Someone wrote in to tell me about a very interesting interview with Alain Connes, conducted at the IPM in Teheran at the time of the Workshop on Non-Commutative Geometry held there this past September.
As always, Connes has quite a few provocative things to say, including some harsh criticisms of the way string theory research is conducted (this in spite of the fact that the Institute hosting him is dominated by string theorists):
The only thing I resent in string theory is that they put in the mind of people that it is the only theory that can give the answer or they are very close to the answer. That I resent. For people who have enough background it is fine since they know all the problems that block the road like the cosmological constant, the supersymmetry breaking, etc., etc.. But if you take people who are beginners in physics programs and brainwash them from the very start it is really not fair. Young physicists should be completely free, but it is very hard with the actual system.
Connes also has many interesting comments about non-commutative geometry and about his own career, including the fact that he went off in the direction he did because he was put off by the arrogance of the algebraic geometers at the IHES. He also has a lot to say about the importance of having a system like the French CNRS system that allows talented young researchers to develop a long-term research program without too much pressure to achieve quick results. He is quite scornful about the US university system, which he sees as emphasizing money and subjecting young people to huge pressures to work in well-established areas instead of trying to do something new and ambitious.
The interview also contains quite a few amusing stories. In one of them Connes tells about a well-known string theorist who walked out of his talk at Chicago because he wasn’t very interested, but two years later was paying rapt attention to the same talk when Connes gave it at Oxford. When Connes asked him about this, the physicist told him that the difference was that in the meantime he had heard that Witten had been seen reading Connes’s book in the library at Princeton.
On a completely different topic, there’s a nice review article by Edward Frenkel on the Langlands program and conformal field theory. Witten has new ideas about this subject and how it is related to S-duality in four-dimensional gauge theory. I hear he has been working on a paper on the subject since this summer, and that it should appear imminently.