Friday, November 23, 2007

Joel Shapiro on the birth of string theory

Joel Shapiro, a very interesting early worker on string theory whom I know well from Rutgers (also as an excellent teacher, by the way), remembers the early days of string theory and it's a lot of fun.



At that time, the four interactions were really separated, both physiologically as well as sociologically. Shapiro was interested in "unified field theory" but his advisor never told him to study general relativity. ;-)

Instead, Shapiro started as a hadron phenomenologist. He improved the old Veneziano amplitude a bit and started to draw diagrams. Sy Pasternack insisted that "pomeronchukon" should be used instead of "pomeron" in his Physical Review. Pasternack should have cared about fixing his own silly name instead of screwing others. ;-)

Shapiro says that he still feels a certain kind of grumpiness :-) about a paper he wrote that was more cumbersome than another, more recent paper that became more famous - but truth to be told, I've never read either of these two original papers.




They quickly realized that there were harmonic oscillators in a string and amplitudes could be written as integrals over the position of the fourth vertex. At any rate, Shapiro may be largely credited for the discovery of closed strings and modular invariance, among other things. In the early 1970s, Shapiro wasted too much time with math learning of renormalization that could have been completely avoided if he realized that the sum of integers equals -1/12.

In the mid 1970s, social pressures forced him to leave string theory for other, less important endeavors. In the conclusions, Shapiro mentions that during the zeroth string revolution 1968-1974, Europe was more receptive than America. But there were already "forefathers" of the current critics who complained that string theory "abducts children just like the Pied Piper of Hamelin." He also recalls an encounter with a stupid female journalist in the 1970s who asked preprepared questions assuming that similar work must be justified by concrete experimental data. There are quite a few of such people today.

See similar memoirs by Pierre Ramond and John Schwarz.

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