Jerusalem Winter School

The 23rd Jerusalem Winter School in Theoretical Physics started yesterday. The topic is “String Theory: Symmetries and Dynamics”, and it is organized by David Gross and Eliezer Rabinovici.

Some of the talks are already available on-line, with the quality of the video and audio very good, although you need the latest version of Apple’s Quicktime player. In his opening talk, Gross mentioned the recent New Scientist article quoting him as admitting string theory was in trouble, saying that the article misrepresented what he said. At the recent Solvay conference he had said something like “In string theory we don’t know what we are talking about”, and the New Scientist reporter interpreted that as meaning there was trouble, an interpretation Gross disagreed with. He was annoyed by the New Scientist editorial about the sorry state of string theory, and says he has been offered the opportunity to write a rebuttal and may do so. Gross went on to claim that really string theory is a vital subject and that it is in a wonderful period. He didn’t mention the Landscape.

Update: Another recent particle theory conference was the Christmas Meeting at Durham. There’s a report from the conference by blogger Paul Cook. Evidently Herman Verlinde is taking bets that string theory is the correct unified theory. Those who want to make some easy money might want to contact him. Then again, it’s unclear when you would get paid.

Update: The lectures by my Princeton classmate Igor Klebanov on using string theory to study strongly coupled gauge theories are particularly clear and interesting. Near the beginning he mentions this blog quoting it as saying “String theory is not good for anything.” I’d like to emphasize that that is not something I wrote or something that I think, I assume he is referring to one of my commenters.

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26 Responses to Jerusalem Winter School

  1. Pingback: Not Even Wrong » Blog Archive » David Gross Admits String Theory is in Trouble

  2. Alejandro Rivero says:

    I had already suggested that it was just a misinterpretation of a very repeated slogan about M-theory.

  3. Chris Oakley says:

    I suppose that this means that the plea, “Never, never, never, never give up!” will have to be changed to “Never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, give up!”

    I am sure that Winston Churchill would have admired their determination, if not their judgement.

  4. garrett says:

    And here I thought De Nile was only near Jarusalem, and not actually in it.

  5. Danger says:

    NSF crackpot fund.

    Once you realize how many millions are at stake, it’s easier to understand the String Theorist’s supreme commitment to inceipherable nonesense.

    http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/piSearch.do;jsessionid=12140160808182889516AF72BFC8F425?SearchType=piSearch&page=1&QueryText=string&Search=Search#results

  6. Quantoken says:

    It doesn’t matter what Gross says about super string theory. SST already has the endorsement of the greatest mathematician of all times and greatest physicist since Sir Newton, Einstein notwithstanding, Mr. Edward Witten, it also has the endorsement of the most famous physicist since the invention of Television, Mr. Michio Kaku, and the endorsement of a number of other big guys. Who is Gross to say either way about SST?

    At the end of day, only facts speak the truth. The true is still that SST is in trouble after more than 2 decades, whether Gross agree or disagree with that notion.

  7. MathPhys says:

    I think the problem with a web site such as this, is that it attracts more than its share of crackpots. That’s probably inevitable.

  8. Tony Smith says:

    Danger said “… Once you realize how many millions are at stake, it’s easier to understand the String Theorist’s supreme commitment to inceipherable nonesense. …” and then cited a search link at http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/ for the word “string”. I did a similar search for the word “superstring”, and here are four large grants on the resulting list:

    0098527
    Theoretical Physics
    PHY CENTRAL & EASTERN EUROPE PROGR, ELEMENTARY PARTICLE THEORY
    08/15/2001
    Smith, John
    NY
    SUNY at Stony Brook
    $1,552,181.00

    0354776
    Theoretical Physics
    PHY
    ELEMENTARY PARTICLE THEORY
    08/01/2004
    Smith, John
    NY
    SUNY at Stony Brook
    $986,000.00

    0098395
    Problems in Theoretical Physics
    PHY
    ELEMENTARY PARTICLE THEORY
    08/15/2001
    Sugar, Robert
    CA
    University of California-Santa Barbara
    $2,068,257.00

    0098840
    PHYSICS: THEORY OF ELEMENTARY PARTICLES
    PHY
    ELEMENTARY PARTICLE THEORY
    09/01/2001
    Murayama, Hitoshi
    CA
    University of California-Berkeley
    $2,242,047.00

    Of course, superstrings get funding from agencies other than the NSF, so these may not be the largest government grants to superstrings, but it seems to me that they indicate that a slogan for present-day physicists might be (to use a word from Danger’s comment):

    NONSENSE PAYS .

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

  9. A.J. says:

    Tony Smith — Nice research finding the grant figures, but your interpretation is a bit off. Please note that none of the grant recipients are actually string theorists. Jack Smith and Hitoshi Murayama are well-known phenomenologists, and Robert Sugar does lattice gauge theories. They might have tossed string theory into their grant applications as a buzzword, but I can guarantee that only a small fraction of that money is supporting string theory research. Most of that money is being spent on down-to-earth particle physics.

    (Frankly, if the NSF were dumping as much money into strings as you guys imagine, then there would be far more funding for string theory graduate students. As it is, at all but the wealthiest schools, there’s usually not enough to go around.)

  10. woit says:

    A.J. and Tony,

    One thing to remember is that many of these grants are group grants: they fund all or most of the particle theory group at an institution. So, even if only part of the group is doing string theory, string theory will appear in the proposal. Even if the P.I. doesn’t do string theory, many of these group grants do include string theorists.

    If you want to figure out how much is actually going to string theory, you need to get ahold of the detailed budgets and see where the money goes. If you can do that, you have the added bonus of being able to compute the actual salaries of most of the people involved…

  11. Anonymous says:

    Another thing to keep in mind is that these grants generally cover multiple years. Paying the salaries of a few postdocs over a few years adds up to a reasonable amount of money, but it’s not as if anyone is making millions each year doing string theory! String theorists earn approximately the same amount of money as other physicists, generally speaking, but their research requires comparatively little money. Most of the money going to physics goes to experiment (as it should!), where the research itself can require astronomical amounts of funding. There is always much more money to support experimental graduate students than theory graduate students (again, this is as it should be!).

    Tony, I suggest you think twice about what you label as “nonsense.” As A.J. says, much of what is being funded from those numbers is not string theory. Hitoshi is a good example of a particle theorist whose work is mostly guided by experiment. It might be true that much of what comes out of particle theory these days isn’t very good, but that’s because it’s hard to work without experimental guidance. Wait five or ten years for LHC results and then we’ll see who’s still producing nonsense and who isn’t. (Maybe even some of the hardcore stringers will switch!)

    Peter, thanks for the link to the Jerusalem school. The lectures are nice and pedagogical, and steer clear of the more dubious parts of recent string theory research. It’s interesting that Kutasov speculates there might be different universality classes of string theories and that so far everyone might be focusing on ones that don’t describe the real world.

  12. ksh95 says:

    MathPhys says:
    I think the problem with a web site such as this, is that it attracts more than its share of crackpots. That’s probably inevitable.

    Hmmm, I wonder if that’s true. This anti-string theory site seems to attract a fair number of well-known reputable scientists. I wonder what the mean education level is here and at other science blogs.

  13. Tony Smith says:

    Anonymous suggests that I should “… think twice about what …[ I ]… label as “nonsense.” As A.J. says, much of what is being funded from those numbers is not string theory. …”.
    That is a point well taken.
    Although I do regard much of conventional superstring theory to be nonsense as physics (and all the grants I listed were for funding for physics, and not interesting related mathematics etc), l do agree that any part of those funds going to experiment might be well spent, at least if the experiments are truly fair searches for unexpected new phenomena, and not narrowly focussed by triggers and cuts to look only for those phenomena that are expected by conventional superstring theorists.

    I fear that LHC might not turn out to be as useful as it might be if all the cuts and triggers are set by consensus expectations of currently popular theoretical models. I certainly hope that Anonymous is correct in stating “… Wait five or ten years for LHC results and then we’ll see who’s still producing nonsense and who isn’t. (Maybe even some of the hardcore stringers will switch!) …”.

    I also wish that Anonymous were not Anonymous, so that I would know more about the background of a person whose comments seem reasonable to me. However, anonymity can be interesting – I have often toyed with the idea of submitting comments, etc, through a sock puppet so that I could make a comparison of responses, but I have not yet done so.

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

  14. Anonymous says:

    LHC triggers will find events with high-energy leptons or photons, with large missing transverse energy (a sign of invisible stable particles, as expected in SUSY, but maybe in other things as well), or events with sufficiently many high-energy jets. It’s hard to think of new physics that wouldn’t be found by decays to high-energy Standard Model particles, so this is pretty flexible. Even more bizarre scenarios with long-lived charge particles have been studied and can generally be found. It’s hard to think of how to make the triggers accept more things without overloading the available bandwidth; accepting more low-energy jets is impossible, for instance, because of QCD background. The limitations on the hardware and software for triggering are very strict, so it is pretty highly optimized. Of course, if you have ideas of plausible new physics that wouldn’t be found by the triggers, you should start bugging people about it!

  15. Tony Smith says:

    Anonymous said that if I “… have ideas of plausible new physics that wouldn’t be found by the triggers …”, then I “… should start bugging people about it! …”.

    My main concern is that observation of T-quark events may limited by cuts to the energy region within a few GeV of the 173 GeV peak that was observed at Fermilab,
    whereas
    it seems to me (in my unconventional opinion) that Fermilab’s T-quark event data also shows two other “peaks”, or “regions of interest” within 10% or so of about 130-140 GeV and 225 GeV, and therefore I would like to see cuts set so that those regions are also studied at least to some degree.

    I think that a set of 3 peaks around 130-140, 173, and 225 GeV might indicate that the Fermilab observed T-quark events are NOT simple decay of an isolated quark, but are due to an interesting 3-element system involving the Vacuum, the Higgs, and a T-quark condensate, described by Nambu-Jona-Lasinio and variants thereof. Some material about those ideas can be found at http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/YamawakiCP2KKNJL.html with more details being available on other pages of that web site.

    I did present this idea at the APS DPF meeting in Tampa in April 2005 in a session chaired by Joe Lykken, and he seemed to have some interest in it at the time, but I have heard nothing further, so I assume that it is not being pursued.

    Unfortunately, my status of being blacklisted by the Cornell arXiv affects my reputation in the physics community adversely, and a probable consequence thereof is that if I were to “start bugging people about it”, it might do more harm than good.

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

  16. anon says:

    If you don’t bug other people, nothine ever gets done.

    “… the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them. Thus it happens that whenever those who are hostile have the opportunity to attack they do it like partisans, whilst the others defend lukewarmly…” – http://www.constitution.org/mac/prince06.htm

  17. Anonymous says:

    Tony, the good thing about complaints like yours is that they are issues of analysis, not of triggering. The data are there, you just have to convince someone to analyze the right mass windows. And as anon says, the only way to do that is to bug people in the experiments.

  18. Tony Smith says:

    Anonynmous is quite correct in saying “… The data are there, you just have to convince someone to analyze the right mass windows. …”.
    Also, Anonymous is probably correct in saying “… as anon says, the only way to do that is to bug people in the experiments. …”.
    However, my capability of bugging people has severe limitations, including the following:

    1 – I have no institutional affiliation through which to “bug” LHC people by contacting them through institutional channels;
    2 – I did speak at APS DPF April 2005, but such talks alone seem to be ineffective (most people at such big conferences seem to me to spend almost all their time with like-minded people, lining up support for grants, jobs for their students, etc);
    3 – I can speak my mind on a forum such as this blog or on my web site (and as you can see I have done so), but blacklisting prevents me putting a series of papers about the issues on the relevant parts of Cornell arXiv, thus eliminating a very effective way to “bug” LHC people;
    4 – The fact that I am blacklisted not only diminishes my reputation in the physics community, it also apparently frightens some in the physics community so much that they seem to be afraid to be associated with me.

    As to anon’s advice to me in comment 16 hereinabove:

    It is sad enough that there has been very little advance in elementary particle theory since the 1970s (when the Standard Model was developed),
    but it is far sadder still that
    back in 1980, in his book Cosmos, Carl Sagan could say “… The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion and politics, but it is not the path to knowledge; it has no place in the endeavor of science. …”,
    while
    now in 2005/2006, Machiavelli is considered to be the teacher who must be followed in order to succeed in elementary particle physics.

    Maybe the leaders of today’s theoretical particle physics establishment should be asked the McCarthy question:

    HAVE YOU NO SHAME ?

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

  19. Shantanu says:

    Peter, here is a website of a school on early universe cosmology
    involving topics in BOTH string theory and LQG , with back-to-back
    lectures in both topics.
    http://www.iucaa.ernet.in/~scveu
    Hope the slides get archived.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Tony, I have one more suggestion. Your website is somewhat disorganized, full of long quotes, and hard to approach. Also, it advocates a number of very speculative ideas. I, for one, find it hard to isolate the parts of it that I might think are interesting. I hope you will not be offended if I suggest that in part the reason you are not listened to is that you are not effective in communicating in the typical language of physics and physicists.

    It is possible for someone to be interested in your ideas about the top quark data without being interested in the bulk of your website. An experimentalist you might convince to take a closer look at the data would likely fall into this class.

    Thus, if you could write up a clean (preferably TeX’ed, available as PDF) account *soley of the top quark data*, with general remarks about why one might expect multiple apparent masses to show up in data (top condensates, etc….), and indications of what you think are the hints that these in fact *do* show up in the data, I think you would be far more likely to get a response from someone. Divorce your idea about re-analyzing the data from particular ideas about new physics. The RG arguments for a particular heavy top mass are fairly well-known, but the general attitude is that since we found it somewhere else, those models must be too simplistic. You really need to argue from the data, at least partly. Also, reliance on NJL models is not so great; qualitatively they’re very interesting, but as non-renormalizable field theories one doesn’t tend to trust exact numbers from them, since one tends to view them as effective theories modified by other new physics we don’t understand.

    If you produced a clean, well-argued document focusing *only* on top quark physics, I think at least a small number of people would read it. If it’s *convincing*, one of those people might be able to do something about it.

    One last note: you would be wise to not take the tone that you are certain to be right. It grates on the people who have done difficult experimental work over the past decade or more. You should suggest this as interesting, potentially overlooked physics, not as truth. And it would help if you exhibit some willingness to admit you might be wrong and the experimentalists so far might be right. (Even if there are hints of something at other masses, the amount of data is likely too small to say anything definitive at this point. Don’t mistake caution on the part of Fermilab experimentalists for conspiracy.)

    Best of luck.

  21. Tony Smith says:

    Anonymous is quite correct that my website “… is somewhat disorganized, full of long quotes, and hard to approach. Also, it advocates a number of very speculative ideas. …”.
    However, I view my web site as my home, containing all sorts of stuff from oil and politics to Jesus and Mary Magdalene to math and physics, and a lot more. It is not intended to be a clear exposition of a single topic (such as LHC cuts for T-quark candidate events).

    Anonymous also said that it might be good for me to “… write up a clean (preferably TeX’ed, available as PDF) account *soley of the top quark data*, with general remarks about why one might expect multiple apparent masses to show up in data (top condensates, etc….), and indications of what you think are the hints that these in fact *do* show up in the data …”.
    That is substantially what I did for my 10-minute talk at APD DPF 2005 in Tampa, and, as I said, the chair (Joe Lykken) seemed interested at the time, and there is a pdf version of that talk on my web site at http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/YamawakiNJL.pdf However, it is not in LaTex because I was using the pdf file projected from my computer onto the screen as the basis for my talk. Even if I did convert it to a standard-academic-LaTeX look, there is no place that I can post it where LHC folks can read it (without it being on my web site, which as you point out they might dislike due to it containing a lot of controversial stuff) because I am blacklisted by the Cornell arXiv and the CERN EXT preprint series has been terminated.

    Anonymous also said “… reliance on NJL models is not so great … as non-renormalizable field theories one doesn’t tend to trust exact numbers from them, since one tends to view them as effective theories modified by other new physics we don’t understand …”.
    That is true of pure NJL (which might decribe one of the 3 peaks from my point of view), but the variants of NJL which might describe the other 2 peaks may include renormalizable structures that would in fact be the “new physics” of which pure NJL is a corresponding effective theory, as has been indicated by the work of Yamawaki in hep-ph/9603293 and of Hashimoto, Tanabashi, and Yamawaki in hep-ph/0311165. All this is work in progress, but a lot of work has been done including some numerical calculations that can be compared with experiment, and I find it sad that some people who advocate conventional superstring theory (which seems to me obviously to be far more incomplete) might attack Yamawaki-type models because they may not yet be completely perfected.

    Anonymous also said that I “… would be wise to not take the tone that you are certain to be right. … Don’t mistake caution on the part of Fermilab experimentalists for conspiracy. …”.
    If I have ever said anything to the effect that I am “certain” to be “right” about ANYTHING, I apologize and retract it. My whole life and everything I do is only a work in progress, and I NEVER expect to achieve “certainty” in this lifetime.
    However, at any given time I do have a certain amount of enthusiasm for the ideas that I hold in the moment, and it is hard to suppress that enthusiasm, but over the years I have always been happiest when I found a flaw in a model and then reworked it, either correcting it and making it better, or finding that the model was irreparably flawed, and thereupon throwing it out and not worrying with it any more. I do apologize if that enthusiasm appears to be certainty.

    As to “conspiracy” of “Fermilab experimentalists”, I think that “conspiracy” is not a correct description, but, based on years of personal experience, and also on the book The Evidence for the Top Quark: Objectivity and Bias in Collaborative Experimentation, by Kent W. Staley (Cambridge University Press 2004), I feel that the organizational structure of Fermilab has produced some results that might, from the outside, reasonably be perceived as conspiratorial, although they were actually probably produced by dysfunctional aspects of Fermilab bureaucracy.

    I don’t think that Peter’s blog is the place to go into any further detail on such things, but I would be willing to participate in e-mail discussion of further details.

    Tony Smith
    current, but probably not permanent, email address can be found at
    http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/tsemailaddress.html

  22. JC says:

    Tony,

    (I’m not saying this to be belligerent).

    Most folks seem to already have a lot of stuff on their plates, and don’t really want anymore stuff to deal with. Whether it’s from physical and/or mental exhaustion, there’s only so much stuff which can be done in a day. In some fields, such as string theory, just keeping up with the current literature is almost equivalent to a full time job.

    For many folks when they are young and full of enthusisam, it’s easy to want to read a lot of books and papers, and working out a lot of calculations. When the same folks get older and into academic (ie. professor) type jobs, there’s a lot more stuff on their plates such as teaching, bureaucratic, etc … type duties. With all kinds of stuff on their plates, there’s only so much time which can be allocated to reading new papers, that one has to pick and choose and be more selective. There isn’t enough hours in the day to still work like a grad student or postdoc, especially if one also has more outside commitments like a family.

    Whether somebody’s research is right or wrong in the long term, is largely irrelevent when it comes to short term funding issues. (Just have to ask some older professors who worked on analytic S-Matrix theory in the 1960’s). It’s unfortunate the system works this way, with funding issues governing the direction of research and the “herding” mentality which comes with it.

  23. D R Lunsford says:

    I love Tony’s website, it’s full of interesting things. The 3-d diagrams of various polytopes alone are worth the time spent visiting.

    -drl

  24. Some experiments seem to have low signal to noise ratios that make them easy targets for the “herding”. I would not want to have my bets on physics decided by “herded” experiments.

    Those A-D-E series polytopes (and the associated Triality) are the main reasons I became certain Tony is right. Not actually being Tony, I’m allowed to say that, right? I’ll finish making my own page about this some time soon but it’s hard to put intuition into words so hopefully the pictures talk well.

    One visitor to Tony’s site told me he found the linear organization of Tony’s downloadable e-book easier to use. I think you can get the same effect by using the outline you get to through Tony’s “Keywords” link.

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