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    Should Greene and Kachru Work On String Theory ?
    By Tommaso Dorigo | June 10th 2010 03:59 PM | 25 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Tommaso

    I am an experimental particle physicist working with the CMS experiment at CERN. In my spare time I play chess, abuse the piano, and aim my dobson...

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    In my friend Peter Woit's blog I read an interesting account of an interview to Greene and Kachru, two leading string theorists. Here is an excerpt, which Peter got from the World's Science Festival:

    John Hockenberry, the panel’s moderator, asked Greene if he thought experimental evidence would come during his lifetime.

    “I’d be surprised,” said Greene.

    “And in your lifetime?” Hockenberry asked Kachru.

    “…I’d be surprised,” conceded the young physicist reluctantly.


    Chris Oakley, in the comments thread, immediately argued that the obvious follow-up question should have then been, "Why the f*** are you still working on it, then?". Funny, but not much more than that. Let me play the devil’s advocate for this once.

    The question involved the time the two scientists think -or are willing to state they expect- to live, together with the time before they think a first evidence for string theory will concretize. So they had to give a statement on the ratio R=T_s/T_d between the time to an evidence for string theory and the time to their death, and they both said they would be suprised if this ratio R turns out to be smaller than 1.

    If you consider it this way, claiming that sihce they believe that R>1 they should work on something else makes as much sense as saying that the Tevatron experiments should not have searched for the Higgs boson for all these years, given that the expected reach on the ratio R between the observable Higgs rate and the expected SM one is larger than unity…

    Comments

    I think there was an unstated assumption with the original question that it is difficult if not impossible to advance a scientific theory without experimental confirmations. Given this assumption, it would indeed not make any sense to continue working on a theory that one believed would not receive any experimental evidence in one's lifetime.

    It would seem that continuing to work on string theory without any experimental evidence requires its own assumption that physical laws can be derived solely from mathematics. While this assumption did work for the derivation of general relativity, I think it still requires quite a bit of faith to assume this will work for string theory as well.

    "Why the f*** are you still working on it, then?".

    Plenty of artists died penniless in the lifetimes, only to be glorified as greats afterwards. Finding a great piece of truth, might be worth it if you value your name in history. But obviously without experiment, physics can just as easily build untrue castles in the sky. (For a more Cynical answer, because he gets funded.)

    dorigo
    Well BDO, the two scientists hypothetically questioned on why they work on string theory seem to be doing pretty well! Greene is a superstar... So I think that even if they knew deep in their bones that string theory is just useless for physics, they would be foolish to start working on something else!

    Cheers,
    T.
    lumidek
    Well, if he "knew" deeply in his bones that there is something wrong with string theory, it would still be because of the inadequacies of his brain or thinking - and his superstar status couldn't change an iota about this fact.
    Large swaths of physics will never be tested in our lifetime, or even in anyone's lifetime.

    The best anyone working in quantum cosmology or quantum gravity can expect is either a ridiculously tiny chance of something plausible but unlikely to ever be detected (say the murky and ambigous discovery of a cosmic string) or an indirect imprint on something else (say a fluctuation in the CMB spectrum). Again with enormous inverse problems associated with all of them.

    Even one of the most interesting objects in physics, the blackhole, has never been conclusively observed. We all know that it almost assuredly exists based on observations of certain astronomical objects and lack of plausible alternatives, however it still will never be tested directly. Similarly and closer to home for a particle physicist. GUT physics! Aside from getting very lucky with neutrino physics, or by waiting for a proton to decay, its likely that we will never know for sure whats going on there exactly.

    Despite the likely inability to ever experimentally measure these concepts, the theoretical justifications are large enough that they should be taken seriously.

    A similar question, "Why did Joe Weber search for gravitational waves in the 1960's when the sensitivity of his apparatus fell five orders of magnitude short of any conceivable astrophysical source." And part b, why was anyone willing to fund such a search. Why didn't they just say let's wait 50 years until the technology is sufficiently advanced. The public answer was, "But if we did see something against all odds, what a spectacular discovery that would be!" The real reason was, funding Weber was a necessary first step in order to engage others' interest and encourage them to develop the necessary technology.

    The Tevatron looks for the Higgs not because they will find it, but so people can better understand how to search for the Higgs in other machines. String theory is studied not because it is right, or even testable, but because it leads to new ideas and new ways of looking at things.

    Hank
    The Tevatron looks for the Higgs not because they will find it, but so people can better understand how to search for the Higgs in other machines. String theory is studied not because it is right, or even testable, but because it leads to new ideas and new ways of looking at things.
    Why not fund paranormal studies then, and have tens of thousands of people looking for ghosts so as to know how to better find non-ghosts?  Why not fund studies searching for aether?

    Not everything is worth hundreds of millions of dollars per year because it may show us how hypotheses are wrong.   String theory, like aether, had its day.
    lumidek
    Hank, at some moments, I thought something else but because of some extensive recent evidence including this comment of yours, it is completely clear that you are the same kind of a mindless anti-scientific imbecile like everyone else. You suck, buddy.
    ...

    The difference between SUSY and the Higgs on one side and ghosts on the other side is that the existence of the Higgs - and probably SUSY - was derived, using the results of billions observations in the past, by people with the average IQ above 130 - while the existence of ghosts or non-existence of the Higgs boson is promoted by individuals who are closer to the average chimp than IQ=130, and who have absolutely no evidence to back their claims.
    While the existence of at least one Higgs boson is a pretty much sure thing, it's still necessary to learn many details about the Higgs sector. The experiments are not being performed *despite* the fact that we don't know the answers to all questions: they're being performed exactly *because* we don't know these answers. This is the very point of every sensible experiment.

    If you think - and want to defend the notion - that Greene, Kachru, or LHC/Tevatron physicists are on par with the searchers for ghosts, or with Chris Oakley or Peter Woit, or anything of the sort, just because they believe that there is a Higgs and they want to be sure and learn other things, and if you believe that the two groups should be getting comparable amounts of money - I will have to add you to the black list of enemies of intelligent life on Earth, a list meant for the removal from the Earth, sorry. 
    These are extremely serious issues. People like you are already occupying way too much space on Earth and it's time for the intelligent life to do something about this escalating threat.



    Hank

    you are the same kind of a mindless anti-scientific imbecile like everyone else. You suck, buddy.
    ...
    Perhaps I suck, though not for the reasons you cite.  I was against the US hosting the LHC for a practical reason - it will take an ILC anyway to interpret whatever it is the LHC finds and I am a taxpayer who would like to solve problems related to people with that money first.   I am not anti-science, I have spent 7000 hours of my life promoting science outreach for free - I am simply against things of questionable value getting a lot of money thrown at them.

    To every partisan - be they climate scientists or string theory ones, all the money in the entire world should be thrown at them because the quest for knowledge is that important.   And to Brian Greene, who is, as Tommaso notes, a science rock star (and a genuinely good guy, if you have spent any time around him) string theory is understandably essential.

    My point in the comparison with paranormal funding was that Princeton had a paranormal studies department for 40 years - all those researchers got funding and they believed in what they were doing.   Yet at some point we have to stop inventing ways where something might be possible because money is finite, unlike hypotheses in physics.    If 22-dimension string theory is next, maybe it can prove the existence of ghosts.
    lumidek
    Hank, if you think that you're saving the taxpayers' money from being wasted, you fail 1,000 times more than you think. Your country is wasting trillions of dollars for complete shit every year, from wars to ludicrous social payments and fees to reduce CO2, the gas we call life. ...

    The value of the physics insights obtained by the LEP, Tevatron, or the LHC in the near future (or similar scale colliders) exceeds the costs by orders of magnitude. The cost of the LHC is 10 billion dollars which is the GDP of the EU generated in eight hours - and it's the project that the most serious scientific discipline has been building for two decades.

    If you won't write that you have made a brutal mistake in writing that the colliders are not an amazing investment, I will keep on insisting that you are an uncultural primitive barbarian, a piece of pseudointellectual trash.

    There has been almost no knowledge generated by the climate science in the last 20 years, but this fact is not as important as the fact that the real wasting occurs not in the form of money that are paid for climate science itself but money that are wasted for policies designed by far left-wing crackpots who have taken over climate science. The latter exceed the former by two orders of magnitude. The money for the AGW scum could be wasted and the society wouldn't notice - but the CO2-reducing policies are way too expensive an expense leading to no positive consequences and the world economy will suffer.

    AGW has been designed by idiots like you - those who don't want to learn the actual science, deduce things, and test hypotheses. Instead, they want to parrot other imbeciles and pretend that the idiocies you are saying are "science".

    The Princeton ESP lab was an insane curiosity but it has swallowed by 5-10 orders of magnitude less than AGW, and using it as an argument against the funding of science is correspondingly weak a way to argue. Still, it's legitimate to spend money even for hypotheses that are very unlikely if their impact were huge.

    Again, you're a crackpot and a complete idiot if you think that the Higgs boson or strings are on par with ghosts, and idiots of this incredible magnitude simply couldn't have spent a single minute of their life by promoting science because they don't have the slightest idea what science is. It's complete nonsense for you to say that you have spent many hours by promoting science because the right answer is clearly zero. 

    You don't know what science is, you hate what science actually is, and you suck for all the reasons I mentioned and many more. You're spending your life by spitting on science - and it's a catastrophe that people like you began to influence how science is understood (or misunderstood) by ever wider groups of the society, at all levels. Even your would-be "nice" comment about Brian Greene (yes, I know him very well, in person) is just a way to kick him into his buttocks and compare him to paranormal loons. But you're just a piece of shit who has no way how you could possibly answer a question  about particle physics. The idea that a vote by 100 million of U.S. mental cripples, the likes of yourself, could produce better answers about particle physics than Brian Greene's calculation is nothing else than the group arrogance of a degenerated mob.
    Hank
    I guess I have to be a little intrigued that you dispute global warming but believe string theory with religious fervor.

    I accept science and have little interest in beliefs because they are subjective.   If Brian is your Al Gore, that's fine with me.  But it isn't science.

    Is he a better physicist than me?   Of course he is.  I have better hair.  I don't see how either of those issues is germane to whether or not string theory is any more than a placeholder for physics to come - like the aether 100+ years ago.  Even Einstein, an affectionate and considerate man, conceded how theorists could have believed in it even though it was wrong.   I hope people are as sympathetic toward Greene.

    You also know more physics than me - but I seem to know more logic, because your comments are just fallacies wrapped in sneers and then washed down with a delicious tankard of contempt.   Fun, but not very filling.
    lumidek
    I don't "dispute" global warming. There is no real scientific dispute about global warming. Everyone except for hacks and blinded far-left radicals knows that it is certain that there is no unusual or threatening change of climate going on and that the constant change of the climate is neither global nor uniformly warming.
    The situations are completely analogous in both cases: a powerful politically organized group of imbeciles wants to overrule science and flood it by complete shit. You go further because you would like to declare even the very Higgs boson politically incorrect.

    There is no room for "beliefs" here. String theory's validity as the unifying theory of interactions is a scientific fact, not a matter for religious debates among drunk science-haters. You may compare the Higgs boson or string theory to ghosts or aether but it only amplifies your mental inadequacies.

    Your server and your identity is a pile of shit and compared to Brian Greene, your hair is lousy, too.
    Hank
    I can accept all of that except the hair and that I am drunk at 10AM, even if France is playing in the World Cup and getting stalemated by Uruguay.

    We love Brian Greene here so my comments on string theory should not be exaggerated - though asking you to not exaggerate is like asking water to flow uphill.   And Greene loves Bloggy, as you can see in this World Science Festival pic, though he loves women more, since Kristina happened to be holding Bloggy and got dragged into the photo.



    No way is his hair better than mine.  I am not saying it is bad, but not better than mine.
    Like asking water to flow uphill or superfluid helium to climb the walls of the vessel. Never mind studying ghosts what about bosenovae? Where did those thousands of rubidium-86 atoms go? Where are the 'serious theorists are working on serious theories that are supported by rational evidence and detailed calculations - which are inevitably indirectly linked to the observations'' to explain this to us chimps?

    Lumo: "There is no room for "beliefs" here. String theory's validity as the unifying theory of interactions is a scientific fact, not a matter for religious debates among drunk science-haters. You may compare the Higgs boson or string theory to ghosts or aether but it only amplifies your mental inadequacies."

    Oh man, you are so blind when it comes to your own mental inadequacies.

    Wake up Lubos, you are just as deluded as the worst global warming lunatics, only in your case it's string theory that takes the place of a religious dogma. String unification has nothing to show for the decades of work and thousands of papers, NOTHING, not a single argument capable of convincing a skeptic. Even many past proponents realized so much by now, but not you, your faith is unfazed. I wonder what it will be that eventually convinces you that string theory is an example of worthless intellectual masturbation, built on dumb ideas in place of sound principles. I sure hope you will have the courage to admit it once you finally get this rather obvious fact, it will certainly make for a lovely post on your lovely blog, I'm sure it will fetch a record number of visitors. Or will you be the last faithful prophet of string theory, still preaching even after a proper 4D TOE is found and confirmed by experiments?

    lumidek
    I don't have any mental inadequacies....

    String theory is the most important structure of ideas underlying the Universe that has ever been found by Man and no person who has a clue about high-energy physics could have serious doubts about it. But it is a sophisticated theory so anonymous worthless human trash like yourself has a very little chance to understand these matters - although, clearly, many people who do understand them prefer not to get into trouble so they choose to lick the asses of your likes instead of telling them the truth. Many people may be intimidated by the scum but I can't.
    After finding this, I searched about your background and found out that you are indeed a fully qualified physicist who was in academia. And yet you are pouting all of these ad hominem attacks. I am frankly shocked that such intelligent people have such little regard for civility and manners. Take a look again at your posts in your flame war with Hank Campbell: Do you think one needs a PhD in order to declare other people as "trash" and having "a very little chance to understand these matters?" Disagreeing with what other people say is one thing. Even thinking that your debate opponents are crackpots is still another thing. Resorting to comments which are basically the more sophisticated equivalent of "Fuck you, you're just scum who doesn't have the ability understand a fucking shit of the wonderful enlightening stuff I'm trying to say" is hardly reflecting well of who you are and what community you represent.

    I thought more learning produces more humility. I hope that most other members of the string theory community (or physics, or science, or even academia community in general) do not share the same kind of intellectual barbarity that you blatantly display here. You are the perfect example of the fact that no matter how high IQ or intellectual training we might go through, in the end our social behavior has great difficulty advancing from those who haven't even got a high school diploma.

    dorigo
    Hi Bill,

    I agree but I beg to differ, the Tevatron will not see the Higgs before LHC does. But the rest is okay for me.
    Cheers,
    T.
    lumidek
    Jesus Christ, serious theorists are working on serious theories that are supported by rational evidence and detailed calculations - which are inevitably indirectly linked to the observations - rather than enjoying idiotic discussions about direct experimental proofs of a theory of everything....

    No generation in the past managed to complete the complete theory of everything during their lifetime, so it would not be terribly shocking if our generation were another one for which the same statement holds. Still, it seems more likely than not that we are the first or second generation that actually knows what the right theory of everything actually is.

    Direct tests of a theory combining quantum mechanics and gravity are extremely unlikely to occur in practice. Max Planck understood the reason a century ago when he invented the Planck units - including the Planck length, 10^{-35} meters -, and I independently realized these things when I was 8 years old - long before I learned most other things I know about physics.  

    Chrises Oakleys and Peters Woits, among similar garbage, will never understand such trivial points (and many others) but that's because they're composed out of junk DNA only. When I entered physics, I couldn't have imagined that in a few decades, our environment and media would literally be filled with scum that doesn't understand why quantum gravity is far and who consider the whole field of theoretical physics, the pillar of all sciences, illegitimate and who openly want to destroy it as a science. 

    It seems increasingly likely that unless we want our civilization to deteriorate into a pile of mindless animals of Oakley's type, we will have to think about human and realistic ways how to regulate this garbage away from the DNA reservoir of the mankind in the future.

    A civilization that only wants material things within their lifetime would be lacking basic cultural values. It would fail to be human. I have no problem if primitives who have to be shown everything by direct tests understandable to every chimp just live somewhere on the Earth. But what I find unacceptable is for this junk DNA to attack decent people on the Internet exclusively because of the junk's own junk status.
    "String theory's validity as the unifying theory of interactions is a scientific fact,"

    "it seems more likely than not that we are the first or second generation that actually knows what the right theory of everything actually is."

    "Max Planck understood the reason a century ago [...] , and I independently realized these things when I was 8 years old"

    I must admit I'm very impressed.

    lumidek
    Are you Al Gore? That would look like an appropriate guess given the modest level of intelligence and depth exhibited by your reaction.
    We don't fund experiments which are to run for more then half a century with little chance of success.

    lumidek
    That's right. That's the main reason why no serious sponsor is funding any experiments that want to directly probe quantum gravity. The search for (and refinement of) the fundamental laws that govern quantum gravity has inevitably been of theoretical Nature - and all the successes have been achieved by theorists, too. The primary reason why this is the right attitude has been known for more than a century, since the invention of the Planck units that are truly extreme.
    I'm truly impresses at the clarity of your ideas, Lubos. It's not common these days to find someone with such vision, specially given the large number of traitors, hypocrites and deserters in the field of string theory. I don't need to mention them, we all know who they are.

    Luboš is quite brilliant! He just does not suffer fools very well. But then again, neither do I! LOL