I am currently attending the 38th Ahrenshoop Symposium, a conference with quite a history, as in cold war times it was the possibility to GDR physicists to invite western collegues and discuss high energy physics with them. There have already be a number of very interesting talks but those might be covered in a later post.
Right now (while I should better listen to Yaron Oz telling us the latest about pure spinors) I feel a certain need to say one or two words about hep-th/0608210 which comments on Guiseppe's and my paper of two years ago.
Thomas accuses us to draw wrong physical conclusions from a correct mathematical calculation. He refers to our discussion of the harmonic oscillator in the polymer Hilbert space. It is not about the fact that there only the ground state is stationary or that time evolution is not continious or that formally that state is a state of infintie temperature. All these things still hold true.
All these might look a bit formal. So, how can you determine if a different version of an oscillator ist physically different from the usual one? You might say "I simply check the spectrum". But that does not work as the alternative does not have the operator you would like to compute the spectrum of. But I hear you cry "that show that it's screwed, I can observe that spectrum for example as optical absorbtion spectrum of molecular vibrations". Unfortunately, that's not true if you just have the oscillator, you would have to couple it to the radiation field and thus the full system is interacting and much more complicated. Thus we didn't take that route in our paper.
Our alternative was to define a family of operators H_e such that you formally would have the Hamilton operator as H_0 if that limit existed (as of course it does not in the polymere case) and show that it has unsusual properties as e goes to zero (for all e the expectation value is 0 but the variance goes like 1/e^2 for almost all states).
So, what does Thomas now say about this? He proposes to restrict attention to a finite subspace of the Hilbert space (the 'nonrelativistic' states), say of dimension n. In this subspace, there are only n^2 independant observables (a finite number!), given by the n x n herminean matrices. Then you compute the expectation values of these n^2 observables in the original Fock space. Finally you employ a theorem that tells you that in any Hilbert space you can find a density matrix that for a finite list of observables gives you expectation values not further off than a given delta.
In other words, if I tell you which finite number of observations I am going to do and which values I expect then you can cook up a state in any Hilbert space that gives these values to any precission.
Note however that the state is chosen after I tell you which observations I am going to make. If I only do one unplanned observation you will get different answes or you have to readjust the state.
Thus, Thomas argues that if I tell you beforehand what I plan to observe, he can prepare any Hilbert space that it looks like my favourite Hilbert space.
OK, we could proceed along those lines. Mankind will only make a finite number of observations (including for example various clicking patterns in particle detectors and the temperature in you office), thus all we need is a finite list of numbers. Thus, in the end any theory of everything just boils down to this list of numbers. All the rest (Lagrangian, branes etc) is just mumbo jumbo!
As always, make up your own mind!
I would really like to hear other ideas of mathematical representaitons of observations that show that we know what a harmonic oscillator looks like!
Before I forget: All this does not touch the main part of the paper: In exactly the critical dimension you don't have to rely on these weakly discontinious representatins of the operator algebra because exactly there there are continious representations in terms of the usual Fock space even if that breaks half of the diffeos spontaneaously and those have to be represented in a non-trivial way. We just suggest that for 'good' theories this should be possible and then try to work out physical consequences you have to face otherwise.