Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Lisi vs Distler War

God only made so many perfect heads, the rest he covered with hair.

That's A. Garrett Lisi, rogue and independent PhD. in Physics, whose particular theory of E8, "An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything," is the most-downloaded arXiv preprint paper in High Energy Physics-Theory (hep-th) history. The title is a pun on the algebra used, the Lie algebra of the largest "simple," "exceptional" Lie group, E8.

Well, guess what? He has a followup: An Explicit Embedding of Gravity and the Standard Model in E8, and like his first preprint mentioned above, it's being attacked by U. Texas Physicist Jacques Distler and his frequent co-author, Emory U. Mathematician Skip Garabaldi.

Skip is quoted at Science Daily in an article attacking Lisi's theory, here.

Garabaldi will be giving a talk at a workshop in Banff, Alberta this week, here. Lisi will be in attendance and no, Skip is not there to praise Lisi's theory, but to bury it. (Sort of a reverse Mark Antony speech thing.)

Dr. Distler runs one of the oldest and most respected Science blogs, Musings. His attack on Lisi's latest paper can be found, here.

I'm not sure what to make of all this except, more drama! I'm certainly not qualified (yet) to discuss the math. I also don't know any of the three principles nearly as well as I'd like to, to comment on the personalities involved. I will say that Jacques shuts Lubos Motl the hell up harder than usual, and bans him from his weblog, in this article at Musings. Go straight to the bottom of the replies section and watch a professional spanking of Lubos, by someone in his own field!

Stay tuned, and a happy 4th of July to my fellow Americans, including Drs. Lisi, Distler (who started out as a Canadian, that's fine, he lives here now) and Garabaldi.


You are

1. unable to read,

2. lazy,

3. abusive.

I could abide 2 out of the 3, but not all 3.
Your posting privileges here are at an end.

... Jacques Distler

That was Distler's response to this little prose by The Dali Motl:

Why don’t you apply the same complaint against the conventional Euclidean signature of the worldsheets …

Your homework about the RR scattering is trivial …

You behave as dishonestly as Peter Woit …

... Lubos Motl


Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

What is it with theoretical physicists these days in many being totally unable to play nicely? It would have one believe that ego and IQ are correlated somehow, yet that can’t be true as Einstein was a fairly nice fellow so therefore it must be something else. Perhaps it’s simply the frustration many feel, that being despite a strong concerted effort now for more than thirty years physics has made no significant advances past the standard model. I think those that get so heated up should either cool it or quit if you ask me. Perhaps it’s time for someone to write a book expounding on all this with borrowing the tilte idea from Tom Wolfe and call it “The Wrong Stuff” :-)

Well one thing I’m certain of they should be reminded what doing physics is all about and what its rewards are.

“Some physicists, among them myself, cannot believe that we must abandon, actually and forever, the idea of direct representation of physical reality in time and space; or that we must accept the view that events in nature are analogous to a game of chance. It is open to every man to choose the direction of his striving: and also every man may draw from Lessing’s fine saying, that the search for truth is more precious than its possession. “

=Albert Einstein-“The Fundamentals of Theoretical Physics” in the journal [Science- May 24, 1940]



Steven Colyer said...

There's lots of reasons I suppose, Phil. I would like to point out though that Mathematicians get along ten times better with each other than Physicists do.

1) "Publish or Perish", and Tenure. These are horrible ways to run an Institution, especially Universities. When Plato and Aristotle started the first ones, it was about ideas first, students second, withe teachers being there to support and guide.

But the present system is about Professors first. That is wrong. The best and freshest ideas come FROM the young people. In short, if there were no students, the professors would be out of a job, but if there were no teachers, youth would still learn.

The upshot is messy competitiveness, and unnecessarily so. Leave competition where it belongs ... in the business world. But, no-o-o. The capitalist system is far too ingrained now in Academia. More's the pity.

2) "All work and no play makes Jack a rude boy." Not everyone treats people the same as Einstein did. Come to think of it, Einstein didn't treat his two wives all that well, by his own admission. Edwin Hubble was down-right mean-spirited, and you know about Newton. David Gross was difficult to get along with. My contention is that competitiveness combined with the urge of these geniuses to out-genius their peers leads to warped personalities.

Perhaps they would be better off if they took up Music, like Einstein or Andrew Thomas. It has a calming effect. Many take up rock-climbing, like Heinz Pagels, Seth Lloyd, Lisa Randall, and Skip Garabaldi. No, thanks, I'll stick to guitar. It's much less stressful.


Steven Colyer said...

3) Insecurity issues. Everyone knows Physics is only the 2nd hardest field of Study. Mathematics is the hardest. Nobody likes being #2. :-)

My 2 cents.