Very Short Items

  • Long-awaited results from the Planck experiment were unveiled last week, with a new model for how to do this: hold a conference with no videos, no slides released, no wifi in the lecture hall, and put out a press release in French. They did release an amazing image that looks like a Van Gogh, but if you want numbers, you have to search Twitter. Stories at Nature and the New York Times indicate not much new, data relevant to primordial gravitational waves still to come (Dec. 22?, next year?).
  • News from MIT is that, after an investigation of charges of sexual harassment of one or more students online, the university has revoked physics professor Walter Lewin’s emeritus status and is removing his lecture videos and course material from their online course sites.
  • Today’s Wall Street Journal has a sensible piece by Ira Rothstein on The Perils of Romanticizing Physics.
  • I took a look at Kip Thorne’s The Science of Interstellar in a local bookstore. It gives a detailed explanation of the “science” behind the film, explaining what a lot of the highly confusing later plot of the film was supposedly about. It seems it’s all based on the “large extra dimension” business of 15 years ago, the dimensions that were supposed to show up at the LHC. If you want to see all the equations, go here and look for the pictures of the blackboards.
  • The LHC magnets are now getting trained for 6.5 TeV operation, as well as inspiring fashion designers.
  • I mentioned last year’s Gelfand Centennial conference at MIT here, thought that there were no videos. Luckily I was wrong, quite a few talks well worth watching are now available here.
  • Videos from the Breakthrough Prize symposia recently held at Stanford are now available. For the physics talks, see here. For the math talks, see here, here, here, here, here and here.
  • If you need a change of pace, and can’t get enough of the string theory/LQG debate, this is for you.
  • For talks about the implications of not seeing new physics at the LHC, there’s Naturalness 2014. Nima Arkani-Hamed kicked it off with “Hopefully My Last Ever Talk On This!” (seems unlikely…). He argues for the idea that it’s the Multiverse that did it, and we should keep looking for Split SUSY, disses “conformality” approaches. Matt Strassler on the other hand points out that Arkani-Hamed’s use of the multiverse explanation doesn’t make sense (there’s no anthropic reason for the highly non-generic SM).
  • There’s a workshop this week at Caltech on scattering amplitudes and the Grassmanian.
  • Finally, a HEPAP meeting this week. Budget news for HEP theory doesn’t look good, but on the other hand the US now seems to be functioning without a budget, so it’s kind of hard to be sure…

Update: Slides from the Planck conference are now available.

It seems the US does have a budget now, some info here. DOE HEP and Cosmic Frontier $766 Million, down very slightly from last year’s $775 million, higher than the White House requeset of $744 million.

Update: Scott Aaronson on Walter Lewin here.

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15 Responses to Very Short Items

  1. Too Distinguished says:

    Can you unpack Matt Strassler’s argument a bit?

  2. Peter Woit says:

    Too distinguished,
    I’m referring to the last few slides of the set that I linked to, which are Strassler’s. I don’t want to do more to put words in his mouth, but he explicitly refers to Arkani-Hamed (and Dimopoulos), and seems to just be making the obvious argument that the SM is highly non-generic, in all sorts of ways that have nothing to do with the possibility of life. So, it seems to me that arguing that the Multiverse solves the naturalness problem is nonsense since that argument says that we live in some generic universe, just constrained by anthropics, and that isn’t the case.

  3. Too Distinguished says:

    Thanks Peter. It seems like there are two ways to think about this. In one picture of the multiverse, the Higgs mass is the only tunable parameter in an otherwise fixed symmetric structure (our non-generic Standard Model), whereas in the picture Strassler seems to be considering, literally anything could happen. Is that a fair assessment, and if so, do you know of any good arguments made by NAH or anyone else in favor of the first picture?

  4. Peter Woit says:

    Too distinguished,
    I don’t know of any arguments from Arkani-Hamed or anyone else that would justify starting by assuming that the multiverse gives a highly non-generic thing like the SM. You can do this, but it seems to me (and I think this is Strassler’s point) that this is just internally inconsistent.

  5. martibal says:

    What’s wrong with a press release in french ? 🙂
    Actually there is at least one number, an upper bound on the sum of the masses of the neutrinos: 0,23eV

  6. Peter Woit says:

    Who said there was anything wrong with just putting out press releases in French? Not me.

  7. Ivan says:

    “The LHC magnets are now getting trained for 6.5 GeV operation”.
    Isn’t it TeV?

  8. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks. Fixed.

  9. Yatima says:

    News from MIT is that, after an investigation of charges of sexual harassment of one or more students online, the university has revoked physics professor Walter Lewin’s emeritus status and is removing his lecture videos and course material from their online course sites.

    I can’t think of many regions in the Multiverse parameter space where such a reaction makes any sense, except the ones affected with dangerously high masses of Policial Correctness and Nether Regional Covering. As the press release says, “[Lewin] last taught an online MITx course in fall 2013.” Are the videos going to harass students all by themselves? Will the course material morph into sexually explicit material, burning the minds of the young ones forever? Sadly, MIT has not been very great in the backbone department this decade.

  10. Wayne says:

    Yatima — one presumes that the OCW videos and associated course material (textbook readings, problem assignments and solutions, and so forth) contained well-hidden subliminal messages of evil intent, only now discovered.

    Were that not been the case it would be impossible to conceive of a justification MIT could have used as a basis to purge everything associated with Walter Lewin’s immensely popular 8.01, 8.02 and 8.03 courses — the first of which was recorded in 1999! — on elementary physics.

    I suppose we should be relieved that high-school and college students, and legions of adult learners will now be protected from .. well, it’s hard to imagine from what exactly, but no doubt MIT should be encouraged in its campaign to make Lewin not merely a non-emeritus former professor, but a non-person as well.

  11. Too Distinguished says:

    One more question if you would be so kind.

    It seems to me that a critic of the multiverse idea would want to argue that the SM is generic, in the sense that it “couldn’t be any other way.” If it could be other ways — if there is nothing fundamental or inevitable about its symmetries — then one is led inexorably to the question of why it is this way, and from there, to anthropic selection in a landscape. By calling the SM non-generic, doesn’t a multiverse opponent get him- or herself in a bind?

    Thanks again.

  12. Peter Woit says:

    Too Distinguished,
    By “generic” one usually means indistinguishable from others, the opposite of “it couldn’t be any other way.
    Yes, one is led inexorably to the question of why the SM is the way it is, but “because anthropics” is a non-answer.

  13. Shantanu says:

    Peter, something OT.
    Watched this CFA talk on fast radio bursts by AVi Loeb
    and towards 1:10:43 (near the end) he shows an email from Freeman Dyson.

  14. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks Shantanu,
    To save others some trouble, here’s a quote from the e-mail from Dyson that Loeb was showing:
    “I was lucky to grow up at a time when students had no respect for elder statesmen. The elder statesmen at that time, Heisenberg and Dirac and Born and Schrodinger and Yukawa and Einstein, were all pursuing fantasies that were obviously going nowhere. So we ignored the elder statesmen and went ahead using our own judgment. The students today should be doing that too.”

    Maybe off-topic here, on-topic for the next posting…

  15. Arthur Reader says:

    The treatment of Walter Lewin by MIT is an academic disgrace and a clear assault on basic freedoms. No opportunity was afforded Lewin to defend himself in court before a judge and jury and no opportunity was given to face his accuser or cross-examine.

    With spinelessness like that, who will dare teach women STEM knowing full well that any personal comment in any context misinterpreted by anonymous women with borderline personalities will be grounds for peremptory dismissal, removal of all titles and your teaching career consigned to the memory hole?

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