The Anthropic Approach To String Theory

Since I wrote an article about this last year for the non-expert to get some idea of what the discussion was about, let me first point you to it via this link. Since in that article, by way of illustration of the “Landscape” idea, I used a picture of the Maroon Bells and the accompanying valley and lake, let me put here a version that I took today. (The supersymmetric vacua are no longer visible, you’ll notice. I’m hoping that maybe it is time we learned to stop focusing on those for guidance, but….)

maroon bells copyright cvj

Let me next point out a post I did about the panel discussion on “Naturalness” at the SUSY 2006 conference, hosted by UC Irvine, held at Newport Beach. There was a lot said about the Landscape there. Have a read.

Finally, let me point out that Science writer Tom Siegfried (who was also at the conference) has written an article on the science and sociology of the Landscape/Anthropic/String “issue” in the August 11th edition of Science Magazine. He has several quotes and interviews with the key players -such as with Joe Polchinski, particularly discussing his “conversion”- and he also has quotes from the perhaps-not-so-key, such as your friendly neighbourhood host/writer of this blog:

Other physicists, although reluctant to embrace anthropic reasoning, decry the acrimony and seek a middle ground. “It’s unfortunate that it has turned into a situation where you have to choose to be in one camp or the other,” says Clifford Johnson, a string theorist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “It would be nice if we could explore some of those unpalatable ideas just in case that’s the way that nature chooses to go.”

(Hmmm. I could have said that a lot better. For example, “Nature chooses to go” really should have been “Nature chose to go”….or perhaps “Nature is better described”. I was probably a bit tired when I spoke with him…. but this is not so important.)

This “not having to choose” business I try to put forward puts me in mind of a much better quote from commenter Moshe, (not in the article but on my aforementioned Cosmic Variance report on the panel discussion.) He said, in a way that I think is rather good:

I think theorists (and people in general) should have the ability to hold contradictory viewpoints simultaneously, especially in the face of uncertainty.

Overall I think Tom Siegfried does an excellent job of making sense of where the whole business is right now, from a non-expert’s perspective. While I would again (as I often do) caution the unwary reader to not assume from so much press coverage that (as many would have you believe) the entire field is working on Landscape/Anthropic studies and arguing away about this to the exclusion of all else (they are not… there is a lot of other exciting and interesting work going on in the majority of stringy research that has little or nothing to do with this issue) I do recommend having a look at it at this link.

Come back and share with us what you think.


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7 Responses to The Anthropic Approach To String Theory

  1. africanislanderphysicist says:

    Hey Cliff

    The linked Science mag article requires subscription (I can only view a free 2-line summary, which is useless). Can you do something about it (like saving it, and providing a link to your saved copy of it)? I would like to read it.


  2. Plato says:

    Trying hard to put it into perspective

    Using Firefox to view your pages. Much better.

    I remember the post and the picture I borrowed.

    I have many of my own good mountain views. Maybe I’ll post some on my site. The Grand Canyon possibly.

  3. Plato says:

    I found this quote below to be strangley connected to the quest for understanding “the landscape,” even though, there have been counter arguments to the proposals of Susskind by Lee?

    Lee Smolin:

    there are two kinds of scientists-hill climbers and valley crossers. Hill climbers are great technically and will always advance an approach incrementally. They are what you want once an approach has been defined, i.e. a hill has been discovered, and they will always go uphill and find the nearest local maximum. Valley crossers are perhaps not so good at those skills, but they have great intuition, a lot of serendipity, the ability to find hidden assumptions and look at familiar topics new ways, and so are able to wander around in the valleys, or cross exposed ridges, to find new hills and mountains.

    Of course I had to build some perspective on this in regards to “BIGfoot” (toe analogies) and the inhernet tendencies of “anomalistic behavior” evident in reality?

    If Lee can invoke Kuhnian perspective, then so can I? 🙂 We can “evolve” from “paradigmal change,” even though these words are not accepted to established journals of reading.

    I wait for the day a scientist will admit “he” like eisntein saw something strange in his youth, but through education, understood what the compass to mean. If there are such “strange anomalies” that exist(?) then there has to be a science that explains it.

    The science exists “out there” like ideas? We just don’t know about it yet?

  4. Clifford says:

    africanislanderphysicist:- I don’t think I’m allowed to do that. The only copy I have was given to me under the promise that I would not distribute it widely in that way. I try to keep my word in such matters. Perhaps you might stumble upon a link to the pdf somewhere made available by others….?

    Sorry I can’t help.


  5. Pingback: Not Even Wrong » Blog Archive » String Phenomenology and the Landscape

  6. Amanda says:

    Alternatively, some kind soul with a subscription could post his password…..

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