Why String Theory?

Breathless press reports notwithstanding, string theory is very far from being dead. If you’re interested in what it is and what’s going on within the field, I can recommend a new website called Why String Theory? (And of course, accompanying twitter feed @WhyStringTheory.) It was set up by Oxford undergraduates Charlotte Mason and Edward Hughes, working under Joseph Conlon. It’s a very engaging and professional-looking site, featuring a great deal of explanatory material.

Developing pedagogical sites like this is a great project for undergrads; the only looming issue is keeping the site going once the students move on to bigger and better things. Hopefully this one is kept up — I think an initial surge of interest has already been taxing the poor web server.

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53 Responses to Why String Theory?

  1. Sean Carroll says:

    After the post on gender bias, I wanted to get something up that wouldn’t cause any controversy.

  2. Filip says:

    This is nice. It will be very interesting to read it (especially after some critics about the String theory I read in [1]). Thanks

    [1] http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/

  3. martenvandijk says:

    Gender plays a role in string theory: by definition there is not much in string theory as it hardly covers anything.

  4. Sili says:

    String Theory is a conspiracy to get more women into physics by making them think it’s all about knitting.

  5. meh says:

    Why don’t we have a discussion about when it’s appropriate for a woman to breastfeed her baby in public. I’m sure that’ll be a nice respectful & and rational discussion. 😀

  6. Dilaton says:

    “After the post on gender bias, I wanted to get something up that wouldn’t cause any controversy”

    Then you should rather not have written this post either :-(…

    To be sure, I like the site announced in this CV article a lot of course 😛 !

    But writing the keyword “string theory” or anything related to it on a publicly accessible site just turns the corresponding comment section into a horrible hell of non constructive flame wars, etc :-(

    … trying to run away and hide now, it will certainly happpen very soon here too …

  7. AI says:

    Why are string theorists so keen on selling empty hype to laymen?

    If those laymen are interested in physics there is plenty of other interesting physics for them to learn, physics that could actually be useful to them cause it deals with real world.

  8. Mark Weitzman says:

    So far a site where I can’t find a single equation – not very promising

  9. @Filip, Dilaton: thanks!

    @AI: of course there is much other interesting physics beside string theory. The site is for those members of the public who would like to find out about string theory – a research area after all funded by public money.

    @Mark: by design. If you want string theory with equations, the most accessible text is Zwiebach’s book.

  10. A Boy Scout says:

    Why String Theory?
    Why Knot?

  11. Dilaton says:


    @AI just delivered the proof that my prediction of flame wars and very noncostructive comments wherever somebody dares to mention a certain s-word is right :-(.

    A just say to people who hate, dislike ST, etc just DONT CLICK such sites and move on to something else you enjoy better, but leave people who are intererested in it and want to learn about it in peace ok…? Why the hell cant you never just mind your own business and let other people do what they like ?!

    Duh sorry but I had to say this …

    Hi @Joseph Conlon 😀
    Yep, this site is a lot of fun to read. Even though I already know a tiny little bit from Lenny Susskind’s lectures, Lumo, and started the corresponding demystified book, I often just browse through it because this new site is so cute and reading it makes me happy :-).
    The only thing I’m not sure if I like it is the link to a not particularly ST friendly blog; its owner will certainly not appreciate your new nice site :-/. But then again I think you are well aware of this since you have written that the links are choosen to have some rants too … LOL 😀

  12. Mitchell Porter says:

    Joseph Conlon, I’m sorry to say that I like string theory but I don’t like the site. I have trouble identifying the problem: too bland? too humble? too dumbed-down? It’s like a science project made by a talented (but not ultra-talented) high-schooler. The content is at the level of what you can already find in Wikipedia.

  13. Dilaton says:

    Nah Mitchell c’mon … 😉

    You are not a layman so it is not for you anyway … 😛

  14. James Gallagher says:

    Why String theory?

    In the end, because unfortunately Einstein over-impressed on everyone the greatness of Riemmanian Geometry by his tortuous development of the beautiful mathematical theory of GR.

    Yes the Great man developed a beautiful approximation to Nature using it, but for fuck’s sake, wake up people, these continuous geometry methods are surely the wrong way to go.

    Go back to what we are sure of, the discovery of probability amplitudes and their evolution equations (Heisenberg and Schrodinger co-discovered this, Heisenberg in the form of a Matrix of atomic transition probabilities/intensities, Schrodinger in the form of an elegant wave equation (although neither realized at the time that they were describing probability amplitudes))

    In fact, Heisenberg’s original idea that everything must be described by what we can observe, can now be seen more accurately to require that everything is described by a probability amplitude – for it is the probabilities that we observe (eg intensities of lines in atomic transitions).

  15. Brian Too says:

    So disappointed. I expected to see material concerning G-strings. Instead I find only coverage of the A through F-strings!

    1 x 10^500 possible solutions and you can’t give me G-strings? C’mon!

  16. Roger says:

    Lots of hype. Slick web site. No substance. Just what we would expect from proponents of string theory.

  17. Dilaton says:

    @Sean Carroll Why in the world have you posted this?

    Now I already have a second data point confirming my prediction of flame wars and nonconstructive comments.
    The excess will soon grow strong enough (5 sigma and more) such that I can claim discovery of a complete contamination of this comment section by trolls and sourballs, which makes it unreadable for people who come here just to learn interesting things :-(

    Talking about or mentioning ST on publicly available sites, such as CV for example, is no good and should really be avoided !

  18. James Gallagher says:


    you need to chillax

  19. Mark Weitzman says:

    @Conlon – I own many string theory books including those by Green,Schwartz, Witten, Polchinski, Ziewbach, Becker,Becker, Schwartz – my point was so many people think string theory is all hype or imaginary – at least show some of the founding equations to give it some credibility. Compare with the http://www.superstringtheory.com web site which has some pages with equations and advanced analysis.

  20. vince says:

    >> show some of the founding equations to give it some credibility

    equations = credibility

    pages with equations = good pages

  21. Ashlie says:

    I can’t believe the amount of stupid comments on this site. God forbid any intelligent conversation happens. I’m very disappointed.

  22. martenvandijk says:

    @ Ashlie

    Do well and don’t look upwards.

  23. Peter Woit says:

    I agree with Sean that this is a great project for undergrads, at least for those planning a career in advertising…

  24. Dilaton says:

    @Peter Woit,

    It is you and your fans who prohibit any serious and intelligent discussion on physics sites intended to maintain constructive conversations from which everybody can learn something.

    So may I kindly ask you to stop popping up everyplace where somebody dares to mention ST, BSM physics, or fundamental physics in a broader sense and spoiling the corresponding comment sections ? You are nether in the slightest interested in nor competent to talk about such topics.

    On your blog and in your books you can rant about whatever you want and insult whoever want, but the world absolutely does not need you constantly poisoning the whole physics blogosphere outside your site (!) with your scornfulness and destructive attitudes.

    I know making research you dont like completely disappear by trying to be omnipresent in popular media of any kind (and probably at influential real world positions too …?) to negatively influence science and spread dishonest lies is your “raison d’etre”.

    Just get yourself a live, put your long nose into your business, and do something constructive !

    (From Prof. Strassler’s “crocodile’s tears” comment remember that any response to me containing the term “character assassination” would impress nobody, just in case …)

  25. Roger says:

    @Dilaton: You are the one who is posting insults here.