Quite a few people have written in to point out to me a recent paper by some condensed matter physicists about the possibility of trapping a fermionic atomic gas in a vortex inside a Bose-Einstein condensate. As far as I can tell, about the only thing this has in common with superstring models of quantum gravity and elementary particles is that their abstract starts the same way as many superstring abstracts: “Supersymmetric string theory is widely believed to be the most promising candidate for a ‘theory of everything'”. This article has gotten wide attention in the press and on the internet at Slashdot which informs us that this will “(provide) the first experimental evidence to support superstring theory.” At Slashdot you can also read comments from large numbers of confused souls who now believe that experimental confirmation of superstring theory is right around the corner. Obviously this is about as absurd as believing that the existence of my shoelaces provides excellent experimental confirmation of the existence of open strings.
Another weird related phenomenon is the wide-spread idea that violin strings somehow have something to do with superstring theory. For some reason it always seems to be violin strings rather than, say, electric guitar strings. Maybe string theory would be more popular if it would make the connection with a more popular music form. The violinist Jack Liebeck has been going around with physicist Brian Foster, with Liebeck giving concerts in which he “demonstrates superstring concepts on his violin.” The performance ends “with a duet for two violins in which lecturer and soloist join forces to illustrate the production of mini Black Holes” at the LHC. I really think an electric guitar would be a lot better for this purpose.
These performances are taking place at dozens of locations around the world, are somehow part of “World Year of Physics 2005”, and supposedly educating people about science. They invoke the memory of poor Albert Einstein, implying that he has something to do with superstring theory since he played the violin and searched for a unified theory. Unfortunately Foster and Liebeck don’t seem to be coming to New York, although they were at Cornell this past weekend.
Along the same lines, for something truly weird, get a copy of Einstein’s Violin: A Conductor’s Notes on Music, Physics and Social Change, by Joseph Eger, the music director of the Symphony for United Nations. This book, besides also invoking poor Einstein, goes on in an extremely repetitive fashion about how superstring theory shows that music and fundamental physics are all the same thing. Eger has all sorts of original insights including for instance:
“Science had its heyday during Sputnik and then gradually faded until the eighties, when string theory came to the fore.”
“Religious fundamentalists, big business, and politicians, especially of the neo-conservative variety, have been quick to appropriate quantum mechanics and a perversion of the new music to sell their fundamentalist religion, anti-Darwin ideologies, and biological nightmares.”
“On this cosmological scale, and since we are postulating that the universe is music and that music expresses and explains the universe, then we can take the next logical step, that music could hold the key to a T. O. E.”
Evidently Witten is guilty of at least not discouraging the author, a sin for which I hope he is punished by having to read this book:
“One day in the eighties, driving with Ed to New York from Princeton, he responded to my question about what he was working on by excitedly telling me about string theory and its ten or more dimensions. Bewildered yet emboldened by this brilliant scientist, I tentatively spoke of my theory that the universe is made of music. Half expecting polite derision, he thought for a few seconds and calmly responded affirmatively.”