I ordinarily keep a short list on my desk of things I’ve seen recently that I’d like to write about here. The last few days this list has gotten way too long, so I’ll try and deal with it by putting as many of these topics as I can in this posting.
The June/July issue of the AMS Notices is out, with many things worth reading. The two long articles are one by Ken Ono about Ramanujan and one by Arthur Jaffe telling the story of the founding of the Clay Mathematics Institute and the million dollar prizes associated with seven mathematical problems. There’s also a book review of Roger Penrose’s The Road to Reality, news about the proposed US FY 2007 budget for mathematical sciences research, and an account of a public talk by Michael Atiyah, who evidently closed by explaining some of his very speculative ideas about how to modify quantum mechanics, then said:
This is for young people. Go away and explore it. If it works, don’t forget I suggested it. If it doesn’t, don’t hold me responsible.
The June issue of Physics Today is also out. In its news pages it reports that Robert Laughlin is out as the president of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), and will return to Stanford in July “where he plans to teach, research, and write ‘anything that brings income.'” The report gives conflicting reasons for why things didn’t work out for him at KAIST, but notes that “90% of KAIST professors gave him a vote of no-confidence and nearly all deans and department chairs quit their administrative posts to protest his continuing in the job.”
The Cosmic Landscape is a fascinating introduction to the new great debate, which will most likely be argued with passion in the years to come and may once again greatly alter our perception of the universe and humanity’s place in it.
Why any particle theorist would want to encourage other physicists outside their field to read this book and give them the idea that it represents something theorists think highly of is very unclear to me.
Finally there’s an article by Jim Gates entitled Is string theory phenomenologically viable? Gates aligns himself with the currently popular idea that string theory doesn’t give a unique description of physics:
The belief in a unique vacuum is, to me, a Ptolemaic view – akin to that ancient belief in a unique place for Earth. As I wrote in 1989, a Copernican view, in which our universe is only one of an infinity of possibilities, is my preference, but there were very few Copernicans in the 1980s.
He seems to promote the idea that one should not use 10d critical string theory and thus extra dimensions, but instead look for 4d string theories, and that perhaps the problem is the lack of a “completely successful construction of covariant string theory.” For more about this point of view, see Warren Siegel’s website.
There are quite a few idiosyncratic things about Gates’s article, including the fact that he refers to non-abelian gauge degrees of freedom as “Kenmer angles”, after Nicholas Kemmer (not Kenmer) who was involved in the discovery of isospin.
Some of his comments about string theory are surprising and I don’t know what to make of them. He claims that “some aspects of string theory seem relevant to quantum information theory”, and the one supposed observational test of string theory he discusses is one I hadn’t heard of before and am skeptical about (observing string-theory-predicted higher curvature terms in Einstein’s equations through gravitational wave birefringence). His discussion of supersymmetry seems to assume that observation of superpartners is unlikely, since for reasons he doesn’t explain he expects their mass to be from 1 to 30 Tev. Finally, he worries that people will not investigate things like covariant string field theory since we are about to enter an “era that promises an explosion of data”. I certainly hope he’s right about the forthcoming availability of large amounts of interesting new data.
The Harvard Crimson has an interesting article about Ken Wilson.
John Baez is getting ever closer to having a blog in its modern form, now he has a diary.
Read about the tough summer life of theoretical physicists in Paul Cook’s report from Cargese (which reminded me of when I went there as a grad student), and JoAnne Hewett’s report from Hawaii (which reminded me of a very pleasant vacation I spent on the Big Island).
Science magazine has an article about progress on increasing luminosity at the Tevatron, hopes for getting enough events there to see the Higgs before the LHC, and the debate that is beginning about whether to run the machine in 2009.
Slides are available from the Fermilab User’s Meeting.
There’s a news story out from China (and picked up by Slashdot) about the new paper by Huai-Dong Cao and Xi-Ping Zhu soon to appear in the Asian Journal of Mathematics. This paper is more than 300 pages and is supposed to contain a proof of the Poincare conjecture and the full geometrization conjecture, filling in an outline of a proof due to Perelman, who used methods developed by my Columbia colleague Richard Hamilton. Other groups have also been working on this in recent years including my other Columbia colleague John Morgan together with Gang Tian; for another example, see the notes on Perelman’s papers recently put on the arXiv by Bruce Kleiner and John Lott. Cao and Zhu have evidently been explaining their proof in a seminar at Harvard run by Yau during the past academic year, and Yau will talk about this at Strings 2006 in Beijing later this month. When the paper appears it will be interesting to see what some of the other experts in the field think of it and whether there’s a consensus that the proof of Poincare and geometrization is finally in completely rigorous form.
Update: According to a blog entry from the Guardian, “Perelman seems to be active in string theory.”