This month, the New York Times book review has been the place to follow the latest debates about what is going on in particle theory. This started with an essay by John Horgan on January 1, which drew letters to the editor from Lisa Randall on January 15, and Lawrence Krauss and Leonard Susskind on January 22 (this last letter was discussed here).

The January 15 issue also had a not very positive review of Susskind’s recent book (discussed here). In today’s (January 29) issue, Burton Richter has a letter commenting on and contrasting the recent work of Randall and Susskind. He’s positive on Randall, since he sees her as trying to come up with testable predictions, but about Susskind he has the following to say:

Susskind and the Landscape school have given up. To them the reductionist voyage that has taken physics so far has come to an end. Since that is what they believe, I can’t understand why they don’t take up something else — macramé, for example.

Richter is an emeritus Stanford professor, ex-director of SLAC, and won a Nobel prize in 1976 for his role in the “November Revolution”: the discovery at SPEAR in November 1974 of the “Psi” particle, a bound state of a charmed and anti-charmed quark (also found by a group at Brookhaven led by Sam Ting, who called it the “J” particle). Since he is emeritus, presumably Richter doesn’t attend Stanford physics department faculty meetings anymore, which is too bad, since I for one would love to see Susskind, Richter and Robert “string theory is like a 50-year old woman trying to camouflage her flaws by wearing way too much lipstick” Laughlin debating department hiring policy.

On the same page as Richter’s letter, there’s an ad for a book called “Reality Check”, by David L. Weiner. I don’t know anything about the book but the advertising blurb goes like this:

It turns out that the ape-like mechanisms that remain in our brains not only can create mental turmoil if we don’t meet their primitive expectations, but their penchant for pecking order and status can create far-out realities we think are absolutely true. These may cause us to inflict unwarranted harm on others, limit our own potential, or both.

Seems to me this book might explain some of the reaction to the recent interview in Discover magazine.

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8 Responses to Macrame

  1. CarlB says:

    About those Centauros…

    There was little mention of them last year. The most interesting parts of them are the apparent tendency to have extreme transverse momentum and to spread in lines. These two things are exactly what one would get if one had a superluminal cosmic ray. That is, unlike a regular cosmic ray, the debris would not stay with the lead particle but would spread out as the speeds differed.

    There is another aspect of cosmic rays that can be explained by superluminal lead particles, and that is the mystery of why AGASA keeps finding excessive energies for UHECRs as compared to the other experiments.

    It turns out that AGASA measures energy by creating electrical pulses whose height is proportional to the deposited energy. Then the pulse is allowed to decay through an RC time constant. The result is a pulse length proportional to the log of the energy, and so they measure the pulse length. A superluminal cosmic ray will naturally produce longer shower pulses by retriggering (i.e. the lead particle gets there first, and the earlier produced showers show up later). This will spoof the AGASA electronics to measure excessively high energy. There is another cosmic ray experiment (Russian, if I recall correctly) that uses similar RC decay electronics, but has circuitry that prevents retriggering.

    I think the best theoretical explanation for the Centauros, in the context of current physics, is that they are outliers in the statistics of pion production. But that doesn’t explain the tendency for them to have extreme transverse momentum. Oh, and they tend to react more strongly than protons, which some say is caused by them being heavier nuclei.

    There is a recent theoretical paper saying that UHECRs are superluminal, but they didn’t note the Centauro evidence for this. I should send them a letter.


  2. Wolfgang says:

    > the New York Times book review has been the place to follow the latest debates about what is going on in particle theory

    Clearly, the best place to follow the latest debates is “The Official String Blog”, you can find the link on my blog.

  3. anonymous says:

    The last sentence of Richard’s review spoils it all:

    “As a scientist and an experimental physicist, I am rooting for Randall.”

    This gives a rather strange impression to the public: both are equally valid and reasonable approaches and its just my preference to “root” for the later one.

    It lacks any firm punch whatsoever. Sort of what american fundamentalists would have everyone believe in biology: there is evolution and there is intelligent design, and we’re rooting for evolution.

    This way of putting it almost validates the intelligent design side.

  4. anonymous says:

    Oops, I meant Richter.

  5. fh says:

    The punchline is before, “Macrame”. I think he leaves no doubt whatsoever that Landscape is giving up.

  6. anonymous says:

    Though I love the sentence:

    “Susskind also is a believer in extra dimensions.”

  7. Who says:

    agree with anonymous about Richter’s phrase
    “a believer in extra dimensions.” factual but a nice ring to it.

    Two months till April, when Peter’s book comes out.
    Lucky timing, with the spotlight these days often on
    displays of string inanity, untestability.

  8. woit says:


    I see that the book is listed on some sites as coming out in April, but I was told publication date in the UK is June 1. It should be ready to go by April, but I believe that things have been slowed down a couple months to keep the time lag between the UK and US publication shorter.

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