I’m reading a book titled “The Elegant Universe” by Brian Greene. The book’s subtitle is “Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory.”
The book is Greene’s attempt to tell the history of superstring theory, which is (or rather, might be) a Theory of Everything, or T.O.E. Superstring theory (or string theory) is an attempt by physicists to tie together quantum mechanics and the general theory of relativity. The basic idea behind string theory is that atomic stuff like electrons and quarks are not points but 1 dimensional strings. The existence of the strings has not been proven, partly because they cannot be seen by any technology we possess today. String theory is an idea that has been in development for decades and will probably continue to be worked on and agonized over by the world’s most astute scientists for many years to come.
String theory is not easy to understand. I won’t bother trying to explain any more than I have above, not because you wouldn’t understand it but because I am not capable of doing it. Yes, I’m reading the book and yes, I’m trying real hard to make sense of it. I’ve read a number of books about physics, quantum mechanics, and relativity over the years that were written by scientists but were intended for general readership. I have about as good a general understanding of such stuff as any other common person. But don’t ask me to explain any of it because the words it takes to put the ideas across are not in my vocabulary.
Like any T.O.E., string theory encompasses just about everything that physicists know anything about. That’s one reason that it’s so difficult to fathom. A theory that contains everything must by nature be an awesome theory. Everything is a lot of stuff, and an explanation for all of it, even if the explanation is considered beautiful and symmetrical by physicists, is bound to get pretty complicated. Take, for example, one aspect of string theory that deals with dimensions. Some string theorists believe that our universe is made up of as many as 11 dimensions. An important part of the dimension portion of string theory is the Calabi-Yau manifold. A simple representation of that abstruse entity can be seen in the image above. The Calabi-Yau is supposed to convey the complexity of a six-dimensional space. Can you imagine residing is such an environment? The dimensions higher that the four we know (length, depth, width, and time) can apparently only be found in subatomic space. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a good place for them.
I have not yet finished Greene’s book. I will finish it soon. When I do, expect to know a bit more about string theory than I did before I started reading it. That will not necessarily make me a better person, or better prepare me for life’s ups and downs. But I believe it will make me realize that there is there is a whole lot about our universe that I know little about because I cannot observe it. In those cases, I depend on scientists to do the observing for me. I just hope that when they do, they have the words in their vocabularies that will help me understand a small portion of what they have seen. No strings attached.