The interactions.org web-site has a new useful feature, Interactions Blog Watch, which aggregates links to recent physics-related blog entries. One of the older such aggregators I know of is Mixed States, but it seems to have stopped on March 15. There’s also Jacques Distler’s Planet Musings, where he continues his efforts to pretend “Not Even Wrong” doesn’t exist.
Vanity Fair seems to think that the right person to review a book about Isaac Newton is Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens devotes much of the piece to condemning Newton as “a crank and a recluse and a religious bigot” who “spent much of his time dwelling in a self-generated fog of superstition and crankery.” He feels the same way about most scientists before the modern era, noting that:
It may not be until we get to Albert Einstein that we find a true scientist who is also a sane and lucid person with a genial humanism as part of his world outlook—and even Einstein was soft on Stalin and the Soviet Union.
He ends the piece by accusing Newton of doing everything he could to keep people from understanding the universe, and claiming that this was typical of physicists until recently, when physics began to become indistinguishable from the humanities:
Newton was a friend of all mysticism and a lover of the occult who desired at all costs to keep the secrets of the temple and to prevent the universe from becoming a known quantity. For all that, he did generate a great deal more light than he had intended, and the day is not far off when we will be able to contemplate physics as another department—perhaps the most dynamic department—of the humanities. I would never have believed this when I first despairingly tried to lap the water of Cambridge, but that was before Carl Sagan and Lawrence Krauss and Steven Weinberg and Stephen Hawking fused language and science (and humor) and clambered up to stand, as Newton himself once phrased it, “on the shoulders of giants.”
A theoretical physicist who is one of the founders of string theory discusses the possibility of phenomena like force fields, teleportation and time travel.
The notion that Kaku is a “founder of string theory” seems to be becoming very widespread in the media.
Over at Cosmic Variance, Sean Carroll and various of his anonymous commenters are upset that Lee Smolin made it onto a list of Top 100 Public Intellectuals, with some suggesting that Kaku deserves to be there instead.
Finally, the latest Newsletter of the European Mathematical Society has the second part of an interview with Alain Connes, who has many interesting things to say:
they [theoretical physicists] work in huge groups and the amount of time they spend on a given topic is quite short. At a given time t, most of them are going to be working on the same problem, and the preprints which will appear on the web are going to have more or less the same introduction. There is a given theme, and a large number of articles are variations on that theme, but it does not last long…
The sociology of science was deeply traumatized by the disappearance of the Soviet Union and of the scientific counterweight that it created with respect to the overwhelming power of the US. What I have observed during the last two decades since the fall of the USSR and the emigration of their scientific elite to the States is that there is no longer a counterweight. At this point, if you take young physicists in the US, they know that, at some point, they will need a recommendation written by one of the big shots in the country, and this means that if one of them wants to work outside string theory he (or she) won’t find a job. In this way there is just one dominant theory and it attracts all the best students.
I heard some string theorists say: “if some other theory works we will call it string theory”, which shows they have won the sociological war. The ridiculous recent episode of the “exceptionally simple theory of everything” has shown that there is no credibility in the opponents of string theory in the US. Earlier with the Soviet Union, there was resistance. If Europe were stronger, it could resist. Unfortunately there is a latent herd instinct of Europeans, particularly in theoretical physics. Many European universities, at least in France or England, instead of developing original domains as opposed to those dominant in the United States, simply want to follow and call the big shots in the US to decide whom to hire…
I don’t think that we see similar things in mathematics, so there is a fundamental sociological difference between mathematics and physics. Mathematicians seem very resistant to losing their identity and following fashion…
In physics I adore reading; I spent about fifteen years studying the book of Schwinger, Selected Papers on Quantum Electrodynamics. He collected all the crucial articles, by Dirac, Feynman, Schwinger himself, Bethe, Lamb, Fermi, all the fundamental papers on quantum field theory, those of Heisenberg too, of course. This has been my bedside book for years and years. Because I have always been fascinated by the subject and I wanted to understand it. And that took a very long time to understand.