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I think string theories are wrong (huffingtonpost.com)
49 points by Hanua on July 14, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 54 comments

Oh boy. I also think that string theories (in their current state) are wrong and possibly a dead end, but I feel uneasy reading this. Besides the harmless typos [0] in the article and his questionable academic affiliation (iSETI [1], which does not pass the straight face test), his referenced publication [2] is published in a questionable journal [3] and begins with an abstract that jumps around from topic to topic while "introducing" new terminology such as "kenos" and tau, a "change in time dilation over a specific height."

[0] E.g., "Noble Prize"

[1] http://www.iseti.us/

[2] http://www.scirp.org/Journal/PaperInformation.aspx?PaperID=3...

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_Research_Publishing

(the "straight face test" I wonder to myself, the author claims some endorsement from t'Hooft, maybe some eccentricity can be tolerated...)

Just following the link is enough to tell that indeed, under any reasonable definition of "straight face test" that site would not pass as an academic affiliation. I suspect that the "endorsement" from t'Hoof was more of the "I don't care, send it to these guy" followed by a brisk walk in the opposite direction.

As to the issue at hand, I don't think anyone claims to have a complete string theory to begin with so it's not really an issue of proving anyone wrong.

The sad truth is rather that despite lots of work by many people, string theory and/or supersymmetry, these ideas from a past millennia, are basically the frameworks which produces most somewhat novel ideas today. And its not like people don't try other things, the criticism that string theory is a dead end is at least twenty years old by now, so it's not like there are no incentives to come up with new stuff.

It is true that for a while there was an awful lot of papers with strings or string like words going up on the archive, but looking at the actual production right now, hep-th seems to be into black hole information paradox. So maybe Smolin and Woit making all that fuss did have an effect. Or maybe the graduate students thinking of going into string theory found Luboš blog and decided that accounting was probably more fun anyway.

> are basically the frameworks

This is precisely it. The name "String theory" is a bit of a misnomer; it's a framework, not a scientific theory like evolution or special relativity despite the common perception. Sure, it does make predictions (like tiny bits a vibrating energy or "strings" are the most fundamental thing in the universe), but that's a lot like playing solitaire in windows and then proclaiming it a bad OS. Strings are only a tiny piece of a much larger framework.

String theory is a framework in which you build scientific theories. Where relativity or evolution might be programs on a computer, string theory is the OS. Which is why there's so much confusion.

And to say it's a dead end is incorrect; to date there have been some incredibly useful applications in unrelated fields. People are using it for all kinds of things. Even if it's not a theory of everything, it is still helping advance our knowledge and understanding of science.

So to precis the intro: "I was asked by a Nobel laureate to submit this to peer review, but I thought it would take too long, so I self published".

Yeah, the Nobel laureate told you that, not as an endorsement, but because it is the standard response. "Ah yes, that is... erm... interesting... how about you submit it for a notable journal. Oh sorry, I need to go talk to whatshername over there, kthnxbai."

Peer review exists for a reason. Specifically, the merits of theories can't be assessed via HuffPo opinion pieces, and the ratio of rubbish to quality speculation is so large, that actual professional scientists need a filtering mechanism.

"In 2013, I presented the paper "Empirical Evidence Suggest A Need For A Different Gravitational Theory," at the American Physical Society's April conference held in Denver, CO. There I met some young physicists and asked them about working on gravity modification. One of them summarized it very well, "Do you want me to commit career suicide?""

"What worries me is that it takes about 70 to 100 years for a theory to evolve into commercially viable consumer products. Laser are good examples. So, if we are tying up our brightest scientific minds with theories that cannot lead to empirical validations, can we be the primary technological superpower a 100 years from now?"


I get the feeling that proposing something bold and wrong in physics results in a 'crackpot' label, effectively ending your career. So if you want a career, stay away from making bold predictions. Stay away from testable new ideas!

Perhaps the attraction of string theory is that it never leads to testable specific -- and therefore possibly wrong -- predictions. There are infinitely many permutations of string theory, all of which are mathematically potentially valid. So you can publish forever on string theory and never be wrong.

Reminds me of the old Star Trek TNG episode where they killed the Borg collective by giving it an impossible but mathematically valid shape to contemplate. It contemplated, and contemplated, and contemplated, and... stopped doing anything else. Since the halting problem is unresolvable, it's possible to contemplate within the bounds of any Turing-complete mathematical system forever.

Lasers are terrible examples, they were invented in the 60s and an absolute upper bound on their introduction into the consumer market is 1982.

They stand on theory that started to come together ~1900.

To be more specific:

> Albert Einstein first broached the possibility of stimulated emission in a 1917 paper


You need more than stimulated emission for a laser. I think that figuring out how to create a population inversion in an excited state is the best candidate for the inception point of the laser as a specific possibility, and I believe the honor for that achievement goes to Townes circa 1950.

Nothing is ever simple. Before Townes' 1951 population inversion, there's also Kastler's 1950 invention of optical pumping, and Dennis Gabor's 1947 invention of holography (yes, 1947, before lasers, which stimulated development of lasers)



Interesting. On following up on your links, I see that while optical pumping was invented first, Townes was able to make the first maser by using an electric field to separate out an excited state of ammonia, achieving a population inversion without pumping. http://home.fnal.gov/~kubik/FermilabWebsiteDocs/Masers.ppt

The closer you look, the less the history of innovation looks like a simple sequence.

If you're gonna be that way, you could have said that they date back to Newton and the prism.

"Lasers? yeah, the theory dates back to the first micro-organism with a photo-sensitive organelle. Took a little while to put it together tho. '

I don't think I'm being "that way", I think that's more or less the meaning of theory used in the quote. There is a pretty straight line between lasers and the photoelectric effect.

> There is a pretty straight line

I strongly disagree, and that gives very little credit to the various brilliant people involved in the various stages of the history. Everything seems obvious in retrospect.

But it doesn't change the timeline very significantly, so it's a side issue.

I don't understand it well enough to call any of it obvious.

My meaning was more that it was foundational, not that the stuff that built from it was obvious (fortunately I drew my straight line backwards, not forwards)

> I get the feeling that proposing something bold and wrong in physics results in a 'crackpot' label, > So if you want a career, stay away from making bold predictions.

Or you could avoid making bold predictions, and instead do science: Run experiments, report results.

Don't you do experiments to test hypotheses? An infinite number of experiments are possible, so you have to pick one. A novel prediction made by a theory is a good place to start.

And there lies the issue that string theory came up against: it has not produced any novel and feasibly testable predictions. But to be fair, most of the speculative fundamental physical theories suffer from the same issue. The origin form of the following experiment, proposed by an opponent (though not an aggressive one) of string theory, requires an interferometer larger than the solar system, arranged with precision accuracy that would make Rosetta reaching the comet look like a cakewalk: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free-orbit_experiment_with_las...

Sadly, I think there are some confounding factors to the lack of success in this story. If this is the same manner in which the author communicates a scientific theory to the community, it's not exactly surprising it hasn't been received well.

Perhaps it should be that science is entirely disconnected from how it's presented and who by; but in reality, it is still a human pursuit, and in order to be successful at it, you need to appeal to other humans, and you need to do it well. This is true of basically all pursuits involving social groups.

This is, of course, highly critical after reading only a single data point, but it's probably a contributing factor to the frustration here.

It's unfortunate, but cranks are a natural occurring human thing. In the grand scheme of things, it's probably for the best that we use higher level cues as to the value of a work, than exerting a large amount of effort digging deep.

"Very unfortunate!" and a knowing look appeared on the faces of all those present'.

Flagged because

- there is serious evidence of crackpottery, as evidenced by other contributors

- there is little evidence of good science, as evidenced by other contributors

- there is little evidence of good review (either of content or of prose), as evidenced by other contributors

- in the absence of all of those, one would fall back on the credentials of the author, which seem to be minimal

- Super Physics for Super Technologies is self-published (via Amazon CreateSpace)

- the forum seems very bizarre for this subject

I don't think this article is worth HN readers' time to read and consider, and I'd taken its presence on the front page as an endorsement by the community. I want my time back.

The huffington is HN related right? Maybe OP linked as a satirical commentary on their content policy?

I do sort of dislike that there's no good way to include commentary along with a link. But I don't think "Look at this piece of trash that HuffPo posted" would be particularly great HN content, either.

A stark contrast from the days when Lee Smolin (author of The Trouble With Physics[1]) lamented that your career in physics is essentially dead unless you went into string theory, and pursuing quantum gravity could lead to conflict with pro-string peers. And I don't think he was imagining it. Here's one reviewer:

"In the context of string theory, he literally floods the pages of his book with undefendable speculations about some basic results of string theory. Because these statements are of mathematical nature, we are sure that Lee is wrong even in the absence of any experiments." [2]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Trouble_with_Physics

[2] http://motls.blogspot.com/2004/10/lee-smolin-trouble-with-ph...

> Lee Smolin (author of The Trouble With Physics[1]) lamented that your career in physics is essentially dead unless you went into string theory, and pursuing quantum gravity could lead to conflict with pro-string peers.

Famously, yes. But although that may have been true to a first approximation, it ignores the fact that alternatives have never been completely taboo.

The primary one in recent decades was Loop Quantum Gravity, and the related Spin Foams that my friend John Baez worked on for many years.

> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loop_quantum_gravity

LQG hasn't won the day, I'm just mentioning that it was an alternative to String Theory that didn't ruin careers.

The motls blog claims that Smolin made provable mathematical errors in his book. Do you disagree?

I cannot speak to the mathematical errors, but I recommend you take most of what Motl says with a grain of salt. He is well known in the physics and mathematics community for a variety of interesting statements, including my personal favorite: "Discrete math is just a disorganized mess of random statements." http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=1720 Which is interesting, because I have yet to see a construction of continuous mathematics that didn't start with something discrete.

Motl is an infamous pain, and makes enemies at the drop of the hat, and is extremely scornful and overly negative -- but he's also intelligent and knows mathematical physics.

I would disregard his unsupported opinions out of hand without thinking twice, but not his supported arguments, whether right or wrong.

I would pay to see Motl and Doron Zeilberger in a cage match about discrete math: http://www.math.rutgers.edu/~zeilberg/

I have the book in front of me right now (I originally read it around 2007). It's very sparse on actual math: I couldn't find anything that could be considered a mathematical treatment of String Theory. It's more about the academic culture surrounding the theory.

Disclaimer: I'm not a physicist.

The author only encountering to 10^500 sting vacua/landscape issue in 2013 raises some serious crackpot alarm bells [0]. That was common knowledge in the community by 2005 at the latest.


Yet FWIW, note that #39 applies to every string theorist!

"39. 50 points for claiming you have a revolutionary theory but giving no concrete testable predictions."

When physicists can't be employed as physicists they go into finance right? So all of the unemployed string theorists will go into finance?

Most of them already have. The number of strings postdoc has already slowed to a trickle.

As a physics grad student, the phenomenon I've seen is people simply avoiding focusing on string theory in favor of greener (but still in physics) pastures. I suspect most of the working string theorists who had a stable job to begin with are tenured and will keep doing what they are. Personally I'm not sure how to feel about all of it; although the contribution of string theory to physics can most certainly be argued, mathematics has definitely benefited from its development.

Given the brief text, I'm not clear on how t' Hooft's idea is different than orthodox GR:

> Prof. Gerardus 't Hooft had brought up something interesting in his 2008 paper "A locally finite model for gravity" that "... absence of matter now no longer guarantees local flatness..." meaning that accelerations can be present in spacetime without the presence of mass. Wow! Isn't this a precursor to propulsion physics, or the ability to modify spacetime without the use of mass?

I don't know about the speculations, but the basic question of curvature in the absence of mass is totally orthodox general relativity.

It's a very widespread folk myth, even with physicists, that absence of matter means asymptotically flat spacetime, but it's not absolutely true.

I had thought John Baez discussed this on sci.physics ages ago, but after I couldn't find that, this is the first formal reference I dug up to support that:

"Relativity And Geometry" by Roberto Torretti, 1983

Page 199: Chapter 6, Gravitational Geometry

> First several new non-flat matter-free solutions of the field equations have been discovered, which show that an empty universe built in accordance with General Relativity can be a very lively place, the interplay of pure gravitational energy being enough to produce some remarkable phenomena if a handful of test particles is supplied.[31]

[footnote [31] on page 334 discusses "Friedmann's equation", with a limit tending to 0 in the case of interest]

Maybe the point is that the orthodox stuff is usually concerning an empty universe solution? I had thought there were non-empty universe solutions that behaved this way as well, but I might be misremembering.

Massless GR is sometimes called "pure gravity", and is something people are still interested in (or were, last time I was paying attention) [1]. Kind of remarkable that even the base-case has so many open issues. I should re-read that Torretti book, I remember liking his style but that some of the math was over my head at the time.

[1] http://arxiv.org/abs/0706.3359

This article on theoretical physics misspells "Nobel Prize" three times.

Yep, it is a "Noble Prize".

Also, "The Founder & Chairman, Solomon completed a 12-year study into the physics & engineering of Gravity Modification"

"Solving gravity modification and doing it in 12-years is a very significant achievement as Michio Kaku’s estimate was ‘several hundred years’ (April 2008 Space Show interview)."

Sauce: http://xodusonefoundation.org/about-solomon/

I noticed about 8 other typos as well.

I guess Huffington Post doesn't have copy editors?

Besides, in 100 years we will be fortunate if anyone will be alive, let alone doing theoretical physics.

Yeah, I'm going to go read an article about string theory in the fucking Huffington Post, because I hate myself.

Seriously, why is the Huffington Post not banned as a source here?

It used to be, but occasionally a substantive article shows up there, so we moved it up a level to penalized-but-not-banned.

Self-flagellation builds character, it absolves you of your sin!

That's got to be the most inadvertently HN-clickbait headline I've ever seen.

Having a personal vendetta against 'string'ly typed programming, upon seeing the headline, my head involuntarily perked up like that of a meerkat.

(The OP headline was previously "Strings Are Dead")

Same here, somehow I was picturing a realization (that strings are wrong) so large that even the HuffPost would write about it.

We changed the title to a representative sentence from the article.

HP is an authority in char* though.

Well literally the main thing their site does is publish really long strings.

I'm not sure it's inadvertent.

I long ago filed HuffPo under "clickbait" along with similar entities, like the Daily Mail.

Certainly, but in this case, I don't think HuffPo was targeting software developers...

"I forecast that both string and quantum gravity theories will be dead by 2017."

I was listening until this. What is the basis for this statement? Whenever I've made a statement trying to forecast the future by a date, I've been almost always wrong.

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