All Sorts of Stuff

Harvard mathematician Barry Mazur has many new things up on his web-site. These include an expository article on motives (this via David Corfield), and a foreword to a forthcoming popular book called Fearless Symmetry : Exposing the Hidden Patterns of Numbers. This book looks to be the first popular book to deal with the modern use of group representations in number theory, explaining what reciprocity laws are and a bit about the Langlands program.

The concept of a motive and that of using representations of Galois groups constructed using things like motives are two of the most important ideas in modern number theory. Some of the latest developments in this field concern extensions of the Langlands program involving p-adic modular forms. Mazur and Buzzard are teaching courses on this topic, and Mazur has put some lecture notes up on his course web-site. These courses are part of a special semester on Eigenvarieties at Harvard.

Mazur also has a revised version of his expository piece on category theory, a short piece about Serge Lang, and some very non-basic notes for a “Basic Notions” seminar.

Nature has a short article entitled Physicists told to confront those big questions about the Foundational Questions Institute call for proposals. There’s a very positive quote about this from Lee Smolin, who is on the advisory board, but also a much more skeptical one from Paul Steinhardt: “Metaphysics is running rampant through string theory and cosmology,” he says. “I would like to see things go a little bit in the other direction.”

Kimball Martin’s web-site of Exceptional MathReviews includes one by Robert Oeckl about a paper of the Bogdanovs. For more about them see here, here, here, and here. Remarkably, they seem to have some support from at least one string theorist.

Via Bitch Ph.D., perhaps the strangest math-related web-site I’ve ever seen.

The High Energy Physics Advisory Panel (HEPAP) is meeting today and tomorrow in Washington. Presentations there will include one from Bush’s science advisor, John Marburger, and should be available on-line soon.

This weekend, the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) will be dedicating its new building, named after Shiing-Shen Chern. As part of the festivities, Roger Penrose will be giving talks, including a public lecture Sunday on Fashion, Faith and Fantasy in modern theoretical physics.

The second LHC Olympics were recently held at CERN and the talks are available on-line. This is a rather unusual exercise designed to get string theorists and other not-so-hardcore phenomenologists involved in analyzing simulated LHC data. There seem to me to be two big problems with this. First of all, there are no backgrounds in this simulated data, and understanding these backgrounds is going to be the main problem with the LHC data for quite a while. It will be the experimenters who will have to do this, and they may need help from theorists, but help of a very different nature than what this exercise is aiming at. Secondly, once backgrounds are understood and potential signals are extracted, I doubt that the LHC experimenters will be releasing the kind of data simulated here for use by theorists. I suspect they’ll be doing the kind of analysis going on at the LHC Olympics themselves and releasing the results as papers under their own names. For more about this, see postings by Lubos here and here. The first of these drew the following comment from a European phenomenologist:

Phenomenology has been always been strong in Europe, hundreds of ppl work in this field since decades, and most consider this contest as child’s play. Guess why no European team took part in this activity, right within a truly European institution which has scores of local phenomenologists? It is a bit like if a few phenomenologists decide to learn string theory and organize a contest in Princeton about who can build the best string model….

While this exercise is unrealistic, it may at least clarify various issues about how testable certain specific scenarios really will be at the LHC.

The latest Seed Magazine has some interesting articles. One about mathematical proof discusses problems with proofs in mathematics that may be too complicated to be properly refereed, especially the recent work by Thomas Hales on the Kepler conjecture. It ends with a depressingly silly comment by Keith Devlin:

I see a parallel between the uncertainty of these proofs and developments in physics like string theory, where we’re developing mathematical theories of matter that may forever remain elusive to experimental verification.

This is the same kind of foolishness as the comment that “physicists may have to rethink what it means for a theory to explain experimental data” because of string theory (see here).

Another Seed article that has gotten a lot of attention because of it’s topic is one called Getting Physical about physicists and sex. See commentary here, here and here. This last link is to Jennifer Ouellette’s new blog Cocktail Party Physics, which is of independent interest.

Last Updated on

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to All Sorts of Stuff

  1. Dumb Biologist says:

    I’m confused. I see nothing especially bitchy about sarongs.

    Also, that physicists get it on is hardly news. Shrödinger was famous for carting both is wife and mistress along with him long ago, and Feynman, having developed considerable expertise on the subject, published advice on how to pick up girls in one of his books. Carl Sagan wrote about sex and drugs, specifically how the latter impacted the former. I hear some lovers of boyish, brainy men openly lust after Brian Greene, so a few also seem to have a bit of that rock star mojo. My wife certainly expressed her admiration after seeing the jacket of my copy of “Elegant Universe”. C’mon Seed, tell us something we don’t know…like, maybe, Hey, what are we biologists, chopped liver?

  2. Dumb Biologist says:

    Oh, I forgot Kinsey. Never mind.

  3. ObsessiveMathsFreak says:

    A great amount of mathematical proofs are often presented in a terse and reticent fashion, and the resulting proofs, though they may be correct, can only be understood by those who have already reached a deeper understanding of the topic.

    The problem here is that people are misinterpreting the meaning of the word “prove”, in mathematics. To prove means to demonstrate, through argument or evidence, the validity of a statement or proposition. What that means, is that you have to convince another human being that what you say is true.

    If your proof is too convoluted, too terse, or too complicated and no one is able to understand it, then you haven’t proved anything. You’ve just scribbled some symbols on paper and said they were true. If you simply brow beat people into submission, through complicated proofs or your intellectual reputation, then they have only accepted that your proof is true. They haven’t accepted the proof itself, And in this case, you haven’t proved anything at all except human fallability.

    To prove something, another human being has to be able to read, understand and follow every single step of your argument, from propositions and assumptions all the way to your conclusions. And if no one can do that, your proof is not a proof. It’s just ink on paper, and science is getting nowhere.

    Doubt is the worst of all problems to be faced with in mathematics. If you doubt something, even one thing, in your equations, the whole structure begins to teeter and topple in your mind, and every result you produce becomes tainted with reasonable doubt. In other words, you’ve stopped being a mathematician, and even a scientist, and you’ve just become a philosopher.

    Certainty is the key. Without it, without assurred falsifiability, mathematics isn’t a real science anymore. It becomes, like psychoanalysis, a subjective endevour, where people accept what they want to accept, and there are no absolute truths anymore. This can happen to any branch of science, including physics, if falsifiability is abandoned.

  4. Dumb Biologist says:

    I wasn’t aware that the gold standard for mathematical proof was falsifiability. Rather, I thought it was logical consistency based upon accepted axioms.

  5. Eric Dennis says:

    “Metaphysics is running rampant through string theory and cosmology”

    There’s an unfortunate equivocation on the term “metaphysics” that tends to pop up. Sometimes it’s supposed to suggest a Rube Goldberg mechanism of questionable verifiability, like the 19th century ether models, and other times it refers (loosely) to philosophical or foundational questions about the meaning of important theoretical concepts, e.g. “measurement”, or the precise definition of theories. String theory involves much of the former, but not much of the latter.

    I take it Steinhardt is against the former, and Smolin is for the latter.

  6. Aaron Bergman says:

    Sometimes [metaphysics is] supposed to suggest a Rube Goldberg mechanism of questionable verifiability

    Anyone who uses it that way is wrong. I’m fairly sure Steinhardt is against the proper definition. It’s all too easy to spend your time thinking about “big questions” and writing lots of papers with few formulae in them. It’s almost always a better idea to go out and calculate something.

  7. Eric Dennis says:

    Going out (or shutting up) and calculating can be a smart move if you’ve got a solid theory that’s been pumping out a lot of impressive results. But when the flood becomes a trickle and twenty years later the trickle has dried up, maybe it’s time to start questioning the shut-up-and-calculate mantra. You don’t even have to write lots of papers with no formulas. Just write one. And if you can’t muster enough interest to spend an afternoon in your basement, don’t pretend that wishing and praying and calculating will keep the termites away.

  8. Aaron Bergman says:

    One quickly learns that anyone can have lots of “deep thoughts”. Nobody cares. Until you have deep thoughts about which you can calculate something, people generally and rightfully aren’t going to be interested.

  9. Chris W. says:

    And then there are shallow (or incoherent) thoughts made to look deep by cloaking them in sophisticated calculations, and formalism in general. Einstein once said about an irksome minor colleague that “the man can calculate but he can’t think.” Excessive emphasis on calculations tends to encourage such people, while discouraging people who can really think—ie, those who are trying to arrive at important insights into what ought to be calculated, and why (and in many cases, how).

    In a reminiscence about Einstein during the centennial year (1979), Chern once remarked that their conversations and his own study of Einstein’s work had led him to conclude that the singular difficulty of research in physics—and perhaps in any empirical science of real depth—is arriving at the right formulations of questions and problems. (Mathematicians, he said, generally start by selecting from among several clearly stated problems, hopefully demonstrating some good taste in their choices.)

  10. Aaron Bergman says:

    The point of physics is to calculate stuff. If you can’t do that, then you’re doing philosophy. Figuring out what to calculate is sure one of the most difficult problems out there, but you’ve already conceded in that formulation the necessity of the calculation.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Chern once remarked that their conversations and his own study of Einstein’s work had led him to conclude that the singular difficulty of research in physics—and perhaps in any empirical science of real depth—is arriving at the right formulations of questions and problems. (Mathematicians, he said, generally start by selecting from among several clearly stated problems, hopefully demonstrating some good taste in their choices.)

    Umm. Grothendieck, anyone? Finding the right formulations of things in mathematics is crucial and drives a lot of important research.

  12. Thomas Larsson says:

    The shut-up-an-calculate approach works great, unless something is missing in the usual calculation schemes. E.g., if Feynman had followed that philosophy as a young man, he would have found that electron g-2 was infinite and given up. Instead, he invented path integrals and coinvented renormalization, which certainly were creative acts rather than rote calculation. Of course, once the new calculational scheme was in place, you could go back to turning the crank.

    OTOH, it is unlikely that deep thoughts about the meanings of diffeomorphism invariance or quantum measurements will lead to progress by themselves. Some hard modification of the formalism itself also needed, and that can be found even if the interpretation is only approximately right.

  13. A Phenomenology Grad Student says:

    Peter,

    Your criticisms of the LHC olympics arise frequently, and they are facile. It is easy for an outsider to criticize, but the “hardcore phenomenologist” critics who have seen the details of what goes on at these meetings seem to have been convinced. (For instance, I understand that Tao Han was initially skeptical, but was very pleased with the recent meeting at CERN.) So let me offer some responses:

    This is a rather unusual exercise designed to get string theorists and other not-so-hardcore phenomenologists involved in analyzing simulated LHC data.

    Well, partly, yes. But look at who put the most effort into these things: two string theorists, Verlinde and Rastelli, at Princeton (who showed impressive awareness of collider physics issues), a large group of Harvard phenomenology grad students with varying degrees of experience in thinking about collider physics, a couple of Cornell phenomenology grad students with a fair amount of experience thinking about collider physics, and Matt Strassler, who manages to be both a string theorist and a collider phenomenologist. So, your characterization is only halfway accurate. The goal is partly to educate the string theory and model-building communities, but not everyone involved was as ignorant as you imply.

    There seem to me to be two big problems with this. First of all, there are no backgrounds in this simulated data, and understanding these backgrounds is going to be the main problem with the LHC data for quite a while. It will be the experimenters who will have to do this, and they may need help from theorists, but help of a very different nature than what this exercise is aiming at.

    Yes and no. Early in the LHC run it will be very important to calibrate the machine, to “rediscover” the Standard Model, and so on. But important discoveries tend to be made in channels where detailed knowledge of background is not needed. Resonances will be pronounced. Events with certain configurations of leptons and missing energy are very non-SM like and one can read off kinematic features. And so on. It’s really an incredibly difficult computational challenge to produce a similar exercise with backgrounds (though hopefully this will occur to some extent with the next LHC Olympics), but it’s not as if issues of background were totally ignored. Most of us tried to focus on features of the signal that would not be obscured by background.

    You are of course correct that there are other issues if we need to rely on background-heavy parts of the data to extract information. This is a very difficult field and it demands focused effort on better loop calculations, better Monte Carlo, better PDFs, and all sorts of other things. No one denies this.

    However, one thing that you find when staring at simulated signal samples is that sometimes it can be very difficult to interpret features in them. Lots of “hardcore” phenomenology involves taking models and discussing how to make measurements in them. The real problem of the LHC is to take measurements and make models, and it can be complicated. Kinematic features can arise in multiple ways. Certain apparent features of the data can lead you in the wrong direction. And so on. This exercise is not the trivial one that those who haven’t attempted it make it out to be.

    Secondly, once backgrounds are understood and potential signals are extracted, I doubt that the LHC experimenters will be releasing the kind of data simulated here for use by theorists.

    Almost certainly true, I think. People tend to make this objection as if it defeats the purpose of the exercise. But it doesn’t, at all. Partly there is the aspect of this that we are educating ourselves, as theorists, about what information the experimentalists will tell us and how to interpret it. But another important aspect, as I noted above, is that these sample analyses can be surprisingly challenging. And so far we’ve basically known we’re looking at SUSY scenarios. See Matt Strassler’s talk for an example of how the data can lead you astray. These exercises are not trivial. Sometimes good theoretical intuition is useful in figuring out what signatures one should try to isolate, given other signatures one sees. This is not obviously something that experimentalists would be as good at, though certainly some experimentalits could do this. If we see something other than vanilla MSSM, though, it becomes a much more pressing issue.

    But the most important thing, at least from my perspective, is that we can hope for genuinely useful new ideas to come out of this. There’s a somewhat limited toolkit of kinematic distributions to analyze, plots to make, and so on. The exercise shows these tools are very useful in some cases and in others they’re probably not optimal. Getting a bunch of reasonably intelligent theorists to stare at data and run up against various surprises and challenges will, hopefully, lead some of those theorists to start creating new tools, suggesting unorthodox approaches to data, examining signals no one has bothered to think about so far, and writing papers on such things. And I think it’s clear that there’s a pretty rapid change taking place: collider phenomenology is being pursued by more people, it’s becoming more respected, it’s reshaping the theory job market. These workshops are a small but not negligible part of all of this.

    Of course my defense of the LHC olympics sort of assumes a certain bias. If the world at the TeV scale really is just SM + Higgs, or if it is just the MSSM in a particularly nice well-studied part of the parameter space, none of this is necessary and the experimentalists probably have what they need. But if you think there might be interesting surprises, there is a strong need for original thinking about how to approach the data, how to discriminate different models that have similar signatures, and so on.

    Anyway, I’ve rambled on for too long.

  14. D R Lunsford says:

    Speaking of data that isn’t here yet – whatever happened to the second release of WMAP data?

    “Bitch PhD” – right. Wow. A banner with a smart ass little kid giving me the finger. OK then. Have a nice day!

    -drl

  15. EUPH says:

    Dear Ph Grad Student,

    your post can be perceived as: “unless understanding LHC data is just running MSSM codes, intelligent theorists should do the job”. This sort of attitude partly explains why LHC olympics at CERN was attended almost only by US theorists.

  16. Aaron Bergman says:

    Instead, he invented path integrals and coinvented renormalization, which certainly were creative acts rather than rote calculation.

    Who’s arguing for “shut up and calculate” or “rote calculation”? It would be nice if people actually read what I said.

  17. A Phenomenology Grad Student says:

    your post can be perceived as: “unless understanding LHC data is just running MSSM codes, intelligent theorists should do the job”.

    I have as much respect for good experimentalists as anyone, but if the data contain puzzling surprises (as we all hope will be the case, I think), it’s good to have feedback between theory and experiment. I’m not claiming theorists will do everything, I’m claiming it’s good to have theorists suggesting new interpretations, other signals to study, ways to cut out background, etc. Just look at the more complicated experimental situations we already have, e.g. issues of meson spectroscopy in B physics or charm physics. There is a lot of useful feedback between experimentalists and experimentally-aware phenomenologists in those fields. This isn’t like discovering the W or Z where you know exactly what to look for.

    In any case, what is clearly useless is bickering on the Internet, so I’ll shut up now.

  18. QWERTY says:

    I LIKE BARRY MAZUR’S STYLE OF EXPOSING – IT IS POETIC AND ERUDYTE AND SCHOLARLY AND FUNNY. IT REMINDS ME OF HERMANN WEYL, WHO SAID FUNNY THINGS ABOUT “THE YOKE OF A FOREIGN LANGUAGE WHICH WAS NOT SUNG AT MY CRADLE”. MAZUR IS TRUELY A GENTLEMEN OF THE FOUR MOST DISTINCTIONS.

  19. woit says:

    EUPH,

    I think you’re being kind of unfair to Ph Grad Student, accusing him of an arrogance that isn’t really there.

    Ph. Grad Student,

    Thanks a lot for your long and thoughtful comment, it’s the kind of response I hope to get here to issues like this that I bring up. I didn’t comment extensively on the LHC Olympics mainly because I’m not a phenomenologist (although long ago spent time working on HEP experiments) so not expert on these issues. One reason I did write something brief here was that I saw from Lubos’s blog that others seemed to share some of my reaction to this. It certainly wasn’t my intention to imply that anyone involved was “ignorant”. However, my initial reaction when looking through the web-pages about this was kind of negative for a couple reasons, but mainly that the emphasis on looking for MSSM signatures seemed to me misplaced. Part of this is that I think it is very unlikely that this is what the LHC will find, but more generally this particular problem is one that I suspect has been already beaten to death. Phenomenologists and Tevatron experimentalists have been working on this intensively for more than 20 years and by now I assume the experimentalists have a high degree of expertise built up on this problem. Going from the Tevatron to the LHC should introduce some new issues, but those don’t seem at all to be the ones considered here.

    The fact that things are going badly for string theory and that the LHC start-up is coming soon appears to be causing the attention of many particle theorists to move from string theory to phenomenology. Some of this is a good thing, but I hope some of the unfortunate characteristics of string theory research (trendiness, arrogance, unrealistic and wishful thinking) don’t just move into this area. The whole idea of calling this sort of educational exercise for theorists an “Olympics” and surrounding it with hoopla kind of puts my teeth on edge, and I gather others share this reaction.

    I’m sure that the people involved learned a lot, and maybe it will lead some of them to ultimately be in a position to make real contributions to LHC physics, that would be great. But I also hope the whole field won’t move into this. It may be much more important to have some good theorists continuing to come up with new speculative ideas for things to look for at the LHC, rather than immersing themselves in the minutia of looking for MSSM signatures. I’m sure Witten could do well at this kind of exercise, but I think it would be a waste of his most impressive talents, which lie elsewhere. The same may be true for many of the best string theorists.

  20. A Phenomenology Grad Student says:

    Peter wrote:

    However, my initial reaction when looking through the web-pages about this was kind of negative for a couple reasons, but mainly that the emphasis on looking for MSSM signatures seemed to me misplaced. Part of this is that I think it is very unlikely that this is what the LHC will find, but more generally this particular problem is one that I suspect has been already beaten to death.

    Unfortunately this is largely a technical limitation. Tools for generating Monte Carlo data for the MSSM are very well-developed (though they still lack certain desirable features). Tools for generating MC for other models are in a much more primitive state. They are improving, and I think they will play a role in the next round of these workshops.

    However, even in the MSSM a lot of the effort has focused on certain limited regions of parameter space. The Michigan black box in the LHC olympics exhibited an unusual spectrum, where the main signal was events with 4 b jets and missing Et and the LSP was Higgsino. This isn’t the sort of thing one finds many studies of!

    It may be much more important to have some good theorists continuing to come up with new speculative ideas for things to look for at the LHC, rather than immersing themselves in the minutia of looking for MSSM signatures.

    Well, as I mentioned it won’t be just MSSM. Personally I find a lot of the increasingly baroque models that are being built somewhat distasteful, but in any case it’s clear that many people are going to keep trying to guess the right model in advance. The things that I think require more effort are model-independent approaches for the possibility that we see something different from any model that has been built, and studies of degeneracies (i.e. how very different models can produce very similar experimental signatures) and how to design observables that break them. These things have been discussed at these workshops as well.

  21. Juan R. says:

    A note, metaphysics literally means “beyond physics”. The meaning today it would be better expressed as metascience.

    Paul Steinhardt quote “Metaphysics is running rampant through string theory and cosmology” is focusing in the lack of verification of some ideas developed (and asumed to be true) in string theory and cosmology (e.g. inflation).

    In rigor, cosmology is not one of natural sciences becasue do not fit all requirements of the corresponding scientific method.


    Juan R.

    Center for CANONICAL |SCIENCE)

  22. EUPH says:

    Peter, I was not accusing Ph Grad Student of arrogance. I was pointing out that some aspects of the activity (included in his/her description) can and have been perceived as arrogance.

  23. Chris Oakley says:

    Posted by John Baez on sci.physics. A foreshadowing of things to come at the LHC –

    SUPERMODEL SUES SUPERPARTNER FOR SUPERSUPPORT

    March 4, 2006

    Beverly Hills, CA – In entertainment circles today, everyone was talking about supermodel Betty Boson, who has filed a palimony lawsuit against her superpartner, movie mogul Freddy Fermino.

    “At first I thought we were a perfect match,” said Boson, “but he kept gaining weight and eventually he was never there for me. It was like he didn’t even exist. I can’t go on like this.” Fermino was unavailable for comment.

  24. worm says:

    Is there a page where i can see the table of contents of Fearless Symmetry : Exposing the Hidden Patterns of Numbers ?

  25. csrster says:

    I know of one high-flying cosmologist who allegedly ensures dometsic tranquility by insisting not only on conference travel expenses for himself and his mistress, but also for his wife and _her_ lover.

  26. Michael says:

    Peter, your ideas have been scooped. Smolin et. al. present their new model of particle physics, and it is obvious to any educated physicist that it is equivalent to your off-diagonal SU(2) model. Don’t say I didn’t push you to publish your ideas, or that I didn’t offer my help. What are you going to do now? Don’t give up. You can still play the GUITAR and become a pop-star. 😉

  27. repulsed by Michael says:

    Michael, it’s easy for a nasty, little man like you, a coward who remains anonymous, to mock Peter. What original physics ideas have you ever produced? I bet NONE is the answer. I bet you are a pompous snob with little talent for research. One of those academic politicians/parasites who achieves tenure by never rocking the boat, by studiously brown nosing your peers. I bet your entire ouvre consists of trying to make minor punctuation improvements to Witten’s papers.

  28. Michael says:

    Dear repulsed by me,

    if I am a coward for remaining anonymous, I trust you will immediately catch up with your little gaffe and post your full identity in a verifiable way.

    I’m not here to compete, bragg or be admired, so your guess work concerning my academic contributions is irrelevant. Much less am I here to be nice. Peter needs some serious headwind, because his criticism of string theory is disingenuous. It reminds me a lot of Fahrentheit 9/11, mix a few facts with a lot of lies and make a big PR buzz from it. If his opinions were part of a scientific discourse, he’d probably be in touch with me via less public channels of communication, and the discussion would be evolving with time. What he does instead is to mislead laymen in order to create an audience for himself and satisfy his vanity. His arguments do not meaningfully evolve with time, because he simply attacks anything associated with string theory in a Pavlovian way, often using inconsistent or circular reasoning.

    You’re line about the politicians/parasites is really cute. How many tenured physics faculty can you count at the big Boston area universities, whose contributions aren’t genuinely important? Oh wait, can you count at all?

  29. ObsessiveMathsFreak says:

    His arguments do not meaningfully evolve with time…

    Well that’s OK then, because by the sounds of things, the rebuttals don’t seem to be in significant flux either!

  30. Michael says:

    How could they? Rebuttals to repetitive stupidity are exepcted to be repetitive. Go figure.

  31. anon says:

    People offer constructive criticism here. Michael would fit in better over at Motl’s blog.

  32. D R Lunsford says:

    I’m the only person here who despises these synthetic creatures so viscerally that I deserve to have my comments deleted. Don’t blame the owner of this joint.

    I am repelled down to my last atom by these clowns, and what they’ve done to science. I wish to God someone with balls and authority, like Dirac, were alive.

    -drl

  33. Chris Oakley says:

    I don’t see these people so much as hateful as irrelevant. Maybe they are relevant in the short term, but their impact on physics is likely to continue to be nothing at all, unless you count proving that something that looked like a blind alley as really being a blind alley as adding to the store of human knowledge.

    [NB: Here I expand on a message I sent to Danny yesterday:]

    Peter put his finger on it a while back in comparing the research practices of mathematicians to those of theoretical physicists.

    I think that the problem is that we are still living in the shadow of Feynman. Here was a disorganised, impetuous maverick who could solve problems that no-one else could. He would jump in there, solve the problem and then move on to something else, leaving others to clean up behind him. The reason why he could do this, you will note, was not because he was a disorganised, impetuous maverick, but because he was brilliant. Anyone else conducting investigations in this way including (nay, especially) me would end up with a mess, and nothing more.

    The problem is that Feynman was the ultimate trendsetter for theoretical particle physics research. The smartest people in the subject still try to be like Feynman, looking for the next crazy leap and never being much concerned with rigour, or building the big picture. It reminds me of the sad people working the one-arm bandits in casinos: having won the jackpot once, they think they can do it again and again, not realising that their average returns are less than zero.

    The mathematicians, on the other hand, do not have the gambler mentality, and are content to work quietly away at a problem for years with hardly anyone paying attention to them until they publish. The result of this is slow, but steady progress. The result of the particle physicists’ enterprises, on the other hand, is just a series of big, bold ideas that did not work.

    Which philosophy do you think is more workable?

  34. D R Lunsford says:

    Hi Chris, I didn’t receive any mail.

    I’d say the problem is generational mediocrity resulting from a strong tendency toward pernicious societal narcissism combined with overwhelming negative anima projections, resulting in a abandonment of personal intellectual rigor in favor of a phony self-actualization, and a loss of discrimination, the “good taste” and “common sense” that was provided by the lost, projected anima. It’s not just science that is suffering. Every institution from baseball to Catholicism seems to be in crisis.

    So I think it has more to do with “me generationism” than it does with a particular scientist.

    Try email again, thanks,

    -drl

  35. Barry Mazur’s article “When is one thing equal to another thing?” is in memory of Saunders MacLane. I didn’t realize he was dead.

    According to the Mathematics Genealogy Project, Saunders MacLane is a direct descendent of Gauss (Gauss was MacLane’s advisor’s advisor’s advisor’s, etc. advisor).

  36. D R Lunsford says:

    Daryl,

    I still have Birkhoff and MacLane in the Chelsea/AMS edition, a wonderful book!

    -drl

Comments are closed.