Various and Sundry

  • General Relativity and Gravitation has a special issue on quantum gravity, available here.
  • Some out-takes from photographs taken for the recent Forbes article are here. You can see what part of my office looks like…
  • I haven’t regularly been following the TV show Big Bang Theory, which features a main character (Sheldon) inspired by Lubos Motl. Someone who has is Bad Astronomer Phil Plait, who is interviewed here, with the following exchange:

    Alan: My geek barometer question for the Big Bang Theory is, Do you ever pause it and look at the board and try to decipher the equations?

    PP: I don’t need to pause it, just a quick glance. Actually, it’s all really advanced stuff, like string theory and more. Actually I don’t think it’s string theory because Sheldon said some nasty things about string theory in the past. But I never really understand it. There’s some other things that they’ve got in there that I recognize.

    I assume Phil is just confused, but if things have gotten to the point that Sheldon is saying nasty things about string theory, it’s really in trouble…

  • Physics World has two interesting interviews by Matin Durrani on-line, one with CERN Director General Rolf Heuer, the other with CERN head of communications James Gillies.

    One topic discussed by Heuer is CLIC, and CERN’s hope to be the place where the next generation electron-positron collider gets built. Here’s a recent presentation about CLIC’s status. If one were the wildly optimistic sort, one could see R and D on this finished next year, a complete design by 2016, construction starting in 2018 and first beam in 2025.

  • Even further down the road than CLIC would be a muon collider. Fermilab now has a web-site devoted to the topic.
  • You might want to keep up with the activities of the Bogdanovs here.
  • John Hagelin’s Global Financial Capital of New York (or someone they sold to recently) seems to be selling its building, which includes 3 stories configured as luxury apartments. $45,000,000 and it’s all yours. For some more of Hagelin’s activities over the last few years, there’s this.
  • The New York Times Book Review has a nice review of the recent biography of Dirac I wrote about here, which is now out in the US.
  • If, unlike Dirac, you prefer your spinors real, there’s a very interesting review article in Nature by Frank Wilczek, entitled Majorana Returns. I hadn’t realized that these things now seem to be finding a place in condensed matter physics and even quantum information processing.
  • This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

    24 Responses to Various and Sundry

    1. Phil’s confused. Sheldon (Jim Parsons) is a strong proponent of string theory. He’s repeatedly slammed recurring character Leslie (Sara Gilbert) for her advocacy of loop quantum gravity.

      And actually there’s plenty of equations on the boards that are on the level of quantum field theory, or even just some integral identities (ostensibly in the service of QFT). But they are all reasonably accurate, especially when you consider that this isn’t even a sci-fi series, but a straightforward situation comedy.

      One particular exchange deserves pointing out. One morning Sheldon wakes up, walks past his board, and is pulled back by the recognition that the direction of an inequality has been changed. He expresses outrage, at which point Leslie (who has evidently stayed the night with Sheldon’s roommate) wanders in and says, “Oh yeah, I did that. Now your quarks are free at high energies” (or something similar), which is actually reasonably close to what the change would do.

    2. Veronica Mars says:

      Yeah, I allways check what’s on the board! 😀
      And no, he never said something bad about string theory, as far as I remember.

    3. I follow the show pretty closely, always try to read the equations, and have never heard Sheldon bad mouth strings.

    4. chris says:

      John Armstrong,

      i’d love to see ‘t Hoofts reaction to that particular joke 🙂

    5. Kevin says:

      Who cares what a stupid and unfunny TV show like “Big Bang Theory” says? It’s not even worth mentioning.

    6. onymous says:

      Yeah, I allways check what’s on the board! 😀

      As if Veronica Mars would misspell ‘always’.

      The odd thing was that in the bit where Sheldon is slamming loop quantum gravity, you can see on his whiteboard in the background that there’s something about the Immirzi parameter.

    7. Thomas Larsson says:

      LM did some work on the Immirzi parameter. So maybe he is the model for Sheldon after all 🙂

    8. The Vlad says:

      The Motl paper contains a sentence starting with a lovely phrase that I don’t recall seeing in a scientific paper before:

      “Morally speaking, the perturbation…”

    9. Adam Helfer says:

      This use of “morally” definitely exists in a subsector of physics and mathematics. I believe Michael Atiyah and Raoul Bott used it, and I recall some around them using it. I wonder if to some degree Atiyah was influenced by his brother Patrick, a legal scholar whose work on torts inevitably touches on the issue.

    10. Coin says:

      The article about the CLIC requires some sort of CERN account to view it.

      How does the CLIC fit into the sort of overall scheme of collider plans? Like, how does it compare to the ILC? Wikipedia’s page on the CLIC says it would be like the ILC but run at a higher energy. What is the reasoning for building the ILC then? Is the idea that the CLIC is just the ILC’s successor?

    11. Peter Woit says:


      I guess CERN management seems to have decided that the recent update on CLIC’s status was a bit too recent for public consumption…

      CLIC uses a very different acceleration technology, one that still has not yet been definitively proven to work as hoped. In principle one could start building the ILC very soon, if the money were available, whereas CLIC is a decade or more from that point. I guess the current thinking is that if the LHC soon discovers something at low enough energy to be studied by the ILC, it would be worth going ahead with the ILC, not waiting one or two more decades for CLIC.

    12. D R Lunsford says:

      Sigh, the first article in the gravity volume is on superstring perturbation theory :/

      Amazing there is no mention of Finkelstein in the Wheeler plaudits. He of course made the current state of the GR art possible by re-inventing black holes in a way accessible to calculation. I would have thought Wheeler would have mentioned that as it happened in the ’50s


    13. David Garvin says:

      David Saltzberg is the science advisor and there is a really interesting interview with him about his input. Re: the whiteboards:

      “I send the set designers the material for the white boards and they put it up during the week before the taping. Sometimes the scribblings pertain to the topic of the show. For example, in the episode where the boys buy a time machine replica, the equations for time travel using wormholes, are on the whiteboards. One mathematician blogger criticized the way they were adding spins on the whiteboard as clumsy, but he also recognized that this is the way physicists would actually do it.”

    14. anon. says:

      Sheldon’s defense of string theory:

    15. Chris Oakley says:

      I saw two episodes of the show on the flight home (NY to London) yesterday, which included the above clip. I was hoping that it would be squirm-making, but it wasn’t. The only thing that they’ve accurately captured is the arrogance. Sheldon and Leonard are far too normal. Some of the physicists and mathematicians I worked with (was – ?) were total freaks, and it might actually be funnier to tell it like it was/is, e.g. a mathematician who is perfectly capable of saying nothing for an entire evening (I knew a few), to name but one example of eccentric behaviour.

    16. Deane says:

      “morally correct” was widely used at Harvard, when I was a math graduate student there (this is also when Atiyah visited Bott regularly and often and gave “secret seminars” in Bott’s office). It means a proof that is incomplete or incorrect, yet it elucidates the critical insight or idea that motivates the theorem.

      Although Bott probably did use this term, I believe it was used more often for analytic proofs of algebraic geometry theorems, where the rigorous proof required a more algebraic and, for some of us, totally opaque proof.

      There was another noun used in a similar spirit, maybe “yoga”? It would mean the overall philosophy behind a particular proof. I recall Melrose at MIT using this regularly.

      This, I think, was a reaction to how much time and effort was being devoted by students to learning about and building mathematical machinery, as well as filling in all the rigorous details of a proof. Although these are all necessary steps to becoming a research mathematician, people such as Atiyah and Bott stressed that, after you had mastered the skills for constructing rigorous definitions and proofs, then once you understood the critical idea or insight underlying a given theorem, you could usually construct a complete proof of that theorem yourself without having to read every line of the proof given in a book or paper.

      The most extreme expression of this view was by David Kazhdan. He would constantly show one of his graduate students a book or paper and say, “See this? You should know everything in it, but don’t read it!”

    17. Peter Woit says:

      Hi Deane,

      I definitely remember hearing “morally correct” from Bott way back when, probably also from others. “yoga” I believe I first heard from Blaine Lawson. From the context I took a “yoga” in mathematics to be a package of results and techniques that required a certain amount of training and exercise to know how to apply, but were powerful tools in the hands of adepts, and reflected some deep aspect of mathematical reality. Think homological algebra…

    18. Jeff McGowan says:

      “Moral” seems to me to be quite common in the math community. It was certainly used by a number of folks at the Graduate Center when I was a student there in the late 80s. Scott Wolpert from U MD uses it all the time, he got his doctorate at Stanford in the mid 70s. My colleague Eran Makover uses it, both his undergraduate and grad degrees are from Hebrew U.

      Yoga in math I don’t know, other than
      (my advisor, I can do one too, but there are no existing photos of that 🙂

    19. Giotis says:

      This character is inspired by Lubos? Why are you saying that?

    20. Felipe Zaldivar says:

      Hi Deane and Peter, the expression “yoga” is widely used by Grothendieck and Serre (and their school) from the early 60’s (see, e.g. the Grothendieck-Serre correspondence, p. 146 in a letter from April 1, 1964 in the AMS translation).

    21. Geoff says:

      As a string theory critic it appears your priorities are backwards. On your “top shelf” it appears you have Kaku, Polchinski, Zwiebach, and Becker Becker Scwarz. Below that it looks like Peskin and Schroeder and possibly Ashok Das. And below that it looks like t’Hooft’s 50 years of Yang Mills. Shouldn’t you apply a parity operation to your book shelf?

    22. Shantanu says:

      Peter and others, an interesting conference at TAMU in November
      on 50th anniversary of ADM formalism
      Peter: do you think ADM formalism has had an impact on string theory?

    23. ManyMe says:

      Does anybody else here think string theory is an unphysical pile of garbage?

    Comments are closed.