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What is the 'string' theory?


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Answered 2015-09-24 22:05:14

String theory refers to any one of five specific theories that attempts to unify the four fundamental forces: electromagnetism, strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force, and the most difficult of them all, gravity, via oscillatory dimensional analysis. In other words, it attempts to mathematically describe the universe as if its foundation were based on strings, where the strings that are vibrating correspond to the number of observable dimensions.

The five string theories in and of themselves were all headed in the right direction, but lacked completeness. Therefore an all-encompassing "Theory Of Everything" (TOE) that attempts to unify the five string theories was proposed and is the current leading candidate for a TOE. This theory is called M-theory, and only works if the universe consists of 11 separate strings. The main problem with M-theory, as well as with all of the string theories, is observable evidence, of which there hasn't been any. This is why the search for the Higgs boson at the LHC at CERN is so important. If it's found, theoretical physicists can collectively breath a little easier because that means they are on the right track with M-theory. If it isn't found, that means they're back to square one.

A:String theory attempts to unite quantum mechanics and general relativity so we can make sense of the universe on all scales, at any place or time, large or small without breaking down.

String theory does this by doing away with the idea that subatomic particles are point-like -- instead replacing that idea with tiny vibrating bits of energy, called strings.

They're so small, that if you enlarged a single atom to the size of our solar system, a string would be the size of a tree on earth. These strings are said to "vibrate" at different rates and that the "notes" (or different vibrational frequencies) give rise to the different properties of quarks and atoms.
Forgive the long explanation: this CAN'T be easily summed up.

Anytime one wants to describe our Universe in a way that can make useful predictions, one must create a "model" that simplifies the situation enough for someone to make a prediction. Thus, a flat map is a model of the surface of our planet, useful for predicting which direction to go when traveling short distances.

However, this "flat surface" model eventually fails, simply because our planet's surface is NOT flat. Thus, if you want to predict the best way to fly from New York to Paris, you MUST use a globe. It's a more complicated model, but more useful in that it covers more situations.

For standard model for particle physics is called (surprise!) the Standard Model. It combines special relativity with several quantum field theories into a self-consistent whole, and views particles as excited states of a quantum field.

This model has been proven to be unbelievably accurate in its predictions: experiments agree with theory at a level of ten significant digits. A theory this good is not going to be jettisoned without a good reason.

However, several problems with this model exist, chiefly that gravity does not (indeed, CAN not) exist within it. Combining gravity with quantum field theories has been a task that eluded the greatest minds of the last century.

String theory completely ignores the Standard Model, and (instead) models particles as vibrations on a string. Not a string that can vibrate in one dimension or even two dimensions, but in ELEVEN dimensions. The math, as you can imagine, is quite complicated. However, when you start with the M-Theory Model, you can end up with a self-consistent theory that includes both gravity AND quantum mechanics.

So why hasn't string theory replaced the Standard Model? Two reasons:

1) With the ST Model, you can not only get laws of physics just like those in our Universe, but you can get 10^500 OTHER laws of physics. It's like saying that one can predict the exact total profit of all corporations in the world (P[Total]) with the formula

(P[Total]) > 0

Yes, this formula DOES give the right answer, but it also gives a lot of OTHER answers.

2) It's not only presently impossible to develop an experiment to test whether ST is true, it's presently inconceivable. We don't just need a particle accelerator twice as big as CERN, or 100 times bigger, or a billion times bigger -- we need one bigger than the Universe!!

Scientists are presently trying to overcome these two problems, either by (1) showing that the laws of our Universe are the only ones permitted by the math or (2) developing an experiment that could resolve whether ST is a better place to start than the Standard Model, or just a mathematical oddity. We hope that future minds can resolve this.

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