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Strings 2016 look more stringy than in previous years

The picture is meant to convey the idea that people of Mongolian appearance have played with strings long before Veneziano

The Strings 2016 annual conference has gotten started in Beijing, China (Tsinghua University):

List of talks, schedule and slides, fresh pics, videos (2-day delay, seemingly unusably low bandwidth), main page
Looking at the list of talk titles, I do think that the composition of the talks is much more stringy than at the previous annual string conferences.

In particular, a huge and growing fraction of the talks were about "ordinary quantum field theory" that was just being studied by people who have also been string theorists – but could have been (and was) also investigated by particle physicists with no stringy background. I think that the phrases such as "string theory" are defined by the content, not by the personality of a group of people, so the evolution seems like a sensible one to me.

This year, a large fraction of the talks has something to do with the dynamics on the world sheet, the integrability issues, applications of intrinsically stringy mechanisms in mathematics, topological string theory, and low-dimensional dualities.

There are talks on topics that could be viewed as fancy exceptional structures emerging in string theory such as the \(p\)-adic AdS/CFT, actions for \(G_2\) holonomy compactifications as well as non-Kähler compactifications and BCOV on Calabi-Yaus, nonperturbative topological strings, classification of symmetries in F-theory, bootstrap in 2D, six-dimensional decoupled theories, among others.

To emphasize a key traditionally stringy adjective, let me point out that whopping 15 talk titles contain the acronym "CFT" or the adjective "(super)conformal".

The holographic talks also seem to be focused on formal string topics, rather than applications. That includes talks about the bulk/wedge reconstruction (in normal as well as higher-spin theories; three talks have "higher spin" in the title), and flows-vs-holography links. There are some black hole information, entanglement entropy, and e.g. three BMS and soft hair talks as well but this subtopic isn't overinflated. Three talks have (our) "weak gravity conjecture" in the title (and I think that another talk has WGC in the content) which I find as surprisingly too many.

I don't want to soft-soap the people's republican comrades too much but this apparent change of the trend looks like a healthy thing to me. One reason why the non-stringy topics were so widespread in recent years was that the organizers always wanted the speakers to talk about "really new stories" from the previous years and the bare QFT-like work of some string theorists often seemed to satisfy this prescription best. In that way, the conferences could have been maximally fashionable (a sort of a Western postmodern attitude) but the essence, string theory, seemed like gradually evaporating from the conferences.

However, this Beijing conference focuses on new research about "broader stringy topics" that have been mostly around for a decade or a few decades which seems reasonable to me. Physics isn't a system of a the Trotskyist permanent revolution where everything has to be destroyed and built from scratch every year. Physics builds on solid Maoist fundaments, of course. Just kidding with this new expansion of the term M-theory. ;-)

Many topics are very interesting, people keep on working on them, and it's right when the rest of the world has an opportunity to see the workers in the real life and hear about the current state of various mostly established subdisciplines of string theory. With this broader selection of topics, one is preserving both the intellectual and creative diversity and the stringy added value as well as many people's relationship to research that they appreciate and roughly understand but don't work on themselves (at least now).

Good luck to Strings 2016.

My understanding is that China – and even the participants of the conference – don't have access to the free Western Internet, e.g. this blog (and the rest of blogs, among lots of other places).

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