This and That

Since you’ve read about the black hole image elsewhere, here are a few other items that might be of interest:

  • I was sorry to hear today of the death on April 11 of Geoffrey Chew. Throughout the 1960s, Chew’s S-matrix/bootstrap philosophy was the dominant paradigm in high energy theory. It went into eclipse with the success of gauge theories in the early 1970s, but in recent years the (S-matrix) “amplitudes” program has to some degree revived it a bit, with hopes that it may be relevant to formulating quantum gravity.
  • I thought the string wars were at times rather brutal, but it seems that they may have been a picnic compared to what astronomers get up to when there is a lot of money involved. See here for the bizarre story of what happened to Richard Easther when he started criticizing the plan for a New Zealand component of the Square Kilometer Array.
  • For some recent and upcoming conference sites giving an idea of what is new in math and physics, Microsoft is hosting Physics Meets Machine Learning, the Eighth New England String Meeting had lots of interesting talks, hardly any strings to be seen, and MSRI last week hosted a “Hot Topics” workshop on Recent Progress in the Langlands Program.

For some news related to new books, there’s:

  • Lee Smolin has a new book out, Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution, arguing that quantum mechanics is likely incomplete, since it continues to lack a successful “realist” version. He will be giving a public lecture about this at Perimeter tomorrow.
  • John Baez advertises on Twitter a forthcoming volume about “New Spaces in Mathematics and Physics”. For some of the content, see here. Also, the original conference these articles are based on has videos here.
  • I’m looking forward to seeing Graham Farmelo’s forthcoming The Universe Speaks in Numbers, about which I suspect there will be parts I’ll strongly agree with, others about which I’ll equally strongly disagree. The book evidently is based mainly on interviews, some of which Farmelo is putting up on his website. Jon Butterworth has a review this week in Nature, entitled A struggle for the soul of theoretical physics. He describes the Farmelo book as “a riposte” to critiques from a group I’m identified as being part of, but I have to keep pointing out that my point of view is not at all that the problem with string theory/supersymmetry has been “too much math”. I think progress in fundamental physics is going to require more mathematics, not less.
  • There’s a new edition of the Kiritsis String theory in a Nutshell textbook available from Princeton. Looking at the introduction, I’m glad to see that Kiritsis points out the problem with the usual “string theory works, at the Planck scale” argument:

    A big “hole” in string theory has been its perturbative (only) definition. With the advent of nonperturbative dualities, it was hoped that this shortcoming can be bypassed.Although the nonperturbative dualities have shed light in many obscure corners of string theory (obscured by strong-coupling physics), they never managed to bypass the Planck barrier. The Planck scale is always duality invariant, and any dual description is well defined for energies well below that Planck scale. We have no clue from string theory what happens near or above the Planck scale, as the relevant physics looks nonperturbative from any point of view.

    I’ve added this to this FAQ entry.

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23 Responses to This and That

  1. zzz says:

    “there will be parts I’ll strongly disagree with, others about which I’ll equally strongly disagree.”

    what about the other parts ?

  2. Peter Woit says:

    zzz,
    Oops, that didn’t come out right. Fixed.

  3. More pointers to contributions to the book project “New Spaces for Mathematics and Physics” are here.

  4. The point of my book was also not to say that physicists use “too much math.” I am saying they do not pay enough attention to math and instead believe their sense of beauty must somehow tell them what is right. I don’t know what’s controversial about pointing out that belief shouldn’t replace evidence. Fact is, arguments from beauty have worked badly in the past and they still work badly.

    (But the WSJ review now makes sense^^.)

  5. Jim Baggott says:

    For what it’s worth, my book ‘Farewell to Reality’ doesn’t argue that there’s ‘too much math’, either. Mathematics has proved to be an extremely powerful language in which to *represent* the empirical physics, and only an idiot would suggest we need less of it. However, it’s a mistake to think that you can *conjure* physics from mathematics, especially when there are no empirical foundations for it. I’ve never been against theoretical physicists exploring mathematical possibilities, but whenever these same theorists then go on to declare that this *is* the way reality works, and advertise their theories as well-founded, then I get a bit cross and feel the need to call this out.

  6. Dom says:

    I note that Butterworth’s review ends with “The Universe might speak in numbers, but it uses empirical data to do so”. I could be mistaken but from reading his blogs in The Guardian and elsewhere over the years I got the impression that as an experimentalist he is quietly sceptical of String Theory and Supersymmetry.

  7. Low Math, Meekly Interacting says:

    Hopefully this isn’t too OT, but the banner switch makes it rather difficult keep my mind off the subject. That and we have reportedly fully entered the era of observational science in the strong field regime of GR, which does have something to say about certain HEP theories with astrophysical implications. Empiricism and all that…

    What parts of the “parameter space” of theories that predict exotic stars and other alternatives to the standard-issue spinning BH has been chewed off by the EHT? My sense from reading the paper is that things officially already look pretty bad for certain alternatives. Not sure how threatened fuzzballs and gravastars and so forth might be, but presumably they will be facing some tension if GR keeps holding up too, if not already.

    Might be an interesting phenomenon to watch: How flexible are these alternatives to GR such that they continue to “survive” by moving the goalposts to evade experimental constraints.

  8. Peter Woit says:

    LMMI,
    I’ve changed the header to get your mind off the EHT picture. I didn’t write anything about it here, because I’m the wrong person to discuss black holes: it’s a huge industry now, full of people who are experts, and best to find one of them to discuss this with.

    The current header is temporary, I still haven’t come up with a plan for a new permanent one.

  9. Anonyrat says:

    If only your banner could evolve to “Right! Finally!”

  10. Peter Woit says:

    Anonyrat,
    That would be boring…

    I’ve finished playing with the header, at least for today.

  11. Chris Oakley says:

    I think that a good banner would be something that lists the equations of Superstring theory. Something like this: http://cgoakley.org/qft/sseq.jpg

  12. Atreat says:

    That article about the New Zealand astronomy battle is wowzers. Such bad behavior on the part of scientists.

    Upshot, is that the guy writing the journalist accusing his peer of having mental health issues with absolutely zero factual basis has not apologized, will not apologize, his university still supports him and how does he justify his behavior…? He says that the other guy was not kind and was rude at a conference and did not adhere to professional standards of courtesy of being kind… so therefore it was appropriate to asperse him with claims of mental illness to a third party… or something.

  13. Low Math, Meekly Interacting says:

    Chris Oakley…

    A variant on one of Pauli’s other devastating take-downs?

    “This is to show the world that I can paint like Titian … Only technical details are missing.”

  14. Peter Woit says:

    LMMI,
    New header generated.

  15. ay says:

    So the new header(s) are some kind of easter egg? What does the Pauli note say?

  16. Peter Woit says:

    ay,
    At the moment the header you get is a random choice of four possibilities. I’ll likely change this again when I get time. The Pauli thing is a page of a letter to Gamow, that he encouraged Gamow to show to others, as his statement about what he thought of Heisenberg’s publicizing a “unified theory” (which Pauli had worked on with Heisenberg for a while, but became disenchanted with). It says:

    “This is to show the world that I can paint like Titian.

    [empty rectangle]

    Only technical details are missing.”

  17. Anon says:

    Anyone know if the Microsoft event is open to the general public? The Redmond microsoft office phone numbers don’t work and microsoft support is sending me through endless automated loops of asking about which Microsoft product I’m unhappy with.

  18. Peter Woit says:

    Anon,
    This listing
    https://asaip.psu.edu/meetings/all-meetings/physics-meets-machine-learning
    for the event says “please contact an organizing member if you wish to participate in this workshop. “

  19. martibal says:

    The random header is a nice idea, but why not include into the list the black hole picture ? It is not that much off topic, and very beautiful.

  20. Peter Woit says:

    martibal,
    I think you haven’t refreshed your browser often enough…

  21. Ta for linking the review. For what it’s worth, the group in which I included you indeed has a variety of different criticisms of theoretical physics, not all them “too much math(s)”. The bit I thought applied to you (and Lee Smolin) was “become a monoculture too focused on a small clutch of concepts and approaches”, which I don’t think you’d disagree with?

  22. Peter Woit says:

    Jon Butterworth,

    Yes, that’s right, I’m very much in agreement with Hossenfelder and Smolin about the “monoculture” problem you refer to.

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