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Lee Smolin, division algebras, and deception

Lee Smolin is a top example of a pseudoscientist who keeps on producing would-be influential research by writing down chaotic papers that combine concepts from mathematics and physics in childish ways (or ways resembling the intoxication by drugs), who impresses some stupid laymen by claims that he is the savior of physics oppressed by the evil white men in physics, and who then demands to be given workers on his and similar ideas.

These subordinates – who are themselves hopeless people as physicists – who were donated to Smolin have written or co-written hundreds of additional meaningless and childish papers of their own which is why many of Smolin's ludicrous papers have managed to collect as much as hundreds of citations.

But nothing of a lasting value has ever come out of this kind of rituals. This is simply not how you can make progress in science. For progress to take place in science, one actually needs some clever ideas that work. Those can't really be planned. Some cleverness and expertise are probably necessary conditions but they're not sufficient. Some good luck is needed, too. Most ideas that are proposed aren't destined to become valuable. They're eliminated or forgotten. And the ability to impress the laymen isn't correlated with the progress in science at all.



I was recently reminded of Smolin's constant deception when I saw a comment that he posted in a recent SUSY thread on Not Even Wrong. Before I get to Smolin, let's look at the preceding comment by Claudia. After some SUSY-agnostic remarks, she wrote:

Sometimes I like to be a bit populistic. The argument that “we cannot know before we get there” can be made for any theory – also for the one that tiny green mice live inside particles above 100 PeV.
Yes, Claudia, you are surely being populistic but you are not being just populistic. You are also being scientifically illiterate because a scientifically literate person simply couldn't say that supersymmetry is analogous to tiny green mice.



Instead, a scientifically literate person – who has read at least a popular book such as The Elegant Universe – knows that supersymmetry is a generalized form of symmetry that extends rotations, translations, Lorentz symmetry, or – most appropriately – Poincaré symmetry that includes all these symmetries in a theory respecting the principles of special relativity.

Supersymmetry is as natural as rotations and translations – whose importance for the laws of physics is surely an established fact – and it is, in fact, a provably unique way (the unique class of graded algebras) how to extend the Poincaré symmetry with some extra generators that don't commute with the Poincaré algebra. In this sense, the supersymmetry algebra is completely unique.

That's very different from tiny green mice who are genetically related to regular mice – otherwise you shouldn't use the name. Just like humans, a mouse has 3.1 billion base pairs in its DNA. The number of DNA texts of this length is roughly\[

4^{3,100,000,000} \approx 10^{1,900,000,000}.

\] That's a much larger number than one. Up to several types of "extended algebras", supersymmetry is basically a unique extension of the established symmetries of the spacetime. On the other hand, the genes of the mice are highly non-unique – and come in many flavors where "many" has almost two billion decimal digits.

Those are the obvious reasons why the "apparently overlooked" supersymmetry algebra has been investigated in tens of thousands of papers written by brilliant theorists while tiny green mice at 100 PeV have not been. I think that every person who would have a chance to complete a physics-related college degree understands why Claudia's analogy is incredibly stupid. It's very bad if she weren't just joking – if she really misunderstands the stupidity of the analogy.

While the analogy to mice is incredibly stupid, the extra remarks that Claudia added already look like comments by an adult but it's still a stupid adult:
If one honestly thinks that nature is supersymmetric and that it is described by 130 parameters instead of the 25 of the standard model, one must provide some evidence – like we would require from the people who talk about little green mice.
Her interpretation of the different numbers of parameters and of the "duties" that are supposed to be implied by that difference is clearly widespread among the laymen – but it is totally dumb. There is zero rational reason to "dislike" supersymmetry because of similar reasons. Why? Because the Standard Model has about 29 parameters and every particle physicist knows that this effective theory with these 29 values of parameters is enough to describe all non-gravitational phenomena that have been clearly observed by now.

But it doesn't mean that 29 is the total number of parameters of any effective theory of Nature – or the maximum number that can ever arise. Instead, it is equally known that effective quantum field theories that describe Nature more completely – including processes such as cosmic inflation, leptogenesis or baryogenesis, and the existence and behavior of dark matter (and all of those things are proven facts to one extent or another) – almost certainly require more than 29 parameters.

It means that 29 isn't any "permanent constant of Nature". It's just the number of parameters describing the effective theory that is sufficient at one era of the evolution of physics. Just 20 years ago, in the late 1990s, people could tend to omit all the parameters linked to the neutrino mixings or masses. Two decades earlier, they could have omitted the third-generation quarks, and so on. In two decades, they may be forced to add some new effects – not necessarily related to SUSY.

In other words, Claudia is playing the game "29 parameters that we have is a rather small number and I must protect this number from growing". But this goal of hers is absolutely dumb because we know for sure that 29 isn't "the final answer" in any meaningful sense. The number 29 may grow when more detailed or higher-energy processes (e.g. those from cosmology I mentioned) are understood and new particles or forces are found. But the number 29 may also shrink if the effective theory is derived from a more constrained and more fundamental theory that is operating at a higher energy scale. Ideally, if one finds the correct stabilized string compactification describing Nature, all these 29 or 105 or any other number of dimensionless parameters will become completely calculable.

We can push the interpretation further. By her obsessive "protection of the number 29" (note that she wants to declare you a heretic if you just dare to suggest that the number could change! That would surely require at least Jesus Christ to arrive again, otherwise you can't even think about thinking about it), laymen like her are literally trying to stop and outlaw any progress in physics. Her sentence means this and nothing else!

Pretty much every important development in cutting-edge theoretical high energy physics will mean that the number of parameters needed by the state-of-the-art effective quantum field theory will change from 29 to another number – either lower or higher one. So everyone who obsessively wants to preserve the number 29 is just an idiot who is terrified by any progress in physics and who would like to ban it. The whole emotional label she is giving to the changing number 29 is completely upside down. That change of the important number describing the status quo is something that every intelligent physicist would celebrate and what he really wants to achieve! The desire to change the number 29 is almost the whole reason why the theoretical high-energy physics research exists at all. Her claim that "one needs extraordinary evidence" to think about theories with a different number is just incredible. One doesn't need any evidence to think about such theories – instead, thinking about such theories on the everyday basis is what the physics research means in this damn field and research in physics surely ceased to be a heresy many centuries ago. Physicists don't deny and don't overlook the fact that the Standard Model works very well in practice. But they also know it's not the final story and they just want to understand Nature better. You may call it mathematics or speculative philosophy but people who are smart simply find it important. Everyone who thinks that there's something unethical about this desire (to go beyond the current effective theories) and these efforts should return to the Middle Ages: she – e.g. Claudia – just doesn't belong to the 21st century. I don't know where you will get your time machine but I do know that you should fudge off.

Also, it's common sense that a theory with new particles and their masses has a greater number of parameters – masses and couplings of the superpartners after supersymmetry breaking. They add up to some 105 parameters of the MSSM, the Minimal Supersymmetric Standard Model. But this higher number of particles doesn't make the whole paradigm less likely. A particular random choice of parameters is less likely but the integral of the probability over the whole parameter space is arguably more likely than the probability of the Standard Model because even a spontaneously broken SUSY is a nontrivial extra feature of the effective theory – that is nevertheless compatible with the observations. In a more fundamental theory, ideally a string theory compactification, most or all of the 105 parameters mostly associated with the mechanism of SUSY breaking may be calculated. But I am not promising they will be calculated; instead, I can almost promise you that they won't be calculated if no one will try. Whether they will be calculated or not, this general picture is surely sane and possible. Whether people succeed in understanding such a theory in detail has no impact whatsoever on the probability that the theory is correct. As the laymen like Claudia clearly don't understand, science is not about promises to the laymen or voters. Nature and Her laws don't give a damn about promises or human success.

I thought I needed to give several paragraphs to this elementary point to prove how totally wrong the brainwashed laymen's thinking about all of particle physics – and indeed, what it means for science to "do well" – is. Almost all of their "desires" are completely upside down. They're celebrating things that should be viewed as disappointing and vice versa. OK, she calmed down a bit and her last sentence said:
My personal opinion is this: the interest in supersymmetry will decay rapidly as soon as another game in town arises.
Needless to say, as of February 2019, there is no coherent idea in phenomenological Beyond the Standard Model physics that would be more motivated and attractive than supersymmetry. Indeed, if you found something grander and more impressive than supersymmetry, you could become famous and overshadow supersymmetry and its theorists. But it's just a big "IF". Can such dreams that are backed by absolutely nothing play an important role in physics? I don't think so. The "grander idea" she promotes doesn't exist – at least in the sense that it isn't known right now – which is why her proposed scenario "what could happen" and "how she would spend the Nobel prize money" etc. is just irrelevant.

At any rate, I think it was the last sentence that was the most important one that provoked Lee Smolin to respond:
Dear Claudia, There are other “games in town.” There are variants of strong coupling models of condensates such as technicolour. There are models of substructure of quarks and leptons, called preon models.
This is a typical format of Lee Smolin's deception that is almost certainly linked to his far left political credentials. He wants to harm an idea or a person – so he invents the fairy tale that the idea or the person is one among 100 of similarly important ideas or persons. Egalitarianism par excellence. The only problem is a quantitative one. Even if we accept that e.g. preons and technicolor deserve to be studied by someone in 2019, and be sure that these paradigms are basically killed, unlike SUSY, the "size of these ideas" is incomparably smaller than the "size of supersymmetry".

Just take the Inspire database and look for the total number of papers and the number of recent papers with some phrases in the title. Supersymmetry will give you over 10,000 papers with the word in the title, including about 10 papers a month in the recent months or years (there are many more SUSY papers that don't have the word in the title, I hope you understand it). You need to add over 12,000 papers with Supersymmetric, including 15 papers a month in the recent epoch.

Compare it with Preon. That has just 219 papers in the history – and about 2 papers a year in the recent decade. Technicolor has 687 papers in total but in recent years, it's about 3 papers a year. Because I will discuss it momentarily, try Division algebra (which also lists the papers with "division algebras"). 61 papers in the total history and about 1 paper a year in recent years.

While both "supersymmetry" and "preons" exist as terms in physics, it is simply untrue that they're equally or comparably important in particle physics as of 2019. It's a lie implicitly conveyed by Smolin's sentences. Supersymmetry trumps these competitors by some two orders of magnitude. Lee Smolin – and everyone who deliberately obfuscates this "subtle" quantitative difference that breaks the egalitarianism – is a crook. Such a crook is analogous to a North Korean leader who says that North Korea is at least as rich and powerful as the U.S. Well, those politicians may say such things and the brainwashed populace may buy it but these statements have nothing to do with the truth and it's really unethical for the North Korean leaders to lie to the people. And because the ratio of the influence of North Korea and the U.S. is about the same as the ratio of the influence of supersymmetry and preons etc., Lee Smolin's deception is completely analogous to the propaganda painting North Korea as the belly of the world.

But preons and technicolor aren't really the kind of fringe research that Lee Smolin wants to primarily promote. Here is what he cares about:
There are people attempting to understand the deep structure behind the choices of gauge groups and representations of the standard model, such as Cohl Furey, arXiv:1806.00612 and previous papers.
The only problem is that they – e.g. Cohl Furey – are not real physicists and the papers don't make sense. Just look at the papers by the aforementioned Cohl Furey. Last year, there was a flood of politically correct media reports that presented Cohl Furey's paper as a revolution in physics. She was even given a job in Cambridge. What about the success of that amazing paper arXiv:1806.00612 as seen in February 2019? That damn pseudophysics paper has 5 citations, if I generously count one self-citation as well. The total number of citations of these 5 papers is 2. Both came from another paper by Furey but these 2 followups already have zero citations in total. You see that the numbers are rapidly, perhaps geometrically, shrinking with each generation. The total number of "descendants at all generations" of this "revolutionary" paper may be estimated to be of order ten.

You should compare these numbers to the important papers in theoretical physics like Maldacena's AdS/CFT that has over 10,000 citations, and if you sum the citations of the first generation of followups, you will get much more than 10,000, and in this way, the population of the "descendants" will keep on growing for many generations.

It's just completely ludicrous. The physics community knows that Cohl Furey's papers have no valid physics content. Cohl Furey understands neither field theory nor octonions. Octonions don't play any role in the Standard Model. Somewhat more generally, "general division algebras" play no role in the Standard Model because there exists no mathematical or physical reasons why probability amplitudes or observables of the Standard Model should be non-associative yet able to "divide each other" without singularities. Instead, observables always form an associative algebra, and they are what quantum mechanical theories are all about. And when we divide things, e.g. when a propagator is included in an expression, it's totally fine when the division has some singularities even when the denominator is nonzero. These singularities describe physical intermediate states which are actually very important – in some counting, these singularities in division that are located "away from zero" (which are banned in division algebras) know about all of the laws of physics again. To throw them away (by demanding a division algebra) would mean to throw all of physics away. The very idea that division algebras "should" occur there is a sign of someone's complete misunderstanding of quantum mechanics.

Now, if I quote it again, Smolin has used very euphemistic words:
Like all ambitious new ideas people can and have pointed our potential shortcomings of each of these.
But the problems with the "Standard Model and octonions" aren't "potential shortcomings". They are observations that immediately show that the whole way of thinking is completely wrong and the findings are either incorrect or vacuous. There is absolutely nothing else to be found here. It's dead as soon as it is proposed, much like the plan to build a theory of everything by assuming 2+2=5. Thousands of students donated to Lee Smolin may work on it for thousands of years but it's known in advance that they can't find anything. Intelligent scientists with integrity won't ever work on it and the other "scientists" who can work on it because they're not constrained by ethics or talent have no chance to find anything important. Smolin may get funds for thousands of marijuana-powered pseudoscientific papers from the laymen-sponsors whom he has brainwashed – papers designed to make the sponsors even more philosophically pleased – but he just shouldn't call it science. It's no science and it has no scientific or intellectual value; it is just a series of rituals performed by a ring of imbeciles. In science, one can't "pre-order" what the results should look like and if something doesn't work, it just doesn't work.

Now, Cohl Furey was probably hired by Cambridge, England, like a physics revolutionary, and she hasn't done anything from the articles that hyped her work last year. Almost no one else, except for about 4 other physicists who haven't done their homework, has joined that "program" because unlike the brainwashed laymen who are unable to figure out that Lee Smolin is just a babbling senile hippie, the theoretical physicists can add 2+2 – although most of them will use a much less colorful and crisp language than your humble correspondent. They know that the whole philosophy behind the Furey-style work is hopeless. By now, she may understand it, too. But she's been caught into a golden cage where she is basically pushed to pretend that she still believes the wonderful things that the inkspillers wrote about her incorrect paper a year ago. She may get a salary for pretending all these things but believe me, it's not a situation that can make anyone happy.

Lee Smolin is just deceiving the laymen and pushes them to believe in the "wonderful ideas" that are completely stupid and in deep theories in physics that don't exist. He is turning dozens of people into unhappy "alternative researchers" who must pretend that they believe the valueless stuff they are doing – for years or decades. The emergence of lunatics such as Sabine Hossenfelder, another protegee of Smolin's, who end up wanting to abolish all of experimental and theoretical particle physics is almost unavoidable when the likes of Smolin are allowed to do this fraudulent stuff and cripple the institutionalized science and dozens of human lives.

Now, I want to emphasize one phrase that appears four times – a whopping number – in Smolin's short comment: new ideas, new theories, newer ideas, new ideas. This adjective is clearly an important part of his marketing of all the pseudoscience that is being fed down the stupidest laymen's throats. There are two main problems with this phrase:
  • whether theories are "new" or "newer" has nothing to do with the question whether they're true or more accurate, likely, promising, or attractive
  • the ideas that he sells as "new" are not new at all and most of them are actually much older than the ideas he systematically attacks
Smolin is just lying and deceiving at every possible level. In particular, string theory was started by the 1968 Veneziano formula but only around 1973, people realized it came from a theory of strings. In the early 1970s, the supersymmetry began to emerge – in the West, it appeared within the world sheets of string theory first – but realistic supersymmetric model building began around 1980.

On the other hand, the structure – multiplication table etc. – of the last division algebra, the octonions, was found by John Graves in 1843. Arthur Cayley invented them independently and published the stuff in 1845, a few months before Graves published the same thing. This algebra is over 170 years old. To believe that the "youthful age of octonions" makes them promising to clarify the origin of the Standard Model is doubly stupid because the age is neither relevant nor low.

Incidentally, the very favorite yet meaningless and structureless 64-dimensional tensor product "algebra" that Furey hypes all the time isn't new, either – it was already promoted by a Geoffrey Dixon in the 1990s. It's hard to say what is her added value – even if you counted Dixon-like games as "contributions".

The last sentence of the comment in which Smolin tries to sell this whole enterprise says:
Even if one of the older ideas like supersymmetry turn out to play a role, it is likely at this point that the route to the right answer will involve new ideas such as the structure of the division algebras (and indeed there are links between the division algebras and SUSY.)
It's only "likely" if you define your "likelihood" as whatever garbage numbers and fantasies are prescribed by the incoherent babbling by a would-be researcher named Smolin. At this moment, science is aware of absolutely no evidence that would suggest that Smolin's sentence above is at least partly true. Instead, it looks almost certain that it is false because the operation of the "division" (with no singularities, except for the division by zero) and even the "non-associative multiplicative binary operation" has demonstrably been found nowhere in (or near) the Standard Model, despite the almost half a century in which the model was known.

So it looks almost certain that what Smolin claims to be "relevant for the Standard Model" is irrelevant and everyone who takes similar propositions by Smolin seriously is mindlessly devouring pure lies with no backing whatsoever.

But in the broader society, it probably makes no sense to try to persuade the laymen who are sitting on the fence. If someone can't figure out that Smolin is just a snake oil salesman without any integrity and genuine expertise in theoretical physics after listening to Smolin for one hour, or reading his texts for one hour, he or she will probably never be capable of thinking about theoretical physics and attempts to teach something real to that person are almost certainly futile. Even if I persuaded such people today, they may hear Smolin or another scammer tomorrow and these scammers' babbling will "undo" my explanations – because the listeners are nowhere close to an understanding what they're actually hearing. I believe that this blog is read by hundreds of people who aren't this hopeless and who still learn something but indeed, the very meaningfulness of such polemics against totally dishonest personalities such as Lee Smolin is highly questionable.

And that's the memo.

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