New Institute at Stanford

Stanford University will officially announce later today the founding of a new research institute, with major funding from the John Templeton Foundation. Many of the faculty and research staff of the new institute will come from the present Institute for Theoretical Physics which will be shutting its doors.

Co-directors of the new institute will be Stanford faculty member Leonard Susskind, and Gerald Cleaver, who is currently head of the Early Universe Cosmology and Strings Group at Baylor University. Susskind, who is one of the co-discoverers of string theory, has in recent years been the most prominent promoter of the theory of the “multiverse”, which he describes in a recent interview. Later this month he will be giving the Einstein lecture at Brown University on the topic of String Theory and Intelligent Design. He is widely considered to be the leading candidate for next year’s Templeton Prize. Cleaver, a prominent string theorist who was a student of John Schwarz (the co-discoverer of superstring theory) at Caltech, has published more than 40 important research articles on string theory. Like Susskind, his recent interests have been in the area of string cosmology.

Next year the institute will open its doors with a year-long program on the topic of the multiverse, led by theoretical cosmologist George F. R. Ellis visiting from the University of Cape Town. Ellis, the 2004 Templeton Prize winner, explains that the traditional view of an opposition between faith and science has been made obsolete by the latest research in string theory and cosmology. Says Ellis, “In the end, belief in a multiverse will always be just that — a matter of belief, based in faith that logical arguments proposed give the correct answer in a situation where direct observational proof is unattainable and the supposed underlying physics is untestable.”

The new institute will be named the Stanford Templeton Research Institute for Nature, God and Science (STRINGS) and will collaborate with other related Bay Area organizations, including Stanford’s own KIPAC (Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology) and Berkeley’s CTNS (Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences). Steve Kahn, the director of KIPAC, welcomed the formation of the new institute saying “We’re very pleased to have such a major institution on campus led by two such prominent physicists working on cosmology. In this era of declining NSF and DOE budgets, we need to branch out from traditional approaches to science. We expect to collaborate with the new institute to help us seek funding from sources such as the President’s FBCI initiative.” Besides the physicists, several faculty from other Stanford departments will be affiliated with the Templeton institute, including computer scientist Donald Knuth, author of the recent book Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About.

According to Dr. John M. Templeton, Jr., president of the Templeton foundation, “the idea for the institute grew out of our involvement with a series of lectures at Stanford in the area of biology. At those lectures the biologists pointed out to us that it was the physicists on campus who were doing work most closely related to our foundation’s interests, something we had already noticed through our Cosmology and Fine-tuning Research Program. As the latest cutting-edge research in physics has caused physicists to rethink what it means for a theory to explain experimental data, the wedge driven by Galileo between science and religion has begun to close. We’re very proud to be able to support and encourage this trend.”

Encouragement also comes from some other members of the Stanford physics department. Nobel-prize winning theoretical physicist Robert McLaughlin was quoted as saying “theoretical particle physics is just getting old and losing its youthful good looks. Even Ed Witten has given up on it. This latest plan for the cosmology/multiverse/string theory crowd to join up with Templeton reminds me of a woman deciding to become a nun when she gets too old to attract men. But if it gets them out of the physics department, I’m in favor of it. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, guys.”

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36 Responses to New Institute at Stanford

  1. Juan R. says:

    Hi J, thanks you by detail on Ellis and Hawking. I searched the old article by Ellis that I discussed below.

    Los límites de la Cosmología

    George f. R. Ellis

    El enfoque epistemológico de la cosmología lleva a recordar algunas perogrulladas y a plantear verdaderas dificultades. El hecho de que no exista más que un único universo observable impide cualquier comparación de este objeto con otro, una condición que sin embargo es necesaria en cualquier procedimiento científico.

    That is, cosmology is not one of positive sciences.

    For fans of “landscapes” and all stuff, simply to say that Ellis considered the vague discourses about “multiple universes” like outside of physics.

  2. cvj says:


  3. Anonymous says:

    Quoting A. Nonymous
    “Nice one Peter! I only realized something’s going on when I reached the “Stanford Templeton Research Institute for Nature, God and Science (STRINGS)” ;-)”

    Me too!!! Extremely good!


  4. Not a Nobel Laureate says:

    “A few years ago I followed a good course of super-strings, together with good students. But at the end I found no way of applying the interesting things I learnt to physics, and it was too early for discussing this problem. So I sent an e-mail to students (modifying its header such that it seemed sent by the teacher) telling that, instead of a formal examination, they had to give seminars choosing from a list of topics. Each topic was a nonsense, obtained by combining in a pseudo-random order the usual words of stings papers.

    It was an instructive joke.

    Many of these students now are at major US universities.”

    So we are witnessing the final convergence between
    String Theory and Post-Modernist Deconstructionist
    Literature Theory.

    My only question. Why did it take so long?

  5. Not a Nobel Laureate says:

    Excellent April Fool’s parody.

  6. Thanks for Quantoken for the comment concerning proton decay.

    If quark and lepton numbers are conserved separately, the GUT mechanisms of proton decay are excluded. This is achieved in TGD framework since quarks and leptons correspond to different
    conserved chiralities of M^4xCP_2 spinors induced
    to space-time surface. The couplings of quarks and leptons to CP_2 Kahler gauge potential are n=1 and n=3 multiples which gives standard model quantum numbers correctly. Color is now not a spinlike quantum number but basically angular momentum like: this means a profound difference compared to QCD.

    One can of course consider the possibility that quarks have lower mass states. TGD indeed suggest the existence of fractal hierarchy of QCD like theories for colored excitations of also leptons and there are some experimental findings giving some support for this conjecture. This picture is consistent with W and Z^0 decay rates if these QCD like theories are not asymptotically free and exist only in some finite energy and momentum transfer range. This framework allows to consider the transformation of ordinary baryons to baryons of scaled down hadron physics by a kind of tunneling mechanism.


  7. Quantoken says:

    Regarding proton decay. I must emphasis that it is not just the standard model that predicted that proton decays. The point is we all know proton is not the most fundamental building block. It clearly has internal or intrinsic structures. Because of that ANY reasonable theory would have to lead to a prediction of proton decay.

    The current lack of evidence for proton decay can be interpretted in one of several ways:
    0.Protons indeed does not decay ever.
    1.Protons decay in ways predicted by the standard model, but its life time is too long to be detectable.
    2.Protons decay in ways we do not know, and our current detection technology would not have registered any signal.

    I think the 3 is the most possible scenary. There are plenty of things that the standard model can not explain. The most notable ones would be super high energy particles detected in nautral occuring cosmic rays. The energy is many times higher than the energy/mass of most elememtary particles, like proton and neutron.

    What kind of cosmic process would leads to that kind of energy? There has been no plausible answer so far. You can throw in a black hole or things like that, but at most you can get something with an energy level of the same order of magnitude as

  8. The years when the proton refused to decay were very interesting. Everything indicated that it should. We had a beautiful, simple, elegant, minimal model, namely SU(5), that unified all three subnuclear interactions. It was proposed by our best and brightest. There was no hint of an inconsistency. It all looked great. However —- God refused to play along.

    Perhaps God tried hard to tell us something very important but failed;-).

    Matti Pitkanen

  9. I realize I just made an acronym mistake. I meant to say String Theory rather than SUSY (supersymmetry.)

  10. I’ve been reading the Greene book “Fabric Of The Cosmos.” I like the way it was written. Of course, when you get to the SUSY part, the end of that chapter becomes murky in terms of resolving questions (In the same sense that the Standard Model explanations cannot continue to provide many more answers.)

    I trust Greene’s reasoning and articulate descriptions of SUSY, I understand the concepts better than I did before. But I can’t help but feel that I’m reading about a framework that is literally being reverse-engineered to fit models that have already demonstrated tangible results. It will be interesting to see which will be discovered first: The Calabi-Yau shape predicting all particle charges, forces and masses or direct proof of the Higgs particle in the LHC.

    P.S. The search for the right Calabi-Yau shape seems contrived in the way that re-normalization seemed contrived. Feynman invented re-normalization but was openly hostile towards it. Are any SUSY theorists at least showing mild skepticism about this issue?

  11. Anonymous says:

    The years when the proton refused to decay were very interesting. Everything indicated that it should. We had a beautiful, simple, elegant, minimal model, namely SU(5), that unified all three subnuclear interactions. It was proposed by our best and brightest. There was no hint of an inconsistency. It all looked great. However —- God refused to play along.

  12. Quantoken says:

    Any one wants to comment on this recent discovery of a planet outside solar system? I think It does NOT look like a April Fool’s joke at all:

    First confirmed picture of a planet beyond the solar system

    It is also reported on CNN:

    Within 5 seconds of seeing it, I became skeptical about this result and has an opinion. But I could be wrong:-) I want to see other people’s response to this news.


  13. Peter says:

    Hi Tony,
    The period when I was at Harvard (75-79) was after GUTs had already been formulated, but proton decay experiments were just getting underway. Glashow and Georgi especially were working on various GUT models.

    There are plenty of people (for instance, besides Glashow, Georgi and Wilczek) who never thought much of string theory. But after the initial failure to see proton decay, most people felt that ruled out the simplest SU(5) GUT, which got them more interested in supersymmetric GUTs. I don’t know anything about the background problems you mention, but I find it hard to believe Glashow would give up his ticket to another Nobel prize easily. As for why Glashow is the only one to complain publicly, you’d have to ask the others. But part of it is that Glashow has a stronger personality, is less likely to keep his views to himself than many others.

    Milnor wasn’t at Stony Brook when I was there, at the time he was a professor at the Institute in Princeton. I’ve never talked to him about string theory, but most mathematicians are pretty impressed by string theory, partly because Witten has pushed it so hard and he has a well-deserved Fields medal, partly because some very interesting math has come out of string theory.

  14. Tony Smith says:

    Peter, you say in your personal background blog entry at
    “… 1979: B.A. and M.A. in physics, Harvard University. …
    1984: Ph. D. in theoretical physics, Princeton University, …
    1984-87 Postdoc at the Stony Brook ITP Got interested in spinor geometry,TQFT and representation theory, started talking to a lot of the mathematicians at Stony Brook
    In 1987 it became clear to me that someone who didn’t believe in string theory but wanted to apply mathematics to QFT didn’t have much of a future in physics depts in the US. …”.

    So, you were at Harvard during or just after the birth of the Standard Model, and around the birth of GUT models, and you got to see all that up close and personal. It seems to me that would have been a fascinating experience, and here are some questions:

    Did anyone other than Glashow keep the faith of the Standard Model, and if so where are they now and why don’t they say something about the present state of superstring theory ?

    It seems to me that models such as (non-susy) GUT that are based on the Standard Model have been (by most of the physics community) abandoned and that a lot of hype has gone to supersymmetry (with no experimental support) and to beyond-the-standard-model stuff (also with no experimental support). Is a reason for such abandonment the stated position of most neutrino laboratories that proton decay has not been observed within the predicted lifetimes of GUT models?
    If so, then what if all those laboratories have been using incorrect background models in their data analysis ? Did ANY of the GUT founders (including but not limited to Glashow) do a detailed study of the background models used to refute GUT ? If not, why not ?
    One reason that I ask about such background is that one study done independently of the big neutrino observatories was Experimental evidence for G.U.T. Proton Decay by Adarkar, Krishnaswamy, Menon, Sreekantan, Hayashi, Ito, Kawakami, Miyake, and Uchihori.
    Roughly, they conclude that a different (and at least equally reasonable) choice of background, if applied to the raw data from many neutrino observatories, would produce results not inconsistent with GUT.
    Even though this seems to me to be an important result reviving a class of models that are by construction quite consistent with the Standard Model, as far as I know NOBODY, not even the inventors of GUT, ever attempted to bring the discussion of background into a foreground of discussion in the world of physics of the viability of GUT models.
    Why ?

    One last question – was Milnor at Stony Brook math while you were there? If so, did he express opinions about superstrings, and if so, what did he say? (I have thought of him as a very reasonable (as well as brilliant) person whose opinion I would respect.)

    Tony Smith

  15. Chris Oakley says:

    I must admit that I read “Dennis Overbyte”‘s comment as humorous invention rather than a personal attack. In any case I would rather have Donald Trump rooting for me than any academic.

  16. Quantoken says:

    Anonymous below:
    Go figure!


  17. Anonymous says:

    quantoken, your link goes straight back to Peter’s original blog. explain?

  18. Anonymous says:

    Pretty weak.

  19. a says:

    A few years ago I followed a good course of super-strings, together with good students. But at the end I found no way of applying the interesting things I learnt to physics, and it was too early for discussing this problem. So I sent an e-mail to students (modifying its header such that it seemed sent by the teacher) telling that, instead of a formal examination, they had to give seminars choosing from a list of topics. Each topic was a nonsense, obtained by combining in a pseudo-random order the usual words of stings papers.

    It was an instructive joke.

    Many of these students now are at major US universities.

  20. Arun says:


  21. Quantoken says:

    That’s a good April Fool’s joke, Peter. You tricked quite a few people. But not me.

    Why? Not because I was smart. But because once I see your title, it looks so striking familiar: “New Institute at Stanford”. I swear to God I just saw the same title and same story somewhere else on the netland! Just a few minutes ago!

    So I opened up my web browser, and went to the page I visited a few minutes ago. And Gosh! I caught you, Peter Woit! He copies the story eaxctly word by word. I can’t believe even Peter Woit would commit pragiarism. I was shocked, shocked, shocked!!!

    Hurry before Peter has a change to erase my message. See for yourself. Here is the exact URL of the story Peter was copying from. I will forgive him because today is April 1st 🙂


  22. Peter Woit says:

    A couple comments on the long posting about my ascension to the status of assistant professor from someone at MIT who doesn’t have the guts to publicly put their name to what they write using the machine

    Soon after I started writing this weblog I found that partisans of string theory almost uniformly preferred to personally attack me and my academic qualifications rather than to deal with any of the issues I was raising here. I wrote a posting explaining my academic background, it’s at

    Note that I held the title of assistant professor at Columbia for four years (1989-1993), a status I’m not interested in going back to. I’d turn it down if the department tried to reappoint me to it. Since I wrote that posting, my formal status at the university has changed slightly. The non-standard “Director of Instruction” title I held for many years was regularized a year ago when Columbia instituted a new system for permanent non-tenured positions. I’m now officially a full-time, non-tenured member of the faculty of arts and sciences with the title of Instructor. It’s a permanent non-tenured position, with a schedule of reviews of my performance.

    Over the years I’ve often heard from particle theorists who tell me they agree with me about string theory but don’t dare say so publicly due to the personal attacks they fear they would be subject to. This ugly atmosphere of intimidation is a disgrace and string theorists should be ashamed of being associated with it.

  23. Anonymous says:

    If you wanna fun little diversion, look at today’s hep-th abstracts and try to guess which ones are April Fool’s jokes.

  24. J says:

    This is the same “Ellis” as in Hawking and Ellis of “Large Scale Structure of Space-time”

  25. Dennis Overbyte says:

    April 1, 2005, New York — Today Columbia University Mathematics Department chairman Prof. John Morgan announced the appointment of Dr. Peter Woit to the position of assistant professor.
    Prof. Morgan would make no further comment on the appointment, but several members of the mathematics department were willing to speak off the record. According to these sources, Prof. Morgan received a Monday morning call from Donald Trump, offering to make a substantial donation to the mathematics department. Apparently Mr. Trump was recently in San Francisco for the taping of an upcoming episode of “The Apprentice”, “How to buy and sell the Golden Gate Bridge; a new approach to an old idea”, when he happened upon a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle. He was immediately drawn to an article that was critical of the recent craze
    in string theory. Mr. Trump felt that string theory was being overplayed, saying “Come on! Brian Greene’s name is in the Times, more than mine. How ridiculous is that?!” He read the article and was especially impressed by the comments of Dr. Woit who was listed as a member of the mathematics department at Columbia.
    Mr. Trump was impressed that Columbia’s mathematics department had hired someone like Dr. Woit and wanted to show his appreciation. However, during their telephone call, Prof. Morgan
    informed Mr. Trump that Dr. Woit was not actually a member of the faculty, even though Dr. Woit might have given that impression to Keay Davidson, the author of the Chronicle article.
    At this point, Mr. Trump, according to several sources, hurled more than a few expletives at Prof. Morgan, yelling “How can he not
    be on the faculty, he is your most famous guy?!!”. When Prof. Morgan tried
    to explain that Dr. Woit had not published a paper since 1989 and that it would be impossible to get the rest of the faculty to agree to a
    promotion, Mr. Trump countered, “Who the f@*k cares about publishing in peer reviewed journals. That is so 20th century. Blogging is where the intellectual activity is at. Peter has shown how to cut through all the crap that passes for real science nowadays! If you want the
    donation you better f%!king hire him!”
    At this point, Prof. Morgan promised to hold an immediate faculty meeting to decide on the appointment. After a fractious Tuesday afternoon
    meeting, the faculty voted to promote Dr. Woit. In order to save face, Prof. Morgan
    got Dr. Woit to promise that a paper on representation theory would be forthcoming within five or ten years. The title of the paper is purported to be “Quantum Field Theory and Representation Theory: An Etching”
    After the announcement, Prof. Erick Weinberg, chairman of Columbia’s physics department said, “I think it is great that the math
    department hired Peter. If nothing else it will piss off Brian.”
    Asked for comment, Gerald Cleaver, a recent victim of one of Dr. Woit’s April Fools Blogs said, “I am actually happy for Peter. As Peter knows, I am a practicing Christian, but I am happy with who I am and I feel that I have done good, solid work in string theory and have the
    publication record to prove it. Anyway,
    I am more of a `turn the other cheek’ guy than an `eye for an eye’ guy. But my wife thinks he
    is an asshole.”

  26. Kyle says:

    I fully expected to click on the ” Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About” link and find a blank page.

  27. Fyodor says:

    I see that Cleaver’s site refers to his

    I think that post-pints would have been more apt. Post quite a lot of pints in fact. Does whiskey still come in fifths, by the way?

    PS: Peter, it is always a mistake to parody people like Laughlin, when he is so good at it himself, albeit unintentionally. Also it is bad strategy to draw attention to a string critic who is much more of a fool than any string theorist.

  28. Juan R. says:

    Is this “Ellis” not the same Ellis that openly critiqued the standard view of cosmology some decade ago?

    If I am not wrong, Ellis thought that cosmology was not one of positive sciences. He tought that cosmology was more a semi phylosophical field, where scientific method was not applicable.


    P.D: The “success” of string theory is independent of the number of centers devoted to it.

  29. Mark Trodden says:

    Wickedly funny post Peter. When I was out at LCWS04 at Stanford a couple of weeks ago I was dismayed to find out that there was a Templeton conference going on at the same time and that a number of prominent people were attending it rather than LCWS04.

  30. a says:

    From a theological point of view the landscape multiverse is an extension of Darwin natural selection. Therefore I do not believe that it can get much financial support. Your 1 April post seems unrealistic.

  31. anonymous says:

    Another good one for the day:

  32. D R Lunsford says:

    Very funny. Unfortunately all those linked things are really happening. Somehow I don’t feel like laughing.


  33. A. Nonymous says:

    Nice one Peter! I only realized something’s going on when I reached the “Stanford Templeton Research Institute for Nature, God and Science (STRINGS)” 😉

  34. Anonymous says:

    Jesus christ, this is the best April Fool’s ever.

  35. Anonymous says:

    I’m ashamed to say how far into this that you had me. Well done!

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