Good Vibrations: String Theory And The Unified Laws Of Physics
String theory has been at the cutting edge of science for the past 50 years, if not longer. Unlike many theories that come and go this has remained at the forefront of the scientific communities’ mind, and has even bridged its way into mainstream culture and conscience.
So, everyone knows of it, but what is it?
Many physicists believe that there is a uniformity between the laws of physics, which means that they have the potential to be amalgamated into one beautiful, unified, theory.
We can thank Sir Isaac Newton for proving the logic of this concept when he realized that there are a few universal laws that apply to the whole of nature. For example, the ‘force’ (although not technically a force, like ‘push’ or ‘pull’) that made the famous apple fall on Newton’s head, or makes your latte fall to the ground as you fumble for your purse in a crowded street, is the same thing that causes the tide, the planets to orbit the sun, and your hair to hang limply on your cheeks – despite emptying a whole can of Elnett in a bid to keep it up. Three cheers for gravity!
We can simplify the world around us to the extent where there are only two things: space and time. The world in which we live has four dimensions of space-time; three dimensions of space (length, width and height) and one dimension of time.
String theory postulates that there are an additional six dimensions, but they are so tightly curled in the fabric of space-time that they are beyond microscopic – so tiny that the size of one ‘string’ is 10-33cm.
These ‘strings’ are minute, vibrating structures that sit in these ten dimensions of space-time, and make up all forms of matter and are the cause of the laws of physics as we know them.
There have been two versions of string theory put forward. The former, bosonic string theory, is so named as it only incorporates a form of particles called bosons. The later version is known as superstring theory, an 11-dimensional model.
In the 1990s, scientists were not tearing up the dance floors to No Doubt or ‘N Sync; they were busy trying to sort the good from the bad and the ugly of FIVE cogent variations of superstring theory. This prompted physicist Edward Witten to combine all five models into one unified theory, known as M-theory. I like to think that M-theory is short for ‘Mother of all theories’, but Witten has said that the M can stand for ‘magic’, ‘mystery’, or ‘’matrix’.
Whether you agree with scientists such as Stephen Hawking, Witten and Juan Maldacena on the actuality of string theory, or disagree, the possibility of merging everything in existence in one theory is a very exciting thought indeed.