April 16, 2020


The Admiral of the String Theory Wars: After a decade, Peter Woit still thinks string theory is a gory mess. (Bob Henderson, Nautilus)

Watching Peter Woit lecture on quantum mechanics to a class at Columbia University--speaking softly, tapping out equations on a blackboard--it's hard to imagine why a Harvard physicist once publicly compared him to a terrorist and called for his death.

"I was worried," said Woit's longtime girlfriend, Pamela Cruz. "Sleep was lost."

Woit's crime? A blog and a book, both called Not Even Wrong after a famous barb first wielded by physicist Wolfgang Pauli. Woit uses it against string theory, that most famous contender for the holy grail of physics: a "Theory of Everything" that would unite the two theories that physicists currently need to describe the universe.

The first of these is quantum field theory, which covers the subatomic domain, the behavior of elementary particles, and three of the four forces of nature. The second is Einstein's general relativity, which explains the fourth force, gravity, relevant only at much larger scales. Unhappily for physicists, these two theories are logically and mathematically incompatible. String theory proposes to solve this problem by replacing elementary particles with strings as nature's most fundamental objects.

Woit doesn't buy it.

"This is just getting more and more outrageous, this is just getting ridiculous," Woit remembers thinking about string theory in 2004, when he started the blog. "There's this huge public promotion of the theory and there's all this stuff about how wonderful string theory is ..." Woit pauses, shakes his head, and chuckles in disbelief. In 2004 string theory had been a hot research topic for 20 years and "it really wasn't working."

He is called an "incompetent, power-thirsty ... moron" and a "stuttering crackpot-in-chief" guilty of crimes as contemptible as those of Osama bin Laden.

Woit's major complaint about the theory, then and now, is that it fails to make testable predictions, so it can't be checked for errors--in other words, that it's "not even wrong."

...once the Darwinists got away with it others were sure to try.

Posted by at April 16, 2020 4:41 PM