I have so far assumed that Edward Witten has remained silent on BICEP2 because I could not find anything from him on this subject on the Internet. But now there is out an interview that makes it quite clear that Witten is not invested in BICEP2 in any way.
So I can now repeat two reasons I have given why I have to respect this guy, his String Theory notwithstanding.
But first an update: We need to bring up to date the Edward Witten Shekel Count – to the tune of half a million dollars. He has received the 2014 Kyoto Prize.
My criticism of String Theory stands. It is basically that it is so much fluff. Mathematically impressive may be, but fluff physics-wise. If a cumulus cloud says “I am beautiful”, who can disagree? If it says “I am geometric”, may be it is in some sense. But I am not going to do anything based on that.
Now, why Edward Witten must be especially respected among today’s prominent physicists:
(1). He has not parlayed his phenomenal celebrity status into a greenback empire. If he took just a little time to write a popular science book, first of all, he would receive an enormous advance payment. Then the royalty stream would flow like a gusher. Within hours of publication the book will hit all kinds of bestseller lists. Within days the book will in every airport that has a bookshop.
Edward Witten chooses not to grab ready money – phenomenal amounts of it. This almost verges on asceticism.
(2). BICEP2 was one program where it could be claimed that String Theory was being brought to the arena of observable physics. Witten had vested interest in supporting it. In many other ways, it was logical and appropriate and expected that Witten would say something.
But even during the period the euphoria had not yet been dampened, and the party was in full swing, Witten remained silent. This is curious. Certainly he would have no objections experiment-wise. He would simply assume that the experiment was done right. Certainly he would have no theory objections to this. The BICEP2 discovery might also have been positioned to strengthen the case for a Nobel Prize for Witten.
So what happened?
To these two old points, I now add a third point I have not spelled out before.
(3). At a time when it is fashionable for celebrity physicists to take public positions on God (poor Guy!), Witten stays away from the subject. If he expressed himself on this subject in the right way, the million dollar+ Templeton Prize would be his …
My teacher shunned celebrity status. But somewhere in his writings (I cannot find the exact quote now), he said something like this: Mind belongs to science. Heart belongs to God. And there is no conflict.
So, Edward Witten, I do not hold with your String Theory. But you are a real Mensch.