Pressure Mounts to Tie String Theory to the Real World

Last week David Gross was in New Mexico, giving an “unclassified talk” at Los Alamos, and one on The State of String Theory at the Santa Fe Institute. There’s a report on the Los Alamos talk from the Los Alamos Monitor, entitled Loose Strings: Pressure mounts to tie string theory to the real world. Unfortunately, pressure to tie string theory to the real world leads sometimes to reporters getting misled about such ties, since the article includes the information that:

Located on the border of France and Switzerland, the LHC’s headline tasks include the potential discovery of a Higgs boson, a relatively massive particle known as “the god particle,” that would help explain how other particles have mass. Proof of its existence would tend to support string theory, according to the theorists.

Hermann Nicolai has an article in a recent issue of Nature entitled Back to Basics, on a more promising idea for tying string theory to the real world, one that has nothing to do with using string theory as an idea about unification. He reports on recent progress towards getting an exact solution of N=4 SSYM, allowing one to test whether it really is dual to a string theory.

According to a blog posting on Superstring Theory and the End of Man, we better hope that superstring theory doesn’t connect to the real world, because if it does, a combination of the Anthropic Principle and the Doomsday Argument would show that humanity doesn’t have much time left. The author expresses the opinion that mankind better hope that I am right about string theory, an opinion I endorse even if I disagree with his logic.

Finally, on a completely unrelated note, the latest issue of Symmetry magazine is out, featuring the results of a reader’s contest to invent new particles. Third place goes to Jacobo Konigsberg, the spokesperson for CDF, who postulates the blogino, which he describes as

Particles created by non-abelian Blog-Blog interactions. Bloginos typically are produced in a very excited state and with a high degree of spin. Even though all their properties have not yet been determined, it is commonly agreed that they exhibit considerable truthiness. They also have the annoying ability to propagate into extra dimensions, away from the blogosphere, and generate lots of phone calls.

Update: Lubos has a link to a Youtube video of a version of this talk by Gross that he gave in Berkeley on October 19, together with commentary. It appears to me essentially the same talk that Gross gave here in New York three and a half years ago, which I wrote about in my first real blog posting here. It is striking to note how little has changed in this field during this period.

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15 Responses to Pressure Mounts to Tie String Theory to the Real World

  1. King Ray says:

    Well, perhaps string theorists should be tied to the real world before string theory can be tied to it.

    If string theorists had ever had a real job where they had to get actual results by some hard deadline, then they would realize that they are off on a wild goose chase. You wouldn’t get away with this wandering in the wilderness for nearly 40 years in any other kind of job.

    I think theoretical physics needs leadership like Oppenheimer during the Manhattan project to set direction. At the least we need to cut off government funding for ideas that don’t work.

    I have no problem however with people working on their own ideas on their own nickel. I do have a problem though with string theory monopolizing the market of ideas and funding and squeezing out all other things.

  2. Thomas Love says:

    Peter, The link to the Los Alamos Monitor article doesn’t work for me. I went to the Los Alamos Monitor website and searched for David Gross. Got a blank screen in reply.

    I heard Gross speak in 2005 at a meeting honoring 100 years of relativity. It sounds like I heard the same speech you were talking about.

  3. Steve Myers says:

    The latest Scientific American on-line has an article called “The great Cosmic Roller-Coaster Ride” about string theory & inflation and branes & anti-branes. Aside from glossing over stuff it ends with: “In summary, string theory provides two general mechanisms for obtaining cosmic inflation: the collision of branes and the reshaing of extra-dimensional spacetime. For the first time, physicists have been able to derive concrete models of cosmic inflation rather than being forced to make uncontrolled ad hoc assumptions. The progress is very encouraging. String theory, born of efforts to explain phenomena at minuscule scales, may be writ large across the sky.”

  4. Jimbo says:

    Yes, & its exactly the same talk (aka `sales pitch’) with slides he showed at the U.of Oregon colloquium 8 mos ago. I suspect tho, that his Nobel spared him the admonishments any other academic speaker would have been subjected to, if they had included the word `bullshit’ in their presentation.
    My respect for him has grown slightly, tho, knowing that he was arrested in one of the many anti-Vietnam war protests on the Bezerkely campus. He may have abdicated his scientific ethics of late, but at least he his political ethics were together back then.

  5. Peter Woit says:


    The link no longer works on the Los Alamos paper web-site, not clear is they automatically get rid of old content. If someone knows of another place that has this article with a working link, let me know and I’ll fix it.

  6. The Los Alamos article is in Google Cache here

    Geezes. That article has some glaring errors:

    “In 2004, Gross shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Frank Wilczek his graduate student at Harvard [ no..Princeton! ], and with David Politzer, who was working on the problem separately at Princeton [ no..Harvard! ]”

    “More recently, grousing among anti-string theorists has become louder, signified by such books as “The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next,” by Les Smollin [ Lee Smolin ]”

    I can’t trust anything in this article..looks like it is written by a dyslexic/illiterate.

    There are a bunch of scientist quotes all out of context. To get the correct picture, you have to watch the COMPLETE 90 minute video (as per L. Motl’s blog)…with a scientific background.

    The above is an extreme example of why journalists have NO BUSINESS reporting on Science. John Horgan, Timothy Ferris, George Johnson, et al. THEY AREN’T SCIENTISTS..come on.

    “Know your subject matter”
    — maxim (Journalism, Science, Music, et al)

    That’s the purpose of a physicist blog (“citizen journalism”)..scientists can do the reporting yourself.

    “The authors are themselves amateurs [ journalists ], and when they venture into scientific topics their information is limited & sometimes outright wrong..”
    — Harold Zirin/Caltech, solar astronomer
    [ applies to the recent PBS program by T. was 100% nonsense ]

    “Remember “journalists” are merely people who couldn’t qualify for jobs
    which require any sort of technical background.”

    “Yes, he did. I was a journalist myself, and I taught many young people. The first thing you learn is that you should be aware of what you are
    doing before you put your foot-in-your-mouth.”

    “Nevertheless, the author [ J. Horgan ] of the stupidity from 1997, after those ten years that have demonstrated that his stupidity is among the greatest stupidities that have ever been pronounced by homo sapiens, has the stomach to come in front of a conference in Portugal and repeat the same stupidity.
    — L. Motl, End of Science blog post

    “Everyone who gave this book one star should realize that this book is
    entertainment. Hancock [ journalist ] is not a scientist or an academic of any kind – he’s a journalist! … Of course Hancock tailors the facts to fit his theories – he is not constrained by truth, science, or even ethics. He is a journalist.

    This book, and all those like it that preach pseudo-science, appeal to the majority of people in this world who are scientifically challenged. Most Americans don’t have enough scientific knowledge to understand the technology they face everyday, much less untangle the fact and fantasy in this book. It is entertainment, but it’s dangerous – science interpreted by a journalist!”
    — reader from Cincinnatti
    [ critique of “Fingerprints of the Gods” — crackpot book & Discovery Channel program ]

  7. jon says:

    Well today Frenkel and Witten have just posted a paper to the math arXiv about Langlands stuff
    Looks like Witten has put on hold his strings-related hep-th efforts. For how long is anybody’s guess.

  8. IMHO says:


    Feel free to erase this comment…

    You are a public figure with a book deal. I wonder how smart it is for you to link to Lubos site. Have you seen his post about “…N-word zebrafish…”

    Bigger men then you have lost more for doing less. Personally, I would never risk my success over principal…but that’s just me.

  9. Peter Woit says:


    My linking to something in no way indicates approval of it or its author, often quite the opposite…

  10. Adud says:

    Well today Frenkel and Witten have just posted a paper to the math arXiv about Langlands stuff

    “Geometric Endoscopy and Mirror Symmetry”

    I had heard about “surgery” techniques in differential topology, and now there is “geometric endoscopy”…. I wonder how far mathematicians are willing to go with medical analogies. How about “categorical proctology” or “group gynecology”?

  11. IMHO says:


    I know that and I’m sure most of your readers know that.

    Your issue is that you aren’t a just a blogger, you’re also an investment, which means the rules are different for you.

    Just be pragmatic about things.

  12. King Ray says:

    For string theory, might I suggest “Rectocranial Sigmoidoscopy”?

  13. anon. says:

    ‘It is striking to note how little has changed in this field during this period.’

    Long live failure!

  14. Andr says:

    Really you have nothing to say about Lisi’s paper? It seems you’re one of the guys to be thanked for this “magnum opus”… 🙂

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