Saturday, March 27, 2010

The origin of Sheldon?

I got a delivery from Amazon last week including From Eternity to Here by Sean Carroll - I enjoy his blog, and he gives a good lecture, so I thought I'd buy the book. I bought a few other books in the same order, so I haven't started reading it yet, but I'm looking forward to it.

I bought the book in spite of a particularly scathing review by Luboš Motl.  I had a look at Motl's other Amazon reviews. He really doesn't like Lee Smolin's The Trouble with Physics, but he does like Leonard Susskind's Black Hole War. I haven't read Black Hole War, but I've attempted a couple of other Susskinds. An Introduction to Black Holes defeated me. Don't be misled by the title; the tensor calculus starts on page one, and he doesn't say that it's tensors, he just assumes that the reader recognises them. In short, that book is aimed at readers with a better grounding in physics than I have (just a 19-year-old honours degree). On the other hand, Susskind's The Cosmic Landscape was superb. I read that and Smolin's The Trouble with Physics back-to-back last year, and I've been meaning to send Amazon reviews of both. I'd certainly give Smolin more than Motl's two stars, but all of this made me wonder "Who is this Motl guy?"

According to Wikipedia, Motl's a (former) string theorist who's left Harvard to return to his native Czech Republic where he writes a blog, in which he denies anthropogenic global warming, among other rants. He's also written a book (in French) commending the work of the Bogdanov brothers. I'll grant that Motl is better placed than I am to understand their work but I'm still convinced, as I wrote back in 2007, that it's nonsense. The most interesting snippet I've picked up on Motl, from an incoherent jumble of a blog, is that The Big Bang Theory's Sheldon was modelled on him. Actually, I should probably point to this clip; although it isn't just Sheldon, the views he espouses in it are Motl's.

While looking for links for this post I stumbled across this article, complete with comments by all the major players I've mentioned. I haven't finished reading it yet, but Motl is as tactful as ever.