a nice guy and generally supportive, but has said some very discouraging things about string's prospects publicly. He says it has been disappointing and that he has something else he's working on (asymptotic safety QG, cosmology). I have no idea what he will say at Strings 2010. He has not attended Strings 2007-2009.
    Edward Witten gave a paper on (nonstring) 3D gravity at Strings 2007, then did not attend Strings 2008, gave an evening public lecture about non-string topics, but no daytime talk at Strings 2009. Has been researching a variety of nonstring topics.
    Andy Strominger is giving a paper at Strings 2010 which I think is 4D nonstring.
    Nima Arkani-Hamed gave a non-string talk at Strings 2009. I don't know what he will be talking about next week at Strings 2010.

    This is just an overview. In a sense, so far I haven't given you any information about what these guys are discovering by way of new research interests, because I haven't given you any links yet.

    Verlinde's new gambit is what is making the most noise currently. "Entropic force". We have some threads about it here in Beyond forum.
    Horava's baby made a big splash in 2009---it is called Horava-Lifgarbagez gravity, or simply Horava gravity. We had some threads about it last year.
    Steven Weinberg's interest is in something we have discussed here too: Asymptotic Safety.
    I don't want to load you down with links but I'll get a couple over the next few days.
    Other people may have comments too! From their different perspectives.
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2010
  7. Mar 13, 2010 #6


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    Unfortunately I never had the chance to talk to the hard-core string guys. I was in contact with people like Baez and Woit for some time but the have "only" an outside-view... So I can't say what it means that some people seem to abandon the core string approach.

    There are different possible reasons (not a complete list, of course)
    - from time to time physicists change field of research (they always did :-)
    - they come to the conclusion that string theory is a dead end
    - the do something different because of the two books of Smolin and Woit
    - they do something like enlarging their field of research (*)

    (*) is something we now from QFT. Due to problems with infinities etc. new ideas like S-matrix theory, current algebra, effective theories have been investigated. In a sense these approaches came to an end when the quark model was rewritten in terms of QCD plus the proofs of renormalizibilty for QCD and GSW. But looking back all these approaches are still valid to some extend. Look at chiral perturbation theory which is strictly speaking wrong (as it is not renormalizable), but which allows one to calculate a lot of soft processes ... Therefore it could very well be that some of the new approaches will (in the very end) be linked to "something like string theory" again.

    The main difference is that in contradisctinction to the situation in the late sixties / early seventies a breakthrough like QCD is missing. So this "something like string theory" to which these new approaches could be linked is still missing.

    Regarding the interview: it's nice but outdated; I can't find any new ideas which haven't been discussed in the last couple of years.
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