Some Thoughts on Peter Woit’s book ‘Not Even Wrong’ (NEW)

It's a radical book, an excellent book, a background which allows the reader a way into the literature, and a way to decide which things should be studied further by genuine physicists.

"As we will see, the term 'superstring theory' really refers not to a well-defined theory, but to unrealised hopes … As a result, this is a 'theory' that makes no predictions … this very lack of falsifiability is what has allowed the whole subject to flourish. … When is very speculative research part of science and when is it not?' – page 6

On pages 180-2, Peter Woit quotes various theoretical physics Nobel Laureates on superstrings:

Feynman: 'I don't like it that they're not calculating anything. I don't like [it] that they don't check their ideas. I don't like that for anything that disagrees with an experiment, they cook up an explanation – a fix up… so the fact that it might disagree with experiment is very tenuous, it doesn't produce anything…'

Glashow: 'But superstring physicists … cannot demonstrate that the standard theory is a logical outcome of string theory. They cannot even be sure that their formalism includes a description of such things as protons and electron. And they have not yet made even one teeny-tiny experimental prediction… Until string theory people can interpret perceived properties of the real world they simply are not doing physics. Should they be paid by universities and be permitted to pervert impressionable students?'

't Hooft: '… I would not even be prepared to call $tring theory a 'theory' rather a 'model' or not even that: just a hunch. After all, a theory should come together with instructions on how to deal with it to identify the things one wishes to describe … Imagine that I give you a chair, while explaining that the legs are still missing, and that the seat, back and armrest will perhaps be delivered soon; whatever I did give you, can I still call it a chair?'

Peter Woit also discusses alternatives:

'In loop quantum gravity, the basic idea is to use the standard methods of quantum theory, but to change the choice of fundamental variables that one is working with. It is well known among mathematicians that an alternative to thinking about geometry in terms of curvature fields at each point in a space is to instead think about the holonomy [whole rule] around loops in space. The idea is that in a curved space, for any path that starts out somewhere and comes back to the same point (a loop), one can imagine moving along the path while carrying a set of vectors, and always keeping the new vectors parallel to older ones as one moves along. When one gets back to where one started and compares the vectors one has been carrying with the ones at the starting point, they will in general be related by a rotational transformation. This rotational transformation is called the holonomy of the loop. It can be calculated for any loop, so the holonomy of a curved space is an assignment of rotations to all loops in the space.' – P. Woit, Not Even Wrong, Cape, London, 2006, p189.

I can see why most people currently see LQG as being even more abstract or obscure in physical detail than extra dimensional string theory.

However, the 'spin foam vacuum' description is in some ways more tangible, and corresponds with known effects. The loops have a physical correspondence to real effects going on in the vacuum, which produce features like the Casimir force. Speculation is preferred by stringers:

"How did particle physics get itself into its current state, in which some of its most prominent practitioners question whether their colleagues have given up on science? Have they? Why has there been so little progress in this subject for the last quarter-century, and where should one look for ways to change this situation? The following chapters will describe some of the history that has led particle physics to its current predicament." – page 13

[To be continued...]

The Pope and Lubos Motl

“If Robert Matthews or anyone else thinks that physics at the Planck scale is not governed by anything like string/M-theory, they can try to publish their alternative answer in any scientific journal or the preprint server.

“Everyone knows that people like Matthews or Woit have no alternatives. They’re orders of magnitude and decades of education from being able to do something like that.”

- Prof Lubos Motl

Lubos Motl has been abusive towards me personally without knowing me since last summer, so I can’t resist pointing out:

Variation in recession speeds / variation in time past = acceleration dv/dt = c/t ~ cH where H is Hubble constant. The implication of this comes when you know the mass of the universe is m, because then you remember Newton’s 2nd law, F=ma so you get outward force. The 3rd law then tells you there’s equal inward force (Higgs/graviton field). When I do the simple LeSage-Feynman gravity shielding calculations, I get gravity within 1.7%. Full proof free:

It is suppressed like Tony Smith’s prediction of the top quark mass by -

‘We don’t expect you to read the paper in detail, or verify that the work is correct, but you should check that the paper is appropriate for the subject area. You should not endorse the author … if the work is entirely disconnected with current [string theory] work in the area.’

They don’t want any really strong evidence of dissent. This filtering means that the arxiv reflects pro-mainstream bias. It sends out a powerful warning message that if you want to be a scientist, don’t heckle the mainstream or your work will be deleted.

In 2002 I “failed” (I actually got publication in top real-world practical but out-of-the-way-of-string-censorship journal Electronics World instead, plus on CERN Doc Server although that cannot be updated because CERN Doc Server now only accepts feed through arXiv) to get a single brief paper about a crazy-looking yet predictive model on to physics pre-print server arXiv via my university affiliation (there was no other endorsement needed at that time). In emailed correspondence they told me to go get my own internet site if I wasn’t contributing to mainstream [stringy] ideas (because they are a dead end).

Editor of Physical Review Letters said:

Sent: 02/01/03 17:47
Subject: Your_manuscript LZ8276 Cook


Physical Review Letters does not, in general, publish papers on alternatives to currently accepted theories … Yours sincerely, Stanley G. Brown, Editor, Physical Review Letters

Now, why has this nice genuine guy still not published his personally endorsed proof of what is a “currently accepted” prediction for the strength of gravity? Will he ever do so?

“String theory has the remarkable property of predicting gravity”: false claim by Edward Witten in the April 1996 issue of Physics Today, repudiated by Roger Penrose on page 896 of his book Road to Reality, 2004: “in addition to the dimensionality issue, the string theory approach is (so far, in almost all respects) restricted to being merely a perturbation theory”. String theory does not predict for the strength constant of gravity, G! However, the Physical Review Letters editor still “believes in” Edward Witten and Physics Today.

Of course I should be locked up for publishing the facts about the harm that my career has been done by this censorship caused indirectly (via hype) by so-called Pope of physics. One commentator on Peter Woit’s blog will undoubtedly be deleted so I’m preserving the interesting remark here. God knows who wrote it:

“anon Says:

“June 4th, 2006 at 7:52 am

“If you look closely at Lubos Motl’s blog you can see he is now saying even Dr Matthews is

““Robert Matthews: science-hater par excellence”

“Dr Matthews has done possibly more to support science than any other journalist in the UK.

“Motl states: “A senior physicist has sent me a piece of text that he or she called ‘ tendentious, malicious attack on scientists and through that on science itself’.”

“Who is a senior physicist to Dr Motl? Someone deluded, that’s for sure. People who hate Feynman’s objectivity so much as Dr Motl and try to mix gibberish with personal attacks while standing behind the cover of Dr Motl are very respectable IMHO.

“Or perhaps nobody warped is hiding behind Dr Motl, and he is attacking British SCIENCE reporters off his own back. I think this is the case. Ed Witten and Lisa Randall would NEVER be so cowardly, they have more integrity than that, and don’t behave this way.”

I noticed the following anonymous comment trying to resolve the situation:

String theory implicitly assumes that with enough cash you can buy a final theory by commissioning enough research to solve the problem. It’s capitalist in this sense. Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, Einstein were mainly lone innovators without research community (Einstein was an outsider in 1905 to the aether community).

The Standard Model is an example of gruop-think scientific endeavour by many people which did get results. String theory is an example of a similar group effort – connected by a wide community via arXiv – which is attempting the same thing.

This makes string theory very powerful at censoring completely, or nearly completely, lone outsiders. Just as the whore is the enemy of the decent woman, so the outsider is the enemy of the group. Galileo was an outsider to a bigoted group-think, Newton delayed publication for 21 years (1666-87) for fear of ridicule until he was reasonably powerful and secure with supporters like Halley. Einstein of course overthrew aether speculations, but only because Planck was editor of the journal, bothered to read Einstein’s submission, and was not prejudiced against the Machian methods Einstein used (mathematical model without worrying about classical mechanism or causality).

The way string theorists dismiss what they sneeringly call “alternatives” tells you that a void would be better than replacing one failed group-think with another potential failure for the next 20 years, which would do the same as strings and suppress other people.

What is needed is a more science-focussed arXiv which is censored on such a basis that if this were 1905 and arXiv were controlled by aether theorists, there would still be a chance for an Einstein to ignore the lot of them without being rejected out of hand for being “an alternative to a currently accepted theory” or whatever.

Seeing that general relativity is based on the equivalence principle and general covariance, special relativity is not complete to say the least of it and could have been dismissed for not dealing with gravitational fields.

A final theory could well emerge from individual efforts not based on the reigning group-think. The first version could have serious errors, and be violently opposed by Lubos Motl as “crackpot”. Could he financially afford to say anything different to a radical new idea which is not string based? Group think prevents dissent.

It should not be banned from science, and funding for it should not stopped. But funding should be focussed on programmes which address real physics problems objectively (not those Motl likes).

Another comment, this time from by Mario Rabinowitz, Fen 2006:

‘A Theory of Quantum Gravity may not be possible because Quantum Mechanics violates the Equivalence Principle

‘Quantum mechanics clearly violates the weak equivalence principle (WEP). This implies that quantum mechanics also violates the strong equivalence principle (SEP), as shown in this paper. Therefore a theory of quantum gravity may not be possible unless it is not based upon the equivalence principle, or if quantum mechanics can change its mass dependence. Neither of these possibilities seem likely at the present time. Examination of QM in n-space, as well as relativistic QM equations does not change this conclusion.’

What Rabinowitz does is this:

Take the Schroedinger equation for an atom. Instead of putting Coulomb’s attractive electromagnetic force into it to attract electron toward proton, he puts Newton’s law in (page 2).

He finds that the “gravity-binded atom” contains a term with 1/(inertial mass) subtracted from a term proportional to gravitational mass.

“Even for m(inertial) = m(gravitational), … m appears in the denominator of the kinetic energy term and the numerator of the potential energy term of the Hamiltonian.”

Even in extra-dimensions (n-space), “m remains in the quantized equations of motion, even for M >> m; though m cancels out of the classical equations of motion in Newtonian gravity. One would expect m to cancel out when averaging over states with large quantum numbers that puts them effectively in the classical continuum.”

On p5, he finds that the quantim gravity acceleration is quantized:

a = v2/r = -G3M3m4/(j.h bar)4.

The mass dependence on m in this equation is different from Newton’s law,

a = MG/r2.

Rabinowitz does the same for extra-dimensions and finds the same, then concludes basically that Witten was a ____ when he claimed:

“String theory has the remarkable property of predicting [quantum] gravity.” – Edward Witten, M-theory originator, Physics Today, April 96.

Rabinowitz does not however quote this statement by Witten, and his conclusion and title are milk-and-water.

So has he disproved M-theory?

On p9 Rabinowitz writes: “To my knowledge, my approach to the problem preventing the development of a theory of quantum gravity is original and differs from that of others. The only other paper that I was able to find which comes to the same conclusion as mine is that of Loinger [Spacetime and Substance, v 4, p 182, 2003]. However, he takes a different approach in reaching his conclusion. …

“[Paul C.W.] Davies [quant-ph/0403027, 2004] discusses tunnelling anomalies …. Although he finds that QM violates the WEP [weak equivalence principle of GR], he does not seem to find an incompatibility between quantum mechanics and the SEP [strong equivalence principle, m(inertial) = m(gravitational)].”

“String theory has the remarkable property of predicting gravity.” – Edward Witten, M-theory originator, Physics Today, April 96.

“… I do feel strongly that this is nonsense! … I think all this superstring stuff is crazy and is in the wrong direction. … I don’t like it that they’re not calculating anything. … All these numbers … have no explanations in these string theories – absolutely none! …” – Richard P. Feynman, in Davies & Brown, ‘Superstrings’ 1988, at pages 194-195.

What causes gravity if it is isn’t a mathematical analogy to QM?

Dr Thomas Love of California State University has shown that entangled wavefunction collapse (and related assumptions such as superimposed spin states) are a mathematical fabrication introduced as a result of the discontinuity at the instant of switch-over between time dependent and time independent versions of Schroedinger at time of measurement; Alain Aspect’s experiments merely imply that Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle doesn’t apply to pairs of photons emitted in opposite directions by a single electron transition in an atom.

Heisenberg guantum mechanics: Poincare chaos applies on the small scale, since the virtual particles of the Dirac sea in the vacuum regularly interact with the electron and upset the orbit all the time, giving wobbly chaotic orbits which statistically average out to be described by the statistical Schroedinger equation – it’s causal, there is no metaphysics involved.

“It always bothers me that, according to the laws as we understand them today, it takes a computing machine an infinite number of logical operations to figure out what goes on in no matter how tiny a region of space, and no matter how tiny a region of time. How can all that be going on in that tiny space? Why should it take an infinite amount of logic to figure out what one tiny piece of space/time is going to do? So I have often made the hypothesis that ultimately physics will not require a mathematical statement, that in the end the machinery will be revealed, and the laws will turn out to be simple, like the chequer board with all its apparent complexities.”

- R. P. Feynman, Character of Physical Law, November 1964 Cornell Lectures, broadcast and published in 1965 by BBC, pp. 57-8.

One suggestion that predicts strength of gravity and strength of electromagnetism accurately to within the existing experimental error of the data needed for the prediction, is this: the radiation which causes electromagnetism also causes gravity. Think of atoms as kinds of charged capacitors, positive nucleus and negative electrons.

If you have a series of parallel capacitor plates with different charges, each separated by a vacuum dielectric, you need the total (net) voltage needs to take into account the orientation of the plates.

The vector sum is the same as a statistical random walk (drunkard’s walk): the total is equal to the average voltage between a pair of plates, multiplied by the square root of the total number (this allows for the angular geometry dispersion, not distance, because the universe is spherically symmetrical around us – thank God for keeping the calculation very simple! – and there is as much dispersion outward in the random walk as there is inward, so the effects of inverse square law dispersions and concentrations with distance both exactly cancel out).

Gravity is the force that comes from a straight-line sum, which is the only other option than the random walk. In a straight line, the sum of charges is zero along any vector across the universe, if that line contains an average equal number of positive and negative charges. However, it is equally likely that the straight radial line drawn at random across the universe contains an odd number of charges, in which case the average charge is 2 units (2 units is equal to the difference between 1 negative charge and 1 positive charge). Therefore the straight line sum has two options only, each with 50% probability: even number of charges and hence zero net result, and odd number of charges which gives 2 unit charges as the net sum. The mean for the two options is simply (0 + 2) /2 = 1 unit. Hence electromagnetism is the square root of the number of charges in the universe, times the weak option force (gravity).

Thus, electromagnetism and gravity are different ways that charges add up.

Gravity strength is predicted from a simple causal mechanism where momentum carried by energy of gauge bosons causes forces by pushing things: The Standard Model, which Edward Witten has done a lot of useful work on (before he went into string speculation), is the best tested physical theory. Forces result from radiation exchange in spacetime. The big bang speed is 0-c in spacetime of 0-15 billion years, so outward force F = ma = mc/t ~ 10^43 Newtons. Newton’s 3rd law implies equal inward force, carried by vector bosons (exchange radiation), predicting current cosmology, gravity and the contraction of general relativity, other forces and particle masses.

Nonsense published in London

Peter Woit’s book has, he tells us, been now been published in the U.K..

It is annoying how slowly things are dragging out. Normally Woit has useful discussions and some dry humour on his weblog, but recently it has descended into complete crackpot trash with Professor Bert and others arguing whether the vacuum polarisation is real and someone else arguing that if the vacuum were full of particles it would be radioactive. All this nonsense detracts from the serious issues with physics. It is very depressing to me, but I’m coming to the conclusion Woit is a boring physicist, albeit a fully trained and mathematically competent one. I hope his book disproves this suspicion.

An amusing earlier post of his is The Holy Grail of Physics.. Read it, and the comments that follow it. For what my comment is worth, I agree with Dr Woit that electroweak symmetry breaking mechanism is the Holy Grail, explaining the masses and everything else.

Update: The first published review of Peter Woit’s book:

A review from the London FINANCIAL TIMES national newspaper

“Nothing gained in search for ‘theory of everything’

“By Robert Matthews

“Published: June 2 2006 19:45 | Last updated: June 2 2006 19:45

“They call their leader The Pope, insist theirs is the only path to enlightenment and attract a steady stream of young acolytes to their cause. A crackpot religious cult? No, something far scarier: a scientific community that has completely lost touch with reality and is robbing us of some of our most brilliant minds.

“Yet if you listened to its cheerleaders – or read one of their best-selling books or watched their television mini-series – you, too, might fall under their spell. You, too, might come to believe they really are close to revealing the ultimate universal truths, in the form of a set of equations describing the cosmos and everything in it. …

“Those who have show signs of having fallen prey to the “sunk-cost fallacy”, the huge intellectual effort needed to enter the field compelling them to plough on regardless of the prospects of success. It is time they were put out of their misery by being told to either give up or find funding from elsewhere (charities supporting faith-based pursuits have been suggested as one alternative).

“Academic institutions find it hard enough to fund fields with records of solid achievement. After 20-odd years, they are surely justified in pulling the plug on one that has disappeared up its Calabi-Yau manifold.

“The writer is visiting reader in science at Aston University, Birmingham”

Now a string theorist has finally written a weird review at amazon based on an early draft manuscript copy, instead of the published article:

“Bitter emotions and obsolete understanding of high-energy physics, June 1, 2006

“Lubos Motl (Cambridge, MA United States)

“Peter Woit is the owner of a well-known blog that provides high-energy theoretical physics with the same service as William Dembski’s blog offers to evolutionary biology: it is designed to misinterpret and obscure virtually every event in physics and transform it into poison – and to invent his own fantasies to hurt science. This makes Woit’s blog highly popular among the crackpots, for example the first reviewer of this book. The book is not identical to the author’s blog but it is not too different either. …”

Peter Woit has hit back:

The “crackpot” referred to by Motl is Dr Chris Oakley, a quantum field theorist like Dr Peter Woit. Motl apparently objects to Oakley quoting Feynman on his home page at

One other amazon reviewer (called J.B. Cook, apparently not any relative of mine!) writes: “Back in 1988, Richard P. Feynman wrote about string theory before dying:

” ‘… I do feel strongly that this is nonsense! … I think all this superstring stuff is crazy and is in the wrong direction. … I don’t like it that they’re not calculating anything. … why are the masses of the various particles such as quarks what they are? All these numbers … have no explanations in these string theories – absolutely none! …’ (Davies & Brown, ‘Superstrings’ 1988).

“String theorists hate Feynman and want to destroy the credibility of physics by turning it into a religion (check out the $1 million Templeton Prize for religion which has been awarded to string theory advocates including Davies and Barrow). String theorists will be BITTERLY disappointed to discover that the book – as actually printed and published (someone bitter has reviewed a two-year old draft version of the book here on amazon) – has been proof read very carefully and does not contain any errors of fact.”

Another amazon reviewer at says:

“String theory is usually presented (without evidence but with excess hype) as being the “best candidate for the final theory”, an extension of existing well-accepted ideas of the Standard Model to produce a complete theory. However, as Peter Woit states in this book, the actual problems of physics which are known to be real are simply ignored by string theories, while various speculative or imaginary solutions are invented in string theory which contains neither useful quantitative predictions, nor physical dynamics of a scientifically useful kind.

“The actual major problems facing physics concern (1) dynamical (predictive) unification of gravity/general relativity and the Standard Model (string theory is merely consistent with a spin-2 graviton force boson, and makes no predictions that can be checked), (2) the quantitative masses and gravity strength (these are all a related problem, since gravity acts on mass rather than charge, so the Standard Model doesn’t describe any of this), and (3) the actual mechanism for electroweak symmetry breaking, i.e., how the vacuum polarisation (or other phenomena relating to a speculative Higgs field) give mass to three out of four of the electroweak gauge bosons at low energy, hopefully predicting an exact value for the key particle involved such as a Higgs boson.

“String theory fails to even tackle any of this. String theory instead postulates 10 dimensional superstrings with 6 dimensions rolled up into a complex Calabi-Yau manifold (Witten showed using M-theory that this can be unified with 11 dimensional supergravity). String theory includes supersymmetry (SUSY) which attempts to demonstrate unification of forces at a massive energy – far beyond anything achievable (even with a particle accelerator the size of the solar system) – by the extravagant addition of a superpartner for every existing particle. None of these superpartners have been observed. Nor does string theory predict anything quantitatively checkable about them, such as the exact energy of superpartners.

“Claimed successes for string theory such as “predicting gravity” are vacuous because there is no prediction, no connection between abject speculation and reality. The mathematics for string theory is clearly what defends it from being dismissed out of hand as crackpot speculation by the media and by its own practitioners: because of the complex mathematical nature of the Calabi-Yau manifold, it yields a “landscape” of a spectacular number of different possible metastable vacua for the ground state of the universe, about 10^350 solutions. This uselessness, far from proving string theory is “not even wrong”, is usually interpreted as meaning it covers everything conceivable and is a safe bet to stake an academic career on. It’s snakeoil. As the position of string theory gets worse, more popularising hype is poured into the media about the “possibility” of using strings to communicate by telepathy backwards in time across the universe, and other science fiction. (This is just like the band playing cheerfully as the Titanic sinks.)

“Let’s spell it out: string theory is so vague it is consistent with about 1-followed-by-350-zeroes different ground states. So much for the science of string theory. The next thing is that string theory involves group-think. Peter Woit does not unfortunately present his own ideas in this book, which are interesting alternatives to string theory. This book is aimed at a wide audience and his mathematical papers can be found quite easily on the internet for free. But he makes the point that physics is more likely to advance rapidly if there is a diversity of ideas than with almost everyone thinking around the same mainstream “fashionable” speculation for decades. String theory is a new ether, and has bogged down physics for twenty years. The landscape of vacua is a pathetic end to physics. String theory is not even wrong.”

Another reviewer has now headed his review: “The emperor has no clothes and will crucify you for saying so.”

I am suspicious whether Lubos Motl’s review is a genuine attack on Woit and on Oakley for being a Feynman follower, or whether Professor Motl is simply trying to help Woit’s book sales by stirring up as much controversy as he possibly can by being loony.