Big Think

A little while ago I did an interview for Big Think, and they just put it up here today, with some editorial comment here.

I really don’t like watching or listening to myself, so I’m not about to go through the interview and see exactly how what I tried to say came out and later got edited. If I said something unclear or nonsensical, perhaps someone will let me know. Regular readers of this blog are unlikely to hear anything they haven’t read before. Big Think has their own commenting system, and you can comment there if you wish.

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17 Responses to Big Think

  1. Tim vB says:

    Did not spot anything unusual – but if you really want to show off, here’s a little hint: The s-t-combination in German is usually pronounced as sh – t (sh like in hush), so Einstein is more like Ein-sh-tein and less like Ein-s-t-ein 🙂

  2. Bee says:

    43 minutes? Forgive me for not watching it. At least the first minute the video is out of synch with the audio. (Or maybe the speed of sound just changed by some orders of magnitude?)

  3. Bob Levine says:

    There’s a written transcript of the interview provided as well. Peter’s comments seemed quite good-natured and—at least as far as personalities went—non-judgmental, while still making the relevant points about the dead-end nature of string theory. And the comments about the Higgs, and why in some sense one doesn’t really want the Higgs field to be the source of particle massiveness, was nicely done, I thought. The only problem with the interview that I could see was that in some places the editing seemed a bit spotty….

  4. GVF says:

    You talk much too fast for a recording.

  5. Eshan Shah says:

    Mr Woit, could you simply sum up the arguements for why string theory is not a ‘scientific’ theory?

  6. D R Lunsford says:

    Interview is OK but the streaming content is very badly done – unsynced audio and video and high CPU usage. Oh well.

  7. Peter Woit says:

    Eshan Shah,

    I don’t claim that string theory is not a scientific theory. “String theory” refers to a wide range of different activities, many of which are completely scientific.

    The controversial part of string theory is the speculative attempt to use it to produce a unified theory. I would claim that such an attempt is scientific, the problem is that it has conclusively failed. What is unscientific is the attempt to evade this failure by invoking the “anthropic landscape”. That’s not science since it can’t predict anything or even in principle be tested.

  8. Chris W. says:

    An example of that spotty editing:

    “Why do they all have different masses? We don’t understand why the electron has a certain mass, quartz has other masses.”

    Hopefully they’ll make another pass on editing the transcript.

  9. Thomas R Love says:

    I watched the whole thing, in three sessions, after all they break up the 43 minutes in to 6 segments. Like you said, Peter, nothing new. But it is nice to review once in a while.

  10. David Levitt says:


    I am a long time fan of your blog and book, but have not commented previously. I am commenting now because of the rather bland nature of the above comments. What is wrong with giving you some applause and support? I thought it was a great interview – very fair, informative and focused. I would recommend it as a very concise summary of the current situation. I doubt it could be improved on.

  11. petergreat says:

    Indeed nothing new in it. I’m under the impression that no one has anything new to say about HEP. Not until LHC starts to give results.

  12. neo says:

    I found it very interesting and informative, although the disconnect between the video and audio was disconcerting. And BTW Chris W., Peter said quarks not quartz.

  13. Chris W. says:

    “Peter said quarks not quartz.”

    I know; I was blaming it on the transcriptionist. (I’ve seen some other sloppy “phonetic” transcripts recently.)

  14. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks David!

    Actually, I’m glad that some of the conflict over string theory has died down, and Peter Woit attackers and supporters are no longer fighting in the streets (or the blogs…)

    A combination of exhaustion and waiting for the LHC has put a lot of these debates into a state of suspended animation. This has now been going on for a while, and may continue for quite a while longer, which has its pluses and minuses. Anyway, I’m glad to every so often have the opportunity to restate a point of view on these issues which I’ve always thought is actually a fairly mainstream one in the physics community, even though for many years it wasn’t getting much public attention.

  15. Paolo says:

    To date, I’m still failing to see what’s the point of this war against string theory. Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that those scholars are all completely and fully wrong and that the “theory” (I know Peter probably doesn’t consider it a theory at all) doesn’t make sense: so what? Don’t we have better things to do than spending some of our precious time attacking those poor chaps? Like, for example, working on better ideas in the same area, or just enjoying the life and doing something completely different? Really, I do not understand. Probably I never will.

  16. Peter Woit says:


    Actually, sure, string theory is a theory, just one that doesn’t work as a unified theory…

    I’m glad I took the time to write the book, and to have some effect on causing there to be a needed debate about what was going on with string theory. But at this point, personally I’m taking your advice, spending very little time on string theory, instead working on better ideas and enjoying life. Arguably I’m spending too much of my time enjoying life and not enough working…

  17. Ryan Budney says:

    I’m another long-time follower of your blog. I thought the interview was excellent. You were clear and measured. You qualified your statements but didn’t sound too much like a politician. 🙂 Very nice.

    On my end your voice wasn’t quite synced with the image but that’s a purely technical issue of production.

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