Every so often I’ve taken a look at something about theoretical physics on Reddit, generally ending up not spending much time there. One reason was that I realize I’m already spending more of my life than is healthy arguing with people about string theory and the like, so better to avoid a new venue for that. The temptation to respond is strong when one sees someone mischaracterizing one’s opinions, but I’ve generally been able to resist temptation at that site.
Today I happened to come across a really wonderful discussion there though, and wanted to draw attention to it, even though it’s from a year ago. It’s entitled A View from an Ex-String Theorist and consists of a long piece by someone who has recently left string theory, as well as some answers to questions asked by others. If you want to understand what string theory looks like these days to good theorists who are working on it, read what “No_More_Strings” has to say.
No_More_Strings explains very well the difficult job situation in the field, and the effects this has. With a lot of very smart people and almost no jobs, postdocs are in no position to take the time to try and learn something new that isn’t a “hot topic”, or try and work on an unpopular idea that might take years to go anywhere. This is a huge part of the story of why this field is in trouble, and the situation seems to have just gotten worse since I wrote about it in my book over 10 years ago.
The suggestion that “string theorists” should stop calling what they do “string theory” is an excellent one. No_More_Strings explains how smart people in the field are not working on string unification, but have moved on to different things with little relation to quantized strings. Giving up the name would be a good first step to allowing people to think of what they are doing in a less narrow way. If you didn’t have to start every grant application by explaining that you’re motivated by “our best hope for a theory of everything”, you might find it easier to work on something quite different, with no relation at all to quantized strings.
I can’t quite resist correcting a couple things mentioning me. No, I don’t think string theorists are stupid. No, I don’t think that Witten “singlehandedly destroyed the study of “real” physics” (the last one isn’t the fault of No_More_Strings).