Saturday, July 28, 2012

Strings 2012, a few words

On Saturday, I added a link to the 51-minute public lecture by Edward Witten above (Flash, PDF only): click the screenshot. In the right lower corner, there is a "full screen" button. On the left side from it, there is another button to "embiggenify / mediocrize / elsmolinify Edward Witten". The dimensions of the slides change inversely to those of Witten.

After a nice and somewhat standard and classic introduction to particle physics and rudimentary string theory, questions start at 43:30. All four questions have been asked by trolls with no knowledge of the field and no interest in the field; sorry if I overlooked someone but it's extremely unlikely. ;-)

The first troll asks whether Edward Witten is aware of his responsibility towards science or something like that – because Witten isn't like Newton who calculated numbers (WTF?). I must admit that I was laughing when I saw Witten – a denier of the problem of the existence of Peter Woit and Shmoit-brainwashed jerks and imbeciles – being grilled by idiots in this way. The arrogance of these mental cripples is just hilarious. The organizers were completely unable to stop this particular asshole's monologue for 3 minutes. ;-) (It could have been a high-profile German crank, Herr Alexander Unzicker.) When Witten finally wins the battle to be able to speak again, he recalls some historical examples of theories that have faced skepticism for a long time but they ultimately prevailed.

A question at 47:30 was dedicated by the calculation of the number of generations in string theory from the Euler characteristic. Witten offers a short but completely non-technical answer, mentioning that certain results depend on certain assumptions.

Someone asks at 49:00 whether loop quantum gravity will be seen as a part of string theory. Witten says that first of all, good ideas such as noncommutative geometry and twistors are becoming components of string theory all the time. In the case of loop quantum gravity, however, Witten expects it to stay in the dumping ground of the history of science. A very stupid question about "\(10^{500}\) parameters" (WTF?) follows. Witten doesn't have the time or desire to correct the confusion about parameters etc. so he pretends that by parameters, the visitor meant the number of solutions and he returns to some general facts.

In general, the quality of the question was lousy and it showed that Germans have been brainwashed by pure shit as much as some other groups. I feel relaxed not to be an official part of the institutionalized particle physics. Facing such overwhelming piles of stupid yet arrogant and stinky assholes, I would surely react in a more interactive and explanatory way than Witten and I would probably be lynched for that.

Next year, if I were in charge of those events, I would introduce pre-filtering of the questions after the public talk so that the Q&A period wouldn't become an arena for exhibition of assholes again.

The text below was posted on Friday.

Strings 2012, the annual conference which has been taking place at the LM University in Munich, Bavaria, Germany, is ending today.

To get the access to all the talks, see Speakers, titles, talks. All of the videos will ultimately be posted, too. I have substantial doubts whether there would be a sufficient blogospherical market for my hypothetical review of all the 57 talks. So let me reduce this blog entry to a few short comments on a few talks.

The omitted ones may be much more interesting than the picked ones, of course. And I could have failed to mention the most important things in the selected talks, too.

John Schwarz gave a rather enthusiastic introductory talk about the purpose and state of the field etc. Lara Anderson showed that the heterotic phenomenology is thriving and the young folks in particular know much more about the higher-dimensional geometries than what was known years ago. Hans Peter Nilles gave a more conceptual or more speculative talk on what he calls heterotic supersymmetry – SUSY with some extra phenomenological features.

Sandra Kortner introduced the audience to the results from the LHC from a pure experimenter's perspective. Ignatios Antoniadis reviewed the LHC events from a viewpoint of a string phenomenologist, focusing on some possible ambitious signatures that I consider very unlikely.

Savas Dimopoulous interpreted the task of the LHC as a that of a judge who decides about the next physicists' journey from a grand crossing, multiverse vs naturalness. He believes that this big question is gonna be decided by the end of the 2012 run. While they surely sound exciting, I find such claims excessive. If the LHC finds no new physics by the end of 2012, I will be very far from adopting the multiverse as an established thing. Naturalness is a fuzzy concept – how much natural things have to be? – so such clean conclusions about it aren't possible.

Angel Uranga gave another general enough string phenomenology talk, promoting their new book along the way.

Several talks discussed the correlators in the \(\NNN=4\) gauge theory. And many talks analyzed the applications of string theory and its AdS vacua on things like superconductors, liquids, and other squalid state materials. I decided not to enumerate those great speakers; they included Gary Horowitz and Andreas Karch.

There are talks about twistors. Nima Arkani-Hamed finally presents his permutation-based formalism for the twistor amplitudes. I haven't understood it yet; it seems nontrivial and heavily dependent on all the previous technical developments. What makes my reading harder are the suggestions that this is a totally new picture completely deviating from all the QFT-based and string-based frameworks. I still don't see how this could be true. It's a great stuff but I feel that many technicalities are overinterpreted as conceptual breakthroughs and the lack of the new formalism to explain things like locality and unitarity is presented as a virtue. I don't understand these sentiments, Nima. Locality, unitarity, Lorentz symmetry, and other things may be obscured by a formalism or two but seeing how they arise is always an advantage – knowledge – not a disadvantage.

Edward Witten has resolved some small enough old confusing subtlety in superstring perturbation theory, including an explanation why there aren't perturbative corrections to the gravitino mass. His presentation resembles the way how he writes papers: the final version of the paper with all the equations is monotonically growing as you press "page down" on his PDF file. ;-)

Cumrun Vafa reviewed topological string theory. Andy Strominger gave an update on dS/CFT. I thought he already abandoned it. It may contain some completely new ideas such as Wilson surfaces as observables in the de Sitter space. It will need some time for the evaluation of others. But if it is a completely different thing than the dS/CFT a decade ago, he should also change the brand because I am sure that there are many who share my impression that the dS/CFT brand has been discredited. ;-)

Juan Maldacena, Xi Yin, and Daniel Harlow talked about the higher-spin "Vasiliev" gravities. Add some talks about three-dimensional gravity, topological string theory, fuzzballs, quivers, superconformal indices, and other things.

Hermann Nicolai reviewed pretty much all the "non-stringy" approaches to quantum gravity and concluded that they have an infinite amount of ambiguities, a loss of predictivity, and they are much more detached from experimental tests than string theory. For various major reasons that are often (deliberately?) overlooked, this includes loop quantum gravity, spin foams, asymptotic safety, Regge calculus, causal dynamical triangulation, and others. A very sensible talk.

I think it's refreshing that the organizers once decided to include someone (well, one of them) who knows – much like all real quantum gravity experts who have looked into those things – that none of those alternatives really works in the same sense as the sense in which string theory works. In some of the previous years, it would be politically correct to invite some people from those failed directions and say things that no other participant considered correct. This waste of time was abandoned, at least this time.

David Gross wraps up with outlook and visions today. Due to the constrains of causality, the talk hasn't been posted yet. If you were intrigued by something, don't hesitate to share your feelings and knowledge.


  1. Re Nima: He's always said that locality and unitarity shouldn't be *manifest* at each stage in the calculation (like they would be with Feynman diagrams), but surely the overall scattering calculation must respect unitarity? I wish I knew what goddam motives and Goncharov polylogs were all about....

  2. "David Gross wraps up with outlook and visions today. Due to the constrains of causality, the talk hasn't been posted yet."

    Damn, the formalism used on the videos page didn't make causality manifest. :)

    I had a look at Nimas talk but it seemed too technical for me to get much out of it. Strominger's dS/CFT might be interesting if he thinks he actually is making progress.

  3. Thanks Lumo for this summary about "what is shaking" :-)

    Reading "Black Holes and Firewalls" (from Bousso) on the list of talks made me chuckle, pondering what it could be about because I have no clue but a lively imagination :-P

    Which talks are "accessible" to non experts, if any ...?

  4. Dear Dilaton, thanks for your smiley interest! There were public lectures today, by Heuer in German and by Witten,

    and the second one on string theory and the universe is just ending this minute. ;-)

  5. Very interesting info, even for a guy whose proximity to strings are those on a violin. Thanks for links.

  6. Hello, could you please comment on Polyakov's talk?

    Many thanks

  7. LM University? Would that be the Lubos Motl University by any chance?

  8. Dear Luke, let me admit I didn't work hard to avoid this misinterpretation but it is still a misinterpretation, indeed. ;-) Ludwig-Maximilian named after two founders, due Ludwig and king Maximilian who moved it 200 years ago. :-)

  9. Dear Julian, apologies, I haven't watched the video yet and I didn't understand the slides. He talks about UV and IR cutoffs in de Sitter space - obviously something relevant for a solution of the (tiny) cosmological constant problem and other things - but I didn't get what he was doing from the slides so far.

  10. Thanks a lot for this overview, very helpful. Just too many talks to see them all !
    I chose the Nicolai talk. Highly recommendable ! The picture he paints what concerns alternatives to string appears surprisingly bleak to me.

  11. If Stephen Wolfram was any fatter he'd be two people.

  12. Dear Lubos,
    Many thanks for your reply and for sharing your QFT wisdom with us!

  13. Nima gave introduction to scattering amplitudes and twistor space through several lectures which are available online, videos, in perimeter institute website and in PITP program at IAS website

  14. Stephen Wolfram's mom is so poor, she waves around popsicles for air conditioning.

  15. Hi Ehab,
    can you (or somebody else) give the links to these videos? At what kind of audience are they targeted? This interests me ... :-)!

  16. Dear Dilaton, see

    At the bottom, you see the public lectures. Together with Ooguri's final summary, they're the only ones not yet posted at this moment - although they already finished.

    I think that they're targeting generic Bavarian pedestrians (the public lectures) although one may doubt whether that would succeed. ;-)

  17. Yeah thanks Lumo :-)

    Hm, I meant I`m interested too in these introductary Nima video lectures about scattering amplitudes and twistor space Ehab mentioned if they are "accessible" (I mean not technically :-P ...) to me ?

  18. "I think that they're targeting generic Bavarian pedestrians" ----
    you mean "Unser dummer Pöbel meint".... :)
    I can't wait to see the Bavarian man in the street hanging on Witten's every word when he starts with Geometric Langlands in Six Dimensions and builds from there :)
    They may even have to put down their beer and blood sausage for a moment.

  19. Ha ha Gorden, yep :-)

    They all should feel like "Ein Münchner im Himmel" and "Frohlocken" because they are allowed to listen to Ed Witten :-D !

    Frohlocken means rejoice ;-)
    Just look at funny description given in the video to follow the story.

  20. Dür Dülaton, ich liebe deine Spellung des Gorden, auch. ;-)

  21. LOL :-D

    Will correct ...

  22. Dear Lumo,
    thanks for the additional comments about Witten's public talk. I`m just downloading it now :-).

    It is a shame they did nothing to keep the trolls out :-(0)!
    The organizers should have made people write their questions on a paper, check what is written down at the entrance, and prevent people who have written trolling questions from going in to the talk ...

    During a public lecture about the LHC at the DPG meeting in Bonn (not sure if it was 2009) some trolls were distributing flyers to advertice Unziker's "Vom Urknall zum Durchknall" to the audience and they were actually selling it... Then I did not know what toxig garbage it is, but such things should not be allowed.

    Aah, my download has finished. Now I'm gonna watch it but I`ll probably skip the trolls to sleep happier afterwards ;-)

  23. Uuaaah, the first troll was really really bad

    Was this Unziker ...?

    If I had been the moderator of this event, I would have thrown him out after at most 3 Planck times of his horrible monologue !!!

  24. I've compared the voices - it looks like Unzicker! ;-)

    Vom Urquell zum Durchknell... :-)

  25. That was F**king hilarious, Lubos. You should do movie reviews too.
    Sorry you had to sit though it, but thanks for the laugh.

  26. Thanks for your laughs. ;-) I wasn't sitting at the lectures. While many of the topics are cool, it seems a bit perverse to me to sit in lecture halls for whole summer days...

  27. Dear Lumo, you can still sit down and watch the videos ... :-P ;-)

  28. LOL :-D :-D :-D

    I thought I'm just making a joke when saying the first and worst troll was Unzicker, but thinking about it seriously it MUST have ben him and nobody else...

    So yesterday he successfully managed to show the whole world what an ugly troll he is :-))).

    From the video, it was very clear that Unzicker was neither interested in the (nice!) talk Witten gave nor in what Witten would have to say as a response to his "question". The only purpose of his appearance in this public lecture was to enter the stage, drop his trousers, and deposit a HUGE stinky bullshit in front of the audience:

    I hope he had his book ready at hand to mop his *** when finished :-))).

    The discovery of the higgs made it very clear even to the last dimwit that this is the only correct usage of his opus; since therein his trolls not only about string theory but about QFT, the standard model and all of the 20th century physics too :-).

    So I hope he sponsored enough bets against how the laws of nature work that he is bankrupt now :-D

  29. Thanks for the link to the Witten public lecture. It was concise and to the point. A good starting point for general audiences.

  30. Nice full-page article by Ulf von Rauchhaupt in the Sunday edition of Frankfurter Allgemeine today, on Juan Maldacena and Strings 2012. In addition to giving readers a good first approximation of AdS/CFT duality, it notes the success of Gary Horowitz using string theory to figure out things about high-temperature superconductors that would not have been possible using solid-state quantum theory alone. Several soundbites from Johanna Erdmenger. In general, an appreciative look at string theory that makes for a pleasant contrast to the enraged incredulity and incomprehension so often encountered when science journalists (with or without a physics Ph.D.) write about ST. Good job, Mr. von Rauchhaupt... now take the next step and give due credit to TRF for your ongoing education :)

    I have a feeling we will have Unzicker to kick around for a long time to come... He's still fairly young and shows no signs of comprehending his own gross stupidity. He has a new book coming out (in English!) and I expect us to have a lot of fun with it ;)

  31. Dilaton, your jokes are like prophesies. Don't you want to tell us a joke about what the dark matter is made of and what are exactly its interactions with other kinds of matter? Or joke about other things I am interested in physics? ;-)

  32. The hostility of the questions after Wittens lecture is as remarkable as unsurprising, as it is 100% in the german line of fundamental skepticism, especially against ideas from across the ocean. They prefer to think along philosophically cleaner lines like this one:

  33. LOL, the abstract is already funny enough, with fancy words like serious doubts on a maneuver, reshuffling, real instantiations etc.

    It's indeed the whole point of the mechanism that one "reshuffles" the degrees of freedom in such a way that the vector bosons become massive - which requires 3 polarization per vector boson. So the extra polarization has to be taken from somewhere and the "somewhere" must have the right coupling so that they allow the masses while they don't spoil the gauge invariance at higher energies, etc.

    It works, it's self-consistent, and at this moment, all this stuff is actually experimentally established, too. So all criticisms using bizarre words are just completely nonsensical and childish.

    The Higgs mechanism isn't really an idea coming from across the ocean - Higgs is British and Englert is Belgian.

  34. Ha ha, the abstract reads like a manual about how to do next year's taxes ... :-D

    But did he completely miss the Higgs-Independence-Day ?
    He'd better retract that paper now ...

    Concerning the troll attack, I was a bit surprised that the organizers of the conference were not better prepared to prohibit or at least react fast enough in an appropriate way to such an assault.
    They should have known that such conferences must be protected these days; unfortunately ... :-(.

    Maybe it will be better next year in Korea. I'm not sure of course but I always think that in other parts of the world, such as eastern Asia (and maybe others) knowledge and people who are knowledgable are higher estimated and respected even by the non academic population than ... here ...

    But eye roll, note that we have some cool theoretical physics groups here in Germany too ;-)

  35. Ha ha Lumo,
    maybe I should write a joke paper about something you and I too (!) are interested in ... :-P

  36. Aah, maybe I should see if I can get my hands on a copy of this Frankfurter Allgemeine article ... :-)

    ... and on Unzickers throat :-(0) !!! Just reading the title of his new "book" is a good medicine against my often too low blood pressure in the morning ;-).

    Is he still a high school teacher or have they thrown him out ? Maybe that's the reason why he has to make his being a dumb ***hole a paid full time job by bringing out a second collection of scribbled toilet paper :-D.

    Maybe since he is obviously too dumb to realize that the discovery of the higgs is a large success for theoretical physics, and that he would therefore better retract the first collection instead of scribbling a second one, his "Stammtisch" friends and readers have a chance to notice this before him.

    I hope he will keep publicly making a fool of himself such that everybody can see what a aggressive, dumb, and scornful troll he is :-).
    This could make his second collection of toilet paper flop ...

  37. I'll just point out for the benefit of this comment section, Urs Schreiber has taken some pretty great notes on some of the string talks. And by "great notes" I especially mean finding exactly the right reviews to read to understand whichever particular talk.:

  38. I just watched and listened to Witten's Lecture video and as a result am now totally outraged by that the first presumed poser of a question (who instead inflicted his insanity) was not immediately brought out of the building and beaten to a pulp!
    I now need to be strapped down to avoid doing damage to my surrounds. I wish I had not subjected myself to this part of the video! (This could be very costly.)

  39. Yep Peter,

    this expresses exactly how I STILL feel just thinking about this troll attack... :-(

    Witten should really take him to court not only because of this recent incident, but Unzicker's German "book" contains nothing but (unfortunately not chargeable) low level insults against Witten and many other physicists and mathematicians too... :-(0) !!!

  40. Dear Peter, I feel your pain :)

    As a stopgap measure, may I suggest my guest blog that TRF published a couple of months ago. I was actually quite restrained and held some things in reserve that I know about Unzicker, in case he came along to complain... His upcoming book may yet be a good opportunity to publish them :)

    It was interesting to learn that the Troll Master in his dungeon on the Hudson River had never heard of Mr. U until now. I guess the leeching and plagiarizing is all one-way, then. (My hunch is that besides the TM, the main inspiration for U. has been a Professor Friedwardt Winterberg, but I need more data to be sure.)

  41. Ha ha Eugene, yep I remember your nice guest blog ;-)

    And now I almost look forward to the release of the new book of our "friend" just because I`m damn curious about what you'll have to reveal about him ...
    ... or could you wrtite it here (or in another guest post) right now :-) ?

  42. I can't believe somebody heckled him. They'll just say Witten is being intellectually dishonest or some other crack BS, Witten didn't answer my question etc.

  43. I can't believe he was heckled (by all people who asked, in a sense), either. On the other hand, i would agree he didn't really answer those questions. It bothers me as well because I would prefer a kind of kalashnikov-like answer that Witten doesn't have enough courage for, or whatever it is.