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Matt Strassler's debate with anti-string conspiracy theorists

Matt Strassler decided to waste some hours with a lengthy discussion with activist crackpots (Dilaton did some work to improve the general decency of the participants, thanks),

Did the LHC Just Rule Out String Theory?!
Apparently for the first time, Matt saw someone stating something like “Results from the Large Hadron Collider [LHC] have blown string theory out of the water” (such insane statements have been around for years, however!) so he decided to elaborate on the basic explanations why such claims are utterly preposterous.

The first weird and manifestly pathological feature of these obsessed anti-string activists is that for years, many of them (especially the "leaders" of the movement) have been saying that string theory was untestable. Quite suddenly, it was tested and "blown out of the water". Holy cow. If you can't falsify a theory, how can you suddenly falsify the theory? The IQ of the individuals who are unable to notice this basic inconsistency must be closer to the IQ of an average chimp than to the IQ of an average human.

Strassler repeats all the basic observations that have been explained hundreds of times on this blog and elsewhere. It's my guess that it won't change anything. He says that string theory is being connected with the world of phenomena at least in two ways – as a unifying quantum theory of gravity and other forces (and matter), something that real string theorists actually find important; and as a mere tool to produce new calculational techniques for the strong nuclear force etc. (something he has worked on).

The anti-string critics are mixing these things all the time. They also confuse a prediction that may be tested in principle (and string theory is full of those; and this is what makes it indisputable that it is a scientific enterprise) with a prediction that may be tested in a particular experiment of a foreseeable future. String theory as a unifying theory is of course a long-term goal, a new framework for theoretical physics that's here to stay for decades or a century or permanently, so of course that some particular excitement with an experiment that is performed on Friday morning or in 2012 isn't the primary determinant of string theory's fate – and it has never been.

Matt Strassler also distinguishes the predictions of particular string vacua from the predictions of the whole string theory framework. He argues – like your humble correspondent and dozens of people before us – that from a practical perspective, the predictive power of string theory as a framework is about the same as the predictive power of quantum field theory as a framework. In the most general form, you could say that neither of them predicts "anything" we can really observe (it's not really true but let me not go into that); a specific model (a string theory vacuum or a particular QFT) predicts pretty much everything – another question is whether we are able to calculate the predictions.

So any suggestion that string theory is in a worse shape than quantum field theory when it comes to real-world predictions is simply untrue. String theory only reparameterizes the space of possible theories or environments differently. Instead of the low-energy spectrum and the low-energy values of some coupling constants, string theory classifies the possibilities according to the high-energy behavior of the degrees of freedom in physics, qualitative properties of the compactification of the extra dimensions and other properties that may only be "directly measured" using in practice inaccessible very high-energy probes.

In reality, when you look at the big picture, the status of string theory is of course better than the status of quantum field theory. It is more predictive because the number of stabilized string vacua is countable (i.e. discrete) and, when basic constraints are imposed, probably finite. This makes string theory more predictive than quantum field theory, at least in principle. Also, all the "different string vacua" are actually connected – they are solutions to the same stringy equations. This situation is contrasted with the situation in quantum field theory where different quantum field theories are completely disconnected. Finally, string theory is more well-behaved (well, completely well-behaved) at very short distances which is particularly important for gravity (whose Planck-scale behavior can't be described by a quantum field theory in the spacetime at all) but not only for gravity.

I find these exchanges tiresome because they have taken place so many times and nothing has come out of them. If someone needs more than half an hour to absorb and verify (using other sources or his own thinking) the five basic paragraphs about the predictivity and basic status of string theory above – or if he's even willing to remain confused or ambiguous about them for years – it's just a waste of time to write dozens or hundreds of comments for that person. He will never get it. He is too intellectually limited. He will always be inclined to read tirades by anti-string conspiracy theorists and prolific crackpots.

But there are proclamations by Matt Strassler I disagree with, too. One of them is his "agnosticism" about whether "useful, immediately usable predictions" are needed for a theory to be scientific. It is not a matter of personal preferences. Science simply doesn't depend on any "fast applications"; applications of science are completely different entities than science itself. Even things that have no imaginable or foreseeable applications are scientific if they have in principle observable consequences and empirically rooted evidence backing them. However, this disagreement is far from being the only one. Consider this quote:
The string theorists over-sold their theory; [Voits] is underselling it; don’t listen to either of them, just think carefully and listen to sensible people without an axe to grind.
I have restored the actual name of one of the activists (one of the two most notorious ones, in fact); like many families who flew to Latin America after the World War II, he is distorting his last name in order to hide that his ancestors were largely (at least among the locals) responsible for the murder of 40,000 Jews in Riga in 1941, a history that he finds inconvenient now when he decided that his well-being depends on his being an extreme leftist.

Fine. Let's look at Strassler's comment.

There have surely been people who "oversold" something. When Michio Kaku or even Brian Greene were explicitly or at least implicitly promising you time machines that will produced because of advances in string theory, they oversold the practical power of string theory. When someone would "promise" that it's guaranteed that an experiment that has already been performed would have to observe some beyond-the-Standard-Model physics, they surely oversold the "urgency" of string-theoretical predictions as well – simply because no BSM physics has been observed yet.

However, when Edward Witten "guessed" that the single right string theory compactification capable of predicting all particles' properties would be found within weeks back in 1985, it was just a guess that turned out to be overly optimistic but that reflected this top scientist's best judgement at the moment. There were very good reasons to think so. But he would never claim that this expectation had actually been established.

On the other hand, as Edward Witten pointed out a few years ago, even (most) string theorists underestimate the actual richness and strength of string theory. I completely agree with that and I would present this thesis as a self-criticism, too. Even if you read The Reference Frame, you will be led to think that string theory is less rich, important, and powerful than it actually is.

Even more importantly, I completely disagree with Strassler's statement that "you should listen to the people in between". If you want to become a brainwashed moron, you should listen to the anti-string demagogues. If you want to become something in between a brainwashed moron and a well-informed interested layman, you should listen to the people who are somewhere in between the experts and the anti-string demagogues (although I do admit that Matt was closer to the experts in this particular exchange).

But if you actually want to accurately learn how the theory works, what it says, what it has demonstrated, and what it hasn't, you don't have a choice: you have to listen to the actual experts and not just semi-experts like Matt Strassler.

Try to think about it. It's completely obvious. But politically correct attitudes of people who are "always somewhere in between" have penetrated deeply to the psyche of the society. The PC-inspired misunderstanding of the process to find the truth is so deep and widespread that even the statement that "you are likely to get the more accurate information about a theory from an expert than from a bystander" has become controversial. If you evaluate whatever information you're able to evaluate and conclude that all the claims that "string theory remarkably and nontrivially works" are lies, you should just ignore string theory (and vote against it in all funding and hiring decisions you are expected to influence) because it doesn't have any value according to your views and the whole "community" is just deluded. But if you're able to figure out that this conclusion is an indefensible conspiracy theory and there's quite a body of evidence and a mathematical structure that some people have partially or largely mastered, experts are the only folks who can really teach you things at the expert level.

This observation of mine isn't just a truth in principle. It takes on a real shape in every discussion of this kind. For example, Joseph Conlon, a string phenomenologist from Oxford, joined the discussion and corrected Matt Strassler's inaccurate claims that a theory like string theory can never predict general things about physics at much-lower-than-the-fundamental scale. For example, the predictions of an axiverse – a large number of axions with hierarchical masses at many scales – is implied by certain classes of the string vacua. These axions are hard to observe – but not because they're heavy; it's because they are weakly interacting with the known particles.

So what Matt Strassler wrote about all these technical things is just wrong. Such wrong things written by "people in the middle" are often tolerated and people tend to absorb them because we live in the society where mediocrity largely rules. But they're as wrong as some of the technical claims made by the hardcore anti-string conspiracy theorists. Matt Strassler and people "who always want to be in the middle of the society, as a matter of principle" never become the main targets of a criticism in any polarized debate. Why? Simply because in a polarized debate, only a "sign" or "magnitude" or someone's positions along a one-dimensional axis is what matters to many folks. Because Matt Strassler and similar folks are never viewed as "extreme ones", the people who care about the signs only just don't attack them.

Your humble correspondent doesn't approach the situation in this way. The whole "polarization" of a discussion is an artifact of the participation of the stupid and dishonest people in the discussion. If Voits and others were consistently treated as what they are – obsessed, loud, deluded, and dishonest crackpots – we would never try to project statements on a "one-dimensional, string/anti-string political axis". And I am never projecting statements on an axis. I am evaluating the validity of statements by carefully looking at the evidence. And many of the technical statements of Matt Strassler about string theory are just wrong which is not shocking because he's not a real expert.

Of course, he's still way closer to being a string phenomenology or string theory expert than (with a few exceptions) the folks who opposed him in this particular exchange.

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snail feedback (56) :

reader Dilaton said...

Dear Lumo,

Thanks for this nice article and the kind words at the beginning, this makes me feel a bit better :-)

At present I am very annoyed with Math Strasser as I tried to help him (even though I disagree with him about the same issues you do), he obviously prefers to second the worst trolls that popped up over there to attack me. And I am angry with myself for having wasted too much time and energy following these exchanges.

reader Dimension10 (Abhimanyu PS) said...

Results from The Reference Frame [TRF] have blown crackpottery out of the water !

reader David Brown said...

"String theory as a unifying theory is of course a long-term goal ..." String theorists fail to realize that the Lambda-CDM model is significantly wrong. First, Milgrom's acceleration law with its empirical verifications (at least 8!) shows the model is somewhat wrong. Second, the space roar is empirical evidence that the model is badly wrong. Three different and independent empirical data sets support the space roar. Ignoring both Milgrom and the space roar guarantees failure for string theorists.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Dilaton, I saw your interactions and I know how you feel. Well, Matt has a purely "institution-dependent" understanding of legitimate discussions which is why he apparently finds it OK to treat Peter Voits as a informed human but not quite you.

reader Toon Pepermans said...

Hi, on a news site I was linked to the following paper claming another origin than the Big Bang for our universe:
Is it crap or is it a possible hypothesis?

reader Shannon said...

String Theory is like the princess in the Andersen fairy tale "The Princess and the Pea"... only an expert can feel it...

reader Dimension10 (Abhimanyu PS) said...

These laws you cite are from the crackpot theory of MOND.

String Theory doesn't need to be consistent with MOND, because String Theory is not crackpot.

reader TheD.O.C said...

I personally am not a fan of String Theory. But the fact is that any good BSM theory is worth looking into. As long as they remain mathematically consistent and are not in violation of data, they will always offer a bounty of ideas that may find other applications. Why don't people show a little patience? Their is no hurry to find a GUT. Everyone wants to disprove string theory and other theories. Why? The real motivation is not constructive criticism, but to attack perceived smugness.

Between the fights of various 'tribes' of scientists (with a generally clueless media and uniformed public to boot), people will waste endless amounts of time and energy. Time that could have been better spent on effort to developing these theories further. It is not the destination to the GUT that counts (if it even exists), but the journey of scientific pondering that refines us.

Lubos, I agree with your scientific arguments, but I sense frustration in your words. Perhaps I am wrong, but I think you should take it easy.

reader kashyap vasavada said...

I agree completely that ST is a beautiful framework which unifies GR and SM. The critics do not have any alternate model. But they keep on hammering that a scientific theory must be verified by experimental evidence. Personally I believe we should give ST some more time. Matt Strassler's point about "Black Hat project" is also very good. The problem ,of course, is that if the observable consequences are at extremely high energies then you will not be able to convince many people. The accelerators are severely limited by financial constraints. I have a question though. It seems that there will be more and more
accurate anisotropic CMBR observations by satellites. So are there consequences
from ST assuming some vacuum, some initial conditions etc. for CMBR results,
which you can claim follow only from ST?

reader Dilaton said...

The damage the aggressive trolls, such as Matt Strassler's oponent in the discussion over there for example, have done and are still doing to fundamental physics is very real and threathening. Matt Strassler has alluded to it in some comments, talking about his efforts to obtain money for his research being in vain because the decision makers listend to the wrong and dishonest statments of said aggressive trolls rather than experts. And I guess this is not the only case of such things happening :-(

So how in the world can anybody who seriously and honestly is interested in and likes fundamental physics take it easy ?!

Lumo is rightly so frustrated and upset about these things and I feel the same.

reader Dilaton said...

Ts ts ts ...

Now Matt Strasser seems some kind of troubled about having been hit by the full broadside of the Trollkings nastyness and aggressivity

What else did he expect as an outcome of tangling with him at length ...?!

For some reason I have stopped to pitty him and rather think he probably obtains what he deserves (he probably needs to learn and experience what a real ugly troll is the hard way). I am sorry to say this but I cant help it ...

reader Eugene S said...

A while back, I asked on physics.SE about results from the Planck probe and got a very useful reply from user "Pulsar" (one my favorite experts on p.SE):

reader Luboš Motl said...

LOL, Matt has probably been accused of some bad things by the trolls for the first time. A happy person. As soon as he has collected 9 years of attacks by these jerks distributed over thousands of vitriolic dishonest blog entries, I may slowly start to think about pitying him. ;-)

reader etudiant said...

Rather depressing, imho.
It seems that this branch of physics has evolved beyond the experimental evidence, so there is no longer a baseline of verifiable fact to keep the fungus of scholasticism at bay.
It is not good for physics to be infected with obvious parasites, naysayers with nothing to contribute, as above, or messianics with delusions of 'the next big thing' as at the Perimeter Institute.
Where is the adult supervision?

reader lucretius said...

Lubos, could you please remove my second post? It's identical to the first one and I posted it as a new user (with the same name) because I got confused and somehow set up a new Disqus account. (I want to continue using the original one). Sorry about this.

reader David Brown said...

"Observations strongly suggest that a complete theory of dynamics has to depart from standard dynamics below some critical acceleration that is a constant of nature." — Kroupa, P.; Pawlowski, M.; Milgrom, M.
title=The failures of the standard model of cosmology require a new paradigm|journal=International Journal of Physics D|
volume=21|issue=14|date=31 Dec. 2012|url=

The empirical evidence speaks for itself. The probability that Kroupa, Pawlowski, McGaugh, and Milgrom are wrong is zero.

reader Mitchell Porter said...

"Even if you read The Reference Frame, you will be led to think that string theory is less rich, important, and powerful than it actually is." -- The Reference Frame

This reminds me of "Hofstadter's Law".

reader TheD.O.C said...

No point getting upset about it. The trolls are misguided and agitated to begin with. Why should people on the receiving end of this incessant vitriol also get agitated? That's just playing into the hands of the trolls.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dilaton, did you see how the newest debate developed?

A comment from Voits:

Peter [Voits] | September 19, 2013 at 5:30 PM | Reply

Just to point out the obvious: my words are being taken out of context, by someone who it seems blames me personally for ruining his career by poisoning the mind of some wealthy person who was ready to provide millions for a Strassler-led LHC institute. Go read the actual exchange of comments if you care. The whole thing though is so bizarre and with such little relationship to reality or a serious discussion of complex issues that I can’t see why anyone with any sense would bother.

--- Imagine that. Voits is probably responsible for destroying a promising project and directing tens of millions of dollars away from high-energy physics - which isn't even string theory. I have a little doubt that this is what Voits has "worked" on in this context. He not only harms physics but goes to a public forum and screams that the person whose project Voits has devastated must be biased because he was so screwed.

This is like the man who kills his parents and urges the judge to acquit him because he is an orphan! ;-)

Voits is a breathtaking jerk.

reader Giotis said...

In my opinion the idea that Matt is promoting, i.e. that even if String theory may not work as a QG and unification theory you could still use it as a "set of tools" for various purposes, is much more dangerous than any of Void's venomous attacks.

I put a relevant comment in latest Matt's post but I'm not sure if the message got through.

reader Peter F. said...

And the rest of us can see the genuine distress and can have the pea pointed out to us.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Because the trolls are demonstrably hurting the field and by not getting agitated, one is legitimizing this activity of theirs.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Giotis, string theory demonstably *does* provide us with a consistent theory of quantum gravity and unification of forces in Nature.

Matt may promote and oversell a particular small fraction of the string theory-based research, AdS/anything (probably because he has done some work on it), but this part of the research is not the real reason why string theory is the most profound set of ideas that the mankind has ever had (and probably will ever have).

reader Kimmo Rouvari said...

That's true and it applies everywhere. How about wars and climate BS? Best trolls get their way :-)

reader Eugene S said...

I know you're not going to agree with me, but in my opinion Matt Strassler is a very brave man.

It seems to me that like 99 percent of the experts in the field, his response to the emanations from the king troll in his lair on the Hudson had been exasperated silence, save for a few off-hand remarks. Until now. By taking on the king troll in open battle, he is confronting not only this one individual, but the countless devoted followers who have been gobbling up his sibilant hissing that told them exactly what they wanted to hear: "You are not too lazy, not too untalented to grasp a new and supremely difficult theory. You are not too greedy and impatient to demand a theory of everything that can be written on the back of a cereal box and read in one sitting. Your resentment, bred from unease and discomfort and feelings of inadequacy, is not a character flaw but a noble reaction. You are the child in Andersen's fairy tale pointing out that the king has no clothes. You are heroes."

Some of these followers are people in positions of power, who hold the pursestrings over funding decisions that may impact Prof. Strassler's career for years to come. Challenging the king troll means challenging his sub-trolls as well. For someone who is not a natural-born fighter, this takes some large measure of courage.

I'd like to think that by now, Prof. Strassler is feeling the gratifying mix of emotions that comes from looking your fears squarely in the eye... and overcoming them. He did the right thing.

reader lucretius said...

You are probably right but you (and some others here ) are ignoring the tactical aspects of these “battles” (one can see that you have not played chess seriously ;-))

It is clear from all these blogs that many (and probably most) readers are interested above all in two questions (about ST and related matters)

1) has it been experimentally verified?

2) is it “useful” (the case of physicists and also mathematicians this often takes the form “can it be useful to me?”)

The kind of answers that can be given to 1) do not meet with enthusiasm and while Matt has recognised this. He basically says, that this is a very difficult matter than may be resolved some day or may not.

Instead he concentrates on giving a positive answer to point 2) and in my opinion he does it very effectively. If you read the comments under the latest post you will see that Woit completely lost the debate with Matt, at least in the eyes of this blog’s readers. I don’t think he could have achieved it if Matt tried defending string theory on the grounds of its consistency and profundity as a unification theory. Clearly these are qualities that do not have much mass appeal.

I think Matt’s rather unambitious approach has achieved much more that is positive for ST than any other that I have seen so far on a popular physics forum.

reader Dilaton said...

Unfurtunately we have seen that the very obstinate hardcore trolls neither go away nor stop trolling when being ignored ... :-/

They would only stop, if string theory completely disappears, such that they would obviously have to look for a new target they can attack ...

reader Dilaton said...

Yep, I have seen it and I believe Matt Strassler concerning this. The trollking may have achieved many more such things we dont know about ... :-/

When being (even politely) told some inconvenient truths about his character, harmful and destructive deeds, etc which are plain obvious to every reasonable person who is at least semi intelligent and looks at his activities anyway, the Trollking immediately starts to lament how everybody misunderstands him, how badly and unfair he gets ad hominem attacked even though he only wants the best for science, etc ...

This is why I uploaded this picture to illustrate Matt Strassler's very to the point observation that crocodile's tears come to the mind wnen the Trollking starts whining ;-)

So, the Trollking is not only a breathtaking jerk but a weepy coward too, who has not even the balls or backbone to admit what he has done and still is doing ...

I suspect this is due to the fact that from an evolutionary point of view, he belongs to a species of animals whose body contains no bones at all ... ;-P

reader lucretius said...

I would agree with you "on principle" but this very rigid attitude is an almost certain guarantee of a "noble defeat". You should not forget the old and true saying that "history is written by the winners". Also, this is not just a question of personal financing and popularity among "ignorant laymen".

Clearly what is at stake is not just Matt’s own research project but support for this entire area of theoretical physics (and not even just string theory). More importantly, it’s not a question of support among the completely ignorant public, which, of course, does not make the really important decisions. Many of the readers of such blogs are scientifically literate and some are even physicists working in other areas. So when I meant “useful” I obviously did not mean useful for making some technological device - I meant something more like my own case: I am now trying to learn string theory in order to understand mirror symmetry which is very “useful” in studying toric geometry. Such “usefulness” of string theory is worth pointing out because you gain allies in this way and that is something you always need, not matter how much truth you have on your side. The same argument applies not only to mathematicians but also to many physicists who are not actually working on string theory but are actively using it (a quite impressive list of names was given by Matt). Again these people should be considered allies and their support is needed and the fact that this sort of thing is possible broadens the appeal of the subject.

In any case, the result of this debate speaks for itself. Woit has not been reduced to complaining of having had his views “bizarrely misrepresented” - always a sign of a severe defeat, particularly that a lot the audience were regular readers of his own blog and hardly anyone sided with him.
He must now be seething. I would say that’s worth something.

reader Luboš Motl said...

The history is written by the winners but *winners* isn't the same thing as the ignorant majority which is why it's just wrong, even from a strategic viewpoint, to pander to the ignorant majority just because it is a majority.

Geocentrism, creationism etc. were also defended by majorities, sometimes highly agitated majorities, but they didn't become winners who were writing the history. Quite on the contrary.

Also, I don't believe that the support for whole HEP theoretical physics is "at stake". Be sure that I am among those who are most disturbed by this ant-HEP movement, but I would still agree that this movement is still closer to a bunch of inconsequential trolls with no power rather than to the people who are making the key decisions.

Just to be sure, I find all topics that Matt Strassler wrote papers about to be totally legitimate physics and I think it is obvious that someone does such things and should be doing such things. On the other hand, my internal excitement or "feeling of importance" of the things he did is extremely limited - much like it is for some portions of organic chemistry or any other small random piece of science.

So if you hypothetically suggest that one should "tactically" sacrifice the research of string phenomenology or formal string theory research that I found way more important, while only some AdS/anything applications are the supposed remaining traces of the HEP theoretical research as we know it, then obviously you are talking about something that I call a complete defeat. I don't really care whether the remaining people would do AdS/anything or organic chemistry.

I have nothing whatsoever against organic chemistry and tons of other subdisciplines of science. They're sort of interesting. So I don't really care whether the "castrated HEP theoretical research" would be left or the HEP theoretical research would be stopped completely.

reader Luboš Motl said...

LOL, it's been always primarily Lee Smolin whom I was internally visualizing as jellyfish but he's probably not alone.

The whining that he's been misunderstood is so pathetic. If dozens of people read hundreds of his rants and interpret what he's saying in the same way but he means something else, maybe he should visit a psychiatrist and ask him to help the trollking to regain the control over his mouth and hands.

reader Giotis said...

What I meant want that *my* message didn't get out and Matt's misleading view prevailed unfortunately.

My comment in his latest post was:

"Personally I don’t agree that there is such distinction between Application 1 and 2 and indeed I find it misleading.

I’m willing to accept it though if someone could name the UV complete theory of gravity (application 1) in the AdS bulk which is dual to the SYM CFT on the boundary (AdS/CFT Application2) and that name is not String theory.

String/M theory is the one and only theory of QG unifying all fundamental forces of Nature and its particle content. If this is not true then nothing else is true, everything falls apart."

reader lucretius said...

Well, let me make one thing clear. I don't advocate telling "populist lies" to gain the support of the ignorant majority, etc. What I was advocating was actually telling the truth to the informed, but (and this is the key point) with emphasis on those aspects of the truth that interests them and are felt by them to be relevant to their own aims, rather than those that they don’t care much about.

I think this is exactly what Matt has been doing. He concentrated on telling people on the applications of String Theory to other areas of physics and to mathematics and he did not make them up. They really exist and String Theory is not just useful but often indispensable.

On the subject of the Unification Matt merely stated that he had never worked on it, and as a non-expert he thinks it is an area fraught with difficulties and he does not want to discuss it. I think this is both fair and wise. Trying to defend something you are not really expert on, particularly against people who have gathered a great deal of experience attacking it, is unwise and often damaging (I wish more people understood this point, there are too many who enter into arguments without being properly prepared and allow Woit and his allies score apparently easy debating victories - which do have some influence.)

I am not suggesting that you, who are a real expert on the deeper physical aspects of String Theory should adopt the same approach as Matt. It would be obviously a waste of your talents and knowledge. But Matt’s approach is very appropriate for Matt and I think everyone who cares for theoretical physics should be grateful to him. If Matt adopted your approach he would loose most of his readers and manage perhaps only to duplicate some things that can be found on TRF.

The first time I visited Matt’s blog (remember, that was the when he wrote about SUSY being “speculative” I asked him what he thought was the most important or useful area of physics to study today for a mathematician and he answered without hesitation “String Theory”. The reasons that he gave were, of course, unrelated to Unification, but obviously in this particular case it was the best answer.

reader lucretius said...

I honestly do not understand the claim you are making here, particularly in your last sentence. Let me give you an example and perhaps you can use it to explain what you mean.

I think it the chances that probability that Kimmo wins his bet with Dilaton is about the same as the probability that an asteroid will destroy all life on Earth within that time but suppose it happens (I mean Kimmo wins his bet not the world is destroyed by an asteroid). Will that be a reason to stop working on mirror symmetry, since its main ideas and all the intuition originate in String Theory? I don't think Kimmo's theory has anything to say about mirror symmetry (although of course I don't known anything about it so I could be wrong

reader Giotis said...

I was talking about physical applications and AdS/QCD in particular which was referenced by Matt as an example of Application 2. My argument was simple:

If you want to use seriously AdS/QCD to study the strong
coupling limit of pure Yang Mills/quark-less QCD then you must first admit that
AdS/CFT is true. But AdS/CFT makes sense
only if String theory is the UV complete (and finite) theory of QG in the bulk (i.e. Application 1 according to matt’s vocabulary).

So you really can’t separate Application 1 and 2 in a
sensible way.

I was not talking about Mathematical applications.
Mathematicians could study all short of abstract things without any restrictions
by the actual physics.

reader lucretius said...

I don't know (yet) much about the physics of Sting Theory so you should argue this point with Matt (I really regret that he seems to have disallowed your post and not tried to answer it). I believe that even the AdS/CFT correspondence has some purely mathematical implications (if I am not mistaken the work on Kontsevich on intersection numbers on the moduli space of Riemann surfaces is related to it). Such implications are independent of the current status of String Theory as a physical theory (in other words, they are independent of whether most physicists regard ST as the best possible "Theory of Everything" or not). Of course the fact that String Theory makes so many mathematical predictions that always turn out to be true means, I believe, that in some sense, it must be "true". However, it is of course possible that its "empirical truth" will never be confirmed by any experiment (beyond what has already been confirmed). Even in such a case String Theory will remain an important tool for both mathematical and physical purposes.

reader scooby said...

Clifford Johnson should apologize too all squirrels for comparing them to P. Woit. The red squirrels in the UK are now a protected species, they suffer from the competition with the eastern grey squirrels which reproduce faster, and carry a disease that does not affect them but is fatal to the red squirrels.

reader Dimension10 (Abhimanyu PS) said...

No, that's not a good idea.

Don't punish the poor OPs et al just so that you're not promoting Matthew Strassler etc. etc.

reader John Jagger said...

This is just fallacious reasoning.

The theory was untestable--meaning no set of tests could confirm it.

Tell me how that doesn't mean it cant fail its own tests?

I mean, this is so ridiculous I cant believe I just had to explain it.


1 My Red pants orbit Andromeda

2 It is not possible to detect pants orbiting Andromeda

3 The theory is untestable

A lost photo of my pants were just discovered in my house and my pants were not Red

Theory falsified.

Look, string theory was the result of hard atheism gone wild. They joined Fundamentalists as people with far too much bias to look at things honestly. You cant throw a dart at the wall and draw a bulls eye around it and call that science. The minute they added 6 dimensions we had a huge problem--WHY?---that's more than there is in case no one noticed.
At that point they were just begging to waste 30 years.

reader Dilaton said...

Lucretius, thanks for doing such a good job on Matt Strassler' s blog now ... !

The suicide bombers have perfectly internalized the tactic of their idol of claiming to be personally attacked as soon as a reasonable person tells them how off the mark and inconsistent their attitudes are. Their bad characte is clearly visible as they can not even accept being told wrong or their from a scientific point of view clearly unfunded negative attitudes being questioned as politely as you did...

The spirit of your nice comments reminds me of the friendly, pragmatic attitude of mathematicions towards string theory I already noted in "The Shape of Inner Space". I like this :-)

reader Dilaton said...

BTW this stavriakus guy and all the tons of similar trolls pretty much sound like religious fanatics:

They claim to wait for the new Einstein (Messias, the choosen one) who will come and overthrow all of the established knowledge about physics (Last Judgement) to save the world from all the darkness and transgression (the evil string theorists), and the Shmoitzikers are the holy prophets of which those religious fanatics worship every word :-D !!!

Do they even know how rididulous their believe in a Messias or choosen one who will save the (physics) world looks in the eyes of every reasonable person who slightly has a clue about how the scientific method works? It does not work by prayers, believing in allmighty saviors, and prodigies, LOL :-D !!!

reader lucretius said...

I quite agree. I did not really intend to get involved in any argument there - my intention was to write only one post. I am very busy now and I keep telling myself to avoid such involvements but their replies proved too provocative.

You are right that there is something messianic or millenarian about these people, who are probably coming from Woit’s blog. They are similar to certain kind of primitive marxists.

On the one hand they assert as a sure fact that a true “theory of everything” will be eventually found (by a new Einstein) while String Theory will be forgotten. This is like the marxists who believe that the inevitable victory of communism and the collapse of capitalism. On the other hand, instead of simply waiting for this inevitable event, they feel the need to speed it up by attacking Capitalism and the capitalists or, in this case, String Theory and string theorists. But, since they don’t really understand what they are attacking and what they are waiting for, even if this new Einstein did appear they would not be able to recognise him. So they need their cult leader (Woit) to tell them what to think but I don’t think he is actually waiting for the new Messiah. His own aims seem to me much more “earthly”.

reader Mephisto said...

lol, you are such a drama queen, dilaton. If you don't want to read his blog then don't read it, it is kind of superfluous to inform him about it. And if you want to learn physics then learn physics. You will not learn it from blogs. If you would put all the time wasted on blogs to actually studying physics, you could go much deeper and appretiate the beauty of physical laws first hand. You cannot learn physics top-down, you must learn it down-to-top, that is ignore string theory if you have not understood quantum field theory.

reader Dimension10 (Abhimanyu PS) said...

@Mephisto: The downvote on your "comment" is from me.

1. Well, you can choose to be introvert in such situations. He didn't. What's your problem?

2. What's wrong with reading blogs to learn cutting - edge Physics. You do know that Lubos often posts very interesting, and intuitive articles on both the well - known textbook material, and cutting -edge research, don't you ? .

3. Could you cite where Dilaton said that he wanted to learn QFT before string theory? .

4. What is the attachment supposed to be for? How is it relevant here? .

reader Mephisto said...

Hi Dimension10, what is my problem? I found dilatons message excessively dramatic that is why I commented. But I must admit I commented yesterday at 3am after drinking some Federweisser the evening before so my message might have been a little incoherent :-)

Concerning learning physics from blogs, I do not think it possible. To learn physics you really have to go through the maths, there is no shortcut. Blogs can be useful to motivate you, can offer a roadmap and are interesting to read as an overview of cutting edge research, but if you dont go through the maths all you gain is some vague pseudounderstanding. I remember reading some blogs of Lubos a couple of years ago, I found them interesting but haven't really understood anything. I understood the blogs only after I learned the real theory.

String theory is for me such an advanced topic that I haven't even tried to study it and haven't formed any oppinion about it yet. I can repeat after Lubos that it is the only viable framework that can unify gravity and QFT, but I do not really see it, because I haven't even understood the problems that it is trying to solve. Maybe one day I will get there.

And Dilaton can argue with Matt Strassler (I havent followed the discussion there) but the fact is that while Matt Strassler or even Woit do know something about String Theory, Dilaton knows almost nothing about it (at least I believe he doesn't, I hope he doesn't get insulted). To portrait Woit as some kind of Moron with IQ 80 is simply not right, he at least understands the rotation group :-)

Why I inserted the random link to the pdf about symmetry? I guess as a demonstration of the beauty of physics and to point out what one has to learn before one can even think about learning string theory. (the Federweisser might have something to do with it :)

The reason why I read Lubos blog and not Strasslers is that Lubos has more technical blogs while Strassler concentrates more on qualitative descriptions and sociology and philosophy (i.e. there is no real physics, the blogs have no meat). Instead of discussing supersymmetry on a philosophical level, I would much rather study the supersymmetric harmonic oscillator on a mathematical level and hence really see what supersymmetry is, not discuss its implications.

reader Dimension10 (Abhimanyu PS) said...

This is totally ignoreing what I said.

I didn't say that you don't need the math. I said that good, technical blogs, like TRF are great sources once you've learnt textbook material.

And unless you were joking (in which case, that's a really bad joke), even a newborn can be taught what a rotation group is. Of course, I suppose wot knows better than that, but that doesn't make him or smoln know String Theory.

reader Dilaton said...

Hi Mephisto,

your messages contain some points I agree with, and some points I dont agree with ... ;-)

Matt Strasslre again and again explicitely say, that his blog is intended to explain HEP and some related issues sometimes, to a broader, not scientifically trained laypeople public. This is why you will never find articles there introducing for example supersymmetry at a reasonable technical level, such as it is for example done in Patrick Labelle's Supersymmetry Demystified

When you look at the table of content you can see, that it introduces the concepts, ideas, etc involved at a no nonsensical technical / mathematical level ...

So I agree with you that when interested in learning physics at a technical level, Matt Strassler's blog is not the right place, even though I sometimes liked his descriptions of the experimental side (descrptions of what and how different experiments look at, explanations of how to read different plots shown at conferences and in papers, etc). And getting involved there in discussions with trolls or even the Trollking himself Matt Strassler unfortunately allows to freely propagate in his comment sections, as nothing but an unconstructive wast of time and energy that I better but into learning about physics I like, you are completely right on this.

I am not insulted by your comments about my physics knowledge ;-), but a bit curious where you did this negative opinion from ...?

I am certainly not obliged to justify or defend myself here, but as I said to Matt Strassler I am not as knowledge free as you obviously think. I have a certain training (university courses involving solving exercises etc), in classical mechanics, QM, statistical physics (including nonequilibrium), fluid dynamics, etc and about other topics (HEP, relativity, cosmology, etc) I have learned at a no nonsensical (but admittedly plagued by a bit too many typos) technical level from the Demystified Theoretical Physics book series, Lenny Lectures, and of course TRF :-). And I still keep learning, whenever I have time and energy for doing it.

Of course you are right, when planning to really seriously doing work in theoretical physics, things have to be learned systematically and carefully in the appropriate order, as for example explained in Gerard t'Hooft's advice how to become a good theoretical physicist:

There are no shortcuts, and for example before trying to read the bible

one should have a really good understanding of QFT, CFT, and many other things including serious mathematical prerequisits.

But I think there is nothing wrong with me trying to follow and learn more and more deeply things at an appropriate technical level I can stomach, for example by reading a baby book as Lumo would call it :-D

which nicely builds up things step by step.

And Lumo's articles are always a good inspiration, outlook, and explanation of how good physicists do and look at things, even though my understanding of them my be more or less coarse grained when reading things for the first time.

Hm, seems even though I am not directly insulted, your comment seems have made me feel attacked a bit after all ... :-/

Will read on in my baby book now and probably shorten this comment later ...

reader Mephisto said...

"I said that good, technical blogs, like TRF are great sources once you've learnt textbook material"

Yes, that is the same point I was making.

And rotation group might be easy once you know it, but it is not trivial. You need to learn a lot: about Lie groups, Lie algebras, about representations of the group and how to generate them, about spinors and Pauli matrices and relation to SU2 and quaternions. From the point of view of a string theorist, it is high school stuff, but from the point of view of ordinary physics enthusiasts (like myself), it is advanced stuff. In fact, I only recently really understood spinors (a very difficult topic for me, took me 2 years to really get it). After studying from various sources, these lectures from MIT finally opened my eyes :-)

And Woit understands this stuff also, so he cannot have IQ 20 :-)

reader Dilaton said...

Thanks for the link :-)

Sure, the Trollking may understand some (in particular mathematical) stuff even better than many others, but this does obviously not prevent him from being the ***hole he is and trying to patronize and actively destroy parts of fundamental physics he is NOT an expert in (he can NOT judge it from a scientific point of view) but he dislikes anyway.

His (unfortunately more and more successful) attempts to negatively interfere with the natural advancement of the scientific method are very harmful and destructive.

reader Eugene S said...

These people in your exchanges on Strassler's blog are insane. And stupid. Whereas the king troll in his lair on the Hudson is not stupid in my book -- he surely is in the 99th percentile of the population IQ-wise -- but still not talented or skilled enough to understand the research that he badmouthes. One day his evilness will collapse back in on himself and he will spontaneously self-combust.

reader lucretius said...

Yes, they are all mad but represent enough of different types of madness to fill up a number of Looney Tunes cartoons ;-)

Woit is, of course, pretty smart and there is no point pretending he isn’t. Just the fact that he graduated from Harvard and got a PhD from Princeton in physics practically guarantees that he has an IQ of over 130, probably quite lot higher. But if you look at his publications you will notice that his research papers (I could only find 8) seem to stop around 1990 - after that it’s almost all criticism of String Theory: String Theory: an evaluation (2001), Is string Theory even wrong? (2002), Is String Theory Testable (2007), plus survey and educational articles.

On that basis I would say that his research did not get very far and his career failed to match his ambitions, not because he is insufficiently intelligent but because he lacks creativity - a really rather different and difficult to identify quality. But he was smart enough to pick the right moment to “establish himself” as a “leading critic” of String Theory, the author of a popular (I assume) book, who is consulted by journalists, featured on the mass media and has a substantial presence on the Wikipedia, which is frequently consulted by students and non-specialists interesteed in physics.

Unlike his “cannon fodder” (or “suicide bombes”) he does not seem to be interested in “finding another Einstein” and in fact, diligently deletes all posts by self-proclaimed “new-Einsteins” or anyone with any un-orthodox views on physics other than String Theory.

So in my opinion he has just found himself a nice career and is doing everything to keep it going. This takes some intelligence.

I am not sure if I already mentioned it, but I recently discovered that 2002, when he was just beginning his career as a “critic” of String Theory, we both attended a conference in Oxford. Among the participants there were many several Fields medal winners including Witten. Who knows, I might have even sat next to the “Trollking” at lunch ;-)

reader Dilaton said...

Yes, the Trollking not being stupid is what makes him really dangerous and his destructive campaigns quite successful, unfortunately... :-/

reader Dimension10 (Abhimanyu PS) said...

This user "David Brown" should really be banned.

He's obviously a troll, not just on TRF, but seemingly all over DisQuS.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Perhaps, apologies, but he hasn't reached the ban level on TRF yet.

reader Dilaton said...

BTW the niveau of Matt Strassler's comment sections could probably be improved a lot by just making comments up and downvotable.

On Sean Carroll's new blog below this nice guest post

there was a really bad Trollking spambot or sock-puppet called "Nikki", but the trolling comment collapsed to invisible because of the many downvotes :-). Other slighly less brainfree trolls, such as John Duffield for example, have not yet crossed the threshold ...

So maybe somebody should suggest to Matt Strassler to make the comments on his blog votable too ...

reader David Brown said...

IMO, the idea that string theory hasn't been and probably won't be directly tested in a way comprehensible to the layperson is wrong. Milgrom's acceleration law and the space roar are empirical facts that need explanation, and string theory seems to be the only reasonable possibility for explaining these astonishing empirical facts.