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Should down-to-earth citizens fund high-brow science?

My short answer is No.

Several days ago, we had an exchange with Lucretius who was arguing that to honestly explain that the ordinary people won't enjoy any applications from the string-theory-like research and they won't even be able to understand the evidence that the theory is right (which also implies that they won't be able to verify that they're not being cheated) means to converge towards a "noble defeat". One has to be a populist and distort the facts, he effectively said. He implicitly suggested that the high-energy-physics research should be framed and interpreted as something different than what it is. And perhaps parts of its should be "sacrificed". The history is written by the winners.

Well, I disagreed and disagree with the message.

The history is written by the winners but the "winners" isn't necessarily the same thing as the "stupid majority". Stupid majorities got defeated whenever the whole society made some advance. I will use the term "stupid people" for those who believe that something must be wrong with string theory. The topic of this text is supposed to be more general than just the sociology of string theory research and I do understand that these "stupid people" may be educated or bright in various other respects but I do think that the "stupid people" is an excellent approximation to describe the kind of trolls who visit the hateful blog written by a superannuated teaching assistant at Columbia University, to mention a major example.

Well, the regular readers of that blog aren't exactly "stupid people"; they are imbeciles on steroids. But "stupid people" might be a politically correct, diplomatic description of that group of individuals.




Already 25 years ago when I read Feynman's popular book Surely You're Joking Mr Feynman, I found myself in agreement with what he said about these matters. In his 1974 Caltech commencement address reproduced as the chapter about the Cargo Cult Science in the book, Feynman said many important things about the scientific integrity.




The remarks about the communication with the laymen that affect the funding said:

I'm talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you are maybe wrong, that you ought to have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen.

For example, I was a little surprised when I was talking to a friend who was going to go on the radio. He does work on cosmology and astronomy, and he wondered how he would explain what the applications of this work were. "Well," I said, "there aren't any." He said, "Yes, but then we won't get support for more research of this kind." I think that's kind of dishonest. If you're representing yourself as a scientist, then you should explain to the layman what you're doing – and if they don't want to support you under those circumstances, then that's their decision.
Particle physics hasn't had "applications" in the conventional sense for more than 50 years and perhaps much more than that. As the relevant energy scale keeps on increasing and is increasingly far away from the scales of the everyday life, the communication between them is weakening.

Of course that the high-energy physics research has side effects. The World Wide Web and the first Internet browser were built in CERN where scientists wanted to improve their communication channels. The construction of colliders stimulates the development of better magnets. Some of the discipline's insights and technologies may turn out to be useful in medicine. And so on. But these are not the reasons why high-energy physics is studied. The probability seems rather high to me that if you accumulated similarly smart people and paid the same money to them for the development of useful technologies and inventions, they could find a greater number of them.

Particle physics, theoretical physics, and especially their intersection has been done for the sole purpose to understand how Nature works – to find an understanding that is better than what the previous generations could achieve. I have no doubts that this outcome – the scientific truth – is something that is considered worthless by many people, I would even say an overwhelming majority of the mankind. This negative attitude to the scientific truth partly boils down to their being intellectually limited; it partly boils down to some ethical holes, too. Yes, just thinking about science triggers moral behavior.

This negative attitude inevitably escalates when we talk about the research in theoretical physics that talks about so abstract and distant phenomena (from the everyday life) that we can't build machines to directly test these theories – now or in any foreseeable future. Any research of quantum gravity almost inevitably belongs to this category because we may calculate that the quantum aspects of gravity only become relevant at energies \(10^{18}\GeV\) or so, near the (reduced) Planck scale. For some reasons, this unavoidable inaccessibility is only being used by the populists as a weapon against string theory even though any theory that tries to attack the physics of the fundamental scale is pretty much guaranteed to be equally inaccessible through direct tests.

The possible phenomena may still be studied mathematically and it's still cheaper to pay hundreds of string theorists than to try to build a Planckian collider. Because mathematics is very constraining once we require all the principles that seem to be relevant – and the approximate agreement with theories that have already been established – it turns out that one can make lots of spectacular progress in the understanding how things work. The doubts that string/M-theory is "on the right track" have been shrunk by many orders of magnitude.

I know it and professional string theorists know it because we have successfully studied these things for decades. But I personally understand that the typical laymen just can't understand the true theoretical reasons that underlie the near-certainty that string theory is right. The laymen can't really get it without a certain faith in the experts' propositions. And because I think that the unverified faith in the authorities' proclamations is mostly a bad thing, I have lots of understanding for the laymen who just decide that they won't believe. They're intellectually limited which is the reason why they can't really learn the theory but at the same moment, they display a certain form of intellectual integrity. They haven't understood the proof so they keep their a priori opinions – string theory looks like a rather random collection of concepts to them so they keep on thinking that chances are high that it must be wrong.

Well, a slightly more sophisticated layman will realize his or her intellectual limitations so he will decide to trust certain people when they talk about the questions in which they seem vastly more educated, knowledgeable, and intelligent than himself or herself (I guess that scientists are using this strategy often; at least, they should never have a problem with admitting to themselves that someone might know much more about a topic than they do). So without their own ability to independently verify the claims, they may become supporters. But this is a very problematic path. For sure, it's not guaranteed to lead to the right outcomes. Some people aren't even able to figure out that relatively to e.g. Edward Witten, Lee Smolin is just a kitschy populist kibitzer and a countryside philosopher who has no clue about the actual status of theoretical physics at the beginning of the 21st century. That's right. Some – and maybe most – people are not just unable to follow Witten's papers. They're not able to see that they're by a dozen of levels more serious, creative, and credible that Smolin's crackpot delusions and fantasies.

So whether someone likes it or not, I find it obvious that populist cranks of the Smolin-Voits kind are predetermined to gather more enthusiastic "grassroot" support of the ordinary and especially stupid people than proper theoretical physics. At least in the real world, it seems to be the case. Does it mean that the very funding for string theory etc. is at risk because of that? Will all the young folks with the capacity to make progress be forced to work in McDonald's or Citibank?

I don't think so, for several reasons.

First of all, science shouldn't be a democracy and so far, thankfully, it is not democracy. Science is a meritocracy (the ideal science surely is and even the real-world science is, to a large extent, at least in most disciplines) and when it comes to decisions about the scientific truth as well as the funding for further research, there exists a hierarchy of people who ultimately represent the public or its subsets but who are increasingly knowledgeable and who have an increasing influence at the same moment. Yuri Milner pretty much completely knows whose research is valuable, established, and/or promising; he's been trained as a string-theory-like researcher himself. But even many of the key folks in NSF and DOE may be described in this way.

When anyone – a layman or anyone else – is paying some money for the scientific research, even if he or she belongs among the relatively stupid people, he or she should still understand some elementary things. In science, the results are dictated by the evidence and they're not determined from the beginning, e.g. by the wishes of the sponsors. If you're paying your money with the goal of making the conclusions look closer to your preferred opinions which haven't been established, then you are not paying for the scientific research. You are paying to distort the scientific research. Well, in some cases, you may be lucky and right and your distortion may push the science in the right way (that's especially likely if there are many other people who are distorting science in the opposite direction) but the push has no reason to be "guaranteed" to go in the right direction, especially not "repeatedly".

So if you're paying for high-energy physics, it's inevitable that the researchers will make different conclusions than those you were guessing from the beginning. More generally, they may decide to spend much less time with your "pet theories" because they determine that they're wrong for some reasons. And they may dedicate most of their time to theories you couldn't even think about or you dislike or you find contrived and you just hate. If you don't like that science's journey is unknown at the beginning, then you dislike science as such because the progress in science is simply not known from the beginning and is largely unpredictable, especially by those who don't have all the state-of-the-art evidence in their heads.

There is another, albeit related, reason why the stupid people's majority status in the human population doesn't mean and won't mean that the research for pure science such as string theory will be stopped. The stupid people may form a majority and they think that the funding to string theory should be zero. But there still exists a minority of people who are not stupid and who think that the funding should be much greater than it is today. In a real democracy, the final outcome isn't the opinion of the majority. It's some kind of a weighted average. When the bright enough people are taken into account, one gets a compromise which is comparable to the current level of funding for pure science.

Some of the stupid people fail to see this point. They don't even want to admit to themselves that they're in the stupider part of the human population; they don't even want to admit to themselves that smarter laymen than themselves exist. But they do exist. The inability of these stupid people to even see that smarter laymen exist usually depends on another necessary condition – they're not only stupid but they spend pretty much all their lives in the company of other stupid people. They haven't really interacted with substantially brighter folks, at least not for extended periods of time.

So when I passionately defend string theory and attack the idiots who love to say and write negatively sounding lies about string theory, I am not doing it because I would be afraid of the end of research of string theory or its tolerability within the society. I don't really believe that such a qualitative result could occur. We just don't live in the Middle Ages. Whether their fans like it or not, Alexander Unzicker, Peter Voits, and Lee Smolin are just mostly irrelevant assholes. And so is, to a lesser extent, Lawrence Krauss and dozens of similar individuals I could enumerate. Of course that their decade-long or decades-long crusade couldn't have led to the end of the string theory research because some people still know better and the assholes don't possess the tools that the Inquisition possessed in the Middle Ages.

But I still do think that a similar organized movement of the demagogues and the stupid people "marginally" hurts the field, it is gradually deflecting some young folks (and dollars) who (and that) could have contributed very interesting insights right now. Because I am confident than the overall market value of all those Unzickers is vastly smaller than 1% of the value of string theory, I find it unacceptable for these subpar human beings to reduce the rate of the string theory research by 1% – and they have arguably achieved such a thing if not more than that.

At the same moment, I have to stress that if there were a group of down-to-earth citizens who would be in a complete consensus that they don't want to fund pure scientific research such as string theory, string theorists should avoid attempts to restore the funding by distorting the truth what the theory is. If the laymen don't want to pay you, they have the right. It's still very important for the scientist to say the truth. If he becomes entangled in a network of lies and distortions invented because of the laymen, he will inevitably start to be confused what is right and what is wrong in his discussions with his colleagues or during his own research, too. For a scientist, it should always be better to give up the funding from sources that would be forcing him to behave dishonestly. When it happens, it doesn't mean that there don't exist better sources.

But a noble defeat, as Lucretius indicated? No way. We are really in charge of things. It's "our" world and Unzickers, Voitses, Smolins, and their friends and superdumb fans are just irrelevant optional additions to the world who don't really have to be here at all. They know it and that's why they're so vitriolic. Their status is completely analogous to the status of Al Qaeda that is only dreaming about hurting another train in the U.S. but it realizes that it's just a tiny inconsequential and ultimately almost harmless insect parasiting on the modern civilization, a civilization that Al Qaeda can't defeat.

And that's the memo.

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reader Mephisto said...

As the second slide shows, string theory positions are already being reduced
http://www.physics.utoronto.ca/~poppitz/Jobs94-08.pdf


But is it such a big problem? The best scientists will search for truth anyhow. If they feel string theory is the truth, they will continue to work on it, just like Schwarz and Green did before the first superstring revolution. It is not important what the general public thinks. Is is more important what other physicists think.



The best thing that string theorists can do is to try to patiently explain why they are working on the theory and why they believe the theory is right.

Of course the layman cannot discriminate. The layman cannot discriminate between a climatologist and a string theorist and he might use following arguments - climatologists invented global warming in order to get financing and string theorists invented string theory for the same reason. And Woit and Smolin attack ST because it is also profitable for them (they got famous because of it). You wont agree but Klaus used global warming to get famous so he profitted on it in the same way that Woit is profitting on attacking ST.


reader Dilaton said...

Dear Lumo,


once again (!) this article is exactly what I needed to read :-)


I think too that what Matt Strassler says, that all formal, more theoretical (conversely to applications of AdS/CFT) research in string theory is no good, is not right and a misleading distortion indeed. I will probably "defriend" him from my blog role on the site to set up a new physics forum ...



From the recent exchanges and discussions on Matt Strassler's blog (I like your contributions there too ;-), I will probably never again comment there as he seems not to care about readers like me, on the contrary he prefers PW sock-puppets ...) as well as browsing through some earlier violent exchanges between stupid people and nice knowledgeable folks, I was some kind of sad, upset, and worried a lot about the future of cool fundamental physics I appreciate. And I thought by myself that I understand why there are sometimes young physics students on Physics SE, who feel discouraged from seriously studying and trying to contribute to fundamental physics by the omnipresent obvious majority of very loud stupid and aggressive people these days ... :-/


So many thanks for explaining your reasonable point of view on the real negative impact of trolls in this text Lumo, it helped me to cheer up and feel better :-)


Cheers


reader Peter F. said...

A similar controversy surrounds the funding of ('elitist') symphony orchestras. :-[


reader lukelea said...

I wonder if calling them slow people instead of stupid people wouldn't be better, from a rhetorical point of view? Less prejudicial, less likely to alienate the majority.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Mephisto, one needs not only scientists who like to search for the truth but one also needs a sufficient number of manhours which one can't get if everyone is busy with making living (otherwise). So I surely do think it's reducing the progress in any scientific field if positions are being reduced. The progress isn't proportional to the number of positions - it grows sublinearly - but it still grows.


Green and Schwarz are heroes and they and a few others did great things but it's still true that the progress done by this dozen of people was very slow before 1984 when hundreds of people started to intensely work on it. The pile of insights found just between 1984 and 1985, after the Green-Schwarz ignition of the revolution, was huge, by an order of magnitude exceeding the previous 5 years.


I hope that Klaus has profitted. There's still one difference here: Klaus is right.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Dilaton, thanks for your kind heart!


The version of "peace for our time" as Matt Strassler imagines it, with de facto helping Voits to spit on the formal string theory (and perhaps even field theory) research, is something I would consider an absolute defeat of pure science if it got reflected in the organization of the scientific research. Of course that Matt's position is less anti-science as he defends a (small) part of the research. But there's a sense in which this makes his position somewhat more dangerous, too.


I am not saying that the formal theory research is everything there is and science exists just with it but it's sort of the true core of the discipline, the evolving foundations on which others may build skyscrapers and if the foundations don't get better, the progress with the skyscrapers slows down, too. The most important theoretical/particle physicists of the 20th century were formal theorists in the present classification. They were not just random builders of new QFTs, using tools that aren't changing and that have been fixed for 50-70 years. The proposals to keep the "everyday applications of QFT" only is like keeping the Chinese imitators of the iPhones etc. while demolishing the original Apple company. It just can't make substantial progress in this way.


Well, Matt probably counts readers in kilograms.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Are you (still) playing?


reader Luboš Motl said...

I never wrote that the group I called "stupid people" covers 99.999% of the population. My guess is something like 90%. It's not an insult, it's the best quantification I may offer.


reader lucretius said...

This post involves a (rather typical) distortion of what I actually wrote even though I added to clarifications which could hardly be missed by anone who was not determined to miss them.

As usual Lubos most likes to argue with himself, which he admittedly does very well, but it makes participation in these displays of virtuosity in knocking down straw-men a waste of time for people who have better things to do.


Because of that, I will only restate again that I did not recommend telling false things to “ordinary people” in order to try to trick them into supporting string theory, but to inform scientifically literate people, including lots of physicists and mathematicians about the “usefulness” of String Theory in their areas or research. Such informed people can them become important and useful allies.

This is exactly what Matt Strassler has been doing and he has actually succeeded in doing the sort of thing that Lubos has never achieved (and obviously does not want to achieve): he managed convinced some well informed and intelligent people that Woit’s propaganda is far from the truth. Lubos, on the other hand, only believes in "preaching to the choir" and insists on the choir singing only the tunes written by himself. This is the best way to make sure that everyone with any independence of mind and his own judgement will soon get tired and bored with both the music and its composer.


reader Gene Day said...

You are seriously misjudging Klaus. Putting him in the same category as Woit and Smolin is bullshit.


reader Dilaton said...

Nah, there is certainly nothing wrong with explaining applications of ST in different parts of physics to readers. That may excite additional people about it and make them friends indeed ... ;-)


The thing I really dont like about Matt Strassler's approach is his singing in duet with the Trollking against the more formal and less "applied" research in string theory ... :-/


And the future will tell if the positive effects of explaining and clarifieng things in the promised post series will outweight the drawback of offering the Trollking a good platform to promote himself at the same time.



I am sure he will soon pop up in the comments there again ... :-/


reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear lucretius, I doubt we can reach common ground here.


Among other fields aside from particle physics model building and quantum gravity, string theory is "useful" only in various branches of condensed matter physics, nuclear physics, and largely geometric branches of mathematics, but the people in those fields know it.


But none of these things is the main reason why people study string theory and all these applications represent a tiny fraction of the value of string theory so if Strassler suggests something else, he is definitely saying false things to the laymen - and others. They're not just false, they are dangerous for the institutionalized research of string theory as a unifying theory of gravity and other forces which is what string theory *primarily* is.


reader Mephisto said...

Gene, to be honest, I do consider Klaus to be something far worst than Woit. And be assured that I know him much much better than you do. All you know about Klaus comes from Lubos's blog and that is a very one-sided perspective. I've known Klaus for 20 years and observed his career, his behaviour and his oppinions very closely. From my point of view, he is a narcissist par excellence (fit to be presented in psychiatry textbooks). I do not consider Klaus moral nor intelligent. He crippled so many things in my country that the only emotions I have for him is contempt and hate and that will never change. There are other perspectives on Klaus and believe me that Lubos's view of Klaus is a definite minority among Czech educated and intelligent people.

http://www.praguesociety.org/content/darth-klauss-revisionist-spin


reader Eugene S said...

Mephisto, that's an odd article. Outwardly it looks like an ordinary news article, with "UPI" in parentheses in the byline, but it uses language that UPI would never allow to be published under its name

Klaus employs a lair of slimebags


Something funny about this.



But let's say Klaus was an opportunist while others risked the loss of their career or long prison sentences. Then, he would be a flawed character who did not measure up to the example in personal courage set by people like Vaclav Havel. (But I remember that some people even begrudged Havel his stature, spreading rumors about his time under communism: that's how spiteful some people are.)


There is no corroboration for the rumor about him having been a KGB informer so we can dismiss that claim. In any case he represented the Czech Republic well in the international arena, he countered the encroachment of the Brussels superstate, used the pulpit of his office to communicate the bedrock principles of economic freedom ...


I think on balance, history will judge him favorably.


reader Eugene S said...

I've read that article. Something odd about it. Outwardly it looks like a regular news article, with a byline and "UPI" in parentheses, but it employs language that UPI would never allow to be published under its name

Klaus employs a lair of slimebags


In any case let's accept that he was an opportunist and did not measure up to the example in personal courage set by dissidents like Vaclav Havel, who risked and frequently suffered loss of their careers and long prison terms. (However I can recall rumors being spread about Havel by jealous and spiteful people.)


As for the claim about him having been a KGB informer, there is no corroboration for that. All in all, a flawed human being, but on the plus side, he represented Czechia well in the international arena, resisted encroachment from the Brussels superstate, used the pulpit of his office to communicate principles of economic freedom, etc.


I should think that on balance, history will judge him favorably.


reader Peter F. said...

Yes. One needs to earn a living.?!


reader Gene Day said...

OK, Mephisto, you know Klaus better than I do and I confess to knowing almost nothing about the happenings in Czechia. I may well be misjudging Klaus in some regards and I am surely not qualified to speak about his effect on your country.
However, my judgement of all three men, Klaus, Woit and Smolin, comes not from parroting Lubos’ views but from listening to what they say and reading what they have written. Klaus speaks the truth while the other two spout mainly nonsense.
If you write that I am just following the views of our host rather than thinking independently you are insulting me personally. That is exceedingly foolish of you.


reader Mephisto said...

I am not insulting you, Gene. From what I read from you here in TRF, I think you a decent person. You are not parroting Lubos and you also disagree with him sometimes (for example topics about racism) which surely proves you are thinking independently. But concerning Klaus, you do not have all the information. (you cannot have). I do not deny that Klaus has a certain talent to find controversial topics and write about them. Some of his criticisms have a grain of truth, but most of his essays are mixtures of half-truths (slight distorsions of reality that are difficult to spot and difficult to react to). The main political strategy of Klaus is to pick some enemy (EU, ecology, NGOism, leftism, civil society) and than attack in such a way that he himself is seen as a hero. Offen he is attacking strawman of his own making. Most things are not so black and white as Klaus (or even Lubos) see them. But what actually matters is not what one writes but how one behaves. And you didn't have the opportunity to observe his behavior and thus judge his moral integrity. Actually the psychological mechanism of projection is very strong with Klaus - what he is critisizing on his enemies is what he himself is. He is preaching about freedom but he himself is an autocratic figure who cannot tolerate the freedom of other people to have a different oppionion than his. Hence any kind of discussion with him is impossible and he does only monologues. That is also why he has surrounded himself mostly with dumb slimebags (Jakl, Hajek) who have no independent thought.

But if I stay away from his personality (which I find repungent), there is a lot to critisize on objective grounds - especially the connection of Klaus to mafia. I will not go into details because in one post like this I cannot explain the political and economic situation in Czech Republic. If you could speak Czech, you would find a lot of arguments here
http://www.klausovavelezrada.cz/files/odkvetani_s_Hanbou.pdf

(strict quotations from serious newspaper articles)

or about the background of Klaus' privatization here
http://nr1a.com/privatizace.htm


reader Gene Day said...

You find character flaws in Klaus that I have not seen. I am open to reconsidering my opinion and, admittedly, I give people the benefit of the doubt until I am convinced otherwise. Can you present any any evidence of his lack of integrity? (I am not interested in polemics written by his political opponents.)
Politicians everywhere get lots of mud slung at them but, generally, they are above average in integrity simply because they are subject to intense scrutiny. Those that survive are usually pretty honest.


reader lucretius said...

I see no point in replying to this (or in any "active" participation in this blog) for reasons that I indicated above, but "inactively" will simply quote a post by Matt Strassler (in reply to Woit) from which everybody can judge whether Lubos' representation of Matt's position (and mine) is accurate or something else, which out of politeness I will not name:

" But I still feel that in this remark you do not give the unified string/M theory its due. Yes, string theories of various sorts — ones without quantum gravity, with no pretensions to unification — have been used in the past for quantum field theory, with a certain degree of success. The shocking thing that happened in the late 90s, however, is that THE unified string/M theory — the one that *has* quantum gravity and extra dimensions and is used by the string unification folks — turns out to be *better* for studying quantum field theories with strong forces than all of the previous string models — and that having extra dimensions of space and quantum gravity turns out to be crucial in this application!!

In particular, the unified string/M theory is the first string theory to give rigorous, quantitatively precise, and even potentially testable predictions for any quantum field theory. Moreover, some of those predictions are counter-intuitive and rather astonishing. So even though “some kind of `string theory’” has been used before, those attempts never gave us what the unified string/M theory has given us."


reader Luboš Motl said...

There are aspects of this quote I agree with - it's the unified string/M-theory that has also the consistency while any "caricature" of string/M-theory is bound to have problems - but I surely disagree with the suggestion that the validity or value or importance of a theory like string/M-theory should be judged according to the usefulness of its applications to other fields.


reader lucretius said...

It’s obvious that Matt’s comment *indirectly* provides extremely strong to support to the “unified string/M theory” because it points out that it is this particular theory rather than any other theory that works remarkably in applications (even providing counterintuitive and testable predictions). Even though Matt refrains from drawing the obvious conclusion, essentially every unbiased reader (i.e. almost everybody who has not been brainwashed by Woit) will conclude that if the unified theory is the one among many that works well, then this fact provides a strong indication that there must be something fundamentally right about it.

In fact, Matt says the kind of think Dilaton tried to say, but does it in a much more credible and effective way.


reader Luboš Motl said...

OK, I don't think you're right and I think that what you say also contradicts what Matt explicitly says - where I actually agree with Matt.


Whether string theory is useful in the applications (of holography) is an *entirely different* question from the question whether string theory is the right unifying theory.


The main purpose of several articles by Matt was exactly to separate these two completely different ways to connect strings with observations, to uncorrelate them, while you're claiming that his point was to link them. You're just wrong. They're not linked and Matt agrees with me that they're not linked.


reader Dilaton said...

Oh Lucretius come on, I like it to see you here ;-)


Some disagreement can always happen when discussing things from time to time, but this is not a reason to leave the site...


reader lucretius said...

You are again putting things in my mouth that I never wrote and, as usual, avoid answering the points that I did make. I am sure you are right about the "fates of string theory in these two "contests are uncorrelated" but so what? I did not say they were correlated, I only pointed out that Matt wrote something very positive about "unified string theory/M theory". The fact that it works best and gives the most interesting predictions is "positive" isn't it? And please explain why he would want to say positive things about this if he actually wanted to be negative about it?
Also, please answer another question that I at least implied earlier and that you have avoided. Do you think that if Matt was really honest he would be duplicating what you are doing? He has stated a number of times that he has never worked on unification and that he views himself as a quantum field theorist and not a string theorist. Is there anything wrong with saying that or with that fact itself? He has also strongly defended string theory, and even M-theory, from the point of view of a quantum field theorists. Is that not the right thing for a quantum field theorist to do? Should only clones of yourself write about such topics? And seriously, what do you think would happen to his audience if he did that? Have you not noticed by the way the people writing "I had a bad experience on Lubos' blog"? Well, he actually deals patiently with such people and trust in what he writes. You may call it "populism" and see yourself as a heroic figure but than there are lots others who have the same idea about themselves and I think you can guess who I mean.


reader Giotis said...

This quote is closer to my understanding and I'm surprised that Matt acknowledged that.


Holography in the general sense implies that String theory is the theory of QG in the bulk. The correct and complete definition is that a String theory in the bulk is dual to a CFT on the boundary. The CFT is UV complete and the same *must* be true for the theory in the bulk which mandatory
is a theory of Gravity. Even if you use GR coupled to a scalar you implicitly assume that there must be a String theory which UV completes it.

By using it e.g. to do study QCD you implicitly acknowledge that fact.

Matt, exactly like in the SUSY discussion, he keeps on
sending mixed signals.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Matt didn't really write anything positive about string theory as a unified theory, that's the point of my dissatisfaction, and you *did* write that Matt did write something positive about unified theory by promoting the applications of holography, which is the connection that Matt has explicitly rejected.


I don't think it would be right for him to duplicate what I am writing for the sake of being a copy of mine; but it would be right for him to write the same things about these essential topics because they are *true*.


Yes, I would definitely love to see many carbon copies or near-copies of myself on the web. Unfortunately, I don't see a single one on this damn planet.

I've noticed some people who wrote that they had a bad experience here but so far, all of them have been dishonest assholes.


reader Dilaton said...

As I understand Matt Strassler's very confusing (even the sign is ambiguous...) signals, he considers string theory exclusively as a mathematical tool to get calculations done and completely denies that string theory has anything to do with "real" physics :-/
The fact that he admits that string / M-theory with unification, gravity, etc gives the best result for these calculations, does not change his opinion that string theory can not describe how nature works as I understand him ...



Many of the commenters Matt Strassler in my opinion way too patiently tollerates, drive me up the wall because they (sometimes even admit that they) dont know anything about these topics, but feel nevertheless entitled to spit and spat on the work of physicists who exactly know what they are doing, they think they have the right to patronize experts in a very arrogant manner by telling them what they are allowed to reseach and be interested in, who they should do their job, etc ...


I am glad and thankful that Lumo does not allow such uneducated but nevertheless very arrogant people (the technical term for such persons is trolls), as they are onmipresent in every physics blog and in the comments below every popular news article about fundamental physics, to come and stay here.


From my observations of the discussions, Matt Strassler is even with his patience and good explanations and clarifications not successful in convincing such people to give up their prejudices and very negative attitude with regard to fundamental physics :-/.

They are not accessible to any reasonable scientific argument because they blindly believe everything the Trollking says, who has found a good platform to perform his ..."activities" ... on Matt Strassler's site too.


reader lucretius said...

Matt praised M-theory as a theory. He did not praise as a "unified theory" because, as he stated many times, he is not interested in unification. As a quantum field theorist he does not have to be interested in it any more than I do as a topologist interested in toric topology. Sorry, but parroting or even being interested in the sort of thing you are interested in is not anyone duty and (it may be a shock to you but it is true) it does not make anyone smarter.
A world full of carbon copies of yourself might seem attractive to you (not surprisingly really) but it would have one disadvantage - people would get bored even faster.


Yes, you have now answered all the questions - things are as clear as they can get.


reader Eugene S said...

Think you're stressing over this way too much, old chap. I found myself in a similar spot as you once. My very first communication with our host was an e-mail I sent, almost begging him to be friendlier towards a Canadian professor of physics in Texas. I was shocked at the acrimony and pleaded with him to be nicer if for no other reason than self-interest. Got back a reply within the hour, cordial in tone but totally adamant that he wasn't going to budge one millimeter. Actually, much more cordial than I deserved, considering it was none of my g-d business!

Later I found that the Canadian isn't exactly an angel himself all the time when it comes to confronting adversaries. What a contrast to certain other professions! I used to lurk on Tim Gowers' weblog and marvel at how exquisitly well-mannered mathematicians are around each other. It's their tradition. Leibniz wrote:

L'unique moyen de redresser nos raisonnements est de les rendre aussi sensible que le sont ceux des Mathematiciens, en sorte qu'on puisse trouver son erreur à veue d'oeil, et quand il y a les disputes entre les gens, on puisse dire seulement : contons, sans autre ceremonie, pour voir lequel a raison.


When there's a dispute, Leibniz proposed to resolve it like the mathematicians do, who will say, Let us compute! and without further ado, we shall see who is right. Unfortunately Leibniz was wrong, this approach is not easily transferable outside of mathematics. Physics is more rough and tumble, and let's not even get started with politics... or football!


Our host has his unique style: don't trifle with birdshot when you can use a howitzer, and don't forget to scorch and salt the earth afterward. It's hardly unprecedented in that profession and physicists make more allowance for each other's behavior than we may think. Fritz Zwicky was greatly respected and at the same time widely feared by his colleagues for his caustic wit (calling them "spherical bastards", for example -- spherical, because they were bastards from whatever angle you viewed them.) If it helps, think of the Ren and Stimpy show. A character may get blown up, pushed through a meat grinder, flattened by a steamroller, but in the next episode he's back, looking as good as new. Good, clean fun. Well, with a few exceptions. When it comes to the king troll in his lair on the Hudson and the mega crackpot in Ontario, they better sleep with one eye open ;)


reader Luboš Motl said...

I have the same feelings, Dilaton, combined with a sense of deliberate ambiguity about everything on Matt's side.


Concerning the trolls who have no clue but contaminate all such discussions, I am on the same frequency. Just minutes ago, I banned a troll who left two multi-kilobyte rants in two articles claiming that string theory is "atheism gone wild" and similar things. No, he actually wrote that it *was* atheism gone wild. Of course that I can't let similar "thinkers" spread in my comment sections because they would convert it to yet another cesspool of idiots' exhibitionism.


reader Luboš Motl said...

It's just complete crap what you write, lucretius.


A quantum field theorist can't be "disinterested" in unification because unification scenarios are 1) probably restricting the validity of QFT, his tool, as a framework and he should know what the limits are, 2) represent very plausible - I mean likely to be true in Nature - application of QFT and its extensions, so avoiding (assuming the invalidity!) of unification means to make biased assumptions about the quantum field theorist's own field.


reader lucretius said...

First of all, your last comments show that you are genuinely paranoic and since it it is a serious medically condition I don't want to contribute to making it worse. Thus it is also last of all. Do you really think that the entire world is so keen to participate in your monologues?


reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Lucretius, the intelligent world is surely interested - and my traffic also beats Strassler, by the way.


I may have enjoyed your comments but if you read several comments of yours above, I hope that you - or at least the entire remaining world - will understand that your comments are incompatible with your not being on the black list. This is my blog and repeated attacks at the level of talking about my "medical conditions" are clearly beyond the red line.


reader Giotis said...

Check this video at 1:06:40 (taken from PW post)

http://videocenter.emea.lifesize.com/videos/video/11302/

This is relevant to the discussion we had here regarding
AdS/CFT and whether it implies String theory or not.

I don't have a clue of what Douglas is trying to say. As I understand it at least HS gravity is a limit (tensionless) of String theory.