I would say that if he turns out to be right, or, as you say, it is stage on the way to something else, then Witten will go down in history has an equal of folks like Einstein and Newton. On the other hand, if he is totally wrong he will go down as one of the biggest smart-alexes (sp?) in history.
I worded my initial post pretty carefully. Note that I said nothing about his greatness as a physicist; I spoke only about his intelligence, which, by all accounts, is remarkable. It may well happen that he'll be remembered as much for his contributions to mathematics (which are substantial) as for his contributions to physics.
Good to hear from you again, BTW.
My point was that there is something about the way he presents this stuff that suggest that he really does not believe that all of this is really the case. He seem elusive about it. I am not criticizing him either.
He seems to be coming from a purely mathematical point of view. THe whole thing seems to richly amise him.