Now back after a satisfying vacation amidst very large trees. Here are some things of note from the past couple weeks:
- For those fascinated by the arguments over string theory, you might want to look at a document sent to me by Ilyas Khan, The People vs. String Theory. It’s also available in a free Kindle version, here. Some claim characters in this are recognizable to those well-versed in the subject.
- One thing that has always annoyed me about popular accounts of string theory is that they often claim that known particles are just like vibrational modes of a physical string, bringing music into it, as an argument for the beauty of string theory. No one ever mentions that the analogs of physical string vibrational modes have nothing to do with observed particles. If they exist at all, they’re some sort of Planck-scale states. Known particles are modeled typically by zero modes, with the classical analog not playing your guitar strings, but picking up the guitar and carrying it around, a much less musical activity.
I don’t remember ever bothering to make that argument publicly, because it seemed likely to lead nowhere but to silly arguments from string theorists. I’m now glad to see that 4gravitons has taken up the issue with a blog entry Particles Aren’t Vibrations. And, yes, check the comments for the expected response.
- Kudos to John Horgan for his talk at a recent Science and Skepticism conference here in New York. I’ve never quite understood why conferences like this seem devoted to a defense of ideas about science that are pretty much mainstream, especially in a place like New York, while ignoring pseudo-science when it comes from people considered members of the pro-science tribe. Horgan has some discussion of reaction to the talk here.
- Maybe this should have its own entry for This Week’s Hype, but I’ll just mention here that the June Scientific American has The Collider That Could Save Physics. It seems that SUSY is needed to “save physics”. Way back when it was LEP that was going to “save physics” by finding SUSY, then it was to be the LHC. This year’s LHC run should put the final nails in that coffin (data is now starting to be collected, see for instance here). Unfortunately the reaction of many SUSY partisans is not to follow the usual norms for how science is supposed to work and give up on the idea, but instead to claim that the LHC results aren’t conclusive, and a new machine is needed. In the SciAm article the ILC is advertised for this task. This electron-positron machine would have a much lower center of mass energy than the LHC, but one can find obscure SUSY models specially designed to have states that would be hard to see at the LHC, but could be seen at the ILC. I hope this isn’t the best argument for the $10 billion ILC…
- The L-functions and Modular Form Database is up and running now, providing a wealth of data about a central part of modern mathematics. Persiflage has an expert’s take on the significance of the project, including some criticism of the hype surrounding its launch (non-zero, but quite small on any scale used to measure theoretical physics hype). Other experts weigh in in the comment section, so don’t miss that.
Update: One more I forgot to add. Some people at Rutgers have decided to show what can go wrong when you have the Templeton Foundation funding “philosophy of physics”. They’ve scheduled a two-day Rutgers Mini-Conference on Multiverse, Theodicy, and Fine-Tuning, during which the speakers will consider the following two topics:
- Everettian Quantum Mechanics and Evil
The problem of evil has been around for a long time: How can an all-powerful and all-good God allow evil of the sorts we see in the world? If the Everettian interpretation of quantum mechanics is correct, though, then there is a lot more evil in the world than what we see. This suggest a second problem of evil: If Everettianism is true, how can an all-powerful and all-good God allow evil of the sort we don’t see?
- A Probability Problem in the Fine-Tuning Argument
According to the fine-tuning argument: (i) the probability of a life-permitting universe, conditional on the non-existence of God, is low; and (ii) the probability of a life-permitting universe, conditional on the existence of God, is high. I demonstrate that these two claims cannot be simultaneously justified.
Update: One more, from CERN-TH, Is theoretical physics in crisis?. Nothing really new, but don’t miss the photo of John Ellis’s office…