- It seems to be too early for April Fool’s day, and yet the arXiv has Dark Matter as a Trigger for Periodic Comet Impacts by Lisa Randall and Matt Reece, a preprint described as “Accepted by Physical Review Letters, 4 figures, no dinosaurs.” The Register has a story: Dark matter killed the dinosaurs, boffins suggest.
Also recently at the arXiv in a similar “too early for April 1” category is Crossing Stocks and the Positive Grassmannian I: The Geometry behind Stock Market, which deals with the “stockmarkethedron”, also known as the Geometrical Jewel at the Heart of Finance.
- The president’s FY2015 budget request is out, with news for HEP not so good: a 6.6% cut proposed in DOE HEP funding. No details about the NSF budget, but the proposal is basically for flat funding (an overall cut of .03% in the research budget). The NSF is proposing one big increase, 13.5% for management. This is just an initial proposal from the administration, with the possibility of something different ultimately emerging from Congress.
- The particle physics documentary Particle Fever opens here in New York at Film Forum tonight, with appearances tonight and this weekend by the director and “physicists from the film”. There’s a review in today’s New York Times.
I saw the film last fall at the New York Film festival and wrote about it here, with the summary:
most of it I thought was fantastically good and I really hope it finds distribution and gets widely seen. On the other hand, some of it I thought was a really bad idea.
The film is a very inspiring inside look at the LHC experimental search for and discovery of the Higgs. My misgivings were about the theoretical framing of the story, which was the Arkani-Hamed point of view that this is all about two alternatives: SUSY or the multiverse. The NYT review shows that these misgivings were quite justified, with the reviewer’s summary of what they learned about the significance of the Higgs from the film:
While the discovery of the Higgs may not have immediate consequences for the way we live, or applications in the world of technology and industry, its implications, according to “Particle Fever,” could hardly be more profound. Through most of the film, the scientists are awaiting a specific bit of data, a single number that will either vindicate a theory of the universe known as supersymmetry or suggest the possibility of multiple universes.
The differences between these two outcomes seem very stark. In the first case, more particles are likely to be found, contributing to a detailed and orderly picture of the nature of things. In the second, the Standard Model will be thrown into chaos, and the stability of the universe itself may be called into question. It won’t be the end of the world, but for some theorists, it will feel that way.
Mr. Kaplan is hoping for supersymmetry. His friend and sometime table tennis partner, Nima Arkani-Hamed of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, is in the multiverse camp.
Physicists often get outraged when they feel journalists badly misrepresent science to the public. Will they get equally outraged when it is physicists doing the misrepresenting?
- For some insight into the current concerns of particle theorists, you can watch some of the videos at last week’s KITP conference. In particular, there’s Matt Strassler’s talk, where he got all Peter Woit and argued that “one could make the argument” that not seeing SUSY (or anything else stringy) at the LHC “would be significant circumstantial evidence against string theory as a description of nature” and that just seeing the SM at the LHC would be “circumstantial evidence against effective quantum field theory as a complete description of known particle physics”. This got him an argument from Gross about his insufficient enthusiasm for a 100 TeV collider. Gross then also got all Peter Woit, arguing that the failure of the “naturalness” argument for new physics was no big deal since it wasn’t a very good argument to begin with (I get all sorts of grief when I do this..).
The conference ended with a session of people trying to predict the future of the field 30 years hence. This was mostly pretty discouraging, with a lot of people envisioning more of the same: endless generalities about quantum gravity, firewalls etc. Prominent by its absence was any role of mathematics in theoretical physics, with only Greg Moore speaking up for the question of the significance of now popular 6d superconformal theories, and Nati Seiberg mentioning that connections of the field to mathematics were a good thing.
Lots of talks mentioned people’s good experiences working with and interacting with Polchinski, who seems to be a very nice guy. I’ve never met him personally, but people have speculated to me that he had something to do with the decision of the arXiv to block links to my blog (he was unhappy about my characterization of his Scientific American article promoting the multiverse). What the truth is about that particular story I suppose I’ll never know.
Update: Another review of Particle Fever leads with this explanation of the main point they got from the film:
Stakes come no higher than in Particle Fever, a dazzling, dizzying documentary about nothing less than whether we exist in a coherent universe of ordered, even beautiful laws — or whether, as Princeton physicist Nima Arkani-Hamed theorizes, our universe is one of an infinite set of other universes defined by a chaotic mash-up of unstable, inexplicable, random conditions.
Update: Reddit has a live Q and A with physicists involved in the film. Savas Dimopoulos (described as “considered the most likely to have a theory confirmed by the LHC”) argues for the multiverse and tells questioners that “We may know about whether Nature prefers the Multiverse or the more traditional (super)symmetry path after the second run of the LHC which will start in a year.” Arkani-Hamed also gives the multiverse argument, also claiming “I envy anyone who is jumping into fundamental physics as a grad student today!”. No theorists in sight who might think there’s more significance to the negative LHC results about SUSY than “must be the multiverse”.
Update: Reddit the next day hosted a live Q and A with Michio Kaku. He there explains to the public that:
The best theory comes from string theory, which states that dark matter is nothing but a higher vibration of the string. We are, in some sense, the lowest octave of a vibrating string. The next octave is dark matter….
The next big accelerator might be the ILC in Japan, a linear collider which might be able to probe the boundaries of string theory…
In the coming decades, I hope we find evidence of dark matter in the lab and in outer space. This would go a long way to proving the correctness of string theory, which is what I do for a living. That is my day job. So string theory is a potentially experimentally verifiable theory.
Seems that well-known theorists going on Reddit to mislead the public is now a daily phenomenon…