Sunday, March 3, 2013

A bunch of universes made up of strings

Hey all - it's been awhile since I've posted. This is because the topic of this post (string theory) is particularly knotty (hehe), and it's taken me awhile to untie my thoughts (ok, enough with the string puns).

Last week, the world-renowned string theorist, Brian Greene, came to Colorado and gave a public talk on string theory and the idea of the multiverse (I'll explain these ideas shortly).  First, his talk was excellent, and I think his methods for describing ridiculously complicated science to the public are quite good.

However, there's one word in the previous paragraph that some (here's looking at you Background Dominated) will take issue with.  That word is science.   Mr. Feather-feet and I have debated for a long time whether or not string theory IS actually science.  Now that I am posting about it on my much more well-designed and easier to read blog, I am sure I will incur the wrath of Dr. Dim-wit.  But what do I say to this man with poor taste in background images?  BRING IT ON!

OK, so first of all, you're probably wondering - what the heck is string theory and the multiverse?  Well, the basic idea is this: string theory claims (using some very complex mathematics) that EVERY particle and force in the universe is ultimately the result of tiny vibrating strings of energy that exist on the smallest scales imaginable.

Each string vibrates with a different frequency (like different notes on a violin) and the different frequencies correspond to different forces and particles.  The idea behind this notion is to create ONE theory from which everything in existence can be explained.

The multiverse is related to string theory.  For brevity, I won't get into how, but the basic idea is that our universe is just one of many many many universes all existing in a vast space known as the multiverse.

This stuff seems pretty weird doesn't it?  You may ask, why are we even considering it if it seems so absurd?  Well, the ideas of Einstein and the theories involved in quantum mechanics seemed pretty weird at first (hell, they still seem weird, even to scientists!), but they've turned out to be correct.  How do we know this?  We know they are correct because we've designed experiments that test predictions made by these theories, and the theories pass these tests with flying colors!

As I've mentioned previously, THIS is the basis of the scientific method.  Theories are developed, and these theories make predictions.  We then test the predictions using experiments or observations.

String theory and the multiverse have not yet passed any tests.  Part of the problem is that some of the experiments needed to verify these ideas aren't yet feasible.  But the question here is, are these ideas still science?  Bird-brain will say NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT.  Well, I am not so sure.  After all, there was quite a bit of time between when Einstein completed his theory of gravity (known as general relativity) and when the first bit of evidence that he was correct came along.   Did that prevent general relativity from dancing on the stage of science in the interim? I don't think so, and I would guess that many scientists would agree with me on this.

Since I anticipate a fiery response from my nemesis, I will stop here.  I am sure he'll post some crappy, meaningless arguments that I'll have to correct.  So, for now, I await fat-fingers' response.  But, keep your heads up for more on this fascinating and strange stuff as we argue whether or not string theory is science.

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