Minority Report

This is a quick update on the school. I’ve been trying to give the students some of the core concepts they need to help them understand what string theory is, how it works, and what you can do with it. Here’s the really odd thing about all this (and an explanation of the post title): While this is a school on Quantum Gravity, after talking with the students for a while one learns that in most cases the little they’ve heard about string theory is often essentially over 20 years out of date and almost always totally skewed to the negative, to the extent that many of them are under the impression that string theory has nothing to do with quantum gravity at all! It is totally bizarre, and I suspect it is largely a result of things that are said and passed around within their research community.. So there are a few students here and there who have some familiarity with strings, huddling together at times for warmth in a sea of miscommunication, misinformation, and strange preconceptions. Let me be the first to point out that the string community also tends to pass on its prejudices about other Quantum Gravity approaches to its students. But my goodness it does seems extreme to me that an approach that has so many clear benchmarks of success (at achieving goals that at least used to be key objectives) in quantum gravity is treated as an irrelevant backwater by the community that thinks of itself as the main practitioners of quantum gravity. Odd. Anyway, my main message is to try to clearly show that the basics are quite easy to grasp if a student has a decent education in Quantum Field Theory, so they can keep an open mind and my lectures will help them navigate the literature (and the other courses coming up) and then make up their own minds about research paths to follow.

It has to be said that the organizers have made a good effort to have a fair amount of string or string related material on the schedule. My only concern is that with so little time given to basic introduction of the ideas (my three lectures), and with so many preconceptions to surmount, only a limited number of non-string students will be paying attention by time the later material from other lecturers gets into full swing…

There is hope though. A good number of students who have never seen string theory before are telling me (with no prompting) that they are beginning to see how it works, and are asking questions about things they’ve been told elsewhere, allowing me to explain the actual facts, give examples, clarifications, and point to lots of juicy results in the literature. They’re also talking to each other, including some of the students who work on strings, informing each other of their respective approaches… and so maybe they are forming a community of a new generation of scholars that will be less embattled than the current generation seems to be…

-cvj

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