Wednesday, March 9, 2011

11th Asimov Debate re TOE and Strings

Clara Moskowitz reports on March 7th's 11th Annual Issac Asimov debates held Monday night at The American Museum of Natural History in this article at Live Science .

The participants were:

Neil deGrasse Tyson (THE Big Cheese at Hayden Planetarium, the best one on Earth) - Moderator

Lee Smolin (Perimeter Institute)

Brian Greene (Columbia U.)

Marcelo Gleiser (there may be no such thing as a TOE)

Hopefully you're well acquainted with those four, if not I linked their Wikipedia biographies.

The other three I'd only vaguely heard of in this my just-less-than-two-year return to Math Phys (I'm just a boy), so thanks to Wiki, I did my homework, to whit:

Katherine Freese - Dr. Freese is absolutely HUGE is the interface of particle physics and astrophysics, and IceCube in Antarctica is based in large part on her work. Another science giant I will be missing, dayam.

Janna Levin - Dr. Levin is into the universe being of finite size, a very interesting field in itself, as well as black holes and chaos. This makes her a natural for me to wish to hear most of all.

Jim Gates (U. Maryland) - Dr. Gates is big on SUSY and SuperStrings. I suppose he'll defend his camp. Would be REALLY interesting if they get away from TOE and talk SUSY, though.

Well, those were my thoughts going in, based on Peter Woit's announcement of the event on Monday the 7th,  here, which turned me onto the official announcement by American Museum, here.

Due to the short timing and prior commitments I was unable to attend (a shame since I live only 30 miles away), but Moskowitz's well-written article helped loads.

Anyway, since Peter Woit asked I informed him of Clara's March 8th article in the wee hours this morning, at his weblog NEW, and he deemed my comment worthy of passing his/Columbia's heavy moderation filter and so he published this by me:

Clara Moskowitz, in her 3/8/11 article on the 3/7/11 11th Asimov Debate:

When filtered through the lens of string theory, general relativity and quantum mechanics can be made to get along.

From the article:

“The progress [in string theory] over the last 10 years has only solidified my confidence that this is a worthwhile direction to pursue.”
… Brian Greene

“Are you [string theorists] chasing a ghost or is the collection of you just too stupid to figure this out?” Neil deGrasse Tyson teased, beginning a friendly banter that would continue throughout the night.

deGrasse Tyson later says if you’re making progress, keep pursuing it.

To which Peter immediately responded:

Thanks Steven,

I’d be curious to know what these “string theory predictions”are about large dimensions at the LHC and about structure in the CMB. As far as I know there are no such predictions, and for Freese to claim that they exist is intentionally misleading. Presumably what’s involved are things that stretch the term “prediction” far away from its conventional usage.

I suspect that when Brian is referring to progress in string theory, he’s thinking of things like AdS/CFT, not string theory unification. As far as unification goes, progress in the last decade has been negative (the landscape is not progress, quite the opposite).

It’s funny that it looks like the organizers were only able to come up with one person willing to argue that the extra dimensions lead to deadly problems, and that’s Jim Gates, who is a string theorist.

It also looks like the previously fashionable argument that “string theory predicts supersymmetry” has now vanished down the memory hole.

To which I responded to his response, which he did NOT let through, and shortly you will see why. I responded:

I only quoted the first 3 comments that stood out to me upon an initial read, but had I quoted a fourth it would most certainly have been Gates' quote, which surprised and amazed me. He is also quite big in SUSY, which makes it even more amazing. A change of heart, or perhaps an open-minded change of heart ala John Ellis perhaps? Also for those who attended was there any mention of SUSY? Some potatoes too hot?

I salute people of courage, everywhere. In this "game" which is quite a serious game and which I call "The War on Ignorance", the courageous are those who are open-minded and willing to admit they may have been wrong. The weak are those who refuse to bend. No shortage of them, huh?

If I were to quote a fifth it would be Janna Levin's: "Nowhere is it written that we 'have to solve problems in one human lifetime,' I don't see why we should be shocked that solving incredibly challenging problems may take more than one human life span."

No, indeed, I suppose not. But we do live in the age of the computer, meaning we have the tools right now to solve incredibly difficult Mathematical problems. It's not like where we live in the 1800's where it took 130+ years for Mendel's work to be recognized. Andrew Strominger at least has laid out a clear and honest admission of where the very theory he had a large part in creating and promoting succeeds and fails and what has to be done. That's courage, not excuse-making.

Freese, yeah, that was strange, but isn't she the IceCube specialist, whose work ruled out MACHOSs in favor of WIMPs? She's really hoping the CMB helps her specialty of neutrinos, I don't think Strings and TOE are her specialty. We'll see on that as well and in 2-3 years we'll know more when the new map arrives, yes? Penrose is hoping as well, um, again we'll see.

Yes I suspect you're right about Greene re AdS/CFT. Since the audience was general he couldn't go to into the particulars and I wish he did. In the future given the great intellects they assembled starting this at 10 am rather than 7 pm would be my call, the reason being there could then be actual "debates", debate-club style, rather than speeches and too few questions ala "US Presidential Debates" style, which aren't real debates at all. Rebuttals and defenses would be nice. Oh, well.

Can you see my error? It was about Jim Gates. As Peter responded to me via e-mail:

Hi Steven,

Actually Jim Gates (and some other string theorists) have always taken the position that to make string theory work you need a 4d version of it, that higher dimensions introduce deadly problems. About 4 years ago Gates and I agreed to do a debate about string theory in Florida, our hosts were disappointed to find that we didn't disagree about very much at all.

Best wishes,


Wow, really? A string theorist who doesn't wrap himself around the Calabi-Yau Manifolds, N=6 ? Awesome.

Now I have to read up on Gates in more detail. Cool cat, and thanks Peter, best wishes to you as well.

ADDENDUM: Participant Marcelo Gleiser has his own take on the event: here. By the way Dr. Gleiser, it's Freese not Freeze. All is forgiven though, that is one EXCELLENT weblog post.

Issac Asimov

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Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

You hit the nail on the head so far as the value of many public debates and lectures are concerned, in them having more to do with marketing than a general expansion of understanding. Now don’t take me wrong, as I’m not so much knocking the public promotion of scientific research, as actually we could use a lot more.

The truth being however is many who attend such lectures go there in part due to the celebrity factor and partly as having some strange hope that if they get close to the geniuses of the planet that some of it might rub off on them. Then again perhaps I shouldn’t be so cynical, as even in Elizabethan times, although many in the peanut gallery didn’t understand Shakespeare’s plays in any great depth; they enjoyed the raunchy humour and the general spectacle :-)

“‘The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.’”

-William Shakespeare, “As You Like It”, Act V, Scene I



Steven Colyer said...

Well, you attend many of these things at Perimeter, don't you Phil? I've only attended one, that being at Philoteces on the Nature of time, the "celebs" being Mark Shara of Hayden Planetarium and George Musser of Sci Am. The question period was too short, IMO. The audience had a lot of gray hair, at 52 I was one of the youngest in attendance.

In the long run it's all good, though. Better these events for the public than none at all. Can't wait for the video, even though as Bee said, nothing really new was revealed.