One possible reaction to the phenomenon of hype in fundamental physics is to not worry much, figuring that it should be a self-limiting process. While there’s a huge appetite in the media and elsewhere for the “exciting new idea”, overhyped “new” ideas sooner or later should pass into the category of no longer “new”, and less capable of producing “excitement”. The problem is that this doesn’t seem to be happening: favored physics hype keeps getting promoted as “new” and “exciting”, no matter how old it is.
In the case of multiverse hype, Andrei Linde was promoting the idea 34 years ago, back in 1982. That hasn’t stopped many people from heavily promoting it as “new” for quite a few years now. Taking this to a new level, a talk by Martin Rees this past week at the Hay Festival advertised the multiverse as not just exciting, but so new as to be one of the main developments in physics of the past year:
The astronomer will share his excitement about recent cosmic ideas and discoveries. Since last festival there have been new searches for life (even intelligent life) in space. One of Einstein’s greatest predictions has been confirmed with the detection of gravitational waves from colliding back holes. Images of Pluto have surprised us, and astronomers have discovered thousands of planets orbiting other stars, some resembling Earth. And there is speculation that physical reality encompasses more than the aftermath of our big bang: we may inhabit a multiverse.
Lord Rees explains in more detail in the Telegraph how exciting this is. It seems that he has been excited about this for more than a quarter century, with a book on the subject back in 1989. Since at least 2003 and a Templeton-funded Stanford conference on the multiverse, he has been publicly expressing willingness to bet his dog’s life on the existence of the multiverse, and he repeats that in the Telegraph article (should someone contact the RSPCA?). Luckily for the Rees family pets, there’s no way to ever resolve this issue, so the last couple generations have survived, and so will further ones.
Update: Also this past week, in the category of hype that will never die, Scientific American has Gravitational Waves Could Finally Help Us Prove String Theory. This particular hype campaign goes back at least a dozen years. See here for a 2004 blog post about a UCSB press release featuring claims that LIGO might produce evidence for string theory in 2005 or 2006.
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