The Usual

Blah, blah, more anthropic pseudo-science on hep-th, blah, blah, blah,

On the basis of a static support condition depending on the tensile strength of flesh rather than bone, it is reasoned here that our size should be subject to a limit inversely proportional to the terrestrial gravitation field g, which is itself found to be proportional (with a factor given by the 5/2 power of the fine structure constant) to the gravitational coupling constant. The upshot, via the (strong) anthropic principle, is that the need for big brains may be what explains the weakness of gravity.

blah, blah, blah, this pseudo-science is on hep-th because of blah, blah, blah.

Blah, blah, blah written for Templeton-funded conference, blah, blah, Science-Religion Interaction in the 21st Century. Usual blah, blah, turn science into religion, blah, blah Institute for Interdisciplinary Research in Science, Philosophy and Religion.

Apologies for the repetitive nature of some recent postings. I can’t even stand to write them any more, but still think someone should be documenting the descent of particle theory into pseudo-science and complaining about it.

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35 Responses to The Usual

  1. reader says:

    well if you don’t like it, just ignore it. or read about future influences on the LHC on hep-ph.

  2. Steve says:

    The abstract here looks mostly OK because it is based on the weak form of the anthropic principle. This is good but controversial science because it advocates using all of the data that are available to the observer, rather than ignoring part of the data (i.e. the existence of the observer). Surely, any objection to this paper has to be with the details of the reasoning done with the weak anthropic framework, rather than with the weak anthropic framework itself? Perhaps that is what you intended to convey in your posting, but I nevertheless get the impression that anthropic reasoning is all no-go territory for you.

    Glancing through the paper, I notice that the strong anthropic principle used in the last section is not the usual intelligent-designer version of the SAP (which I hasten to add I do not support). It’s a pity that the author has overloaded the definition of “strong” in this way.

  3. DB says:

    At least you have the guts to stand out from the complacent majority of physicists who appear to believe their subject is so inherently strong that it can withstand any and all assaults from pseudo-scientists. The fact that you are a mathematician, and no longer a practicing physicist, makes it even more galling.
    I believe they are awaiting the LHC to scatter these parasites and restore dignity and respect to the field.
    In the main, I think they will be proven right, and the period between the LEP discoveries underpinning the Standard Model in the 1980s and the LHC will be seen as a dark period in particle physics, vividly illustrating the primacy of experiment as the touchstone for progress in physics.
    However, their continuing silence, and refusal to defend their field – relying only on their faith in experiment, has resulted in the rest of physics being tarnished by association, with many prospective students taking one look at this field, at the famous institutions which now lend their name to this rubbish in return for money, at its debased coverage in the popular and scientific press, and run for the hills.
    So yes, they will probably be vindicated. But it is likely to be a Pyrrhic victory.

  4. alex says:

    In your most recent posts you are starting to sound a bit unhinged, you should consider taking a break perhaps?

    I am reminded of The reference Frame during some of its wobblier moments – the content is quite different of course, but the feeling of suddenly lurching off into a somewhat deranged rant is similar.

  5. Peter Woit says:


    Thanks, you’ve got a point. I’m considering joining together with Lubos to form a united front denouncing and battling the “enemies of science”.

  6. gunpowder&noodles says:

    You get eastern Poland, Lubos gets the western bit.

  7. Arun says:

    The upshot, via the (strong) anthropic principle, is that the need for big brains may be what explains the weakness of gravity. (from the abstract, emphasis added).

    Maybe a useful thing to do in these circumstances is to spell out (yet again) what constitutes a scientific explanation.

    e.g., the theorem (strong gravity) + (some additional assumptions) implies (no big brains) added to (we have big brains) means that gravity cannot be strong, but does not constitute an explanation, any more than the observation of big bang Helium abundance is consistent only with three light generations does not constitute an explanation of three generations.

  8. Fritz says:

    I wonder what’s the point of the “referee” system, and the “endorsers”, in arXiv, if they are allowing this kind of BS to be posted, and to make things worse in a completely wrong section of arXiv. By contrast, Nielsen’s and Nanomiya’s BS about the LHC was remarkably on-topic 🙂

  9. Mainland says:

    If you are weary, you could ask Carlo Rovelli to guest-post for a few days, more or less same way Chad has asked Aaron. He writes well and enjoys discussion.

    If Rovelli didn’t have time to stand in for you, he might suggest someone.

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  11. Michael T says:

    I think you protest too much.

  12. Anders R says:

    i’ve gotten the impression that sting theory (which apparently isn’t a complete theory) is so “open” that if something new turns up that apparently contradicts some of the more popular properties of a bunch of string theories, some dude can just make up a new string theory that takes this new stuff into account. i’m studying biology so i’m not a good judge of this but is there in any way possible to falsify string theory with something that turns up in the large hadron collider?

  13. Peter Woit says:


    No, there is no known way to falsify string theory with possible results from the LHC. And this is both off the topic, and something that has been discussed endlessly here already.

  14. Anders R says:

    i have another question i’d like to ask though, even if it’s off topic because i don’t know where to post it otherwise. since the publication of lee smolins book and your book, have you noticed any significant shift in which people are getting those jobs that i think at least lee talked a lot about. apparently it was very difficult, back then anyway, for a young theoretical physicist who wanted to get a career in the theoretical physics field if they didn’t work on string theory. perhaps all this debate has manage to achieve a positive change in how resources are being distributed within the field?

  15. Peter Woit says:


    I don’t know if all this has helped the job prospects in the area Lee is most concerned about, LQG. That’s an interesting question, but the numbers of jobs each year are so small it would be hard to see a trend in any case.

    In particle theory, string theorists still seem to be getting hired at about the same rate as before. There’s a general trend in physics departments that they would like to move out of particle theory, and get into cosmology.

    As for the kind of mathematical approaches to quantum field theory I think are most promising, there’s interesting things going on in mathematics departments, nothing much at all in physics departments.

  16. Kea says:

    Brandon Carter? No way! These guys must be posting these papers as a joke to show up the arxiv for what it has become.

  17. D R Lunsford says:

    Perhaps the worst thing about that Carter paper was his overweening dismissal of Dirac’s argument, as if he understood anything Dirac did. What a mess. I still can’t believe this is happening. This entire scenario needs to be exposed by a deep historical analysis of what went wrong in academia. I blame the NSF.

    I was listening to an interview with Paul Fussell, the historian. He regrets the loss of literacy, not in the sense of reading skill, rather, of being familiar with literature and having a broad perspective because of it. It’s much the same way in science. Who is there to talk to? When I meet new people, they often ask me to explain things to them that I can’t even think about without getting pissed. That is truly the worst part of all this.


  18. Kris Krogh says:

    I think Brandon Carter means it, Kea. Looking at his papers on ArXiv, there’s another titled “Micro-Anthropic Principle for Quantum Theory.” Pretty sad…

  19. Tony Smith says:

    D R Lunsford said “… What a mess. I still can’t believe this is happening. This entire scenario needs to be exposed by a deep historical analysis of what went wrong in academia. …”.

    Over on Sean Carroll’s blog Count Iblis said that in the hep-th paper 0708.2743 Albrecht and Inglesias (of UC Davis)
    “… point out that by messing with time you can map a particular set of laws of physics to any other laws of physics. …”.

    In their paper, Albrecht and Inglesias say:

    “… We are used to doing physics by stating the physical laws which we believe may be true, and then calculating predictions based on those laws in order to test them against observations of the physical world.

    The clock ambiguity appears to completely undermine this approach to physics. …

    This work was supported in part by DOE Grant DE-FG03-91ER40674 …”.

    Therefore, my tax money is being used by DOE to fund a paper saying that efforts to do physics by:

    1 – constructing physical-law models
    2 – and calculating predictions based on those laws
    3 – in order to test them against observations

    is “completely undermine[d]”

    Although they do have some fine print (in the body of the paper but not in its abstract) involving “the continua we use to construct theories of fundamental physics” and their use of “freedom to choose a clock subsystem arbitrarily” and “use of the covariant approach”,
    it seems clear to me that an attack on the scientific methods used by scientists from Kepler to Feynman as being “completely undermined” is
    the basic thrust and purpose of their paper.

    I think that it is a shame that their attack is accepted by the Cornell arXiv as OK for hep-th, while I am blacklisted from posting new results of my physical-law model which allows computation of particle masses, force constants, etc, that are testable against observations.

    Tony Smith

    PS – Albrecht and Inglesias are not alone in attacking the Kepler-Feynman way of doing physics. The Resonaances blog in a 1 July 2007 post entitled “Nima’s Marmoset” said:
    “… Nima Arkani-Hamed [formerly at Harvard and now at Princeton IAS]… gave another talk …[at]… CERN … advertising his MARMOSET … a new tool for reconstructing the fundamental theory from the LHC data … Nima pointed out …[that]… at the dawn of the LHC era we have little idea which underlying theory and which lagrangian will turn out relevant …”.
    In short,
    Arkani-Hamed says that the Standard Model Lagrangian should be ignored because
    “… we have little idea which underlying theory and which lagrangian will turn out relevant …”
    even though the Standard Model has passed EVERY experimental test for over 30 years, and there is NO experimental observation whatsoever indicating that the Standard Model is not the relevant “… underlying theory and … lagrangian …” for physics at the LHC.
    I would add Harvard and Princeton IAS to the list of institutions that should hang their heads in shame
    supporting attacks on the process of building physics models in the old-fashioned way of requiring inclusion of the Standard Model and Gravity as subsets and demanding calculability of observable quantities such as particle masses, force strength constants, etc.

  20. Jimbo says:

    Hey Reader,

    Anybody who thinx Nielsen’s paper on future influences at the LHC is `off the wall’ needs to read John Cramer’s novel `Einstein’s Bridge’ to realize, as always, SciFi precedes Science. Some of its icons, Verne, Wells, Asimov, Hogan, Cramer, Benford, etc., have received advanced waves from the future, & distilled their dreams into literary visions !

    Seriously, Peter, the summer has a way of exhausting one’s tolerance for BS…Maybe U should take a vacation, & just chill out for a while. We all love U & support U, but burnout is a real bummer.

  21. Harry says:

    Peter W.,

    Maybe you could create a categorie for your posts about anthropic pseudo-science (as the one you made for your book).
    Just a thought.

  22. amused says:

    I think the time to really start getting worried will be when papers like this begin to appear in PRL. Hopefully it will never come to that… Actually I’m very happy to see papers like this on hep-th, it will hopefully help to kill the idea that the arxives make journals redundant. The powers that be in the hep-th field would like nothing better than for that idea to take hold, so that journals such as PRL stop mattering. Then they won’t have to care about whether their research (anthropic landscape or whatever) is considered interesting and important by the broader physics community, and they won’t have the embarrassment of having the value of their work measured against the value of work on other topics. Moreover, hiring decisions will be based solely their say-so without any annoying semi-objective measures to consider or irritating questions along the lines of “if your student/postdoc is so great, why didn’t he/she prove it by publishing a few papers in PRL?”. Absence of any form of quality measure besides their own opinions would suit the powers that be very nicely.
    (Sorry, couldn’t resist jumping on my hobbyhorse once again. I’ll dismount now.)

  23. Tony Smith says:

    My apoologies for misspelling the name “Iglesias” in my comment here.

    Tony Smith

  24. european observer says:


    I am confused by your comments relating to LHC physics and the work the marmoset people did? Where do you believe that they said to forget the SM? The starting point of the entire project as I understand is to get at SM+X, and what is X. With that in mind I think you are misreading the Lagrangian comment, and it should be interpreted as the beyond the SM theory/lagrangian that is unknown. I’d just venture to be more polite and not make grandiose statements about institutions based on remarks in an anonymous blog.

  25. Peter Woit says:


    Please don’t post such far off-topic comments. Marmoset has nothing to do with the posting, and a tendentious discussion of it here is way out of place.

  26. Bee says:

    sure you can falsify string theory at the LHC. you just need to verify the existence of more than 7 extra dimensions. probability for this to happen I’d estimate to be about 10^-500

    (see e.g. hep-ph/0503178)

    but yes, that would be just string-theory-as-we-understand-it-today.

  27. Who says:

    Hi Bee,

    sure you can falsify string theory at the LHC. you just need to verify the existence of more than 7 extra dimensions.

    I think maybe you can falsify the usual versions of LQG already if LHC can show the existence of even ONE extra dimension. But I would not estimate odds.

    but yes, that would be just string-theory-as-we-understand-it-today.

    Perhaps string-theory-as-we-understand-it-today could handle being falsified simply by wearing a pair of falsies. It could just put on two more styrofoam compact extra dimensions and be falsified but proud.

  28. woit says:


    Surely you don’t think string theorists are not capable of coming up with models with more than 11 dimensions?

  29. Jim Clarage says:

    As a biophysicist I find it telling that anthropic arguments are used by HEPs and not BIOs.

    So called “fundamental” quantum physics cannot actually predict the existence of even the simplest life forms (e.g., bacteria) let alone the existence of large-brain organisms. The proposition:

    Standard Model –> bacteria

    cannot be demonstrated theoretically– only experimentally.

    Note: what I am saying is not equivalent to declaring that life is somehow mysterious or supernatural or designed. I am simply making an epistemological point, not a theological one.

    In this sense HEP does not make testable predictions about biological experiments. Which is why my inner-biologist finds these papers Peter is exposing so disturbing.

    Other “softer” branches of science of course can and do make such predictions. For instance one not-so-past prediction of biology was the proposition:

    Life –> (sunlight) + (oxygen) + (temperatures in range 15-25 C)

    It was falsified with the discovery of thermophilic bacteria. These organisms can live even with the negation of all three of the above variables. It was a shock to biological sciences.

    Thus the folly of anthropic-HEP theoretically ruling in or out various HEP theories (or regions of the landscape) based upon presently understood terrestrial data for biochemical and biophysical variables.

    Put another way– sans the pesky biology training– there is a crucial Aristotelean logical difference between:

    Large Brain –> Observers


    Observers –> Large Brains

    Anthropic reasoning tends to conflate these two. We (biologists, physicists, any scientists) simply do not know, either via prediction or observation, what constitutes the appropriate measures for sentient/observant life. To think we do, and furthermore to think that measure is Man would actually make Narcissus and even most post 1200’s theologians blush. And in this sense it gives even (modern) religion a bad name.

    Think about it, with your large brains.

  30. Bee says:

    Hi Peter:

    I have high respect for string theorist’s inventiveness and therefore believe they might indeed be able to explain more dimensions.

    Hi Who:

    What about LQG do you think is specific for 4 dimension? As far as I know the setup does not exclude/support any specific number of dimensions? Best,


  31. D R Lunsford says:


    This isn’t poetry or music. Inventiveness is not needed. Insight is needed. Your post makes me realize how hopeless it all is. This simplest truths are forgotten.


  32. Who says:

    Hi Who:

    What about LQG do you think is specific for 4 dimension? As far as I know the setup does not exclude/support any specific number of dimensions? Best,


    I think you are right if you mean canonical LQG as defined in the 1990s or whenever—the setup could be done in any d. But what comes to mind when I think of the research speakers at Loops 07 were actually talking about is mostly specific to dimension.
    Rovelli spinfoam dynamics is d = 4. Smolin braided networks would come unbraided if embedded in one higher spatial dimension.
    For Ambjorn it is a big production to jack up from 3D to 4D. CDT is different in each dimension and must be reformulated. Although not at the conference, for Freidel going from 3D with matter to 4D with matter means introducing new mathematical tools (2-groups I think maybe).

    So in the actual work that people are doing, I think the step from 3D up to 4D is seldom trivial, if ever. The theories and models they are actually developing would, I think, be instantly out the window if tomorrow we saw more spatial dimensionality.

    On the other hand I have to defer to your view of the field since it’s your business. BTW I thought your Loops 07 talk was excellent—I’m glad the slides and audio are online.

  33. Yet another grad student says:

    Dear Peter,

    This is just my opinion, but I think it might be more useful to take time to help graduate students in Cosmology (theory and phenomenology, sans string theory) by explaining the current status of particle physics to them. A nice introductory text on QFT (I know many exist, but are they all that well-written?) might also be in order.

  34. Peter Woit says:

    Yet another grad student,

    For the current status of particle physics, there’s always my book…
    But for something that actually explains things in detail, I’ve looked at most of the QFT books. Zee is good but way too sketchy for most people, Peskin and Schroeder is a standard for good reasons. I liked Ramond’s book quite a bit.

    But I suspect students in cosmology would find more useful not a hard-core QFT book, but one devoted to the phenomenology of the Standard Model. I’ve seen such books out there, but never looked at them closely enough to recommend any one in particular. Maybe other people have recommendations..

  35. AGeek says:

    After all these years, still hard to beat. Which says something about the status of the subject. 🙁

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