GRG 11

Report on the 11th General Relativity and Gravitation Conference

Stockholm, Sweden July 6-12,1986

In 1985 , on a certain early morning in August, August Strindberg, in his little apartment on the 5th floor of the Blue Tower at the far end of Drotninggatan in Stockholm, Sweden , arose from his bed a few hours earlier than was his custom. He applied the extra time to measurements of the Cosmological Constant . Readings taken from thermometers sticking up from the mound of marmalade filling his bathtub were put into his journals. It was in this way that he established that the value of the Cosmological Constant is epsilon, give or take a factor of 10 to the minus 13. The data was stored away in a desk drawer, pending delivery the following summer at the 11th conference of the General Relativity and Gravitation Society.

His work terminated, August Strindberg limped across the room and looked out the window towards the river. On the many rivers interlacing fair Stockholm, swarthy Vikings on longships and pirogues lay aside broadaxes and swords, to carouse about the decks consuming great quantities of mead and ale.

Later that afternoon he walked to the Centraal subway station. On his way through its darkened corridors, ( or gangtunnels as they are called there) , Strindberg stumbled over the huddled body of an 80-year old woman, of mischievous smile and draped in a black shawl. At the time he ran into her, she was playing the Blue Danube waltz on her clarinet from a magic book.

Arriving at his destination he climbed a steep hill to the restaurant located in the Mossebacke Gardens. Here, surrounded by a panorama of steeples, towers and rooves , Strindberg spent the rest of the day working on his novel: "The Red Room".

On a sunny day in August of 1986 Sonya Kovalevskaya , Sweden's greatest mathematician emeritus, sat on the terrace of the Red Room, proletarian restaurant and all-night taxicab rendezvous, waiting for a bacon and cheese omelette. To pass the time she set about calculating the length of time required to compute the number of Swedish meatballs needed to completely fill the Blue Room of Stockholm's Town Hall. This problem had been proposed to her by the City Council but she believed that the suggested fee, 7,000 kroner, would not be enough. Sonya Kovalewski was a Russian emigré and a nihilist. The Red Room was Democratic Socialist.

Later that afternoon , in the gangtunnel of the Centraal subway station, a starched, wrinkleless city official interrupted the glad music-making of the withered 80- year-old clarinet player. A mass of wrinkles, she was draped in a black shawl and flashed a mischievous smile. The official informed her in a kindly baritone voice modulated by years of accumulated deference, that the City of Stockholm was extending an invitation to her to an official banquet that evening in the Blue Room of the Rathus. The entree would be Swedish meatballs ;lots of them. The guest-list included August Strindberg, playwright; Sonya Kovalevskaya and Magnus-Gosta Mittag-Loeffler, mathematicians; the munitions magnate Alfred Bernhard Nobel; and the scientists from the GRG11. It was rumored also that Albert Einstein himself, suitably disguised, might be putting in an appearance. She merited this distinction through having been chosen by the Royal Swedish Academy and the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize Committee, to receive the All-Scandinavia "Great-Grandmother of the Century Award". In fluent Old Icelandic she replied that she would be honored to attend.

Above the cries of tourists, street urchins and drunks filling the streets of the Old City rose the spirited warblings of the bird-shit on the statue of Gustavus V. In the depths of the river, near the place where chicken bones, lettuce, apple cores and other refuse from the floating restaurants intersected the irregular tilings of the waterwaves, swordfish and carp pursued futile arguments for and against the hypothesis that space -time really has 105 dimensions.

The gathering at the Folketshus was talking about little else besides the activities of the Bulgarian crank, Casimir Marinoff. The latest news was that the Swedish border patrols continued to maintain a critical distance between him and the GRG11. Marinoff , who is chronically void of funds, had been detained at the border for over a week , ever since Dr. Lorentz, the conference director, refused to grant him a stipend. It was also rumored privately that a certain, ( unnamed) famous physicist was angry with Marinoff for failing to replace some defective parts in the perpetual motion machine he sold him in the 60's. While he drafted an appeal to the crown, Marinoff was being installed in a centrally-heated warehouse in Helsingborg. The Swedish government was showing itself more than willing to give him room and board to see that justice was done. It was certain that the last word on this matter had yet to be heard .

Early morning, July 7, 1986. The immensely distinguished, incredibly honored, transcendentally dignified, disgustingly overqualified and horribly learned 11th General Relativity and Gravitation Conference was officially opened by formal preambles, arrogant apologetics and outlandish claims. When one considers the sheer extent of the chaos of last minute preparations. combined with the lackadaisical pace of on-going bureaucratic ramifications , this was no mean achievement.

The first lecture of the first morning session was delivered in the baggy cryptlike auditorium on the second floor of the Folketshus (The House of the People, from whose sanctified vaults Social Democracy's messages of eternal salvation emanate in an endless stream). The lecturer was a prize-winning, frequency modulated astrophysicist, Hadron Beta is the elder of the two protons in the nucleus of the helium atom stored in a tank in the cryogenic laboratory of the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Wroclaw, Poland. Beta is without a doubt the world's leading living authority on the physics of minute perturbations at the extreme edge of the knowable universe. The magnitude of his eminence can be judged from the fact that less than half of his audience was asleep. To the astonishment of his listeners, Hadron Beta translated the radio spectrum of a 2 billion year old cosmology lecture emanating from the pulsar system Mercurochrome VII. As the ideas in this lecture are considerably in advance of our own, one can only begin to imagine the advanced state of science on Mercurochrome VII today. Provided it still exists.

Beta's lecture informed the physics community on planet Earth that New Inflationary Scenarios are two billion years old. All contemporary theories of cosmic inflation invoke a mechanism for freezing the Big Bang so that certain hypothetical variables which no one needs anyway come out with the right values. To quote :

" Since the Big Bang is too simplistic and explains nothing, our cosmologists have introduced inflationary modifications with lots of technical complexities that explain nothing. To paraphrase: after the Big Bang came the Big Chill, followed by the Big Bubble. Then, to preserve the Big Picture, the Big Bosons disintegrated. "New Inflation" is Big right now, builds Big Reputations and raises Big Money. I think it is fair to say that its' proponents are in for a Big Surprise. In this universe, if you don't think big, you're nowhere.

"The fundamental theorem of the theory of inflation theories is that all traces of the inflation field must vanish without a trace in some untraceable microsecond of the unfathomably distant past. "

Looking up to regard its audience,Beta removed its glasses, scratched off a few hundred thousand quanta, and commented:"

We'd really be in trouble if any of those traces ever do show up. It's so much easier to push a theory for which no evidence exists one way or the other. In any case, you must admit that my erudition is impressive."

At the very moment that Hadron Beta resumed reading from his notes , August Strindberg removed one of the thermometers from the seething marmalade mound filling his bathtub, inspected the temperature and re-confirmed his finding of the previous year, namely that the Cosmological Constant is Epsilon , give or take an error of 10 to the minus 13 .

"It's all relative." , he chuckled.

Beta continued:"The Inflationary models developed 2 billion years ago on Mercurochrome VII are much like our own. There is a vector field , the gradient of a scalar potential Psi , which operates like a refrigerator and crumbles at exactly the right fraction of a split second to give the Cosmological Constant the value of Epsilon give or take a factor of 10 to the minus 13 .We are indebted to our distinguished colleague, August Strindberg, for this determination. On the basis of arguments which are no less reasonable , we know that the scalar bubble field A vanishes without a trace at the same instant.

If you don't like these ideas may I suggest that you go listen to the spontaneous warblings of the birdshit on the statue of Gustavus V. There is in fact nothing new under the sun, even in theories of cosmic inflation ,and even if that sun happens to belong to the star triplet at the center of Mercurochrome VII, 600 megaparsecs away. Their theories just happen to be better than ours. Neither my fellow proton, Boson Alpha , nor I , give a damn because some critics point out that they're also worse than ours . There is really only one question worthy of mention: Will the field of inflation theories, like the Psi field and the A-field, also be nice enough to vanish in a split nanosecond, leaving no trace of its' existence?

Hadron Beta blinked, scratched off a quanta cascade, and irradiated itself back to Wroclaw.

The morning session in the Folketshus concluded with a lecture by eminent academician Pavel Pavlovich Samovar. His principal distinction consisted in precisely this: that he was allowed to leave Russia to attend this year's GRG ( the 11th) over 259 far worthier colleagues who'd begun sending in their applications 25 years earlier. His talk, addressed to the 1% of the attendance who had not fallen asleep on the way out the door, was about the 105-dimensional spaghetti of Dialectical Materialism .

From dawn's metacarpals first arthritic spasms, onto and beyond the bloodshot eyes of descending twilight, the paving-stones of the little churchyard swayed beneath the dismal shufflings of mourners by the grave of assassinated prime minister Olaf Palme. In a neighboring block , piles of wreaths and candles marked the place where he was slain.

A pair of Indian physicists, both Hindus, stepped out of the GRG11 conference to observe the scene. The first quoted a sutra which states, in essence that, like life itself, grief is only temporary. The other explained an idea which had been gathering momentum at the conference and had the potential to swell into a full-bloodied paradigm: that the 'temporal' is the universal solvent of Natural Philosophy .

"Anyway ", chuckled the first , "it's all relative."

At a desk in the centrally-heated warehouse in Helsingborg, having used up 25 pages of his appeal with invective against his powerful enemies in the scientific establishment, the much persecuted servant of truth, self-sanctified zealot, of- worldly- honors- contemptuous, of- comfort- indifferent, incurable Bulgarian crank Casimir Marinoff dived into page 26, beginning with the long list of his inventions:

    - An electricity generator driven by the ether wind. He'd invalidated the Michelson-Morley experiment in 1975 ;

  1. -A perpetual motion machine operating under the influence of the Black Hole in Cygnus X-1. The eternity of the action of the machine was subject to the eternal existence of the Black Hole which, he observed, had not been his idea! As for Hawking radiation, he claimed to have found a way to channel it back into his machine.

  2. -An anti-gravity box that worked by converting gravitational into inertial mass. His disproof of Einstein's Equivalence Principle was announced in 1982;

  3. - a gadget for scrambling eggs without breaking their shells;

  4. - an atomic shoelace knotter;

  5. -a device that detects cranks in the same way that a lie detector detects liars;

  6. - over 200 more incredible inventions.

Down the dusty steps of the Centraal gangtunnel ran an elaborately camoflaged Albert Einstein. His right hand gripped a gooseberry wreath, his left closed about the handle of his violin case. He had perhaps just enough time to take a subway over to the Old City, lay the wreath at the foot of the monument to Tor Aulin, and play the tender lullaby that had endeared this composer to him since childhood. Then he had to hurry back to the afternoon sessions at the Folketshus to defend his ideas against the string theory factions. As luck would have it, he stumbled over the ancient clarinettiste , great-grandmother Magda who, draped in a black shawl and mischievously smiling, played the Blue Danube from a magic book. She dropped her clarinet which rolled down the long gangtunnel to fall onto the tracks. An advancing subway crushed it to a Frisbee.

Einstein's violin case also flew out of his hands, bounced against the walls and floor, and in no time at all it was blown out of the tunnel. 20 years from now it will be rediscovered floating on a fjord above Narvik. Einstein promised Magda that the organizers of the GRG11 would present her with a new clarinet when she came to dinner that night in the Blue Room of Stockholm's Town Hall to receive her award as the All-Scandinavia great-grandmother of the century . As he continued down the gangtunnel to the trains for the Old City, Albert Einstein remembered that he had already demolished string theory in a footnote to an unpublished paper written around 1908. He could therefore afford to skip the afternoon session and just show up for the dinner.

Not so the rest of the delegation. Over a thousand scientists crowded into the second floor auditorium in the Folketshus to hear the latest claims about superstrings defended by a spider web from the Amazon jungle. It had been blown across the Atlantic to Stockholm just that morning on the jet stream. Almost no-one was asleep: so compactified was the accumulation of scientists that it would have been impossible to snore without rude jostling by one's neighbors.

" In the hierarchy of knowledge", the web began, " one often encounters this curious phenomenon - let me not call it not just a phenomenon but rather an anomalous ambivalence - that the obduracy of precisely determined facts puts difficulties in the way of the requisite suppleness of grandiose theories. One ought not forget that the way ideas look is not at all the same as the way ideas seem. Ideas must be considered to have a life of their own in order to keep attracting new candidates into scientific careers.

" I now want to review with you the state of the impasse in which all of our understandings concerning the deep structure of matter appear to be perpetually mired. One might as well go back to the Copenhagen Interpretation, which shows that there is indeed something rotten in the state of Denmark. The advent of the Quantum Electrodynamics of Feynman, Schwinger and Tomanaga came later, much later . This gave excellent results but was opaque to axioms. The electroweak theory of Weinberg, Salam and Glashow, also known as Quantum Chromodynamics , gave excellent predictions and had the advantage of giving the field some class by bringing in more confusing mathematics.

Grand Unified Theories followed. These had little experimental justification but made up for this deficiency by oodles of axioms. It takes some guts to build Super G.U.T.'s , for which there is no experimental evidence, but they can be combined with string theories, ( which have no predictive value whatsoever ) , to produce superstring theories, which lack both, and in addition have no theoretical justification. We have reached our ultimate goal: the description of nature by an axiomatic scheme in which there is no place for fact.

What is a superstring? Imagine a playful God fooling around with a cosmic Yo-Yo. God created Himself in His own image, that is to say, infinitely clever. He can therefore perform every Yo-Yo caper devised by Man , as well as some that He alone can conceptualize. ( This final point is very important, given the enthusiasm of modern theoretical physics for non-conceptualizable entities. God, naturally, can imagine them quite easily ) : epicycles, standing waves, butterflies, cat's cradles, moires, Lissajous figures, Feynman diagrams, Dirac belts, Tait diagrams, trajectories forbidden by Newtonian physics, by Thermodynamics or by Quantum Mechanics, and so on.

He makes all these things using just one Hand, the other being employed in pulling from between His Teeth an infinitely long strand of bubble gum. By blowing into the gum at regular intervals He is able to lay down an infinite sequence of inflationary bubbles. God's Supreme Intellect never mixes up the Yo-Yo string with the bubble gum.

Since God has at least 6 arms, ( we are indebted to the Hindu cosmologists of the Third Millennium before Socrates for this important discovery ) , He is also slurping in spaghetti from a bowl at a distance of 12 billion light-years from His Refulgent Entelechy. The Cosmic Superstring is fomented by the spaghetti winding around the bubble gum and getting knotted up with the Yo-Yo . It vibrates with the regularity of God's cosmic Breath, while His groans, sighs, belches and even farts jolt it into various resonant modes.

It is a far from accidental feature of this scheme that we physicists believe that it makes for very beautiful mathematics. Mathematicians do not share that opinion. What the physics community is trying to invent are good-looking equations. The process has become standardized: starting with 4 dimensional space-time, another 6 are added and immediately stuffed out of sight. That's called compactification.

Taking on another 16 dimensions is but a small step for a man, thought perhaps a giant one for mankind. It's done via a corporate agency called The Monster Group, capitalized at 1 billion pounds sterling. the world's largest expediter of theories from the Sublime to the Ridiculous. I've forgotten the exact sequence of steps whereby one jumps from there to 105 dimensions. The inhabitants of the Amazon jungle have more pressing concerns. Yet once you've got 22 undetectable dimensions of an undetectable vibrating string at undetectably high energies ,well, anything is possible.

"And", the web chuckled, "Everything is relative."

The Rathus is one of the handsomest buildings in Stockholm. Banquets and other receptions, at which the city plays host to dignitaries, scientists, beauty contests, astrologers, insects or elementary particles are usually held there.

The Blue Room was -and still is, as far as anyone knows.

The evening banquet,a dull smorgasbord of flavorless elementary particles, waited.

Sooner or later all of the delegates did, as did the guests of honor, arrive . Placed around a table on an elevated platform sat : Sonya Kovalevskaya , mathematical nihilist emeritus from the University of Stockholm; August Strindberg, TV script-writer, misogynist, alchemist and part-time loony; Magnus-Gosta Mittag-Loeffler, another ghost mathematician; and Alfred Bernhard Nobel, philanthropic death-merchant. Nobel sat at table working on a speech declining the Chemistry Prize offered him by his own foundation.

Also Marinoff the crank, flown in from Helsingborg by helicopter, beneficiary of a royal dispensation granted at the last minute; Albert Einstein in jungle fatigues; and Magda the antique clarinettiste.

The smorgasbord included Swedish meat-balls, lots of them; Kitsch Lorraine, ( a compote assembled from vegetables from Joan of Arc's garden ) ; the leftovers from a church potluck in Goeteburg; crunchy carrots, broccoli, celery, potatoes; drowned flounder pie; crudites Chernobyl; white wine and beer.

The scientists, being of a child-like mentality, raced from the cloak room into the dining-room to pelt one another with the Swedish meatballs. All the guests of honor burst into frank laughter combined with undissimulated rancor. It was going to be a merry evening. August Strindberg used his shirt cuffs to take notes for the opening scene of a new novel: "The Blue Room". He waited for the laughter to die down before announcing his recent scientific discovery: that the Cosmological Constant is equal to Epsilon , give or take a factor of 10 to the minus 13 .

Sonya Kovalevskaya , herself a novelist, remarked that there was nothing fundamental about his result inasmuch as it was trivial; which set Mittag-Loeffler's ears twitching. It was a deep result of Meta-mathematics, he commented, that 'triviality' and 'fundamentality' were not mutually exclusive. Science could be both fundamental and trivial at the same time.

"Take, for example, the Fundamental Theorem of Inflationary Superstring Theory, announced a few days ago at this very conference by a team of brash young scientists in tenure-track positions at Stanford University."

"Is that the one that states, more or less, that God's giant spaghetti picks up spatial dimensions as it loop-de-loops through Time?" , Sonya Kovalevskaya asked.

" You've got it, sweetheart. Although it's fundamental, it's merely a trivial application of Lie Algebras, Monster Groups, Calabi-Yau Manifolds, Symplectic Structures, Super-Gravity, Super-Strings, Kaluza- Klein formalisms, Grand Unified Theories , and a little dickering with your Cosmological Constant , Dr. Strindberg. A babe in arms could prove it. "

Alfred Bernhard Nobel stomped off the platform , cursing : "Damned if I'm ever going to give my prize to a mathematician!"

The mezzanine formed a quadrangular balcony above the spacious interior of the Blue Room. Upon it dancing couples, visible from the ground, transmitted the gaiety of a carnival projected onto a cinema screen. Among the dancers one made out Albert Einstein playing a violin and Magda with her clarinet.

They danced across the space of the balcony in wide arcs, improvising Jewish wedding and other klezmer melodies. In the shadows crouched the embittered ghosts of centuries of Scandinavian heroes and saints. Soon the sprightly old woman would break free and begin to spin like a gyroscope around the building, unearthing lugubrious tritones from the bowels of her clarinet, terrifying the scientific community with premonitions of ultraviolet catastrophes.

Dramatis Personae

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