Sunday, October 31, 2004 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

A reply to Osama

To begin: Peace be upon he who follow the Guidance.

  • Peace be upon she who likes peace and who follows the laws of the Standard Model.
People of United States, this talk of mine is for you and concerns the ideal way to prevent another Manhattan and deals with the war and its causes and results.
  • It seems that your talk was not quite addressed to people like me. It is hard to say whether someone should seriously talk to you - and the details of your speech are probably much less important than you think - but on the other hand, such a debate may have some educational value. Let me start with a trivial answer to your question: the best way to prevent another Manhattan - and to stop blackmailing like this one - is to defeat the terrorists like you, using both military as well as the help for those who need it and friendship with those who deserve it.
  • A priori, another approach would be to become your friends and to fulfil your wishes, but this strategy can't work. Your demands would have no limits. Your perverse dreams are infinite, much like your, non-renormalizable edition of Allah. There is little doubt that you would like to eliminate whole countries from the map of the world - Israel, for example - and it is just too a high price to pay. It seems a more realistic approach to be brave and patient, and to try to find the murderers who have no respect to human life. I think that our civilization has the capacity to achieve this goal.
Before I begin, I say to you that security is an indispensable pillar in human life and that free men do not forfeit their security contrary to Bush's claims that we hate freedom.
  • It is really ironic if you talk about security as a pillar in human life. Although you may otherwise be an irrelevant average person, your deadly ideas and your very existence has already cost thousands of human lives - not speaking about tens of billions of dollars of the US taxpayers (and some other taxpayers).
  • Concerning freedom and security: it is important to realize that the very idea that a person XY would have to follow your wishes would mean that XY is not free. Freedom always means that security is not perfect. We always prefer to be free as well as secure, but sometimes, we must find a compromise.
If so, then let him explain why did not strike - for example - Sweden.
  • He has already explained it in his speech on 9/11. America has been targeted for attack because the Americans are the brightest beacon for freedom. Well, this answer also includes the fact that Sweden has not been targeted because Sweden, although it is a nice and decent country without any serious problems, is not the brightest beacon for freedom. In fact, it has been a social state for quite some time, but that's a different issue. :-)
  • Your speech makes it clear that you hate freedom - human rights, religious freedoms, as well as economic freedom - and you are upset if you see freedom in the USA, and you are equally upset if you see it in the Arab world.
  • Well, of course, this is not the full answer. You have not chosen Sweden yet because of two more reasons: the religious situation in Sweden probably looks more satisfactory to you - Mosques are being built as the percentage of Muslims is well above 2 percent (because of immigration). Second, Sweden simply did not fit into your sick plans so far because Sweden is not too active in defending freedom throughout the world. Do you have a different explanation why you've already murdered hundreds of people in Spain and no one in Sweden?
And we know that freedom haters do not possess defiant spirits like those of the 19 may Allah have mercy on them.
  • We may be using a different terminology. Let me guess that by freedom haters, you really mean freedom lovers. Be sure that freedom lovers possess at least as defiant spirits as your terrorist friends - those who are already waiting for you in the Hell. (For my fellow atheists: the word "Hell" is just a metaphor.) That's why thousands of troops from the USA and its allies risk their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that's why I don't hesitate to answer your speech. But the defiant spirits are not what really distinguishes us from you - the difference is mainly in the principles of humanity, something that you have no idea about.
  • Fortunately, technology is another difference between you and the modern free world. You are only able to destroy - you know how to use our airplanes to kill thousands. We are better in inventing, developing , and constructing the airplanes, and in saving the lives.
  • It is people like you and your terrorist friends who prevent your part of the world - and most of the Arab nations - from joining the modern, happy, and prosperous world. You know, religion and traditions don't contradict freedom, democracy, and capitalism, as long as most people are also able to use their hearts and brains. Concerning the 19 "heroes": they're gone, and although they were murderers, I always felt a bit sorry even about them. They had to realize that their lives had no value anymore. Most likely, they also believed that they could be rewarded by Allah for their acts. Well, I of course don't believe that they will be rewarded, but even if I multiply my faith in God by one million, the Hell is the only new thing that expects them.
No, we fight because we are free men who do not sleep under oppression.
  • The reason why you "fight" is that your brains suffer from a very perverse, collective disease - a disease that you're unable to distinguish from Allah. Because this disease is a threat for the whole humankind, we just can't let you propagate on the surface of this planet.
We want to restore freedom to our Nation and just as you lay waste to our Nation so shall we lay waste to yours.
  • You would have to be more specific which waste are the Americans laying in your Nation. On the other hand, you don't have to explain the waste that you lay to America.
But I am amazed at you. Even though we are in the fourth year after the events of September 11, Bush is still engaged in distortion, deception and hiding from you the real cause and thus the reasons are still there for a repeat of what occurred.
  • You know, that's the defiant spirit and the power of freedom. Yes, America is amazing, and despite the disaster that you caused, America has been able to keep on moving. It's because its system is based on the right values and ideas. I realize that you may still feel very important - you may start to compare yourselves to some of the most amazing killers in the history of humankind - but you should try to restrict your self-confidence a little bit. Eventually you will be found in a spider hole and treated in a similar way like thousands of other killers.
  • If you really believe that someone in America - or the rest of the world - will seriously listen to your weird interpretations of 9/11 and what it means and how it should be dealt with, then you're really ill. You're nothing more than a megalomanic killer, and only the most evil and the most stupid people can provide you with support. My guess is that you are surrounded by dumb people who just say "Yes, Mr. Laden", "Yes, Mr. Laden" (including the religious titles), and this makes you increasingly disconnected from reality.
So I shall talk to you about the story behind those events and I shall tell you truthfully about the moments in which the decision was taken for you to consider.
  • If I did not make an advertisement to your speech, no one would study the details of your rants.
I say to you Allah knows that it had never occurred to us to strike towers.
  • It had not occured to you until you got the idea, right? The infinitesimal glimpses of conscience that you're showing are simply not enough. What you should do is to apologize and offer the rest of your life to peace and to America - the country that you've hurt so much (but not as much as you would like). I am not sure whether it would be enough for you to correct your image in the eyes of God - whichever God you have in mind - but it is your only chance right now.
But after it became unbearable and we witnessed the oppression and tyranny of the America/Israeli coalition against our people in Palestine and Lebanon, it came to my mind.
  • If your personal psychological problems became unbearable in a civilized country, you would be offered doctors who could help you - and save thousands of lives. This does not happen on the Afghani-Pakistani border or where you exactly live right now. That's sad. By the way, we have a lot of physics colleagues from Israel, and they want everlasting peace to exist in Israel (and Palestine, if this country is ever created).
  • The Palestinians have the opportunity to study at the universities, but their results can't compare to the Jews'. What do you think is the reason? I think that the main reason is that they have bad leaders and authorities that teach them wrong things. In some sense, you are one of these "leaders". Because of these leaders and "leaders", the Palestinians - and perhaps some other nations which are able to trust people like you - remain underdeveloped, and relatively uncultural nations that are threatening the security of other nations.
  • I hope that they will eventually realize that they must pick more modern ideals and leaders, ones that are compatible with the modern civilization, and they will be living much happier lives. We're living in the same civilization that started because of many great Arab contributions several millenia ago - the Arabic numerals are an example. However, something went wrong in the Arab world afterwards, and the task for the future generations of Arabs will be to fully return their nations to the civilized world - the world that has already learned that democracy and freedom is the best known system for a society to develop.
The events that affected my soul in a difficult way started in 1982 when America permitted the Israelis to invade Lebanon and the American 6th fleet helped them in that.
  • I am not a historian, and it's hard to give a balanced description of all these events. Nevertheless, it may be useful to say a couple of elementary words about the Lebanon War - more precisely about the Operation Peace for Galilee. You know that it was the same America that forced the Israeli prime minister Begin to withdraw their forces from Southern Lebanon in 1978. Osama, you're so blinded by your hatred that you're unable to see the very many examples in which Americans tried to protect peace - as well as the rights of Arabs. If the Arabs were able to respect the ceasefire etc., the war would have never started. Unfortunately, hundreds of terrorist attacks - similar to those that occur today - were taking place in Israel and on the Lebanese-Israeli border. The very specific act that initiated the war was an assasination attempt against the Israeli ambassador in the UK.
  • Henry Kissinger (the former US secretary of state) said that "no sovereign state can tollerate indefinitely the buildup along its borders of a military force dedicated to its destruction and implementing its objectives by periodic shellings and raids." (Washington Post, June 16, 1982)
  • I would definitely have agreed with this general statement, although it is a very controversial question whether starting the war was a good idea. At any rate, the war was some sort of "War Against Terror" in the early 1980s, and although it caused a lot of pain and it was very expensive for Israel, I feel that it meant some kind of progress because I would say that Lebanon is not the primary source of terrorism anymore, and there is more peace, at least in this part of Israel's borderland.
  • However, you have a correct point - that the Jews simply do influence American policies more than the Arabs - not only because of the Israeli spy that was identified in CIA or whatever exactly happened. ;-) The Jews follow principles that are simply more compatible with the democratic system - the broadly defined system that also works in America and Israel. Be sure that the main difference between the Jews and the Arabs is not a particular difference between the Koran and the Bible. The main difference is in the way how these religious principles are interpreted are applied in the real life, and the terrorists' interpretation of the Koran is the least viable one.
  • If you were able to realize that the Koran actually encourages the people to love one another and to educate themselves, be sure that the world would become much better. But you are apparently uncapable of such a phase transition. If people like you will keep on influencing Islam in the future, this religion will become a mantra of dangerous animals. If the wise people become influential, the religion of Islam may become one of the pillars of the future world.
  • Do you know that the muslims used to respect the Christians as the "people of the book"? Religious tollerance and the respect for knowledge is something that has become much less important in the Arab world - and the people like you should be blamed for this unfortunate fact.
And the whole world saw and heard but did not respond.
  • The whole world also saw the hundreds of terrorist acts that justified the steps of Israel. The whole world also knows that the Arab terrorists were not the first people who made the Jews suffer. The whole world also knows that any kind of intervention constitutes a risk.
In those difficult moments many hard to describe ideas bubbled in my soul but in the end they produced intense feelings of rejection of tyranny and gave birth to a strong resolve to punish the oppressors.
  • This had to be a really strong feeling if you were able to kill 3000 people 20 years later because of these events from the history textbooks. The word "tyranny" in this context is weird. Poor Israel was a small, innocent, peaceful country that was being attacked by murderers like you. If the question is whether it had the right to protect itself, the answer is definitely "yes". If the question is whether it was a reasonable strategy to protect itself, the answer is "I don't know, but I also don't know of any better strategy that they could have used".
And as I looked at those demolished towers in Lebanon it entered my mind that we should punish the oppressors in kind and that we destroy towers in America in order that they taste some of what we tasted and so that they be deterred from killing our women and children.
  • I wonder whether you were really the first person who invented this "great" idea. By the way, the towers in New York were much more populated (and expensive) than the towers in Lebanon, and even if your Allah were drunk, He would definitely agree that it was not a fair revenge, especially because you picked America.
We have not found it difficult to deal with the Bush administration in light of the resemblance it bears to the regimes in our countries, half of which are ruled by the military and the other half of which are ruled by the sons of kings and presidents.
  • This sentence implies that you don't like those Arab regimes that resemble the American ones. In other words, you don't like the idea of democracy. It's because you know that the more democracy, freedom, and prosperity there will be in the Arab world, the less influential the sad people like you will be.
Our experience with them is lengthy and both types are replete with those who are characterised by pride, arrogance, greed and misappropriation of wealth.
  • Do you think you are the right person to talk about misappropriation of wealth, greed, arrogance, and pride? You who could have used half a million of dollars from your rich bank accounts to kill thousands and cause hundreds of billions of dollars of damages, instead of investing them to something useful? Something that could actually help the people? You, a person whose life has been one big disaster, but who still wants to teach us how should we behave, wants to criticize others for their pride and arrogance? Well, let me agree that the word "greed" does not characterize you too well, except for your desire to be powerful.
This resemblance began after the visits of Bush Senior to the region at a time when some of our compatriots were dazzled by America and hoping that these visits would have an effect on our countries. All of a sudden he was affected by these monarchies and military regimes and became jealous of their remaining decades in their position to embezzle the public wealth of the Nation without supervision or accounting.
  • That's ridiculous. All American leaders and most of the Western leaders would be happier if the regimes in the Arab countries - even the friendly ones - resembled the Western democracies more rigorously. But in the real world, it's not possible to have everything, and the West must choose a lesser evil.
So he took dictatorship and suppression of freedoms to his son and they named it the Patriot Act under the pretences of fighting terrorism.
  • In the real world, one cannot be 100% secure and 100% free. After 9/11/2001, America (and other countries) had to realize that the unlimited freedom implied some risks to the national security. The equilibrium had to shift, and the Patriot Act is a reasonable, very small restriction of some freedoms whose effect seems to be a dramatic increase of the national security. Three years without a new major attack seems to be a good evidence that it works.
In addition, Bush sanctioned the installing of sons as state governors and did not forget to import expertise in election fraud from the regions presidents to Florida to be made use of in moments of difficulty.
  • If the election fraud in a Western country were even remotely comparable to what's happening in some of the Arab countries (for example Iraq in which Hussein received 100% of the votes), that would be pretty serious. On the other hand, if the problems with the elections in the Arab world (for example, the problems that may occur in January in Iraq) were comparable to the tension in Florida, that would mean a huge victory of democracy in the Arab world.
All that we have mentioned has made it easy for us to provoke and bait this administration.
  • It's apparently easy for you to kill thousands - the lives don't matter as long as you "provoke and bait the US administration", do they? You know, that's another difference between the cultures. The US president is not a second God. He or she is just one of the US citizens that has been elected to serve her or his country. No one in the civilized world will accept your explanation that 9/11 was legitimate because it is important to "provoke Bush".
And for the record, we had agreed with the Commander-General Muhammad Ataa, Allah have mercy on him, that all the operations should be carried out within 20 minutes before Bush and his administration notice.
  • Yes, your "commander-general" and you were moderately skillful technically in designing this horrible act. On the other hand, NASA synchronizes various machines with the accuracy of picoseconds, so be sure that your skills won't be enough for you to find a job in the USA. The only thing that is exceptional about you is how little you care about human lives - but this is a feature that we don't appreciate too much.
It never occurred to us that the Commander in Chief of the armed forces would abandon 50,000 of his citizens in the twin towers to face those great horrors alone at a time when they most needed him.
  • On 9/11, I was defending my PhD thesis in New Jersey at 9:30 am. You were unable to stop the defense either. Actually, I was only devastated after I saw the first videosequences from Manhattan on TV which was around 11 am - well, I did not sleep for several days. That's your fault, too. By the way, I hope that now you realize that you were fortunately very far from the number of 50,000 casualties.
But because it seemed to him that occupying himself by talking to the little girl about the goat and its butting was more important than occupying himself with the planes and their butting of the skyscrapers we were given three times the period required to execute the operations. All praise is due to Allah.
  • You know, Bush is a sensitive person, and he just could not scare the little girl. If a disaster like that happens, he at least tried to minimize the bad consequences of your act. A scared girl would be another bad consequence. Bush did not disappoint as the leader after 9/11. Incidentally, America has a lot of security rules at all possible levels, and the US president is not necessary to start the emergency operations in the World Trade Center.

Bush and Kerry: estimates

I am not really allowed to influence politics in the USA, and in some sense it is a great opportunity to keep this blog fair and balanced - one of the very few fair and balanced blogs around. No official endorsement will be revealed in this article.

According to my private index which is a weighted combination of available indices, the support for Bush and Kerry seems to be, three days before the elections:

  • 46% for Bush vs. 46% for Kerry overall; the race is dead even; Ralph Nader at 2% (less than in 2000)

The following categories are ordered from the most pro-Bush ones to the most pro-Kerry ones:

  • 92% faithful Republicans for Bush
  • 80% of born-again Christians for Bush
  • 75% of those who changed their mind after the new bin Laden tape for Bush
  • 72% conservatives for Bush
  • 71% of the "Iraq war is the top issue" voters for Bush vs. 25% for Kerry
  • 70% of investors for Bush
  • 54% voters who regularly attend religious services for Bush
  • 52% of married men for Bush
  • 50% married women for Bush
  • 49% men for Bush
  • 44% self-identified independents for Bush vs. 41% for Kerry
  • 49% newly registered voters for Kerry vs. 42% for Bush
  • 53% single women for Kerry
  • 57% of Northeast for Kerry
  • 70% of Hispanics for Kerry
  • 80% liberals for Kerry
  • 84% of black voters for Kerry (was: 90% for Gore in 2000)
  • 86% faithful Democrats for Kerry
  • 90% of Ivy League faculty for Kerry
  • 103% of anti-Bush bloggers for Kerry

The errors in these numbers are roughly 3%, which is the percentage of undecided voters. The error of the least reliable categories are biased and they can indeed reach 3%.

Friday, October 29, 2004 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Women in physics

Several people, including Peter Woit (before me) and Sean Carroll (after me) wrote essays about women in physics, and because I think that this issue is very interesting (and in the American academia, it is also clouded by feminist mist and myths - which is a nice combination of syllables, is it not?), I can't resist to write something about the topic as well.

The male scientists do not have a monopoly in their fields anymore. There are fields in which the women are making more impressive contributions than men.

Also in physics, we are surrounded by many women and girls who are very smart. They can also be smart and beautiful, if you allow me to make another point. They can write papers that are more technical than the papers of their male colleagues, and they can be stronger personalities when they defend an idea. The most cited high-energy physicist in the last 5 years is female, and I am happy that her office is next to mine. The president of the APS is female, too. Marie Curie Sklodowski had received two Nobel prizes for physics and chemistry and Maria Göppert Mayer one physics Nobel prize. Nevertheless, the percentage of women in physics continues to be small. Usually we don't distinguish the physicists according to their gender - and I think that generally we should not distinguish - but sometimes it may be useful or it may be fun.

That's a good point to start. Let me redefine the word "feminism" to denote the ideology based on the assumption that females are being exploited by the males, and radical steps must be done against it. Many of us have lived in a regime based on "marxism-leninism" which is based, among other things, on the idea that the working class is being exploited by the capitalists, and radical steps must be done against it. Well, some steps have unfortunately been taken in the latter case, and many of us have had experienced the consquences.

The formulation of the previous paragraph makes it clear that I am not going to defend this type (and most other types) of feminism. Incidentally, a feminist according to my definition does not have to be female. It can be a male, but then it means that something is not right about him, I think.

Feminists also believe that men and women do not differ in any way (perhaps, some of the most realistic feminists realize that there are at least some differences related to reproductive physiology). They believe all possible types of unscientific ideas. For example, they believe that the only natural state of affairs is when males and females have the same representation (50 percent vs. 50 percent) in every single field of human activity, and anything else proves that there must necessarily be some discrimination going on.

The influence of this ideology at the U.S. academic institutions - namely the policies that try to "protect women that are discriminated" - is discouraging for several groups of people:

  • first of all, the affirmative action is discouraging for the successful and talented females (or other "minorities") who want to be (and can be) equally good or better than their male (and other female) colleagues. The existence of affirmative action tells them: "If you get a job or an award, it's not quite because of your abilities and work. It's partly a bonus for your not having a penis (or for having a different color of your skin than your friend, or whatever else)." I know very many women (and members of other "minorities") who don't need any support of this sort. In fact, I would even say that every time this discussion starts somewhere, the girls who are already in physics confirm that they don't want this "help".
  • the idea that the affirmative action may have been relevant for a decision creates the feeling among many people that the particular women are worse at the end, even though it is often not the case.
  • the propaganda that the girls must have the same good results in physics and maths at the basic schools and the high schools causes unnecessary frustration for many of the "ordinary" girls who are really not interested in math and physics - because this propaganda makes them think that it must be their personal problem if they're not as interested in math and physics as their male classmates which is often the case.
  • the stereotypes about the "abusive emotional relationships" between "senior" male professors and "junior" female graduate students, which is the usual way how the "problem" is being presented, is potentially devastating for many relationships, and it does not reflect reality too well. In general, the assumption that an emotional relationship must be "abusive" by default is just a wrong and counterproductive assumption - an assumption that effectively contradicts the presumption of innocence.

I hope that it is not such a secret - and I can tell you that my diploma thesis advisor in Prague (please don't ask me about the name, to keep it partially confidential) - whom I consider my friend, and we wrote a textbook together - married my classmate. She simply fell in love with him during the first lecture, and finally it worked out, despite the 20+ years age difference.

I personally find it disturbing if someone has the courage to publicly question their relationship just because he was a teacher and she was his student. Such a questioning simply violates what I consider to be a respect to basic human freedoms, and a respect to important relationships between the people - it's a disrespect to love itself. But of course, the "mainstream" approach to such questions depends on the culture and traditions of each country (even though I believe that there is not too much difference between the USA and Czechia at the end).

Don't get me wrong: I can imagine that there are abusive relationships, and something should be done with many of them. But it's just wrong to assume that a relationship must be like that, and it also wrong to assume that the abusing person always has the same gender and job, which is a different gender and job from the abused person.

It's also very unbalanced to create a false stereotype in which the teachers are trying to date their students, and not the other way around. I know more examples of the second category that is claimed to be virtually absent in the USA. It's very hard to believe it. Also, it is not too natural to think that it is always the males who become the abusing ones.

The myths about discrimination as the universal explanation

Now, let me say that it does not sound realistic that the girls are currently discriminated at many places if they want to become physicists. Moreover, I claim that all of us who understand how the universities work must know that no visible discrimination exists. The average girls simply do not like physics as much as many boys do, even if they are supported. It's not something that is guaranteed to be the case forever, but today it is simply an observable fact, regardless of its explanation. Most of my female classmates at the basic school and the high school openly declared that they hated math and physics, despite the attempts of the teachers to make them like the subjects. Of course, such observations have their exceptions, but I've met a sufficient number of people to claim that my statistical ensemble is large enough to start to make realistic conclusions. I am sure that most people must agree that it is true - that the girls usually hate math and physics - and the people who claim that it is not the case had to be brought up in the vacuum.

Genders have played slightly different roles in the society for centuries and millenia - but even if they did not, there are just so many biological (and biochemical) differences that a different "typical" focus of the two genders just could not be surprising.

Another factor is - and this paragraph was added later - that the boys typically have higher fluctuations from the average which implies a higher concentration at both ends of the "linear spectrum of abilities", whatever this simplified construct exactly means. This fact that the males have larger fluctuations (in their aptitude etc.) has an evolutionary explanation - the number of children that a female has is more uniform which discourages Nature from making too many experiments with the females - while, on the other hand, males can have very many (or no) children which means that "better survivors" may be generated if Nature allows the men to fluctuate a little bit more.

The male and female brain work differently in details and hundreds of differences are known. The average male brane has 20 percent more neurons than the average female brain (23 vs. 19 billion of cells, according to a certain "normalization"). The latter has more connections between the neurons than the male brain, but I can't tell you any numbers. When thinking about language, one can show (by EEG) that both female hemispheres, but only one male hemisphere, is active. The hormones influence the brain in many different ways, and so forth.

Also, one of these two brains is dominated by gray matter while the other is predominantly run by white matter. This sentence was also added later.

The expansion of the cortex has been a critical stage in the evolution of the humans. No doubt, the human cortex is much more developed than the cortex of chimps and gorillas. A related fact is that the chimps and gorillas have less than 10 billion neurons; the rats only have 65 million neural cells or so. If we talk about biology of mammals, the size of the brain does matter, and only very silly (or strongly ideologically blinded) people may argue that the size is completely irrelevant for the functioning of all brains in general.

Various other differences (hundreds of differences) between the male and female brains are known (they are related to hormone, genes, anatomy, physiology, and the early evolution of the embryos), and it seems that ordinary people know them better than many of my colleagues scientists. See, for example, the following pages:

Let me point out that it may be a waste of time to talk to those people who simply believe that the sexual organs are "the only difference between the men and women" because these people have not fully adopted a scientific way of thinking. They obviously can't observe the world around, and they are unable to click at the five links above and learn the elementary stuff.

On the other hand, the number of neurons is certainly not the only factor that influences the way how a person (or an animal) thinks and how capable is she or he to perform different types of mental activity. Let me emphasize that the possible conclusions about the correlations between anatomy and mental abilities should not affect the decisions about any particular individual; we can learn much more about anyone if we talk to him or her than if we measure some physical parameters. On the other hand, these possible correlations are the necessary considerations that we must make when we try to explain some statistical data, which is necessary for rational policymaking.

Physical weakness as an explanation?

Concerning the female "weakness", I just don't buy it. The females can be equally or more powerful - sometimes even physically - as the males. I would guess that my colleague in the department who can be the toughest one in her criticism of string theorists, for example, is female. ;-) And there are other examples like that. Sometimes it is not the case, and a certain amount of aggressivity is a necessary assumption for many jobs (and unlike others, I don't think that physics is the totally best example). This will be discussed in the next section.

There may be parents who are discouraging their daughters from becoming physicists. At the end, I don't believe that most parents would become upset if their daughter is a successful physicist or engineer, for example. But even in those cases, the parents simply have the right to try to influence their daughters (and sons) within the mantinels defined by the law. Being a parent of someone is not something that you can just ignore. And the daughters and the sons have the opportunity to disagree and revolt. And many do.

Arrogance, aggressiveness, competitiveness

Some people try to argue that it is not a real discrimination but rather the atmosphere of competitiveness, arrogance, and aggressiveness that discourages young women from becoming physicists. Well, the following comments come to mind:

  • physics is certainly not viewed as the most aggressive, arrogant, and competitive field by the general public. In fact, just the contrary is closer to the truth. The mathematicians (and physicists, for that matter) are viewed as "sissy". No doubt, politics, wrestling, and other sports are examples of human activities that are viewed as much more aggressive and competitive.
  • there is no hard evidence that the women would be more discouraged by these three things than the men. Many women are attracted by aggressivity, and so forth.
  • on the other hand, these three things, at least in some concentration, are often important for the development of the field, and it is certainly not only true about physics. One can eliminate competitiveness, for example, but this is more or less guaranteed to reduce the efficiency. Is the balanced percentage of different groups more important than whether we will be able to find the truth? I don't think so.
  • physicists, especially the theoretical physicists, often use big words to explain the role of their field in the scheme of things. The main role of theoretical high-energy physics, for example, is to reveal the most fundamental rules that underlie all phenomena (or at least, as many as possible) in the Universe and their mathematical encapsulation - and this quest is obviously more intellectually demanding and important than feminist studies, for example. Alan Sokal has shown that whole fields in social science are pure rubbish, and a physicist who knows why he chose his or her field will agree.
  • if someone does not like this description of hierarchy in science because it is "arrogant", he or she should not have chosen theoretical physics. If the understanding of the role of theoretical physics as above is how "arrogance" is defined, then "arrogance" is an important feature for a theoretical physicist, I think. We study the field because we think that it is important and it excites us, and if someone finds it unimportant, she or he should choose a different field. Why? It's not just because she or he can contribute more in the other field, but she or he will also feel more satisfied with her or his own work.
  • yes, this feeling of the importance of our field and our work is analogous to other feelings in other fields (including wrestling, and the number of push-ups, and other examples by Sean), but this means no problem for the society that "smears out" these different viewpoints. Also, it is important that some people are able to argue and decide which activities are important - otherwise there would be no tools to decide how various fields should be funded, for example.
  • I see the exactly opposite problem than the "problem" described by Sean, for example. Current string theorists and physicists in general are just too "nice", and this atmosphere is correlated with the reduced amount of progress that we're doing (whichever is the cause vs. the effect). I know that Nima Arkani-Hamed agrees with me, for example, and the people who say the opposite statement seem to be disconnected from reality.


The affirmative action - or the positive discrimination, as we call it in the EU - is not right. It does not really help, and it is not fair. Its goals are based on scientifically unjustified, arbitrary assumptions. It creates bad feelings, stereotypes, and havoc in many decisions. Women have had the same rights (in almost all aspects of life where it's possible) as men for quite some time. Talented female mathematicians and physicists, such as Emmy Noether, have already been able to succeed 100 years ago. In Noether's case, it is David Hilbert, not the feminist movement, who can be credited for making sure that all conceivable prejudices were irrelevant already in 1907.

There will always be some differences between the genders, I think and I hope, and it's time to stop inventing ghosts that are supposed to be hurting the women behind the scenes - because the real consequence are antighosts that are hurting the actual women in reality, and the only difference between a ghost and an antighost is the sign of the ghost number.

Note added later: If you want to see a reaction of an actual self-identified feminist, click here. Obviously, there exist different opinions about this issue.

The author argued that Sean Carroll has beautifully explained that the physicists are - let me paraphrase it - arrogant white male assholes (congratulations, Sean!), and she calls for a cultural revolution in physics. Also, she effectively admires her feminist movement for having discovered the localized gravity and warped geometry.

Also, she argues that Lisa Randall is definitely too old and she definitely could not study at a good university. If she used the internet search engines, she could have found out the Lisa is not that old and that she received her PhD as well as BS from Harvard which is not such a bad school.

Thursday, October 28, 2004 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Lee Smolin: The Trouble with Physics: a review

See also a review written by someone else
Lee Smolin: The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next - (Hardcover)

Another postmodern diatribe against modern physics and scientific method (2 stars)

The interactions between Lee Smolin and mainstream physicists are interesting. Lee often visits us. We smile at each other and Lee is being politely explained why his newest theories can't really work. Lee says that he understands these arguments. Then he returns to a conference or a journalist and repeats that all of his theories have been perfectly proven, while offering even more unusual theories. The newest theory says that the neutrinos are octopi swimming in the spin network. Believe me, we like him but it is not always easy to take him seriously.

A few months ago, I had to promise Lee that I would read the whole book before saying anything about it. So I did so. It was tough because the concentration of irrational statements and anti-scientific sentiments has exceeded my expectations. The book is primarily filled with the suicidal and absurd sentiment that all of modern physics of the last 30 years - the era of Lee's career - is a failure. The first part of the book tries to focus on technical aspects of string theory. The second part of the book offers a postmodern view on the scientific community and some radical proposals how to fix the "problems" that the author has identified.

Nissan and strings behind harmonic oscillator

Nissan Itzhaki just spoke about their paper with John McGreevy

It's a funny toy model that relates three theories:

  • the free matrix model for a single hermitean N x N matrix with a harmonic oscillator potential
  • the free fermions, and excitations of a Fermi droplet which are chiral bosons
  • a crazy dual string theory

Let's start with the matrix model. It is a quantum mechanical model with the Lagrangian Tr(D_t(X)^2 - X^2), roughly speaking. Because its U(N) symmetry is gauged, we require the physical states to be U(N) invariant.

Nevertheless, it is a free theory that we can easily solve. There are N^2 harmonic oscillators, they have some ground state, and they can be excited by the matrix-valued creation operators. In order to get gauge invariant excited states, we must combine the creation (and perhaps annihilation) operators into traces. It's a simple combinatorial task to see what happens. Most of the traces are linearly dependent, at least if they ask on the gauge-invariant Hilbert space.

An alternative solution is provided by free fermions. Because the wavefunction is U(N) invariant, it depends on the eigenvalues only, and using the Vandermonde determinant redefinition of the wavefunction, the system may be converted to free fermions in a certain phase space; the coordinates in the phase space are the eigenvalues of "x" and its canonical momentum "p". The fermions tend to fill the interior of a disk in the phase space and form a Fermi droplet.

One can study the perturbation of the Fermi surface (a wiggly disk), and these perturbations rotate in the clockwise direction - it's the usual rotation in the phase space of a harmonic oscillator. Therefore, they are some sort of chiral bosons, and these chiral bosons may be related to the creation operators above, and some of these relations seem to be relevant for a less trivial case of M(atrix) theory that I'm now trying to solve in a different way.

Of course, the most nontrivial side of this "triality" is a string theory, and I am still not following what the string theory exactly is. At any rate, it has an imaginary time-like dilaton gradient in the periodic time dimension (it's something that I believe is relevant for one of my long-term projects related to N=2 and N=(2,1) strings on del Pezzo surfaces as a theory of everything, and a similarity like that is encouraging). That string theory, conjectured to be dual to the simple matrix harmonic oscillator above, has some strange behavior of the amplitudes - for example, they truncate at some genus - and because I don't really understand it too well (and what it's good for and in what sense it's unique), we will have to refer to the original paper, if you're interested.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

A phony hockey stick?

Willie Soon of Harvard University, one of the global climate experts among the astrophysicists, informed me about their new article

They describe a new paper by Von Storch et al. that was published in a recent (September 30th) issue of Science. The German journal Der Spiegel (The Mirror) made an interview with Von Storch on October 4th, 2004. Von Storch said something along these lines:

  • The assumptions that have led Mann, Bradley, and Hughes (MBH) to their "hockey stick graph" in 1998 and 1999 are unacceptable. Their method is wrong - in fact, it's rubbish.

That's a blunt formulation and one is naturally cautious about it, but it seems that this formulation is justified. It may be useful to say what the "hockey stick graph" means. Try to draw the graph of the "global temperature" as a function of the date - between the years 1000 and 2004. What graph will you choose if your results are supposed to support the statement that the world economy and our breathing should be slowed down because these processes create too much carbon dioxide which leads to an unacceptable and unprecedented global warming?

Well, of course, you will draw a constant function between the years 1000 and 1900 (long, stable shaft) and a quickly increasing temperature between 1900 and 2000 (it's the blade of the hockey stick). Such a profile will prove that the changes are caused by the humans, and they are undisputable and potentially disastrous. That's roughly what MBH did, and they became famous for their result. Their graph was reproduced by the global climate committee of the United Nations (IPCC, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and it became one of the justifications of the process that culminated with the Kyoto protocols.

Dinner for Marvin Cohen

This is an experiment: I want to check how dramatically the quality of my essays - and my ability to find the correct words and the right keys on the keyboard - decreases after five glasses of wine. I am neither able to walk straight right now nor finish the preparations for the String theory lecture tomorrow (about the BRST and old covariant quantization of the string), but the current amount of self-control may still be enough to write an article onto this blog. ;-)

I've just returned from a dinner to celebrate Marvin Cohen, who is now the Loeb lecturer. There were roughly 50 people who attended the dinner. It seems that I was the only unimportant person participating, and therefore I recycled the tag "Prof. Motl" from the faculty lunch that was held yesterday. More concretely, I was probably the only person under 45, and most of the time, I was also the only person under 65 inside the 3-meter vicinity around me. ;-)

There have been many really great people who attended the dinner: Sheldon Glashow, the Nobel prize winner for the electroweak theory; Irwin Shapiro, who has made the famous experiments to verify general relativity; Eric Mazur; John Huth; Sekazi Mtingwa; Isaac Silvera; and I could enumerate roughly 50 more names like that.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), we did not have the opportunity to discuss string theory and its role in the structure of physics with Shelly Glashow (or his wife). :-) Instead, we discussed (with various people) the issues about the Casimir force (vs. the van der Waals force) and its QED or molecular explanation; KGB and the US post office - the two biggest bureaucracies in the world :-); the Red Socks and their recent victories; questions for Mikhail Gorbachev that were asked by Irwin Shapiro sometime in the mid 80s and Gorbachev's answers; the reasons behind splitting Czechoslovakia and its consequences; the different nationalities that the citizens of Ruthenia tried in the 20th century; Richard Feynman on the 1955 conference about general relativity in North Carolina; Shapiro's childhood in Far Rockaway, New York, near Feynman's house; John Edwards as a guy from North Carolina; the religion of the people who support George W. Bush and who believe that Hussain's Iraq was behind 9/11; why the people of different political orientations should listen to each other; what we did on 9/11/2001; the difference between the Russian cities of Sverdlovsk and Smolinsk. Well, you can imagine, a lot of fun stuff like that has been pondered.

It may be the right time to go to bed now, and hope that tomorrow we will do much more serious stuff than today. Well, let me admit that the significant part of this day was spent by arguments with Peter Woit about the history of interactions between mathematics and string theory. When I am under the influence of alcohole, it's easier to admit that it's probably not the most constructive way to spend my energy. :-)

Tuesday, October 26, 2004 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Beauty, Fields medal, Witten, and Woit

I've sorted the keywords in the title alphabetically.

After Peter Woit read my words about the beauty of string theory, he wrote his own essay about beauty and string theory. If even Peter Woit meditates about the beauty of superstrings, it proves that we're definitely making some sort of progress, at least in the P.R. business! :-)

Note added later: After Peter Woit looked at this page about the links between mathematics and string theory, he wrote his own version of history of topological field (and string) theories. His picture of the history has one serious problem: it ends in 1989, and no newer insights are taken into account. Why is the end of history exactly in 1989? You might think that it may be related to the collapse of communism. Well, that's not the real reason. You will understand the correct explanation why the history of maths and physics after 1989, according to Peter Woit, does not exist, if you look here.

Let me now return to Peter's first article about the beauty of string theory. He divides the problem into five main categories:

  • The beauty of symmetries - Peter Woit realizes that spacetime symmetries seem to be derived concepts in string theory. He nevertheless understands why they're beautiful, and we would probably agree about this point
  • Miraculous nature of cancellations of anomalies and inconsistencies - his example is the Green-Schwarz anomaly cancellation, but I was thinking about a much more general set of ideas. It's not just the usual type of "anomaly" that must cancel for a theory to make sense, and the spectrum of different details that happen to work (and have to work) in string theory is much broader
  • Uniqueness of the theory as a description of the real world, including quantum phenomena and gravity - which includes the absence of adjustable non-dynamical continuous parameters
  • String theory as the extension of quantum field theory - Peter realizes that string theory is the only known framework that is able to go "beyond" quantum field theory, without spoiling its essential good features
  • Beautiful connections to new pure mathematics - Peter says many incorrect things which I will correct below
I don't really think that Peter reproduced all the main points of my essay. He picked the advantages of string theory, but not necessarily those that would normally be associated with "beauty". The true emotion of "beauty" also follows from some properties of the theory that Peter Woit neglected: for example, its ability to regularize any singularity, and to make everything smooth.

Marvin Cohen, nanotubes, and space elevator

Marvin L. Cohen gave the first Loeb lecture at Harvard, and I liked it. The Loeb lecturers are always very special people - very respected physicists and physicists with exceptional skills to present their subjects. Brian Greene was the Loeb lecturer in the spring.

Cohen is a condensed matter physicist, and he decided to present

  • The Standard Model of Solids
As the president-elect of the American Physical Society (who will probably replace Helen Quinn, our fellow particle physicist, if I understand it well), he had to start with two commercials.
  • One of them was the World Year of Physics 2005. The next year will be celebrated as the international year of physics because it will be 100 years from Einstein's miraculous April 1905 in which he discovered special relativity, the theory of photoelectric effect, and the theory of the Brownian motion, among other things. Cohen's main goal associated with WYP 2005 is to attract many 10-year old girls to physics.
  • The second commercial was about his plans to reorganize APS. If I remember well, Cohen divided APS into four sections: old-fashioned physics (atomic, molecular, optics); astro-particle (which probably include things like string theory); condensed matter physics; plasma and non-linear physics
I did not make any notes, but let me reproduce some of his points about APS. The "classical" section of APS (atomic, molecular, optics) is doing very well. A significant fraction of astro-particle is about the search for a TOE, but also about the Big Bang. Plasma physics continues to develop thermonuclear fusion reactors. And condensed matter physics, which is the largest portion of APS, is disorganized because it develops into too many directions.

Monday, October 25, 2004 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Kryptonite locks

This article is about one of the less serious topics.

One of the things that I had to buy when I came to Cambridge was a bike. Of course, one also needs a lock. The clerk immediately offered me a Kryptonite U-lock.

  • "It's the best product on the market, and most Americans are buying exactly this lock."
You know, this lock just looks too big (and expensive) to us, the Europeans - it is a pound of metal or so. But you know, Americans love everything big. He did not have to convince me that the physique of that lock was robust enough so that you can only break it with some very powerful tools. But the tubular key just seemed suspicious. It did not seem to have too much structure on it, and I was asking questions like

Beauty of string theory

Backdoorstudent asked on sci.physics.research:

  • What's so "beautiful" or "elegant" about string theory?
  • I ask this seriously and respectfully. And I apologize if it seems like a troll. I always feel uncomfortable when I hear physicists make statements about beauty. Who here thinks reality is ugly? Interestingly, I do not hear mathematicians speak like this as often as I do physicists. So what is it that string theorists find so beautiful? Brian Greene did not convey it to me. Sorry and thanks.

Of course, I don't believe that if Brian failed, I can succeed. ;-) The feeling of beauty in physics is something caused by very objective and rational properties of the physical theory, but finally it is an emotional feeling, and if someone just does not have these emotions, it's hard to convey them.

But let me try to answer it anyway.

The issue of beauty in theoretical physics is very subtle, and I will have to explain what this beauty may be, but also what this beauty cannot be.

First of all, the laws behind the Universe are not dumb. If a physicist talks about beauty, she never thinks about "simplicity" of the kind that an average teenager who hates math classes at school might appreciate. The Universe is not that simple, and its rules just can't be dumb.

As Einstein said, the laws of the Universe should be as simple as possible, but not more.

Friday, October 22, 2004 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Gauge coupling unification

Peter Woit wrote a critical article about Edward Witten's talk describing pro's and con's of supersymmetry. In my opinion, Peter's article is good enough to see that Witten's talk was probably good. I don't see anything wrong with Witten's statements either. You can learn what Witten considers to be the main positive and negative features of SUSY and GUT.

As always, Peter Woit wrote that he did not want to believe anything, and if he does not believe it, it also makes it natural that he does not believe anything else, and therefore whole particle physics and string theory is useless, and so forth. Well, in the case of the anthropic "calculations" of the supersymmetry breaking scale, those that lead to two totally contradictory "results" (Dine vs. Douglas), I would agree with his judgement. In other cases, Peter Woit's way of thinking does not seem to be relevant for anything in science.

Nati Seiberg and Stokes' phenomenon

Nati Seiberg from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton gave a nice talk at Harvard about their work on the target space of minimal string theory.

He started his talk by expressing his happiness that he was able to visit the Great Boston during the extraordinary period of its history; this comment was clearly related to the Boston bloody socks.

Consider string theory with the following background: take the (p,q) minimal model, one of these simple classified rational conformal field theories, and add a CFT for Liouville theory with the right central charge, to get c=26 in total so that it cancels the bc ghosts.

One can define the boundary states for the FZZT branes - which is some hybrid between the D1-branes and D0-branes - namely some spacetime filling branes with a profile that suddenly goes to zero expo-exponentially. The wavefunction for this boundary state is known exactly, much like many other things. It has a parameter - one that roughly measures the point in space where the profile starts to decrease to zero rapidly.

Thursday, October 21, 2004 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

"Consensus" on global warming

The number of comments has decreased, and let me therefore write a politically sensitive article.

Yesterday we received a mail about a special seminar organized by The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Many great scientists, including the Nobel prize winners (and also some string theorists), are active members. This organization is a very clear example of a strong anti-Bush sentiment in the significant part of the current scientific community.

The main document produced by UCS was called

"Scientific Integrity in Policymaking: An Investigation into the Bush Administration's Misuse of Science"

I was not too impressed by this document. Well, maybe it's because I did not read it carefully enough. But the findings described in this text - those that I have read - either seemed relatively unimportant - like the complaints that a title of an article was changed from "summer hotter" in the draft to the final "hotter summer", or something along these lines - or they seemed biased.

My feeling was that a group of people who dislike Bush has simply put together criticisms or anecdotes invented or experienced by all of them, and they converted this conglomerate of random stuff into an important document. But I admit that I was not able to read every sentence of the full report carefully because it looked like a waste of time.

Self-dual strings and M5-brane anomalies

Last night, David Berman gave a very nice talk about his recent work with Jeff Harvey,

Incidentally, most of the people in the room were British - they apparently want to take over Cambridge once again.

Imagine several parallel M5-branes and M2-branes stretched between them. The boundaries of these M2-branes inside the M5-branes look like strings; they are self-dual strings because they are the sources of the self-dual three-form field strength in the six-dimensional (2,0) multiplet.

Moreover, because we separated the M5-branes, we study the theory on the Coulomb branch. That's the setup that we were considering with Ori Ganor, and that was later but independently looked at, using the more powerful tools based on anomalies, by Ken Intriligator.

If you think about the geometry of the configuration above, you will realize that the direction in which the M5-branes are separated is singled out, and the remaining 10 dimensions preserve the symmetry

spin(1,1) x spin(4) x spin(4)

The Lorentzian group lives inside the string. The first spin(4) group rotates the remaining 4 dimensions inside the 5-brane, while the final spin(4) belongs to the R-symmetry of the fivebrane - it rotates 4 of its 5 transverse dimensions which are also transverse to the string, of course.

Note that the first spin(4) looks much like the other spin(4), and they can be correlated. In fact, the fermionic zero modes (the Goldstinos from 8 broken supercharges) living on the self-dual string can either be left-moving (charge "+1/2" under spin(1,1)), or right-moving (charge "-1/2") - and these two types of fermions transform differently under the groups spin(4) x spin(4). The total representation is

(+1/2; 1,2; 1,2) (+) (+1/2; 2,1; 2;1) (+)
(+) (-1/2; 1,2; 2,1) (+) (-1/2; 2,1; 1,2)

The first line are the left-movers, the second line are right-movers. Because of the different representations of the left-moving and the right-moving fermions, they can give you an anomaly for the spin(4) R-symmetries of your two-dimensional theory. It's partly a matter of convention whether you call it a R-symmetry anomaly or a gravitational anomaly - one can move the anomalies around a little bit.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

David Gross and screening of letters

Screening of letters can be a great idea. David Gross's problem is that he (and Frank Wilczek and David Politzer) invented anti-screening instead, and the result is shown on his daughter's picture.

Dear All: Family, Friends, Colleagues

Buried in an avalanche of congratulations, I vowed to answer each andevery email. But I have succumbed to reality, for the moment. I will try to respond to each of you personally as soon as possible. Till then know how much I appreciate your good wishes.

Thanks to my friends and family for all their support over many years, thanks to my wonderful colleagues for their collaboration and friendship, and thanks to QCD itself, such a marvelous facet of nature that we were lucky to first glimpse.

My current state of mind is best expressed in the enclosed cartoon,drawn by my daughter Elisheva.

All the best,

US casualties in Iraq

Now I'm probably gonna please the majority of my readers who seem to be in the opposition to Bush. I apologize to my non-left-wing comrades for this article - and those who believe that the war in Iraq is a really perfect example of success may want to stop right here. Look at this text. ... robertson.bush.iraq

That's a sort of surprising report. Before the war in Iraq started, the founder of the U.S. Christian Coalition, Pat Robertson, had had a private discussion with the Lord. (It's the same guy whom Einstein would have been sorry about if GR were not confirmed by the bending light experiments.) The Lord informed Robertson about the consequences of the war in Iraq. More precisely, God told Robertson that the war was gonna be A and B (the Lord often likes to make jokes) where A is a "disaster" and B stands for "messy".

One of the conclusions that Robertson made from this discussion with his boss is that there would be many US casualties in Iraq. It's not really important what method Robertson used to get his result. I obtained similar results using very different, albeit possibly dual, means (something based on the so-called rational reasoning); in fact, I was too afraid of the ability of Hussein's army and supporters to win in the initial military operations in the beginning.

There were 6 million members of the Baath party or so in Iraq, out of roughly 23 millions of citizens. The rules of that party require that each member holds a gun and protects the Arab socialist regime led by Saddam Hussein. Obviously, many of them take these rules seriously, especially if they feel that their country should not have been attacked. Saddam has also received 100 percent of the votes in his last elections. Well, the number 100 is obviously nonsense, but you can never make 100 out of less than 20. Even 20 percent of the population against you is pretty tough.

OK, so Pat Robertson derived this result. Because he thought that his new insight may have been important, he informed the president: "Listen, George, I just spoke to the Lord and He told me that the war will be A and B." The most unbelievable part of this story is Bush's reaction (at least this is how Robertson describes Bush's reaction):

"Oh, no, we're not going to have any casualties."

I think that the reason for this expectation is that God had distributed two contradictory statements, or He was just making rather bad jokes. Unlike Bush, God is not gonna face any elections in November, and therefore He can afford to make such bad jokes. Well, more than 1,100 US troops have died in that conflict so far, with 8,000 soldiers wounded. (I should also be counting the lives of Iraqis, but let me forget about them, especially about Saddam's supporters whom I don't care about so much.)

This just couldn't be unexpected - and in a sense, we should all be happy that the situation is so much better than in Vietnam. It's not perfect, however. It's just not so easy to fight in a country somewhere in Mesopotamia, especially if you're constrained by somewhat strict rules of humanity and you must be pretty careful to avoid killing innocent people. Don't get me wrong: the US army is still incredibly efficient in fighting the enemy over there and many operations are "surgically clean", but it just can't be 100 percent efficient and error-free. Of course that such a war could be much more efficient if one could nuke the whole country, but I guess (and I hope, in fact) that this is not what the nation would really support.

My guess is that the soldiers (I mean the generals) had to roughly know how many lives would have to be sacrificed, at least plus minus one order of magnitude. It's just a very appealing feature of Bush that he probably believes in God and His perfectionist support of Bush's actions. Although I am certainly not a believer in this non-trivial sense, there is something cute about this belief. On the other hand, some degree of realism may be helpful for the president, too.

I hope that Christianity does not prevent one from learning new things; well, it is the dominating religion that accompanied the birth of the modern Western civilization, a civilization that is certainly based on various self-correcting mechanisms. The intervention in Iraq can still turn out to be a brave and very helpful decision. But it may be better if we don't expect Iraq to become a new paradise, at least not too soon.

Topological string theory

This short note is an advertisement for a new review of topological string theory and its applications by Andy Neitzke and Cumrun Vafa

I think that it is a very well written review of a majority of important aspects of topological A-models and B-models. You know, these are "twisted" versions of string theory whose dynamics is topological both on the worldsheet and spacetime, but they nevertheless know about some holomorphic quantities of the original ("full") string theory. Well, let me not copy their review here.


To be fair and balanced, let's also say that there is a competing review by Marcos Mariňo

Marcos's review is focused on the relation of topological strings with the old matrix models.

Comments for Peter Woit and Lee Smolin

Appendix to a discussion at Asymptotia.

Because Clifford Johnson "routinely deletes" comments by your humble correspondent (yes, primarily politics because Clifford is a secretary of the far left-wing PC police), they must be posted at a different place.

Dear Peter,

your answer to Mark Srednicki is absurd. The quark theory that Mark was writing about talks about physics at essentially the same energy scale as the effective theories with hundreds of hadrons from the first part of his story, namely hundreds of MeV. Also, the quark theory would be hard to test using the normal experiments at the QCD scale - which is essentially a low-energy scale - because one would have to calculate very complicated properties about bound states of quarks, and there are many of them etc. QCD is only easily testable at higher energies where it becomes weakly coupled.

Marks gedanken experiment was designed to be isomorphic to the situation of string theory and if there is a difference, then the difference is that the natural scale of string theory is way above the observable scale so that the gap in string theory is greater than in the nuclear story, not in the other way around as you incorrectly wrote. Every physicist who has read Marks comment knows it and understands it. The only reason why you argue that there is a significant difference between the two examples is that you dont understand how these theories actually work.

The fact that you find quantum gravity uninteresting is not surprising for me at all. At any rate, the key arguments - the mathematical robust ones - about questions such as the information loss came from string theory and everyone who was interested in these things - such as Stephen Hawking - knows this, too. Hawking admitted that the information is preserved primarily because of the AdS/CFT correspondence.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Political activism vs. common sense

I am always amazed how highly intelligent people can lose all of their common sense once they start to think about politics, religion, or something along these lines.

A trivial non-event happened and three T-shirts are the main heroes in this non-event. Three anti-Bush female teachers were able to acquire the tickets for a Bush rally in Southern Oregon - which was otherwise a rally for Bush supporters.

They obviously did not just want to watch; they wanted to influence the rally (as they later admitted). So all of them were wearing almost identical T-shirts saying "Protect Our Civil Liberties". If these T-shirts were ever printed in large amounts, my guess is that they were anti-Patriot-Act T-shirts. One of the T-shirts also had a picture of the Statue of Liberty above this sentence.

OK, now imagine that you're an organizer of the Bush rally (well, I am sure that many readers won't be even able to imagine this thing, and I encourage these readers to finish at this point because the rest of the article will be too complex for them).

You have a plenty of people who have come to have a pleasant afternoon, and your responsibility is to protect the rally against disruptive elements. Suddenly you see three women with nearly identical T-shirts saying "Protect Our Civil Liberties". The very pattern - three similar T-shirts - is the first thing you notice. The second question you ask yourself is whether these women have something to say - and whether they really belong to the rally. It's your job to ask such questions.

It requires nothing more than elementary knowledge of the political situation in the USA to realize that this is not a slogan meant to support the GOP. You would choose "Protect Our Safety" or something else. Everyone who knows the sort of spin that the Democratic Party is using to criticize the GOP simply knows that these T-shirts, in the current situation, are simply not pro-Bush T-shirts. It has absolutely nothing to do with the real question whether Bush et al. are protecting civil liberties. No doubt, they are even trying to protect them outside the US borders. ;-) The reasoning that tells an informed person whether the women were left-wing or right-wing is based on the language that the two sides now like to use.

MOND and holography

These blogs should be sources of provocative ideas that can lead to something new, which is why this article is about MOND and holography. Be sure that I find all MOND theories very unlikely but we should all be aware of interesting speculations that have shown non-trivially looking quantitative results.

Note added later: the readers who find this article interesting should also look at a newer article about the Pioneer anomaly.

Note added in 2006: more direct observations of dark matter have arguably falsified all published versions of MOND, great, and it is a somewhat open question whether more sophisticated versions of MOND like mine - that may involve macroscopic interference - are gone, too. The question can be settled by similar observations of the clusters in the future: if the distribution of the deduced dark matter is going to be random and independent of the visible matter, then any theory without dark matter will be dead.

What is MOND? The acronym MOND stands for "modified Newtonian dynamics", and it is an alternative to the theory of dark matter. Jacob Bekenstein gave a talk about MOND at Harvard when he was visiting us - and he is probably the most famous current advocate of this theory which is viewed as a controversial one: MOND does not quite agree with the usual picture of the Universe that emerges from general relativity. There is a lot of reasons to think that MOND is nonsense, but the goal of this article is just the opposite one. ;-)

Basic argument in favor of dark matter

In order to convince you that there can be something nice about MOND, you need to know the basic reasons why most people believe that there is a lot of dark matter around.


Sean's textbook on GR

Jacob Barandes just told us about Sean Carroll's textbook on general relativity. Yes, it is the same Sean who lives in the Preposterous Universe, another Universe in the multiverse. It's the best book on GR ever; it fills the holes in all 8 textbooks that Jacob had read previously; it is a book that makes sense; he wishes he had the book when he was getting started with GR.

After having looked at the free version of that book

I must agree and recommend you this apparently excellent piece of work! You should buy the commercial version of the book because

  • it has better diagrams
  • you will help Sean to be awarded for his work
The page of that book is at

Update: When I was telling about this recommended GR book to Andy Strominger, he replied: "I am using it in my course!" :-)

Monday, October 18, 2004 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Hewlett-Packard keyboards & PayPal

HP laptop keyboard: main instructions how to repair it
This short note is only gonna be interesting for a small percentage of the readers, and I apologize to the rest.

The issue is that most types of laptops from Hewlett-Packard suffer from a minor bug: a group of keys often becomes intermittently insensitive. In some cases the problem only occurs when the notebook has been turned on for 10 minutes.

My laptop (ZE 4125), bought at, suffered from this problem as well. After some time, I was able to figure out that the problem was caused by the Foxconn connector, and reseating it had fixed the problem. The laptop has been operating perfectly for at least 18 months.

The most typical symptom of the connector problem is that the keys G,H,backspace,apostrophe,F4 do not respond.

Because I found the replacement rather subtle - especially the question which screws should be removed, and so forth - I've created the following web page with some photographs

Dan Arzhanov later converted this page into an entertaining shockwave applet
Jennifer Crook sent me another photograph, and I am also grateful to several other people that offered their help in improving the page. It seems that the page has been useful to many people who have sent their reactions.

Sunday, October 17, 2004 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Neocounter: daily visitors by city

Objections to loop quantum gravity

It seems that one can easily repost one of my articles from Wikipedia, so that even the links are preserved. Let's try.

In theoretical physics, is one speculative approach to quantum gravity, sometimes cited as a competitor theory to string theory. The loop quantum gravity page summarises the theory as it appears to those working in the field.

As a physical theory, loop quantum gravity has been subject to some heavy criticisms. Some objections to the ideas of loop quantum gravity are given here.

Too many assumptions

Loop quantum gravity makes too many assumptions about the behavior of geometry at very short distances. It assumes that the metric tensor is a good variable at all distance scales, and it is the only relevant variable. It even assumes that Einstein's equations are more or less exact in the Planckian regime.

The spacetime dimensionality (four) is another assumption that cannot be questioned, much like the field content. Each of these assumptions is challenged in a general enough theory of quantum gravity, for example all the models that emerge from string theory. These assumptions have neither theoretical nor experimental justification. Particular examples will be listed in a separate entry.

Saturday, October 16, 2004 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

The anthropic lack of principles

Sean Carroll just wrote an essay on his blog (incidentally in the same domain as my blog), and Peter Woit has replied. Why don't we write a couple of words about it, too?

Europe vs. America, Nobel, and science

All Nobel prizes in 2004 have been decided, and it's fun to look at the nationality of the winners.

First, there are two Nobel prizes that I don't view quite seriously anymore, namely the awards for peace and literature. The peace prize went to a militant environmentalist woman from Kenya, while the Nobel prize for literature was given to an Austrian pornographic feminist communist writer (with a Czech last name; Jelinek means a "little deer"). Well, both of these women sort of fit the general political pattern of the previous winners - for example, Yasser Arafat was also a hero of the peace prize - and if I knew these ladies in advance, they would almost certainly be expected candidates for me.

Let's now look at the more serious prizes, namely for physics, chemistry, medicine, and economics. The latter is not quite a Nobel prize, according to the Nobel purists, but let me call it a Nobel prize anyway because the history of the Nobel prizes seems pretty irrelevant.

Most of the winners of these "non-trivial" prizes are Jews, and most of the winners are affiliated with the US institutions. Well, it's not too surprising that at least five of them are Jews: two Israeli winners, Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover of the Technion in Haifa, share the award for chemistry with another Jew, namely Irwin Rose from the USA, while the physics winners David Gross and David Politzer who are also Jews from the States shared the asymptotically free Nobel prize with Frank Wilczek. Frank's family came to the USA from Poland and Italy, but my understanding is that he is not a Jew.

The Jewish nation has a long tradition of respect to education and science - it may even be better if you're a good student as opposed to a football player - and a significant portion of the leaders of theoretical physics are Jewish. In fact, my diploma advisor from Prague told us the following true joke about antimatter:

Talks at Harvard this week

Let me say a couple of words about three talks we've seen this week:

Causality and entanglement

I was just moderating a posting on sci.physics.strings that was proposing a mechanism involving branes to send signals faster than light. That provoked me to write another essay about this issue.

Because we're gonna talk about causality (and locality), it may be natural to start chronologically.

People have known for millenia that the cause precedes its effects. For example, before you were born, your parents had to do a certain thing. This fact, known as causality, became a part of Newtonian physics. Classical, non-relativistic physics had a universal time coordinate t that everyone could agree upon. The events and properties of the objects at time t was thought to only affect the events at times t' where t'>t.

Einstein's special relativity has revolutionized many properties of space and time, but the previous sentence remained true. In fact, it remained true for all inertial observers. Each reference frame has a different time coordinate (and time and space are getting mixed), but the statement always holds. What does the required causality in other frames implies for our frame? Well, it implies that the event B affected by the event A must not only come after A, but it must belong to the future light cone of A: physical influences (such as material objects that can influence something) are not only constrained to propagate from the past to the future, but they are not allowed to travel faster than light.

If you wait for a short time period t, you will only be able to affect the objects that are the distance s=ct from you, or closer. Therefore, roughly speaking, this relativistic version of causality is also called locality (because your influence remains local), and we won't distinguish between the concepts of locality and causality.

Neocounter: fifty recent cities

The numbers tell how how many minutes and seconds ago did the inhabitants of the cities visit The Reference Frame.

Thursday, October 14, 2004 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Frank Wilczek - thanks and poem

Frank Wilczek has sent out nice thanks for the congratulatory letters he's received, and I hope that he won't complain if his thanks to the people who helped him (not only with physics) are posted on this blog, so that you can read them, too.

Thank you for your message on this joyous occasion. In time I will answer directed messages individually, but that is impractical at the moment. So please consider this a rain check, containing just a few remarks I'd like to share with everyone.

The main thing for me now is to distribute thanks.

First I'd like to thank my parents, who cared for my human needs and encouraged my curiosity from the beginning. They were children of immigrants from Poland and Italy, and grew up in difficult circumstances during the Great Depression, but managed to emerge as generous souls with an inspiring admiration for science and learning. I'd like to thank the people of New York, for supporting a public school system that served me extremely well. I also got a superb undergraduate education, at the University of Chicago. In this connection I'd especially like to mention the inspiring influence of Peter Freund, whose tremendous enthusiasm and clarity in teaching a course on group theory in physics was a major influence in nudging me from pure mathematics toward physics.

Next I'd like to thank the people around Princeton who contributed in crucial ways to the circumstances that made my development and major work in the 1970s possible. On the personal side, this includes especially my wife Betsy Devine. I don't think it's any coincidence that the beginning of my scientific maturity, and a special gush of energy, happened at the same time as I was falling in love with her. Also Robert Shrock and Bill Caswell, my fellow graduate students, from whom I learned a lot, and who made our extremely intense life-style seem natural and even fun. On the scientific side, I must of course thank David Gross above all. He swept me up in his drive to know and to calculate, and through both his generous guidance and his personal example started and inspired my whole career in physics. The environment for theoretical physics in Princeton in the 1970s was superb. There was an atmosphere of passion for understanding, intellectual toughness (!), and inner confidence whose creation was a great achievement. Murph Goldberger, Sam Treiman, and Curt Callan especially deserve enormous credit for this. Also Sidney Coleman, who was visiting at the time, was very interested in our work. Such interest by a physicist I regarded as uniquely brilliant was inspiring in itself; Sidney also asked many challenging questions that helped us come to grips with our results as they developed.

Bush and Kerry: the final debate

Both guys are good debaters and they were able to learn many facts and numbers and present them in a rather convincing way. I am always surprised by the people who say that both candidates - and perhaps all politicians - are stupid, evil, or perhaps they even suffer from a serious learning disorder.

If I imagine any of these critics in the role of Kerry or Bush, they wouldn't perform comparably well. What would these critics say if they were asked about virtually any question that is relevant for the Society?

Bush tried to smile throughout the debate and his facial expressions (that used to often be confused) have been moderated quite successfully - clearly, this is something that his advisers and friends convinced him to do. His laughter was less loud than in the previous debates. Kerry's style of rhetoric was very similar to the first two verbal battles even though some of his answers were too long again. Well, Kerry is almost certainly a stable debater, but he still seems to be an opportunist on actual policies and opinions. And they seem to be a bit more important after all.

No doubt, both guys are fighting hard to win the votes of undecided voters, and perhaps even some voters who are supposed to vote for the opponent. That's especially clear in the case of Kerry. Do you remember the second debate? Kerry mentioned that he would deal with an issue (I forgot what was that, perhaps the work with the Allies?) much like Ronald Reagan; Bush, on the other hand, said that he wanted to do some others things (and I really forgot what was that) like during Clinton's era.

These unexpected comments are always entertaining, but there were other entertaining moments in the third debate - especially when they had to describe that their wives - both Laura Bush as well as Teresa Ketchup - are smarter; their wives are in charge; and all of these important guys "married up".

Well, one thing is to try to attract the neutral and conservative voters by praising Ronald Reagan. It is a completely different question whether one should trust Kerry when he distributes these comments. Much like Bush, I still don't quite trust Kerry. As Bush said, Kerry has voted to raise taxes 98 times. That's a horrible record, I would say. The taxes are already too high (at least the taxes that I must pay are very high, not sure about you) and too progressive. They should be lower and more flat. (And the idea to replace the IRS by sales taxes is pretty cool, is not it?)

But it's not just about the record. If I were a voter, Kerry would repel me also by some of his own statements (although some other statements would be OK or even appealing).

For example, I find it irritating when Kerry keeps on complaining about "Bush's tax cuts for the rich". Sorry, but this is not a candidate of the whole American nation. It is a left-wing candidate whose agenda is to damage a whole group of citizens (and corporations) whose existence and well-being is incidentally pretty important for America's performance - especially because they are the creators of new jobs. He knows very well that the number of the people below the average is more than one half - and it always will (because the very rich shift the average above the median). All of them, rich and poor, have the same vote, and it just seems easier to get votes by attracting the poor.

I would say that this is only a way to attract those poor who have decided that they would always remain incapable to be better off and who always want to rely on redistribution of resources - and there is not much difference between Kerry and the left-wing populist policitians in Europe and elsewhere. (Well, Kerry is the most left-wing senator according to some counting of his votes.) But even the poor Americans are usually able to think differently - simply because America gives everyone the framework for realizing their dreams of various kinds, a freedom for their "upward mobility". Be sure that Kerry won't win the support of all the people below some income level!

Bush's fiscal responsibility does not look great if we only look at the numbers. Clinton's surplus has changed into deficits. The interest rates are still kept at a much lower level than during the end of Clinton's era. Well, but we should realize that Bush is not responsible for most of the unhappy facts that contributed to the current situation. First of all, the recession already started in the Fall of 2000. Second of all, Bush had to deal with 9/11 and with mess in companies such as Enron - neither of these things was Bush's fault, I think. The war in Iraq was probably not a great news for the budget either, and this questionable decision, if it were wrong, was Bush's fault. But the oil is now 100 percent more expensive than in 1999 and it is not necessarily just a consequence of the war in Iraq.

Let me say that I do think that the presidents should try to keep the budget balanced and Bush simply can't get an "A" for this subject; well, Bush explains that he thinks that there were more important priorities. But it sounds rather ridiculous to listen to the criticism from Kerry. It is pretty clear that Kerry's proposal to give the health insurance to everyone would itself double the deficits - and this is not the only plan of Kerry of a comparable magnitude.

It's not just a matter of huge amounts of money that would have to be paid for these plans. It may be more important to realize that these plans would undermine the free market system in various areas, and the free market system often equals the advantage of America over other countries. Bush's plans to privatize various parts of this system may be good ideas.

I also liked Bush's answer about the shortage of flu vaccine - when he encouraged others to save the flu shots for others who are more vulnerable. No one is obliged to listen, but I believe that the president should be the source of such advices that are meant to help everyone - or those who need it most. Such comments should occur even if the president is not being asked because this job is a part of the leadership.

As you can see, Bush would probably win my vote if I were voting in the USA, as the more trustworthy person who understands the motors underlying the American society better than his opponent. But let me make it clear that I don't think that Kerry would be a universal disaster. If you're an American, vote for whomever you want.

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