Hi Urs,

You are not being obnoxious at all. I will concede your point about the

BV formalism having nothing to with gauge-theoretic limits of string

theories. However, I think working in the BV formalism did teach us a

great deal about the nature of the space of string theories, much of

which should be applicable to ordinary gauge theories. The fact that

one can talk coherently about connections, not on ordinary manifolds,

but on something as esoteric and abstract as the "space of physical

theories" - and can actually deform one theory in theory space into

another using these connections - is so extraordinary that there is

hardly any need for artificial hallucinogenic stimulants for a truly

mind-expanding experience! String field theory in the BV formalism is

very cool. Very cool indeed.

As for string theory in general, when I was still a fresh graduate I

remember Paul Aspinwall came to MIT to give a talk on his (and David

Morrison's) newly discovered "mirror manifolds" and started showing us

all these weird and wonderful pictures of domain walls and what-nots,

and I clearly remember thinking to myself "what the...?". I think that

that talk had to be the most complicated and utterly incomprehensible

thing I had ever seen or heard in my life up to that date. (Having said

that, things really never got better. I was usually clueless after most

talks - unless they just happened to be related to string field theory,

when I at least had some sort of fighting chance of guessing what was

going on :). I guess its no wonder I started to question the point of

it all even way back then. Perhaps as some kind of consolation, my

spidey instincts told me that, despite everything, string field theory

was the way string theory *had* to be done. And string theory was our

only hope after all, and Barton really was a nice supervisor. SFT was

not very well-known back then, but it is pleasing to see how any people

have seen the light since.

Coming back to the talk briefly, once I started losing track of what

Paul was talking about, my mind started to wander and I was reminded of

an amusing incident some years prior when I was doing an undergraduate

theoretical astrophysics project at Oxford under James Binney. Just

before I left home one Friday, I decided to explore some of the fun

software that was available on the department's unix system. One of the

programs was called "worm", and when I ran it, a little worm did indeed

started bouncing around the screen. The problem was that it also

started bouncing around other screens on the network, and I couldn't

stop it spreading! So I went home for the weekend. On Monday morning

Paul Aspinwall approached me, looking a bit tired, and told me that he

had spent the entire weekend trying to stop the program and cleaning up

the network! Paul is such a sweet guy, and I really felt sorry about

what I had done!

Anyway, to be very frank with you, I do not believe that string theory

can be the right answer. Although unifying the fundamental forces is

nothing to be taken lightly, string theory really strikes me as

overkill - it is just far too complex, and leaves far more (difficult)

questions unanswered than we had originally started with. It is not an

'elegant' universe at all. It is a bloody mess! The right answer should

be nice and neat, and people should be able to look at it in its pretty

little parcel and admire it for its manifest elegance and simplicity.

Indeed with its great excess of dimensions leading to the myriad of

possible compactifications and its innumerable vacua, string theory

simply no longer fits the bill as the unified theory describing our

universe (a theory of "everything" maybe, but not a theory specifically

of our universe). Yes, it has some of the most beautiful mathematics we

have ever seen, but it seems that as a collective whole we have all

become so caught up in this great communal exercise of intellectual

masturbation, with everyone trying to out-do everyone else with the

next magnificent mathematical exploit, that we have all lost true sight

of the original goal. Sure "Z Theory" is superb and great and a

remarkable feat of mathematics and all that, but what on earth is it

for?

When I go through the list of hep-th papers which appear each day, I

honestly do think to myself yeah, yeah, yeah... blah, blah, blah... But

I didn't feel like that ten or fifteen years ago when string theory

looked like it could really be something special. There are two many

string theorists now, all doing more or less the same kinds of things,

and my gut feeling is that they really are better off exploring other

more radical avenues (such as investment banking, for instance! ;)

Coming back to your points. Yes the same complaint can be made about

ordinary field theory in terms of its generality, but whereas a

two-loop calculation in field theory can be done in a few minutes on

the back of an envelope, a similar string theoretic calculation would

be a major research project requiring significant funding! (I don't

know about you, but I find d'Hoker and Phong's series of papers on two

loop calculations rather daunting to say the least). Of course things

are bound to get simpler with time, but that should still set off some

warning bells.

On a more fundamental note, I never could bring myself to believe in

quantum mechanics (and hence QFT and hence even SFT). Until someone

produces a convincing justification for the arbitrary imposition of

Dirac commutation relations, quantum mechanics will always remain a

bunch of mathematical trickery with no basis. Sure it works just great,

but that is only because its an effective theory derived from some more

complete underlying theory with a sound theoretical basis. Dirac

brackets, normal ordering, renormalisation etc etc - QFT is a dubious

patchwork of mathematical wizardry which no-one really understands or

believes!

I understand that you were once interested in Nelson's stochastic

formulation of quantum mechanics. I believe that that is where you will

find some of the answers really lie.

Best wishes,

Sabbir.