Stardust and Strings Pt.1
Every little carbon, hydrogen, oxygen atom coursing through your body came from a star’s death. The cycle of life rolls on, and in death comes not only our birth, but also the birth of new, baby stars. What grand epochs these atoms have lived through–the singularity, the Big Bang, the rapid expansion of our almost 14 billion year old universe, the irreversible increasing entropy of the cosmos, and the death of huge stars in a final fire show of exploding gases and fanfare. And the pinpricks of light receding into the black background, the cold static of microwave radiation, the fatal, elegant dance of binary galaxy systems. And the unseen terror of supermassive black holes and the veiled, mysterious “center” of the universe from which we all radiate outwards. And the cacophonous muteness of the ancient night sky.
And the strings. Everywhere.
According to superstring theory, the little atoms we are made of are made of subatomic particles like protons and neutrons which in turn are made up of quarks, which in turn are posited as strings of energy (electrons are strings as well). So why in the world would scientists make up this crazy theory about little strings of energy vibrating all around us?
It starts with our man, Sir Isaac Newton. He was a pretty cool guy. You know, just invented calculus, discovered the law of universal gravitation, and created classical mechanics, all before the age of 26. Yeah, he was alright.
Then comes along another guy named Albert Einstein. He thought that Newton’s ideas were pretty cool, but they just needed a bit of tweaking. Voilà, theory of special and general relativity. Now both Newton and Einstein were scientists of the macroverse–that which can be easily seen, measured, and quantified. They sought to unravel the inner designs of our waking world.
Enter Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrödinger, Born, de Broglie, Fermi, Planck, and a whole slew of other quantum physicists who turned the physics world upside down. They were the ones who shook their heads when the naive classical physicists of their time said, “That’s all, folks.” And so, they discovered the marvelous, unseen world of quantum mechanics, the elusive electrons, and the very core of reality as we know it today. Who knew that our own arm was mostly just empty space? That parts of it flit in and out of existence?
So the question becomes, how do you reconcile the theory of horrible immensities with the theory of the unthinkable minutiae? How do you fit gravity into the quantum world, and how do you fit wave function collapse into the fabric of the planets? Einstein spent the good beginning of his career fitting together Newtonian physics with electromagnetic physics in his theory of special relativity. Einstein shifted his attention to particles and developed a theory for photons called the photoelectric effect, giving wings to the fledgling quantum physicists who then explored deeper than ever before in the land of the atoms. The one thing that bothered him until the end of his life was the diametrically opposed nature of the laws of the big and the laws of the small. If he could just unify it all into one elegant mathematical equation to calculate the universe on any level…that was his dream.
This was the theory of everything, lost to Einstein and still lost to us today, and it still remains the question to answer. In the true spirit of Einstein’s originality, scientists now declare that string theory is the answer.
Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere. – Carl Sagan
– Beyond Apathy