Witten remains a strong string theory believer

  • Thread starter ensabah6
  • Start date
  • #26
RUTA
Science Advisor
Insights Author
1,158
259
BTW I guess you noticed that the title of the thread is laughable. The Forbes account gave no evidence to support it. Nor did the journalist even state an opinion about the man's state of belief. Nobody but the thread author is pretending to be able to look into a scientist's head and gauge the strength of his belief.

What one can truthfully report (as some try to) is based on the talks people give at major conferences, what their current research emphasis is---the objective signals. With top people (whose casual comments may in part be merely politic) watch what they do.
I could ask his dad, who was my thesis advisor, but I'm sure he's bothered enough by questions about Ed :smile:
 
  • #27
marcus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
Dearly Missed
24,738
785
The reason I'm skeptical is based on what I know from a friend who is going to speak at Pitt on the adversarial relationship between the solid state and high energy physics camps. ... promised me some quotes in support :smile:
Wow! This is great. I will be really interested to hear what he comes up with.

I could ask his dad, who was my thesis advisor, but I'm sure he's bothered enough by questions about Ed :smile:
Louis Witten! RUTA you are gold. I mean as a source of insight and information. Let me take a moment to regain composure.
 
Last edited:
  • #28
318
0
Witten won a Fields Medal (Nobel Prize of math) and I understand his IQ is estimated at over 200. Clearly, he's a genius. But, Witten's accomplishments and brilliance don't convince me that string theory is physics.
Saying something is wrong or a waste of time is one thing, but don't you think it's a little over the line to claim an opposing idea is "not physics"? I mean, is it physics to keep pursuing grand unification when there's not necessarily any reason to expect it to happen, other than the whole aesthetics/symmetry line of thought? Is it physics to keep pursuing physics at all, beyond the standard model? Shouldn't we just quit, until some insurmountable contradiction presents itself? It would seem that the meaning of "physics" is a bit broad. Has to be. Or people wouldn't still be doing it at this point.

Also, arguments like this severely damage the public image of science. The argument over whether this major branch of physics is physics has led a lot of laymen to believe that physics is all silliness and no one knows anything anyway. They equate "string theory is not physics" with things like "healing touch is not physics", and assume that therefore, pseudoscience theories are on about the same footing as cutting-edge physics. This completely false popular idea has led a lot of people down a dark path. I wish physicists could tone down the rhetoric and be a little more accommodating of each other, if only for appearance's sake.

That's nice if you have the funding! Most young researchers must follow the money.
WOW, you are a cynic! If that's true, I wonder what's wrong with their brains? Why would someone whose only interest is "following the money" major in physics, of all things? Why not law or business or medicine? By the same token, petroleum engineering must be the most popular branch of engineering! Heh.

Sure, money is probably a draw. I think the bigger draw is the popularity and attractiveness of the idea. Blame Brian Greene for that. So, write a popular book on LQG or something. And don't make it all just a big, unattractive rant about your enemies, like Smolin did, but an actual book that explores the concept of LQG alone. That might get you the kind of positive attention you want.

If String Theory is BS, I doubt seriously that it will survive another 30 years. People do get bored eventually.
 
  • #29
marcus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
Dearly Missed
24,738
785
... a little over the line to claim an opposing idea is "not physics"? ... equate "string theory is not physics" with ...
Xezlec, you are rambling incoherently. RUTA did not claim that "string theory is not physics".
He indicated that he might not be convinced it was physics. To be in doubt is a legitimate position.

And what he actually said was that so-and-so's accomplishments & brilliance did not convince him---who could reasonably object? The brilliance of a practitioner does not by itself validate a practice.
 
Last edited:
  • #30
RUTA
Science Advisor
Insights Author
1,158
259
Wow! This is great. I will be really interested to hear what he comes up with.
I'm curious, but of course Anderson's is just one opinion and, from what I understand, a very biased opinion at that.

Louis Witten! RUTA you are gold. I mean as a source of insight and information. Let me take a moment to regain composure.
Louis was a great advisor and I'm in his debt for taking me as a grad student, especially since I refused to do string theory. I consider him a friend, so I'm trying to be respectful. Capiche?
 
  • #31
MTd2
Gold Member
2,028
25
Louis was a great advisor and I'm in his debt for taking me as a grad student, especially since I refused to do string theory. I consider him a friend, so I'm trying to be respectful. Capiche?
Why is it surprising of him taking you as a advisor? He is Witten, but not Ed. :confused: Btw, could you try to reach Edward and convince him to post here?:blushing:
 
  • #32
RUTA
Science Advisor
Insights Author
1,158
259
Saying something is wrong or a waste of time is one thing, but don't you think it's a little over the line to claim an opposing idea is "not physics"? I mean, is it physics to keep pursuing grand unification when there's not necessarily any reason to expect it to happen, other than the whole aesthetics/symmetry line of thought? Is it physics to keep pursuing physics at all, beyond the standard model? Shouldn't we just quit, until some insurmountable contradiction presents itself? It would seem that the meaning of "physics" is a bit broad. Has to be. Or people wouldn't still be doing it at this point.
Some people have said string theory is worth doing because it's "pretty mathematics" even if it turns out to be wrong. Pretty mathematics is worth doing as a society, but I'm not sure to what extent it should be funded by the physics community.

WOW, you are a cynic! If that's true, I wonder what's wrong with their brains? Why would someone whose only interest is "following the money" major in physics, of all things? Why not law or business or medicine? By the same token, petroleum engineering must be the most popular branch of engineering! Heh.

Sure, money is probably a draw. I think the bigger draw is the popularity and attractiveness of the idea. Blame Brian Greene for that. So, write a popular book on LQG or something. And don't make it all just a big, unattractive rant about your enemies, like Smolin did, but an actual book that explores the concept of LQG alone. That might get you the kind of positive attention you want.
Many people major in physics because it's of interest to them, only after they graduate do they concern themselves with finding work. At that point, they must follow the money unless they have other sources of food, medicine, housing, etc. I saw an interview with Duff last night in which he said he lost prospective grad students who told him they were going to do string theory instead because of post-grad job prospects. I can't tell you how many times I've heard students say they were looking into X because of funding prospects. It's a factor.

A major concern from those not doing string theory is whether or not string theory is being funded properly. Is it being funded in the right context (physics instead of math)? Is it being funded to a degree commensurate with its success (as opposed to promise)? Should the physics community continue investing research positions so heavily in string theory (given its history of unfulfilled promises)? In all cases where resources are distributed disproportionately, society eventually demands accountability. Rightfully so, in my opinion.
 
  • #33
RUTA
Science Advisor
Insights Author
1,158
259
Why is it surprising of him taking you as a advisor? He is Witten, but not Ed. :confused: Btw, could you try to reach Edward and convince him to post here?:blushing:
He was working and publishing with Ed. Why would he agree to mentor someone infinitely dumber? In GR instead of strings at that? I must've caught him on a good day :rofl:

Ed wouldn't respond to Woit, why would he respond here? :smile:
 
  • #34
marcus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
Dearly Missed
24,738
785
RUTA, capisco!

MTd2, be reasonable! We are small fry here, there is no room for the big fishes. :smile:

BTW MTd2 don't underestimate the importance of having a relativist guide your development. The rumpus and loggerheads of recent years has a lot to do with particle physicists, blinded by their own brilliance and success, being unable to see things from a GR perspective. Being unable to ask what space is, or in what sense it exists at all, but building fields on it as if they knew. Would you have, back in 1987, done a thesis in GR/cosmology? Yes, now twenty years later, I know you are speculating that Matt Visser (a relativist) would be a good advisor. We have grasped that understanding the new physics of 1915 remains, in a way, the biggest item on the agenda.
 
  • #35
marcus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
Dearly Missed
24,738
785
RUTA, here's a question that has been on my mind, in case you feel comfortable responding on this topic. You mentioned emergence---and the word has so many different meanings. For me Emergent Gravity basically means whatever approaches to QG were gathered and reviewed at the EG4 conference in Vancouver last month. (Some of which I only dimly grasp.) Broad diversity, a lot of newcomers.

On the other hand, Wikipedia has a (possibly misleading) article on the Weinberg-Witten theorem of 1980 which portrays the W-W as defense against "emergent physics" and we are given to understand this includes "emergent gravity".

Because the same word, "emergent", was used, an uncritical reader might conclude that the 1980 W-W, which dealt with particle physics in the QFT setting, applies to 2009 emergent QG approaches. Do you see any connection?

My understanding is that the W-W was a no-go for certain particles to be composite. It may have ruled out preons under some circumstances. The geometric venue was SR's static Minkowski space. So it seems to me naive to imagine that today's emergent QGs, which don't use conventional QFT particles defined on conventional Minkowski space, are subject to W-W and therefore must get an excuse in order to "avoid" it. But maybe it's not! Any comment? Can you clarify this at all?
 
  • #36
apeiron
Gold Member
2,013
1
The reason I'm skeptical is based on what I know from a friend who is going to speak at Pitt on the adversarial relationship between the solid state and high energy physics camps.
What about Robert Laughlin's "A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down". Is that having any impact? Swallowed by the waves as far as I could tell.

The battle here is really between two views of causality. The atomists who believe that all nature can be constructed from fundamental components, and the systems thinkers who believe that nature involves two kinds of fundamental - the local atoms, but also the "emergent" global forms. (And then in advanced systems literature, even the atoms become emergent - the whole shebang becomes boot-strapping).

String theory ran into a landscape of solutions because it was not building in the necessary top-down constraints on that variety - the selection rules. QM also ran into problems (even though the naked formalisms worked beautifully) because the theory lacks top-down constraints. Zubek and decoherence are an attempt to supply those now.

And you could say Einstein fixed Newton by supplying the global constraints to atomistic mechanics.

There is a schism and it is never well enough understood to get fixed.
 
  • #37
MTd2
Gold Member
2,028
25
BTW MTd2 don't underestimate the importance of having a relativist guide your development.
Does Louis want to corrupt GR as Matt Visser? :)

Talking about people with interesting ideas, did you see the last paper from t'Hoof on arxiv? He came up with a new way to derive a quantum mechanic system from a deterministic classical system, using cellular automata:

http://arxiv.org/abs/0908.3408
 
  • #38
318
0
Xezlec, you are rambling incoherently.
Wow. Ouch. Well, I guess that's my cue once again to try and stay out of the "deep end" of PF in the future.

RUTA did not claim that "string theory is not physics". He indicated that he might not be convinced it was physics. To be in doubt is a legitimate position.
I never meant to imply that his position was illegitimate. I was just advocating for a softer wording than questioning whether something is physics. I was trying to suggest that questioning whether it is useful or a good expenditure of resources would cover most of what he (and others like him) are trying to say without emboldening crackpots so much. I could be wrong.

I'm not a physicist, but I think physics is a Good Thing, and I'm just saying this is one of those subjects that makes it hard for me to convince people to listen to physicists when it comes to statements of fact about physical reality. But, OK, if the situation in physics really is so bad today that a large proportion of professional physicists are not really physicists anymore, then I guess there's no helping it. Those crackpots may have gotten hold of a kernel of truth this time that I can't touch.
 
  • #39
marcus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
Dearly Missed
24,738
785
... I was trying to suggest that questioning whether it is useful or a good expenditure of resources would cover most of what he (and others like him) are trying to say ...
I think you are right. What you say sounds very reasonable and I think it's a good way to put it.
You are highlighting the question of tone---how something is said.

There is also the question of where it is said. I'm not sure but I think you may be hinting at that too.

It would be nice if controversial matters in the science community could be dealt with behind closed doors, so that taxpayer confidence would not be undermined and (as you phrased it) crackpots would not be encouraged.
It would be nice if research allocation controversy could be handled internally and an outward appearance of unity could be maintained.

But that did not happen. The public was sold a String Mythology in the 1990s. The Millennium is at hand. We are the TOE. Witten is the greatest genius since whoever. We are the one best hope for unification. We will realize Einstein's dream. We are the only game in town. We have discovered the fabric of the cosmos. The Brian Greene books and TV specials. Outreach teaching material for highschoolers. (This was a shocker: feeding unproven theory to teenagers.)

I think the moral is, ultimately, don't go out selling Expectations to highschool teenagers and the general reading public until you actually have something real to back it up. It can undermine credibility longterm and damage science.

Once you take overhyped promotion out into the public forum then the ensuing debate has to occur partly in the public forum. Or?

Anyway, you sound like quite a reasonable person--maybe you have some views on this: The theoretical physics leadership in the US has made a costly blunder, how can this now be corrected? You point out the immeasurable value of doing things quietly without a lot of fuss and acrimony. It could be that the whole proceedure could be carried out at the level of NAS committees and NSF advisory panels. Like some National Academies of Science and Engineering committee that one scarcely ever hears of and immediately forgets what the letters stand for. And like HEPAP, the high energy physics advisory panel. And within the hiring committees and tenure committees of all the physics departments at all the major universites.

If you want, try to think this through with me. A possible model is what happened in Europe starting around 2006, the year that Smolin's and Woit's books came out. The EU has something called the ESF (european science foundation) that corresponds to our NSF.
They moved rapidly and effectively to set up funding agencies and support networks for nonstring QG. One directorship went to John Barrett at Nottingham, another went to Renate Loll at Utrecht. The Humboldt Foundation began assigning large grants to young nonstring QG researchers enabling the young grantee to actually set up a research team and bring in other young researchers. Two people I've watched since they first got their PhD's got such grants and will now lead their own groups at the Albert Einstein Institute near Berlin. The ESF is funding conferences, workshops, and oneweek intensive schools aimed at enabling young researchers to get into various types of nonstring QG.
As far as I can tell John Barrett's "QG-network" has been especially effective. The increase in nonstring QG activity since 2006 has been quite remarkable.
EDIT: I document some of this in post #44.

And (european) string theorists have begun attending these conferences, workshops, schools instead of keeping exclusively to themselves. Some string theorists actually attended the Planck Scale conference in Breslau this summer instead of going to Strings 2009 in Rome.

But I'll bet you didn't hear any fuss. Nobody was whining or vituperating. The ESF simply took decisive action. String is not the only game in (Europe) town.

That is one model of how a scientific establishment can cope with an ex-fad or ex-bubble situation. You might like that better. I think it is a good model, and does not involved hanging the laundry out in public.

I think that probably Smolin and Woit's books, which as I recall were reviewed and debated first in the UK (before here) and found their way into the European market, probably helped the ESF take timely action. But that is one of the things we can't determine. The books themselves don't need to occasion acrimony. Each makes a thoughtful case. You can read and decide for yourself. You only have a noisy war if someone thinks that the books, and their authors, and all the approaches to quantum gravity that are not string, must for some reason be attacked.

In Europe there was no need for a nasty scene, or for any loss of credibility, because by 2007 the establishment had already acted in a full and timely manner.
 
Last edited:
  • #40
318
0
Thanks, that's an interesting perspective. Maybe part of the moral of this story is that it's better to engage the public by explaining what is already firmly known than to try and sell the cutting edge to the masses? The only problem is that most non-scientists I know are way more interested (or think they are) in what science doesn't quite know yet than in what it does. Maybe that's an unhealthy bias on the part of the public.
 
  • #41
marcus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
Dearly Missed
24,738
785
... The only problem is that most non-scientists I know are way more interested (or think they are) in what science doesn't quite know yet than in what it does. ...
Yessss!!! This is human nature exactly. It makes a better story. If there is still a mystery that one can share with the scientists, and still a live curiosity pursued while we speak, that is so much better. This seems entirely healthy. So what we have is a clear dilemma. I do not see an immediate solution.

I still think that the ESF was very smart to take strong corrective action in 2006. They moved with enough weight that the individual physics departments in the different universities could "get the message", and change their seminar schedule/hiring plans in line with the new direction in funding.
People began to listen to each other more, go to each other's conferences, have less "camp" psychology.
The change is not great and wonderful, it is moderate and OK. But it would have been worse if they didn't do something. And get ahead of the public before the public knew very much.
 
Last edited:
  • #42
415
12
I....credibility, because by 2007 the establishment had already acted in a full and timely manner.
As an european string physicist, I can only say what you say this is terribly wrong, so utter fantasies, is it for real or a parody? The amount of desinformation you keep on disseminating here is staggering. Why do you do this?
 
  • #43
marcus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
Dearly Missed
24,738
785
The things I report are a matter of public record. Here for example is
http://www.maths.nottingham.ac.uk/qg/AboutQG.html
The Quantum Geometry and Quantum Gravity Research Networking Programme of the European Science Foundation

Established sometime in 2006. In March 2007, it began funding conferences, workshops, travel, and schools for beginning researchers at the PhD student and postdoc level.
It's activities have made a big difference.
The board of directors includes string theorist Hermann Nicolai, one of the more influential EU theoretical physicists (and I believe one of the most far-seeing and constructive).
I give him and Ingemar Bengtsson (also on the board) a lot of credit for the change that has taken place.
http://www.maths.nottingham.ac.uk/qg/
==quote==
Contributing Countries

The programme is funded by:
Austria: Austrian Science Fund (FWF)
Belgium: Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS)
Croatia: Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts
Germany: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (MPG)
Poland: Polish Academy of Sciences
Portugal: Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT)
Spain: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, (CSIC) Ministerio de Education y Ciencia (MEC)
Sweden: Swedish Research Council (SR)
Switzerland: Swiss National Science Foundation, (FNSNF)
UK: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, (EPSRC)

Other European countries may join the network. If you are interested in making an application for your country to join, please contact the chair, John Barrett.
==endquote==

EDIT: This is provided to flesh out general statements made in post #39
 
Last edited:
  • #44
marcus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
Dearly Missed
24,738
785
This is something that did not exist before 2006. Here are some names of some people of vision whose decisions have made a significant difference in the research picture in fundamental physics in the past 3 years.

http://www.maths.nottingham.ac.uk/qg/AboutQG.html
==quote==
Management

The programme is coordinated by the European Science Foundation and a steering committee with the following members:

Harald Grosse (Austria)
Glenn Barnich (Belgium)
Larisa Jonke (Croatia)
Hermann Nicolai (Germany)
Jerzy Lewandowski (Poland)
Roger Picken (Portugal)
Victor Aldaya (Spain)
Ingemar Bengtsson (Sweden)
Juerg Froehlich (Switzerland)
John Barrett (UK), Chair
Thomas Thiemann (advisory expert)
Carlo Rovelli (advisory expert)
Mauro Carfora (advisory expert)
==endquote==

This is a matter of record. If there is any disinformation, please contact the webmaster at the Uni Nottingham website :biggrin:

The first funded activity took place in March 2007---the QG School at Zakopane. Two of our PF members were PhD students at that school. I remember how happy they were. Here is a list of QG events funded by the QG network which the ESF set up.

EDIT: This dramatic increase in ESF-funded activity is what I was talking about in post #39

==quote==

Supported Workshops:

Noncommutative Field Theory: Vienna, 26-29 November 2007. Organiser: H. Grosse

From Quantum to Emergent Gravity: Theory and Phenomenology, SISSA Trieste, Italy, 11th-15th June 2007. Organiser F. Girelli

Balkan Workshop 2007: Section on Noncommutative field theory and Noncommutative gravity. Donki Milanovac, Serbia, 2nd-9th September, 2007. Organiser Goran Djordjevic.

Noncommutative Deformations of Special Relativity: ICMS Edinburgh, 7th-12th July 2008. Organiser B. Schroers.

Loops and Foams: Zakopane, Poland, 3-9 March 2008. Organiser: Hanno Sahlmann

Quantum Gravity Colloquium (QGC4): Golm, Germany, 6-8th May 2008. Oganiser: Frank Hellmann

Noncommutativity and Physics--Quantum Geometries and Gravity: Bayrischzell, Germany, 16-19 May 2008. Organiser: Peter Schupp

Workshop on Continuum and Lattice Approaches to Quantum Gravity: Sussex, UK, 17-19 September 2008. Organiser: Daniel Litim

Second Workshop on Quantum Gravity and Noncommutative Geometry: Lisbon, 22-24 September 2008. Organiser: Aleksandar Mikovic

The Planck Scale: Wroclaw, Poland, 29 June-3 July 2009. Organiser: Jerzy Kowalski-Glikman

Conferences:

Quantum Gravity and Quantum Geometry, Nottingham, UK, June 30th - July 4th 2008. Organiser: J. Barrett

Supported Schools:

The First Quantum Geometry and Quantum Gravity School, Zakopane, Poland, March 23 - April 3, 2007. Organiser: J. Lewandowski

New Paths Towards Quantum Gravity: Holbaek, Denmark, 12th-16th May, 2008. Organiser, G. Esposito

The Second Quantum Geometry and Quantum Gravity School: Corfu, September 13 - 20th, 2009. Organiser: G. Zoupanos
==endquote==
 
Last edited:
  • #45
RUTA
Science Advisor
Insights Author
1,158
259
RUTA, here's a question that has been on my mind, in case you feel comfortable responding on this topic. You mentioned emergence---and the word has so many different meanings. For me Emergent Gravity basically means whatever approaches to QG were gathered and reviewed at the EG4 conference in Vancouver last month. (Some of which I only dimly grasp.) Broad diversity, a lot of newcomers.

On the other hand, Wikipedia has a (possibly misleading) article on the Weinberg-Witten theorem of 1980 which portrays the W-W as defense against "emergent physics" and we are given to understand this includes "emergent gravity".

Because the same word, "emergent", was used, an uncritical reader might conclude that the 1980 W-W, which dealt with particle physics in the QFT setting, applies to 2009 emergent QG approaches. Do you see any connection?

My understanding is that the W-W was a no-go for certain particles to be composite. It may have ruled out preons under some circumstances. The geometric venue was SR's static Minkowski space. So it seems to me naive to imagine that today's emergent QGs, which don't use conventional QFT particles defined on conventional Minkowski space, are subject to W-W and therefore must get an excuse in order to "avoid" it. But maybe it's not! Any comment? Can you clarify this at all?
Sorry for the delay, marcus. And I'm sorry but this is out of my (tiny) realm of expertise.
 
  • #46
marcus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
Dearly Missed
24,738
785
Sorry for the delay, marcus. And I'm sorry but this is out of my (tiny) realm of expertise.
That's fine I think the suggestion that 1980 Weinberg-Witten was a no-go for today's QG approaches was probably baloney similar to the "LQG violates Lorentz" story.
 
  • #47
Haelfix
Science Advisor
1,950
212
Marcus, please stop posting this sociological nonsense.

It
1) Has nothing to do with BtSM physics.
2) Mischaracterises the oftentimes nuanced opinions of the immense majority of researchers in the field, including what Edward Witten of all people actually believes.
3) Reignites internet fog about the socalled 'string wars', which frankly never actually took place in Academia to begin with and mostly has to do with a few controversial popular books, that managed to ignite furor amongst laymen.
4) Isn't even accurate in the first place.
 
  • #48
marcus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
Dearly Missed
24,738
785
I came in to this thread at post #12 because it seemed to me that the statement made informally in Edge magazine by Nobel laureate Philip Anderson was being taken out of context, and misinterpreted.

I may have been wrong about that. RUTA has reason to think what Anderson wrote in 2004 describes the stand he would take today. But I think we should allow some discussion of historical context. Here's my post #12.

Atyy, keep in mind the context of Philip Anderson's remark. It was at the end of 2004 when the string community seemed dominated by Susskind's anthropic point of view. The idea was to give up on the quest for a predictive testable theory of nature---assume things are loosely constrained by the fact that we are here, physics is accidental like the fact that there happen to be 9 planets, or "environmental", just pick a beautiful theory that compats with past experimental results.

Strings 2005 at Toronto was organized by people who accepted the Susskind line. But at one point discussion moderator Steve Shanker called for a show of hands vote of the whole meeting and about 3/4 of the rank and file rejected the accidental or "environmental" or anthropic approach. They wanted to continue trying to explain why things have to be this way. The leaders had gone anthropic but the rank and file refused to follow. Shanker was on mike and said "holy sh*t!" when he saw the show of hands.

By 2008 the leadership had swung the other way. The organizers of Strings 2008 did not invite any "String Landscape" speakers. Nobody talked about the 10^500 vacua. Susskind was not even there.

Anderson's remark was made at the height of a serious struggle to preserve the foundations of traditional science. When he implied that people (like Weinberg momentarily, like Wilczek briefly) who had compromised with the Landscape talk were "abandoning a 400 year old Baconian tradition" he was nailing the coonskin to the wall. It was time to take a stand and he was doing that.

What happened was Edge magazine (not a scholarly source!!) encouraged a bunch of creative scientists from many fields to answer the question What do you believe but can't prove? In other words the editor John Brockman challenged them to risk baring their hunches, dared them to make statements which they could NOT support as scientists, that they would not otherwise make in public. On newyears Jan 2005 several score answers were published by Edge. They were very interesting. Two princeton guys, Philip Anderson and Paul Steinhardt, came our fiercely against String Landscape, against giving up the fundamental science quest and saying it's just an accident which vacuum state. They came out against the prevailing views of the string leadership, which characterized string at that time. But did not characterize it later, like in 2008.

So I think that Philip Anderson's statement---his answer to the Edge Newyears 2005 Question, must be understood in that context. It has nothing to do with other approaches to quantum gravity. Because the leadership of the nonstring QG community had not for a moment suggested that it would be OK to have a theory that was not falsifiable. In that community they had not gone anthropic. They still held to the doctrine that a scientific theory must be empirically testable and not stand by beauty alone. They were not threatening to redefine the science enterprise. So Anderson was not talking to them. He was laying dire Anathema on whatever of the top string people were straying down Susskind's path. I think it helped save the situation.

Steinhardt used more words and made this plainer. There was less chance of misunderstanding the message (as you seem to have done with Anderson.)

I think now the Landscape biz is doornails that these guys would feel no urge to fulminate in exactly this way.

The key sentence is: "It proposes that Nature is the way we would like it to be rather than the way we see it to be." Well it was the leadership in 2004 who were proposing to go party with nontestable theories, if they looked attractive. It was the leadership, not an intrinsic property of the string formalism to be "proposing" this. Anthropery was not intrinsic to the formalism, it was a philosophical "out". Anthropery was merely Susskind's bright idea to save the program---something he thought up when he heard about the KKLT paper's 10^500 vacua. It was a philosophical dodge he took in 2003, and which gained ground for a year or two.
I'm still interested in what RUTA may be able to dig up about this. An associate of his has reported on a condensed matter/high energy physics disagreement which I for one would like to hear about.

I too am skeptical of the rather journalistic "string wars" phrase. However there was quite a controversy going on before 2006 well before the two books came out. There may actually be real physics issues (since the controversy was mainly among academic physicists) underlying it. And there have been very substantial changes in the funding and level of activity in nonstring QG which occurred after 2005. I think there may be physics reasons underlying this.
Percentagewise, since the base before 2005 was quite small, I believe I can show by objective counts that there has been a remarkable increase in the number of conferences, jobs, workshops, published papers, postdocs etc. I would also like to point out the extent to which string researchers are attending conferences/workshops in which there is mixed participation. What I see happening is more along the lines of a "getting together" rather than a "wars". I think this has some real physics grounds, which I would argue have been recognized by the ESF directorate. Basically this is good news, I think, and deserves to be understood and reported.
 
Last edited:
  • #49
apeiron
Gold Member
2,013
1
Marcus, please stop posting this sociological nonsense.

It
1) Has nothing to do with BtSM physics.
2) Mischaracterises the oftentimes nuanced opinions of the immense majority of researchers in the field, including what Edward Witten of all people actually believes.
3) Reignites internet fog about the socalled 'string wars', which frankly never actually took place in Academia to begin with and mostly has to do with a few controversial popular books, that managed to ignite furor amongst laymen.
4) Isn't even accurate in the first place.
Science sees these kinds of careerist bandwagon effects all the time. So finding some kind of objective measures of the mood swings - as Marcus does with his literature counts - is a valuable self-critical exercise.

I've seen similar bubble economics in artificial intelligence during the 1970s, evolutionary psychology during the 1990s.


As I've argued, both strings and loops are different faces of one camp anyway - the belief in fundamental smallness. Condensed matter physicists would be one face of an opposing camp, one which also believes in fundamental largeness. Form as well as substance.

But the systems alternative is not even on the radar it seems, despite support over the years from the likes of Gell-Mann, Davies and - sort of - Smolin.
 

Related Threads on Witten remains a strong string theory believer

Replies
1
Views
820
  • Last Post
Replies
22
Views
5K
Replies
14
Views
2K
  • Last Post
Replies
4
Views
6K
  • Last Post
3
Replies
68
Views
6K
Replies
28
Views
10K
Replies
0
Views
2K
  • Last Post
Replies
4
Views
4K
Replies
2
Views
717
Top