I wrote this paper for an English class on the String Theory. We had to read physicists Brian Greene’s book The Elegant Universe, and believe me this was challenging when I hadn’t signed up for a physics class. But I actually enjoyed it, and understood most of it (to an extent).
Here is a website that can explain the String Theory a little better than I can http://superstringtheory.com/
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/elegant/program.html PBS’s NOVA did a 3 hour miniseries on the String Theory. I haven’t been able to watch it as of yet, once I have the time to do so I will post my thoughts.
Although I am not really interested in learning every piece of information regarding the science behind strings, I am interested in their implications to humanity. Read my paper below, do some research on the theory (I recommend Brian Greene’s book), and then ponder my question at the end of my essay.
As dramatic as it sounds, Greene’s book really did change my life and how I look at the world.
For my English comp. II class, written October 2, 2007
The Kingdom of Heaven
Man is on a quest for the ultimate knowledge. The night sky has perplexed humans since our creation, and through some of the most advanced technology we have seen over 15 billion light years into outer space. It’s hard to comprehend billions of other galaxies, each composed on billions of stars, and we haven’t even seen the edge of the all encompassing cosmos. However, we continue to search, analyze, and hope to visit other planets in our solar system for that ultimate knowledge. It’s all very mind blowing, yet quite exciting. Most likely it won’t be in the near future that we will receive all our answers, but the best scientists in the world believe we are on track to finding the meaning of our existence. The question is not who created us or why, which we can leave that speculation to our own personal spirituality. Many great theories relating to how we were created have been voiced. Whether you accept Lemaître’s theory of the big bang or the concept of a white hole pushing out all the matter that was previously collected by a black hole, it doesn’t change the fact that we were created and now exist. Lemaître, also a Catholic priest, found it very easy to believe God created the universe and initiated the big bang. Something had to of initiated our existence, however that may have been, because I cannot comprehend the existence of the entirety of outer space without a creator. Science does not disprove God; it merely gives us more insight into the significance of our lives. The study of cosmology interests me purely to better understand our planet through comparison to others and a hope to encounter alien life-or maybe because I’m a science fiction nerd?
With the cosmos is as large as it is, I believe the real question is how do we here on earth relate to the Milky Way, and even further than that, how does the Milky Way relate to the rest of the universe? Brian Greene, in his book The Elegant Universe, describes a theory that ties us all together as humanity, as a solar system, as a galaxy, and beyond. The String Theory is a really quite spectacular idea concluding that every particle of mass and every particle of every force in the entire universe consists at its core an infinitesimally tiny, highly concentrated, and rapidly vibrating filament. Everywhere and everything on earth is connected by these microscopic strings. If that’s not thought provoking, than this is; every beautiful star in the sky is composed of the same matter as we are. We are a part of our galaxy, not just of the earth. It’s safe to say that according to the string theory we are made up of star dust scattered by an exploding super nova. Doesn’t this sound like an introduction to a thrilling sci-fi movie? Except, it’s not. Weird enough, because of the string theory my crazy idea could be a real possibility.
The string theory emerged due to the enormous advancements in modern physics over the past century. Once scientists were able to split atoms into smaller particles, like the proton, neutron and electron, it opened the door for further exploration. Smaller particles of matter such as the up and down quarks, neutrinos, muons and taus have been discovered. The particles once thought to be the elementary ingredient of life have been replaced by a smaller particle, the string. In fact, those strings are so small that not even with our most advanced technology can we study them with precision, but only with mathematical equations. Each string is estimated to be 10-33 centimeters (Planck length) long (148), so tiny that billions of strings could fit on the tip of a 1/10 centimeter sewing pin. Strings are incredibly small due to the immense tension squishing its insides like someone would squeeze a stress ball. An incredible force of 10-39 tons (Planck tension) of tension contracts inside each filament causing its miniscule size (148).
Greene explains that “because of the enormous tension the typical energy of a vibrating loop in string theory is extremely high” (148). Strings, obviously being under massive amounts of tension, release huge amounts of energy through vibrations. A string’s energy level- or vibration speed- is dependent upon how much tension is contracting within the filament. The space and time between a vibrations peaks and troughs affect the string’s frequency, thus creating the driving forces or our lives such gravity, the weak, strong, and the electromagnetic forces. “Strings can execute an infinite number of different vibrational patterns” (151). Like a violin’s string frequency determines the note we hear, a superstring’s vibrational pattern determines the character of a particle’s mass (143).
Of course, it would take billions and billions of strings to create a physical object visible to the eye. Theoretically, the mass of an individual string should be huge because of the large amounts of tension within each one. In fact, they should be so large that using Einstein’s calculations-the famous E = mc2– to convert energy to mass would suggest that it would take billions of protons to take up the space of one filament and it would be about the size of a grain of dust (149). These calculations greatly contradict the entire string theory. However, scientists have learned that strings undergo quantum jitter resulting in an energy cancellation. “The energy associated with the quantum jitters of a string is negative and reduces the overall energy content of a string” (150). In some cases the “energy cancellations are perfect resulting in a zero-mass particle” (150). The theoretical mass of a string is large, but in reality due to quantum jitters is the smallest known particle in existence.
These strings are constantly in motion, from quantum jitters to the infinite vibration frequencies; some would suppose they are players in some sort of chaotic symphony with no director and no score. Unlike the strings of a piano, which are attachted to a stationary structure on both ends, superstrings are relatively free to move about. However chaotic it may seem, there is a method to the madness. One of the most triumphant advancements in physics by the string theory is the “incorporation of quantum mechanics and gravity” (379). Uniting these two theories in the past was like “mixing fire and gunpowder,” (118) but has lead to the realization that “the string theory offers a truly wonderful unifying framework… [and] the promise of a single, all-inclusive, unified description of the physical universe: a theory of everything” (146). Strings are woven into the fabric of the universe in a well thought out and rather poetic way (378).
“Think, for example of ocean waves. Out in the grand expanse of the open ocean, isolated wave patterns are relatively free to form and travel this way and that. This is much like the vibrational patterns of a string as it moves through large, extended spatial dimensions…a string is equally free to oscillate in any of the extended directions in any moment. But if an ocean wave passes through a more cramped spatial environment, the detailed form of its wave motion will surely be affected by, for example, the depth of the water, the placement and shape of the rocks encountered the canals through which the water is channeled, and so on. .. curled-up spatial dimensions have a similar impact on the possible vibrational patterns of a string. Since tiny strings vibrate through all the spatial dimensions, the precise way in which the extra dimensions are twisted up and curled back on each other strongly influences and tightly constrains the possible resonant vibrational patterns… according to string theory, the universe is made up of tiny strings whose resonant patterns are the microscopic origin of particles of masses and force charges. String theory also requires extra dimensions that must be curled up to a very small size to be consistent with our never having seen them…because the patterns of string vibrations appear to us as the masses and charges of elementary particles, we can conclude that these fundamental properties of the universe are determined, in large measure, by the geometrical size and shape of the extra dimensions. That’s one of the most far-reaching insights of the string theory” (205-206).
A string really is like a strand of thread woven into a piece of spacetime fabric. There is a pattern to its design. These extra spatial dimensions “cannot be “crumpled” up any which way; the equations that emerge from the theory severely restrict the geometrical form that they can take,” (207). The Calabi-Yau spaces, which are six-dimensional geometrical shapes, can meet those conditions (207) and “are an integral and ubiquitous part of the spatial fabric” (208). “This richly intertwined multidimensional labyrinth within which the strings of the universe endlessly twist and vibrate, rhythmically beating out the laws of the cosmos” are “far from being accidental details” and are ”the properties of nature’s building blocks” that are “deeply entwined with the fabric of space and time” (18). If this order wasn’t a universal rule, there would be “no realization of space or time” and a “notion of before,” which “pushes most people’s powers of comprehension to their limit.” It would be inaccurate to picture jumbled mass of “vibrating strings that have yet to stitch themselves together into an ordered whole” (378). Without order there would be no understanding of the universe.
All this gets tied together by the M-theory, which has taken the “seemingly disconnected threads of research in string theory [and] have now been woven together into a single tapestry- a unique, all encompassing theory that may well be the long-sought theory of everything” (287). Although the abbreviation in “M”-theory has no known meaning, its greatest advancement for physics is the combination of “quantum mechanics and gravity, and since gravity is bound up with the form of space and time” it has enlightened us to new proof of a unified spacetime network. According to this theory there are objects called zero banes, “an object that behaves like a point particle at a large distance but has drastically different properties at short ones,” have showed scientists an unconventional window into a “spaceless and timeless realm” at the Planck size scale (379-380). However, using “scales larger than the Planck length, physicists have shown that our conventional notion of space does re-emerge” (381). The M-theory has also revealed that our reality actually consist of eleven dimensions, ten space and one time (287), which mathematically seals the theory of a united network of vibrating strings together- from earth to the end of the universe.
It is said that if we could tap into the energy of a single filament it could power the average air conditioning unit for one hundred hours. This calculation is not only unparalleled to any other, but makes me feel excited and terrified at the same time. Imagine the possibilities if we could tap into this power source, it would be a presumable earth friendly and unlimited power supply for the planet. On the other hand, humanity may be too unstable to be trusted with knowledge of a force that could no doubt create devastating bombs and weapons. We are quite far from this ability, and in reality it might not even be possible. However, the fact remains that the string theory represents strong implications for the way humankind regards the world.
Greene accurately calls this discovery the “Holy Grail of modern physics” (15). “Since Veneziano’s insightful guess in 1968, the [string] theory has been piece together, discovery by discovery, revolution by revolution” (375). “But even these paradigm-shaking discoveries are only part of a larger, all-encompassing story” of a truly unified framework of life. Through the M-theory’s ability to combine quantum mechanics with the four forces of the universe, physicists believe we’ve located the monumental truth that all creation is united by “meticulously executed” vibrating filaments (386). So far “no one has any explanation of why our universe is composed of these particular particles,” (12) nevertheless, due to many amazing scientific achievements due to the string theory many are convinced that the “theory is in the process of giving us our deepest understanding of how the universe works” (19). Through continued study of strings “we are fulfilling our part, contributing our rung to the human ladder reaching for the stars” (387).
“The astonishment at our ability to understand the universe at all is easily lost sight of in an age of rapid and impressive progress. However, maybe there is a limit to comprehensibility. Maybe we have to accept that after reaching the deepest possible level of understanding science can offer, there will nevertheless be aspects of the universe that remain unexplained. Maybe we will have to accept that certain features of the universe are the way they are because of happenstance, accident, or divine choice” (385).
Next time I look up to the endless and eternal kingdom of the sky, I’ll keep in mind that “the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalm 19:1). The superstring theory gives us all a better understanding of the creation of God’s elegant universe and makes us feel one with the magnificent heavens. This could be exactly what the “M”-theory stands for.