Several people wrote in this morning to tell me about Phil Anderson’s comments about string theory that appeared in the New York Times today. These originally come from John Brockman’s “Edge” web-site where he has gathered responses from more than a hundred scientists and others to the question “What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?”.
Beside’s Anderson’s answer, also interesting is Paul Steinhardt’s. Steinhardt refers to the currently fashionable use of the anthropic principle as “an act of desperation” and “millennial madness”, notes that the Weinberg anthropic “prediction” of the cosmological constant gives the wrong value, and even acknowledges that string theory may just be wrong. For sheer weirdness, as usual these days, Lenny Susskind is hard to beat. Brockman doesn’t seem to have located any string theorists who believe string theory but can’t prove it. Since it can’t be proved, I guess even they don’t believe it anymore.
Phil Anderson has always been somewhat of an intellectual hero for me. He’s really the person who discovered the Higgs mechanism, among many other things. Despite a reputation for being a curmudgeon, at one point he was quite kind to me. At some sort of social event at Princeton to mark students passing their generals, he came up to me and told me that he had graded my solid state physics exam. He complimented me on one problem in particular, one I had got wrong. I had realized something was wrong with my solution of that problem, noting on my exam that the result I was getting couldn’t be right and explaining why. He told me that this had impressed him, that one should always know what the result of a calculation should look like before attempting it.