More Quick Links

First, a couple of examples of recent progress in mathematics

  • Terry Tao has some new ideas about the Navier-Stokes equation. See his blog here, a paper here, and a story by Erica Klarreich at Quanta here.
  • I’ve been hoping to find more time to learn enough to write something intelligible about a major new advance: Peter Scholze’s recent work on the p-adic geometry of Shimura varieties and results linking torsion classes and Galois representations. I’m still far from being up to that task, but Scholze’s Marston Morse lectures at the IAS are a good place to start (see here, here and here). Last week MSRI hosted a very successful week-long “Hot Topics” program on this, see here.
  • For more IAS talks, see “Cross-disciplinary” talks last week by Witten, Seiberg and Maldacena.
  • Nature has a story about a recent discovery by Cormac O’Raifertaigh and collaborators of an unpublished manuscript by Einstein containing a “steady-state” cosmological model.
  • A computer scientist has identified more than 120 papers published in supposedly peer-reviewed conference proceedings that were all randomly generated gibberish produced by the program SCIgen. No, these didn’t appear in bogus “open access” publications, but in subscription publications from Spring and the IEEE. What’s going on is described as a “spamming war at the heart of science”.
  • Update: One more, for those of you not getting enough multiverse. Today’s Washington post has an op-ed from Bush speech-writer Michael Gerson (at one point the ninth most influential evangelical Christian in the US, if you believe Wikipedia and Time). The title is Physics is Enjoying a Golden Age (also available here). Gerson thinks physics is in a Golden Age because he has just read Tegmark’s book and is very excited that physics has now become metaphysics, with room for God again:

    The point here is not that Tegmark’s theories are broadly accepted, only that such theories are no longer considered absurd. Physics has seen the return of the unseen — parallel universes, infinitesimal strings, floating and colliding branes — that are reasonably inferred without being physically observed. I can think of other creative forces in that category. Not for centuries has physics been so open to metaphysics, or more amenable to an ancient attitude: a sense of wonder about things above and within.

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    9 Responses to More Quick Links

    1. Chris Oakley says:

      Just to record that I share Michael Gerson’s sense of wonder at parallel universes, infinitesimal strings, floating and colliding branes, etc. being considered to be physics.

    2. SteveB says:

      I loved Terry Tao’s description in his blog:

      (One could describe the dynamics here as being similar to the famous “lighting the beacons” scene in the Lord of the Rings movies, except that (a) as each beacon gets ignited, the previous one is extinguished, as per the energy identity; (b) the time between beacon lightings decrease exponentially; and (c) there is no soundtrack.)

      Humor in a Mathematics article is a nice touch.

    3. Tom says:

      I have no dog in this hunt, but it seems you (Peter) especially relish informing us that Gerson is a
      “Bush speech-writer …. [and] at one point the ninth most influential evangelical Christian in the US …”
      even though that’s mentioned nowhere in that op-ed.

      Maybe this antipathy comes from being immersed in the prog-liberal, urban “bubble universe” that is Manhattan NYC ? After all, the geocentric cosmology model wrongly persisted for many centuries, too 😉

      Since Gerson is by all accounts a layman and has never trained as a scientist, he might be forgiven for thinking the constant onslaught of sensationalist books by Kaku, Tegmark, etc, in addition to the many breathless articles in New Scientist, Scientific American, etc, might imply those multiverse guys are taken seriously by the scientific community.

      As least, Gerson does seem to acknowledge Tegmark’s so-called “theories” are not broadly accepted.

    4. Peter Woit says:

      There’s no “antipathy” in my characterization of Gerson (which I think is accurate). I thought it was important to give some indication of who he is and what sort of agenda he is likely to have. This agenda pretty clearly includes bringing religion into science, and this is why he’s excited by the pseudo-science of Tegmark and the “Golden Age” he sees it as ushering in.

      As for my agenda, I think it’s obvious, but to make it explicit: I’ve no antipathy towards religion or religious people, I just don’t think religion or metaphysics belongs in serious theoretical physics. I also think that those pushing the multiverse agenda, while at the same time holding up physics as the answer to religion, need to be made aware of what effect they are having. A good example is Sean Carroll, who seems to be half the time engaged in a public war for science against religion, the other half of the time trashing the scientific method and handing ammunition over to evangelicals like Gerson who have an opposite agenda.

      All, unless you’ve got something new and interesting to say about the multiverse/religion business, please stop submitting comments about it. I’ve already deleted a bunch, perhaps am making a mistake to answer this one, but, enough already…

    5. cormac says:

      Thanks for that Peter. It’s a very nice article, but I should say that Einstein’s attempt at a steady-state model is motivated by the problematic age associated with evolving models, not the problem of origins, as implied by the article. One of the interesting aspects of the manuscript is that it predates the Lemaitre-Eddington debate concerning a beginning for the universe!

    6. Peter Shor says:

      I’ve occasionally wondered whether any physicists (possibly subconsciously) are supporting the multiverse for antireligious reasons … if you accept the multiverse, maybe you don’t have to leave open the possibility that God wrote down the laws of physics and put the Big Bang into motion.

      If so, this strategy appears to be counterproductive.

    7. Peter Woit says:

      Peter Shor,
      Many multiverse proponents specifically make the case that one of its virtues is that it provides an explanation for fine-tuning that answers the argument from design for a deity. I agree that this is counter-productive: invoking untestable physical theory to try to win this particular argument means you’ve abandoned the fundamental distinction that separates what scientists do from what theologians do. Once you do this, you’re on the same footing as Gerson and everyone else who wants to argue metaphysics without the discipline of making statements that can be tested and falsified.

    8. Geoff says:

      Reading Tao’s ideas about the Navier Stokes equations reminded me of a very old sci-fi reference to a fluid mechanics computer from the movie Rollerball. The description occurs at the 3:20 mark.

    9. publius says:

      Actually Terry Tao very interesting ideas remainded me of a Science Fiction piece too, Ted Chiang´s Exhalation
      Only that in Chiang´s story solid parts are required.
      It is fun to especulate if these fluid computations may be realized in stars or gas giant planets as some sort of “life” (though I see it as very unlikely)
      By the way

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