Taxes, Death, and Trouble With Physics

The discussion of Lee Smolin’s book just keeps on rolling. One of these days, I’ll actually finish it, and make my own informed comments. (It’s been a busy couple of weeks hereabouts.)

For the moment, I’ll have to settle for pointing you to two new reviews. One is by Sean Carroll at Cosmic Variance, who has posted the full draft of the review he wrote for New Scientist. It’s lengthy, and detailed, and I don’t have anything more specific than that to say, because I’ve only just reached the section introducing string theory.

The other, quoted by his Holiness, is an Amazon review by Peter Shor, of “Shor’s algorithm” fame, and describes the origin of string theory as a sort of con game on the part of nature:

String theorists (some time later): Wait a minute, Nature, there’s too many different ways to fold our Calabi-Yao manifold up. And it keeps trying to come unfolded. And string theory is only compatible with a negative cosmological constant, and we own a positive one.

Nature: No problem. Just let me tie this Calabi-Yao manifold up with some strings and branes, and maybe a little duct tape, and you’ll be all set.

String theorists: But our beautiful new theory is so ugly now!

Nature: Ah! But the Anthropic Principle says that all the best theories are ugly.

String theorists: It does?

Nature: It does. And once you make it the fashion to be ugly, you’ll ensure that other theories will never beat you in beauty contests.

String theorists: Hooray! Hooray! Look at our beautiful new theory.

I eagerly await the inevitable description of exactly what sort of intellectually bankrupt America-hating crackpot Shor is.

(Apologies to Marvin Gaye for the post title. It’s just too hard to resist.)


  1. #1 Uncle Al
    October 4, 2006

    LIGO is silent, string theory has 10^500 acceptable vacua with no observables, outside folks are whining, and general relativity triumphs,

    A chiral pseudoscalar vacuum background selectively falsifies classical and quantized gravitation theories. Opposite parity mass distributions fit into left-footed space with different energies (opposite shoes on the same foot). A parity-destroying transition must differ in energy for chemically identical opposite parity cases.
    Benzil xtal parity divergence is lost upon melting

    Align two calorimeters north-south hard by 45° latitude. Load 15-20 mg solution-grown benzil single crystal solid spheres, one space group to each calorimeter. Run enthalpies of fusion with fresh pairs of crystals at 0600 hrs (maximum signal), noon (null), 1800 hrs (maximum) and midnight (null). Repeat with calorimeters aligned east-west fpr a 6-hour output shift.

    A chiral pseudoscalar background exists if the eight pairs of enthalpies of fusion show four periodic divergences. Falsified are isotropic space, conservation of angular momentum, the Equivalence Principle; general relativity, quantum field theory, and string theory all at the founding postulate level. It contradicts no prior observation. It could happen. Cut the gab and do a definitive experiment.

  2. #2 PhysioProf
    October 4, 2006

    Re: Sean Carroll’s review of Smolin’s book

    This is a very well-written analysis. As I have mentioned before, I have no capacity to address the scientific merits of the debate, but Carroll’s analysis seems even-handed. It seems that his overall point is that the scientific and social dominance of string theory is based on it substantively being “the best game in town”.

  3. #3 ChemJerk
    October 4, 2006

    What I know of string theory could fit…well, within the dimensions of those tiny loops. Despite this or because of this, Smolin’s book is the perfect guide for the scientifically literature, but string theory ignorant type like myself. For me, however, the true value of Smolin’s book comes in Part IV in which he discusses science from a larger, philosophical context. It’s well-considered and well-articulated stuff to be sure. I have a sense that The Trouble with Physics will be a often referenced work in the years to come.

  4. #4 a little night musing
    October 4, 2006

    Make me wanna holla, way they do my math.

    - the theory of everything, according to Marvin Gaye

  5. #5 JoseIRS
    October 5, 2006

    If I must choose between the opinion that an expert in quantum computation and the opinion of a Fields medalist like Witten, a genius in mathematics and fundamental physics, on string theory I believe that there is no doubt.