Definitely the final essay in this series. And no more politics.
In a Universe first, I received in my cool email “box” yesterday a piece of rebuttal about the political implications of the tokes on String Theory in my last essay. What my correspondent pointed out to me was that my comparison of Intelligent Design and String Theory gave me away as an unabashed leftist (duh), and that, furthermore, positing ST as the intellectual’s antithesis to ID is only a detriment to critical thinking, since all I am doing is enacting a typically American (my correspondent is a European) structure of polar ideological binaries. And since, incidentally, String Theory is perhaps as unfounded and illogical a postulation as Intelligent Design is, I am just as much a pseudo-scientific loon as those who champion the latter.
I’m glad. I had originally been very hesitant to raise the Intelligent Design point for many reasons: a) I didn’t want to take part in the media orgy on the subject, b) I am generally misinformed politically (there, I said it), and c) I was worried someone might call me out as accurately as my above correspondent did. As it stands, I have few rebuttals. I am an unabashed drum-circle hackey-sack leftist. But I think the new Universe that String Theory proposes is much more exciting and conceptually problematic than what Intelligent Design offers us — I mean, Creationism is pretty hackneyed.
However, I will cede this point. Godly evolution and Multiverses have one thing in common: neither are examples of hard science. The thing which I think is fundamentally interesting about String Theory, for our purposes here, is that there have been no experiments yet devised that can viably test it. No observations, either, can relate to the properties it discusses — Strings are so profoundly subatomic that we can never see them. On the same token, G-o-d remains as elusive.
Scientific theories, even when admired for their logic and symmetry, are by definition hypotheses awaiting experimental evidence. Both Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity are celebrated because they can be used to make (thus far) infallible empirical predictions. Furthermore, we know that gravity, electromagnetism, and the nuclear forces exist — be they in the form of forces or elementary particles. But Strings? They’re literally so small that we will probably never see them as entities.
What String Theory is, it seems, is a field of non-experimental physics — physics, being, of course an inherently experimental and observational science. Many physicists differentiate themselves disdainfully from String Theorists, who are seen as a radical offshoot group. Supporters argue that this group is revolutionizing the science and opponents consider them mere philosophers. Not to say that philosophy is a radical step down from experimental physics on the chain of legitimacy, but it is certainly a different discipline. If String Theory, after all this, is just philosophy — albeit a mathematical philosophy — then no one, particularly not me, can pronounce it either a necessary ideological and cultural shift nor an intellectual capstone, at least not on the platform of it being a particularly factual development.
The reason that next time you see me I won’t be holding up cardboard signs in the street and handing out flyers, however, is that there is a clear line between philosophical speculation and religious proselytizing. Sure, maybe String Theory is masquerading at science in the same way that Intelligent Design is and with the same fervor — but at least it doesn’t have an agenda.