A few short items:
Guth started his physics career in this sunny scientific world. Now sixty-four years old and a professor at MIT, he was in his early thirties when he proposed a major revision to the Big Bang theory, something called inflation…
He wears aviator-style eyeglasses, keeps his hair long, and chain-drinks Diet Cokes. “The reason I went into theoretical physics,” Guth tells me, “is that I liked the idea that we could understand everything—i.e., the universe—in terms of mathematics and logic.” He gives a bitter laugh. We have been talking about the multiverse…
“We had a lot more confidence in our intuition before the discovery of dark energy and the multiverse idea,” says Guth. “There will still be a lot for us to understand, but we will miss out on the fun of figuring everything out from first principles.”
One wonders whether a young Alan Guth, considering a career in science today, would choose theoretical physics.
The only hint anywhere in article that some physicists might feel that there is something wrong with this picture is the passing remark that some [unnamed] physicists “remain skeptical of the anthropic principle and the reliance on multiple universes to explain the values of the fundamental parameters of physics.”
A theoretical Higgs prize would likely take much longer, since it will take a while to be sure that whatever is found behaves the way a Higgs should. Guralnik continues his campaign for the prize here.
For those who wonder: the fact that the Higgs has (perhaps) been found has no influence on my ideas on gravity. These ideas remain correct.
- A First Course in Loop Quantum Gravity, by Rodolfo Gambini and Jorge Pullin. This book explains the ideas behind loop quantum gravity at an introductory level, suitable for undergraduates, or anyone wanting as non-technical as possible of an introduction to the subject. Maybe it can be sold in a package with Barton Zwiebach’s A First Course in String Theory.
Fascinating Mathematical People edited by Albers and Alexanderson. This contains a wonderful interview with my colleague Dusa McDuff. There’s also this exchange in the interview with Ahlfors:
Mathematical People: How about physicists?
Ahlfors: Well, I don’t believe in physics!
Mathematical People: You don’t believe in physics? Why not?
Ahlfors: Physicists are so close to physics, but they don’t know mathematics.
Mathematical People: … There’s also a great deal of mathematics used by string theorists.
Ahlfors: But it’s the wrong theory. I like the knot theory aspects, especially the knot theory applied to string theory. The strings are knots now, and there are these ready-made knot theorems that can be applied. That appeals to me.
Probably physicists are important for mathematics, but they cannot be important for me in any sense. I don’t think that mathematicians should take their inspiration from physics.
- Magical Mathematics: The Mathematical Ideas That Animate Great Magic, by Ron Graham and Persi Diaconis.
- Division Algebras, Lattices, Physics, Windmill Tilting, by Geoffrey Dixon. Dixon tells his personal story about pursuing research in particle physics, trying to connect it to the mathematics of the division algebras over the reals. I’m sympathetic to the idea that this kind of algebra has something to do with the patterns we see in the SM symmetries and quantum numbers. Unfortunately I still think no one yet knows the right way to understand this.
Update: One more. See here for an explanation of why string theory is useful:
Dr. Kaku explains that time machines do not violate Einstein’s laws of physics, and that – difficult though it might be – future humans would be wise to build one and slip through a wormhole to one of the alternate dimensions proposed by string theory before the cooling universe extinguishes all known life.
Update: The Times has an article and series of letters about the Higgs/Nobel issue, see here.