Physicists seeking to understand the deepest levels of reality now work within a framework largely of Susskind’s making. But a funny thing has happened along the way. Susskind now wonders whether physicists can understand reality.
In the interview, Susskind explains that he was a bad boy as a youth, but “just so much better than anybody else, including the professor.” In recent years he has been the most prominent promoter of the string theory multiverse, and now claims that this pseudo-science convincingly dominates the field (SciAm seems to agree…), with the situation just like in the early days of QCD:
A large fraction of the physics community has abandoned trying to explain our world as unique, as mathematically the only possible world. Right now the multiverse is the only game in town. Not everybody is working on it, but there is no coherent, sharp argument against it.
In 1974 I had an interesting experience about how scientific consensus forms. People were working on the as yet untested theory of hadrons [subatomic particles such as protons and neutrons], which is called quantum chromodynamics, or QCD. At a physics conference I asked, “You people, I want to know your belief about the probability that QCD is the right theory of hadrons.” I took a poll. Nobody gave it more than 5 percent. Then I asked, “What are you working on?” QCD, QCD, QCD. They were all working on QCD. The consensus was formed, but for some odd reason, people wanted to show their skeptical side. They wanted to be hard-nosed. There’s an element of the same thing around the multiverse idea. A lot of physicists don’t want to simply fess up and say, “Look, we don’t know any other alternative.”
Susskind had a distinguished career as a theorist for many years, and has managed to do quite well with his multiverse campaign for quite a while now. There has been a lot of coverage of this story on this blog, for some high points, see here, here, here and here.
In other news, the media has been full of stories about another physicist who has been a bad boy, David Flory. He started his career as an HEP theorist back in the late 1960s, as a student at Yeshiva University, and collaborator there with Susskind. Like a huge number of other people, he got his permanent academic job in 1969, and has been at Fairleigh Dickinson University ever since.