Professor Clifford V. Johnson and Assistant Professor Lubos Motl
Dr Johnson has very kindly given some useful advice and hosted some comments I've made recently, as has Dr Motl. This is encouraging. I've now given up hope that Dr Peter Woit of Not Even Wrong is going to do anything further in directions I'd find interesting, so I've just bought my first ever domain, http://www.quantumfieldtheory.org/ (nothing is there yet, I've bought it with 2.5 GB, but I haven't uploaded anything so far, so you won't find anything for a day or two!).
That site will contain my complete evaluation of the subject, including objective assessments of the useful ideas in string theory and loop quantum gravity. For the meantime, you can browse recent posts and their comments on the alternative blog https://nige.wordpress.com/.
String Theory and the Crackpot Index
By glor in Science
Thu Nov 02, 2006 at 10:08:39 PM EST
Tags: string theory, crackpot index, popular physics (all tags)
Recently two books, by Peter Woit and by Lee Smolin, have been published questioning whether the enormous theoretical effort applied to the problems of string theory has been fruitful. Both books have been reviewed in several popular publications, and generated substantial discussion both inside and outside of the physics community.
One response was published several days ago by Briane Greene on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times (also here). A famously grouchy observer called the editorial a long, wistful plea for patience. But what struck me most as I read it was its similarity to the crackpot index maintained by John Baez. So, for fun, I scored it.
I feel a little dirty having done this. Part of me feels compelled to point out that I know this is a newspaper editorial for general consumption, rather than a "scientific" document. But I think the fact that a comparison with a crackpot index has any traction at all says something important and unpleasant about string theory's role in physics.
Points awarded (or considered) are listed below.
A -5 point starting credit.
5 points for each word in all capital letters (except for those with defective keyboards).
The initial all-caps is a newspaper tradition. No points awarded.
10 points for pointing out that you have gone to school, as if this were evidence of sanity.
Only Professor Greene's present academic affiliation is mentioned. No points awarded.
10 points for beginning the description of your theory by saying how long you have been working on it.
It's at the end, not the beginning: "I have worked on string theory for more than 20 years because I believe it provides the most powerful framework for constructing the long-sought unified theory."
10 points for each statement along the lines of "I'm not good at math, but my theory is conceptually right, so all I need is for someone to express it in terms of equations".
"Even so, researchers worldwide are still working toward an exact and tractable formulation of the theory's equations."
10 points for each favorable comparison of yourself to Einstein, ... and
20 points for each favorable comparison of yourself to Newton ...
I'm not sure whether the standard quantum gravity discussion of unification as the grand theme of the history of physics qualifies here. Certainly there are not statements of the type Baez generally filters for, where the crackpot writes, "I'm smarter than Einstein." But the implication is that, were Newton or Einstein alive today, they would be working on string theory too.
10 points for claiming that your work is on the cutting edge of a "paradigm shift".
"Such was the case until the mid-1980's, when a new approach, string theory, burst onto the stage. ... As word of the breakthrough spread ..."
20 points for talking about how great your theory is, but never actually explaining it.
Another item of questionable relevance in an op-ed.
30 points for suggesting that Einstein, in his later years, was groping his way towards the ideas you now advocate.
"Even on his deathbed [Einstein] scribbled equations in the desperate but fading hope that the theory would finally materialize. It didn't."
40 points for claiming that the "scientific establishment" is engaged in a "conspiracy" to prevent your work from gaining its well-deserved fame, or suchlike.
"Finally, some have argued that if, after decades of research involving thousands of scientists, the theory is still a work in progress, it's time to give up." (One might ask whether this question gets a pass, too, since such opinions have in fact been expressed by reputable people.)
50 points for claiming you have a revolutionary theory but giving no concrete testable predictions.
"To be sure, no one successful experiment would establish that string theory is right, but neither would the failure of all such experiments prove the theory wrong." Certainly, Dr. Greene has been been working for a long time (10) on a paradigm shift (10), towards which Einstein struggled on his deathbed (30). For his effort, his theory has no equations (10) and no tests (50). With the starting credit, that much makes 105 points.
Is Dr. Greene a crackpot? No. But is this how physics should be presented to the public?
I agree with the assessment above: Dr Greene is no traditional crackpot, he isn't an (early, obscure) Einstein figure trying to get facts published for the sake of science but for fame and money. Dr Brian Greene's book The Elegant Universe contains no physics whatsoever (see further down this post for a detailed review of the book), but a serious ignorance of the fact that the first postulate of special relativity (that light velocity is constant to all observers) is discredited by the variation in the direction (hence its velocity, a vector) of light by gravitational fields. It is an insult. Page 56 of the 2005 Vintage edition (London) of The Elegant Universe falsely states:
'... Einstein realized that the tremendously successful Newtonian theory of gravity was in conflict with his special theory of relativity. Confident in the veracity of special relativity ... Einstein sought a new theory of gravity compatible with special relativity.'
False! Contrary to stringy theorists, when you study general relativity you find:
‘... the [special relativity first] law of the constancy of the velocity of light ... the general theory of relativity cannot retain this law. On the contrary, we arrived at the result according to this latter theory, the velocity of light must always depend on the coordinates when a gravitational field is present.’ - Albert Einstein, Relativity, The Special and General Theory, Henry Holt and Co., 1920, p111.
‘... the principle of the constancy of the velocity of light in vacuo must be modified, since we easily recognise that the path of a ray of light ... must in general be curvilinear [hence velocity of light changes in a gravitational field and special relativity is bunk]...’ - Albert Einstein, The Principle of Relativity, Dover, 1923, p114.
‘The special theory of relativity … does not extend to non-uniform motion … The laws of physics must be of such a nature that they apply to systems of reference in any kind of motion. … The general laws of nature are to be expressed by equations which hold good for all systems of co-ordinates, that is, are co-variant with respect to any substitutions whatever (generally co-variant). …’ – Albert Einstein, ‘The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity’, Annalen der Physik, v49, 1916.
‘According to the general theory of relativity space without ether is unthinkable.’ – Albert Einstein, Sidelights on Relativity, Dover, New York, 1952, p23.
‘The Michelson-Morley experiment has thus failed to detect our motion through the aether, because the effect looked for – the delay of one of the light waves – is exactly compensated by an automatic contraction of the matter forming the apparatus [hence there is a spacetime continuum aether or fabric, as Einstein claimed - note that he only debunked Maxwell's gear cog and idler wheel mechanical aether in 1905!]. The great stumbing-block for a philosophy which denies absolute space is the experimental detection of absolute rotation.’ – Professor A.S. Eddington (who confirmed Einstein’s general theory of relativity in 1919), Space Time and Gravitation, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1921, pp. 20, 152.
When I kindly emailed the facts including the mechanism of gravity to Brian, he didn't respond and his books go on selling confusion and error. After errors have not been corrected, may we assume they are deliberate errors, ie, lies? Or is he just too paranoid to admit being wrong over the principle general covariance being different in substance (applicable to absolute motions such as accelerations!) to special relativity junk? Why does he seem to hate me so much? Hard to imagine!
But then we read in wikipedia:
'Brian Greene (born February 9, 1963), is a physicist and one of the best-known string theorists. Since 1996 he has been a professor at Columbia University. Born in New York City, Greene was a prodigy in mathematics. His skill in mathematics was such that by the time he was twelve years old, he was being privately tutored in mathematics by a Columbia University professor because he had surpassed the high-school math level. ... In 1980, Brian Greene entered Harvard to major in physics, and with his bachelor's degree, Greene went to Oxford University in England, as a Rhodes Scholar.
'His book The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory (1999) is a popularization of superstring theory and M-theory. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction, and winner of The Aventis Prizes for Science Books in 2000. The book talks about and opens an argument on how Calabi-Yau manifolds, as the multi-dimensional (11D, 16D, 26D) points, may comprise our space-time. The Elegant Universe was later made into a PBS television special with Dr. Greene as the narrator. His second book, The Fabric of the Cosmos (2004), is about space, time, and the nature of the universe. Aspects covered in this book include non-local particle entanglement as it relates to special relativity and basic explanations of string theory. It is an examination of the very nature of matter and reality, covering such topics as spacetime and cosmology, origins and unification, and including an exploration into reality and the imagination.
'Brian Greene also dabbles in acting; he helped John Lithgow with scientific dialogue for the television series 3rd Rock from the Sun, and he had a cameo role in the film Frequency. ... Brian Greene graduated in 1980 from Stuyvesant High School in New York City, where he was a classmate of Lisa Randall.'
Very good. Really, there is nothing I can do - as mere discoverer of a predictive Yang-Mills dynamical mechanism for gravity, etc. - to gain attention from physics dons who have cameo roles in Hollywood films (he has since starred in or advised technically on others, which take up some of his time), who have top Harvard and Oxford degrees, and who were child geniuses. I'm not of that calibre. I can only claim efficiency in the sense that a tortoise can through long efforts over a lifetime, outrun a hare that can hop higher and faster for briefer periods. The more I complain about suppression of my work by stringy-biased editors of Physical Review Letters, Nature, Classical and Quantum Gravity (not the editor but the stringy 'peer reviewers' who refuse to answer scientific arguments and recommended suppression on the true but irrelevant basis it was 'inconsistent with [false] string theory') and by string theorists like Jacques Distler in charge of arXiv which suppressed me in 2002, and others including probably people like Woit and Smolin who are at least in the mathematical sense elitists, the more excuse I give them for continuing. They are all really decent people. Recommend them for loads of Nobel Prizes, people. Especially Greene. Now that ego-massaging is over, will I get the mechanism for quantum field theory discussed?
In particular, string theory in some sense (without extra dimensions) is not entirely wrong: leptons and quarks are, at their core, energy currents like closed strings.
Update: I asked Dr Woit about the crackpot index score of his fellow Columbia University teacher (Woit is in the maths faculty, Greene is in the physics faculty):
anonymous Says: December 3rd, 2006 at 4:35 pm
“String Theory and the Crackpot Index
“…Certainly, Dr. Greene has been been working for a long time (10) on a paradigm shift (10), towards which Einstein struggled on his deathbed (30). For his effort, his theory has no equations (10) and no tests (50). With the starting credit, that much makes 105 points.
“Is Dr. Greene a crackpot? No. But is this how physics should be presented to the public?”
Wonder why Woit doesn’t discuss this stuff?
Peter Woit Says: December 3rd, 2006 at 5:43 pm
I saw the story you mention, but the main answer to why I didn’t think it was worth discussing is embedded in what you quoted. I think there’s a lot wrong with string theory and how it is pursued, but Brian Greene is not a crackpot, and neither are most string theorists.
I disagree with Brian about a scientific issue, the prospects for string-based unification, and, as a result, also don’t think the kind of public promotion of this idea he has engaged in is wise. But he’s a perfectly reasonable person, willing to admit that string theory may be wrong, just trying to promote and pursue ideas he believes in. I’ve known him for a long time, work in the same department, and talk to him regularly. I think both of us see our disagreements as scientific ones and want to avoid personalizing them. If you want to engage in Brian-bashing, do it elsewhere.
anonymous Says: December 4th, 2006 at 5:53 am
No, I don’t want to bash anyone, I’m not the one deleting other people’s papers from arxiv …
Dr Woit is a crackpot defender where it suits him. Presumably Greene is too close (on the same campus in New York) to be an enemy, so he tells me that any objective analysis of Greene's 'physics' is 'Brian-bashing'. There is no way out folks! They'll delete all your work, sneer at you, attack you as a crackpot without first checking your work, they'll make money selling crackpot stringy claims with no evidence/checkable facts behind them, and if you politely point out where they are wrong, they'll ignore you, and if you loudly hold up a mirror to show them they're thugs, they'll complain that you're being unfriendly or worse. Nothing I can write will make any difference to the dictatorial thugs in command of arxiv and 'peer'-review. It is counterproductive to shoot ammunition at them as they're careful to keep out of range. So it's best for me to concentrate on journal editors like Jeremy Webb, editor of New Scientist, an insultingly abusive scammer and con-man: 'A Daily Telegraph article  reports:
'Prof Heinz Wolff complained that cosmology is "religion, not science." Jeremy Webb of New Scientist responded that it is not religion but magic. ... "If I want to sell more copies of New Scientist, I put cosmology on the cover," said Jeremy.'
Maybe he isn't deliberately destroying physics, and it's just an accident! (I have to be kind!)
The random-walk vector sum for the charges of all the hydrogen atoms is the voltage for a single hydrogen atom (the real charges mass in the universe is something like 90% composed of hydrogen), multiplied by the square root of the number of atoms in the universe.
This allows for the angles of each atom being random. If you have a large row of charged capacitors randomly aligned in a series circuit, the average voltage resulting is obviously zero, because you have the same number of positive terminals facing one way as the other.
So there is a lot of inefficiency, but in a two or three dimensional set up, a drunk taking an equal number of steps in each direction does make progress. The taking 1 step per second, he goes an average net distance from the starting point of t^0.5 steps after t seconds.
For air molecules, the same occurs so instead of staying in the same average position after a lot of impacts, they do diffuse gradually away from their starting points.
Anyway, for the electric charges comprising the hydrogen and other atoms of the universe, each atom is a randomly aligned charged capacitor at any instant of time.
This means that the gauge boson radiation being exchanged between charges to give electromagnetic forces in Yang-Mills theory will have the drunkard’s walk effect, and you get a net electromagnetic field of the charge of a single atom multiplied by the square root of the total number in the universe.
Now, if gravity is to be unified with electromagnetism (also basically a long range, inverse square law force, unlike the short ranged nuclear forces), and if gravity due to a geometric shadowing effect (see my home page for the Yang-Mills LeSage quantum gravity mechanism with predictions), it will depend on only a straight line charge summation.
In an imaginary straight line across the universe (forget about gravity curving geodesics, since I’m talking about a non-physical line for the purpose of working out gravity mechanism, not a result from gravity), there will be on average almost as many capacitors (hydrogen atoms) with the electron-proton dipole facing one way as the other, but not quite the same numbers.
You find that statistically, a straight line across the universe is 50% likely to have an odd number of atoms falling along it, and 50% likely to have an even number of atoms falling along it. Clearly, if the number is even, then on average there is zero net voltage. But in all the 50% of cases where there is an odd number of atoms falling along the line, you do have a net voltage. The situation in this case is that the average net voltage is 0.5 times the net voltage of a single atom. This causes gravity. The exact weakness of gravity as compared to electromagnetism is now predicted. Gravity is due to 0.5 x the voltage of 1 hydrogen atom (a "charged capacitor"). Electromagnetism is due to the random walk vector sum between all charges in the universe, which comes to the voltage of 1 hydrogen atom (a "charged capacitor"), multiplied by the square root of the number of atoms in the universe. Thus, ratio of gravity strength to electromagnetism strength between an electron and a proton is equal to: 0.5V/(V.N^0.5) = 0.5/N^0.5. V is the voltage of a hydrogen atom (charged capacitor in effect) and N is the number of atoms in the universe. This ratio is equal to 10^-40 or so, which is the correct figure within the experimental errors involved.
‘... the ‘inexorable laws of physics’ ... were never really there ... Newton could not predict the behaviour of three balls ... In retrospect we can see that the determinism of pre-quantum physics kept itself from ideological bankruptcy only by keeping the three balls of the pawnbroker apart.’
– Dr Tim Poston and Dr Ian Stewart, ‘Rubber Sheet Physics’ (science article, not science fiction!) in Analog: Science Fiction/Science Fact, Vol. C1, No. 129, Davis Publications, New York, November 1981.