Saturday, June 25, 2011

Idiot's Guide to String Theory

SciAm interviews George Musser about his new string theory book:
Steve: Early in the history, the modern history of string theory formulations, there were some physicists who really didn't like string theory, because it wasn't testable enough to be other than — in their opinion — kind of, philosophical musings; and they thought it wasn't even really science. And how has the field progressed since then?

... that's actually a criticism, as I try to discuss in the book, not specific to string theory. It's also true of the various alternatives to string theory; ...

Yeah, the Large Hadron Collider will really be the most closely watched instrument in physical science, at least over the next few years. It is actually the most expensive scientific instrument of any sort ever built. ... Now it's, again — as I've emphasized earlier — it's not a question of strictly proving or strictly disproving string theory; that's beyond even the Hadron Collider's ability. It's more of a hint level.
So the most expensive scientific instrument ever built won't say anything about whether string theory is true or false. And the problem is not just with string theory but also with many other theoretical models, as I also explain in my book.
So, at the dawn of our universe — and I have to emphasize our universe, because there could be others — so, dawn of our universe, physicists think there was one type of force, one type of matter and that as the cosmos expanded, as space expanded, it cooled and things started to condense out like snow flakes, and over time that single force broke, it differentiated; and something similar happens in the human body as we develop from a single cell; we differentiate, different tissues form in our bodies, different layers of tissues. Something similar happened, physicists think, in our universe, that over time this single force somehow differentiated into the four forces that we know today.
This is the core of his belief. It appeals to his aesthetics that there might have been a moment during the big bang where gravity and electromagnetism had comparable strength. He wants to believe that, even if he has to believe in 6 extra dimensions. It is like an argument to believe in one god instead of many gods.

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