First Public Reaction From String Theorist to “Not Even Wrong”

Last month I made the following prediction:

String theory doesn’t make any predictions, but I can make one: Lubos will be among the first reviewers of my book on Amazon, and I’ll get two stars.

This prediction was confirmed today, with a certain Harvard faculty member acting exactly the way you would expect. The reason for the two stars is that Lubos is well aware that Amazon usually deletes one star reviews.

His Amazon review is nutty in so many ways it’s hard to know where to start. It begins with:

I have read a different edition of the book than one offered here, and I apologize in advance for any inaccuracies in my review that this fact could cause. In fact, if any errors from the list below have been corrected, it was because of my feedback, so I think it is fair to list them anyway.

I have no idea what “different edition” of the book he is referring to, perhaps it is the earlier version that Cambridge considered a couple years ago, which was circulated by them and by me to various people. Whatever it was he was reading, I never received any feedback from him correcting supposed errors. Besides this weird delusion, pretty much everything else he quotes as an error in the book is something he has made up out of whole cloth. He doesn’t directly quote a single word of mine or give page numbers, so I can’t even figure out where he is getting this nonsense.

I’ll just ignore the ranting and ad hominem attacks, trademarks of someone on the losing side of an argument, and address the very few substantive errors he claims I make where I can actually locate the exact place in the book he claims an error is being made:

Woit writes that the energy of the LHC beam will be 14 GeV, instead of 14 TeV

Page 31: “[the LHC] is a proton-proton collider with a total energy of 14 Tev”

Note that the original is correct, his correction is wrong (the beam energy is 7 TeV).

In his description of the history of supersymmetry, he forgets Pierre Ramond.

Actually I explain carefully in the preface of the book that the history is quite sketchy and many people are left out. One of my main fears after writing this book was realizing how many enemies I would make by not putting their names in. In this case however, Pierre Ramond is in the index and I write:

Page 154: “The first string theory with fermions was constructed by Pierre Ramond late in 1970”

Page 155: “Early string theorists discovered that string theories with fermions involved a version of supersymmetry…”

He misunderstands how SU(2) can be embedded to SO(4)

There’s nothing in the book about embeddings of SU(2) in SO(4). Presumably this is a reference to a mistaken statement I made once on this weblog. Yes, dear reader, among the by now probably thousands of pages of material I have written on this blog, I have sometimes said something incorrect. The book is written a lot more carefully than my blog postings.

Even more seriously, he builds his case upon e-mail messages from undetermined sources that supported Woit’s viewpoint. Most of these e-mails were obviously written by crackpots.

In the book I’m quite careful to attribute things I quote and there are very few e-mails quoted. There’s only one unattributed e-mail that I can think of, it was written by someone visiting the Harvard string theory group at the time of the Bogdanov scandal, who wrote:

“So no one in the string group at Harvard can tell if these papers are real or fraudulent. This morning told that they were frauds, everyone was laughing at how obvious it is. This afternoon, told they are real professors and that this is not a fraud, everyone here says, well, maybe it is real stuff.”

This is unattributed since I don’t know who wrote it. Maybe they were a crackpot, one visiting the Harvard string theory group.
The problematic statement that string theory makes no prediction is repeated hundreds of times, and in many particular contexts, such a statement becomes not only boring but also patently false.

I doubt it’s actually in the hundreds, but sure, I do repeatedly claim that string theory makes no predictions, and this is not “patently false”, but completely accurate.

he never mentions names like Weinberg, Gell-Mann, Hawking, Randall, Arkani-Hamed

Weinberg, Gell-Mann, and Hawking are each mentioned many times in the book, and I list Lisa Randall’s book as the suggested place to learn more about brane-world scenarios. It’s true that Arkani-Hamed is not in the book.

I could go on about the rest of the review, but really, what’s the point?

I would like to think that Lubos is a huge embarrassment to the string theory community, but the sad thing is that there’s little evidence that they’re embarrassed.

Last Updated on

This entry was posted in Not Even Wrong: The Book. Bookmark the permalink.

142 Responses to First Public Reaction From String Theorist to “Not Even Wrong”

  1. Anon-e-mus says:

    Lubos’ behavior isn’t similar to the typical behavior of Aspergers’ people at all. No, he is a classical case of Narcissist Personality Disorder. Just look at all the times he points out that his blog is allegedly the “best” according to google, that he has more google hits than some leading politicians and so on and so on. An Aspie wouldn’t care much about that kind of outside confirmation, but Lubos really, really seems to need it: typically narcissist behavior. Self-praise disguised as praise by others, extreme dependence on outside confirmation of superiority, just like the need to put others down, ridicule others etc., all typical Lubos behaviors, all typical of narcissism. Lubos is a narcissist, not an autistic (he may have some mildly autistic traits as well, but some of those are actually fairly common among mathematicians/theoretical physicists).

  2. Peter Woit says:

    People looking for another blog where they can watch Lubos promoting string theory and argue with him might want to look at this:

    http://blogs.chron.com/sciguy/archives/2006/06/which_of_these_1.html

  3. Sam says:

    “try the next most well-known string theory blogger, Jacques Distler”

    Yeah, Distler’s blog is a cesspool of ad hominem attacks and lunatic ravings about the enemies of string theory and mathml.

  4. woit says:

    Mentos=Sam (if you’re going to hide behind a pseudonym, maybe it should just be one),

    I wasn’t so much thinking of Distler’s blog postings, but what happens if you disagree with him. You don’t see that very often these days since, for whatever reason (maybe because the way he handles mathml no one can read his blog on their browser), virtually no one writes comments there. What I had in mind was more what people who deal with him soon notice, see

    http://utphysguide.livejournal.com/3047.html

    “Jacques Distler is quite possibly the worst physics professor I have ever had. He has the uncanny ability to make even the simplest concepts utterly incomprehensible. He is a true intellectual snob, and he treats most questions with open hostility. Unless you have a PhD in math and already know string theory, you will not learn anything from Distler. String theory is hard, but not as hard as Distler wants it to be.”

    Not exactly something that would encourage a student to go into his field, no?

  5. Thomas Reasoner says:

    This has been some interesting reading. I just have one question, and I’m sorry if it’s a little off-topic: what’s the alternative to string theory? I only have a BS in Electrical/Computer Engineering, so I’m just starting out in this great field. I want to go into cosmology and work on a unified field theory, but I don’t want to work on string theory. Is there an alternative for someone like me? This is all I want to do with my life, and I’d prefer not to waste my energies on science-fiction, so any advice would be appreciated. Please email me at thomas.reasoner@gmail.com so as not to get too far off-topic from the post.

  6. woit says:

    Thomas,
    It’s not that people who are working on string theory are ignoring some obviously better alternative out there. No one has any really good ideas about unification at the moment, making it a tough field to go into. Given the situation, the choice may be to work on something which is pretty surely science fiction, or to try and come up with something new yourself, which is very hard.

  7. JoAnne says:

    Thanks All, for a most entertaining read! Made me laugh out loud. Peter, no choice but to get your book now.

    And, Thomas Reasoner, the alternative to string theory is particle theory. We build theories and fit them to data. If actual data excludes them, they get tossed out. We have many exciting puzzles to solve – the mechanism behind electroweak symmetry breaking, the hierarchy problem, what is dark matter, why are neutrinos massive, what is the origin of CP violation, etc. We have data to confront these puzzles, and our theories, and will soon take a giant leap in our understanding with the LHC. Only Lubos will be left to care about string theory then…

  8. Chris Oakley says:

    The Robert Matthews article in full.

    RM studied Physics at Oxford and was in the year below me (1978). What with that Oxford man Penrose having facilitated the publication of Peter’s book, I doubt that Superstring Theorists will be queueing up to make donations to Oxford University.

  9. PeterG says:

    As a physics grad student, I must admit I’m finding this controversy regarding string theory extremely interesting, but the manner in which it is being played out as being emabarrassing to all in the field. As scientific professionals there is a definite need for expressing opinions and to challenge other’s thoughts, conjectures and theories, but in a respectful manner. Debate rather than intimidation and insult is surely the correct approach. Unfortunately I have now seen the latter in the attacks on Smolin by Susskind and now Motl on Woit.

    As to the question of whether or not Mr Motl would convince me to look in another area of physics other than string theory – the answer is no and yes. No, as I am willing to ignore the individual to study the theory, but also yes, as I am yet to hear the leaders of the field criticising his personal attacks on those respected scientists that are providing a challenge to these stringy theories. After all, in science no good theory should go unchallenged.

    As I am only a grad student and not a professor with numerous published papers, I will be no doubt seen as an ‘idiot’, a ‘crackpot’ or not yet worthy of a comment – all I can say is that out there is perhaps another grad student that some day makes the breakthrough that those condemning them have been unable to do. For me I think I’m going to focus on QCD.

    I look forward to reading the book.

    PS … if the only reason for not reading it is some typos then I best throw away every text book I have ever had!!!

  10. Chris Oakley says:

    Peter G,

    1. Thank-you for providing yet another spelling for the word “embarrassing”.
    2. You should not consider the Harvard Hammer of Heretics as being representative. Even Jacques Distler is capable of (icy) politeness with critics of ST.

    Peter W,

    I just bought a copy of your book from Blackwell’s in Oxford. Like the aforementioned hammer, I therefore have to call you a liar as I seem to remember you saying that it would not be in bookshops until June 16.

  11. Tony Smith says:

    Thomas, you ask ” what’s the alternative to string theory? “.

    Peter replied
    ” No one has any really good ideas about unification at the moment …”

    and

    JoAnne said
    “… the alternative to string theory is particle theory.
    We build theories and fit them to data.
    If actual data excludes them, they get tossed out. …”.

    I have an alternative physics model that fits “actual data” of particle physics.
    A version of it can be found in pdf form on the CERN web site as EXT-2003-087 at
    http://cdsweb.cern.ch/search.py?sysno=002414216CER
    and also on my web site at
    http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/TQ3mHFII1vNFadd97.pdf

    Further details can be found on the parts of my web site at
    http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/
    that deal with physics, and with the physics parts of my 4 MB pdf web book at
    http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/BANNEDbyCORNELL.pdf

    Note that the web book material includes calculations of
    the ratio Dark Energy : Dark Matter : Ordinary Matter, related to JoAnne’s question “what is dark matter”
    and
    neutrino masses and mixing angles, related to JoAnne’s question “why are neutrinos massive”.

    I am sending a copy of this message to Peter Woit because I have,
    so far, tried to be very observant of his wishes that I do not
    discuss my physics model on his blog, and stay strictly on-topic
    ( which is mostly to attack superstrings without advocating any alternative ).

    However, I am very upset about Peter’s comment
    ” No one has any really good ideas about unification at the moment …”
    because
    he does know about my physics model
    and
    his statement is a direct attack on it,
    just as direct as are his attacks on superstring theory.

    Of course, Peter is entitled to his opinion about my model,
    and he is entitled to attack it on his blog,
    but
    since he has attacked it,
    I am also posting this as comment on his blog in direct reply
    to his attacking comment.
    In fairness, I expect that this comment should NOT be deleted
    UNLESS Peter’s statement
    ” No one has any really good ideas about unification at the moment …”
    is also deleted, and not repeated.

    Tony Smith
    http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/

  12. RahulM says:

    PeterG: It is difficult to debate intelligently in the absence of experimental data. Hence the insults. It’s quite fun actually.

  13. woit says:

    Chris,

    Thanks for the news. I don’t know why at one point recently someone at Cape was telling me June 16th would be the release date.

    Tony,

    I was not in any way attacking your ideas. The ideas about unification that have attracted attention in the particle theory community are the ones I was referring to as not being successful. Lots of people have ideas about unification (I have my own) which haven’t attracted such attention. Maybe one of these will turn out to be very important.

    Please though, Thomas politely gave his e-mail to encourage people to discuss ideas about this with him privately, not here where it is off topic.

  14. Juan R. says:

    There is an interesting duality between Distler’s wisdom on string theory and mathml.

    Distler surrounds both in a sphere of dogmatic true, only-way-to-do-things and ad hominen attack to no-believers. Distler’s arrogance on string theory is only comparable with his arrogance on Internet technology. He claims his blog is the most advanced of planet somewhat as we heard each day that string theory is the most advanced theory!

    This point is very important. Distler, as other string physicists (except some as Nanopoulos working in more advanced stringy approaches or particle physicists as Gell-Mann working in generalized QM), states that string theory is the more sophisticated theory of planet when is a pure joke if you compare with other sophisticated approaches. Moreover, the ultra-advanced string theory is unable to duplicate good experimental result provided by SM or GR since decades.

    Similar criticism can be done in the technological side of Distler’s insane blog. He states, in a very proud way, the ultra-sophisticated technology (a simple trivial p-MathML 2.0 via inefficient plugin) of his blog, still he is unable to encode material can be encode via old HTML.

    In the same way that Distler is unable to compute Mercury anomalous perihelion from first principles of string theory (but can be computed from old but effective GR) Distler is unable to encode (ds)^2 using his xml plugin distler/blog/.

    Observe the first block-display math on Designing the 5th Dimension. Instead encode (ds)^2 he is writting 2s ds!!! A simple old HTML 3.2 code can do it better

    Note the parallelism physics-technology!!

    Beliefs on Physics:
    – String theory is the most sophisticated theory in the world.
    – String theory is the only way.
    – String theory can solve any problem of physics: SM parameters, CC, unification forces, quantum gravity…
    – Other theories (e.g. loops) are stupid and a person who is not string theorist may be not smart enough.
    – Attack to any competitor of the theory (e.g. impede arxiv’s link to Woit blog).

    Beliefs on Technology:
    – MathML is the most sophisticated markup in the world.
    – MathML is the only way.
    – MathML can solve any problem of internet: accessibility, mathematical rendering, automated search, semantic encoding…
    – Other markups are stupid and guys do not developing MathML are nor smart enough.
    – Attack to any competitor of MathML or of Distler plugin (e.g. hard criticism to client side ASCIIMath approach).

    Results on Physics:
    – String theory is not sophisticated enough as claimed in many places (including smart guys as Gell-Mann).
    – String theory is the only way to disaster.
    – After 40 years of string theory, it has not solved any of promises and is unable to offers results can be easily achieved with old theories as SM and GR.
    – Other theories are producing interesting results and string theory often copying them (even Witten recognizes that string theory has a tendency to embrace ideas of alternative theories).

    Results on Technology:
    – MathML is not sophisticated enough as claimed in many sites (e.g. OpenMath authors are highlighting MathML errors).
    – MathML is the only way to disaster.
    – After 10 years of MathML, it has not solved any of promises and is unable to offers results can be easily achieved with old markups as HTML and ISO12083.
    – Other markups are producing interesting results and recently MathML authors triyng to copying them (e.g. R. Miner asking for XML-MAIDEN way to encode scripts for debate in future MathML 3.0 specification).

    Peter Woit, physics is not the only victim of those insane guys who do not know that scientific method means.

    Juan R.

    Center for CANONICAL |SCIENCE)

  15. Bert Schroer says:

    In this blog I would like to take the opportunity to dispel some misconceptions. I am not against string theory per se as one area of possible research in particle physics. What worries and annoys me at times are rather its new sociological aspects, the hegemonial role it has allocated to itself, the enormous collateral damage it causes (rapid loss of basic knowledge in favor of doubtful substitutes), the seducing role (raising false expectations) its proponents excert on the young generation (some called it brainwashing) and last not least the total lack of self-reflection and criticism which used to distinguish science from other human activities in the socio-political sphere. But in no way I want to downgrade colleagues and endanger old friendships; when I mention names it is in their role as iconic figures in this dispute. Fortunately science still permits to do this. In the present sociological situation one is well-adviced to follow Hirzebruch’s distinction between physics and “what physicists are doing”.
    It is not (as Chris Oakley said) that I went to South America to get away from the radar screen of string theory. There is also string theory in Brazil and I attend the talks of my string theoretic colleagues and ask question and get answers (in most cases honest and straightforward). It is true that I did have some problems with one particular person
    http://rivelles.blogspot.com/2006/03/ideology-sociology-and-psychology-of.html
    But this has little to do with the fact that he is a string theorist, but rather with his inability to make use of that amount of visibility which even according to Weinberg’s calculation of the cosmological vacuum energy he would be intitled to have, see
    http://br.arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/0605054 page3
    I meanwhile arrive in Sao Paulo waiting for the dental repair. Two days before I left Arraial do Cabo (the 1503 landing place of Amerigo Vespucci, originally a small fishing village but now the diver’s paradise) there was a street festival where I live. The day before some youngsters came to me and asked for small contribution to decorate the street. In the evening there was a lot of fire-cracker-like noise and when I looked outside I saw an almost continuous lightening with sparks raining down onto the parked cars. In the process of fixing all the paper flag decorations the youngsters hit the main electric cable (ouside big cities the electric and communication wiring is hanging completely exposed exactly as in the US). There was a blackout for the rest of the night. The next day I saw the first paintings on the walls. They started with that inexorable iconic figure of a bearded teutonic type in Lederhosen with a filth heat carrying a feather. In one of his hands, how could it be otherwise, he was swinging a jug of beer. It was clear, this was a warm up to the world cup soccer season. They wanted me to identify with this painting and it did not help much to point out that even if you go down to Bavaria, figures like this have become almost as rare as the abominable snowmen. I told them its iconic just like Ze Carioca and Carmen Miranda with the consequence that the next day their wall paintings were enriched by a very large Ze Carrioca (a parrot who talks) and a mulata adaptation of Carmen Miranda. The patriotic feelings of these rather poor people had something contagious and they would have been extremely confused if I would not have taken up a patriotic fan position in favor of the German time. I really feel great because with the German Nationalmannschaft and the Brazilean seleçao in my family (my wife is Brazilean) I can hardly loose. As most Germans of my generation I naturally have a rather detached relation to matters of national pride, which is natural in view of the past Germany’s disastrously deep look our into that bottle containing that dangerous brew called nationalism. The football outing of patriotism is the best one, as long as it does not spill into hooliganism.and racism.
    In retrospect I am also quite grateful that Germany had a rather wise leadership in difficult times with tremendous political coercion. The thought that German troops man checkpoints in Iraq and mow down families because they do not understand orders in German would turn my stomach around. Lidice, Ouradour and all the massacres committed in Italy are not deleted in the memory of mankind.
    Having lived in Berlin and in the US, I find Brazil a very very different place. In the US I met Palestinean refugees who had very bitter feelings about Israel and Israelis, and the Israelis in Berlin who did not hate Palestineans and considered them as inferior were the exception and not the rule. But here in Brazil I have in my family (from my wife’s side) Jews, Arab descendents of people from Syria-Lebanon (which was split up by the colonial powers) and people of Portugese extraction living harmoniously together. Most of the Arabs and some of the Jews came at the time of the decay of the Otoman empire. One of my wife’s relative with the illustrous name Canetti (a relative of the famous writer and philosopher Elias Canetti) was actually born in some region which is now Bulgaria (he is 96). Talking to him I had to correct some of my misconceptions about the Otoman rulers being very oppressive (I thought about the massacre of the Armenians). Its seems that as the US has profited from the dissolution of the Habsburg empire, Brazil got most of the migrants who were running away from the uncertainties of the dissolving Otoman empire.
    I also recently visited a Jewish friend (from the times with the collaboration with Swieca) in Petropolis. He has two rooms filled with art deco and body sculptures which I link with the Nazi era, although I have seen similar sculptures in Italy and even in the US (from the time of the New Deal). But he also had some SS militaria in his collection. I was quite stunned and asked him what makes him collect such things. He gave me a convincing answer by saying: “look, they are all dead and I survived”. His parents fled with him from Rhodos shortly before the Nazis deported the whole Jewish population and executed them. The reason I mention this is because 2 days ago when I looked into the news on the internet I noticed that there is a ferrocious dispute about the removal (or at least covering) of some sculptures at the entrance of the Berlin 1936 Olympia stadion (which were commissioned by the Nazis). Fortunately Stephan Kramer, the chairmen of the Jewish council in Germany spoke against such a strange act of exorcizing history which is usually demanded by some members of the older generation..
    I of course would like the German team to win, and I would be happy if it is merited and not just luck. But what would make me even more happy is if those youngsters which are descendends of more than 100.000 Jews (mostly from the former SU) would be among the strongest fans for the German national team (in defiance of all those Nazi skin heads and racist hooligans). Because then, and only then, I would know that the postwar era has finally ended and a new chapter has been opened.

  16. Juan R. says:

    Bert Schroer,

    We usually distinguish between string theorists and stringers.

    String theorists are physicists/mathematicians who are pursuing a research program for unification of physics (which is a loable program either if sucesfull or not). String theorists are honest, recognize the limitations of their program and obvious failures done in the past. They are the first ones interested in experimental verification of the theory (or at least of part of their foundation) and you can talk or discuss with them in a solid debate where just technical points are of interest.

    Some of those also recognize that even if string theory is achieved some day it will not become the TOE, since nature is more complex. Those string theorists understand the need for open debate on hot topics just how they understand the need of the research in alternative approaches.

    Now turn to stringers (there is one very popular at this thread).

    Real impact of stringers in physics or maths is close to zero, none of them have received a Nobel or similar prize. Stringers are of people more dishonest we know, never recognize limitations and have a tendency to rewirte history of the field for hiding the obvious failures done in the past.

    Stringers dislike experimental verification by two motives: i) it could break down string theory, ii) experiments are considered a task for second or third class physicists when compared with beautiful of theoretical studies of divine origin. Remember that stringers claim that “string theory is the language God wrote the world“.

    Stringers do not like technical debate and just focuse on ad hominen attacks or embarrassment, and prefer to add noise to discussion. Their knowledge of topics beyond particle physics is so weak that still believe on that they are developing a TOE. (Yes i agree some stringers lack understanding of most basic of particle physics).

    Finally, I would add that stringers spend lot of time on deviate funding from alternative approaches and spend many time on political strategy with the only aim of self-perpetuate string theory for ever (independently if is working or is a “colossal failure”) how all of us know.

    Juan R.

    Center for CANONICAL |SCIENCE)

  17. B says:

    when I went to college I learned two things:

    a) don’t mix up professional and personal matters.

    It should be possible to discuss physics without retreating to insults that don’t get anybody anywhere. Exept maybe Lubos on the blogtopsite no #1.

    Since I haven’t read the book, and have a very shared opinion about String theory, let me just state that merely from reading the blogs of Mr. Woit and Mr. Motl, to me BOTH apparently have a large knowledge about String-theory as well as about particle physics. If it weren’t for blogs triggering fast and unreflected responses that get much more attention than the scientific content, their blogs could be quite an important contribution to the community (meaning phycisists in general).

    Students that choose their field of research from comments like the ones above (regarding alien bots or reasons to vomit), are problably students you can happily forget about anyway.

    I also learned

    b) Keep my big mouth shut.

    With which I apparently have failed again.

    Best, B.

    PS: The whole discussion about G or T is completely ridiculous. Everybody who knows what a TeV is will know that the LHC operates at 14 TeV com energy. For those who don’t know what a TeV is, it doesn’t matter anyway. I have certainly published more embarrassing typos, and the world is still turning.

  18. We usually distinguish between string theorists and stringers.

    Eh. That reminds me of the distinction between trekkers and trekkies, the two kinds of fans of the classical Star Trek series.

    Christine

  19. dan says:

    lubos,
    what kind of experimental predictions does string theory makel, which, if experimentally falsified, would cause you to see string theory refuted, in response to below

    This is unattributed since I don’t know who wrote it. Maybe they were a crackpot, one visiting the Harvard string theory group.
    The problematic statement that string theory makes no prediction is repeated hundreds of times, and in many particular contexts, such a statement becomes not only boring but also patently false.

    I doubt it’s actually in the hundreds, but sure, I do repeatedly claim that string theory makes no predictions, and this is not “patently false”, but completely accurate.

  20. MathPhys says:

    Motl’s behavior has nothing to do with AS. He’s just an arrogant, spoilt kid.

  21. Hech Baan says:

    Dear PeterG,

    I’m another physics grad student who decided to study string/M-theory. For me the truth is written in mathematics. If I don’t see a rigorous, logical, mathematical proof then statements may be beautiful, ugly, interesting, funny, but not true or false. Therefore I’m not going to change my mind based on people’s opinion whoever they may be. Show me the proof!!!

    Is string/M-theory correct, wrong, or not even wrong? I don’t know. But I’m willing to invest my years to find it out myself.

    I’m not going to order Peter Woit’s book. Peter is so much against string/M-theory that he can’t objectively analyse it.

  22. Bert Schroer says:

    Juan R.
    I certainly agree with your remarks on string theorists and stringers as a description of the present reality and as a statement which is capable to generate some feeling of solidarity between those who are everyday more convinced that the Susskind et al. millennium project is the road from physics to metaphysics. But they do not explain at all how it came to this situation. There have been always people around who tried to miscarry physics into such directions, but they had no chance in the past. I think it will take a lot of deep critical analysis within the next decades to understand this phenomenon, which did not come suddenly out of the blue sky, but has its roots in the banalization of certain aspects of QFT. It certainly is not only the result of lack of experimental discoveries in particle physics; in fact given the complexity and the increasing dependence of the experiment on theory, a bad theory may also pull down experimental progress. For this reason it may be somewhat optimistic to expect that the LHC will significantly change the scene.
    Dear Hech Baan, if you are unable to sense an autonomous physical beauty and continue to think that particle physics should jump over ready made beautiful mathematical sticks/strings, then I would strongly suggest that you change to mathematics before you start to worsen the present situation in particle physics which is already totally dominated by mathematical beauty (I hope that Peter will not araise this comment).

  23. knotted string says:

    “For me the truth is written in mathematics.” – Hech Baan (above).

    You have just discredited Feynman’s silly, stupid and science-hating remark that agreement with experiments determine truth.

    Feynman was really a hateful anti-science crackpot! See this:

    “It always bothers me that, according to the laws as we understand them today, it takes a computing machine an infinite number of logical operations to figure out what goes on in no matter how tiny a region of space, and no matter how tiny a region of time. How can all that be going on in that tiny space? Why should it take an infinite amount of logic to figure out what one tiny piece of space/time is going to do? So I have often made the hypothesis that ultimately physics will not require a mathematical statement, that in the end the machinery will be revealed, and the laws will turn out to be simple, like the chequer board with all its apparent complexities.”

    – R. P. Feynman, Character of Physical Law, November 1964 Cornell Lectures, broadcast and published in 1965 by BBC, pp. 57-8.

  24. Hech Baan says:

    Dear Bert,

    Thanks for your comment. Let me explain my approach.

    As Einstein said in Motiv des Forschens, 1918, p 29-32 “… Practically, theoretical system is uniquely defined by observations, though there is no logical path from observations to the fundamental principles.”

    Therefore our challenge is to somehow find the fundamental principles. The ugly news is that there is no enough data to verify our assumptions, the bad news is that we have to work really hard to get any meaningful prediction from our frameworks/theories/laws. But the good news is that there is one tested guiding principle – mathematical consistency and beauty. Why not physical beauty? Because I don’t have any sense what an autonomous physical beauty at Planck scale is. I will train my senses using my consistent theories and then yes I can use my trained senses of physcal beauty to enhance the theory. And finally,I think nature is a mathematician not a physicist 🙂

    Trust us. One day one or many of us (today’s grad students) will come up with the solution. We need everyone’s support to get it quickly. I can tell that no any blog, article, or book will stop the progress.

  25. Juan R. says:

    Hech Baan,

    Peter Woit is much more objective analysing string theory in this blog that any stringer (not string theorist) has been in last 40 years in peer-review papers.

    Hi Bert Schroer,

    I agree with you again on that people is ignorant on who generated current irrational status on fundamental physics. Stringers are simply unable to understand any criticism from rest of scientific community. Often I received personal e-mails from people who began a PhD in string theory, found the field completely irrational and abandoned physics!!! They were forced to abandon physics (instead changing string theory by some other program) because any other chance to study unification or quantum gravity is highly constrained by political and economic power of string theorists. This autoritarism only can generate disaster and, in fact, has generated.

    I think it will take a lot of deep critical analysis within the next decades to understand this phenomenon

    From stringers? I doubt, maybe critical analysis will become from historians and probably from a new generation of physicists will advance physics in next decades. In fact, last book (to be published) by Lee Smolin talks about next generation of young physicists working outside of string theory.

    Take the case of own J. Distler. I said here that his views on physics and in MathML are very wrong (in fact, there is a parallelism). I cited the element of line for 5D spaces appears in

    http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/archives/000635.html

    The physics here is so wrong as the XML markup used for encoding information. I know stringers and they have a tencency to distort the history of physics. Once you find an error in some point you wait that error was recognized and changed (I always have recognized my errors, and I believe that you, Peter Woit, Chris Oakley, and others here are honest). However, would we wait “critical analysis” from stringers as J. Distler?

    What would we wait from a guy calling himself bigthinker?

    http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/images/bigthinker.jpg

    Take the case of MathML code, I checked code just before posting, however (yesterday?) Distler changed the code (in a cobardy way) and now you can see that first block equation in

    http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/%7Edistler/blog/archives/000635.html

    contains ds 2.

    Distelr changed code probably yesterday but has not noticed in the blog, not recognized the error in public 🙂

    This is like stringers work; if tomorrow HLC produces lot of interesting data against some dense ideas proposed by Distler and others during last decade, they will not recognize in public.

    Additional comment:

    Either Distler is reading this blog or his favourite … comunicated him the content of this blog.

    Dear Distler (or …) still the code generated in your “technologicall more advanced blog” is wrong. Using ds as token you obtain roman rendering whereas the differential in next equation (1) continues rendering in italic. Moreover d is not an identifier. I would suggest you to try again!

    P.S: Hech Baan The ugly news is not that there is no enough data to verify our assumptions, the very bad news is that string theory is unable to reproduce experimental result known in last centuries.

    Any new theory of physics may be compatible with known data and then just then can do predictions about new data (e.g. HLC). One of most dishonest mantras of stringers is the absence of experimental data that can verify main premises as strings, hidden dimensions and all that. First explain available data (postdictions) and next focuses on predictions.

    P.S: I would recommend people to dowload copies from both links before Distler changes them again without noticing :-).

    Juan R.

    Center for CANONICAL |SCIENCE)

  26. Peter Woit says:

    Juan,

    I wish you would conduct arguments over MathML with Distler at his blog, and not here. Bad enough the fighting over string theory, but I don\’t want to get involved in a really vicious, ugly controversy like that over MathML…

  27. Bert Schroer says:

    My suggestion (which I have been following for a couple of years) is a third way which seems to be particularily advisable in times of experimental lull combined with a theoretical blue yonder abberation (Feynman) as the one which is the main topic of this blog. This third way is to press the principles of successful, but yet incomplete theories very very hard and to pay particular attention to unusual new viewpoint which maintain these principles. This is what led Einstein from the eather to the relativistic invariance principle and later to renormalized QFT (the experiments only highlighted aspects which were already there and only had to be worked out). This is extremely difficult and can hardly be done by beginners because it requires a profound knowledge and hinsight about the theory. But one only needs a breach for strong young folks to get interested in entering. Even at the risk of sounding arrogant I think that this breach already exists due to some amazing conceptual progress in QFT being related to “modular localization”. But for obvious reasons I do not want to meddle with things in Peters blog (unless Peter allows this and somebody specifically asks for this).

  28. Juan R. says:

    Sorry Peter Woit, I believe that many of your agree with me on that main problem with string theory is not theory itself but the hype around it. That hype confoundd street people, young undergraduate students, science policy makers, and so on.

    Therefore my main attempt has been to illustrate that stringers (or “bigthinkers”) can be so arrogant in physics as they are in other fields, that they can rudely attack interesting alternatives to string theory as attack alternatives to others things and that they are doing really bad physics as they are doing in other fields.

    I attempted to illustrate here how “intuition” of stringers is so wrong when they decide choosing string theory by beatiful motives as when they choose support other items.

    Sam pointed to parallelism above and you next cite

    http://utphysguide.livejournal.com/3047.html

    I simple attempted to explain to general public as cobardy and “intellectual snob” stringers can be in a way that readers of the blog could directly observe this attitude “online ” (readers could go to Distler blog for see details) whereas it is more complex that they can go to the library to obtain article X published in academic journal Y and understand the stuff, and next to see how stringers change their views without recognizing errors and call everything “string theory” (even if there is not strings as in many brane papers!!!).

    I do not know if I was succesfull but I understand your point and I will not write more about MathML here, just about physics and math.

    Juan R.

    Center for CANONICAL |SCIENCE)

  29. Hech Baan:

    the reliance on mathematical beauty could be misleading. Physics is very different from mathematics where axioms are postulated and theorems are proved by simple logic. In physics we often don’t even know what our axioms are. Nature doesn’t care about our sense of beauty or present day mathematical fashions.

    Ancient physicists rightly considered a circle to be the most beautiful mathematical figure. No wonder they presumed that cellestial bodies go around in circles. I guess Kepler was very surprised to discover that the orbits of planets are actually ellipses. Probably, initially he was even disgusted by his own discovery.

    Even if axioms are explicitly given, physicists are not careful enough to prove their theorems rigorously. For example, the apex of modern day beauty in theoretical physics is the Minkowski space-time. Indeed, what can be simpler than take the Pythagoras theorem
    r^2 = x^2 + y^2 + z^2 and add there one more term:
    s^2 = x^2 + y^2 + z^2 – c^2t^2 ? However, you don’t need to be a rocket (or string) scientist to realize that the Lorentz transformations and the Minkowski space-time unification do not follow from two Einstein’s postulates. The second postulate (the invariance of the speed of light) can be rigorously applied only to events associated with light pulses or light rays. However, the Lorentz transformations are assumed to be valid universally for all physical systems, no matter what is their composition and interactions. Is Minkowski space-time beautiful? Sure it is! Could it happen that this beauty is similar to the beauty of Ptolemean circular orbits, and will be substituted later by more realistic “elliptical” views on space and time? Sure it could!

    If you want to build physics as a mathematically consistent and logical theory, then you should return way way back to basics and begin from the principle of relativity and the laws of quantum mechanics. Otherwise you are in danger of chosing beautiful but wrong axioms.

  30. Hech Baan says:

    Dear Eugene,

    I understand your points. I can assure you that no any sensible physicist will go and build a physical theory based on abstract axioms alone. That’s not what mathematical consistency and beauty is. For instance, I’m reasonably happy with GR and QFT, but they are not mathematically consistent theories. And as a matter of fact I don’t think physical theories have to be absolutely mathematically consistent per se. My point is that there are at least two main steps in creating theories. That’s how I understood Einstein’s quote.

    1. Mathematical: Pure logical reasoning (Postulate principles and make predictions)
    2. Physical: Experiments (Check your predictions)

    One has to apply both steps to find/change/discard physical theories. Today in string/M-theory we are stuck at step 1. We all want to move to the step 2 ASAP. It’s proved to be very difficult.

  31. Hech Baan:

    For instance, I’m reasonably happy with GR and QFT, but they are not mathematically consistent theories. And as a matter of fact I don’t think physical theories have to be absolutely mathematically consistent per se.

    o.k.

    That’s how I understood Einstein’s quote.

    1. Mathematical: Pure logical reasoning (Postulate principles and make predictions)

    Did you notice a contradiction in your words? If the theory is not absolutely mathematically consistent then you cannot claim that you used pure logical reasoning. Or, possibly, your system of postulates was not self-consistent to begin with, so the pure logical reasoning wouldn’t work with it? Maybe that’s why it is so difficult to move to the step 2?

  32. Hech Baan says:

    Dear Eugene,

    Yes, there is a contradiction in my words. If you very quick and read my last posting addressed to Bert, which I suspect Peter deleted, you would have a different prospective to my approach.

    I didn’t deliberately use axiom or postulate; I used principle in step 1. They are physical not mathematical objects. In step 1 one has to translate physical principles into mathematical axioms in order to apply pure logical reasoning. But, doing this one introduces inconsistencies. Kant explained this beautifully in his thought provoking work. That’s the reason you get mathematically inconsistent and physically meaningful theories like GR and QFT.

  33. “knotted string” is surely being facetious/ironic in saying: “Feynman was really a hateful anti-science crackpot!” and quoting from – R. P. Feynman, Character of Physical Law, November 1964 Cornell Lectures, broadcast and published in 1965 by BBC, pp. 57-8. Some context for his quote: (1) he was conceptualizing the Quantum Computer. He was wrong in details, but right in principle, and is the grandfather of Quantum Computing just as he is the greatgrandfather of Nanotechnology.

    I am not objective in my respect for him, my teacher and coauthor, one of the greatest minds and greatest teachers of the 20th century.

    (2) As to “… the hypothesis that ultimately physics will not require a mathematical statement, that in the end the machinery will be revealed, and the laws will turn out to be simple, like the chequer board with all its apparent complexities.” [BBC spelling of what Feynman would surely render as “checker”] Feynman oscillated between this Wolfram New-Kind-of-Science Occam’s razor position, and one which he spoke about with me several times: that the universe may have an infinite number of natural laws, although some only emerge under unusual boundary conditions.

    There is a new Feynman movie being short right now. “Challenger” — starring David Straithairn — is about his role on the Challenger Commission. The Producer bought me lunch last week and picked my brains about Feynman and the Space Shuttle (on which I was a software engineer for Rockwell).

  34. Hech Baan:

    I have a different attitude. I think, if a theory lacks logical consistency, then its foundations should be examined and the theory either should be modified or discarded altogether depending on the results of this investigation. In my view, QFT belongs to the former category, while GR to the latter one.

  35. Hech Baan says:

    Dear Eugene,

    Logical consistency isn’t binary, true or false, for fundamental physical theories. E.g. GR is logically consistent for some parameters and inconstant for others. The same is true for QFT. You can’t discard them because they aren’t absolutely consistent. That was one of my points, I don’t think there is an absolutely consistent theory of everything all our theories are/will be consistent for some domain and inconsistent for others. Our task is to enhance the theories to extend the domain of validity/consistency.

  36. Hech Baan:

    The inconsistencies I was talking about are not limited to some local domains. They are rather fundamental:

    In QFT : this theory does a good job in calculating scattering (i.e., the S-matrix) which is just a special case of the time evolution. However, it is impossible to obtain the detailed time evolution of wave functions or observables from relativistic renormalized quantum field theory. This theory does not have a well-defined finite Hamiltonian (= the generator of time translations).

    In GR : the problem goes back to the unification of space and time in a single 4-dim continuum already in Einstein’s special relativity. Such an unification is only possible when boost transformations of space-time coordinates of events are given by universal linear Lorentz formulas independent on the physical nature of these events and independent on the interactions in the physical system where these events occur. It is true that Lorentz formulas can be rigorously derived from two Einstein’s postulates for events with light pulses or non-interacting particles. However, the generalization of these formulas to all events with interacting particles is just an unfounded assumption. Moreover, it can be shown that this assumption directly contradicts the Poincare group properties of inertial transformations.

    Furthermore, the treatments of space and time in GR and in QFT (or, more generally, in QM) are fundamentally incompatible. In QM the space and time coordinates are not interchangeable as in GR. Position is a quantum observable with a Hermitian operator associated with it (Bert Schroer would certainly disagree here). Time is a numerical parameter in QM. There is no observable “time”, and there is no corresponding “time operator”.

    I am sure that within current formulations of QFT and (especially) GR their unification and the construction of a consistent relativistic quantum theory of gravity is impossible. Several decades of futile attempts by leading theorists just confirm this conclusion. Before thinking about unification we need to clean up our fundamental theories (QFT and special relativity) and make them consistent both internally and with each other.

  37. knotted string says:

    Jonathan Vos Post,

    There were two choices: be facetious/ironic about Feynman’s demand for models to be based on facts, and hatred of abject speculation

    or

    Quote some of Feynman’s closing remarks in 1965 which predict the current crisis with stringy speculation people taking control:

    ‘There will be a degeneration of ideas, just like the degeneration that great explorers feel is occurring when tourists begin moving in on a territory.’

    (Character of Physical Law, BBC, 1965, p. 173.)

    However, despite Feynman’s hatred of superstring theory at his peak (around the time he discovered the O-ring problem behind the Challenger space shuttle disaster), the stringers will claim that they are the great explorers and everyone with checkable ideas are tourists.

    It’s like a world where you have ‘professors of mountain ascent’ who have uncheckable ideas about using extra dimensions to succeed, sneering at anybody down to earth.

    One historical precedent is of course British Admirality problem of finding longitude. Newton thought clocks would always be mechanically defective, and looking at stars solved the problem. However, cloud cover and stormy seas (causing black eyes when using an optical instrument on deck) made Newton’s idea rubbish.

    When Harrison simply developed a clock that was reliable enough to measure longitude, everyone was too biased in favor of using stars, and didn’t want to award the prize. This is of course the usual way. Difficult problems can have unexpectedly simple solutions, which causes conflict between experts and ‘simpleton’.

  38. Bert Schroer says:

    Eugene,
    I do not disagree with what you say about QM, it is your QM straightjacket you want to impose on QFT where our viewpoints differ significantly. Even in QM your radicalism (before with respect to me, now Hech Baan has taken up certain parts of my role) may prevent you to be able to accept useful contributions as
    http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/quant-ph/0207048

  39. Bert,

    I take your calling me “radical” as a compliment, but not a deserved one. I think my views are very conservative. I maintain that the rules of quantum mechanics must be strictly obeyed in both non-relativistic and relativistic regimes. The only significant difference of the latter regime is that the Hamiltonian may contain interaction terms that change the number of particles. This is the only important distinction between QM and QFT (in my interpretation).

    Thank you very much for the reference. This is a good example of how the issue of time should not be addressed in QM, in my opinion. Time is not an observable in the usual meaning of this word, and there is no point to associate an operator or a POV measure with time.

    When experimenters measure true observables (e.g., position, momentum, spin, etc.) they bring their physical system into contact with the measuring apparatus. The result of measurement depends on the nature of the observed system and on the state of the system. When the measurement is done, the experimenter also looks at the wall clock and writes down the reading of the clock to his log. So, each measurement has a numerical label attached to it – the reading of the clock at the time of measurement. The value of this label is completely independent on the nature of the physical system and its state. This time label is an attribute of the measuring apparatus rather that a property of the observed system. Therefore, time is not an observable in the usual sense.

    There are nine other numerical parameters that, together with time, identify the measuring apparatus, or observer, or reference frame. These are three components of position, three orientation angles, and three components of the velocity of the observer. These ten numbers form a parameterization of different inertial observers and of Poincare group transformations between these observers.

  40. Pingback: writing with gloves on — NeverEndingBooks Archive

  41. Arun says:

    When experimenters measure true observables (e.g., position, momentum, spin, etc.) they bring their physical system into contact with the measuring apparatus. The result of measurement depends on the nature of the observed system and on the state of the system. When the measurement is done, the experimenter also looks at the wall clock and writes down the reading of the clock to his log. So, each measurement has a numerical label attached to it – the reading of the clock at the time of measurement.

    Two comments

    1. the measurement of position localizes the measured particle but just as the time of measurement is read off the wall clock, the position is read off a ruler. Sometimes it doesn’t seem that asymmetrical between space and time.

    2. Space and time seem even more on an even footing in QFT where they merely label the fields.

  42. Arun:

    1. the measurement of position localizes the measured particle but just as the time of measurement is read off the wall clock, the position is read off a ruler. Sometimes it doesn’t seem that asymmetrical between space and time.

    There is an asymmetry. The measurement of position fully depends on the state in which the particle is prepared. If you prepare the particle in a different state, the results of position measurements will be different. So, we may confidently say that position is a property of the particle. Position is an observable that should be represented in quantum mechanics by a Hermitian operator in the Hilbert space.

    On the other hand, the wall clock does not care which physical system we are observing and what is the state of this system. The reading of the clock will be just the same regardless of the properties of our system. So, time has no relationship to the observed physical system, and introducing the operator of time in the Hilbert space is not justified.

    2. Space and time seem even more on an even footing in QFT where they merely label the fields.

    You are right that parameters x and t in the quantum field psi(x,t) are merely labels. Do they have any relationship to real observable positions and times? Or they are simply formal numerical parameters? I tend to think that the latter is true. Indeed, when we form the interaction Hamiltonian V(t), we integrate a product of quantum fields psi(x,t)phi(x,t)… over x. When this interaction Hamiltonian is inserted in the Feynman-Dyson formula for the S-matrix, it is further integrated over t from minus to plus infinity.
    As a result we have the S-matrix which doesn’t care about the detailed time evolution and positions of particles at intermediate times. It simply maps the asymptotic state in the distant past to the asymptotic state in the distant future. The parameters x and t are no longer present, which indicates (at least to me) their formal character.

    I think it is unfortunate that quantum field parameters are denoted by the same letters x and t which normally stand for physical position and time. It would create less confusion if we used some neutral labels, like ‘a’ and ‘b’.

Comments are closed.