Short Items

A few short items:

  • Beams are back in the LHC. You can follow what is going on here real-time, or here for details of this year’s beam commissioning. Physics runs scheduled to start last week of April.
  • There’s a wonderful interview with John Baez in two parts, here and here.
  • For news of US HEP, take a look at the HEPAP presentations as they appear here. Reports from the LHC experiments are scheduled for April Fool’s Day.
  • In the last month the omnipresent Nima Arkani-Hamed was giving talks at the David Gross Fest (video here, nice comments about Gross at the beginning, presentation here), a series of lectures in Trieste (see here), and a colloquium talk at Fermilab.

    In the FNAL talk Arkani-Hamed advertises a “Modern S-matrix program”, based on recent work on amplitudes. He’s a reliable source for what the conventional wisdom is among the most influential people in the field, and he has this to say about the current situation (right at the end of the talk):

    String theory killed QFT, then QFT killed string theory back, now QFT is king. We’re in a situation where most people think QFT is king and string theory a derivative thing in some limits.

    His own opinion is that we need “something else”, neither QFT nor string theory, but he doesn’t know what it is.

  • I seem to have missed this paper on String theory and general methodology (arxiv version here) when it came out quite a few years ago. At the time the authors felt that

    the majority has not been convinced [by criticisms of string theory] and they continue to believe that string theory is the right way to go.

    I’m not sure if the authors had any data to back that up, curious if anyone would still make this claim now. Arkani-Hamed seems to think the majority opinion has changed, with QFT killing string theory.

  • For some interesting talks at one of the few conferences not featuring Arkani-Hamed, see the Nambu Memorial Symposium.
  • I was sorry to hear recently that Rudolf Haag passed away back in January. For a short biography, see here. For an earlier posting linking to an autobiographical piece, see here. His book Local Quantum Physics is well worth reading. For a discussion of perhaps his most famous result, Haag’s theorem, see here.
  • Multiverse mania shows no signs of slowing down, with a long BBC article here. Despite the length of the article, the author doesn’t seem to have been able to locate anyone who could add a note of skepticism amidst the usual thick layers of hype.

Update: A lot of data on recent DOE funding trends is available here and here. From FY 13 – FY 17, theory funding is down %20 at universities, 2% at labs. A bit over $20 million/year is now being spent by the DOE on HEP theory and computational research. For the most recent round of reviews, 23 groups were funded, and of these two were ones not previously funded, with two previously funded turned down.

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9 Responses to Short Items

  1. edmeasure says:

    I really appreciate these short item updates you provide.

  2. Anon says:

    It is really impressive the comment of Haag on String Theory: people like Witten can spend time on such stuff but is a pity if an entire young generation (generations?) do it.
    I always thought something like this but this is the first time I read it from a famous physicist. I see also now people whom was hired years ago for building string theory groups and now they do not really do any research of any impact. I think that the hiring departments made “unlucky” bets..

  3. anon says:

    These two consecutive sentences in an otherwise very interesting interview with John Baez (see Part 2) sound perhaps a bit ironic:

    “But I’m trying to travel less, because it’s bad for the planet.

    You’ve gained some fame for your “crackpot index”.

  4. John Fredsted says:

    To me, the two sentences

    1.) “So, I felt the need to alert people and try to dream up strategies to do something. That’s why in 2010 I quit work on n­-categories and started the Azimuth Project.”


    2.) “What I really like is getting out of the US and seeing the rest of the world.”

    in Part 2 of the Baez-interview sounds like cognitive dissonance on the part of Baez, although “But I’m trying to travel less, because it’s bad for the planet” softens it up a little bit.

    In my opinion, climate change is not a technological challenge, it is first and foremost a mental challenge: without a fundamental change in the very sentiments of our species, our civilisation is already doomed; we have to learn to abstain from opportunities. Although, a lot of words are uttered from people on behalf of the climate and the planet, the actual actions of those very seem people far too often speaks volumes to the opposite.

  5. John Fredsted says:

    seem -> same

  6. John Baez says:

    John Fredsted – I’m well aware of the cognitive dissonance there. I agree that if we don’t change our habits we’re in trouble. I also have incipient diabetes and still enjoy doughnuts.

  7. John Fredsted says:

    John Baez: Maybe I was being too harsh in my criticism; if so, please forgive me. In any case, perhaps it was unreasonable of me to criticise you in third-person. Luckily, though, you were aware of this thread.

  8. John Vastola says:

    Professor Arkani-Hamed’s comment is very interesting, but I’m not sure that I completely understand. I’ve heard that, in some sense, different versions of string theory are dual to quantum field theories; if this is true, then understanding string theory can in principle be reduced to understanding quantum field theory. Is this what he is talking about? Or is he simply saying that QFT has been a successful framework for actual (experimentally accessible) physics, whereas string theory has not? Or neither? Clarification from someone who actually knows what they are talking about would be greatly appreciated!

  9. Peter Woit says:

    John Vastola,
    I think he’s clearly referring to the duality business, to AdS/CFT. The big problem with string theory has always been “what is string theory, non-perturbatively?” AdS/CFT says that the answer is given by a QFT. So, one lesson would be that what’s fundamental is QFT, which can be defined perturbatively or non-perturbatively. In other words, QFT is more fundamental, because you can define it without reference to string theory (although in a strong coupling limit, string theory may be a good approximate calculational technique), whereas, outside of a perturbation expansion, string theory is defined in terms of a QFT.

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