Talking Heads On Strings

Well, I had the “Aspen Physics Preview” interview for the station called “Grassroots TV” this afternoon. It was a pleasant chat with host Sy Coleman about aspects of research into fundamental physics and string theory. I don’t have a good sense of what it was like since I was focusing on answering questions, but I do believe that I was able to get across some of the key ideas that I mentioned earlier, although we ran out of time before we got into the details of the Landscape “controversy”, but it was mentioned as a sort of teaser for the main talk. We just talked for 27 minutes non-stop, and it will be broadcast as recorded -unedited- warts and all.

My main mission in a lot of this discussion is to point out that:

(a) Physicists are pragmatists. String theory is just a tool, like any other tool. We’ll work on developing the best tool around that will solve the problems we’re interested in solving. If something better than the string approach comes along (that potentially addresses so many problems in diverse areas of physics, like strings do), we’ll drop it like a ton of hot bricks and work on that. But nothing has come up yet.

(b) String theory is still under serious development. This cannot be said enough. No, we are not at a point that we can describe an experiment that will falsify it -only particular scenarios within the framework- but that is most likely because we simply have not understood the theory well enough.

(c) The String theory tool likely has several other applications that are of considerable importance in science. We know some of these and I suspect that there will be more. For example, we already know that it is teaching us a huge amount about strongly coupled gauge theory, and that alone -in my opinion- is reason enough to work on it. If we can get better understanding of QCD and hence phenomena like the confinement of quarks -which several people are working on (largely ignored by the media because there’s no controversy associated with it) that would be fantastic. I’d very much like to understand the structure and operation of the stuff we’re made of, thank you, and strings seem to be helping very much in that regard. Sadly I did not get to say much about this in the interview.

(d) The questions we are all working on (string theorists or not) are very exciting and important. There are real experiments and observations coming up which continue to inform us. There may be big surprises. It’s exciting and important.

Turns out that I was wrong in thinking that it was only local TV. There’s this thing called the “Web” over which you can see their shows via live streaming video. If you’re interested, the website is here. There is a schedule there too. The program will be shown about four times before the actual lecture. Then they will broadcast the lecture too, a number of times, starting on the weekend.


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3 Responses to Talking Heads On Strings

  1. Pyracantha says:

    Greetings Clifford:

    One term that keeps cropping up in discussions of string theory and the “landscape” is VACUA. What are they? The word is plural of “vacuum” but I suspect that it doesn’t clean up anything. A related word is “vacation” which is what I’m doing right now, photographing and drawing landscapes in central Pennsylvania. But these landscapes are definitely terrestrial.

    Yours from ELECTRON BLUE,


  2. Clifford says:

    Roughly: think of “vacuum” as “solution of the equations”. Such a solution corresponds to a possible world, with particles at low energy, their masses, interactions, etc. The issue is to find one which corresponds to the world we live in.

    “Vacua” then refers to many such solutions. Please see the Landscape post that I keep referring to, which I wrote last year, for more information.

    If I may be so bold (and annoying), “vacuum” meaning “suction device for cleaning up something” or for in fact the act of “cleaning up something” is in fact a common abuse of language common in the USA, the term “hoover” is used similarly in the UK. A bit better is “vacuum cleaner”, …. since a more accurate term like “air pressure differential cleaner” would never catch on. 🙂



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