Friday, February 13, 2015

String Theory - No Strings Attached

The mythical unified field theory, alternatively known (to the author) as the “should explain literally everything” theory, has eluded physicists since the dawn of time. To understand the basis for this, one must first understand what a field is. A field in physics is defined as a place in which a force can exist. Now, in recent years, physicists have managed to determine that there are four forces that govern all actions in our universe, those being gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. Today, we use the Standard Model simply because it explains the most in the simplest way possible, but even this theory cannot explain all four forces, as it is unable to explain gravity. The unified field theory, if it does exist, would be able to explain all four forces and how they react in a single, unified field; that is, it illustrates exactly how all four of these forces work and coexist in our universe. Today, we have a theory that, while technically not a theory, can explain our entire universe and everything going on inside of it.

String theory attempts to explain “life, the universe, and everything” by defining a universal single building block for every subatomic particle - the string. A string is a one-dimensional object that connects with itself, like a circle. Strings vibrate with specific waveforms at specific frequencies, generating different types of particles. Each string’s vibrations influence the other strings around it, creating what we perceive as the forces from interactions between particles. These strings also presumably interact through ten spatial dimensions, as opposed to our three spatial dimensions and one temporal dimension. The supposed reason for us never detecting the existence of these other six spatial dimensions is that these dimensions are collapsed and only detectable at the same scale as the strings themselves. There are structures called Calabi-Yau spaces that model how these dimensions entwine, each dictating ways in which strings resonate one another. Essentially, each Calabi-Yau space defines different rules and constants for the universe, because when the strings play differently, different particles and reactions are generated.

As a musician, I find string theory interesting that our universe’s rules could be dictated by what is essentially music. Every string is like a single instrument in the orchestra that would be our universe. When every instrument playing its part, the particles of our universe are created, and the interactions between the instrument sections create the forces between these particles. Each Calabi-Yau space is like a unique composition of this orchestra of strings, as each space defines the universe’s rules differently. It’s a somewhat obtuse metaphor, as the similarities are only superficial, but it is interesting enough to me that I can justify spending a paragraph on it.

Unfortunately, despite its ability to satisfy the requirements for a unified field theory, string theory has been dismissed by most physicists as a waste of time. This is primarily due to the fact that string theory is technically not a theory, because it can be neither verified nor falsified, essentially making it a moot claim. Theoretically, some time in the future we should be able to verify the existence of strings, but modern physics simply cannot monitor objects that small, nor can we monitor six more spatial dimensions that we cannot perceive or comprehend. However, with the current rate of advancement in technology, we should one day be able to perceive sizes this small and put string theory to the test.
- Jacob Lee