Sunday, March 20, 2005

Jetset events in physics and the era of arroganzia

The event of weekend was the conference in Harward held in honor of Sidney Coleman. Kind of jetset event with 6 Nobelists and one Fields medalist. Definitely something new in physics. Perhaps we must blame the year 1905 of Einstein also for this. On the other hand, it seems that "get in media or perish" has become a fact of life. Many physics bloggers commented the event and I had the same irritated feeling as stimulated by those beautiful and handsome empty-heads posing in all periodicals nowadays. What worries me that people whose attention is caught by this kind of events are regarded as the most promising young scientists. I would prefer rebels over high society reporters. On the other hand, I must admit that also I read these blog reports. Perhaps it is just the fact that some-one is writing about physics and even physicists in media and breaking the illusion that scientists are completely unemotional life forms adapted to live in laboratory environment.

About lectures

Lectures gave nothing new of course. The dominating theme was naturally Sidney Coleman as a legendary teacher. Witten was expected to tell about his partial giving up of string model: so far has things gone that Pope is expected to tell that he does not believe in God anymore. Witten however spoke about the emergence of space-time and an old no-go theorem with second big W telling that gravitation cannot emerge from Minkowski space since there are no local diffeo invariants. I realized that this no-go theorem provides a further heuristic argument to end up with TGD. Space-time as a 4-surface, particles as 3-surfaces, and Minkowski space locality lifted to a locality in the configuration space of 3-surfaces provide the manner to circumvent the no-go theorem. Witten identifies emergence with non-perturbative effects and indeed, perturbation theory does not work in M^4 background at all in TGD framework. In more speculative spirit: also the quantization of Planck constant and gigantic value of hbar_gr for GM_1M_2>=1 and avoidance of black hole collapse completely analogously with the avoidance of infrared catastrophe in the case of hydrogen atom would fit with the notion of gravitational emergence. A further, still vague, TGD inspired idea is that the quantization of hbar guarantees that perturbative approach works. The system would perform a sequence of hbar-increasing phase transitions in order to remain perturbative. TGD clearly fits very nicely with the theme of Witten although space-time itself is almost the space-time of classical pseudo-Riemannian geometry apart from being a many-sheeted surface, and containing also p-adic space-time sheets. David Gross (whose very nice Nobel lecture about basic problems of physics I heard in Finland) still defended string model, but not so much as a TOE but as a calculational trick allowing to do QCD in a stringy manner. I dare hope that more convincing manners to calculate in QCD could be invented. I would be even happier of the assumptions of QCD itself would be critically re-examined: spin crisis of proton gives good motivations for this. Weinberg closed his talk by admitting that he has no idea about what to do next, perhaps Sidney could help (Sidney Coleman was a legendary mentor). High society would not be high society without self appraisal. Indeed, it seems that these people are continually making accidental notices about how super-fast and super-sized brains they possess. These people are certainly brilliant symbol manipulators but why have they spent 20 years in vain with a theory whose fate was obvious for very many physicists from the beginning? A kind of complementarity seems to hold true. The product of mathematical skills and philosophical depth seems to be proportional to some kind of cognitive hbar. Perhaps also some philosophy is needed unless we want even third superstring revolution (here I humbly cross my fingers and pray God for saving us from this curse).

Super string arrogantsia

The nice summary of Lubos about conference with many pictures brought in light the second half of the title of the day: the era of arrogantsia in science and society. What made me unhappy were t'Hooft's extremely nasty comments about his teacher Veltman, as also his need to tell in this kind of occasion that he had discovered asymtotic freedom before others without realizing it and tha the indirectly even seemed to accuse his teacher for his failure. Why?: he got is Nobel in any case. Lubos documented even t'Hooft's nasty claims about slow-mindedness of Veltman. I just wonder what physics might look now if all these fast-brains had been a little bit slower and spent five minutes pondering deep philosophical issues before launching the first super string revolution and perhaps even ten minutes before initiating the second one. As we know, first super string revolution began 1984, about two years after my thesis. At that time I applied a research position in TFT, Research Institute of Theoretical Physics in Helsinki University. With the bird's eye of view provided by TGD it was easy to tell what went wrong with superstring models and I indeed did this in my application. I was right except for one important thing for myself personally: I really believed that super string period would last only few years.

The era of arrogantsia in Finnish science

For the first time I became painfully aware of the dominance of arrogantsia in theoretical physics around 1978 when I got my great idea and applied for a researach position. I was fired within few weeks. Around 1992 or so I felt again the power of arrogantsia. Two fresh professors, one in mathematics and second in theoretical physics, gave their statement about my work after I had applied for a position of docent (this would have given me the right to lecture about my work). These young arrogants had learned their style during student years in USA, and used without hesitation the opporturnity to declare that my work was sheer bullshit. I would not like to repeat this, but in order to convince the reader that they were unashamedly lying, I must tell that Mathematical Subject Classification Tables of American Mathematical Society have link to TGD but says nothing about my executors. At that time the vision of science arrogantsia was that the era of individuals in science was over and everything worth of mentioning would be done in groups. This argument was used as an excuse by one of my executors as a justification for my death sentence. Critical mass was the magic word: if you put together sufficiently many arrogants, an intellectual chain reaction creating endlessly new ideas begins. Interestingly, in this respect a sligth paradigm shift has occurred. Individuals are in fashion again. The practical manifestation is an open favourite system to be launched next year in Finnish universities. Salary would tell who is good and who is not so good. In-equality and in-justice are believed to create to a healthy society. Fits nicely with neo-liberalistic thinking. The importance of rotation was also emphasized. In practice this meant that people were forced to move to new rooms. Some consultant had managed to convince leaders that this would enhance creativity! Some unlucky ones were rotated twice: probably this was not an accident. The loss of safety about basic survival was believed to enhance creativity: young researchers were given only only a few years to demonstrate their ability to produce publications and in the case of a failure the equivalent for the fate of laboratory rat was waiting. The notion of academic assembly line emerged in Finland as it did everywhere. Now it is becoming clear how devastating effect the too early and too narrow specialization has had. Here might be the basic reason for why the super-strings have survived as long as 20 years as a dominating paradigm although the successes of this approach are comparable to those in biology during the days of Lysenko. During the highest high of market economy thinking even the replacement of science leaders with professional managers without any education in science was considered seriously. Nobel was declared to be the basic goal, not the passion for understanding as such. There was even a flow diagram for how to achieve Nobel. You must make the discovery before the age of thirty years, and spend the life between discovery and Nobel as a science salesman travelling around the globe selling you discovery to any influental one who it might concern. It was made clear that the people at the top know best what kind of research leads to Nobel. Focusing was the key word. A lot of money was feeded to bio-technology and many business oriented people realized that bio-technology was a royal road to financial success. It did not occur to anyone that also individuals with passion and ideas might be needed and the output from this financial focusing was scandalously small. At the same time those very few individuals who were carrying out really original work rather than competing for doing first something which would be in any case done within a year or two, were actively discouraged. For instance, Kajander, who has done very original work with nannobacteria (a candidate for a new kind of life form) has done most of his research with his own expense and has been a victim of systematic ridiculing by his colleagues. He was even threatened with law suit for scientific fraud. I am myself a second example about this kind of active suppression and still suffering it. The great promise of arroganzia was that the new science-as-a-jungle vision would guarantee Finland its first Nobel in physics before 2006. We are at the deadline now and I am eagerly waiting to see who did it! Matti Pitkanen


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