Esquire On The State of Particle Theory

You know things are getting strange when Esquire magazine starts running an article on the current state of particle theory. As you might expect, their take on this is rather odd. It centers around Nima Arkani-Hamed and begins with:

For a hundred years, physicists have been scraping away at the strange and complicated phenomena obscuring the true face of our universe. Finally, a few brillant young thinkers may be on the verge of getting the first real glimpse.

which is pretty much complete nonsense, totally ignoring the huge success of the standard model in favor of the latest extremely speculative models promoted by some people.

The Esquire writer talked to several theorists, including Lee Smolin and Laurent Freidel at Perimeter, where he describes young postdocs as hanging out at a local hipster bar, with one of their number describing string theorists as “the post 9/11 theocons”, afraid of anything new: “The string theorists just masturbate to their same ideas.” The postdocs do note that at Perimeter string theorists and non-string theorists get along fine. Freidel, a faculty member at Perimeter, is described as not having slept for two weeks straight when he was working on a solution of QCD, with his wife asking a colleague “Can you do something? He’s going insane.”

After describing Perimeter, the article then moves on to Witten and Maldacena at the Institute in Princeton. Witten’s comments about the current state of things go as follows:

Well, you can’t have your best year every year… I’ve lived through two periods, the mid-eighties and mid-nineties, where for about six or seven years, roughly, there were a lot of really interesting results that were also relatively easy. And I’ve also lived through several periods by now where you have to work a little harder to get something interesting.

Witten goes on to say that he is putting his hopes in the LHC and the idea that it is likely to tell us something about the nature of electroweak symmetry breaking.

There’s some attempt to describe Maldacena and his AdS/CFT conjecture, which is characterized as “a mind fuck, but not crazy.” The article then moves back to Arkani-Hamed at Harvard, with “For crazy, you have to go about 250 miles north.” His view of the current controversy over string theory is said to be “forget the antistring polemicists! They’re just reactionaries! This could be the greatest discovery of our time!”, and he heavily promotes the anthropic landscape and the idea that the LHC will provide evidence for it. He says:

The mantra of string theory ten years ago was that the theory was smarter than you… Well, exactly that–just follow the theory where it leads you and it leads to this precipice. And now we have to decide what to do. So now a number of people are deciding to jump… And I think that those of us that decided to take the plunge are staring at the true nature of the beast for the first time.

Personally, I think if a scientific theory with no experimental evidence for it takes you to the edge of a precipice and tells you to jump, the sensible thing to do is to say “No Thanks!”, back away, and go find another theory. But that’s just me.

The latest New Scientist also has something about the string theory controversy, an article by Michio Kaku entitled Will we ever have a theory of everything?, part of a series of articles on “The Big Questions”. Kaku describes the controversy dramatically:

It’s all-out war. The hostilities have begun. With guns blazing, daily salvos are being fired by both sides. Welcome to the conflict raging within the rarefied world of theoretical physics, where a civil war has erupted over string theory and a theory of everything.

While I disagree with the far too rosy picture he paints of the prospects for string theory, Kaku takes a very sensible attitude towards the whole thing:

So who’s right? Actually, both have a legitimate point of view. But far from signalling a collapse in physics, this debate is actually rather healthy. It’s a sign of the vitality of theoretical physics that people are so passionate about the outcome. Science flourishes with controversy.

and ends, reasonably enough with:

One day, some bright, enterprising physicist, perhaps inspired by this article, will complete the theory, open the doorway, and use the power of pure thought to determine if string theory is a theory of everything, anything, or nothing.

New Scientist also asked various well-known physicists what they thought might happen in physics in the next 50 years. Weinberg says that he hopes for a final theory of particle physics, with discovery of superpartners a first step. Tegmark also hopes for a final theory, one which will have us living in just one of many “parallel universes”. ‘t Hooft hopes for a deterministic model that would unify quantum mechanics and gravity, Randall for a new understanding of space and time, Carroll for a theory of the big bang, Wilczek for a new golden age of particle physics catalyzed by the LHC, Kolb for the discovery of gravitational waves and Vilenkin for the discovery of a cosmic string. The most popular question on many these people’s minds is that of whether or not we live in a multiverse (Tegmark, Rees, Krauss mention this). Among mathematicians, Marcus du Sautoy suggests we’ll have a proof of the Riemann hypothesis, Timothy Gowers favors P=NP.

Among all these and other scientists, I think the most plausible prediction comes from my graduate school roommate, Nathan Myhrvold, who thinks a revolution will come from materials science, with the development of new “metamaterials”, substances with new, intricate synthetic structures.

Update: Somehow I hadn’t noticed that New Scientist also had a prediction from Witten:

String theory will continue to be an extremely fertile source of new ideas. It will still be viewed as the interesting candidate for quantum gravity, and may even be more or less understood by 2056.

Interesting that he thinks that 50 years from now the situation will be much the same, with string theory still just a “candidate” for quantum gravity, and he doesn’t predict that we will have string-based unification of particle physics and gravity.

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47 Responses to Esquire On The State of Particle Theory

  1. Aaron Bergman says:

    “One of PI’s initial faculty hires, Smolin, fifty-one, began his career in string theory before becoming fed up with the lack of progress and turning instead to loop quantum gravity, an alternate possible unified theory.”

  2. Troublemaker says:

    and use the power of pure thought to determine if string theory is a theory of everything, anything, or nothing.

    Mmmm, Aristotle-icious! I prefer the power of comparing empirical results to theoretical predictions, but sure, pure thought is fun, too.

  3. Chris Oakley says:

    This is my favourite bit of the Esquire article:

    A different, even more extreme explanation for the symmetry breakdown is known as supersymmetry, which theorizes a set of counterparts to our known subatomic particles that are embedded in the architecture of space-time. Besides explaining electroweak interactions, the discovery of supersymmetric particles, with cool names such as squarks, sleptons, and selectrons, would be a huge boon to string theorists, whose model of the universe depends upon them.

    … so now I know something I was previously unaware of, i.e. that supersymmetry explains something.

  4. a says:

    Actually, the precipice or feature or bug has little to do with smart string theory: all models with extra dimensions have multiple vacua and/or moduli.

    By the way, the most interesting observation about “is the weak scale anthropic?” was made in hep-ph/9707380 (1997: when it was not a fashionable string theory topic!), but this really brillant work is mostly ignored by popular journals.

  5. Mary says:

    Another pop-culture mention of the string theory controversy: this Zippy the Pinhead comic strip.

    (Zippy is a weird, surrealist sort of strip, and doesn’t usually make even this much sense…)

  6. Pot Smoking Hippie says:

    “Personally, I think if a scientific theory with no experimental evidence for it takes you to the edge of a precipice and tells you to jump, the sensible thing to do is to say “No Thanks!”, back away, and go find another theory. But that’s just me.”

    So, has your theory actually taken you anywhere besides another precipice? Does it offer any more experimental evidence than any other theory? Perhaps the string theorists are rappelling instead of free falling. Maybe the loop people could try rappelling with chains made of their loops? It’s just a wild thought.

  7. Bert Schroer says:

    Pot Smoking Hippie,
    How many joints are necessary to write a blog like yours?

  8. Who says:

    Hippie, I watch post-string QG research and have seen no indication that those you call “loop people” have come to any metaphorical precipice. Progress appears steady along several lines of investigation. Preliminary contacts with matter and with classical gravity have been made (see recent papers by Rovelli et al and Freidel et al). Lately some problems with the ground state appear to have been gotten around (see Randono’s papers of this past week for some recent results).

    So you seem to be generalizing needlessly—-just because somebody like Nima might see string research at a precipice which he believes the adventurous are jumping off and meeting “the beast”, does not mean that non-string QG is in a similar situation. I think, instead, it is beginning to unearth more fundamental degrees of freedom from which space time and matter emerge at large scale.

  9. Alejandro Rivero says:

    this one is from 1994:
    space to let

  10. Garbage says:

    “Weinberg says that he hopes for a final theory of particle physics, with discovery of superpartners a first step. Tegmark also hopes for a final theory, one which will have us living in just one of many parallel universes. t Hooft hopes for a deterministic model that would unify quantum
    mechanics and gravity, Randall for a new understanding of space and time, Carroll for a theory of the big bang, Wilczek for a new golden age of particle physics catalyzed by the LHC, Kolb for the discovery of gravitational waves and Vilenkin for the discovery of a cosmic string.”

    There is a high chance any of this will happen. I mean:

    1) No SUSY

    2) One Universe

    3) QM is not ultimately deterministic

    4) I assume Lisa awaits XD, so here I’d so no more than 4 (and please no “four more”! ;) )

    5) I’m guessing a better theory of big bang is to understand the initial singularity, keep waiting…

    6) LHC will single out just the Higgs.

    7) LISA will never launch, but perhaps/hopefuly LIGO II will see something.

    8) Cosmic strings would be fun watching, in purple and red ;). Even if we find such objects, how do we know they come from M-theory? magic?

    And then what?

    There is a high chance we’ll just see the Higgs and then new physics will have to come in indirect ways, that is still very interesting. I would support ILC anyhow, there is a lot of stuff to do/check, but not a completly mind f*ck I’m afraid…:)

    Like Witten says, just a “little harder” :)

    In the mean time, keep on gnitabrutsam…

  11. Bee says:

    well, I can report the local hipster bar isn’t so hip anymore. besides this, I like the sentence:

    Taking up residence here is a bit like joining the priesthood. You’re segregated from the rest of the world, and your job is to get into God’s head and figure out how the big damn machine works.

    So, that’s then a priesthood that hangs out in the local hipster bar.

    Sneakers and jeans rule

    That makes a priesthood in sneakers and jeans that hangs out in the local hipster bar. I should add, I learned that Canadians call their sneakers ‘runners’. But better:

    It’s like exploring a forest[...] as if it were a fort, planning a means of attack [...] as if the search for a unified theory were the world’s biggest game of sudoku.

    And let’s combine that with what The New Yorker wrote:

    a sort of Menshevik cell of physicists in Canada

    Okay, so we have a Menshevik cell of priests in runners and jeans that – when it doesn’t hang out in the local hipster bar – plans attacks on forests and plays sodoku.

    Also completely priceless: our universe is [...] a giant DVD floating among an infinite number of other DVDs and gravity is like a bottle of whiskey that has been passed around the galaxy a few too many times.

    Now I’ll go back into God’s head. Deus vobiscum.

  12. language minder says:

    ‘There’s some attempt to describe Maldacena and his AdS/CFT conjecture, which is characterized as “a mind f***, but not crazy.”’

    Please asterisk-out the major parts of poor language, or your site will probably be put on a parental hot list by search engines (as unsuitable for teenage kids who need to know this physics controversy).

  13. Well said, garbage.

    I already placed a bet which covers your points 1, 4, and 6, 1000 US$ says they hold.

    I am willing to bet 25,000 US$ on point 2, one and only one universe. I will make the check payable in another universe, of choice of the winner, however. No, seriously, I cannot bet more than a year of salary, but I would be happy to lose that one bet too. Any takers ?

    Cheers,
    T.

  14. Gil Kalai says:

    When brilliant and hilarious Scott Aaronson came to town last month he was much more enthusiastic to tell us about the recent physics controversies, the new books about string theory, and the related blog excitements, than discussing quantum computer’s skepticism. Scott surely got us interested!

    What might happend for physics in the next 50 years? Good question! And what the future be for string theory? Below are six alternatives:

    This (light) piece is inspired by the (deep and serious) classic paper by Russell Impaglliazzo on the five possible universes regarding computation and cryptography. (Russel’s paper is also one of Scott’s favorite papers.)

    Apart from the illustrative details (which are meant to be amusing) I regard each of the six alternatives below as realistic. The second alternative can be regarded as the current default cautiously-optimistic main-stream approach of the scientific community which, perhaps, make it the most plausible.

    Six Alternatives For String Theory’s Future

    1. UTOPIA

    String theory continues to progress and converges in a few decades to become a solid part of our scientific understanding with plenty of empirical direct and indirect confirmations and many applications to all other areas of physics. Some of the landmarks after the “Maldacena conjectures” (1997) were the “Johnson Postulate” (2009), the “Motl Ansatz” (2014), the “Diestel Paradigm” (2017) followed by the powerful “E-F-W Calculus” (2022). String theory becomes the “language of physics” perhaps even “the language of nature”. Every graduate student
    in physics is able to make string theory computations, and this is what most physicists do. String theory represents a sound mathematical theory, in fact, mathematics is now considered just as “the special case of string theory for Plank constant 0″. A few exciting problems remain.

    Peter Woit’s book “TRUE!” tops the NYT best sellers lists for 24 weeks.(In his book Woit advises caution concerning applications of string theory to the area of finance.)


    2. TRIUMPH and ISOLATION

    String theory continues to progress and converges in a few decades to a solid part of our scientific understanding with convincing empirical direct and indirect confirmations but with little applications and relevance to other areas of physics. Computations with string theory are extremely hard. (Computations based on the E-F-W calculus are computationally infeasible even on the newly built “quantum computers”.) Mathematical foundations of string theory as of earlier high-energy physics remain shaky.

    Peter Woit’s book “NOT WRONG!” hits the market,


    3. PERPETUUM MOBILE

    String theory continues to progress but it does not converge. String theory thus remains a “useful divergent theory” whatever this means. More and more exciting connections to mathematics are found. More and more conceptual revolutions in the theory itself are taking place. (The latest is the “13th superstring revolution”.) String theory leads to a whole new way to look at physics and, even more, it is a scientific experience not seen before. The best most brilliant minds are attracted to this theory as before.

    The 17th edition of Woit’s “Not even wrong” appears.


    4. DECAY

    String theory continues to progress but the progress is slower, the attractiveness of the theory seems smaller. String theory indeed looks more promising than ever but while the success looks around the corner, string theory is not sufficiently promising to attract the best people. Interest in physics is shifted to other directions.


    5. GLORIOUS FAILURE

    A brilliant string theorist from Vanderbilt University discovers a potential feature of supersymmetric string theory which contradicts basic physics insights. Massive computations in the “String Vacuum Project ” confirm her discovery. After several years of extensive research (with beautiful new connections to mathematics found) it is now commonly accepted that string theory was falsified and is no longer an option for a theory of everything. No alternative is seen at sight. 20 prominent string theorists declare string theory as part of “mathematical physics”, rather than a viable physics theory, and within 72 hours, 18 of them get lucrative offers from top mathematics departments.

    Woit’s biography of Ed Witten “WRONG!!”, is the basis for a successful Hollywood movie featuring Will Smith as Witten in the main role.


    6. ALTERNATIVA

    The alternative theory was discovered by cheer coincidence and like string theory itself is based on a technical rather than conceptual idea. The starting step was by an elderly mathematician from Bristol University seeking for mathematical explanation for QEC suggests to replace the term(1/137)^k with (1/137)^k (1-z)^(k(k-1)) where z is a constant smaller than and very close to one. Strangely, this has led to some consistent theory and this technical variation made quantum gravity easier. The next step came when a researcher from the University of Tehran (inspired, in parts, by some rather general suggestions of P. Woit, and the mathematical notion of “noise sensitivity”,) relates dark matter and dark energy with representations of unbounded weights and dimensions. Such representations are prominent in the new theory. (This new type of mass/energy is called “the mess”.) The theory is then developed and brought to completion by a New-Jersey based physicists N. Seiberg and E. Witten.

    An extremely surprising feature of the new alternative theory is that the universe is 3+1 dimensional.

    The translation of the new addition of Woit’s “Not Even Wrong” to Czech has just appeared.

    _____________________________________________________________

    (My subjective probabilities for the future of string theory, Utopia – 10%, Triumph and isolation – 40%, perpetuum mobile – 10% decay – 20% failure – 15% alternative found – 15%. Of course, some combination or an entirely different scenarios that I missed are also possible.)

  15. Esquire has commented on Physics and Mathematics before. But in a fairly superficial way.

    Examples:

    [The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead (Paperback)
    by Frank J. Tipler]

    “A doozy of a book… it’s 2001: A Space Odyssey meets The Divine Comedy.” –Esquire.

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Jump to: navigation, search

    Cartoon physics is a joking reference to the fact that animation allows regular laws of physics to be ignored in humorous ways or dramatic effects. For example, when a cartoon character runs off a cliff, gravity has no effect until the character notices and mugs an appropriate reaction.[1] Students of animation may hear of the “commandment” “Animation follows the laws of physics – unless it is funnier otherwise,” which is attributed to Art Babbitt.

    The phrase also reflects the fact that many of the most famous American animated films, particularly those from Warner Brothers and MGM studios, unconsciously developed a relatively consistent set of such “laws” that have become regularly applied in comic animation.

    The idea that cartoons behave differently, but not randomly, than the real world is virtually as old as animation. Walt Disney, for example, spoke of the plausible impossible (see The Plausible Impossible, 1956), deliberately mispronouncing the second word so it rhymed with the first.

    Specific reference to cartoon physics extends back at least to June of 1980, when an article “O’Donnell’s Laws of Cartoon Motion”[2] appeared in Esquire magazine.
    [2] O’Donnell’s Laws of Cartoon Motion”, Esquire, 6/80, reprinted in IEEE Institute, 10/94; V.18 #7 p.12.

    Philip Rosedale: Building a world entire
    By Tom Colligan
    December 2006, Volume 146, Issue 6

    “What’s that great line at the beginning of Metropolis? ‘Every epoch dreams its successor’?” says Philip Rosedale, sitting at his cluttered desk in downtown San Francis co, at the center of a large white room filled with white desks identical to his own. “I think people have dreamed correctly, that the dream of something like Second Life has always been true. I’ve just always felt as if this was coming, and I just wanted to see it. I was just bored without it….”

    A Physics Lesson: The Meniscus : Esquire : Jun 01, 2006. A Physics Lesson: The Meniscus. By Barry Sonnenfeld. topic: Science …

    Angry Physics: Can You Guess Which Sexy Woman Has a crush on Einstein?
    Presenting the “other” side of academic physics, where people backstab and … but I came across this teaser in Esquire about the sexiest woman of 2006. …

    Nice to be noticed by Esquire. But does that mean that we should dress better and hang out at the right watering holes to keep getting noticed? Kind of like citing Einstein as a fasion expert on hairstyles, who also plays the violin, and does something f***ing crazy with unified field theory in Princeton, and hangs out with noted food minimalist Kurt Godel.

  16. Who says:

    Gil, I believe the scenario 4 “Decay” to which you attach subjective probability 10 percent has already occurred. The rate of publication has declined since 2002 and quality measured by objective standards has plummeted. Recent published papers are no longer innovative enough to garner much citation. Judging by new research, the signs are that independent and ingenious young people are getting out of stringy research, or not entering in the first place.

    What you say seems to apply to the present: “string theory is not sufficiently promising to attract the best people. Interest in physics is shifted to other directions.”

    Perhaps Scott can give you some hints as to where those other directions might be.

  17. anon says:

    Nima Arkani-Hamed…”Well, exactly that–just follow the theory where it leads you and it leads to this precipice. And now we have to decide what to do. So now a number of people are deciding to jump… And I think that those of us that decided to take the plunge are staring at the true nature of the beast for the first time. ”

    Wow, his glee and excitement are palpable; it’s like hearing the excited thoughts of a lemming as it takes the plunge into icy artic waters

  18. Aaron Bergman says:

    Lemmings don’t actually do that, for whatever it’s worth.

  19. amused says:

    “Last year, when Freidel discovered a possible rigorous mathematical solution for the strong force—which acts as the glue between protons, neutrons, and nuclei, and which to that point had been studied only by approximation—he didn’t sleep for two weeks straight.”

    Can we expect a rigorous analytic proof of the mass gap in the coming future then?
    The low-key, understated way that LQG’ers describe their work makes such a refreshing contrast with the giddy hype of string theorists.

  20. anon says:

    Bergman…”Lemmings don’t actually do that, for whatever it’s worth.”

    Thanks for the reference. Disney’s pogrom of Mickey Mouse’s family. Looks like they do jump, with the kind help of humans.

  21. a says:

    Tommaso, do you accept “just the SM at LHC” as evidence for an anthropic multiverse? Notice that it is not a joke, it could be the hot issue in 2014. I cannot accept your bet because this outcome might have a negative impact on your 2014 salary.

  22. Thomas Larsson says:

    The alternative theory was discovered by cheer coincidence and like string theory itself is based on a technical rather than conceptual idea.

    Gil, there seems to be one possibility that you don’t consider. That an alternative theory based on a conceptual rather than technical idea is discovered, not by coincidence but by following the idea’s internal logic. The theory predicts four spacetime dimensions and m_p/m_e = 1836.

  23. Bee says:

    Hi Gil,

    A 7th alternative:

    Sorting out

    String theorists will thoroughly focus their efforts towards a successful description of nature, dropping all their nice but irrelevant distractions that are maybe interesting maths but not physics. They will very possible go back to the very basics, and try looking for sideways they might have missed. Very likely, they will discover similarities to other approaches towards quantum gravity. Hopefully, they will be open to them, and everything will converge towards the same direction.

    Best,

    B. (always the optimist)

    ———————

    The girl went through the back door into the garden, and called out, “You tame pigeons, you turtledoves, and all you birds beneath the sky, come and help me to gather:

    The good ones go into the pot,
    The bad ones go into your crop.”

    Two white pigeons came in through the kitchen window, and then the turtledoves, and finally all the birds beneath the sky came whirring and swarming in, and lit around the ashes. The pigeons nodded their heads and began to pick, pick, pick, pick. And the others also began to pick, pick, pick, pick. They gathered all the good grains into the bowl. Hardly one hour had passed before they were finished, and they all flew out again.

  24. Who says:

    Good point Thomas Larsson. It’s a possible scenario.

    Gil, there seems to be one possibility that you don’t consider. That an alternative theory based on a conceptual rather than technical idea is discovered, not by coincidence but by following the idea’s internal logic. The theory predicts four spacetime dimensions and m_p/m_e = 1836.

    A sizable fraction of the crowd here seems momentarily reduced to sarcasm or to heckling Bert. The basic cause, I think, is simple: non-string QG, it currently happens, is where the interesting results are being obtained.

    Let’s have a challenge: can anyone think of a 2006 string paper as consequential as the pair Andy Randono just posted generalizing the Kodama state?

  25. woit says:

    Bert and others,

    Stop posting comments that contain personal attacks on people and little else. If one person does this, it’s bad enough, but then everyone else wants to join in the fun and the comment section degenerates into hostile noise. I just deleted a half dozen such comments, please stop posting them.

  26. Who says:

    “Die guten ins Töpfchen, die schlechten ins Kröpfchen.”

    Aschenputtel (always the optimist)

  27. plank says:

    I can’t believe no one found this yet!
    —————
    (My subjective probabilities for the future of string theory, Utopia – 10%, Triumph and isolation – 40%, perpetuum mobile – 10% decay – 20% failure – 15% alternative found – 15%. Of course, some combination or an entirely different scenarios that I missed are also possible.)
    —————-
    Well, (10 + 40 + 10 + 20 + 15 + 15)% = 110% > 100%

    This can’t be a good sign.
    People seam to be ignoring basic fundamental consitency checks here. Where else?

  28. plank says:

    consitency checks => consistency checks

    People seam => People seem

    (I too make mistakes, although these are only “formal”, sorry)
    :)

  29. Anon says:

    “Let’s have a challenge: can anyone think of a 2006 string paper as consequential as the pair Andy Randono just posted generalizing the Kodama state?”

    Kapustin and Witten
    Frenkel, Losev and Nekrasov
    Hofman and Maldacena
    Intriligator, Seiberg and Shih
    Arkani-Hamed, Motl, Nicolis and Vafa
    Herzog, Karch , P. Kovtun, Kozcaz and Yaffe

    to pick 6 random papers.

    Peter might object that some of these papers aren’t sufficiently “stringy” to count. But all of them use, in an essential way, ideas and techniques developed in a stringy context. And, for the purposes of “bean counting,” all of them have author lists who Peter would consider to be “string theorists.”

  30. A String Theorist says:

    “Let’s have a challenge: can anyone think of a 2006 string paper as consequential as the pair Andy Randono just posted generalizing the Kodama state?”

    Ummm, how about hep-th/0511286, in which Witten’s open string field theory was finally solved analytically, or hep-th/0610251, in which planar N=4 Yang-Mills was finally solved analytically…

    [OK, I generalized "2006" to "within the past year".]

  31. woit says:

    who/A String Theorist,

    Please take this kind of partisan LQG/string theory argumentation elsewhere.

  32. MoveOn says:

    “(I too make mistakes, although these are only “formal”, sorry)”

    Plank => Planck

  33. Chris Oakley says:

    MoveOn,

    You don’t know that that is a mis-spelling. In England we say that someone is “as thick as two short planks” when they are not bright.

  34. plank says:

    “(I too make mistakes, although these are only “formal”, sorry)”

    Plank => Planck

    ——–

    That is deliberate. I have explained this but Woit censored it. Maybe he will censor this post too, I am yet to understand the criteria.

    Nice to see people are concentrating on really important things (spelling) vs real mistakes where probabilities are greater than 1 and no need for normalization is hinted.

    I for one would like the author to update the “probabilities” with the “correct” values, preferably summing less than 1 to accommodate some kind of other option such as the one (quite relevant I might add) brought up by Larsson.

    Again, on my censored post I wrote that if these “probabilities” have been discussed without people making the most basic consistency checks, just imagine what probably happens on more esoteric math/QFT that is sometimes discussed here.

    But then again, maybe I am “as thick as two short planks”
    :)

    P.S: I would like to know where I can find the criteria used for deleting posts or is it just discretionary.

  35. You-know-who says:

    plank wrote:

    P.S: I would like to know where I can find the criteria used for deleting posts or is it just discretionary.

    —————

    Criteria is simple, if your post help to sold more copies of Not Even Wrong then is archived, otherwise it is deleted.

  36. woit says:

    Plank and I-don’t-know-who,

    I spent much of yesterday on planes, and at various airports was kept busy using my laptop to log in to my blog software and delete large numbers of comments people were submitting that were mainly devoted to insulting someone or other. I don’t remember Plank’s, but presumably it was part of one of several such threads that I deleted wholesale.

    Whether I delete comments depends on lots of factors, including what mood I’m in. But if you submit a comment anonymously that’s not about the original posting and that is insulting to anyone, there’s a good chance it will be deleted.

    I of course strongly encourage people to post comments that will sell lots of copies of Not Even Wrong and make me filthy rich, but if my policy was to delete comments that don’t do this, the comment sections here would be extremely short….

  37. Dear a (nonymous? gnostic? pologetic? posteriori? bominable? to name just a few),

    the future can’t be so bad as to both provide no further clues on fundamental physics at the LHC experiments AND set the stage for yet another abominable string of useless years of pondering on the sex of angels…

    Cheers,
    T.

  38. plank says:

    “the future can’t be so bad as to both provide no further clues on fundamental physics at the LHC experiments ”

    ——-

    Care for a justification as to why the future can’t be so bad?

    Seems to me you are trying to end a faith based initiative with a belief. That’s ironic to say the least.

    But I’d love to hear WHY the future can’t be so bad. I sure hope it won’t, but hope in something doesn’t guarantee it happening.

  39. Arun says:

    Question – isn’t the strong CP issue and whatever the cure is, say axions – also a unconfirmed part of the Standard Model?

  40. Peter Orland says:

    Arun Says:

    November 20th, 2006 at 11:24 am
    Question – isn’t the strong CP issue and whatever the cure is, say axions – also a unconfirmed part of the Standard Model?

    Yes it is. The axion is the only simple-minded solution to the strong
    CP problem.

    There was an intriguing alternative suggestion that the CP violating term (which is F*F) is a non-renormalizable operator if QCD is treated non-perturbatively (perturbatively, it is marginal and perfectly okay). If that were true, such a term would disappear at
    low energies. Since we can’t do a non-perturbative renormalization of the theory with this term, it isn’t clear whether this idea still has merit.

  41. I would also like to make a general remark here. If a theory predicts the M_p/M_e ratio it does not mean it is The Theory, no more than if I come up with an a posteriori explanation of a set of funny events in my data the explanation has to be correct.

    Don’t let’s forget. PREdictions have to PREcede observation, else a theory is just a good try. Do we need more tries ?

    So please come up with values for the neutrino mixing angles, Bs->mumu decays, and other pieces of future reachable measurements, and not non-existing stuff that we will not see. But fast, they are about to get measured.

    T.

  42. I partly agree and partly disagree with Tomasso. There is still considerable scientific value in a theory which RETRODICTS.

    Retrodiction is making conclusions about previously gathered data, once theoretical advances in the specific field of research have happened.

    An example of this was the explanation of the already-observed perihelion shift of the orbit of the planet Mercury. Newton’s theories of the laws of motion, which in a deeper sense retrodicted Kepler, were unable to explain the phenomenon. Einstein’s theory of general relativity was successful in the retrodiction.

    Give me a retrodiction of M_p/M_e ratio, neutrino mixing angles, Higgs mass, or the fine structure constant, and I’ll certainly pay attention. In some sciences, we have huge data sets, computational problems, and retrodiction is the main stream. Climate analysis, continental drift, there are many such examples.

  43. Ok Jonathan,

    I have to agree with what you wrote above. My point was roughly that retrodiction by itself is not enough. You also need predictions that can be falsified.

    Cheers,
    T.

  44. J.F. Moore says:

    I’ve detected quite a tone of moderation in Kaku’s recent interviews. You may recall this summer that he came out fervently (in the NYT?) bashing the Steorn free energy loonies. Easy target, but Kaku in the past has talked so much about wooly-headed nonsense that I was surprised to see him amongst those throwing stones. The cynical part of me thinks he’s just mining new markets of less credulous people to sell his backlog of books; but maybe, just maybe he is cluing in to the winds of history and appropriately tacking?

    As for Esquire, well, one might as well ask a theorist how to tie a Windsor knot or for the name of their tailor.

  45. Hitchhiker to the Galaxy says:

    I’m reading NEW (Not Even Wrong), a brave book. Has Prof Sokal ever been involved in string theory? He should write “Fashionable Nonsense II.” If strong theoriests have not been able to decide on what M of M-theory should stand for, what about Mirage-theory?

  46. With that clarification, I agree with Tomasso.

    Given earlier estimates by various writers here on the possible outcome of the String Theory debate, might there not be revisions in the light of Tomasso? That is, (1) by what trajectories with what likelihood will String Theory or M-Theory give apparently good retrodiction; and then ; (2) by what trajectories with what likelihood will String Theory or M-Theory give a prediction as such; and finally (3) by what trajectories with what likelihood will String Theory or M-Theory give a prediction which is tested and found at least approximnately right?

    An example, admittedly not Physics at all, gives a good example of how an author who insists that she’s doing science, produces controversy with a brilliant book of retrodiction. Only weakly can there be falsifiable prediction following: if traces of the lost colonists are found inland, if letters or other documents germane to the case are uncovered, for instance.

    http://www.jhu.edu/%7Ejhumag/1101web/roanoke.html

    Rethinking Roanoke

    Seeking to solve the mystery of the “Lost Colony” at Roanoke, anthropologist Lee Miller, MA ’87 (pictured at left) looks beyond the conventional culprits to spin a tale of sabotage and intrigue.

    By Dale Keiger

    – Jonathan

    Postscript: what would really put this on the map, and boost Woit to bestsellerdom, would be a murder mystery involving String- and anti-string theorists. If some of the people blogging here met face-to-face and one thing led to another. Motive + means + opportunity = murder. Ladies and gentleman, one of us here in this room is the murderer. [the light go out] [gunfire]