Lubos on Lenny

Last night a new paper by Lenny Susskind appeared on the arXiv, carrying the title The Census Taker’s Hat. It seems that Lubos Motl stayed up much of the night reading it, with a long posting on the subject appearing before 8 am in the Czech Republic.

Now that he’s no longer employed within the string theory academic community, Lubos feels free to treat Susskind in much the same way he did Lee Smolin, characterizing Susskind and collaborators as a “gang” of “leftists”, and making fun of the central notion in Susskind’s paper (that of a preferred observer called the “Census Taker”) by referring to it as “Stalin the daddie”. He gives a detailed section-by-section critique of Susskind’s paper, here’s some of the flavor:

Well, this is about 7th assumption that seems obviously wrong to me – this one is really bad – but let’s go on reading. I still haven’t understood what question he exactly wants to be answered. Equally seriously, I don’t understand whether he thinks that his speculation about the location of the central committee is a hypothesis with some evidence, a nice hypothesis without evidence, God’s ad hoc decision, or why does he exactly believe it.

Unlike Lubos, I haven’t tried to follow the details of Susskind’s 65 page argument, but did try to figure out how he addresses the central problem of any multiverse scenario: how do you test it? If you can’t test it, it’s not science. Susskind describes exactly two possible ways that information about the “Ancestor” universe to ours may be accessible.

  • The sign of the spatial curvature should be negative. This just predicts one bit of information about the universe, and there’s a paper claiming that you can also get the other sign, so that even this one bit is not there.
  • If the number of slow-roll e-foldings is “minimal”, then tensor fluctuations of the CMB would be there, but just in the lowest harmonics. Funny, but last week I was told in a colloquium talk that string cosmology predicts no observable tensor fluctuations…
  • Susskind begins by claiming that “To many of us, eternal inflation, bubble nucleation, and a multiverse, seem all but inevitable”, but goes on to note that the fact that one has an infinity of universes that one doesn’t know how to count means that “the inevitable has led to the preposterous”. A reasonable person might decide that this means that things weren’t so inevitable, but Susskind feels that one must soldier on, although “In my opinion, this situation reflects serious confusion, and perhaps even a crisis.” This paper is his attempt to address the crisis.

    Susskind quotes Bjorken as having told him that the Multiverse is “the most extravagant extrapolation in the history of physics”. He seems rather proud of this, but somehow I suspect that Bjorken didn’t mean this as a compliment…

    This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

    25 Responses to Lubos on Lenny

    1. Jack says:

      This is off-topic, but I can’t still believe that Lubos left academia. What went wrong? Can anybody tell? What is he going to do next?

    2. IMHO says:

      What went wrong with Lubos??????

      Have you ever read his blog? Have you read this post? And I would call this post tame compared to the usual….I think it’s now common knowledge that his mouth is a big part of what happened.

      Either way, no matter how much I disagree with his opinions, I have to respect his dedication to the truth (as he sees’s it)…consequences be damned!!! Also, you have to be impressed with his ability to debunk a 65 page Susskind paper in one evening.

    3. Jack says:

      Again off-topic, but let me tell that only after reading Peter’s current post I came to know that Lubos had left academia. I searched on the net including wikipedia but the reason why he did it remains unclear. Now I see he had mentioned about this decision at other blogs but so far the only hint he had given is: he wants to leave institutionalized science. He is extraordinary no doubt otherwise he would have not become a faculty member at Harvard. I am waiting to know what he is going to do next.

    4. Chris Oakley says:

      Dear Lubos, I think you should know that this time you’ve really outdone yourself. Normally a very negative review will induce me to go see for myself (because of my contrarian streak), but this time I’ll have to fight a real sense of repulsion in order to do so. Congratulations.

      This was the first (anonymous) comment following Lubos’s review.
      I agree entirely.

      As for Lubos leaving Harvard, I thought that it was common knowledge that he was driven out by an unholy alliance of feminists, communists, climate change scaremongers and anti-science crackpots.

    5. Dan Fitch says:

      In the last paragraph, you note “Susskind quotes Bjorken” when I’m pretty sure you mean “Lubos quotes Bjorken”.

    6. Dan Fitch says:

      Actually, they both quote the same thing. Never mind. I still think you mean to address Lubos taking it as more of a compliment than intended.

    7. Peter Woit says:


      No, it is Susskind, in his paper, and he’s the one I’m guessing took it as more of a compliment than intended. Bjorken is Susskind’s colleague at Stanford and presumably they’ve discussed this issue in person.

    8. IMHO says:

      I just reread Lubos’s post…and all I can say is WOW. Irregardless of whether or not he is correct; it’s almost as if he has spent his entire life in a book and has no concept of social acceptance or appropriate social interaction.

    9. Ted says:

      Anyone else forced to ctrl-alt-del out of Lubos’ site?? Happens to me every time now …

    10. Ted says:

      Tried FoxFire, works ok … never mind.

    11. Garrett says:

      Heh. If you try to follow Peter’s link to Lubos’ blog, you’ll get a redirect stating visitors clicking in from NEW aren’t welcome. In defense of this snub against PW and his readers, he cites non-other than the esteemed Professor Susskind. Apparently the enemy of his enemy is… his enemy.

    12. F. says:

      No, Susskind is not treated by Lumo as his enemy. He just happens to think that Lenny is wrong in this new paper. Thats different.

    13. David says:

      This is off topic, but I think Lubos’ blog and the comments there have become largely irrelevant. I can’t see anybody taking it seriously. The comment stream no longer contains any serious comments by people in science. Given where he once was, it’s all a bit sad.

    14. Eu says:

      Regarding “may or may not”, I doubt these stylistic constructions don’t exist in other romance languages given that Portuguese and Castellian have them. They are not used very often but they do exist together with “for what it’s worth”, which ironically isn’t worth anything.

      Lubos’ site is heavy on the javascript with all sorts of junk and it cripples some browsers to their knees. Just disable it either globally or just on that site. You won’t loose much. Alternatively use an rss feed reader.

      To follow links to TRF from NEW just disable the referer (some browsers allow this in the privacy settings). Lubos isn’t a magician and doesn’t know where you come from unless you tell him.

      This time Lubos actually surpassed himself, even with the leftist metaphors.

    15. chris says:

      “This is off topic, but I think Lubos’ blog and the comments there have become largely irrelevant. I can’t see anybody taking it seriously. The comment stream no longer contains any serious comments by people in science. Given where he once was, it’s all a bit sad.”

      well, if someone makes a habit of deleting critical remarks, that’s what you get.

    16. Aleksandr Mikunov says:

      May sound slightly off the topic, but keep on reading 🙂

      1) It is ironic to read how Lubos M. is demoting Susskind’s work whereas his own stuff is just a generic blah-blah-blah [E.g. look at LM’s PhD: Semi-trivial math and not a single physically meaningful calculation].

      2) I wonder if the IQ level of contemporary theoretical physicists is even comparable to what t. physicists had back in the pre-string era, say in the 40-60-s [Although, LM insists it’s by ~40 pts higher than average – I doubt it]

      3) To LM and other “above-the-average-IQ” physicists: The field is dead, so become programmers (the good ones :).
      Believe or not but becoming an !expert! in C++/Windows/Linux takes years of *extremely* hard work.
      (BTW, Not as simple as calculating Green’s functions 🙂
      E.g try digesting this book:
      (Note that here we are simply talking about *digesting* this stuff. You won’t be able to come up with anything similar of that level for a long time 🙂

    17. Hendrik says:

      No one has commented on the fact that Witten has a new paper on the ArXiv at:

      titled “Gauge Theory And Wild Ramification”.
      I suppose it takes a bit longer to digest.

    18. fulo says:

      Semi-trivial math and not a single physically meaningful calculation

      According to the abstract, the results in his thesis were obtained “for the first time in history”. It’s just childish…

    19. Peter Woit says:

      I’d like to discourage further criticism of Lubos here, on grounds that it’s too easy, kind of boring, and at the moment he’s just a guy with a blog in Pilsen. Crazy as he is though, in this case he makes a lot more sense than Susskind, who’s somehow a leading figure in particle theory…

    20. Mr. Mustela says:

      Interesting. So we have a Census Taker, and scenarios with a “sense of inevitability” about them. I think I have an hypothesis on why the Templeton foundation is pouring money into theoretical physics.

    21. Peter Orland says:

      Oh, and Peter, sorry about contributing to an off-topic tangent in this

    22. Paul says:

      Lisa Randall mentions Lubos in Warped Passages – not for physics, but for slagging off female physicists!

    23. IMHO says:

      ‘slagging off’ … Sounds British. What does it mean.

    24. Chris Oakley says:

      slag off (v.t.) – to denigrate

      cf. slag (n.) – a loose woman, normally unattractive

    25. CM says:

      Harvard never ever gives junior profs tenure-this is a problem in lots of elite places. That is why LM left academia, the blog and his big mouth is an excuse that we all knew he would use once tenure was denied, people have been guessing this this would happen for years.

    Comments are closed.