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These two puzzles although primarily the one about gravity which was discovered first are perhaps the main motivation for discussions of a cosmic landscape of vacua. Which is an idea that used to make me extremely uncomfortable and unhappy. I guess because of the challenge it poses to trying to understand the universe and the possibly unfortunate implications for our distant descendants tens of billions of years from now.
As I was for many years. GF  So just to conclude what would you say the principal challenge is all down to people looking at fundamental physics. I actually believe that string slash M theory is on the right track toward a more deeper explanation. Does that ever bother you. EW  Of course it bothers us but we have to live with our existential condition.
So in the early 80s there were a lot of hints that something important was happening in string theory but once Green and Schwarz discovered the anomaly cancellation and it became possible to make models of elementary particle physics unified with gravity. From then I thought the direction was clear.
The Speculative Edge, Issue 5, December 2012
But some senior physicists rejected it completely on the grounds that it would supposedly be untestable. Or even have cracked it would be too hard to understand. EW  So. So the scale of clues that I thought would materialize from accelerators has not come. And as I told you earlier that might be a clue concerning the landscape. No, others had good arguments and were right about this string theory is untestable and has nothing to do with LHC-scale physics , and you had bad arguments and were quite wrong.
That this clear result is not being acknowledged and is having no effect on faith in string theory is disturbing. Update : For another interview with an influential theorist, Sean Carroll has an interview with Leonard Susskind. Earlier , he explains. The problem here is almost exactly the same as the problem with the Symmetry article discussed in the last posting. Both authors believe that string theory is a conventionally predictive theory, one with predictions that just happen to be hard to test.
Unlike the Symmetry piece, McIntyre at least names critics and links to their words, writing:. The practical limitations may be all but insurmountable, but philosophical distinctions like demarcation live in the difference. The quoted words are mine, with footnote 23 referring to my article in American Scientist.
String theory not only makes no predictions about physical phenomena at experimentally accessible energies, it makes no precise predictions whatsoever. Even if someone were to figure out tomorrow how to build an accelerator capable of reaching the astronomically high energies at which particles are no longer supposed to appear as points, string theorists would be able to do no better than give qualitative guesses about what such a machine might show.
At the moment string theory cannot be falsified by any conceivable experimental result. Furthermore, near the beginning of the article I explain the problem of principle:. Matching string theory with reality requires that one postulate six unobserved spatial dimensions of very small size wrapped up in one way or another. All of the predictions of the theory depend on how you do this, but there are an infinite number of possible choices, and no one has any idea how to determine which is correct.
This article started out as an early arXiv posting and was published in early , about a year before the now famous KKLT claim to have a string theory model with fully stabilized moduli. You need to somehow give the moduli dynamics, and get a ground state with a correct fine-tuned vacuum energy. Their construction is so complicated, and non-perturbative string theory so poorly understood, that it remains controversial to this day whether these are really solutions to whatever the conjectural well-defined version of string theory might be. It seems to me there are lots of problems with this formulation.
But there really is a serious problem here, and those who worry about the string theory fiasco damaging the credibility of science in a dangerously post-truth world are right to be worried. Symmetry magazine today published an article on Falsifiability and physics , yet another in the genre of defense of current HEP theory against its critics. As usual, only defenders of the status quo are quoted, the critics remain unnamed and their actual arguments ignored.
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But where does this falsifiability requirement leave certain areas of theoretical physics? String theory, for example, involves physics on extremely small length scales unreachable by any foreseeable experiment. Cosmic inflation, a theory that explains much about the properties of the observable universe, may itself be untestable through direct observations. Some critics believe these theories are unfalsifiable and, for that reason, are of dubious scientific value. Update : Will Kinney has some appropriate comments. With the advent of nonperturbative dualities, it was hoped that this shortcoming can be bypassed.
Although the nonperturbative dualities have shed light in many obscure corners of string theory obscured by strong-coupling physics , they never managed to bypass the Planck barrier. The Planck scale is always duality invariant, and any dual description is well defined for energies well below that Planck scale. We have no clue from string theory what happens near or above the Planck scale, as the relevant physics looks nonperturbative from any point of view. The book is available online here if your university is paying for it… , and preprint versions of many of the contributions are on the arXiv.
The conference had its origins in a piece published a year earlier in Nature by George Ellis and Joe Silk, entitled Scientific method: Defend the integrity of physics. Ellis and Silk made a forceful case that widely advertised but inherently untestable string theory and multiverse research does damage to the public understanding of science and is a threat to the credibility of science at a time it is under attack. The piece suggested:. A conference should be convened next year to take the first steps. People from both sides of the testability debate must be involved.
On the issue of the problems of string theory, the volume contains nearly pages of pro-string theory hype, from Polchinski two contributions , Silverstein, Kane and Quevedo. String theory is a living proof of the dangers of excessive reliance on non-empirical arguments. Nothing of this has come true. All this was false. Still, Joe Polchinski, a prominent string theorist, writes  that he evaluates the Bayesian probability of string to be correct at This is clearly nonsense.
There are also interesting blog posts about the conference from Massimo Pigliucci, see here , here and here , and a Quanta piece by Natalie Wolchover here. Update : A few more links to material about the Munich conference: Jim Baggott here and here , Andrew Gelman here , Davide Castelvecchi here , and the conference website with videos here. Additional contributions were solicited by the editors with the aim of ensuring as full and balanced presentation as possible of the various positions in the debate.
With regards to string theory, the one additional contribution in the volume is from string theorist Eva Silverstein, so evidently the editors felt that balance required yet more on the pro-string theory side…. Update : I finally got around to watching the videos of the panel discussions at the workshop all videos available here. What most struck me about these discussions was the heavily dominant role of David Gross, who was on two of three panels, participating from the audience in the third.
On the panels he was on, Gross was speaking far more than anyone else, and rarely if at all would anyone disagree with him. But on the topic of string theory I think there are very serious problems with many of the claims he makes for his arguments of 15 years ago, see the first substantive post of this blog , and the organizers should have found someone willing to challenge him on those. Reviews Errata. Not Even Wrong. Skip to content. Home Frequently Asked Questions.
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Various Posted on June 18, by woit. Various particle physics-related news: The people promoting the FCC-ee proposal have put out FCC-ee: Your Questions Answered , which I think does a good job of making the physics case for this as the most promising energy-frontier path forward. Posted in Uncategorized 17 Comments. Various News Items Posted on June 4, by woit. It is rarely publicly acknowledged by scientists, but during the Trump years funding for a lot of scientific research research has increased, often dramatically. Each year the Trump administration produces a budget document calling for unrealistically large budget decreases which is completely ignored, with Congress passing large increases and Trump signing them into law.
Posted in Uncategorized 18 Comments. Posted in Book Reviews 45 Comments. Various Posted on May 13, by woit. Possibly of interest: Goro Shimura, one of the major figures in twentieth century number theory and arithmetic geometry passed away on May 3 in Princeton at the age of Princeton has an article about his life and work here. The Dutch publication de Volkskrant has an article asking if theoretical physics has lost its way. A commenter here points out an article in le Monde about the currently unresolved question of what to do with the , or so pages of writings left by Grothendieck at the time of his death.
There seems to be a consensus that someone should carry out the expensive project of having the pages cataloged and transcribed, but how to pay for this, and who should ultimately take ownership of the papers remains up in the air. From Michael Peskin wrote up some reviews of what was going on in HEP physics each year based on these lists, and has started doing so again for and These lists and the reviews are now dominated by astrophysical and cosmological topics, with little about HEP theory. To get an idea of what the hot topics are in HEP theory these days, take a look at the list of most frequently cited papers by hep-th preprints in Looking at one of the first talks on future colliders , I was surprised to see muon colliders listed as a potentially viable possibility, since I thought that the technology needed for those was still far in the future.
Posted in Obituaries , Uncategorized 26 Comments. Witten Interview Posted on May 2, by woit. About the landscape: These two puzzles although primarily the one about gravity which was discovered first are perhaps the main motivation for discussions of a cosmic landscape of vacua. GF  So you come to terms with it. GF  Really upset? Posted in Multiverse Mania , Uncategorized 38 Comments.
The Scientific Attitude Posted on April 29, by woit. Posted in Book Reviews 16 Comments. Falsifiability and Physics Posted on April 23, by woit. Posted in Uncategorized 33 Comments.