Hold Fire! This Epic Vessel Has Only Just Set Sail…

The August 25th issue of the Times Higher Education Supplement has a feature article by Leonard Susskind about my book and Lee Smolin’s entitled “Hold Fire! This Epic Vessel Has Only Just Set Sail…” (unfortunately only available to subscribers). The bulk of it consists of two parts: an extended analogy designed to show what he thinks the current state of string theory is, and a long ad hominem argument about why people shouldn’t listen to me and Smolin.

In Susskind’s analogy, the current state of particle physics is like the 15th century European view of the world, aware that there was a large Atlantic ocean out there, but with no idea of what lay beyond it. String theorists are like ship-builders, building vessels that intrepid string theorist explorers will courageously pilot out into the risky unknown. I’m a “Chicken Little” figure, telling people that if they do this they’ll fall off the end of the earth. Smolin is a builder of ships that don’t float.

Susskind mostly ignores the contents of my book and Smolin’s, which, in his analogy, both provide detailed analyses of the history and current state of a shipbuilding project, which, despite massive investment, has led only to a huge, overweight vessel which can’t even get out of the harbor. Both of us are arguing that this project needs to be restructured and largely abandoned, and investigation of other ship designs supported and encouraged.

The part of Susskind’s long ad hominem argument that attacks Smolin is just stupid, vicious, and offensive and I won’t repeat it here. Given how limited the successes of string theory have been, his attacks on Smolin’s work as ideas that are not working out is completely indefensible.

Susskind devotes a surprisingly long part of the article to discussing me and my career, and I have to admit that what he has to say is, while less than completely accurate, far more sympathetic than I would ever have suspected, especially given the many harsh things I’ve had to say about him here and elsewhere. He describes me as “one of those Princeton mavericks, who had the guts to work on other questions, in particular modern nuclear physics [by which he means QCD]”, and criticizes (during the mid-eighties) “an unusual degree of hubris in Princeton, a smug, arrogant dismissal of any ideas that didn’t fit the string theory agenda.”

Susskind’s interpretation of my early career is sympathetic, but a bit off. I actually left Princeton in the summer of 1984, just before the string theory “revolution” hit. I spent the early years of the era of string theory dominance at Stony Brook, with limited contact with what was going on in Princeton. Susskind doesn’t quite directly say so, but he strongly implies that my criticisms of string theory are motivated by bitterness at not being able to have a successful career in a physics department due to the domination of string theory. What actually happened is that in 1987, after my postdoc at Stony Brook, I did find myself unemployed, and at the time wasn’t too happy that string theory dominance was one of several reasons no one was much interested in hiring me. I spent a year as an unpaid visitor in the Harvard physics department and got a part-time job teaching calculus as an adjunct instructor at Tufts. During this year I had plenty to live on, but did face an uncertain future and wasn’t so happy about it. People at Harvard and at Tufts were quite helpful, and in the spring I was offered an excellent job for the next year at MSRI, the math institute in Berkeley. After that I came to Columbia, and from my time at MSRI on, I have no complaints whatsoever about my career, feeling I’ve probably done better than I deserved, living in the places I most want to live, working with excellent colleagues under good conditions. So, as far as the embittered part of my career goes, it was pretty much limited to a short period of about a year, almost 20 years ago, during 1987 and 1988.

Susskind ends his discussion of me with something positive:

But Woit is correct to remind us how important diversity and humility are in the face of the vast sea of ignorance.

and ends his review by quoting ‘t Hooft as a sceptical critic of string theory, finishing with:

This leads ‘t Hooft to another important point: diversity of viewpoints is to be cherished, not suppressed. This is something that Woit and Smolin have properly reminded us of, and string theorists should not be allowed to forget it.

So, all in all I’ve quite mixed feelings about this piece. Susskind’s attack on Smolin is highly reprehensible, and the way it ignores discussion of real issues, concentrating on dubious analogies and ad hominem argument, is disappointing. But, I have to admit that in his more than charitable discussion of one of his fiercest critics he shows a capability for gentlemanly behavior I wouldn’t have suspected (and wish he had shown Smolin), and, in the end he recognizes and admits that Smolin and I are making an important point that string theorists need to take note of.

Update: Several people have pointed out that the same issue of the Times Higher Education Supplement also includes a quite positive review of Not Even Wrong by Philip Anderson. On the whole it’s accurate, although I think Anderson neglects to mention that, lacking experimental results, I’m much more of a believer in the possibility of using mathematics to make progress in particle theory than he is. There are quotes from and discussion of the review at a new blog here.

Update: The THES in a later issue has a letter about Susskind’s article, which correctly points out that answering criticisms of string theory by claiming they come from a “mid-level theoretical physicist” or a member of the “Chicken Little Society”, didn’t address the fact that in the same issue these criticisms were coming from an extremely distinguished theorist and Nobel Laureate (Anderson). The letter writer’s reaction to Susskind’s article was:

Moreover, Susskind’s defence of string theory not only failed to address Anderson’s key criticism of string theorists – namely that their theorising is not grounded “on the acute observation of nature” – but rather reinforced this impression.

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73 Responses to Hold Fire! This Epic Vessel Has Only Just Set Sail…

  1. JC says:


    How big was string theory at Harvard around 1987-88?

    When did the string people take over Harvard’s particle theory group?

  2. Ebgert says:

    Susskind’s attack on Smolin is highly represensible

    I think that’s a typo.

    Is it fair to say that Susskind is attacking Smolin more than you because Smolin is offering a competitor to string theory, while you aren’t?

  3. Boaz says:

    I haven’t read the article, but I wonder if Susskind’s ship metaphor comes from the following quote by V. Weisskopf (if so, its a pretty bold move to try to put string theorists into the role of the ship builders!):

    There are three kinds of physicists, as we know, namely the machine builders, the experimental physicists, and the theoretical physicists. If we compare those three classes, we find that the machine builders are the most important ones, because if they were not there, we could not get to this small-scale region. If we compare this with the discovery of America, then, I would say, the machine builders correspond to the captains and ship builders who really developed the techniques at that time. The experimentalists were those fellows on the ships that sailed to the other side of the world and then jumped upon the new islands and just wrote down what they saw. The theoretical physicists are those fellows who stayed back in Madrid and told Columbus that he was going to land in India.

  4. Carl says:

    I ordered the two books by Woit and Smolin from B&N about a week ago. They arrived by UPS about 48 hours later. I started reading them two days ago. Very hard to put down. I highly recommend both books. The effect is to invigorate me to learn more about string theory and the alternatives.

    So far my only complaint about Woit’s book is that in his description of QM he suggests that it is not possible to use vectors to represent quantum states, but that spinors are required. This is commonly believed but it is not true. The density matrix representation of a quantum state can be written as a combination of scalars and vectors (i.e. multivectors of Clifford algebra) with no spinors needed. One can then split the density matrix into things that act like spinors by pre and post multiplying by a constant “vacuum” spinor.

    This was what Julian Schwinger used as the foundation of QM in his classic book “Quantum Kinematics and Dynamics”. While Schwinger did not write his book from a multivector point of view, the application will be obvious to any Clifford algebraist who reads it. Also David Hestenes has a geometric theory of QM that is written entirely in Clifford algebra and hence has no spinors.

    Smolin’s book is written towards a more general audience and is quite sympathetic to string theory. I’ve already got a half dozen margin notes in each and I’m not 1/3 through.

  5. Benni says:

    I have asked Suesskind in munich in person, if he thinks that alternatives should be considered when stringtheory is in this devastative state.
    He said: “Of course. If you have any alternatives to this landscape, tell us of it.”
    He also said that the landscape picture is unwanted and unlikely but if stringtheory is true it might be the only thing they have.

    I think this was honest.
    To say that alternatives must be considered amlostly includes that he admitts stringtheory might be wrong.

  6. MathPhys says:

    Re Peter’s outline of his career, I wish to point out to those who didn’t live through the early 80’s that these were very bleak years for young people looking for jobs in theoretical high energy physics, particularly if they wished to stay at major universities in the US AND were not high achieving string theorists.

    I personally know of a number of PhD graduates from Harvard and Princeton from that time, at least one of whom was a student of, and strongly supported by Witten, who couldn’t find positions, and eventually quit science, and these were all people who would have very easily become full professor, at good universities, within 10 years in the 60’s.

    What I want to say is that, it’s not like Peter has failed. In fact, relatively speaking, he’s one of the very few academic survivors of that era (yours truly included :-)).

  7. woit says:


    It’s been a long time, but from what I remember there were fewer people there working on string theory than there are now, especially at the senior level.


    Thanks for mentioning the typo, fixed.

    No idea what Susskind’s motivation is. He has critical things to say about Princeton, maybe that’s part of the story in some obscure way. Perhaps he sees me as the enemy of his enemy (Gross and Witten).

  8. John Baez says:

    JC wrote:

    How big was string theory at Harvard around 1987-88?

    It was big. I was a math postdoc at Yale then, coming from a PhD at MIT, and string theory was all the rage both in physics and in math at all these schools. In math, people were excited about conformal field theory and topological quantum field theory. In physics, I seem to recall that the heterotic string had everyone all agog.

    Of course, there probably weren’t as many tenured string theorists in the physics department at Harvard back then as there are now – there hadn’t been time for the excitment to translate into hires.

  9. Thomas Larsson says:

    Susskind should have credit for one thing: admitting that ST has very little or no chance of ever saying anything definite about our universe – this is the essence of the anthropic principle, isn’t it? In a way, Susskind’s anthropism is dual to Friedan’s defection.

    Admitting defeat is not easy, and perhaps the anthropic phase was psychologically inevitable. According to Stephen Hsu, Susskind now “said very clearly that string theory might be wrong, but that we could still learn from it.” A few years ago, a senior string theorists contemplating that ST might be wrong would have been notable.

  10. Jason says:

    Dude, you have too much free time.

  11. alejandro riveroi says:

    does the analogy mentions archimedes?

  12. Ebgert says:


    It doesn’t. You can read it online if you get a “free 14 day trial”. I used to be suspicious of these things because they might want a credit card number which they start charging if you don’t cancel. Many web sites will make it a difficult task to cancel the “subscription”. In this case they just ask for a name and email address and then verify the email address and then give you access.

    You have to opt out of the spam, though.

  13. MathPhys says:

    String theory was big at Harvard in 1987–88, not because the older, tenured people, such as S Coleman, H Georgi and S Glashow, worked on it (they never did), but because the younger untenured (Harvard Society Fellows) types did. There were L Alvarez-Gaume, P Ginsparg and C Vafa. There were also even younger people like G Moore, and a number of others. Haravard was definitely a hotbed of string theory then.

  14. Arun says:

    String theorists are shipbuilders who believe they have proved that ships must have 26 masts.

  15. comentator says:

    good comparison to what String theorists are now brought by boaz of the famous remark by V.Weisskopf

  16. Doormat says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention (by maybe I can’t read or something) that the same issue of the Times Higher carried a review of NEW (see pages 22-23) which was *very* much in agreement with the main points of the book. Worth a read if your in the UK…

  17. King Ray says:


    I received both your and Lee’s books from Amazon recently and haven’t started reading them yet, as I am finishing up a novel. I was wondering if you had an opinion on which book would be best to read first?

  18. RA says:

    Of course, this being your blog and all I can see why you’d interpret Susskind’s article as more ‘favorable’ to you and less so to Smolin, but I have to ask how you can see this an not an insult:

    “Woit seems to not realise (or not care) that
    this would rob the subject of all the romance of exploration and leave it
    to the dullest plodders. The brightest, bravest and boldest young
    explorers want to go where no one else has gone before. But Woit is
    correct to remind us how important diversity and humility are in the face
    of the vast sea of ignorance.”

    Do you not realize that he’s calling you a ‘dull plodder’ who needs a good dose of humility?

    Perhaps your misreading of Susskind’s article is very indicative of your general ability to understand other ideas and concepts. In reading the complete article it is pretty clear that Susskind is kinder in his descriptions of Smolin than he is of you. I realize it is painful to read criticism and to try to make the best of it, but to present Susskind’s appraisals as you do seems pretty dishonest, if only to yourself.

  19. Who says:

    Doormat, by whom was the recent review of NEW on pages 22-23 of the 25 August (London) Times Higher?

    So far I am reluctant to sign up for the two-week trial which Egbert suggests at

    But apparently doing so would permit one to read not only the Susskind blarney-piece but also an actual review.

    It’s possible that Susskind’s colorful talk of others’ books boosted sales of his own, which has risen abruptly and is currently #6 on amazon general physics bestseller list. A week or two ago I saw it bouncing around in the #40-#85 neighborhood.

    Arun, I was laughing aloud at your comment:

    String theorists are shipbuilders who believe they have proved that ships must have 26 masts.

  20. a says:


    It isn’t funny, it’s quite tragic. So a better nautical analogy is the Titanic (an unsinkable ship on its maiden voyage designed by the best people, carrying most people’s blessings and endorsements, admiration and praise).

  21. TheGraduate says:

    (Thank you Egbert for pointing out that a 14-day subscription was enough to gain access to the article. I had not previously wanted to comment on something I had not read.)

    This article had too much ad hominem for my tastes. The author often refers to credentials and not to arguments.

    So for him it’s a problem that “in the blogosphere everyone is an expert, everyone has an opinion and all opinions are equal.” To me this is just normal democracy.

    Every one of his critiques of string theory’s critics had a ranking attached:

    1. Journalists with “no more than high-school physics”

    2. Woit who is “a computer administrator” and an “untenured mathematics instructor”

    3. Smolin, the “mid-level theoretical physicist”

    4. t’Hooft is the “most renowned physicist of our age” which is pretty high praise but I did think it was odd to omit that t’Hooft had won the Nobel Prize. Also his discussion of what Dr t’Hooft disagreed with suggested he wasn’t really a critic.

    The piece is even organized in order of increasing credentials.

    I also didn’t think the name calling was helpful: “Chicken-Little” and “Don Quixote”

  22. MoveOnOrStayBehind says:

    >String theorists are shipbuilders who believe they have proved that ships must have 26 masts.

    They are those who believe that a ship must swim. Others propose to build alternative ships out of stones…despite lots of applause from the blogosphere’s experts, those have not left off, and this for good reasons. The story Susskind writes is quite accurate, with regard to science as well as to the people involved.

  23. TheGraduate says:


    “Loose ends and Gordian knots of the string cult” by Philip Anderson is in the same issue of Higher Education

    I don’t know if you’ve seen it before. It’s pretty favourable. I would almost call it a resounding endorsement.


  24. a says:

    To extend the Titanic analogy, the stringy landscape (10^500 vacuua solutions) is the ice berg straight ahead.

    The Captain’s critics want to immediately put the ship into reverse, to slow it down (reducing hype) and reduce the risks of an embarrassing disaster. Critics also demand the full filling of all lifeboats (alternative theories) in good time.

    But the Captain thinks this is unnecessary (since the ship is unsinkable) and that starting to fill lifeboats will seem like defeatism, and may cause panic problems.

    The Captain on balance decides that changing course very slightly will prevent disaster, while giving the passengers a spectacular glimpse of the ice berg (landscape) in passing …

  25. A says:

    Susskind makes nice analogies but does not address physics: string theory turned out to predict 10^500 different things. This is why it is now seen as a metaphysical speculation; this is why people in Princeton and elsewhere initially hoped in mono-vacuism or, at least, in oli-vacuism.

  26. MathPhys says:

    I haven’t read Susskind’s article yet, but when I read the passage that you just quoted, my interpretation agrees with that of Woit rather than with yours.

  27. TheGraduate says:

    I have read the entire article and my interpretation is also closer to Woit than yours.

  28. Carl says:

    I signed up for the 14 day free trial. Arguments that are intended to be read by non specialists always descend first to claims about what “4 out of 5 dentists” believe, and then to ad hominem attacks on the expertise of the other side. The human condition is that 99.9% of what any human knows he knows only on the basis of what he has been told.

  29. nitin says:

    I have something written about Philip Anderson’s review of NEW on my blog ; )

  30. woit says:

    Doormath, TheGraduate, Nitin,

    Thanks for pointing out the Anderson review. I wasn’t aware of it, someone had just mentioned to me the Susskind review, and I didn’t notice the Anderson one. Anderson is a well-known string theory skeptic, so I’m not suprised he has positive things to say about the book. I met him when I was a student at Princeton and have corresponded with him about this topic.


    You’ve removed that quote from context. Susskind was noting that I have positive things to say about string theory as a dual to gauge theory and a possible way of solving QCD, while claiming it doesn’t work as an idea about unification. He was correctly saying that string theory wouldn’t continue to get people as excited if that’s all it is. He’s missing the point that I’m all in favor of people pursuing ideas about unification, just not ones that don’t work.

    I have no doubt that he thinks some rather negative things about me, with “dull plodder” the least of it. I was in no way claiming that he’s a fan…

    King Ray,

    Kind of depends on your background, although for most people who don’t know quite a bit about the subject, Smolin’s
    may be a better starting place, since it explains more about the basics of string theory. One exception would be if you’re a mathematician, since in that case my book should do a better job of giving you the background of the subject.

  31. Who says:

    that is a thoughtful blog, nitin. I just spent a while musing at it

  32. King Ray says:

    Peter, thanks for the advice. I have sufficient math and physics background, so that is not an issue.

  33. woit says:

    King Ray,

    OK, in that case it doesn’t matter much which you start with, I think both books reinforce each other, with two different perspectives that lead to similar conclusions. Mine is shorter, but it’s more dense and a few parts are a significantly more technical than Lee’s, so may require more concentration to follow. Kind of depends what you’re in the mood for…

  34. D R Lunsford says:

    I thought the Anderson review was right on the money, and was gratified to see that Peter is being taken seriously among real physicists at the highest level. Thank God this business is almost over.

    I didn’t detect any bias from Anderson against math, rather, against second-rate mathematicians taking over physics departments and thus displacing what might be first-class physicists. I’ve always felt that string theory is a sort of revenge wrought on physics by matheists who can’t do the problems in Resnick and Halliday 🙂


  35. D R Lunsford says:

    Susskind’s diatribe is filled with the usual self-congratulatory, unctuous sarcasm one finds in these people, the narcisstic self-absorption of the fey dilettante. I remember Gell-Mann giving a lecture about string theory years ago, in the late 80s, during which he managed to insult his hosts before everyones’ coffee was poured (the UMd Physics and Astrophysics Dept. whom he called “half-asstrophysicists”). The article is much in that manner. And what he says about Peter is anything but gentlemanly – rather, highly condescending and completely ad-hominem. A truly repulsive read.


  36. King Ray says:

    Peter, thanks, I think I’ll read yours first since I’ve been eagerly awaiting reading it for months. Don’t let Lubos get you down; he’s only helping your cause and proving your point.

  37. Chris W. says:

    The following quote seems apposite. I’ll leave to the reader to determine its source:

    If in this book harsh words are spoken about some of the greatest among the intellectual leaders of mankind, my motive is not, I hope, the wish to belittle them. It springs rather from my conviction that, if our civilization is to survive, we must break with the habit of deference to great men. Great men may make great mistakes; and as the book tries to show, some of the greatest leaders of the past supported the perennial attack on freedom and reason. Their influence, too rarely challenged, continues to mislead those on whose defence civilization depends, and to divide them. The responsibility of this tragic and possibly fatal division becomes ours if we hesitate to be outspoken in our criticism of what admittedly is a part of our intellectual heritage. By reluctance to criticize some of it, we may help to destroy it all.

  38. MathPhys says:

    The Open Society and Its Enemies, Karl Popper.

    PS Oh, the miracle of google.

  39. hack says:

    Well if we’re gonna go with this mideaval shipbuilding analogy, we must cast Witten as the brilliant mathematician who realized, by gluing opposite edges together, the flat earth model becomes a torus, thereby elegantly solving the age old problem of what kept all the water in the ocean from draining over the edges. Toroidal earth theory has become all the rage in educated circles because of its mathematical elegance. Captain Susskind, who calls himself the father of torus theory because he co-invented the donut during his earlier career as a pastry chef, wants to prove the theory by sailing due north, and coming back home from the south. Lee Smolin is a heretic who thinks it’s not such a good idea to send all the ships in the same direction. Lubos is Susskind’s pet monkey, trained to fling dung at his enemies. There, now we have a proper analogy.

  40. LDM says:

    It would be interesting to know if Susskind was this way before string theory and his subsequent fame. If the theory is good, it can stand on its own merits and he certainly does not need to belittle its detractors. It is sufficient to point out the weakness, if any, in their arguments.

    Also, NEW, page 69, there is the statement that the electromagnetic force is carried by the photon…
    Of course, this is the way QFT describes it…as long as you make it clear it is the exchange of virtual photons, where all 4 polarizations are needed, and not real photons where only 2 are used…
    Granted, the layperson probably does not care about this distinction, but a physics student pondering how it is an exchange of (virtual) particles can create an attractive force might.

  41. Peter Woit says:


    There’s much that is imprecise in the book. When writing something like this, at each point one has to decide whether to say something imprecise, or to tell a more accurate and more detailed version of the story. Telling the more accurate version requires writing something longer, and one has to decide if it’s worth the extra demands on the attention of the reader to get it right. This is one case where going into more detail would have taken me too far afield.

    It seems to me that ad hominem argument is what one resorts to when one doesn’t have an argument on the facts, and I would claim this is what is going on here. If I had my facts about string theory wrong I’d have heard quite a lot about it from string theorists, their silence on this issue is significant.

  42. Anon says:

    Susskind was famous long before string theory became popular in 1984/85. He made important contributions to all branches of particle physics, from lattice gauge theory to …

    It is a testament to the power of the internets that he is now best known as the person Peter Woit characterizes as an enemy of science.

    “If I had my facts about string theory wrong I’d have heard quite a lot about it from string theorists, their silence on this issue is significant.”

    Maybe, aside from Lubos, the rest of them are just too polite.

  43. Peter Woit says:


    Yes, maybe what I have to say about string theory is wrong and string theorists (other than Lubos), are just too polite to point this out. It’s also possible that string theorists (other than Lubos) don’t discuss the predictions string theory makes because they’re just too modest.

  44. Anonymous Coward from UCSB says:

    `Yes, maybe what I have to say about string theory is wrong and string theorists (other than Lubos), are just too polite to point this out.’

    OK, Peter, just this once. From your comment on the NC thread:

    `As for the single bit of info here, I remember a time when string theorists were going on about no-go theorems that showed that you couldn’t have string theory in deSitter space, i.e. with a positive cosmological constant. When a positive cosmological constant was found, they seem to have come up with a way of dealing with that problem. If the spatial curvature comes out positive, I’m sure they’ll come up with something.’

    The Maldacena-Nunez no-go theorem, hep-th/0007018, was specifically for supergravity backgrounds without branes or string corrections. In fact, it was already well-known (beginning with Becker & Becker, hep-th/9605053) that such corrections allow much more general solutions. The MN theorem was well-known at the time not to be relevant, and in fact the BB paper is the ancestor of most stabilized string vacuum constructions.

    And, you have your chronology wrong: the cc was well-known when the MN paper appeared. As usual, you have chosen to misconstrue what you know in the most negative possible way.

    As to why more string theorists do not post (or do so anonymously) I suggest that it is a matter of time: it is much more time-consuming to actually do research than to sit back and criticize the efforts of others.

  45. woit says:

    AC from SB,

    “you have your chronology wrong”

    I don’t see where I said anything about the Maldacena-Nunez paper, that’s not what I was referring to. And, by the way, the comment was largely a sarcastic joke, probably not worth trying to explain it to you though.

    Thanks for showing us that all string theorists other than Lubos are not just too polite. I’m kind of missing your point though about how serious string theorists are so busy doing important research into the landscape that they can’t type in their actual e-mail addresses (the one you left “woitisabozo@physics.ucsb.edu” was very clever, I guess it’s right that string theorists are just smarter than the rest of us).

  46. Anonymous Coward from UCSB says:

    Please do tell us which no-go theorems you were referring to. And it is a pretty sad escape to claim to have been joking.

  47. amused says:

    Susskind’s article is a blast. “Could it really be that a secret cabal of scientific priests have plotted to overthrow the rules of good scientific method and have absconded with the nation’s scientific funding?” Yes they have, the bastards ;). But underneath the colourful ship-building and exploration analogies it’s just the same tired old line that string theorists always take in response to critics: “Any physicist with an ounce of ambition and adventure should be directly working toward discovering a glorious Theory of Everything, and string theory is the best (or only) hope for this at present.” This is supposed to justify the continued pursuit of string theory irregardless of what it requires (e.g. changing the definition of science) as well as its continued domination of the formal theory end of particle physics.

    The main issue for some of us critics is not whether or not string theory is a waste of time, but whether people should have no option but to work on it if they want a career in formal hep theory. We don’t have anything against people trying to construct an “epic ship” if they want to; in fact we wish them best of luck. But there is still much of interest that can and should be done in “near coast exploration” using currently developed ships; it’s a mistake to just drop all of this and concentrate exclusively on building an epic vessel. We are certainly interested in the prospect of finding the New Land, but suspect that there are other ways to get to there besides sailing straight out into the ocean. E.g., by gradually and carefully pushing out the boundaries of near coast exploration it may be possible to find a series of landmasses that will allow us to get to the New Land in a series of steps. The ship-building innovations required sail from one landmass to the next might be more within our capacities than those required for an ocean-crossing “epic vessel”.
    (Some of us suspect that not only may it be possible to reach the New Land in this way but it will also happen sooner than by epic ship across the ocean. But we don’t doubt that if and when the epic ship eventually arrives they’ll trumpet it with great fanfare and proclaim themselves the true discoverers…)

    In any case, isn’t it sensible to allow near coast exploration to continue while the epic ship project is underway? That way, if the ship ends up ensconced in a multiverse/flotilla of floating icebergs there will still be hope of eventually reaching the New Land by other ways, even if the epic ship-builders themselves prefer to give up and simply redefine “New Land” to be an iceberg flotilla.

    (As an aside, we find it most amusing when the epic ship-builders use their constructs with great pride to (attempt to) give low-resolution mappings of near coast areas in already-known regions, pretending to really care about these areas while at the same time being totally uninterested in and indifferent to breakthroughs in traditional ship building which open the possibility of exact mappings…)

  48. Peter Woit says:

    AC from UCSB,

    Maldacena and Nunez were not the first ones to point out this problem.

    Not much point in trying to explain a joke to someone who doesn’t realize that it’s hilarious having one of the leading figures in theoretical physics giving a series of prominent lectures about a theory of everything that is nearly infinitely complicated but only predicts the sign of one quantity (and acknowledges that there’s probably a way around that, given that other ways of populating the landscape can likely be found).

  49. Anonymous Coward from UCSB says:

    Since you can’t cite any references, and are changing the subject, I assume that you are conceding the original point: you created a fictitious chronology out of your own imagination to make string theorists look bad, when in fact the chronology was that reverse of what you claimed. String theorists were not in any sense `going on about de Sitter no go theorems’ before the cc was seen.

    You were right about one thing, calling you a `bozo’ was inappropropriate. But `one who distorts the facts to make others look bad’ is just so clumsy.

    Your `joke’ is no different from the vitriol that you pour on string theory every day, and insulting people and then claiming to be joking is not at all an original strategy, it is classic behavior.

    I think we are finished with this subject.

  50. woit says:

    AC from UCSB,

    The history of the no-go theorems you’re talking about goes back to the mid-eighties. I’m not going to waste my time getting together references and arguing about their significance with someone who has nothing better to do than to spend his time insulting me in a cowardly fashion from behind the cloak of anonymity

    You’re the one who is evading the point here, that Landscape research is a really bad and depressing joke. Yes, I pour vitriol on this kind of research, it’s destroying the field of particle physics. I’m far from the only one who thinks this.

    As for who goes around personally insulting people, look in the mirror. The only person whose name I’ve invoked here is Susskind, and I am criticizing his argument, not him personally. You’re unhappy that I’ve perhaps unfairly characterized some people’s scientific arguments. Maybe I have, maybe I should have dealt more seriously with them, and explicitly stated the well-known fact that, in this case as in essentially all others, there’s no such thing as a real no-go theorem in string theory, you can get whatever you want. I didn’t happen to think it was worth the trouble. But you really need to learn the difference between personally criticizing someone and criticizing a scientific argument.

    Yes, I think we’re finished with this subject, unless you’re willing to put your name and reputation behind what you have to say.

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