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Philip Anderson on string in the NYT

  1. Jan 4, 2005 #1


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    today Tuesday 4 January NYT

    Philip W. Anderson
    Physicist and Nobel laureate, Princeton

    Is string theory a futile exercise as physics, as I believe it to be? It is an interesting mathematical specialty and has produced and will produce mathematics useful in other contexts, but it seems no more vital as mathematics than other areas of very abstract or specialized math, and doesn't on that basis justify the incredible amount of effort expended on it.

    My belief is based on the fact that string theory is the first science in hundreds of years to be pursued in pre-Baconian fashion, without any adequate experimental guidance. It proposes that Nature is the way we would like it to be rather than the way we see it to be; and it is improbable that Nature thinks the same way we do.

    The sad thing is that, as several young would-be theorists have explained to me, it is so highly developed that it is a full-time job just to keep up with it. That means that other avenues are not being explored by the bright, imaginative young people, and that alternative career paths are blocked.
    --end quote--

    maybe the top level scientific establishment is finally wising up


    today's Science Section of the Times has selections from the responses to the Edge.org Question for 2005----brief quotes from over a dozen prominent scientists about "what do you believe but can't prove" where you get the man or woman's high priority message. Instead of being asked about a specific topic they each got to speak out with whatever message they urgently wanted to get across---usually it was something having to do with their own field (as in the case of Anderson the direction theoretical physics has been going) but it could be anything: philosophy, god, the future of the human species, morality, whatever.

    the NYT informed selection from an Edge pot pourri
    I think it is a good idea for an article

    read it now for free----soon it goes into the NYT archives and becomes payfor

    Or check out the original Edge article---with more statements from a wider variety of thinkers
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2005
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 4, 2005 #2
    There've been many prominent physicists expressing skepticism about string theory. Lawrence Krauss does so in a Scientific American interview:


    Also, in the transcript from the PBS Nova documentary of The Elegant Universe, the following comments appear:

    S. JAMES GATES, JR. (University of Maryland): If string theory fails to provide a testable prediction, then nobody should believe it.

    SHELDON LEE GLASHOW (Boston University): Is that a theory of physics, or a philosophy?

    (I recall Glashow saying more than is contained in the above quote, something about the inability to test string theory experimentally.)

  4. Jan 4, 2005 #3


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    Given my choice, I'd rather have somebody doing experimental tests of Pioneer effects than coming up with advanced versions of string/brane theory. But, you also need to generate hypothesises. The particle accellerator office pool, as the quantum mechanics field can get sometimes, is also a bit out of hand. See what shows up before making a new theory. But, ultimately the number of physicists is driven by the number of physics students and those physicists have a great deal of slack resources in deciding what to research. Theoretical physics has the virtue of costing little in terms of resources and using people already on the payroll to do it.
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