The Princeton Center for Theoretical Science has been having a mini-symposium on the string theory Landscape, and as part of this today hosted a “panel discussion” on the topic. It turns out that there’s not a lot of support for the Landscape in Princeton.
Michael Douglas was the only real Landscape proponent in evidence. He gave a presentation on the state of Landscape studies, beginning by noting that landscapeologists keep finding more possible string vacua. Evidently the 10^500 number always quoted for the number of semi-realistic vacua is no longer operative, with latest estimates more like 10^(10^5) or higher. Douglas acknowledged that this pretty much removes any hope of making predictions by using experiment to fix this freedom and end up with non-trivial constraints. All that’s left is the idea of doing statistical calculations, but there the problem is that you don’t know the measure. He ended up mainly talking about cosmology, partly about the hope that maybe cosmology would constrain the possible vacua, as well as going over various ideas for putting a measure on the space of vacua. None of this really seems to lead anywhere, with all proposed measures having a rather ad hoc character. Douglas advocated just trying to count all vacua with the same weight, since at least one might hope to calculate that.
Tom Banks began by claiming that the effective field theory picture used in the landscape is just not valid. He also pointed out that if the landscape arguments were valid, the landscape would be disconfirmed by experiment, since 10-20 of the Standard Model parameters are unconstrained by anthropics, but take unusually small values, not the random distribution one would expect. Banks takes the attitude that the CC probably has an anthropic explanation, but not particle physics or the SM parameters. He also attacked the usual claims that different vacua are all states of the same theory, arguing that they instead correspond to different theories. Finally, he pointed out that the one prediction that landscapeologists had claimed they would be able to make, the scale of SSYM breaking, hadn’t worked out at all (Douglas now acknowledges that this can’t be done).
Nati Seiberg then argued that, as one gets to deeper and deeper levels of understanding of particle physics, one might reach a level where the only explanations are environmental and have to give up. He sees no reason for that to be the case now, with the main problem that of EWSB, and nothing to indicate that anthropics has anything to do with the problem. Rather, the problem is there because we haven’t had high enough energy accelerators (the LHC should change that), and the problem is hard. He ended by saying that the appropriate response at the present time to anthropic arguments like the Landscape is to just ignore them.
The last speaker was Nima Arkani-Hamed, who I suppose was chosen as a proponent of anthropics. He didn’t live up to this, saying that he pretty much agreed with Seiberg. Like Banks, he finds the anthropic explanation of the CC a plausible reason for why no one has come up with a better idea. He did say that thinking about anthropics and the Landscape has led people to look at some possiblilities for particle physics that otherwise would not have been examined. About the cosmological issues brought up by Douglas, his opinion is that there’s probably no point to thinking about these questions now, doing so might be like trying to come up with a theory of superconductivity in 1903. As far as EWSB goes, he believes the LHC will show us a non-anthropic explanation for its scale.
He explicitly attacked the discussion of measures that Douglas had engaged in as “not fruitful”, saying that he didn’t see any “endgame”, that it was wildly improbably that these could predict anything about particle physics. He also doesn’t see why our vacuum should be typical, joking that some of the least typical people in the world (Linde was mentioned) are most devoted to claiming that our universe is typical. He went on to argue for the currently fashionable enterprise of studying S-matrix amplitudes, arguing that looking at the local physics embodied in Lagrangians was no longer so interesting, that instead one should be trying to understand questions where locality is not manifest.
Finally, Arkani-Hamed ended with the statement that string theory is useful as a way to study questions about quantum gravity, but “unlikely to tell us anything about particle physics”. This is an opinion that has become quite widespread among theorists, but news of this has not gotten out to the popular media, where the idea that string theory has something to do with the LHC keeps coming up.
So, all in all, I found myself in agreement with most of the speakers. On another positive note, the math and physics book collection at Labyrinth (which has replaced the U-store bookstore) has improved dramatically.