Mucking About in the Swampland

A little while ago I wrote about the recent Vafa paper on The String Landscape and the Swampland, as well as about postings on the subject by Lubos Motl and Jacques Distler. Lubos’s contribution to the subject was introducing the new terminology of “s**tland” and “f**kland”. Jacques’s was to claim that you can’t get anything you want out of string theory, his main example being the supposed impossibility of getting one or two-generation models. This didn’t sound right to me, but I’m no expert on the subject. Well, it turns out Jacques had no idea what he was talking about, which Volker Braun pointed out to him in a comment.

Given the high quality of the comments by Lubos and Jacques, I was surprised to see that if you look at the trackback page for the Vafa paper, you’ll note that trackbacks to their postings are there, but not to mine, which evidently has been censored. Not all my trackbacks have been censored, but it appears that, as far as papers about the Landscape and the Swampland are concerned, the arXiv policy is that trackbacks to postings about the subject that are ignorant or scatological will be allowed, but not ones critical of the whole idea.

Update: I’ve heard from someone associated with the arXiv that it’s not their intention to allow trackbacks to my postings to be censored and that part of the problem has been both difficulties they’ve been having with new software and with deciding how to handle moderation of trackbacks. A trackback to my posting on the Vafa paper is now there. Jacques Distler has updated his posting to include an explanation of Volker Braun’s proposed construction of a one-generation model.

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33 Responses to Mucking About in the Swampland

  1. Bryan says:

    ‘ … arXiv policy is that trackbacks to postings about the subject that are ignorant or scatological will be allowed, but not ones critical of the whole idea. ‘

    Those guys have a right to find a way of having some fun. Be kind to them and they might love you more.

  2. anon says:

    Guess who the moderators for string theory at arxiv are:
    physics.HT High-Energy — Field Theory and String Theory (Jacques Distler, Paul Fendley).
    I hope arxiv’s policy is to remove unethical moderators

  3. Wolfgang says:

    I guess this was just one (among many) comjectures …

  4. Two female gorillas have been photographed using sticks to get through swampy areas . . .

    http://images.ctv.ca/archives/CTVNews/img2/20050930/160_ap_gorilla_tool_050930.jpg

    http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20050930/gorillas_tools050930/20050930?hub=CTVNewsAt11

    Can’t wait for the first “Stick Theory – How to Navigate the Swampland” pre-prints

  5. Not a Nobel Laureate says:

    Looks like Vafa has some serious competators . . .

  6. D R Lunsford says:

    Astounding.

    -drl

  7. Luboš Motl says:

    Dear Peter,

    as some readers have pointed out, I am not the first one who wrote about Scotland and the Falkland Islands.

    It would be interesting if you constructed a one-generation or two-generation model. I don’t claim that no one will be able to do it, but I am pretty sure that *you* won’t be able to do it. 😉

    Incidentally, Cumrun is saying so incredibly nice things about you. Too bad that you can’t reply in a similar fashion. And Cumrun deserves it so much!

    All the best
    Lubos

  8. woit says:

    Hi Lubos,

    Sorry for misinterpreting your island terminology….

    I’ve had the highest respect for Cumrun’s intellect since we were both graduate students, and also for his many achievements since then. It’s precisely because he is such a talented physicist and mathematical physicist that I find this swampland business upsetting. Seeing fools doing this kind of thing wouldn’t be surprising or worth much comment, but seeing the best people in the field do it is shocking and depressing.

    I think physics has suffered immensely during the last few years as people like Cumrun, the best theorists in the world, have devoted their impressive talents and energies to trying to somehow make a failed idea work, instead of giving up on it and trying to come up with something new. I’m not happy to be spending my time criticizing what Cumrun and others are doing, but very much wish things were otherwise.

    So, I think you’re right I should try and balance my criticisms and say some of the nice things about people that I think. The above applies not just to Cumrun, but somewhat to you too Lubos (although renormalized a bit…)

    Peter

  9. Luboš Motl says:

    Dear Peter,

    thanks for having said nice things about Cumrun. It was the easier part of the goal of my comment, of course.

    If you think that this kind of research – and probably not just this one – is not useful, you may imagine that such a criticism will only feel material – as opposed to hot air – once you offer some new vision that may have a chance to be more useful.

    Sorry to say, but to worship the divine power of the Dirac operator for 24 hours a day is not yet the right solution.

    All the best
    Luboš

  10. D R Lunsford says:

    Lubos, I love the way you tell everyone what they can and can’t do, when we don’t have one original line from you yet. One of these days you’ll have to stop living off your boyish charm and have an idea.

    -drl

  11. Quantum_Ranger says:

    After reading the Vafa paper, one can only conclude that the Swampland is actually more like Quicksand! and the island made out of Quicksand rather than any stable material.

    Any theorist venturing forth had better make sure they have all the equipment needed to survive?

    Clampons for attaching some pretty heavy/lightweight Strings, a self-preserving life jacket, patented of course, and made from “bubble-wrap” as opposed to B-O-N.

    Oh yes, and no theorist should venture forth unless they have the latest up to the minute pair of “Anti-Anthropic Gravity boots”, to get out of the quicksand, they are going to have to do a lot of Anthropic Walking..which is really a transform of ‘Talking’ , as opposed to any physical reality act of actually “walking”.

    Talk is cheap, it seems that many stringtheorists are having “closing-down-sale”s !

  12. Thomas Larsson says:

    One claim in physics/0102051, namely that string theory has been spectacularly successful on public relations, does not seem to be true anymore. The anthropic landscape, the swampland and Lubos Motl can hardly be viewed as very successful inventions from a PR point of view.

    Words matter. When Vafa and Motl use words like swampland, s**tland and f**kland, they are, consciously or not, sending a message both to budding young theorists and to future grant committees.

  13. woit says:

    Hi Thomas,

    Yes, I think over the last year or two string theory is finally starting to have problems on the public relations front.

    There are two things that strike me as bizarre about the Vafa paper. One is the whole idea and that he is encouraging others to work on it. But the second is the name he chose. If one wanted to promote a piece of one’s own work and get others to take it seriously, why choose the “swampland” terminology? This whole subject just gets more and more weird all the time.

  14. Haelfix says:

    Peter, I don’t see anything wrong perse with what Cumrun is doing. He’s looking for defacto features of the landscape that are theoretically universal and hence presumably falsifiable at some point down the road. He is no advocate for anthropic principles etc

    This seems to me to be the *right* direction to take, rather than studying statistics on what generic feature is more *likely*.

    I am also of the mind that you can’t just get anything in the world out of the landscape, in fact im not even convinced the ‘real world’ is sitting in there either, at least with the current toy models. No one has shown that, or picked out a minimal standard model. All generic models tend to have exotics or as yet to be seen experimental phenomenological points, about the only thing people can do is push those to arbitrarily high energies in a somewhat adhoc manner.

  15. woit says:

    Haelfix,

    I suppose one can argue that the swampland stuff is better than the anthropic nonsense, but that’s not saying much. I’m still not seeing any plausible hope of making string theory falsiiable by the kind of thing Vafa is doing. The kind of constraints he’s looking at are so far from the standard model that I don’t see any relevance to the real world. If he has an idea about how to show that string theory can’t ever reproduce the standard model, I’d of course think that was well worth pursuing.

    The other thing that strikes me about all this is that Vafa and people who think this is a great idea like Distler are specialists in the more formal aspects of string theory. They don’t have much experience with the wide range of constructions that “string phenomenologists” have come up with. My suspicion is that as they try and come up with conjectured “universal” consequences of string theory, they’ll just find that these are all violated by some sufficiently clever and complex string theory construction. This has already happened to Distler. People seem to have an endless optimism that the current string theory framework has some rigidity to it, despite ever increasing evidence to the contrary.

  16. J.F. Moore says:

    It is a standard strategy to use a perjorative on oneself, to take ownership of that term and devalue it for the opposition.

    It does seem strange that they would not be concerned about appearances of being closed to thoughtful criticism, at the least.

  17. Tony Smith says:

    Haelfix said “… you can’t just get anything in the world out of the landscape, in fact im not even convinced the ‘real world’ is sitting in there either, at least with the current toy models. No one has shown that, or picked out a minimal standard model. …”.

    There does exist a string theory model that has the minimal standard model.
    It can be found on the CERN preprint server at CERN-CDS number EXT-2004-031.

    Peter says “… Vafa and people … like Distler are specialists in the more formal aspects of string theory. They don’t have much experience with the wide range of constructions that “string phenomenologists? have come up with. My suspicion is that as they try and come up with conjectured “universal? consequences of string theory, they’ll just find that these are all violated by some sufficiently clever and complex string theory construction. …”.

    The model at CERN-CDS number EXT-2004-031 is probably complicated enough that it fits Peter’s description of something beyond what sting formalists such as Vafa are considering.
    That model was constructed based on usenet discussions in 2004 on sci.physics.research and sci.physics.strings, beginning with an spr thread “photons from strings?” started by John Baez. Participants in the subsequent discussions included Lubos Motl, Urs Schreiber, Aaron Bergman, and others.
    To build the model, I started with a suggestion by Urs Schreiber to consider a 25-brane in 26-dim bosonic string theory as giving the U(1) photon gauge group, and I proceeded by modifying it by several steps until it gave the standard model.

    As to evaluation of that model by string formalists, Lubos Motl attacked it by saying “It is not true” that String theory is fundamentally 26-dimensional because, according to Lubos: “String theory” is a shorthand for “superstring theory” which is at most 10-dimensional – and its extension “M-theory” is 11-dimensional. …”.

    On the other hand, another contributor to the discussion said “A Matrix theory such as Tony Smith’s would then be a nice formulation of (bosonic) M-theory (as Susskind refers to the 27-dimensional theory), from where we work down dimensionally … to recover fermions. …”.

    Why do the Vafa-type string formalists fail to consider in detail the relevant string phenomenology work?

    What would be so bad about a non-super string model being successful?

    ———-

    Unfortunately, while composing the above message, I discovered some disturbing facts.
    Both of the preceding remarks, as well as the bulk of the discussion about the model that is now at CERN-CDS number EXT-2004-031, occurred in May 2004 on a sci.physics.strings thread entitled “Re: Speculation: E6 and 26-dim. string theory”,
    and all but 2 messages in that thread seem to have been removed from sci.physics.strings (there had been at least 6 messages in the thread),
    as have
    all but 1 message in a related thread “Re: Calculation of Standard Model parameters” (there had been at least 12 messages in the thread).

    I am particularly unhappy with the fact that of the 2 messages remaining in the thread “Re: Speculation: E6 and 26-dim. string theory”, one (dated 18 July 2004) is from Lubos Motl (an sps moderator) who says in part: “… This is my favorite speculation. I want to start with a theory in 26 dimensions that already has a E8 gauge group … A superstring spacetime would be a sort of codimension-16 brane in the bosonic string theory. …”.
    It seems to me that Lubos is trying to use the structure that I described with respect to my E6 model for his E8 model, but the messages describing my work have been removed from the relevant sps threads.
    Further,
    the removals got rid of the sps record of Lubos’s rather embarrassing statement that 26-dim bosonic string theory is not a part of string theory.

    Tony Smith
    http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/

  18. D R Lunsford says:

    Tony – there are many mirrors of spr posts I think. Find and demonstrate the revisionist disappearence here.

    -drl

  19. Quantum_Ranger says:

    There appears to be an increase in the scientific community, of war-cries..rallying-of-troops, and a general dissagrements spilling out into Academic Castles such as Stanford-v-Rest of the World?

    In a recent documentary about Susskind v Hawking:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/tvradio/programmes/horizon/hawking_prog_summary.shtml

    the programme shed some light on Susskind’s affiliation with a “used car salesman” :Werner Erhard.

    A little skeptic has written page here: http://skepdic.com/est.html

    It is quite amazing that the straglehold of the String Community is precariously teetering upon a total system breakdown, instigated by the proponants themselves? from the BBC documentary above, Susskind spoke of the first early days of “self-hypnosis” seminars he and other “later-to-be stringtheorists”, attended.

    To quote from Susskind himself talking about the early days before stringtheory:They would put people in a room, keep them there for 16 hrs, not let them go to the bathroom, harrang them harrass, them and as a consequence of this they would emerge completely different people!

    A lot of Academic pressure has built up from Stringtheorists, who are insistant upon arguing with “Counter-Information” Anthropic reasonings?

    A ventriloquist can only throw his voice so far, thats why there are strings attached to “dummies”, and not to the audience of listners.

    At Stanford, there are a lot of “Twangs-n-Bangs” being heard as the strings finally snap, and the dummies fall by the way-side?

  20. Bryan says:

    In the current issue of New Scientist, Susskind is quoted (on the issue of the reality of the Casimir force) as suggesting he wants to outlaw all use of the word ‘real’ by physicists.

  21. D R Lunsford says:

    There is just no shame any more. Shame is the critical missing ingredient in our corrupt civilization.

    Susskind is a blithering moron, who does physics the EST way. Hey! Don’t knock if you haven’t tried it!

    -drl

  22. JE says:

    DRL – is that a whine? Just put it out there.

  23. Who says:

    Peter wrote–
    Given the high quality of the comments by Lubos and Jacques, I was surprised to see that if you look at the trackback page for the Vafa paper, you’ll note that trackbacks to their postings are there, but not to mine, which evidently has been censored.

    On the question of arXiv trackback censorship favoring one side of a controversial issue, please have a look at this:

    http://www.arxiv.org/tb-display/hep-th/0507235

    Concerning Lee Smolin’s “The Case for Background Independence”, the only two trackbacks are to Distler and Motl blogs. It seems to me that there was discussion elsewhere, to which Smolin may have contributed.

    Perhaps more to the point, look at this:
    http://www.arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/0501114
    http://www.arxiv.org/tb-display/hep-th/0501114

    There was discussion of the Nicolai et al paper “Loop quantum gravity: an outside view” here at N.E.W., to which Smolin contributed a letter replying to Nicolai. A trackback could be valuable and shed additional light. But the only trackback link at the Nicolai abstract is to Distler’s own blog.

  24. D R Lunsford says:

    JE, what, me whine? Fulminatio ergo sum!

    This retinue of loser-exquisites gets on my last engram – sorry.

    -drl

  25. Who says:

    DRL and JE, about whining and fulmination. do you consider my concern over possibly biased screening of trackbacks on the arxiv to be exaggerated or misplaced? Trackbacks are new (at least to me) and I don’t know if they matter much.

    Nicolai’s paper was the first of two topics in Peter’s blog #145, in January.
    http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=145
    There was a letter from Smolin replying to some points in Nicolai’s paper. I don’t know if Peter would want to put in a trackback to that. My question is this: if he sent one in would it be erased by the censor?

    The only trackback now is to an entry in Distler’s blog which doesnt seem to say much of anything—it is some 5 lines long and essentially just says “LQG is no good and I approve of this criticism of it.”
    By contrast, Smolin’s letter replies to specific points in the paper and goes into considerable detail.

  26. Wolfgang says:

    Dear Dr. Who,

    it seems to me that Lee Smolin and friends need to get their own blogs and into this trackback business.

  27. D R Lunsford says:

    Who, I don’t think either Peter or Tony would chase chimeras. And remember, just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean I’m wrong!

    -drl

  28. Who says:

    Dear Wolfgang,
    you write:
    it seems to me that Lee Smolin and friends need to get their own blogs and into this trackback business.

    How would that address or remedy, or address the issue of, biased censorship of the arxiv.org trackbacks?

    Or would it?

  29. Wolfgang says:

    > How would that address or remedy, or address the issue of, biased censorship of the arxiv.org trackbacks?

    If there really is censorship it would become obvious. You need more than 1 or 2 incidents, which could be just mistakes.

  30. Who says:

    >If there really is censorship it would become obvious. You need more than 1 or 2 incidents, which could be just mistakes.

    I see what you mean. thanks for clarifying Wolfgang.

    DRL you say:
    >I don’t think either Peter or Tony would chase chimeras. And remember, just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean I’m wrong!

    I dont think they would chase chimeras either. If Peter chases something it is probably a rat and not a chimera. thanks for your reply, and I will try always to remember that.

  31. Volker Braun says:

    I do not agree with what you make out of my comment. When I am not sugarcoating my questions then this does not mean any disrespect. I know Jaques Distler since i took his string theory class many years ago, and I know that you can ask him scientific questions and expect an honest answer.

    Now we made serious progress this year to find compactifications with three generations, and no anti-generations. It is still true that nobody succeeded there in the previous decades. Moreover, we never published that we might also be able to find one and two generation models, so it is hardly fair to blame Jaques for not knowing about them.

    If anything, this shows that there is progress string theory every year. Even though you probably will not agree 🙂

  32. woit says:

    Hi Volker,

    I’m certainly no expert on this kind of question and didn’t realize you were referring to unpublished work.

    Still, I’m in no particular mood to apologize for pointing out the fact that Jacques’s posting on this subject was misinformed, for several reasons:

    1. While he may respond to certain scientific questions honestly, his behavior towards me in the past has repeatedly been disgraceful and dishonest. He has on several occasions taken things I have written, changing them around and then using these fraudulent constructions to attack me as professionally incompetent. When presented with evidence that this is what he has done, he has not once apologized for his behavior. While he may be a technically competent physicist, he’s a complete ideologue when it comes to string theory, to the extent of being willing to repeatedly engage in nasty and dishonest behavior.

    2. I’m not sure why trackbacks to my postings related to string theory are not appearing at the arXiv. The system is completely untransparent and the person I tried to contact there hasn’t responded to my e-mail. As far as I can tell though, it seems likely that Jacques is the one responsible for moderating these trackbacks. If so, it is rather rich that he is censoring links to my accurate but critical postings, while allowing them to his own inaccurate posting.

    3. I think this story gives strong evidence for part of my own reaction to the Vafa paper, which was that claims that “one can’t get low energy effective field theories with property X out of string theory” are likely to just indicate that either the person saying this isn’t very well informed, or no one has tried all that hard to do this.

    That every year there is new progress towards showing that string theory is inherently vacuous and one can get anything one wants out of it is something on which I guess we can agree…

    Best wishes,

    Peter

  33. alex says:

    Your trackback seems to have appeared.

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