Arcadian Functor

occasional meanderings in physics' brave new world

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Marni D. Sheppeard

Friday, November 16, 2007

Lisi Update

Not to be outdone by The Telegraph or New Scientist, The Sun uses the headline Computer Geek: I know it all. Intriguingly, despite the introduction
An internet nerd has solved the most baffling riddle of modern physics that stumped even Einstein – the theory of everything in the universe.
the Sun's readers did not find the story fascinating enough to push it onto the most-read stories column alongside Jessica Alba and a story on bra wars. Then again, let's give it a few hours. Motl also reports.


Blogger Philip said...

Sigh. I wish journalists would stop hyping new, potentially interesting, possibly even correct science to such ludicrous heights - "has solved", with no qualifiers, and the inevitable comparison to Einstein.

I don't say this to slam Lisi at all, in his postings he is far more modest and realistic in his claims than the popular articles would indicate (and I'm certainly not qualified to have an opinion on his paper). He's quite open in stating it is incomplete and needs to be combined with some variant of LQG or QFT.

I would be interested to hear from an unbiased and knowledgeable source whether the paper is "nonsense" as Motl has claimed or is it, if not sensible?


November 16, 2007 3:21 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

Hi Philip. Well, if you want my opinion, I'm certainly not unbiased here, taking the view that the paper is not nonsense but, on the contrary, a very big clue to quantum gravity which, along with many other clues, begins to paint a beautiful picture.

November 16, 2007 3:29 PM  
Blogger CarlBrannen said...

This is going to be highly entertaining. But I'm going to go home and start writing a java applet to do the roots of E8 in Garrett's form. Wish me luck.

By the way, I was a little surprised to find that Garrett is 39. That makes me feel a little less like the only old man working on physics outside of academia.

November 16, 2007 6:05 PM  
Blogger Philip said...

Well, Marni makes one data point, and John Baez has posted positively about the paper in
TWF, so that's two.

As a mere bystander in the strings-vs-guts debate in the blogosphere, my difficulty is that many people have weighed in with extreme praise and extreme criticism, but it's not clear to me that many of the comments on various blogs are from people with the necessary background to judge the paper. Time will tell, I suppose.

Anyway, my annoyance is with the state of science journalism, which jumps on things like this and blows them up, getting most of it wrong in the process (New Scientist, for example, which used to be pretty good, but now I think of as the Weekly World News of science magazines).

November 17, 2007 3:17 AM  
Blogger Kea said...

Hi Philip. Your annoyance is understandable. And Carl, if 39 is old then i'm an old fogey too!

November 17, 2007 9:25 AM  
Blogger Philip said...

39 here also. It's not that I'm getting older, it's the students who are getting younger!

On the subject of news articles, I've been reading John Paulos' book "A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper", which is full of exampes of journalistic and political innumeracy, deliberate and otherwise (very salient in this final week of the election campaign).

Baez refers to Zee's chapter the SO(10) GUT. I bought that book a while ago (from Abbey's of course!) in the hope of learning some QFT, but haven't had a chance to read it yet. While I'm on it, what is a good introductory QFT book?

November 17, 2007 2:36 PM  
Blogger nige said...

A few useful introductory textbooks to QFT are listed at

Volume 1 ("Foundations") of Steven Weinberg's "The Quantum Theory of Fields" (Cambridge University Press, 2005) is excellent and only 600 pages. (Volume 2 deals with the Standard Model which is more advanced and Volume 3 is about supersymmetric speculative junk for stringers.)

Zee's "Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell" is another book I've read. It's totally mainstream but makes a real effort to put across abstruse mathematical models (path integrals etc.) well. However, I don't like Zee's assertiveness. He seems to be a religious believer in so-far empirically validated theories, which is unscientific. His fancy introduction to path integrals, while better than many books, is not deep enough and just ends up obfuscating. If you want to understand path integrals, read Feynman's little book "QED".

Another introductory book is Ryder's "Quantum Field Theory" (2nd ed., Cambridge University Press, 1996) which is under 500pages long, and again is edited by Dr Rufus Neal of Cambridge University Press.

(Rant about that guy: Rufus rejected my physics textbook manuscript about the time he was editing Weinberg, circa 1992! To be honest, it wasn't a terrific book, but he actually returned a photocopy of my original manuscript to me with sarcastic comments like "Really?" pencilled in the margins, beside statements in the text which were critical of string orthodoxy, etc!)

Try also free online lectures introducing QFT such as Alvarez-Gaume and Vazquez-Mozo's excellent summary,

Wilczek's very brief

Siegel's magnum opus,

and Dyson's excellent early treatment of elementary QFT ("Advanced Quantum Mechanics") in:

Nigel (35)

November 18, 2007 6:54 AM  
Blogger Kea said...

Nigel, thanks, but Philip is a professional physicist, so I would recommend Itzykson and Zuber, with the caveat that modern QFT is actually completely different to this, as in the renormalisation Hopf algebras etc.

November 18, 2007 8:01 AM  
Blogger nige said...

Sorry, Kea. I'm still trying to learn this stuff myself (quantum field theory wasn't even available at my university, just quantum mechanics and cosmology/GR) and so I just gave some titles I have found useful from the perspective of understanding the physical processes (rather than stuff overloaded with non-physical mathematical trivia).

I've not heard of Itzykson and Zuber, "Quantum Field Theory" before, but I see good reviews of it at so I might borrow it from the library (if they can get it in for me).

November 18, 2007 9:27 AM  
Blogger Philip said...

Thanks for the suggestions, all.

Marni is giving me far too much credit! I don't think of myself as a physicist. My degree is in mathematics. As a grad student I did some GR, but in the last few years I've worked mostly on gravitational wave data analysis - really, an application of signal processing.

November 18, 2007 1:17 PM  

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