In a Parallel Universe, Another You

From today’s New York Times, Michio Kaku explains:

In physics, the concept of a multiverse is a key element of a leading area of study based on the theory of everything. It’s called string theory, which is the focus of my research. In this picture, subatomic particles are just different notes on a tiny, vibrating string, which explains why we have so many of them. Each string vibration, or resonance, corresponds to a distinct particle. The harmonies of the string correspond to the laws of physics. The melodies of the string explain chemistry.

By this thinking, the universe is a symphony of strings. String theory, in turn, posits an infinite number of parallel universes, of which our universe is just one.

In this universe I’m on vacation and in no mood to waste time commenting on this crap.

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27 Responses to In a Parallel Universe, Another You

  1. Daniele Corradetti says:

    Would it be an infinite number of parallel symphonies performed only by strings? Or at some point the shape of a drum also comes into play? Just to know whether a PhD in harmonic analysis can have a future…

  2. gio says:

    Oh please do it. 😉

  3. Rajendra says:

    I hope in a parallel universe, reporters ask Kaku about experimental proof for string theory. 🙂

  4. Brian Flanagan says:

    I was listening to Brian Greene push his Many Worlds notion.

    All I asked was, “How many worlds can spin on the head of a pin?”

    That got me banned from the forum.

  5. Sabine says:

    I have a new book coming out in August that explains to what extent these ideas are science and how much of it is just belief. Book is called “Existential Physics”, details here: http://existentialphysics.com/

  6. La théorie des supercordes = de la poussière d’orchestre.

    Like all the others, this French anagram is pure coincidence. It therefore teaches us nothing, but it invites us to ask the question of the link between physics and music, between cosmos and sounds, between harmony and orchestration.

    (Etienne Klein’s quote from https://www.radiofrance.fr/franceculture/podcasts/la-conversation-scientifique/l-univers-est-il-orchestre-3624161)

    June 21 is a good occasion to do so as it is a traditional Music Festival day at the place where Peter enjoys his vacations! I wish him pleasant ones.

  7. Low Math, Meekly Interacting says:

    Why drag chemistry into it? What awful thing did chemists ever do?

  8. Jim says:

    These people got the chairs, got the money and just want more money. The damage they have done to this, the previous and hopefully not the next generation of theorists is unprecedented.

    I was a PhD candidate in 2011, fortunately yours and Lee Smolin’s books opened my eyes. I was at CERN when Higgs particle was discovered and people didn’t talk loud about the nightmare scenario, which actually happened.

    Greene, Susskind, Kaku and more, don’t care that much now. It’s like climate change, we don’t realize that our children will inherit it since we won’t be alive when the nightmare scenario will manifest itself.

    Fortunately I left my theoretical PhD. I do data science, get the money I deserve and I do legitimate,real research on the side, for free, analyzing astronomical data and publishing papers.

  9. Mike says:

    How many alternative universes do I have to run to escape Kaku kaka?

  10. Alessandro Strumia says:

    Jim, a summer student at CERN told me they learnt that the plan was: discover the Higgs in run 1 and SUSY in Run 2. Presumably this has now been delayed to Run 3, so let’s silently wait for the start of the symphony.

  11. Rollo Burgess says:

    I recently attended a public talk (at the ‘how the light gets in’ festival), on the subject of multiverse discourse. Kaku was a panellist, the others being Sabine Hossenfelder and Roger Penrose. The level of nonsense being spoken by Kaku was apparent even to my 10 yo daughter who was sitting next to me, she was irked by an Alice in Wonderland analogy he used… for my part, it just seemed that he continuously changed the subject, flitting between cosmological and everettian multiverse ideas when cornered.

    @Sabine, I thought you did a great job of putting your case while remaining calm with this slipperiness. Penrose, while always courteous, exercised the privilege of a 90 year old Nobel laureate by looking pretty scornful.

  12. Doug McDonald says:

    Kaku’s piece falls down to below even the level of ‘not even “Not Even Wrong” ‘, down into “performance art of the absurd”. Is saying that nasty enough?

  13. Lukasz says:

    I would like to ask you everobody (first of all, Peter Woit), about the reactions of string theorists, to the allegations concerning string theory. I have meant their factual replies i.e. how do they defend string theoretical approach ?
    Probably this topic was discussed here, but if so, then I missed this.

  14. Peter Woit says:

    Lukasz,
    You should ask string theorists yourself. In my experience most of them try and avoid engaging in any way with criticism of the theory. For Kaku, I wrote a bit here
    https://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=12269
    about his recent book “The God Equation”, which is to some extent his response to criticism of string theory. His way to make a counter-argument is to make claims that are clearly untrue. It seems that doing this kind of thing not only doesn’t get you in trouble, it gets you published in the New York Times…

  15. Mike Ball says:

    How about how string theorists respond to Kaku? Im no expert, but its seems likely to me that regardless of your view on the scientific validity of the miltiverse etc, Kaku completely mischaracterises the view of many (most?) string theorists/QFT researchers on these issues.

  16. John Baez says:

    Have you already written about the multiverse movie with Michelle Yeoh, Peter? That takes a suitably slapstick tone.

  17. Shantanu says:

    Does anyone know if Kaku has had Ph.D students working with him and DOE grants for his research?

  18. Peter Woit says:

    John Baez,
    Haven’t seen the film or written about it. Even when not on vacation I’m now doing my best to avoid the multiverse.

    Shantanu,
    I don’t know of any evidence that Kaku has been doing string theory research since the 1990s. For what’s on the arXiv, see
    https://arxiv.org/search/?searchtype=author&query=Kaku%2C+M

  19. SteveB says:

    Kaku (and his hair) was the keynote speaker at the annual high performance computing conference in 2012, SC12. This conference usually draws about 5000 people. I attended his talk, but my skepticsm had already been primed here. I didn’t like it, but the pictures were pretty. He spent a lot of time on history and then speculated on fairyland-like computer advances. A summary can be found

    https://www.hpcwire.com/2012/11/16/michio_kaku_sketches_technological_wonderland_of_the_future_at_sc12/

    where he is referred to as a “celebrity physicist”.

  20. Chris Oakley says:

    “The God Equation” by Michio Kaku. Conclusion: there isn’t one.
    “The Bogdanov Equation” by Lubos Motl. Conclusion: there isn’t one.

    This situation, I find, is reflected in technical papers in fundamental physics, and long before String Theory was invented. Titles suggest they’ve solved some major problem, but closer examination reveals something infinitesimal.

  21. Topologist Guy says:

    Michio Kaku’s most recent entry on the arXiv dates back to 1999.

    https://arxiv.org/search/hep-th?searchtype=author&query=Kaku%2C+M

    It’s frustrating that he continues to present himself as an expert/active researcher in string theory and the string landscape. None of his papers are related to KKLT or string vacua.

    For comparison, arguably the other top popularizer of string theory, Brian Greene, has papers on the arXiv from as recent as 2018, on KKLT/string vacua/landscape,

    https://arxiv.org/search/hep-th?searchtype=author&query=Greene%2C+B

    So I’d say he’s much more qualified to call himself an “active researcher” or “expert” in the string landscape.

  22. @Peter

    For hep-th, having only six papers on the arXiv in the 90s looks like practically non-existent. He has string theory research dating back to the 70s, though, so has been a long-term practitioner, from before it was cool.

    Harvard adsabs listings, restricting to refereed items, gives nothing newer since his last arXiv paper from 1999 (it gives some obvious false positives by others with the same name), nor anything in the arXiv era aside from what is on the arXiv.

  23. Bernardo says:

    To a lay person like me, albeit one who thinks he is at least able to tell the difference between rational thinking and quackery, Michio Kaku has descended to the level of a Deepak Chopra. Or perhaps he’s always been a Chopra-like “physicist”.

  24. jd says:

    I wish to draw attention to the article by Mermin in the latest June issue of Physics Today. In that Mermin shows the role that probabilty plays in quantum mechanics and that the “collapse” of the quantum state is not a physical process. The many-worlds interpretation is eliminated.

  25. Charles Weis says:

    Kaku is saying nothing new to establish his legitimacy. More important is what this says about the legitimacy of the New York Times.

  26. Alex M says:

    Kaku is the invited Physicist for practically all documentaries involving extraterrestrial affairs, or multiverses quantum ghostly fantastic themes.

  27. Peter Woit says:

    Alex M.,
    I’m well aware of that situation. What I can’t figure out is why the New York Times considers that the right credential for asking a scientist to write for them about physics.

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