Tuesday, October 31, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Halloween: Stern review

Last year, the alarmists would offer us a cute movie ClimateMash about the oil-drinking ghosts and zombies in the White House who would increase the number of hurricanes and melt all the snow on Earth.

Since 2005, the hurricane rate has dropped to roughly 30%. The temperatures have dropped since 2005, too. The alarmists have once again understood that the data from the real world is neither their cup of tea nor their ally and they returned to what they are best at: really dramatic, falsifiable predictions of the very same kind that the "critics of science" expect from the physicists. ;-)

It's the Halloween Day, 2006, and we are offered another ClimateMash called the Stern review. It's time for them to return to the well-established paradigm of the climate alarmism, originally coined by a former German minister of information: a lie repeated one hundred times becomes the truth. The sky is falling again.

A newer set of links to critiques of the Stern report can be found here.

As William Connolley has pointed out, Stern's economic numbers don't seem to be right according to Tim Worstall. Roger Pielke, Jr., argues that Stern is cherry-picking. Nevertheless, Sir Nicholas Stern uses some miraculous math to argue that the cost of failing to act on the climate change is 3.68 trillion pounds - note the breathtaking accuracy of his result. ;-)

That's a very impressive number but what is not said is that the cost of trying to fight with the climate change is 10 trillion pounds. I, for one, would prefer to save 6.32 trillion pounds and even arrest some people like Sir Stern if necessary in order to make this saving possible: I think that spreading this kind of false alarm is a crime in the Czech Republic, so once Sir Stern appears there, the police should act.

Stern claims that the temperature increase will be 2-5 Celsius degrees. William Connolley observes that Sir Stern has probably rounded up the "consensus" numbers 1.5-4.5 Celsius degrees. That's not the only fraud in the report: similar problems occur with other numbers. James Annan, another climate scientist, doesn't like the Stern report either although one might conjecture that it is mostly because he is not sufficiently referred to by the report. ;-)

According to OPEC, the report is unfounded. The Australian prime minister John Howard has also dismissed it. He will not give up the natural advantages of his country and he opposes action that wouldn't include India and China. Bjorn Lomborg is skeptical about the conclusions, too.

Incidentally, Connolley who is a former alarmist himself, has also pointed out that whenever those 25,000 frozen Britons in 2005 are discussed, the climate change is never mentioned. The situation is very different in the case of heatwaves.

Monday, October 30, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Finiteness of supergravity theories

After you finish this one, try other articles related to finiteness of N=8 supergravity
Green, Russo, and Vanhove argue that many more divergences in maximally extended supergravity cancel than some people could think. They're not the first ones who conjecture that the power law divergences could be absent in d=4 N=8 supergravity: Zvi Bern has employed the constraints of unitarity together with the twistor-like template for the amplitudes
  • A_{closed} = Extrafactors x A_{open} x A_{open}
to argue that the d=4 N=8 supergravity could be finite in the very same way as d=4 N=4 supersymmetric Yang-Mills theory is finite. Green et al. re-check some old things and calculate new diagrams in maximally extended supergravity using the methods based on string theory and M-theory.

Let me start with a historical comment. In the early 1980s, many people - including Stephen Hawking among the famous ones to the public - would get excited by the maximally extended supergravity because the power of supersymmetry seemed enough to cancel the divergences and give a finite supergravity theory. It was already known that less supersymmetric supergravities can't generate a finite theory in d=4.

The N=8 supergravity itself is phenomenologically unacceptable and one must break SUSY to at most N=1 supersymmetry to get a semi-realistic theory. The coupling of gravity to the other forces may create new potential problems. Moreover, it was widely believed that all theories of gravity, including N=8 supergravity, had to be non-renormalizable in d=4.

Let me say a few words, clarified in a discussion with Martin Roček, about the counterterms needed to cancel the different divergences in d=4 theories of gravity.

One-loop level

At one-loop level, one generates "Riemann^2" divergences in the effective action that need a counterterm. This happens to be no problem in gravity, not even in pure gravity: the "Riemann^2" terms can be written as a combination of the Gauss-Bonnet topological term (the Euler density) that doesn't matter for perturbative physics plus a function of the Ricci tensor and Ricci scalar that vanish on-shell (and that can be removed by a field redefinition anyway). That's a kind of "kinematical accident". The situation is even better for supergravity theories. To see problems, we must go to two loops.

An early sign of MSSM

Concept via Clifford Johnson. ;-) It's not just Ireland where these encouraging signs appeared. The following one is from Poland:

Sunday, October 29, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Telegraph: Lindzen and Eden on climate

Off-topic: the daylight-saving time is over in Europe and America. If you have not yet done so, return your clocks by 60 minutes and live one hour twice. ;-)

A pair of articles published in the Sunday Telegraph today bears a striking resemblance to some of the recent newspaper articles about high-energy physics. The two articles are written by

Lindzen of MIT is one of the most well-known climate scientists in the world. Eden is a weather correspondent of a newspaper and a press officer. He doesn't seem to exist in science, unlike Lindzen: using the polite words of a 2004 Nobel prize winner, Eden is a marginal figure. Nevertheless, the Sunday Telegraph misleadingly presents this pair of articles as a discussion of peers. Sorry but it is a discussion of a well-known scientist with a marginal figure.

Lindzen's introduction

Richard Lindzen explains some essential things about the climate: how much does the temperature change in general, what the errors could be, how much the temperature did change (or didn't change) in the last decade (incidentally, the Southern Hemisphere saw no warming in the last 30 years), why the effect of CO2 is sublinear and therefore the slope diminishes as the concentration grows, and why do the actual measurements seem to show that the climate models are incorrectly amplifying the effect of CO2: the actual data make it more reasonable to expect that the clouds actually reduce the effect.

He says that legitimate environmental goals could be achieved, especially if we saved the trillions of dollars from the CO2 hysteria. Finally, he stresses that the truth in science cannot be found by a repetition of pre-existing assumptions - and by unjustifiable and irrelevant allegations about a consensus. The main conclusion is, of course, that the global warming is no real threat: the temperature is as likely to go up as it is to go down.

You can see that everything about Lindzen's article is based on the actual observed facts combined with a more or less rudimentary scientific analysis of this data.

The alarmist answer

Eden's article couldn't be more different. The title is

  • This is more rapid than at any time since the last ice age

which is an "improvement" of similar irrational hysterical headlines that other journalists have used throughout the last 100 years. Of course, the press officer's main statement is that the global warming is a real threat. But what is even more fascinating is the similarity with the journalists' take on high-energy theoretical physics.

Eden tries to teach Prof Lindzen what is the scientific method, no kidding. More precisely, he blames Prof Lindzen and/or other "skeptics" because their theories are "not testable". Well, I have already seen it somewhere.

First of all, it seems really strange if press officers are teaching top scientists what is the scientific method. Second of all, you can see that Eden uses this bogus argument about "testability" only against Lindzen but not against his favorite climate paradigms: he is exactly as one-sided and two-faced as those who have been recently using the same pseudoargument against high-energy physics. Third of all, the assumption that any particular statement about the long-term behavior of a particular quantity such as the temperature is unfalsifiable is simply ludicrous. The only difficulty is that the humankind will have to wait for a long time to see whether various theories about the climate are right or wrong. But the answer definitely exists.

For example, the conjecture that at the end of 20th century and the beginning of 21st century, the global averaged temperature increases every decade by a statistically significant amount has already been falsified because the temperature essentially didn't change in the last 10 years. All other wrong theories - which probably includes all hysterical fairy-tales about the climate - will be falsified in the future. It can't be otherwise.

Once predictions are made about particular numbers, they are always falsifiable, and unless these theories were derived by a rather careful theoretical analysis of existing experimental data and patterns, you can be pretty sure that the predictions are going to be wrong. Unfortunately, the authors of many bogus theories will never be punished for their alarmism because it will take years or decades to prove that they are wrong.

What Eden obviously means by the "scientific method" is alarmism itself. You must produce a hysterical theory - either a cataclysmic warming or a catastrophic cooling - otherwise you're not a scientist, Eden implicitly says. It is very analogous to the fringe physicists who claim that in order to do real science, you must produce theories in which quantum mechanics, unitarity, equivalence principle, Lorentz invariance, and other consistency rules collapse. Unless you don't offer such a far-reaching "theory", you're no scientist, they say.

One can also be nearly certain that the theories that are mainly supported by an endless repetition of journalists and their ad hominem, emotional, and quasi-philosophical pseudoarguments are likely to be among the wrong theories, too.

Is science over?

There is at least one more aspect that makes the alarmists and the critics of physics very close. Many critics of physics at the lower end of the spectrum of IQ would tell you that science or physics is over. The alarmists would like to tell you that the debate about the climate is over: it is essentially the same thing. In both cases, they want to replace a careful scientific analysis by a new era of irrational dogmas and superstitions. Of course, in reality, the statements about science that is over or a debate that is over is completely ridiculous, especially when we talk about questions that remain open and that are being actively investigated by the current generation of scientists. Unfortunately, these opinions are supported by powerful cliques of activists who have lost their mind.

Saturday, October 28, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

George Johnson at KITP

Clifford Johnson has written the

of the recent media-driven "controversy" about theoretical physics and as far as I can tell, he is right on the money. Clifford focuses on the talk by the journalist

presented to the physicists at KITP in Santa Barbara. George Johnson - who is probably not Clifford's relative - has written some pretty good popular articles about theoretical physics in the past although some of them have had overhyped titles ("Physicists finally find a way to test superstring theory" is an example).

I remember that someone has convinced me to translate George Johnson's "Does the Universe follow mathematical laws?" into Czech when I was in the college. I disagreed with many statements of that article but it was an inspiring one so I did translate it.

Later, Johnson also added an "inelegant universe" in August 2006 among his rather famous pieces. Given the fact that The Elegant Universe is a great, balanced, and honest book that focuses on the actual content of science and its key results, avoids manifestly untrue statements, conspiracy theories, and ad hominem attacks, you may guess how an inelegant universe looks like. ;-)

Recently there have been roughly 30 similar inelegant universes - some of which have had even more drastic names - spread all over the newspapers. This wave has created such a vast and dramatically inelegant multiverse that even Prof Leonard Susskind must be jealous. ;-)

George Johnson was explaining why these things - and artificial boom-doom cycles, as he called them - occur. He has realistically painted the journalistic profession as a corrupt community whose main goal is to produce "stories" - caricatures of reality with heroes and villains - that can be sold to the average consumer, without much care whether the "stories" and their parts are true or not. He has also revealed that the headlines are not written by the authors of the articles themselves which was shocking for many innocent physicists in the audience. ;-)

Steven Pinker: less faith, more reason

In his thoughtful

Prof Steven Pinker begins with some nice words about the Report on General Education: in fact, they are somewhat nicer words than what your humble correspondent would write, even in the decent context of the university newspapers. ;-)

However, Pinker's main points are the following two:

  • university must also teach the inherent value of science
  • university must be based on reason and not faith.

Concerning the first point, Pinker quotes a comment from the report that science and technology can be used both for good things as well as bad things. Fair enough, no doubt about it. But what is not written so clearly, Pinker argues, is that architecture and opera, among other examples, can also be used both in positive and negative ways.

Architecture creates both museums and gas chambers while opera has both uplifted audiences and inspired the Nazis. ;-)

Pinker offers this observation because he feels that the balance between science and technology on one side and superstition and ignorance on the other side is presented as a moral trade-off by the report which is entirely wrong. Everything that people create can have both positive and negative consequences; nevertheless there are other reasons why sciences, social sciences, and arts still have a positive value despite the ambiguous sign of their creative potential. Pinker explains that the person who can't appreciate the intrinsic cultural value of pure science - of the knowledge how the world works - cannot be counted as an educated person.

Pinker also argues that universities are all about reason and not faith - which is just a milder word for religion: there are many other institutions in the society whose goal is to approach the reality via religion. Note that this is clearly a topic that would divide the anti-hard-left coalition in the Academia. Some of our right-wing colleagues have, on the contrary, promoted the idea of religion in the curriculum and they even argued that the reason should be removed from the education of religion. I understand where they're coming from but I probably agree with Pinker.

Pinker also argues that religion is not the main force behind various conflicts in the world. Well, it depends how we define "main", "religion", and where you look. ;-)

Czechoslovakia founded 88 years ago

In the Czech Republic, the birth of Czechoslovakia on October 28th, 1918 is celebrated as a national holiday. In Slovakia, it is just a memorial day and they don't really celebrate it, with the exception of an unknown party called Civic Conservative Party.

Well, it wouldn't hurt. The birth of Czechoslovakia was arguably more important a date for Slovakia than it was for the Czech lands: it was the first time when the borders of Slovakia were officially drawn on the map. Before the era of Czechoslovakia, a territory inside the big Hungary that would be controlled by the Slovaks was an ill-defined, hypothetical speculation.

At the end of the First World War, the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy was in trouble. The key person behind the birth of Czechoslovakia was Prof Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk who became the first president of Czechoslovakia and he remained the leader of the country nearly for 20 years: he died at the age of 87.

Tomas Garrigue Masaryk

His middle name was borrowed from his wife, Charlotte Garrigue, who was an American protestant and who became the first First Lady. A very intelligent woman. Disclaimer: the picture below was taken decades before the picture above so you shouldn't think that TGM was a pedophile! They were both born in 1850.

Daddie Masaryk, as the people called him, has played a key role for the creation of Czechoslovakia on the ruins of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. Masaryk used to be a maverick in the nationalist political circles. For example, as a member of the Realist Party, he has been claiming that the Královedvorský and Zelenohorský manuscripts from 1820 or so, alleged proofs of a rich Czech literature nearly 1000 years old, were fake: Masaryk came to that conclusion by a careful sociological analysis of the manuscripts' background. See also Leaders of mature nations. This statement of his has made most of the nationalists very angry. Needless to say, Masaryk was right as ultimately proven by detailed chemical analyses in the 1960s, decades after his death.

Friday, October 27, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

CFT/AdS and multiple AdS components

Ofer Aharony gave an interesting Duality Seminar about the

The unusual ordering of the acronyms, CFT/AdS instead of AdS/CFT, refers to the conjecture that for every CFT, there exists a quantum gravity theory on an AdS space.

Ofer views the opposite statement, denoted as AdS/CFT, to be obvious: one simply defines the CFT to be the set of all possible correlators among all possible local operators. This set of functions can be simply extracted from the scattering amplitudes of all physical states created on the boundary and interacting in the bulk of the AdS. Because the AdS space always has gravity on it, you always obtain the stress-energy tensor in the spectrum of the operators. Other consistency rules of CFTs probably hold, too.

The main statement of Ofer Aharony, Andreas Karch, and Adam Clark is that the opposite implication doesn't hold. One can construct CFTs whose dual doesn't deserve to be called "quantum gravity on AdS" despite the fact that you might think that "quantum gravity" without the CFT is so loose and ill-defined that any theory can be called quantum gravity.

The reason why some CFTs are not dual to gravity on AdS according to these three guys is that these CFTs can really be shown to be dual to gravity on the union of several copies of AdS - copies that are connected through the boundary conditions relating their AdS boundaries only.

Slashdot is powerful

Special welcome for the nerds who want to know the stuff that matters. ;-)

Who could have thought that a modest link in the middle of a long article at Slashdot.ORG can temporarily quintuple the number of visitors to this blog which was not too low to start with.

Teach the controversy

Aaron Pierce who is now at faculty of University of Michigan wrote a nice and wise essay for Science:

The title includes a witty analogy - I am apparently not the only one who thinks that this "controversy" about string theory and hypothetical alternatives is similar to the "controversy" about evolution and creationism. Both of these "controversies" are invented, promoted, and sometimes "taught" with a certain goal in mind and they don't reflect actual scientific results. See the Wikipedia page about the Teach the Controversy strategy to see that the two situations are essentially isomorphic.

Aaron is a phenomenologist - one of those who aren't hiding from others who spiritually live above a TeV, including the string theorists. ;-) His essay is technically a review of a blue book that all readers of The Reference Frame know and whose name will appear below. If you care why it's more relevant to review the blue book as opposed to the black book: it's because the blue book is sold better by a factor of five or so, among other reasons.

Much like Jim Cline, he starts with the difficult task of the unification of gravity with quantum field theory. Aaron explains that Green and Schwarz have made such a big impact because they showed the first theory that was not only capable to address this problem but that has also miraculously yet undoubtedly avoided some early complaints about it - namely the anomalies.

Figure 1: The Trouble With Shoes: a rise of a new technology, the fall of a foot, and what comes next

Aaron has an interesting idea that the author of the blue book is really complaining that it is no longer possible for the authors of seemingly fringe theories to get a lot of attention. The book is a lamentation for a bygone era, not an introduction to the field - because it is not too readable as an introduction for beginners.

The reason why it's no longer possible for fringe theories to get a lot of attention, Pierce explains, is simply that the bar has been raised. A new theory that would get a comparable attention would have to offer comparable results as string theory had, and no such theory is known at present.

Aaron Pierce answers the "bold claim" of the blue book that we live in an unprecedented breakdown of the marketplace of ideas in which a string-theoretical "conspiracy" has suppressed the diversity of ideas. Aaron writes that he has participated in many discussions that have revealed that the top-down theorists seem to have good and rational reasons to believe what they believe. Smolin didn't change this conclusion of Pierce: the marketplace of ideas is alive and well. Jim Cline and Barton Zwiebach came to the same conclusion.

I am afraid that the critics will argue that Aaron Pierce is a special agent of string theory from their conspiracy theories. :-)

Some of these critics often say that the difficulty of experimental testing is a characteristic feature of string theory. Aaron is a perfectionist so he offers not only a disagreement but also a full proof that it is not the case. Any theory of quantum gravity will have to face the same problem because of Wilson's insights about the Renormalization Group: all new effects predicted by any theory that can't be encoded into the shifts of the relevant and marginal couplings of the known low-energy effective theories are incredibly small.

In other words, as Aaron's colleague said, effective field theory allows you to make chicken soup without quantum gravity. ;-) Aaron cites Howard Georgi's 1993 article for the readers to comprehend the RG arguments.

Aaron explains that the recent insights have shown that the string-theoretical consistency places smaller constraints on low-energy physics than previously thought (or hoped). However,
  1. it is premature to eliminate the possibility that such constraints will be found;
  2. the relative ambiguity in the particle physics parameters is likely to be shared by any other hypothetical theory trying to address similar questions.
He concludes, much like Brian Greene, that despite these possible ambiguities, the questions of quantum gravity are still important and interesting. In fact, Lee Smolin agrees.

Aaron says that particle physics and mathematics owe a lot to string theory and many interesting questions could be asked about the progress in string theory. For example:
  • How should science proceed if firm predictions don't appear for years?
  • How do we evaluate progress if firm predictions don't exist?
  • How much money should go to theories that are unlikely to be confirmed experimentally in our lifetime?
  • How much credit should a field get for developing tools and results for other fields?
The Trouble with Physics only obliquely references these questions, Aaron says. It would be interesting to see them explored more fully. Meanwhile, theorists will continue to confront the thorny problem of quantum gravity with the most promising tool they can find. For the vast majority of them, this tool is string theory.

And that's Aaron's memo (and also mine, for that matter).

Thursday, October 26, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

String theory and higher-dimensional real estate market

Most people think that the U.S. housing bubble has burst. Meanwhile, PRNewswire informs that

is an artist who is buying the rights to develop in half a dozen (or more) extra dimensions in California in general and San Francisco in particular for a few dollars.

Keats hopes to earn a lot of money. His strategy is a higher-dimensional version of Donald Trump's approach: Trump is buying the air in the third dimension above the buildings in California. Saul Perlmutter from Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory seems to supply the scientific insights that Keats needs in order to make a profit. See
for more details. Well, I wish the Gentlemen a lot of good luck in their business. ;-)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Electronic secretary

asks you not to play with your mouse in front of her face because it is so distracting!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Alain Connes et al.: predictions for masses

Ali H. Chamseddine, Alain Connes, and Matilde Marcolli argue in their paper

that they can essentially predict the Higgs mass and the top quark mass. These interesting authors always attract attention. The reader is supposed to have seen a previous paper or a blog comment about it,
The new paper again shares the gauge coupling unification with GUT theories - which I think is still put in - but it also argues that they can relate the top quark mass to the W mass. More precisely, they argue on page 4 that at the unification scale,
  • sum (3 generations) m_e^2 + m_nu^2 + 3 m_d^2 + 3 m_u^2 = 8 M_W^2.
I suppose that this is some tree-level formula although their treatment of the loop effects and renormalization is not transparent to me (partly because they argue that their model also has gravity in it). At any rate, this kind of a relation seems new to me - and my guess is that it will look new to all particle physicists and string theorists - and if it is not bogus, it would be really something. ;-)

Superstring theory: the DNA of reality

Do you happen to be a reader who finds the popular accounts of theoretical physics in general and string theory in particular too shallow? Do you want something at a deeper level without learning the full mathematical machinery? Consider buying four DVDs with

I think that Prof. Gates is not only a famous researcher but also a very decent, wise, and charming expositor of science. The DVD will probably be a bit idiosyncratic and thought-provoking, too, which may be another reason for you to look at the DVDs. ;-)

Monday, October 23, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Henry Tye: predictions of brane inflation

Henry Tye has written

full of cosmic predictions of string theory, especially those of the brane inflation, one of the natural realizations of inflation within string theory. The distance between D3-branes and anti-D3-branes - an open string mode - plays the role of the inflaton scalar field. When the branes and antibranes collide, the inflation ends. This relates the inflationary scale with the string scale and is expected to be close to the GUT scale in these models.

Tye explains that the brane inflation is compatible with all existing observations and future, more accurate observations will be able to decide between various more detailed models. He also writes about the production and evolution of cosmic superstrings.

A related comment: Ottawa Citizen offers an article by

Jim Cline, an achieved cosmologist who describes himself as a former traditional skeptic in string theory, uses analogies from the car industry and the free markets (analogies that General Motors Inc. won't necessarily like) to explain that the recent criticism of string theory only underscores its success as a path to a unified description of nature.

Of course, he is not the first one to think about these market analogies. Besides your humble correspondent, this way of looking at things was also used by Prof. Barton Zwiebach who described various market corrections that have appeared in the past.

Hungarian uprising: 50 years

Today, it's been exactly half a century since the beginning of the

the most important uprising in Hungary since the anti-Habsburg revolution of 1848. Decades later, October 23rd became the Hungarian national holiday. Congratulations to all Hungarian readers.

Much like other revolutions including the Czechoslovak Velvet Revolution in 1989, it was started by students. Students who loved freedom. Students who wanted the public radio to broadcast their demands - such as freedom and the removal of a Stalin's statue built on the place of a church ;-) - but who were instantly arrested, sparking a truly national movement.

A week later, the Soviet army stopped the uprising and killed 2,500 people or so while it lost 700 soldiers or secret policemen. 13,000 civilians were wounded and the moderate communist leader Imre Nagy was among the 350 citizens who were executed. About 200,000 Hungarians fled the country as refugees.

The action of the communists was so disgraceful that 700,000 out of 800,000 members of the Hungarian communist party canceled their membership within a month or so. That couldn't stop János Kádár, the newly installed leader, to gain a full control over the country. I suspect that this experience showing the Hungarians that communism can be really evil was one of the reasons why Hungary became an example of the moderate "goulash socialism" in the 1980s. Twenty years ago or so, we would visit Hungary that exhibited a sort of a mixed economic system. Mikhail Gorbachev became the first Soviet leader who apologized for the intervention.

From a strategic viewpoint, it was obvious that the communists - including the Soviet ones - had to suppress this uprising if they wanted their favorite regime to have a chance to survive in the long term. They had all the necessary requisites to do so. The message was also rather clear for the Czechoslovak reformers during the Prague Spring of 1968: it is useless to fight against the Soviet Union. Give it up. Well, I don't want to claim that the Czechoslovaks would fight if there had been no bloody experience with the Hungarian uprising but who knows. ;-)

The suppression of the Hungarian revolution has had many international consequences. The Time magazine declared the Hungarian freedom fighter to be the Man of 1956. More importantly, the Western European communist parties were divided. Most of their members and leaders considered the revolutionaries to be a reactionary mob: however not all of them.

Some people who love freedom will always be born. The defenders of communism and other totalitarian ideologies face a choice: either they allow freedom which means that they allow their favorite system to be marginalized and to evaporate, or they impose tough rules that eliminate all the people who actively prefer freedom over these rules. Most communists are able to solve elementary exercises in strategy which is why they choose the second option. Communism and every other extreme left-wing or extreme right-wing ideology that wants to mold the society according to a template is an unhuman monstrosity, and if it is not an unhuman monstrosity, it cannot be an extreme left-wing or extreme right-wing ideology with plans about the whole society.

The United Nations have passed a resolution that the intervention had violated the human rights of the Hungarian people and that was it. The United Nations were as useless in these important matters 50 years ago as they are useless today. Albert Camus wrote a letter protesting against the West's inaction but the power of a single Camus's letter has its limitations.

Today, we often want to complain that Iraq is a mess, and all these things. I still feel that these problems are less serious than the problems that the world had to swallow 50 years ago. Today, the Hungarian society seems sharply divided politically. Still, the divisions seem less bloody than the divisions that existed 50 years ago.

Despite the divisions, nearly everyone seems to agree: the freedom fighters in 1956 were heroes.

And that's the memo.

Saturday, October 21, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

The temptation of rigor

Jacques Distler wrote a nice text about

in physics. He explains that rigor can't replace physical input and insights: very rigorous theorems may lead to very misleading physical conclusions. A reader could ask: how could a physicist ever question the unlimited power of a rigorous proof of a mathematical theorem? The technical answer is hidden in the assumptions of the theorem.

A proof of a theorem can be completely correct but the theorem can still be physically worthless. This occurs when the assumptions of the theorem are not satisfied by the relevant physical systems. When you start with incorrect or naive assumptions, your reasoning is likely to follow the GIGO rule: garbage in, garbage out. Rigor simply can't save you from errors in physical reasoning. There exists no systematic or rigorous method to find the correct physical theories.

Jacques mentions two examples:
  1. algebraic holography
  2. uniqueness of the polymer representation of the spatial diffeomorphism constraints
In both cases, rigorous proofs about systems called "quantum field theory" or "quantum gravity" have been constructed. These theorems are proven by valid proofs so what's the problem? The problem is that it is misleading to use the terms "quantum field theory" and "quantum gravity" for the theories addressed by these theorems.

In the case of algebraic holography, a rigorous proof due to Karl-Henning Rehren may be given to show that a local "quantum field theory in d+1-dimensional anti de Sitter space" is equivalent to a local "quantum field theory defined on its d-dimensional boundary". In this case, the definition of a "quantum field theory in d dimensions" is far too loose and includes structures that a physicist would never count as quantum field theories in d dimensions.

For example, a four-dimensional interacting Klein-Gordon theory can be included among three-dimensional quantum field theories according to this definition because the field "phi(x,y,z,t)" can be written as "phi_z(x,y,t)" with an index "z". There are many good reasons why continuous indices for fields are never treated as indices by the physicists and why the theoretical physicists would declare the conclusion of the theorem to be manifestly incorrect physically: local theories in d dimensions have free energy density that scales like "T^d" for high temperatures "T"; theories in different dimensions therefore can't be equivalent because you can always determine the dimension from the exponent.

However, with the unusual definitions of quantum field theories and their dimensionality used in the theorem, it is not surprising that one can prove a statement that sounds like Maldacena's correspondence. But in reality, it has nothing to do with the real essence of holography in quantum gravity. The theories discussed by algebraic holography are not holographic in any useful sense and they cannot be equivalent to lower-dimensional theories as long as you compute the spacetime dimension of a theory as the physicists do.

The second example - the polymer representations - is analogous but in some sense it suffers from the opposite flaw. In this case, the definition of "quantum gravity" is too narrow-minded. Too many things are assumed to be true about the structure that is called "quantum gravity": it is essentially assumed that quantum gravity must be constructed in the most naive way one can imagine.

These assumptions seem to be invalidated in the actual working theories of quantum gravity because of many unexpected twists and turns. For example, the definition of quantum gravity in terms of the dual CFT directly constructs the physical Hilbert space of quantum gravity - a superselection sector of string theory - without any intermediate steps where the diffeomorphism constraints would have to be imposed by hand. In this construction, a whole dimension of space - the holographic dimension - emerges unexpectedly: it was not used as a starting point at all. Still, all the facts that are normally derived as consequences of the diffeomorphism symmetry hold in this setup.

On the other hand, the polymer theorem is based on the assumption that neither of these "miracles" ever occurs. But these miracles and many other miracles that would be shocking for the thinkers in 2000 B.C. and other thinkers in the past have been found and they represent what we really mean by progress in science. The expectation that we already know all the right assumptions in physics is equivalent to the expectation that there will no longer be any substantial progress in the research of a given class of questions. This expectation is usually incorrect although it is valid whenever someone is smart and lucky enough to find the right assumptions.

The physical conclusion is obvious: Maldacena's correspondence is highly non-trivial, fascinating, and true - it is even more fascinating because rather reasonably sounding but naive and flawed arguments could lead us to believe, together with Roger Penrose, that it can't be right. And in some sense, quantum gravity and holography as painted by string theory is so valuable not only despite but because the structure is so rich that we can't yet fully squeeze these ideas into a small mobile rigorous box that is fully understood.

The fact that we don't yet know everything about string theory and its universal definition is actually one of the reasons why people can't resist and they continue to study it.

On the other hand, algebraic holography and polymer representations of quantum gravity are not so interesting because what is hiding in these fancy rigorous clothes is a physically flawed content that has nothing to do with the important principles of observable physics that are incorporated in the state-of-the-art theories. It's a content that has no relations with the actual surprises that we learned in the recent decades, centuries, and millenia. This content can perhaps be fully understood and the science behind it is falsifiable. Indeed, it is falsifiable in less than an hour. But it is a huge disadvantage, not an advantage, of such a system of ideas.

Rigor can sometimes be useful for physics, especially when physicists are making an error that is caused by a somewhat sloppy reasoning. But the physicists typically reach the right conclusions without insisting on all the formal features of a rigorous proof: they prefer the content over the form. If someone prefers the form over content, it doesn't save him or her from deep physical errors or from naivite. That's why we have so many examples of pairs of answers among which the more rigorous one is obviously the wrong one physically.

The previous articles related to the relation of rigor and physics:

Friday, October 20, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Brian Greene's new op-ed

Brian Greene has a nice and wise

in the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune (IHT). It starts with Einstein's attempts to find the unified field theory and explains why he couldn't succeed since he didn't know the nuclear forces and deliberately decided to ignore quantum mechanics.

Greene returns to the beginnings of physics and Newton's unification of celestial and terrestrial gravity, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics. It is then explained how Glashow, Salam, and Weinberg made the next important steps to unify the forces. The previous attempts couldn't unify all forces and remove the singularities, string theory can.

A brief history of string theory is followed by many examples of existing or conceivable experimental setups to verify various scenarios or calculations of string theory, including the LHC, mini-black-holes, RHIC, corrections to CMB, and others.

Brian emphasizes that string theory doesn't change anything whatsoever about the scientific method, in a sharp contrast with a rather widely held myth. Although one needs a lot of mathematics, the goals and the criteria to decide about the theory's validity are what they always have been and the experimental verification is the only final arbiter. Brian Greene as well as every other string theorist would stop working on the theory if it were shown that it is internally inconsistent or incompatible with reality - which however hasn't happened.

He points out that even if it is impossible to determine the parameters of Nature uniquely, a unified theory would still be a huge achievement. He also addresses certain comments that a research direction should be given up if it doesn't satisfy an arbitrary timetable. Greene determines that this suggestion is, well, silly.

String theory continues to offer profound breadth and enormous potential. It has the capacity to complete the Einsteinian revolution and answer the deepest questions. Do we know for sure that we will reach the end? We don't know but science requires tolerating uncertainty.

And that's Brian's memo. ;-)

Thanks to David G.

Lahti summit on Russia

The leaders of the EU countries

to negotiate about Russia and the external energy policy of the union. I think that the only leader who approaches all these questions entirely rationally is the Czech president Václav Klaus. The differences could hardly be more obvious.

The average leaders would say that the opinion of the EU countries must be unified. Klaus says that the opinions of the EU countries can't be identical because each of them has different relations with Russia and depends on Russia to a different extent, and there is no problem with these nuances.

The average leaders offer cryptic comments about the deteriorating situation of democracy in Russia. Klaus, on the other hand, doesn't see any great problems with the Russian democracy at this moment and he argues that the situation is as expected given the Russian history and good in comparison with the era of the Soviet Union.

Thursday, October 19, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

CNN: happiness & confidence bad for learning math

CNN informs about a report showing that

If the kids feel happy and confident in the math classes, their actual results are worse than for the kids who don't feel as happy.

For example, all ten nations with the happiest math students scored below the average. And all ten nations with the least happy math kids excelled.

Also, almost all attempts to connect mathematics with daily life make the results of the learning process worse: the nations that teach math "practically" are at the bottom.

I personally find all these conclusions completely obvious. Suffering and good results in math are, in principle, two different things - two instructors with the same results can still have very different personalities and one of them can be a better source of happiness. But it can't be unexpected that these two quantities (suffering and results) will be heavily correlated for most students.

If too many students are too happy in the math classes, be sure that it is simply because not much is expected from them. It can't be otherwise. If teaching of mathematics is efficient, it is almost guaranteed that a large group or a majority must dislike the math classes. Mathematics is hard and if it is not hard, it is not mathematics.

If a teacher with a fixed personality and teaching habits is asked to make the students happier, it is clear that a decrease of the expectations is what you get in more than 90% of cases.

Googolplex of e-foldings

Don Page tries to defend Susskind's argument against the Hartle-Hawking wavefunction.

Recall that Susskind says that even with the no-boundary proposal, it is much more likely that we find ourselves to be random fluctuations in de Sitter space. Don Page offers various new ways how to interpret and justify this conclusion. His proposed loophole to avoid Susskind's conclusion is to assume that the number of e-foldings during the inflation was not just more than 64: it was more than 1000, more than a googol, more than a googolplex, in fact! ;-)

I think that they ask very interesting questions but end up with incorrect answers.

The starting assumption is that we should be looking at a conditional probability "P(B/A)" where "A" are assumptions and "B" are the observations we see. This probability should not be too much smaller than one because we do see "B", after all, and the theory shouldn't be grossly incompatible with our observations, which means that it should predict reasonably high probabilities of seeing what we're seeing.

The critical example takes "A" to be conditions for the observations and "B" to be conditions for ordered observations - with a nice arrow of time. The physicists conclude that the conditional probability "P(B/A)" is much smaller than one. In other words, such an approach implies that whatever observation - described e.g. by the projection operators that capture the state of your brain and senses - you choose, it is most likely that you experience these observations when the entropy is close to its peak.

The conditional probability could be a good object to study but even if it is physically interesting, one must be very careful what we mean by "A" and "B". I don't think that the right way to define a physical question is to ask why I am thinking why I am thinking why I am thinking, or to play similar philosophers' games.

The goal of science is to explain why the Universe is what it is. And by the Universe, I mean the most objective or inter-subjective description of reality that we can think about. The more you insert your own identity and your own features into the definition of the questions and into the definition of the quantities we should calculate, the less natural science - and more social science and/or research of subjective feelings - you will be pursuing.

If we're doing natural science, we don't want to upgrade the quantum projection operators on Don Page's brain or Lenny Susskind's brain in the multi-body Hilbert space to be the main physical observables whose expectation values would decide whether inflation is a good idea or not, or whether the no-boundary proposal is consistent with observations or not.

Quite on the contrary. We want to be calculating things that are as independent of our idiosyncracies as possible. After all, it would be nice if we could agree about the final theories once all the subtleties are taken into account. Building the scientific opinion on one's personal projection operators is a form of solipsism which is not the best starting point for universal and objective arguments.

In this sense, our arguments should be independent of the question whether the entropy of Don Page's brain is higher than the entropy of Lenny Susskind's brain: note that the entropy determine the rank of the corresponding projection operators that are used to determine the conditions "A".

Of course, I want to go much further. Our arguments about the origin of the Universe should be independent not only of our personal idiosyncracies: they should also be independent of other details that define our species, our civilization, or the environment where it was born. I personally want the ultimate scientific conclusions about the inflationary and pre-inflationary cosmology to be valid not only for my brain or Lenny Susskind's brain, but also for other people.

In fact, it would be nice if we could agree about the conclusions even with other civilizations where the intelligent observers are made out of sillicon and they will live billions of light years away from us and billions of years after our time. We want the conclusions of physics to have a permanent value. At least I want it.

I am convinced that many people will find my comments obvious but they do disagree with the assumptions of the papers: see page 4 of Page's paper to verify that his conclusions indeed depend on the mass of his brain. Nevertheless, the question how the Universe began is a question about physics near the fundamental physics - and physics of the early Universe when it was younger than a tiny fraction of a second. The questions about the origin of the Universe are not questions about the properties of the projection operators on the states describable as the brains of the famous physicists.

How many people still agree with me that the biology of the brain of a founder of string theory is a different piece of science than inflationary and pre-inflationary cosmology? ;-)

Regardless of the history how we found the answer, we know that the Universe evolved according to the Big Bang cosmology for 13.7 billion years - throughout its existence except for a (probably) very short era at the beginning. What the Universe has evolved into since the Big Bang cosmology started is a part of well-established physics and biology and the details of this physics and biology should simply have no effects on our opinions about the most ancient eras of cosmology!

So I am convinced that the task of the new and future portions of cosmology is to explain what made the Universe evolve into the initial conditions for the standard Big Bang cosmology or, if you believe in inflation, what has created the right initial conditions for inflation that was close to a realistic vacuum - what was the process that has led to the right outcomes.

Also, I think that all arguments leading to the conclusion that "now" should maximize the entropy are logically flawed. In a static Universe, such a conclusion disagrees with the time-translational symmetry because according to this symmetry, a similar argument should also exist that would imply that the peak of entropy will appear next year instead of today which is a contradiction.

More generally, the arrow of time is simply a part of the Universe's design that has also been tested in trillions of experiments. The arrow of time may be the thermodynamic one or the decoherence arrow of time - these two arrows probably always have to agree. At any rate, the existence of the arrow of time is a well-established and experimentally proven principle that is also extremely natural from a theoretical viewpoint. From this perspective, I view every theory and every approach to calculate the probabilities that grossly violates the second law of thermodynamics to be an experimentally falsified theory or an experimentally falsified approach. And I believe that such a theory is based on wrong theoretical ideas, too.

In other words, you can interpret this paradigm as the assumption that the conditions "A" also include the requirement that the Universe satisfies the second law of thermodynamics at the macroscopic scale. I do believe that this is true. I do believe that almost every sane person believes it is true. No one can prevent us from believing this principle and from including it among the conditions required from a theory.

Some people might think that the existence of multi-pound brains is more fundamental a principle of physics than the arrow of time and the second law of thermodynamics but I am confident that the intelligent mice from other galaxies who have already solved these questions will agree with me that the existence of multi-pound brains is neither a necessary consequence of the laws of physics nor a correct assumption for any justifiable physical arguments.

More generally, I would find a theory that demands the number of e-foldings to exceed a googolplex to be extremely unsatisfactory because such a huge but finite number of e-foldings amounts to a huge fine-tuning.

How much lucky do you have to be - how unlikely good things have to happen to you - in order to accept a religious explanation? It depends on the kind of religion we talk about. If your religion is the anthropic principle, you must accept the existence of good luck that is as unlikely as 10^{-120} - the selection of a vacuum with a reasonable cosmological constant and/or other quantities, as N.A-H. would say.

If you believe that God has created the world, you implicitly assume that events as unlikely as 10^{-10^{120}} are parts of the cosmic design. Page's loophole to avoid Susskind's argument seems to rely on a comparably unlikely event: note that with such a huge number (more than a googolplex) of e-foldings, the Universe will expand to 10^{10^{10^{120}}} Megaparsecs or so. It's a lot. The higher numbers with uncertain meaning we insert into our ideas about reality, the more inaccurate physics would become. I just feel that the scenarios that require these increasingly unlikely things based on increasingly large numbers are not justified by any observations. They are not natural and eventually we will see that they are not needed.

When we talk about the very early cosmology and the initial conditions, we should assume that the goal of this reasoning is to explain the very early events in our Universe only and not the mass of our brains.

And that's the memo.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Stephen Hawking's Universe

Some readers may have a lot of free hours, unlike the rest of us, to watch Stephen Hawking's Universe.

The parts labeled as CN are unfortunately - and fortunately for our readers behind the Great Firewall of China - largely overwritten by Chinese dubbing. But the subtitles may be useful: they're Chinese, too. ;-) The parts 02,03 are purely in English.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

The emperor of math

The New York Times have a very interesting article called

about Prof. Shing-Tung Yau. The text contains a lot of rather fascinating stories about Yau's childhood in a village that you can't even find on the map ;-), about his attempts to help China and the Chinese mathematical community, and many comments from his colleagues and from several physicists.

I think it's a balanced article with a high concentration of interesting facts, with hints about other interesting topics that a reader could try to follow, with the opinions of the people who are as relevant as possible, and with a low concentration of unsupported negative sentiments - that's how articles in the mainstream media should look like in my opinion.

Jihad on Mass Ave

I was returning home and look what I saw near the Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge:

Click the picture to zoom in; another picture is here. Note that the Israeli sword on the picture is not only behind the occupation of "Palestine" (whose shape strikingly resembles the state of Israel) and behind the war in Iraq but also behind the killing in Darfur. Wow.

Did I react in any visible way? Not at all. I told myself: listen, Luboši, you know very well that in the People's Republic of Cambridge, the war on terror is over and it is not democracy and Bush who has won. You know very well who has more rights in this town and who is more welcome into this town - whether it is the right-wingers or the mujahideens like the "gentleman" above. And it is not the right-wingers: you have measured the answer too many times not to know, silly.

So, Luboši, keep on dreaming about a different town where this "gentleman" gets a proper thrashing. It's certainly not Cambridge, Massachusetts. He's the elite here and he essentially represents the mainstream opinions about America, about capitalism, about the democratic island called Israel in the non-democratic sea called the Middle East, and about the Islamic fascism: only the last entity is viewed as positive. Return to your role of a second class inhabitant, think how to survive for a few more months, and shut up, OK?

Monday, October 16, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Beyond the Horizon: Hawking in IMAX cinemas

NASA, Stephen Hawking, and Leonard Mlodinow (the author of Feynman's Rainbow, Euclid's Window, and a co-author of a Briefer History of Time) are working on the movie

that should be aired in the huge three-dimensional IMAX cinemas - one of these can be found in the New England Aquarium. The movie will mostly be about the origin of our 11-dimensional Universe.

Sunday, October 15, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

"PCT, Spin and Statistics, and All That" by Raymond F. Streater

Obsolete and full of incorrect statements

The review has been erased by organized cranks. I post a copy on my weblog.

Many new discoveries and advances in particle physics and quantum field theory have been made since 1964, the year when this book was originally published. In the 1960s, this book might have been a legitimate attempt to establish a new, albeit controversial paradigm in the research of Quantum Field Theory. However the authors were not too lucky because now, exactly 40 years later, we see that Axiomatic Field Theory has not led anywhere, unlike the specific, constructive, and old-fashioned quantum field theories. Axiomatic Field Theory has given no physical predictions and it has led to no conceptual developments. Today, Axiomatic Field Theory is not an active field of physics anymore. Moreover, most of its conclusions are believed to be incorrect.

Of course, I don't mean the CPT theorem. But the CPT theorem and the relation of statistics and spin has become a miniscule portion of our current knowledge about quantum field theory and no one should spend so much money for a book that presents these things in such an obsolete fashion.

Rube Goldberg machine: video

If you've never seen a Rube Goldberg machine, open this

Is this how the real world works? First of all, this machine is exaggerated as a description of the real world: even the most complicated flux compactifications we know only use a few ingredients all of which directly follow from the basic equations we can write down and whose co-existence is governed by the same, very accurate laws of physics.

But if you forget about this difference, you could still ask: can the world be based on similar redundant mechanisms that seem more complicated than necessary? I think that the rational attitude is to assume, in agreement with Occam's razor, that it is a priori unlikely but it is not impossible. One must always be ready that extraordinary evidence eventually justifies extraordinary statements and the results in flux compactifications are not so terribly far from this possible outcome.

Western New York state: record snow

We've had a relatively cold but sunny day. Western New York state is digging out from two feet of record snow - the most snowy two October days on record that has incidentally killed 3 people. Last year, the snow started at the end of October, so why it couldn't start in the first half of October this time? Global warming has been renamed to climate change anyway, so with a little bit of imagination, it could also explain the cooling. ;-)

Saturday, October 14, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Devin Powers: higher-dimensional cubic art

Click the image for more. Incidentally, have you ever seen a stereogram movie? Your eyes must go into the anti-cross-eyed mode and you will see three-dimensional structures. In the movie, they will be moving.

Friday, October 13, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Precision black hole measurements

Tom Weidig has pointed out these interesting

that rely, among other things, on NASA, a Japanese satellite, Cambridge University, John Hopkins University, broad iron K life emitted near the horizons from the severely crushed matter, measurements of the black hole spin rates, and on redshifted X-rays.

We may be entering an era of precision black hole measurements that could verify classical GR more accurately than before. I am skeptical that this could tell us something about new physics but we may always end up surprised.

See the preprint for more details:

Bethe lectures

People close to Cornell University might be interested in three lectures by David Gross. That includes two colloquia (Monday: particles, Tuesday: Standard Model) and one public lecture (Wednesday: string theory and coming revolutions).

SKY experiment: cloud nucleation by cosmic rays

This is an update about the CLOUD story. A Danish experimental team has experimentally demonstrated that negative ions created by high-energy cosmic rays increases the creation of nuclei of the clouds.

Recall that the significance of this finding is that because the increased solar magnetic activity has reduced the cosmic rays in the last century, it has also decreased the amount of clouds and positively contributed to the temperature.

The observation of this effect may upgrade the cosmic rays theory of the climate to a competitor of the greenhouse gas theory, to say the least.

More facts:

Thursday, October 12, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Man-made black holes

The media were debating the question whether the LHC accelerator is going to destroy our Universe or at least our blue planet. The answer depends on whether or not you believe in physics or not. ;-)

See also: LHC alarmists
If you do believe in theoretical physics of the last 32 years, including Hawking's semiclassical calculations and/or its confirmations by string theory, you will be almost certain that the black holes, even if they were created, will decay instantly.

If you don't believe theoretical physics, especially if you only believe some parts of it - such as the possible occurence of man-made black holes at the LHC - you may be worried. :-) Perhaps, the black holes will be produced and they will swallow the Earth.

The famous
that is lifeguarding humanity and that has several Nobel prize winners on its science advisory board has concerns, however. One of their new goals is to prevent and make plans for surviving when
such as the decay of our vacuum or the creation of growing black holes or strangelets will occur. One of their main plans how to survive such an LHC catastrophe is to colonize the Cosmos. :-)

Well, I think that even if someone believes that theoretical physics can't be trusted - and many people clearly do - there exists a less scientific argument why the accelerator won't lead to such a catastrophe: the Earth is bombed by a lot of very high-energy cosmic rays and the center-of-mass energy of the collisions is comparable to the LHC energies. So far, these collisions haven't destroyed the Earth, so it is reasonable that some additional collisions we create won't be able to do so either.

Orhan Pamuk and Armenian Genocide

Orhan Pamuk of Turkey has won the

He is a post-modern writer who also melancholically describes a clash of cultures. What may be even more interesting is that in February 2005, he stated in an interview that 1 million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed by Turkey in 1915-17 and he was the only one to dare to talk about it.

Because he was right on both counts, he immediately became a target of a hateful campaign by the Turkish nationalists and had to flee the country. In June 2005, the Parliament introduced a new law that made it a crime to say anything bad about Turkey and Pamuk was retroactively charged with "insulting Turkishness". Wow.

What's interesting is that almost exactly at the very same moment when Pamuk's Nobel prize was announced, the National Assembly of France voted 106-19 for a new bill that makes it illegal, on the contrary, to deny the Armenian Genocide. Normally I support Turkey's membership in the EU but we often have to face various questions: is it a good starting point for harmony if it is crime in one member country not to admit a certain thing that is a crime to say in another country?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Unstable 5D spacetime?

One of the thought-provoking things that M.K. mentioned was a paper about

in 5 dimensions without any Kaluza-Klein compactification. The solution is inspired by the black rings. If the solution and its interpretation were true, spacetimes with five dimensions would be unstable. Of course, it can't be true for supersymmetric spacetimes. But in his construction, there seems to be no obstruction on the spin structure, like the obstruction that tells you that only the Scherk-Schwarz compactification suffers from the Witten bubble instability. If someone knows what are the answers to these simple but puzzling questions, please, let me know.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

PBS: NOVA: Origins

Not only because of the Nobel prize for COBE, some readers may want to watch a 55-minute-long popular program from 2004 (analogous to The Elegant Universe) called

which is the fourth hour of the "Origins" on NOVA. The other hours are not freely available. I don't have time to watch it but COBE appears around 19:00. They start with the Big Bang in general, microwave background, continue with COBE and WMAP, and end up with the observation of the chemical composition of (and possible life in) other galaxies.

Monday, October 09, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Edmund Phelps: economics' renormalization group

In 2006, the medicine Nobel prize went to the U.S. The 2006 physics Nobel prize stayed in the United States. The 2006 chemistry Nobel prize was grabbed by an American. In order to increase the diversity of the countries of the winners, the

goes to a citizen of the United States of America.

Nuclear North Korea: welcome but...

Czechoslovakia's former comrades from North Korea claim that they have successfully completed their first underground nuclear test. The U.S. agencies initially couldn't confirm the report but South Korea and Australia have detected tremor so the communist report is probably true. Later, USGS described it as a 4.2 magnitude earthquake, confirming the report, too.

Figure 1: The denotation with energy of 30-100 percent of a Hiroshima bomb (5-15 kilotons of TNT), according to Russian sources, fortunately occured in a horizontal isolated mountain tunnel and not in Seoul or Tokyo: 200,000 lives were saved.

If they were good guys who are among the first ones to realize this technological advance, I would add: "Congratulations." Not this time.

They can praise themselves, after all. The new weapon will strengthen the peace in the region. The success comes exactly at the time when North Korea is completing the construction of the modern socialist economy that will exceed and supersede the imperialist nations. Blah blah blah - I've been hearing these things for the first one half of my life.

Of course, the Democratic People's Republic - or, more precisely, the Totalitarian Party Leader's Dictatorship - is far from being the first dangerous country that has opened this Pandora's box so it would be exaggerated to paint the situation as a real crisis. Nevertheless, it is annoying, especially because the socialist nation seems to have untested ballistic missiles able to reach the U.S. territory.

The new Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe will probably find the test useful as a method to increase his support among the public: whenever your country faces a threat, the government becomes more important and more loved.

Sunday, October 08, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

An immortal smooth solution withdrawn

The widely discussed possible proof of a $1 million Clay Institute problem called

by Penny Smith has unfortunately turned out to be mortal and falsifiable, and it was withdrawn today due [to] a serious flaw. Well, the article in Nature written just 1 month after Prof. Smith started to work on the problem was arguably a little bit too fast, much like many other recent articles that search for really fast answers to really difficult questions.
  • Special welcome for the Slashdot.org readers. If you're interested in math and physics, you may want to spend some time with this blog.
The terminology "immortal" refers to solutions that exist for all times in the future given some reasonable boundary conditions. It is non-trivial to prove the existence of a regular solution of the Navier-Stokes equations because the equations admit complex phenomena collectively described as turbulence - behavior that can get out of control.

Steven Weinberg on religion

In this video of

he explains how science didn't have to falsify the religion. It just allowed people not to believe. People usually believe in God mostly because of their feelings about their death - not because of fundamental explanations. Anyway, God doesn't explain why things are what they are unless you have a specific model of God, and even if you had it, you would have to ask why God is what it is, Weinberg says.

Weinberg thinks that Darwin had the most profound impact on the ideas behind religion - he had to admit that even no physicist has had such an impact. Incidentally, there has been a similar interview with

Back to Weinberg.

He is sad that most physicists are completely uninterested in religious questions. Weinberg divides the religions into two groups: those with a theory (and missionaries with universalist ambitions), and those without a theory. Those without a theory - judaism, hinduism - just tell you not to eat pork or not to kill the cows. He has nothing to do with it: it's their business. But Christianity, Islam, and partly Buddhism have alternative theories - so Weinberg has something to say about it.

Stephen Hawking visited CERN

On the picture, he appears with the director of CERN. Click the picture to get an article. Hawking says that there are three candidates that can be found at the LHC: superpartners, black holes, and the Higgs.

Well, the Higgs should better be found. Finding superpartners is relatively likely but far from guaranteed. The Hindustan Times had an optimistic article yesterday about the search for SUSY.

Finding black holes is a speculative possibility. If that happened, in a Randall-Sundrum-like low-energy gravity scenario, it is very reasonable to assume that these black holes would be evaporating instantly. Such an unlikely discovery would represent an opportunity for several big physics celebrations and awards. Perhaps, Stephen Hawking - perhaps naturally with Jacob Bekenstein - should be the first ones for the prediction of black hole thermodynamics and evaporation.

Hawking gave two lectures about the origin of the Universe:

The semiclassical, technical talk based on a paper with Hertog starts with the strong energy condition, bouncing Universe, compactification on a 6 or 7-dimensional hidden manifold, a picture of such a manifold. Then it says that the potential is a function of the moduli space, shows a picture of the landscape, and identifies the minima as possible vacua of string/M-theory. He continues with 101 in eternal inflation, no-boundary amplitude, and compares the amplitudes for empty and inflating Universe. Finally, he ends up with a perfect agreement of theory with WMAP data, stages of inflation, and conclusions:

  1. The Universe is always in the 4-dimensional semiclassical general relativity regime
  2. The whole Universe is in a homogeneous landscape, not a mosaic
  3. No primordial topological defects
  4. Amplitudes will be non-zero for some, but not all, landscape states

These conclusions definitely seem to have some sauce and power in them even though it is less clear how they follow from the theory. But indeed, it seems that the spacetime must be factorized already during inflation, otherwise the WMAP predictions would have to show discrepancies. It is also clear to me that the amplitudes for some bad, high-vacuum-energy vacua will be negligible, disproving the ideas that every single vacuum must be treated equally.

On the other hand, Hawking claims that to some extent, the anthropic principle is unavoidable even with the no-boundary proposal.

Thursday, October 05, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Colbert Report: Manliness

Prof. Harvey Mansfield with Stephen Colbert:

Rather entertaining. Colbert says that the really manly men, first of all, don't read books. Should he call Prof. Mansfield a "Dr." or a "Mr."? Well, "Dr." can also be a woman, unfortunately, Colbert says. :-) So they chose "Mr."

On cosmic natural selection

When someone suggests an idea that looks silly or manifestly wrong to others, cosmologists and high-energy physicists are usually silent. They are very polite, they don't want to hurt the person, and moreover, the author of the wrong idea should figure out what they think anyway by seeing that there has been no positive feedback and no one was able to make new work on that idea.

This hypergentle approach arguably works in the expert community but it may fail when it is applied behind its mantinels. There often exists a huge gap between the experts on one side and the public - even the broader scientific public - on the other side. Such a gap can allow a wrong idea - an idea realized by every single expert to be wrong - to massively influence the media, the readers of popular books, and other sources.

This is also the case of cosmic natural selection. That's a hypothesis that the black hole singularity is a seed of a new Universe whose properties are close to the parent Universe but not identical: by this mechanism, we emulate the framework of Darwin's theory and the fittest Universes - those able to produce a maximum number of black holes - must therefore dominate.

That's an idea that a smart basic school student may find attractive and logical but her friend from the college or a renowned Stanford professor ;-) who also knows some physics beyond the high-school level may notice very serious problems with the idea, for example:

Nature: String theories dominate for good reason

Volume 443 of Nature from October 5th, 2006, has an editorial on page 482 called

We normally use the singular term "string theory" since the mid 1990s when we learned that there is really one theory only with many states. The editorial starts with the "sweet" Standard Model, its triumphs, and its shortcomings. The text also explains that the non-trivial character of the experimental tests of physics beyond the Standard Model reflects the magnitude of the task. Finally, they say, the pursuit of string power deserves undaunted encouragement.

However, the same issue also has a
for the two recent not-quite-serious books on page 491, including photographs of their authors. The author of that article called me, and since the very first moment, I knew that he was a rather closed-minded person who wouldn't be ready to learn anything from our discussions whatsoever. Nevertheless, I tried as much as I could.

At the very beginning of the conversation, he also told me that our discussion was being recorded - he announced me this fact as if I were a criminal whose testimony would be used against him. ;-) The style reminded me of the stories how my relatives described the interviews with the communist secret police. He was already decided what to write and my long discussion with him was almost completely useless because he has learned nothing and he has written nothing important even though I explained him what's wrong with virtually every statement that he eventually included in his bizarre article.

As expected, the author of that article is, much like dozens of others, uncritically parroting many strange things from the blue anti-physics book. He also describes my reviews of the books at amazon.com in an insulting fashion. When he says that my reviews have been removed, it is also misleading. The correct comment should have been that my reviews have been removed about 37 times so far, ;-) and it should have also said that they were removed by an organized mailing list of fans of the "Not Even Wrong" blog who keep on clicking on a certain button whenever an inconvenient review appears on that page.

Comment: I certainly did write the reviews, and you can check the "real name" at amazon.com. However, I didn't write about 1/2 of postings signed with my name at various blogs. It is completely impossible to enumerate all such fake postings and comments of "mine".

The article on page 491 also fails to mention that the value of my reviews of the books exceeds the value of the books themselves - it only mentions that titles of the reviews but nothing about the content (unlike the junk books that are given several pages in the magazine) and he explains nothing whatsoever about the important reasons why the books are not a source for a serious discussion. But I did succeed in one thing: when Mr. Geoff Brumfiel called me, I convinced him to talk with some real physicists.

He apparently did so, and thus we can at least learn from Lenny Susskind that many people in the community are angry and "struggling to deal with the criticism". But the reader can't learn why the physicists are exactly angry and what's so terribly wrong with the books. Well, shoddy journalism. Mr. Brumfiel simply doesn't find it important enough. He at least quotes Polchinski's comments about the relevance of string theory for RHIC and the disappearing boundary between string theory and the rest of physics.

Finally, George Ellis from South Africa has another
of the blue anti-physics book on page 507 of the same issue of Nature. It's just amazing how our society supports these negative contributions. It's enough to write something controversial - more precisely, it's enough to write something about an important topic that is completely untrue - and you can be sure that the journalists and effective journalists will make a hero out of you. In reality, they would deserve something completely different.

I assure everyone that what is written on page 507 is simply garbage, much like most of the page 491 and many other pages of many other sources.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Curricular anti-academic coup

An English professor and a philosophy professor have chaired a committee that has created a drastically new proposal for a

and so far I find it shocking. The philosophy describing it is full of meaningless political mumbo jumbo such as
  • Revamped philosophy seeks to tie general education to global citizenship and real-world responsibility
  • The report is tying liberal education to life outside the university and the challenges of a modern, globalized society
  • The role of general education, as we conceive it, is to connect what students learn at Harvard to life beyond Harvard, and to help them understand and appreciate the complexities of the world and their role in it
Jesus Christ. ;-) The Harvard students will be required to study religion and U.S. history; Harvard will fortunately be the only Ivy League school with this "new" requirement. In the case of religion, this apparently means a declaration of the end of the Enlightenment that has started a steady decline of the role of theology and religion at the universities.

Religion and U.S. history may be unusual but the global citizenship seems even harder to swallow.

If you look at the goals above, one thing is clear: universities have no business in manipulating the students in these purely political questions. Whether one should be a global citizen or not depends on the political ideas - and their politicians - whom the student prefers. A school is not supposed to be teaching you whether you should like the United Nations or not, whether you should feel as a cosmopolitan or not. Also, it shouldn't be telling you how complex the world is: on the contrary, it should be doing its best to make the complex world as comprehensible as possible.

We can also learn that the report
  • rejects the Core’s emphasis on approaches to academic inquiry.
Wow. Saying explicitly that the education at America's most well-known school should "reject the emphasis on approaches to academic inquiry" sounds as very strong tea. I would understand this at a college in a village in Montana - but at Harvard? The students are supposed to complete one half-course in each of the following seven areas:
  1. “Cultural Traditions and Cultural Change,”
  2. “The Ethical Life,”
  3. “The United States,”
  4. “Societies of the World,”
  5. “Reason and Faith,”
  6. “Life Sciences,” and
  7. “Physical Sciences.”
Add a foreign language and expository writing plus a "third critical skill" which is analytical reasoning but it doesn't have to be mathematical, in fact, it is probably most legal. Wow. It's like 2 out of 10 requirements that have something to do with rational thinking at least remotely similar to science.

In the previous proposals, science and technology represented 3 topics out of 9: another group of 3 were arts and humanities; the last group of 3 were social sciences. I think it was already a hardly acceptable low proportion for sciences but the new proposal reduces all science and technology - all kinds of science-like rational thinking, I would say - to 2 out of 7. That's just completely mad.

Needless to say, the report was prepared by a committee whose two humanity representatives were the only experienced members of such committees, and the other four new professors were completely unable to stop them.

The description also says:
  • These fields conform to the four goals of general education set out by the report: teaching global citizenship, the ability to adapt to change, and an understanding of the ethical dimensions of life, as well as making students aware that they are both products and participants of cultural traditions.
Terrible. The people are primarily products of the laws of Nature and they should be participants in various practical enterprises as well as the attempts to understand various aspects of the world better - not just participants or even products (!!) of cultural traditions.

As you can see, one hundred percent of the "goals" are meaningless ideological clichés and brainwashing. We also learn the following:
  • But in a marked difference from the current program, general education courses under the proposed system would have to present students with “a broad range of material, rather than focus in depth on a single topic or a small number of texts.”
In other words, the Harvard committee explicitly states that the school should educate superficial alumni who don't understand anything properly. How is exactly Harvard supposed to differ from average colleges besides the price of the tuition and the good name that fortunately continues to attract extraordinary students?

All these memes constitute a frontal attack on any kind of academic approach to reality and any kind of academic excellence of Harvard students. What would I say about the seven categories? (1) is redundant because it is just an umbrella for (3) and (4). Moreover, (2) and (5) is very much the same thing because religion and ethics can't be separated. The categories (1) - (5) should be compressed into two categories only. That would be much more reasonable: life sciences and physical sciences would have at least one half of the topics. Also, they could be moved to the beginning instead of being an appendix #5. ;-)

But still, there would be no mathematics, no information technologies, and, indeed, no economics because they also want Social Analysis 10, “Principles of Economics”, not to be counted for general education credit. Anything that resembles hard science must apparently go.

To make things worse, the humanity committee leaders and their silent science and social science collaborators are not even satisfied with 5 out of 7 fields dedicated to unscientific topics. They also want to partially fill the remaining 2 scientific categories with their soft material:
  • “Life Sciences” and “Physical Sciences”—both under the general heading of “Science and Technology”—are designed to teach key scientific concepts and place them in the context of contemporary social issues.
Wow. Science can't be placed in the context of social issues, by the very definition of science: science and its results are completely independent of the social context, and if it is not independent, it is no science. Technology might be placed in the context of social issues but those who know primarily how technology is placed in the context of social issues are not those who really contribute much positive to the society in the field of technology.

Indeed, as a commenter mentioned, the future is already coming and the students will take a course on global warming to satisfy the science criteria. What kind of society will you get if an "elite" - and I am sure that the students who go to Harvard will continue to be an elite for some time - will have this kind of education?

Is Harvard supposed to educate the leaders only - people who are skillful in getting to the top but who never want to go to the depth? Note that Bill Gates is no cheap leader. Bill Gates has actually created many of the essential programs himself at the beginning of his commercial software revolution. He has composed BASIC for Commodore personal computers. He knew how to do programs and he certainly knew how to place them in the social context. ;-) But you don't want to create alumni who are primarily interested in putting things in the social context. Someone must also be creating the actual values.

I think that the fact that something so painful was proposed - or at least leaked - may be viewed as one of the brutal consequences of the average pseudoscientific pseudoacademicians' victory over President Lawrence Summers.

Summers has been the main person who was vocally pushing for science literacy at Harvard. Despite being viewed as a Mass Hall supporter, Louis Menand, the professor of English in the recent committee, did his best to argue that science literacy cannot even be defined: and they finally succeeded - even the shrunk science is just a slave of a social ideological landlord. Alison Simmons will have all the tools in (5) to sell the Cartesian obsolete ideas about the world to be on par with physical sciences (7). The students will learn more Islam than biology, more Aristotle's misconceptions than modern physics. In evolutionary psychology, they will teach you that we are just products of cultural traditions because this general absurd proclamation is even used in the definition of core. Instead of chromosomes, they will learn about the culture of Intelligent Design, as I just read.

Harvard may be marching towards a very different era. Maybe the "Veritas" in Harvard's logo (see the upper corner of the blog) should be changed to "career and global leadership"?

And that's the memo.

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