String Theorists Suggest Space Wormholes Possible

I was just out for a bike ride, during which an idle thought came to me about a rule of thumb that might deserve publicity. This rule of thumb is that the mention of wormholes in a popular science book, TV program, etc., indicates that real science is not what’s being discussed. When I got back to my office, I found that USA Today has a new story: String theorists suggest space wormholes possible. The source of the story is this preprint.

Via Twitter, the story’s author did get the obvious response to this claim: this isn’t news since everything is possible in string theory.

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13 Responses to String Theorists Suggest Space Wormholes Possible

  1. Shantanu says:

    Peter there is no mention about string theory in the paper. (wormholes
    is an old concept in relativity and there are papers on it from 30’s onwards)

  2. Cliff says:

    I dont suppose there is any way to map this ‘rule of thumb’ into a meaningful statement about whether string theory is relevant to understanding the world or not?

    After all, according to the rule general relativity isn’t “real science” either.

    Interestingly, you seem to advocate the opposite demand than those of e.g. Smolin. Instead of insisting that string theory be formulated with manifest background independence, it is now apparently required to be unable to deal with certain backgrounds. Is this basically what you’re saying?

  3. Jeff says:

    Well, I work with a physicist (who ended up in the math department for various reasons) who’s a GR guy, and has written several papers on this stuff. In particular he has done work on limitations on negative energy, which is what you need to keep a wormhole stable. Together with collaborators they found limits on the duration of any localized negative energy, these are based on the uncertainty principle. The upshot is that you can’t get stable wormholes in standard GR. From what I can deduce from the paper here, they are trying to get around this, and it does use string theory – they get the extra curvature they need from the compactification from 10 dimensions down to 4 (I thought M theory was 11 dimensional 🙂

  4. Peter Woit says:


    This rule of thumb is not about string theory, it’s about TV programs…

    There may very well have once been a TV program that discussed wormholes and GR in a scientifically solid way. I missed that one though.

  5. GR student says:

    It would be sad if the public internalized your rule of thumb and then denied themselves the pleasure of reading “Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy” by Kip Thorne because they thought “real science” was not being discussed.

  6. Natron says:

    Yes, the paper mentions string theory 4 times. Also, Peter was just reporting on what the article is claiming based off this paper.

  7. Peter Woit says:

    GR Student,

    Well, it’s just a rule of thumb, doubtless there are exceptions. I think it works better for TV shows, and has become more and more accurate as time goes on. Less accurate for books from more than 15 years ago.

  8. Casey Leedom says:

    Peter, I think you’re “re-coining” a rule of thumb that’s already been covered in “Jumping the shark.” Isn’t that what the entire multiverse thing is? Once you run out of other ideas …


  9. Shantanu says:

    Natron, the paper says that Gauss-bonnet gravity is motivated from heterotic string theory. but again G-B gravity has a much longer history than string theory.
    btw, see this paper on wormholes

  10. DB says:

    Enjoyable paper all the same, especially if read from the perspective: “what corrections to the GR Lagrangian would permit stable traversable wormholes?” Although it uses a particular string theory lagrangian to derive those corrections as its starting point, I would be more interested in a research program that tried to explore what the most general class of such corrections were and then seek constraints on them.
    Also interesting that the most recent paper to be referenced was 1988.
    Aside from all the string theory hype, the fact remains that without some means of faster than light travel and communication we are stuck in this solar system for eternity, so I consider research efforts in this utterly neglected area worthwhile and deserving of the title “fundamental”, provided always that they take GR as their starting point.

  11. DB says:

    That should of course have read “string theory action” and not “string theory Lagrangian”

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