Various and Sundry

  • I recently spent some time looking at old postings on this blog, partly because of writing this blog entry, partly because Gil Kalai got me a copy of his book Gina Says. For a moment I thought this would be a good time to write something about the “String Wars”, but then decided that project should wait for another time. I did go quickly through old postings (there are 1660 of them…) and pick out a small subset that might be more worth reading for anyone with time on their hands. A list is available by selecting the category Favorite Old Posts.
  • Another category of blog posts that includes many that I spent more time than usual writing is that of Book Reviews, of which there are 93 here (about ten of these were written for publication elsewhere). Among the forthcoming books I’m hoping to write about are Sabine Hossenfelder’s Lost in Math, and the fifth volume of Raoul Bott’s Collected Works (listed at Target under “test prep and study guides”). Some other forthcoming books are Sean Carroll’s Something Deeply Hidden, and a new book by Brian Greene that I know nothing about other than this.
  • A debate various places on Twitter about science journalism and accuracy included this from neuroscientist Chris Chambers, who explains that when he looked into this he discovered what I’ve often seen in physics reporting: the source of hype is more often scientists and their press releases than journalists.
  • The nLab project has been joined by the even more exciting mLab project (some discussion here).
  • This semester MSRI is running a program on enumerative geometry, with two workshops so far, materials here and here. A lot of this subject has been influenced by ideas from physics, in particular from topological quantum field theories. While my Columbia colleague Andrei Okounkov has been on leave this year, he’s written two excellent surveys of some recent work, see here (for the ICM) and here. For older surveys from him, see here and here.

Update: I hear of yet another book in progress: Lee Smolin on realist approaches to quantum foundations, tentative title “Beyond the Quantum”.

Update: Today (February 12) the Harvard Physics department is hosting a celebration of the centennial of Julian Schwinger.

Update: One of the prize possessions of my youth was a copy of Abramowitz and Stegun, a huge Dover paperback version of their reference tome Handbook of Mathematical Functions. Physics Today has a long new article about the twenty-first century version of this, the Digital Library of Mathematical Functions, now a project run by the NIST.

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8 Responses to Various and Sundry

  1. anon says:

    The nLab is big. There is the abstract stuff, but there is also some quantum field theory, for instance (takes a while to load, though, is pretty large).

  2. Shantanu says:

    Peter , OT: An article in economist about failure to detect proton decay.
    (I cannot read the full article, but am sure you have access to it)

  3. a1 says:

    I thought that you might be interested to read:
    “String theory is a quantum theory of gravity. Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity emerges naturally from its equations….”

  4. Peter Woit says:

    That’s a nice article, much of it very similar to the story I wrote about in chapter 10 of “Not Even Wrong”. I quite agree with the final sentiment:
    “If mathematics and physics are in so many respects in equipoise, then the differences between them may be less a matter of their content than their technique; and that, in the end, they serve to show that there is only one reality to which they both appeal.

    Wouldn’t it be lovely to think so?”

  5. Shantanu says:

    Peter something else :
    John’s ellis talk on still believing super-symmetry at Joe Silk’s 75th birthday fest

  6. Timothy says:

    Check out this nice talk from Nima Arkani-Hamed, entitled “The Doom of Space Time”. He turns into quite the comedian at 1 hour 40 minutes into the talk, citing “violins, chellos, Nova specials.” Great explanations about how space-time must be emergent and offers an intro to his own stab at the problem.

  7. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks, hadn’t seen that before. I confess though that it’s still unclear to me why spacetime “must” be emergent, and what it is supposed to be emerging from. Back in the good old days when people were talking about quantum gravity I could tell exactly what their quantum gravity theory was, nowadays I often have no idea what the actual theory being discussed is.

  8. Peter Woit says:

    I took a longer look at the Arkani-Hamed talk. It’s the usual story he has been telling for about ten years now, that new ways of computing scattering amplitudes in terms of volumes and combinatorics of geometric objects indicate a grand synthesis, in which spacetime and quantum theory will be emergent notions. He just doesn’t yet know what that grand synthesis is. For an insightful comment from him about these kinds of claims, see this posting

    and this quote:
    “So, usually I’ll get up when I talk about scattering amplitudes and give a long introduction about how spacetime is doomed, we have to find some way of thinking about quantum field theory without local evolution in space time and maybe even without a Hilbert space and blah-blah-blah. This is all very high-falutin stuff, this is stuff that Lance wouldn’t be get caught dead saying. I think none of these guys would ever say something that sounds so pretentious, but I have to say it, you know I have to say it, because this is the only way I can get up in the morning, and like “I suck again, OK, here we go, I’m doing it because spacetime is doomed, I swear to God, right”.”

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