The anthropic string theory landscape seems to be having ever greater success in taking over fundamental physics and turning it into pseudo-science. It’s being promoted by no less than 2008 presidential candidate Wesley Clark, the following is from a transcript of his remarks to science bloggers at a blogger convention in Las Vegas:
Read Leonard Suskind’s new book, called “The Cosmic-” It’s called “The Cosmic Landscape And Intelligent Design” if you want to see something that’s overpowering. Suskind is the inventor of cosmic string theory, and what he does is he takes cosmic- he takes the idea of the universe. He says the universe is- see, what’s happening in intelligent design is people are saying, ‘Ah well, you see, the, the, the wavelength of, of, of the electron and Planck’s Constant and all these numbers are so odd. They don’t- they’re not even numbers, you know. They, they, they don’t balance each other. It’s sort of 1.- It’s like the figure of pi, 3.14159… Why would it be such an odd number? Why, why wouldn’t god make the universe, you know, symmetrical?’
Then they said, ‘well, because, you know, it’s like there’s only one on 10 to the 50th chance that the universe could have worked out in a way that mankind could survive. Therefore, you know, this must have been an intelligent designer who created this universe especially for us.’ What Suskind does is he turns it on its head. He says, “You know, if you look at string theory and the 9+1 dimensions” or 10+1 dimensions, and I’m not sure how he knows that time only has one dimension, but he does. (inaudible) would say I’m very arrogant for questions questioning this.
But what Suskind does is he turns it upside down. He says, “Look there are- there is an infinite number of universes.” He calls it a multiverse, and he says that however the motive forces, and nobody understands why quarks pop in and out of existence. Nobody understands it, but apparently they do. And apparently there are many, many universes, and we’re here in this one. And maybe there are others in which Planck’s Constant has a different number, in which the speed of light is not 186,200 miles per second. Who knows? We don’t know.
Commenter Patrick wrote into point out a review article on this from graduate student Joseph Conlon, published in the latest issue of Contemporary Physics (not available on the arXiv or anywhere else for free as far as I can tell). It’s entitled, “The string theory landscape: a tale of two hydras”, with the first hydra the non-renormalizability of gravity (supposedly slain by string theory), the second the prolifieration of vacuum states. Conlon seems to think that the fact that string theory can’t ever be used to predict anything is not a serious problem:
We started with a dream of a unique string theory compactification reproducing the structure of the Standard Model. This is a dream apparently shattered by the existence of the landscape. Granting the landscape and its existence, does this mean string theory is inherently unpredictive at low energies? If this is true, this is sad but no disaster. Quantum field theory, of itself, is also unpredictive.
I’ve written elsewhere about why this analogy with QFT doesn’t hold, but on the face of it there’s obviously something wrong, since we use QFT all the time to make detailed, testable predictions about the real world, something that string theory, according to Conlon, will never be able to do.
Talks from the plenary section on “naturalness” at SUSY 06 are online. The usual advertising job from Susskind and Linde, the one that seems to have impressed Wesley Clark. Wilczek gives a more substantive talk, and seems to have some interesting new speculative ideas about models near the end.
On another topic, I’ve been wondering what the current state of peer-review of hep-th papers is. Personally I think it has been several years since I’ve looked at any of the main journals that publish papers in this area, and I suspect this is true of many people these days. The Bogdanov affair several years ago showed that refereeing in this area had become pretty much a joke, with the brothers having no trouble finding five journals willing to accept utter nonsense.
Looking at the arXiv and SPIRES listings, which seem to contain publication information after submitted papers have been accepted, many papers (e.g. Susskind’s single-authored papers on the landscape), don’t seem to ever have been peer-reviewed and published. I’m curious what people think of this. How many hep-th authors have stopped submitting their papers for refereeing? Is the data on the arXiv and SPIRES an accurate reflection of this? Does the fact that an author’s preprints don’t have publication data for the last few years mean they weren’t submitted for refereeing, or could this be due to time lag in refereeing/publication, or incompleteness of the data?
Update: Courtesy of Google, there’s now an on-line talk by Washington Taylor promoting the Landscape to people working for the company. He gives the number of vacua as at least 101000. The number of well-known physicists out there promoting this nonsense to the general public is amazing (via Lubos).