Sunday, January 30, 2005 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Iraq elections: success

Today, the stakes were high in Iraq. Various monsters worth liquidation are trying to stop the elections by killing innocent people. That's very bad but the good news is that many of those guys can only be used once. And most Iraqis did not care about these thugs anyway. The central election committee estimated a very nice turnout, about 72 percent. Some world media were much more skeptical. The Iraqis outside their fatherland were voting, too. I personally expected the turnout to be high.

The "parties" are not terribly political - they usually represent the interests of various ethnic groups or sects. What I find encouraging is that many groups of bad guys are boycotting the elections. These groups are mostly organized Sunni Arabs:

  • Ba'ath Arab Socialist Party (banned)
  • Iraqi Islamic Party
  • Association of Muslim Scholars

Well, it's their free decision to exit the democratic system, and I think that the system may be better off without them. It won't be easy to argue that the elections were not legitimate if the turnout is around 70 percent. We have already seen what Ba'ath socialism looks like and it's a good time for the Ba'athists to look for a new job. The other two groups I mentioned are fundamentalist morons - they're the Iraqi counterparts of the Taliban, and the good people of Iraq may also be happier if these morons don't oxidate in the Parliament. I expect that the winner will be

  • United Iraqi Alliance

which is a party containing mostly Shia Arabs of all possible flavors, including radical islamists as well as liberal secularists and others - it's currently led by the Ayatollah al-Sistani. My emotions about this large group are zero. This group would establish a new kind of Iran in Iraq - and how this new Iran will look like will depend on the "details".

My favorite party is, of course

  • Iraqi List,

a secular Shia party of Iyad Allawi, a modern pro-Western group led by a neurobiologist. There are also several Northern ethnic parties such as

  • Iraqi Turkmen Front
  • Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan

These groups include muslims, traditionalists, as well as communists and social democrats. Although the Sunni minority will definitely lose power compared to Hussain's era, don't think that the Sunni Arabs are not represented. Their strongest party participating in the polls is called

  • The Iraqis

and is led by the current president Ghazi Al-Yawer. I am less excited about them than about Iyad Allawi, but their success would not be a disaster, I think. He could transmute Iraq into a new kind of Jordan which does not sound too bad either. In fact, in the current context of Iraq, even the rest of the list does not look like a disaster to me. They include the following groups:

  • People's Union, led by the Iraqi communists
  • Independent Alliance of Civil Societies, including feminists and human rights groups

Well, while feminism has nothing good to offer in the Western world of 2005 because it has become an anachronism, it may be refreshing in Iraq. I hope that my feminist friends will be flattered when I say that a new Iraqi government resembling the feminist wing of the Democratic Party would still represent progress for that country.

Finally, there are two other groups whose sign is positive in my opinion:

  • Assyrian Democratic Movement (Christians - well, it would be great to baptize Iraq!)
  • Independent Democrats Movement (of Adnan Pachachi who lived in exile)

So if I summarize: the parties that participate don't look as bad as you may think even though the future of Iraq will probably depend on the future of the United Iraqi Alliance which is highly ambiguous. The elections have a good chance to be viewed as legitimate ones. Iraq may be marching towards progress.

It seems that this Sunday has been a rather clear success. The killers in Iraq as well as their allies in the whole world will probably feel depressed. I expect an increased number of various anti-American nutcases to come to my blog and anonymously criticize America, capitalism, my blog, FOXnews, as well as everything else on "our side" of this war. Well, that won't be terribly surprising. They're the big losers today. On the other hand, freedom and democracy has won a battle. I hope that the losers will become even bigger losers in the near future, and the freedom-loving Iraqi people will become the winners.

Pure spinor formalism


This article involves links to papers with a very complicated formalism. Although many of us think that the topic is pretty fascinating, I am less sure that the physically oriented Nobel prize winners among the readers of this blog will appreciate the depth of the ideas behind these calculations. Consequently, they should stop reading at this point, otherwise I am not responsible for their good mood! Thanks for your understanding.

Nathan Berkovits - Green & Schwarz done right

Today, perturbative string theory is just a part of our knowledge about string/M-theory but it is still the most "stringy" - and in some sense, the most mathematically solid of the insights about string/M-theory that we have. The ultimate physical observable computed in perturbative string theory is the S-matrix. In superstring theory, the graviton supermultiplet is the entire list of states that are stable at non-zero coupling. Therefore we calculate the scattering amplitudes between the gravitons and their superpartners. It's only them that appear in the initial and the final state, and the S-matrix for them is unitary.

Bosonic string theory contains loop infrared divergences induced by the tachyon, and it's not the truly interesting case to study at the quantum (loop) level. We want to focus on the string theory without the tachyon and with fermions - namely superstring theory. Its amplitudes are finite, and free of the IR divergences. They're calculated in some kind of conformal field theory. From now on, let's focus exclusively on type II string theories - those 10-dimensional theories that have the maximum of 32 real supercharges.

Saturday, January 29, 2005 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Troubled loop gravity

Update: I revised my research about the first undeleted comment below this article. Now I think that it was written by Paul Ginsparg, not Sheldon Glashow. The clichés "Dark Ages", "theologians" have the same explanation as before (the article by Ginsparg and Glashow) but the sentence "the competition is fierce because the stakes are so low" is a typical Ginsparg's phrase.

Lee Smolin has just sent an e-mail about the paper by Nicolai et al. to Jacques Distler and me. Recall that Nicolai, Peeters, and Zamaklar recently submitted the most meaningful article about loop quantum gravity (LQG) published since 1997, to say the least. They showed the ideas and techniques of LQG in detail, and they focused on the open problems that, so far, prevent LQG from becoming a serious candidate for a theory of anything - especially the infinitely ambiguous Hamiltonian constraint. Nicolai, Peeters, and Zamaklar have abruptly become the world's leading LQG experts. I've discussed their paper at

Well, it's not easy to write down a technical paper that would solve the problems mentioned by Nicolai et al., or at least downplay the importance of their arguments - especially because their arguments simply are correct and serious. It's easier to write a verbal e-mail, and here is one:

Friday, January 28, 2005 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Am I an ET alien?

The most ridiculous item of the day

Today I've received several e-mails from Doc Savage and from Jack Sarfatti. They have figured out that I am an extraterrestrial alien. Their evidence is composed of many pieces:

A copy of these mails has arrived to the mailboxes of many other people with similar beliefs as Doc Savage and Jack Sarfatti, for example Carlos Castro, Brian Josephson, the Nobel prize winner, and others.

Well, I am sure that they won't believe me anyway. But let me try to say that I am not an ET alien. The Rutgers alien web page has been created as a joke 7 years ago. Well, it's true that since 1998, I've received about 100 e-mails from the people who really believed that I was an extraterrestrial alien and they were extremely grateful that they found my web page (although most of them have already met ET's before). It makes my point harder to prove, but I am really not an ET alien! ;-) The last animation is called "morphing", and I have nothing to do with the shockwave animation.

Breaking hockey stick

I was just informed about a new article by Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick (MM) that will be published in Geophysical Research Letters, the same journal in which Michael Mann et al. published an early version of their paper about the "hockey stick graph" that claimed that they had evidence that the 20th century was the warmest century in this millenium. Read e.g. the story at

Despite the authors' and alarmists' claims, everyone seems to agree that these papers by Mann et al. were the most influential - and essentially unique - articles that support the statements that the human activity is causing an unprecedented warming trend above the natural variations - and they were the main papers that supported the Kyoto protocol. The most politically controversial question turned out to be the 15th century weather. ;-)

Of course, only Nature knows for sure what the climate looked like - but the advocates of Kyoto (such as Mann et al.) would prefer if the 15th century were cooler than the present while the skeptics are skeptical, as usual.

Two years ago or so, my feeling was that MM had a much more rational and scientific approach to the questions about the global climate than Mann et al., but I could see some minor errors in their analysis of the data. Meanwhile, they have improved their knowledge and abilities. They showed that the statistical method by Mann et al. effectively picks the data that lead to the hockey stick shape. Even if one inserts "red noise" as input, the result is a hockey stick graph in 99 percent of cases. They also learned which data sets are the dominant contributors to the conclusions by Mann et al.

I apologize for the wording, but there now seems to be a consensus that the papers by Mann et al. were flawed, and that there exists no evidence that the 15th century was cooler than the 20th century. On the contrary, it's pretty likely that the 15th century was warmer. Another recent criticism by von Storch et al. was published in Science. Von Storch as well as other leading climate scientists and statisticians confirm the findings of MM.

The Dutch National Science Foundation (NOW, not to be confused with the U.S. feminist organization) and the Dutch National Meteorological Agency (KNMI) will convene a special conference within the next month to assess the implications of the findings. Various key members of IPCC (the international climate panel) agree that the image of IPCC will be seriously damaged when the findings are published. A purely political comment: MM can no longer be considered to be cranks and outsiders - they publish in the same journals as the "official" climate scientists, and moreover, there is a growing consensus that MM are the more correct ones.

Also, the alarmists' propagandistic website
is already preparing its readers for the fact that the papers by Mann et al. are flawed (the article is called "What if the hockey stick were wrong?"). The alarmists essentially argue that it does not matter whether the science behind the claims is correct or wrong. Even when the paper is proved wrong, there is still a consensus among the "Hockey Team" (the other papers), they say. They can still play ice-hockey once the goalie is shot, they think. There are other papers independent (...) from Mann et al.: for example Mann and Jones, Jones and Mann, Crowley and Lowery based on data from Jones, Jones and Briffa, Briffa and Jones, and so on. ;-)

Well, I am quite skeptical, especially because the rest of the "Hockey Team" either shares the same authors (Mann, Bradley, Hughes, or Jones), and/or the same data, and/or the same methods - and moreover, the rest of the "team" are even less controllable papers than Mann et al. The global warming activists among the scientists will be in deep trouble since February 2005.

Thursday, January 27, 2005 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Strings at a university in Boston

Peter Woit has pointed out an interesting article about the opponents of string theory at a certain university in Boston. The article was composed by the students of that university.

You know, in the 1960s and 1970s, particle physics had a lot of new experimental data, and the progress in theory followed. It had to be a cool period. The physicists were often inspiring and independent personalities, and most of us admire them. Shelly Glashow is a very interesting person - and I like his common sense and other things.

By the mid 1970s, however, the Standard Model was established. It was clear from the very beginning that despite its nice features, it was not the final theory of everything. What is there beyond the Standard Model? No truly exciting, purely old-fashioned directions to further progress have been found for nearly 30 years or so. Since the 1970s, it was becoming clear that string theory was containing all the good, deep, and most of the interesting answers and ideas - supersymmetry, extra dimensions, dualities, various new types of transitions, holography, new non-perturbative effects, non-commutative geometry, and so on. The progress in the "conventional" directions slowed down significantly.

In the mid 1980s, the first superstring revolution exploded. In 1985, Cumrun Vafa got his PhD at Princeton and moved to Harvard. He's been the right man with the right ideas who appeared at the right time and the right place. The exciting period of the mid 1980s in which he started may have contributed to his amazing success; however, it is probably more important that Cumrun is a kind of genius.

Snow: new monthly record

Today, we spent the whole day with the faculty retreat: the physics professors have been talking and giving speeches for eight hours. And several other discussions followed.

It was very interesting but I am kind of tired, but it's my plan to post another collection of pictures from Cambridge when this article is updated: these new photographs are much more colorful because the weather was sunny when the new pictures were taken.

At any rate, this January's snow in Boston has already broken the previous monthly record: we have already seen more than 107 cm (Thursday update: 130 cm) of snow this month (and it continues to snow). That's the biggest amount in the 113-year-long history of the measurements. The previous record was from February 2003, about 106 cm. The previous record for January was from 1996, namely 101 cm. Note that these records are concentrated in the recent era, which locally makes the global cooling fearmongers slightly more promising than the global warming fearmongers.

After Western Europe, Central Europe has also been given a lot of snow. A few Calgarians died in avalanches in Austria. Several days of heavy snow has been a big problem for the traffic in Albania and the rest of Balkans. And the children in Algeria, North Africa, enjoy games in snow, too. If you are influenced by the stereotype that Africa can't be under snow, you should try to abandon your prejudices. In Turkey, extreme snow made it impossible to save two people who became victims of a 5.5 magnitude earthquake.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Bubbling AdS space

I have not written anything about this paper by Lin, Lunin, and Maldacena:

Because I believe that this is one of the best papers in the last 6 months, let me say a couple of words.

Take type IIB string theory on AdS5 x S5 or its pp-wave limit. Both of them have the maximal number of 32 supercharges. Is there some interesting generalization of these two geometries?

The answer is: yes, there is. Both of these geometries have at least the SO(4) x SO(4) x R isometry. The pp-wave is a limit of the the anti de Sitter space. Moreover, the pp-wave limit has a Z_2 symmetry exchanging the two SO(4) factors - this symmetry is broken by the anti de Sitter space. Is there some geometric heuristic picture how to visualize these two geometries?

Yes, there is. You can imagine
  • the AdS5 x S5 space as a black disk drawn on a white paper
  • the pp-wave limit of it is a paper whose lower half-plane is black
Note that the lower half-plane is a limit of a very large disk. Also, the two half-planes filled with different color have a Z_2 symmetry, exchanging these two colors. This Z_2 symmetry does not exist for the disk whose interior and exterior look different. So far, it sounds ridiculous, of course. But the reason why I say it in this way is the following:

Sunday, January 23, 2005 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Great blizzard 2005

This blizzard has been beautiful, and it has probably defeated the Big Blizzard of 1978. I barely remember some blizzards in Czechoslovakia when I was a kid, but it is conceivable that this one was better. Below you will find the world's largest personal collection of photographs taken during the blizzard.

It contains roughly 220+ pictures. Microsoft Internet Explorer is recommended because it offers you the luxury of thumbnails, filmstrip, and so forth. When your Service Pack 2 blocks the "active content", left-click the tab and choose "Allow blocked content" (twice).

If your internet browser causes any problems, you may also find the pictures directly in this directory:
There are many potentially exciting things on the photographs that you might like - for example, many people are skiing on Massachusetts Avenue, Harvard Square, Memorial Drive, and so forth. The Charles snow fields (formerly known as Charles River) is completely white. Various types of trucks; nice girls; cute children are shoveling snow. Children immersed in snow are playing weird games and they're sliding from a staircase.

NY Times attacks Harvard University

The New York Times have published a painfully totalitarian-style propagandistic article that tries to attack our university - mainly its president - as well as the basic principles of science and free inquiry.

Already in the first sentence, the author describes our president with the adjective "tactless" in order to simplify the life of his readers: they don't need to think for themselves (many of them are not doing it anyway).

In 2001, Prof. Summers has pointed out that several anti-Israeli movements attempting to gain influence at that time were anti-Semitic in effect if not their intent; Noam Chomsky was one of the figures that supported these anti-Semitic movements. Although I would say that Summers was obviously right, Traub disagrees. It's not a disaster if he disagrees; what's worrisome is the way how he disagrees. Traub writes that Summers had "grossly offended one of his institution's core constituencies, and the academic world generally."

Is this formulation serious? By his statement, Summers may have offended the far & anti-Semitic corner of the political left wing - not the whole left wing: Summers himself is a liberal - but he certainly did not offend "academic world generally". The attitude towards Israel is a completely political question and the scholars in academia have different political opinions. The movement was also political, despite the contributions of well-known scholars. The people are offended or not-offended depending on their political orientation, not according to their membership in the academic world!

Three years ago, Summers certainly did not offend me. He certainly did not offend hundreds of others. Is Traub's description some new kind of "academic consensus" that all of us should sabotage Israel, an island of democracy in the Middle East? I hope that we're not back in the "consensus" of Germany in the 1930s.

Traub then emphasizes that Nancy Hopkins was offended by Summers' remarks about the biological differences between the thinking of both genders. I think that Nancy Hopkins should, first of all, be ashamed for her un-scientific reaction. It does not seem as a professional approach to escape from the room where a speaker proposes hypotheses about an issue that this whole conference was supposed to discuss in the first place - only because the hypotheses are inconvenient for Hopkins' political beliefs. Moreover, I believe that as a biologist she should know much more about the brains, for example. If she knew these things, she would definitely know what insights of other scientists Summers was referring to.

Traub then outlines his idea that the university leaders should be the "most timorous and emollient of public speakers". Traub believes that it's just fine if their behavior is hypocritical, but it's important that in the public they behave as puppets who only present meaningless babble that does not offend anyone (and who collect high salary for this vacuous theater). This is how Traub imagines the ideal university boss. Well, I certainly don't share Traub's visions.

He enumerates a couple of previous Harvard's presidents. Traub's following paragraph is full of statements that are not true. He states that "Summers has not achieved, and perhaps has not sought, this leadership role." I am sure that Traub must know that this is a lie. He must know that Summers will be written in the history of Harvard as one of the most important presidents - even in the unlikely hypothetical case that the feminists (both female as well as male ones) would try to make a big 1917-like coup next week. More likely, Summers will be leading Harvard for many years to come. Traub has no problems to humiliate the conservatives at our university by describing them as "a very poor source of street cred, by the way, in the Ivy League."

Imagine how it would sound if someone wrote the same sentence about the African Americans, for example. But it's fine to attack the conservative scholars, is not it? They're the minority that does not deserve any protection.

Traub then says that he believes it is wrong to challenge orthodoxies. In this final part, which shows that he has really no idea what academia and science means, he criticizes not only Prof. Lawrence Summers, but also Prof. Steven Pinker, a world's leading psychologist and one of the 100 most influential people in 2004 according to the Time magazine. Their scientific approach is described as "anatomizing the pieties of academic culture" which Traub finds unacceptable.

I wonder whether he has heard of the Catholic Church that had the very same approach to science when the modern scientific age was getting started and science's first task was to "anatomize the pieties of people's religious beliefs about astronomy."

Let's get it straight. Academic culture has nothing to do with some fashionable beliefs about the role of races and genders. Academia and science have existed a long time before the slavery was abolished. They were here long before the women were admitted to the universities as men's peers. They were here long before the Nazis coined their theories about the "superior race". And science kind of worked. And they're still here long after the beliefs about creationism, Nazism, and so on were mostly abandoned. The word "university" is related to the Latin word "universum" which means the "whole" - a university includes all teachers and scholars. The main goal of the scholars is to search for the truth, not to protect the fashionable dogmas or fulfil the popular political quotas.

Science was here long before Christian geocentrism, communism, modern creationism, Nazism, feminism, and other -isms, and it will be here long after these -isms are gone. Let me now emphasize that I am not comparing these ideologies in detail - so please calm down and don't speculate which ideology should be offended more by this non-existing comparison. The only sense in which they're analogous is that they are political movements that try to influence academia.

The core of academic culture has nothing to do with either of these political and religious fads - and it is vitally important for science and the academia that they're not controlled by these temporary political influences - or, to say the least, that this control never becomes absolute. All of these fads always try to prevent the scientists from finding (or even looking for) some insights that may be inconvenient for someone's beliefs; all of these fads have tried to "absorb" academia under its political or religious umbrella. But it is an important task for the scientists and for science to resist the pressure.

Science has an eternal value. Imagine the important achievements of science in the last 200 years: the theory of evolution, relativity, quantum mechanics, genetics, and so forth. Compare this idealized world of ideas and the search for the truth with the world of politics.

In the early 20th century, the communist workers (and other communists) claimed that they were oppressed by the "capitalists" and they established one of two major totalitarian systems of that century. Some Germans then claimed that they were oppressed by the "global Jewish conspiracy" and they founded the second major totalitarian system. The pattern is quite general: a group that claims to be oppressed - although these claims are not really justified - becomes radical and eventually creates a system in which the natural equilibrium in the society is damaged and the freedom of thinking is suppressed - which is necessary to protect some dogmas that are not really true. Do we really need to repeat the same errors in the 21st century?

This difference between the clean world of science and the messy world of politics is a reason why the former must be protected against the influence of the latter.

Traub's punch line is that "it may be better for Harvard if [Prof. Summers] doesn't spend too much time in his padded woodshed." This turned out to be a tremendously ambiguous sentence. A reader of mine thinks that Traub means that Harvard will be better off if Traub will be speaking in public and provoking more often - the woodshed is where Summers hides when he does not provoke. My feeling was that Traub was trying to suggest resignation. In the latter case, I hope that the situation is not that bad that a leading university could be influenced by this kind of journalistic trash.

Two more NYT articles about the topic

The New York Times have fortunately published a complementary op-ed by Charles Murray that analyzes the gap between hard sciences and humanities. He mentions hundreds or thousands of scientific articles about the biological aspects of social differences between men and women that have been published since David Geary's book about the topic from 1998 - that itself contains 52 pages of references. This whole vibrant field of science is something whose existence our friends in humanities would like to deny. Murray's recent recommended literature is by Simon Baron-Cohen written in 2003 - a book explaining that female brains are predominantly optimized for empathy, male brains are primarily hard-wired for building systems, and autism is the case of an "extremely male brain". Of course, Murray also explains that detailed knowledge about the differences is exciting, not threatening, and it won't have adverse effects as long as people are careful and rational enough and the individuals are judged as individuals who enjoy the same rights.

Olivia Judson has another op-ed in which she tries to be mild - by talking about "someone else" - and she explains that the basic dogmas of feminism are not true for the elephants and other species. Her description is pretty offending against the male elephants, but I guess no one will bother to criticize her. ;-)

I think it's not right if The New York Times, a leading U.S. newspapers, includes Traub's political rant as a main article while the informative articles by David Geary and Olivia Judson are just op-eds - but thanks God at least for these op-eds. James Traub does not have sufficient credentials to question the research by Prof. Summers and Prof. Pinker.

Saturday, January 22, 2005 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Bitter cold

Those who watch the little weather GIF on the right side of this blog may remember that about two weeks ago, we had almost 70 degrees Fahrenheit in Cambridge. (Incidentally, you may click the GIF to get more information about the weather in Cambridge.) Warm air was flowing from California directly to Harvard.

The weather has returned to normal, however. The wind is now drifting from Siberia through the Northern pole directly to Cambridge. Now it's 10 p.m. The wind chill has -16 degrees Fahrenheit (-27 degrees Celsius), and the regular temperature is about 3 degrees Fahrenheit (-16 Celsius) and I would expect it to keep on dropping at night and plunge below 0F (yes, it did happen). It's not clear whether we'll break the record low in Boston from 1888: they had 0 degrees Fahrenheit on January 21st and -3 degrees Fahrenheit the following day. Sunday will be even more unlikely to break the record because in 1882 it was -6 Fahrenheit in Boston. In East Milton, they have beaten the 1888 record for today (-1 F vs. 0 F then).

In Bedford, MA, they improved the record for Saturday (-3F from 1888) to -8F. In Bangor, Maine, the Saturday temperature of -29F improved the record from 1934.

Schools in upstate New York were closed as the temperature record -8 Fahrenheit for January 21st from 1984 was improved to -11 Fahrenheit in Syracuse, NY. Windchill ranges between -30 and -20 Fahrenheit. It's still better than one year ago, on January 16th, 2004, when the wind chill in Albany, NY was about -40 Fahrenheit; note that -40 is so chilly that it does not matter which units you use - it's also -40 Celsius. (It was one day after Al Gore gave his major speech about the global warming in New York - an expression of a realistic politician and scientist who knows how to choose the right moment.) :-)

In Massachusetts today (Saturday), it seems sunny but you should expect a snowstorm that will bring up to 1 meter of snow to the state from the Midwest skies. This blizzard could defeat the Great Blizzard in 1978.

On Friday, a record low was also measured in the holy city of Amritsar, India.

Whoever thinks that the temperatures are chilly should know that the actual record is roughly 1 billionth of a degree above the absolute zero.

Thursday, January 20, 2005 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Abracadabra and M-theory

Over at, the Lenny Conundrum #100 has already been judged. About 2,000 kids of all ages between 2 years and 90 years divided 10 millions neodollars, so each of us can buy some McDonald's neohamburgers for our cute virtual neopets - or perhaps some neostocks on the virtual stock neomarket or whatever exactly the kids are doing there. :-)

Of course, the answer was "Abracadabra" and everyone who followed my hints could have easily found the answer. This conundrum was much like M-theory. Once you see the logic behind it, you're sure that the answer is absolutely unique. But there are always cynics who never believe the uniqueness. One of them wrote:

  • The problem with fill-in-the-blank problems of these kind is there isn't likely to be a unique solution, if you know what I mean. These kinds of problem involve reading the mind of the problem creator as much as anything else.

When I repeated that the solution is unique and it has as many keystrokes as the number of spacetime dimensions of M-theory, another critic of the uniqueness of the solution - namely Wolfgang Beirl - said:

  • Luboš, but the experimental evidence might still be against your unique solution: An 11-digit number to collect avatars on a webpage for kids? As unique as M-theory??? So it might as well be a random number 8-) There is some evidence on the Net that accepted indeed any number for this one ...

I answered his sentence "If it's like M-theory, it might be a random number" by saying that it was doubly wrong: not only it was not random at all, but it was not even a number! :-) You can see how laughable all these abracadabra-skeptics were, and it may be just a matter of time when the experiments show the same about the skeptics concerning string/M-theory! :-)

Astrology predicted Bush's death

The astrologers and other pseudoscientists predict not only things that are so vague that they must become true in some sense, but also many events that don't become true. People usually forget these things, and these astrologers are rarely responsible for their predictions.

I actually remember many wrong predictions pretty well. The astrologer whose prediction I want to mention is the most well-known Czech astrologer Antonín Baudyš, a former defense minister (1993-94) in a center-right government. As soon as Baudyš left the government, he became the superstar among astrologers.

In fact, this member of the Christian Democratic Union, a centrist party, was a star already while he was a defense minister. Together with his Greek counterpart, they proposed to ease the tension in Bosnia by a plan that was effectively designed to spread the conflict to Italy, Austria, Romania, and Greece. He did not consult his colleagues in the government. Also, while he flew to Sweden, he allowed one of his soldiers to shoot a hole into their aircraft.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Harvard behind its president

Update: I wonder whether you will agree that this (the first is audio) description of the differences between men and women is fair and insightful:

If you need a woman to tell you that most experts believe that biology plays at least as important role as socialization in these issues, see

The original text follows: Sean Carroll from The Preposterous Universe at University of Chicago has kind of complained about a certain event - I would rather call it a non-event - at Harvard University.

Monday, January 17, 2005 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Lee Smolin responds

Lee Smolin asked me to publish his reply to my criticism of his recent paper. Why not? :-)

Dear Lubos,

Thanks for giving me a chance to reply to your criticisms of hep-th/0501091.

First, your criticisms of LQG are off the mark, but I won't take the time to reply to them here as the main results of the paper employ only the very weak assumptions that the configuration space is a space of connections. As shown in the references cited, this is very general, applies to all known classical gravity theories, in all dimensions, with and without supersymmetry. A detailed example given in section VI is based on loop quantum gravity. But for the main results, all I need assume is that whatever quantum gravity is, it has an effective low energy description in terms of a theory of forms and connections, from which I can draw predictions to low order in hbar using standard semiclassical methods. This is the same assumption that your colleagues Gukov, Nietske and Vafa are making about topological string theory in their recent work.

The results of the paper are called "semiclassical" because they are based on the use of a wavefunctional which is an exponential of a Hamilton-Jacobi functional, S (eq. 4). This a common meaning of the word, because such wavefuctionals solve the quantum dynamical equations toleading order in hbar. As you say I do not do perturbation theory around a classical metric, instead I study the action of the operator for the full frame field, (eq. 3) acting on such a semiclassical state.

I then study how quantum field theory on that classical manifold emerges from the full quantum theory by the Born-Oppenheimer approximation. This, including eq. 3, is standard stuff, introduced into quantum gravity by Banks, Starobinsky, deWitt and others, and often used in semiclassical approaches to quantum cosmology. The only novelty is to work on the configuration space given by a connection rather than the spatial metric, but as this exists generically one can't object to it.

A very meaningful paper on loop quantum gravity

The title of this article may sound as an oxymoron, but I will try to convince you that it's not. Nicolai, Peeters, and Zamaklar published a preprint

in which they review what assumptions and results they consider important about loop quantum gravity, and what do they consider to be the most important questions that would have to be answered before loop quantum gravity might be considered a serious candidate theory to say something about quantum gravity.

If you remember Feynman's lecture about "Cargo Cult Sciences" in which he talks about the experiments with the rats in the 1930s, it may be fair to say that the paper by Nicolai et al. is analogous to the experiment by the guy called Young - because it defines the important conditions and tasks that one must check and master before she can actually do something controllable with loop quantum gravity (or rats). But I am kind of afraid that the LQG community will ignore the paper - despite the fact that it is written in a very friendly tone - and continue their research "as usual".

Although I don't think that Nicolai et al. analyze all problems that one would face if she adopted loop quantum gravity (for example, the appearance of local Lorentz symmetry is not discussed), they are doing a tremendous job in explaining what problems, so far, prevent one from saying that "there is a theory" at all - and they study these problems much more quantitatively and rigorously than I would ever be able to do. Their main points are the following:

Sunday, January 16, 2005 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Good luck to Harvard fun czar

Do you think that all Harvard students are party animals? Not really. Some of them just study, write papers, pick their Nobel prizes, and all this stuff, but they don't socialize enough and those above 21 years don't drink enough alcohole.

Zac Corker '04 is a new Harvard official - the fun czar - whose task is to improve the situation.

The Reference Frame wishes him good luck.

Saturday, January 15, 2005 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Lenny conundrum

This so-called "Lenny conundrum #100" is one of the most troubling puzzles that Strominger needs to solve. Please be aware that your most straightforward completion of the first names and the last names in the previous sentence may be incorrect. ;-) The problem is the following:

What is the missing value in the following sequence?

  • 2616, 3, 11, 10850, ________, 25, 2038

Is anyone able to solve it? I suspect that the task is not purely mathematical, and the solution may be 42, 15, or anything else. ;-) If you want to fit a 6th order polynomial, you will get something like 14157, but I want other answers.


I have solved it! :-) You should try to solve it, too. I am probably the first person in the world besides the inventor and his close neighborhood who has figured it out, and it feels almost like discovering the Standard Model! As of today, you will not find this problem solved anywhere on the internet, even though all necessary pieces of data are on the internet. Let me give you some hints that should be enough for you to solve it, too:

  • All the "answers" to this question available on the internet as of today - namely all numbers below one billion - are incorrect
  • You need to know how to find the squares of the numbers smaller than ten
  • You need to be able to use an internet search engine and figure out roughly who invented this problem and what kind of work he's doing - and investigate into his or her life a little bit, especially into the role of the numbers "x^2" for small "x" or e.g. 2038 etc. in his or her life
  • I assure you that you won't need to know anything about his girlfriends or boyfriends; you should not make any assumption about the death of that person in 2038 because such things are not known yet
  • The "new physics" that you're looking for does not have to be as simple as the "old physics" that you already see; also, the ideas about discreteness of spacetime will be useless for you
  • You will need the same number of keystrokes to type the "missing value" as the n-th element of the sequence where n is the second element of the sequence :-) - well, let me admit that the number of keystrokes also equals the critical spacetime dimension of M-theory
  • If you find an explanation of the sequence that fits the available data, but your predictions of new physics will look more like an incantation rather than a meaningful answer, don't get discouraged and boldly insist on your prediction! :-)

Friday, January 14, 2005 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Nima clarifies friendly landscape

This is not a real article, just an announcement: under the article

Nima Arkani-Hamed, a co-author of the paper and arguably the leader of current particle physics, gives a rather detailed explanation of his viewpoints and the really attractive features of these models. So I hope that this answer of him will increase the number of visitors in interested in physics, and it will double their average IQ! :-)

Also, Jacques Distler describes the article about the predictive landscapes here.

Kyoto will turn Europe into desert by 2100

The articles about the global climate are frequent on this blog - there are many reports in the media. This one is pretty interesting: it is now argued by some British scientists who were featured on BBC ("Horizon") that the fossil fuel cuts - such as those planned by the Kyoto protocol - will cause or accelerate the global warming because of reduced production of SO2 and similar by-products that otherwise cool down the atmosphere. Parts of Europe, if the Kyoto-like strategies continue, will become desert by 2100. ;-)

The statement is supported by an interesting comment that the solar radiation reaching the Earth's surface decreased roughly by 20 percent during the last 50 years. This sentence itself sounds very suspicious to me because I don't know how could have people measured the solar power above the atmosphere 50 years ago. Cannot this decrease of solar energy reaching the Earth be simply a real decrease of solar power, an effect argued to be important by Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas, Harvard's leading astro-climate scientists?

What about the proposed 10 degree heating resulting from removal of the aerosoles? Of course, I am skeptical about these statements as much as I am skeptical about the "conventional" fearmongering - especially if someone proposes a theory in which two large contributions with opposite signs are supposed to cancel each other. Nevertheless these examples demonstrate how different conclusions one obtains depending on the choice which effects she emphasizes (in this case, the cooling effect from aerosoles). One must take all effects that are likely to be important into account before she makes her conclusions.

I am always amazed by the apparent lack of rational thinking of those who propose various policies based on this kind of science. If we really knew that the UK would become another Sahara by 2100, we would try to stop it - and there would definitely be more intelligent algorithms to do so than to reduce the civilization as such. For example, if the aerosoles were as powerul as they say, we would simply double or triple the SO2 emissions. We could easily burn the coal in areas with no population - e.g. we could build the power plants at various small islands. Today, the concentration of SO2 in the atmosphere obviously does not cause any significant problems, except for the industrial zones where it may be too concentrated.

Different problems have different solutions. The people who propose "cutting the industry" as the universal solution to all problems - cooling or warming - are simply stupid people, and I think it is very important to emphasize that they are stupid because they often like to picture themselves as intelligent scientists.

I wonder what those who believe in "scientific consensus" will think about this new theory of global dimming and how they will manage to preserve their consensus. Will they believe the new paradigm? On one hand, it is a step towards the global cooling theory once again, which is a heresy according to the new global warming religion, but on the other hand, it contains the "chance" that the temperatures will grow 10 degrees by 2100 if we remove the aerosoles, which seems as an even "better" religion than the previous one, better by 4-8 degrees. :-)

Greetings from Saturn's moon

This ESA/NASA project for 3+ billions dollars

will hopefully be probing Titan, a moon of Saturn, momentarily. The probe (Huygens) has landed successfully and it should be sending data to the spaceship (Cassini). Freeman Dyson has kind of predicted - and let me emphasize that his analyses are based on a very rational thinking, although the assumptions are far-fetched - that sophisticated plants will parabolic leaves that collect solar radiation may live somewhere around there. But even if the more boring scenarios, or - as others would say - if the common sense prevails, one could get some interesting pictures for the prize of 2+ LHC colliders.

Czech news and girls' war

For those who want to know some news from the Czech Republic, here they are:

  • The Czech Republic has become the leading donor to the victims of the tsunami in Asia among the countries of the former Eastern bloc. The government will give 200 million crowns - about 9 million USD - and the public donations add about 10 million USD. The total is about 2 dollars per capita - well, it's still less than those 7,000 dollars per capita from the Vatican City. Millions of dollars were collected using an original Czech technology: sending expensive SMS messages via cell phones. The Czechs are the #1 nation in the number of SMS messages per capita. Those 19 million dollars is more than the total of the rest of the Eastern bloc's donations, as far as I can say. Only 10 people are missing; one confirmed casualty.
  • The Czech military is becoming a professional army.
  • The Czech Parliament has approved a new law that will allow the government to draft the women. They will have to participate in the future wars, which is an attempt to guarantee the equal right of genders. The Czech women have had a long tradition as warriors: according to the classical, ancient Czech legends, the girls revolted against the males sometime at the end of the first millenium. The so-called Girls' War started soon after the death of Libuše, the Queen of the Czech nation. You can see that the women's effort towards their emancipation is no modern event. These insurgents, led by Ms. Vlasta, were torturing the men. Obviously, Abu-Ghraib is no modern invention either. Most Czech legends end up with some kind of happy end, and the Girls' War is no exception. Vlasta has made a critical strategic error near Vyšehrad and a large male army killed her as well as the other female insurgents. Well, except for Ms. Šárka who was eaten up by a rock. Legend has it, that when it will be the worst for the women under male rule, the rock will open and Šárka, together with her army, will save the women.
  • Ronald S. Lauder, the cosmetic heir and the son of Estee Lauder, bought the Czech TV NOVA once again. TV NOVA is the TV with the highest share of the national market in whole Europe. Several years ago, Lauder published adds in the New York Times and the Washington Post that said "Think twice before you invest in the Czech Republic". Meanwhile, however, he was successful in one important arbitration against the Czech Republic he initiated. The Czech government lost 300 million dollars or so mostly because it was a government of simpletons. Lauder has now paid 600 million dollars to re-gain the full control over the TV station and he praises the Czech Republic for being the most civilized country in the region. Well, now it's definitely the country that contributes most to his TV profits. ;-)
  • The mayor of Prague, Mr. Pavel Bém (ODS, Civic Democratic Party), masked himself and pretended that he was an English-speaking tourist that needs a yellow cab. Of course, the taxi driver has robbed him easily.
  • In the suburbs of Pilsen, a bull has killed a 50-year-old doctor.
  • Tomáš Savka, a finalist of the "Czechs search for a Superstar" (American Idol), was beaten up in the street.
  • Stanislav Gross, the 35-year-old prime minister, plans to promote the European constitution as much as he promoted the membership in the EU. Václav Klaus, the Czech president, opposes the constitution as well as other further attempts to unify the European Union.
  • The Czech car "Škoda Octavia", produced in Bohemia under the supervision of Volkswagen, became the car of the year 2005 in Finnland. In 2004, it became the most beautiful car in Italy and the best car in Serbia, Montenegro, and the winner of "The Golden Wheel" in Germany. The Germans plan to produce the car in China, too.

Semiclassical vs. loop gravity

I simply can't resist the temptation to comment on the following paper that just appeared as the #1 on hep-th tonight:

The author claims that AUGER and GLAST will be testing "predictions of semiclassical gravity". If you look closely, you will see that these predictions have absolutely nothing to do with semiclassical gravity - they're rather predictions of a particular hypothetical understanding of loop gravity.

This reminds me of a layman who was writing about loop quantum gravity on a newsgroup and used the term "one-loop quantum gravity" instead of "loop quantum gravity" because the multiplicative factor "one" does not change anything. ;-) Is it the same way how the author of that paper determined that "loop gravity" may be renamed to "one-loop, i.e. semiclassical gravity"? :-)

There is a lot of difference between semiclassical gravity and loop gravity, for example these theories have a very different meanings:
  • loop gravity is a combinatorial toy model that has nothing to do with gravity and probably nothing to do with any kind of physics in nearly smooth spacetimes; see the article about problems with loop quantum gravity
  • on the other hand, semiclassical gravity is a perturbative treatment of quantized general relativity that takes classical physics and the first correction proportional to hbar - this first correction is called semiclassical physics - into account; semiclassical gravity is useful to explain the existence of gravitons, their leading scattering, and effects like black hole evaporation
Even if someone were confused and she thought that loop quantum gravity could be a theory of gravity, this formalism would be appropriate to describe a very different regime of quantum gravity:
  • in the commercials, loop quantum gravity is described as a "non-perturbative" description of quantum gravity that has a simple form if one wants to describes the effects that take place on the Planck scale which is a very short distance - for example the geometry of Planckian surfaces
  • on the other hand, semiclassical gravity is an expansion of gravity valid at very long distances at which all quantum corrections - non-perturbative as well as higher-order perturbative ones - can be neglected
It's not a good idea to confuse these two. OK, let's now pretend that we believe that loop quantum gravity can have something to do with gravity. What was the history of these AUGER/GLAST predictions?

Thursday, January 13, 2005 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Heterotic Standard Model

I was happy to see the following article by Braun, He, Ovrut, and Pantev:

The authors have made an extensive search for a conventional Standard Model obtained from the heterotic strings on a Calabi-Yau manifold, and they claim that they have virtually found a unique solution. They argue that their model is the first pure Standard Model obtained from string theory - and I am sure that Christos Kokorelis with his intersecting brane models would disagree.

As a conservative person, I must say that this kind of models is what still looks as a most satisfactory answer of string theory to the real world, even though some issues - like the smallness of the cosmological constant and various unwanted operators from supersymmetry breaking - are not answered yet.

What are the features of their model?
  • We have observed the neutrino oscillations and masses at the sub-eV scale implied by the seesaw mechanism, so it's natural to have right-handed neutrinos and something like GUT scale physics
  • A generation of fermions, including the right-handed neutrino, then transforms as the 16 spinor under a SO(10) GUT-like group
  • In string theory, one can obtain this SO(10) group from the E_8 in the heterotic string, simply by taking the heterotic strings on a Calabi-Yau with a SU(4) bundle that breaks the gauge group from E_8 to SO(10)
  • SO(10) should then be broken to the Standard Model. The large Higgs representations etc. have always been bad, and string theory has a natural breaking pattern using the Wilson lines
  • We really need two Wilson lines in a Z_3 x Z_3 discrete subgroup of SO(10), and their centralizer is the Standard Model group times an extra U(1) that counts B-L (baryon number minus lepton number)
  • Such a breaking by the Wilson lines reduces the symmetry while it keeps the fermion spectrum
Now, in order to be able to define these Wilson lines, we need a Calabi-Yau manifold with a Z_3 x Z_3 fundamental group. Well, they have found an example in the previous paper:
  • It is an elliptic fibration over the half-K3 surface dP_9
  • Its values of h_{1,1} and h_{1,2} are both equal to 3
  • Because both of these numbers are very small (3,3), in some sense it is a "simple" Calabi-Yau and a very attractive one for me
  • Also, because 3=3, I guess that this Calabi-Yau is its own self-mirror, is that correct? At least the Hodge diamond seems to imply it
  • It has the right fundamental group allowing you to break SO(10) to the Standard Model via the Wilson lines - a pretty special thing, they say
OK, so this is a nice smooth Calabi-Yau space and one can use it both in weakly coupled as well as strongly coupled (Horava-Witten) heterotic strings. One obtains a N=1 supersymmetric Standard Model with the observable sector:
  • The gauge bosons of SU(3) x SU(2) x U(1) x U(1)_{B-L}
  • Three generations of quarks and leptons with right-handed neutrinos
    • The number of generations 3 requires that the 3rd Chern class of the SU(4) bundle must be +54 or -54
  • Two pairs of Higgs doublets
  • Six geometric moduli and a small number of vector bundle moduli
  • No exotic matter fields (charged under the SM group)
The hidden sector, responsible e.g. for SUSY breaking via gaugino condensation, has
  • A small number of vector bundle moduli
  • The gauge group Spin(12) at weak coupling, or E_7 x U(6) at strong coupling
  • For the weak coupling, there are also 2 matter field multiplets in 12 of Spin(12), and no matter fields at the strong coupling
This kind of an old-fashioned model does not solve some problems, at least not explicitly, but in some sense I still find it more attractive than the various "postmodern" models that have been studied in the recent years. The word "postmodernism" is especially meant to include the anthropically large numbers of solutions, but also various attempts to squeeze completely new physics that should be visible at the LHC.

I wonder whether there are dual descriptions to this vacuum. For example, because the Calabi-Yau three-fold is an elliptic fibration, one should be able to use the heterotic/F-theory duality to get an equivalent description of this model as F-theory on a K3-fibration over dP_9, is that correct?

Tuesday, January 11, 2005 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Predictive landscapes

Tonight, a new paper by Nima, Savas, and Shamit - one that will definitely be very exciting for many of us - will appear:

They propose the following "compromise" between the predictive vacua and the anthropic unpredictive landscape:

The landscape is divided into "countries" (my word) which they call "friendly neighborhoods". In each country, the dimensionless constants such as the gauge couplings and the Yukawa couplings are effectively fixed, but the dimensionful parameters - namely the cosmological constant and the Higgs mass - take many different values and are subject to the anthropic selection.

You know, the cosmological constant has been a big problem in particle physics and people are more ready to accept Weinberg's anthropic argument for this parameter. On the other hand, the hierarchy problem has been solved without the anthropic lack of principles, but it's still OK to view it as a problem. These two numbers - the C.C. and the gap between the Planck scale and the electroweak scale - can both be described as dimensionful parameters.

Nastase: RHIC produces black holes

There are interesting papers today on the arXiv, and one of them is by Horatiu Nastase - the "N" from "BMN":

He extends his previous ideas about the AdS/CFT duality applied to QCD at low energies. Polchinski and Strassler started to investigate the high-energy scattering in QCD using the AdS/CFT correspondence: this high-energy scattering should be dominated by black hole production - these black holes live in the dual AdS space.

Horatiu argues that this regime may be described by the effective pion model - and the black hole is a nonlinear soliton of this pion field. From the pion model, he can calculate the temperature of the soliton, and the result is
  • 176 MeV times "a"
where "a" is the Nastase parameter, an undetermined dimensionless constant. For the most natural value "a=1", the predicted temperature is simply 176 MeV, although one should admit that other values are probably equally acceptable.

So this is what the string theory dual of QCD predicts for the temperature of such black holes. Can we test string theory experimentally, at least this string theory dual to QCD? Can we produce these dual black holes? Yes, this is what RHIC is good for. So Horatiu looks at the RHIC data and he sees that they have produced fireballs whose temperature is
  • 176 MeV
String theory is now proved, is not it? ;-)

Sunday, January 09, 2005 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

He believes it's true but he can't prove it

This article has been updated many times: 120 well-known thinkers and scientists were asked the exciting "2005 annual Edge question"

The answer of Lenny Susskind was probably one of the most entertaining ones: Lenny's answer was a conversation with a stupid (or "slow", as he says) student of him who wanted Lenny to explain rigorously what probability is. The student wants clear statements: if something has a 50% probability, it will happen exactly in 500 cases out of 1000. Lenny tries to refine his viewpoint. Lenny knows that very unlikely things won't happen, but he can't prove it. Well, it's because it's not exactly true, is it?

Saturday, January 08, 2005 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Global mean temperature 1978-2004

Just one simple graph - a graph that you rarely see in the media. What was the global mean temperature variance from average in the lower troposphere? For those who don't want to click: troposphere is the lowest portion of the atmosphere with clouds. It's where the greenhouse effect takes place, and it's the portion of the atmosphere right below you if you're flying with an airplane.

Which time interval should we look at? You know that if we start in 1940, we would see some kind of cooling trend. Such a conclusion would be politically incorrect. We really want to start roughly in 1978 to see the global warming. OK, so let's see the scary truth in the most transparent light. Take the data from University of Alabama from the URL

and draw the graph (well, junkman from had to do it for us). For troposphere, you will obtain the following graph - click the picture to zoom it in and tell me what your impressions are.

What are your reactions? My reactions are the following:
  • noise
  • 1998 was a pretty warm year
  • well, it was because of the 1997-98 El Nino
Well, different people may see different things in the graph. For example, someone can see in this graph that the U.S. corporations are evil. I am probably not good enough in interpreting the observations.

Fibonacci trading

I wonder whether someone believes this stuff - or even whether she or he has some rational arguments why it should work, at least partially.

Quite often, when you read something about the markets, they talk about the Fibonacci retracements. When the name of Fibonacci appears, it's kind of interesting because we know the Fibonacci sequence

  • 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55, ...

in which a new element is the sum of the previous two. The asymptotic ratio of the neighbors approaches the Golden mean

  • (sqrt(5)+1)/2 = 1.618034...

whose inverse happens to be the same number minus one

  • (sqrt(5)-1)/2 = 0.618034...

Now it's useful to calculate the square root of both of these numbers, write 1-0.618=0.382, and add the numbers 1/2 and 1, and express everything as percentages:

  • 38.2%
  • 50.0%
  • 78.6%
  • 100.0%
  • 127.2%
  • 261.8%

The last one is the Golden mean squared. Why is it useful? Apparently, many traders use these numbers to predict the turning points of a price, see e.g.

Imagine that the price P of something kind of increases. If it returns a bit, it's a retracement. If the retracement is shallow, people believe that the increase is a trend. Now, if the retracement is bigger, it will probably stop and return to the increase when you return to 50% - to the arithmetic average of the last visible local minimum and the local maximum. Also, it's possible that the turning point is when you return by 38.2% of the difference between the last maximum and the previous minimum. Then you try to calculate all possible turning points by taking the "special" numbers above and multiplying them with the differences between various maxima and minima - and if they cluster, you get a likely turning point. Those with the Golden mean (without its square root) are "strong", I guess.

Friday, January 07, 2005 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Tax code

Finally, Bush started to talk about simplifying the horribly complicated U.S. tax code. The tax code is too convoluted in many countries and the U.S. are certainly no exception. There are various ambitious proposals in the U.S., for example

that intends to abolish the income tax and the IRS altogether, so that all the revenue would come from a (higher) sales tax. While many details have to be worked out, I think that this idea in general is a step in the right direction.

Also, the idea of a flat tax is a very good idea. Recently, Mr. Dzurinda's right-wing Slovak government introduced a flat 19 percent tax in that post-socialist country. It's a huge success. The revenue is 10 percent higher than the expectations. Moreover, Slovakia is one of the fastest growing countries in Europe today.

Similar success stories of the flat tax can also be found in Estonia and, in fact, also in Russia. What I find most irritating is the huge number of various tax deductions and other loopholes - that are used especially by those who have the stomach to study the 3,000 or 60,000 pages (depending on how you count it) of the tax code in order to generate personal profit (or who can afford to hire a tax adviser). For example, home mortgage tax deductions. All these things look like unfair rules incorporated to the tax code by various interest groups. Most of these ad hoc things should be cancelled kind of immediately, I think. Hundreds of pages of the tax code that allow these loopholes could simply be thrown to the garbage bin. The tax code would get simplified; good people would save their time and nerves by avoiding hundreds of pages of useless code; the people who prefer to earn money by making tricks instead of doing something useful would have to do something more useful; the budget deficit would shrink.

Types and meaning of the branes

Peter Woit is trying to find out what a brane is, how does it differ from a string, and whether it is useful, disastrous or necessary for making predictions. Because it is an elementary but a very important question, it may be helpful to try to help him out of his confusion - a confusion that was magnified by Peter's reading of the comments by Warren Siegel that, as I believe, are also kind of confusing.

Da brane

First of all, let me start with a rather formal definition. The word "brane", created by removing "mem" from a "membrane", is a generalization of a "membrane" that can have an arbitrary number of spatial dimensions. A brane is allowed to be "thick"; it's important that it is localized in some directions, however. There are some dimensions parallel to the brane, and some dimensions that are transverse to the brane. Moreover, we require that the brane does not destroy any rotational symmetries between the dimensions transverse to the brane, and it also preserves the translational and Lorentz symmetries involving the dimensions along the brane worldvolume which is the subspace of spacetime spanned by time as well as the spatial dimensions of the brane. The fact that we require the Lorentz symmetries to be preserved means that we're talking about "relativistic branes".

Tuesday, January 04, 2005 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Help the victims

I only made my first contribution right now, using the "American Red Cross" interface at

If you don't have an account at yet, you should definitely create one. The payment is very easy and convenient.

This short posting is addressed to you - I really mean you who is just reading this sentence, not anyone else! You may be surprised how could I know in advance that exactly you would be reading this sentence exactly at this moment - but you know, string theory is a very predictive theory. ;-) The people in Asia suffered a lot, and many of them believe that God was punishing them. You know that it's not true, don't you?

The people in the affected areas will be happy (and grateful) for every package of rice they get. This is a definitely good investment for you if you want to do something good that does not cost too much.

So far, the world has collected roughly 3 billion dollars (at least 630 million comes from America, which includes the government, corporations, as well as individuals, and which is a higher fraction than America has on the world's GDP - the latter is one fifth), and the modest estimates say that at least 2 billion more will be needed for some kind of basic reconstruction - and I hope that you share my belief that the survivors deserve more than that. The Japanese government became the largest donor among the governments (500 million).

I would specifically like to encourage the left-wing readers to donate something because so far it does not seem too obvious that the Left - which normally cares about the poor and unlucky people so much, at least verbally - has contributed a significant amount of money. What are the George Soroses and Michael Moores doing right now when their money is needed? The donations and aid is, so far, dominated by the right-wing US government and the "greedy" corporations.

I guess that the really left-wing people and governments won't donate much. But I urge others, moderate left-wing people and governments. Gerhard Schröder: I know that you're reading my blog. 20 million is pathetic. What about raising it to 500 million Euro, for example? I will appreciate it. Thank you.

Arp's redshift anomalies

Arun has reminded me of the possible anomalous redshift observations by Halton Arp, "the world's most dangerous astronomer". ;-) Because this blog has already discussed MOND, Pioneer anomaly, cosmic strings, and other admittedly speculative observations (and their potential theoretical explanations), it's natural to add Arp's data, and I am looking forward to see some insightful comments.

What's the problem? Decades ago, Arp started to observe various galaxies and quasars. See, for example

In various individual cases, it looks like there is a galaxy connected to a quasar by a "gas filament". It really looks so, especially if you glance at the representative pictures available on the link above. The optically smaller components of this "connected multiobject" always have higher redshifts than the "large" component.

Well, there is a "subtle" discrepancy with our conventional wisdom. The quasars should be much further than the galaxies. Well, at least this is what we deduce, in agreement with the Big Bang theory, from the redshifts: the quasars (which are the smaller objects on the pictures) always have a greater redshifts than the galaxies.

Obviously, if the redshift is a Doppler redshift induced by the velocity from the expanding Universe, i.e. if it is cosmological in origin, it's clear that the quasars - conventionally believed to be as powerful as dozens of galaxies - should be much further than the galaxies around. If they're so much further, hundreds of millions of light years, they should not be connected with a "filament", right?

Sunday, January 02, 2005 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

"Consensus science"

Let's look at one more speech by Crichton, one entitled

  • "Aliens Cause Global Warming".
He gave it at Caltech in 2003.

Crichton praised the ideals of science and the integrity expected from the scientists. He criticized

  • the dangerous mixture of science and politics
  • using the "consensus" as an argument, although consensus belongs to politics, but not to science
  • tricks pretending that the existence of a mathematical formula justifies knowledge about a subject that is clearly seen to be uncertain
  • holding on to popular notions, long after definitive, reproducible observations had proved these notions wrong
  • refusing to examine new research which overturns existing theories and humiliating scientists that are politically inconvenient

Crichton may be a highly successful novelist, but otherwise he can't hide that he's a hard scientist that just happens to earn money as an artist. His degress are from anthropology and medicine, but he could clearly earn other degrees, too. He had to do a lot of research in science and technology before he wrote any one of his technothrillers. His essays are very rational. They are based on purely scientific approach to the questions. He's able to deal with a lot of sources and references.

This speech is no exception. He first explained that the only meaning of some equations in science is to express our prejudices using the language of mathematics. His first example is the Drake equation that was proposed to calculate the chances of finding extraterrestrial civilisations but whose all variables are completely unknown; in Crichton's opinion, the Drake equation was the first modern example how scientifically sounding arguments were used to argue that we know something that is clearly unknown. This extraterrestrial topic has also led, via many twists and turns, to the global warming theory - which is why he chose the title.

He also points out many examples of theories that were widely believed to be true but eventually have been discredited. The goal is to demonstrate that the record of "consensus" in science is pretty poor. One such an example is the so-called nuclear winter and similar predictions that nothing would grow in Hiroshima 75 years after the nuclear attack; the reality was that watermelons were grown there already in the following year.

New Year - pictures

You can view a collection of random photographs if you click the thumbnail below:

Microsoft Internet Explorer is recommended. If your XP Service Pack 2 gives you a message that it protects you from Active-X content, you may click on this message and order the explorer to allow the slide show. It was safely created with Microsoft's own PowerToys.

The slide show allows you to browse through the thumbnails, much like in Windows XP Explorer. The collection includes ice sculptures, fireworks, and other things. The last 20 seconds of the fireworks are also available as a fireworks video.

Incidentally, there are other fireworks being planned, too. NASA is going to compete with the "atom smashers" at CERN and Fermilab. The guys can't wait to destroy their spacecraft and hit a comet on July 4th, much like in Deep Impact. Such things happen if adults behave as children - but to be honest, it should be a lot of fun! :-)

Environmentalism as a religion

I've read a couple of speeches of Michael Crichton, and this guy seems rather impressive to me. For example, in his speech "Environmentalism as a Religion"

he presents a compelling evidence that the humans have the inclination for a religion - giving their life a meaning - hard-wired in their brains, and environmentalism is just the most popular religion among the urban atheists. This religion has its

Saturday, January 01, 2005 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Happy New Year 2005

During the day, I hope to be able to post some pictures from New Year's Eve. Oh, I also wanted to write an article about Crichton's speech about the cancer called "consensus science". I've already written it once, but the internet connection collapsed before I tried to submit the changes. ;-)

Richard A. Posner, whom I recently defended at Sean Carroll's blog, studies various catastrophes in the New York Times:

He evaluates whether it makes sense to try prevent various catastrophes, and the most serious examples of catastrophes are the following:

  • a high energy accelerator seems to be the biggest disaster ;-) because it kills 6 billion people with the probability of "1 in 5 million per year", as the leading U.S. newspapers argue
  • global warming
  • colission with an asteroid
  • bioterrorism

Let me assume that Prof. Posner got the idea to multiply the probability that something happens with the cost of this catastrophe, to get the expected cost, which should be compared with the cost of the prevention. One can argue that it is better to be insured against something, and therefore it may be useful to pay a little bit more than the amount calculated in the previous sentence - to protect life against major disasters. Obviously, there is no objective calculation that should tell you how perfectly should you be insured.

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