String Theory's Star on the Rise

By cjohnson | April 1, 2006 2:00 am

Not far from where I do my shopping in the Hollywood Farmer’s market is the Hollywood walk of fame, where various stars of screen, stage, radio, etc are celebrated with a star in the pavement/sidewalk when they rise to a certain level. I never thought I’d see the day when someone would get a star for contributions to the popularisation of science on television (Carl Sagan never got one), but look what I stumbled upon earlier this week (I was so impressed I asked a tourist to take a shot of me):

star on hollywood

Brian did do superb work in telling the story of fundamental physics in that series of documentaries on PBS (“The Elegant Universe”, for those of you who’ve not seen them, same name as the best-selling book), and captured the imagination of a whole new generation of viewers. Well deserved.

Yeah, I know that some people who just have it in for string theory are going to be annoyed at this, but please try to keep your eye on the big picture. This is good for science. May it open the door for more recognition of science in mainstream popular culture, which as you know from reading this blog, is a subject dear to my heart.

-cvj

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  • Aaron Bergman

    IIRC, stars have a lot more to do with money than any sort of honoring unfortunately.

  • John Smith

    Interesting post. Its heartening to see that, even though string theory has failed to be empirically verifiable and recent progress has ground down to a halt with widespread despair, at least Hollywood is acknowledging the fine SciFi ideas that have come from it.

    I would argue that hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars is a bit of a steep price for this fiction, but hey, that’s just me.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/11/so-lets-have-some-fun.html Plato

    Time Travel

    Our minds never cease in the quest for our histories and the ways in which we see this is done?

    Well, we know Kip Thorne’s contribution to Contact, and Brian Greene’s to Frequency. I say, “ole Kip,” should be there too? :)

    After all, such “foundational” ideas have more profound effect on the star’s impression, then just being walked on? :)

  • erc

    Is this an April Fool’s joke?

  • goldorak

    Is this an April Fool’s joke?

    Of course it is :)

  • erc

    I was meaning John Smith’s comment as much as the post…

  • Navneeth

    Is this an April Fool’s joke?

    I was waiting for that from the CV team, and as far as I’m concerned, I was fooled. Good one, Mr. Johnson. 😀

  • Cynthia

    I find it a sad day in the history of popular science that Carl Sagan did not receive the first Star in Hollywood pavement. Perhaps – just as in the Nobel Prize world – one must be alive to receive this “honor in pavement”. Or am I simply a victim of a Clifford 2006 April Fool’s joke?

  • Moshe

    Oh boy, it is already April, time flies…

    I really like this one, as it is so plausible (in fact, maybe it is true…). I like especially the nice touch about Sagan, I gather it is just a little extra to bring out the best of comments…

  • Ambitwistor
  • Aaron Bergman

    Sigh.

    It is April again.

    Ah well.

  • Elliot

    Can someone knowledgable please comment on the paper that Greene/Witten just wrote using the holographic principle applied to individual Branes to significantly constrain the landscape by limiting the number of bits that can be represented in each possible candidate?

    Thanks,

    Elliot

  • StringyDude

    Yup, it appears to be an April Fools.

    Good one, it totally had me there for a bit.

  • Cynthia

    Ambitwistor, there is a subtle difference between the Caltech prank and Clifford’s alleged prank.The Caltech pranksters crudely taped over the original brass enlay of the granite star. In contrast, Brian Greene’s name appears to be enlayed with the original brass of the granite star. However, unlike Brian Greene, Richard Feynman is a scientific as well as cultural icon.

  • John Branch

    Assuming it is a prank, it’s nicely done. Accomplished on the street rather than in Photoshop? Not sure; anyway, this isn’t a photo blog, so I won’t speculate on details.

    But I think I’d cast my vote for Feynman first. Better than that, I’d hope for a handful of names (which the Caltech kids gave us) and not just one.

  • Sean

    ‘Tis the horned box of Rot’n’Bair! (See Niven and Gerrold’s “The Flying Sorcerers”).

    Whether this is a joke, and in what way it was done (perhaps another Brian Green exists) will be interesting to see.

  • Cynthia

    Sean, by exposing that an “e” on the end of Green is simply an illusion, you have revealed the flaw in Clifford’s prank. However, Clifford, I must commend you on your expert attempt to “shadow the e ” in GREENE. Perhaps – using creative intuition – you achieved this skill during a “shadow dancing” event of a solar eclipse.

  • spyder

    for the merriment of the first of April and in keeping with the theme:

    http://www.wiebetech.com/aprilfools/toughbit.php

    be sure to click on the other three important products.

  • Little Joe

    This is a real bonanza for string theory…

  • Navneeth

    Whether this is a joke, and in what way it was done (perhaps another Brian Green exists) will be interesting to see.

    Those were my initial thoughts too. Apparently the Green/Greene’s on the pavement of Hollywood does not have a Brian Greene.

    http://www.tibp.com/cgi-bin/foxweb.dll/wlx/dir/wlxdirectory?cc=WOFAME

  • Navneeth

    Well, the link I provided earlier displays an error message. So here’s the page where you can search for names featured in the Walk of Fame.

  • Navneeth

    Sorry. Still getting used to posting replies at blog sites…
    http://www.hollywoodchamber.net/icons/walk_directory.asp

  • http://valatan.blogspot.com bittergradstudent

    Not Feynman. Einstein first

  • Dan Riley

    It’s probably Brian Donlevy’s star (he seems to be the only first name Brian near Mary Brian’s star), with the “Greene” photoshopped in. The letters in “Greene” don’t have the right perspective–too upright. Better would have been to take a picture of Lorne Greene’s star, with the same relative camera position, as the source of “Greene”.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/11/so-lets-have-some-fun.html Plato

    Thought so too #24 but #10 seems to have the answer, although the article, seem’s hard to find?

    We know it was reported on the 19 May 05, now using the archive of Caltech one has to track it down.

    Too early, and it’s April 2 anywho.

    Good one Cliffy :)

  • Cynthia

    While Caltech applied duct tape (see comment #10) upon the Hollywood star, Clifford injected the art of deception into the Hollywood star. Therefore, I will conclude that Clifford’s method is superior to the Caltech method.

  • robert

    Nice on Clifford; I was carried along by the whimsy, all the way to the comment section. Having been away from an internet connection for some days, I perhaps wasn’t quite as primed for 4/01 rascalry as I should have been. It’s a shame that Matt Witten’s stirling work with ‘House’ has not been celebrated with a star yet; you could have used that to big up his big brother Ed.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Little Joe (#19):- I laughed out loud for almost a full minute! You’re brilliant, in that you were closest to the answer, in a flash. Want to tell us more?

    Others:- Thanks! There’s a clue or two in the photo itself. And no, I was not aware of any, er ….pranks, played by the Caltech kids.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Ok…. let’s have some truth here…. Who else was taken in before reading the comments? C’mon, ‘fess up.

    Do tell, as I’m curious….(I’ve been planning to do this for several months, and put a bit too much time into arranging this for you guys……)

    -cvj

  • Elliot

    I think Dan #24 just missed. You used Lorne Greene and took the “Brian” from Mary Brian and superimposed it.

  • Elliot

    I think you did an excellent job on this :) Also I think my theory about Lorne Greene/Mary Brian is supported by the fact that the map of stars puts them both at same location on Vine.

    :)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    I totally fell for it. Have you told Brian?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Yes, Elliot….. The plan was to go and find a nice “Greene” (yes, the correct spelling, Cynthia) somewhere, and a “Brian” somewhere else. Lorne Greene was who I had in mind at the outset, and imagine my delight when I found Mary Brian (you can see her star in the picture behind me, I left it in to tease) and Lorne Greene right next to each other! And yes, #24, I did of course take them at the same angle, but I forgot one thing…..Both BRIAN and GREENE were on the same side of the star, and so the perspective is wrong even if the angle is right…. easily corrected with a re-take of the photo, but as I only noticed this when I got home, and a week later at night just before April 1st, so I had to skew the BRIAN by hand. Also, taking the picture in different directions meant that the light was wrong (background on BRIAN was darker)….So I had to repaint the four-colour speckled background near BRIAN by hand…Sigh.

    Then I tried to write a post in the style of a typical post I would write…you know, then extraneous stuff about shopping, parenthetical remarks, babble about science and the media and science and society. (But no gardening or public transport this time….)

    The things I do for my few readers…….

    -cvj

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Wow, I forgot that I did not tell you about the plan Sean…..Actually, when you and Mark were in town that time a while back, I planned to get the two of you to stand with me for a picture in front the the Lorne Greene star, and then I would do the photoshop stuff later. It was to be a CV field trip to visit Brian Greene’s star! But as you know, it did not work out that we could all meet.

    No I have not told Brian…..Somebody let him know!

    -cvj

  • Little Joe

    Little Joe (#19):- I laughed out loud for almost a full minute! You’re brilliant, in that you were closest to the answer, in a flash. Want to tell us more?

    Not much to tell … (1) Noticed Mary Brian (2) The second google hit for `hollywood stars sidewalk’ has a list of stars by addresses (3) Found a Greene at the same address. Didn’t even have to reach into the fifth dimension.

    My first guess was that you had started from a Brian Green because the final E looks askew, but that must be a trick of the light, there are no Brian Greens on the walk.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    It’s a combination of perspective and the fact that the light hits the shiny letters differently. The E is in fact perfect. I made no adjustments to GREENE.

    -cvj

  • michaeld

    I opened Cosmic Variance actually expecting an April Fools’ message but by the end of the message I thought it was probably serious!

  • Cynthia

    Clifford,my initial gut reaction as I was digesting your blog topic can be summarized as follows: I did not feel complete shock to discover that a string theorist is granted the title as the first physicist in history to gain a star on the walk of fame. Nevertheless, my thoughts on you casting a shadow on “e” at the end of GREENE turned out to be totally irrelevant to the relevance of your prank. I simply thought Sean was stepping in to drop a clue. If Sean was dropping a clue, it was a misleading clue.

  • Aaron Bergman

    As I initially said, my impression is that a lot of stars are just the result of money donations and publicity campaigns these days, so it didn’t seem at all surprising that Brian Greene could have had one. Ryan Seacrest has one, for example.

  • erc

    OK, so it was I who ruined the joke (I’m sorry), so I’ll just note what gave it away to me, and then shut up (as I should have done in the first place)…

    a) I thought it strange Clifford was (partially) in the photograph: you so often take photos without yourself in them. Why put yourself in unless hoping it would give verisimilitude?
    b)”Brian” and “Greene” are not in the same plane
    c) The star is upside-down wrt the other in the photo (though this may be realistic, I don’t know)
    d) you only linked to one other post in which you expound on your wish for greater inclusion of science in popular culture, when in fact there are several

    but the thing which first made me suspicious:
    e) comment no. 2 by “John Smith”.
    Because it was such an unnecessary comment – so predictable that Clifford had already said don’t bother. It was as though a trap had been set and he fell right into it, though it had been pointed out. And then I realised it was a “trap”.

    Again, sorry for asking the question.

  • Moshe

    Wow, I hadn’t noticed that comment, very nicely done, all the classics of the genre are there. Nice job Clif…, ahem, I mean John Smith.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    What? I’ve no connection to the John Smith comment guys. Also, the positioning if the writing as upside down is in fact correct.

    Cynthia, the first Sean is not our Sean.

    You’re all seeing clues, with 20/20 hindsight, that were not in fact clues! 😀

    (And most people don’t see the misalignment the first time around… it’s something you spot once you’ve already realized it is a fake…. note the comments finding something wrong with the E in GREENE, or the whole of GREENE itself when those were in fact not doctored at all……)

    This is such fun though, isn’t it?!

    -cvj

  • Moshe

    Clifford, with your permission I will ignore your last comment, the scenario in which you are John Smith is much more beautiful and elegant (abd funny), and we all know that what ultimately matters…

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Better ask John Smith’s permission……

    I hope everyone saw the full joke in the comment by Little Joe including the commenters’s name? To me, that takes the prize!

    Gotta run….. apple pie to complete.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • Stephan

    Nice job. You got me.

  • lambda T

    Well done, Dr. Johnson!! I was completely fooled! But it’d be SO cool if Brian Greene actually DID have a star on Hollywood Blvd.!

    Hmmm….perhaps there should be a walkway similar to the Hollywood one, except for physicists and other scientists (such as Feynman, Greene, Marie Curie, Fermi, etc.)!! Instead of stars, their names could be inlayed on top of something physics-related.

    Any takers?

    …or we could just superimpose physicists’ names on the actual Hollywood stars, just for kicks… 😛

  • erc

    I hope everyone saw the full joke in the comment by Little Joe including the commenters’s name? To me, that takes the prize!

    No… :(

    Gotta run….. apple pie to complete.
    Hey! I made apple pie last night!

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Bonanza is the name of the show Lorne Greene is famous for acting in you see…. and Little Joe is one of the characters….. So Little Joe saying “It’s a real bonanza for string theory” as a clue that he/she had figured out the role of the Lorne Greene star in the plot……. That sort of killed me for a bit…… really funny….

    Then I looked in the internal stuff to see the email of the commenter, and they’d signed it with username Hoss…… that’s another Bonanza character….. I was choking for air at that point….

    (I guess you had to be there.)

    -cvj

  • Cynthia

    What sort of prize will Little Joe receive for solving Clifford’s joke? Perhaps, a “string trip” to the Ponderosa. Might be fun…

  • http://www.pieterkok.com/index.html PK

    I was looking on the Internet Movie Data Base for quite a while, looking for “Brian Green(e)” and never suspected an April Fools joke. And to think that I got up that morning on the lookout for jokes…

  • Ambitwistor

    My first reaction was, “Man, they give stars out to anyone these days… quickly followed by, “Hey….”

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