Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Why quantize gravity?

When I first read DNLee’s story, I mistakenly thought “ofek” is a four letter word, an internet slang for oh-what-the-fucken-heck. Ofek, then, is all I have to say about my recent grant proposals being declined, one after the other. Ah, scrape the word “recent” – the Swedish Research Council hasn’t funded any one of my project proposals since I moved to Sweden in 2009. So all I can do is to continue to write papers as what feels like the only person working on quantum gravity in Northern Europe. Most painfully, I have had to turn away many a skilled and enthusiastic student wanting to work on quantum gravity phenomenology.

To add insult to injury, the Swedish Research Council publicly lists the titles of the winning proposals. You win if your research contains either “nano” or “neuro”, promises a cure for cancer, green energy, or a combination of the above. The strategy is designed for a bad return on investment. Money goes where lots of people poke the always same questions. If many flies circle the same spot there must be shit to find, the thinking is, let’s throw money at it. Our condensed matter people have no funding issues.

As nations face economic distress and support for basic research dwindles, why would anybody want to work on quantum gravity. Srsly. This question keeps coming back to me; its recurrence time conspicuously coincides with the funding agencies’ call cycles. It factors into my reflection index that women, I read, are drawn to occupations that help others, also occupations where they can use their allegedly superior social and language skills. What’ wrong with me? Why quantize gravity if I could cure cancer instead? Or at least write proposals promising I will, superior languages skills and all.

Modern medicine wouldn’t exist without the technologies that have become possible by breakthroughs in physics. There wouldn’t be any nano or neuro without imaging and manipulating quantum things and without understanding atoms and nucleons. Without basic research in physics, there wouldn’t be CT scans, there wouldn’t be NMR, nuclear power, digital cameras, and there wouldn’t be optical fibers for endovenous laser treatment.

At this point in history we still build on the new ground discovered by physicists a century ago. But the only way we can continue improving our circumstances of living is to increase our understanding of the fundamental laws of nature. And at the very top of the list there’s the question what is space and time, and how can we manipulate quantum objects. In my mind, these questions are intimately related. In my mind, that’s the ground the technologies of the next centuries will be built upon. In my mind, that’s how my occupation contributes to society – not to this generation maybe, but to the coming ones. Quantum gravity, quantum information, and the foundations of quantum mechanics are what will keep medicine advancing when nano and neuro has peaked and busted. Which will happen, inevitably, sooner or later.

So why quantum gravity? Because we know our knowledge of nature is incomplete. There must be more to find than we have found so far.

The search for quantum gravity is often portrayed as a search for unification. All other interactions besides gravity are quantized, there’s no unifying framework and that’s what physicists are looking for. It’s an argument from aesthetics, and it’s an argument I don’t like. Yes, it is unaesthetic to have gravity stand apart, but the reason we look for a quantum theory of gravity is much stronger than that: We know that unquantized gravity is incomplete and it is inconsistent with quantum theory. It isn’t only that we don’t know how to quantize gravity and that bugs us, we actually know that the combination of theories we presently have does not describe space and time at the fundamental level.

The strongest evidence for this inconsistency are the occurrence of singularities in unquantized gravity and the black hole information problem. The singularities are a sign that the unquantized theory breaks down and is incomplete. The black hole information problem shows that combining unquantized gravity with quantized matter is inconsistent – the result of combining them is incompatible with quantum theory.

Most importantly, we know that quantum particles can exist in superposition states, they can be neither here nor there. We also know that all particles carry energy and all energy creates a gravitational field. We thus know that the gravitational field of a superposition must exist, but we don’t know what it is. If the electron goes through both the left and the right slit, what happens to its gravitational field? Infuriatingly, nobody knows.

Nobody knows isn’t to say that nobody has an answer. Everybody seems to have an answer, the flies are circling happily. So I’ve made it my job to find out how we can ever know, which leads me to the question how to experimentally test quantum gravity. Without finding observational evidence, quantum gravity should be taught in the math or philosophy departments, not in the physics departments.

The irony is that quantum gravity phenomenology is as safe an investment as it gets in science. We know the theory must exist. We know that the only way it can be scientific is to make contact to observation. Quantum gravity phenomenology will become reality as surely as volcanic ash will drift over Central Europe again.

Every time I go down this road of self-doubts, I come out at the same place, which is right here in my office with my notepad and the books and the piles of papers. Quantum gravity is the next level of fundamental laws. The theory has to be connected to experiment. Quantum gravity is my contribution to the future of our societies and to help advance life on planet Earth. And, so I hope, space exploration, eventually. Because I really want ask those aliens a few things.

Today I talked to a professional photographer. Between the apertures and external flash settings and my attempt to produce a smile, I learned that he too has to write proposals for project funding. In his case, that’s portraits taken by a method which, I gather, isn’t presently widely used and not very popular with the Swedes. It’s neither nano nor neuro and it wasn’t funded.

Money is time, and time flies, and so in the end the most annoying part is all the waste of time that I could have used better than searching for pretty adjectives to decorate my proposals. Your tax money at work. Neuro-gravity anybody? Nano is also a four-letter word.

83 comments:

Michael Gogins said...

I'm sorry to see you are ranting, but I am utterly sympathetic.

My personal feeling is that if a society will not pay for qualified people to be systematically curious, that society is in bad trouble. It is hiding from something. I wish I knew what that is. Any ideas?

I was VERY interested to see your hope for a future tie in with space exploration. Does this have to do with doing measurements and observations for quantum gravity in space, or with propulsion?

Igor Khavkine said...

Bee, would you count the quantum gravity group that recently blossomed in Nijmegen as part of Northern Europe?

Heikki Arponen said...

I left academia and went into finance (well, I'm still on may "way") for those exact reasons...

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Igor,

No, the Netherlands don't count. What I mean with "Northern Europe" is the Nordic countries (Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Denmark). It's just that I know if I use that expression, most people won't know what it means. There is Jan Ambjorn in Copenhagen of course, but besides him only string theorists come to my mind, and most of these do AdS/CFT these days. So I'll admit on exaggerating, but not by much. Best,

B.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Heikki,

Yes, and I know many who have done the same thing. Most of them because they were frustrated by how much attention you have to pay to politics and fashion trends to make your way. And if you pay attention to that, then you won't be able to work on what you're interested in anyway, and what's the point in this. Believe me, it's a thought familiar to me. Best,

B.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Michael,

I think it's fueled by two things. First, there's a trend towards trying to measure everything and anything, and the farther something moves into the future the more difficult it gets to quantify. This puts all long-term investments in a very difficult position that gets more difficult the more pressure there is to measure and quantify. Second, the increasing connectivity of our communities amplifies problems like herding, information cascades, and pluralistic ignorance. These are well-established issues that can arise and that we're not taking any measures to counteract, which basically leads to the mentioned overinvestment in trend areas. These issues have always existed of course, but they're much more problematic now when information travels in no time through global networks.

I don't think that society is deliberately hiding from something, it's just that individual people can neither see nor address the problem, which arises only in the interaction of many. It is a problem of system design that is neither acknowledged nor addressed. Best,

B.

Uncle Al said...

http://www.americanrhetoric.com/MovieSpeeches/moviespeechnetwork2.html
1976
Obadiah Stane, "Tony Stark was able to build this in a cave. With a box of scraps!"

Depression is anger without enthusiasm. Be enthusiastic. Reach for it where it is not. Take a long, lazy, warm bath; think of nothing, crack the nut.

http://www.nature.com/news/computer-science-the-learning-machines-1.14481
Do it the other way. Pour all gravitation theory into Google brain. What would be recognized?

Support evolution - shoot back. The worst you can do is succeed.

("pluralistic ignorance" Drink upstream of the herd.)

Igor Khavkine said...

Well, I always thought I was in Northern Europe when I was in The Netherlands. :-) But I guess these names don't matter very much, unless some funding agency has decided to officially appropriate this one.

Theophanes Raptis said...

It is no coincidence perhaps that Kip Thorne supports the creation of the 'Interstellar' movie where space travel becomes possible only after total economic collapse!

http://www.interstellar-movie.com

Perhaps reconsider those space-time translocations of yours? Make some noise!

vmarko said...

Hi Bee,

Ever considered moving to China?

Research in fundamental physics (and many other areas of fundamental science) are bound to migrate to BRIC countries. And they do take seriously long-term investments into fundamental science (long-term meaning several centuries until applications begin to emerge).

It's just a matter of time, really. :-)

Best, :-)
Marko

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

Hey, it could be worse. You could be supporting your family by working as a patent clerk while doing quantum gravity in your free time.

Mats Bergenhov said...


Hi Sabine
In previous articles you subscribe to superdeterminism and dismiss free will. But here you belive in superpositions! Have you got superdeterminism right?
Superdeterminism= no free will= no superpositions.
Indeterminism= free will= superpositions.
Best,
Mats

Giotis said...

Sabine you must be the only person in the world who doesn’t believe in Quantum mechanics at a fundamental level and yet she devoted her professional life in the experimental search of Quantum Gravity.

Phillip Helbig said...

"Well, I always thought I was in Northern Europe when I was in The Netherlands. :-)"

Where are you now Igor?

Certainly within the Nordic countries, "northern Europe" is taken to be synonymous with the Nordic countries, more or less. On the other hand, for some, it is north of the Alps, and I once heard a Swedish musician describe crossing the Kattegat as going to southern Europe, so it's a matter of perspective. :-)

In many respects, I would include the north of the Netherlands and the north of Germany in my personal "northern Europe". To some extent this corresponds to historically Lutheran areas, but whether the former caused the latter, or vice versa, or there is a common cause, or it is just a coincidence I don't know.

Zephir said...

/*.. if a society will not pay for qualified people to be systematically curious, that society is in bad trouble..*/

The irony is, the most pronounced subjects of quantum gravity are just the phenomena, which the mainstream physics ignores most obstinately for whole decades - i.e. the scalar waves, magnetic motors and MEGs, gravitational beams and antigravity drives. The problem of layman society (which is paying whole this fun) is, the curiousness of mainstream physicists is very limited to the subject of their own religion. Which is unfortunately completely and utterly useless with respect to the future progress of human society. This is the result of complete misunderstanding of the relation of quantum mechanics and general relativity for observable reality. In this regard the memo of Thomas Bearden may be worth of complete listening - as it defines the self-suicidal nature of mainstream physics community (which unfortunately Bee is solid member of) pregnantly youtube.com/watch?v=eNU3MLqyzPk

Thomas Bearden dedicated his life the actual research of quantum gravity phenomena, not just the illusion of mainstream physicists about it.

Zephir said...

/* If the electron goes through both the left and the right slit, what happens to its gravitational field? Infuriatingly, nobody knows */

The electron passes only through one of slits in a given moment - what interferes with both slits is the wake wave of vacuum, formed by the motion of electron in similar way, like the bow wave around boat at the river. youtube.com/watch?v=W9yWv5dqSKk (BTW the Couder experiments are here some time already, so that the physicists had enough of time to learn from it).

Zephir said...

/*.. I don't think that society is deliberately hiding from something..*/

It's your own ostrich policy, which is hiding before the reality. Your motivations for quantization of gravity are useless for society, while you're denying to see its actual consequences. It's pluralistic ignorance of mainstream physics community itself - just believe me. I can see it clearly and many other people apparently too.

For example, before some time we talked about massive photons and 2-spin component of EM field, which is responsible for quantization of gravity inside of photons. What did you actually learn from it? The problem of my interpretation is not factual but political - its acceptation would require to admit, that the physicists cannot see the forest for the woods.

Try to think about this for example: in recent interpretation the quantum entanglement is sorta worm hole between objects. I've nothing against it - but the entanglement is mostly observed between photons, which are believed to be massless. How the worm holes can be formed between massless objects? Apparently this interpretation of entanglement would require the massive photons of finite interaction length and life-time due to decoherence - or it couldn't work at all.

Zephir said...

During supernova explosions the substantial portion of stellar matter is radiated into energy. But it's not radiated into continuous wave, but it remains fragmented into myriads of photons.

Now the question is, why we should pay for research of alternative ways of gravity quantization. Aren't the notoriously known photons good enough for it?

The problem isn't, that we have no idea, how to quantize the gravity and we need more time and money for to realize it - but in the fact, the physicists are systematically overlooking the simplest and most trivial way, how to do it due to firmly established belief, that the photons aren't massive and they do transfer only momentum.

But this belief is based on behavior of hypothetical pure transverse light wave, not for photons, which are packets of EM wave. The Maxwell equations and Lorentz symmetry cannot apply to it.

kashyap vasavada said...

Hi Bee,
Sorry to read about your sad experience with funding agencies. I thought the situation in Europe was better than U.S. You are at a top university in Sweden. If there is any consolation at all, the situation in U.S. is worse. Once you go below top few univ. like Princeton, MIT, Harvard, Caltech etc., funding success in smaller univ. for a typical proposal drops rapidly to less than 10%. What is worse is that salary, promotion, tenure etc. depend on how much grant money a person brings in. Here also the words nano, neuro and cancer attract money!

Robert L. Oldershaw said...


k =[(8pi)(L^1-D)^n /c^4]G Tuv

The quantization is in the global S-T geometry of matter.

L. Edgar Otto said...

What is so hard about 10 Newtonian dimensions having deeper connections to 4 along the lines of Einstein? A coordinate system can also be independent of the geometry that describes it. So much published ignores or misrepresents existing mathematics these days that can solve parts of the problems different models in biases to sustain them that they have made for themselves. On the human scale it is counter productive for humanity that a careful solid thinker in hard work has to preach to the choir above her as well as the brighter than average masses who think they have done their homework.

Matti Pitkanen said...


Dear Sabine,

I can understand your feelings on basis of personal experiences as a person seriously trying to build unified view about what all this is but not able to use magic buzz words like "Superstring" and "AdS/CFT". It is a pity that our society is not able to appreciate the competence and passion of people like you.

Civilization needs a source of inspiration to survive, some great challenges to give meaning for the existence at collective level. Fundamental science has kept our civilisation alive but cannot continue to do so if only short term materialistic goals dictate the decisions.

DocG said...

Bee I just wanna say, and forgive me if this isn't the right time or place, that you are one helluva brilliant ----- writer. I hesitated there because I can't say scientist, because I'm not a scientist myself and can't judge. Well, let me put it another way: you have a brilliant mind. But you knew that already, so . .

What I am REALLY trying to say is that I find your blogs consistently well written and not only interesting, but absorbing, fascinating, whatever . . . and you are just tossing all this good stuff out there for free and now you're complaining about lack of funding, so . . . .

It seems to me you HAVE to write a book. What you are putting out there is truly superior popular science, in the best sense of that term, and I think it's time you did something about it.

So there!!!! Sue me.

Best,

DocG

Kimmo Rouvari said...

Actually DocG's suggestion about writing a book is brilliant. I would buy your book for sure. You have the excellent talent of writing science with clarity and good focus.

If you are not in the hype (nano-cancer-etc) field then the outcome is pretty obvious in moneywise. Same applies in life in general (80-20 rule kicks a**).

JimV said...

I think you could compile a good book from the essays you have posted here already. Please do so before all my nephews and nieces graduate so I can give copies to them as graduation presents. Currently I give copies of "The Big Bang" by Simon Singh. (With some $50-bill "bookmarks" taped inside the back cover.) (One nephew who is getting a Phd in biogenetics finally read the book recently and wrote to thank me for the money and said that if he had read the book as soon as he got it - for high school graduation - he might have majored in physics instead of biology. I told him that financially he had probably made the right choice, since I perceived the funding situation to be as you have described it here.)

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Mats,

The existence of superpositions is perfectly compatible with superdeterminism. What isn't compatible with superdeterminism is the "collapse" of the wavefunction. Best,

B.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Marko,

Sure I did. But I'm now a four-body problem, and I'm no longer looking at jobs outside of Europe. Best,

B.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

DocG, Kimmo, JimV,

I don't see how writing a book would solve any of my problems. Instead, it would cause me additional problems. Best,

B.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

kashyap,

The funding pool might be worse in the US, but the Americans have a much better sense for the necessity of risk taking than the Europeans. The Europeans talk the American talk (like eg the ERC pretends to support new and groundbreaking things) but they walk the European walk (they fund people who work on established research programs, period). Best,

B.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Giotis,

Well, it's a linguistic problem. For me quantum gravity is any theory that resolves the apparent tension between the quantum field theories of the standard model and general relativity. That doesn't mean that the theory of quantum gravity is actually a quantized version of gravity. Also, saying that I "don't believe in quantum mechanics on the fundamental level" isn't exactly right. I don't believe in the non-deterministic part of it. All the rest, Fock spaces, Hamiltonians, correlation functions, transition amplitudes and so on, is perfectly fine by me. Best,

B.

Zephir said...

/* to the question how to experimentally test quantum gravity.. */

You should have this question resolved first before dealing with quantum gravity theory, as the physics is observational science. Even Einstein applied it's relativity to observable phenomena (he actually avoided to talk about black holes, cosmology and similar stuff in this direction).

/* the irony is that quantum gravity phenomenology is as safe an investment as it gets in science. We know the theory must exist...*/

Only because you have no idea, what are you actually dealing with. The quantum gravity phenomenology is not a subject of some esoteric phenomena around Standard Model, which we haven't observed yet, because they're so tiny and subtle. It's the whole physics between quantum mechanics and relativity scales with no exception, i.e. the whole hyperdimensional reality at the human observer scale with its bacteria, caterpillars and bees. You have no chance to develop a meaningful coherent theory for it in a single shot, especially not with tools of silly low-dimensional theories, like the quantum mechanics and general relativity.

/* Our condensed matter people have no funding issues... */

If it's so, why not to turn the interest in quantum gravity phenomenology related to solid state physics? It's primary the interaction of scalar waves with superconductors and ferromagnet, i.e. Dirac fermions and magnetic domains. Just read the works of Eric Dollard, Konstantin Meyl or Martin Tajmar in this connection.

Phillip Helbig said...

"Even Einstein applied it's relativity to observable phenomena (he actually avoided to talk about black holes, cosmology and similar stuff in this direction)."

Einstein wrote several papers on cosmology. Apparently your understanding of the history of science is as bad as your understanding of science.

Zephir said...

If you will ask the money for "reconciliation of quantum mechanics and general gravity", you'll never get the money, as it's not a sane target. You should ask the grants for concrete proposals.

For example recently the indicia of dark matter ring around Sun and Earth has been found, but the complete theory isn't developed yet, because the relativistic phenomena interfere the results. So you can develop the relativistic model of flyby anomalies, which could help us to separate the GR phenomena from non-GR phenomena. This is particular task with its beginning and end, which can have some meaning for grant commission members.

In another words, when dealing with quantum gravity theory, you should learn how to quantize your effort and demands first. The era of big TOE development is over, particularly because the physicists managed to f*ck the cold fusion research for the whole decades - so now we have no money to pay for their wet dreams. In certain sense they just got, what they deserve with their ignorant approach.

Phillip Helbig said...

Zephir, why don't you write grant proposals and take, say, a 10% fee for your work. Since you know how to fund a successful proposal, you would soon be rich.

Or, write them for yourself, and hire people with the grant money to work for you.

In other words, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Zephir said...

/* ..In other words, the proof of the pudding is in the eating... */

Well, this is just the problem with acceptation of quantum gravity proposals. They cannot be consumed and applied.

If I could decide it, I would throw all money into cold fusion and magnetic motor research (in similar way, like the USA government engaged in Manhattan program) and leave the theorists to face this situation. These competent ones would find their role in such research soon and the rest would find a better job in another industry.

Zephir said...

/* .. any theory that resolves the apparent tension between the quantum field theories of the standard model and general relativity.. */

I hope it's clear for everybody, no rigorous theory can connect two sets of equations at the moment, when these two sets already produce a different solutions for the same set of input parameters (like the vacuum catastrophe). In particular, you cannot develop the working solution just with using of equations and postulates, which had led into such a discrepancy.

It's not job for classical formal rigor with its linear deterministic thread of derivations and substitutions, as we know it. Such a theory must be fuzzy, delocalized and emergent - and totally independent of quantum mechanics and general relativity postulates. You cannot use the QM and GR postulates during it - you should derive them ab initio during this. The usage of quantum mechanics and general relativity equations should be prohibited in derivation of quantum gravity model under punishment.

L. Edgar Otto said...

Zehpir,
Of course there is a general idea where in theory we do not explore blindly. We do not even need algebra to describe and understand it.

It is called determinants.

Most disputes is about how we picture them or interpret them. As they are intimate to logic this applies to social gravity and even some of the more mystical reasoning of sacred geometry.

Perhaps a metaphor can explain better why Sabine's thoughts are a sounder breakthrough as science:

I notice your yin-yang logo on a line repeated in black and white. As with a single one we can imagine it reversed and such a simple reflection or rotation seemingly complete for group operations gives us hints to design our experiments. Along with translation we try to use the logical implication dynamic or not to make measures that matches what we observe.

The questions evoked are deep ones we are asking in physics in our day such as - Is there a SUSY? or Can the LHC new geometric or other operations than those we know in nature?

As art I have used a Yin-Yang symbol like yours only in a plane (or if you will a brane) which consists of 24 of them as regions.

For example if we say your logo can be squared then XY can be YX as in the Feynman diagrams.

In this reduction where randomness or determinstic methods work just as well theory needs to find a deeper definition of dimensions like length.

The idea X and Y match in singularities or discontinuities as defects in spacetime and orderings needs clarification. Yes, we may even ask if a unified matching is unique or a unified theory even sensible.

In a more human friendly world the man who knows how will get a job, but the woman who knows why will be his boss.

Zephir said...

/* most disputes is about how we picture them or interpret them... */

At the water surface the phenomena appear differently, when being observed with water surface ripples, depending on the distance scale at which they're observed. At the centimeter scale the spreading of capillary waves remains independent of background in similar way, like the spreading of light in relativity. You can therefore derive most of relativistic phenomena with capillary waves just under the condition, the time and distance intervals will be measured with these ripples as well.

At the somewhat smaller (and much larger) distance scale the spreading of surface ripples becomes heavily blurred with underwater Brownian noise, which has character of subtle foamy density fluctuations under such a situation. The surface area and effective density of water surface is proportional to energy density analogically to Schroedinger equation of quantum mechanics. Thanks to Couder/Fort we already have many analogies of quantum phenomena (double slit experiment, tunneling, orbitals and Zeeman effect).

So when the trivial water surface can model both relativity, both quantum mechanics at few centimeter scale, what prohibits us to model it numerically and expand these models to higher dimensions with using of foam concept? From perspective of transverse waves there is nothing more to understand: our Universe appears like the giant particle environment observed with its own transverse waves. We should call it an aether with respect to scientific priority of this concept, but we can choose the whatever else name you want, if it could decrease the feeling of guilt for the ignorance of this model in the past. It's just emergent, thermodynamical Boltzmann gas observed with Boltzmann brain via its transverse waves.

Of course, the water surface is richer environment due to duality of surface and longitudinal waves. It's not system of transverse waves only, the longitudinal waves do apply here as well. And just the longitudinal wave physics is the most important from practical perspective. And many of them can be illustrated and understood with water surface analogies as well. Therefore the trivial water surface analogy has a predicative - not just explanatory power.

The problem is, mainstream physicists are in deep sh*t and nobody wants to make the first step in this direction and to risk his carrier. Particularly because the physicists learned to express their ideas in strictly formal language and the emergent hyperdimensional models aren't very opened to this approach. Actually they're just pointing to the limits of deterministic approach, which the mainstream physicists are so proud of and in Czech we have a proverb: "Carps never empty their own pond". The problem of introducing of new theories is not just about proposal of solution, but about the telling the inconvenient fact, that the existing jobs of many other (hardly working) people have no perspective.

The problem therefore isn't the lack of insight, but with lack of ways, how to feed and occupy the existing theorists with this insight. For contemporary deterministically thinking theorists the aether model is as void and clueless, as the vacuum for us. That is to say, the theorists may sit bellow waterfall, but until they don't find a way, how to describe it mathematically, then this waterfall simply doesn't exist for them. They cannot publish about it and make money with it for their beloved children with using of their tediously gained education. So we have some situation here and we should try to solve it at the socio-political level.

L. Edgar Otto said...

Zephir,
your last comment reads well as a civil conversation.
The herbivors in configuration space never really makes the other extinct or this is always the case
In dealing with absolutes this is a choice of sorts and a few minor principles are needed one of which you seem to be trying to say.
I leave the dialog now and quotes from the Heraclitean Author of the Magus:
"Of what do you drink, the water or the wave? " and
"What where they to do in freedom after God loaded the dice and walked away? "

Uncle Al said...

"the Americans have a much better sense for the necessity of risk taking than the Europeans" Pandora's box was not quite emptied. One tiny entity remained, crushed and bloodied in a corner. Both management and government can be perfectly incompetent. That extends to not being perfectly incompetent. It's an important corner! Don't only assault the armor. Slip through at the seams.

A reformulation of gravitation consistent with quantization is a star drive recipe. Though initially acting at nanoscale, it can generalize to macroscopic application. First, Ansätze must be constructed orthogonal to rich but empirically inert existing theory.

Thomas Larsson said...

Bee, I can understand your frustration, since I was in a similar situation 20 years ago. Ever considered getting a real job before it's too late? A PhD in theoretical physics is probably neutral for a non-academic employer, but a postdoc and especially a professorship would probably be considered as a negative merit by most employers.

CIP, I have neither really done QG nor worked as a patent clerk, but does constructing quantum representations of the diffeomorphism algebra while working with servo motors count? At least I published both by CMP papers as an amateur.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Thomas: Sure, even applied for some when things looked particularly dim, but then funding came around. I decided, more or less, to hold on until I'm 40, which is still some years in the future. Honestly, I'm not greatly saddened by the thought of leaving academia. As much as I like my research, as much do I dislike the dynamics of academia (or lack thereof).

Plato Hagel said...

You mentioned Nano before and your thoughts here.....does fit well with the idea of powers of ten. This, with regard to examine fundamentals and why governments are supportive of this with regards to industry and a reawakening within those industries for product development.

You must must look at the consensus of space time as a emergent product and I can list those if you like not only from Witten, but from Maldcena and Susskind as we'll.

Plato Hagel said...

Uncle last comment I take notice of now and to say that what he refers too, is right from bottom up approach and a organizing principal in my view. The very idea of forcing perspective back to micros of beginnings has to be continued in order to find fundamentals so you have to choose model that forces your thinking back to the very beginning of any emergent product?

Plato Hagel said...

The cross pollination of your area would help greatly in industry, polymerization as a gathering force with regard to any particulates......you see, biological function, as an extension of mind:p)

Mats Bergenhov said...


Sabine

Are you sure? As I see it the superposition would break the causality chain!

Best Mats

Zephir said...

/*...I'm not greatly saddened by the thought of leaving academia..*/

This would be really waste of your talent, knowledge and effort. Unfortunately you're like the rare orchid at the Alpine meadows under global warming situation. You should learn how to take care of you and migrate - of you'll die out. I'm pretty sure, just after few years the quantum gravity would become a damn hype in connection with "new physics", which I'm talking about here. The only other option is global nuclear war for the rest of resources. The contemporary energetic crisis is nothing else but the consequence of ignorance of physicists. Everyone of you should keep it on mind in an effort to avoid this scenario. What prohibits you to study the phenomena like these ones? After all, it's quantization of gravity like any other - but a potentially useful one. The black hole horizons will wait for you.

Zephir said...

/* Our condensed matter people have no funding issues... */

This is an example, how you can do quantum gravity research in the realm of solid state physics. The "breakthrough propulsion" would sound definitely better, than the "entropy of black hole vacuum" for grant agencies. And this physics is testable in addition.

Uncle Al said...

Sigh. Hesiod, ©700 BC, Works and Days, lines 96–99. One despairs fools masquerading as idiots.

N said...

How sad. While Milner is pouring money on corifees.

Giotis said...

Hi Sabine,

You say:


"For me quantum gravity is any theory that resolves the apparent tension between the quantum field theories of the standard model and general relativity."

Then this contradicts your statement that you feel you are the only person working on QG in Northern Europe.

Don't you think that String theory is a candidate theory for resolving this apparent tension?


That was quite a statement BTW, I hope Thorlacious from Nordita haven't read this:-)

Arun said...

Dear Bee,

Can we help?

Zephir said...

/* without finding observational evidence, quantum gravity should be taught in the math or philosophy departments.. */

It's not just the requirement of falsifiability, which should be the corner criterion of development of scientific theories. The occupation principle in physics strongly favors all insights and models, which provide the job and grants for another scientists. Clearly speaking, the more jobs you'll provide for experimentalists, the more grant agencies will love you and your proposals.

Of course, if you insist on the stance, that you as a woman are drawn to occupations that help others, you shouldn't be surprised with consequences. Why do you think, the cold fusion is ignored as a single man with all physicists? Because it competes the jobs in many other areas of research of energy production/conversion/transport/storage - that's the whole problem.

Phillip Helbig said...

"Can we help?"

Help work on quantum gravity? Sure. Or did you mean something else?

quantumgravity is cool! said...

Hi,

You are certainly not the only one doing quantum gravity in the Northern Europe. I also study quantum gravity, although just as a hobby (I am a maths teacher by profession). Nevertheless, I even get sometimes my papers published in well-established journals. (PRD, etc.) So you certainly do not have to be in the academia to do research in quantum gravity!

Phillip Helbig said...

Dear "quantumgravity is cool!", can you send me an email. You can find the address by following links in the comment before yours.

Captain InterStellar said...

Hi Bee,

It's not the first time the people with powers to be lack foresight so if at first you don't suceed persevere.

As far as space exploration is concerned, if someone can contribute something useful towards Gravity Control Propulsion to replace chemical rockets that would kickstart space exploration in ernest.

Another option is to leave academia, do another job that you like and continue the research you like doing in your spare time.

Cheers, Paul.


Kimmo Rouvari said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kimmo Rouvari said...

@Captain InterStellar Doing research on one's spare time is brutal :-) Especially when you have a family with small children.

L. Edgar Otto said...

Kimmo,
I reconsidered your experiments in the light of this QM Phenomenology debate. See Science Daily today on magnetic amplification extending local
Effects through space and the article on a return to analogue computers by magnetic effects similiar for photon curves in a plane. But really, guys, the depth of this superdeterministic Phenomenology is ill served by science
speculation on warp drive as we imagine it. I do not think perturbation for nonlinear reduction is a barrier to useful new technologies unless it is so for our understanding of this approach on the level presented in this blog. But you need some serious equipment for your efffect. I see articles lately where economic difficulties retards progress in creativity and we are not always aware of it beneath a certain threshold of comfort. An idea even on arXiv linked from a commenter here as suggested research applied to the universe as a whole is neither original and far too simplistic. It is rewarding to discover something new or think we have. But it is far more rewarding to know individually or together we are equal to the task as humans. But I praise your enthusiasm for science. I hope we never lose that.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Mats,

I have no clue what you mean with 'causality chain'.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Giotis,

Well, read my reply to Igor above (comment #4). String theorists come to mind, but they're basically all working on AdS/CFT (incl Larus, who I am very sure doesn't read my blog). Best,

B.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Dear Arun,

Thanks for the offer, but nothing comes to mind. You're all helping just by being here and letting me know that what I do isn't entirely uninteresting :)

Mats Bergenhov said...


Sabine

Pardon my swedish- english, it should be causal chain.

Best Mats

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Mats,

I still don't know what you mean or what this has to do with superdeterminism. Causality depends on the metric structure of space-time.

Kimmo Rouvari said...

@L. Edgar Otto
As usually, you are such a word artist that I quite didn't understand everything you said :-) But I take your text with positive spin.

Regarding my experiments, I think that there is something cooking at Fermilab related to my work, most likely antimatter experiment. I have got recently plenty of traffic from Fermilab. Whatever they are doing with my papers, it's due to Juno's flyby anomaly prediction of mine (1.09 mm/s at perigee) and mr. Anderson is aware of the prediction. Most likely he has informed Fermilab about my Juno prediction.

Shantanu said...

Hi Bee,
I somewhat surprised and shocked to learn that in Scandinavia also, its hard to get funding unless you work on trendy topics. kashyapa, I also disagree with you
about funding situation in US (in gravity). Almost all grant funding in gravity in USA is either for string theory or loop quantum gravity or calculating gravitational wave signal from binary black hole/binary neutron star. As long as you working in these 3 areas in USA you should be fine. There is almost no funding for gravity if you don't work on one of the above 3 topics.

In fact there is more diversity in gravitation research from Brazil, Mexico, India, China , etc as vmarko mentioned.

Mats Bergenhov said...


Sabine

Determinism means that something follows the laws of cause and effect. A superposition doesn´t.

Best

qsa said...

Sabine

Could be that your research is well known by now and it has run out of steam. People are judgmental as you know. You have even refused to look at my website and you deleted the link because you did not want to "advertise" it. My website is purely informational and there is NOTHING in it that is worth advertising. Just an example.

Mats Bergenhov said...


Sabine

What I mean is that in superdeterminism there is only one causal chain(if the multiverse theory is true it just means that the causal chain is bigger not that there are many causal chains). But for a particle to be in a superposition it must have the ability to jump between causal chains!

Hope this clarify what i mean. Best

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Mats,

The more you write, the less you are making sense. A superposition is a state in the Hilbert space like any other state. In fact, you can just change the basis and then it's no longer a superposition. It evolves unitary and causally like everything else. The existence of superpositions is perfectly compatible with superdeterminism. Best,

B.

vmarko said...

Mats,

I think you are mixing up the measurement problem of QM with the Schroedinger's Cat problem of QM.

The former states that measurements represent nonunitary evolution of a quantum system, which makes QM nondeterministic.

The latter states that there is a preferred basis in the orbital part of the Hilbert space, and that we never observe superpositions of that basis.

These are two separate problems, and the existence of superpositions has nothing whatsoever to do with the lack of determinism.

HTH, :-)
Marko

Mats Bergenhov said...

Sabine and vmarko,

Thanks for your answers. I am not a scientist(as you may have noticed)but I´m a monist:I don´t believe there are any separat parts i.e. no separability or locality.That is why I question the superposition as it strikes me as a "part" that own some independence.If some part of the universe own independence determinism fails.Would you agree?And if you don´t agree is it because you have a pluralistic view of the world? I believe that monism is the basis for determinism.

Best

vmarko said...

Mats,

Regarding monism and pluralism --- no offence, but those terms are too archaic and too vague to be useful for physics. AFAIK, there are no physicists who even think (let alone speak) about nature in those terms.

Regarding superpositions, they are not a property of nature itself, but rather a property of how we look at nature. If you change your point of view (i.e. change the "frame of reference", or technically rotate the coordinate system in the Hilbert space), superposition comes in or goes away, for the same physical system.

It's like the theory of relativity --- stuff strongly depends on how you look at it.

And of course, determinism is an entirely separate issue, and has nothing to do with all this. :-)

HTH, :-)
Marko

Karén Chaltikian said...

Sabine,
As someone who did leave physics for finance, but maintained strong interest and continued following the developments in a few areas of interest, I can fully sympathize with your feelings, but I believe the thrust of your efforts to connect the theoretical search for quantum gravity with some observable phenomenology is extremely important, and i would like to encourage you to persevere through this difficult period. Sadly, i am not rich enough yet to provide the material encouragement :) I mention that because, in particular, at least at Stanford the efforts of the theory group working on the quantum gravity are partially supported by the Kavli foundation (through creation of the ITP there) - and it may be worth your while to contact them. There may be others of the like mind.. It seems like government funding for the fundamental research will not return to the cold war level unless we have another cold war, but there is a new generation of philantropists out there that at least partially are trying to fill the void.
I also believe the present days the idea of a book is not a bad one at all. Especially, if it is written in the catchy and provocative style, yet precise where it comes to actual scientific content - that is, exactly how your write this blog, and why I am always looking forward to each next post. You will have a lot more fun writing it than the proposals, while it may bring more money eventually. I am pretty sure there are plenty of people like me, who will buy your book on a dime. New times, new methods I guess ... Sean Carroll, Brian Greene,Max Tegmark, the list is pretty long, they might be onto something...

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Karen,

Thanks for your kind words of encouragement. Don't misunderstand me, I quite like the idea of writing a book, I just don't see how it will improve my situation. I know some number of people who have written moderately successful pop sci books and you can't live from that. Instead, it will at this time take away time from other things, things that might actually pay my rent. Best,

B.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Mats,

I sympathize with monism, but Marko is right. You have a misunderstanding of what a superposition is. As I said above, what is and what isn't a superposition is a matter of definition. In contrast to entanglement you can make it go away just by changing the basis. Best,

B.

Mats Bergenhov said...


vmarko,

Great answer!

Helped a lot to see it from a physicists view.

Best, Mats

L. Edgar Otto said...

A single photon can excite a pluralitiy of molecules (cells?)
And the molecules can exchange single photons for a QM only collective effect (see Nordita fb post 01/13/14).
A photon larger than an electron is adsorbed by no particular one its extent covered.
Where does the superposition go if in a unified higher theory with probability sign changes in Entanglement and superposition like time or space as in SR are absolute?
(sorry if my words or thoughts are not clear here) But in a superdetermined would my questions make sense so are solved on a higher level of theory and in biology mechanisms of photosynthesis Nature has already done for us an elaborate experiment?

streamfortyseven said...

Have you ever considered doing something with Kickstarter to fund your research? Or Indiegogo, or some site like that?

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

streamfortyseven,

Yes, I have considered it, and in fact we are working on some crowdfunding for our institute (not for my research though). But look, I would be surprised if the amount of money we can raise in the best case would pay my salary for more than two weeks. It's not that I want to brag about my income (though the Swedes pay me well), it's just that science crowdfunding is in the best case an option for small projects with costs of the order some thousand dollars maximum. That misses my mark by at least a factor 1000. Best,

B.

Phillip Helbig said...

"But look, I would be surprised if the amount of money we can raise in the best case would pay my salary for more than two weeks. It's not that I want to brag about my income (though the Swedes pay me well), it's just that science crowdfunding is in the best case an option for small projects with costs of the order some thousand dollars maximum. That misses my mark by at least a factor 1000."

So you earn a few million dollars in two weeks?

Even if you meant the whole time of a typical postdoc, that is still less than one million.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Phillip,

Some million Euro is what it takes to fund a small group (3-5 people) for a couple of years (3-5 years). That's the minimum it takes to do real research on that topic. About half of the money vanishes in taxes and overhead, add the numbers. Best,

B.