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Strings 2022 is a theoretical physics conference primarily about gravity, black holes, and holography, which will be taking place next week between 18 and 23 July:
https://indico.cern.ch/event/1085701/
The name of the conference dates back to the early days of the conference when the topic of the conference was mostly about string theory. However, over the years, many physicists have abandoned string theory for other fields such as quantum field theory, quantum information science, condensed matter physics, scattering amplitudes, holography, gravity, and black hole physics, but the name nevertheless remained the same throughout the existence of the Strings conference.
It remains a little mysterious what function #1 has. Is this a test balloon for an $n$Lab entry, an attempt to start a discussion, or just a billboard to shout out a strong opinion to the world?
On its content:
That string theory is non-perturbatively not about strings was famously appreciated back in 1995, whence Duff 98 played with the term “The theory formerly known as Strings”.
This is directly analogous to how QCD is non-perturbatively not about quarks – and indeed, in many QCD conferences with focus on hadrodynamics, quarks are rarely mentioned. (In fact, this is more than just an analogy, as highlighted for instance in last year’s Strings conference by Klebanov 21 and Dubovsky 21).
Therefore it’s neither surprising nor out of order that, over 25 years after this insight, Strings-conferences focus on tools different from worldsheet perturbation theory.
What is surprising and somewhat ironic is that of all the vistas of non-perturbative string theory that Duff showcased in the last section of The World in Eleven Dimensions it is solely the one very last contribution in that book (holography, p. 492) which ends up utterly dominating the academic sociology of the field.
But holography is an instance of open/closed string duality on branes, and that’s very much what string theory is all about ever since it’s “second revolution” in the second half of the 1990s.
In conclusion, as with almost all debunking of string theory that one sees in the public domain, I am thinking: Yes, there is a world of opportunity to criticize the activity of string theorists, but that (insert common talking point here) is not the actual problem.
Urs Schreiber,
I fail to see how, for example, Edward Witten’s talk An Algebra of Observables for de Sitter Space, or Daniel Harlow’s A theory of the black hole interior, or Maxim Pospelov’s Dark matter identification efforts, or Amit Sever’s Line Operators in Chern-Simons-Matter Theories and Bosonization in Three Dimensions are string theory. If those topics are string theory, then we have redefined string theory away from the historical definition as “a theory of force and matter unification” to mean something more like “condensed matter physics + astrophysics + quantum field theory + quantum gravity”.
I see nothing wrong with doing research in condensed matter physics or astrophysics or quantum gravity or quantum field theory with the goal of eventually defining string theory using the knowledge gained from the research in these fields, but none of these topics are actually string theory.
What is surprising and somewhat ironic is that of all the vistas of non-perturbative string theory that Duff showcased in the last section of The World in Eleven Dimensions it is solely the one very last contribution in that book (holography, p. 492) which ends up utterly dominating the academic sociology of the field.
But holography is an instance of open/closed string duality on branes, and that’s very much what string theory is all about ever since it’s “second revolution” in the second half of the 1990s.
The nlab’s own article on holography states that holography is not merely “an instance of open/closed string duality on branes”, but rather a property concerning the partition and correlation functions of certain quantum field theories.
The fact that the vast majority of the string theory community has moved almost entirely into holography, and now quantum information science and quantum field theory, as indicated in this discussion in Strings 2021 between Vafa and Witten, is rather an indictment of the current state of the string theory program as the unified theory of all the forces and matter, regardless of whether one supports or opposes the notion of “string theory as the unified theory of all the forces and matter”. There is also this talk by Nima Arkani-Hamed at Strings 2021 which has a similar argument, that the string theory community is making a big mistake by pursuing the current path it’s taking right now.
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