Sunday, October 29, 2023

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Paradise Lost - Migdal, Polyakov, and Landau

This is a placeholder for a longer post I hope to expand on in the future, based on this essay: 

Migdal and Polyakov were two of the great Soviet physicists of their generation. Polyakov is on the upper left and Migdal the lower right.

Wikipedia: Migdal, Polyakov

The essay describes their education as young physicists. They were examined by Landau himself at age 15, and by age 19 had written a paper anticipating the Higgs Mechanism and the role of spontaneous symmetry breaking in gauge theory.

Migdal: Khalat was a genius of political intrigue. Being married into Inner Circle of the Soviet System (his wife Valya is the daughter of a legendary Revolution hero), he used all his connections and all the means to achieve his secret goal — assemble the best brains and let them Think Freely. 
On the surface, his pitch to the Party went as follows. “The West is attacking us for anti-Semitism. The best way to counter this slander is to create an Institute, where Jews are accepted, allowed to travel abroad and generally look happy. This can be a very small Institute, by standards of Atomic Project, it will have no secret military research, it will cost you very little, but it will help “Rasryadka” (Détente). These Jews will be so happy, they will tell all their Jewish friends in the West how well they live. And if they won’t –it is after all, us who decide which one goes abroad and which one stays home. They are smart kids, they will figure out which side of the toast is buttered.” 
As I put it, Khalat sold half of his soul to Devil and used the money to save another half. I truly respect him for that, now once I learned what it takes to create a startup and try to protect it against hostile world. 
As many crazy plans before it, this plan really worked. Best brains were assembled in Landau Institute, they were given a chance to happily solve problems without being forced to eat political shit like the whole country and – yes, they sometimes traveled abroad and made friends in the West. 
In a way the plan worked too well — we became so worldly and so free that we could no longer be controlled. And, needless to say, our friends in the West became closer to us that our curators in KGB.
I was in the 1990s generation of American physicists who had to contend on the job market with a stream of great theorists from the former Soviet Union. Both Migdal and Polyakov ended up at Princeton, and there were many others in their wake, closer to my age.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Abdus Salam and the Pakistan Nuclear Weapons Program

After my conversation with Bharat Karnad about the Indian nuclear arsenal I became curious about Pakistan's nuclear program. 

I came across this historical analysis:

Abdus Salam: A Reappraisal. Part II Salam's Part in the Pakistani Nuclear Weapon Programme
Salam's biographies claim that he was opposed to Pakistan's nuclear weapon programme. This is somewhat strange given that he was the senior Science Advisor to the Pakistan government for at least some of the period between 1972 when the programme was initiated and 1998 when a successful nuclear weapon test was carried out. I look at the evidence for his participation in the programme.

Salam shared the Nobel Prize with Glashow and Weinberg. He is a leading theoretician, although many have questioned what, exactly, was his contribution to the formulation of the electroweak theory of particle physics that Glashow and Weinberg contributed to.

Currently Pakistan's arsenal is ~200 warheads and similar in size to India's. Their largest warhead is estimated to have a yield of ~40kt, compared to ~20kt for the Indians.

What interested me the most was Salam's role in the early stages of the project.

See the paper for more interesting details. Previously I was only aware of Riazuddin through his academic publications, not his weapons work.

I mentioned to Karnad that I had been surprised that some of the Iranin theoreticians assassinated by Israel over the last 10-15 years had quite abstract research interests. They didn't seem the type to be working on bombs - but I suppose you never know! 

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Bharat Karnad: India geostrategy, nuclear arsenal, and assassination of Homi Bhabha, the Oppenheimer of India — Manifold #46


Bharat Karnad is an Emeritus Professor in National Security Studies at the Center for Policy Research in Delhi. He was a member of India's first National Security Advisory Board and has authored several books on nuclear weapons and Indian security. 

Karnad's blog: 

Karnad on the death of Homi Bhabha and of other atomic weapons scientists: 

An excellent documentary film on the life of Indian theoretical physicist Homi Bhabha: 

Steve and Bharat discuss: 

0:00 Introduction 
0:58 Karnad's educational background, nuclear research, journalism career 
26:50 Refocusing India's defense posture from Pakistan to China 
45:21 Why don't India and China have better relations? 
53:33 India's nuclear arsenal 
1:04:31 The mysterious death of Homi Bhabha, India's Oppenheimer 
1:28:50 Land of subjugation, the caste system, and English as the language of Indian elites

Audio-only and transcript: 

Einstein, Yukawa, Wheeler, and Bhabha:

Karnad on the assassination:

Robert Trumbull Crowley, former Deputy Director of Clandestine Operations for the CIA. Recorded conversations (Conversations With The Crow) near the end of his life:

 ".. their head expert was fully capable of building a bomb and we knew what he was up to. He was warned several times but what an arrogant prick that one was. Told our people to fuck off and then made it clear that no one would stop him and India from getting nuclear parity"

Karnad on Manifold:

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Quantum Hair During Gravitational Collapse (published version in Physical Review D)

This is a follow up to our earlier work on quantum gravitational corrections to the exterior graviton field of a compact object, also known as quantum hair. 

Here we follow the gravitational collapse of a dust ball and show that the quantum hair persists through the formation of a black hole horizon. The detailed calculations are possible due to an effective field theory formulation of quantum gravity in the long wavelength, low spacetime curvature limit.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

SMPY 65: Help support the SMPY Longitudinal Study

The Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) needs your help to support the Age-65 phase of their unique longitudinal study. 

For decades, co-directed by David Lubinski and Camilla P. Benbow, SMPY has been a beacon of enlightenment, tracking five cohorts comprising over 5,000 remarkably gifted individuals. In doing so, we have unraveled the secrets to nurturing brilliance. However, we are confronted with a disconcerting reality: the effective methods to identify and cultivate intellectual talent are under siege, threatened by political ideology. 

Our 14-minute documentary and the 3-page feature in Nature underscore the dire need to provide our most gifted youths with the educational opportunities they deserve. They are the architects of solutions and the architects of the future itself. 

Here are some compelling longitudinal findings from SMPY's extensive research:
• Prodigies destined for eminent careers can be identified as early as age 13. 
• There is no plateau of ability; even within the top 1%, variations in mathematical, spatial, and verbal abilities profoundly impact educational, occupational, and creative outcomes. 
• The blend of specific abilities, such as mathematical, spatial, and verbal aptitudes, shapes the nature of one's accomplishments and career trajectory.

More information:




Indicate "Please designate this gift to Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth" in the Special Instructions.

Thursday, October 05, 2023

Yasheng Huang: China's Examination System and its impact on Politics, Economy, Innovation — Manifold #45


Yasheng Huang is the Epoch Foundation Professor of Global Economics and Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management. His new book is The Rise and Fall of the EAST: How Exams, Autocracy, Stability, and Technology Brought China Success, and Why They Might Lead to Its Decline. 

Steve and Yasheng discuss: 

0:00 Introduction 
1:11 From Beijing to Harvard in the 1980s 
15:29 Civil service exams and Huang's new book, "The Rise and Fall of the EAST" 
37:14 Two goals: Developing human capital and indoctrination 
48:33 Impact of the exam system 
57:04 China's innovation peak and decline 
1:12:23 Collaboration and relationship with the West 
1:21:31 How will the U.S.-China relationship evolve? 

Audio-only version, and transcript: 

Yasheng Huang at MIT 

Web site: 

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