Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2003 13:49:29 -0500 (EST)
From: Peter Woit
To: igor.bogdanov
Subject: Re: String theorist

Dear Igor and Grichka Bogdanoff,

Thanks for your e-mail, I was interested to hear your views about
some of these matters, some of my thoughts follow.

> I. We have read your papers about string theory. As you have noticed we
> are not part of this field and do not share the targets and methods. We
> could not agree more with your conclusions that string theory has no
> connections with real world.
I'm glad to hear we agree about this. I understood that you are not
working in the field of string theory and that the ideas you are
pursuing are quite separate. The dominance of string theory over the last
twenty years has been such that just about everyone, no matter what they
are doing, feels they have to try and relate it to string theory somehow.

> II. We are trying to open new roads. As you know, our main purpose is to
> understand and describe the initial singularity of spacetime. We think
> we do not contradict any physics when we claim that initial singularity
> does not belong to the realm of physics. As far as we can see, it is a
> pure mathematical object. For this reason, we have applied TQFT to bring
> a workable solution. Our model is quite simple :
> 1. Scale > Planck scale (physical world) : lorentzian metric
> 2. Scale between 0 and Planck scale (quantum gravitity world) :
> superposition between lorentzian and euclidean metrics
> 3. Scale 0 (Topological world) : euclidean metric
> In fact, we use quantum groups theory to describe this very speculative
> domain which lays beyond physics (see our paper on arXiv "A New Cocycle
> Bicrossproduct by Twisting" : it is a pure mathematical result, but we
> have extract of it a frame wchich could describe the signature
> fluctuation at the Planck scale). That's the reason why we do not
> unerstand the very unfair critics concerning our works clearly described
> by us as mathematical.
> Indeed, what is wrong with this approach? We would be very happy to have
> your comments on this topic.

Let me explain my reaction to what I've read of your work, partly
because I suspect my reaction is one shared by many others.

A large part of your work has to do with quantum groups
and I'm not an expert in this
field. It's certainly possible that you have some new worthwhile results
on quantum groups but to be able to quickly understand the significance of
what you have written on this topic and how it relates to what was
previously known requires an expertise that only a handful of people in
the world have. In principle many more people could evaluate this, but it
would require a lot of time to familiarize oneself with the existing
quantum group literature and to understand exactly what you are doing.
People are busy and are very unlikely to be willing to do this unless they
see a good reason to invest the needed time.

The thing that I've spent a lot of time studying and that I'm fairly
expert in that is part of what you are doing is TQFT. The parts of
your published papers that deal with TQFT are extremely imprecise and
unclear. In some cases, to the extent that you seem to be making
a precise statement it appears to be wrong. This leaves me and
many readers of your paper in the following position:

1. We can see vaguely the idea you want to pursue.

2. When you actually start to try and explain more
precisely the idea, the part that we think we should be able
to understand, for instance the TQFT part, is
so unclear that we don't know what exactly you are

3. Now we have to decide. Do I do a lot of hard work
trying to figure out some way in which what they are
saying actually makes clear and precise sense?

For just about everybody the answer is going to be "no". You're
asking the reader to start doing serious and difficult
research level work, just in order to try and understand
what you are trying to say. In essence you're asking the reader
to do your work for you.

The whole issue of the Euclidean vs. Minkowski nature of space-time
is a very interesting one and may ultimately be important in
understanding many things, including the nature
of the initial singularity. I've thought about some of this, and
have my own vague ideas about what is going on. When I try and
follow yours, the lack of clarity quickly makes this impossible.

So my general reaction to the approach you describe is not that
it is obviously wrong, but that you need to make it much more
precise and clear than you do in any of your publications before
anyone can tell whether this is an approach that will be

The reason I got involved in this "affaire" is that it seems
increasingly clear to me that twenty years of string theory,
including the recent fad for "string cosmology", have
left the whole field of theoretical physics in a very dangerous
state. One symptom of this seems to me to be the way in which
the referees of your papers kind of threw up their hands and
didn't do what they should have, which is to challenge you
to make your ideas much clearer so that you
and the rest of the community can see whether your approach
is going to go anywhere or not.


Finally, let me say that from what I've seen your reaction
to all the criticism you have received seems to me admirable in that
you appear to be trying to respond to your critics in a positive way
by trying to clarify and better understand the ideas at issue. I hope you
continue to do this!

Best wishes,