This Week’s Hype

From Softpedia this week, the news is of a Universal Theory of the Universe in the Works. According to the article,

The theory of quantum mechanics was devised around 1920, and explains all this, but without accounting for gravity. Therefore, uniting the two ideas has since been an effort taken on by a large number of physicists. Now, an international group believes it is closer than ever to finally managing a breakthrough.

Professors A.A. Coley, from the Dalhousie University, in Halifax, G.W. Gibbons at the University of Cambridge, in the UK, and C.N. Pope at the Texas A&M University, in the United States, led by young mathematician Sigbjørn Hervik, at the University of Stavanger, in Norway, believe that string theory is the best option physics has at bringing the two together.

It’s hard to tell what this is based on, but the only paper I see with those authors is this one, which doesn’t really have much of anything to do with string theory.

The source of the Softpedia article is one from Science Daily entitled A Grand Idea About the Universal Universe that tells us that:

A mathematician in Norway and international fellow scientists have now conceived a grand idea about the universal universe. They have developed a method that may provide answers to universal problems and characterize and describe the universe….

“The problem is that quantum mechanics does not include gravity and the theory of relativity does not include quantum mechanics”, Hervik says.

Many attempts have been made to find a unifying theory of both. String theory is the best candidate so far, according to Hervik.

Ultimately this all goes back to yet another university press release, this one about Hervik’s Universe.

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15 Responses to This Week’s Hype

  1. Bee says:

    Well, quantum mechanics doesn’t “include” electrodynamics either. These two just happen to be compatible if done the right way.

  2. Vid says:

    “…which doesn’t really have much of anything to do with string theory.”

    Don’t know about the rest, but where does the notion of quantum correction come from if not string theory?

  3. Justin says:

    On one hand, Hervik talks about string theory being the best candidate for unifying quantum mechanics and gravity, but, from what I can gather, what he’s actually doing is looking for an alternative to string theory.

    In fact, if you read further in the ScienceDaily article, it looks like his work might be more in line with approaches like loop quantum gravity rather than string theory, in that he’s looking for operators that produce a discrete spectrum of spactime:

    “The idea is to construct curvature or projection operators that split geometry into small entities. It is a tool or a method based on mathematical formulas designed to find such operators.”

  4. Peter Woit says:


    I think the notion of “quantum correction” comes from quantum mechanics, not string theory.

    From what I can tell, these authors are just looking at a class of solutions to a generalization of the Einstein equations. There’s no indication in the paper of why this generalization is what you are supposed to get from a quantum gravity theory or from string theory in particular, so no good reason to refer to “quantum corrections”. The idea seems to be to find things that are solutions to “almost any set of covariant equations involving the metric and its derivatives”, so you have solutions to all conceivable quantum gravities, but it’s not clear to me that that makes any sense.

    In the standard story about how string theory is supposed to give corrections to the Einstein equations, one normally is talking about six dimensional compactification spaces, and modified equations such that solutions are no longer quite Ricci flat. This paper is about 4d and something completely different.


    It’s hard to tell from the article what Hervik is referring to, but I see no reason to believe it has anything to do with the discrete spectrum ideas from LQG.

  5. H-I-G-G-S says:

    Thank goodness you’re back so you can protect us from string hype we wouldn’t have otherwise noticed.

  6. a-n-o-n says:

    and Thank goodness H-I-G-G-S is back to provide the yang to the yin to keep me distracted during work..

  7. Tim vB says:

    Taken directly from the University press release:
    “Naturally, it is personally very satisfactory for me to discover something new in the world of mathematics on a par with Columbus’ discovery of America”.
    It would seem we need another item in the crackpot index:
    20 points for comparing your discovery to Columbus’ “discovery” of America, 5 points for any signs that you do not know that the Vikings “discovered” America some hundred years before Columbus.

  8. Chris Oakley says:

    Yeah, but the Vikings didn’t do much about it. You know – a few Magic Mountain rides, Disneyworld and then they were back in their longboats for the return trip to Norway.

  9. If you don’t want to become the math/physics version of late night comedy material, think twice (thrice -etc) before you talk to your schools press office about your latest brilliant idea – at least not until you collect a Nobel or two!

  10. Tom Whicker says:

    Hervik points out the great adaptability of string theory:

    “What we can do, however, is to consider the problem from another angle as if we did not know what the theory could be. We can describe phenomena, for example the universe, as a consequence of the unknown theory, in spite of the fact that we do not know what the exact theory is”, Hervik explains.

  11. Sebastian Thaler says:


    The new book STRING THEORY FOR DUMMIES, which is being released in November, includes a list of “Ten String Theory Skeptics”. You are included, along with Richard Feynman, Lee Smolin, Robert B. Laughlin, Roger Penrose, Lawrence Krauss, Sheldon Glashow, John Moffat, Andreas Albrecht, and Joao Magueijo.

  12. G says:

    Embrace the duality.

  13. John A says:

    “Embrace the duality”

    Then there’ll be two books?

    “The new book STRING THEORY FOR DUMMIES, which is being released in November, includes a list of “Ten String Theory Skeptics”….

    I’ve operated on the assumption for a while that “String Theory for Dummies” is rather like “Sexual intercourse for Eunuchs”, that is, if it were possible to explain string theory to actual dummies, then it wouldn’t be string theory or they wouldn’t really be dummies.

  14. Chris Oakley says:

    It could be dummy in the sense of a life-size sex toy, and the book is an instruction manual for turning one into a string theorist for those kinky enough to want that.

  15. Tim vB says:

    There already is a book in the same spirit, “String Theory Demystified” by D. McMahon, and yes, it works quite well for everyone
    who had problems with the introductory quantum field course or needs a book one can hold with one hand only
    (because the other hand has to hold that cocktail while you sit at the pool) but nevertheless would like to learn a bit about string theory.
    But what is the point in listing sceptics (or fans) ?
    Of course you could try to weigh the most prominent 100 sceptics and fans (like in Lev Landau’s logarithmic classification) of string theory and compute the likelihood of the theory to be true…
    BTW: Most people find books with a QED title more impressive than string theory, so maybe you would rather like to read some of these at the pool.
    If you are unlucky the person you try to impress is a software developer and thinks you didn’t get the concept of a string variable when you failed to learn to
    program BASIC in highschool, and that is not funny.

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