This page with images: clickArthur Jaffe and Barbara Drauschke organized a magnificent conference at Harvard - informally called Sidneyfest - to thank Sidney Coleman for everything he has done and he has been for physics and the physicists. Sidney, whose health is unfortunately not as good as we would wish, partially because of the Parkinson disease, has been a great physicist, an excellent teacher with unlimited patience, an eccentric human being, and a neverending source of jokes.
He has also played the role of Wolfgang Pauli of his generation; he liked to disprove ideas, and he was also a genius in explaining things to others. We have heard numerous stories about Sidney Coleman. Unfortunately, this article can only cover a tiny fraction of the stories and comments. Many participants told me that they visit this blog, and it's not impossible to imagine that some of them will write some interesting comments.
Message for all the usual suspects who like to argue with me: try to realize that your (and our) texts are being read at least by five Nobel prize winners and several other exceptional people. ;-) I will try to appreciate this fact, too. At least sometimes.
At any rate, the conference has been an exciting testimony about the heroic period in high-energy physics - the 1960s and the 1970s, roughly speaking - in which the physicists were making much more progress than today, especially because of the intense interactions between the theory and the experiment. It was the case despite the fact that these heroes of ours were much more ignorant about quantum gravity than we are today.
John Huth, the chair of our physics department, applied some of his numerous skills and he started the whole conference. I think that it would have been more difficult for Arthur to organize everything without John's support.
Two dinners were a part of the happening, but let me also say something about the talks. On Friday, David Gross '04 started. (On the picture on the right side taken in 2004, David Gross was showing the new wing of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics which has already been completed.) His talk The Future of Physics, whose original edition was presented at the KITP Santa Barbara in October 2004, was very broad and entertaining. David Gross '04 was introduced by Norman Ramsey '89.
- David explained how trivial it was to squeeze the October conference, the 25th anniversary of the Institute, and the QCD Nobel prize into the same week. He also illuminated the method how the Laffer curve, popular during Reagan's administration (and used to argue that the optimal tax rate is much much smaller than 100 percent), may be applied to figure out the ideal length of a talk. Then he discussed 25 most important questions in various fields of physics - among them we find cosmology, general relativity, quantum mechanics including its interpretation, particle physics, string theory, condensed matter physics, biophysics, sociology of physics, and importance of physics and the KITP in the future (the answer to the last question was Yes, of course). Sorry if I forgot something. I remember most of the talk because it was the second time I heard it ;-), but I can't tell you everything.
- David argued, for example, that some people are afraid that quantum mechanics may fail at very short distances; it may fail for cats (or other complex systems); it may fail for conscious beings - as Roger Penrose would suggest. David Gross '04 said that the last proposal is even "sillier" than the cats. Murray Gell-Mann '69 who was sitting nearby vehemently agreed. David Gross '04 also explained why you can't kill string theory - even though some people in the audience would like to - because of, for example, the equivalence between gauge theories and string theory (such as AdS/CFT).
- Frank sketched interesting apparent paradoxes that people used to see in Nature. Paradoxes are very useful for physics, Frank argued, because the actual Universe is never paradoxical, and our attempts to resolve the paradoxes always leads to improved knowledge. An example of his paradox was that quarks are born free, but every time someone sees them, they're confined. And he explained how quantum field theory and QCD transmuted these paradoxes into new paradigms that make sense. Wilczek has also shown a graph that the masses of the hadrons may be calculated, even without the AdS/CFT dual of QCD that David Gross was calling for. Frank Wilczek also joked that he was expecting the 1 million dollar award from the Clay Institute for his proof, based on his transparencies, that QCD had a gap.
- During the last two months, I've learned a lot of physics lessons - such as turbulence, chaos, and strange interactions (LM: these are probably strong interactions involving the strange quarks). So far no Big Bang. Conferences like this one, with this huge concentration of talent and brains, are what the universities were created for and what will be remembered 400 years into the future. All small wars will be forgotten. The new laws and new drugs may be invented outside the universities, but sciences like physics have an eternal value.
- Paul's talk was constructed in such a way that everything seemed to follow from Sidney's insights about the false vacuum. The most exciting talk in Steinhardt's life was a seminar by Alan Guth about inflation. Paul Steinhardt reviewed some basic stuff about the vacuum decay and inflation, and then he discussed his cyclic Universes. He made a pretty good job: a scalar field can roll to a negative vacuum energy, the kinetic energy starts to dominate, and "w" from the equation of state becomes much greater than one. Steinhardt argued that "w much greater than one" has very similar properties to the cosmological constant with "w = -1". This suggests that the future will look much like the past, and it makes it natural to think about the cyclic Universe - which he also presented with an animation of two branes bouncing off each other many times.
Leon Cooper '72 then introduced Murray Gell-Mann '69 - the gentleman on the right from Thomas Appelquist. Murray was Sidney's adviser and he offered many interesting stories that have a relation to Sidney Coleman in his talk titled Recollections of Sidney. I will mention some of my private discussions with Murray below, so let me mostly skip this interesting talk.
- Just one or two comments. Murray also talked about the representation theory for the hadrons. Sidney played a rather important role in these developments, too. Murray mentioned that they sometimes incorporated the same particles into different representations - one of them was wrong and I forgot who was it. During his talk, Murray's cell phone started to ring twice. Murray Gell-Mann '69 interrupted his talk and studied who was calling him. "One call missed," was the answer after one minute of research. Gell-Mann, who is a Yale graduate, admitted that Harvard had been pretty good. Also, Harvard had created a string theory group only 25 years after Gell-Mann and his friends did the same thing at Caltech, which is not bad.
- Shelly mentioned very amusing stories from their visit of the Soviet Union (Dubna). The bed broke under Glashow, and it was Sidney's happiest moment during the trip to Russia. At the airport, they were hungry and were able to penetrate from the Russian to the Polish side of the terminal. Finally they were lucky and the airplane departed. Sheldon Glashow '79 explained that after several years of collaboration, they became interested in slightly different questions in physics: Shelly was focusing on phenomenology while Sidney was more interested in the foundational issues. Nevertheless, Shelly also promoted some recent papers he wrote with Sidney in the late 1990s that dealt with tests of Lorentz violations. Shelly had another good point: he recalled David Gross's theory (the Laffer curve) about the length of the talk, and pointed out that David Gross was the only speaker who ran out of time. It was because David Gross has neglected special relativity: other observers always seem to think that your speech is slower than what you think.
The dinner was fancy, we drank some wine and ate several courses. We also listened to a concert of a staunch string theory advocate, namely Ursula Holliger who is an excellent harpist - Claude Debussy was the primary composer and I liked the fruits of his work a lot. Many people offered their testimonies about Sidney Coleman. For example, Frank Wilczek's wife, who also has a blog, said that Frank had spent the honeymoon with Sidney Coleman rather than her, spiritually speaking. One day after the wedding, Frank left Betsy to meet Sidney. Others described Sidney's excellent skills in mountaineering (he always knew where he was); in inventing simple arguments (for example, why the apparently larger size of the Moon near the horizon can't be a consequence of a lensing effect - consider how a chain of mechanically connected Moons filling the whole orbit would look like to see that no zooming of the angle is possible).
The stories included Sidney's smoking, teaching, his relation to religion, and so forth. Sidney was present at the dinner and thanked the participants for their participation. Several letters have been read. For example, David Politzer '04 did not attend because during the last year, he has already been travelling more than he would like. David Politzer '04 also thanked Sidney Coleman, his adviser, for his contributions to David Politzer's Nobel-prize-winning papers.
On Saturday morning, there were two talks by Weinberg without PowerPoint, as Steven Weinberg '79 pointed out. The first talk - Vacuum Tunneling in de Sitter space - QFT in the Past and in the Future - was by Erick Weinberg (on the picture below, taken in my office, with Ki-Myeong Lee; guess who is who). Alan Guth from the M.I.T., the father of inflation (see the picture above; Alan G. should not be confused with another Alan G. who is an expert in inflation) introduced Erick Weinberg.
- Erick Weinberg who is currently the boss of the physics department at Columbia University was one of Sidney's students. He explained quantum tunneling in quantum mechanics, its special properties in quantum field theories, SO(4) invariant bounce instantons in the Euclidean spacetime, and novelties that arise when one tries to find and interpret similar solutions in the gravitational context (GR). One of the important questions was whether one should interpret a qualitatively symmetric instanton as a bubble of de Sitter vacuum A inside de Sitter vacuum B or vice versa.
The second talk on Saturday was a talk called Cosmological Correlations by Steven Weinberg '79 who was introduced by Kenneth Wilson '82.
- Steven quoted Sidney as saying that he could only see farther than others because he was standing in between the shoulders of dwarves. (This is actually what Isaac Newton originally wanted to say, but he decided to make the joke about Hooke more subtle.) Weinberg focused on Maldacena's calculation of the three-point functions (non-gaussianities). He attempted to calculate "one-loop corrections" to Maldacena's "classical" calculation. Weinberg also said that "Maldacena calls this observable 'zeta', but he is wrong because it should be called script R". The divergent integrals forced Weinberg to consider general relativity as a "renormalizable theory with an infinite number of counterterms"; moreover, these are counterterms in a time-dependent context which makes things more difficult. Cumrun Vafa, who was sitting on my right, was feeling uncomfortable about Weinberg's attempts to regularize quantized general relativity, and so was I, in a sense.
- Weinberg believes that current cosmology is at least comparably exciting as particle physics during "their" era.
- Gerardus spent a couple of minutes explaining how his name should be pronounced and spelled. The form of the name "Gerardus" is inspired by Latin, and it is only used in the passport, the Nobel prize documents, and at Luboš Motl's reference frame. Then he reviewed some of the history of gauge theory and its renormalizability (and the belief of the experts at that time that QFT was probably not the right description) and the speedy process in which Gerard's results were accepted. Also, in 1971, he found out that the beta function of QCD was negative and what it was. It was too a simple insight for him, so he did not publish it and this stuff was rediscovered in 1973 by David Politzer '04 and independently discovered and extended by David Gross '04 and Frank Wilczek '04. 't Hooft's heuristic explanation of -11 from the beta function arises as the sum of -12 from magnetic screening (magnets tend to direct themselves in the same direction as the original magnets, and the magnetic moment is important for the gluons) and +1 from the electric screening. Moreover, Gerard 't Hooft '99 speculated that the number 11 from the beta function may have a relation to string/M-theory. A discussion at the dinner revealed that 't Hooft's numerology is really the same one that we observed with Josh Grey in Santa Cruz: a pure non-supersymmetric gauge theory coupled to adjoint scalars has a vanishing 1-loop beta-function for 22 real scalars, which corresponds to a (non-existent) background "AdS_5 x S^21", which seems to have the same spacetime dimension as bosonic string theory.
- Gerard 't Hooft '99 then explained that his advisor Martinus Veltman '99 was kind of discouraging him from publishing various results. Also, at a conference in the 1970s, Veltman introduced 't Hooft to "two American gangsters", as Veltman called them. They identified themselves as Mr. Glashow and Mr. Coleman. Eventually, 't Hooft learned that Veltman would use the word "gangster" for anyone who was smarter than Veltman himself. 't Hooft also realized that Coleman and Glashow needed a few minutes to understand something that Veltman only understood after several hours. Well, I guess that 't Hooft's former advisor is not terribly happy if he reads this report, but it does not mean that 't Hooft's description is unfair. ;-)
- At any rate, 't Hooft then showed that the Standard Model had been completed, everything agreed at higher energies better than everyone expected. And therefore, the next natural step was to study quantum gravity. One of the ideas that 't Hooft presented in his talk - originally published 10 years ago or so - was that the elementary process in which a black hole is formed and evaporates can be visualized as an inflow of "blue" closed strings that sit on the "red" horizon; then they spread and fill almost the whole area of the horizon except for a few "red" holes; finally, the "red" closed strings escape from the horizon, becoming the Hawking radiation. 't Hooft argued that this is mathematically equivalent to a string process with an imaginary value of the string coupling constant. (At the dinner, 't Hooft argued that his theory living on the worldsheet was not quite a conformal field theory, but it was less clear what it was.) These interesting comments provoked Edward Witten to ask two questions - one of them about the generalization of the mechanism to higher-dimensional black holes.'t Hooft said that the worldsheet would have to become a higher-dimensional worldvolume (that's problematic because the higher-dimensional field theories are not expected to be well-defined in the UV).
- Note that 't Hooft contributions to string theory are important - the large N expansion of gauge theories and a string theory; holography (with Lenny Susskind). And 't Hooft has also educated several very good Dutch string theorists - Dijkgraaf, Verlinde, Verlinde. He has also taught string theory in Utrecht.
Prof. 't Hooft's statement
After seeing this report, Gerard 't Hooft asked me to add this statement:
- "Oeps, in my comparison of Sidney's fast and brilliant mind with that of my advisor Veltman, I must have left a false impression of my admiration of Veltman. I was making jokes about him (much as how he would do that himself), but please be assured that he is brilliant in his own way, as his richly deserved Nobel Prize testifies."
- Witten started with rudimentary comments about the mathematical analogies between particle physics and (critical phenomena in) condensed matter physics and statistical physics. He explained that a weak coupling implies that the observed phenomena are not really emergent; they rather reflect the underlying degrees of freedom directly. However, there is a lot of non-trivial new physics that occurs as a simplified description of a large number of elementary building blocks.
- Witten then focused on gravity. He explained that there are no local gauge-invariant degrees of freedom in gravity. Consequently, gravity can't be an emergent phenomenon arising from conventional (non-gravitational) degrees of freedom defined in the same spacetime. For example, all "consensed matter" attempts to describe gravitons as spin 2 bound states of some "conventional" objects living in the ultimate spacetime are doomed because the "conventional" theories contain local gauge-invariant operators that can't exist in a theory of gravity because of general covariance. This is mathematically shown to be the case in the Weinberg-Witten theorem from 1980 - in whose derivation Sidney Coleman was helpful, as Witten mentioned.
- Witten continued by saying that while gravity can't be an emergent phenomenon in the same ultimate spacetime, it might be emergent as long as the whole spacetime is emergent. Mirror symmetry, topology change, T-dualities are examples of hints that spacetime is emergent, and Maldacena's duality is a particular case in which we can see how spacetime - at least one dimension of it - emerges.
External sources about Sidneyfest
There was another dinner on Saturday in the Eliot House - and interesting discussions with many people including Stephen Wolfram, Frank Wilczek and his wife, Gerard 't Hooft, Shiraz Minwalla, and others. The event is also mentioned on blogs of
Also, Errol Morris, the world's most famous document maker, has been filming interviews in the physics library with many of the physicists mentioned in this article.
The picture above makes it pretty clear that I thought that the whole bulk of Sheldon Glashow would appear on the photograph, and I was wrong. Also, by this point, most readers have probably understood that the numerals following most of the surnames indicate the year of their Nobel prize.