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A Comprehensive Guide to Eric Weinstein’s Paper on Geometric Unity

Eric Weinstein recently published a working draft of a paper on a theory he first proposed in 2013, called “Geometric Unity.” It is supposed to be a “unified theory of physics.” As far as I know, this is the first thing he has written about his theory.

So that you don’t need to read all 69 pages, here’s the comprehensive guide:

  1. Read the opening quote of the introduction, i.e. the problem statement, and be delighted by its clarity:

    “What really interests me is whether god had any choice in the creation of the world.” -Albert Einstein to Ernst Strauss

  2. Read the first sentence of the introduction, if you can, and be startled by its obscurantism:

    In the beginning we will let X4 be a 4-dimensional C manifold with a chosen orientation and unique spin structure.

  3. Realize that Weinstein is not in the business of solving problems but impressing his peers. Stop reading and resume whatever you were doing before.


Update 2021-10-05: Saying Weinstein wants to impress his peers was a mistake. He’s trying to impress his fans, most of whom are not his peers, which is precisely why he can manipulate them into feeling inadequate/not worthy of his brilliance. Note in particular that in a footnote on the first page, he writes:

The Author is not a physicist and is no longer an active academician, but is an Entertainer and host of The Portal podcast. This work of entertainment is a draft of work in progress […]

“[W]ork[s] of entertainment” are directed at the general public, not physicists.


What people are saying

I just realized that Weinstein published his paper on April 1st, so… I hope it’s not just an April Fools’ joke 😂

Dennis (people may not be who they say they are) | 7 months ago

This is quite common in theoretical physics. Here’s the first sentence of Ed Witten’s most cited paper, for instance: “To understand the large N behavior of gauge theories with SU(N) gauge group is a longstanding problem, and offers perhaps the best hope of eventually understanding the classic strong coupling mysteries of QCD.” Technical papers are aimed other physicists, not the general public. I have no idea about the actual merits of Weinstein’s paper, but calling it obscurantist misses the mark.

ben (people may not be who they say they are) | 6 months ago

Technical papers are aimed other physicists, not the general public.

I don’t think Weinstein is addressing physicists. In a footnote on the first page, he writes:

The Author is not a physicist and is no longer an active academician, but is an Entertainer and host of The Portal podcast. This work of entertainment is a draft of work in progress […]

He calls his paper a “work of entertainment”. Hence it is aimed at a general audience, specifically the audience of his podcast, most of whom he knows won’t understand him. I think “obscurantism” captures it aptly.

Dennis (people may not be who they say they are) | 6 months ago

Eric Weinstein’s game is to use subterfuge, to make himself sound smart.

He begins with a sentence stuffed with real mathematical terms, in correct context (but which intentionally may be unintelligible), then in the next sentence he encodes a different concept from mathematics or physics or philosophy (or nonsense), however the two sentences have no conceptual link. Then he implies that he has just introduced a “novel connection” between the two sentences/concepts. There is no connection. It is implied, hinted at subtly, and amounts to nothing if one had the patience to make him explain (and walk with him through his “explanation”).

He does this in his daily life. Those who know him are frustrated. They hear his long-winded sentences that mean nothing. They see some people, mostly the naive, get enraptured by doublespeak and speaking in tongues.

This is what charlatans do. They use believable language on the edge of comprehension, to say fringe nonsense that – to naive believers or sycophants – appears as “revolutionary words” or “genius talk” or even “magical”.

Q (people may not be who they say they are) | 2 months ago
Shane (people may not be who they say they are) | about 1 month ago

@Shane: Reminds me of https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SGV3ctLlu4

To think that Lennon could have had virtually any pussy he wanted. Yet he chose that one. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

dennis (people may not be who they say they are) | about 1 month ago

I am a theoretical physicist.

I’m not a fan of geometric unity; I think it’s poorly motivated.

However, your second criticism is bad. The sentence you quoted about a “four-dimensional manifold with a chosen orientation and a unique spin structure” isn’t actually obscurantism: That’s just how mathematicians talk. His statement has a perfectly precise meaning, which anyone with a background in graduate-level differential geometry (a cohort which includes many theoretical physicists) would understand.

LMF (people may not be who they say they are) | 23 days ago

LMF,

As I wrote in a previous comment:

[Weinstein] calls his paper a “work of entertainment”. Hence it is aimed at a general audience, specifically the audience of his podcast, most of whom he knows won’t understand him. I think “obscurantism” captures it aptly.

You wrote:

The sentence you quoted about a “four-dimensional manifold with a chosen orientation and a unique spin structure” isn’t actually obscurantism: That’s just how mathematicians talk. His statement has a perfectly precise meaning, which anyone with a background in graduate-level differential geometry […] would understand.

First, I made a mistake: I originally wrote Weinstein is interested in “impressing his peers” (emphasis added). He’s not – he’s interested in impressing his fans, most of whom aren’t his peers, which is exactly the problem. I’m claiming that he’s using math lingo his target audience doesn’t understand to impress them. Target audiences for “work[s] of entertainment” consist mostly of laymen, whom he specifically addresses, and only of few mathematicians or theoretical physicists.

However, I didn’t claim that mathematicians don’t talk like that, or that what he says is vague. (Academic obscurantism is often vague/hard to pin down but I didn’t claim that in this case.) If we were addressing his actual peers (not wannabe peers like his fans), I wouldn’t have a problem with it.

You’d still be able to tell that what Weinstein wrote is obscurantist if you weren’t a theoretical physicist. In fact, you might be better suited to tell if you weren’t because it would be more jarring to you.

You misquoted Weinstein btw.

dennis (people may not be who they say they are) | 23 days ago

Note: Generally, a necessary condition for labeling writing as obscurantist should be that it expresses an idea in language that is more obscure than actually required. In Weinstein’s case, the very nature of his idea is such that it starts in an extremely technical place: he is trying to create a unified geometrical setting that contains the three main mathematical structures used in quantum field theory and general relativity (gauge connections, spinors, and Levi-Civita connections). So Geometric Unity is obscure by its very nature.

It’s pretty clear if you’ve ever heard Weinstein interviewed about this that Geometric Unity is not actually intended to be a work of entertainment. He literally thinks his theory is true, and he has said he hopes the release of a paper will help make his idea known in the physics community. The comment about this being a “work of entertainment” is meant in a tounge-and-cheek way: As explained in the previous paragraph, there’s just not a way to make stuff like this non-obscure to laypeople, and surely he knows that.

LMF (people may not be who they say they are) | 22 days ago

So Geometric Unity is obscure by its very nature.

Not to people who study that stuff, as you said yourself. But again, he doesn’t address those people.

It’s pretty clear if you’ve ever heard Weinstein interviewed about this that Geometric Unity is not actually intended to be a work of entertainment. He literally thinks his theory is true […].

Works of entertainment can be true and clear. There’s no conflict there.

As explained in the previous paragraph, there’s just not a way to make stuff like this non-obscure to laypeople, and surely he knows that.

Him knowing that is a prerequisite for his capitalizing on it to impress his fans.

Speaking of what’s “pretty clear if you’ve ever heard Weinstein interviewed” – about other topics, too – he uses obscurantist language in verbal discussions as well. For example, when asked about Bitcoin’s “most interesting property”, he responded:

The amazing thing about the blockchain and bitcoin was that it [sic] emerged to show us that we could have a locally enforced conservation law that mimicked physical reality and allow us to have a locally determined medium of exchange […].

What the fuck is he talking about?

His obscurantism isn’t hard to find. This is the first interview I picked off of YouTube at random, and this quote is from the first time he talks. People will have no idea what he just said, but they’ll think they heard something profound they’re just not smart enough to understand. One commenter wrote:

Well I understood about 1 percent of that

While somebody else wrote:

Eric Weinstein is God tier in some of his answers […].

So impressing people this way actually works. In another interview, the second one I picked at random, the interviewer praises him in front of the live audience:

In addition to being one of the most brilliant economists on our globe, and also being what many consider the Einstein of our generation […].

LOL.

dennis (people may not be who they say they are) | 22 days ago

Yeah, okay, good points. I definitely don’t want to make the case that he’s not an obscurantist in general. In his interviews he gives a lot of answers that are very vague and cryptic, but socially signal that he’s a “profound” thinker.

I just don’t think that his obscurantism can truly be inferred from the single sentence you provided. (Btw, later parts of his paper are truly hard for me to understand even given my background. When I skimmed through it a few months ago, it didn’t occur to me that this was intentional on his part, but that might indeed be the case).

LMF (people may not be who they say they are) | 22 days ago

What are your thoughts?

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