Schroer’s “Samizdat”

Bert Schroer has a new version of his paper that was discussed here earlier this year, now with the amended title String theory and the crisis in particle physics (a Samizdat on particle physics). He claims that the version reflects a change in viewpoint due to his participation in this and other weblogs, and I believe he would like the opportunity to discuss this further here. There’s also a posting about this at the weblog of Risto Raitio.

Update: Schroer, agreeing with his critics that his paper had too many typos, has sent me a corrected version, which is available here, for use until the arXiv version gets updated. He also agrees that an “s” should be a “z” in Samizdat…

Update: Schroer has a new paper out, which contains a review of AQFT and a discussion of light-front holography, with further comments on the relation to the Maldacena conjecture.

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122 Responses to Schroer’s “Samizdat”

  1. Thomas Love says:

    Peter, Thanks for the link, that is why I visit daily. As I scannned Schroer’s article, seeing the section “The only game in Town”, this story flashed into my mind: After the Titanic hit the iceberg, a woman was looking for her husband and found him in the poker parlor. “What are you doing here”, she asked. He responded “It’s the only game in town.”

    Physics has hit an iceberg: string theory. Hopefully some will be smart enough to get off before they go down with the boat.

  2. TheGraduate says:

    sam iz dat

    1. a clandestine publishing system within the Soviet Union, by which forbidden or unpublishable literature was reproduced and circulated privately.

    2. a work or periodical circulated by this system.

    (Thought others might also wonder what a samizdat was.).

  3. LDM says:

    It was a good read until the suggestion that only Witten is able to follow all mathematical developments in string theory.

    Von Neumann once expressed the opinion that the body of mathematics had become so vast that he only understood maybe 50% of it. If string theory uses “almost all areas of mathematics”, then Schroer should make a stronger statement than he makes — and include Witten in the group who is unable to follow all developments in string theory.

    It is difficult to understand the deference to Witten.

  4. MathPhys says:


    Have you met him?

  5. Tim says:

    The distinguished Bert Schroer must have a very strong opinion well worth publishing if he changed his viewpoint after some random rants and raves on a weblog.


  6. Tim says:

    Sorry guys, this is just too obvious, I can’t let it pass:

    page 16. “The message from this illustration is that one theory can only be asymptotically contained in a more fundamental one if the structures harmonize.”

    According to Bert Schroer the phrase “the structures harmonize” is not a metaphore but terminus technicus and on top of that he made rigorous and not metaphorous conclusions about the ST -> QFT limit based on the QFT -> QM limit, in other words he has proven rigorously that these two limits are analogous even though according to him ST does not even make sense.

    page 17. “The fact that thousends (sic!) of publications were written about this problem and that even the still ongoing research has not been able to come any closer at proving/disproving this conjecture is a unique mind-bending phenomenon in the history of particle theory.”

    Unique? May I suggest Bert Schroer to substitute “the existence of QCD as a non-perturbatively defined QFT with a mass gap” in place of “this conjecture”? Please don’t respond with the experimental relevance of QCD as opposed to AdS/CFT since clearly the AQFT crowd can not possibly be further from experiments than it actually is.

    I guess I’ll read on just for the fun of it but quit reporting the most hillarious parts here, there will probably be just way to much.


  7. Tim says:

    I promise this is the last comment, the only reason I add it is because of a genuine desire to aid Bert Schroer in his future publications: please, please, get a spell checker installed on your computer.


  8. Thomas Love says:

    Tim Said:

    “The distinguished Bert Schroer must have a very strong opinion well worth publishing if he changed his viewpoint after some random rants and raves on a weblog.”

    The ability to change one’s mind when confronted with new evidence is called the scientific mindset. People who will not change their minds when confronted with new evidence are called fundamentalists.

    The comments here are, for the most part well reasoned arguments. Except for the quotes from “he who must not be named”.

  9. Bert Schroer says:

    I suggest to read the text in a more careful manner.
    The analogy with QFT—QM is taken as a warning because in d=1+2 in the presence of braid group statistics there is no QM in the nonrelativistic limit; the maintenance of the spin&statistics theorem prevents the emergence of QM!! This is an illustration of a structural disharmony. I am only rejecting scale sliding arguments if they are unaccompanied by a prior structural conceptional reasoning .
    The comparision with the state of QCD is misleading because QCD is not in an epsilon environment of a rigorous theorem but the M-conjecture is!!
    Fortunately these misunderstandings have nothing to do with misspellings.
    My greatest change of mind is the way I now view the Harvard professor Lubos Motl

  10. MathPhys says:

    Can someone please summarize to me what Schroer new point of view is? I find it difficult to see the point in 49 pages of polemic.

  11. H. K. says:

    I found the “(possibly infinite) Russian matryoshka” metaphor interesting.

  12. Stefan says:


    All this time you were searching for an alternative [to string theory] to work on: why not AQFT?


  13. Tim says:

    After carefully reading the manuscript I concluded that Bert Schroer simultaneously thinks the following about the AdS/CFT correspondence:

    1. it does not make any sense
    2. it is a conjecture to be proven or disproven
    3. it is trivial, its rigorous form was known for a long time
    4. it was recently proven rigorously
    5. no more papers should be written about it
    6. not enough papers are written about its rigorous proof

    Did I miss something?


  14. Egbert says:

    It is a thought-provoking article, but it can really be separated into an examination of string theory and its situation and an advocacy of the axiomatic approach instead.

    I think the identification of the prevalence of metaphors is the most important and relevant point at the moment, though. Metaphors can play their role in communicating proofs, but they are not in themselves valid proofs of anything. If one has the correct metaphors, however, one can know the procedures that one should perform, without understanding why you are doing those procedures.

    So if you are a “shut-up and calculate” type, who say that you understand once you knows what to do, then metaphors will be good enough for you, provided they get the message across. On the other hand if you demand that you can say “X literally has the relation Y to Z” before you agree that you understand, then metaphors will never be enough for you.

    And if somebody who only knows the metaphors and knows how to do what is expected of him has to teach an enquiring young student, then the young student will be told what is expected of him and given some metaphors to help explain what is expected of him. The student will then have three choices.

    He can accept that he is now in a society where “understanding” means being able to execute the procedures and recount the metaphors, and that he will never have any deeper understanding than this.

    He can pester his teacher to explain in a satisfactory way why he is supposed to do these computations, without using metaphors. This will irritate the teacher because the teacher himself has abandoned any attempt to understand in a non-metaphorical way, and the teacher will be ashamed of this and will react aggressively to the student to cover his shame, putting the blame for the confusion on the student’s lack of intelligence.

    Or he can say that the arguments the string theorists give are unpersuasive.The string theorists will point out that he is not qualified to judge, since he doesn’t know string theory, and he can only know string theory if he’s been accepted by the community, and he won’t be accepted by the community unless he is able to “understand” string theory, that is, unless he finds the arguments persuasive.

  15. Bert Schroer says:

    Yes you did, I said the structural theorem which was proven is in serious contradiction with any possible interpretation which one can attribute to the (not precisely formulated) Maldacena conjecture. Your statement that the rigorous proof in the two cited papers support Maldacena’s conjecture and that I claimed that there are any proofs of it is your fancy, it has nothing to do with my essay.
    You also take the word “trivial” out of context. It refers to the fact that the rigorously proven correspondence is a change in the spacetime encoding of the same algebraic substrate (pretty much like a change enzyms cause in the substrate of stem-cells by enforcing different spatial differentiation).
    I think that you already belong to the misdirected post-string generation which I allude to, and as I told you already before you do not seem to be able to read a scientific article whose content does not fit your prejudices.

  16. Bert Schroer says:

    Egbert, you really got it. And is you correctly suggest the ideas in the last section (which partly come from AQFT) are meant to counteract the no other game claim and are not to be considered a commercial for any other fad.

  17. Egbert says:

    The distinction that I draw is related to Lee’s distinction between the seers and the craftsmen, or, perhaps, is the same distinction.

    The seers, in my interpretation, are engaged in the task of arranging what they know into literal statements, so that they can be regarded as being actually true. This is important for theorizing because we can only perform logical inferences with literal statements. Metaphors and logic don’t mix.

    The craftsmen, on the other hand, can make do with the metaphors once they know how to carry out their tasks. And they can (and do) dismiss any attempt to seek a “deeper understanding”, beyond being able to do what’s expected of you, as philosophical nonsense.

    Seers and craftsmen are still metaphors, of course.

  18. Egbert says:


    I see the connection now.

  19. MathPhys says:

    I must say I find Maldacena’s conjecture not only stunning, but also very deep and beautiful. Of course nothing so deep in physics can be ‘proven’ in the mathematical sense of a proof, but people can keep on working out examples, and verifying it incrementally, which is what they have been doing.

    I find invoking ‘the anthropic principle’ disheartening, and I find the behaviour of a certain junior string theorist to be unacceptable. But to rope in the AdS/CFT conjecture into that too goes a bit too far.

    If we ask string theorists to be open minded about alternatives, we should equally expect non string theorists to appreciate certain aspects of string theory.

  20. Bert Schroer says:

    If the incremental verification would lead to a clarification how this conjecture has to be formulated in order to agree with the rigorous structural theorem (the same rigor as TCP, spin&statistics, but may be of lesser physical relevance) I would agree with you!
    But I am willing to make a bet that this is not what will happen. Its too late, the caravan (~4000 papers) has passed already and the conjecture has turned into one of these metaphoric legendary flying dutchmen who will circle above our heads without ever finding a landing place.

  21. MathPhys says:

    I’m not qualified to respond to what you say in a way that would settle this discussion, but on this very point I think most of what you say is polemic nonsense.

  22. Arun says:


    “A profound mathematical theorem reveals that there is even a unique correspondence between Local Quantum Physics {QFT both Lagrangian and non-Lagrangian} models in n+1 AdS spacetime with a n-dimensional conformal invariant Local Quantum Physics model…{Being a structural theorem, it does not identify the models} it only relates their LQP algebraic structures…..I have tried all possibilities of what Maldacena could have meant and none of them seem to be consistent with the above structural theorem.”

    End quote.

    I, for one, could use some help here, with a further elaboration.

  23. Stefan says:


    Is there a freely available introduction to LQP? or do I *have* to buy Haag’s book if I want to study it properly?


  24. Renormalized says:

    Tim and Lubos both sign there work with “Best”. That is an unusual practice.

  25. Bert Schroer says:

    A better way than to make such unqualified statements would be to familiarize yourself with the content of the references where the correspondence theorem is proven and then to compare it with what you think is the content of Maldacena’s theorem. This would force you to enter a new non-metaphoric and non incremental verification state of mind in which conceptual clarity and mathematical rigor reigns. It is not easy, and I could help you if you made a serious attempt, but I have no cure against prejudice and community-caused infections. Why do you use the pseudonym MathPhys?

  26. Peter Woit says:


    It’s not that unusual, and I am sure that Lubos and Tim are not the same person. I urge everyone here to avoid bringing Lubos into the discussion, or behaving in any way like him.

  27. Bert Schroer says:

    Arun, if you study the cited papers (not mine!) and come up with some questions I am willing to answer them. But it is futile to argue about the result of years of subtle thinking (left on the wayside by the great caravan) on a weblog. If I read (some) papers coming from the string community people like you (this also includes MathPhys) should also look at references outside their main research.
    Stephan: the area of LQP is a rapidly developing research subject and Haag’s book (which is very nice to make a first brush) only covers the area up the the end of the 80s. There is presently no up to-date book perhaps because the whole area is in a process of rapid change. A recent not so difficult reference on the powerful new localization concept (by which QFT sets itself apart from ST and LQG) is

  28. Rae Ann says:

    Renormalized, signing off with “best” is very common, especially on academic blogs.

    Bert S., what exactly is your goal in your attack of Lubos Motl? To embarrass and shame him into shutting up because you disagree with his manners? Above, you say, “I have no cure against prejudice and community-caused infections.” It looks to me like you have become a source of “prejudice and community-caused infections.” Your apparent change in view of Lubos is caused by what exactly? His political and social views? The way he speaks? The people he associates with? His ‘faith’ in his work? If he is acting as a filter of papers for others it is because his assessments are considered valuable to them. This is how an efficient community works, by delegating duties, so to speak.

  29. Bert Schroer says:

    Stefan don’t do this. These things are much better understood now. If you just follow the chronological order of the articles in
    including thesis and Diploma publications you get an excellent view about the state of the art. There is also a book by Logunov, Todorov, which Bogoliubov is a co-author which is better than the original Bogoliubov-Shirkov books.
    But it is very tough going, especially if you do it on your own and have nobody to consult.

  30. Bert Schroer says:

    Rae Ann
    No my main problem is with the string community and with the chairman of the Harvard Physics Department who tolerate the posting of death threats against the owner of this weblog.

  31. woit says:

    I will delete any further efforts to discuss Lubos Motl here. Please do this elsewhere if you must. It should be made clear that Bert is wrong about this, the chairman of the Harvard Physics department is not someone who has been willing to tolerate Lubos’s recent behavior.

  32. Arun says:

    I left professional physics more than a dozen years ago; but I will try to read the cited papers and understand. The idea that the Maldacena
    conjecture cannot be made consistent with a general structural
    theorem, and yet has many, many people pursuing it is one that
    commands attention.

  33. Bert Schroer says:

    I would be extremely interested to have some comments about my essay from the Great Inquisitor.

  34. Tim says:


    I trust you I will make an appearance in the acknowledgments of the new preprint version for drawing your attention to the untolerable number of typos. Please use the following formulation if possible: “[…] and also would like to thank Talicska Tim for a careful reading of the manuscript.”


  35. Egbert says:


    I understand the importance of the role that metaphors have played in the patterns of thought that have led people to invest so much of their self-respect in their “understanding” of string theory, but I think that there’s another important factor at play.

    The notion of “fundamental physics”, or of what is going on “at the fundamental level” has played a very large part in string theory – more than any other theory so far. On inspection, it appears to be a mythological-religious notion pervading modern theoretical physics. I am informed, by theoretical physicists in general, that the mathematical description of what is “happening at the fundamental level” is actually what God sees when he looks at “the Universe”. It is supposed to describe what truly exists, and is the cause of everything else.

    This is rather far from the usual understanding of science. I think the notion of “how the world looks to God” has had a lot of influence in the minds of a group consisting mostly of athiests and people who profess to despise religion. It seems to me that the reason for this is a confusion over what constitutes a cause and what constitutes an explanation. What they want is a complete understanding, that is, an explanation of everything, but this has become confused with the idea of a most fundamental cause.

    It may well be that a metaphor can be “understood”, but not “literally understood”, if it contains within itself a confusion between a cause and an explanation. But I think that this confusion must always be present in any discussion of “fundamental physics”.

  36. Daniel Grumiller says:

    I have read Bert’s paper as part of my editorial duties and I enjoyed it a lot. Naturally, any work of such a nature – a mostly historical paper on subjects whose history has not ended yet – is biased by the author.

    It would be interesting to press the “save” button right now, fast forward a century or two, and compare with future historians their assessment of 20th/21st century string theory. I really don’t know what I should expect to read, but I imagine one of the four scenarios:

    1. An experimentum crucis has been performed which convincingly provides evidence for string theory. Bert’s paper will be a historical example of misjudgement (because string theory was right after all).

    2. An experimentum crucis has been performed which convincingly falsifies string theory. This blog will be a historical example of misjudgement (because string theory could be falsified after all).

    3. No experiments, but an alternative has been discovered which is more convincing than string theory. Either it will be celebrated as the successor of string theory, from which it emerged, or as its opponent.

    4. No experiments, no alternatives, string theory has become a quasi-religious dogma.

    I think we all agree that 4. ought to be avoided by all means, and this, in my opinion, is the main point of Bert’s paper.

  37. AdamBalm says:

    I completely agree, Dan.


  38. Bert Schroer says:

    we both seem to agree that the phenomenon we are trying to understand cannot be solely explaine in terms of the action of some very intelligent and charismatic individuals who succeeded to inspire or mislead (according to standpoint) a whole community. If I understand your point correctly you attribute the present confusion to a clash between cause and explanation and consider it as an inevitable consequence of the quest for knowing what is going on “at the fundamental level”. In other words the path of unraveling the fundamental truth will end in mysticism. In a way this sounds to me like an adaptation to science of the more sociological oriented “critical theory” of Adorno and Horkheimer (“ënlightenment must convert into mythology”) which I refer to in section 3 of my essay (with an interesting footnote quoting from a passage of one of Horkheimer’s essays).
    I personally think that it is more a millennium phenomenon. After the cold war when globalized capitalism strengthened its grip on hegemony there was the new ideology of an “end of history” and the coming of an era of peace and happiness. The physics ideology of a theory of everything unfolded parallel to these sociological developments in complete chronological analogy. In may essay I argue that this is not accidental, it is rather a manifestation of the millennium Zeitgeist. This will give the hope that after the passing of time the pendulum may sway into another direction.

  39. Egbert says:

    I think there is more to Bert’s paper than Daniel has stated.

    There is a value to attempting to seriously examine the relationship between string theory and QFT while simultaneously considering how communities communicate and affect one another’s perceptions and motivations. After all, string theory is undeniably a community of people bound together by a commitment to a specific guess, and each of them has taken a gamble, and they communicate with each other quite a lot, and it is an interesting and valid and very relevant and topical question to ask:

    When you have a community like this, where every member of the community has taken a gamble, and there is no way to know, for the foreseeable future, how that gamble will turn out, and the members of the community constantly talk to each other about the gamble that they have taken, how do they affect each other’s perceptions of the likelihood of their position turning out to be right?

    It would also be nice for each string theorist to state, for the record, that he has never allowed the confidence of other string theorists to influence his estimate of the probability of string theory being the One True Theory of the Universe. If there is even a small effect whereby seeing the confidence of others in the Truth of string theory leads to having confidence oneself in the Truth of string theory, then this effect will be amplified through a positive-feedback loop as the members of the community talk to each other.

    So the question for the sociologists is: Do communities of people who have all taken the same gamble always eventually convince one another that the gamble will pay off, and that the people who share this assessment are more intelligent than the people who don’t?

    If the answer is yes, then the argument can be presented to the string theorists:
    Given what we know about sociology, and given that spending one’s doctorate on string theory is a gamble which people freely take, and given that the truth will not be known for a long time, it is 100% certain that the string theory community will end up declaring themselves to be sure of the truth of string theory and declaring people who disagree with this assessment to be less intelligent than themselves.

    I think the response of the string theorists will be to say that the described sociological effect does not occur or string theorists are immune to it (due to their exceptional professionalism and intelligence). Are there any string theorists who would accept that this sociological effect is real and affects them?

  40. Egbert says:


    The millennium Zeitgeist seems to be a recurring feature of society. It would then appear to be no coincidence that string theory is dominant more in the United States than any other country, and that it developed here. The millennium Zeitgeist is particularly strong here.

    But the argument from the string theorists would be that the mainstream of science (which they consider string theory part of) is not so strongly influenced by the fads and fashions of society, and that theories of physics in particular, do not get swept away by changes of mood accompanying world wars.

    So the question is what is it that distinguishes string theory from other areas of science by making it more vulnerable to Zeitgeists?

    With regard to viewing things as superstition and mythology, my grandparents would talk about people (in my family and my neighborhood) as being posessed by spirits, and I have talked to them about it and understand what they mean. A “spirit” is something like an attitude, so that a person is said to have the “spirit of charity” if they are charitable and is said to be in “high spirits” when they are happy. A man is said to be “possessed by a spirit” when he has gotten some idea into his head and he has adopted some attitude and behavior. The idea of a spirit may even be a folk recognition of the concept of a meme, recently introduced to the world of scientists by Richard Dawkins and widely celebrated as a great insight.

    But the traditional scientific rejection of mythology has tagged the idea of possession by spirits as completely insane gibberish. I think that string theorists may view Zeitgeists in much the same way. As my grandparents would say, they’re posessed by spirits.

  41. ZZZ says:

    Tim said:

    … drawing your attention to the untolerable number of typos …

    Tim, it’s no biggie to make a few mistakes when using big words. The correct English word here is “intolerable”. Try to build a tolerance for typos.



  42. Egbert says:

    Thinking more about Zeitgeists, I think you may be right. It’s not a question of being vulnerable to them, but the attitude of the population at large was unusually suitable for the emergence of string theory. It certainly seemed as though there was a role which the entertainment industry needed filled and string theory auditioned and got the part.

    So if I understand you then, the Zeitgeist causes confusion for the individual string theorist because it provides confidence that humans in general have basically figured everything out, and the string theorist translates this into confidence that the leaders of the string theory community know what they are doing, even though he is not able to find satisfactory proofs that this is the case, but must rely largely on trust, or metaphors.

  43. amanda says:

    If BS wants people to turn from string theory to AQFT, he will have to find a way of presenting the latter that does not make it look very, very, *very* boring.

  44. Bert Schroer says:

    In an ealier comment to Egbert I stated that this is not my intention. Anything which tries to compete with ST will sooner or later inherit all those aspects which I criticize in my essay. The strength of AQFT is its secrete charm, it is only accessible to people who are willing to make a series effort. It is our most precious post millennium investment and it is still in the process of growth and should not be thrown onto the market. That you find it boring confirms that I did not sex it up.

  45. Tim says:


    Thank God I didn’t write that down in a paper only in a weblog! The reason for that is simply that I run papers through a spell checker which is the thing I suggested to Bert Schroer as well. Everybody makes typos after all but nobody can stop you from installing a spell checker 🙂

    And since according to Peter Woit Bert Schroer corrected his typos as a result of my suggestion I truly believe I have a reserved seat in his acknowledgments. Otherwise I must be lead to think that he similarly neglects other sources from where he is drawing inspiration while writing a paper.


  46. Thomas Larsson says:

    we should equally expect non string theorists to appreciate certain aspects of string theory.

    Some of the work done by string theorists is certainly being appreciated – Peter obviously admires Witten’s work in mathematics, and the success of CFT in 2D statphys has largely formed my own worldview; my research circle around generalizations of algebraic structures from CFT to higher dimensions.

    However, being on the receiving end of 20 years of unchallenged pro-string propaganda is a formative experience. It is possible that AdS/CFT is an physically important development, but since every claim in the past about string theory’s relevance to the real world has been a vast exaggeration at best, I would instinctively assume the same about AdS/CFT.

    Especially since both sides in the duality seem unphysical. AdS/CFT relates a string theory in AdS space, with negative cc, to an N=4 supersymmetric gauge theory. Last time I checked, neither a negative cc nor N=4 susy were particularly good descriptions of reality. I do find quite disturbing is when string theory partisans like Sean Carroll claim that there is overwhelming evidence for gauge/gravity duality, but don’t mention that both the gauge and the gravity side are unphysical.

  47. Bert Schroer says:

    Tim, here you have your way:
    I am particularly thankful to Talicska Tim (or whoever hides behind this name) for suggesting the use of a spellcheck to improve my essay on string theory and the crisis in particle physics.
    You can print it out and stick it onto your office-wall. If you surface mail me a printout to my Rio address, I will hand-sign it and send it back.
    But now you owe me an acknowledgement. If your misrepresentation of the content of my essay on one of your previous blogs (especially the issue of M-conjecture) was not intentional then you thank me for correcting your misunderstanding.

  48. TheGraduate says:

    Thomas Larsson:

    You said “It is possible that AdS/CFT is an physically important development”.

    I don’t know very much about the mathematics of this but AdS/CFT is a conjecture not a theorem right?

  49. Bert Schroer says:

    Dear Thomas Larsson,
    although I agree with the content of your statements, I want to stress that my criticism of the Maldacena affair is not based on some physical gut-feelings but on the use of rigorous mathematics guided by a physical conceptual frame (i.e. not that amok-running mathematics which combines well with the physics metaphors). The issue of physical relevance of this superoverhyped issue was not the main issue. Actually if you read my essay careful you will realize that it is not that superoverhyped aspects in itself which deeply worries me but rather the fact that there exists a structural theorem on AdS—CFT which the caravan did not bother to address.

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