Quick Links

A few quick links:

  • I was sorry to hear of the recent death of Vaughan Jones. A few things about his life and work have started to appear, see here, here and here.
  • For a wonderful in-depth article about the life of Michael Atiyah written by Nigel Hitchin, see here.
  • There are now many new places where you can find talks about math and physics to listen to. For instance, just for math and just at Harvard, there is a series of Harvard Math Literature talks and Dennis Gaitsgory’s geometric Langlands office hours.
  • Breakthrough Prizes were announced today. There’s an argument to be made that the best policy is to ignore them. Weinberg has another 3 million dollars.
  • For an interview with Avi Loeb about why physics is stuck, see here.
  • For an explanation from John Preskill of why quantum computing is hard (which I’d claim has to do with why the measurement problem is hard), see here.

Update: Last night I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix, which included some segments with my friend Cathy O’Neil (AKA Mathbabe). Highly recommended, best of the things I’ve read or watched that try and come to grips with the nature of the horror irresponsibly unleashed by Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook in the form of the AI driven News Feed. Comparing to a documentary about Oxycontin from a while back, the effects of the News Feed are arguably more damaging. I’m wondering why the Oxycontin-funded Sackler family donations to cultural organizations and universities have been heavily criticized, unlike the News Feed-funded Zuckerberg/Milner donations to scientists.

Update: Alain Connes has written a short appreciation of Vaughan Jones and his work here.

Update: For another article about Vaughan Jones well-worth reading, see Davide Castelvecchi at Nature.

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17 Responses to Quick Links

  1. Hansi says:

    Peter Woit wrote:
    “Breakthrough Prizes were announced today. There’s an argument to be made that the best policy is to ignore them. ”

    Well the “Breakthrough Prize in mathematics” is actually for a serious work in mathematical physics:


    Professor Hairer is recognised “for transformative contributions to the theory of stochastic analysis, particularly the theory of regularity structures in stochastic partial differential equations.”

    When you look on the work for which the prize was given


    then you see that it threats the stochastic quantization (a mathematical version of quantization that works by converting a classical system into a stochastic pde) and the renormalization of phi^4 theory.

    As the author writes:
    “One major difference between the results presented in this article and most of the literature on quantum field theory is that the approach explored here is truly non-perturbative”

    It is always important if someone invents mathematically rigorous methods for threating quantum field theories non-perturbatively, because more difficult systems like qcd and gravity display intense self interactions where such methods could be helpful.

    I therefore would say that the prize for this work is well deserved.

    The paper should be read, especially by mathematical physicists and high energy theorists.

  2. Peter Woit says:

    No disrespect intended towards the winners of the math and physics Breakthrough Prizes, who are quite distinguished scientists. Note that Martin Hairer has already won many awards for his work, including a Fields Medal. He’s not an unknown. To the extent that it’s a good idea to pay attention to prizes, there’s a good argument that the ones awarded by the math community are worth paying attention to. As for the ones trying to make a splash using large sums of Zuckerberg money, maybe you should (after deleting your Facebook account) ignore those. In other words, follow the example of Peter Scholze…

    For the physics prize, among the many good reasons to appreciate the work of Steven Weinberg, the $3 million he got today isn’t among the top 1000.

  3. gentzen says:

    The lecture series from ETH like the Paul Bernays Lectures or the Wolfgang Pauli Lectures are also nice talks about math and physics to listen to.

  4. Jackiw Teitelboim says:

    I only wonder why some people are “ignored” in these prizes, like Deser for SUGRA, and Glashow for the SM now.

  5. Peter Shor says:

    Jackiw asks why Weinberg was given a Breakthrough Prize for his role in the SM, while Glashow wasn’t.

    This is baseless speculation, but one possibility is suggested by the following two quotes from their Wikipedia pages:

    Glashow is a skeptic of superstring theory due to its lack of experimentally testable predictions.

    Steven Weinberg continued his work in many aspects of particle physics, quantum field theory, gravity, supersymmetry, superstrings and cosmology.

    I’d like to believe this wasn’t the reason, and maybe it wasn’t. You could also argue that the sum total of Weinberg’s research outweighs Glashow’s.

  6. And once again, in a relatively high profile platform like Salon, the Loeb interview uses the rather global term “physics” when they mean high energy theory.

  7. John Baez says:

    To me the most exciting prize handed out by Breakthrough this year was the Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prize given to Nina Holden for her mathematically rigorous work on random surfaces and Liouville quantum gravity, one of the simplest irrational conformal field theories. I think it was given for her 7-paper series leading up to Convergence of uniform triangulations under the Cardy embedding with Xin Sun. I wrote a quick basic overview of some of the underlying ideas.

  8. SD says:

    Given this is a post on various links, I thought your readers might like to know that Richard Borcherds has been putting up excellent video lectures on graduate courses in Algebraic Geometry, Representation Theory etc.

    Youtube Playlist

  9. Generic mathematician says:

    Is there a good summary that describes the work of Vaughan Jones that Alain Connes briefly describes in his blog – something accessible to a mathematician without specialist background. (I’m familiar with the Jones polynomial defined via skein relations, but I know absolutely nothing about the underlying inspiration apparently arising from some classification in von Neumann algebras that somehow relates to knots – but I got intrigued by the brief description in Connes’ blog.)

  10. Rob Meyer says:

    Here is the citation for Steven Weinberg:

    2020 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics

    For continuous leadership in fundamental physics, with broad impact across particle physics, gravity and cosmology, and for communicating science to a wider audience.

  11. Pineapple says:

    Thank you for pointing me at The Social Dilemma, I enjoyed it a lot and have spent some time since creating my own news aggregation using plain old RSS (your blog was first!). It’s hard to find an RSS reader that doesn’t ask you to create an account but once you’ve managed that and if you use FireFox Focus over ProtonVPN then your news and aggregation of it are finally private and not the subject of scrutiny by an overbearing AI marketing model. One thing that’s a little frustrating is that so many sites have abandoned RSS in favour of Facebook and Twitter buttons!

  12. The full citation for Weinberg’s price is here:

  13. Richard says:


    Which RSS reader are you using?

  14. Grigori Avramidi says:

    Michael Freedman’s Sept 28 talk in the Harvard Math Literature series was especially good. It gets into the meat of his 4-d Poincare proof and at the same time makes it look … not that hard. Hopefully they will have the video up soon.

  15. Davide Castelvecchi says:

    Generic mathematician: I found Joan Birman’s lecture about Jones’ work at the ICM quite helpful and concise

  16. Generic mathematician says:

    Davide Castelvecchi, thank you!

  17. Neville says:

    Peter, thanks for the link to Hitchin’s absolutely terrific article about Atiyah!

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