Garrett Lisi's Theory of Everything!

By Sean Carroll | November 16, 2007 2:29 pm

Garrett Lisi has a new paper, “An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything.” Many people seem to think that I should have an opinion about it, but I don’t. It’s received a good deal of publicity, in part because of Lisi’s personal story — if you can write an story with lines like “A. Garrett Lisi, a physicist who divides his time between surfing in Maui and teaching snowboarding in Lake Tahoe, has come up with what may be the Grand Unified Theory,” you do it.

The paper seems to involve a novel mix-up between internal symmetries and spacetime symmetries, including adding particles of different spin. This runs against the spirit, if not precisely the letter, of the Coleman-Mandula theorem. Okay, maybe there is a miraculous new way of using loopholes in that theorem to do fun things. But I would be much more likely to invest time trying to understand a paper that was devoted to how we can use such loopholes to mix up bosons and fermions in an unexpected way, and explained clearly why this was possible even though you might initially be skeptical, than in a paper that purports to be a theory of everything and mixes up bosons and fermions so casually.

So I’m sufficiently pessimistic about the prospects for this idea that I’m going to spend my time reading other papers. I could certainly be guessing wrong. But you can’t read every paper, and my own judgment is all I have to go on. Someone who understands this stuff much better than I do will dig into it and report back, and it will all shake out in the end. Science! It works, bitches.

For a discussion that manages to include some physics content, see Bee’s post and the comments at Backreaction.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science
  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

    Hi Sean,

    Thanks for the link. I’m semi-happy with the sentence the quote in the NewSci article. At least it’s a sentence I said. Though the context (“argues that Lisi’s idea could be complementary to string theory, rather than a radical alternative”) is a very fanciful interpretation of my wording (“I find it possible that a relation between these approaches can be established.”) Best,

    B.

  • tyler

    sean, I’d say you’re wise to stay clear of that one. Wow.

    B, that’s about as close to accurate as New Scientist gets. And, may I say, you are a gentleman and a scholar, for hosting such a…let’s say “energetic”…discussion. Interesting in many ways.

  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

    Hi Tylor,

    Thanks for the kind words. I am currently on the phone with my husband… he’s kind of irritated about me being a gentleman ;-).

    Besides, I forgot to mention that the term ‘these relations’ in the sentence I actually said, did not refer to string theory only, but included LQG – a part that was completely left out. Best,

    B.

  • tyler

    B, I am very sorry for my gender-ist assumption. Truly. As a pro-feminist person, I am ashamed of myself.

    I have worked as a professional forum moderator, way back in the distant past, and admire your technique.

    re: NS, you’re just lucky they didn’t quote you as saying “due to Lisi’s brilliant paper I now have the E8 diagram tattooed on my back, and did I mention it also proved that cannabis is harmless and medicinally useful?”

    (not a dig at Lisi, his work, or medicinal cannabis for that matter, I am just a bit tired of New Scientist’s ever-reliable unreliability and obsessions with certain clickthrough-generating subjects)

  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

    Hi Tyler, No problem. I like the idea with the E8 tatoo :-) Also, Tegmark should be very happy that the root diagram fits nicely on a T-shirt. -B.

  • http://deferentialgeometry.org Garrett

    OK, the hype (and my inbox) has gotten totally out of control. This is, after all, about an untested theory that may or may not turn out to be true. But, on the other hand… it’s pretty damn amusing.

    Mostly, all this media attention just makes me want to go hide for fifteen minutes, and I hope to come back to see physicists pondering this E8 theory, despite the hype.

  • chemicalscum

    Garrett, It seems to me as a non physicist who has browsed through your new paper, that maybe you’re the one person for which the delay in the LHC coming on line is an advantage. It gives you time to work up as much as you can the properties of the twenty proposed new particles and publish before they get the beast working at high energies.

    In which case, if you are right, you may have predicted the new particles they find with the LHC just a few months before they are discovered, much better than a a retrodiction a few months after.

  • http://dftuz.unizar.es/~rivero/research/ A Rivero

    Well, at least people is hearing about exceptional groups. Never liked E8 myself, too many particles. But E8xE8 is more excessive, or course. And the chain up of Dynkin diagrams, adding a point each step, has always been kind of motivating.

    There has been an slashdot effect in all the physics blogs even if only indirectly linked, at least I am under this impression after looking my own statistics (not a factor 3, but a noticeable peak).

  • http://www.measurementalgebra.com/E8.html Carl Brannen

    Well as my little contribution to people who want to know more about E8, I typed up a Java applet last night that lets you choose the horizontal and vertical projection axes and rotate the roots using Garrett’s notation. It comes up with random choices.

    When I was in grad school (at UC Irvine), there was a professor who was into E8. I can’t remember his name, but he was the guy who had 10,000 rhinoceroses in his office. Anyone who attended the school in the early 80s will know who I mean.

  • http://globalpioneering.com/wp02/ Pioneer1

    Cool applet! It looks like a lattice.

  • jc tyler

    No comment on the above article per se. I’d simply like to point out a mistake in foxnews http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,311952,00.html article about Lisi as linked to above. The proper headline should read “Fallen-over-backwards Surfer Dudee May Be Physic’s next blackhole”. Indeed, Lisi-alike stuff serves but one purpose, to suck in all superfluous and irrelevant brain power that otherwise would be in the way of serious research. It remains to be seen in what form Dudee blackhole’s digestive output will reappear. One thing we know for sure, it will definitely not be as the TOE.

  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

    The foxnews story is incredibly bad. The one by CBC.ca is several orders of magnitude better.

  • Moshe

    Hi B., your quotes in the CBC story are, how shall I say it, fabulous…I had a few minutes yesterday to consider what to say about that story, and could not come up with something that reflects my opinion yet escapes the prescribed role of the “establishment” in the “maverick against establishment” storyline. I’m relieved they found someone to say something sensible.

  • http://deferentialgeometry.org Garrett

    Cosmic Variance readers like the straight, inside story; so this seems a good opportunity to tell mine. Ten years ago, I got my PhD and looked at my options. I love differential geometry, general relativity, and particle physics. But the only options available then for a postdoc in those combined areas were in string theory, and I thought string theory was overly speculative. There are many really impressive aspects of strings — anomaly cancelation in particular — but there are other things that just seem wild and physically unsubstantiated. I had gotten lucky by investing my graduate stipend in a little company many thought was going out of business (AAPL), so I decided to go to Maui, learn to windsurf, and work on physics on my own. I was pretty happy that way, spending most of my time on physics, and posting a paper on the arxiv only if I thought I’d discovered something interesting. But even though I spend money like a grad student, after several years I was broke, and things were looking grim.

    Then, two years ago, the FQXi foundation started up and sent out their RFP. At the same time, the college on Maui, where I had been teaching a physics class, offered me a full-time, tenure track teaching position. This was a very nice offer, but I knew if I took it I’d have no time for my physics research. It was a very difficult choice, but I turned it down. I gambled on FQXi. I packed up the best physics I had done over the previous eight years, and sent it off as a grant proposal. And I got it. With this support, I felt the timing was right (and that I was somewhat obligated) to talk with others about my work. I flew down to the LQG conference in Morelia and presented a twenty minute talk. The LQG community is fantastic — their research is branching out in all directions to solve quantum gravity, and they’re all really nice people. Once they saw what I had been up to, Sabine and Lee invited me to visit Perimeter — which I accepted, of course, as this had been a daydream of mine since the institute was founded.

    A month later, I was in Iceland at the FQXi conference, eating the best lobster I’ve ever had, across the table from Mark (Hi Mark!) and the science editor for New Scientist. During this dinner, she must have made note of me, because two months later there was an email from a reporter asking for an interview.

    I was in the middle of writing up the paper when I visited PI, a fantastic nerd heaven. I talked with people there about this new E8 theory, and it went very well. I returned to Tahoe, where I’m living in a friend’s house, and finished the paper. I also exchanged twenty detailed emails with the reporter, which ended up as… well, it’s not a terrible article, and some of my conservative statements did filter in. I posted the paper to the arxiv, Sabine made an excellent and reasonable review, and the New Scientist published their article. Apparently, this was the beginning of the perfect media storm. The story spread, fast. I attempted to write accurate responses to the growing queue of inquiries from newspaper reporters. And I got a phone call from a friend who runs an ISP and hosts my web pages: “Umm, Garrett, I have the internet bandwidth of the gods, but you’re simultaneously on the front page of Digg, Reddit, and Slashdot… and you just capped it out.” It was right around then that my inbox exploded.

    I am answering reporters’ questions, and trying to make it clear that I do think I’ve come up with an exciting and beautiful new theory, but that it’s grounded in a long history involving the work of many others, and that as with any new theory, it may turn out to be wrong. I’ve spent much more time answering questions on blogs, because I want other physicists to understand the content of the paper, which is mathematically sound but presents many new ideas at once. I’ve refused several requests for brief television and radio interviews, because I think they would only serve the media and amplify the spectacle, instead of increasing interest in physics and how physicists think about the world. At the same time, other aspects of the media frenzy have been very cool (Hey, I’m going to be featured in Surfer magazine!) and completely overwhelming.

    The media attention will blow over. While I’m in the spotlight, I’ll try to present a message that’s good for physics. It’s not my intent to tear down academia — heck, I’d be thrilled if some academic opportunities arose from this. (Though it’s baffling to me how academics manage to juggle all the responsibilities and research at once.) It’s not even my intent to tear down string theory. I don’t happen to like it, but I think people should be able to work on what they want.

    One way or another, this stuff will all work out. I believe what Sean said — science works — even if sometimes things get a little crazy.

    -Garrett

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

    Thanks, Garrett. It also baffles me how academics manage to juggle all the responsibilities and research at once.

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  • http://www.measurementalgebra.com/E8.html Carl Brannen

    My memory kicked in and the professor at UCI who liked E8 back in 1984 was Gordon Shaw. He died in 2005.

    Life is short and there really isn’t enough time to do research and all the duties that academia requires.

  • Pingback: An exceptionally simple theory of everything: Peer review angle at Freedom of Science()

  • CarlN

    Crackpot Carl comments: A theory of everything should at least explain the following points:

    1. Why does anything exist at all?
    2. Why does the laws of nature look like math?
    3. Why is the universe so “fine tuned”?

    1. We cannot use anything that exists to explain why something exits. So what exists comes from nothing. How is that possible? “When” nothing exists there are no hinders, no conservation laws, no need for causation that could stop something from starting to exist.

    2. Only self-consistent “things” (universes) can start to exist, else their existence will conflict with their existence. The mathematics we see in our laws of nature (although not fully know at this time) is the way this universe is kept consistent.

    3. Apart from what already exists, there is nothing (by logic). So Nothing keeps on spewing out self-consistent universes regardless of what exists. No wonder some of them have properties such as ours. Unfortunately the only link between these universes is Nothing. So there is no link, sadly.

    :-)

    Carl

  • smm

    Thanks for the nice story, Garrett. I’m a bit jealous of you though…I had always hoped that I’d be the first physicist in the “People Who Surf” column!

  • Doug Ridgway

    I’ll bite on running the “alternative science respectability” checklist. We have:

    1) “Acquire basic competency in whatever field of science your discovery belongs to.”

    Author received a Ph.D. in physics from UCSD, which by itself doesn’t mean much, but it does demonstrate some minimal level of competence. Check.

    2) “Understand, and make a good-faith effort to confront, the fundamental objections to your claims within established science.”

    The most common “fundamental objection” that seems to get raised is the Coleman-Mandula theorem. From a skim of the paper and conversation on Backreaction, it seems that the way this is dealt with is not new, though not without controversy. I’m not competent to make a technical assessment, but the standard here is “good-faith effort to confront”, rather than “definitively prove to the satisfaction of every working scientist”, which to me seems to be clearly met. The author also seems happy to dialogue about other issues. Check.

    3) “Present your discovery in a way that is complete, transparent, and unambiguous.”

    The parts of the paper which I have sufficient background to read sound fine. Again, I don’t have sufficient background to make a technical assessment of the rest, but the question here is whether the “discovery” is uninterpretable on its face, or can be evaluated. To me, it seems evaluatable, even if I can’t evaluate it. Nor do the critiques that I’ve seen suggest that it’s incomprehensible, only that it’s wrong. I’m therefore going to give this a check as well.

    None of this means that this paper is interesting or correct, much less worth spending time on. It’s only a question of whether this contribution can be dismissed as “alternative” science (ie crackpottery), or if it’s boring old regular science from a boring old regular scientist with a slightly nontraditional career path. I think it’s the latter, and to suggest otherwise is a disservice.

    Disclaimer: I went to grad school with Garrett. (Hi Garrett!)

  • Marco

    Speaking of bad news coverage, I could not resist the temptation and I am making a quick translation for you of the article that appeared in the online science section of La Repubblica, the first italian newspaper. If you can read italian, the link is here.
    I’m doing a literal translation, so some sentences that sound weird might be due to me, but some make no sense even in italian, trust me. I find that the style is amusingly similar to the one of the piece in The Onion linked here some time ago.

    “E8: such is the Universe. A surfer’s word.
    by Tiziano Toniutti

    Garrett Lisi, 39 years-old, with a degree in Physics (but he doesn’t work for the University), lives in Hawaii where he does everything he can not to look like a science guru: sleeps in the jungle, spends hours on the surf board, builds bridges. He spends winter in Nevada where he practices snowboard. A 40-year-old boy like many others, but for the fact that he likes to unveil the secrets of the Universe.
    Lisi has sketched a theoretical model of the Universe that he has called E8 and, according to the theories of particle physics, his computations make sense: that’s the reason why, for instance, Professor Lee Smolin from Perimeter Institute in Canada, gets to the point of affirming that Garrett’s intuition is “wonderful, one of the best models of unification that I have ever seen in many, many years”. Professor David Ritz Finkelstein of Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta adds that “some fascinating theoretical opportunities spring out of Lisi’s theoy, and Garrett could have grasped something really deep”.

    Lisi’s study does not require more that one time dimension and three space dimensions, so it is mathematically quite simple. It will be possible to test its effectiveness when the LHC, a structure for atomic verification which is ideal for the practical applications of the theory, will be ready in 2008.

    The scientific world is thrilled by this unexpected theory of a Hawaii surfer that sometimes sleeps in the jungle. But that also is a scholar and that traces his roots back to the study of E8, a mathematical scheme of 248 points discovered in 1887 that implements an object that embeds the symmetries of a geometry with 57 dimensions and is a 248 dimension thing itself. Words that are incomprehensible for someone who is not a physicist, but it looks like Mother Nature has incorporated the meaning of E8 in the foundation of many physics rules, so much that Lisi gets to the point of saying that the Universe might have a precise graphical shape.

    Lisi’s theory could replace string theory, that many see as not fully convincing and even not applicable. What is sure so far is that the experimentation is just at the beginning and we could all be surprised by the discovery of a guy that one day, instead of hitting the waves, decided to stay home writing on a notebook some formulas that most of us cannot understand.”

    I think I like in particular “the LHC, a structure for atomic verification”. Or maybe the breathtaking description of E8.

    PS did he say that Garrett sleeps in the jungle?

  • Jason M. Hendler

    As I understand it, using the E8 lattice and inserting “imaginary” particals at vertices representing gravity, this lattice shows how all four “forces” inter-relate. I have a different supposition – it is the particles that exert the weak-nuclear, strong-nuclear and electro-magnetic forces, through their relationship described BY the E8 lattice, that produce the effect of a gravitational “force”. There are NO gravitons, etc. to be found, because the particals containing the other 3 forces combine to create the 4th “force” of gravity.

    This explains why gravity is so weak, unless there is a great mass of the other particals present, and how gravity can work over large distances, and seem to propagate its effects faster than light.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    . But I would be much more likely to invest time trying to understand a paper that was devoted to how we can use such loopholes to mix up bosons and fermions in an unexpected way, and explained clearly why this was possible even though you might initially be skeptical, than in a paper that purports to be a theory of everything and mixes up bosons and fermions so casually.

    If I were in physics, I too would think that a new workable (loophole in /workaround of) Coleman-Mandula (or should we say Haag-Lopuszanski-Sohnius) is far more important and potentially revolutionary than a E8 TOE.

  • Thomas Folz-Donahue

    and seem to propagate its effects faster than light.

    huh? I thought that information could never be seen propagating faster than light in any inertial reference frame… could somebody explain Jason’s comment?

  • SuperAnon

    Well, I can’t explain the comment, as it doesn’t make sense to me, but there are situations in which a particle can “propagate its effects faster than light.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_entanglement

  • Paul Schofield

    I’m not certain if anyone has covered this elsewhere, but I was wondering if this theory explains the relationship between inertial and gravitational mass in any way?

    Recently I’ve come to see this relationship as something that must be the litmus test of any TOE. While it may not be absolutely required for a theory to be accurate, it would suggest that any such theory is incomplete if it didn’t address the question in any way.

    Similarly, just how front loaded does the theory have to be to produce predicted masses for the standard model particles? I couldn’t find that information in the paper.

    Finally, to what extent is this model actually new physics, and to what extent is it simply a new mathematical description of properties of particles, without nescisarilly saying anything new (or indeed anything) about the physics relating those properties? From what I have seen, it would seem possible that the same mathematical structure could be kept even if the physicality of the system is not as it is assumed in the paper. But that could just be the echo chamber getting too loud in String country.

  • Jason M. Hendler

    Thomas,

    Yes, quantum entanglement does recognize faster than light cause-effect relationships, which is mentioned in the linked article by Halton Arp:

    http://www.haltonarp.com/articles/the_observational_impetus_for_le_sage_gravity

    Of course, I can’t find the articles from his webpage now, but Halton Arp had posted cosmic observations that pointed to gravitational cause-effect relationships that appeared to occur at speeds of 5, 20 and 300 times the speed of light. Halton believes this is evidence of extremely long wavelength graviton particles that travel faster than light, but given gravity’s position along imaginary vectors of the E8 lattice, I suspect gravity is an apparent “force” resulting from the interactions of the other forces / particles, which would explain “faster than light” cause-effect observations.

    It is similar to someone whipping a flashlight beam across the sky, in which the reflected spot appears to be traveling faster than light at great distances, but it is only an illusion (not a great analogy, but sufficient).

  • Patrick

    How can there be a ToE without directly addressing what 95% of the “missing” universe really is? Just my 2 cents.

  • http://lighttale.com Jin He

    I give the medcine for modern theory of gravity:

    Gravity is the spacetime background of other interactions.

    Einstein was to consider gravity as background. On the other hand, He wanted to unify gravity with others and tried to tranform the theory into field theory. Therefore, curvature is considered to be real matter while reference frames (real background) are no longer the choice of Einstein. General relativity loses connection to real matter.

    String and other mainstream relativity do not dare to challenge Einstein and, therefore, dance on the stage of imaginary matter!

  • http://gdfsdfg Andy

    Patrick:
    I think the most probable explanation for why Lisi’s E8 theory doesn’t explain what dark matter and dark energy are is that they don’t actually exist.

  • Brian

    Patrick,

    I think there are 18, or so, “roots” of E8 that do not match up to known particles. Some or all of these may be dark matter candidates. I think that a cosmological constant is built in somehow – I have heard the term “DeSitter space” mentioned in describing some aspect of Lisi’s model. I know very little about the theory. I’ve just looked at a few diagrams and heard a few wisps of conversations.

  • Patrick

    Thanks for the reply Brian, Andy. I didn’t mean to criticise the theory itself because I understand way to less of it, to do that (I’m not even a ‘biker-dude’, even though I love riding my bicycle. Also I don’t have any academical degree, it’s ridiculous to point that even out, because I’m no stereotypical nerd whatsoever *uhh, irony*). I don’t admire Garret’s media-attention for his (maybe) brilliant paper, I even feel sorry for him. That kind of pressure may well be hard to handle. I found his little story here quite nice, especially the parts, in which he didn’t sound he’d have to justify himself. Fame will come, if deserved.
    The first thing I did after i read the intro and outro was looking for the phrase “dark” in his theory. Since that is not in there, i searched for any hint of an explanation. Earlier, my point was, that any ToE should at least include solutions for the DM/DE ‘problem’ and not leave room for speculation there. Even it that means, that we’re far from a ToE. But maybe that’s not how theories in phyiscs work. I guess that Einstein wasn’t to eager about explaining every consequence of his theory neither. But for that, there are genious people like Sean, who happen to explain that kind of stuff for a broader but interested audience in a very nice way. Ups, I g2g! Greetings from Germany everyone :)

  • Jason M. Hendler

    Andy,

    I agree, I also suspect that the motions we currently see are the result of known matter that simply relates in ways not yet understood, which may be found in the E8 lattice relationship. In the same way, I don’t believe gravitons exist, and the observed “force” of gravity is just the result of known matter relating in ways we don’t yet understand.

    In a sense, I see gravity as a pushing force caused by existing particles / forces that we now know. To me, there is only ONE true unifying force:

    entropy

    Every other particle / force bows before it.

  • http://www.pieter-kok.staff.shef.ac.uk PK

    Quantum entanglement does not involve a faster-than-light causal effect, for the simple reason that there is no operational way of testing this statement. The effect of entanglement is seen in communication protocols (unconditionally secure cryptography) and information processing (quantum computing), and can be acurately described as a correlation between quantum systems that is stronger than any classical correlation. The no-cloning theorem in quantum mechanics ensures that quantum entanglement canot be used to signal faster than light. In particular, simultaneity is still a relative concept (that is, relative to the observer’s intertial frame).

  • amused

    “I got my PhD and looked at my options. I love differential geometry, general relativity, and particle physics. But the only options available then for a postdoc in those combined areas were in string theory, and I thought string theory was overly speculative.”

    Before blaming string theory for your lack of opportunities, consider whether your publication record (1 publication, in J.Phys.A) would have made you competitive for postdocs in the absence of string dominance.

    String theorists must be loving what they see unfolding here. How will the usual critics ever be able to accuse them of overblown hype and misleading advertising again, given their role in (Smolin&co), or silence during (Woit), the current spectacle.

  • notsoamused

    “String theorists must be loving what they see unfolding here. How will the usual critics ever be able to accuse them of overblown hype and misleading advertising again, given their role in (Smolin&co), or silence during (Woit), the current spectacle.”

    Not really. It is simply sad to see how manipulative blog campaigns are semi-successful to switch the public opinion around. First, to discredit string theory and now, to support lousy research. I wonder whether they pay similar attention to the fact that this “theory” has been shown to be wrong.

  • amused

    hi notsoamused,

    I should be even less amused than you about this, being on the anti-string (or more precisely, the `let’s curb string theory excesses and give others a fair shot’) side. I’ve always interpreted Peter W.’s blog as being more about provoking a critical debate about ST rather than discrediting it, but he does seem to have made an error of judgement in this case. There are mitigating circumstances though, since a senior professor at PI came out and described the Lisi work as “fabulous” and “one of the most compelling unification models I’ve seen in many, many years”, which signals a green light to physics bloggers and journalists alike to cover it.
    I’ve always suspected that Smolin, in his unrestrained drive to make reality conform to his ideological ideas of how things should be, would end up doing much more damage to the “anti-string” cause than Motl’s rantings would ever do to the pro-string side.

  • Moshe

    Amused, I am not sure what you found so very different in this episode, to my mind everyone behaved exactly as they had numerous times before. Luckily, this includes Jacques, who once again stayed on topic and took the time to provide a thorough analysis of the group theory involved, including where things go wrong. See

    http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/archives/001505.html

    Surely it is only hours before we witness lots of retractions…

  • amused

    Moshe, the specifics of this case are way different from anything that has gone before: Smolin&co promoting an unknown person claiming to have a ToE… It is uncharted territory, so I’m not sure if one can say that the people involved are behaving as they had done many times in the past. Depends on the interpretation perhaps… But yes, I agree that Jacques deserves everyone’s thanks for putting the matter to rest.

  • http://deferentialgeometry.org Garrett

    Please note that Jacques Distler has not pointed out any problems that are not already discussed in the paper. I fully admit that this theory has a problem with the higher two generations that needs work, and have never claimed otherwise. On the contrary, I state and explain this explicitly in the paper.

  • http://foranewageofreason.blogspirit.com Andrew Daw

    The simplest theory of everything will be an account that will explain everything in the natural world that cannot be explained as or just as effects caused by the forces.

    So that, in particular, this is a cause and effect explnation of how matter as atoms. molecules and liviing organisns can exist despite the forces acting within and upon it. And hence this theory finds that the universe can be and remain the way that it is only because of the universal and constant action of nonlocal and extra-dimensional material form conserving cause.

  • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/blog Peter Woit

    amused,

    This is not a topic I was “silent” on, it’s one I wrote a posting about explaining exactly what I thought, as well as engaging in discussion on the subject in the comment section. That much of the press coverage has been misleading and badly overhyped is something that even Garrett I think agrees with.

    But I also think the hysteria over this from some string theorists is unwarranted. The media regularly carries overhyped stories about highly speculative physics papers (do you read New Scientist?), and mostly I think the best policy is to ignore them, because no one in the physics community other than the authors of the papers themselves is paying any attention. The reason I’ve regularly been critical of overhyped articles about string theory is that physicists are paying attention to them. The question of whether string theory has failed as a unification theory is a highly contentious one among people in the field, and ongoing attempts to claim “predictions” of string theory and other successes in the media are part of this story, and something I intend to keep writing about. I also expect to keep mostly ignoring the large amount of nonsense in the media that is not about string theory, unless it shows some sign of actually influencing physics research

  • amused

    Peter,

    I see your point, but am worried that next time you (rightly) decry the latest “test of string theory” hype you will get string theorists writing in asking you where was your outrage during the Lisi spectacle when the hype propagated by Smolin&Co was at least as bad. They will point out that, thanks to Smolin’s credentials and status as a senior prof. at PI, this hype had considerable influence on getting the public and quite a few physicists to pay attention.
    If you hadn’t covered the Lisi paper in the first place you could deflect this by saying that it is outside the scope of your blog. But since you did cover the paper, it’s less straightforward…

  • http://quantumfieldtheory.org nc

    amused,

    Remember that string theory fails at every criterion:

    (1) It’s not even ad hoc theoretical physics because doesn’t model anything already known successfully (the unobservable values for the moduli of compactified extra spatial dimensions in string theory give that theory a landscape of 10^500 or more models, and it’s not even mathematically possible today to even identify which – if any – of those models encompass Standard Model type physics).

    (2) Because there are 100 unknown moduli required in the theory (the parameters of the unobservable Calabi-Yau manifold dimensions), the theory can’t make falfifiable predictions. (Even if it did make falsifiable predictions, so what? Lots of speculative theories make predictions, and nobody gives a damn until they are tested and found correct. Why the premature celebration of string?)

    (3) String theory leads to pseudoscientific defenses of the subject by its practitioners, who seek to chuck away the carefully checked scientific method just out of egotism. E.g., they claim that because the theory seems to allow spin-2 gravitons and is (allegedly) self-consistent, it is a theory of quantum gravity, and this make’s it a physical theory.

    If string people act this way when there is no physical evidence for their speculations, how will they act if data comes in that is ambiguous, or which isn’t compatible with string? Will they just add some epicycles to the theory and claim to be doing science, like Ptolemy did when the epicycle model of the Earth-centred-universe failed to make accurate predictions?

    At what point (if ever) will Professor Witten openly confess that string is just a model for speculations like unobservable Planck scale unification and unobserved spin-2 gravitons, and hasn’t any claim to say anything useful about the Standard Model or gravity? Smolin and Lisi at least are skeptical in case they are wrong. String theory by contrast can’t ever be shown to be wrong.

    Professor Richard Dawkin’s should entitle his next book “The String Delusion” (or, at least, he should include a chapter about string theory worship in the next edition of “The God Delusion”).

  • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress Peter Woit

    amused,

    It’s not that Gattett’s paper is outside the scope of my blog, just that overhyped descriptions of speculative ideas about physics in the media aren’t all worth paying attention to. This is a very unusual one though in the amount of attention it has gotten (I just noticed that it even made it into the Economist), and unfortunately one reason for that is the overly enthusiastic quotes from Lee Smolin.

    In this case I unusually find myself in agreement with Clifford Johnson, see his recent comment on his blog:

    http://asymptotia.com/2007/03/19/e8/#comment-90563

  • Aaron Bergman

    Just for reference, here is the Economist article. I particularly like how they manage to bring in the recent computation of the KL polynomials of the split real form.

    Here’s the final paragraph:

    Certainly, there are glitches with Dr Lisi’s analysis and some of the truly fundamental problems that plague more conventional work remain. Yet the theory has several appealing facets. It is elegant. It is expected to make testable predictions. Unlike some of the more complicated efforts to devise a theory of everything, this one should either succeed relatively rapidly or fail spectacularly. And that is more than can be said for three decades of work by other physicists.

    I’m sure this all the fault of string theorists somehow.

  • Moshe

    Yeah, any idea should stand or fall on its own, the repeated references to string theory are tacky, and also a pretty good warning sign…

    To amused (and others), I am still not sure what one can do in this situation. Suppose you are contacted by a media outlet for your opinion about this story. It was clear from the beginning that there is no TOE there, but there may or may not be an interesting observation somewhere in there. If you are overly harsh you will almost certainly packaged as defending your turf against the new genius, and besides Garrett seems like a nice guy… So, what would you say? (in 10 words or less, of course).

  • amused

    Hi Moshe, I recommend just saying the truth. Actually, what you wrote sounds completely fine:
    “It was clear from the beginning that there is no TOE there, but there may or may not be an interesting observation somewhere in there.”
    Just say that. They might package you in the way you said, but this media stuff is just a silly game and I don’t think you should degrade yourself by trying to play it and saying something other than the truth.

    One unfortunate thing at the moment is that the “establishment” viewpoint is being represented by Lubos; specifically, by his blog posting on the topic. Probably because that’s all that journalists find when they search the internet looking for the “establishment response”. And it plays right into the image of nasty arrogant string theorists trying to squash the new genius who’s set to overthrow their evil empire… So it would be good if you and others talked to the press when you can so that the caricature image has a chance of being replaced with the image of serious scientists expressing their dispassionate opinion. You could also suggest non-string people with expertese in this kind of stuff who journalists can talk to for a “neutral opinion”. (Neuberger is one person who comes to mind, no doubt there are quite a few others.)

    For what it’s worth, I am sickened by the things that are being written, e.g. in the quote from the Economist article above. It’s so naive and ridiculous.

    Best wishes,
    David

  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

    the problem are not overly enthusiastic statements. the problem is that people pay attention to them instead caring for the facts. this whole story shows so awfully nicely what the internet does to our opinion making processes. there is one first article (in this case the telegraph) which contains almost no information, and shortly later a longer follow up (NewScientist, which was actually well written and balanced). The whole thing is new, it’s hot, and gets copied and mirrored and echoed by a hundred of other sites with declining degree of content and increasing degree of polarization (Stuff string theory!). Almost none of these add anything, or has something new to say. Even if they wanted to, there is no time for that, who cares about Garrett Lisi in two weeks? (Maybe the Germans, I am surprised they haven’t yet picked it up.) What’s journalism coming to? It’s a nonlinear feedback effect, and it will only become worse the more important people think links and traffic to their website is. The actual content of an article just becomes less and less important, it’s not relevant that people actually read it! It’s completely sufficient if the click on the advertisement banner next to the title. Isn’t it obvious that this kind of financing is a complete disaster?

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Moshe wrote: It was clear from the beginning that there is no TOE there,…
    Bee wrote: …the problem are not overly enthusiastic statements. the problem is that people pay attention to them instead caring for the facts.
    amused wrote: I recommend just saying the truth.

    The truth in my eyes is that the very first offense here was the overly enthusiastic title: “An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything”. It is clearly a misrepresentation of the contents of the paper.

    See, Bee, people take the overly enthusiastic statements to be the facts. Perhaps none of you scientists types has been paying attention, but **that is the way** the world works. At least people are a little jaded when it comes to advertisers, politicians, government officials, religionists and so on. Yet, they swallowed the kool-aid on such varied things as subprime mortgages and on why invade Iraq.

    Now particle physicists will also be classified among the purveyors of snake-oil. I do not count this as a good thing.

    And IMO, superstring hype helped on this downwards slide, whenever anyone talked about it in public without the qualifier “We do not yet know this to be true**”.

    The whole purpose of academic freedom, tenure, etc., was that there would be this set of people in society with no obligation to anything but the strict facts. They would be one set of people who could be counted on to point out nonsense as such.

    If among the most exact of the experimental sciences – particle physics – can fall prey to overly enthusiastic statements, then why should anyone believe that any of the less exact, dealing with more complexity – e.g., climate science – is not driven by something other than fact?

    What this is to say is that the scientist needs to be painfully precise in statements made to the public, in papers and in talks. It is a professional obligation.

    (true** as in “relevant to/descriptive of our universe”.).

  • Jason M. Hendler

    Actually, I would lump particle physicists in with snake oil salesmen, for one very simple fact – you all claim to KNOW your current laws of gravity to be fact, but then find they don’t seem to work on the galactic scale, which you never bother to mention to the general public. You then start adding terms to your equations, and lable them dark matter and dark energy, without one moment’s consideration that your law may be simply wrong.

    Your cloistered “scientists” are merely the cardinals of a new religion that you are zealously trying to protect, lest your daily bread be taken from you.

  • Josh

    Re #52:

    It seems like you’re the one who mistakenly thinks he knows everything. There has been a ton of press about dark matter and dark energy, so the public knows all about this problem. And just because one works under the assumption that the otherwise wildly successful theory of relativity is basically correct and just needs some tweaking(addition of dark matter, etc.), doesn’t mean physicists are brainwashed cultists who can’t envision other possibilities. The fact is that dark matter has been indirectly observed in the Bullet cluster as Sean has so nicely written on in the past, so relativity works very well at the galactic scales. On cosmological scales where dark energy is invoked, there may be something else going on; no good physicist will claim to really understand it in full.

    And what do you think would happen if relativity is wrong and some new mechanism takes effect? Relativity clearly works in many situations (there are a number of precision tests in solar system and terrestrial physics) so whatever the solution is, it still just amounts to adding terms to the known equations and labeling them something.

    Get off your soapbox and learn a thing or two about what you’re spouting off about. The internet is ignorant enough as it is.

  • amused

    “the problem are not overly enthusiastic statements. the problem is that people pay attention to them instead caring for the facts.”

    Bee, the journalists who have written about this don’t have any expertese in this area, and have had to rely on physicists and Lisi himself to provide them with the facts. And in most cases their stories have been pretty much based on the “facts” they’ve been presented with, without (much) distortion, but at the same time without knowing that these “facts” are not the real facts. It’s hard to blame them for not knowing that, how should they have known?

    As a case study, let’s consider the Sunday Times article. From the article:

    “Could Lisi have cracked a problem that has defied some of the finest minds in history? While it has in no way embraced this lofty claim, the scientific community has given it a surprising amount of respect. Lee Smolin, founder of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada, is full of praise: “It is one of the most compelling unification models I’ve seen in many, many years.” ”

    The journalist assumes that the views of someone of Smolin’s stature surely signify respect from the scientific community at large — a completely understandable and excusable mistake. (Normally the views of someone in Smolin’s position would signify that, and the journalist can’t be expected to know that there is an anomaly in this case.)

    “Some have rejected the proposal out of hand: one physicist describes Lisi as a “crank” and his ideas as “baloney”.”

    So the journalist went to the trouble of asking the opinion of a real live physicist — that’s pretty good! (It can’t just be from Lubos’ blog since “baloney” is an English expression which he doesn’t use.)

    “But most see the possibility, albeit far from proven, of genuine insight”

    Which is a likely impression a journalist would get from reading certain physics blogs (e.g. yours, Bee). In fact most serious physicists won’t have even bothered to look at the paper, for exactly the reason that Sean gives in his post. But we can’t really blame the journalist for not knowing that the views that have been expressed about the paper, either by Smolin&co or in the physics blogsphere, are far from representative of the silent majority view of serious physicists.

    “Lisi is unimpressed by string theory. For a man who is motivated by mathematical beauty, it is just too clumsy to be compelling and he quit university after completing his PhD rather than be forced to pursue it.”

    This is the story Lisi likes to tell journalists and everyone else (including the readers of this blog — see his comment above). The journalist can hardly be blamed for not knowing that Lisi’s meagre publication record wouldn’t have been enough for him to continue as a university postdoc in any case, regardless of whether string theory was the only option or not. Lisi “forgets” to mention this, and instead presents himself as a victim of string dominance.

    “He may not have to wait long to see if his theory is right. […] Within 12 months of the Large Hadron Collider bursting into life in the Swiss countryside next year, the giant particle accelerator experiment should deliver its verdict, revealing whether or not the new fundamental particles that Lisi’s theory predicts should exist are actually there. The whole idea will stand of fall on this crucial test.”

    Again, this is the story Lisi has been telling journalists (and also writing on his FQXi blog). Can we blame them for believing it? Lisi lets them think that he has a theory in sufficient working order to begin calculating predictions for the LHC.
    But in actual fact he has no such thing, as he was forced to admit on Jacques Distler’s blog:

    “…Addressing this inadequacy in the theory is what I will be working on over the coming months, and if I or someone else can’t figure out a good way to solve this problem, the theory won’t work.”

    Funny how he felt no inclination to point out to the journalists that his theory suffers from a potentially fatal “inadequacy”…

    In summary, I don’t see how the journalist who wrote this story can be blamed for the hype or misleading/incorrect statements. He/she was just basing it on the “facts” presented, together with a few completely reasonable assumptions.
    And the situation is more or less the same with the other stories I’ve seen.

  • amused

    whoops, screwed up the link. it should have been this

  • http://deferentialgeometry.org Garrett

    If anyone cares to see what I actually said to journalists, my responses to questions are available here:
    theory FAQ
    personal AQ
    And before slamming me for liking my own work, please note that I have managed to persuade every single journalist I have spoken with to report that this theory is speculative, still in development, and untested.

    The current inadequacies of this theory are discussed at length in the paper, and I have attempted to convey them to all who have been interested. Jacques did not “disprove” the theory, but just described the inadequacy which I described in the paper as the most important problem that needs fixing. He did find a small error — that the group here is the split real form of E8 and not E IX — but in my opinion this correction only makes this theory more interesting.

    As a result of all the press, I have received many hundreds of emails from the general public (to which I have been responding, one by one). The general theme of these emails is “Good luck with your theory, I hope it works.” People understand this is a developing theory, and that it might be wrong.

  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

    #54 amused:
    In summary, I don’t see how the journalist who wrote this story can be blamed for the hype or misleading/incorrect statements. He/she was just basing it on the “facts” presented, together with a few completely reasonable assumptions.
    Even though I agree with you and Arun that scientists should be careful with what they say to journalists, it is pretty clear that many of those who echoed and copied the initial articles didn’t even care to even pretend they tried to understand anything about it. And yes, this is what I expect of journalists: that they try to find out how useful and reliable the statements are that they print. That’s their job! The problem is that everybody gladly jumps on a statement like Lee’s without caring for the details, because it’s easy it’s cheap, it gets attention, on the price of accuracy.
    The journalist assumes that the views of someone of Smolin’s stature surely signify respect from the scientific community at large — a completely understandable and excusable mistake.
    I have no idea how you have managed to downgrade your expectations on good journalism so much that you can ‘excuse’ such a deliberately unbalanced and vacuous reporting as a ‘mistake’. If somebody insists on writing a very premature article about a paper that had been just published days before, in a field where it can take years to understand the promise of an idea, then I expect he or she takes his or her responsibility seriously, and does not happily jump on a single sentence which is quotable because that guy has written some books and people will recognize his name. If a magazine or newspaper doesn’t have anybody who is qualified as a science journalist, then they should stay out of the matter.
    #51 Arun: Yes, the title was inappropriate (that’s why I mingled it up in my blog post). Yes, people take overly enthusiastic statements as fact, and yes, scientists should know this and be accordingly careful. Yes, that’s the way the world works, whether I like it or not. But whether we like it or not, not all scientists will be appropriately unenthusiastic, and I am glad about it. I find the trend that science journalism becomes more and more a fictitious story writing very worrisome. Much more worrisome than enthusiastic scientists.

  • Andreas

    The events unfolding in this opera are worrying. It seems that in the years after Sokal and the Bogdanovs it is increasingly difficult for people to tell physics from “alternative physics” – to the extent that nowadays even respected professionals “jump on the train”. For me, the only important implication of “E8 theory” is that in a few years time a fake quantum gravity theory will be finally proclaimed, by media and majority opinion, a true “Theory of Everything”. This would be a victory of the fake over the authentic, and of postmodernism over science. A sad outlook.

  • Michael Hunter

    I enjoyed the double meaning of the title.

    The theory will be judged based on its agreement with experiment.

    Whether the theory is accepted or disproven, I offer my congratulations to Mr. Lisi. I also wish that I could snowboard as well as he does!

  • Jason M. Hendler

    #52, Josh,

    These cosmological observations that “uphold” dark matter and dark energy terms in your equations weren’t predicted, but observable flaws in previous theories that needed band-aids, for which you created these superflorous terms. Instead of admitting your previous theories were wrong, you just came up with new theories about intangible / untestable entities, as if nothing happened.

    #54, amused,

    “Funny how he felt no inclination to point out to the journalists that his theory suffers from a potentially fatal “inadequacy”… ”

    Why is that funny? Relativity and string theorists have been doing that for years, masking their shortcomings with even more theories of “dark matter” and “dark energy”, which is just backfilling in terms when observations prove previous theories wrong.

    #56, Garrett,

    Good luck man! You have the right attitude that you sense some real fundamental relationships by applying E8 to particle physics, and offer some suppositions for others to challenge / pursue, and are open to criticism / failure, which is more than I can say for the string theorists trying to protect their bread and butter.

    Too funny, string theorists will keep adding more and more terms, without ever getting down to the basic understanding of what is going on. I recommend that they start with the one true force – entropy, and build from there.

  • amused

    Bee,

    “If somebody insists on writing a very premature article about a paper that had been just published days before, in a field where it can take years to understand the promise of an idea, then I expect he or she takes his or her responsibility seriously, and does not happily jump on a single sentence which is quotable because that guy has written some books and people will recognize his name.”

    I find it absolutely hilarious that you are directing your outrage against the poor ignorant journalist rather than the expert physicist who fed him/her the baloney.
    And it’s not as if Smolin was saying that stuff in a vacuum; there were similar noises from others, e.g. Rovelli, as well as a general buzz eminating from PI as indicated in your blogpost:
    “during my time at PI it [Lisi’s seminar] was the best attended Quantum Gravity seminar I’ve been at.”
    And it’s not as if Smolin&co don’t have any experience in dealing with journalists and couldn’t predict the likely outcome of saying what they said.

    Sorry, but I can’t take this discussion seriously anymore.

  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

    Hi amused:

    Glad to amuse you ;-) The number of attendees doesn’t say anything about their opinion after the talk. I am much too tired to be outraged about anything, but you’re misunderstanding me if you think I blame the journalists. I was just expressing that I am not willing to excuse everything because the poor guys don’t know what quantization is (well, I’d have expected a science journalist should know as much as having heard of the problem of quantizing gravity and asking the question how it’s solved?).

    What I was actually trying to say is as so often, I find myself criticizing a general trend in our society that I thoroughly dislike. Scientists shouldn’t be affected by the media, but I am afraid they are because attention potentially brings money in. (Let’s face it, that’s what people get upset about. When funding goes to X, it won’t be there for Y). Journalists shouldn’t write to please their readership but to convey information, but it’s entertainment that brings money in (Let’s face it, what matters in the end is whether it sells.) We all shouldn’t sit around and watch how our society produces more and more virtual bubbles of nothing, because capitalism obviously has its limitations and we’ve already exceeded them. Ironically we don’t have time to do anything about it because it doesn’t help our careers.

    What worries me is simply how cheerful the media picks around on the ‘ivory tower’. There is a good reason why the opinion making process in science should take place independent from external influence, that includes media hypes as well as financial pressure. Isn’t it completely obvious that unbalanced reporting and fear of loosing grants affects opinions and the choice of research topics? What worries me is not so much the actual reporting, but that people in our community increasingly (have to) pay attention to it.

    Best,

    B.

  • curious

    None of these blogs seem to have mentioned something obvious. Surely FQXi has been a factor in publicising and promoting this work. After all their website has articles about their other grant winners too, and it is only natural for them to want the research to be noticed, especially since some of these grant winners might make important breakthroughs.

    Have I got this right? Just curious about why the FQXi publicity factor hasn’t really been mentioned.

  • http://www.fqxi.org/community Anthony A.

    Curious:

    I’m happy to comment on this, as follows:

    (a) We at FQXi are proud that FQXi support has enabled Garrett to do some research that by all accounts would not have been done without the FQXi grant. We hope that the research proves fruitful! It may, of course, take some time to discover whether this is the case. From our perspective, the way that this will happen is that if/when Garrett applies for another grant from FQXi, his application — like everyone else’s — will be sent to experts in the field for careful review of the accomplishment and promise of his research program, and funded — or not — based on those reviews. In the meantime, we wish him the best of fortune in negotiating some tricky waters (both scientifically and otherwise.)

    (b) While we at FQXi are of course happy when researchers FQXi funds do well, and enjoy basking in their successful glow, FQXi focuses its publicity efforts (such as they are…) on FQXi itself rather than on promoting any of its particular researchers. In Garrett’s case, the ‘promotion’ has been entirely limited to what you see on the the FQXi community site. Although Garrett has been very gracious about thanking FQXi for support, we have, curiously, had essentially no queries (to my knowledge) from the media about our role.

  • john Isaacson

    As an interested layman I have been following the various blogs and internet news on Garrett Lisi’s discovery, announcement or what ever.

    Some things that I find dishearting are the tone of a lot those that don’t agree with the premise.

    Some challenge the idea, which is why it was presented. It needs to stand the test but why the hubris?

    I find Lisi seems to have taken the high road, perhaps we all should.

    Perhaps in my naive view of the beter man, I would have thought new ideas would be challenged and either supported or denied based on the math and not the man!

    This seems all so tiresome when in a short time it will stand or fall as it should.

    John

  • amused

    Hi Bee,

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I share very much your concern about the adverse effects of irresponsible science journalism and hype. But while there has been some of that in the present spectacle (the fox news story in particular comes to mind) I think it would be a bit harsh to tar all the journalists who have written about this with that brush. No doubt the entertainment value of the story was part of their motivation, but some of them do seem to have made a genuine effort to find out what was going on (as can be seen, e.g., from their discussions with Garrett on his FQXi blog). Perhaps it’s naive but I have the impression they were reasonably conscientious journalists who cared about getting the story right, including the assessment of its newsworthiness. What they didn’t realize, because they don’t know how the physics community works, is that most serious physicists just keep silent and ignore work when they don’t think there is anything to it. Not knowing this, the journalists assumed that the positive noises they were hearing were a lot more representative of the physics community reaction than they actually were.

    Well, ideally science stories should only be covered by science journalists who know something about science and the way scientific communities operate. But unfortunately that’s not the reality we find ourselves in, and journalists with little or no background in physics are going to end up writing physics-related stories from time to time when they find something interesting. I don’t think that has to be a terrible thing though, provided the journalists have some reasonable level of integrity and care about getting the story right. But for it not to be a bad thing it is essential that the physicists themselves are very careful and responsible in what they say to the press. It’s maybe unfair to expect too much from the actual authors of the research work — they will of course be positive about their work and it’s understandable if they end up describing it in an unrealistically positive way. But any responsible journalist is not just going to rely on the authors’ assessments; they will surely also seek out the assessment of senior physicists at prestigious institutions who are not connected with the work. What they hear from these will be hugely influential in the journalists’ judgement of the newsworthiness of the story. This places a huge responsibility on the senior physicists that the journalists consult. They really need to be sure and correct in their judgement, and realize that they are putting their reputations on the line, before making comments that signal a green light to journalists to run with the story. And it is them that should bear the brunt of the outrage if they fail in this responsibility and spectacles like the present one occur. They should be slammed mercilessly imo, so that they and others will be more careful in the future.

    The physics community can’t really control or decide the level of scientific knowledge of journalists who decide to cover physics stories, but we can control ourselves, and that should be enough, at least when the journalists we deal with have sufficient integrity when judging the newsworthiness of a story and sufficient desire to get it right (which I think many of the journalists covering the present story probably did).

    Best,
    “amused”

  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

    Hi amused,

    Yes, I agree that the scientists carry a responsibility for what they say, and to a large degree journalists have to rely on them to be careful and precise. I’ve written down my thoughts in yesterday’s post ‘Fact or Fiction’, in case you’re interested.

    One other thing that I’d like to mention though is that journalists cherry pick sentences from interviews which might not give a very clear picture of what the person actually said in toto. That seems to me is often unavoidable, but it can contribute to the polarization of opinions, even if unintentionally, and especially if others repeat such sentences without asking for the context or an explanation. I mean, I said above I am reasonably happy with the way my quote in NewScientist appears, but the one sentence I was quoted with obviously wasn’t the only thing I said. Among other stuff I said “the action does not appear naturally within this approach, but it is just chosen such that it does reproduce the standard model + general relativity. If you want, the assumption is the requirement to be compatible with what we already know, with observations that we have made, and theories we have established. This is without doubt reasonable, but given that the aim is to find a TOE, to me it is not a particularly attractive procedure. One would hope to find a less ad-hoc formulation, which might very well be possible with further investigations.”
    Besides this, following up on my ealier comments, I would like to mention that the NewScientist person I’ve been in contact with happened to read this thread and asked me why I criticised the paragraph that my quote appeared in. Mentioning that I hadn’t specifically been talking about string theory, but it comes off as such, she said the problem is otherwise it would have been necessary to explain also what LQG is because not all readers would know. It’s a reason I can relate to.

    They should be slammed mercilessly imo, so that they and others will be more careful in the future.

    I’ll leave the slamming to you, you’re doing a good job ;-)

    Best,

    B.

  • Jason M. Hendler

    #66, amused,

    “journalists with little or no background in physics are going to end up writing physics-related stories from time to time …”

    Wow, that sounds a lot like the position of the Catholic church before the Protestant Reformation – “only priests should read / interpret the Bible”. I wish you could see yourselves from the outside looking in. Catholic clergy had the same motivations too – protecting their “way of life” (read – standard of living through indulgences, etc.).

    I think it is more important to give Lisi’s approach broad exposure, even if premature, so that many eyes are examining it, because it appears to be the first approach based on something other than observation and backfilling with terms.

  • Moshe

    Amused, thanks for your thoughts above. I am convinced you are right, and more of us should talk to journalists when we have a chance, and try to provide them with some more sensible feedback. I’m usually not a cynical sort, so I am assuming that by and large they are interested in that, even though what we have to say is much less colorful than the Motl/Smolin quotes.

    (As for people paying with their reputations, that’s the way the scientific community works. I’m afraid the public sphere is more complicated, “slamming” tends to backfire even when perfectly justified).

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  • amused

    Hi Bee,
    You are right about the potential problem with journalists cherry-picking quotes and maybe putting them in the wrong context. Not sure what can be done about that, if anything. I guess we just have to hope that if the journalists have integrity and desire to get the story right then the overall result won’t be too bad.
    P.S. I read your nice post on this topic on you blog. See you over there in the comments section at some point…

    Moshe, yes you are right about that.
    (Note to self: must resist urge to call for public denunciations — except perhaps when it’s Lubos :-) )

    #68, Jason,
    I have more of an outsider’s perspective than you probably expect. You won’t believe it, but the reactions from physicists you have been seeing here and elsewhere are based on their honest judgements rather than a desire to protect their “way of life”.

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  • Jason M. Hendler

    #71, amused,

    I don’t doubt the honesty / sincerity of the physicists – no doubt they are part of the indoctrinated faith that as long as you have ANY equation to explain a set of observations, then you KNOW / COMMAND that thing. They are faithful in their piety, and CANNOT see their religion from the inside.

    Relativity itself was a dodge of finding fundamental truth in nature, and sought to “simplify” the problem / question, by reducing the conditions around observations to a small enough subset that simple questions could be answered. Photons traveling between bodies moving at speeds relative to one another …. blah, blah, blah …..

    What “sets” the speed of light? That should give a clue about the universal reference frame, and not objects relative to one another, etc. Scribing endless equations without a fundamental theory of what sets the conditions / relationships for / of all objects in the universe is a waste of time. You can plug any data set into MATLAB and get an equation.

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  • http://physicsmuse.wordpress.com/ Sandra Baron

    If E8 was expanded to the size of the universe, would you get a vector that represents gravity at that scale? And to get this vector, would the (paths) be curved i.e. the curvature of space caused by mass? The mass at the points of E8?

  • Jason Dick

    Sandra,

    E8 is a symmetry group, a mathematical structure. Expanding E8 to the size of the universe is a statement that makes no sense. The statement that a “theory of everything” is described by the E8 symmetry group is a statement that the most fundamental constituents of the universe are invariant under rotations in the E8 symmetry group.

    A way of visualizing this is if you imagine that the fundamental constituents of the universe are fully described by a series of numbers (I couldn’t tell you how many, I’m not familiar with the particulars of E8), then the obedience of E8 symmetry means that changing those numbers in a specific way (an E8 rotation) does not change the physics: the particle behaves the same whether we describe it with the numbers before the rotation or after the rotation.

    For a more down to Earth example of how such symmetries work, we can take spatial symmetry. If you want to describe the motion of a ball rolling on a table, you can do so using a variety of possible choices of axes. You can place the origin at the center of the table, or at any of the four corners, or anywhere else you like. You can also label the numbers with inches, or centimeters, or meters, or anything else. No matter how you label the table with numbers, though, the ball behaves the same.

    This can be decomposed into a discrete set of symmetries. Some of them are simple translations: if you move your coordinate axis left or right, forward or back, and the equations that describe how the ball moves remain identical (because the table is flat). This simple fact ensures that momentum is conserved. If you instead rotate the table, you find that once again the equations that describe its motion remain unchanged. This symmetry ensures that angular momentum is conserved. Then you can show that as time moves forward, the equations that describe the motion of that same ball still remain unchanged, and this ensures conservation of energy.

    The E8 symmetry is a similar statement: if we make an E8 transformation to the numbers that describe a particle, if the equations of motion obey E8 symmetry, then the equations of motion will not change after the transformation. What would be conserved in this situation would be a set of charges, much like the electric, weak, and strong charges which are described by known physics.

    Hopefully this wasn’t too cryptic.

  • http://superstruny.aspweb.cz Zephir

    Mr. Garett’s work is a sort of geometric mysticism in its current state indeed, but it still doesn’t mean, it CANNOT have robust physical meaning. The most important point (which wasn’t mentioned till now) is, the Lie group is not just void geometrical structure. It’s root system is describing the tightest structure of kissing hyperspheres, where the kissing points are sitting at the centers of another hyperspheres, recursively. The Aether Wave Theory proposes at least two dual ways, how to interpret such structure.

    The cosmological one is maybe easier to realize: it considers, the current Universe generation is formed by interior of giant dense collapsar, which behaves like black hole from outer perspective. This collapse was followed by phase transition, which proceeded like crystallization from over-saturated solution by avalanche-like mechanism. During this, the approximately spherical zones of condensing false vacuum have intersect mutually, and from these places the another vacuum condensation has started (a sort of nucleation effect). We can observe the residuum of these zones as a dark matter streaks. The dodecahedron structure of these zones should corresponds the E8 group geometry, as being observed from inside.

    The second interpretation of E8 is relevant for Planck scale, i.e. for outer perspective. The dense interior of black hole is forming the physical vacuum, which is filled by spongy system of density fluctuations, similar to nested foam. Such structure has even a behavior of soap foam, because it gets more dense after introducing of energy by the same way, like soap shaken inside of closed vessel. Such behavior leads to the quantum behavior of vacuum and particle-wave duality. Every energy wave, exchanged between pair of particles (i.e. density fluctuations of foam) is behaving like less or more dense blob of foam, i.e. like gauge boson particle. Every boson can exchange its energy with another particles, including other gauge bosons, thus forming the another generation of interacalated particles.

    Therefore the E8 Lie group solves the trivial question: which structure should have the tightest lattice of particles, exchanged by another particles? And such question has even perfect meaning from classical physics point of view! Such question has a perfect meaning in theory, describing the most dense structure of inertial particles, which we can even imagine, i.e. the interior of black hole.

  • Dennis Rose

    Any enthusiast who has read Garrett’s paper front to back even without understanding all the math can get an excitement about the unification of what we all expected was unifiable but didn’t expect would be so hard to unify.

    I’m wondering if the mapping of these into E8 will eventually in some way correlate to the mapping of living systems in terms of what their real functions are versus those which the consciousness insists exists. For example our consciousnesses insist on a certain smoothness which the sensory systems don’t actually exhibit. Our mind fills in.

  • physics neophyte

    Would the experts care to chime in on Smolin’s

    http://arxiv.org/abs/0712.0977

  • mark

    I wish Lee Smolin would read Jacques Distler’s blog more often. The group theory part of Lisi’s paper has been completely debunked and yet, Smolin completely ignores this and gives Lisi his stamp of approval. The scientific standards of the LQG community seem to be really low these days.

  • physics neophyte

    This is an interesting spectacle. Could someone please elighten me wtf is going on?

  • mitchell porter

    I am not an expert, but here is my take, based in part on statements by Lisi at PhysicsForums.com. You say you’re a neophyte, so I’ll emphasize one idea, and that is the construction of a quantum theory from a corresponding classical theory through “quantization”. Physically that means introducing the uncertainty principle; mathematically it means reinterpreting the basic equations as operator equations.

    Lisi starts with a field theory which can be called “BFE8″. The fields and their interactions all follow from the E8 symmetry. Then he adds some extra terms, in the way described in Smolin’s paper. The resulting theory has a MUCH smaller symmetry, first appearing in the “Pati-Salam model”, so I’ll call it a Lisi-Pati-Salam model.

    It looks to me as if BFE8 theory exists classically, and as if this Lisi-Pati-Salam model exists classically AND as a quantum theory; but that there is no evidence that BFE8 theory exists as a quantum theory, and that one has good reason to think it does NOT exist as a quantum theory, namely, the Coleman-Mandula theorem. If there is no “quantum BFE8 theory”, then the use of E8 structure constants as coupling strengths in Lisi’s extended Pati-Salam model is just an eccentric way to specify their values and has no particular logic to it.

    I should back up here and say that in generic quantum field theories, coupling constants (field interaction strengths) are parameters that mathematically you can choose as you wish; but in a theory with a particular Lie group as a symmetry, those numbers will be determined by the algebra. So it would make sense for a theory which REALLY has an E8 symmetry to have couplings determined by the E8 algebra. But if Lisi’s Pati-Salam model is not actually descended from a genuine quantum E8 theory, the use of those numbers is quite arbitrary.

    Lisi and Smolin both say (in effect) that a quantum BFE8 theory exists and that it evades the Coleman-Mandula theorem because… well, sometimes the reason is that it has a de Sitter metric rather than a Minkowski metric, sometimes the reason is that it has no metric at all and is purely topological. My hunch is that this is a mistake, that their critics are right in this regard, and that quantum BFE8 theory simply does not exist. Certainly, if they wish to claim that it does, they need to exhibit it, somehow.

    As for Distler’s debunking… Lisi’s attempt to squeeze the Standard Model and gravity into (his preferred representation of) E8 appears to be doomed for algebraic reasons independent of the quantization problem. So the reports about ’20 new particles’ whose masses need only be calculated are wrong. Any particular equation that can be written down right now is known to be wrong even before one tries to calculate particle masses. So any attempt at E8-based unification is going to involve changing one or more of the premises defining Lisi’s original approach. Change them enough and you could end up just reinventing string theory, in which E8 also features.

  • Lee Smolin

    I did look at Dsitler’s blog and there is, to my understanding, only one issue was raised in his discussion of Lisi’s paper that was not already raised by Lisi himself in his paper and talks: this is that Lisi muffed the nomenclature for non-compact forms of E8.

    The question is whether the open issues are solvable issues or not. Distler thinks not, Lisi thinks perhaps yes. I don’t see what there is to be gained by arguing, the burden of proof is on whether the issues can be solved and so the only thing to do if one is interested is to work on them. Some of the open issues are straightforward to address, given that there is a literature on this kind of unification, beginning with Peldan in 1992. So in my recent paper I describe how to make a fully gauge invariant action for proposals of Peldan and Lisi’s type, and I also suggest an alternative approach for the fermions which mght resolve some of the other open issues. The gauge invariant action is, btw, the starting point for quantization using LQG and spin foam methods.

    I don’t understand the fuss about the CM theorem, which concerns global symmetries of the S matrix. In a gravitational theory, which Lisi’s is, global symmetries are symmetries only of solutions or of asymptotic conditions and are not the same as the local gauge symmetries. Indeed, even though my local gauge symmetry is some semi-simple G, I display a solution whose global symmetry is a subgroup of G, namely SO(4)+H where H is the largest compact subgroup of G/SO(4). (The same would work with Lorentzian signature.)
    Even if G=E8 this is in accord with the CM theorem.

    In case it comes up, let me emphasize that while I do think that Lisi’s paper has enough interesting about it that it is worth working on the open issues, I also think that the press coverage was premature and told that to the journalists who contacted me. The “Fabulous…” quote by me was taken out of context-it was a remark made spontaneously to a few people just after hearing his talk and quoted-in some cases without permission-and without the cautionary statements that I empahsized to the journalists that contacted me.

    Finally, let’s put this in context. Often the first publication of an important new idea is incomplete and comes with open issues. (Consider Glashow’s 1961 paper on the weak interactions or the 1954 Yang-Mills paper, among many others.) Lisi’s paper is a candidate for such an idea. He himself is honest and consistently emphasizes the high risk nature of his proposal and the open issues and weak points, in his paper, talks and conversations. My view is that the idea deserves some time to see if it works out. Meanwhile, there are better developed ideas about unification such as Chamseddine-Connes that deserve more attention and investigation than they are getting.

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

    This is really not the place to argue about the technical merits of Lisi’s theory. My whole original point is that the paper did not, on the face of it, look nearly interesting enough to warrant all this attention, and the subsequent discussion has borne that out.

    Saying “there are still some issues to be ironed out” is a cop-out. In addition to the mentioned problem with mixing gravity and internal symmetries, the original theory was not unified, not quantized, and somewhat ad hoc. Jacques pointed out in his first post that you couldn’t embed all three fermion generations in E_8, which Lisi admitted was true, and in a new post he shows that you can’t even embed one generation. If anyone does not agree, it would make sense to point out why over there. And “new proposals sometimes don’t fully work at first” doesn’t count; if the Standard Model can’t be fit inside E_8, there is nothing even conjecturally interesting about the proposal.

    This is a sad case where media attention gave an utterly incorrect view of the scientific process.

  • mark

    Lee: “I did look at Dsitler’s blog and there is, to my understanding, only one issue was raised in his discussion of Lisi’s paper that was not already raised by Lisi himself in his paper and talks: this is that Lisi muffed the nomenclature for non-compact forms of E8. ”

    Dear Lee, Jacques has a second posting about Lisi’s paper where he makes another explicit group-theoretical on why his idea does not work. I’d like to hear what your opinion is.

  • Lee Smolin

    Dear Sean,

    We agree that there was too much media attention. I advised every journalist I communicated with to delay writing about this until the paper could be digested by experts, to some of them I suggested waiting a year. At the same time, there has been way too much hostility and nastiness on the blogs. Only with the greatest hesitation did I post something about this. Several of the issues you mention are directly addressed in my paper, as I give an action which is fully gauge invariant, not ad-hoc and is directly amenable to quantization with known techniques. And I exlain there and above the full answer to the CM issue about mixing gravitational and internal symmetries. My view is that getting the gravity-Yang-Mills unification right makes it interesting enough as there is already an interesting idea about how to proceed to incorporate the fermions, which I also mention in my paper. I worded my paper carefully and I would much prefer to spend my time working and writing papers or discussing the technical issues going forward than repeating things that have been already said.

  • vincent

    I would also like to hear what Lee (or other people who believe that Lisi’s idea is somehow interesting) has to say about Distler’s second post, where he shows that one cannot even get one generation right, since the embeddings lead to non-chiral fermions. And about his idea (still unproven though) that perhaps all embeddings in E8 lead to non-chiral fermions, which would render the whole idea useless. Perhaps Distler’s blog is a better place for that though, if Lee or other people feel like replying to these arguments.

    I’m quite amazed to see that no one in the people who think that this theory may be interesting have bothered replying to Distler’s arguments, which are rather clear and purely group theoretic, and to say the least rather crucial…

  • moveon

    “E8 is a symmetry group, a mathematical structure”

    Well I can’t see what sense E8 makes as a symmetry group here. Lets talk about the algebra here. It is defined by its commutation relations. Sometimes a symmetry is spontaneously broken, but then the commutation relations are still valid; some of the generators are then non-linearly realized. So the symmetry is still there, but in a sense hidden.

    In this case, some of the generators, namely ones related to spinorial roots are declared fermionic, and thus must anticommute rather than commute. Such a construction works in the case of superalgebras resp groups. But E8 is not a superalgebra, and has only commuting generators. So declaring some of them to be fermionic, doesnt make any sense to me. There is no way that E8 as a symmetry group is realized in this theory, not even “broken”. The theory does not provide the correct commutation relations.

    So why speak about E8 at all in this context? It is simply not there!

  • Thomas Larsson

    From my understanding of the Lisi business, which is very limited due to lack of interest, there are two aspects which need to be distinguished.

    First, both fermions and bosons belong to the same E8 multiplet. This is surely plain wrong. Second, bosonic internal and spacetime symmetries might be unified in de Sitter space with a bosonic algebra. Although I am skeptical about this, it does not seem obviously wrong. The CM theorem depends on the S-matrix, but there is no S-matrix in de Sitter so there might be a loophole here.

    Alas, there is another way to evade the CM theorem which I have not seen mentioned: don’t unify internal and spacetime symmetries. :-) In fact, it is an underappreciated triumph of the non-unified SM that it very economically explains baryon number conservation and the longevity of the proton.

  • Lee Smolin

    Dear Vincent,

    I haven’t responded because unfortunately I’ve been swamped with other priorities and haven’t had time to check this out in detail. But since there have been repeated requests, here is what I am thinking about this.

    1) There is no issue for the euclidean, compact case.

    3) Distler does not point to a specific step in Lisi’s paper which he claims is incorrect. This makes me wonder if Distler’s claim is a non-sequitor or based on a misunderstanding. While I haven’t checked in detail, I am puzzled that there is no mention in Jacques’s post of the Pati-Salam chirally symmetric theory, as that is what Lisi’s paper shows is embedded in E8. While I haven’t worked out the details, the Pati-Salam is a vector theory where parity is only broken spontaneously. Fermions in the Pati-Salam model are in parity symmetric reps, because of the overall parity invariance of the theory. In Pati-Salam parity is broken spontaneously, leaving chiral fermions at low energy. As I haven’t checked the details I don’t know if this is the answer to Distler’s objection but the fact that it is nowhere mentioned is worrying.

    4) Distler was largely wrong in his previous post as he been several times before in discussions on other issues. (The one criticism he made that was correct and not mentioned already by Lisi had to do with the nomenclature of non-compact forms of E8.) So I would urge caution. This is a highly technical issue that needs care to get it right.

    4) Distler’s last remark “And, no, I don’t intend to comment on the REST of Smolin’s paper….” implies he believes that something in his post addresses something in my paper. But there is nothing at all in this post relevant to the results of my paper. Even ignoring the condescending tone, this seems to me sloppy and makes me cautious about accepting his conclusions about other things without checking.

    If I can add, I fail to see the value of these one sided arguments where one side plays fair and admits mistakes and open issues and credits strong points on the other side, but the other side plays nasty hardball. Not only is it not fun, it is of little positive scientific value and indeed it’s counterproductive as this kind of nasty debate has been the source of many falsehoods and misconceptions, because those who originate them never apologize or admit error. In the exchanges with Lisi so far we have Lisi himself emphasizing the open issues and questions, and the other side making a spectacle of arrogantly criticizing him for issues that they didn’t realize he had already discussed.

    There is nothing wrong with making mistakes, but the spirit of science requires that we acknowledge them. I would strongly urge those who want to criticize other physicists’ work in a public forum do it professionally, without personal attacks and with a constructive and fair attitude. Most importantly, if you criticize, then be fair and acknowledge when your own criticisms have turned out to be wrong and be generous about acknowledging when your criticisms have been answered by further work. If we all played fair in these ways I think that more of these online debates would end in agreement and increased understanding.

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    Lee,

    If you have any technical critiques of my two posts on this subject, please leave them in the comments on my blog. If you just want to make ad hominem attacks, please go ahead and do that over here.

    However, this cannot go without a response.

    If I can add, I fail to see the value of these one sided arguments where one side plays fair and admits mistakes and open issues and credits strong points on the other side, but the other side plays nasty hardball.

    Who’s the one not playing fair, here, and admitting to mistakes?

    I cheerfully admitted to several mistakes in earlier versions of my post(s). They were either

    a) inconsequential, so that, when corrected, they made no difference to the result, or
    b) overly generous to Lisi’s case, so that, when corrected, they made the situation worse for him.

    Distler does not point to a specific step in Lisi’s paper which he claims is incorrect.

    No, instead I point out numerous such steps.

    This makes me wonder if Distler’s claim is a non-sequitor or based on a misunderstanding.

    My claim is very clear. And, since it cuts to the heart of what Lisi is trying to do, I cannot understand how you could possibly call it a “non-sequitor” [sic].

    While I haven’t checked in detail, I am puzzled that there is no mention in Jacques’s post of the Pati-Salam chirally symmetric theory, as that is what Lisi’s paper shows is embedded in E8.

    Maybe you should read my second post more carefully.

    While I haven’t checked in detail,…. While I haven’t worked out the details, … As I haven’t checked the details …

    That would be a place to start, then, wouldn’t it?

    There is no issue for the euclidean, compact case.

    Could you explain what you mean by that remark? What is it that you claim “succeeds” in the Euclidean case?

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    A hint to those too young to remember the Pati-Salam model. The left-handed fermions in that model transform in a complex representation of SU(4)xSU(2)xSU(2), specifically, the (4,2,1)+(4bar,1,2).

    Lisi also has the electroweak SU(2) embedded in an SU(2)xSU(2). There, however, the similarity with Pati-Salam ends.

  • http://tony5m17h.net Tony Smith

    Thomas Larsson said, about “the Lisi business”:
    “… both fermions and bosons belong to the same E8 multiplet. This is surely plain wrong …”.

    Could Garrett Lisi’s model be understood in terms of a 7-grading of e8 that was described in a sci physics research thread Re: Structures preserved by e8, in which Thomas Larsson said:

    “… … e_8 also seems to admit a 7-grading,
    g = g_-3 + g_-2 + g_-1 + g_0 + g_1 + g_2 + g_3,
    of the form

    e_8 = 8 + 28* + 56 + (sl(8) + 1) + 56* + 28 + 8* .

    …[in]… the above god-given 7-grading of e_8 … g_-3 is identified with spacetime translations and one would therefore get that spacetime has 8 dimensions rather than 11. …”.

    So, if you used g-3 for an 8-dim Kaluza-Klein spacetime,
    could you see the 28* and 28 as the two copies of D4 used by Garrett Lisi to get MacDowell-Mansouri gravity from one and the Standard Model gauge bosons from the other
    and
    see the central sl(8)+1 being related to transformations of the 8-dim spacetime
    (actually being a 64-dim thing that is substantially 8×8* ).

    The even part of the grading would then be the 112 elements
    28* + 8×8* + 28
    and
    the odd part of the grading would then be the 128 elements
    8 + 56 + 56* + 8*
    If the 8 and 8* are used for 8-dim Kaluza-Klein spacetime
    so
    could the 56 + 56* be used for fermion particles and antiparticles ?

    Even if the above assignment needs improvement,
    my basic question is

    could Thomas Larsson’s 7-grading of e8 be useful in making Garrett Lisi’s model a realistic description of physics ?

    Tony Smith

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    Ask, and ye shall receive.

    Lee complained that I didn’t use the phrase “Pati-Salam” in my post, so I added an appendix, where the phrase is used liberally.

    It’s not clear why that is supposed to make things better. But if it helps Lee understand that Lisi does not even get one generation of quarks and leptons, let alone three, then it’s worth it.

  • http://oreilly.com Scott Gray

    Seems that hill people like to heckle the people wandering the valley’s.

  • vincent

    Dear all,

    I do agree that being condescending is not only annoying but also not useful to the point you want to make, since other people tend to stick to the condescending part of the argument rather than the technical part (as we can see, as an example, from Lee’s reply above). It would be great one day if we, as theoretical physicists, could discuss issues politely, with humility, in a nice and friendly fashion, as we usually do when we discuss with friends around a beer. However, I fear this is not what is happening on blogs; in the present case, on both sides of the story (to Lee: saying that one side is nice and friendly after having produced a few “kind of personal” attacks is not very honest I feel — and I am not attacking you on this, just trying to understand your comment above; similarly to Lisi calling his paper a Theory of Everything is not very humble, nor honest, assuming he understood (as he claims) that his theory was very far from being a Theory of Everything — if such a thing exists — etc. I could give plenty of examples of hype, non-honesty, non-humility from both sides, if there is such a thing as “sides”).

    In any case, I dream of the day when we can talk to each other on blogs with humility, as friends. And this we do all the time when we meet in person. But on the other hand, I can also understand some people’s comments on blogs, following from years of exasperation, which I fortunately haven’t experienced myself.

    This being said, on the other hand we are all profesionnals, and should all be able to ignore what we feel is condescending in someone else’s post and focus on the real, technical arguments. I try to think that we are not stupid, and raise above the “you attack I counterattack” level… If someone feels that someone else has been condescending, in the middle of a well-explained technical argument, then perhaps that someone should be able to ignore that thing he feels is condescending and concentrate on trying to reply to the actual argument. In which case, the condescending thing just loses it role, which was precisely that, to make the other one feels “lower” and reply to it by counterattacking. The best way to stop this “attacking the other one” tradition which is often present on blogs is just not to reply to the attack I feel, no? We should all be able to do that. And if one feels he gets too angered and needs to reply immediately, well just take a breath, relax, do something else, and come back a few hours later… just let the anger go away, and then we will be able to have meaningful discussions on blog. I like to follow physics blogs because very often there are insightful physics arguments and discussions hidden in the middle of useless personal attacks. But it would be so much better if the noise was reduced…

    And on the point at hand, I would, again, like to hear, in more details, what Lee, or other people like Lisi, have to reply to the technical points in Distler’s second post. This should probably be done on Distler’s blog, as he suggested. I do personally think that Distler’s argument is fundamental to make any sense of Lisi’s proposal, and can hardly ignore it or dismiss it because of whatever I could think of Distler’s behavior on his blog. :-)

    Just my 2 cents :-)

  • James Gallagher

    Distler will probably win this, and I’m sure the new international recognition will fill him with as much pleasure, however,this student assessment is hilarious.

  • http://tony5m17h.net Tony Smith

    Vincent said, about physicists discussing controversial non-mainstream things:
    “… we are all profesionnals, and should all be able to ignore what we feel is condescending in someone else’s post and focus on the real, technical arguments …”.

    Unfortunately, there is a long tradition otherwise in the USA physics community, going back at least around 50 years to the time Oppenheimer (as head of IAS) said of Bohm:

    “… Oppenheimer went so far as to suggest that “if we cannot disprove Bohm, then we must agree to ignore him.” …”.

    Tony Smith

    PS – The quote is from the Bohm biography Infinite Potential, by F. David Peat (Addison-Wesley 1997) at page 133. A bit more quotation shows that it is not an isolated quote out of context: “… Max Dresden[‘s] students formed a Bohm study group. … Dresden was forced to read Bohm’s paper. He had assumed that there was an error in its arguments, but errors proved difficult to detect. He had also read von Neumann’s “proof” and realized that it did not rule out the sort of theory Bohm had proposed. … Dresden visited Oppenheimer and asked his opinion of Bohm’s theory.
    “We consider it juvenile deviationism,” Oppenheimer replied. No, no one had actually read the paper – “we don’t waste our time.” …”.

    PPS – Anyone who was ever fortunate enough to have met Max Dresden knows that he was a brilliant physicist of impeccable honesty.

  • H-I-G-G-S

    A small clarification. Let us define a parity invariant theory to be one in
    which there is a Z_2 symmetry which includes inversion of the spatial
    coordinates (in three spacetime dimensions). Let us also define a chirally invariant theory as one in which, after writing all fermions as left-handed
    Weyl fermions, the fermions are in a real representation of the gauge group.
    Lee uses these two terms interchangably, which is unfortunate, and can lead to confusion. The Pati-Salam model with SU(4)xSU(2)xSU(2) gauge symmetry is
    parity invariant. To achieve this invariance one must extend the “usual”
    parity symmetry by a Z_2 which interchanges the two SU(2) factors in the gauge
    group. However, as correctly pointed out by Jacques, the PS theory is not chirally invariant because the fermions are not in a real representation. Since Jacques showed that the embedding used by Lisi gives a real fermion representation, he is correct in saying that the Lisi embedding does not contain the PS model. Lee is incorrect in saying the opposite, and indeed would be well advised to understand the details of work that he intends to build on. One can (and should) break the parity symmetry in PS spontaneously, but this does not suddenly generate chiral fermions from non-chiral fermions. The fermions were chiral to begin with.

  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

    “Vincent said, about physicists discussing controversial non-mainstream things:
    “… we are all profesionnals, and should all be able to ignore what we feel is condescending in someone else’s post and focus on the real, technical arguments …”.

    Science is done by scientists. We are all human and should be able to pursue our research in a way that makes for a welcoming work environment. I’ve been pretty damned close to quitting physics, more than once, because where it seemed to be dominated by hostile, arrogant, immature men who are completely unable to grasp the essence of the words ‘collaboration’ and ‘communication’, not to mention essentials like politeness and reliability. Somebody can be oh-so-intelligent, if he’s not willing to express ‘real, technical arguments’ in an appropriate way, chances are he’ll end up being a hostile, arrogant, immature, bitter men who tells everybody he’s done everything already decades ago. The internet makes communication failures even more likely. Best,
    B.

  • vincent

    Dear B,

    Sure, I agree with you. One of the great thing to me (at least in principle) with physics is that in principle it is based on the idea of cooperation (that is cooperation to share our ideas, with the common goal of describing and understanding reality and Nature; the arXiv is a great example of that), in contrast with our capitalist society which is based on the idea of competition. Of course, for such a “cooperative system” to work, we should do our best to work together and collaborate, that is be respectful of each other, honest, not overstate our work, not be condescendent, be humble, etc. These are all essential to me for a collaborative system to work at its best.

    What I meant is that int the actual realm of academia, as you say there is all kinds of personalities, and very often the more humble and honest people are not the loudest ones (I don’t think “arrogant” people dominate the fields, simply often they are louder). So as people who want to continue working in a collaborative environment we should also be able to go beyond just “counterattacking”, and learn to deal with personalities different from our “ideals”. And this involves, in particular, just ignoring what we think is condescendent, or arrogant, instead of replying in the same way like a lot of people seem to do on blogs unfortunately. Since our goal is still a collaborative goal of trying to understand the world, and while someone may think a person is arrogant, he may still have good ideas that are worth looking at (this has happened so often in the history of science…). Do you agree?

    Best :-)
    vincent

  • Lee Smolin

    Dear all,

    Unless I am having a particularly opaque day, Distler’s remarks on Pati-Salam are incorrect. Let me explain the issue that is troubling me. What is usually called the Pati-Salam model was defined in two papers, one of which is accessible through the KEK archive and is Jogesh C. Pati, Abdus Salam, LEPTON NUMBER AS THE FOURTH COLOR.Phys.Rev.D10:275-289,1974. (I should note this paper has 2700+ citations, so this is not an obscure work.) Another clear paper is H.S. Mani, Jogesh C. Pati, Abdus Salam, ‘NATURALNESS’ OF ATOMIC PARITY CONSERVATION WITHIN LEFT-RIGHT SYMMETRIC UNIFIED THEORIES. Phys.Rev.D17:2510,1978. In these papers it is clearly explained that their theory is parity invariant and parity is broken only spontaneously. They are explicit that for every left handed current in their model there is a parity related right handed current with equal coupling constants. Hence before spontaneous symmetry breaking the fermion rep for Pati-Salam must be parity invariant. More specifically, in the first paper above, just after eq 3, they state that the fermions are in the representation (4-bar,2,1)+(4-bar,1,2) of SU(4) x SU(2)_L x SU(2)_R, which is parity invariant. (Note that parity exchanges the left and right handed
    SU(2)’s.)

    In Distler’s post he asserts to the contrary that in the Pati-Salam model the fermions are in the representation he calls R_ps= (4,2,1)+(4-bar,1,2) of SU(4) x SU(2)_L x SU(2)_R, which is not parity invariant. (Parity changes this to (4,1,2)+(4-bar,2,1) which is not equivalent to R_ps.) This disagrees with what is stated in the above paper, by the omission of a single bar. This small change has a major impact on the discussion because it turns a parity symmetric theory into a parity non-symmetric theory which is not the Pati-Salam model.

    It seems to me this invalidates Distler’s discussion of Pati Salam and by extension suggests that his second post on Lisi is incorrect. While Lisi’s scheme is not quite the same as the above, because the electroweak gauge symmetry is unified first with local lorentz, then with G2, the moral is the same because Lisi breaks E8 to a version of electro-weak unification which is parity symmetric. This is ok for the same reason Pati-Salam is ok, because parity can be broken spontaneously.

    Thanks,

    Lee

    Ps to HIGGS.

    One does not need a special extension of parity to switch SU(2)_L with
    SU(2)_R, because they couple to left and right handed currents in the usual sense, so parity switches them. And, in case there is any confusion, the above discussion is not affected by any terminological confusion as to the meaning of chiral.

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    I am afraid that you are, indeed, confused.

    Start by writing everything in terms of left-handed 2-component Weyl fermions (whose Hermitian conjugates are right-handed Weyl fermions).

    The quantum number of a generation of fermions are as I stated in my post (and as can be confirmed by a myriad of contemporary sources). To check, it suffices to look at what happens when you break the Pati-Salam group down to the Standard Model gauge group to see that what I wrote down give the correct Standard Model content, and that what you wrote down does not.

    In fact, the representation you wrote down is anomalous, so could not possibly be correct.

    H-I-G-G-S stated the distinction between Parity and Chirality correctly. The names of the two SU(2) groups in Pati-Salam are just names.

  • H-I-G-G-S

    Lee,

    The discrepancy is quite simple to explain.
    In the Pati-Salam paper what they say is
    that psi_L is in the (2,1 bar 4) and psi_R in the (1,2 bar 4). It is common
    in the study of grand unification to write all fermions as left-handed fermions.
    psi_R^*, after multiplication by a suitable matrix, is left-handed. Let us
    call it psi’_L. We then have

    psi_L: (2,1, bar 4)

    psi’_L: (1,2, 4)

    Note that complex conjugation does not change the SU(2) rep because the
    2 is pseudo-real. The representation in which all fermions are left-handed is
    the one that Jacques was correctly using and it agrees with Pati-Salam.
    The relevance of the reality of the representation when written this way
    is that a real representation allows a gauge invariant mass term whereas
    a complex one does not. I’ll let you be the judge of your own opacity.

    SY,
    H

  • Lee Smolin

    Jacques,

    You are claiming 1) that the original Pati-Salam paper I refer to is incorrect about what their own theory is and 2) even though their big point is that the fundamental dynamics could parity invariant that they should have based the model on a parity non-invariant representation (4,2,1)+(4-bar,1,2) instead of the parity invariant one they specify?

  • H-I-G-G-S

    Ah, I see Jacques beat me to it by a few minutes. In fact I did not see his post
    before writing mine. Perhaps the extra pedagogical details I provided will be useful to those following along at home.

  • H-I-G-G-S

    Lee,

    Read my post (#104). Take a deep breath. Think. Jacques agrees with
    PS. He is simply using a basis in which all fermions are left-handed. PS are
    not. But they have exactly the same degrees of freedom and are
    describing the same theory. If you are unfamiliar with the fact that psi_R^*
    is left-handed you might want to take a look at the chapter on fermions
    in any modern book on quantum field theory.

    H

  • Lee Smolin

    Dear HIGGS

    I see, if it is then just a terminological mixup that is of course fine for this issue. I don’t mind making mistakes in public-the time spent studying the Pati-Salam papers was my own and in any case worthwhile-but this shows to me the difficulty of arguing technical issues in the blog environment. Perhaps the experts could find a better way, probably off line, to go through the issues with Lisi point by point and reach a conclusion over the main issues. If so I’d be happy to be involved, so long as everyone involved was patient and professional and no one pretended that the representation theory of non-compact forms of E8 is child’s play.

    Thanks,

    Lee

  • H-I-G-G-S

    Dear Lee,

    I’m glad that we cleared this up, and I appreciate that you admitted error,
    in line with your earlier posting on the spirit of science requiring such acknowledgement. I don’t quite agree however that it was a “terminological mixup.” This makes it sounds like there was no real content to the debate, whereas in fact there was. The issue at hand was whether or not Lisi’s embedding contains the Pati-Salam model or not. Jacques showed that it does not. All I did was to provide some helpful clarification. In an earlier post you went on about how “Distler was largely wrong” and so forth, while as far as I can tell, everything he has said has either been correct, or when it was in error, the error was admitted and then clarified. Thus it would be much more appropriate for you to address your admission of error to him than to me. Perhaps if you did so his responses to you would in the future be more temperate.

    It is true that blogs are far from the best place to argue technical issues. This discussion was one of the happy exceptions where a point was argued and resolved with all parties in agreement. As for Lisi’s proposal, I believe a conclusion has been reached by the experts.

    H

  • physics neophyte

    Of course, I cannot follow the technicalities of this exchange, but I couldn’t help noticing

    #109 H-I-G-G-S comments were riddled with contradictions of a non-technical nature. These comments do not form an internally consistent collection of beliefs.

  • Lee Smolin

    Dear HIGGS,

    Thanks for your kind words, but wiith respect, this resolved only the point I queried. I have more technical questions about missing steps in Jacques’s arguments which would need to be filled in before I understand it. Rather than raising them in this forum, since you seem to understand the argument, if you email me I’d be glad to discuss them and have you straighten me out, then we can report back our aggreement on the whole issue. Let me make a similar offer to anyone who understands the argument in question and thinks it is correct.

    Thanks,

    Lee

  • H-I-G-G-S

    Dear physics neophyte,

    In the words of one of your earlier postings, wtf?

    Dear Lee,

    I’m afraid I’m going to decline your invitation for further discussion via email.
    I don’t think Lisi’s proposal is worth pursuing, and don’t wish to spend time explaining group theoretical details when I could be doing other more interesting things. I’m sure you have colleagues who could assist you in these matters.

    H

  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

    Dear Vincent #101:

    I too think that there is too much emphasis on competition in comparison to collaboration. One needs both, but in a field where sharing information is essential for progress, too much competition is fatal. I mean, it’s not like we’re trying to bake the pizza that sells best in the neighborhood. The ‘American Competitiveness Initiative‘ shows who’s still living in the last century.

    Since our goal is still a collaborative goal of trying to understand the world, and while someone may think a person is arrogant, he may still have good ideas that are worth looking at (this has happened so often in the history of science…). Do you agree?

    I mostly agree with you. I just think we’re tolerating too much arrogance.
    I don’t know how many people I’ve meet who carry this certain type of condescending superiority that makes it very clear it is below their status to explain anything, and you are labeled ‘stupid by default’. It is a small surprise that little people consider this to be encouraging. Competition pairs well with arrogance.

    Whether we like it or not, these people set an atmosphere in our field – exactly for the reason that they are, as you say, louder. And this atmosphere does a selection among those who want to be part of the community. I’ve had quite a number of friends (both male and female) who at some point decided all their love for physics isn’t worth the constant fight, annoyance, and lacking respect.

    Should add though I don’t think this is special to the blogosphere, it just reflects there.

    Best,

    B.

  • Haelfix

    B,

    Some people thrive when they are challenged/insulted intellectually and use it as motivation to understand things better. Others just ignore it, and are more motivated by natural curiosity. Whos to say which paradigm works better, realizing many famous names in the history of physics have had success with that attitude (see eg Isaac Newton)

    I guess its akin to trash talking in proffessional sports, where people do it for those reasons. Anyway, if it makes them output better physics and work harder, fine I have no problem with it. Ultimately thats what matters most.

  • Dany

    H-I-G-G-S:”This makes it sounds like there was no real content to the debate, whereas in fact there was… This discussion was one of the happy exceptions where a point was argued and resolved with all parties in agreement.”

    No. The debate was pointless. Come on, guys! Do you intend to start doing physics?

    Regards, Dany.

  • bullying victim

    Haelfix said

    “Some people thrive when they are challenged/insulted intellectually and use it as motivation to understand things better. Others just ignore it, and are more motivated by natural curiosity. Whos to say which paradigm works better, realizing many famous names in the history of physics have had success with that attitude (see eg Isaac Newton)

    I guess its akin to trash talking in proffessional sports, where people do it for those reasons. Anyway, if it makes them output better physics and work harder, fine I have no problem with it. Ultimately thats what matters most.”

    Haelfix, I have a colleague who strongly agrees with you. As a consequence, his son jumped out of a very tall building. My colleague has shown no remorse, and has not changed his views or his ways.

    There is nothing positive about such bullying, and there is no excuse for condoning it.

  • Pingback: Competitive Cycle « Theorema Egregium()

  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

    *lol* bullying victim, this is so sad I even feel bad for laughing about your sarcasm. as a fact I know a very similar story (the son survived though with both legs broken, I guess he wasn’t sufficiently intellectually challenged ).

    Haelfix, you kind of miss my point. I know there are people who “thrive when they are challenged/insulted intellectually and use it as motivation to understand things better.”. But then those are the ones you keep, and you bully out the others. I see no reason why good physicists are exclusively found with the type of personality you describe. This means the community misses a lot of good people who are, depending on personality, either disgusted or discouraged, and leave the field or chose a more welcoming community. Best,

    B.

  • http://tony5m17h.net Tony Smith

    Haelfix and B discussed the “trash talking” “bullying” atmosphere in the physics community, and B said that such an “… atmosphere does a selection among those who want to be part of the community. I’ve …[B has]… had quite a number of friends (both male and female) who at some point decided all their love for physics isn’t worth the constant fight, annoyance, and lacking respect. …”.

    I have also seen brilliant people who are not in physics but who might have been had the community been “nicer”.

    As for why I do what I do, I am, to quote Haelfix “motivated by natural curiosity”, but I am not able to do as Haelfix suggests and “just ignore it”, and consequently I run up psychiatric bills for depression (primarily therapy rather than drugs) and I probably don’t get as much physics done as I would in a cooperative environment,
    and I have probably paid a price in my personal life for trying to indulge in my “natural curiosity”.
    Yes, pursuing “natural curiosity” in the face of “trash talking” and “bullying” is a choice I have made, but it has been forced on me by the atmosphere of the physics community, and in a cooperative world it would not have been necessary to make such a choice.

    Tony Smith

    PS – An example of “nice cooperative” behaviour would be if H-I-G-G-S would state (clearly and in detail enough that Lee Smolin could explicitly agree or point to error and disagree),
    about Lisi’s proposal, exactly what is meant by H-I-G-G-S’s statement:
    “… a conclusion has been reached by the experts …”.

    For example:
    is Garrett’s E8 Pati-Salam idea OK,
    or
    is there a technical flaw that can be fixed by making changes (maybe by using something other than Pati-Salam)
    (after all, the superstring community has been fixing up its models by making changes ever since back in 1985 when Schwarz’s original SU(5) proposal was refuted)
    or
    is the entire E8 program irretrievably lost for some reason ?

    PPS – As to people saying that Garrett Lisi’s title was inappropriate,
    what about the title Schwarz and Hamidi used for their 1984 APS DPF presentation of superstring theory:
    “A Unique Unified Theory That Could Be Finite and Realistic” ?
    In that paper, they said
    “… The three-loop calculation could result in culd result in a dramatic failure or success and is therefore of utmost importance …”.
    Within a year, the three-loop calculations were done and the result was in fact “dramatic failure”,
    however
    they did not abandon superstring theory, but began to modify it (for example, in those early days, by introducing flipped SU(5), etc).

    Shouldn’t Garrett Lisi’s E8 model be given the same freedom to make modifications, and not entirely be trashed just because the exact Pati-Salam part might not work ?

  • amused

    Haelfix, as someone who was repeatedly burnt with “intellectual challenges” (what a charming euphemism) I can say for sure that it didn’t make me a better or more determined/motivated physicist. It’s effect was simply to make me avoid famous or well-known physicists like the plague whenever they visit a department i’m in; more generally to avoid discussing physics with anyone who isn’t specifically interested in what i’m working on, and to decide that, as far as physics goes, the only people whose opinion i give a damn about are the editors and referees of Physical Review Letters (and other journals as well, to a lesser extent). Not much positive in that.

    However, in the present case I think J.D. and others have been remarkably restrained and polite considering the circumstances. (As an illustation of the “circumstances” see the quote from the Economist in #47 above.) The only thing I didn’t understand was J.D.’s slamming of Bee (in the comments of his post) which just seemed mean and pointless, especially considering that Bee had done a much better job of analyzing the physics of Lisi’s proposal (modulo the group theoretical stuff) than Lubos, but Lubos didn’t get slammed…

  • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress Peter Woit

    Somehow I suspect “Haelfix”, “H-I-G-G-S” and others like them might show a lot less enthusiasm for “trash-talking” and “bullying” other physicists if they weren’t doing this from behind the cover of anonymity. One can argue about whether the emotional environment at the scrimmage line of a football game is a good way to do science, but I think it’s pretty clear clear what a professional football player would do to someone who tried to “trash-talk” and “bully” them while hiding their identity.

  • H-I-G-G-S

    Dear Tony et. al.

    My apologies if I came off as bullying. It was not my intent. I was
    put off by Lee’s attack on Distler’s credibility (read his first post) and so my replies were on the forceful side since it seemed to me clear that Distler was in fact correct.

    I have only spoken to a few “experts” on the Lisi proposal, so let me simply say that I don’t think the proposal has much merit. The reasons include

    1) It does not contain the standard model fermions in a chiral rep. In fact it contains fermions in real reps, so they will presumably have large masses
    and one will not get the chiral structure of the SM.

    2) It mixes bosons and fermions with some talk about BRST but no definite proposal about what the mathematical structure is that lies behind this. For exampe, are the physical states defined by BRST cohomology classes?

    3) He has nothing new to say about dynamics so I expect the theory to be
    non-renormalizable, to the degree the theory is even defined.

    4) He starts with all couplings equal but does no RGE analysis to see whether they take reasonable values at low-energies. This seems unlikely since the
    low-energy couplings do not unify without superpartners or some other
    new structure at low energies.

    5) The E8 symmetry is not a symmetry at all since there is no limit proposed
    in which it is restored.

    And so on and so on. In brief, I don’t see anything new and promising in his proposal. I of course have no objection to him or others trying to develop it to the point where it does contain something new and interesting. But he and others should be expected to defend their work in the face of criticism. That’s how science works.

  • http://deleted H-I-G-G-S

    Dear Peter,

    Once again, I am not anonymous. I have a pseudonym. Earlier you pointed
    me to a posting by Bee on this precise topic where she was quite positive about the use of a pseudonym as compared to anonymous postings. I’m trying to be
    nice here, I’m not “trash-talking” and I’m trying to be helpful by making correct statements about physics. Please do the same.

    H

  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

    Hi Tony:

    Thanks for your comment. I am sorry to hear about your unhappiness with the work environment. Sadly, I have heard remarks like this very often :-( Usually only by younger people, grad studs, postdocs. Those who can’t stand it, leave, meaning we are at the senior level left with a majority of those who find it okay and see nothing wrong with it. I mean, here is a typical example (particle physics community) that I’ve seen repeated in various shades: young researchers about to finish his/her PhD gives first seminar, is obviously terribly nervous (well, he’s seen what others had to go through). Is interrupted already on the first slide, to be told everything he’s done is useless and uninteresting, and his adviser doesn’t know nothing. Upon which an argument develops between the person asking and the advisor, an argument that has been repeated a million times, only little people can follow the details, and nobody actually wants to hear it. Ten minutes later, the student manages to proceed to slide two, where he’s being told to move ahead because everybody knows that stuff. So he flips through the introduction to some results, only to hear a couple of incredibly stupid remarks caused by the fact that he didn’t have a chance to explain what he was doing. He tries to answer politely, but the only result is senior people shooting questions at him until he’s out of answers, and completely destroyed. In the best case, he has a good advisor who will protect him. That’s not a single sorry story, that’s the way I have seen it happening over and over and over again, in seminars, group meetings, and on conferences (parallel session of course), etc. It’s like all these people just want to show off with several decades more experience.

    Reg Lisi’s title, I too found it inappropriate, but you are of course right that there are more examples like this. These usually don’t make it into the media though, so in most cases it doesn’t really matter what you title a paper on the arxiv. As I’ve argued in the comments above and here, I think we still need to learn how to live with such media attention and how to be appropriately careful and precise. What I think is likely to happen though is that now people are pointing out the problems and the flaws of his proposal, that can be done rather fast. It takes more time though to figure out whether it can be worked out, or which features of the model can be useful etc. As so often, constructive criticism requires more effort than the destructive sort. I hope that despite all the hype, Garrett has found some people who’d be interested in investigating the direction he is looking into.

    Best,

    B.

  • vincent

    Tony Smith says:

    “PS – An example of “nice cooperative” behaviour would be if H-I-G-G-S would state (clearly and in detail enough that Lee Smolin could explicitly agree or point to error and disagree),
    about Lisi’s proposal, exactly what is meant by H-I-G-G-S’s statement:
    “… a conclusion has been reached by the experts …”. ”

    As far as I understand, this is precisely done in Distler’s second post, where he shows that Lisi’s embedding of a generation of fermions does not seem to be correct mathematically (whitout using any physics argument, this is a purely technical group theory argument). I think Distler’s post is also pretty clear and well written and should be understandable for people willing to go through it in detail. Then, if they have further questions there is a comment section there that can be used. That seems like all that is needed at the moment, right?

    With respect to fixing the mathematical mistake by making modifications to the theory, well people interested in that may indeed look for that, and it would of course be very nice if they find anything interesting. On his side, Distler has proposed his own conjecture (in an Appendix to his first post) where he proposes that all embeddings in E8 will be non-chiral, in which case unification of all fields in E8 as proposed by Lisi would not seem to be very useful, or at least much more important modifications to his work would have to be done to make it interesting. Proving (or disproving) this statement is something that people interested in Lisi’s idea may want to work on.

    As for the title of Lisi’s paper, there has been obviously plenty of overstatements and hype in previous titles in the history of science, which in no way justifies keeping doing the same thing, if we are honest about wanting the field to change for the best. It is simply a clear overstatement to call a paper a Theory of Everything from a start, which is bound to attract unwanted and unnecessary media attention before the theory has been looked at by peers in the science community.

    Best :-)

  • vincent

    I’m not used to blogging, people are so fast!! Sorry if other people replied before me! :-))

  • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress Peter Woit

    H-I-G-G-S,

    I don’t recall ever seeing you reveal your actual identity in any of your postings, so I don’t know who you are, and I assume the same is true of Lee.

    “I’ll let you be the judge of your own opacity.”

    “you might want to take a look at the chapter on fermions in any modern book on quantum field theory.”

    are among the things you’ve written here that I think could be described as the particle physicist’s equivalent of trash talking. I strongly suspect that if your real name was on the comments you might have decided to, in your words, “Take a deep breath”, and express yourself in a different manner.

  • Eric

    Peter,
    All you’re trying to do by complaining about anonymous comments is distract attention from the fact the Lisi’s paper has been shown to be completely wrong and Smolin et. al. have completely embarassed themselves. From where I stand, HIGG’s comments have been very reasonable and on point.

  • http://deleted H-I-G-G-S

    Dear Peter,

    In a world where the internet can quickly provide personal information I think having a pseudoynm is perfectly appropriate. You can disagree, but please stop attacking me on this point. As to whether the
    above was trash talking or appropriate responses to Lee’s unjustified attack on Distler, I’ll let readers make their own judgements.

    Let me make one final point. You often complain about ad hominem attacks
    and about people who attack you based on your publications or record rather than on the content of your posts. Please treat me in the way you wish to be
    treated. You attack me personally for not revealing my true name or for “trash talking”, even after I offered an apology and then provided the details requested about my judgement of Lisi’s work. I’d appreciate it if you would not do this in the future. I of course am more than happy to respond to critical comments about the physics issues I am discussing.

    H

    p.s. as for the “deep breath” comment, I had the definite impression that Lee was responding quickly, without thinking things through, and was thus missing the important fact that psi_R^* is left-handed and that this accounted for the discrepancy with Distler. Taking a deep breath and having a look at a QFT textbook seemed to be precisely what he needed to do.

  • Lee Smolin

    Dear HIGGS,

    Thanks, what is frustrating for me is that you and others don’t credit progress to address points you raise when it happens. Let’s go through your points (not in your order, for clarity)

    “3) He has nothing new to say about dynamics so I expect the theory to be non-renormalizable, to the degree the theory is even defined.

    5) The E8 symmetry is not a symmetry at all since there is no limit proposed in which it is restored.”

    These two points are addressed in my paper, by the giving of an action which is fully E8 gauge invariant and by the proposal of a spin foam quantization based on that E8 invariant action. While we do not yet know if that leads to an ultraviolet finite quantum theory, it is known that related forms of spin foam actions are uv finite, for reasons that may apply here. In particular, spin foam models for just general relativity are ultraviolet finite and well defined. So there is a solid basis to proceed to investigate a quantum theory of an E8 unified theory. (Note that my paper applies to a general class of theories that include Lisi’s E8 proposal.)

    So why do you keep repeating these points when they have already been substantially addressed?

    “4) He starts with all couplings equal but does no RGE analysis to see whether they take reasonable values at low-energies. This seems unlikely since the low-energy couplings do not unify without superpartners or some other new structure at low energies.”

    I agree it would be good to a RG analysis but I also hope that the first paper proposing a new theory does not already have to present a full renormalization group analysis. I am also puzzled by your statement, is it not true that in any spontaneously broken gauge theory, broken at a scale M, the couplings must unify above the scale M? Is it not also true that there must be many ways to fill in the desert so as to explain a unification of couplings at a scale M, the MSSM gives just one way to do this? The MSSM is sufficient, but not necessary to complete grand unified theories to give a unification of gauge couplings.

    “1) It does not contain the standard model fermions in a chiral rep. In fact it contains fermions in real reps, so they will presumably have large masses and one will not get the chiral structure of the SM.”

    This is claimed, but I for one have had trouble following Distler’s argument to the end. Let me ask two questions, related to this issue in the whole class of models I study including E8. Since you imply above that the group theory is trivial, perhaps you know the answer. In these models a semi-simple gauge group G with exact G invariant dynamics is spontaneously broken to a subgroup

    H= local-lorentz x Y,

    where Y is a yang-mills gauge group. The definition of chirality you use involves treating the left and right handed parts of fermion fields differently, so it cannot be applied directly to reps of G. Now do you know the answer to the following question: what property does a representation of G have to have so that it gives rise, after spontaneous symmetry breaking, to spacetime spinors which are chiral in Y? If you know the answer I would be grateful, it would help me understand and generalize Distler’s argument.

    Second, one reason I have trouble understanding Distler’s post is that it seems to involve two distinct claims. First that the particular gauge groups Distler, in an earlier post, claims are subgroups of a parrticular non-compact form of E8, are not. Second that the construction Lisi gives of fermions arising from certain pieces of the adjoint of E8 do not give rise to chiral reps (in the senses that you use it) after the spontaneous symmetry breaking. In my efforts to isolate the precise mathematical claim being made and understanding the precise arguments for them I find the mixing of these two issues confusing. In particular, if Distler is making the first claim, why is it at all necessary to bring up the issue of chiral fermion reps?

    Perhaps this is just my ignorance, but as I indicated above I am very open to communicating with anyone who does understand the details of the claim.

    2) It mixes bosons and fermions with some talk about BRST but no definite proposal about what the mathematical structure is that lies behind this. For exampe, are the physical states defined by BRST cohomology classes?

    Lisi is definite about the mathematical structure he is referring to, he is using a certain definition of a “BRST extended connection”, but he is not using it the way BRST is often used to construct gauge invariant amplitudes for yan-mills theory. In any case, as I indicated in my paper, in case Lisi’s approach fails there is another way fermions could arise in such a theory. This does not in particular, limit them to coming from generators in the adjoint of E8. This is one reason why I am interested in the more general question I raised above.

    Dear Eric,

    I find this situation disappointing for the following reason. From behind a veil of anonymity you make the claim that “Lisi’s paper has been shown to be completely wrong” and I have embarrassed myself. Using my real name, I attempt to engage in a constructive dialogue to understand the precise argument Distler is making and I do it in an open-minded professional spirit, asking questions when I am confused and easily admitting when I am wrong and what I get for it is just further insults from people who do not have the decency to use their real names when insulting and criticizing others.

    Now, let me make this completely explicit: I do not have a big stake in how the issue turns out with Lisi’s fermions because I have a different proposal for how fermions can arise in the kind of gravity-gauge theory unifications his proposal fits into. This proposal does not limit them to arising from certain generators in the adjoint, as Lisi’s does. A cynical person would even say I have a stake in Lisi’s failing, so that mine would be paid more attention to. But in fact, I am happy either way, I just want to understand what is true.

    You cannot say, X has been shown, by an argument posted a few days ago that is highly technical and not easy to follow, and then insult someone trying to understand it. The use of the form “X has been shown” applies to cases where the argument has been understood and digested by experts and agreement has been reached. There are subtle issues involved-as I indicated above this is a different kind of unification than the usual GUTS because its incorporation of the local spacetime symmetry group makes the usual definition of chirality difficult to apply – and it is easy to make mistakes when one uses old arguments in new contexts. These kinds of issues often take some time to be digested and understood. We are far from agreement here. I have no doubt that eventually all will be clear, and we will have agreement, but simply insulting people who take more than a few hours to reach agreement over a highly technical point is not helpful. And I find it simply incomprehensible that anyone who had respect for others in the scientific community and pride in their own reputation would attack other scientists from behind a veil of anonymity.

    Thanks,

    Lee

  • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress Peter Woit

    H-I-G-G-S,

    I’m not about to change my mind on the anonymity issue, or to stop bringing it up when appropriate, and the anonymous defense of bullying and trash-talking by “Haelfix” made it a highly appropriate issue to raise here. I still think you should reconsider your views on this, but if you don’t, you should take extreme care in the future to stick to physics and avoid personal comments.

  • http://oreilly.com Scott Gray

    From a completely journalistic point of view of what has transpired here, it is Distler and H-I-G-G-S who have embarrassed themselves with an attitude that exposes insecurity. Of course we don’t know who H-I-G-G-S actually is, so I suppose he’s not really embarrassed.

    For those of us watching what is transpiring it is somewhat disappointing to see people acting this way if for no other reason than to think we won’t privy to this type of debate in the future.

    Whether this theory is right or wrong, you people who count this field as your career could do yourselves all a big favor and embrace the attention this story has received. This type of attention doesn’t come often, so you should at least conduct yourselves in a way that will help people like you and the science you represent.

    Can you imagine seeing transcripts of your heros acting like this? Would they be your heros if they had?

  • Michael Gogins

    I’m not a physicist, but do I follow physics research on the arXiv and whatnot. I have been following the fate, or progress, or whatever, of Garrett Lisi’s paper from its appearance on the arXiv. I’m not qualified to comment on its technicalities.

    But I AM qualified to comment on the way its discussion has proceeded, partly because I am a scholar myself in the field of computer music. I have published in peer-reviewed journals, presented papers at conferences, and so on although I am not a teacher. I also have taken part in numerous extended technical discussions of this kind, online, in my own field. Some of those discussions were even more rancorous than this one… sigh….

    I don’t think it’s anonymity that tempts people to misbehave, but simply being online typing in a room instead of being face to face with one’s interlocutors.

    The way the Lisi discussion has proceeded disturbs me. I cannot see how a dismissive tone, name-calling, implications or accusations of ignorance and incompetence, and the like can possibly advance the cause of science. In my experience, this kind of discussion just makes people mad, and when they get mad, they stop thinking, and they have trouble hearing what the person who is making them mad is saying. And in my experience, there IS a very real risk that talented people can be driven away from a field in which they had been doing valuable work — just to be clear, I’m not talking about myself here, I am quite active.

    I do not know who in this discussion is getting money from me, i.e. receiving public funds in the form of a salary at a public university or research grants from the federal government or the military, but I find the idea that perhaps people I am paying to think about very important things are calling each other names like this disturbing in the extreme.

    As for the specific issue of anonymity, as we all know, one critical foundation for the success of science is open discussion and the freedom of information. Take the anonymous critics here. How I am to know how their credentials compare with Lisi’s or Smolin’s? To the extent that I am a peer in the field, of course, I can simply review the arguments, but to the extent that I need to rely on an expert’s judgment, suddenly I am in the dark here. This is not scientific. Mr. X can’t just say “I’m an expert,” that means nothing whatsoever.

    I will continue to follow this discussion and other physics research with interest.

    Best regards,
    Michael Gogins

  • Aaron Bergman

    Can you imagine seeing transcripts of your heros acting like this? Would they be your heros if they had?

    Dude, the remarks on the internet about Lisi’s theory have been kind compared to what famous physicists of the previous few generations would have said.

  • Moshe

    Quick comment, almost despite myself, in response to Bee and others. When the technical case is so clear cut as the one Jacques presents, it is difficult not to regard complaints about the “tone” and similar issues as simply a rhetorical strategy. It is disheartening to observe time and again how efficient it is.

  • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress Peter Woit

    Scott,

    I fear that some of our heros in physics and mathematics are known to have engaged in less than edifying behavior in discussions, although they’re still our heros. I just finished reading (and writing about on my blog), an excellent book by Peter Freund that tells about some such episodes. But, except for a small number of extreme cases involving borderline mental illness, in the past professional mathematicians and physicists have had enough sense to avoid such behavior in print in public. They were not exposed to the temptation of anonymous comments on internet forums, it’s a bit scary to think about how they might have responded to this challenge…

  • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress Peter Woit

    Moshe,

    I assure you that this is not a rhetorical strategy on my part, since I’m no fan of the idea of trying to fit everything into E8 multiplets.

    But I really think string theorists like yourself should, instead of attacking me and Lee for pointing out a problem, give some thought to how much damage your own partisans (anonymous and not) are doing to your own interests. I think the commenters above reflect accurately the perception of people reading these exchanges who don’t know the technicalities, and, no matter what Lee or I have to say, the impression they take away from observing the behavior of string theory partisans is what it is.

    In this particular case, you should also be aware that the discussion has drawn the attention not just of the public, but of some parts of the math community that are expert in these issues. It’s not just the public that is coming away with the impression that there’s something quite odd about how string theorists choose to engage in scientific discussion.

  • Thomas Larsson

    I must say that I am perplexed by this discussion. If the parity mismatch does not shoot down Garrett’s theory, how can one ever hope to make any kind of progress? Even if arrogance is not something to strive for and can hurt your career (just look at LM), at the end of the day it is more important to be right than to be polite.

    At some point, one must accept the obvious: putting fermions and bosons into the same multiplet of a bosonic algebra is plain wrong, the Helling-Policastro oscillator disproves LQG, the anthropic landscape proves that string theory is unable to say anything definite about our universe, and the non-discovery of SUSY and extra-dimensions at the LHC will (if it happens) disprove the scientific part of string theory.

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    Wow! The complete triumph of form over substance.

    The postmodernists who were burned by the “Sokal Hoax” would be very pleased by this discussion, where zero interest is evinced in the truth-value of any statements that have been made about Lisi’s theory; it’s all about their provenance and their “tone.”

    Still, standing in the middle of the food-fight, Lee Smolin (#130) had some substantive questions. Let me briefly interject some physics by answering them:

    It’s called thoroughness. Even though the particular real form of D_4xD_4, chosen by Lisi, does not embed in any real form of E_8, there are other real forms of D_4xD_4 which do. So a thorough analysis would study those other real forms as well, to see what one can obtain with them.

    That is what I did (I fact, I looked at what you get for all five cases where G can be embedded as a subgroup, though I only reported the result for the two “Pati-Salam”-like cases.

    [W]hat property does a representation of G have to have so that it gives rise, after spontaneous symmetry breaking, to spacetime spinors which are chiral in Y?

    In a nutshell, if you look at the piece of the adjoint representation that transforms as a “2” (as opposed to a “2bar”) of SL(2,C), then that should be a complex representation of SU(3)xSU(2)xU(1). Ideally, it should contain 3 copies of the (3,2)_{1/6}+(3bar,1)_{1/3}+(3bar,1)_{-2/3} +(1,2)_{-1/2}+(1,1)_1.

    See here for an argument that applies quite generally to the “Euclidean” (compact real form) case of any group (not just E_8). It is almost, but not quite a proof for the Minkowskian (noncompact real form) case. There are some potential loopholes there.

  • Dany

    H-I-G-G-S, for me it doesn’t a matter who you are, but I am curious to know whether you exist (I am not sure that it is defined as natural in this environment).

    Regards, Dany.

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    Yikes! That didn’t seem to work. Let me try that again. (#$%@ lack of a “preview”!)

    I find the mixing of these two issues confusing. In particular, if Distler is making the first claim, why is it at all necessary to bring up the issue of chiral fermion reps?

    It’s called thoroughness. Even though the particular real form of D_4xD_4, chosen by Lisi, does not embed in any real form of E_8, there are other real forms of D_4xD_4 which do. So a thorough analysis would study those other real forms as well, to see what one can obtain with them.

    That is what I did (I fact, I looked at what you get for all five cases where G can be embedded as a subgroup, though I only reported the result for the two “Pati-Salam”-like cases.

    [W]hat property does a representation of G have to have so that it gives rise, after spontaneous symmetry breaking, to spacetime spinors which are chiral in Y?

    In a nutshell, if you look at the piece of the adjoint representation that transforms as a “2” (as opposed to a “2bar”) of SL(2,C), then that should be a complex representation of SU(3)xSU(2)xU(1). Ideally, it should contain 3 copies of the (3,2)_{1/6}+(3bar,1)_{1/3}+(3bar,1)_{-2/3} +(1,2)_{-1/2}+(1,1)_1.

  • Lee Smolin

    Jacques,

    Thanks re the first. Re the second, yes, I knew that, the question is, is there some general property of a rep of G that guarantees that or for which this is never the case? Can it ever be true for a real rep?

    Let me add a third question, is the issue of embedding of Lie algebras-leaving the fermion question aside-clear for the euclidean case? That is does SO(4) + SU(3)+ SU(2) + SU(2) + U(1) embedd in the real form of the lie algebra of E8, using the decomposition suggested by Lisi? Is there any sense in which the lie algebra SL(2,C) + SU(3)+ SU(2) + SU(2) + U(1) fits in a complexification of the lie algebra E8?

    Finally, what is the best reference to understand why there are only these two non-compact forms of E8 and where the results you quote come from? At the level of the lie algebra it would seem there might be more freedom. Is it easy to say why there is not?

    Thanks,

    Lee

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    is there some general property of a rep of G that guarantees that or for which this is never the case? Can it ever be true for a real rep?

    See here for an argument that applies quite generally to the “Euclidean” (compact real form) case of any group (not just E_8). It is almost, but not quite a proof for the Minkowskian (noncompact real form) case. There are some potential loopholes there. (At least, they seem like potential loopholes to me; someone who knew more about the representation theory involved could probably complete the proof pretty quickly.)

    Finally, what is the best reference to understand why there are only these two non-compact forms of E8 and where the results you quote come from?

    See the article by Marcel Berger that I linked to in my post. To define a noncompact real form, you need an involution of the Lie algebra that acts as +1 on the compact generators, and as -1 on the noncompact generators. Such an involution also defines a symmetric space structure, and Berger classified those.

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    Actually, to find the noncompact real forms, you need to classify Riemannian symmetric spaces. That classification long predates Berger’s paper.

    See the textbook by Helgason.

  • tyler

    Prof. Distler, as an interested observer I assure you that what interest I do have in the “tone” of this discussion is secondary to that I have in seeing the discussion continue to its resolution and the resulting understanding I will gain of the truth values of the various claims that have been made. In that regard, I (and I’m sure all of the other readers here) thank you for helping return the discussion to the technical issue at hand.

    The problem with “tone” is a real one, in that it 1) worsens the signal/noise ratio and 2) might cause a premature end to the discussion. So, while I think tone does matter, it is a means to an end rather than the end itself.

    It’s true that I have also gathered a great deal of data here about who I would and would not like to have a beer with or take a class from, were I in a position to do either of those things, but that’s completely irrelevant to the matter under discussion.

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    Tyler,

    In 2000, it was the opinion of an overwhelming majority of people that, of the two Presidential candidates, George W Bush was the one with whom it would be more fun to have a beer.

    Seven years later, it is clear to an overwhelming majority that that was a lousy criterion for choosing a President.

    Speaking personally, I think (and thought) that I’d have a much more enjoyable time chatting over some beers with Al Gore. But I acknowledge that people’s tastes in drinking partners might vary.

  • tyler

    Jacques,

    I, like you, disagreed with the majority of Americans about both “liking” GWB and the relevance of such a judgment as a valid selection criterion. Unfortunately, the committee was against me, and our nation as a whole decided to go ahead and perform the experiment. Now the data are in, and the likability-over-competence theory of presidential selection has been ruled out, though sadly at great cost.

    Stripped of polite phrasing, the real meaning of my post was “thank goodness the shouting has died down and the debate has resumed, I was afraid a fascinating thread would drown in noise.” The social construction of language is so obvious as to be beyond learned debate at this point; the social construction of science is a ludicrous, discredited fallacy. So meta-arguments about the form of scientific debate are only valid to the degree that they further or hinder that debate.

    I am simply pleased to see that the discussion has continued, here in this forum where I can observe it, and wanted you to know that at least some (or one) of the non-professional interested observers are not taking their eye off the ball, as it were, since you seemed concerned that the actual point of the thread had been lost.

  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

    @Moshe #135 I’d hope any discussion about the “tone” and similar issues
    would just be unnecessary. It certainly wasn’t my intention to distract from
    the technical argumentation with a ‘rhetorical strategy’. My comment #100
    was
    me getting upset about an earlier comment that essentially said if you have
    a technical argument you’re free to insult others because scientists have to
    stand above such human weaknesses. I tried to explain that this kind of
    reasoning drives away many people who happen to be human, and drives others
    into depression – therefore I don’t think one should tolerate this.
    Otherwise we might maybe consider PG-rating comment sections. Or to put it
    differently, this blog has about 10,000 readers a day, many of which are
    grad students who’ll be about to make up their mind some time soon which
    area they want to work in.

    @Michael #133

    “I don’t think it’s anonymity that tempts people to misbehave, but simply
    being online typing in a room instead of being face to face with one’s
    interlocutors.”

    You might be interested in this, and
    this
    .

    Best,

    B.

  • Lee Smolin

    Dear Jacques,

    Now, please straighten me out on the following: Following your post, the Pati-Salam fermions are in a rep given by

    R_ps = (2,r) +(2-bar, r-bar)

    where these refer to their transformation properties under the sum of the spacetime lorentz algebra so(3,1) and H, where H is the Pati-Salam algebra

    H=su(4)+ su(2)+su(2)

    And r = (4,2,1)+(4-bar,1,2)

    Now we established before that r is not equivalent to its complex conjugate, so R_ps is in the standard terms chiral. It is also the case that parity takes R_ps to itself. Now, R_ps is also pseudo-real, ie it is equivalent to its complex conjugate, as it is the sum of itself and its complex conjugate. So suppose there were a bigger lie algebra G that contained so(,1)+H as a subalgebra. Could not R_ps arise from the decomposition of a pseudo-real representation of G?

    Thanks,

    Lee

  • Moshe

    Bee, I agree with you on the general issue, but like everything else it all depends on the context. So many of the online discussions degenerate almost immediately to discussions of etiquette, I guess that is one topic everyone feels they can comment on. This of course relies on the assumption that you can make such judgments without basic understanding of the context, based on “tone” alone. Personally I find this assumption completely absurd.

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    Dear Lee,

    Perhaps it would be best if we retreated, for a moment, to the “euclidean” case, where we are embedding Spin(4), instead of SL(2,C). Then

    R = (2,1, r) + (1,2, rbar)

    which is still complex, if r is a complex representation of H.

    In any case, Lisi’s game (interpreted most broadly) is to embed things in the adjoint representation of some real form of some Lie group. That is always a real representation.

    P.S.: If you really want to have a technical discussion, with equations, ‘n such, you might consider moving things to my blog, where the software is suited to the task of facilitating such discussions.

  • Lee Smolin

    Jacques,

    But in the lorentzian case where complex conjugation exchanges the left and right factors,

    R_ps = (2,1, r) + (1,2, rbar)

    of SU(2)_L+SU(2)_R+H

    is equivalent to its complex conjute.

    Thanks,

    Lee

  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

    Hi Moshe,
    Yes, I agree, that’s not constructive either. Since it’s going nicely I’ll shut up now and leave the discussion to the experts (I’ve had trouble commenting, so Sean put in my previous comment with some delay. Hope it works now.) Best,
    B.

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    Lee,

    That’s the point! A priori, in the Lorentzian case, R is a real (or pseudo real) representation. So you might think that you could get a chiral spectrum (a net number of copies of R). But, for any embedding of SL(2,C) in the noncompact real form, which is related by Wick rotation to an embedding of Spin(4) in the compact real form, this never happens. I have just explained to you why it never happens.

    More broadly, there are other embeddings of SL(2,C) in the noncompact real form, not related by Wick rotation to embeddings of Spin(4) in the compact real form, which also necessarily yield a nonchiral spectrum. Specifically, I have looked at embeddings that proceed via SL(4,R) and via SU(2,2).

    What I have not done is show that these are the only remaining possibilities. So there’s still a challenge outstanding, to any readers of my blog, to close that gap.

  • vincent

    Hi B,

    A good example of what I was proposing in the comment you refer to in your #148 is precisely what Lee and Jacques are doing at the moment; ignoring discussions of the form, insults or what not and actually having an interesting and relevant discussion about the physics. So I will also shut up (unless I get something relevant to say to the physics) and follow the discussion. :-)

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    I wrote

    What I have not done is show that these are the only remaining possibilities. So there’s still a challenge outstanding, to any readers of my blog, to close that gap.

    But let me be very clear that this “potential loophole” is irrelevant to your paper, which concerned the Euclidean case (embedding Spin(4) in the compact real form of some Lie group), and to Lisi’s paper, which concerned an embedding via D_4xD_4.

    Neither of these can ever lead to a chiral spectrum (let alone to 3 Standard Model generations).

    And, with that said, I will apologize, again, for the interruption. Y’all can return to your previously-scheduled discussion of etiquette and anonymity, which I fear was prematurely squelched by this boring disquisition on group representation theory.

  • Fine

    Woit says:

    “But I really think string theorists like yourself should, instead of attacking me and Lee for pointing out a problem, give some thought to how much damage your own partisans (anonymous and not) are doing to your own interests. I think the commenters above reflect accurately the perception of people reading these exchanges who don’t know the technicalities, and, no matter what Lee or I have to say, the impression they take away from observing the behavior of string theory partisans is what it is.”

    Let me put a disclaimer first that I am not a string theorist. I am not qualified to comment on Distler’s although I have learnt quite a few things reading his comments here and at his blog. Peter Woit, for you everything is a game of impressions. You seem to see everything stringy versus anti stringy. Also, just because you wrote a anti stringy rant does not mean that you and Smolin are at the same side. It seems to me that whenever you are not able to comment on anything, you just hide your tails by sounding like voice of Smolin represents you. If attacked, you start manufacturing your disagreements with Smolin.

    However, if something technical appears in any discussions, you start your rhetorical statements such as “I dont like …” But the real impression, I have gotten in the last couple of years is I have never seen you comment on ANYTHING non-trivial at ANY depth. The best thing that you do with is assorted links which I find useful. I really suggest that you(who have a voice) in these influential blog support yourself with robust arguments than redundant raving and ranting.

    On the other hand, I have learnt a great deal by reading Distler, and to some extent Smolin in this whole TOE saga.

    Sean, although it may not be the objective of this blog, I would suggest you to let the technical stuff flow(if that is not too much of a burden to the disk space). I am sure students like me find such discussions more valuable than unsubstantiated likes and dislike which seems to degenerate into really absurd discussions.

  • J. LaPezza

    Woit,

    you write on your blog: “Informed comments relevant to the posting are very welcome and strongly encouraged. Comments that just add noise and/or hostility are not.”

    Do you think you are removing noise and/or posting informed comments here? I think you are doing just the opposite.

  • Haelfix

    Ahem, getting back to the food fight after the brief physics interlude..

    For a good example of why anonymity is neither a necessary or sufficient condition to be wonderful pricks to each other see for instance the recent exchange:

    http://arxiv.org/abs/0712.2620v1 and preceding notes.

    Comic value is high, but then such a thing is somewhat of an aged, acquired taste and requires a thick skin which I would have thought most physicists tend to develop sometime during undergraduate research =)

    C’est la vie!

  • Pingback: Physics needs independent thinkers « Theorema Egregium()

  • http://deleted H-I-G-G-S

    Dear Lee,

    You said “Thanks, what is frustrating for me is that you and others don’t credit progress to address points you raise when it happens.”

    To me, the “progress” looks like putting lipstick on a pig. It’s not going to make it fly, nor make me want to embrace it.

    H

  • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress Peter Woit

    I suppose one could have predicted that the response to pointing out that anonymous insults on physics blogs are a problem would be… anonymous insults.

    I thank Jacques for the recent improvement in tone of the technical discussion with Lee, that’s great to see. Unfortunately there’s still the anonymous H-I-G-G-S, who I continue to believe would behave in a more professional way if his name was attached to his words.

  • http://deleted H-I-G-G-S

    No Peter, I’d make the same quip in person.

    Glad I provided you with a way to participate in the discussion.

  • Lee Smolin

    Dear Jacques,

    I am not sure I understand your last point. Let me review. We have been discussing the situation encountered unifying the Pati-Slam gauge symmetry with the local lorentz transformations. This leads us to consider

    R_ps = (2,r) +(2-bar, r-bar),

    with r = (4,2,1)+(4-bar,1,2)

    as described in my 149 above.

    We have established 1) that r is chiral, in the sense that it is in a complex rep of the YM gauge symmetry that acts on left handed spinors, 2) that R_ps is parity invariant and 3) that R_ps is equivalent to its complex conjugate.

    Thus, if there were a unification of gravity and Yang-Mills in terms of the connection of a larger G which has as a subalgebra local lorentz+H_ps, along the lines of Peldan, myself and others, R_ps could arise from the decomposition of a rep of G which is also equivalent to its complex conjugate.

    Do I understand correctly that you agree with this but are arguing that in the particular case of if G=E8, R_ps cannot arise from decomposition of the adjoint of E8 ?

    Note: the above is all assuming lorentzian signature. It is true that in my paper I worked with Euclidean signature, but only for simplicity.

    Thanks,

    Lee

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    Lee,

    Try reading again what I wrote (not just here, but in the blog post I linked to).

    If the embedding of SL(2,C) in the noncompact real form of G is related by Wick rotation to an embedding of Spin(4) in the compact real form of G, then R is nonchiral.

    This has nothing to do with the specific choice G = E_8.

    ————————————————————

    Since you are a physicist, I did not spell out what the phrase “related by Wick rotation” means. But perhaps I should not have made such presumptions.

    So let me step back, and spell out precisely what the above phrase means.

    For concision, I will phrase things in terms of embeddings of Lie algebras, instead of groups.

    Let g_C be the complex Lie algebra, which has (at least) two real forms: a compact real form, g_e, appropriate to the Euclidean case, and a noncompact real form, g_l, appropriate to the Lorentzian case. Let h be the lie algebra of the SM or Pati-Salam, and h_C the corresponding complex Lie algebra (of which h is the compact real form).

    We are interested in embeddings of

    so(4) x h ? g_e

    and

    so(3,1) x h ? g_l

    I say “these embeddings are related by Wick rotation” if they stem from the same embedding of complex lie algebras

    d_2 x h_C ? g_C

    by choosing different real forms.

  • Lee Smolin

    Dear HIGGS,

    huh? You made a list of criticisms which I responded to by explaining how some of them are solved or addressed in subsequent work. Your response is highly unprofessional, it has no content except a statement of your unwillingness to engage in a scientific discussion based on results in papers. So why should anyone take anything else you have to say seriously?

    Don’t you understand that to be taken seriously a scientist who wants to criticize other scientist’s work must be professional and precise in their criticisms. The point is to convince other scientists to change their minds and to do this you must show your respect for them and you must reason with them. When you degenerate from reasoning with people to insutling them, you are behaving unprofessionally because you hurt both the processes and the reputation of science. It matters not the context in which you do this.

    Thanks,

    Lee

  • Eric

    Oh boy, here we go again with smokescreen tactic that Woit/Smolin use whenever they’re losing an argument of accusing the other side of being impolite.

  • Sandy

    It is nice to see that physics has joined politics and religion as things people can’t talk about without emotion. I am put off by “spiky” and disrespectful because it takes some of the pleasure out of the conversation for me. But, we have to acknowledge that some enjoy it more that way. So, is it just a style? Even jerks become lovable if you know them long enough – they become “our” jerks. But, it is hard not to think that their spikiness comes from being egotistical, married to their positions, and jealous of other’s successes.

  • Geez!

    Lee–

    What is frustrating to the rest of us is that you always declare that you are making progress without anything technically correct and concrete to back it up. Just because you say it or write a paper about it doesn’t mean any progress has been made. No one is convinced by your paper–relying on your previous mechanism for getting fermions that in turn made absolutely no sense doesn’t make anything any better. Unfortunately physics needs equations and ideas and not just pretty pictures and wishful thinking.

    I think you have a lot of nerve to assume that people should take you seriously when you have demonstrated above that you don’t understand the most basic things about field theory–what the PS model is, what parity means, what chirality means, that you can’t get a chiral from spontaneous breakdown of a vector theory and so on. Maybe to journalists or anyone that doesn’t know technical details of physics, your discussion with Jacques looks like “healthy dialog”. But to those in the know it is a complete embarrasment. Jacques had to teach you things I’m sure he has taught for years in his beginning field theory courses. This has nothing to do with the esoteric details of E8, but with basic, elementary QFT.

    And why isn’t Peter Woit, prophet of the importance of representation theory in physics, chiming in on the group-theoretical issues with Lisi’s proposal? Still too busy complaining about manners? All of you alternative physics people can never put your money where your mouth is when it comes to physics discussion. Impartial external observers should take away the obvious lesson from this…

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    Eric,

    In this instance, I would quibble with your use of the present continuous tense.

    Right now, all I see is foot-dragging.

    Lee,

    If the above argument isn’t clear to you, I invite you to try to construct a counter-example. I believe you will find the exercise revelatory.

    If you have anything substantive to say, I invite you to comment on my blog.

    Here, producing anything resembling equations is a pain-in-the-rear, and I fail to see the point of attempting to repeat stuff that is better-explained in my two blog posts.

    This goose is cooked. Time to move on.

  • http://egregium.wordpress.com/ Christine

    “What is frustrating to the rest of us (…)”

    “No one is convinced (…)”

    “I think you have a lot of nerve to assume that people should take you seriously”

    Ah. So now an anonymous commenter thinks that he or she is entitled to represent the opinion of the “rest of us”.

    “Impartial external observers should take away the obvious lesson from this…”

    There is a lot to be learned, yes. I know what I am learning, thank you. But whatever your impressions, I hope this spectacle finds an end soon, so that the technical discussions can continue.

  • Fine

    Geez Says,

    “And why isn’t Peter Woit, prophet of the importance of representation theory in physics, chiming in on the group-theoretical issues with Lisi’s proposal? Still too busy complaining about manners?”

    This is an excellent point. I think like Jacques says the goose is cooked and it is indeed time to move on.

  • Dany

    Lee Smolin:” The point is to convince other scientists to change their minds and to do this you must show your respect for them and you must reason with them”.

    Eventually you and Jacques Distler both not talking to us, your colleagues, but to the outsider journalists which don’t bother even to differentiate the physical theory from the hypothetical mathematical construct. There is no difference in the approach used by both “collectives” (it is quite new that the theoretical physics community is similar to kibbutz).

    You choose, without motivation, some large “unification” group and through the sequence of hypothetical symmetry breakings go to the experimentally defined target U(2) which is the only existing minimal extension of the Maxwell’s U(1).

    There is no need to insult each other. You are both wrong in your approach. “There is no royal road to geometry”, but these are not roads at all.

    Regards, Dany.

    P.S. And you both continue to confuse kids what and how to study the theoretical physics. The detailed knowledge of the huge classical as well as the exceptional group reps is irrelevant for the math-ph.

  • tyler

    I’m sad to see that the noise has drowned out the signal.

    Some people just don’t know when to stop talking about irrelevant things.

  • amused

    tyler,
    I sympathise with your frustration, but speaking from the perspective of someone who earns his living doing theoretical physics I don’t think the signal was all that interesting anyway. (I’m not much of a group theory enthusiast.) It is only because of the “special circumstances” that this is being discussed here at all. Jacques himself wrote on his blog “I *really* wasn’t going to post about the Lisi paper…”, and there are certainly more interesting topics to discuss than this one.
    On the other hand, the sociological aspects of all this are quite fascinating…

  • Nathan Burney

    Tyler,

    I don’t know about the noise drowning out the signal. The raised hackles are indicative of the significance the various scholars place on the discussion.

    And putting aside the human bits of personality, the discussion has been extremely valuable as we all start exploring different ways of looking at the actual physics. I’m certainly learning a lot, and I doubt I’m the only one.

    –Nathan

  • James Gallagher
  • Summarizer

    Thank you everyone. Now that the discussion has come to a reasonable conclusion, it is time to summarize:

    LS: I have said 2+1 = 4 . Distler does not point to a specific step in this which is incorrect.

    JD: Try reading again what I wrote (not just here, but in the blog post I linked to): 2+2=4 .

    LS: I haven’t checked in detail, I am puzzled that there is no mention of subtraction.
    If it is just a terminological mixup that is of course fine for this issue, and what you mean by 2 is different from what I meant by 2, so although I agree I may have been imprecise, the essence of my statement remains correct.
    It matters not the context in which you do this.

    Anon1: The problem is that JD was not polite in his explanation.

    Anon2: Oh boy, here we go again with smokescreen tactic that Woit/Smolin use whenever they’re losing an argument of accusing the other side of being impolite.

    PW: I really think string theorists like yourself should, instead of attacking me and Lee for pointing out a problem, give some thought to how much damage your own partisans (anonymous and not) are doing to your own interests.

    LS: It is true that the statement 2+2=4 is disrespectful and therefore unconvincing.
    The point is to convince other scientists to change their minds and to do this you must show your respect for them and you must reason with them. Suppose I work in a Lorentzian metric, then is it not true that 4-1=2 ?

    JD: 4-1=3 . If you really want to have a technical discussion, with equations, you might consider moving things to my blog, where the fonts are better.

    Anon1: why are string theorists always so nasty?

    B: I’ve been pretty damned close to quitting physics, more than once, because people are so impolite. Best, B

    PW: It’s not just the public that is coming away with the impression that there’s something quite odd about how string theorists choose to engage in scientific discussion. Even if what he says is true and not so impolite, it still can never be tested.

    LS: Thanks for your kind words, but with respect, this resolved only the point I queried. I have more technical questions about missing steps in Jacques’s arguments which would need to be filled in before I understand it.
    Unless I am having a particularly opaque day, his remarks on 2+1 are incorrect.
    Indeed it’s counterproductive as this kind of nasty debate has been the source of many falsehoods and misconceptions, because those who originate them never apologize or admit error.

    Anon3: Of course, I cannot follow the technicalities of this exchange.
    This being said, on the other hand we are all profesionnals, at least those of us who know how to spell.

    LS: He was largely wrong in his previous post as he been several times before in discussions on most other issues.
    Even ignoring the condescending tone, this seems to me sloppy and makes me cautious about accepting his conclusions about other things without checking. There are many logical gaps in his argument which need to be resolved.
    You understand that to be taken seriously a scientist who wants to criticize other scientist’s work must be professional and precise in its criticisms. It’s quite likely that we use ‘=’ to mean different things.

    Anon5: The problem with “tone” is a real one.

    B: I’d hope any discussion about the “tone” and similar issues would just be unnecessary. It certainly wasn’t my intention to distract from the technical argumentation with a ‘rhetorical strategy’. Best, B

    Anon3: There are too many comments like this one complaining about the lack of physics content making it difficult to find the physics content.

    JD: The complete triumph of form over substance. For the correct meaning of the ‘=’ sign, see my blog where it occurs in the correct font

    LS: Perhaps if what you say is correct, it could still be that 1+1+1=4.
    Finally, what is the best reference to understand why there are only these ways of decomposing 4 into positive integers and where the results you quote come from?

    Anon6: why don’t you crack open a book about integers

    PW: I suppose one could have predicted that the response to pointing out that anonymous insults on physics blogs are a problem would be anonymous insults.

    Anon6: once again i am not anonymous. i always use the pseudonym anon6.

    TS: there’s a 7-grading of e8

    Anon3: It’s difficult to concentrate with all this noise.

    WS: A pox on both your houses

    Anon7: There you go again,

    Anon8: Hey, stop kicking.

    Anon9: You started this.

    Anon1: You embarrass yourself with namecalling.

    Anon6: You embarrass yourself more by complaining about the namecalling.

    Anon2: Can you imagine seeing transcripts of your heros acting like this?

    PW: I just finished reading (and writing about on my blog), an excellent book about borderline mental illness and the temptation of anonymous comments on internet forums.

    B: Sadly, I have heard remarks like this very often. That’s not a single sorry story, that’s the way I have seen it happening over and over and over again. Best, B

    JD: 1+1+1=3 . It’s called thoroughness. There are more details in better fonts on my blog, and a recipe for goose. Now back to etiquette and anonymity.

  • http://tsm2.blogspot.com wolfgang

    Summarizer,

    very well observed. Are you perhaps Warren Siegel?

  • anon11

    Thank you Warren!… I mean Summarizer

  • tyler

    Nathan, by “noise” I meant the meta-discussion. Not the heat; the ad nauseam discussion of the heat, its validity, etc, the minutiae of netiquette – all of which is really a solved problem, the answers are known, though sadly rarely applied. A small meta-discussion is valid to keep that heat at a level where communication can still happen. Of course people get upset, snarky, and even downright mean at times. It’s when this causes the whole discussion to spin off in postmodernist self-analysis that it counts as noise.

    Since the technical content of this thread has dropped to zero I don’t feel guilty about the dense irony field surrounding this post, which is a meta-critique of the above-mentioned meta-discussion.

    amused, as a nonprofessional, group theory is even more above my head than usual. The degree to which I fail to care whether Mr. Lisi’s paper is correct or not cannot be adequately expressed in written English. As an outsider I have the luxury of viewing the progress of science on long time scales. However there were a lot of interesting things happening in this thread that, for me, counted as “signal” – and it seems that a lot of professionals were finding signals of interest in the thread as well. But naive discussions of functional netiquette were last interesting in 1996 by my reckoning.

  • James Gallagher

    summarizer,

    veey funny

  • http://oreilly.com Scott Gray

    LOL @ the summary.

  • mitchell porter

    Thomas Larsson said “… the anthropic landscape proves that string theory is unable to say anything definite about our universe, and the non-discovery of SUSY and extra-dimensions at the LHC will (if it happens) disprove the scientific part of string theory”.

    If I were a string theorist, I would certainly be interested in explanations of electroweak symmetry breaking that would look maximally dull at the LHC – by which I mean not only no low-energy supersymmetry or Kaluza-Klein modes showing up, but not even a Higgs. It would be a bet against the belief that there must be something exciting around the next corner just because we haven’t looked yet.

    I was surprised to read at Jacques Distler’s blog that it’s actually very hard to find something that emulates the Standard Model in string theory (1, 2), despite the variety of phenomenological avenues being considered (see section on “Phenomenological attempts” here). That the landscape implies no predictions may be a gross exaggeration. Even if there are very large numbers of stable vacua, just knowing a posteriori that there are (e.g.) three generations of chiral fermions may narrow things considerably.

  • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress Peter Woit

    I was mercifully away from the internet all day, glad to see that string theory partisans took the opportunity of not having noise produced by me to have a high-level discussion. It seems like I was wrong about Jacques, I guess he was just having an off-day yesterday.

  • onymous

    If I were a string theorist, I would certainly be interested in explanations of electroweak symmetry breaking that would look maximally dull at the LHC – by which I mean not only no low-energy supersymmetry or Kaluza-Klein modes showing up, but not even a Higgs.

    This isn’t possible — a Higgs or some other new physics is necessary to satisfy unitarity.

  • Fine

    Another Peter Woit contribution to the history of science. Amen.

  • experiment

    What does the current lack of comment have to say about cosmic censorship?

  • experiment

    Hey! It went straight through! It didn’t have to “await moderation”!

  • Lee Smolin

    Dear All,

    Yesterday was a bit too nasty, but before we close this discussion let’s talk about what actually happened. First, if one ignores all the posturing and blustering, the points I made about Pati-Salam stuck. Notice that in the last few exchanges between Distler and I he doesn’t disagree with my points, he just changes the subject, for example by suggesting we move the discussion to his blog. What were these points? What we established before it got too nasty was that the fermions are in a rep r which has all the following properties:

    1) It is chiral in the standard sense (see 99 and 151)

    2) When taken in full as a rep R_ps, as defined in previous posts, of lorentz+H where H=su(4)+su(2)+su(2) it is parity invariant.

    3) R_ps is also pseudo-real.

    It was important to establish these points, because they bear on Lisi’s proposal and more generally for model building of this type. Pati-Salam is not a trivial point to be filled in, it is the key to whether Lisi succeeds or fails. This key point was not commented on by Distler or anyone here until I brought it up.

    I also asked what properties a Lie algebra G has to have so that it has a subalgebra of lorentz + H, with a representation that on breaking to the subalgebra gives R_ps. My question, central to understanding if anything like Lisi’s proposal can work, was based on the fact that the situation was rather different than the case of the usual standard model where 2 and 3 don’t hold.

    Distler did in 165 offer a general statement, “If the embedding of SL(2,C) in the non-compact real form of G is related by Wick rotation to an embedding of Spin(4) in the compact real form of G, then R is non-chiral.” So far as I can tell this is false because G=SO(3,1)+H is itself a counterexample to it, given the above. Were there further discussion this would be the place to start.

    Let’s look next at what happened in my dialogue with HIGGS. It was somewhat useful until I made a precise point explaining how two of the criticisms he made of Lisi were answered by my construction in a paper of a gauge invariant action. His answer was to make an unprofessional content free insult.

    I want to emphasize that I entered this discussion late and reluctantly after being asked my views by people on it. The reason for my reluctance was that I believed it would have more value to actually solve one of the issues facing Lisi’s proposal than to just argue about it. It happened to be possible to solve a key issue-that of exact E8 gauge invariance- quickly and make a conjecture about other issues. I wrote a very carefully worded paper explaining these. I also took the time to explain carefully why the CM theorem was not relevant and also, on the other side, to make it clear that there are open issues with aspects of Lisi’s proposal not addressed in my paper.

    Notice that in the subsequent discussion here and on Distler’s blog, not one of the Lisi’s detractors show any evidence of having read or understood this paper. This speaks volumes about the extent to which we are dealing with a one sided situation. One side is fair and open minded, easily admits mistakes and points out open issues and weaknesses in their proposals (no one does this more than Lisi himself.) The other side rarely admits mistakes, and never retracts claims even when they have been thoroughly debunked. (Notice how many people wrote to say they were wrong about the Coleman-Mandula issue: zero.) Notice how they construe everything I say in the worst possible light, as indicating ignorance or error on my part, this is, friends, nothing but a classic debating tactic of people without the truth on their side.

    Unfortunately this is not the first time myself and other people who see a value in being fair minded have tried to have a constructive debate with Distler, HIGGS and others of their posse of anonymous detractors. They always use the same tactics and the result is always the same. They never admit error but they decrease their credibility in the eyes of fair minded people.

    So here is what took up the space that could have been devoted to a genuine scientific discussion: When I made a simple mistake of notation I was insulted by anonymous people piling up. And when I made correct points which were not rebutted, the same people just pile up even more insults.

    The overall impression is very sad. In a recent conversation Lenny Susskind urged that in judging the behavior of any scientific community you should judge by the best people in it, not the worst. I agree and have tried to do so. But the people posting here anonymously make this hard to do.

    So what is really happening here? What has happened is that one very smart, but intellectually isolated young theoretical physicists has made a bold and risky proposal for unification of physics. Due to his personal circumstances, he got much too much media attention-something everyone including him agrees about and several of us including myself tried to stop. A bunch of people who think they own the territory of unification are enraged. They react with all the classic symptoms of territory defense that the sociologists of science have catalogued. More troubling for them, Lisi’s proposal is set in the language of LQG, a rival approach which they already irrationally oppose because they think it threatens their hegemony over the territory of unification. The resulting behavior displayed makes my tentative conjectures about group-think look way too cautious, here we see all the classic signs of intellectuals acting irrationally because they feel their territory is threatened.

    Now, it is the case that there are open issues with Lisi’s proposal. He himself emphasizes them in his paper and talks. So there is intellectual work to do to develop and understand if the proposal can work. In a professional atmosphere there is a lot to talk about and examine, for those who judge it worthwhile to put the time in, but that is not what happened here.

    What did Distler contribute? He made a first post, where he mainly pointed out issues that Lisi himself had already emphasized. He also made a proposal about which non-compact form of E8 Lisi was using, which he then retracted in a second post, where he also claimed to make a clinching argument that Lisi’s proposal must fail. The main issue that is highlighted is the brittleness of the structure of the two non-compact real forms of E8 and the possibility that Lisi’s proposal cannot fit any of those forms.

    Does Lisi’s proposal survive Distler’s second post? Even if there is some truth to Distler’s argument, is the result the end of Lisi-like proposals or are there alternatives which evade it? For example, by going to the complexification? Or might it be that Lisi’s proposal works for the Euclidean spacetimes but not for lorentzian? Might it be that it only works if only part of the lorentz algebra is gauged, as in the Ashtekar or Thiemann formulations? All these are interesting possibilities and I would have liked to have participated in a debate that resolved these issues. I do think we made some progress. If we could have stuck to a serious discussion we might have gone further. But just at the point where we made progress, Distler decided he was not interested in continuing the discussion here and the anonymous hecklers piled on. And it got so nasty that, unless there is a big change of tone and the anonymous hecklers apologize and withdraw or are deleted and banned, I see no point in trying to continue to have a constructive discussion here.

    Of course someone will follow this with a re-assertion that the issue is settled. Remember that these are the same people who have refused to acknowledge it when a paper is posted with results that answer some of their criticisms. So we are not dealing with people who play fair, and argue honestly. I am afraid those claiming the issue is settled have done nothing to increase my belief in their claims in this discussion. I entered this discussion hoping we could find resolution, what I encountered was a toxic and nasty atmosphere in which it was impossible to get a simple yes/no answer to a simple question without facing a lot of blustering and nastiness. One needs a clear head to think through this stuff and this is not a context conducive to gaining that clarity.

    Part of the posturing of Distler and his friends is to suggest that the math is trivial-at least to them-and that anyone who doesn’t agree with them is simply incompetent or incapable. I suggest anyone who is tempted to fall for this act either talk with a mathematician who is actually an expert on E8 or try to work through the details of its construction in the math books. In fact, I am told that behind the scenes all the key actors in this little melodrama have been consulting with pure mathematicians in their efforts to get the fine points right.

    I’m sorry if we can’t go further in this context, but I’m sure further study will clarify the issues in due time. Meanwhile, if something thinks they indeed have a careful argument that Lisi’s proposal fails, I’d be grateful if they explain it clearly in an email and send it to me. I’ll study it. And if its right I’ll say so. As I noted before, I have no particular stake in the outcome, especially since there are a number of interesting alternatives if the precise form Lisi proposed fails. Indeed, as one of the authors of a different unification scheme within LQG, if anything, I have a stake in Lisi’s proposal failing. If fact, I simply want to know what is true.

    So I have some proposals to make:

    1) I propose we either improve the tone drastically or close this discussion now. There were a few flashes of science above, but this has turned into too much of a gladiator fight for reasonable discussion. I could have dealt with Jacques alone but I have lost patience arguing with people without names who do not play by the least rules of fairness. Maybe in another forum where people have self-respect and manners-or where the moderators have a policy of deleting and banning personal attacks- this discussion can continue, but not here.

    2) As I said before it’s in any case time for the experts to consult off-line. I’m happy to discuss off line any of these issues with anyone, so long as they put their name behind their words. But if you are someone who lacks the courage to put your own reputation at stake when you trash someone else’s then I don’t care what you have to say, and I don’t see why anyone else should care either.

    3) Anonymity is a big issue. While I prefer a gentler intellectual environment I can handle arrogance and nastiness face to face. I grew up in one of the toughest environments, the Harvard physics department of the late 70s. But there were two differences. One, people said what they had to say, face to face. When someone called you an idiot he was right there and he listened when you argued back. And if you miffed a definition or a factor nobody cared, we all did, it was not about debating points, what was important was to invent, play with and discard ideas on the way to the truth. Further, the people setting the tone had earned the right to their arrogance by doing the one thing that really matters in science, which is publishing predictions that turned out right when the experiments were done. No one here has earned that right. It took courage to stand up to them, and after that education I can’t imagine how anyone who has pride in their views and accomplishments could hide an attack on the reputation of a colleague behind anonymity.

    4) Those running blogs need to take a hard look at examples such as this and ask what is being gained by allowing nasty, unprofessional and destructive comments, especially from anonymous people. Some bloggers already have a policy of deleting personal attacks such as those that dominated here or even comments by anonymous people altogether. Those of us who actually want to discuss science in a professional atmosphere will I predict be drawn to limit our reading and writing to such blogs.

    There is a beautiful vision of a blog as a place which extends globally and transparently the community of scientists, where we share in the adventure of discovery, in the context of a global community where strict ownership of ideas gives way to the joys of collective progress. Those who care about such visions should see how they are made impossible when a thread is taken over by people who want to use the context to enforce their notions of entitlement, hierarchy and ownership over issues.

    5) The physics community should take a look also at what these kinds of episodes are doing to our reputation and to our professional standards. There is no other context in the scientific community where someone can hurl schoolyard insults anonymously at a colleague, without risk to their own reputation. Since reputation is crucial for the workings of a scientific community this is not something we should allow without careful reflection as to the consequences.

    As I said before many times, I have no fear of admitting error, I enjoy shooting from the hip in informal situations and I recognize this means one often makes mistakes and learns from them. In the above debate I tried to be open minded, polite, reasonable and fair and was met with nastiness and personal attacks which persisted as much when I was right about something as when I made a mistake. In fact, the key points I made were all sustained, even if I erred a bit on the way. But it was too hard to get there because most of what I had to deal with was displays of posturing and bullying with precious little reasoning of the kind that scientists do face to face.

    As for myself, I like to keep a clean distinction between informal contexts, where I can be spontaneous, make mistakes, and still sometimes come up with an important idea or insight, and writing papers, where I am extremely careful about what I present and how it is worded and argued. I am happy to participate in the experiment of opening up the informal process online so all may participate and watch. But I insist on the primacy of the publication. This means that I cannot take very seriously people who claim to be interested in an issue and yet, in spite of the abundant time on their hands that their blogging participation shows, do not take the time to read a paper that presents new results relevant to the issue under discussion.

    I still hope that the blog format can be made to work for science. But people, it did not work here, because of the corrosive effect of personal attacks from behind veils of anonymity and because key players do not see an obligation to argue fairly, openly and in good faith. Fix these issues, and blog formats may thrive, fail to fix them, and a lot of time and effort will produce little of actual value.

    Thanks,

    Lee

    Ps I apologise if any of this seems like a personal attack. In fact, in person, Jacques and I have a friendly relationship, the last time we saw each other we had a very pleasant dinner together. I hope that fair minded people will allow me to respond to the nastiness directed at me above by at least trying to point out the tactics that are being employed which are, after all, deliberately aimed at my credibility and reputation.

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    First, if one ignores all the posturing and blustering, the points I made about Pati-Salam stuck.

    Let’s roll the tape.

    In #90, you said

    While I haven’t worked out the details, the Pati-Salam is a vector theory where parity is only broken spontaneously. Fermions in the Pati-Salam model are in parity symmetric reps, because of the overall parity invariance of the theory. In Pati-Salam parity is broken spontaneously, leaving chiral fermions at low energy.

    1. Pati-Salam is not a vector-like theory. It is inherently chiral.
    2. The spontaneous breaking of parity symmetry is a complete red-herring. You can never turn a vector-like theory into a chiral theory, “leaving chiral fermions at low energies” by spontaneously breaking parity.

    In #102, you said

    In Distler’s post he asserts to the contrary that in the Pati-Salam model the fermions are in the representation he calls R_ps= (4,2,1)+(4-bar,1,2) of SU(4) x SU(2)_L x SU(2)_R, which is not parity invariant.

    It seems to me this invalidates Distler’s discussion of Pati Salam and by extension suggests that his second post on Lisi is incorrect.

    which, again, was completely wrong.

    When H-i-g-g-s pointed out your errors, you (#108) put this off to a “terminological mixup.” It is clear that the “mixup” is far more than “terminological.”

    2) When taken in full as a rep R_ps, as defined in previous posts, of lorentz+H where H=su(4)+su(2)+su(2) it is parity invariant.
    3) R_ps is also pseudo-real.

    My question, central to understanding if anything like Lisi’s proposal can work, was based on the fact that the situation was rather different than the case of the usual standard model where 2 and 3 don’t hold.

    No. In the sense you are using it (viewing the complete fermion representation as (2,r)+(2bar,rbar) of SL(2,C)xH), property 3 holds for the Standard model and, indeed, for every unitary quantum field theory under the sun.

    What is true of Pati-Salam, which is not true of the SM, is that there is a definition of “parity” such that property 2 holds.

    But that is completely irrelevant (as far as I can tell) to the rest of your argument.

    So far as I can tell this is false because G=SO(3,1)+H is itself a counterexample to it, given the above. Were there further discussion this would be the place to start.

    Further discussion would require your understanding what the phrase “chiral fermions” means.

    Notice that in the subsequent discussion here and on Distler’s blog, not one of the Lisi’s detractors show any evidence of having read or understood this paper.

    I think it’s fair to say that the shoe is on the other foot.

  • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress Peter Woit

    Jacques,

    I guess with

    “Further discussion would require your understanding what the phrase “chiral fermions” means.”

    we have your response to Lee’s

    “I propose we either improve the tone drastically or close this discussion now.”

    Why do you think it it’s a good idea to try and discuss a scientific issue with someone in the nasty, insulting way that you do? It’s completely unnecessary, just impedes the process of understanding each other’s arguments, sets a really bad example for the young, and discredits this subject in the eyes of outsiders. Why keep doing it?

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    And I will further note that I explicitly computed what “fermion” representation arises from all possible embeddings SL(2,C)x(Pati-Salam) in a noncompact real form of E_8, which proceed (per Lisi) via a D_4xD_4 subgroup.

    I also computed what “fermion” representations arise for all possible embeddings of SL(2,C)x(SU(3)xSU(2)xU(1)), which proceed via an F_4xG_2 subgroup (about which Lisi goes on for pages and pages but which he ultimately abandons).

    Since, in both cases, the embeddings fall into the general rubric of this argument, it is no surprise whatsoever that they yield a non-chiral “fermion” spectrum.

    I would repeat the remarks of comment #156, but I feel that I have done altogether too much repeating myself.

  • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress Peter Woit

    The schoolyard taunts about chiral fermions seemed oddly familiar, I just realized why. If you want to see the Distlerian method of scientific argumentation about fermion chirality in a simpler SM context, stripped of the complexities involved in non-compact real forms of E8, take a look at the comment section here

    http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=3

    which was one of the first postings on my blog more than three and a half years ago. Jacques started off by submitting anonymous insulting comments as “Field Theorist”, but his style was immediately recognizable, so he had to give up on that fairly quickly.

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    Just curious, Peter, but do you have anything, anything whatsoever to contribute, vis-a-vis the substance of this debate?

    I thought you were a great fan of representation theory. And you do (I assume) know what chiral fermions are.

    If you have something of substance to contribute, now would definitely be the time to do so.

  • S Halayka

    Lee,

    Now that some of the cons of Lisi’s paper have been identified, would you be willing to give a summary of the remaining pros?

    I don’t think it was ever clear why you stated that Lisi’s work is “one of the most compelling unification models [you’ve] seen in many, many years” *, so I’m left wondering which parts of Lisi’s work led you to that conclusion, and which of those parts still remain valid.

    I realize that you’re very busy with organizing post-doc activities and with your own research, but it seems that you’re also very dedicated to responding to blog posts, so I thought it safe to take a longshot bet that you’d find time to reply to my question.

    Thank you,
    Shawn Halayka

    * http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2007/11/16/science-theory-everything.html

  • Eric

    Regarding the issue of chiral fermions in the Pati-Salam model with gauge group SU(4)xSU(2)_L x SU(2)_R, the main point is that the left-handed and right-handed fermions are not in the same representations. In particular, the left-handed fermions are doublets under one of the SU(2) groups while the right-handed fermions are doublets under the other SU(2) group. Thus, it is not a vector-like theory. Lee does not seem to get this point.

  • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress Peter Woit

    Jacques,

    I don’t have enough interest right now in the particular technical questions you’re discussing here to try and contribute to the discussion, and, even if I did, the toxic, nasty, bullying and insulting way that you choose to carry on such a discussion ensures that I wouldn’t bother. The reason I’m spending some time writing comments here is that I think I do have something useful and substantive to contribute to this discussion, which is an argument that you and your anonymous fans need to stop insulting people and carry on scientific discussions in a professional manner.

    If you do that, I’ll be interested enough to try and follow the discussion and try and learn something, and may or may not have something to contribute. But the way you are going about this right now is not helping anyone understand anything.

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    Peter,

    Having unequivocally expressed your opinion on “form” and having stated unequivocally that you have no opinion (nor any interest in forming one) on “substance,” you might consider doing what you can to reduce the background noise.

    Would that be too much to ask?

  • Fred

    I’m trying to decide whether the words “nasty”, “toxic”, “bullying”, and “insulting” are words which accurately describe some of the comments on display here. Those seem like pretty harsh words and they’re probably a more accurate description of some of the things which the characters of The Breakfast Club say and do to each other. I don’t really think these words do a good job at even remotely describing Jacques comments. I think Jacques’ comments are the most useful ones on display here (I learned a lot from them!), and I really think everyone should take a deep breath and relax and not take everything (including our egos) so seriously. I don’t think the act of learning something new and contributing something substantive to the discussion should be contingent upon improvements in tone. Just ignore it. Learning is good for you, and contributing substantive things are good for others and for physics. Maybe I’m being way too naive here. I also find that some of the long, bizarre comments above seem to be coming from people who seem to have no lives. Maybe something a bit more productive would be better in the long run.

    It’s the holidays! Let’s bring on some good old holiday cheer! Let’s all donate some old clothes, toys, canned goods, and money to our favorite charities. Above all: relax and let’s not take everything so seriously or personally.

  • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress Peter Woit

    Jacques,

    My main point was that I am doing what I can to try and improve the signal to noise ratio here. Insulting people generates loud noises that destroy usable signals. You and others should stop doing this, and I’m going to keep pointing this out to you until you do

  • Steven

    Peter is going to increase the signal-to-noise ratio by providing absolutely no signal, nor physics, nor insights to into represention theory, nor comments on group theory, nor defense of lisi’s over-hyped proposal. Peter is going to increase the signal-to-noise ratio by ranting against those who actually provide a signal–a simple, beautiful description of the math underlying the physics.

    Thanks to Distler for the illuminating posts pertaining to physics which have eduated all who have listened, including, eventually Lee Smolin.

    Thanks to Peter for being not even wrong again.

    Peter is the one making the contentless, snarky posts. We don’t need to wait for the LHC to decide this. Simply read his above comments, and his below comments, I would hypothesize.

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    Peter,

    Since you have stated unequivocally, that you have no interest in the substance of the discussion at hand, I, in turn, will state unequivocally that I have no interest in your advice on the form that discussion should take.

    If you want to improve the signal/noise ratio here, contribute some “signal.”

    And, having contributed several comments-worth of noise by responding to you, that’s the last I will have to say on the matter.

  • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress Peter Woit

    Jacques,

    As usual, you misquote and misrepresent everything I write. Just one example:

    “I’ll be interested enough to try and follow the discussion and try and learn something” is

    rather different than

    “you have stated unequivocally, that you have no interest in the substance”

    but I suppose your misquoting in bold face of people you discuss things with is a separate problem, one that is less serious than your insistence on insulting them.

  • Brother Love

    Perhaps I can help resolve confusion, just in case anyone is, by digressing. The PS model has chiral fermions (so P Psi neq Psi) in the fundamental rep and has a left-right symmetry (under P the Langrangian looks the same). The SU(2)_R group factor may be broken to a U(1) (isospin) via a Higgs in the fundamental representation of SU(2)_R acquiring a VEV. (Maybe when we are seeing this referred to as a vector model somewhere above, it is referring to this Higgs being in the fundamental representation of the SU(2).) Consequently, the L-R symmetry is now broken. However, the fermions were always chiral.

    respectfully, BL

  • Moshe

    Lee, the insults and harsh tones, the irrelevant comments etc., are just part of the territory. With respect, I have to say that I find equally distracting those interludes about the moral character of yourself and your colleagues, including dark hints about their hidden motivations. Since we had so many productive exchanges in person, I tend to believe this is one of this instances where the medium allows only shallow conversations and is prone to produce misunderstandings. This is a shame because there was a time I believed this medium to be ideal for an informal discussion of physics. Maybe there is still a way of doing just that, I’d appreciate your thoughts sometime, but in person.

    In the meantime, the only productive thing I have to say is urging you and Garrett to submit your work for publication. The best place for this sort of work is probably the journal of high energy physics, where you are likely to get substantive comments. If and when those papers are accepted for publication, the time would be appropriate to talk about them to journalists, though I would still avoid a certain, how shall I put it, excitable, section of the media.

    Best of luck,

    Moshe

  • Slide2112

    This is great stuff. Really fun. I imagine some of my arrogant, dismissive Prof when I was an undergrad beating each other with sticks! Hit him again!

    The physics is fun too. I don’t have the ability to judge it wrong, but Lisi work has contributed to advancing knowledge, (admit it, you learned something new because of it). That what it’s all about.

  • mitchell porter

    Whether or not Lee comes back, I would appreciate some informed comment on the construction in his paper, as mentioned in comments 82 and 83. I give a one-paragraph synopsis here. This pertains to the questions he asks in 190:

    “Even if there is some truth to Distler’s argument, is the result the end of Lisi-like proposals or are there alternatives which evade it? For example, by going to the complexification? Or might it be that Lisi’s proposal works for the Euclidean spacetimes but not for lorentzian? Might it be that it only works if only part of the lorentz algebra is gauged, as in the Ashtekar or Thiemann formulations?”

    P.S. to onymous, comment 186: I had in mind Higgsless braneworld models, but it turns out that it’s Kaluza-Klein modes which restore unitarity there.

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    Moshe,

    This is a shame because there was a time I believed this medium to be ideal for an informal discussion of physics.

    I share your pessimism. Over the years, I have hosted hundreds of technical discussions on my blog, some amicable, some contentious, But almost all of them can be said to have reached a satisfactory conclusion.

    In this instance I think the root of the problem is the lack of a common language. If we can’t agree on the definition of common terms, like “chiral fermions” or a “vector-like theory,” then it’s hard to see how the discussion can ever converge.

    One might have thought that my reduction of the issue to a clear-cut mathematical question in representation theory, a question that must have a yes-or-no answer, would have led to a way out of the impass.

    That was clearly wrong.

    Mitchell Porter, quoting Smolin, wrote:

    Even if there is some truth to Distler’s argument, is the result the end of Lisi-like proposals or are there alternatives which evade it?

    There are many other problems with Lisi’s and Smolin’s idea. But I don’t see the point of discussing them, when I can’t even get an admission that I am correct on this point.

    If there’s some variant of Lisi’s proposal which evades this difficulty, let Smolin or Lisi write it down. Then we can discuss it.

    But before getting to that step, they will first have to understand the failings of their current proposal. That, they have stubbornly resisted doing.

  • observer

    Jacques, you definitely try to, and do, push things forward here, which is very good and appreciated. I disliked the tone of your first post, but looking at it from the perspective of muddy atmosphere in 85% of posts here (PW…), I accept it as a feature (though still not endorsing such).
    I don’t think that using “they” when referring to Lisi and Smolin (in your last post) is a good thing. No one wants to form “gangs” here. Garrett has post only once here clarifying his relations with media, and this seems to be a smart thing to do.
    Lisi hasn’t stubbornly resisted your argumentation, as you suggested in the last sentence. He admitted that his “PS” model is a left-right symmetric, not a chiral one. You’re point is that this ends here. No response on that from Garrett.

  • sad

    So:

    There was a “humble” proposal for a Theory of Everything, which was described as “fabulous” by some well-known physicists, hence the media frenzy.

    There is now a proposed mathematical argument stating that the proposal, in the form stated, is mathematically incorrect. The people claiming that the theory is fabulous have tried to counter the argument, so far without success. As of now, the argument stands, and the proposal seems mathematically incorrect.

    However, the people claiming that the theory is fabulous pretend to be nice and friendly and ready to admit mistakes and apologize — although they have never apologized for suggesting that a theory is “fabulous” without going through the details of the theory beforehand. But since these people are nice and friendly, we should all agree with them that the theory is fabulous, shouldn’t we? Whether it is correct or not does not matter, since they are nice and friendly…

    I’m sad… and sometimes desperate with the state of theoretical physics (and not because of string theorists). Or perhaps it’s just blogs that are distorting reality.

  • Moshe

    Jacques, a few years ago, when CV started out, we had a nice discussion of what can be done using this medium, following Clifford’s post I believe. I thought at the time that we can have some generalized group meeting going, where people at all levels, and at different locations, can participate in the many entangled conversations that result from an interesting blog post. It is only with some disappointment that I conceded some time ago that this is not happening, at least not at the scale I thought it would.

    I do think your blog is the only exception, and it is of great value to us pros, more than once a printout of your blog post was the starting point of a group meeting I attended. I enjoyed a few discussions with you there, and more often learned a lot without commenting. I would have thought that by now that would be much more wide spread and more people would participate, but the discussion above in particular is not encouraging, and is very frustrating to watch for the reasons you mention. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to get into this sort of quagmire where being correct is simply irrelevant, and the conversation descends into irrelevancy almost immediately…

  • http://deleted H-I-G-G-S

    Lee’s post #190 is an Orwellian masterpiece, starting out with “the points I made about Pati-Salam stuck.” Distler has already pointed out that this statement is flat out wrong. Readers who understand chirality can easily verify this by rereading the relevant posts. Those who do not will have to take my word for it or try to find a local expert to ask. Lee asks why anyone should take me seriously. Umm, because you can check that what I have said is correct? The real question is why anyone still takes Lee seriously. Perhaps they don’t.

    Then we have the statement that Jacques changed the subject. False again. He may have given up in frustration, but he certainly didn’t change the subject. He’s stuck to those damn non-chiral fermions through thick and thin. Next comes a demonstration that Lee still hasn’t understood the point of Distler’s posts and my small clarification. Finally we have a lot of blather about unprofessional behavior and insults and anonymity. Let us examine who is insulting and unprofessional. Lee, in his post #90, posted before Jacques had chimed in at all, says “Distler does not point to a specific step…” polite, but wrong. Then “Distler was largely wrong in his previous post…” again false and less polite. Then more blather about “one-sided arguments” and “nasty hardball” all obviously aimed at Distler. I ask you, was that a polite and respectful way to start the discussion? He outright attacks Distler, and then turns around and complains when Jacques responds in kind. Amazing! I really think Lee is in the wrong business. The Republicans could use someone with this kind of Roveian ability to twist the truth.

    As to Lee’s paper, I have in fact read it. I read it before making my comment about “lipstick on a pig.” That was the simplest way I could capture the essence of what was going on to a non-expert audience. I didn’t respond to Lee earlier for the same reason that Jacques has stayed focused on one point. It only opens the door to obfuscation. If Lee won’t agree that Distler is correct about a well-defined mathematical statement, just imagine where we would get if the discussion were opened up to included additional topics. However, even non-experts might be entertained by reading the section of Lee’s paper on fermions. It consists of a picture, a few vague words about “disordered locality” and “Planck scale wormholes” and a couple of references to the literature. There are no equations, really nothing to get one’s hands on that could be said to be definitely right or wrong. We could debate that, and other aspect of Lisi’s proposal forever without coming to a conclusion. Of course getting Lee to admit that Lisi’s model doesn’t have chiral fermions may also take forever.

  • Thanks!

    This discussion is fascinating on many levels and I wish thank you all for it. When your career is based on your personal credibility, you take a great risk in speaking freely. I applaud the courage of those of you who determined to make this public forum _work_.

    We share a common believe that mathematics is the key to comprehending existence, but few of us have the skills to find our way in this space without a map. For me, it is a rare privilege to observe the workings of this sausage factory.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2007/11/self-evident-dimensional-perspective.html Plato

    I am sure(?) Garrett would have found some value in the exchange between Jacques and Lee’s?

    Like a previous commenter “I sensed” that when they continued in face of all the rhetoric, there was work actually being done that we could witness.

    Science being talked by scientists.

    The blog is still a useful function “no matter how much the detractors” say there isn’t.

    The push to persevere, was itself a good focus, and to come out with mathematics explained in a environment “more suitable to that expression,” was explained.

    From that point, I think one could again start I am sure, and if Cosmic Variance can implement some of that mathematical expression suitable for the continued discussion, then I would see no reason why it couldn’t continue here.

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    Observer said:

    He admitted that his “PS” model is a left-right symmetric, not a chiral one.

    My impression (I would be happy to be corrected) was that he meant those words in the sense of Lee Smolin’s post #90, confusing the fact that the Pati-Salam model is parity-invariant with whether or not is it is chiral, believing — as Lee asserted in post #90 — that it is vector-like (non-chiral), but that chiral fermions would emerge, once parity is spontaneously broken.

    If that’s not what he meant, if he really does agree that his theory is non-chiral (something which is not miraculously “cured” by spontaneous symmetry-breaking), then that’s another matter, and — you are right — I should not lump the two together.

    You’re point is that this ends here. No response on that from Garrett.

    That he hasn’t responded is, perhaps, to his credit. We’ll see what the promised revision of his paper holds.

    Moshe said:

    I do think your blog is the only exception, and it is of great value to us pros, more than once a printout of your blog post was the starting point of a group meeting I attended. I enjoyed a few discussions with you there, and more often learned a lot without commenting.

    Which is why I still hold out some hope for this medium.

    Over in Mathematics, there are now several such blogs, with very high quality content and lively, high-level discussions. So it’s not impossible.

    But the physics demi-monde, some of whom we have witnessed in action in this thread, present some unique challenges…

    I can’t imagine anyone wanting to get into this sort of quagmire where being correct is simply irrelevant …

    Hence my stated (and much-ridiculed) reluctance to get involved in this Lisi affair in the first place. I knew it would end up like this.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2007/11/self-evident-dimensional-perspective.html Plato

    …it’s not “irrelevant” to this point.

    Jacques, we learnt of your reluctance some time ago about this. I am glad you continued. And, I am Glad Lee continued as well.

    We’ll see if Garrett responds “maybe” before then, if he’s not off somewhere snowboarding? :)

  • mitchell porter

    Hello H-I-G-G-S – What I really want to understand is section 2 of Lee’s paper (just about gravity and Yang-Mills, no fermions), with respect to (1) CM theorem (2) his introductory remark that “these approaches [may] give rise to consistent finite quantum theories”.

    (1) He seems to start with a theory of spin 1 fields with global symmetry G, considers perturbations about a particular classical solution, and ends up with a theory of spin 1 fields coupled to spin 2 fields, with a global symmetry of SO(4)+H. Neither before nor after violates the CM theorem, but it still seems strange, so I would like to somehow look at this through the lens of the original CM paper, even if only to clearly see which of their assumptions do not hold, but I’m having some trouble with putting it all into a common language, not least because these are topological theories.

    (2) This line of thought may just lead back to previous discussions about LQG: perturbative gravity is not renormalizable, even if you throw in Yang-Mills fields; LQG is nonperturbative, but does it make a difference, etc.

  • physics neophyte

    Jacques Distler said

    But the physics demi-monde, some of whom we have witnessed in action in this thread, present some unique challenges…

    I didn’t know what a “demi-monde” is, though I suspected Jacques was saying something rude in French, so I looked it up in a dictionary. And sure enough “demi-monde” means “prostitute”. So, Jacques, would you care to explain why you chose to deride your targets in this particular manner.

  • Aaron Bergman

    Demi-monde has more than one meaning:

    a group of people considered to be on the fringes of respectable society

  • Haelfix

    One of the reasons imo that there isnt more technical traffic on this particular subject at Musings is that its fairly definitive. Theres not much more to add really. Moreover, theres really no incentive to add anything, even if there is some error in Jacques analysis:

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but I mean you peruse the paper rapidly and the first things that sticks out instantly ‘CM violation, fermions are wierd I dont understand what hes doing, the generation structure is weird I dont understand what hes doing, quantizing the theory will be hellish, etc’. And then you recall usual problems with traditional E8 models, like issues with chirality… One suspects that too will probably come back and probably bite him.

    Point being it doesn’t really give much incentive to probe into the details of the group theory, given that the theory is in such a primitive early stage of research. Which is why you don’t see many people bothering to pull out their old group decomposition tables and verifying things explicitly. Seans original post is right on target imo. Physicists have a ton of papers that are required reading everyday, we simply don’t have time to go through the details of every one of them, so we make subjective judgements about our time management and put our faith in the peer review process as well as word of mouth.

  • amused

    Hi Prof. Smolin,

    You do realize it is mainly thanks to you that this spectacle occurred, don’t you? If Jacques Distler felt obliged to get involved and try to clarify the situation when there were other things he would much rather be doing, and if his annoyance about this manifested itself in a more abrasive tone, that would be quite understandable I think.

    “Does Lisi’s proposal survive Distler’s second post? Even if there is some truth to Distler’s argument…”

    Can you clarify what you mean by “truth” here? Distler presented an explicit mathematical argument; are you suggesting that it might not be correct (i.e he made a mistake in it somewhere), or that it is somehow not relevant, or what? If it is the former, can you say where the mistake is, or which steps need clarification, or specify precisely what your objection is?

    “A bunch of people who think they own the territory of unification are enraged. They react with all the classic symptoms of territory defense that the sociologists of science have catalogued…”

    I think you are kidding yourself about that. At any rate, I count myself among the “enraged” in this instance, and it is not because I’m a string theorist (I’m not, and have no love for them) or because unification is my territory (it isn’t, and in fact I care very little about it). The real reason for the outrage (in my case, and many others as well I expect) is that it was totally irresponsible of you to hype this supposed “theory of everything” to the New Scientist journalist (which set off this spectacle) without being correct in your judgement that it merited the hype. It is embarrassing, if not downright harmful, to the physics community.

    “So what is really happening here? What has happened is that one very smart, but intellectually isolated young theoretical physicists has made a bold and risky proposal for unification of physics…”

    That reminds me so much of the aggrandizement of “brilliant” young string theorists that I’ve heard so often in the past. So I will just repeat what I always say to that: If so-and-so is really so great, let him go prove it by publishing some papers in PRL. If plodders like yours truly, who were judged undeserving of support by pretty much everyone they ever applied to (including you), were able publish there repeatedly then it should a piece of cake for these really smart folks.
    Seeing as Lisi’s work is “fabulous”, why don’t you encourage him to submit a short version of it to PRL?

    It seems that your vision of how the physics community should be involves a complete rejection of the traditional procedures for assessing the importance of peoples work. Assessments should not be based on such outdated things like getting published in the top journals; being a “seer” addressing the “big questions” is all that matters. Being bold and risky, writing papers with over-the-top titles and claims of tremendous results, modulo a few small details to be sorted out later, these are the folks we should respect and admire now. Those boring types with limited imaginations, plodding away on their piddling little problems, thinking that it signifies anything when their incremental technical advances get published in PRL – ha! they can all sod off and go to hell. Let’s get rid of them and replace them all with people who have the courage and boldness to be working directly on the big issues for unlocking the secrets of the universe!

  • Thomas Larsson

    It is no secret that I am not a big fan of string theory, for several reasons: 1) I spent the first 20 years of my career, such as it now was, on the receiving end of unchallenged string theory propaganda, 2) ST appears to disagree with experiments and 3) I have my own crackpot ideas about quantum gravity. However, as Victor Kac once said to me, it is more important to be correct than to be politically correct. In this case it seems to me that Distler’s analysis is just correct.

  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

    Hi Moshe (#212): Jacques, a few years ago, when CV started out, we had a nice discussion of what can be done using this medium, following Clifford’s post I believe. I thought at the time […]
    Any chance you could dig out a link? I’d be interested to have a look.

    While I am here, and while some people are around that have invested time thinking about the matter, I’d just like to repeat a question I’ve asked in several other places. Regardless of whether the theory is chiral or not, can incorporate all generations or not, I don’t understand how the dynamics can work out (naturally, without fixing by hand). If one treats the fermions like the gauge fields, writes down an action with unbroken symmetry, and then break it, I can’t see how the fermionic part for the Lagrangian can come out with the correct order of derivatives?

    Sorry if that’s a stupid question – the reasoning is just if you start treating fermions like gauge fields, then how come they can eventually couple differently? Having fields that transform under the right Lorentz representation isn’t sufficient, there is no DpsiDpsi term in the SM Lagrangian, there is just one D too much. Lisi fixes this in his paper by picking a Lagrange multiplier that in the fermionic case is just psi without derivatives. Anybody has a thought on that? Is this a constraint that can come out naturally? I’d be interested to hear.

    Best,

    B.

  • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress Peter Woit

    As far as I can tell, there seems to be a consensus among the CV commenters that:

    1. We think denigrating and insulting people is a legitimate part of a scientific discussion.

    2. We think doing this anonymously is fine too.

    3. We don’t understand why it is so hard to have serious discussions about physics on blogs. We suspect it is because PW keeps interfering with them.

    Have I got that right?

    Sean, I know you’ve been known to write that you don’t read the comment section of your own blog, but keep in mind that you are legally and morally responsible for what appears here. The decision to provide a forum for anonymous attacks by some of your colleagues (and I have good reason to believe that H-I-G-G-S is someone that you know) on another one is yours to make, but I think it’s a misguided one. Until the appearance of blog comment sections, there was no legitimate medium with wide distribution where people could anonymously attack their colleagues. No one who controlled a public information source that was widely read would allow this to go on. Unfortunately one of the main innovations of this new technology is to provide an outlet for disgraceful, unprofessional behavior that no one previously would tolerate.

  • Moshe

    Bee, there were a few discussions, the one I had in mind was led by Clifford, I don’t remember enough to track it down now, maybe someone else can.

    I’m with you on the physics issue, together with a dozen others, but the whole thing is a non-starter, time to move on.

  • Moshe

    Also, while I am at it, thanks Bee for the advent calendar series on your blog, I still think it is an excellent idea for a book.

  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

    Thanks :-) The advent calendar has been taking up more time than I thought it would, but it’s fun. We’ll have a quiz on Christmas day, you can win a PI mug, so drop in. Merry Christmas to all of you – B.

  • Moshe

    Excellent B., I am afraid I already have more PI mugs (T-shirts, hats…) than I can handle, but I’ll drop in anyhow.

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    I’m with you on the physics issue, together with a dozen others, but the whole thing is a non-starter, time to move on.

    So you say.

    Allow me to make four predictions for 2008.

    1) There will be several further followups to Lisi’s paper.
    2) The protagonists will insist (if ever challenged on the matter) that no flaws in Lisi’s or Lee’s paper were ever proven.
    3) Anyone who attempts to say otherwise will be denounced as
    a) rude
    b) a “string theory partisan”, with suspicious motives.
    4) Peter Woit will chime in, to announce that the whole affair reflects badly on the string theorists.

    Lather, rinse, repeat.

    Happy Holidays to all!

  • hey

    A very interesting and clarifying exchange related to E8 theory goes on here:

    http://physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=202439&page=7

    It seems that a title of the paper was very misleading since it might not yet be TOE, also that there was no _full_ E8 symmetry to begin with in the paper either.

  • S Halayka

    Hi Peter,

    I don’t think there’s any need to form such a prejudicial and gloomy outlook.

    True, there are some people here who seem to be interested in riling others up just for the fun of it. True, some of them are doing it behind the veil of anonymity. True, not every posted comment is worth its weight in gold.

    However, there are still some people who are genuinely interested in the heart of the matter, which leaves no room for the concensus that you suggest.

    My interest in the matter springs largely from the fact that the Canadian tax dollar is partially responsible for the maintenance of the Perimeter Institute. *

    So here we are: a well-known representative of PI has made some very encouraging comments about Lisi’s paper (which also lists PI in the acknowledgements), some “opponents” have raised objections, and now we are waiting patiently for a summary of what encouraging components remain.

    PI operates in a country where the tax dollar automatically buys transparency. If anyone should deem PI above that, then PI has automatically become the same type of ivory tower held under so much scrutiny in so many popular “anti”-string books.

    As for the spirit of open and honest communication being trampled upon, I think it’s fair to say that this was a dead horse from the very beginning. Lisi himself has said that it’s rude to contact others regarding one’s own discoveries about physics **. I wonder how many young people who are passionate about physics will be deceived into thinking that this type of prejudicial behaviour is actually how the real world operates.

    Anyone who studied Michael Abrash’s “Graphics Programming Black Book” *** back in the 90’s is probably familiar with the story of a young person writing to Abrash on their independent “discovery” of backface culling. Abrash marvels in the ingenuity of his young and passionate correspondent, instead of deriding them for their wasteful focus on such a “trivial” matter. The complete lack of “alternative respectibility” in physics is just plain sociopathic, and is being upheld from both sides of the string/”anti”-string fence. So really, what do you expect to come out of calling the kettle black? If it’s to fool lay people such as myself who live in the real world, it’s absolutely not working.

    – Shawn Halayka

    * http://www.perimeterinstitute.ca/About/History/Funding/

    ** http://www.fqxi.org/community/forum.php?action=topic&id=108

    *** http://www.byte.com/abrash/

  • Moshe

    Yep, Jacques, that sounds about right. Also, far from the dubious spotlight of “New Scientist” there will be lots of interesting developments to chew on, so it is all good. Shame it is only the inner circle that will ever hear about those, but such is life.

  • Geez!

    Lee: Here are straight questions that have nothing to do with sociology or whether people are nasty or not.

    1) Does Lisi’s proposal actually give a generation + antigeneration as Distler says, a point missed by both you and Lisi?

    This is a math question with a yes or no answer, and we are waiting for your response. If you agree that Distler is correct, follow-up questions are:

    2) Do you agree that not having chirality is a fatal problem for the idea?

    3) Does the failure of this proposal even at the level of group theory, leaving physics aside, affect your assesment that the theory is “fabulous” and “the most compelling unification scheme you have seen in a very, very, very long time”?

    4) Had you known all this before, would it have changed the way you hyped it to journalists?

    Amused: I agree with much of what you say, but your comparing of the hyping of Lisi with brilliant young string theorists is a sick joke. The young string theorists being “hyped” in the 80’s, where “hyped” means “strongly supported by the community” and not “talked up to the press as the next einstein”, were the likes of Polchinski, Seiberg, Sen, Strominger and Vafa and others. And it was completely justified. Every one of them went on to make many spectacular contributions each; their papers have been cited multiple tens of thousands of times, they all turned into the superstars of theoretical physics due to their accomplishments. Similarly with Maldacena in the 90’s–yes, he was “hyped”, had all the best job offers straight out of graduate school and so on, but it was again completely justified, as he went on to revolutionize the field. This isn’t called “hype”, its called “good judgement and a good eye for major talent”. Comparing this to what Smolin did with Lisi is too ridiculous for words.

  • amused

    Geez,
    it wasn’t any of those people i had in mind (and the 80’s was well before my time in physics). The people you mentioned had track records that spoke for themselves; they didn’t need the hype to succeed. But the hype extended well beyond them… Let’s not get into this here though, it would be way off topic.

  • Fine

    Peter Woit,

    I think most people who have been following the physics blogs over the years clearly know that you inserting mindless comment in these blogs is just a way to make yourself feel important. You know in your bones that you have nothing to contribute, so you keep coming back as a self declared etiquette police.
    I suggest you stop this shenanigans and do real work. Ok, its alright to talk about tone once or twice, but here you are with your propaganda, with nothing robust to contribute in terms of science and you are demanding respect. It simply doesnt happen.

  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

    Hi Shawn:

    Though your comment was addressed to Peter, allow me to reply to
    your statement

    My interest in the matter springs largely from the fact that the Canadian tax dollar is partially responsible for the maintenance of the Perimeter Institute.

    So here we are: a well-known representative of PI has made some very
    encouraging comments about Lisi’s paper (which also lists PI in the
    acknowledgements), some “opponents” have raised objections, and now we are
    waiting patiently for a summary of what encouraging components remain.

    PI operates in a country where the tax dollar automatically buys
    transparency. If anyone should deem PI above that, then PI has automatically
    become the same type of ivory tower held under so much scrutiny in so many
    popular “anti”-string books.

    First, let me remind you that there are like 80 or so researchers here at PI. As far as I know, Lee is the only one who has done some work that was inspired by Garrett’s model. I know of two-three others that find it interesting, but prefer sticking with their own research topics. I personally don’t consider it to be very promising, so I’m on wait and see.

    I can’t but wonder what you are asking for? Here you have your ‘well-known
    representative’ whose paper is available on the preprint server for literally
    everybody, and who discussed in great length publicly what his
    current thoughts are, despite being insulted and being made fun of, and has
    repeatedly offered to continue discussion by email. What more ‘transparency’
    can you possibly ask for? A live chat?

    If you read through this comment section you see very clearly how anonymity is a self-supporting problem. The only outcome of discussions like this is that scientists will try to avoid commenting on blogs under their real name. For one because blogs sadly have a bad reputation, and I don’t think it’s getting better with exchanges like this. But worse, gee, one could misunderstand something, or make a mistake, or say something embarrassing that everybody could read, and make fun of, and it’s all saved in a database! CAREER PANIC!

    The problem with scientific discussions on blogs is that too little people have invested any thought in how to deal with it efficiently. I didn’t start writing a blog to have technical discussions, and as I have stated repeatedly I am not sure whether it’s a good thing, but still it seems possible to me. That however would require some conscious effort. The above mentioned ‘background noise’ is only one of these problems. E.g. reading through this comment section is like hearing several groups of people speaking at once.

    The other, more serious, problem however is closely related to what Jacques mentioned above with “I think the root of the problem is the lack of a common language”. Now I have to ask myself in which sense is this better or worse than in face to face communication? I mean, if I discuss some matter with somebody else, it always takes a while until we know we are actually talking about the same thing, and until one has established some basis for communication. What’s new about that? Yes, one spends a significant amount of time repeating things one has already said, and yes this requires patience, and good will. Where is the patience, where is the good will? One more thing that’s different about blogs to, say, email exchange is the time pressure. If somebody asks a question, you are kind of forced to reply rather soon. I thoroughly dislike this, but maybe it works for others.

    The most obvious point however is that we are not all good writers, and manage to express ourselves clearly. With that I don’t mean the technical aspects, but I mean that some people might come off more rude or impolite, or morally superior, etc than they actually are if one talks to them in person (see also links I provided in # 148). E.g. if I talk to somebody I know, that person usually doesn’t have to say ‘I didn’t get that’ because I can tell from their face and add more details while proceeding. So how does that work on a blog? Esp. if somebody has a problem admitting he or she didn’t understand something? The result is that people cling to single sentences they can nitpick around, boldface statements somebody has made earlier, make fun summaries or other jokes, etc. Some of that might be entertaining, but usually doesn’t have much of an outcome. I have the impression that it’s very hard to understand other people’s motivations from such comment sections, esp. if one doesn’t even try. I don’t think it’s impossible to work around these challenges, but just assuming that a discussion in a comment section can be lead like a discussion one would have in a group meeting isn’t sufficient. It might work where a group has established a common ground to build up upon, or when people already know each other.

    Regarding ‘the maintenance of the Perimeter Institute’ I am very happy to report that the roof is being fixed, so hopefully water will stop leaking in.

    Best,

    B.

  • Lee Smolin

    Dear All,

    I’m not going to right now address the physics issues. If the atmosphere improves here-or in another forum where civility is enforced-I will be happy to do that. For now that is still not happening. Note for example how Eric in 197 accuses of me of not knowing that left and right fermions coupled to separate left and right handed su(2)’s, which if he read the details of my posts (149) he would see I assume. So the nastiness continues. The point of some people here continues to be to attack credibility and not to have a scientific discussion.

    For now I do want to emphasize two points:

    1) I never “hyped” Lisi or his paper to journalists. Quite the opposite as I already mentioned in two posts, 83 and 86. But to say it again, in every communication with every journalist about this I emphasized that no story should be written untill experts had time to digest Lisi’s paper and that this would take some time. It is true that I made the “Fabulous…” remark, but it was made spontaneously to a few colleagues after a seminar. I am not responsible for that getting to journalists, although it is also true that when I was asked by New Scientist I did acknowledge making that remark. But that was in the context of emphasizing that it was premature to write a story on it. And every other use of that quote in the press was without my permission.

    What I actually think of Lisi’s proposal is stated clearly in my paper. In particular (to Shawn 196) if you read the intro and conclusion to my paper you will find the answer to your query. It is a mixed bag and I therefor chose my words carefully. Much of the interest has to do with how his proposal fits into a literature of previous proposals of unification within LQG, to appreciate the significance of those I would you not only to study my paper but study earlier papers I reference by Peldan and others. If you take my comments out of that context I don’t think you will fully appreciate them. If any further clarification is needed, please feel free to write me an email and I will respond.

    Also to Shawn, what are you trying to suggest regarding PI? Lisi was invited to give a seminar at PI, which he did. He is a physics Ph.D. who had been invited to talk by the organizers of two conferences over the summer and funded by a research foundation and we wanted to have the chance to hear about his work. The views of several people at PI on Lisi’s work happen to be in the public record, so you can look them up.

    2) Let me say something on the human side. I really would like to be able to again soon have scientific discussion with Distler, HIGGS (whoever he is) and everyone else writing here. There is no one in my career I’ve never not been able to have a scientific disucssion with. But in the context of this and Distler’s blog I have been continually attacked personally and addressed in tones which are dismissive and condescending. There has been just way too many times I read something like “I thought you were a physicist but just in case let me explain something simple, ” or “Lee doesn’t understand basic particle physics” or “I’m not going to deal here with THE REST of Smolin’s paper” or, “How can he say that when he is so stupid he doesn’t understand X”.

    Guys, after a while one just does not feel like discussing with people who attack you personally you like this. I have a thick skin and it takes a lot to get me angry, but you guys succeeded.

    In all of the above I responded to the barrage of nastiness in the way I would prefer, by ignoring the ad hominum stuff and staying focused on the scientific questions. I tried to be respectful, fair and honest. I hoped it would be recipricated. It was not. The nastiness just got worse. I regreted having to write what I did above, but my choice was either to dissappear or do that.

    You know, it is not difficult to have a constructive and respectful conversation with people you disagree with. If you want to change someone’s mind about something or explain to them that they are wrong about something, and you really want to succeed, the way to start is to approach them with a respectful tone. If you attack the person and not the view there is no way they are going to be in a mood to listen to you no matter how correct you may or may not be. On top of that the audience is going to think that what you are doing is trying to win an argument not with logic but by attacking someone’s credibility, and they are not going to be impressed.

    As HIGGS says, take a deep breadth and think: how would you respond if you had to deal with a barrage of personal attacks? Wouldn’t you agree this just has to stop?

    I would like to move forward from this. What would allow that instantly would be if all those who have made nasty or condesending or negative personal remarks cease them and apologise for them.

    Another possibility, if you think that something I’ve written is wrong, is to communicate with me directly, off line. I empahasized above that I would welcome that. If someone really thinks I am being obtuse about something easy to understand just email or phone and let’s talk about it. This is what we used to do in the days before blogs and it usually works.

    3) There really is a metaissue about how much slander and personal attacks can be allowed on a blog, whether anonymous or not. At the very least it makes us look terrible in the eyes of the public. And it really does drive good people out of the profession. To those of you who are defending the personal attacks, saying its part of the territory, let me ask you how bad does it have to be before it goes over the line of professional conduct in your university? Hard, honest discussion between colleagues is one thing, and I have no problem with that, but standards of professional conduct generally do not allow one colleague to make personal attacks in public on another.

    Thanks,

    Lee

  • Eric

    Lee,
    As Jacques pointed out, you seemed to be confusing ‘parity-invariant’ with ‘vector-like’. If Pati-Salam was vector-like, then the contribution of the left-handed and right-handed fermions to the chiral anomaly would exactly cancel, but this does not happen since they are doublets under different SU(2) groups. I don’t imply that you don’t know this, as I’m sure you do, only that you were being a little sloppy with your terminology and perhaps this was a source of confusion.

    Best,
    Eric

  • Michael Gogins

    Pardon me for butting in again as a non-physicist, gentlemen, but as a critter whose fur has been singed in similar discussions I can’t resist pointing out, as I read on and on in fascination and dread…

    This discussion has been conducted in public, and is a matter of public record.

    Major (and I mean MAJOR) periodicals have already reported on earlier stages of this discussion.

    Well-known scientists are involved.

    The story could well go further in the media. I can see The Economist picking this up again, or the Tuesday section of the New York Times getting interested.

    It could end up in books. It could even end up in HISTORY books.

    I promise that I myself will not be dragging any reporters or such into this, directly or indirectly, but still, maybe you should think about that….

    I would also like to thank everyone, and I mean everyone, who has participated in this discussion for continuing to do it in public even after it got painful. It really is fascinating, on every level including, fortunately, the scientific level.

    Best,
    Michael Gogins

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

    Okay, children. Essentially everyone in this comment thread has managed to be some combination of whiny, obnoxious, incorrect, disingenuous, unhelpful, and plain old embarrassing. (A couple of exceptions, which I won’t name so that everyone can feel confident that they are one of them.) And now it appears that it’s my fault, since I do not devote my time to policing the mudfight. So I’ve deleted the last few comments, and am closing things down.

    The comment sections on this blog are mostly an open forum, rather than one that is closely moderated. That is a choice that we as the bloggers have made, because (1) it’s less work, (2) choosing what to moderate and what to let by is much harder than it looks, (3) it’s less work, (4) anonymous and outsider comments are often useful, and (5) it’s less work. Complaining that a lack of high-level discussion makes one pessimistic about blogs is like complaining that your personal dislike for the most recent Harry Potter makes one pessimistic about books. Blogs are a medium, that can be used for a huge variety of purposes. If someone wants to set up and maintain a blog devoted to technical discussions among experts in an environment where civility is enforced, that would be great. But nobody is paying me to do that, and I wouldn’t take the job if offered. It’s just a hobby, you know? If you’re not satisfied, full money back.

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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