Running Scared

Last Wednesday night, a paper appeared on the arXiv that spelled very bad news for the whole “Landscape” scenario of how to get physics out of string theory. This paper produced what appears to be an infinite number of possible vacuum states for string theory, ruining hopes for getting predictions out of the Landscape by doing a statistical analysis of vacuum states.

Tonight a new paper by a prominent Landscapeologist (Michael Dine) has appeared. The abstract gives no hint of trouble, claiming evidence of “distinctive predictions for the structure of soft breakings”, but the beginning and the end of the paper tell a different story. The second paragraph of the paper admits that the infinite number of states destroys this research program, but deals with this by saying that the author will just ignore the problem for now:

“If this (infinite number of states) is true, many of the ideas discussed in this paper will have to be reconsidered…. the discussion of this paper will be predicated on the assumption that the number of relevant states in the landscape is finite and naive statistical ideas can be applied.”

In the paper’s conclusion, Dine states:

“There are many ways, as we have indicated, in which the ideas described here might fail. Perhaps the most dramatic is that the landscape may not exist, or alternatively that there might exist infinite numbers of states, whose existence might require signficant rethinking of our basic understanding of string theory and what it might have to do with nature.”

I’m looking forward to Dine and others finally getting around to “rethinking what string theory might have to do with nature”. It’s about time.

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55 Responses to Running Scared

  1. Anonymous says:

    “No – that is the territory of the has-beens, crackpots and cranks who post here.

    What–here? Well I never.

    Meanwhile, back in the real world, there are plenty of string theorists who don’t work on the landscape. And in fact don’t believe in any of the statistical stuff.

  2. Chris Oakley says:

    Stringlover is neglecting to mention one important thing: if you work for Enron and don’t like the corporate culture you can always go and work for someone else, doing the same job in a (hopefully) less annoying environment. OTOH if you are a young theoretical HEP researcher the choice now is virtually to either work on string theory or get out altogether. Enron also had the bullshit-defeating requirement to make money, a requirement that few are going to have difficulties understanding. But if the “top” HEP theorists are going round saying that the Landscape is the best thing since sliced bread, few among the general public are going to be able to prove them wrong. No – that is the territory of the has-beens, crackpots and cranks who post here.

  3. Stringlover says:

    Everybody following the progress of string theory
    must see the excellent documentary “Enron: The
    Smartest Guys in the Room”. The title only gives
    a hint that it really tells the story of string
    theory, but the parallels between the Enron
    phenomenon and string theory are so remarkable that
    we can only expect string theory to share Enron’s
    fate. It’s on at Lincoln Plaza, which is within
    walking distance of Columbia if you like walking.

    Anyway, it all starts off with a great accounting
    idea called “Mark to Market”, in which you assume
    that the great idea that you have will work just
    fine, and write down in your accounting books
    that you already have the profit you expect to
    make. Great! Record profits straight away –
    the investors love it.

    Step two: Lots of talking directly to the public;
    press releases, reviews in magazines saying that
    your company (or theory) is fabulously successful.

    Step three: Create a macho atmosphere in which
    everybody involved in the company (theory)
    constantly talks about how smart they are. The
    public love it; everybody agrees that these guys
    are the most intelligent geniuses ever to walk
    the Earth. Suggesting that this might not be
    the case is immoral.

    Step four: Make the leaders of the whole
    project objects of hero worship – they’re the
    smartest guys in the room. Einstein had nothing
    on them.

    Step five: Realise that perhaps some of things
    that you had earlier announced were sure
    to work out are not working as well as you had
    planned. Call another press conference and tell
    them that everything is working even better than
    you had hoped. Privately realise that you’ve
    staked too much on this to back out now.

    Step six: Be aggressive and insulting to people
    who doubt your claims that your project is
    the greatest success in history. There was
    an excellent scene where Jeff Skilling gets
    asked “How does your company make its profits?”,
    and responds with “If you’d done your homework
    you’d know how stupid that question is.” To
    another guy who asks “Why is it that every
    company apart from yours can produce a balance
    sheet, but with you we just have to trust you?”,
    Jeff calls him an asshole and hangs up.

    Step seven: Finally acknowledge that the project
    is unsustainable. Declare bankruptcy and go to
    jail.

    Well, string theory is up as far as step six,
    from what I can see. From the string theorists
    that I know who’ve moved to Wall Street, I
    can say that string theorists seem to fit
    in very well in an Enron-style environment,
    and have just the right mixture of technical
    ability, the inclination to soak up ideology
    and follow glorious leaders to the promised
    land, and macho insistence that since they’re
    so extraordinarily clever, they could never
    be wrong, that the future looks quite grim
    for them.

  4. JC says:

    Any bets on what people will be talking about at the Strings 2006 conference?

  5. Pingback: It's equal but it's different

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