10,500 vacua!

According to today’s New York Times, “string theory allows for a vast number – 10,500 – of possible ‘worlds’ wth different self-consistent sets of laws and constants.” If 10,500 is “vast”, I wonder what 10500 is? I also wonder how long it will take for the news to get through that actually this number is infinite, which is somewhat bigger than “vast”.

The Times piece is an extract from a recent Scientific American article on variable constants of nature. It also includes the standard claim that M-theory is “the best candidate for a theory of everything”, but perhaps an editor is editorializing by pairing this with the news from an astrologer that Saturn is going from Cancer to Leo and Mars is in Taurus. At least the astrologer is able to make predictions: “Many born during this summer of ’05 … will impact the world greatly in years to come.”

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31 Responses to 10,500 vacua!

  1. Kea says:

    “Lubos Motl and I would imagine pretty much everyone who works on string-m-theory (i.e witten randall susskind) would disagree with you”

    Somehow I don’t think so.

  2. dan says:

    “This simply isn’t possible. Nature is far more sublime than this simplistic and overly classical view.”

    lubos motl and i would imagine pretty much everyone who works on string-m-theory (i.e witten randall susskind) would disagree with you. obviously if the world as it exists in itself is NOT 11D SUSY then all the *physics* work on string-m theory is a waste, but at present we have no way of knowing/testing for that. of course the same can be said of non-SUSY spin networks/spin foam.

  3. Kea says:

    “what if the world as it exists is 11-dimensional SUSY and our world is one example of an actual Calabi-Yau manifold of 10^500 possible examples”

    This simply isn’t possible. Nature is far more sublime than this simplistic and overly classical view.

  4. dan says:

    here’s a what-if question i have for anti-stringy

    — what if the world as it exist is 11-dimensional SUSY and our world is one example of an actual kalabi-yau manifold of 10^500 possible examples, and that particles are 1-D strings vibrating in 11D as described by the mathematics of string theory.

    wouldn’t this scenario justify continued research into string theory for as long as there is physics?

    of course, i’ve read lubos motl’s objections to LQG on his website, and the same what-if applies there (what-if space-time is only 4d non-SUSY, and is described on the planck scales as discrete spin networks would justify continued research into LQG despite its current difficulties)

  5. Anonymous says:

    quoted

  6. Alejandro Rivero says:

    Phys.Lett.B149:351-356,1984 is sometimes quotes as the initial commentary on axions in string field theory.

  7. Anonymous says:

    thanks for the correction, you were right. it now looks to me like 5 landscape talks

    Frederik Denef, Rutgers University
    Constructions and distributions of string vacua (review talk)

    Michael Dine, Santa Cruz Insitute for Particle Physics
    Branches of the Landscape

    Michael Douglas, I.H.E.S., Rutgers University
    Is the number of string vacua finite?

    Shamit Kachru, SLAC, Stanford University
    A classical type IIA landscape

    Fernando Quevedo,University of Cambridge
    Exponentially large extra dimensions and soft supersymmetry breaking in type IIB flux compactifications

    Plus add to that Susskind’s which is one of the two public lectures, to get an overall idea of what sort of showing.

  8. Peter Woit says:

    Well, presumably Denef will be talking about the landscape since that is what he has been working on. And Quevedo’s work is also part of the KKLT program, see
    http://www.arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/0505252

    The only other talks related to particle physics unification are Arkani-Hamed’s and de Roeck’s. de Roeck isn’t even a string theorist and presumably will have nothing to say about string theory. Unless Arkani Hamed has figured out some way of using string theory to say what will happen at the LHC, his also won’t be about string theory.

    So, the only talks that actually involve the idea of using string theory for particle physics unification are the landscape ones. Possible exceptions are Witten, depending on what he has to say about string theory axions, and Yau, who presumably is talking about non-Kahler backgrounds, something which would really make the number of backgrounds infinite…

    Looks to me like string theorists have de facto given up on using string theory to do particle physics unification, with the only people still pursuing this the crazies lost in the landscape.

  9. Anonymous says:

    in String 05 programme the title of Arkani-Hamed’s talk has been posted as about the state of “HEP in year 2010”, so not explicitly about landscape but more about impact of future experimental results, presumably.

    so now I count 36 titles and only 3 are explicitly about landscape.

    I think I counted 44 speakers, with 8 titles “TBA” and so 36 titles listed and only 1/12 of them about landscape.

    of course there is the hoopla public lecture by Leonard Susskind with a title to whet the itch of religious curiosity, but that is in the media window of string, which I think is different from the talks.

  10. D R Lunsford says:

    Dear F. Uckoff,

    What do you find remotely interesting? There isn’t a single idea in the entire lot. It’s the pounding of hammers on a steel plate.

    -drl

  11. Anonymous says:

    To continue the “content analysis” of Strings 05 lineup, the breakdown could be that, while a few are in Landscape, many of the others are in Escape

    in other words, to avoid thinking about basic problems, which are a headache, think about black holery/cosmology instead, or read Lord of the Rings.

    I counted only three titles about Landscape (out of the 35 titles listed so far)

    Michael Dine, Santa Cruz Insitute for Particle Physics
    Branches of the Landscape

    Michael Douglas, I.H.E.S., Rutgers University
    Is the number of string vacua finite?

    Shamit Kachru, SLAC, Stanford University
    A classical type IIA landscape

    admittedly there are the 8 remaining TBA talks, some of which could turn into landscape, like

    Nima Arkani-Hamed, Harvard
    TBA

  12. Peter Woit says:

    I don’t know Douglas personally, and I wasn’t accusing him of “making up” stuff he doesn’t believe in. I have no reason to believe that he is cynically saying one thing and believing another.

    But, you can read about the last time I saw him in person here. I think the fact that he is pursuing a research program that has no plausible hope of ever producing a prediction of anything means that he is doing pure pseudo-science, and the fact that many others are joining him in this is extremely disturbing. And I don’t think this is a minority opinion in the physics community. I’ve found very few string theorists willing to defend what Douglas is up to. People like David Gross and Lubos Motl have made their views about this publicly known, and many, many others privately feel the same way.

    Douglas is not the only one whose utter refusal to acknowledge the failure of the string theory has led him to work on things that make absolutely no sense. He, Susskind, and others though, have gone beyond just the standard string theorist’s wishful thinking and have completely abandoned the usual norms of what it means to do science.

  13. Kyle says:

    That’s funny, I read “Well, Douglas has to either come up with a reason for the number to be finite…” to mean that there has recently been an argument that the number is actually infinite, and he’ll have to have a better argument to make his case.

    That seems less like a strong acusation and more like common sense to me.

  14. Chris Oakley says:

    I’m not sure about that, Fyodor. Cosmology is more a topic of conversation for those participating in the use of banned substances rather than an exact science.

  15. Fyodor Uckoff says:

    “they are all bullshit nevertheless”

    What struck me about the list of titles was how interesting many of them look. Unlike the dreary drivel that is posted here whenever PW goes on holiday and the lunatics take over the asylum.

  16. D R Lunsford says:

    Good point, _____. Those papers are not about string theory, but they are all bullshit nevertheless. Getting shed of strings will not solve very much.

    -drl

  17. M says:

    Many people who read what you said will read it as: “Oh, of course he will MAKE UP SOMETHING rather than admit what he did was a failure.” I think this is a very strong accusation, and if it is not one you want to make, you should be more careful.

    I agree this would be a strong accusation, if that were what Peter is implying. It is certainly possible interpret his words that way, but such an interpretation would itself be a form of accusation that Peter is carelessly assuming Douglas has less-than-noble motives. Implied accusations can work both ways…

    Assuming that Douglas will probably prefer a rationalization over admitting his program is wrong just seems like a recognition of common human nature — if you have invested a lot of time, energy and professional “capital” into a program, it can be very hard to admit to yourself that it was a mistake, and usually even harder to say it to others. It is very human to believe and rationalize what one wants to believe, and recognizing that is a far cry from implying questionable ethics. And so far, Douglas hasn’t seemed to openly question the idea of statistically “analyzing” the landscape, at least that I have heard…

  18. Anonymous says:

    that other anonymous saidMany people who read what you said will read it as: “Oh, of course he will MAKE UP SOMETHING rather than admit what he did was a failure.” I think this is a very strong accusation…
    heh heh now we have an argument amongst the nameless, because I think what other anonymous says sounds silly. Landscape is speculative mush, so IMO there is no chance for someone to distort findings. no way can one impute reprehensible scholarly misconduct to anybody.
    Mike Douglas seems to me (on admittedly very little clues) to be a totally nice sincere person and I attribute to him scholarly integrity in spades, but the whole thing is so iffy that how could he NOT look on the bright side and emphasize reasons to hope it’s finite.

  19. Anonymous says:

    “Well, Douglas has to either come up with a reason for the number to be finite, or admit that the research program he has promoted heavily for the last couple years is a complete failure. I’m guessing he’ll go for the first alternative.”

    May I ask if you know Douglas in person? Or, more to the point, what you think of his academic integrity? Do you think he honestly explores and says what he thinks is true, or do you think even when he thinks something doesn’t work, he spins things in a way that would make string theory good?

    Many people who read what you said will read it as: “Oh, of course he will MAKE UP SOMETHING rather than admit what he did was a failure.” I think this is a very strong accusation, and if it is not one you want to make, you should be more careful.

  20. Torbjorn Larsson says:

    Nitpicks: “good we are halfway there” – is of course correct in orders of magnitude if they started out at ~ 1 watt (not Watts; see SI measures).

  21. Anonymous says:

    I did some “content analysis” (simple counting) of the titles of the talks on the String 05 program. 43 speakers were listed but 8 titles were TBA leaving 35 titles of talks.

    Of these 35, a rather large number seemed to be about cosmology, or about black holes/rings. So I counted those up and they came to 14.

    In other words 40 percent of the scheduled talks were about black holes or some cosmic topic. Many had appealing titles like Strominger “Fun with Black Holes” and Tye “Wavefunction of the Universe”. In case anyone might be interested, here are those 14 titles:

    Melanie Becker,University of Maryland
    M-theory Cosmology

    Iosif Bena, UCLA
    Geometric Transitions, Black Rings and Black Hole Microstates

    Atish Dabholkar,Tata Institute of Fundamental Research
    Going Beyond Bekenstein & Hawking Exact and Asymptotic Degeneracies of Small Black Holes

    Henriette Elvang,UC Santa Barbara
    Black rings

    Gary Horowitz, University of California Santa Barbara
    A new endpoint for Hawking evaporation

    Renata Kallosh, Stanford
    String cosmology and the index of the Dirac operator

    Per Kraus, UCLA
    Attractors, Anomalies, and Black Hole Entropy

    Joseph Polchinski , KITP, UCSB
    Update on cosmic strings

    Ashoke Sen, Harish-Chandra Research Institute
    Extremal black holes in higher derivative gravity

    Eva Silverstein, SLAC, Stanford University
    The Tachyon at the End of the Universe

    Andrew Strominger, Harvard
    Fun with Black Holes

    Henry Tye, Cornell
    Wavefunction of the Universe

    Erik Verlinde, ITF, Universiteit van Amsterdam
    A Matrix Big Bang

    Bernard de Wit, Institue for Theoretical Physics & Spinoza Institute, Utrecht University
    Supersymmetric Black Hole Partition Functions

    Here is the full list:
    http://www.fields.utoronto.ca/programs/scientific/04-05/string-theory/strings2005/speakers.html

    I suppose the above count could be meaningless, or it may simply confirm what has already been said as regards shifting emphasis in string research.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Quantoken wrote: “God is not capable ot doing that, since he created just one universe”

    You know this for a fact? 🙂

  23. Quatoken says:

    Anonymous said “I can only assume that everyone at the New York times is mathematically illiterate and don’t know what 10^500 actually means”

    Most people ARE mathematically illiterate in failing to appreciate how big 10^500 actually is, that include any one who may believe there is a difference between 10^500 and infinity. 10^500 is a finite number in strict mathematical sense, but for all practicality purpose that is physically meaningful, 10^500 IS an infinity, and there is physics difference between the two.

    To appreciate how big the number is, let say we just do a simple enumeration and simply list all the 10^500 vacuas, each entry costs one English letter to list. How big will the entry book be, will it be larger than the Encyclopedia Britannica?

    The answer is the total quantum information the whole universe can register is merely 10^120. So even if we turn the whole universe into a huge quantum memory chip, it is 10^380 times short of just to enumerate the list of possible vacuas. It would take 10^380 universes just to do that. Even the almighty God is not capable ot doing that, since he created just one universe.

    So string theory ceased to have any remote connection to science once up to 10^500 different vacuas were proposed to be possibly “exist”. Go to the other 10^380 universe to research it. Our universe is simply pitifully too small to allow the kind of crap like 10^500 vacuas.

    Quantoken

  24. Anonymous says:

    10,500 is a lot of vacua! I can only assume that everyone at the New York times is mathematically illiterate and don’t know what 10^500 actually means! Would not surprise me in this day and age.
    I remember hearing about a some idiot senator commenting on a ‘star wars’ laser system. He was told they had a system that currently operates at 10^4 Watts or something like that but for actual defence purposes would have to be 10^8 Watts (don’t know the exact numbers), to which he replied, “good we are halfway there”. Don’t know if this anecdote is true but it probably is.

  25. Peter Woit says:

    Well, Douglas has to either come up with a reason for the number to be finite, or admit that the research program he has promoted heavily for the last couple years is a complete failure. I’m guessing he’ll go for the first alternative.

    But from everything I’ve heard, he makes the number of vacua finite by introducing a cut-off, and one expects things then to depend strongly on the cut-off. The interesting question will be whether he has a plausible argument for cut-off independence.

    Also note that a couple years ago the big question he and others were pursuing was “how many vacua?”: if the number was 10^100 that was good, if 10^500 that was bad (no predictions possible). Now he seems to have given up on that and is worrying about finiteness. I predict that at Strings 2007 he’ll speak about “Is the number of string vacua countably or uncountably infinite?”

  26. Anonymous says:

    Douglas is going to give a talk called

    Is the number of string vacua finite?

    The word I hear is that the answer is going to be, effectively, *yes*.

  27. Anonymous says:

    The tentative programme schedule for July 11-16 “Strings 05” has now been posted. However so far it just gives the speakers’ names without titles of talks:

    http://www.fields.utoronto.ca/programs/scientific/04-05/string-theory/strings2005/program.html

  28. FineStructure says:

    I wonder when people would realize the difference between 10,500 and 10^500. I wonder which of the prediction would turn out to be correct. I predict none

  29. Anonymous says:

    Poor english. The word “fanatic” does not necessarily mean crackpot. I would call anyone who has spent a considerable amount of time on a particular subject a fanatic.

  30. JC says:

    I’ve always wondered what makes a particular topic attractive to fanatics, whether it’s astrology, Marxism, Ayn Rand, string theory, supply-side economics, evangelical Christianity, extreme Islam, etc … The only common feature I can think of in these particular topics of interest to fanatics, is that they all seem to promise and/or portray a precise worldview “vision” of some sort. It’s as if the particular topic’s “doctrine” is portrayed as a concise map to a “promised land” of some sort, whether metaphorically or literally.

    In the real world, most things seem to be a lot more uncertain and messy to deal with. (“Utopia” is rarely ever found in this world). Fanatics in general don’t seem to be attracted to things which cannot be viewed in a “black and white” manner. They don’t seem to like subjects which requires one to view things in “shades of grey”.

    Awhile ago I read Eric Hoffer’s book “The True Believer – Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements”, which discusses the mindset of fanatics and the dynamics of the mass movements they run.

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