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String Theory Gets Real-Sort Of /article in Science

  1. Dec 4, 2004 #1


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    String Theory Gets Real--Sort Of /article in Science

    Peter Woit mentioned this in his blog.
    there is a 2-page news article by, I believe, a staff writer Adrian Cho
    in the 26 November 2004 issue (pages 1460-1462)
    that reports on a conference about research into String Phenomology.
    That is, investigating the possibilities for making some predictions
    that could serve to test the theory

    As Woit observes, string phenomenology is hardly new.
    Apparently there'v been a fair number of papers written over the years groping for ways to test, but no clear predictions that will serve so far.
    I suppose an arxiv search for keywords "string phenomology" would turn up some of them, but I havent personally checked.

    If anyone has seen this article or gotten stuff from the conference, which was called "Strings and the Real World" and was held at Aspen,
    it might be interesting to hear more about it.

    I havent seen the article because I dont have a subscription to Science journal. here is the link to woit's blog that discusses it:

  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 5, 2004 #2
    This guy seems a little pessimistic, don't you think?
  4. Dec 5, 2004 #3


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    I think you mean Peter Woit.

    I am wondering if anyone has seen the article in the 26 issue of Science,
    called String Theory Gets Real--Sort Of , by Adrian Cho.

    I don't have a current subscription to that magazine so I am hoping someone else has seen it. The isssue is not so much optim/pessim as whether there is any interesting new information.

    But almost certainly by "this guy" you mean Peter Woit and not the Science writer Cho. :smile:

    So, in response, no I dont think of Peter Woit as "pessimistic" exactly. I think of him as an outspoken insider.

    We had a big discussion of Peter's blog this spring, here at PF
    The thread went on for 10 pages and 140 posts!
    But only the first few pages are actually about Peter's blog.

    He is in the mathematics department at Columbia, the physics department there is where for example Brian Greene teaches. Peter knows a number of the major String people and keeps in touch with with what's going on. His degree is in particle physics and he teaches mathematical physics courses (group reps, quantum field theory) at Columbia to physics graduate students. He goes to some string conferences, has reported on recent talks by Edward Witten, David Gross, Leonard Susskind, Mike Douglas, etc. The thing with Peter is he knows whereof he speaks and you learn stuff on his blog.

    Personally I dont think of Peter as a pessimist. If he werent an optimist he wouldnt be trying to make a difference. The way string gets hyped the public probably is immoral and is apt to backfire by eventually undermining repect for science. Restraint and integrity are important to physics longterm health. That means not exaggerating the prospects of speculation without experimental underpinnings.

    Also the overconcentration on string has probably been bad for theoretical physics----it has been a bad strategy: producing a huge volume of not-very-fruitful research. The people who control research funds clearly should have diversified.

    So I think Peter does physics a service with his blog. I expect a lot of people are grateful to him for blowing the whistle.

    The situation that Peter has called attention to does seem to be slowly correcting itself, in that people are beginning to get out of string-type research, presumably seeing it as an overcrowded field and possibly a dead end. They seem to be moving (judging from the stats on research output) mostly into Astrophysics and possibly Condensed Matter research (which has been growing markedly).

    A smaller number have shifted out of string and into non-string Quantum Gravity lately. The output of non-string QG papers has shot up dramatically in the past couple of years. But that is numerically just a small part of it. The main shift is going elsewhere.
  5. Dec 5, 2004 #4


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    I read it and didn't think much of it. I have never had much use for Science's articles on higher physics; they approach the issues at the kindergarten level. As has been said, the emphasis on phenomenology was just because that had been the emphasis of the meeting that was the hook for the article, and anybody who follow the arxiv, or is a regular here, is way beyond it.
  6. Dec 7, 2004 #5


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    I've said this before, but I will add that this is also rumored to be the reason Sheldon Glashow left Harvard for Boston Univ. He was getting fed up that so many theorists in his field were abandoning phenomenology and getting "seduced" by String Theory. It is by no coincidence that he was the sole dissenter of String Theory in The Elegant Universe TV show.

    The issue here isn't really about String Theory not having any measurable consequences. Rather, it is about the unabated abandonment of the need to make measurable consequences. Never in the history of physics has a field evolve for this long, being worked on by so many people, and gain this much popularity, and yet could not produce even a SINGLE experimental evidence to, at the very least, indicate that it is on the right path. The lack of discomfort among many working in that field of this glaring fact is very scary. Robert Riordon, in his op-ed piece in Physics Today about a year ago, echo very much a similar complaint against this.[1] Students and young physicists diving head first into this field somehow are not at all concerned about this lack of empirical possibility.

    I agree with marcus that this thing can easily backfire. There is a disapportionate hype for something that we can't verify. This has never been a good thing.


    1. http://www.physicstoday.org/pt/vol-56/iss-8/p50.html [Broken]
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  7. Dec 7, 2004 #6


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    this sure puts it crisply in a nutshell! bravo Zz!
    I hadnt seen Riordan's essay (from August 2003 Physics Today)
    and was glad to read that as well. I gather he has had two successful
    careers, first as an experimental physicist (as he tells about in
    his book "The Hunting of the Quark" and then as a science-historian.
    His standing in both fields make him extra qualified
  8. Dec 16, 2004 #7
    The first evidence for string theory?

    I saw this article summary on New Scientist today, any opinions/comments?

    The first evidence for string theory?

    * 18 December 2004
    * Marcus Chown
    * Magazine issue 2478

    A double view of galaxies and a quirky quasar leads astronomers to think they have spotted a thread of pure energy streaking through our galaxy

    IF YOU consider them separately, these two observations are hardly going to set the scientific world on fire. But together they add up to a spectacular possibility. In a tiny region of sky, astronomers have seen a dozen galaxies that appear as a curious sequence of double images. They have also observed a quasar whose brightness oscillates in an unexpected way. What could cause these odd phenomena? The only explanation that covers both is pretty mind-bending: "superstrings" of pure energy that can stretch millions of light years across the universe. Is this the first experimental evidence for string theory?

    The theory is our best hope of understanding how the universe works at its most fundamental level. It suggests that the basic constituents of matter are impossibly narrow threads of concentrated energy. The various different ways these superstrings can vibrate correspond to different fundamental particles, such as the up-quark and the

    The complete article is 2420 words long.
  9. Dec 17, 2004 #8


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    Hi Donuts,
    your New Scientist article seemed interesting
    so I started a separate thread about it

    However the astronomical observation seems to relate to cosmic strings rather than translate directly into evidence about stringtheory. AFAIK cosmic strings have their own theoretical basis in classical (1915) Gen Rel and in quantum field theory.

    of course i cant tell for sure because I dont have a subscription
    but glad you have a subscription to a science mag
    maybe you or someone will scan short exerpts under the fair use provision
    and we all can see what that journalist (Marcus Chown) was up to.
    different marcus
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2004
  10. Dec 18, 2004 #9
    I personally think string theory is nosense but that's just my slant on it, I could be wrong? However I have a subscription to New Scientist, when the archive gets hold of it on the website I'll email it to you.

    It's fairly tenuous stuff, sounds more like speculation but it's interesting enough. More interesting is that th IMAP data may be inaccurate because of polarizations in our solar sytem, this means that if the maps wrong then predictions based on it are also somewhat wrong, although to what extent is unclear? Even more interesting than that was the article on the discovery by NASA and a few eminent biologists, that DNA seems to use quantum principles to locate base pairs faster, thus nature has found a way to use the quantum, I'ts sopmething we should look at carefully it's not quite the quantum computer we're looking for but it gives us ideas, nature 3 billion years ago came up with quantum code sorting, in its database 3 billion year or so later we concieved of the first quantum computer, nature beats us by three billion years, it's kind of humbling really.
  11. Dec 18, 2004 #10


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    thanks Louis C!
    some of the other articles you mentioned sound (if anything even more) interesting. I may have to drop by the local library.

    I'd be glad of a PM if you get more information about cosmic strings

    So far the most helpful article I have found, speculating as to the possible connection between cosmic strings and stringtheory strings,
    is T. Kibble

    At first sight cosmic srings are a different sort of object---that was popular to research in the 1980s and 1990s and then went out of fashion.
    But T. Kibble urges a revived interest and connection with stringtheory.

    Motl gave the T. Kibble link at his blog.
  12. Dec 18, 2004 #11


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    Great! I must get the magazine. Thanks for the tip, LC.

    I believe the first person to mention
    DNA in the context of Category Theory was Shum in her paper on
    Tortile tensor categories (which is about double stranded knots)

    J. Pure Appl. Alg 93 (1994) 57-110

    Sorry - that's the only reference to it that I have.

    I've been away enjoying the surf and sunshine in Oz.
    Season's greetings everyone

  13. Dec 18, 2004 #12


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    I seem to remember reading something about sugar molecules
    in a cold region towards the galactic centre.

    Does anyone know a reference for this?

    (I might be sabotaging a String Theory thread here - oh well!)
  14. Dec 20, 2004 #13
    This is excellently put.
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  15. Jan 20, 2005 #14


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    Truly it is excellently put.
    I wish the science editor at the Monitor would wise up. They just published
    reporting with uncritical awe on a journalist's visit at the IAS.
  16. Nov 30, 2005 #15
    The point you make is very valid, but I have read many articles that argue the reason testable predictions cannot be made is due to lack of understanding of the theory, so really it is GREAT thing that so many are taking up research in the field. Much thinking needs to be done before you can be furnished with viable tests, and they are working on it. Give it a decent chance I say.
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  17. Nov 30, 2005 #16


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    I think you don't get the point of Zapper's post, alfred.

    there are 3 or 4 other approaches to quantizing gravity that show promise, but in American universities they are NOT getting a decent chance

    the non-string alternatives are not getting a decent chance because, in the US theory sector, string theorists have a chokehold on influence, funding, postdoc appointments, and faculty hiring.

    In the theory sector of major departments, particularly in particle theory, you cannot do a PhD thesis in nonstring QG (because all the faculty are stringers)

    you cannot do a postdoc in nonstring QG

    if you have already done your PhD in nonstring QG (most likely outside the US) you probably cannot get a job or a postdoc position at a major US departments.

    the aim of string-crit is not to get some funding committee in the National Science Foundation to completely pull the plug on the string respirator-----the aim is or should be simply to break the string monopoly stranglehold that is shutting out a number of newer (quite intriguing) lines of investigation

    String has been worked on for a very long time and looks bogged down at the moment. I'd be happy if string support were cut 50 percent----so it would still be the largest particle theory research initiative, by far----and that support redistributed among the most active non-string QG contenders.
  18. Nov 30, 2005 #17
    wow, i didn't know that thanks. I love physicsforums by the way. :D
  19. Dec 1, 2005 #18


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    yeah I do too, it is a surprisingly fun forum with often quite interesting visitors

    I spoke just now out of impatience and was too vehement. I want to lighten up the message but dont quite know how. Even a TEN PERCENT diversification in a major departments' theory wing would be great. A lot of criticism would be soothed by merely that.
    I do think now in the US it is just sewn up too tight and the criticism stems from that.

    I dont know how interested you are in these issues or how much time you have to explore them. But if you want and have time there is a way to get some direct firsthand exposure. VIDEOs of the main 2005 string and nonstring QG conferences are available online. Although it's tough to understand you don't have to depend entirely on journalistic accounts or popular books. You can supplement that with a direct inside look.

    In the nonstring QG case it is fairly simple, you just go to
    and click on talks of Smolin and Rovelli and Loll and Reuter
    when they have slides too, download the slides, so you can look at the slides on half the screen while you watch the video, and glance at the slides first, and then watch a few minutes of the talk.
    the Loops '05 conference is the main one this year for nonstring QG.

    For string there is the Strings '05 conference and especially the great 2-hour panel discussion about the present situation and future prospects of string theory. the good thing it is by and large STRING THEORISTS TALKING TO STRING THEORISTS instead of to highschool/college students, or to the public and the media. the first hour is a series of My Vision of the Future talks by 6 or 8 panelists and not terribly helpful but the second hour is questions and remarks from the audience, with responses from other audience, panel, and moderator. A lively IN-HOUSE discussion---very few outsiders in evidence.
    Here is a thread about that Strings '05 video:
    At the same website you can also download individual talks IIRC, or see short summaries.

    If you want examples diversity in QG research, there are precious few in the US: there is Penn State (and to a lesser extent LSU and UC Riverside). So mostly you have to go outside the US: to see this for yourself, look at the places that the participants at Loops '05 came from

    A lot of them, you can see, came from Germany France and the UK, also a bunch from Canada---where you see "Perimeter Institute" that means Canada. Also people from Holland, Italy, Spain, India, China, Latin America.
    ========from here on its rant, sorry==========
    Out of 156 participants, I count 11 from US institutions. And the main advances in nonstring QG are being made in places outside the US. So we are talking 7 percent of the bodies but not even 7 percent of the weight when it comes to results.

    And there has been a REVERSE BRAIN DRAIN----a number of the major figures among those 156 people USED to be at US universities but for career reasons went to Perimeter (Canada) or Berlin or Marseille or London or Utrecht (Holland). Because you just dont get a job in the US, if you do nonstring QG. If you are a teacher, even if you get a faculty position yourself how are you going to support your postdocs and your grad students? People need to work together. So they leave.

    Rovelli and Smolin, for instance, left. they can have more colleagues and grad students and postdocs to work with where they are now, than if they stayed in the US.
    So the US is shooting itself in the Quantum Gravity foot.

    And all it would take is diversifying the theory sections of a few major departments. A modest redistribution of theory research funding.
    =======end of rant======

    Anyway take a firsthand look. Dont take my or anyone's word, make up your own mind. Look at the list of participants at String '05-----high percentage of people from US: normal in any academic line of research. I counted 148 out of I think around 450 some----over a quarter in other words---roughly 30 percent.
    Not a mere 7 percent. I think that is probably at the root of the dissatisfaction many have with string in the US.
    That and it seeming to be bogged down---long time no see experiment.
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2005
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