First, a few physics items:
- Mark Alpert has a new novel out, Saint Joan of New York, a thriller subtitled “A Novel About God and String Theory”, which is an accurate description. It’s published by Springer, so you may be able to get access to it like I did through an institutional license here.
The plot revolves around Joan, a talented high school student here in New York, who has been learning more advanced material through a mentor at City College, and in particular has learned about string theory and Calabi-Yaus. This Joan plays the role of a modern-day analog of Joan of Arc, using divine help to do battle not with the English, but with more modern dark forces. This divine help includes a revelation about Calabi-Yaus and the theory of everything. It’s a thriller, so I’ll avoid telling more about the plot so as not to spoil it.
I quite enjoyed reading the book even though I’m not much of a fan of thrillers, although a lot of enjoyment was due to the fact that much of the action takes place here in New York on the Upper West Side, and that the main plot revolves around the question of string theory and existence of a TOE. Edward Witten plays a role in the story.
If you like this one, you might also want to read some of Alpert’s other novels, a couple of which also involve themes of a TOE.
- Most theorists have abandoned the search for a TOE, or the idea of explaining anything about the Standard Model, in favor of concentrating on hopes to find some sort of emergent theory of quantum gravity. For the latest on this, talks from the recent misleadingly titled Quantum Gravity in the Lab conference at Google might at some point be available. John Preskill’s slides are here. He indicates that the general idea is that quantum gravity will emerge from “Massive Entanglement, Quantum Chaos and Complexity.” This week the IAS will host a similar event, a workshop on Qubits and Spacetime. Wednesday evening many of the participants will be put on a bus to Manhattan, where they’ll continue with the 2019 meeting of the Simons Foundation-funded “It From Qubit” collaboration.
- Also here in New York this week, Roger Penrose will be at Pioneer Works Friday night for a public program involving a conversation with Janna Levin. I have no idea whether his presence in New York at the same time as “It From Qubit” is a coincidence or not. If not, maybe the “It from Qubit” people will get back on the bus and head out to Red Hook Friday night.
- Instead of being at the IAS, Nima Arkani-Hamed has been spending the past semester at Harvard, with activities that include teaching a course, Physics 283B: Spacetime and Quantum Mechanics, Total Positivity and Motives. Videos of his lectures are online here (first one here). It would be great if someone could put together a written set of lecture notes from these videos.
- Finally, for some multiverse-related book reviews that have the unusual feature of showing some skepticism, see John Horgan here, Matt Leifer here, also Chris Fuchs here. Fuchs explains the problem with multiple worlds as a solution to the measurement problem:
Its main shortcoming is simply this: The interpretation is completely contentless. I am not exaggerating or trying to be rhetorical. It is not that the interpretation is too hard to believe or too nonintuitive or too outlandish for physicists to handle the truth (remember the movie A Few Good Men?). It is just that the interpretation actually does not say anything whatsoever about reality. I say this despite all the fluff of the science-writing press and a few otherwise reputable physicists, like Sean Carroll, who seem to believe this vision of the world religiously.
Some mathematics items:
- The latest Notices of the AMS has a wonderful set of Memories of Sir Michael Atiyah.
- In the same issue, AMS vice-president Abigail Thompson criticizes the University of California’s use of “diversity statements” in hiring. Inside Higher Education had an article about this here, and it led to some controversy described from one point of view here. For some blog discussions see here and here, with the first of these a place more willing to host a discussion of this than I will do here.
Update: In case you haven’t been getting enough hype about the multiverse recently, Scientific American has Long Live the Multiverse! for you, from Tom Siegfried. Siegfried assures us that “multiverse advocates have been right historically”. He also assures SciAm readers that multiverse theories are testable, in a way similar to the way Einstein demonstrated the existence of atoms in 1905 using Brownian motion:
For that matter, it’s not necessarily true that other universes are in principle not observable. If another bubble collided with ours, telltale marks might appear in the cosmic background radiation left over from the big bang. Even without such direct evidence, their presence might be inferred by indirect means, just as Einstein demonstrated the existence of atoms in 1905 by analyzing the random motion of particles suspended in liquid.
He doesn’t mention that his analog of the Brownian motion experiment has been done: people have looked for the predicted indirect effects of other bubble universes on ours, and found nothing. To the extent that the multiverse is testable, it has been tested and found to not be there.