The Two Cultures

November 13th, 2006

the book cover of “The Two Cultures”

the book cover of “The Two Cultures”

I recently saw an essay about C.P. Snow’s famous lecture on the Two Cultures. In 1959 Snow observed that there was a “gulf of mutual incomprehension” between scientists and “literary intellectuals”. This resulted in a furor of name calling and fence building, that seemed to have more or less died down until the Sokal Affair. In Roger Kimball’s essay he quotes several of Snow’s critics as well as laying out his own criticism that science is intrinsically incomprehensable: “because of the extremely technical nature of contemporary scientific discourse—think, for example, of its deep reliance on abstruse mathematical notation—that gulf is unbridgeable and will only widen as knowledge progresses.” He further complains that science doesn’t deserve to be thought of as a culture in any case.  Assuming that we can consider Roger Kimball a “literary intellectual” this just seems to add evidence to Snow’s case.

What I think is interesting is that even though the gap between scientists and “literary intellectuals” still seems formidable, the general public  goes to a lot of effort in attempting to understand the latest scientific developments.  They are buying science books, going to public lectures, watching NOVA, and participating in science cafes. Even if “literary intellectuals” don’t know what exactly is meant by mass, acceleration, or the second law of thermodynamics, the “person on the street”  probably has some familiarity with electrons, quarks, and string theory.

Cosmic Landscape

October 18th, 2006

Lenny Susskind

Lenny Susskind

Leonard Susskind of Stanford gave a HEFTI public lecture, based on his book The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design at UC Davis on Oct 17.  About 400 people got an entertaining look at the “landscape” of universes allowed by string theory and how it might explain some of the apparent fine-tunings in nature that make life possible. “Lenny” (as he is affectionately known to almost all) was in high form, but also showed how he could be gentle with his critics.

Higher Living

August 28th, 2006

real estate sign on the UBC campus

real estate sign on the UBC campus

I recently gave some lectures at a summer school held at the University of British Columbia. The campus and the city of Vancouver were stunningly beautiful, but I was surprised to see that UBC is selling off part of their endownment land so that developers can build $2 million  town homes.  This is expecially ironic in a city where new professors cannot afford even a modest home anywhere near the campus. While other West Coast campuses are building low cost housing in order to be able to recruit new faculty, UBC is going in the opposite direction. They have even adopted an ironic slogan, suggesting that they strive to be a seat of higher living rather than a seat of higher learning.

real estate sign on the UBC campus

real estate sign on the UBC campus

Custodial Symmetry for Z coupling

July 16th, 2006

Kaustubh Agashe

Kaustubh Agashe

Agashe, Contino, Da Rold, and Pomarol recently realized that assigning top and bottom quarks to different representations of  SU(2)_L \times SU(2)_R can protect the coupling of the Z to the left-handed bottom quark from non-standard model corrections. Typically extra dimensional models of electroweak symmetry breaking with low mass scales for the Kaluza-Klein modes have corrections of the order of 20-40% while measurements from LEP and SLAC require less than a 0.25% deviation from the standard model prediction. The left-handed top and bottom quarks in their models are in the (2,2) representation rather than the (2,1) so there is a heavy top and an exotic quark to look for.

Negative S from AdS

June 12th, 2006

Veronica Sanz, photo by Johannes Hirn

Veronica Sanz, photo by Johannes Hirn

Hirn and Sanz have examined models of electroweak symmetry breaking in anti-de Sitter space via boundary conditions. They include additional bulk breaking of electroweak symmetry and find that they can change the spectrum of vector and axial vector resonances so as to make the S parameter negative and thus compatible with precision electroweak tests.


Linear Confinement in AdS

March 6th, 2006

the rho tragectory from Karch et. al.

the rho tragectory from Karch et. al.

A new paper by Karch, Katz, Son, and Stephanov attempts to modify the 5D AdS background that is used to model QCD in order to obtain the behaviour of a string state with large spin or excitation number.  They find that this can occur in a non-trivial dilaton background.


Runaway String “Vacua”

February 1st, 2006

Ken Intriligator

Ken Intriligator

A new paper by Intriligator and Seiberg points out that some recent string theory models of dynamical supersymmetry breaking do not actually break supersymmetry but have runaway “vacua”.  The vacua from flux compactifications and moduli stabilization that are under perturbative control all seem to break supersymmetry near the Planck scale, so it would be interesteing to know if there are any known string vacua that are rigorously stabilized and contain the MSSM with weak scale supersymmetry.

Warped Passages

January 22nd, 2006

Lisa Randall

Lisa Randall

Lisa Randall gave a HEFTI public lecture, based on her recent popular book“Warped Passages” at UC Davis on Jan 10.  While students got in free, the general public paid $7, and the 400 seat ballroom sold out, with about 100 people turned away. Many people were surprised that so many people would pay to hear about cutting edge physics. It seems to be further evidence that the public thinks physics is actually cool, provided that someone will bother to try to explain it in an accessable way.

Chiral Phase Transition

December 12th, 2005
shapeimage

QCD phase boundary from Braun and Gies

A new paper by Jens Braun and Holger Gies gives a nice picture of the chiral phase transition that links the finite temperature phase transition with the chiral phase transition that appears as the number of quark flavors is varied at zero temperature.  The idea is that in the chiral symmetric phase there is an infrared fixed point for the gauge coupling.  As the temperature or number of flavors in lowered, the fixed point coupling moves to stronger coupling.  Eventually the fixed point coupling is large enough that four quark operators become relevant (i.e have scaling dimensions less than four) and produce chiral symmetry breaking and destroy the infrared fixed point.  It would be nice if lattice gauge theorists who do Monte Carlo simulations would try to verify this picture.


LHC Olympics

December 1st, 2005

olympic rings

olympic rings

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is planned to start running in 2007.  In order to help theorists to prepare themselves, the LHC Olympics are  currently underway. This is a “competition” to analyze simulated data from different models of new physics.  The simulated collisions have been put through a Pretty Good Simulator (PGS) to simulate the results from a LHC detector such as ATLAS or CMS. (By the way, PGS was written by John Conway of UC Davis.)  The idea is to get particle theorists thinking about what real data from the LHC will look like.