Monday, February 25, 2008

String theory and taxes

Via Peter Woit, an interesting review of Lee Smolin's The Trouble With Physics, in the Times Literary Supplement. Excerpt:

It is difficult for the non-specialist to come to an opinion about the merits of differing approaches to resolving the outstanding problems in theoretical physics, but that should not deter readers - it is difficult for theoretical physicists to decide themselves. One of the most attractive features of The Trouble with Physics are Smolin's descriptions of what it is like to do theoretical physics. His encounters with physicists who have other ideas give an inkling of the excitement of new insights; his decisions about which avenues he should pursue give an indication of the difficulties in being confronted with an intellectual choice that could determine the future course of your career. He compares working in string theory to "doing your income tax every day, all day, for a week, and still not getting the calculations to add up consistently".
As a rhetorical swipe, the tax analogy is a pretty good one; it's probably encouraged a few physics grad students to do something other than string theory. My review of Smolin's book is here.

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