Talk:String theory

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Witten, the History Major

I believe this fact is true, but how relevant is its inclusion here? As written, it almost makes it sound like Witten is lacking in qualifications. Obviously nothing could be further from the truth. His insights from string theory have contributed to revolutions in mathematics. Almost every topic of research in geometry bears his name: Seiberg-Witten theory, the Witten complex, the Witten index, Gromov-Witten theory, it just goes on and on. According to Nature, he has the highest h-index of any living physicist. AND, he's won the Fields Medal. So possibly he deserves a little respect.--Lemonpeel 17:37, 16 June 2009 (EDT)

Witten may be a fabulous mathematician. He may be a great historian also. But it's a common flaw of liberal thinking to insist that because someone is good in one academic field, he must be an expert in another.
In fact, great literary writers, for example, are usually not great physicists. Physics, I hope you'd agree, is the study of physical world and that usually requires an interest and skill at conducting experiments.--Andy Schlafly 17:41, 16 June 2009 (EDT)
Not to worry--having taught history majors for 40 years I can assure everyone that having a BA degree in history does not indicate being a great literary writer and does not disqualify someone from being a great scientist. RJJensen 18:02, 16 June 2009 (EDT)
The attempt to discredit Witten as a physicist here seems somewhat deceitful to me -- there can really be no question of his qualifications in physics (whatever your views on string theory). Why is the subject of his undergraduate major important enough to mention, while is graduate specialty (physics, and under a Nobel laureate in physics at that) is not? He's written a number of important papers outside of string theory. Moreover, if you look through the list of Nobel laureates in physics, a good number of them have certainly done few if any experiments in their professional careers. The assertion that physicists must be skilled experimentalists is obviously specious. --MarkGall 17:58, 16 June 2009 (EDT)

I understand your point, but hear me out: Witten received his Ph.D. in physics under the advisorship of David Gross, a Nobel-Prize winning physicist. Witten has served as a professor of physics at Princeton (1980-87), and is now at the Institute for Advanced Studies as a Charles Simonyi professor of physics. He has more awards and honors in science than I care to mention, but a few that are relevant: Fellow, American Physical Society 1984, Einstein Medal, Einstein Society of Berne, Switzerland, 1985, Dirac Medal, International Center for Theoretical Physics, 1985. You may not like his work, but you can't argue with the fact that the man is a physicist.--Lemonpeel 18:04, 16 June 2009 (EDT)

Witten also has a Craaford Prize [1] which is like a Nobel prize given in science-related fields to people who are not eligible to win regular Nobel prizes. RSchlafly 18:15, 16 June 2009 (EDT)
So if you don't win a Nobel prize, you're not a physicist? By the way, I take it from your source that you were unable to find that kind of detailed information on these pages.--Lemonpeel 18:19, 16 June 2009 (EDT)
Witten seems to be a Richard Dawkins-type. In fact, both hold (or held) non-academic positions established by the billionaire Charles Simonyi. Those Simonyi positions, in my opinion, are not real peer-reviewed professorships.
The Craaford Prize looks like a real liberal honor, judging by who else received it.
The point is simply this: has Witten ever even conducted a college-level physics experiment? Let the record reflect that as a history major he may not have, and I doubt he has since.--Andy Schlafly 18:30, 16 June 2009 (EDT)
In answer to this question: According to the Princeton Physics Dept Website (Witten received his Ph.D. from Princeton), to qualify for the Ph.D., students must satisfy an "Experimental Requirement." It is very clear from the description of this project that they want the student to become well-versed in real laboratory work.--Lemonpeel 18:47, 16 June 2009 (EDT)
Sure, Witten is a physicist. But he is primarily respected for his accomplishments in Math, not Physics. He is never going to get that Nobel prize in Physics. RSchlafly 18:36, 16 June 2009 (EDT)
Witten held professorships at Princeton (and IAS) for ten years before taking up that chaired position, so it's clearly irrelevant to his qualifications in physics. Simonyi aside, I'm not sure why conducting a college-level physics experiment is supposed to be a prerequisite to be called a physicist, particularly a theoretical physicist. Many winners of the physics Nobel do purely theoretical work (Wilczek and Gross are two recent such winners, off the top of my head). Perhaps they did experiments as undergraduates, but they almost certainly haven't since. Would you question that their work is physics? Why would that fact that Witten didn't do trivial experiments decades ago have any implications for his qualifications to do physics? I doubt very much that his failure to perform these experiments has had too crippling effect on his physical intuitions. --MarkGall 18:47, 16 June 2009 (EDT)
Well, in all fairness, it's good to know that the person has some connection with how theories are verified in practice. But as I pointed out above, experimental experience is a requirement of the Princeton physics Ph.D.--Lemonpeel 18:51, 16 June 2009 (EDT)
Rules often have exceptions, and if an exception were possible, then Witten would have likely benefited from it. After all, merely being admitted into Princeton's PhD physics program after majoring in history in college is a remarkable "exception".
Witten has written extensively, I think. Has he ever, ever mentioned his doing an actual experiment, even if just once?--Andy Schlafly 19:30, 16 June 2009 (EDT)
This may be one of the silliest debates I've ever participated in.--Lemonpeel 20:26, 16 June 2009 (EDT)

While Witten is probably not the one tur/06ning wrenches and soldering wires he is a key player in figuring out how to do experiments at CERN additionally I am relatively sure that 100% of the theoretical and experimental physics departments at institutions of higher education consider him to be a legitimate physicist. --JerriahD 21:08, 16 June 2009 (EDT)

String theory "unrelated" to known forces in nature?

In the article introduction, the claim is made that it has been proven that string theory is unrelated to any known forces in nature. This sounds manifestly untrue. For example, in bosonic string theory, a massless vector boson appears in a natural way. Those familiar with quantum field theory will recognize this particle as a photon, which mediates the electrodynamic force. So how about we amend that comment?--Lemonpeel 12:47, 16 June 2009 (EDT)

I went ahead and amended statements saying that string theory cannot predict any real particles in nature (since it predicts the photon at the very least). I did, however, make sure there was a statement saying that the status of string theory as a genuine theory of everything remained uncertain.--Lemonpeel 12:56, 16 June 2009 (EDT)

No, string theory does not predict the photon. Saying that it can accommodate a massless vector boson means nothing. It does not tell us anything about photons. I also disagree with saying that there is uncertainty about string theory being a genuine theory of everything. It is a settled matter. String theory is not a theory of anything (in the physical world). RSchlafly 15:01, 16 June 2009 (EDT)

Out of curiousity, what makes you so certain of this? Do you have any background in string theory? I mean, consider this: suppose you have a theory with a massless vector boson, A. There's really only one gauge-invariant kinetic term you can construct out of it, namely dA^*dA. Well, as soon as you have that kinetic term in a Lagrangian, then boom, you have Maxwell's equations. So, um, yeah, accommodating a vector boson does indeed predict things like photons and electromagnetic fields. If you still disagree I am interested to know what your source is.--Lemonpeel 16:13, 16 June 2009 (EDT)

What you are describing was known decades before string theory. It is not a prediction of string theory in any shape or form. RSchlafly 18:06, 16 June 2009 (EDT)

Falsifiability is from Pragmatism, not Positivism

Advocates of logical positivism such as Wittgenstein, Carnap, et. al. held that scientific propositions should be verifiable, thus the name "positivism". The question became what, exactly, it meant for something to be verifiable, so the logical positivists developed a theory of logic & language to be put to use in the course of empirical investigations.

Karl Popper and W.V. Quine were the pragmatists who took issue with the positivist position of verifiability and required a falsifiability condition from empirical claims on the grounds that one could never actually verify a claim through empirical investigation, but one could most assuredly prove it wrong through experimentation.

Because of the strong mathematical content of String Theory, a positivist would be more likely to accept it as a scientific theory than a pragmatist.

Your comments here make sense to me, and were consistent with my original entry until someone else changed it. How about fixing up the entry itself with your improvements?--Aschlafly 21:20, 25 February 2007 (EST)

Completeness and Computability


"However it is not yet demonstrated that the theory is insoluble (see the Incompleteness theorem): that is, while string theory is not yet provable, it has not been shown to be unprovable. As an analogy, it can be suggested that all objects become green when they are not being observed: this is a model which is unprovable in principle, and therefore unscientific."

Makes no sense whatsoever. This is confusing the mathematical notions of completeness and independence with the ability to disprove something through empirical means. One does not show by mathematical means that a potentially empirical claim is indeed falsifiable, that must be done by considering the claims of the theory and the manner in which they are phrased. If string theory were to predict certain particles in certain abundances, or something similar, then the theory would be falsifiable, in the same way that quantum field theory is rendered falsifiable by the Higgs mechanism. What's more, only the mathematics may be subjected to the incompleteness theorem. As all of physics relies on extremely rich mathematics that are, under Godel's theorem, incomplete while, at the same time, remaining falsifiable, it seems ridiculous to suggest that the completeness or incompleteness of the mathematics should have any bearing on the falsifiability of the claims in question.

I agree. I also found senseless the reference to the incompleteness theorem. It almost looks like vandalism. --Aschlafly 21:30, 25 February 2007 (EST)

What's more, it is extremely unlikely that incompleteness has any bearing on any physics anywhere in any way -- the ties between computability and completeness prevent this from happening. A physically realizable state is always computable, in any context. The system giving rise to that realization is doing the computation! Invoking Incompleteness here is pure hogwash.

Right.--Aschlafly 21:30, 25 February 2007 (EST)

In the last sentence, we've gotten confused again. The first part of the article made appeal to falsifiability, and now in the last sentence we're requiring positive establishment. For consistency with the first part of the article, the author should have said "The claim that all objects become green when they are not observed is not falsifiable". (And I doubt that even this is true, since a lack of the required mechanism to render objects green falsifies the statement).

Finally, String Theory's central claims are put in a way that are falsifiable, as long as we have the ability to probe the energies and scales required. The fact that we don't have the technology does not have any bearing on the lingual structure of the claims.

Well ... will there be any way to falsify it in the foreseeable future? If not, then it's not science.--Aschlafly 21:30, 25 February 2007 (EST)

It is enough to note that, to date, no evidence has been found to support string theory. That's it.

The criticism should be a bit stronger. There is "no evidence" found to support claims that Atlas isn't holding up the earth in a new dimension either. The stronger point that String theory isn't really science should be made.
Also, please sign your discussion at some point, or else it becomes hard to see who said what. The signature box is the second from the right above.--Aschlafly 21:30, 25 February 2007 (EST)
There will be a way (or ways) to falsify it in the future - if the particles predicted/required by the various string theories don't actually show up when we have particle accelerators big enough to generate the energies required for those particles to form. Yes it is not testable now but should be in the future. I don't see why we should disregard something purely because right now we don't have the technology to test it. Are we luddites or can we accept the possible validity of a theory which does seem to imply a huge amount of underlying structure in the way the universe is made. I am not saying that we should consider string theory as fact, but do not discount the possibility of it being validated in the future.Airdish 16:37, 21 March 2007 (EDT)
There are no particles predicted by string theory, and there is no way to falsify string theory no matter how big the accelerators are. There is no possibility that string theory will ever be validated. RSchlafly 19:22, 16 June 2009 (EDT)

The falsfiability section makes no sense

"String theory proponent Michio Kaku replies to this glaring defect by stating that string theory may be "too robust" because it is not falsifiable, an obvious non sequitur. " I don't understand this. In the parlance of physics robust is the opposite of falsifiable, so its not so much a response to the glaring defect as pointing it out. and why is there no reference for this quote? --Alaskan 20:31, 24 June 2009 (EDT)

No, I don't think you've gotten the complete meaning of falsifiability, although I agree a reference would be welcome to the Kaku claim so we can all read it in its full glory.--Andy Schlafly 20:33, 24 June 2009 (EDT)e
My understanding of the quote (and I am inexpert in the physics side of string theory) is that at the time, Kaku understood the parameter space of string theory to be so large that it was not falsifiable: given any experiment, there were enough constants such that by adjusting them as needed the theory could be reconciled with any experimental result. I know that in a more recent book Kaku claims string theory to be falsifiable, so perhaps we should reconsider the inclusion of this outdated information. --MarkGall 21:02, 24 June 2009 (EDT)
But the point of the quote and its absurdity remains: it seems to me that Kaku thought a lack of falsifiability is a sign of robustness! That sentiment sums up the string theorists well, I'm afraid.--Andy Schlafly 22:00, 24 June 2009 (EDT)
Well I looked in the history and there was a link straight to the audio interview and you can listen to him say it, I would add the source back in but I'm visually impaired and I've already called my son in twice today to do captchas for me. I really don't think Kaku meant the robust comment to be a positive thing. --AlanN 18:01, 26 June 2009 (EDT)--AlanN 18:01, 26 June 2009 (EDT)
Saying something is "too robust" is not a positive thing??? It's certainly not a harsh criticism; perhaps it could be some kind of backhanded compliment. I don't think it's a complaint about the lack of falsifiability of string theory.--Andy Schlafly 18:18, 26 June 2009 (EDT)
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