Guys and Their Theories of Everything

I’m a big fan of Sabine Hossenfelder’s music videos, the latest of which, Theories of Everything, has recently appeared. I also agree with much of the discussion of this at her latest blog posting where Steven Evans writes

nobody wants to see Peter Woit sing.

and Terry Bollinger chimes in:

Please, under no circumstances and in no situations, should folks like Peter Woit, Lee Smolin, Garrett Lisi, Sean Carroll, or even John Baez try to spice up their blogs or tweets by adding clips of themselves singing self-composed physics songs.

Trust me, fellow males of the species: However tempted you may be by Sabine’s spectacular success in this arena, it just ain’t gonna work for you!

The chorus of Sabine’s song goes:

All you guys with theories of everything
Who follow me wherever I am traveling
Your theories are neat
I hope they will succeed
But please, don’t send them to me

One reason for her bursting into song like this was probably her recent participation in this discussion. I’d like to think (for no good reason) that it had nothing to do with my recently sending her a copy of this.

Today brought a new discussion of theories of everything, by Brian Greene and Cumrun Vafa. When asked by Greene to give a grade to string theory, Vafa said that he would give it a grade of A+, although its grade was less than A on the experimental verification front.

While I’m enthusiastic about new ideas involving twistors and happily continuing to work on them, it’s pretty clear that this is not a good time to be bringing them to market. The elite academic world of Harvard and Princeton theorists that I was trained in has been doing an excellent job of convincing everyone that even the smartest people in the world could not make any progress towards a TOE, and that all claims for such progress from the most respected experts around are not very credible. Best to ignore not just the cranks who fill up your inbox with such claims, but all of them, judging the whole concept to be doomed until the point in the far distant future when an experiment finally provides the clue to the correct way forward.

Be warned though, if people don’t pay some more attention, I’m going to start writing songs and singing them here.

Update: Note, an ill-advised attempt at humor referring to identity politics was obviously a mistake and has been deleted (along with some references to it in the comments). The threat to start singing is also a joke.

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16 Responses to Guys and Their Theories of Everything

  1. Edward M Measure says:

    I don’t know, John Baez may have some familial talent


  2. Peter Shor says:

    If you dream up a theory of everything,
    Grab your guitar, write some lyrics, and sing!
    Don’t put it in a journal; that’s not gonna cut it—
    The usual suspects would simply rebut it
    And chances are that your article would just be ignored.
    Take up songwriting if you want to be heard!

  3. graboluk says:

    @Peter Shor, for completeness, should I force “ignored” to rhyme with “heard” or the other way around? Or is there an english dialect where they rhyme by default?

  4. Kerberos says:

    “”Be warned though, if people don’t pay some more attention, I’m going to start writing songs and singing them here.””

    The Ur-Twistor did the same:

  5. Peter Shor says:

    graboluk: Words that nearly rhyme (slant rhymes) are fairly common in English song lyrics and poetry. Usually, people pronounce them the way they normally do.

  6. Lars says:

    It just couldn’thave been your recent comment about beautiful math that got Hossenfelder’s songwriting juices flowing, could it?

    “Twistor theory has a long history going back to the 1960s, and it is such a beautiful idea that there always has been a good argument that there is something very right about it.”

    As we all know, Hossenfelder has a soft (some might say sore) spot for argument from beauty.

  7. Michael Weiss says:

    To amplify on Peter Shor’s comments, one can do no better than to turn to a Nobel Laureate:

    “Rhyming doesn’t have to be exact anymore,” Bob Dylan told Paul Zollo of American Songwriter magazine in a 2012 interview. “It gives you a thrill to rhyme something and you think, ‘Well, that’s never been rhymed before’. Nobody’s going to care if you rhyme ‘represent’ with ‘ferment’, you know. Nobody’s gonna care.”

    Dylan once admitted to Rolling Stone magazine that he stunned himself when he wrote the first two lines of ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ and rhymed “kiddin’ you” with “didn’t you”. “It just about knocked me out,” he said.

  8. Peter Woit says:


    Exactly that song had occurred to me as the right music for the topic.

  9. former mathematician says:

    In his arithmetically titled “love minus zero / no limit,” Dylan rhymed “fire” with “buy her.”

  10. FB36 says:

    “When asked by Greene to give a grade to string theory, Vafa said that he would give it a grade of A+”

    Maybe we should allow all students to decide their own grades “since they are the ones who best know/understand their own work, they are the best qualified”? 🙂

  11. Hi Peter,

    Happy to like it! And no, it didn’t have anything to do with your paper, which came when I was pretty much already done.

  12. graboluk says:

    “kiddin you” and “didn’t you” is legit (not even slant imo). On the other hand “heard” and “ignored” sound like, so to speak, a confirmation of Gromov’s opinion on english and poetry.

    In any case, as a peace offering 🙂 I’ve just checked an online rhyming dictionary, which suggested both “absurd” and “nerd” for rhymes to “heard”, so perhaps these potentially could be used instead in the penultimate verse.

  13. ohwilleke says:

    I could swear that I have seen John Baez do this once or twice.

    My late father was a professor and also did several for his students (fortunately for us all, pre-YouTube).

  14. Jacob Zelten says:

    I read this as “We String Theorists have failed to produce a Theory of Everything and we’re the smartest people in the room. So obviously, nobody else is smart enough to create one.”

  15. Peter Shor says:

    To rather belatedly defend my inadequate rhymes, let me point out that in one of the most famous poems in the English language, Ode on a Grecian Urn, John Keats rhymes morn and return, with the same two vowels that are found in ignored and heard. So this rhyme was acceptable long, long before Bob Dylan. (Of course, in all other respects, my lyrics above are vastly inferior to Keats’.)

  16. graboluk says:

    Peter Shor, I see your point but this isn’t entirely convincing to me. The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation claims “rɪˈtɐ:ɹn” as the pronunciation for return, and “retornth” appears in a 16th century poem by Thomas Wyatt. So to me, you’d need an early 19th century english pronunciation expert in order to confirm the intended pronunciation of ode on a grecian urn. A few years back newspapers in UK ran articles about Shakespeare, whose general theme was along the lines of “it’s not that his rhymes suck, it’s just that the pronunciation has changed”.

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