More Scenes From the Storm in a Teacup, III

Poor Jeff!

I’m listening to the program now, and 40 minutes into it, there’s been long sections of completely pointless waffle by Lee and the presenter (the latter keeps reading long and largely peripherally relevant quotes from philosophers), broken up by breaks to shout the name of the station at you…. then long musical ditties… then back to more waffle…. and then the few times Jeff gets to come in, he is interrupted again by the presenter with more irrelevant stuff about philosophy. Jeff managed to say at one point “I’d rather talk about what can be measured, what we can calculate…”, but this seems to have been ignored. (Here and later I am not giving the exact words of what was said… you should listen to the archive.) He is given a little time to start to explain what strings is about….

A bit later…. Lee is just going on and on and on and on about…. uh…. crap and utter irrelevance. The battle between Liebniz and Newton. Relational vs absolute. Sigh. I just don’t get it. Why is this happening? Another music/station reminder break…

A bit later…. Jeff finally manages to get a bit of a word in. He has to jump in at one point when Lee starts actually redefining on the spot what his book is about… backpedalling a huge amount and saying that his book is about how our generation failed. “No, wait, you said that we failed,” Jeff says, “I simply don’t agree with you”. Lee seems a bit wrong-footed by this reminder of what his book is about. Jeff brings up the argument several of us have brought up before… There is an infinite number of field theories, but that does not stop us from going out and measuring some parameters in experiments, and inputing them into a particular field theory and thus building the remarkably successful and well-tested thing we call The Standard Model of Particle Physics. So if there is an infinite number of string theories, or solutions to string theory, why is that a priori a failure? I’d still like Lee or Peter to tell me this.

Finally they get to the, shall we call it what it is, the “I want more money for my approach”, bit from Lee (my words not his). Jeff has to jump into the waffle again to point out that the resources in science are distributed by our peers. Not string theorists, but our peers in several other fields in physics. If you want to get more resources for your field, for an alternative idea, you produce encouraging results from that idea, and convince our peers that it is worth supporting….

I would go further and say “and you don’t write books of half-truths whining about it!!”.

Speaking of half-truths: At some point the presenter actually does something constructive (despite himself) and asks Lee what the other approaches are, and whether there are any experimental predictions of Loop Quantum Gravity:

…dead air for a while…

“Not… quite…. yet…” Lee manages to squeeze out. “We have some hints from…. not in the four dimensions in which we live, but in a three dimensional version…. and it is not fully worked out yet….. that …” and then he goes on to talk about doubly special relativity and how it will be tested at Glast.

My question to Lee: – So will you abandon Loop Quantum Gravity is Glast does not see what it “predicts”? How come you don’t apply your much vaunted high standards for doing science to your own work?


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12 Responses to More Scenes From the Storm in a Teacup, III

  1. Aaron Bergman says:

    This is painful.

    Very, very painful.

  2. Clifford says:

    I feel your pain!!!

    It is getting a bit better… see the next post…..


  3. Aaron Bergman says:

    I swear, if I hear Lee babble on about great philosophical disagreements since the time on Newton that don’t, you know, actually exist, I may be forced to fly out to Perimeter….

  4. Clifford says:


    I feel sorry for Jeff. Between Lee and the presenter, who are just sucking up all the air in the studio and spewing out velvet fog…. he should be given some sort of prize for not going ballistic!!


  5. Aaron Bergman says:

    It’s your fault I’m listening to this, you know. I could be at home watching the Daily Show — checks clock — The Colbert Report.

    If it weren’t for TiVo, I’m not sure I could forgive you.

  6. Clifford says:

    I’m just thinking that:-

    (1) I should go do something far more productive like watch those shows, and
    (2) I’ve been sitting here too long listen to this junk generated by Lee, Peter and their publisher’s agents, and blogging it. I should go talk to a human being in person….

    Sadly, not being a regular watcher of those shows.. I never thought to record them… but I do feel like seeing them now to just de-Gauss from this stuff.



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  8. M says:


    the answer to your question (why many QFT is ok while many strings is bad?) is that we can do experiments at energies where physics is described by one QFT. So, we can see which QFT is the right one, but we cannot see if point particles approximate tiny strings, tiny worms, or whatever. We do not directly observe quantum gravity.

    Despite this, theorists addressed quantum gravity hoping that it could led to a theory of everything, or at least to a theory able of predicting something at low energy. This hope seems gone. Even without understanding each one of them, just having 10^500 string vacua makes the situation apparently hopeless. If somebody had a good realistic idea about how to proceed, everybody would try it, rather than studying strings as an approximate model for nuclear matter. If the present situation persists after LHC data, would you give up with strings?

    This process might be abnormally slow because strings have been too strongly over-hyped, and because younger string theorist have a deep but narrow expertise. I hope we agree that the public criticism of Peter Woit is better than spending the next 30 years in counting string vacua.

  9. Clifford says:

    Hi M,

    Please see my comments on that point on the thread of the post after this. For example this one. It particularly addresses the first sentence of yours.

    Also, see my responses to other landscape questions of this sort in the thread of this post (in comments numbered in the late 30s and early 40s or so). Please also note my points about the fact that we have only just begun to understand what string theory is. I cannot tell you what we’ll be doing in the field some years from now, but there is already a lot to do in string theory besides counting vacua.



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