The stupendous Landscape of sting theory vacua

At an early stage in the Los Alamos preprint archive it was split up into hep-th (for more formal or speculative work not directly relevant to experiment) and hep-ph (for “phenomenological” papers directly related to experiment). Susskind has just come out with his latest and now seems to feel that his ideas about the “Landscape” are directly of interest to experimenters and so belong in hep-ph.

The preprint is riddled with typos, for instance the third paragraph starts like this:

“During the last couple of years an entirely new paradigm has emerged from the ashes of a more traditional view of string theory. The basis of the new paradigm is the stupendous Landscape of sting [sic] theory vacua — especially the non-supersymmetric vacua. These vacua appear to be so numerous that the word Discrtuum [sic] is used to describe the spectrum of possible values of the cosmological constant…..”

You get the idea.

Some high points of the article:

1. “low energy supersymmetry – an ugly solution” to the naturalness problem. Now he tells us. From what I remember the “beauty of supersymmetry” has always been one argument made in its favor.

2. “the ashes of a more traditional view of string theory”. It seems that the picture of the world according to string theory that has been heavily sold for the last twenty years has burned down to the ground.

3. The argument in his last paper, such as it was, was wrong. Now he’s got a new one with a similar conclusion.

4. “… a prediction that supersymmetry will not be seen at the TEV scale seems warranted”. OK, string theory is finally making a prediction.

5. “If it turns out that low energy supersymmetry is a feature of TEV physics, then we will have to conclude that other considerations outweigh the counting of vacua on the Landscape”. So, even though string theory predicts no low energy supersymmetry, if it is found it doesn’t mean string theory is wrong. Got it?

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30 Responses to The stupendous Landscape of sting theory vacua

  1. serenus zeitblom says:

    “I wonder what made Susskind withdraw his paper today, that was the original subject of this thread?”

    Look carefully at the final part of

    [version 4]

  2. JC says:

    I wonder what made Susskind withdraw his paper today, that was the original subject of this thread?

    Any good guesses on this?

  3. JC says:

    Perhaps it’s not so surprising in seeing some folks pursue weird or crackpot ideas, the closer they are to retirement and/or the less they have to answer to anybody for approval or money (either as a salary, a grant, or a pension)?

    If it’s the case of a tenured professor towards the end of their career, some may very well fall into a “lame duck” phase of their careers and just do whatever they want, with very little to no pressure to publish anything or get research grant money. Some folks may view that they have nothing to lose in pursuing weird or crackpot ideas, while counting down to the day when they can start collecting their pensions and social security checks.

    In the case of Stephen Wolfram, it appears he’s independently wealthy from his company selling Mathematica over the years. Considering Wolfram hasn’t published extensively since he left academia, his case appears on the surface to be almost like a “vanity” (ie. self indulgent and/or self aggrandizement) type of research project which cumulated into his 2002 book “A New Kind of Science”. Some stuff in his book looked interesting, though some parts seemed too outlandish to be readily believable. At times I wonder if his book would have even been published if he didn’t publish it through his own publishing company. (In principle anybody can publish anything through their own publishing company or journal, if they have all the money in the world to squander on it and convince enough bookstores to sell it). Perhaps this project isn’t much more than an ego trip for Wolfram?

    These days any “crackpot” can just set up their own web site and “publish” whatever they want.

    If string theory and/or loop quantum gravity ever fell out of favor to the point where even journals like Nucl. Phys. B or JHEP, started to refuse to publish any string and/or loop gravity papers, I wouldn’t be surprised if the “fanatical” string and/or loop gravity folks will just “publish” their papers on their own web site or even start their own dedicated string and/or loop gravity journals, while giving the “middle finger” to the older journals which won’t publish any of their papers.

  4. ‘t Hooft holds a webpage, so perhaps his powerpoint presentations are available. Usually funnier than the papers.

    I would put appart Stephen Wolfram’s. He left physics very early to go to computer science. I was very surprised when his articles on one dimensional cellular automata were published in Physical Review. Now the book is a separate, personal quest. If to someone, he could be alike to Julien Barbour.

    As for Julian Schwinger and cold fusion, google suggest a pair of links:

    From it I wonder if he overreacted mainly to counter the general tendence, specially phys rev letters as he mentions. The old fathers as Schwinger are surely more humble about the success of modern quantum theory, they can have more perspective.

  5. Thomas Larsson says:

    ‘t Hooft has a bunch of papers in the arxiv on Planck scale determinism, e.g.

    (An Essay in honour of John S. Bell!). However, ‘t Hooft undoubtedly knows a lot more about Bell’s theorem and its possible loopholes than I do, so I am certainly not in the position to judge. Determinism gives me bad vibrations, though.

  6. Re: t’Hooft on hidden variables

    I have heard about that, but no details. Does anyone know what precisely t’Hooft is thinking about in detail with respect to hidden variables?

  7. Thomas Larsson says:

    Coming back to the issue of famous people that have done strange things. Here are some more recent examples that made my eyebrows rise a bit: Julian Schwinger’s support for cold fusion, ‘t Hooft’s work on hidden variables (or something very similar, and Stephen Wolfram’s New Kind of Science. I wouldn’t go so far as calling any of this crankish, however, and I observe that cold fusion apparently is starting to get some funding again. The stuff that Brian Josephson does is really weird, though.

  8. Steve, yep, I concede that it is too many pages for just an artistic parody; It seems you are right, he is serious about this.

    On other hand, the high quality of the graphics and the insistent sexual metaphor, sometimes almost Dali-nian, seem to point to an artistically inclined mind. The insistence on using physics vocabulary reminders me of another famous internet crackpot, Archimedes Plutonium, but in this case the ego is not so inflated, more the contrary.

    Have you seen the “about” page and the website? Some years ago, all Spain was invaded by these puzzles. Guess he can pay the $ of the homepage, if he has been able to collect the royalties.

  9. D R Lunsford says:

    I find it somewhat astonishing that Dyson feels free to make such statements about Dirac, given his own lack of any definitive creative act in physics. I don’t consider mathematical technique to be creativity in physics. If blame needs to be assigned (it doesn’t) for the lack of success in fundamental theories, then put it at the door of chez Bourbaki and the formalists.

  10. JC says:


    The Dyson review of Greene’s book is at at:

    It’s interesting how Dyson asserts that revolutionaries and conservatives in physics come and go in an almost cyclic sinusoidal manner (with a phase shift of pi between the revolutionary and conservative curves of “popularity”). I wonder if Dyson’s assertion is true going back further in time, to the time periods before Newton or Kepler or Copernicus.

    In the Dyson article, it sounds like the pioneers of quantum mechanics like Heisenberg, Dirac, Schrodinger, etc … were attempting to create an “encore” performance after their first “standing ovation” performance of creating quantum mechanics. Possibly at that time period in the 1900’s to 1920’s, the deviation between experiment and classical theory became so great that many radical theories were proposed and tried out? It would be interesting to go back and find old journal papers of theories which were competitors to quantum mechanics in the 1920’s, but which are now long gone and forgotten.

    Perhaps there is a time and place for radical new ideas and theories in physics when the deviations between experiment and theory become really big, and where the old theories don’t seem to work anymore regardless of how many “epicycles” are added into the old theories. These days there doesn’t seem to be enough empirical data yet to reveal a huge deviation between classical and quantum gravity phenomena. It would be interesting to see in the near future how much new astro data will come in, and whether there’s a really compelling case that reveals a significant deviation from classical general relativity.

    In today’s cases of string theory, loop quantum gravity, etc … and other forms of “quantum gravity” research, it appears to fit very much into Dyson’s category of “revolutionaries” attempting to build “castles in the sky”. Perhaps it can be argued that today’s “quantum gravity” folks are really just “pseudo revolutionaries” masquerading in a “revolutionary’s drag”, in the sense of folks attempting to create a “revolution” when there’s very little to nothing there to be “revolutionary” about in the first place? An analogy would be the difference between the “real revolutionaries” like the Bolsheviks, the Irgun, the solidarity movement in Poland, etc … compared to the “pseudo revolutionaries” like the american hippies from the 1960’s, or the British punk rockers from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Certainly the pioneers of quantum theory like Dirac, Schrodinger, Heisenberg, etc … would fit into the “real revolutionaries” category when they were creating quantum mechanics in the 1920’s, but they gradually turned into “pseudo revolutionaries” when they got older and were advocating their radical “crackpot” ideas that had very little to no experimental support.

    In many ways, “pseudo revolutionaries” are probably common throughout history and will continue to be that way well into the future. Perhaps the only big difference between the “pseudo revolutionaries” and the “real revolutionaries”, is that the “real revolutionaries” just happened to be in the right place at the right time by coincidence. In another time and place, these “real revolutionaries” would have been written off as “pseudo revolutionaries” or “crackpots”, and eventually would have faded away into obscurity and largely forgotten, like what happened eventually to the American hippies and British punk rockers. In another place and time, somebody like Adolf Hitler would have been an insignificant 4th rate artist, homeless street bum, or even a Paris or Vienna coffee house intellectual, instead of the destructive Fuehrer of Nazi Germany.

    Perhaps the differentiating factor between “revolutionaries” (whether pseudo or real) and “conservatives”, has a lot more to do with a person’s personality? I wouldn’t be surprised if during “revolutionary” time periods, the “conservatives” would just be plodding along into obscurity with their old theories/paradigms and become largely forgotten by history in the end, while during “conservative” time periods, the “revolutionaries” would just be making fools of themselves and also become largely forgotten by history in the end too. If string theory dies and fades away into the dustbins of physics history, will physics history remember who Witten, John Schwarz, or Maldacena are in a hundred years? (I think Witten would be definitely remembered in the math history books, as a Fields medalist winner). For somebody like Geoff Chew, he seems to have already faded away into obscurity and into the dustbins of physics history, other than as a footnote reference to the analytic S-Matrix theory origins of string theory.

  11. Steve says:

    Actually, the guy who wrote this stuff, a Dirk Lauryssens seems deadly serious (or else pretends to be). Although it does look like a parody of string theory and the buzzwords/jargon used. He is either a genuine crackpot or just pretending to be one to wind people up (presumably physicists/real string theorists). Don’t understand why he is getting space on a Hollywood info website though–would’nt that cost him $?–but the net is full of strange stuff. I noticed this site a while back when someone pointed it out to me but it has grown quite a bit now since he seems to have gotton very inspired by Brian Greene’s PBS series on string theory. I also notice on his “conclusion” page he quotes an abstract of S. Majid to support his claims! Poor old Majid. First the Bogdanovs now this guy lol. Don’t what he has done to deserve it.

  12. D R Lunsford says:

    Recall that the list of crackpots at one time included Clifford, Kaluza, Bolyai, Grassmann, etc. etc. Pauli himself blasted Dirac’s idea of “holes” then later, perforce, retracted. Boltzmann committed suicide in despair, followed by Ehrenfest. All really new ideas generaate enmity it would seem.

    Yes, some of the later work of people like Einstein and Dirac seems futile in retrospect – but even a hopeless idea like “lambda invariance” is more interesting than brainless triumphalism. And it’s entertaining! I had great *fun* reading Dirac’s papers on the superconducting vacuum. There’s more to life than eternal verities.

  13. Steve, it is just elaborate irony with a lot of sexual clues. Note for instance as the “Mama brane” is drawn milking her particles.

  14. Steve says:

    Check out this bunk.
    and scroll down to “Breaking Science News.Cosmology”. This is not just an obscure crackpot page…this page must get major hits. String theory unfortunately seems to be giving credibility to this sort of thing and I worry if real rigorous science can ultimately survive. You could use the email link and complain but sadly the author(s) would probably relish the attention.

  15. Thomas Larsson says:

    “It would be interesting to go back and find some weird or crackpot unpublished papers that were written by folks like Dirac, Einstein, Fermi, Schwinger, Heisenberg, Eddington, etc …. ”

    Dyson recently wrote a review of Brian Greene’s latest book (I lost the reference, but it appeared on this blog so maybe somebody else can fill it in). In particular, he remembered that when he was young in 1950, old heroes like Einstein, Heisenberg, Born, Dirac each had their own wacky idea, which they thought should to start another revolution like the quantum one. Since I am a big fan of PAM, it disturbed me that Dirac’s idea seemed the weirdest; it had something to do with probabilities ranging between +2 and -2.

    Dyson remarks that seeing these old men making fools of themselves turned his generation, with Schwinger, Feynmann and others, into conservatives. I would not be surprised if today’s excesses by the aging string theorists will have a similar effect on the next generation.

    However, Dyson is too conservative even for my taste, since he seems happy with gravity being described by a classical theory.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Well, I have a recent paper that got into a real journal (Feb this year, IJTP) but is banned from the archives! I feel a perverse pride in this 🙂

  17. JC says:


    So far none of Susskind’s anthropic preprints appear to have been published in any real journals which require peer review. Maybe at this point he doesn’t even care if they end up in a journal or not? His first anthropic paper (hep-th/0302219) seems to be getting many citations already.

    It would be interesting to go back and find some weird or crackpot unpublished papers that were written by folks like Dirac, Einstein, Fermi, Schwinger, Heisenberg, Eddington, etc …. that would be good candidates for a “physics hall of shame”. Maybe old age and/or senility are the root causes of some folks starting to work on weird or crackpot research ideas? I can’t think of any good reason for younger folks wanting to work on weird or crackpot ideas, other than perhaps simple brainwashing or just plain intellectual laziness.

  18. Tim says:

    Do any of these ridiculous Susskind preprints ever get published in journals?

  19. JC says:

    The only stuff I’ve ever came across that’s even more mindless and incoherent than Hegel or Derrida, would be the lyrics of most pop music songs especially in its more extreme forms like heavy metal or punk rock. Whether intentional or not, most pop song lyrics make very little to no sense and frequently appears to be just pure nonsense attempting to say something profound. Perhaps it only makes “sense” to a person who is high on drugs or really drunk?

    What I found amusing over the years, is how many pop songs frequently have the same underlying structures in musical chord progressions and rhythms such as

    intro – verse – chrous – verse – chorus – bridge/solo – chorus

    with the lyrics fitting into the same sort of rhythms of 4 or 8 syllables per line. It seems to be almost like a formula regardless of who the artist is, the year it was written, the particular style of pop music, or even what language or country it was written in.

    What would be amusing is if anyone has ever used that Dada Engine at

    to “randomly” generate pop song lyrics, where it’s difficult to figure out if it’s a computer or person writing the lyrics.

    An even more sophisticated thing would be to get that Dada Engine to actually generate musical rhythms and melodies that sound typical of pop music. It seems like many pop songs are written in the same 4/4 time signature, with chord progressions fitting into the same sequences of musical notes and scales, usually some minor pentatonic scale (that’s frequently the first scale almost every musician learns when they picked up their first guitar or sat behind their first keyboard/piano).

    It would be even more amusing if this sophisticated “Dada Pop Music” generator actually produced pop music songs that are indistinguishable from the human written pop songs on MTV or the radio! Then they can rename this “Dada Pop Music” generator as the “Milli Vanilli” machine that fools everyone!

  20. Steve says:

    Brilliant and beautiful series the “Ascent of Man”. I have it on video. Bronowski was a truly unique intellectual figure and polymath discussing science and human cultural evolution with a warm poetic eloquence. In that episode “Knowledge and Certainty” I remember he describes Hagels as a philosopher he “specifically detests” and really knocks him down to size. That episode also ends with the famous powerful and moving scene at the pond at Auschwitz, which is the back sludge of the ashes of millions of people, including some of his family. He says, “when people believe they have absolute knowledge with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods”. If you can get the series on video or dvd at your university or local library then check it out. Well worth the time.

  21. D R Lunsford says:

    Jacob Bronowski in his series “Ascent of Man” bashed Hegel mercilessly by pointing out that, directly after publication of his Pythagero-philosophical proof that only 8 planets could exist, Ceres was discovered 🙂

  22. JC says:


    Judging from the hep-th abstracts, I’m sure what passes as “deconstruction” in string theory is a lot less sinister than Derrida’s notion of “deconstruction”.

    If you ever come across anything that’s written in a very “revisionist” manner, most likely the person is engaging in Derrida’s version of “deconstruction”. Some folks will say outright that they’re invoking Derrida, while other folks may be doing “deconstruction” without even being conscious of it!

    In the end, Derrida’s “deconstruction” isn’t much more than a person trying to rationalize their own self-denial. In many ways it’s sort of like Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels’ notion of “keep on repeating a lie, and in the long term it eventually becomes ‘true’ “. (It appears Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc … have all taken a cue from Goebbels and are actively applying it to everything they’re saying on television, hoping to eventually fool enough voters through election day in November).

    Perhaps all these string folks who are “true believers” in the anthropic stuff, are really unconsciously engaging in “deconstruction” without even knowing it! They’re all secret worshippers of Derrida. 😉

  23. Thomas Larsson says:


    A hep-th search for eprints with the word “deconstruction” in the title during the past year gave 9 hits. Derrida rules!

  24. Peter says:

    A lot of string theory research can be compared to Derrida, Hegel, postmodernism, etc., in that a complex and difficult formalism is used to obscure some rather ill-thought out ideas. But Susskind is something different. It’s not hard at all to understand exactly what he is saying. He doesn’t hide behind a complicated set-up in the slightest and his mathematics is mostly what one learns in junior high school.

    The weird thing about this is that someone can be taken seriously when they so obviously are not really doing science.

  25. Thomas Larsson says:

    4. “… a prediction that supersymmetry will not be seen at the TEV scale seems warranted”.

    I wonder how this affects Lubos Motl’s experimental-SUSY-by-2006 bet.

  26. JC says:

    Hmmm …. Reading again over my description of Derrida several times, I just realized my statements make absolutely no sense.

    I suspect this is the sort of twisted thinking many folks fall into when they are in denial about their own ignorance, whether philosophers, physicists, or anybody else. It’s very easy to fall into.

  27. JC says:

    Blah. Forgot to put my name to the previous post.

  28. Anonymous says:

    I never quite understood the “beauty of SUSY” arguments that were propagandized over the years.

    Only thing I found SUSY useful for was in checking my Feynman diagram calculations by taking a SUSY limit, where if I did my calculaton properly it should reproduce the known SUSY results in the various SUSY limits. Other than using SUSY as a way of checking my calculations, I never quite bought into the “beauty” argument completely.

    I think the only time I ever bought into the “beauty of SUSY” propaganda, was when I was a naive clueless undergrad with “stars in my eyes”. I first heard about SUSY from some of my professors who did particle phenomenology, and just took their word for it without questioning it much. For the most part, it was somewhat “over my head” at the time. When I finally got around to learning SUSY in grad school, that’s when I started to have second thoughts about it.

    When I was still doing string stuff, I treated SUSY as if it was a Planck scale symmetry more or less by fiat decree.

    On a different note, I wonder what Susskind’s future book on the “Landscape” will look like. If it resembles the sort of papers he’s been cranking out over the last year or so, will it start to read more like a philosophy book than a book about physics? What will be scary is if it ends up reading like “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” by Ludwig Wittgenstein, or worse, anything by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel or Jacques Derrida. If I didn’t know any better, Hegel’s work reads very much like nonsense masquerading as “legitimate discourse” in a manner similar to postmodernism stuff. Wittgenstein’s work attempts to assert that all philosophical problems which are not scientific, are really ambiguities in our language. Derrida’s “deconstruction” work seems to be searching for hidden or underlying meanings in something by “reading in between the lines”, that are not so obvious on the surface. If I didn’t know any better, I always got the sense “deconstruction” wasn’t much more than a thinly veiled attempt at a “rorschach test” of a person’s underlying biases and prejudices, when reading and critiquing something. It would be a sad day when physics starts to read a lot like Derrida, Hegel, or postmodernism.

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