Thursday, February 20, 2014

Gross' QFT lecture at the Dyson 90 conference

Preaching string theory to infidels like Freeman Dyson himself

Last December, Freeman Dyson celebrated his 90th birthday and the conference that celebrated the anniversary took place at the Institute of Advanced Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, 26-29 August 2013. I was obviously misled into believing that the conference would take place at IAS Princeton but the truth was more colorful.

David Gross' 69-minute talk above, Quantum Field Theory – Past, Present, Future – was posted to YouTube a month ago. It is one of the interesting videos by the World Scientific Publishing that we may now enjoy.

Other talks you may watch include:
Freeman Dyson: Is a Graviton Detectable?
Henry Tye: Is a Vanishingly Small Cosmological Constant Natural?
Xiao-Gang Wen: Topological order
Robert Delbourgo: Where-When-What and the relativity of Space-Time-Property
Shou-Cheng Zhang: Topological Insulators and Superconductors
Mary Beth Ruskai: Evolution of a Fundemental Theorem on Quantum Entropy
Lawrence Krauss: Freeman to the Rescue - Life, the Universe, and Nothing
Kerson Huang: Dark energy and Dark Matter in a Superfluid Universe
Kazuo Fujikawa: Heisenberg's Uncertainty Relation Revisited
Bruce McKellar: Breakdown of the Boltzmann Equation in a Solvable Model
You see that the talks were a mixture of brilliant, interesting, cute, provocative, weird, and stupid ideas which is sort of appropriate for a giant of Freeman Dyson's type.

I hope that someone will watch some of the other talks.

David Gross began by comments that Dyson "couldn't be defined". He spends the bulk of the talk by various historical comments on conceptual issues in quantum field theory – Landau pole, asymptotic freedom, renormalization, renormalization group including block spins, the nature of infinities, spectrum of QCD, and so on. The Standard Model is the greatest achievement of science of all times.

Around 43:00 or so, he is getting to the more up-to-date questions including unification and especially string theory.

The AdS/CFT paradigm plays a key role in his comments. Quantum field theory is really the same thing as string theory. David Gross has friends, like Shelly Glashow, who love quantum field theory but they hate that string theory and they hope that it will die. (1:02:30.) David is explaining to them: you can't have both! It's the same beast. In such situations, Sheldon Glashow ... looks away.


Some new self-promotion of my hometown of Pilsen, the EU culture capital for 2015.

In an hour, FC Viktoria Pilsen will play Shakhtar Donetsk which seems to be a relaxed, productive, industrial city in Eastern Ukraine. Their soccer team is much richer than ours – after all, Donetsk is a 1-million-people city, Pilsen has just 170,000. The Donetsk team is owned by the richest man of Ukraine; the owner of Viktoria Mr Paclík is a small fish in comparison.

Our players are mostly Czech plus three or four Slovaks; Donetsk has tons of Brazilian players. Their coach is Romanian and seems to support the Kiev opposition. A Czech player in Donetsk says that no chaos can be seen in Donetsk at all and he is not following these political events at all.

Update: Result: 1-to-1. Pilsen was playing OK, being able to steal the ball from the wealthier opponent often, boasting comparable chances and holding of the ball. But it was sort of less courageous, less stunning – probably a result of our new coach. Vrba went to the national team, a betrayal of a sort, and Uhrin Jr prefers a more defensive, opportunistic strategy.

The deaths in Kiev are tragic. I think it's obvious that the order has to be restored before the people stop dying and it is just irresponsible if not immoral for various Western politicians to support the anarchy.


Congratulations to the U.S. ice-hockey fans. It beat the Czech team 5-to-2 yesterday. We wanted to win but it's not embarrassing because the U.S. team is arguably the best U.S. team ever. Ironically enough, it is managed in a somewhat collectivist, un-American way. Some superstars were snubbed; discipline, expected speed, and cooperation are playing an important role. To some extent, America could live well with socialism, too – like East Germany. I won't be shocked if the U.S. team wins the Olympic gold.

By the way, I just watched the women's ice-hockey finals, CAN-USA. The Americans were better but the Canadians finally won in the 68th minute. The women's game is so much fun. It makes me smile. It is sort of sexy. Their playing is slower, less energetic, slightly resembling how I play similar games. They never fight truly angrily and when they lose, they really cry. But I would prefer to watch this over the men's game. Too bad it doesn't really exist here.


  1. I didn't realize that Škoda was renowned for it's engineering? When I was in Czechoslovakia in the mid 80s their automobile wasn't very highly regarded. I seem to remember a joke where it translated to "pity" or some such thing in Czech.

    Have things changed since communism went on hiatus?

  2. Sorry, Rsala, your question reveals about 2 independent basic misconceptions.

    First, Škoda Pilsen – and it's the only company that natively carries the brand "Škoda" because it was started by Mr Emil Škoda in the 19th century – has never produced any cars. It produces much bigger engines, like turbines for power plants, and perhaps streetcars and trolley buses, and it used to be the empire's dominant producer of weapons.

    The cars are produced in Mladá Boleslav, North-central Bohemia, and the company was originally called Laurin-Klement after the founders. Because of some financial accidents in the late 1920s, the carmaker was bought by Škoda (Pilsen). But the merger became irrelevant during Nazism and especially during communism when the companies were planned and isolated.

    The companies have an agreement to share the trademark which seems to be problem-free.

    So no cars in Pilsen.

    Second, since its purchase by Volkswagen Corp in the early 1990s, the carmaker called Škoda in Mladá Boleslav has turned to one of the world's premium carmakers. For example, it has won the title of British drivers' #1 carmaker several times in recent years. See e.g.

    It's similar in dozens of other countries - mostly European countries plus India.

    So one could argue that the carmaker is doing better than Škoda Pilsen these days although Škoda Pilsen is out of the problematic years right after the fall of communism, too.

    During communism, Škoda Pilsen would really be one of the main pillars, if not the main pillar, of the Soviet bloc's industrial sector.

  3. Hmmm, of course I disagree with your analysis of the Can.-US teams and game. The Americans are dirtier, not better. Haley W is nonpareil. Dineen is the better coach. Also, the women's hockey is faster pace than the men's, more end to end rushes, fewer stoppage. There are fewer fights because boarding is banned.
    It was absolute karma beating the American women.

  4. Lubos, perhaps the reason for confusion regarding the Dyson-fests is that there also was one at the IAS in Princeton:

  5. The relevant word they used was "scientific":

    In ancient times, the notion of a flat Earth was the scientific consensus ...

    The word "ancient" has a flexible usage, so I can't exclude the possibility that M&C believe the erroneous claims about the flat earth idea.

    Countless American teachers have told children that scholars in Columbus' time thought the earth was flat, and also that flat earth was Catholic doctrine. It's important to correct this.

  6. One other thing, Lubos. Many teachers are idiots. (Some people would say "most," but I'm too cautious for that.) In 1957 or so, I was kept after school for arguing with my history teacher, who had "explained" to the class that Sputnik stayed up because "there's no gravity up there." :-)

  7. A pedantic correction (to display my British credentials): it is "Sir Michael" or "Sir Michael Atiyah" but never "Sir Atiyah" ;-)

  8. Thanks, Sir Andrzej – to display my spying credentials.

  9. Since I moved to Poland three years ago I have been driving a Skoda Fabia TSI, and it’s a very nice sprightly car. In Japan I used to drive bigger and more expensive cars but, for the price, the Skoda is excellent value and arguably more suitable for Polish roads.

    The poor quality of Skoda cars under communism was due entirely to communism, as the company had an excellent pre-war reputation. There were some other communist cars that were exported to the West: the Soviets used to export the Lada (see for some funny Lada jokes ), the Poles the Polonez (bilt under license from Fiat but much worse in every way) and the Yugoslavs the Yugo, perhaps the best of the lot but still pretty shoddy.

    Communism was able to destroy the quality and reputation of things that one would expect to be almost impossible to destroy. One of such things was the Hungarian (and Slovak) Tokaji wine. From the Middle Ages it was one of the most highly prized wines in the world. It had the first appellation control in the world, 120 years before bordeaux. It was the favourite wine of Polish kings and when Louis XV offered it to Madame de Pompadour he described it as “The wine of Kings and the King of Wines”. Under the communists the quality of the wine declined and it managed to loose the reputation that took centuries to acquire.

    Since the fall of communism it has been making a steady recovery and I can confirm that it is now very nice ;-)

  10. Men's hockey has the ultimate stake... The loser keeps Bieber:

  11. Luckily the Queen has so not yet given me a life peerage otherwise you would have betrayed my surname too ( ).

  12. I can only describe the women's result in scientific terms... Magic!

  13. Wow, the David Grass talk was extremely nice :-)

    Will have to test some of the others too !

  14. "On the other hand, e.g. equations from papers about loop quantum gravity manifest themselves just like a painting of Joseph Stalin's buttocks created by Trofim Lysenko using cattle feces or a concert by Pussy Riot."

    God help me, I love your sense of humor! Even better than The Big Bang Theory.

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