Slides from the talks at Strings 2006 are now available. I’ve spent a little while looking through them today, and am sorry I don’t have time to say much about them. Lots of more or less the same thing as in earlier years, and many talks devoted to complicated arguments designed to, as Eva Silverstein writes, populate, probe or constrain the Landscape. Nothing remotely like a plausible idea about how to ever get a prediction of anything out of this, but also virtually no anthropic arguments. I assume this was due to the iron fist of organizer David Gross.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were quite a few mathematically very interesting talks. Besides many talks of the sort that have been common in recent years dealing with the topological string, there were several that had nothing to do with string theory, but involved interesting mathematics related to QFT, and many of these had to do with work Witten is involved with, so they may get some attention. These were:

1. Witten’s own talk on Gauge Theory And The Geometric Langlands Program.

2. Kapustin’ talk on the same topic, entitled Topological reduction of supersymmetric gauge theories and S-duality.

3. Gukov’s talk on Surface Operators in Gauge Theory and Categorification, where he mentions that some of what he discusses is based on on-going joint work with Witten.

4. Nikita Nekrasov’s talk on Beyond Morse Theory.

So, as far as physics goes, the organizers are not allowing any talks on alternatives to string theory (the only mention of LQG seems to have been Dijkgraaf’s making fun of it), but they are willing to allow mathematical talks on QFT that are not related to string theory, especially since this is the field that Witten seems to be doing a lot of work in.

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Peter wrote: “organizers are not allowing any talks on alternatives to string theory”. My first thought was “typical Chinese censorship”, but then I remembered the string motto: “There are no alternatives”.

Nobody called this a conference on “quantum gravity”. It’s a conference on string theory (and perhaps more generally, those things people who call themselves string theory choose to work on). I’m don’t see why there should some sort of moral obligation to have talks on alternatives. If the “Loops” people want to have talks about whatever, they’re certainly welcome to, but that’s not the point of this particular conference.

It makes sense that if the conference is “Strings 2006” then the organizers would not allow talks on, e.g. condensed matter physics or biophysics, etc, so “no talks on alternatives to string theory” doesn’t surprise or bother me. What would be relevant is, one day, if some testable prediction is made (~on extra dimensions), and a talk is presented offering a null result (~prediction is falsified) — if such a talk were disallowed then that would be serious.

sunderpeeche,

There’s never been or ever will be any danger that a testable prediction will be made at a Strings 2006 conference.

Aaron,

The organizers can do whatever they want, but given the sad state of affairs of string theory in recent years, I’d think it would be advisable for them to deal with alternatives in some other way than by making fun of them. I’m quite glad to see that they’re having talks on alternatives in mathematical physics, that’s great.

Thomas Love,

Hey, this is a academic conference about string theory! Please, do not intend to relate everything to the “Chinese censorship”. Situation in China is not that bad.

Anyway, I found those talks on mathematical physics very interesting. I think this is great.

I don’t know. The party line seems to have everyone all strung up. And no doubt Chairman Gross’ firm stance on religious debate had more than a few dissidents taken away in knots.

Consider a conference on “alternative energy resources”. Suppose someone came up with an idea to process crude oil more efficiently, to get double the quantity of gasolene per unit of crude oil, effectively doubling the world’s gasolene reserves. Would such a talk be accepted at the conference? I would guess not. But there would be other places to present such work. So it is that there are other conferences to present significant non-string theory research. What about the Lattice 200x conferences? I doubt they would accept papers on subjects having nothing to do with lattice QCD ~ e.g. string theory. Why should they?

I’ve been to many topical conferences where there were one or two invited talks on related fields, the point being to keep people up to speed on what is going on around them, especially new developments, and to relieve the monotony of the landscape.

sunderpeeche,

Taking a look at the proceedings of a randomly chosen Lattice 200x (Lattice 2000), I note that one of the plenary talks is “Recent Developments in Superstring Theory” (see http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-lat/011073) by Ashoke Sen. From what I recall it has not been uncommon for the Lattice XXXX conferences to have summary talks about developments in string theory, although perhaps less so the last few years as most theoretical physicists have lost interest in the subject.

Good. It would be good if the String xxxx confs also had summary talks about developments in other fields. Strings 2005 had a talk on developments in Cosmic Strings (Polchinski), which is not quite the same as ST. Depends on the organizers.

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I’ve been to many topical conferences where there were one or two invited talks on related fields, the point being to keep people up to speed on what is going on around them, especially new developments, and to relieve the monotony of the landscape.By way of illustration, Loops ’05 scheduled two invited string talks in plenary session and a third talk in parallel session. The first two were by Dijkgraaf (“Quantum geometry and topological strings”) and by Thiesen (“Gravity from String Theory”). The third, by Dorothea Bahns, was more narrowly focused (“The Invariant Charges of the Nambu-Goto String”).

From what I recall it has not been uncommon for the Lattice XXXX conferences to have summary talks about developments in string theory

Well, the ones I was at had “Lattice” SUSY/string talks, but nothing specific to string theory that was non-lattice related. It’s common practice to have one or two experimentalists give plenary talks, and one talk on high energy theory, such as Zoltan Ligeti’s talk on CKM physics at lattice 2005.

although perhaps less so the last few years as most theoretical physicists have lost interest in the subject.

It’s more that lattice people tend to have slightly lower energy things in mind (like hadronic decay constants). There is a fair fraction of the community that does SUSY/Strings/”formal” QFT type though. See Neuberger’s talk at lattice 2005, for example.

I just saw this. Has it been mentioned elsewhere? Apologies if so. (Smiting dragons?) “Wrong” “completely wrong” “not even wrong” … I had not heard of the first two, only the last.

http://www.movementarian.com/2006/06/12/peter-woit-smites-dragons-during-the-day-and-superstrings-at-night/

I finally had a look at these talks. I thought Gukov’s was a nice introduction to the link between String theory and recent work on Khovanov homology in the paper by Pfeiffer and Lauda.