Friday, December 09, 2005

The situation in string theory: is some kind of truth comission needed?

The development in string theory has finally achieved the stage where the sad truth cannot be hidden anymore.

Leonard Susskind's vision

Peter Woit reviews in Not-Even-Wrong Leonard Susskind's new book The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design. Susskind gives a quite realistic summary of the situation but makes rather paradoxical conclusions.

During these years we have heard again and again the liturgy about the heavenly beauty of string theory, and I have been one of those unlucky ones able to see only extreme ugliness. Spontaneous compatification is something which still makes me almost vomit. Now Susskind tells that M-theory is ugly as hell: no clear principles, no consistent set of basic equations, and a huge landscape of solutions the only hope being that anthropic principle could allow to identify our universe as a particular solution.

Even worse, all attempts to carry out this identification have failed one after another and led to increasingly complicated constructs. Even accepting that the laws of physics as we know are a result of an accidental construct involving intersecting branes of various dimensions in various angles, it has not been possible to cook up anything looking like our universe. It seems that the joke that string theory is completely unique in the sense that it fails to predict just the universe we live in, is ceasing to be a joke.

After this and other confessions the conclusion of Susskind is somewhat unexpected. "This is the answer!" We must be happy and grateful and give up hopes about theory able to explain or predict. It is interesting to see what the people deciding about the financiation of particle accelerators think about this. Does it make sense to build horribly expensive accelerators when leading theorists are telling that even at the level of principle their magnificient theory of everything cannot explain or predict anything?

The view of David Gross

There is also a second sign that the bubble is finally exploding. The recent issue of New Scientist told that David Gross, who received for a year ago Nobel for his contributions to strong interaction physics, had held a talk in Solvay conference. For a year ago I had the opportunity to listen his Nobel lecture in Helsinki: at that time he still believed in string models. Now he thinks differently.

“We don’t know what we are talking about”,

says Gross and admits

“Many of us believed that string theory was a very dramatic break with our previous notions of quantum theory, but now we learn that string theory, well, is not that much of a break.”

Gross says that the field was in “a period of utter confusion”, and compared the current situation to that at in 1911, at the time of the first Solvay conference, when no one had any idea what was causing radioactivity. “They were missing something absolutely fundamental, we are missing perhaps something as profound as they were back then.”

I happen to have a quite precise view about what this missing something might be and I have worked for 27 years to articulate it as precisely as I can. There are four books about TGD making more than 6000 pages of precise documentation about a unification of fundamental interactions that really explains and predicts. Hence I have had time and prerequisites to form my own view about the reasons that led to the recent catastrophic situation.

Philosophy is not a luxury

One of the reasons is that the recent education of theoretical physicists make them mere technicians able to apply some very specialized technical tools but having no understanding about the basic principles of even their own restricted field of research.

The bottle neck idea leading to the development of TGD started a travel through the entire physics and eventually it became clear that the construction of the the theory forces to reconsider the basic philosophical issues and to return back to the problems of time, energy, and consciousness that served as a source of inspiration of Einstein.

With this personal history it is not difficult to realize that the basic obstacle for progress in theoretical physics has for decades been the complete lack of understanding of the basic philosophical ideas behind our recent day physics. As a consequence reductionistic materialism has been accepted without any conscious thought as a dogma. GUTs and M-theory were indeed intended to be the grand finale of reductionism extended to Planck length scale. In M-theory even space-time would have emerged from strings.

From this viewpoint it looks obvious that theoreticians choose a wrong track already when Higgs mechanism was taken as granted and brute force unification of quarks and leptons inside multiplets of single grand unified gauge group were accepted as final scientific truths. The uncritical acceptance of inflationary scenarios in cosmology now challenged by several experimental findings did not improve the situation. As a consequence, more than thirty years have been wasted on a wrong track.

The reductionistic dogma implies also the continual neglect of the anomalous findings from various field of science. Superstring theorists labelling even particle physics as "low energy phenomenology" are definitely not interested in high Tc superconductivity and even less on puzzling findings of biology. While web makes possible an instantaneous access to an endless flow of refined data from all fields of science so that the necessity to specialize is an intellectual nightmare of past, recent day theoretical physicists narrow their attention to the application of their pet method and young string theorists have difficulties even in listing the known elementary particles as I heard some time ago.

It was my luck that the interpretational problems of quantum TGD did not leave other possibility than to try to open the black box of quantum measurement theory. It became obvious that quantum theory of conciousness was the only answer to this challenge. During this strugle it became clear that pragmatic theoretical physicists have for centuries put under the rug the simple unpleasant fact that the experienced time is quite different from the geometric time appearing in equations of physics. Even child can understand the difference and Einstein's and Bohr's debate was basically about this difference but after times of Einstein and Bohr this difference has not troubled us!

The outcome of this challenging of basic dogmas is a profoundly new view about the relationships of consciousness and physical and mathematical reality (matter-mind-mathematics), a developing view about the basic mechanisms of quantum biology, and a generalization of quantum theory providing a completely new view about dark matter.

We are also moral agents

The prevailing deep moral degeneration is second reason for the sad situation. This has led to an unashamed intellectual in-honesty. For instance, very often the critics of string theory and advocates of competing theories are labelled as intellectually inferior bitter crackpots without any reference to what they are saying.

An open censorship of competing theories has become a generally accepted practice. For instance, more than decade ago it became impossible to publish anything about TGD in respected journals or to get even material to although the Mathematical Subject Classification Tables of American Mathematical Society have a link to TGD. The often repeated statement "String models are the only known quantum theory of gravitation" is true but the innocent reader does not realize that the emphasis is on the attribute "known", which should be replaced with "uncensored".

Where the father of the theory of everything can come from?

There are also other reasons. England has Newton and Germany has Einstein and US is eager to have something comparable. This certainly explains partially the miraculous success of string theories in sharp contrast with their failure to reproduce standard model which was clear from the beginning. Of course, also the small Finland with it small and rather narrow minded academic circles wants to pose its own condition: the father of the theory of everything can come from anywhere else but definitely not from Finland. This has meant that I have been forced to work as an unemployed a considerable part of these 27 years and got a label of crackpot for about decade ago (thanks to the two young professors who stated that my work fails to satisfy all imaginable criteria of a scientific work). The situation continues to be the same.

Could some kind of truth commission be a good idea?

The situation in theoretical physics is catastrophic and something should be done. The first thing to do is to make a map about where we have come. What comes in mind would be a kind of truth commission consisting of independent intellectually honest physicists (I hope that it is possible to still find such individuals) making a summary about the recent situation in string theory and about the situation in the community of theoretical physicists. There are many questions to be answered.

  • As David Gross said, we are missing something fundamental. For these 27 years I have been desperately trying to tell what this something fundamental is. I am certainly not the only one. I already mentioned the "The only known theory of quantum gravitation" syndrome and the censorship which has made impossible to communicate competing theories to the scientific community. The first thing to do is a review of these theories carefully by people having intellectual and moral competence to do this. The censoring practices adopted in and by the referee system should be put under a close scrutinity.

  • The heavenly mathematical beauty of string theories and the revolution in mathematics induced by string theory has been one of the basic arguments of string community during last years as it has become increasingly clear that the physical content of these theories is nil. Leonard Susskind states now that even this claim is just propaganda. Could it be that an unholy ally of string hegemony with math departments to get research money cooked up this media candy? A more recent characterization of string theory is as a theory of more than everything defining a model independent superstructure analogous to quantum mechanics. Propaganda again?

  • The celebrated dualities have also contributed to the media sexy look of M-theory. At some stage it began to look that at least everything is dual with at least with everything. For instance, there are statements that practically any quantum field theory is dual to some M-theory based quantum gravity. "If you cannot prove duality wrong in five minutes, it is correct" has been said quite seriously. Does this statement characterize the extreme brilliance of string theorists or does it give a hint about how seriously this duality stuff should be taken? A critical string specialist has claimed that these dualities only reflect the fact that M-theory is non-renormalizable and therefore contains infinite number of arbitrary couplings constants so that the theory can be made to predict practically anything just as any theorem and its negation can be deduced from an inconsistent system of mathematical axioms. The non-existence of M-theory has given it an especially sexy flavor. What the dualities predicted by a non-existent theory really mean? In light of this, it would be indeed interesting to see how many of these dualities are really true.

  • There is also the landscape issue. Many M-theory gurus tell that there is a huge landscape of solutions to the non-existing basic equations of non-existing M-theory. They also tell that it is not even possible to understand why the dimension of the space-time we live in is four, that the repeated attempts to reproduce standard model have failed, and that we should be happy with the situation. Some other gurus tell that there is no landscape at all and that string models have no difficulty in reproducing standard model. Who is right, who is wrong? (I was almost saying "Who lies, who tells the truth?".)

I leave for the reader the task of inventing more items to this list and sincerely hope that the talk of David Gross would encourage people in academies to finally express openly their views about the depressing situation in theoretical physics. We are also moral agents, not only physicists.

Matti Pitkanen


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