Lawrence Krauss and Leonard Susskind have a letter to the editor in this week’s New York Times Sunday Book Review, complaining about John Horgan’s NYT Book Review essay Einstein Has Left the Building of a couple weeks back. For some discussion of an earlier Susskind-Horgan exchange about another NYT piece of Horgan’s, see here and here.
Krauss and Susskind write that “Horgan evidently sees the two of us as being on opposite sides of an imagined controversy”, but that “the fact is that there is little of substance that we disagree about.” They accuse Horgan of thinking “that reconciling quantum mechanics with Einstein’s theory of gravity is a frivolous pursuit”, whereas “both of us feel that reconciling the conflict between gravity and quantum mechanics is one of the deepest problems in modern physics.” They comment about extra dimensions:
As for Horgan’s bête noire of physics — higher dimensions, or what he refers to as “hyperspace theories” — he writes: “But pursuers of this ‘theory of everything’ have wandered into fantasy realms of higher dimensions with little or no empirical connection to our reality.” That both of the present writers recognize that additional degrees of freedom of one sort or another are needed to characterize the physics of elementary particles may come as a surprise to Horgan. What the two of us may disagree about is what may be the likely physical and mathematical basis of this fact. But we both recognize that the mathematical spaces that we already deal with in describing the quantum theory of matter are in a certain sense more mathematically exotic than simple possible extra physical dimensions.
It seems to me that Krauss and Susskind are creating a straw man to attack here, not really dealing with Horgan’s actual criticisms, the full text of which was:
Especially as represented by best sellers like “A Brief History of Time,” by Stephen Hawking, and “The Elegant Universe,” by Brian Greene, physics has also become increasingly esoteric, if not downright escapist. Many of physics’ best and brightest are obsessed with fulfilling a task that occupied Einstein’s latter years: finding a “unified theory” that fuses quantum physics and general relativity, which are as incompatible, conceptually and mathematically, as plaid and polka dots. But pursuers of this “theory of everything” have wandered into fantasy realms of higher dimensions with little or no empirical connection to our reality. In his new book “Hiding in the Mirror: The Mysterious Allure of Extra Dimensions, from Plato to String Theory and Beyond,” the physicist Lawrence Krauss frets that his colleagues’ belief in hyperspace theories in spite of the lack of evidence will encourage the insidious notion that science “is merely another kind of religion.”
I don’t see Horgan here criticizing the attempt to quantize gravity as “frivolous”. His criticism of physicists as having “wandered into fantasy realms of higher dimensions with little or no empirical connection to our reality”, is a justifiable one that deserves to be seriously addressed. Krauss and Susskind’s comment that Horgan would be surprised that both of them think that new degrees of freedom will be needed to characterize elementary particle physics doesn’t seem to have any basis in fact. Horgan isn’t making broad claims that physicists shouldn’t look for new degrees of freedom, he is very specifically referring to the use of extra space-time dimensions.
Krauss and Susskind at least implicitly take Horgan to task for referrring to such extra dimensions as “hyperspace”. He may well have picked this up from Michio Kaku who wrote a book with this title. By the way, tonight Kaku will be appearing on the Art Bell “Coast to Coast” radio program, a program which is mostly concerned with UFOs and the like. If Krauss and Susskind want an example of the kind of theoretical physics research that Horgan is bothered by, they could check out this radio program.
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