Quantum gravity physics based on facts, giving checkable predictions

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

So how did string theorists dupe the world?

[Illustration credit: Dr Wolfgang Pauli. Note: the Nazi physicist Werner Heisenberg's self-hyped 'radio advertisement' for his wonderful but detail-missing unified theory made Dr Wolfgang Pauli sarcastically send out pictures of empty frames stating 'This is to show the world that I can paint like Titian. Only technical details are missing.' Peter Woit comments: 'Because no one knows what [Edward Witten's stringy] 'M-theory' is, its beauty is that of Pauli's painting.']

[Note: I've compiled a long list of distinguished experts from Feynman to Penrose who talk hard facts (against stringy stuff) in the previous post.]

'In the first section the history of string theory starting from its S-matrix bootstrap predecessor up to Susskind’s recent book is critically reviewed. The aim is to understand its amazing popularity which starkly constrasts its fleeting physical content. A partial answer can be obtained from the hegemonic ideological stance which some of its defenders use to present and defend it. The second section presents many arguments showing that the main tenet of string theory which culminated in the phrase that it represents "the only game in town" is untenable. It is based on a wrong view about QFT being a mature theory which (apart from some missing details) already reached its closure. ...

'A guy with the gambling sickness loses his shirt every night in a poker game. Somebody tells him that the game is crooked, rigged to send him to the poorhouse. And he says, haggardly, I know, I know. But its the only game in town. - Kurt Vonnegut, The Only Game in Town [13]

'This is a quotation from a short story by Kurt Vonnegut which Peter Woit recently used in one of the chapters in his forthcoming book entitled Not Even Wrong : The Failure of String Theory & the Continuing Challenge to Unify the Laws of Physics (using a famous phrase by which Wolfgang Pauli characterized ideas which either had not even the quality of being wrong in an interesting way or simply lacked the scientific criterion of being falsifiable).' - Professor Bert Schroer, arXiv:physics/0603112, p1.

Predictably, Dr Motl has launched into a paranoid attack on Professor Bert Schroer, just because of a poem in the paper which happened to mention someone called Motl: http://motls.blogspot.com/2006/03/bert-schroers-paper.html. But, alas, the issues are real:

'I argue that string theory cannot be a serious candidate for the Theory of Everything, not because it lacks experimental support, but because of its algebraic shallowness. I describe two classes of algebraic structures which are deeper and more general than anything seen in string theory...' - T. A. Larsson, arXiv:math-ph/0103013, p1.

'The history of science is full of beautiful ideas that turned out to be wrong. The awe for the math should not blind us. In spite of the tremendous mental power of the people working in it, in spite of the string revolutions and the excitement and the hype, years go by and the theory isn’t delivering physics. All the key problems remain wide open. The connection with reality becomes more and more remote. All physical predictions derived from the theory have been contradicted by the experiments. I don’t think that the old claim that string theory is such a successful quantum theory of gravity holds anymore. Today, if too many theoreticians do strings, there is the very concrete risk that all this tremendous mental power, the intelligence of a generation, is wasted following a beautiful but empty fantasy. There are alternatives, and these must be taken seriously.' - Carlo Rovelli, arXiv:hep-th/0310077, p20.

‘With such a dramatic lack of experimental support, string theorists often attempt to make an aesthetic argument, professing that the theory is strikingly ‘elegant’ or ‘beautiful.’ Because there is no well-defined theory to judge, it’s hard to know what to make of these assertions, and one is reminded of another quotation from Pauli. Annoyed by Werner Heisenberg’s claims that, though lacking in some specifics, he had a wonderful unified theory (he didn't), Pauli sent letters to some of his physicist friends each containing a blank rectangle and the text, ‘This is to show the world that I can paint like Titian. Only technical details are missing.’ Because no one knows what ‘M-theory’ is, its beauty is that of Pauli's painting. Even if a consistent M-theory can be found, it may very well turn out to be something of great complexity and ugliness.' - Dr Peter Woit, ‘Is string theory even wrong?’, American Scientist, March-April 2002, http://www.americanscientist.org/template/AssetDetail/assetid/18638/page/2#19239


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