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I vaguely remember reading a quote/listening to a statement by John Conway which I can paraphrase as follows:

"I do not know what object the Monster group acts on, but it seems to exist because string theory needs/wants/demands it."

Unfortunately, I do not know whence, nor do I know the exact phrasing. Does anyone know of the quote to which I am referring, and perhaps has a reference?

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    $\begingroup$ Hi, just letting you know that double-posting is frowned upon. If a question is considered off-topic, the mods will 'migrate' it to the appropriate group $\endgroup$ Apr 30, 2020 at 12:05
  • $\begingroup$ That’s fine, we’ll cross the bridge when we get to that. $\endgroup$
    – user12433
    Apr 30, 2020 at 18:29

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I found this statement in a short IAS article,

In [Conway's] view, conformal field theory is too complicated to understand, and thus too complicated to be the only answer.

However, seeing as Conway's work on the Monster group and 'moonshine' seems to predate its proposed application to string theory by a number of years, I'm a bit skeptical that he would have made a statement like that.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you. However this isn’t what I’m looking for. Also to comment on your doubt that Conway might have said something like this: the connection to string theory was known from the late 1980‘s. In fact it was his former PhD student, Richard Borcherds, who formalized the string theoretic GKM and a lot of work followed from a stringy POV. There have been almost 30 years in between for someone to make that statement. I can also assure you personally that Conway pondered about this a lot over the past few years but was in some sense resigned to finding out on what object the Monster acted on. $\endgroup$
    – user12433
    Apr 30, 2020 at 18:28
  • $\begingroup$ It is also categorically incorrect of you to assume that mathematicians, in this case Conway, do not think about open questions related to their research once they have worked on a problem. $\endgroup$
    – user12433
    Apr 30, 2020 at 20:42

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