Ask a String Theorist

Over at Uncertain Principles Chad Orzel is taking a break and turning over his blog temporarily to, among others, string theorist Aaron Bergman, who has started things off with a posting called Ask a String Theorist. In my experience, Aaron is significantly more reasonable than other string theorists who have been active bloggers, so his postings should be worth paying attention to.

So far though, his response to a question about the testability of string theory has been

I think I’d like to avoid that subject for now (and possibly for a long time more)

and he promises some advertising for AdS/CFT, as well as a three-part series of postings on the multiverse. For better or worse, I think he’ll do a good job of reflecting mainstream thinking among string theorists.

Update: Unfortunately, so far the person answering questions about string theory at Uncertain Principles is not Aaron but Lubos Motl. The problem for string theorists is that he represents all too accurately their views, so they can’t justify censoring him. Not even when he calls them “sissies” for not vigorously defending string theory the way he does…

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9 Responses to Ask a String Theorist

  1. Kasper Olsen says:

    Peter,

    The way you present it, it seems that Aaron is avoiding the subject of how to test string theory, or whether string theory IS testable. Well, what he is saying is more than the above:

    “For Johan, I think I’d like to avoid that subject for now (and possibly for a long time more). I collected many of my thoughts in my review of Peter Woit’s book. I hope you find it interesting.”

    Kasper

  2. Peter Woit says:

    Kasper,

    From what I remember (and I just quickly looked at Aaron’s review of my book again), he doesn’t address the subject of how to test string theory in that review, so his reference to the review does not address the commenter’s question.

    I think it would be a lot healthier if string theorists would just straightforwardly publicly answer this criticism the way just about all of them I talk to do privately: “No, based on our current understanding of string theory, we can’t test it. We hope that by learning more about it we will someday come up with something testable.”

  3. solar-neutrino says:

    Hi Peter,

    This (i.e. Aaron’s) guest-post site seems like a good place to ask meaningful string-theory-related stuff. Considering the steadily growing counter-views on string theory’s relevance to real-world physics, Aaron and others may give non-stringy persons some ill-frequently-affored opportunities to enquire into / question current developments (or lack thereof) in the area. Still, I think it’s not worth the time and energy to constantly harp about string theory’s lack of relevance to real-world physics (certainly following the last several years’ of hyper-conjectural research); the case, I think, seems to have been made and generally acquiesed by most “reasonable” physicists (if not all highly acclaimed) that this line of research does not seem to produce the initially sought-for theory of everything / quantum gravity.

    Why waste so much of one’s professional career (that too at a reputed research institution providing modest / good funding in hep / gr-qc; which by the way is scarce to begin with) trying to ‘debunk’ a theory whose likely merit seems greatly-in-question and more so day by day…

    Digression::
    Personal views with stark anti-Lubos rhetoric (I needed the ‘anti-Lubos’ effect to add poignancy; no offense intended to LM or his followers).

    ————————————————————————————–

    Lubos was a Harvard university idiot; but you have much more sense and can discern what is of value vs. what is pure junk. String theory – with standard qualifiers and caveats included – seems more and more like pure junk… If you would like to do what I am led to assume you are trying to do (i.e. help bring ‘physical’ research back into physical research endevours) why not highlight works of those who share the very same point of view as you, viz. Roger Penrose, et. al. This can be more valuable for the purpose in question than simply more of the same remarks, since it adds a further layer of reasoning to cast doubt on string theory’s mis-perceived status as the ‘only game in town’, and frees more young people to engage and analyze the research frontier for themselves.

    ————————————End-of-Digression—————————-

    Regards,

    Now off to the 10th dimension…

  4. Peter Woit says:

    solar,

    I don’t disagree that, since to a large degree the point about the problems of string theory has been made with some success, it might be a good idea for me to focus more on other things.

    Many people misunderstand my critique of string theory though. The problem with string-based unification is not that it’s “too mathematical” or “insufficiently physical”, but that it’s a wrong idea. My own interests lie very much in the mathematical end of things, and I believe what is needed is as much new mathematical ideas as new physical ones. I will try and do more to write about what I see as promising new ideas here on the blog, although unfortunately these remain difficult to come by and few and far between.

  5. Aaron Bergman says:

    I’m afraid I have a very prosaic desire to avoid that particular topic. It’s very controversial, and I’m really, really tired of it. That could change, but for now that’s the story.

  6. Aaron Bergman says:

    The problem for string theorists is that he represents all too accurately their views, so they can’t justify censoring him.

    It’s not my blog, Peter, and even if it were, whether or not someone accurately reflects my views would have very little bearing on whether I’d consider deleting their comments. Is that so hard to understand? I hear there’s a long history to this idea of not censoring speech you disagree with. Maybe you should look into it.

    And, for that matter, I’m not “string theorists”. I’m one string theorist guest-blogging on a friend’s blog. Kay?

    (and people wonder why there aren’t more string theorists blogging….)

  7. Peter Woit says:

    Aaron,

    Actually I’ve got a lot of experience dealing with the issue of “censoring speech” in blog comments… Much of the censoring I do these days is deleting hostile and repetitive attacks on string theorists.

    As for Lubos, he’s posting on a blog you’re now responsible for. You can’t make the usual claim that he’s not your problem to deal with. Personally I don’t think you should censor him, I think he’s wonderful and he’s my best ally. It seems to be your decision to allow him to be the one to answer questions people are answering, just chiming in yourself with “as Lubos says”, while letting his claims stand unchallenged that:

    “my comments do represent the opinions of a vast majority of the people who actually care about the real science”

    and that you don’t express these opinions the same way because you’re a “sissy”.

    Your choice how to deal with this, obviously it’s not an easy one.

  8. Aaron Bergman says:

    I think I’ll trust in my readers to be able to figure things out themselves. For now, I think I’d much rather be out walking around NYC. It’s a very nice day.

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