Various and Sundry

It seems that if you’re a Fields Medalist, you now have to have a blog. The latest of these is a new blog from Timothy Gowers. His blog will also function as a blog for the upcoming Princeton Companion to Mathematics that he is editing, and he has started a discussion about the possibility of a wiki devoted to “mathematical tricks”.

Rigorous Trivialities is another new mathematics blog, one of the rare ones not being run by a Fields Medalist.

Mathematics will now have its own “rumor mill” to gather information about job searches, to be called the Mathematics Job Wiki. It appears to have been set up by Greg Kuperberg, “who however recuses himself from handling confidential e-mail and is not the wiki moderator”. All we are told about the moderator is that “someone without a current tenure-track appointment will read e-mail sent to the Wiki Moderator.”

Gerard ‘t Hooft has translated his lecture notes on Lie Groups and Physics from Dutch into English, increasing by about two orders of magnitude the number of people who can read them.

Math and physics geeks are now certifiably cool, as the TV show Numb3rs goes into yet another season, and is joined by The Big Bang Theory. New York magazine got together a group of Columbia physics grad students to take a look at the show and discuss.

The early history of string theory is getting lots of attention these days, especially because of a conference on the subject last May. Some related articles have now appeared on the arXiv, from Di Vecchia and Schwimmer, Ramond and Schwarz. At Caltech, an Oral Histories project has made available the transcript of a long interview with Schwarz.

Hendrik, a commenter here, pointed out that there’s more of the latest string theory hype concerning results from the MAGIC telescope, originally discussed here. Now New Scientist has weighed in with an article entitled Finally, a MAGIC test for string theory? According to the article, Mavromatos and collaborators say that their (non-critical) string theory model “predicts the 4-minute delay exactly”. Polchinski is quoted to the effect that this would falsify (critical) string theory. LQG is completely cut out of the deal, with no mention of it at all. They really need to do a better marketing job. The way things are now, any supposed evidence of quantum gravitational effects is automatically evidence for string theory, in one version or another.

For the latest attempt to market string theory to astrophysicists, see this new article on astro-ph. The abstract begins not by acknowledging that string theory can’t make any predictions about cosmology, but by claiming instead that the problem is

Attempts to connect string theory with astrophysical observation are hampered by a jargon barrier, where an intimidating profusion of orientifolds, Kahler potentials, etc. dissuades cosmologists from attempting to work out the astrophysical observables of specific string theory solutions from the recent literature.

Update: Slashdot has a thoroughly worthless article about this last paper, based on the New Scientist article about it.

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23 Responses to Various and Sundry

  1. Zul says:

    « 1
    This lecture course was originally set up by M. Veltman, and subsequently modified and extended
    by B. de Wit and G. ’t Hooft.
    »

    The notes are not ‘t Hooft’s lecture alone.

  2. Thomas Love says:

    The Princeton Companion to Mathematics articles are great. Thanks for the link.

  3. Hendrik says:

    Dear Peter, thanks for having a look at the NewScientist MAGIC-string article. NS seems to be giving a bit of limelight to strings at the moment;- there are two more recent string + cosmology items at:

    http://space.newscientist.com/article/mg19526204.000-heretical-cosmologist-does-away-with-the-big-bang-.html

    http://space.newscientist.com/article/dn12628-can-string-theory-accommodate-inflation.html

  4. Peter Shor says:

    Amusingly enough, in his book Smolin says that some of the first people to propose doubly special relativity were studying non-commutative geometry, which has been completely left out of the current race for credit (or blame?).

  5. Luboš Motl says:

    LQG is cut out not because their marketing is weak – e.g. Smolin’s marketing would instantly allow him to work in the Amsterdam’s Red Light District – but because the physicists who work on this “theory” are not serious scientists.

  6. gunpowder&noodles says:

    Well, Lubos, I would guess that it is *far* safer to patronize the girls in Amsterdam than to rely on the services of some *free-lance* harlot. If you see what I mean.

    Anyway, I hope that PW is not insinuating that critical and non-critical strings are on the same plane. Clifford Johnson claims that they are, but Lubos set him straight on that one: non-critical strings, lke non-critical humans, are definitely inferior to the critical variety. So a falsification of critical strings would be a heavy blow to most string theorists.

  7. Johan Couder says:

    “Gerard ‘t Hooft has translated his lecture notes on Lie Groups and Physics from Dutch into English, increasing by about two orders of magnitude the number of people who can read them.”

    Now, now, Oppenheimer learned Dutch in 6 weeks and even lectured in the language ! Not that difficult for a theoretical physicist.

  8. Peter Orland says:

    Oppenheimer was already fluent in German
    (he worked in Goettingen), and with six weeks
    and a good mind, it doesn’t seem impossible
    to learn Dutch (the two written languages are
    rather similar). I wonder if this comment will
    anger any Dutchmen out there.

  9. chris says:

    “LQG is cut out not because their marketing is weak – e.g. Smolin’s marketing would instantly allow him to work in the Amsterdam’s Red Light District – but because the physicists who work on this “theory” are not serious scientists.”

    says who? your infailable papal highness? this is the kind of quality contributions we need for constructive discussions. thank you.

  10. Warren says:

    Did you want to give a link to that astro-ph article in the last paragraph?

  11. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks Warren, link added.

    It’s the same paper that got promoted in New Scientist, the second of the two links Hendrik gave. The point of the paper is just to show, for one special version of string theory and the simplest possible choice of a Calabi-Yau, that the moduli fields don’t give you the kind of scalar potential you want for inflation.

  12. spring theorist says:

    hey lubos, it seems that this blog is the only game in town… 🙂

  13. D R Lunsford says:

    Thanks for the t’Hooft lectures. Those things are always fun to read. His presentation is startlingly clear.

    -drl

  14. jkowalskiglikman says:

    Peter Shor was kind enough to mention the non-commutative side of DSR.

    However DSR based on non-commutative kappa-Minkowski space and kappa-Poincare algebra does not predict any sizable modification of GZK cutoff (and it seems that we have been right in that) and also no energy dependent speed of light (so that if the MAGIC result is confirmed we are out of business.) Thus there is no reason for us to take part in the race for credit in this case.

  15. Amitabha says:

    It’s a sad year for strings if Warren Siegel doesn’t write a parody even after the end of the Strings conference.

  16. Who says:

    The only QG approach I think likely to gain credence if the MAGIC result is confirmed is Martin Reuter’s QEG, with its surprise finding that gravity is renormalizable. Dispersion can arise from the running of the action at high photon energies, and the corresponding running of the metric. This paper, for instance, only considers dispersion of massive particles, not photons, but can nevertheless give some idea
    http://arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/0607030
    Modified Dispersion Relations from the Renormalization Group of Gravity
    F. Girelli, S. Liberati, R. Percacci, C. Rahmede (SISSA and INFN)

    (In reply to Bee’s post with link to MAGIC discussion at her blog, and also to Jerzy Kowalski-Glikman’s comment that confirmation of MAGIC result would put DSR out of business. It certainly might be confirmed and there ought to be at least one approach that would prosper from this. :D)

  17. Pingback: A couple of things « A Quantum Diaries Survivor

  18. Hendrik says:

    On “The Edge” at:

    http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/einstein07/einstein07_index.html

    there is a debate between Brian Greene, Walter Isaacson and Paul Steinhardt where the loose subject is Einstein’s scientific values. However, after the first third of the debate, the main topic very much becomes string theory, with some pretty sharp criticisms aired against string theory (mostly known to the readers of this blog). I’m not sure that those points are satisfactorily answered, but at least Brian Greene does admit there are problems.

  19. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks for pointing that out Hendrik, I suppose I should write a short posting about it…

  20. Hendrik says:

    Thanks Peter, I enjoyed your review. It seems to be hard to keep the monster of the Anthropic “principle” under control;- at the moment Steven Weinberg is embracing it at NewScientist at: http://www.newscientist.com/blog/space/2007/09/is-there-human-link-to-dark-energy.html#nbicomments

  21. Aaron Bergman says:

    Embracing it? He started it.

  22. LDM says:

    Now, now, Oppenheimer learned Dutch in 6 weeks and even lectured in the language ! Not that difficult for a theoretical physicist

    …you may wish to know that Oppenheimer, upon learning that two of his friends were reading Dante in the original, also spent a month to learn enough Italian to read Dante outloud to them.
    Dirac was unimpressed, and told him he was wasting his time. Indeed, Dirac one time refused a couple of books that Oppenheimer offered him since “reading books interfered with thought”.

    The one language, other than English, that would be essential for a physicist to learn is German, since there are so many great physics papers, in German, that have not been translated to English.
    As example, Sommerfeld’s ingenious treatment of the diffraction problem, solved exactly using images on a Riemann surface, in his 1894 paper, was just recently translated into English in 2004.
    Einstein’s collected papers became available in 1987 in English (prior to that you could get Einstein’s works in Russian, however 😉 )

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