In Physics, we just finished a unit on Einstein’s special theory of relativity. Relativity is counterintuitive at first, but most high school seniors can grasp the basic concepts once some groundwork is laid. After going through time dilation, length contraction, the twin paradox, and E=mc2, we took three days to watch “The Elegant Universe,” a PBS/NOVA episode on string theory (available online here).
String theory is an attempt to explain how gravity relates to the other fundamental forces: electromagnetism, the strong force, and the weak force. In its current form, it requires that there be eleven dimensions (the three of space we are familiar with, time, and seven hidden dimensions), plus alternative universes that parallel our own. It is highly speculative and difficult (or impossible in some respects) to test by experiment.
We watched the movie (which is very well done and entertaining) and then discussed it. My students didn’t have a problem with there being extra dimensions (nor do I), but expressed skepticism about the possibility of parallel universes (as do I). Perhaps the reason some physicists are so willing to accept this whole theory is that it attempts to explain the big bang (origin of the universe) without a creator. But, of course, even if string theory could explain what caused the big bang to occur, it still hasn’t answered the big questions:
- Why is there something rather than nothing?
- Where did the laws come from that govern the universe?
Because of the whole multiple parallel universe thing, many Christians have problems with string theory. An alternative to string theory has recently appeared, proposed by a surfer/snowboarder physics PhD named Garrett Lisi. His model is based on an elaborate geometric model called E8. Its math is way beyond most of us, but is simpler than the math that goes into string theory. It has received positive reception within the physics community, but has not yet been thoroughly evaluated.
New Scientist has an article on Lisi’s proposal here: Is mathematical pattern the theory of everything?
Lisi’s paper is posted online: An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything (609 kb pdf). I look at the math in this paper and am amazed that anyone can follow it, but I guess that’s why God made physicists. And this is simple compared to string theory!
In the 1500s and 1600s, the reason that heliocentrism was accepted by scientists over geocentrism was because the mathematics of planetary motion was much simpler if one placed the sun at the center of the solar system rather than the Earth. If E8 (or whatever it ends up being called) passes initial scrutiny, it could replace string theory as the “theory of everything” that physicists seek.
Thanks to: Glenn at Be Bold, Be Gentle.
The E8 system, with each point corresponding to a particle, some of which have not yet been observed:
Grace and Peace