Yet More Assorted Links

Various and assorted things that may be of interest:

Joshua Roebke at Seed has accumulated opinions about the landscape from various physicists. No real surprises; Witten wins the award for most non-committal:

I just don’t have anything incisive to say. I hope we will learn more.

There’s a mailing list called philphys devoted to “philosophical and foundational problems of modern physics.”

The web-site for the ICFA Seminar held in Korea a couple months ago has several interesting presentations on-line, including one by John Ellis, and several about future plans at various accelerator laboratories world-wide.

There was a conference recently in Geneva celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of E.C.G. Stueckelberg. Some anecdotes about Stueckelberg are here.

There is a bit of a controversy about another E.C.G., Sudarshan, who some (including himself) feel should have been part of this year’s Nobel prize in physics. Stories about this here, here, and here.

Some talks given at the recent conference at OSU on Strings and the Real World are on-line. See if you can find anything in them about the real world.

According to this article, string theory is now being marketed to the 6-11 year-old age group, appearing as test questions in the Flashcard Fishing game on the GoGo TV game system.

Barry Mazur has an article about category theory entitled When is one thing equal to some other thing?.

Penn State mathematician Adrian Ocneanu has designed a sculpture representing an interesting four dimensional figure, the Octacube.

Update: Sean Carroll has a new preprint out entitled Is Our Universe Natural?, and some commentary about it at Cosmic Variance. Unlike certain Nobel prize winners, Sean recognizes that before throwing in the trash the paradigm of how to do theoretical physics that has had such success for many centuries, one should at least have a shred of scientific evidence for one’s proposed alternative. He explains what the problems are with the one supposedly successful “prediction” of the anthropic principle, that of Weinberg for the cosmological constant, noting that it makes three assumptions, and :

The first of these is a guess, the second is likely to be fantastically wrong in the context of eternal inflation, and the last only makes sense if all of the other parameters are held fixed, which is not how we expect the multiverse to work.

Even with these dubious assumptions, the “prediction” one gets is off by more than an order of magnitude.

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37 Responses to Yet More Assorted Links

  1. Kea says:

    Thank you for the very beautiful article by Barry Mazur.

  2. D R Lunsford says:

    It’s high time Stueckelberg got his due. There is a beautiful article here about Stueckelberg’s 1934 paper:

    Stueckelberg was, like Pauli, a student of Sommerfeld. I’d still recommend Sommerfeld’s 6-volume course any day, even alongside Landau. (Sommerfeld’s teacher was Klein. This was a lusty vein of physics and mathematics.)


  3. Tony Smith says:

    Peter, you say “… Penn State mathematician Adrian Ocneanu has designed a sculpture representing an interesting four dimensional figure, the Octacube. …”.

    When I went to the link you gave to
    I found material including the following:

    “… The subject of the projection is a regular 4-dimensional solid of intermediate complexity, which Ocneanu calls an “octacube.” It has 24 vertices, 96 edges, and 96 triangular faces, which enclose 24 three-dimensional “rooms.”

    No good rendering of any 4-dimensional object existed anywhere in the world before the Octacube, either in solid or virtual form, according to Adrian Ocneanu, the Penn State professor of mathematics who designed the sculpture.

    The sculpture represents a three dimensional map of the surface of a four dimensional regular solid. Adrian Ocneanu developed and copyrighted the map, called windowed radial stereographic projection. … Linear edges of the solid become circles in the projection. …”.

    I am appalled by those statements, and I wish that I could attribute them solely to Penn State PR bureaucrats, because Ocneanu has done interesting mathemematics, such as work on von Neumann algebra factors.

    The “octacube” is nothing new. It has been around in mathematics for decades, and it already has a well-accepted name (the 24-cell).

    “Good renderings” of the 24-cell have been in existence for a long time. In 1932, Hilbert and Cohn-Vossen wrote the book Anschauliche Geometrie, which has a nice rendering of a 24-cell that is figure 172 in the English translation, which is entitled Geomety and the Imagination (Chelsea 1952). There have been so many other renderings over the past decades that I will not attempt to list them here.

    Radial stereographic projection of the 24-cell is nothing new either. For a very nice description with beautiful illustrations, see the web page of Frans Marcelis at
    If you go to the PSU web page cited above, you can see an image whose caption reads “Dr. Ocneanu, pictured at the inauguration of the Octacube, sharing his first apparition of the octacube as a wire model.”. If you look at the “apparition”, you will see that it looks almost identical to the work of Frans Marcelis.

    I think it is disgusting that the PSU people are trying to rename the 24-cell and claim priority on renderings and projections thereof.

    The sculpture itself is quite beautiful and is a good visualization tool. It is a shame to degrade such a nice work of art by associating it with attempts to rewrite history and rename the 24-cell.

    Tony Smith

  4. nitin says:

    I read about this “controversy” of who between Stueckelberg and Feynman first came up with the now famous diagrammatic perturbative approach to doing QED calculations about 2 years ago, when I was in my second year of undergraduate studies at Melbourne University. Some of the anecdotes related to this matter that were brought to my attention shocked me, especially Feynman’s comment after his CERN lecture. If the story is true and Stueckelberg did actually work things out well before Feynman did, then we wonder why Feynman, who reportedly was aware of Stueckelberg’s works before he was awarded the Nobel Prize, did not say anything explicitly about it. But maybe more facts need to surface for a consistent picture to emerge… Funnily, I remember being rather angered on hearing the story, more so because I respect Feynman a lot, and such a behaviour of his would be condemnable. Then I forgot about it, until I bought a copy of Schwinger’s “Selected papers in QED”, and found no paper by Stueckelberg. Now, if Schwinger knew that Feynman did something morally wrong, as the remark during the phone call would suggest, then why did he not say anything about it in this book? Maybe Stueckelberg did not write any paper about his approach, so would this be reason why Schwinger did not include any of Stueckelberg’s papers? I wonder if these questions are legitimate…

  5. Tony Smith says:

    Crease and Mann say in their book The Second Creation (revised edition, Rutgers 1996) (page 143) that Stueckelberg “… in the army, was almost totally isolated from physics. Nonetheless, he apparently wrote up a lengthy paper – in English, for once – that outlined a complete and correct description of the renormalization procedure for quantum electrodynamics. Sometime in 1942 or 1943, he apparently mailed it to the Physical Review. It was rejected. “They said it was not a paper, it was a program, an outline, a proposal,” Stueckelberg remembered. … Stueckelberg was not a bitter man. … We asked if he had the manuscript, which would help him establish priority. “I never cared much about that question,” he replied. “I don’t know what happened to the original copy. I lost it, it completely disappeared. …”.

    Tony Smith

  6. secret milkshake says:

    It is normal that several people have the same key insight but it matters what they do with it.

    I take it that Feynman was just being very nice to Stueckelberg, mentioning him (for getting on the right path before anybody else). F was always bending backward to aknowledge people like Jehle, Wheeler and Bethe from whom he got the helpful ideas – S. was not a source of F inspiration but he deserved the honorable mention. Also, had Tomonaga not published in wartime Japan, he would hardly get more credit then Stueckelberg.

  7. D R Lunsford says:

    Stueckelberg had a German name and tried to get a paper published in the pre-eminent American physics journal. In 1943. Before D-Day.

    Read the paper I linked. Weisskopf states:

    Already in 1934 [...] it seemed that a systematic theory be developed in which these infinities [divergent radiative corrections] are circumvented. At that time nobody attempted formulate such a theory [...].There was one tragic exception and that was Ernst C.G. Stueckelberg. He wrote several important papers in 1934-38 putting forward a manifestly formulation of field theory. This could have been a perfect basis for developing of renormalization. Later on, he actually carried out a complete renormalization procedure in papers with D. Rivier, independently of the efforts of other authors. Unfortunately, writings and his talks were rather obscure,and it was difficult to understand them or to make use of his methods. He came frequently to Zurich in the years 1934-6, when I working with Pauli, but we could not follow his way of presentation. Had Pauli and I myself been capable of grasping his might well have calculated the Lamb shift and the correction the magnetic moment of the electron at the time.

    There is little to argue about. There is no doubt at all that Stueckelberg had the whole program down.


  8. sunderpeeche says:

    Many Nobel Prizes are controversial
    Anthony Hewish (pulsar) – no prize to Jocelyn Bell
    Ken Wilson (RG) – many people (incl Wilson) feel Leo Kadanoff + Michael Fisher should have shared prize
    prize for (integer) Quantum Hall Effect ….
    prize for MRI ….
    no prize John Bahcall solar neutrino
    no prize Lise Meitner etc discovery nuclear fission (because of WW2 + bomb)
    The list will not end anytime soon

  9. Dissident says:

    Could somebody please remind me why we attach such significance to a prize awarded by a bunch of Swedes, apparently expecting the choice of recipients to reflect superior competence? Because of all the outstanding contributions to physics made by the Swedish Cook…?

    (I can hear somebody in the backrows shouting “Klein!”. Sorry, no. Klein was a mathematician – and as the story goes, Alfred Nobel explicitly excluded mathematics from the list of awardable subjects because he was after the same lady as Klein, whom he knew would have been a strong contender for the prize. Hardly an auspicious start.)

  10. sunderpeeche says:

    Nobody knows how the prizes attracted such prestige, even from the early years. As for Nobel and mathematicians and ladies, there is much hogwash on the subject. Don’t believe most (all?) of it. Nobody really knows either.

  11. Tony Smith says:

    DRL mentions the paper at which (in addition to the very interesting part quoted by DRL) also states:
    “… Stueckelberg came to the University of Zurich in 1933 … Stueckelberg was … Privatdozent at the University of Zurich with professor Gregor Wentzel …”.

    Crease and Mann, in their book The Second Creation cited above by me, quoted Stueckelberg as saying, about his 1942 or 1943 submission to the Physical Review:
    “Afterward, I was told that our friend and teacher, Gregor Wentzel – he was the expert [referee] – he got my paper.”

    So, to me it appears that Stueckelberg’s 1942 or 1943 paper was not rejected by American Physical Review due to wartime hostility against Stueckelberg (who after all was in the army of neutral Switzerland),
    but was in fact torpedoed by his former teacher Wentzel.

    I also find it interesting that Stueckelberg’s submission to the Physical Review in New York could have been floating around in the USA physics community (as a rejected but possibly interesting program) after its submission in 1942 or 1943, well in advance of the 1948 Shelter Island conference at which Feynman and Schwinger both presented their approaches to QED.

    According to the paper physics/9903023 cited by DRL
    “… The main innovation of the 1934 paper [by Stueckelberg] is the introduction of a new perturbative scheme yielding manifestly relativistic expressions for the matrix elements. This is achieved by performing a four-dimensional Fourier transformation of the wave-function, thus eliminating space and time variables … Stueckelberg’s procedure is thus the first departure from the “older (Dirac) form of the perturbation
    theory … The approach proposed by Stueckelberg is far more powerful, but was not adopted by others at the time. …”.
    As DRL has indicated, Weisskopf felt that Stueckelberg’s 1934 ideas would enable calculation of “the Lamb shift and the correction of the magnetic moment”.
    In my opinion, it is almost certain that Stueckelberg’s 1934 key ideas would be set out in his 1942 or 1943 submission to the Physical Review.

    As to the time of Feynman soving the QED problem, in 1941 (according to Mehra’s Feynman biography The Beat of a Different Drum (Oxford 1994)) Feynman had the inspiration from Dirac’s paper of using the Lagrangian method, which led to Feynman’s 1942 Ph.D. thesis. As to that thesis, Mehra says “… Feynman mentioned that “the problem of the form that relativistic quantum mechanics, and the Dirac equation, take from this point of view, remains unsolved. …”. So, Feynman’s Shelter Island relativistic QED solution was developed after his 1942 Ph.D. thesis.

    Therefore, it seems to me that Feynman’s solution of the relativistic QED problem was probably achieved during the time when Stueckelberg’s 1942 or 1943 paper could have been circulating in the USA physics community as a manuscript rejected by the Physical Review,
    and it is probable that Stueckleberg’s rejected manuscript did in fact contain the key to solving the relativistic QED problem.

    Tony Smith

  12. robert says:

    Like Stuekelberg, Sudarshan can claim to be multiply mis-used, as he was, with Marshak, pre-empted in the announcement of V-A by Feynman (again) and Gell-Mann, under slightly questionable circumstances. This too caused considerable rancour and unpleasantness, which MGM, for once, did his best to minimise. Marshak’s ‘Conceptual foundations of modern particle physics’ makes very scant reference to F-G in its discussion of this topic.

  13. JE says:

    “Alfred Nobel explicitly excluded mathematics from the list of awardable subjects because he was after the same lady as Klein…”

    Fairly speaking, it seems Mittag-Leffler was the contender A. Nobel had in mind when he decided against a Nobel prize in math. Mittag-Leffler was Swedish, unlike Klein, who was German.

  14. Chris Oakley says:

    I am looking at the paper about Stueckelberg linked by Danny(, and am amazed that I was never aware of it – 4D Fourier transforms, power series expansion in the coupling constant – all the stuff I was playing with 20 years ago, and 50 years after Stueckelberg first dreamed it up. I am also surprised that none of the referees for my papers picked it up either. Maybe they too were unaware of his work. If it is leading where I think it is leading, then, yes, you can do manifestly covariant perturbation theory, and you can get agreement with tree Feynman graphs, but you still get infinities exploding all over the place from second order upwards. IIRC Stueckelberg’s solution was to start assigning meaning to meaningless quantities (infinity minus infinity) – as everyone in the subject but me seems to be happy to do. A better solution, though, is just to choose equations of motion where the infinities do not appear in the first place. I am going to find out more, and will update the QFT part of my web site once I have studied his work properly.

  15. Dissident says:

    JE, Klein really was a Swede (the common misunderstanding about him being German is probably due to the German-sounding family name). See e.g.
    (just happens to be the first link that comes up on Google).

    Yes, I’ve seen the mittag-Leffler version of the Nobel story, too. Admittedly, the dates make more sense in that version. But who knows…

  16. JE says:

    Dissident – You’re right, for chronological reasons I thought you were referring to Felix Klein (who was contemporary with Nobel).

  17. Brett says:

    The story about Nobel not giving a prize in mathematics because of competition for some lady’s affections is a many-times debunked urban myth. (Nobel never married, but he had a regular girlfriend for many years, and she was never involved with any mathematicians.)

    If you actually read the terms of Nobel’s will, the reason there is no mathematics prize is self-eveident. Math just doesn’t fit into the framework; Nobel wanted to reward much more applied and immediate research than the committees that have actually presented the awards. In fact, the committees consistently violate the rules Nobel set down. (At least one of the prizes–chemistry, I believe–is specifically supposed to be for discoveries made in the last year, for example.)

  18. Dissident says:

    Oh, come on Brett! So he had this one girlfriend – and never ever laid eyes on another woman? And he was smart enough to come up with dynamite and build a business empire – but not to write terms for the prize excluding mathematics for socially acceptable reasons?

  19. Dissident says:

    JE: yes, having now checked the dates, I see Oskar Klein was 2 years old when Alfred Nobel died, so I think we can safely debunk his having had any role in the story at least!

  20. fh says:

    There is a moral here. It is not important who first dreams up the idea, it is important who first contributes it.
    That is, it is important to formulate this ideas in a language that makes them accessible to non-geniuses (or in Stückelbergs case to the co-geniuses of the time like Pauli and Weisskopf). To get the ideas “out there”.

  21. Chris W. says:

    Since this post mentions a miscellaneous collection of things, I thought I would throw in something a bit out of left field, from today’s Wall Street Journal:

    A Hedge-Fund Titan’s Millions Stir Up Research Into Autism

    In their quest for answers, the Simonses aren’t just another family seeking comfort. Audrey’s father, world-class mathematician James H. Simons, runs Renaissance Technologies Corp., one of the world’s most successful hedge funds. With little notice, the family’s charitable foundation has in the past two years committed $38 million to find the causes of autism. The money manager says he and his wife will spend $100 million more in what is rapidly becoming the largest private investment in the field.

  22. Chris Oakley says:


    In the case of Stückelberg, the HEP community seems to have retained the chaff (his work on renormalization) while throwing out the wheat (his covariant perturbation theory). There really ought to be more of a clue about the latter in mainstream QFT literature. I am in the Bodleian (Oxford U) today to chase up the references, and when I am finished I will hopefully be able to say something about his work on my web site, at least.

  23. Juan R. says:

    Well, i do not know personally to Sudarshan but know his interesting work on Kaon systems and his generalized quantum mechancis presented at Solvay conference of last 97. My colleague Gonzalo Ordonez at Texas always said that Sudarshan was a “very good profesor” there, at the Prigogine Institute.

    Also i may say that i am :-0 by the history of Feynman and Stückelberg.

    For anyone interested in the politics beyond the Nobel Prize can read fascinating and extensively documented (The author, who had access to the Nobel archives, spent 20 years researching) book by recognized historian Robert Marc Friedman: Politics of Excellence: Behind the Nobel Prize in Science.

    Available at amazon

    An interesting review (from Kauffman) was published
    in the top journal [Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2003, 42(11), 1194].

    An excerpt:

    the archives show that from their inception the awards have reflected the changing priorities, arrogance, racism, hostility, sexism, inconsistencies, politics, ambitions, open and hidden agendas, biases, rivalries, vanities, pettiness, prejudices, and narrow personal, scientific, and cultural self-interests of comittee members who evaluate nominations. He concludes that the process is nowhere nearly as impartial or objective as generally believed

    Juan R.

    Center for CANONICAL |SCIENCE)

  24. sunderpeeche says:

    Alfred Nobel invented dynamite, built a successful business empire (and never married, had a girlfriend etc). It is also a documented fact that his will took EVERYONE by surprise. It was hastily written and the terms of the prizes were vague (but it did say “work in the previous year” for physics, chemistry, medicine not just chemistry). It took 3 years (I think) for the lawyers to sort it out. Also the academicians usurped the prizes for themselves. So for example Thomas Edison never won a prize even though his technological contributions to society were many and profound. In fact it is unusual that Guglielmo Marconi was awarded a prize for the wireless.

    Many NPs have been controversial since the early days.
    All the stuff about Kein, Mittag-Leffler etc is urban legend.

  25. Chris Oakley says:

    Hi Danny,

    Thanks again for the tip about Stueckelberg. I managed to get copies of his papers. The 1934 one seems to be key, but my German was not up to reading it properly, so I mainly relied on the pre-digested version supplied by Lacki, Ruegg and Telegdi.
    The QFT pages on my web site now take account of his work.

    <my personal view>
    I am gobsmacked. There he was with a much better way of doing things than Feynman (Gell Mann apparently even referred to Feynman diagrams as “Stueckelberg diagrams”) and yet he seems to have spent much of his time messing around with renormalization.

    Did he not realise that minimal substitution is just a guess based on classical field theory and that there is no physical principle that requires it – ??? Tamper with the field equations just a little and the need to renormalize goes away.

    </my personal view>

  26. D R Lunsford says:

    Chris, excellent, I’d be happy to translate the whole paper and perhaps you could fill me in on what I’m missing :) Just mail a scanned copy.


  27. D R Lunsford says:

    Chris, I’d have to say miminal coupling is the trace of conformality, but we could discuss it later perhaps.


  28. Chris Oakley says:

    Hi Danny,

    Thanks for that. A translation would certainly help, although maybe one of Lacki, Ruegg and Telegdi has already done it.
    Remind me of your e-mail address & will send scans (19 small journal pages, BTW).
    BTW: What about follow-ups on this work? Was it just that he never bothered to to get stuff published?

  29. Tony Smith says:

    As to later publications by, or about the work of, Stueckelberg:
    According to The Second Creation by Crease and Mann:
    Stueckelberg “… … struggled to carry out the program rejected by the Physical Review. By the end of the war, in 1945, he seems to have done it. … he wrote up bits and pieces of his ideas. Eventually they were presented in a complete form in a chapter of the thesis of one of his students, Dominique Rivier. … HPA 22, no. 3 (1949):265 …”.
    HPA refers to Helvitica Physica Acta. According to an ICTP Trieste web page it may no longer be published, but have been superseded by Annales Henri Poincare.

    Crease and Mann say: “… by then [1949 when Rivier's thesis was published] Schwinger had come out with his program, and Stueckelberg, who had the ideas first, published afterward …”.
    I guess that the idea that publication, and only publication, establishes priority is the (in my opinion flimsy and unjust) basis for denying Stueckelberg a prominent place in the history of physics.

    If a world-wide physics e-print archive had existed back in the 1930s and 1940s, maybe it would have allowed Stueckelberg’s priority to have been recognized by the physics establishment. However, if such an archive had blacklisted Stueckelberg, then maybe it would not have been helpful to him.

    Tony Smith

  30. Chris Oakley says:

    Hi Tony,

    Thanks for that information. What bothers me is not Stueckelberg publishing after Schwinger so much as Stueckelberg not publishing certain things at all. I am not sure when Helv Phys Acta became Ann Henri Poincare, but either way I am sure that I will be able to find the reference you give, which I will check. I am sure that Stueckelberg would always have been able to publish in this journal, being the local boy, even if the likes of Ann Phys and Phys Rev were reluctant …

  31. JC says:

    Chris Oakley,

    Did you look up the citation indices for Stueckelberg’s 1934 paper and/or it’s english translation? It would be interesting to see what other papers cited it before Schwinger, Feynman, etc …

  32. D R Lunsford says:

    CO: antimatter33 -@- yahoo -.- com

    Thanks in advance.


  33. Chris Oakley says:

    Danny … thanks.


    This article tells the story of Stueckelberg’s covariant perturbation theory (BTW: Peter, why can’t I seem to get <a> … </a> to work any more? Am I doing something wrong?)
    Although I have not checked in any citation index, it looks as though, citation-wise, Stueckelberg’s 1934 Ann. Phys. article did not do much better than my (independent) re-creation of some of the arguments more than fifty years later … I know for a fact that one can take the arguments much further than he does in this paper, and I would very surprised if he or someone else had not done so. But I will have to check. The Lacki/Ruegg/Telegdi paper sounded fairly convincing, though.

  34. Juan R. says:

    Chris Oakley,

    probably you are already addressed this, but let me note that Gell-Mann may be not a neutral source regarding Feynman contributions, due to heavy rivalry between both and Gell-Mann public accusations of ‘plagiarism’.

    Any case your discussion is very interesting since i unknow this part of history of physics: Stueckelberg vs Feynman.

    Juan R.

    Center for CANONICAL |SCIENCE)

  35. Chris Oakley says:

    Hi Juan,

    I agree about the Feynman/Gell-Mann rivalry.

    Bjorken and Drell, vol. 1 talks about “Stückelberg-Feynman positron theory”, giving references Helv. Phys. Acta 14, 32L, 588 (1941) for Stückelberg and Phys. Rev. 76 749, 769 (1949) for Feynman. I have not yet studied the Stückelberg paper, but I am guessing that he does not use the covariant perturbation theory he worked out in 1934 here.

  36. Chris Oakley says:

    Following on from the above, and after a day ferretting around various Cambridge libraries, it seems that Lacki/Ruegg/Telegdi have done a fine job in assessing the impact of Stueckelberg’s Covariant Perturbation theory. The only cites of his 1934 paper between 1945 and 2002 are the Weisskopf review article in Physics Today (1981) and a list of all his publications to date at the start of Helv. Phys. Acta 38 in 1965 when they were celebrating his 60th birthday.
    I do not think that he followed up on it much at all.