TECH & SCIENCE
IT’S often stated by physicists and scientists in other related disciplines that the amount of things we’re yet to discover about the universe far exceed that which we already know.
In fact, the only thing we know for certain is that we don’t know much at all.
When it comes to explaining the crazy universe we live in we use two distinct sets of rules: quantum mechanics, which is the study of all things super-small (atoms, quarks and plancks) and general relativity, which is the study of larger things (people, planets, and stars).
The problem is, these two sets of rules don’t play very well together.
The way matter behaves on a quantum level - and the rules governing it - can vary wildly to the way matter behaves on a large scale, and it’s a puzzle that has kept physicist busy for decades now.
You may have come across the term ‘unifying theory’ - this is the ultimate goal of physicists who are attempting to solve this puzzle: to come up with a theory that explains the way matter behaves on both a large scale, and a quantum scale.
Enter string theory - the hypothetical explanation for everything.
And while a theory of everything sounds great in - well - theory, the concepts presented in string theory are generally far too complicated for our pathetically feeble brains to comprehend, would almost certainly obliterate any sense of ego we foolishly cling to, and would generally have us questioning whether the whole ‘existence’ thing is so great anyway, and wouldn’t it be much simpler and easier if things just stopped existing?
But if you’re feeling particularly nihilistic today, here’s a few facts about string theory that might melt your noodle and grant you a terrific sense of utter insignificance.
You’re a hot, tangled mess
So you may be wondering what’s with the strings, anyhow?
Has some cosmic kitten tangled every known particle in the universe together with a big ball of yarn?
Does it mean we’re all tied together in a marvelously delicate knot of energy, time, - evolution, and coincidence?
While string theory doesn’t have much to say about cosmic kittens - beyond it being adorable, obviously - it certainly posits the latter notion.
According to string theory, all particles are just tiny vibrating strings called gravitons, with each type of vibration matching to a different particle across multiple dimensions (more on that next).
In our current understanding of the universe, there are four dimensions: X (left-to-right), Y (top-to-bottom), Z (forward-and-backward), and time itself.
That is, we can move in three spatial dimensions, and time is constantly moving around us.
And those strings? They stretch across each one simultaneously, unifying time and space, and providing a common set of principles that can be applied to everything from atoms to galaxies.
But if that wasn’t tricky enough…
Multiple versions of you exist in six additional dimensions
Try to imagine your existence within the additional six hypotheti- cal dimensions created by string theory.
It’s hard enough rolling out of bed each day, but imagine knowing there’s another you in another dimension, one very similar to our own, who’s already showered and out the door of an awesome, deluxe space mansion you can only dream about.
But why do you know your doppelganger is out there?
Because you’ve just glimpsed into the fifth dimension - one originally posited by German mathematician Theodor Kaluza, and Swedish physicist Oskar Klein.
Together, the two developed the Kaluza-Klein Theory, which is a unified field theory of gravity and electromagnetism.
Through their research, Kaluza and Klein sparked the concept that if these two principles exist unseen, then perhaps they are emerging from another plane entirely.
From here, the crazy only intensifies: the sixth dimension is not just a world similar to our own – but an entire plane of possible worlds, all starting at the same time as ours.
The Seventh, one that allows access to these theoretical planes, and which experiences time in an entirely different way than our own dimension.
That is to say, dimension seven’s Big Bang could have started just a few million years earlier, and their Earth (relatively speaking) is ahead in the evolutionary process compared to our own, which explains your distinct lack of anything resembling a space mansion.
The eighth and ninth dimensions are exponential variations on the seventh which would provide us with a kaleidoscopic view of universes that have varying histories, laws of nature, perceptions of time itself, all culminating in the tenth dimension: an unfathomable realm in which everything about the known universe can be perceived all at once.
Check out next week’s column for an exploration of more concepts surrounding string theory.
WHAT A YARN: The universe is a complicated tangle of space, time, matter and forces, and many scientists believe that string theory holds the key to sorting it all out.