The following is the second in a series of essays about the pragmatism of modern physics. It may be the last, because I am tripping out super-hard about this stuff and kind of want to start thinking about the ocean again. Did you see that scientists just discovered the world's smallest fish?
Anyways, there has been quite a debate recently about String Theory. According to many, the assumptions upon which it is founded are unreliable. I couldn't even tell you what the exact conversation is, but it has something to do with the "alternate universe" aspects of the theory, and how the vast differences between these trouble our hopes for an underpinning and constant "Theory of Everything." Dr. Leonard Susskin, who first postulated the damned thing, is now modifying it in radical ways in order to re-align the existing ideas with this new criticism. He agrees that the Universe's total constancy is a misconception, but posits that this is a fortunate discovery, that we inhabit one of a "landscape" of different universes.
In a really good interview with The New Scientist, Susskin observed: "The great hope was that some deep mathematical principle would determine all the constants of nature, like Newton's constant. But it seems increasingly likely that the constants of nature...vary from place to place....many of the constants have to be just so if intelligent life is to exist. So we live where life is possible. For some physicists this idea is an incredible disappointment. Personally, I don't see it that way. I find it exciting to think that the universe may be much bigger, richer and full of variety than we ever expected. And it doesn't seem so incredibly philosophically radical to think that some things may be environmental."
Which is a very cool thing to say, incidentally.
So why is it that this relatively recent advance in physics remains invisible and undiscussed in popular media, particularly now that it has come into question? I mean: it's definitely a long-shot whack-job theory which only elucidates how abstract physics has become since Newton-times. On that token, however, Intelligent Design should be just as obscure, and yet I can't open a newspaper without seeing the painfully measured pseudo-science which proponents of ID insist on blathering upon the American public. The arguments which comprise String Theory are far more, well, intelligent -- not to mention agreed-upon by the scientific community, for the most part.
Moreover, the idea of living in a hypothetical landscape of multidimensional universes is something which should shatter our conceptions and force us -- in a leap of faith similar to believing in divine creation -- to restructure our place in the world. While the lay public -- myself included -- is still tripping out about the concept of atoms, or even of planets, physicists are rationally inhabiting a way, way, way cooler multiverse and they are not sharing it with us.
Scientists aren't to blame, however; after all, they aren't supposed to be missionaries. The problem, it seems to me, is that unlike most other major topics of media discussion -- art, politics, Paris Hilton's television career -- the sciences in general, and modern theoretical physics in particular, do not have very many pundits. Nor, to that matter, any middlemen between those doing the research and those ultimately affected by it, the world's populace. We don't need physicists and researchers to spread their gospel to us. That would put their hallowed objectivity into question. But we do need somebody else to keep us abreast on whatever the hell it is they are postulating about the Universe these days, because, I, for one, am not opposed to being part of a cool, ultradimensional multiverse: I just want someone to tell me about it.
Your blog is so fucking legit, Claire. Seriously. It is my favorite blog on Urban Honking.
Hi, Clair. I wish I could pass meaningful comments on your latest blog, but my lack of training would quickly be exposed. My name is Mark LaFlamme. I'm a crime reporter and columnist in Lewiston, Maine. Clearly, I have no business poking around sites dedicated to quantum physics. However, I've been fascinated with the field for several years now and it's a fascination that's slow to pass.
Recently, I've been searching for a credible physicist or scholar to take a look at my novel "The Pink Room," which was published last month. Briefly: the world's leading physicist attempts to use the science of string theory to bring his daughter back from the dead. Government agents and a bestselling novelist race to find out if he was succesful. The novel is getting great reviews so far, but I wonder how many of my readers have a working grasp of the science. Look me up if you're interested. firstname.lastname@example.org
Your heading brought me here for the first time.
I was intrigued at first because I once assembled an installation called String Theory and in March I will be assembling a second...maybe under the same heading as this.
Also, I am in slight disagreement about the publics awareness of String Theory. NOVA had an hour long special on this topic two years ago and has continued to circulate this episode with some frequency. Also, during the duration of my installation many discussed String Theory with me, I had very few questions as to what it was. Plus there are shelves of Science "Fiction" books out there dealing with quantum theory that require a certain understanding on the part of the reader.
So I would agree that there is quite a bit of conversation around it. There are I feel, just as many theories out there as universes in the String version. So calling out to glom on...may not happen in this plane of reality...
Thanks for posting something worth talking about.
oops. just looked at first string theory posting. you cleary know about NOVA. many apologies on the wording above....
you know, as i sat this morning eating a bowl of cheerios i questioned the same thing. just thought that kind of coincidental id read about it in a blog in which I randomly stumbled across