Father of String Theory on LHC Funding

A report from India:

‘CERN need not spend so much on LHC experiment’

Father of String Theory and noted physics scientist Holger Bech Neilsen of Denmark has said that contributions from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN are over-rated and that there is no need for spending so much on the experiment.

Interacting with the students and faculty of National Institute of Technology (NIT), Warangal, here on Monday, Prof. Neilsen said that he discouraged spending huge funds on such research projects.

When asked how he would justify the need for unification, considering the fact that individually theories such as quantum mechanics and gravitation have been showing good results, he said that there was no ardent need for a unified theory of everything but that such a theory would bring about new perspectives of understanding the world around us.

Prof. Neilsen who was nominated twice for the Nobel Prize was here at NIT on a two-day visit at the invitation of the students.

The picture with the article show a blackboard where Nielsen has been explaining superstring theory to the students. The talk supposedly was on April 2, so presumably this wasn’t an April 1 performance. I guess he’s right: since string theory says nothing about LHC physics, the machine is kind of pointless.

Update: A commenter points to this video interview with Nielsen made during his trip to India.

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21 Responses to Father of String Theory on LHC Funding

  1. John Doe says:

    Somebody should tell them it’s “Nielsen”, not “Neilsen”.

  2. SA says:

    This is embarrassing, disappointing, and I would claim also highly atypical. The LHC is the most crucial aspect of particle physics at the moment.

  3. Dan Winslow says:

    “he said that there was no ardent need for a unified theory of everything but that such a theory would bring about new perspectives of understanding the world around us.”

    Wow, now *there’s* an observation worth waiting for.

  4. The article seems to have been deleted from the website.

  5. Zac says:

    @Curious Wavefunction

    No, Peter messed up the link. The article is here.

  6. Bernhard says:

    An how the heck do they know he was appointed twice for the Nobel prize? Do they really meant Nobel or was it the Oscar? Information about the Nobel nominations cannot be revealed until 50 years later.

  7. ComeOn says:

    Peter, this guy is a crank and he’s been a crank for ages. The fact he did important work in the past is irrelevant. You shouldn’t give publicity to this kind of stupidity.

  8. Arjun says:

    Didn’t know there was a “father” of string theory. As to Bernhard’s question about Nobel prizes, it is fashionable in Indian news media to mention Nobel prizes in various science related articles.

  9. Peter Woit says:


    Nielsen doesn’t actually have a Nobel prize (and this kind of thing won’t help him get one). Being “nominated for a Nobel prize” is a rather low bar these days.


    Problem is that if I stop covering cranky behavior by theorists promoting string theory, there will be significantly fewer blog postings here. Hard to know where to draw the line…

  10. Student@NielsBohrInstitute says:

    I think I need to defend Holger Bech Nielsen here. I don’t know what he has said in India, but I cannot recognize this picture of him. He is actually VERY excited about LHC, he has said that several times on danish television and radio shows and popular talks given to the public. People who have talked to him in person cannot recognize this attitude towards LHC, at least I can’t.
    I don’t understand why Peter characterize him as a “cranky theorist, promoting string theory”. Holger is famous for saying, during almost all popular talks, that he is one of the “fathers” of string theory (together with Nambu and Susskind) , but he is a bad father since he doesn’t believe in his own child (meaning that he doesn’t believe in string theory). I don’t know why people think he is promoting string theory, nothing I have ever noticed.

    He is an old guy now days, I think he is formally retired. So he works on more crazy ideas sometimes, nothing he is taking seriously himself. Sometime he is having fun and mentions for example “god” while explaining certain ideas, this has attracted some media attention and leading to people thinking that he is being serious. Talking to him it is clear that he is just having fun. Actually he is very bad at selling his crazy ideas since while giving talks and interviews about them, he usually emphasizes that they are probably all wrong and doesn’t sincerely believe in them himself.

    Finally, I don’t know where they got any information about Nobel prize nominations since they are usually kept secret. Holger have many important contributions in theoretical physics (for example the Nielsen-Ninomiya no-go theorem and Niels-Olesen vortices), but I don’t think any of them are Nobel prize worthy. I doubt he has been nominated twice.

    I think this is more about bad and shallow journalism from “The Hindu”, rather than about Holger’s true beliefs.

  11. Peter Woit says:


    Thanks a lot for the information about Nielsen. It’s probably true that the news report is a mangled version of whatever he was saying. As for whether he was promoting string theory at the talk, I was making assumptions based on the article and what little I could see of the board in the picture, but from what you say those assumptions are likely wrong.

    As for whether he’s a “cranky theorist” these days, I’m not sure he would disagree…

  12. Anonyrat says:

    Here is another report, with a little more than what the Hindu carried.

  13. Anonyrat says:

    Nielsen is on a tour of India. Here is a 19:31 interview with Nielsen at IIT Kharagpur, by the college newspaper, Scholar’s Avenue (scholarsavenue.org).


  14. Orwin O'Dowd says:

    No-go theorems are the critical experiments of the theory game, and any author deserves ba place in the Skeptics’ Hall of Fame. Here’s a view of what no-go theorems, and Nielsen’s work in particular, meant for mainstream QCD: http://cerncourier.com/cws/article/cern/28271.

    That was a decade ago, and at the physical limits of observation and computation, thoughts turn to pure logic and thus philosophy. Here’s a no-go that takes out the whole Weyl/Wigner group theory stream: you can’t make a universe of groups because the universe of groups is defined as the theory of groups (Lawere Theory)!

    Time for theory of theory? But that’s philosophy!

  15. emile says:

    I do not know any string theorists (or any particle theorists) who are not supportive of the LHC. There can be a big gap between what is written in the press and what someone actually thinks.

  16. somebody says:

    Holger is just having fun. He loves being crazy a bit, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously.

    His kind of personality is inevitable, and perhaps necessary, in a field like high energy theoretical physics. People who are outraged by this- sorry if I hurt your feelings, but yours is the imcomprehension that mediocrity has towards creativity. Theoretical physics is not accounting, it also has some poetry in it.

    He has paid his dues by doing good science in his youth, and earned his right to think about interpretation of quantum mechanics or complex actions or whatever whimsical idea that he wants to think about these days.

    Let him be.

  17. J says:

    Had some personal experience with him and agreed with some commenters that number 1 the journalist report could not be a good mirror image of him and number 2 Holger is a “far-from-equilibrium” person as compared with routine physicists you meet and talk with everyday, so whatever he said could not be taken as serious evidence for/against anything anyway…

  18. jg says:

    Holger Nielsen doesn’t need the lhc since he has pretty much worked out the structure of a theory of everything using pure thought with his random dynamics philosophy:


    (looks like a dodgy staircase)

    Is it just me or does ‘fathers of string theory’ sound a bit feeble compared to ‘fathers of quantum mechanics’?

  19. Sadley says:

    Everyone very keen to discredit Nielsen, just because reportedly having said something that we do not like to hear.


  20. namenotfound says:

    You do a disservice to the field and to serious science in general by giving more publicity to this.

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