Sunday, November 24, 2019

Places like the Harvard HETG group look healthy

The plot of Idiocracy takes place in 2505 but if one relied on the trend that is apparent in the media, it would be more realistic to estimate that the Idiocratic level of the societal intelligence would already be achieved around 2055: 15 years seem to be enough to lower the depth and accuracy of the discourse by one academic degree.

However, Idiocracy has explained the trend towards the stupidity as a biological one: stupid people were said to outf*ck the smart ones which is why that segment of the IQ spectrum grew in importance. Clearly, we aren't getting dramatic changes of the underlying composition within a decade or two. The biological setup of mankind is changing much more slowly. Even when migration is taking into account, the halftime of switching from Europe to the Middle East is comparable to half a century, I believe.

So the dramatic deterioration that is apparent in the media cannot be a reflection of the truly hard, biological changes of the society. It is mostly an artifact of the collapse of the occupation of journalists and other important occupations. It is a reflection of the wrong allocation of the human capital – šitty people have been acquiring important places in the recent years and decades (and especially in recent months).

If that is true, the problem is serious but it is much more reversible and solvable than problem reflecting a speedy biological deterioration would be.

I just went through all the graduate students and postdocs at the Harvard High Energy Theory group where I used to work – and I looked at their papers through URLs such as this Agmon example. And I must say: I see no tangible deterioration – relatively to the 1990s, for example – at all.

These junior people have published tons of nontrivial papers about the topics that their senior colleagues were recently famous for – and similar topics. So you find co-authors of the papers about the swampland, entanglement, even (alien, Stanford-based) KKLT compactifications, but also soft gravitons, Kerr black holes, superconformal this, bootstrap that, some SUSY phenomenology, and so on. The composition of topics seems healthy, the quality seems nice, things seem fine.

One may see that what these people at Harvard – and probably analogous top places – are doing has virtually nothing to do with the reporting about physics that more ordinary people are exposed to through the "mainstream" media – and even through the media that would like to market themselves as sources for the "smarter" people – in the recent decade or two. You still have a group that is doing serious science – instead of activists who would be echoing charlatans who live in the many worlds without proper quantum mechanics, who complain about the evil white men's science that has mathematics, one of the greatest tools of oppression etc.

One simple related statement is that the regular folks have actually never heard about the physics grad students and postdocs at Harvard. The single exception that is known to me is Sabrina Pasterski but she's also a pilot who also flies an aircraft she built – and that's probably a greater reason of her relative fame. But people still know very little about the kind of work that is being done at the most prestigious places – and what these people actually believe about physics and the Universe. No one ever asks them. The journalists or "journalists" find the opinions of self-confident morons – morons determined to be convenient for certain self-evident, illegitimate interests – much more important.

So I think that because the young generation is being brainwashed and turned into a bunch of stupid animals, individually but especially collectively, it must be true that the exceptions – young folks who can actually learn things like string theory, SUSY, or black hole information at the research level – must have an incredibly high chance to get to the best places now. Given the growing gap between the views of the best places and the "mainstream" propaganda, I wonder whether this situation is sustainable.

Will there be enough people for Harvard and other places to have HETG grad students in five or ten years from now? Will they be capable of preserving their traffic and funding in a society where almost everyone who is allowed to stay in the universities has been trained to redefine science as the worshiping of Scandinavian, psychologically ill, scientifically illiterate spoiled brats? Can it really work?

And are the young people who get to the Harvard graduate school doing better or much better than others of the same age? And if they are doing better (materially but not just materially), is the advantage sufficient to justify the risks that must be taken and investments that must be made for a young talented person to become a leading young high-energy theoretical physicist? Can it work at all?

Mainly because of the crippling influence of the new extreme left, the Western society seems to be crumbling. However, sentences such as the previous one are greatly oversimplified and overgeneralized. I think that those people who emphasize this mostly correct point – which may sometimes include your humble correspondent and many of you – are contributing to a self-fulfilling prophesy. They don't give a sufficient credit to many people and places where the world is still basically alright.

We just shouldn't do it too much. We shouldn't allow despair to be our overlord. We must appreciate the power of the self-fulfilling prophesies and try other prophesies to fulfill themselves. While we must avoid wishful thinking, we mustn't become defeatist. We mustn't allow to dismiss and underestimate people who are on the right side and who may be extremely important if all of us regain the self-confidence. In particular, we must never allow ourselves to pay lip service to the game that an individual obnoxious, dishonest, or brainwashed person is more important than a decent, honest, critically thinking one – just because the former have collectively acquired a greater influence over the human society than the latter ones in recent years.

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