Various and Sundry

A few things that may be of interest:

  • Fermilab is continuing to push the wormhole publicity stunt, with Joe Lykken, the lab’s Deputy director for research on the 17th giving a public lecture on Wormholes in the Laboratory. The promotional text goes way out of its way to mislead about the science:

    A wormhole, also known as an Einstein-Rosen bridge, is a hypothetical tunnel connecting remote points in spacetime. While wormholes are allowed by Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, wormholes have never been found in the universe. In late 2022, the journal Nature featured a paper co-written by Joe Lykken, leader of the Fermilab Quantum Institute, that describes observable phenomenon produced by a quantum processor that “are consistent with the dynamics of a transversable wormhole.” Working with a Sycamore quantum computer at Google, a team of physicists was able to transfer information from one area of the computer to another through a quantum system utilizing artificial intelligence hardware.

    The “utilizing artificial intelligence hardware” seems to be an incoherent attempt to add more buzzwords to the bullshit. If you know anyone with any influence at the lab, you might want to consider contacting them and asking them to try and get this embarrassment canceled.

  • On another embarrassment to science front, Fumiharu Kato on Twitter is announcing the publication of the paperback edition of his book promoting the IUT proof of the abc conjecture. In his talk about this at the Simons Center he dealt with the issue of the problems with the proof by pretending they don’t exist, but (from what I can make out using Google Translate), he says he’ll deal with this in the paperback edition. His point of view seems to be that once PRIMS (chief editor S. Mochizuki) decided to accept the IUT papers, no one should be writing things like this. Perhaps he’s just trying to point out that this is potentially a huge embarrassment for PRIMS and RIMS in general, which is undeniable. But he appears to be going down the truly unfortunate path of making this not about mathematics but about Japanese national honor, with one tweet getting translated as:

    Some non-Japanese mathematicians questioned, “This is an insult to the Japanese mathematics world! Why don’t Japanese mathematicians say anything after being so insulted?” I also think the question is valid.

  • Continuing with the difficult and depressing, there’s the ongoing Russian war of aggression in Ukraine. The New York Times reports on the efforts of the Simons Foundation help sustain Ukrainian science. The Guardian has an excellent article on the problems the LHC experiments are having due to the fact that Russian physicists make up a significant part of the collaborations. I had heard this story back in September from John Ellis, who I met for the first time in London (at an event which now has a video of a discussion I was involved in). Tommaso Dorigo has an article about this on his blog, where he takes a point of view that is appealing (no borders or nationalism in science), but I don’t think it’s so simple.

    I’ve been wondering if there is a historical parallel to look to, with one possibility the situation in 1938-39 when Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia. By this point (as now) a lot of scientists had fled to the West, and the issue must have arisen of how scientists in the West should deal with their German colleagues who were staying in Germany.

  • Turning to something much more pleasant, Michael Harris points me to a video of a talk by Manjul Bhargava that has finally appeared, one of a series of talks at a 2018 conference in honor of Barry Mazur.
  • This week in my graduate class I’m talking a bit about Howe duality, and just discovered that his original unpublished articles on the subject are now available online, see here and here.
  • Finally, I only recently learned about the volume of Sidney Coleman’s correspondence that recently appeared, under the title Theoretical Physics in Your Face. Especially fun to read for those like me who remember the era at Harvard when Coleman was at the center of activity. One quote, his opinion in 1985 evaluating the grant to the Princeton theory group:

    If I have any serious criticism of this group at all, it is that their recent concentration on superstrings seems to me a tactical error, too much devotion of effort to a line of development that (at least to an outsider’s eye) is not that promising. However, I could well be wrong in this, and, even if I am right, they’ll soon discover they’ve drilled a dry hole and be off exploring other fields next year.

    Unfortunately the last part of this was very wrong…

Update: Nature has an article on the resolution of the LHC Russian authorship issue.

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9 Responses to Various and Sundry

  1. One of the best math talks I ever heard was by Manjul Bhargava, on the 15 theorem ( Just outstanding for a non-expert.

  2. A wormhole, also known as an Einstein-Rosen bridge, is a hypothetical tunnel connecting remote points in spacetime. While wormholes are allowed by Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, wormholes have never been found in the universe.

    Doubling down on linking the “wormhole” in at best a 1+1D Lorentzian manifold to General Relativity and our universe and spacetime, even though one might argue that reading the text literally, they aren’t saying this outright.

  3. Michael Weiss says:

    It is remarkable to realize that as far back as the mid-1970s Prof. Sidney Coleman included Bell’s Theorem as part of his introductory undergraduate course on QM (“Physics 143” at Harvard). It was a serious yet “for fun” lecture at the end of the syllabus, not to be included on the final exam. Even as Sidney always instilled a sense of wonder and elegance, his presentation of Bell’s ideas communicated its fundamental importance–the opposite of “shut up and calculate.” It might be that Sidney was the first physicist nationally to include Bell in an otherwise standard sophomore course. How he would have appreciated this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics (his late Harvard colleague Prof. Francis Pipkin was an early advocate of Bell-inspired experiments).

  4. Anon says:

    The Coleman book has the worst copy editing I’ve ever seen. The first chapter (available on World Scientific’s website) has numerous occurrences of “Seldom Glasgow”.

  5. Peter Woit says:


    I do think Sidney would have appreciated the humor of that renaming of Glashow.

  6. Pingback: • On the move • Physics news for the non physicist

  7. Anon says:

    Thanks a lot for pointing out the two Howe papers – never knew these existed, and have only ever seen his two 1989 papers on the topic. Really interesting.

  8. anon. fool says:

    “… the issue must have arisen of how scientists in the West should deal with their German colleagues who were staying in Germany …”

    This is a well known and deeply unpleasant story. It was a question of whether the German government permitted them to continue their research, or drove them out for political views or race, or even for having the temerity to try to help those less fortunate. By that time, the Germany government was forcing every profession to prepare for war so pure science without military uses had little respect or funding, although in October 1938 Gerhard Schrader came up with nerve agents tabun and sarin, and in December 1938 Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann discovered uranium fission. The Nazis put Heisenberg on charge of nuclear research, and he visited Bohr in Copenhagen in September 1941, but Bohr declined to help the Nazis and fled to the UK and then USA.

    I think and hope that unless further escalation occurs, a FAR better analogy to the present situation is given by Andrei Sakharov’s Memoirs (Knopf 1990), which details the gulag and psychiatric treatment provided by the CCCP for dissidents.

    Sakharov was exiled with his wife to Gorky by Brezhnev for criticising the latter’s decision to invade Afghanistan at the end of 1979. He was there relentlessly persecuted by the KGB and went on repeated hunger strikes for 7 years until Gorbachev released him. His statement of 27 January 1980 (Appendix B of his Memoirs, pp673-5):

    “On January 22, I was detained on the street and taken by force to the USSR Procurator’s office … I was asked to return the medals and orders and certificates … Rekunkov also informed me of the decision to banish me to the city of Gorky, which is closed to foreigners … I was instructed to report three times a month to the police … The authorities are completely isolating me from the outside world. The house is surrounded 24 hours a day by police and the KGB, who keep away all visitors, including my friends. Telephone connections with Moscow and Leningrad are cut off. We have not even been able to call my wife’s mother … Even in prison, there is more possibility of communication with the outside world …

    “The worsening of the international situation was caused by the following actions of the USSR … Supporting terrorist regimes … Supporting the actions of quasi-governmental terrorists in Iran who have violated diplomatic immunity … the invasion of Afghanistan … against the Afghan people.”

  9. Justcurious says:

    Next week there’s the opening workshop of a new big research network between universities in France and Japan and seems to be watchable by zoom, but only by members

    As an outsider, most talks seem to be uncontroversial mathematics including well-known people like Yves André etc. But on Tuesday 22 one of the speakers will be Shinichi Mochizuki about IUT (he is a member of that network), just before the session free discussion. It might be interesting, a pity it isn’t public.

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