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A Universe Made of Strings? What's New?

Everything in the universe is made out of strings. So say the proponents of the latest theory to take physics by storm. All the basic particles of which the universe is made are tiny strings instead of points, as previously assumed. Physicists are attracted to the superstring theory because of its beautiful mathematical structure. I am attracted to it because I knew it all along. In the first place, I have seen these strings. They are luminous, and if you pull them you can watch the universe cha

By | October 20, 1986

Everything in the universe is made out of strings. So say the proponents of the latest theory to take physics by storm. All the basic particles of which the universe is made are tiny strings instead of points, as previously assumed.

Physicists are attracted to the superstring theory because of its beautiful mathematical structure. I am attracted to it because I knew it all along.

In the first place, I have seen these strings. They are luminous, and if you pull them you can watch the universe change. There are several kinds of strings and many kinds of string-pulling. One kind of string connects all living things. One of the major, if little-known, dangers of television is that it snips the luminous strings that connect living things to one another. (The order of strings that connects TVs to one another is more primitive.)

The major activity of our tangled universe is the pulling of strings. The growth of a human being can be measured simply by whether it "knows the ropes." If it does, it's an adult. The major adult question is: Who's pulling the strings? An adult who knows the ropes and who pulls the strings is a Super Adult.

The physicists see in the string theory the best hope for a unified theory accounting for all the particles of nature and the forces that control them, including gravity. This would be a kind of Super Adult theory, cognizant of string-pulling at all levels.

Previous theory, namely that the universe is made out of points, was naive. You can make all the points you want; it will amount to nothing if you don't know the ropes-and who's pulling the strings.

The only problem I foresee is that another theory may be waiting in the wings: namely, that the universe is made entirely of tiny hammers and sickles. I saw those, too, another time. Meanwhile, watch the ball of yarn Penelope and Ariadne keep us spi-ning.

Codrescu is an associate professor at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, 70803.

This piece originally aired on National Public Radio's series "All Things Considered" on September 13, 1985.
Copyright © 1985 National Public Radio. Reprinted with the permission of National Public Radio.

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