Posted: Mon Oct 25, 2004 7:07 pm Post subject: String theory
I just learned about something called the string theory. The string theory is that there are particles smaller than sub-atomic particles. For more info. I suggest visiting this website:
If you would rather watch a video than read an article then there is also a video, just click Watch program.
When you watch it you will have a better understanding of this theory. This theory goes on to say that there are parallel universes, and a bunch of wierd stuff.
I would like some feedback on this, but my real question is that is there anything about this in the ginans or the Quran. And also do you think that there are different dimensions (other than the ones that we know (xyz and time).
Posted: Sat Oct 30, 2004 4:02 am Post subject: String Theory and Ginans
Thanks for sharing this info. I will express my philosophical views on this subject once I have had a chance to review the whole program. This has been a subject of keen interest to me.
As I was watching the animated representation of the string theory I could not help wondering whether the cluster of strings resemble the foamy substance alluded to by our Pirs in the undermentioned verses of Ginans.
Ginan: Ya Khudavand Anant Kalap Me
yaa khudaava(n)d, peer ne vachane saahebe chee(n)taj deedhaa
taare feenn thakee ek i(n)dd upaayaa jee.......12
Oh Lord: The Lord engaged His entire consciousness contemplating
upon the Peer's request(promise). It was only after that, the Lord
created an egg out of a foamy substance.
Granth: Moman Chitveni
to muneevar bhaaee taare saamee jee-e te maa(n)he het dhareo,
ane sa(n)saar seerajeaa nu(n) aachaar;
taare mukh maa(n)he thee pheenn nu(n) gotto kaaddheo,
te maa(n)he thee keedho te ee(n)ddaa nu(n) aakaar re..............2
Brother believer, then the Lord bore love in His heart, and conceived the creation of the universe. Then from His mouth he took out a ball of foam, and from it He fashioned the form of an egg.
Last edited by kmaherali on Sun Oct 31, 2004 4:15 am, edited 1 time in total
Thank you for replying. I thought no one would really care, but apperantly you do, so thank you.
You are welcome! I think it is inappropriate to make such a sweeping remark that no one would really care. The very fact that there are individuals who take time to visit this site on a regular basis shows that they have an interest and that they do care. It is just that some of the concepts are new and that it is sometimes better to remain quite than to say things that would be out of context. In this particular case one needs to spend at least 3 hrs to view the video. That is a lot of time for someone who does not have the basic knowledge of the issues that are being addressed.
Our faith is of quality, not of quantity. Therefore if there is at least one person who really cares, it is worth the effort.
Also, some of the questions that you raise are quite profound and they do require a bit of reflection before an appropriate and a reasonable answer can be given. So patience is the key!
Has anybody visited this site except Kmaherali?
Cmon guys it is very educational, talks a lot about Einstein and his work. I encourage everybody to check out the videos. If you have fast internet conncection then you will enjoy it a lot more, but the dial up people can still read the article. I really encourage everybody to check this site out. And if you have no comments just say I looked at the website, that would be good enough.
Joined: 18 Dec 2003 Posts: 78 Location: Houston, Texas
Posted: Thu Nov 04, 2004 10:08 am Post subject:
Ya Ali Madad
I just viewed the site you recommended and while doing so my daughter saw me looking at it and apparently she had seen it before, i havent thoroughly read all of the explinations but got a summary of them from her. I think that the string theroy is clearly strongly linked to spirtuality and spirtual energy. Another interesting part of the site was the discussion about the dimensions and how perplexive the 4th dimension was/is. These dimensions are again closely linked to spirtuality and spirtual elevation and could be seen as progress of upliftment and therfore seen as the fruits of knowledge one man attain when the soul is elevlated to a certain level.
I find it facinating that science is finally linking with sprituality (not that it wasn't before but that it is now a KNOWN linkage)
Thank You for sharing this site with me and my daughter
Posted: Thu Nov 04, 2004 1:07 pm Post subject: String Theory - Observations
The major flaw in this program in my view was that there was no mention about the role of man and in particular the consciousness in the perception of creation. In that respect it treats man as a ‘particle’ which contradicts the religious viewpoint which places man as a crown of creation. Quantum mechanics acknowledges the key role of the observer in the process of observing or perceiving reality. I was expecting some form of acknowledgement of this fact considering that this theory tried to integrate the explanation of the quantum world and the outer space.
Even the everyday three dimensions that we perceive are not really the property of reality but rather our perception of it. Hence through elevation of soul as mentioned by KarimGazi, one can perceive the higher dimensions. As Hafiz mentions in his poem, as a man can climb a mountain and see vast distances, similarly an elevated soul could expand his consciousness to encompass past and future and to be able to see all together.
It also brought out the key fact that all scientific theories are tentative and can change based on new discoveries. They are ways of explaining phenomena and not intrinsic properties of phenomena. I have a feeling that this String Theory has a good chance of success as there is a strong underlying consensus and as mentioned in my earlier post on this, it is backed by our Ginans!
String Theory is another 'window' that Allah is constructing to explain the marvels of his creation as per following statement of MHI.
"In Islamic belief, knowledge is two-fold. There is that revealed through the Holy Prophet (s.a.s.) and that which man discovers by virtue of his own intellect. Nor do these two involve any contradiction, provided man remembers that his own mind is itself the creation of God. Without this humility, no balance is possible. With it, there are no barriers. Indeed, one strength of Islam has always lain in its belief that creation is not static but continuous, that through scientific and other endeavours, God has opened and continues to open new windows for us to see the marvels of His creation."( 1983, SPEECH AT THE ACCEPTANCE OF THE CHARTER OF THE AGA KHAN UNIVERSITY
provided man remembers that his own mind is itself the creation of God. Without this humility, no balance is possible. With it, there are no barriers. ( 1983, SPEECH AT THE ACCEPTANCE OF THE CHARTER OF THE AGA KHAN UNIVERSITY)
Allah hu Akbar, Mashaallah.
Now, I have a question that popped up recently reading The Book of Secret by Deepak Chopra: As the new age theory goes that "God is within you" and "each one of us are connected with each other", my question is, how does Ismaili theology equates or explains God is within you theory? If there is a justification then where does Imam's noor fit in this equation?
Not sure if I'm expressing myself properly above, so please feel free to ask to clarify.
Now, I have a question that popped up recently reading The Book of Secret by Deepak Chopra: As the new age theory goes that "God is within you" and "each one of us are connected with each other", my question is, how does Ismaili theology equates or explains God is within you theory? If there is a justification then where does Imam's noor fit in this equation?
Not sure if I'm expressing myself properly above, so please feel free to ask to clarify.
First of all, I share your sentiments about MHI’s statement. What a statement! A combination of wisdom and profound knowledge of science.
God within you is expressed in many Ginans , for example in the following verse of Buj Niranjan we have:
Granth: Bujh Niranjan
re tu(n)hee ...
jees gurku(n) satagur kahu(n)
so ve bhae ghatt maa(n)e re;
jo ghattathee pragatt hoe,
to rome rome sukh paaere......................................IX
O You, ... The one whom I call the True Guide is really within us. When this fact is realised through the inner enlightenment, then one attains peace in every pore of his being(his/her whole being is immersed in peace and joy).
I am not sure if that is what you are seeking. As mentioned in other forums God is the Imam and who is the True Guide.
Mawlana Islamshaah who is the progeny of Aly is the King. Allah is indeed the Imaam.
This is taught by Peer Sadardeen and is stated (confirmed) by Peer Hassan Kabeerdeen
who says: "My momins will have an abode in paradise" (if they follow the Imaams).
However, again this is subject to individual search, one's iman and love for the imam and ones own beliefs. Having said this I think if you take MSMS statement where he says (not exact)
if you consider me god, i am your god, if you consider me your imam i am your imam, if you consider me a friend then i am only a friend.
I think to address this whole is allah=aly concept it grows with pure love for imam e zaman and a strong iman
hope this helps some,
sorry for going a little bit off topic but I hope this addressed your question
Posted: Fri Dec 31, 2004 5:02 am Post subject: Higher Dimensions and Reality
I would like to greet you Happy New Year with the following message which involves a subject of keen interest to me and which can transform the way we approach life. I believe it should be an important component or aspect of our knowledge and understanding given that science and technology will continue to be a major influence in our lives.
In one of my earlier posts on this discussion, I mentioned that one may attain the higher dimensions mentioned in the string theory through Ibaadat. That is, one can transcend the ordinary three dimensional reality confined to the ordinary sensory perceptions and develop higher instruments of perception through spiritual elevation. The following is a footnote in "The Second Coming of Christ" by Paramahansa Yogananda which resonates these views.
Since the divergence of science and religion in centuries past, scientists have typically greeted the idea of "higher dimensions" with skepticism. At the forefront of advanced physics today, however, is the theory of superstrings - a theory that not only allows for additional dimensions but requires them, writes Brian Greene, Ph.D., in The Elegant Universe:Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory (New York: Vintage Books, 2000).
Furthermore, reports Los Angeles Times science writer K.C. Cole, scientists acknowledge that cosmic forces as yet unnamed by physics may well exist in the other dimensions required by string theory. "If so," she writes in The Hole in the Universe (New York: Harcourt, 2001), "they could have far-reaching effects, and perhaps even explain some of physics' most difficult puzzles."
String theorists explain that we don't detect the additional dimensions in the universe because even though forces emerge from them, spatially they are tightly "curled up" to almost infinitesimal size. Other scientists, including William Tiller, Ph.D., professor of materials science and engineering at the Stanford University, maintain that higher dimensions remain invisible not because they are small but because they are "inaccessible to the physical sensory system, or to present-day instrumentation."
A proposal that is all the more remarkable in that it comes from a Nobel Prize winning physicist has been put forth by Professor Brian Josephson of Cambridge University, renowned for key discoveries in subatomic quantum mechanics: "Mystical experience by self-development through meditation, etc., is not only the key to one's own development but also key...to putting this attempt to synthesize science and religion on a solid foundation...If we follow this path of a synthesis of science and religion (using meditation as an observational tool), what we are doing is using our own nervous system as instruments to observe the domains in which God works. Ordinary scientific instruments like telescopes, galvanometers, and particle detectors are not going to be good in this context because they are designed to function in the material domain. Our nervous systems, on the other hand, are designed to allow us to interact not only with the material level of existence but also with the spiritual levels...All the different levels are open to exploration if we develop our nervous system so that they tune in. One can imagine that this would be a part of the scientific training of the future." - from Nobel Prize Conversations With Sir John Eccles, Roger Sperry, Ilya Progogine, Brian Josephson (Dallas: Saybrook Publishing Company, 1985).
The quest for a theory linking all matter and all forces led physicists deep into hyperspace, where they got horribly lost. But suddenly the way ahead has become clear, says superstring theorist.
Is there a Final Theory in physics? Will we one day have a complete theory that will explain everything from subatomic particles, atoms and supernovae to the big bang? Einstein spent the last 30 years of his life in a fruitless quest for the fabled unified field theory. His approach has since been written off as futile.
In the 1980s, attention switched to superstring theory as the leading candidate for a final theory. This revolution began when physicists realised that the subatomic particles found in nature, such as electrons and quarks, may not be particles at all, but tiny vibrating strings.
Superstring theory was a stunning breakthrough. It became one of the fastest growing and most exciting areas of theoretical physics, generating a feverish outpouring of thousands of papers.
Then, in the early 1990s, progress seemed to grind to a halt. People became discouraged when they failed to find the answers to two key questions: where do strings come from, and is our Universe among the many solutions of superstring theory? But now the Internet is buzzing again as papers pour in to the bulletin board at Los Alamos National laboratory in New Mexico, the official clearing house for superstring papers.
The trigger for this excitement was the discovery of "M-theory", which may answer those two vital questions about superstrings. "I may be biased on this one, but I think it is perhaps the most important development not only in string theory, but also in theoretical physics at least in the past two decades," says Harvard physicist Cumrun Vafa. M-theory led John Schwarz of Caltech, one of the founders of superstring theory, to proclaim a "second superstring revolution". And it inspired a spellbinding three-hour lecture by another leading exponent,Edward Witten of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, New Jersey. The aftershocks of the breakthrough have spread to other disciplines, too. "The excitement I sense in the people in the field and the spin-offs into my own field of mathematics...have really been quite extraordinary," says Phillip Griffiths, director of the Institute for Advanced Study." I feel I've been very privileged to witness this first hand."
In one dazzling stroke, M-theory has come close to solving superstring theory's two long-standing questions , leaving many theoretical physicists (myself included) gasping at its power. M-theory, moreover, may even force string theory to change its name because, although many features of M-theory are still unknown , it does not seem to be a theory purely of strings. Other strange beasts seem to emerge, including various types of membranes. Michael Duff of Texas A&M University is already giving talks with the title " The theory formerly known as strings".
"Nature shows us only the tail of the lion. But I do not doubt that the lion belongs to it even though he cannot at once reveal himself because of his enormous size" - Albert Einstein
M-theory does not prove the final correctness of superstring theory. Not by any means. Proving or disproving its validity may take years more. But it still marks an astonishing breakthrough. Remember that some of the finest minds of this century have been stumped by the problem of creating a "Theory of Everything". Einstein summed up the problem when he said: Nature shows us only the tail of the lion. But I do not doubt that the lion belongs to it even though he cannot at once reveal himself because of his enormous size." The tail" is what we see in nature , which can be described by the four fundamental forces -gravity, electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces. The lion is the ultimate theory that will unify them in one short equation.
Today, physicists believe that the first force, gravity, can be described by Einstein's general relativity, based on the smooth warping of the fabric of space- time. This is an elegant theory that describes the macroscopic world of black holes, quasars and the big bang. But gravity has stubbornly refused to unite with the other three forces , which are described by quantum theory. Here, instead of the smooth fabric of space-time, we have the discrete world of packets of energy, or quanta.
The form of quantum theory that goes furthest in describing matter and its interactions is the Standard Model, which is based on a bizarre bestiary of particles such as quarks , leptons and bosons (see Diagram). The Standard Model may be one of the most successful theories in science, but it is also one of the ugliest. Its inadequacy is betrayed by some 19 arbitrary constants not derived by any kind of theory that have to be put in "by hand" to make the equations work.
Capturing the "lion", which unites these two great theories, would be a crowning achievement for physics. But while Einstein was first to set off on this noble hunt, tracking the footprints left by the lion, he ultimately lost the trail and wandered off into the wilderness.
Today, however, physicists are following a different trail-the one leading to superstring theory. Unlike previous proposals, it has survived every blistering mathematical challenge ever hurled at it. Not surprisingly, the theory is a radical-some might say crazy-departure from the past, being based on tiny strings vibrating in 10-dimensional space-time.
"The subatomic particles we see in nature are nothing more than different resonances of the vibrating superstrings"
To understand how going to higher dimensions can help to unify lower dimensions, think back to how the Romans used to fight wars. Without radio communications and spy planes, battles were horribly confused, raging on many fronts at the same time. That's why the Romans always leapt into "hyperspace"- the third dimension-by seizing a hill- top. From this vantage point, they were able to survey the two-dimensional battlefield as a single, unified whole.
Missing: the Standard Model works well, but still has big gaps. Could superstrings complete the picture?
Leaping to higher dimensions can also simplify the laws of nature. In 1915, Einstein changed completely our notion of gravity by leaping to the extra dimension of time. In 1919, the German mathematician Theodor Kaluza added a fifth dimension and in so doing unified space-time with Maxwell's equations for electromagnetism. This triumph was largely forgotten amid the frenzy of interest generated by quantum mechanics. Only in the 1980s did physicists return to this idea to create superstring theory.
In superstring theory, the subatomic particles we see in nature are nothing more than different resonances of the vibrating superstrings, in the same way that different musical notes emanate from the different modes of vibration of a violin string. (These strings are very small-of the order of 1035 metres.)
Likewise, the laws of physics -the forces between charged particles, for example-are the harmonies of the strings; the Universe is a symphony of vibrating strings. And when strings move in 10-dimensional space-time, they warp the space-time surrounding them in precisely the way predicted by general relativity. So strings simply and elegantly unify the quantum theory of particles and general relativity. Better still, gravity is not an inconvenient add-on. "Unlike conventional quantum field theory, string theory requires gravity," Witten has said. "I regard this fact as one of the greatest insights in science ever made."
But, of course, all this takes place in 10 dimensions. Physicists retrieve our more familiar 4-dimensional Universe by assuming that, during the big bang, 6 of the 10 dimensions curled up (or "compactified") into a tiny ball, while the remaining four expanded explosively, giving us the Universe we see. What has consumed physicists for the past ten years is the task of cataloguing the different ways in which these six dimensions can compactify.
Their task has been especially difficult because mathematicians have not worked out the topology and properties of these higher-dimensional universes. The physicists have had to blaze the trail and invent entirely new areas of mathematics. These efforts have revealed millions of compactifications, each of which yields a different pattern of quarks, electrons and so on.
As we have seen, the first frustrating problem with superstring theory is that physicists do not understand where strings come from. To make matters worse, there are five string theories that unify quantum theory with relativity. This is an embarrassment of riches. Each competing theory looks quite different from the others. One, called Type 1 string theory, is based on two types of strings : "open strings", like short strands with two ends, and "closed strings", in which the ends meet to form a ring. The other four have only closed strings. Some, such as Type 2b, generate only left- handed particles, which spin in only one direction [Ref I.Asimov "Left Hand of the Electron"]. Others, such as Type 2a, have left and right-handed particles.
Today's excitement has grown from the finding that if we postulate the existence of a mysterious M-theory in 11 dimensions we can show that the five competing string theories are actually different versions of the same thing. Like a Roman general surveying the battlefield from the third dimension, physicists today stand on the hilltop of the 11th dimension and see the five superstring theories below, unified into a simple, coherent picture, representing different aspects of the same thing.
The first step towards this advance came two years ago when Witten and Paul Townsend of the University of Cambridge showed that Type 2a string theory in 10 dimensions was equivalent to M-theory in 11 dimensions with one dimension curled up. Since then, all five theories have been shown to be equivalent. So at last physicists know where superstrings come from : they originate in the 11th dimension from M-theory.
M-theory also predicts that strings coexist with membranes of various dimensions. For example , a particle can be defined as a zero-brane (zero-dimensional object). A string is a one-brane, an ordinary membrane like a soap bubble is a two-brane, and so on. (Using p to represent the dimension of the object, one wag dubbed this motley collection "p-branes" ) When these p-branes vibrate or pulsate , they create new resonances , or particles, which were missed in earlier formulations of superstrings. The name "M-theory" was coined by Witten: M perhaps stands for "membrane" or the "mother of all strings", or possibly "mystery" Take your pick.
To see how this all fits together, imagine three blind men hot on the trail of Einstein's lion. Hearing it race by, they give chase and desperately grab at it. Hanging onto the tail for dear life, one feels its one-dimensional form and loudly proclaims, "It's a string. The lion is a string." The second man grabs the lion's ear. Feeling a two-dimensional surface , he calls out "No, no, the lion is really a two-brane." The third blind man, hanging on to the lion's leg, senses a three-dimensional solid, and shouts , "You're both wrong. The lion is a three- brane !" They are all right. Just as the tail, ear and leg are different parts of the same lion , the string and various p-branes appear to be different limits of M-theory. Townsend calls it "p-brane democracy".
The acid test for any theory is that it must fit the data. No matter how original and elegant superstring theory is , it will stand or fall on whether it describes the physical Universe. Either it is a Theory of Everything, as its advocates hope , or it is a theory of nothing.
There is no in-between. So theoretical physicists must answer the second question : is our Universe, with its strange collection of quarks and subatomic particles, among the solutions of superstring theory? This is where it runs into an embarrassing problem, which is that physicists have been unable to find all its four-dimensional solutions. The mathematics have been fiendishly difficult-too hard for anyone to solve completely.
In general, there are two types of solutions. So far, only the first class, called "perturbative" solutions have been found. Across all branches of physics, theorists faced by an equation they cannot solve reach for well-established ways to find approximate solutions. In superstring theory, millions of these perturbative solutions have been catalogued. Each one corresponds to a different way in which to curl up 6 of the 10 dimensions. However, none of them precisely reproduces the pattern of quarks , leptons and bosons in the Standard Model, although some come close.
"M-theory solves entire classes of problems that were previously thought to be unsolvable . It even gives us valuable details of quantum effects In black holes"
So, many believe that the Standard Model may be found among the second class of solutions, the "non-perturbative" solutions. But non-perturbative solutions are generally among the most difficult of all solutions in physics. Some physicists despaired of ever finding non- perturbative solutions of superstring theory. After all, even the non-perturbative solutions of simple four-dimensional theories are completely unknown , let alone those of a complicated 10-dimensional theory.
How does M-theory help to solve this intractable problem? The answer lies in a startling tool called "duality". Simply put, in M-theory there is a duality, or simple mathematical relationship , between the perturbative and non-perturbative regions. This allows us at last to take a peek at this "forbidden zone".
To see how duality works, consider Maxwell's theory of electricity and magnetism , for example. Physicists have known for decades that if they interchange the electric field E and magnetic field B in Maxwell's equations , and also swap the electric charge e and magnetic charge g, then the equations stay the same. That is, nothing happens to Maxwell's theory if we make the dual transformation: E«B and e«g.
In fact, in Maxwell's theory, the product e times g is a constant: so small e corresponds to large g. This is the key. Suppose an equation includes a mathematical function that depends on g2 and which cannot be solved exactly. The standard mathematical trick is to approximate a solution with a perturbation expansion: g2+ g4 + g6... and so on. So long as g is less than 1, each successive term in the series is smaller than the last, and the overall value converges on a single figure.
But if g is greater than 1 then the total gets larger and larger, and the approximation fails. This is where duality comes in. If g is large, then e is less than 1. Using perturbation , we get the series e2+ e4 + e6 which gives a sensible value. Ultimately, this means that using perturbation on e can solve problems in the non-perturbative region of g.
Duality in Maxwell's theory is rather trivial. But in M-theory, we find another duality: g«1/g. This relationship, though simpler, turns out to be incredibly powerful. When I first saw it, I could hardly believe my eyes. It meant that a string theory defined for large g, which is usually impossible to describe using present-day mathematics, can be shown to be equivalent to another type of string theory for small g, which is easily described using perturbation theory.
Thus, two different string theories can be dual to each other. In the non- perturbative region of string theory was another string theory. This is how, in fact, we prove the equivalence of all five string theories. Altogether, three different types of duality called S, T and U have been discovered , which yield an intricate web of dualities linking string theories of various dimensions and types. At an incredible pace , physicists have now mapped almost all the solutions and dualities that exist in 10, 8 and 6 dimensions.
Before M-theory, finding the non-perturbative solutions in these dimensions would have been considered impossible. Now the problem is trivial. For example , let us say that two theories A and B are dual to each other in 10 dimensions. If we compactify both theories in the same way, then we obtain theories A' and B'. But now we know something new: that A' is also dual to B'. Thus, the non-perturbative behaviour of A' is given by B'. By elaborating this process, we get an almost complete understanding of the different possible universes down to 6 dimensions. Thus, M-theory solves entire classes of problems that were previously thought to be unsolvable. It even gives us valuable new details about quantum effects in black holes.
But there are many loose ends. For example, what precisely is M-theory? So far, we only know fragments of the theory (the low-energy part). We are still waiting for someone to come up with a full description of M-theory Last year, Vafa shocked physicists by announcing that there may be a 12-dimensional theory lurking out there, which he called "F-theory" (F for father).
More important, we are still far from mapping all the dualities of four dimensions. If everything works out as hoped , we should find that one of these four- dimensional universes contains the Standard Model and thus describes the known Universe. But there are millions of these solutions, so sifting through them to find the one we are after will take many years.
So will the final theory be in 10, 11 or 12 dimensions? According to Schwarz, the answer may be none of these. He feels that the true theory may not have a fixed dimensionality, and that 11 dimensions only emerge once we try to solve it. Townsend takes a similar view, saying, " The whole notion of dimensionality is an approximate one that only emerges in some semiclassical context."
So does this means that the end is in sight-that some day soon we will be able to work out the Standard Model from first principles? When I put this question to some leading physicists in this field they were still cautious. Townsend likened our present state of knowledge to the old quantum era of the Bohr atom, just before the full elucidation of quantum mechanics. "We have some fruitful pictures and some rules," he says. "But it's also clear that we don't have a complete theory."
Witten, too, believes we are on the right track. But he says we will need a few more "revolutions" like the present one to finally solve the theory. "I think there are still a couple more superstring revolutions in our future, at least," says Witten. "If we can manage one more superstring revolution a decade , I think that we will do all right." From Harvard, Vafa adds: "I hope this is the light at the end of the tunnel'. But who knows how long the tunnel is?"
Personally,I am optimistic. For the first time, we can see the outline of the lion , and it is magnificent. One day, we will hear it roar.
Michio Kaku is professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York and author of Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey through the 10th Dimension, Oxford University Press.
For decades, physicists have been sure they could explain the universe in a handful of complex equations: now many are starting to fear they have been led down a cul-de-sac
Robin McKie, science Editor
Sunday October 8, 2006
The most ambitious idea ever outlined by scientists has suffered a remarkable setback. It has been dismissed as a theoretical cul-de-sac that has wasted the academic lives of hundreds of the world's cleverest men and women.
This startling accusation has been made by frustrated physicists, including several Nobel prize winners, who say that string theory - which seeks to outline the entire structure of the universe in a few brief equations - is an intellectual dead end.
Two new books published in America question its very basis. Far from providing mankind with the answers to the mystery of the cosmos, the theory is bogus, they claim.
As one scientist put it: 'The uncritical promotion of string theory is now damaging science.'
However, string theory proponents - who also include several Nobel prize winners - have denounced the criticisms and robustly defended their field. It has already led to many major breakthroughs in mathematics and physics, they say.
Suddenly string theory is tying scientists in knots - although the idea's origins are innocuous enough, and can be traced to physicists' attempts to get out of an intellectual impasse.
Last century, they created quantum mechanics to explain how tiny things - atoms and electrons - behave, while Einstein produced his theory of general relativity to account for the behaviour of huge objects such as galaxies.
Both theories work well - but they are incompatible. Quantum physics cannot explain massive things and relativity cannot account for little ones. By comparison, biologists have Darwin's theory of natural selection to explain living things, big and small, from whales to bacteria. Physicists have no unified code - a prospect that upset Einstein so much that he spent his last 20 years hunting, fruitlessly, for a unified theory of everything.
Then, in the Eighties, a group of scientists created string theory. Matter is not made up of small dot-like entities such as neutrons or quarks, they claimed, but of incredibly small threads of energy that vibrate. A string that vibrates one way becomes an electron. Another, vibrating differently, becomes a neutron. And another becomes one of the carriers of the force of gravity.
'You can think of the universe as a symphony or a song - for both are made up of notes produced by strings vibrating in particular ways,' said Professor Michael Green of Cambridge University.
It sounds intriguing. Unfortunately, to make their equations work, scientists had to add another six dimensions to the universe: four were not enough, though we cannot see these extra dimensions because they are so tightly crumpled up that they are invisible, it was argued. To the general public, of course, all this is faintly baffling.
Nevertheless, string theory proved encouragingly effective - at a theoretical level - to explain both the very small and the incredibly large, and so it began to dominate the study of fundamental physics at universities through the world. According to protagonists, it would soon be possible to describe the cosmos in a few simple equations that could fit on a T-shirt.
But as the years have passed, scientists failed to produced a single practical observation to support the theory. One problem, they said, was that the energy needed to break open matter and study the strings inside it is so colossal that it would require machines big enough to cover the planet.
On top of these problems, recent calculations have produced a surprising prediction from string theory: that there may be an almost infinite number of different universes, some of which would be like our own, and others that would be very different.
And it is at this point that the rot set in. An unprovable theory that talks of unseeable parallel universes and 10-dimensional space has proved too much for some physicists. 'Quasi-theology' and 'post-modern' have been among the most polite terms used; 'bogus' and 'nonsense' among the less forgiving.
'Far from a wonderful technological hope for a greater tomorrow, string theory is the tragic consequence of an obsolete belief system,' said Stanford University's Robert Laughlin, winner of the 1998 Nobel prize for physics.
For a theory that purports to explain the entire structure of the universe, such a high-level attack is very serious. Nor is Laughlin alone: for example, Peter Woit, of Columbia University, and Lee Smolin, of the Perimeter Institute, Canada, have just published books attacking string theory.
'Too many people have been overselling very speculative ideas,' said Woit - author of Not Even Wrong - last week. 'String theory has produced nothing.'
This point was backed by Smolin, whose book is called The Trouble with Physics. Scientists have poured all their energies into a theoretical approach that is proving sterile, he said. 'It is as if every medical researcher in the world had decided there was only way to fight cancer and had concentrated on this line of attack, at the expense of all other avenues,' he said. 'Then that approach is found not to work and scientists discover they have wasted 20 years. That's the parallel with string theory.'
Part of the problem, say critics, is that, in the Eighties, talented young physicists were encouraged by professors to take up string theory because of its immense promise. Now they are middle-aged department heads who have committed their lives to the subject and cannot see it is bogus. It is the scientific equivalent of the emperor's new clothes.
Not surprisingly, such accusations are angrily rejected by string theorists. A theory of everything cannot be created overnight, they argue. It is like complaining about the sound made by an unfinished violin. 'String theory is on the right path,' said David Gross, of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and another Nobel prize winner. 'But this path is quite long. Further breakthroughs are required.'
Nor is it correct to argue that the theory is wrong because it makes no provable or disprovable predictions, said Sanjaye Ramgoolam, of Queen Mary, University of London. 'There are a number of ways that we could prove - or disprove - string theory. For example, Europe's new Large Hadron Collider [being built at Cern in Geneva] may well be powerful enough to provide evidence that suggests we are on the right road.'
And as for the notion that string theorists have their heads stuck in the sand and refuse to see the truth, this is firmly rejected by Green: 'All scientists are excited by new ideas. That is why we are scientists. But when it comes to a unified theory, there have been no new ideas. There is no alternative to string theory. It is the only show in town - and the universe.'
A dinner party guide to string theory
ï¿½ Matter is made up of infinitesimally small strings of vibrating energy.
ï¿½ Different vibrations produce different particles, like the quark and the electron.
ï¿½ We live in a 10-dimensional universe.
ï¿½ Proponents say it is the only hope we have of producing a unified theory of everything, the holy grail that eluded Einstein.
SEVENTY-FIVE years ago this month, The New York Times reported that Albert Einstein had completed his unified field theory — a theory that promised to stitch all of nature's forces into a single, tightly woven mathematical tapestry. But as had happened before and would happen again, closer scrutiny revealed flaws that sent Einstein back to the drawing board. Nevertheless, Einstein's belief that he'd one day complete the unified theory rarely faltered. Even on his deathbed he scribbled equations in the desperate but fading hope that the theory would finally materialize. It didn't.
In the decades since, the urgency of finding a unified theory has only increased. Scientists have realized that without such a theory, critical questions can't be addressed, such as how the universe began or what lies at the heart of a black hole. These unresolved issues have inspired much progress, with the most recent advances coming from an approach called string theory. Lately, however, string theory has come in for considerable criticism. And so, this is an auspicious moment to reflect on the state of the art.
First, some context. For nearly 300 years, science has been on a path of consolidation. In the 17th century, Isaac Newton discovered laws of motion that apply equally to a planet moving through space and to an apple falling earthward, revealing that the physics of the heavens and the earth are one. Two hundred years later, Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell showed that electric currents produce magnetic fields, and moving magnets can produce electric currents, establishing that these two forces are as united as Midas' touch and gold. And in the 20th century, Einstein's work proved that space, time and gravity are so entwined that you can't speak sensibly about one without the others.
This striking pattern of convergence, linking concepts once thought unrelated, inspired Einstein to dream of the next and possibly final move: merging gravity and electromagnetism into a single, overarching theory of nature's forces.
In hindsight, there was almost no way he could have succeeded. He was barely aware that there were two other forces he was neglecting — the strong and weak forces acting within atomic nuclei. Furthermore, he willfully ignored quantum mechanics, the new theory of the microworld that was receiving voluminous experimental support, but whose probabilistic framework struck him as deeply misguided. Einstein stayed the course, but by his final years he had drifted to the fringe of a subject he had once dominated.
After Einstein's death, the torch of unification passed to other hands. In the 1960's, the Nobel Prize-winning works of Sheldon Glashow, Abdus Salam and Steven Weinbergwon 1979 revealed that at high energies, the electromagnetic and weak nuclear forces seamlessly combine, much as heating a cold vat of chicken soup causes the floating layer of fat to combine with the liquid below, yielding a homogeneous broth. Subsequent work argued that at even higher energies the strong nuclear force would also meld into the soup, a proposed consolidation that has yet to be confirmed experimentally, but which has convinced many physicists that there is no fundamental obstacle to unifying three of nature's four forces.
For decades, however, the force of gravity stubbornly resisted joining the fold. The problem was the very one that so troubled Einstein: the disjunction between his own general relativity, most relevant for extremely massive objects like stars and galaxies, and quantum mechanics, the framework invoked by physics to deal with exceptionally small objects like molecules and atoms and their constituents.
Time and again, attempts to merge the two theories resulted in ill-defined mathematics, much like what happens on a calculator if you try to divide one by zero. The display will flash an error message, reprimanding you for misusing mathematics. The combined equations of general relativity and quantum mechanics yield similar problems. While the conflict rears its head only in environments that are both extremely massive and exceptionally tiny — black holes and the Big Bang being two primary examples — it tells of a fissure in the very foundations of physics.
Such was the case until the mid-1980's, when a new approach, string theory, burst onto the stage. Difficult and complex calculations by the physicists John Schwarz and Michael Green, who had been toiling for years in scientific obscurity, gave compelling evidence that this new approach not only unified gravity and quantum mechanics, as well as nature's other forces, but did so while sweeping aside previous mathematical problems. As word of the breakthrough spread, many physicists dropped what they were working on and joined a global effort to realize Einstein's unified vision of the cosmos.
String theory offers a new perspective on matter's fundamental constituents. Once viewed as point-like dots of virtually no size, particles in string theory are minuscule, vibrating, string-like filaments. And much as different vibrations of a violin string produce different musical notes, different vibrations of the theory's strings produce different kinds of particles. An electron is a tiny string vibrating in one pattern, a quark is a string vibrating in a different pattern. Particles like the photon that convey nature's forces in the quantum realm are strings vibrating in yet other patterns.
Crucially, the early pioneers of string theory realized that one such vibration would produce the gravitational force, demonstrating that string theory embraces both gravity and quantum mechanics. In sharp contrast to previous proposals that cobbled gravity and quantum mechanics uneasily together, their unity here emerges from the theory itself.
While accessibility demands that I describe these developments using familiar words, beneath them lies a bedrock of rigorous analysis. We now have more than 20 years of painstaking research, filling tens of thousands of published pages of calculations, which attest to string theory's deep mathematical coherence. These calculations have given the theory countless opportunities to suffer the fate of previous proposals, but the fact is that every calculation that has ever been completed within string theory is free from mathematical contradictions.
Moreover, these works have also shown that many of the prized breakthroughs in fundamental physics, discovered over the past two centuries through arduous research using a wide range of approaches, can be found within string theory. It's as if one composer, working in isolation, produced the greatest hits of Beethoven, Count Basie and the Beatles. When you also consider that string theory has opened new areas of mathematical research, you can easily understand why it's captured the attention of so many leading scientists and mathematicians.
Nevertheless, mathematical rigor and elegance are not sufficient to demonstrate a theory's relevance. To be judged a correct description of the universe, a theory must make predictions that are confirmed by experiment. And as a small but vocal group of critics of string theory justly emphasize, string theory has yet to do so. This is a key point, so it's worth serious scrutiny.
We understand string theory much better now than we did 20 years ago. We've developed powerful techniques of mathematical analysis that have improved the accuracy of its calculations and provided invaluable insights into the theory's logical structure. Even so, researchers worldwide are still working toward an exact and tractable formulation of the theory's equations. And without that final formulation in hand, the kind of detailed, definitive predictions that would subject the theory to comprehensive experimental vetting remain beyond our reach.
There are, however, features of the theory that may be open to examination even with our incomplete understanding. We may be able to test the theory's predictions of particular new particle species, of dimensions of space beyond the three we can directly see, and even its prediction that microscopic black holes may be produced through highly energetic particle collisions. Without the exact equations, our ability to describe these attributes with precision is limited, but the theory gives enough direction for the Large Hadron Collider, a gigantic particle accelerator now being built in Geneva and scheduled to begin full operation in 2008, to search for supporting evidence by the end of the decade.
Research has also revealed a possibility that signatures of string theory are imprinted in the radiation left over from the Big Bang, as well as in gravitational waves rippling through space-time's fabric. In the coming years, a variety of experiments will seek such evidence with unprecedented observational fidelity. And in a recent, particularly intriguing development, data now emerging from the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at the Brookhaven National Laboratory appear to be more accurately described using string theory methods than with more traditional approaches.
To be sure, no one successful experiment would establish that string theory is right, but neither would the failure of all such experiments prove the theory wrong. If the accelerator experiments fail to turn up anything, it could be that we need more powerful machines; if the astronomical observations fail to turn up anything, it could mean the effects are too small to be seen. The bottom line is that it's hard to test a theory that not only taxes the capacity of today's technology, but is also still very much under development.
Some critics have taken this lack of definitive predictions to mean that string theory is a protean concept whose advocates seek to step outside the established scientific method. Nothing could be further from the truth. Certainly, we are feeling our way through a complex mathematical terrain, and no doubt have much ground yet to cover. But we will hold string theory to the usual scientific standard: to be accepted, it must make predictions that are verified.
Other detractors have seized on recent work suggesting that one of string theory's goals beyond unification of the forces — to provide an explanation for the values of nature's constants, like the mass of the electron and the strength of gravity — may be unreachable (because the theory may be compatible with those constants having a range of values). But even if this were to prove true, realizing Einstein's unified vision would surely be prize enough.
Finally, some have argued that if, after decades of research involving thousands of scientists, the theory is still a work in progress, it's time to give up. But to suggest dropping research on the most promising approach to unification because the work has failed to meet an arbitrary timetable for complete success is, well, silly.
I have worked on string theory for more than 20 years because I believe it provides the most powerful framework for constructing the long-sought unified theory. Nonetheless, should an inconsistency be found, or should future studies reveal an insuperable barrier to making contact with experimental data, or should new discoveries reveal a superior approach, I'd change my research focus, and I have little doubt that most string theorists would too.
But this hasn't happened.
String theory continues to offer profound breadth and enormous potential. It has the capacity to complete the Einsteinian revolution and could very well be the concluding chapter in our species' age-old quest to understand the deepest workings of the cosmos.
Will we ever reach that goal? I don't know. But that's both the wonder and the angst of a life in science. Exploring the unknown requires tolerating uncertainty.
Brian Greene, a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia, is the author of "The Elegant Universe" and "The Fabric of the Cosmos."
1)Nima Arkani-Hamed, a theoretical physicist, predicts large extra
2)The Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland may confirm his ideas
3)LHC results may change ideas of spacetime for the first time since
4)String theory postulates that the building blocks of matter are
By Elizabeth Landau
(CNN) -- Visiting a particle accelerator is like a religious
experience, at least for Nima Arkani-Hamed.
Nima Arkani-Hamed, a leading theoretical physicist, thinks the
universe has at least 11 dimensions.
Immense detectors surround the areas where inconceivably small
particles slam into one another at super-high energies, collisions
that may confirm Arkani-Hamed's predictions about undiscovered
properties of nature.
Arkani-Hamed is only in his mid-30s, but he has distinguished
himself as one of the leading thinkers in the field of particle
His revolutionary ideas about the way the universe works will
finally be put to the test this year at Switzerland's Large Hadron
Collider, which will be the world's most powerful particle
The accelerator, estimated to cost between $5 billion and $10
billion, could provide answers to questions physicists have had for
decades. Thousands of scientists from around the world are
collaborating on the project at the European Organization for
Nuclear Research, or CERN.
If the results confirm any of Arkani-Hamed's predictions, they would
be the first extension of our notions of space-time since Albert
"We're essentially guaranteed that there's going to be something
surprising," Arkani-Hamed said of the Large Hadron Collider, which
will operate inside a 17-mile circular tunnel. See what's planned
for the collider »
Regarded as a "gem," Arkani-Hamed is "opening our minds and creating
a new world of ideas that challenge deep-grained preconceptions
about spacetime," said Chris Tully, professor of physics at
Princeton University, who is working on the Compact Muon Solenoid
experiment at the Large Hadron Collider.
"From the point of view of the big experiments at the LHC, there is
no amount of money or craftsmanship that would produce the kind of
insight that comes from sharing LHC data with a true visionary like
Nima Arkani-Hamed," Tully said.
Formerly a professor at Harvard, Arkani-Hamed currently sits on the
faculty at the prestigious Institute for Advanced Study in
Princeton, New Jersey, where Einstein served from 1933 until his
death in 1955.
"He was lured from Harvard to the IAS; I'm sure that's considered
quite a coup," said Daniel Marlow, a physics professor at Princeton
who is also collaborating on the CMS experiment.
Arkani-Hamed has had a hand in explaining how the world can operate
according to Einstein's theory of general relativity, which
describes the universe on a very large scale, and at the same time
follow quantum mechanics, laws that describe the universe on a scale
smaller than the eye can see.
Some of the key mysteries that stem from these clashing theories
include why gravity is so weak, relative to the other fundamental
physical forces such as electromagnetism and why the universe is so
large. These issues come up because on an inconceivably small scale,
the particles that make up our world seem to behave completely
differently than one might imagine.
For example, if you are driving a car, your GPS tells you where you
are, and your speedometer tells you how fast you are moving. But on
the scale of particles like electrons, it is impossible to know both
position and speed at once; the very act of trying to find out
requires incredible amounts of energy.
If it takes so much energy just to try to pin down a particle, then,
in theory, all particles should have temporary energy changes around
them called "quantum fluctuations." This energy translates into
mass, since Einstein famously said that mass and energy are
interchangeable through the equation E=mc2.
"It makes it extremely mysterious that the electron, or indeed,
everything else that we know and love and are made of, isn't
incredibly more massive than it is," Arkani-Hamed said.
A theory that has emerged in recent decades that claims to bring
some relief to physics mysteries like these is called superstring
theory, or string theory for short. Previously, scientists believed
that the smallest, most indivisible building blocks of our world
were particles, but string theory says the world is made of
extremely small vibrating loops called strings.
In order for these strings to properly constitute our universe, they
must vibrate in 11 dimensions, scientists say. Everyone observes
three spatial dimensions and one for time, but theoretical models
suggest at least seven others that we do not see.
Arkani-Hamed proposed, along with physicists Savas Dimopoulos and
Gia Dvali, that some of these dimensions are larger than previously
thought -- specifically, as large as a millimeter. Physicists call
this the ADD model, after the first initials of the authors' last
names. We haven't seen these extra dimensions because gravity is the
only force that can wander around them, Arkani-Hamed said.
String theory has come under attack because some say it can never be
tested; the strings are supposed to be smaller than any particle
ever detected, after all. But Arkani-Hamed says the Large Hadron
Collider could lead to the direct observation of strings, or at
least indirect evidence of their existence.
In fact, by slamming particles into one another, the Large Hadron
Collider may detect particles slipping in and out of the dimensions
that Arkani-Hamed has worked on describing.
Particle collisions should begin at the Large Hadron Collider in
August or September, according to the US/LHC Web site. Evidence of
theories such as the ADD model could be discovered by 2009, Marlow
Data reflecting Arkani-Hamed's work on large extra dimensions "would
really provide the first confirmation in this very profound way we
might think about nature," Marlow said.
Arkani-Hamed always had a great love of the natural world as a
child. Though his parents are also physicists, he considers it
his "act of teenage rebellion to become one too," as his mother
wanted him to become a doctor.
He remembers being impressed around age 14 that Newton's laws could
enable him to calculate such things as the minimum speed that a
space shuttle had to attain to escape the Earth's gravitational
field. He'd wondered whether scientists had reached the figure of 11
kilometers per second by trial and error, shooting things in the air
until the right speed emerged, until he could calculate it himself.
"When I figured out how to do that for myself, I just thought it was
just the coolest thing, that little old me, scratching away on my
piece of paper, could figure this out," he said. "From about 13 or
14, I knew that this is what I wanted to do."
Study may have found evidence of alternate, parallel universes
Prepare to have your mind blown.
An astrophysicist says he may have found evidence of alternate or parallel universes by looking back in time to just after the Big Bang more than 13 billion years ago.
While mapping the so-called "cosmic microwave background," which is the light left over from the early universe, scientist Ranga-Ram Chary found what he called a mysterious glow, the International Business Times reported.
Chary, a researcher at the European Space Agency's Planck Space Telescope data center at CalTech, said the glow could be due to matter from a neighboring universe "leaking" into ours, according to New Scientist magazine.
"Our universe may simply be a region within an eternally inflating super-region," scientist Chary wrote in a recent study in the Astrophysical Journal.
"Many other regions beyond our observable universe would exist with each such region governed by a different set of physical parameters than the ones we have measured for our universe," Chary wrote in the study.
While the findings sound promising and have already gained the attention of other astronomers, as Russia Today (RT) reported, it could be quite complicated to verify, since the Planck telescope provides limited data for further study.
"Unusual claims like evidence for alternate universes require a very high burden of proof," Chary noted in the study.
Even Physicists Find the Multiverse Faintly Disturbing
It’s not the immensity or inscrutability, but that it reduces physical law to happenstance.
How do you feel about the multiverse?” The question was not out of place in our impromptu dinner-table lecture, yet it caught me completely off-guard. It’s not that I’ve never been asked about the multiverse before, but explaining a theoretical construct is quite different to saying how you feel about it. I can put forth all the standard arguments and list the intellectual knots a multiverse would untangle; I can sail through the facts and technicalities, but I stumble over the implications.
In physics we’re not supposed to talk about how we feel. We are a hard-nosed, quantitative, and empirical science. But even the best of our dispassionate analysis begins only after we have decided which avenue to pursue. When a field is nascent, there tend to be a range of options to consider, all of which have some merit, and often we are just instinctively drawn to one. This choice is guided by an emotional reasoning that transcends logic. Which position you choose to align yourself with is, as Stanford University physicist Leonard Susskind says, “about more than scientific facts and philosophical principles. It is about what constitutes good taste in science. And like all arguments about taste, it involves people’s aesthetic sensibilities.”
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