Tom Banks has a new preprint out, entitled Landskepticism: or Why Effective Potentials Don’t Count String Models. In it he argues against the idea that one can use effective potentials to study the supposed “Landscape” of different vacuum states of superstring theory. His preprint, like most of the literature in the field, is kind of a bizarre document which doesn’t even look like a conventional theoretical physics paper. In the course of twenty pages he only really manages to write down one equation (and it’s just the Schrodinger equation).

One of his claims is that it doesn’t make any sense to think of what is going on as one string theory Hamiltonian with a huge number of possible vacuum states. Instead one has to think of a huge number of possible string theory Hamiltonians, one for each asymptotic background. So I guess that’s it for the “uniqueness of string theory”.

He gets kind of vehement: “the concept of an effective potential on moduli space as a tool for finding string models of gravity, is a snare and a delusion, fostered by wishful thinking, and without regard to the actual evidence in front of us.” Sounds kind of like things I say… He footnotes this “Perhaps some over the top rhetoric is in order”.

On a different topic, he claims that the Weinberg “prediction” of the cosmological constant doesn’t hold water, since if you allow both the cosmological constant and other parameters to vary, then typical values of the cosmological constant allowing galaxy formation will be orders of magnitude larger than the observed value.

I shouldn’t give the impression that Banks is opposed to string theory. Like everyone else, he doesn’t even mention the possibility that it might be wrong. He has his own ideas about holography and cosmological breaking of supersymmetry, which he alludes to at the end.

His paper is based on a talk he gave at a String Vacuum Workshop in Munich three weeks ago. Kind of scary to see how many theorists are now working on this nonsense. At first I was worried to see my old friend and fellow Princeton student Costas Bachas’s name on the list of participants. Costas always seemed to me one of the more sensible theorists around, even if he did work a lot on string theory. Then I noticed that he wasn’t giving a talk, just leading a discussion on the topic “Does the ‘String Vacuum Project’ make sense?” Wonder what their conclusion was.

Update: For Lubos Motl’s take on this paper (Banks was his advisor), and the news that Nima Arkani-Hamed has gone over to the dark side, go here.

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31 Responses to Landskepticism

  1. D R Lunsford says:

    It should be sternly pointed out that astrophysicists are even worse – right this minute the HST should be collecting spectra from objects like NGC 7603, but you can’t even get a post in edgewise on sci.astro.research about it. Like Pope Paul V and his hatstand minions, they refuse to look through the telescope at something that will require some new thought. This is directly connected, at least culturally, to the ST crackup IMO.


  2. Chris Oakley says:

    Peter –

    Right on.

    (I was going to make the same comment, but you said it so much better).

  3. Peter says:

    There’s nothing wrong with some people working on some aspects of string theory that are interesting. The fundamental problem is the overhyped, aggressive and not very honest way string theory research has been pursued and promoted, driving out other ideas.

    On the other hand, there really is something very wrong with the whole Landscape business and I don’t think any legitimate scientist should be working in this area. Writing rambling papers about multiple universes with no solid basis and no plausible hope of ever predicting anything puts one deep into crackpot territory. It’s a complete disgrace that leading figures in the field of particle theory are doing this. Whatever you want to call what they are doing, it is not any sort of legitimate scientific activity. If you really believe that the idea of string theory leads one inexorably to the Landscape picture, as a scientist one has to admit that this means that string theory really has failed. People are so desperate to avoid facing up to this failure that they are willing to throw out all the standard norms of what it means to do science. This is a complete disgrace.

  4. Thomas Larsson says:

    Arun, we know that 20,000 man-years of string theory work by some of the smartest people on this planet only resulted in anthropic nonsense (and some cool but physically irrelevant math). Unless you are a good deal smarter than Witten, why should you succeed where he failed?

  5. Arun says:

    Steve M writes that something good “has much more chance of happening if people dont all go down the landscape route, and start writing waffling philosophical and “statistical” papers all the time with one or two equations, and accepting that nothing can ever be calculated.”

    I think Peter W. is saying something similar – that something good has much more chance of happening if people dont all go down the string theory route….

    Sometimes I get the impression he wants to shut down the whole string enterprise, but that I would not agree with. But there is some happy medium between being a crackpot and bowing to every current fashion.

  6. Steve M says:

    At least Banks believes the whole concept of the Landscape is not well established. Until there is a much firmer and deeper nonperturbative understanding and grasp of string theory one cannot really talk seriously about “string cosmology”. Some very powerful underlying selection mechanism may yet emerge in string theory that yields a monovacuum theory. Perhaps this is (very) wishful thinking but has much more chance of happening if people dont all go down the landscape route, and start writing waffling philosophical and “statistical” papers all the time with one or two equations, and accepting that nothing can ever be calculated. I think string theory (and string theorists) can still do better than that. Also I dont think that sort of stuff will attract to the field or inspire the talented young people going into graduate school either.

    It is frustrating for everyone in physics and cosmology I think, not just string theorists, since these are very deep and very hard problems conceptually and technically. I also think too much importance and significance has been attached to the whole recent KKLT construction though. This is admittedly a very clever albeit Rube Goldbergdish piece of mathematical technology after all. So much very fine, artificial and careful tuning involving flux compactifications, turning on fluxes, anti D3 branes to break susy and lift ads to metastable ds and all that. (phew!:) There could still be some general underlying flaw in it that could kill off the landscape idea and that should be intensely considered and studied. There could even yet be other ways of evading the desitter no-go compactification theorems. If landscape doctrine takes over then the field will probably end up as little more than philosophical and metaphysical debate. Essential names like Witten, Gross, Maldacena etc will probably drift off into other things mathematically and you wont see them at “String Vacuum Workshops”…the sort of guys the field still really needs probably more than ever.

  7. D says:

    Schmeltzer’s crank page was hilariously applied to Bank’s paper ipse, to wit,

    No equations
    No apparatus
    Old theory (Democritus) wrong for wrong reasons
    Captial letters (oh wait, that was a slideshow)

  8. Peter says:

    I’ve corresponded with ‘t Hooft a bit about string theory and he seemed rather skeptical about many of the claims of string theorists, but interested in learning more about the theory. Here’s an analogy about string theory he gives in his popular book about the standard model:

    “Imagine that I give you a chair, while explaining that the legs are still missing, and the the seat, back and armrest will perhaps be delivered soon: whatever I did give you, can I still call it a chair?”

    He refers to string theory as not really a “model” or a “theory”, but a “hunch”.

  9. Peter says:

    Dear Quantoken,

    Please stop repeatedly posting about your theory on my weblog. That’s seven postings today alone, none specifically about the Banks paper that is at issue.


  10. Quantoken says:

    What is gravity?

    Both Super String Theory and the Loop Quantum Gravity claimed they have derived gravity in their theory.

    Gravity is reflected in the constant big G.
    The G can not be zero, for then there is no gravity. The G has to be its current know value to provide the currently known gravity.

    “Having derived gravity” means in the final equations they derive, must contain a G. How did they get an equation containing G? If you start with a calcuolation process and secretly inject the G into your equation at some point, then certain you end up with a set of equations that contain G. That’s really not a derivation of gravity, because the G you end up with is the same G you initially inject arbitrarily. If your injected G happen to zero, you end up with nothing.

    I can not accept the claim that Super String Theory or Loop Quantum Gravity derived the gravity, because they secretly injected the G in the first place, by using the Planck Scale, which already contains a G.

    My GUITAR theory is the only known theory that truely derived gravity. Because using first principle, I obtained the numerical value of G, from alpha. I did NOT secretly inject G like the establishment camp do.

    Shame on the establishment camp that they first secretly injected G and then claim they have derived gravity in their theory.

    The correct theory is, in natural unit set:

    G = 1/(2N),
    N = PI*exp(2/(3*alpha))
    alpha = fine structure constant = 1/137.03599911


  11. R. Giese says:

    Was Gerard ‘t Hooft ever a critic of string theory? On his website it indicates that he gives lectures on the topic.

  12. Quantoken says:

    To move physics forward one has to ask some of the most profound questions in physics. One has got to question those things that too many people take for as granted, without a second thought. It’s just the same as Newton asking “why Apples fall to the ground.” Or Einstein asking “What exactly does it mean the two clocks have the same time.” Laymen took these things for granted and never give them a second thought. But if you do you find there is physics there.

    One question I have been asking for a long time is, WHAT IS MASS EXACTLY?

    We know there’s inertia mass and there is gravity mass. The general relativity’s equivalence principle tells us the two masses are equivalent. They are equal at all times. But what I found is even that is not right. There are never two different masses. There is neither inertia mass, nor gravity mass. There is only a geometric mass, which is defined by spacetime curvature. Geometric mass is the only mass that actually exists.

    How come? First let’s look at what defines inertia mass. What it says is if something has mass it has inertia. It keeps moving with the same speed until it is pushed by a force. When it is pushed by a force, depending on how much its mass is, it has an acceleration inverse proportional to its mass. That’s Newton’s second law. Inertia mass is determined by force and acceleration.

    In that sense, Newton’s Second Law is actually not a physics law, it is just a logic definition defining what is inertia mass, using the concept of force and acceleration. M = F/a, by definition.

    So then we have to ask what is FORCE any way. Force is the kind of effect that makes an object accelerate. If we see something accelerating, we say there is a force acting on it, if the object is not accelerating, then we say there is no force.

    So force is defined by inertia mass and acceleration. We are back to square one. mass is define by what is force. And force is defined by mass. So exactly what are they.

    Certainly you can say force is gradiant of potential energy. But that does not resolve the problem. I will ask you what is energy then. Energy is just mass according to Einstein’s E=MC^2. So again you are defining force using mass. We are still back to square one in trying to come up with a definition of fundamentally what is mass.

    The conconsion is inertia mass really do not exist, unless other physics properties associated with mas exists.

    The situation is only slightly better when we look at gravitational mass. The gravitational mass is the property that causes things around it to accelerate gravitationally. So this is probably the only way out finding an exact definition what exactly is mass.

    According to GR, the gravitational field is equivalent to an acceleration field. So gravity is really geometry effect of spacetime curvature.

    Therefore, I think the mass is really geometric mass. Mass does not cause spacetime curvature. The mass IS the spacetime curvature itself. The mass is a geometric property of the spacetime.

    This is why the Bekenstein Bound is important. In Bekenstein Bound, it provides a relationship between entropy, the mass/energy, and a geometric length parameter. If I can attribute mass to geometric mass, and make it purely a spacetime property, then, the Bekenstein Bound tells us the relationship between spacetime and the entropy.

    The Bekenstein Bound provides us a hint how spacetime can be constructed purely from quantum information, which is neat.

    That’s one of the fundational principle of my GUITAR theory. Quantum information is the only real physical existence. Spacetime is constructed from quantum information, and mass/energy is merely a geometric property of spacetime.

    And everything can be boiled down to just a few dimentionless fundamental constants, especially important is the fine structure constant alpha.

    I have shown that using just alpha, and nothing else, I can calculate the radius and mass of the universe, the CMB temperature, and I can even calculate the exact mass of protons, among other things.


  13. Anonymous says:

    “Equations of string theory”

    Write down the equations of string theory.

    I sumbit that a real set of equations is always needed to describe what is really happening. If you can’t describe what is happening, you don’t really have any equations.

    Here, just for contrast, are some equations:

    Rmn = (2R/w) (FmaFan + 1/4 FabFab gmn) – (1/2W) {Dm,Dn} W

    1/g d/dxm g R F nm = 5/4 Dn W

    OK there are some equations. Show me the string theory equations.



  14. Quantoken says:

    I totally agree with Aaron. Physics should ONLY study the things in this universe that we can observe. A criteria separating real science and crack science is that real science makes predictions that can be verified by observation data to be either right or wrong. If you can not make predictions or your prediction can not possibly be checked in anyway, then it’s crack science.

    All those speculations about multiple universes and possible universes with alternative physics laws, are crackpot science. They say all kinds of different things about how the other universes could be like so they do make a bunch of “predictions”. However, all their predictions are totally irrelevant, because the “other universes” does not belong to this world. So we have no direct or indirect way of observing any of them, and exam any of the predictions. Anything that can not possibly be checked or be otherwise falsifiable, are crackpot science.

    Therefore all the talks of the Super String Landscapes, are crackpot science. You can talk all your talk and say all you want to say, but at the end of day, really none of the landscapes exists because none of them is verifiable, in this world. They are neither true nor false. They can’t not checked for truthfulness and they are not science.

    Any talk of an alternative universe is nonsense and none-science. We should talk only about this universe. That’s all we ever know and to us that’s all the existences. Nothing else exists outside this universe.


  15. Aaron says:

    The problem is worse than that. It simply doesn’t make any sense to talk about the probability of us being in some universe or another. We are in a particular universe, so we have a probability of one of being in that universe. Counting all the vacua you want won’t change that fact. If someone out there is sitting in a ‘rare’ universe, and they try to make ‘predictions’ based on vacuum counting, they’ll be wrong.

    And how do we know we’re not that person?

  16. one mathematician's opinion says:

    re: Aaron’s comment on “predictions”
    from statistics of vacua (being worse
    than landscape)…

    Virtually any specific mathematical
    object that one can write down,
    such as a solution of equations
    of string theory, will tend to be
    either “very special” or
    “very generic”. Things in
    between are rare. The trouble
    with using statistics of the generic
    case for prediction is that it’s also
    rare to know which case one is in.

  17. D R Lunsford says:

    I’m waiting for the 12-string SUX theory (supersymmetric X).

    -neil jung

  18. Quantoken says:

    OK, I checked against all your links. Out of three URLs you provided, you mis-spelled two of them and only one worked straight. So you have a pretty good crackpot score already, Mr. M-?

    Baez’s index system is reasonable in most part, although I do not agree with them all. It’s probably discriminative to none-English speakers when he said mis-spelling the name of Einstein etc was worth 5 points each.

    I think I am scoring pretty poorly on the Baez index. The BigBang would score much higher. With tens of thousands of people working on BigBang, it failed to have made any verifiable predictions so far and each time some new observation data comes up that goes against the BigBang, they need to patch it up with something else.

    Has BigBang been able to calculate a correct CMB temperature, for example? No. But I arrived at the exact correct CMB temperature. The remaining discrepancy between my calculation result and the observed data is well within the experimental error of the observational data. So here is one prediction I make here:

    As experimental techniques improve and the experimental error is further reduced, the more accurate CMB temperature measurement in the future will approach my calculation result!

    Here is another prediction:
    The CMB temperature will remain unchanged thousands or billions of years from today. According to BigBang, CMB will be cooled down over time. According to my theory, that will never happen.

    Here is one more prediction:
    Physicists eventually will find BigBang as well as SuperStringTheory all wrong, eventually.

    Can you say I am not making predictions?

    The only thing I am scoring badly is the publishing factor. I certainly have not published anything on any journal. Not even ARXIV. They now use an endorse system and unless you are already in the establishment camp and agree with everything in the main stream, you can’t get an endorsement and can’t publish anything on ARXIV. Also they require you to use LATEX format and you have to write up exactly in the style they require. I do not have the time to learn LATEX and formatting my document the way they want. Remember, I do NOT make a living out of this. This is just my spare time entertainment.

    My GUITAR theory does not compradict quantum mechanics or gravity laws in any way or form. Those are well established theory with solid experimental data backing. On the other hand, BigBang and SuperStringTheory are NOT well established theory. SuperString has no experiment backing at all. BigBang needs to have so many adjustable parameter to fit itself against experimental data.

    My GUITAR theory has only one adjustable parameter, the fine structure constant, which is really not adjustable at all since it has been fixed precisely by experimental measurements. So, I have absolutely NO adjustable parameter but yet I came up with so many correct calculation results that match experimental data exactly.


  19. Quantoken says:

    You said:
    “Classic stuff indeed:) Blog readers with nothing better to do can go here and compute the Baez Index of this theory.”

    Nonsense. My GUITAR theory hasn’t even been known by many people yet. My 3 posts at were the first attempt in trying to discolse my theory and before I had a chance to utter the first word describing it they banned me and said nothing. It’s less than 2 months since then and I am definitely sure Baez haven’t heard about my stuff and I have no connection with him. How could he have a page regarding my theory?

    But I will check out your links anyway.


  20. Anonymous says:

    Classic stuff indeed:) Blog readers with nothing better to do can go here and compute the Baez Index of this theory.

    And check out a general overview of the theory here

  21. Quantoken says:

    Thanks, that was a good joke. Indeed you can build a GUITAR when you go beyond just the strings. The establishment camp finds there are more than 10^122 different strings but they still haven’t figure out how to built a guitar with that many strings 🙂 What is the use of strings if you can’t built something useful out of them?

    I do not just one day had a good dream and come up with this GUITAR (Generalized Universal Information Theory And Relativity) theory. The fact is, every little pieces of this GUITAR are based solidly on previous research by well respected physicists. All I did is connecting the dots and put the puzzle together into one piece.

    The fundations of GUITAR theory ranges from Eddington’s postulation that star radiations heat the space to a uniform temperature of 3K, to the Mach’s principle that consider the gravity to be the result of collective interactions of all masses in the whole universe, to Einstein’s famous notion that “God does not toss a dice.”. To Paul Dirac’s Large Number postulation. To the Hawking Blackhole Entropy Bound, to Bekenstein Bound. To the holographic principle.

    None of those are invented by me. But I am the only one who successfully linked all dots together, arrive at a self-consistent picture which agrees with all observation facts, and directly leads to precise and unambiguous calculation results that have been accurately verified by experimental datas.

    I obtained the exact observational radius and observational age of the universe. The precise baryon density value of the universe. The exact CMB temperature which agrees with observational data exactly, and the exact solar radiation constant of 1360 W/M^2. I derived the precise mass of protons based on first principle. I linked the value of G directly with the size of the universe, and everything is linked to the fine structure constant alpha = 1/137.03599911. It’s a tremendous amount of success and its amazing one simple theory can come up with such a rich collection of results in so many different places!


  22. Joker says:

    Quantoken–> after the strings indeed comes the guitar; seems you’re on the right track 😉

  23. Quantoken says:


    You are absolutely right in saying “One good place to start is to insist that new theoretical approac hes be finite, background independent, and inherently quantum from the start, as it appears nature is.”

    The Generalized Universal Information Theory And Relativity (GUITAR) is such a theory. It starts with the basic assumption that everything in the universe are just quantum information. The total quantum information in the universe is a finite and conserved integer quantity. Spacetime background comes as statistical manifestations of the quantum information, as are all measurement quantities.

    More over, I have correctly calculated many important parameters of the universe, using very simple assumptions and methods, and they all match actual measurements precisely, including the radius of the universe, the gravity constant, the CMB temperature, the solar constant, and the exact mass of proton.

    The fact that total quantum information is an integer directly leads to the quantization of the physics world. The finite-ness of quantum information leads to Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The conservation of quantum information leads to a limited and closed spacetime by curvature, and it naturally leads to gravity. The same conservation also leads to energy conservation and other conservation laws in physics. The very notion that spacetime background is a statistical manifestation of quantum information leads to various entropy bounds like the Bekenstein Bound, the Hawking Blackhole Entropy. Although they all need to be modified to be in the 4-D spacetime, instead of merely in the 3-D space. In the case of Bekenstein Bound, the correct form is an equality, not an upper bound.

    I do not understand why physicists are so stubburn when they keep hitting the same wall when they keep getting that 120 orders of magnitude discrepancy. Do they have the ability to infer from a wrong calculation result that they must be wrong on where they start, if the mathematics of their calculation could not be wrong?

    Have any one noticed many many coincidences related to alpha? For example the CMB temperature equals to the boiling temperature of water times alpha. The natural abundance of element U235 equals to the U238 abundance times alpha, etc.


  24. D R Lunsford says:


    I was clear to real physicists that ST was sheer bunkum already in 1984 – my advisor (a world-class theorist) called it flat-out “horseshit” and he wasn’t saying it jokingly (that is, he was actually offended by it). See comments by Glashow, which are similar to the host’s.

    Why anyone took it seriously is beyond me. Must be a bad side-effect of neoconartistry.


  25. DMS says:

    Which Weinberg paper is being talked about here? Does the paper “ANTHROPIC BOUND ON THE COSMOLOGICAL CONSTANT” (sadly the paper is pre-arxiv and not scanned) place bounds on the fine structure constant as well? or is that a different paper?

  26. JPC says:

    It’s quite interesting to read all of the dramatic to and fro on this and other blogs about the state of theoretical physics these days. I was a graduate student in the Harvard physics department c. 1984 when it was quite clear that the phenomenologists and standard model guys had reached the end of their run, no new experimental data was forthcoming, and graduate students despaired of anything to do.

    This was just about the time string theorists started to arrive on the scene to a hostile reception from the old guard. The motivation for studying strings back then was it looked like a way forward – although forward to what nobody could be sure about. It seems silly to retroactively assault the motives of physicists at that time who began to study the subject. People like Coleman were unsure of the basic program but thought it would be a useful exercise to investigate it.

    However, at this point in time, it’s clear that things have gone awry, and that course corrections need to be made in the allocation of resources to other potential ways forward. Non-tenured academia has always been a fear-based culture, susceptible to bullying, group-think and political correctness. True leaders in physics need to de-couple from the sunk cost of string theory, mathematical arcana, and prematurely self-congratulatory conferences and books and re-attach theoretical physics to the natural world, especially as new experimental data becomes available over the next decade.

    One good place to start is to insist that new theoretical approac hes be finite, background independent, and inherently quantum from the start, as it appears nature is.

  27. Aaron says:

    Having talked to someone who has worked through Weinberg’s paper, my impression is that it isn’t a prediction of anything. Rather, it’s a clever experimental bound on the fine structure constant. So, I agree with Banks on that subject.

    Banks is far from alone with his distrust of landscaping, although most probably don’t agree with the details of his particular views. Most people would rather just go on with their own work rather than argue it out on the arXiv or in the newspapers, however.

    What’s much worse than postulating the existence of the landscape, in my opinion, is the attempt to make ‘predictions’ by counting vacua. As you might guess, not everyone agrees with my opinion on this subject either.

  28. plato says:

    Tom Banks must have the evolution of the Curvature Parameters, I am sure:)

    Now, how would you take all this, to such small distances and come out with some intact view of the geometry taking place?

    You needed a microscopic view of the cosmo, which seems to be lacking for some?:)

    Bubbles just encapsulate it all. Which mathematics would you need to geometrodynamicallydescribe this movement?


  29. plato says:

    Peter your real instigator aren’t you?

    Testing the principles of the Higg’s field, psychological drama manifestation, of a professor crossing the room?

    If Lubos is a associative professor, then, who is the professor?:)

    The effect?

    The interaction of educated people, are truly fascinating to me. Climatic stories, seem awfully familiar, when taken in context of the bell curve.

    Statistically, you would have a hard time of ignoring the total view.:)A Steering Boid? hahaha

  30. D R Lunsford says:


    Look at this –

    It’s more stream-of-consciousness random emission of buzzwords – my adviser used to call this kind of thing “word salad”.

    I looked at numbers of his papers on arxiv. They all seem to have been made by cutting and pasting standard formulas from Messiah, Dirac, and other elementary textbooks after changing the symbols around. In other words, it’s all bullshit.



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