Various Links, Latest From Kaku

Seems like everyone is getting a MySpace site, first Michio Kaku, now GLAST.

There was a conference this past week in Madrid honoring Nigel Hitchin’s 60th birthday. The program is here.

The latest issue of Nature has an article by Barry Mazur about recent progress on the Sato-Tate conjecture due to Mazur’s Harvard colleague Richard Taylor and collaborators. My meager understanding of this result is that it involves extending the Taniyama-Shimura-Weil conjecture from the case of the two-dimensional representation of GL(2) to symmetric powers of this representation.

Mark Trodden and Christine Dantas both have well-done reviews of Alex Vilenkin’s Many Worlds in One, which I wrote about here. Mark implicitly compares the book very favorably to Susskind’s recent one promoting similar ideas. I kind of disagree with him about the book, feeling that, no matter how well done, promoting to the general public science consisting of highly speculative ideas that seem to be untestable is not a good idea. It’s true that the multiverse cannot be simply dismissed on the grounds that one can’t directly observe it, but if the idea is to be considered part of science one has to come up with some way to test it. So far no one has been able to come up with a plausible proposal for how to do so, and there are solid arguments that this is inherently impossible.

[In the comment section Mark writes in to correct me, saying that he just contrasts Vilenkin’s attitude to that of others, and was not referring to Susskind’s book, which he hasn’t read.]

Update: A commenter points out that on his MySpace site Kaku has posted a copy of a forthcoming article by him that is supposed to appear in New Scientist. It is about the controversy over string theory, but doesn’t at all deal with the criticisms of the theory contained in my book and Smolin’s. It does contain a thoroughly dishonest paragraph about me, misrepresenting my position at Columbia (Kaku is well aware than I am a faculty member and teach graduate courses here, as well as administering the department computer system), and describing me as a “former particle physicist” (he’s well aware I have recently written a book on the subject of particle physics and continue to conduct research on the subject; then again, many people consider him to be a “former particle physicist”). He ascribes my criticism of string theory to jealousy over having been turned down for tenured positions at prestigious universities in favor of string theorists, and misquotes something I wrote about string theory:

String theory has only a “poetic relationship” to reality.

I never have said or written anything like this. He is misrepresenting a point I made in the book that string theory is a quite complex mathematical structure that only has a very distant relationship to musical notes and vibrating physical strings:

Once one starts learning the details of ten-dimensional superstring theory, anomaly cancellation, Calabi-Yau spaces, etc., one realizes that a vibrating string and its musical notes have only a poetic relationship to the real thing at issue.

The paragraph about me is dishonest and misleading, and so is much of the rest of the article. Kaku claims that string theory is being criticized because it cannot be directly tested by observing vibrating string modes. Critics of string theory are well aware that many theories can only be indirectly tested, and the arguments we are giving are about lack of any predictions at all. He describes five “indirect tests of string theory”, neglecting to mention that string theory makes no definite predictions about what the five kinds of experiments being described will actually see. In particular, his claim that “string theory makes specific, testable predictions about the physical properties of dark matter” is simply untrue.

Some of the article is devoted to criticizing “media hype”, and a “spoiled society, always demanding immediate results”. Given his own role over the last twenty years in over-hyping and over-promising results from string theory, this is kind of funny to read. In the end, his response to the critics is similar to that of Susskind: less than honest ad hominem attacks, misrepresentation of criticism, and insistence that any evaluation of the success or failure of string theory be postponed to the far distant future, at a time when he will no longer be around.

[Note: Michio Kaku has had this article removed from his web-site, explaining to me that it was a very preliminary draft, without any fact checking, which was never meant to see the light of day]

Update: From Stanley Deser, perhaps the shortest arXiv theory paper ever.

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67 Responses to Various Links, Latest From Kaku

  1. Benni says:

    Suesskind has told me in Munich, that “Witten hates the Landscape of String Theory because we cannot get predictions from it”

  2. Jeremy says:

    I find myself increasingly unhappy with Dr. Kaku the more I hear him speak in public as I get older. I knew how he was personally from a family connection and I can’t mesh the personal with his large public profile.

    After A Brief History of Time, one of my earliest popular physics books was Hyperspace, which I enjoyed very much as a child. However, after rereading it last year, I actually found it quite disappointing, filled with ephemera and run-through with torrid poetic descriptions.

    I looked up his television appearances on YouTube about six weeks ago and just had to laugh at the situations he put himself in. From speculative fiction to futurist, his commentary was so filled with mayhap and possibility. More humour than anything else. I didn’t understand why, with the kind of mind and content he’s supposed to have, that’s what he was coming up with.

    And the “preliminary” version of his article very much got my head scratching. While obviously my opinion of him as a popularizer and scientist has changed over the last few years, I never once thought of him as mean. I can understand the need to respond to challenges, and the desire to scar opponents, and even those thoughts coming to the fore, but to actually write that down for publication and have it go online is disappointing to me.

  3. Alejandro Rivero says:

    De Broglie was also majored in history, wasn’t it?

  4. TheGraduate says:


    You said “very few people are following Witten in the direction of his latest research interest, relating QFT and the geometric Langlands program.”

    I was curious about the mathematical background of the string theory community. OF what does the typical mathematical education of a string theorist consist ? It seems as if they cover more ground than even most mathematicians.

  5. TheGraduate says:

    Let me rephrase my previous question a bit. Do most string theorists have the mathematical background to contribute to relating QFT and the geometric Langlands program?

  6. Peter Woit says:


    The mathematical background of string theorists varies widely, from no more than that of your average non-string theorist particle theorist to quite a lot more. But very few do have the background to work on the geometric Langlands stuff Witten is working on. To be fair, extremely few mathematicians themselves have the background necessary to follow the mathematics involved.

  7. Sebastian Thaler says:


    You will probably enjoy Monday’s edition of the comic strip THE FLYING MCCOYS:

  8. dan says:

    “in the above link, Witten writes: “And where critics have had good ideas, they have tended to be absorbed as part of string theory, whether it was black-hole entropy, the holographic principle of quantum gravity, noncommutative geometry, or twistor theory”.

    did he forget LQG or preon theory?

  9. A.J. says:

    Three comments in one:

    One for dan,

    did he forget LQG or preon theory?

    I don’t think Witten is unaware of the existence of these theories.

    One for stupid:

    People who don’t like DARPA-funded projects probably should avoid using the internet.

    One for Peter:

    I enjoyed the book. Thanks! (I guess further commentary belongs on some other thread.)

  10. dan says:

    one for AJ “I don’t think Witten is unaware of the existence of these theories. ”

    He hasn’t embedded LQG or preon theory into string theory AFAIK.

    I wonder if Witten’s apparent ignoring of LQG/Preon theory is like Einstein’s pursuit of unified field theory in a time when he ignored quantum field theory and the standard model was being formed.

    Incidentally Peter, as a particle theorist, since strings is an obvious failure, how promising do you think preon models such as the Sundance model is, to explaining the standard model, possibly simplifying it, and then relating it to spin foam LQG?

  11. PW, do you think that the many universes proposed by “eternal inflation” relate to the landscape?

  12. Peter Woit says:


    Unlike the case of Einstein, in Witten’s case there is no analog of the great advances in quantum theory and quantum field theory that Einstein was ignoring. Idea about preons, etc. are still extremely speculative, a long way from something solid.


    “Eternal inflation” is the mechanism that anthropic landscapeologists generally assume will populate the landscape.

  13. Gumbi says:

    Do you consider it a factual matter whether we live in an anthropically-selected landscape universe? That is, is it a question of fact whether the laws of physics which govern our universe have this nature, that there are very many or even infinitely many parallel universes, and we live in one that is compatible with our biology? Or can physicists choose the laws of physics, and if they find the landscape unpalatable or frustrating, they can choose different laws of physics for our universe to be governed by?

    In other words, what if the landscape is true but unprovable, and physics as we know it has in fact reached its end? Is this possible, or can physicists prevent it from happening by their efforts and research?

  14. Peter Woit says:


    It’s true but unprovable that our universe may just be a simulation in a computer run by a higher intelligence, but speculating about this is no more science than the anthropic landscape. Until now the scientific method has done very well as a way to learn more and more about the universe in a reliable way, and I think will continue to work, although the difficulty of doing higher energy experiments does make things tougher. I certainly see no need to do what many of the landscape people are doing, abandoning the scientific method for no good reason.

  15. Jason says:

    Re: Trouble with Physics and Not even wrong.

    I may have missed something, but I notice that unfortuntely Peter indexes Lee but Lee does not behave but reciprocally. Too bad especiallly from theorists who have in common their seeking attention outside the stringy mairnstream. How lame is that. Get it together, you guiys.

    PS Not that there’s anything wrong with lameness.

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