- The LHC is getting close to the point where it can be restarted with a 6.5 TeV beam energy. Latest news here, schedule here. Plan is for a sector test late next week (beam in part of the machine), beam in the whole machine March 23. First physics run May 18th.
- Next week there will be a conference in Venice devoted to neutrinos, blogging going on here.
- There may be some progress on the Mochizuki/abc front. Ivan Fesenko has written up some notes that try and put Mochizuki’s ideas in context with some other more conventional parts of mathematics. The week after next will see a workshop in Kyoto, with lectures from Go Yamashita on the abc proof. Another recent survey talk by Mochizuki is here.
- The latest AMS Notices has a series of articles about the life and work of Arthur Wightman, one of the main figures in the effort to make rigorous sense of quantum field theory.
- In my essay about math and physics, I mentioned the Atiyah-Bott work on the moduli space of solutions to the Yang-Mills equation in the case of Riemann surfaces. This has an intriguing analog to the function field case, which was discussed already by Atiyah and Bott. Dennis Gaitsgory has a new paper out that touches on this in the context of his proof (with Jacob Lurie) of the Weil Tamagawa number 1 conjecture for function fields (see here). The new paper has the footnote: “The contents of this paper are joint work with J. Lurie, who chose not to sign it as author.”
- Returning to physics, Princeton University Press announced that Frank Wilczek will edit a Princeton Companion to Physics, modeled on the wonderful Princeton Companion to Mathematics, which was edited by Tim Gowers. Publication is planned for 2018.
- Caltech hosted a workshop the past couple days, inaugurating the Walter Burke Institute for Theoretical Physics. Hopefully they’re well-funded enough to put videos or slides online. John Preskill’s remarks at a celebration of the event are available here. He gives some principles for doing science that I very much agree with. In recent years I’ve become especially aware of the importance of his first principle: “We learn by teaching”, since I’ve been learning a lot that way. As the trend grows towards institutes modeled on the IAS and prestigious positions that involve no teaching, I think this needs to be kept in mind.
I also agree with his last principle: “Nature is subtle”, and found very interesting his comments on the holographic principle:
Perhaps there is no greater illustration of Nature’s subtlety than what we call the holographic principle. This principle says that, in a sense, all the information that is stored in this room, or any room, is really encoded entirely and with perfect accuracy on the boundary of the room, on its walls, ceiling and floor. Things just don’t seem that way, and if we underestimate the subtlety of Nature we’ll conclude that it can’t possibly be true. But unless our current ideas about the quantum theory of gravity are on the wrong track, it really is true. It’s just that the holographic encoding of information on the boundary of the room is extremely complex and we don’t really understand in detail how to decode it. At least not yet.
This holographic principle, arguably the deepest idea about physics to emerge in my lifetime, is still mysterious. How can we make progress toward understanding it well enough to explain it to freshmen?
From what I can tell, the problem is not that it can’t be explained to freshmen, but that it can’t be explained precisely to anyone, since it is very poorly understood. The AdS/CFT conjecture is now older than some of my current students, with a literature of more than 10,000 papers, but taking a look recently (see here) at what should be a toy model case (AdS3/CFT2) reminded me just how little seems to be truly understood. This is a quite odd and I think historically unprecedented situation.
- Somewhat related to the holography question, for anyone interested in condensed matter physics, I recommend taking a look at Ross McKenzie’s blog Condensed Concepts. He discusses some of the issues related to attempts to use holography in condensed matter. He also has a recent paper (with Nandan Pakhira) showing a violation of a bound suggested by holographic arguments.
Update: On the multiverse mania front, tomorrow Science Friday is hosting Sean Carroll to continue his war against falsifiability and the conventional understanding of science, joined by Seth Lloyd to help promote the multiverse. Perhaps it should be “Pseudo-science Friday”?
Update: Michael Harris’s book now has a blog, which promises to discuss topics that didn’t make it into the book.