3-400 Pages?

I’d been wondering what’s up with Witten and his ongoing work on geometric Langlands. He has been giving talks about this since last summer, and in the past has always quickly produced a paper (often a quite long one) once he has some new result like this that he’s publicly talking about. It had surprised me that it was taking him unusually long to get this written up, but now comes news from Anton Kapustin (via Lubos) that Witten is working on a document 3-400 pages long. This length would certainly explain why it is taking longer than usual, and surely the end result will be something quite interesting. The Kapustin rumor also claims that whatever this 300-400 page thing is that Witten is working on, it’s not a paper. Mysterious… The obvious guess is that it will actually be a book.

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19 Responses to 3-400 Pages?

  1. D R Lunsford says:

    Maybe it’s the Lagrangian for string theory.


  2. secret milkshake says:

    Maybe a series of related papers, back to back. It would be helpful if it was; new ideas are needed.

  3. A.J. says:

    Wow. That’s getting into Grothendieck territory. I wonder if it’s something about topological field theories: Cordes, Moore, & Ramgoolam’s quote-unquote “lecture notes” are nearly 250 pages and are still sometimes painfully terse. And my advisor’s new lecture notes on Geometric Langlands are about 150 pages.

  4. ObsessiveMathsFreak says:

    Not quite related to Sting Theory, but on the matter of scientific papers; Some papers are just far too long. A great many writers seem to be caught up in how they are doing something rather than what they are doing. Appendices are fine, but I for one would rather that papers’ main bodies be more succint than they currently are.

    A 300 page paper is clearly going overboard. I’d imagine 90% of the potential audience will be daunted and over 50% of those who begin will turn away after a few brief forays.

    Appendices for dull, but important, stuff, like large data sheets, mathematical derivations, etc, etc. But flashy diagrams go in the main text, naturally. And for heavens sake put comments on your mathematical equations!! A series of mathematical equations just thrown down is like a sequence of uncommented computer source code. i.e. impossible to work with. Tell us what, how and most importantly why you’re doing something.

  5. D R Lunsford says:

    Peter, RE this comment

    The idea seems to be to use a TQFT given by a twisted version of N=4 supersymmetric Yang-Mills… Then one does dimensional reduction using as 4-manifold a Riemann surface times the upper-half-plane, and ends up with a sigma model of maps from the upper-half-plane to the Hitchin moduli space of flat connections on the Riemann surface. The boundary degrees of freedom are branes, and the S-duality of the 4-d theory is supposed to give a duality at the level of the sigma model that corresponds to the fundamental duality one is trying to understand in the geometric Langlands program.

    This sounds very impressive but I have no idea what it has to do with physics. By sigma model do you mean Kaehler metric? Or something like the Higgs mechanism? -confused-



  6. ksh95 says:

    “By sigma model do you mean …..”

    I presume Peter means the same sigma model that’s in every field-theory/critical-phenomena book ever written.

  7. woit says:


    The sigma model is just a 2d qft involving fields that are maps from the upper half plane (that’s your space-time, if you like) to a complicated space, the moduli space of solutions to a 2-d (different 2d!) gauge theory coupled to a Higgs field.

    This subject looks quite interesting, but also quite complicated. I’d kind of decided not to spend more time on it until Witten’s paper came out, figuring it was a waste of time to try and figure out the details of this based on fragmentary notes of his talks, when a complete paper would soon be available.

  8. MathPhys says:

    He’s probably wrting a Lecture Notes in Physics, or Asterisque type monograph.

  9. Xerxes says:

    Just wanted to chime in with an opposite opinion from ObsessiveMathsFreak. I love long papers. People spend so much effort in papers trying to make themselves look very clever at the expense of clarity. If it takes you 100 pages to say clearly what you could have said succinctly in 25 pages, am I going to charge you for the extra bandwidth those 75 pages took to download? No, I’m going to shake your hand for explaining things clearly.

    Besides, if I already know the material and just want to cut to the chase, I can always skip over to what I want to see using the table of contents. Can a reader who doesn’t know the material already fill in the blanks from a shorter paper? Nope, he’s out of luck.

  10. blank says:

    Actually, he’s working on a new book for the popular audience:
    “Warped Personalities: Susskind, Motl, and the Illusion of Intelligence”

  11. xpinor says:

     $3^{400}$ Pages?

  12. mitchell porter says:

    3400 pages?

    So he went overboard on the case-by-case analysis of vacua…

  13. mitchell porter says:

    That’s odd, the preview showed the 400 as a superscript, as I had intended.

  14. secret milkshake says:

    I wonder if there is a technique that could help a bunch of thinking people to avoid commenting on the stuff published by Motl. It is like the ankle itch – it gets worse by frequent scratching it. Unless causing more inflammation is the purpose of this blog, I would suggest more self-discipline

  15. woit says:

    I fear that I just find Lubos too entertaining and his behavior too perfect an example of what is wrong with the way string theory is pursued for me to suggest that people ignore him.

  16. Hello,
    just a note to say thanks for linking my site… I am doing the same!

  17. Kielbasa says:

    Without Lubos, where would Peter find enough materiel for his blogg?

  18. woit says:


    This month, all I need is the NYT book review. See my latest posting.

  19. sunderpeeche says:

    “materiel” (as opposed to “material”) is the werewithal an army needs to prosecute a war …. non-native English (which I assume is the case here ~ “kielbasa”) is wonderful.

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