Saturday, December 31, 2016

The ER-EPR correspondence does deserve the time of Hollywood actresses

After a one-year-old 12-minute video about Stephen Hawking, Paul Rudd, and quantum chess that got over 2 million views, Caltech has released another 11-minute video
Quantum is calling
where actress Zoe Saldana along with Stephen Hawking promote Juan Maldacena's ER-EPR correspondence whose title page was kindly signed by Lenny Susskind, too. ;-) These short films also feature Keanu Reeves, Simon Pegg, and John Cho. I admit that I haven't watched either film in the entirety yet – I plan to fix the bug soon. Well, I still faithfully watch every second of The Big Bang Theory where similar stuff appears but that stuff is a part of a story I care about. I am not sufficiently motivated to watch similar film segments in isolation.

Tetragraviton claims that the ER-EPR correspondence does not deserve this kind of the "star-studded" Hollywood "treatment". Well, he is just wrong.

A part of my disagreement with him may be a scientific one. He may misunderstand how strong the case for the ER-EPR duality actually is. ER=EPR is substantiated by much stronger evidence than e.g. the Cosmic Censorship Conjecture was. That one only said "why not" – why shouldn't the classical GR be enough to determine all major aspects of the observable behavior of singular geometries. But the classical GR doesn't need to be consistent in this sense. It may very well be sick or incomplete in the presence of singularities and quantum gravity may be both necessary and sufficient to fix the bugs.

By coining the phrase "Cosmic Censorship Conjecture", Penrose really only asked a good question and offered his provoking answer, not real evidence in either way. And indeed, I think that the modern evidence indicates that even the weakest forms of the Cosmic Censorship Conjecture are false in a general spacetime dimension.

ER=EPR is different. The paper actually contains quite some checks that the conjecture is consistent with everything we know about quantum gravity. Moreover, I do actually agree – at least vaguely – with some papers that propose something that seems like a proof of ER=EPR within a particular context or formalism and I have found similar additional "limited proofs" myself.

So yes, ER=EPR is less well-established than the AdS/CFT correspondence. But whether you like it or not, it is one of the most convincing deep theoretical results of the recent 5 years in theoretical physics. Why shouldn't at least some Hollywood actors care – and spend their time with – the new ideas coming from theoretical physics at least once in 5 years? I am getting to the "social" part of my disagreement with Tetragraviton and I believe that this portion of the disagreement is the more important part.

Tetragraviton basically says that Zoe Saldana is "too big a star" for the promotion of the Maldacena-Susskind ER-EPR correspondence. The most well-known idea of Maldacena and Susskind in recent 5 years doesn't deserve to bother someone as great as Zoe Saldana. Please, Tetragraviton, give me a break with this amazingly offensive garbage.

First, without this film, I wouldn't be actively aware of the name Zoe Saldana. I may have seen her in a movie but I just wouldn't care about the name. She's in no way a superstar of the same caliber as Maldacena and Susskind. Maldacena and Susskind are almost certainly in top 20 of the living theoretical physicists – and I really wanted to make a near-certain statement while the best estimate of the ranking would include a much smaller (better) number than 20. Zoe Saldana isn't a top 100 actress.

Wealth isn't everything but it's more well-defined than other things. Look at the top 100 actresses by net worth. Dina Merrill is at the top with $5 billion but most of it isn't from her acting. She's been married to and otherwise related to Colgate and Lehman Brothers, among others (the Lehman Brothers are obviously not a synonym of a financial cataclysm for everyone!).

The stars that got rich by acting start at $300 million, 5 actresses are above $200 million, and I actively know about a third of the names. It's fun to look at the list. People like me often say that the Hollywood employees are overpaid and overrated but there are actually lots of entries on this list who seem underpaid to me. I expected Angelina Jolie to be wealthier than $200 million (rank #7) and Jennifer Aniston (rank #14) to be wealthier than $150 million.

For several others of "my darlings", I could carefully choose a more passionate formulation. I am convinced that if all the people in the West admired Sandra Bullock as much as I do, she would be wealthier than $125 million (rank #19), Salma Hayek would be somewhat richer than $85 million (rank #31), Meg Ryan would be wealthier than $45 million (rank #80), and Anne Hathaway would be vastly wealthier than $35 million (rank #96, barely in this list). I loved her in "Get Smart [2008]" a few days ago and I haven't even reminded you that she is a string theorist. She would probably be happier to shoot quantum videos than Saldana.

Kaley Cuoco aka Penny is listed with $51 million which seems about right after 100 episodes of TBBT with a $1 million salary per each. The wealth is about right given the fact that she is mainly a cute, hot, and practical TV wife of a physicist – and a friend of a brilliant one. ;-)

To compare, Zoe Saldana's net worth is some $15 million and she's safely out of the top 100, maybe even top 200. Why the hell would Tetragraviton say that she's too big a star to do something to promote ideas of Juan and Lenny? She's definitely not. And note that Penny has earned by a factor of \(\pi\) if not \(2\pi\) more than Saldana by being a friend of the physicists who aren't even considered the most famous ones in the world. Why couldn't Saldana try to do something for the fame of the most famous physicists?

After all, you may also notice that Saldana's net worth of $15 million is closer to Susskind's or Maldacena's assets (just the Milner prize is $3 million) than e.g. to Angelina Jolie's $200 million. Well, I even think that Susskind is a better entertainer and would be a better actor than Saldana so Saldana wouldn't be superior even if you accepted that actors are superior over physicists, which I surely don't accept.

You know, the ER-EPR correspondence may be considered "unproven" now. But it's a vastly more solid and profound piece of science than way over 90% of the stuff that the Hollywood stars and other players in the mass culture promote whenever they touch something that they consider "science-like". That includes things like the dangerous man-made climate change (not only because of Leonardo DiCaprio or Arnold Schwarzenegger), Tom Cruise's scientology and lots of other religious superstitions of other actors, and pseudoscience such as the Bohmian mechanics with oil droplets, loop quantum gravity, surfer dudes, Penrose's and Hameroff's gravitationally collapsing waves of consciousness in the brain, and hundreds of other outrageously stupid things that have been debunked on this blog. Most of these things were "invented" by people whose credentials weren't comparable to Susskind's or Maldacena's. Even if the ER-EPR turned out to be wrong, it's still a recent pet idea by two physicists who have surely done other valuable things in the past. Even this fact is an argument – a sociological argument – why it's right for the entertainment industry to pay attention to the idea.

Even if the ER-EPR is detectably "less established" than AdS/CFT – or the Standard Model, for that matter – it's in a much higher class than almost every science-like stuff that the Hollywood stars love to hype.

At the end, I think that Tetragraviton doesn't really like physics – or doesn't believe in its superiority. Maybe he started to do things like amplitudes in supersymmetric gauge theories after he failed as a Hollywood actor. But Caltech is a reasonable place to hire actors to promote science because Caltech realizes that physics is what is superior. If I borrow the words of a Caltech instructor named Richard Feynman:
Finally, may I add that the main purpose of my teaching has not been to prepare you for some examination—it was not even to prepare you to serve industry or the military. I wanted most to give you some appreciation of the wonderful world and the physicist’s way of looking at it, which, I believe, is a major part of the true culture of modern times. (There are probably professors of other subjects who would object, but I believe that they are completely wrong.).

Perhaps you will not only have some appreciation of this culture; it is even possible that you may want to join in the greatest adventure that the human mind has ever begun.
Again: The physical picture of the world around us represents a key part of the genuine culture of our epoch. I have repeatedly used these modified words because they were the back-translation of the sentence from the version of the Feynman Lectures in Physics that I was actually learning from – the Slovak edition, if you care. ;-)

I think that Tetragraviton prefers to envision a world in which brain-dead Hollywood celebrities are in charge, dictate what should actually be believed (including scientology and global warming) and top-20 physicists should feel embarrassed when a not-top-100 actress spends one valuable day of hers by recording a 10-minute video about their work. Sorry, they shouldn't feel embarrassed.

Let me conclude with another relevant quote by Feynman:
Is no one inspired by our present picture of the universe? This value of science remains unsung by singers: you are reduced to hearing not a song or poem, but an evening lecture about it. This is not yet a scientific age.
Too bad that even some physicists – such as Tetragraviton – seem to disagree with the very statement that pure science remains heavily underrated by and undeservedly insufficiently thrilling for the broad public.

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