Edward Witten : Magic, Mystery, and Matrix


“Quantum field theory is a very rich subject for mathematics as well as physics. But its development in the last seventy years has been mainly by physicists, and it is still largely out of reach as a rigorous mathematical theory despite important efforts in constructive field theory. So most of its impact on mathematics has not yet been felt. Yet in many active areas of mathematics, problems are studied that actually have their most natural setting in quantum field theory. Examples include Donaldson theory of four-manifolds, the Jones polynomial of knots and its generalizations, mirror symmetry of complex manifolds, elliptic cohomology, and many aspects of the study of affine Lie algebras.

To a certain extent these problems are studied piecemeal, with difficulty in understanding the relations among them, because their natural home in quantum field theory is not now part of the mathematical theory. To make a rough analogy (Figure1), one has here a vast mountain range, most of which is still covered with fog. Only the loftiest peaks, which reach above the clouds, are seen in the mathematical theories of today, and these splendid peaks are studied in isolation, because above the clouds they are isolated from one another. Still lost in the mist is the body of the range, with its quantum field theory bedrock and the great bulk of the mathematical treasures.”

this is most lovely….