poel5279 wrote:this is all very interesting.
All of the posting that I've read before I posted this suggested naming advisors is good idea.
Here, everyone seems to have an opinion that it is not helpful necessarily (or even detrimental).
It would be nice to hear more opinions.
To be clear, I don't think that naming potential advisors is a bad idea, I did it when I applied. I just think that the benefits are better felt when you have a strong background in a subject, and can speak directly to why a particular group is a good fit for your skills and goals. That's not the case for you and fundamental theory; if it was, mentioning Maldacena wouldn't scare you, and you wouldn't have trouble identifying the current research programs of these theorists. It's not a critical part of an application (though stating your goals and identifying why the school is a fit certainly is) and if you can't do it well (be specifying the specific interests of a research group and pointing to how it matches your strengths and interests), I wouldn't do it.
Also, and I know you probably know this, but Witten and Maldacena does not exhaust the list of theorists a place like Princeton has. If the list is more than 3 people long, it's more confusion than help, and you don't want to just list a few arbitrarily. Better to just state that there are a plethora of options that fit your interests in such situations, and use the space saved in your SoP to better define what those interests are.
Also also, and this is very specific, but Witten and Maldacena aren't at Princeton. They're at IAS, and technically not faculty there.