Raising the Bar

If you’re looking for something to do next Tuesday evening here in New York, an event called Raising the Bar has recruited 50 people to give talks at bars around the city. There are some quite interesting talks on the list, but I’ll have to miss them, since I’m scheduled to talk about What We Don’t Know About Fundamental Physics at the Blind Tiger on Bleecker Street at 8:30pm. Not sure yet exactly what I’ll talk about, but the general idea is to start by explaining that the current situation is that we have a fundamental theory (SM + GR) that is frustratingly good in terms of agreement with experiment, but also frustratingly incomplete. I’ll see what I can do to explain the ways in which the SM and GR are incomplete, and what current prospects are for doing better.

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27 Responses to Raising the Bar

  1. ptmalloy says:

    Wish I lived in NYC, sounds fun.

  2. Michael Barton says:

    I’ve been a (silent) follower of your blog for many years. Now I’ve had an “it’s a small world” moment. I live on the West Coast and cannot make your talk. But do say hello to Kate Dulcich, my wife’s niece who tends bar at the Blind Tiger!

  3. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks Michael, will do!

  4. Goosebumps says:


    Is there any way you can make your talk available online? I’d love to be able to attend it but I’m in a different part of the world.

    The incompleteness of the SM and GR that you refer to – do you have separate reasons to feel that both are individually incomplete, or is it just the lack of a fundamental theory including quantum gravity that you’re talking about?


  5. Peter Woit says:

    Much of what I was thinking of talking about is basically chapter 8 of my book, which lists the things about the Standard Model that it looks like there should be some deeper explanation of (for instance “Why SU(3)xSU(2)xU(1)?”). These are purely internal to the SM. There is of course also the issue of whether and how to quantize the metric.
    I doubt they’ll be video, but in any case I’m not really going to be saying anything that’s not in the book or fairly often mentioned here.

  6. Jim Akerlund says:

    This sounds like the New York’s version of Colorado Café Scientifique. I’ve been to a few of the Colorado ones, and the format is, half hour talk, followed by a “beer” break, then another half hour question and answer period. The website you point too doesn’t give a format for the talks, at least that I was able to see, do you know what the format will be?

  7. Peter Woit says:

    Jim Akerlund,
    They’re saying 45 min talk + 15 min question and answer. I may cheat by leaving more time for questions. The list of things we don’t understand about the SM is pretty short…

  8. srp says:

    It might be wise to explain to your audience what you mean by “understand.” I’ve found that there are many people who think that it’s currently possible to completely derive the observed structure and behavior of protons or even nuclei from the SM. (They get that notion from the prevalent rhetoric that the SM, which is more “fundamental,” is so well understood that it’s hard to find things it can’t explain.) But there are two different senses of understanding in play between the physicists and the laypeople.

  9. anonymous says:

    Kind of off topic for this post but on topic for this blog in general. Here’s a link to your colleague Brian Greene’s article discussing the recent BICEP2 results. It is as fair and balanced as you can hope. He takes special care to introduce the speculative section toward the end with plenty of warning: “Finally, let me address an issue I’ve so far carefully avoided, one that’s as wondrous as it is speculative. A possible byproduct of the inflationary theory is that our universe may not be the only universe.” (With plenty of context, he even uses the expression “seems almost too beautiful to be wrong.”)

  10. Igor Khavkine says:

    Peter, I applaud your idea of critically discussing the outstanding problems, or lack thereof, with the quantum field theories of the SM and GR. However, as you are probably well aware, many discussions of the problems with the quantization of the metric are fraught with misconceptions, misinformation, and various aesthetic and philosophical prejudices, often despite even the best intentions. My take on it is that there are more perceived than actual problems there. Not long ago, I gave a conference talk with a brief critical review of these issues and some supporting arguments. It was recorded and is available on YouTube: Gravity: an exercise in quantization (Munich, 2013).

  11. Peter Woit says:

    Tim Howells,
    Yes, there’s a copy of it hanging in my office…

    Igor Khavkine,
    Thanks! About quantum gravity even more than other subjects, part of the problem seems to be that we don’t really understand what it is that we don’t understand…

  12. Shantanu says:

    Peter somewhat OT, but would like to know your comments on strominger’s recent talk
    at PI. Much of it is same as his talk at Harvard some years back which you blogged about,
    but still would be interested in your take in the update.

  13. Peter Woit says:

    Looks to be much the same as the talk from four years ago, see
    I think including exactly the same slide for a “report card of string theory”. The same comments continue to apply.

  14. Roger says:

    SM + GR is frustratingly incomplete? That is a purely theoretical opinion, as there is no known experiment that demonstrates any incompleteness or incompatibility.

  15. Neil says:

    I am still laughing about that New Yorker cartoon. It is priceless, and so appropriate to this post.

  16. Chris Austin says:

    Roger, to the extent that the de Sitter radius can be calculated within SM + GR, it tends to come out around the Planck length, about 10^{-35} metres, which is too small by a factor of about 10^{-61}. Minimal theoretical frameworks that tend to lead to this conclusion include asymptotic safety, (see the discussion around (58) on page 13), and causal dynamical triangulations.

  17. Peter Woit says:

    Sorry, but this is not a good place to debate quantum gravity. Enough.

  18. Richard says:


    You might want to catch Nathan Seiberg’s talk, “Where is Fundamental Physics Heading?”, which will be held at the Simons Foundation in NYC on April 30 (Go to the Eventbrite site, and Google “Seiberg” to register*.).
    Take care.

    — Rich

    * Registration is free.

  19. A says:

    Thanks Igor for posting that talk! Really wish that more people would explicitly mention the difference between perturbative and non-perturbative behavior.

  20. Peter Woit says:

    Already planning on attending that. Having it in a bar though might be better…

  21. S. Molnar says:

    I’m not sure if this is, as suggested above, inspired by Café Scientifique, but one might as well raise a glass to the founder, who just died: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/apr/24/duncan-dallas

    I’m too far away to attend, but I was drawn to the talk titled “The Rise of Greek Culture” until I realized that it’s “Geek Culture”. After my recalibration, I was then interested in “Powerful Women in Geek Tragedy” (Carly Fiorina?), only to find that I had made the opposite mistake. I guess it’s just as well I can’t make it: I’ll never get the hang of this.

  22. Anna says:

    Good luck with the talk – wish I could go – but it’s a pity that the promoters chose a picture that perpetrates all the worst cliches about scientists – men in white coats in laboratories. Well, aprons anyway in this case. I’ll bet you have never worn a lab coat since your undergrad days, or possibly even high school. Or entered a laboratory with beakers and the like. And some of us are even women.

  23. Art says:

    Nice to see you’re sold out, but seriously, at a bar? Is alcohol consumption down in NY, or is this Manhattan irony? There are these places called “libraries”…

  24. tt says:

    wouldn’t the librarian say “sshhhh” ?

  25. Tommaso says:

    Hello Peter,

    so how was the event ? Don’t leave us in the dark !

  26. Peter Woit says:

    Hi Tommaso,

    I think it went quite well. Nice crowd, partly people there for the event, partly people just at the bar for the evening. Most seemed to be paying attention and getting something out of it (except maybe the couple necking in one corner…). After talking for about 45 minutes, I then spent another hour or so talking to people individually, got to meet quite a few of them, including some students.

    I’m sure many people didn’t understand a lot of what I was saying, but hopefully I got across some of the flavor of the current state of this kind of theoretical physics. This was the first time this kind of thing has been organized, I think it was a big success, so they may do it again, and people in other cities evidently have expressed interest in doing something similar.

    I did get one beer out of it, and the bar-owner seemed very pleased about the whole thing.

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