One of the uncritical reviews was published in Nature. She belongs to the "oppressed sex" so she must surely be right in her disagreements with Wilczek, Weinberg, Polchinski, and Arkani-Hamed – to suggest otherwise would be an example of sexism. But I had to laugh when I saw the title and the punch line of a Forbes text by Ethan Siegel:
What is your standing? Why do you think you have the right to question the legitimacy of the research voluntarily chosen by a few hundred or at most a few thousand people in the world who think that they're doing something important?You know, this question is a very important one. When one of these crackpots spends much of his time by fighting against modern physics, it's hard to justify this jihad by financial considerations. Why? Less than 1,000 people are actually being paid as string theorists or something "really close" in the world now, and even if you realistically assume that the average string theorist is paid more than the average person, the fraction of the mankind's money that goes to string theory is some "one millionth" or so. Or 1/100,000 of the money that goes to porn or any other big industry. Moreover, the funds are allocated by special institutions or donors – they're too technical decisions that the taxpayer simply shouldn't make directly.
So the taxpayer money is unlikely to be a good justification of the frantic hateful efforts by which scumbags of the W*it and Sm*lin type are trying to hurt the image of physics in the eyes of the public (and, if possible, to outlaw string theory research), right?
So what is the actual justification of these attacks? Siegel has articulated his idea about the ultimate sin that is taking place:
By allowing string theory (etc.) research to exist, the mankind is wasting its best living minds on nonsense.Again, that's a really cute accusation.
Now, if your IQ is below 80, pretend that it is above 80 for a while. And whatever it is, try to answer the following question:
Imagine that in a room, there is BLM, one of the 1,000 world's Best Living Minds (well, surely not a member of the Black Lives Matter), and the average Joe AJ. They disagree about the kind of a theory or methodology that should be used to advance cutting-edge theoretical physics.Now, if you can't really understand why the second answer is right and the first is not, your IQ must be below 80. You're mentally closer to a chimp than to me. Call my attitude elitism or bragging or anything you want but it is really pure common sense and if you don't have it, you're not only stupider than the average "best living mind" among the top 1,000, and you're dumber than the average string theorist. You're also dumber than the average human – by a lot.
Based on the aforementioned data and nothing else, decide which of the two answers is more likely or true:
- The average Joe is more likely to be right than one of the world's best living minds. He knows which theory is good to advance theoretical physics. The best living mind should be employed by the average Joe and do what the average Joe tells him.
- One of the world's best living minds is more likely to be right about the right theory or methodology – because he's smarter than the average Joe.
You know, the best living minds may or should really be defined as those that have the potential to produce correct answers to difficult enough questions that are too hard for most people. So if he weren't better at answering questions such as "is string theory a far more promising way to go beyond effective quantum field theories than other ideas that were proposed as alternatives?", he just wouldn't be one of the best living minds! It's as simple as that. The statement is a tautology. I don't need to collect any additional evidence.
So you either assume that the 1,000 or so string theorists are among the best living minds – but then it follows that they're far more likely to be right about the choice of string theory than you are when you feel uncomfortable with string theory; or you decide that they're not actually the best living minds, in which case the research of string theory isn't wasting the intellectual capacities – it's wasting at most 1/1,000,000 of the mankind's money which is utterly negligible.
In reality, the number of string critics who systematically buy W*it-like books may be counted at least in tens of thousands – the number vastly exceeds the number of string theorists in the world. So why do they care about the existence of string theorists, a tiny minority in this "combined community"? Well, it's because the critics know that the minority actually matters in finding insights about physics, almost everyone knows that because the knowledge gap and intelligence gap is instantly obvious to the naked eyes, and they know it, too. By fighting against the minority, these anti-string activists know that they're fighting against the truth. It may be a truth that is inconvenient for their egos.
You don't really need to be a string theorist to understand that string theorists are the cream of the cream of the cream. Most people have met someone who belongs to the cream of the cream, e.g. an astronaut. Well, there's some extra selection related to the theoretical physics-related abilities needed to become a string theorist.
Most of you have attended an elementary school. Maybe 20% of someone's classmates really learns how to solve sets of linear equations. Out of those, 20% master linear algebra. Out of those, 20% master the basic mathematical apparatus of Hilbert spaces needed in quantum mechanics. Out of those, 20% have also learned the required physical background to work within quantum mechanics and so on. At the very end, 20% of the theoretical physics grad students may seriously start to work on string theory, 50% of such grad students write a decent paper to show they're not just students, and 20% of those join faculty at some point. 20% of those get some non-negligible grant and 20% of those get some major prize. When you think about similar selection mechanisms, you will determine that some 10,000 living people in the world have the capacity to learn everything needed to become a researcher in string theory – and about 2,000 living people have been actually trained to become string theory researchers.
I don't claim that my numbers are extremely precise or justifiable by surveys etc. It would be hard to define all these categories precisely. But the actual point is that the total selection is clearly massive and consists of many stages. Even much more ordinary people must know about the several stages of the selection – so the general concept just cannot be new for them.
At pretty much every level, the hurdles are almost entirely intellectual. Most people don't learn to systematically solve sets of linear equations simply because this methodology is too hard. Or it's too boring for some people but people are ultimately bored mostly because such activities devour too much of their mental energy. Among those who learn this stuff in the basic linear algebra, a majority cannot learn something more advanced because it's too hard for them. And the process continues like that. Most physics students say that they won't be theoretical physicists because they feel they're not smart enough for that. They are often (but not always) better than theoretical physicists in other, more practical skills. The final step from QFTs to string theory is completely analogous. String theory doesn't really "totally conceptually" differs from QFTs. The step from QFTs to string theory is very analogous to the step from non-relativistic quantum mechanics to QFTs. In both cases, you switch to an "even sharper toolkit", the switch requires additional skills, and there's another stage of selection. The critics sometimes pretend that string theory is a "totally different kind of activity" than QFTs (perhaps it's more like philosophy or religion) which is just plain rubbish. In practice, the work in string theory is a union of advanced methods in QFTs that are used in clever ways and linked to each other by links that aren't obvious from a pure QFT viewpoint.
Every sane person has some humility and realizes that he has some limitations – and some groups of people or at least some individuals are just smarter than himself, at least in some respects. I surely do realize that a hundred of theoretical physicists or more is better (and has always been better) than me at XY where XY may be chosen to be "almost anything" that is actually needed in contemporary research.
Edward Witten may be considered the world's smartest theoretical physicist but make no mistake about it: He genuinely believes that when it comes to various skills, especially those related to the original creative thinking, there are people who beat him. Witten is sometimes saying things just to sound humble. But in this case, he means it. When Witten said e.g. that Sen's discovery of the basic theorems about the tachyonic potentials in the late 1990s looked ingenious and Witten didn't know how and where Sen had managed to get those ideas, he probably wasn't lying. Witten was better at extending these ideas to a full-blown machinery with detailed equations and connections to concepts known to professional mathematicians (such as K-theory) than Sen. But yes, I do think that some physicists have a more penetrating intuition than Witten.
Everyone who is sane realizes that there are people who are smarter when it comes to the creative thinking of a theoretical physicist, other or the same people who are better when it comes to the mathematical abilities, and other things – or at least in some very particular, isolated, special skills. Only arrogant morons – who usually don't belong to the cream, let alone the cream of the cream, let alone the cream of the cream of the cream – may assume otherwise.
So Siegel's accusation is tautologically nonsensical. The best living minds are exactly those who are the best at deciding about the very deepest questions, so by definition, it would be counterproductive for them to obey the instructions related to these very matters issued by someone else – e.g. by the average Joe or by Ethan Siegel.
Unless you are really stupid, a person with the IQ below 80, you must actually understand (even if you pretend otherwise) that the disagreement about the value of string theory (etc.) between the (let us assume that they are) best living minds and the average Joe (or the average college student) has a very simple explanation: the best living minds are right and the average minds are not. The value of string theory is a damn complicated question. The average minds obviously haven't learned string theory, so they can't meaningfully decide whether something is good or bad about it. They may at most estimate the length of the emperor's nose that they've never seen. Their relevance for this question is on par with the monkeys' relevance.
Should the average Joe dictate the framework in which the world's best living minds should operate and think? Should the average Joe decide whether the best living minds will be kindly allowed to think about string theory? Should the best living minds be employed as bricklayers effectively supervised by the average Joe? I hope not. My country has gone through communism that has basically introduced this system. In effect, the system was equivalent to the elimination of the actual elites – on top of those who were elites purely according to their inherited social status – and the whole nations suffered as a result. They had to.
If someone is better at thinking, he should have the freedom to think (well, everyone should have this freedom) – and he should have a bigger impact on decisions, especially esoteric ones and especially decisions about his own life (and his own research if he's a researcher), than the average Joe. The reasons are exactly the same as the reasons why we send good athletes, and not the average ones or non-athletes, to the Olympic games and why the music played on the radio is usually composed by better, and not subpar, composers.
If someone has dedicated a few years to these matters and he has failed to learn string theory and to understand that it's the only known promising way to go beyond quantum field theory as of 2018, then I can assure you that his IQ is below 150. If he has won a Nobel prize, the good luck has played some role (well, there have been several physics Nobel prize winners with the near-average IQ around 120, too – they could only get the prize with some luck but couldn't systematically push the cutting edge of theoretical physics). He or she can be smart relatively to the average Joe (and the average Joe may honestly fail to see that the person isn't a member of the cream of the cream of the cream – because the degree of nesting may effectively look infinite and the difference between 140 and 170 may be hard to see if you look from the level 90) but he or she is also significantly and demonstrably dumber than any of the world's 1,000 best minds if you compare these people with some appropriate tools.
If you investigate what smart enough people – who have cared about these matters – honestly think about string theory, you may really measure their intelligence in this way. The more they appreciate string theory, the smarter they are. I don't say that the relationship is perfectly precise but the correlation is very strong. It's because string theory demonstrably works as a solution to numerous problems of the classical GR and of the QFTs, it's internally consistent, and it provides us with consistency checks and "good news" that weren't a priori guaranteed and that increase the probability that it's a conglomerate of ideas that deserves to be studied seriously. But to understand these seemingly easy claims – about string theory's consistency and its ability to produce insights beyond GR and QFTs – you simply need high intelligence. The higher IQ you have, the clearer picture you will be able to get. Most people, including a majority of string theorists, significantly underestimate the value and importance of string theory.
Some people may say nice things about string theory but if you ask what they really think and how, they won't be sure. It's easy to find out that the wisdom is fabricated if it is fabricated.
Various people who ultimately ended up as critics of string theory have tried to learn string theory and understand the reasons why string theorists think that string theory is on the right track. But they have failed. They have failed for a simple reason. String theory is just too hard for them. They don't have the courage to admit (to themselves and others) the self-evident fact that they just don't belong among the world's top 10,000 minds because of this failure. So they invented this whole propaganda about string theory's being evil, terrible, unfalsifiable, too ugly, or too beautiful, but certainly despicable. And there are lots of morons who happily join this movement because at many levels, they also want to pretend that they are smarter than they are. They want to play this game in front of the world – and in their own eyes.
But it's you, comrades, and not string theory, where the problem sits. The problem is with your limited intelligence, arrogance, and lack of integrity. You may find thousands of people who are similar to you, who buy your books for undemanding audiences, and who will help you to deny the obvious facts. But the facts won't change. You will still be trash intellectually and morally.
And that's the memo.
The Guardian hit piece against Einstein
The British left-wing daily has chosen Albert Einstein as the ultimate racist. Why? Because while in China, he was surprised by the spiritlessness and obtuseness of the Chinese, including the kids. They look like a herd-like nation resembling automatons and the arrangement of their bodies while eating reminds us of the Europeans' configuration while relieving themselves in the leafy woods. If, in combination with the fecundity (which existed at that time), it would mean that the Chinese would dominate the world population, it would be a "pity", Einstein thought.
Einstein also pointed out that the Chinese society already looked like a feminist hell – there was very little difference between men and women – and he didn't understand how the Chinese women can make the men horny which was arguably needed for the survival. (Well, the answer to this Einstein's puzzle is in the proper calibration, I think. Einstein just wasn't calibrated in the same way as the Chinese men so even if he failed to be aroused during his visit to Asia, this fact as well as his surprise had to be unsurprising.)
You know, I've liked numerous Chinese folks, usually students, and I've noticed that people from Taiwan etc. usually behaved basically just like the Westerners. But I would feel like a complete idiot if I tried to contradict Einstein about the typical people from the mainland China. The differences in the personality between the Europeans – and the Jews – on one side and the Chinese on the other side are so obvious that only a pure moron or a hypocrite may deny them. They must struck every Westerner. In some cases, the differences may be imagined to be neutral – a matter of different cultural habits. In others, it's hard to "retrain" ourselves in this way. Instead of attacking Albert Einstein, comrades, what if you considered the possibility that the smarter person was right in this case as well, while you're either wrong or you pretend to believe something else than you believe?
Einstein described the folks in Ceylon as living in filth while the Japanese were appealing and admirable, but were still mentioned with some negative labels elsewhere.