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The Evolution of the Physicist’s Picture of Nature

Reading this Nautilus article about Julian Barbour led me recently to something I don’t think I’ve ever read before, Dirac’s 1963 Scientific American article The Evolution of the Physicist’s Picture of Nature. There is a very famous quote from this article that I’ve often seen: It is more important to have beauty in one’s equations than to have them fit experiment but I was unaware of the context of that quote, in which the...

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The God Equation

When I was out for a bike ride yesterday I stopped by a large book store and looked to see if they had a copy of Michio Kaku’s new book The God Equation. They didn’t, but did have plenty of copies for sale of his various previous efforts to promote string theory, such as 1987’s Beyond Einstein, 1994’s Hyperspace and 2005’s Parallel Worlds. If someone interested in fundamental physics walks into a bookstore, and looks in the...

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The Future of Fundamental Physics

IAS director Robbert Dijkgraaf will be giving the CERN colloquium tomorrow, with the title The Future of Fundamental Physics. Here’s the abstract: The reports of the death of physics are greatly exaggerated. Instead, I would argue, we are living in a golden era and the best is yet to come. Not only did the past decades see some amazing breakthrough discoveries and show us the many unknowns in our current understanding, but more...

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New Spaces in Mathematics and Physics

Available online today (if your institution is paying…) from Cambridge University Press are two volumes well-worth spending some time with: New Spaces in Mathematics and New Spaces in Physics. These contain write-ups based on a workshop organized back in 2015 by Mathieu Anel and Gabriel Catren, the videos of which are available here. It would be hard to write in any detail about the wealth of material in these volumes, so I’ll...

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ABC is Still a Conjecture

Just a reminder that the abc conjecture is still a conjecture, there is no known valid proof (don’t believe what you might read in an EMS journal). For more about why one attempted proof doesn’t work, see here and here. For extensive background on this, you could start at this blog posting and work backwards, to the first announcement of a claimed proof back in 2012. By 2018 Scholze and Stix had shown that the claimed argument was...

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Isadore Singer 1924-2021

I was sorry to hear this morning of the death yesterday at the age of 96 of Is Singer, a mathematician who led much of the interaction between mathematics and physics during the 1970s and 1980s. In the early stages of my career, among mathematicians investigating the amazing relations between mathematics and the quantum field theories describing fundamental physics there were three towering figures: Atiyah, Bott and Singer. That the...

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Geometric Langlands News

There’s various news to report on the geometric Langlands front, spanning number theory to quantum field theory: Minhyong Kim has been running an Online Mini-Conference on the Geometric Langlands Correspondence for the past month, and Dennis Gaitsgory has been doing something similar since last spring at his Geometric Langlands Office Hours. Very recently Edward Frenkel has given talks in both places (see talks here, here and here,...

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This Week’s Hype

I had just been thinking the other day about how little one hears recently about the multiverse, with those previously involved in heavy promotion of the idea perhaps having thought better of it. Today however, Quanta has Physicists Study How Universes Might Bubble Up and Collide. This describes work of a sort that has become popular in recent years: study of various condensed matter systems, with a huge dollop of hype on top about...

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What is a Spinor?

Recently Jean-Pierre Bourguignon recently gave the Inaugural Atiyah Lecture, with the title What is a Spinor? The title was a reference to a 2013 talk by Atiyah at the IHES with the same title. Bourguignon’s lecture is not yet online, but I realized there are lectures explaining what a spinor is that I can highly recommend: my own, in this semester’s course on the mathemematics of quantum mechanics. I’m closely following the...

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Wilczek on the Problems of Fundamental Physics

Sean Carroll has a new interview up with Frank Wilczek in which they discuss, among other things, the problematic current state of fundamental physics. On the topic of string theory, here’s the discussion: 0:58:34.8 SC: Well, some of this worry has come out of string theory, many of our colleagues for the last several decades have pointed to string theory as the most promising way forward. As far as I know, you have not done a lot...

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Is the Standard Model Just an Effective Field Theory?

An article by Steven Weinberg entitled On the Development of Effective Field Theory appeared on the arXiv last night. It’s based on a talk he gave in September, surveys the history of effective field theories and argues for what I’d call the “SM is just a low energy approximation” point of view on fundamental physics. I’ve always found this point of view quite problematic, and think that it’s at the root of the sad state of...