## Monday, January 14, 2013 ... /////

### Edge: What should we be worried about?

Giddings on crisis in physics, firewalls

Edge.org asked their annual question to 151 or 152 scholars,

What should we be worried about?
I suppose that the word "should" was highlighted in order to prevent the respondents from giving an easy answer to the opposite question, what we shouldn't be worried about. We shouldn't be worried about the end of the world in 2012 (now for sure), collision with another planet, catastrophic climate change, and similar nonsensical conspiracy theories.

Katinka Matson and John Brockman of Edge.org.

Among the 152 contributors, there are lots of people whom I don't quite recognize. Let me discuss those whom I do recognize.

Seth Lloyd thinks that we should worry about the black hole of finance. An interesting analogy between the black holes with a negative heat capacity and some instabilities in the financial sector is being presented. I am very sympathetic to these analogies because, as I recently said, the laws of economics morally resemble the laws of thermodynamics, indeed.

Lisa Randall is worried that big experiments such as the SSC will always be canceled. Well, I think that even the insights that an experiment may tell us have a finite value and even physicists should be able to say "No" in certain situations. Of course that non-physicists are much more likely to say "No" because their perceived value of pure physics insights is lower. But even for physicists, it shouldn't be infinite. It's clear that direct experiments at the cutting edge of fundamental physics have become very expensive and the approval of a new experiment that tries to go beyond the predecessors is inevitably far from a formality. The right conclusion should be that a careful theoretical research is often preferred for financial reasons, I think. Too bad that people aren't usually deducing this obvious conclusion.

Craig Venter who presents himself as a libertarian as well as an alpha male talks about various things including vaccinations. Please offer your own comments.

Lawrence Krauss talks about some limits of knowledge, e.g. because of laws of physics whose form is probabilistic by itself. I am convinced that the evidence points to the conclusion that this ain't the case so I am not "worried" about such scenarios. Worries are often smaller or greater than they seem (video below via Petra J., thanks):

Frank Wilczek is worried that opportunities will be blown and a new Dark Age awaits us. His contribution is very short.

The most notorious crank of Waterloo, Canada wrote a rant against quantum mechanics that, he believes, is not final. If you find a sequence of at least 4 sentences in the text that is coherent, let me know. His fellow thug of Columbia University is worried about the nightmare scenario in particle physics – the originality of his answer is zero.

Arianna Huffington is worried about the stress and high blood pressure in the society.

Gavin Schmidt is worried about the disconnect between news and understanding and that's one thing I am worried about, too. Too bad that Gavin Schmidt, a representative of misunderstanding, is one of the reasons behind my worries.

Anton Zeilinger is worried, using [my] word I learned to use after I read a book by Feynman, about the fragmentation of knowledge. Different approaches to learning are diverging from each other and no one knows all of them. I am afraid that this has taken place a long time ago so I am no longer "worried" about this transition. I am worried about the last isolated fragments. ;-)

Max Tegmark is worried that machines will replace us, if I pick a catchy summary. That's surprising given the fact that much of his fame among the armchair physicists boils down to speculations that our life is an artifact of some algorithm running on some machine-like entities, anyway.

Steve Pinker is worried by prospects of a war caused by underestimated reasons. Well, I am mostly not even though I was educated by the propaganda that every war is essentially the end of the world.

Finally, Steve Giddings, physicist in Santa Barbara, is worried about a crisis at the foundations of physics. He essentially talks about the black hole information puzzle. He dismisses the firewalls as a preposterous scenario proposed by otherwise serious physicists (I would mostly subscribe to it) – his co-existence next to Joe Polchinski at UCSB may be somewhat tense these days – but he also talks about the (near) invalidation of the black hole complementarity (I don't know what results or arguments he's referring to.)

At any rate, the impossibility to agree about certain basic – and, according to the opinion of some serious folks, settled – things even in the "elite" circles is kind of frustrating. One gets used to the fact that 7 billion people don't have a clue. Even 7 million people in the world who are kind of interested in physics don't know much about the cutting edge. You go to 2,000 people close to string theory who could have a clue and you may pick something like 100 folks who are actively producing and sorting ideas, the real opinionmakers. You could expect some kind of shared optics among them but what you get is a pretty random disagreement about everything, including basic conclusions from the research of the last 40 years.

I don't want to use nuclear words such as "crisis in physics" but I find it frustrating, too. It's surely a reason for me to be sad to be nearly the only person in the world – among 10? 20? – who understands those things correctly. The value of cutting-edge research of "topics of 2013" for the mankind becomes questionable if the number of people who may derive all the right conclusions out of any research of similar topics in the recent 40 years is of order "dozens".

#### snail feedback (34) :

What we should be worried the most about right now is that the death of
Aaron Swartz will likely trigger the death of our First Amendment
rights, including most of the other Amendment rights that are firmly
etched into our freedom-friendly Constitution. How many more martyrs
like Aaron do there have to be before people face the reality of how far
the criminal element running our country and the world are willing to
go to maintain their grip on power? These people are the sickest
monsters the human race can produce. It's time to call them out in
unison so they know that no one is buying their propaganda anymore. The
truth is it is THEY who hate US for our freedom -- the freedom to
communicate that is. They demand total control of information. That's
why they're also persecuting Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and Jeremy
Hammond, a leading member of the hacker group Anonymous (listen to first

Where in the world, I ask, is our Commander in Chief now with one of
his perfunctory and admonishing speeches about "how we'll be judged as a
society" for failing Mr. Swartz? Oh, that's right, Mr. Swartz was
trying to do an honorable and noble deed by making available to all of
us, free of charge, published academic journals that would enrich and
broaden our lives. I can sure see the crime in that.(/sarc on) All those
published papers-- most, if not all, of which are publicly funded, BTW
-- might have encouraged a more informed public. And we all know what a
well informed public can do? Rise up and demand social justice!

MIT is one of the universities heavily tied to Big Military from
what I found out. Swartz being a hero in trying to spread the education
wealth (unlike Obama and the feckless Democrats pretending to "spread
the wealth" and then calling people making 400k a year "middle class"), I
could see how the monied and military elites would hate people who
tried to help make it easier for people to properly manage the
information they come across on the Internet. The death of Swartz is
another reason this administration deserves to be impeached and
convicted.

They terrorized and threatened Mr. Swartz to the point that he chose
suicide as his only option, that is murder, plain and simple. And while
this won't bring Mr. Swartz back, nor will it soothe or quell the
unimaginable grief surrounding his death, I hope like hell someone close
enough to Mr. Swartz will file murder charges against Obama and his
band of fascist thugs responsible for harassing and bullying him.

hero; the type of man whose courageous behavior we could all do right by
through emulating.

To his family and friends, my sincere condolences. I am thoroughly and deeply ashamed of our government!

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/12/aaron-swartz-heroism-suicide1

"... If you find a sequence of at least 4 sentences in the text that is coherent, let me know." LOL, I agree :-D. What do I get if I find one against all rules of probability, and ice cream :-P?

Why is this that I am not surprised that the Trollking takes advantage of this possibility to open his big fat mouth too, pretending to give a damn about particle physics, and in perfect accordance with his being a "concern troll"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_%28Internet%29#Concern_troll

by definition ;-)?

I really hope things are not all lost for high energy physics. H. Ooguri (he is fun to listen to :-) ) was quite satisfied when giving a summary of the conference in Munich,

http://www.theorie.physik.uni-muenchen.de/videos/strings2012/ooguri/index.html

saying he was happy about the results, about having seen many young good people, etc ;-).

Part 1 of a two-part article series on the prosecution of Aaron Swartz. Contains some info that I haven't seen elsewhere. I don't have any comment, except condolences to family and friends.

Oh my God, this is really really bad and shocking, I did not know about it before.

I am at a loss for words :-(((

... and I am really concerned and worried about a new global Dark Age, if the most brilliant, smart, nice, and helpful young people are driven to suicide by murderous, brutal, irresponssiible assholes who pretend to advocate law and order but intentiontionally do nothing but enjoy their power to destroy the life of people who just want to be helpful for the society and improve bad things.

Swartz was ahead of his time
A victim cut-down in his prime
His criminal deed
To help those in need?
I no longer understand “crime”

The Limerick King

http://www.flickr.com/photos/expd/8378525559/

Sad and only too true limerick :-(

It seems to be everywhere the same where some kind of politics and governing of a larger group of people is going on. The egoistic and greedy for power, money, and otherwise by lower instinct driven often dumb people, who are not interested in seriously doing something helpful for the society they reign are sitting in the powerful positions where they rigorously defend their priviledges and interests.

Smart, nice, and helpful people, such as this young Aaron Swartz, who seriously want to help others and make things better are brutally destroyed and wrestled down because those in power do not want to give up any of their conveniences. What happend to this nice young man is really outragous, the people in power responsible for this should be called on account for what they have done.

I feel some kind of related to Aaron Swartz, I rather give a damn about stupid and bad rules and policies too if they actually counteract what a community or society wants. He wanted to do very nice and helpful things I exactly agree with and for this he was driven to suicide. Such things should not happen in a so-called "civilized" world.

We suffer under a system of "justice" that is measurably worse than that
under King George III that was explained in detail by Thomas Jefferson
in the Declaration of Independence.

Most "modern" folk seem not to notice the incremental destruction of
true justice, likely the result of the very successful brainwashing
program, *Crime Wave Fear Factor*.

The pressure that the DOJ placed on Aaron Swartz is nothing short of
torture. Those with intimate experience with the criminal justice
system (either as a defendant or in close proximity to a defendant) in
this country know how Aaron saw zero hope of justice; saw no way to
avoid the inevitable result of the twisted "due process" applied to
him-decades wasting away in our cruel prisons, but to voluntarily depart
this evil-soaked existence.

The state of justice in this country is not unlike the justice meted
out under the Spanish Inquisition, and is often every bit as brutal.

A true justice system seeks truth and a just result and operates in a
fair manner. "Our" current "system" seeks to utterly destroy and/or
hammer the target (the defendant) into submission and gain convictions
by whatever expedient means it can get away with...

It is a disgrace.

More disgraceful is our toleration of it. Especially when we still
have the fairly easy-and peaceful-means of correction-jury duty at the
Trial as well as Grand Jury level.

The "law" and the "judicial system" that administers it is the
country.

Now, take a close look at what Aaron Swartz was about, and see that
he was indeed an "enemy of the state" who had to be destroyed...because
he was a serious threat to "our" government..."our" out-of-control evil
government...

This is so disgusting, in so many ways.

I cannot see any singular issue more critical than...justice.

All that is wrong in this country revolves around justice, either directly or indirectly.

Justice forms the bedrock underlying any civilization worthy as being labeled as such.

Our bedrock is near 100% quicksand.

The time is short (the current rush to disarm us may be the last
alarm...), time to shove aside materialism, the stacking and piling up
of wealth, and the notion that we need to be constantly entertained...or
all will be lost.

For this, the DOJ and its vicious prosecutors threatened to put him away for 50 years on 13 trumped up charges.

Tim Berners Lee, amongst others, posted articles and tweets not only of condolence, but outrage at prosecutorial harrassment. It was completely evident that he was not doing this for any monetary gain, that it was entirely altruistic, so that even JSOR wanted the charges dropped and now the president of MIT is belatedly feeling ashamed that MIT didnt tell the prosecutors to piss off.

This has really viscerally affected me.

I feel sick about the twisted bullying perversion of these prosecutors, the DOJ, Holder, and even Obama if he was aware of this.

This petition likely will go no-where, but it gives people a way to vent their frustration--

http://boingboing.net/2013/01/14/whitehouse-gov-petition-to-rem.html

Cynthia--read Corey Doctorow's (tech-punk fantasy author) eulogy of Aaron on Boing Boing, along with Lessig's and particularly Tim Berners Lee's==

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/01/12/aaron-swartz-american-hero/

Tim Lee is the architect of the World Wide Web, and, like Aaron, is orders of magnitude more important than any of those harrassing Aaron, including Obama.

Hmmm, I see that today, now that he is dead, Carmen Ortiz, one of the heads of Cerberus (the lead pit bull prosecutor, the other was Stephen Heyman) has "generously" dropped all charges against Aaron--I guess the govt got what they wanted after all.

To get back O.T. , the thing I am most worried about is
superstition and magical thinking; also, the scientific and technical illiteracy of politicians ( ie their stubborn and fascist stupidity)

Gordon,

The way I see it, Aaron Swartz was liberating information that was paid for by the public.
JSTOR is a store for academic articles that the public have to pay
unnecessarily high charges to view. Academics are trained by the state,
their research is, for the most part, funded by the state. Academic
publishers are just another example of corporate welfare. Swartz was
liberating what, in any just society, belonged to the public.

What gets me is that the people we allow to make our laws and
prosecute them are so enmeshed in a world view that defies common sense.
Their actions epitomize the venal nature of our ruling class. Why on
earth are we letting these cold and calculating sociopaths rule us?

Thanks for the link, Gordon. The sad fact is that we are running very
low on people that dare to speak out against the ever-spreading culture
of control and intimidation from our so-called Governments. I have
nothing like the understanding Aaron Swartz had of the world, but the
situation depresses me. If the battle for control of the internet is
lost, one way or another we are all screwed, so it is time for each
person to do what they can to respect and carry on the work that he did.

This is a man who stood for freedom of information, who could have
taken the big money that certain more well-known internet pioneers took.
And now he’s dead, but I somehow know that when we look back a few
years from now he will be remembered as more relevant than the corporate
versions of what he was pioneering. Internet as a tool of liberation,
not as a way to commodify and make a few people rich. May your name and
your deeds live on Aaron. Rest in Peace.

Dear Lubos, by happenstance I found out that your Slovak neighbors are advertising the City of Kosice as co-European Capital of Culture in 2013 (the other Culture Capital this year is Marseille). Will you be writing something about Kosice sometime this year?

I guess not because I don't know much! Except that it was the hometown of a former GF of mine and Košice was the 5th largest Czechoslovak town, right above Pilsen. ;-)

I doubt I have ever been there although I was very close in the Tatras etc. in Northern/Eastern Slovakia. Do you want to guest blog about Košice?

:D... Thank you but I sincerely feel that the honor of a guest blog about Kosice should be reserved to one of TRF's Slovak readers!

I am not aware of any names of regular TRF readers from Slovakia (although I know some occasional Slovak readers)! Not a shock: the Neocounter in the sidebar shows that since late 2005, out of the 6 -7 million viewers, only 25,000 were from Slovakia. That's a third of a percent! Czechia has at least 150,000 in this counter - 6 times more even though it's just 2 times larger than Slovakia.

It's surely a reason for me to be sad to be nearly the only person in the world – among 10? 20? – who understands those things correctly.

(Prefatory remark: I am in way, way over my head here and should be keeping quiet... so feel free to knock me over the head with a frying pan, my thick skull can take it.)

I find this somewhat vague. What are "those things"? Are they what you and the subset out of the "100 real opinionmakers in string theory" who agree with you understand to be true? If so, why is that a reason to be sad? Surely the forefront of string theory research is not the only field where only a small number of people have a grasp of all the important insights.

Your little joke on New Year's Eve -- writing 2013 only partially decomposed as 33 * 61 -- motivated me to read up on integer factorization and, subsequently, the fundamental theorem of arithmetic. Ha ha, kindergarten stuff... to you, not to me. In the course of browsing the Web, I also came across news that the "abc conjecture" may have been proved. As the Globe article says,
At the moment, there are only about 50 people in the world who know anabelian geometry well enough to understand this preliminary work. Then, the proof itself is written in an entirely different branch of mathematics called “inter-universal geometry” that Mochizuki—who refers to himself as an “inter-universal Geometer”—invented and of which, at least so far, he is the sole practitioner.
Apparently, only two or three people worldwide have the ability, time and energy to embark on the task of checking the proof. That would make your field of cutting-edge string theory look positively crowded by comparison!

And it's like this in many, many areas of human endeavor, from proprietary OLED research to investigation of certain elements of the human immune system to editing Leibniz' unpublished notes to developing extensions to functional programming languages to restoring and repairing Renaissance works of art ...

In fact, this is the very fragmentation that Zeilinger laments and that you shrug off as a fact of life, as irreversible as squeezing toothpaste from a tube. So nothing to be upset about, right?

But maybe you are still upset at the many misconceptions about quantum mechanics held by people who should know better. This is really a curious thing, isn't it? Truth be told, I have no hope of acquiring mastery of either string theory or quantum mechanics, ever, but sometimes -- in my wildest dreams -- I imagine learning enough algebra to understand QM at the level of an undergrad.

If I'm understanding TRF's ongoing education about QM right, the harder part is not learning the foundations of QM but to keep from backsliding into obsolete "classical" ideas of how the world works. There appear to be some powerful prejudices hardwired into our brains. By the way, did you get caught by a "lucky punch" here? Was this like Lennox Lewis getting floored by Hasim Rahman in a moment of carelessness? Go ahead, tell me I'm an idiot who doesn't know what he's talking about.

Among the few dozen string theorists at the forefront there is a certain amount of agreement I presume -- which is more than you can say about the few dozen leading economists!

Dear Lubos, If Feynman was right when he said quantum mechanics is something "nobody understands" and if a "mystery" by definition is something one does not understand, wouldn't it be OK to talk about "the mystery of matter" when talking to laymen about physics? Isn't it good for people to know there are things, big things, fundamental things, that nobody understands? Even if those very things can also be calculated and described mathematically by a tiny few -- another fact it is good to know.

Sorry for the vagueness. The insights misunderstood by N-20 people in the world where N is the population that I was referring to in that sentence were the qualitative ways how quantum gravity manages to satisfy the requirements from research of GR and semiclassical gravity simultaneously.

Maybe and I hope so. But it's also to be expected. In physics, there exists precise objective truth about the rules that Nature obeys. In economics, there's no objective truth because propositions in economics are true or untrue partly depending on the assumptions how people behave and people may behave in many ways, change their behavior, switch to new regimes, and so on.

So at least some fraction of the economists' disagreement is because the object they study is vague by itself. In physics, one doesn't have this excuse.

While I am confident that dozens of top string theorists agree about most of these matters, it's still true that I can only verify it with a few I am in touch with - and almost all of them meticulously avoid anything that could be viewed as controversial so from the viewpoint of the scientific public, their influence on these matters is really zero.

Concerning "lucky punch", do I understand well that you're asking how
it's possible that this SE answer of mine (and others) has a positive

My turn to apologize for vagueness. No, my question was motivated by a mix of two things: (1) amazement that you apparently gave a wrong Answer on SE (the only time I've seen that happen, if my perception was accurate) and (2) a feeling of schadenfreude which I'm ashamed about (as it's the mark of a small man who takes delight in the mishaps that befall greater individuals, rather than build something himself).

It looked to me like you were caught out by juanrga's better knowledge of more recent editions of QM textbooks and their treatment of the wave-particle duality or rather, the non-equivalence between the wave and particle treatments, as it seems the former is rapidly losing ground.

I know about your 86-votes-and-rising Answer on SE, of course; it was the reason I signed up so that I, too, could upvote it :)

proof of the abc conjecture as well,

http://motls.blogspot.com/2012...

but if you suggest that the number of people who study proposed
proofs of the abc conjecture should be as high as the number of people
who know the postulates of quantum mechanics, then I must say that
you're ludicrous.

No, what I meant was just that, I understand if you and your equally accomplished string-theorist colleagues feel lonely at times, but I was pointing out that Dr. Mochizuki and the handful of mathematicians trying to get up to speed with his theorem have reason to feel even lonelier.

Dear Eugene, while I have posted up to a dozen of wrong answers on SE - given the immediate responses, it's not so shocking among a thousand of answers - I didn't understand what you considered wrong about this particular trivial answer about a trivial topic. ;-)

You surely understand...

No I don't. I opened my big mouth about something that I don't know nearly enough about to comment on it. Hence I've removed my nonsense, too bad you saw it before I erased it :/

My worry is that many people are not interested in deep theoretical arguments about physics. ( For example, I think that it is absolutely necessary to learn the renormalisation group, which is really the soul of interacting QFT, before you can form any real opinion about the quantisation of gravity. )

Right, an excellent - and sad - worry.

This is for you, Cynthia:

You can start listening at around 4:20 if you want to--it is George Carlin on "You Have No Rights".

Thanks for sharing that Carlin clip with me, Gordon. There is no one,
alive or dead, that's better than George Carlin when it comes to using
humor to speak the truth -- even if it hurts like hell. Here he is
again, but this time he's reminding us that the US leads the world when
it comes to cooking up and dishing out bullshit:

And after learning that Harvard’s School of Business has a master’s
program without having a bachelor’s program, I have absolutely no doubt
in my mind that business degrees are nothing but bullshit!

Any area of study that doesn’t first require that you have a
bachelor’s in it before getting a master’s in it smells of bullshit to
me. Law and medicine are the only other areas of study that I can think
of that don’t offer a bachelor’s degree. But then, you must have a
degree in law or medicine and pass a state board exam to practice law or
medicine — something which you don’t have to do to practice business.

But this is probably a good thing because there are far too many
American corporations that have been looted and bankrupted by CEOs with
MBAs. Harvard must teach them how to do this. If Harvard isn’t teaching
them the art as well as the science of bullshitting, they are teaching
them how to loot and bankrupt publicly-held companies for fun and
profit.

Nima arkani hamed has said that wave particle duality is an old misconception and it made many smart people say very stupid things. Feynman has also named the state of confusion that people had at the early days of quantum mechanics named it the wave particle duality

Nima may obviously say weird things, too.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wave-particle_duality

Wave-particle duality is nothing else than the insight that particles also exhibit wave properties and waves on elementary fields also behave as streams of particles - that quantum mechanics is capable of continuously connecting the concepts of waves and particles and interpolate in between them.

This is a central notion of quantum mechanics; it isn't supposed to include anything that has a tiny glimpse of controversy in it. The wave-particle duality just describes the effect of quantum mechanics on the concept of particles (they can interfere), fields (their energy is quantized), and their relationship (they're fundamentally the same thing). Nima obviously knows it.

But if you want to know, Nima often likes to adopt some progressive attitudes that bans certain objectively valid and important things - things that clearly hold if one looks from a certain viewpoint. It helps him to focus on his particular way of thinking that he's active in at a given moment - but that he may change over time.

Thanks a lot of clarifying. But according to what you said, it is "his" point of view and not shared by others, at least not shared by you. The thing is that he has video lectures on TASI, and Perimeter institute, in which he lecture students and explicitly say these things, namely, there is no wave particle duality, it is not sometimes it is a particle and sometimes it is a wave, it is only particle, quantum particle, because when you detect it you detect it as particle. Regarding gauge symmetry, indeed I heard him as well promoting strongly the idea that gauge symmetry is not a symmetry, again that was in his many lectures and the targeted audience were students. He explicitly also said that all QFT textbooks got the idea of gauge symmetry reversed. By the way there is a presentation by Seiberg in which, on slide 14, he says gauge symmetry is not a symmetry www.sns.ias.edu/~seiberg/Talks/FieldTheory.ppt

Anyway it just bothers me because when I see his lectures I feel that he is trying to tell the students this is the way we think about these things now, and this is the modern way of understanding them. And I am bothered because when I read what you write and you are also a brilliant physicist I tell myself if those 2 geniuses are thinking differently from each other about wave particle duality then the rest of us should not feel so bad that we are sometimes confused and do not understand it well. Sorry for the long reply.

Dear Ehab, the viewpoint that gauge symmetries aren't real symmetries is surely modern, and I have taught it as such, too. It still doesn't prevent me from seeing that they have residual global symmetries and group theory remains important to understand systems with gauge symmetries - they still form a group although it acts trivially on the physical system.

Be sure that all these things among folks like Seiberg or Nima may only differ by the stress, a "program" which the people realize to be just a program, and good physicists like that always distinguish sharp physical claims, differences, and errors from idiosyncratic differences in the wording. Be sure that all the differences about gauge symmetries among well-known string theorists and phenomenologists belong to the latter. All of them know how to deal with systems with gauge symmetries, how important they are, what the gauge symmetries allow us to do (make the Lorentz symmetry manifest despite the existence of particles with spin 1 or more - I have explained this Nima/Seiberg point many many times on this blog as well), and so on.

But you just can't expect that all physicists will always choose the same wording or accent. Physics isn't about parroting.