"Not even wrong" - The Failure of String Theory and the Continuing Challenge to Unify the Laws of Physics the title of Columbia mathematical physicist Peter Woit's new book, was Nobel laureate Wolfgang Pauli's ultimate put-down for any theory he considered wide of the mark. The put down was adopted by Woit to describe string theory, the fashionable quantum-physics Swiss Army knife that has exploded in popularity the past 20 years, covering elementary particle physics, cosmology, and even consciousness.
Woit's central claim is that not only is string theory wrong, but that it has also tainted the intellectual atmosphere and has become the darling of the popular media. A recent reviewer has described Woit's effort: "With so many string theorists out there, trying to redress the balance is like spitting in the wind.
String theory is a model of fundamental physics whose building blocks are one-dimensional extended objects called strings, rather than the zero-dimensional point particles that form the basis for the standard model of particle physics. The phrase is often used as shorthand for Superstring theory, as well as related theories such as M-theory, which like Star Trek's Q-continuum in The Next Generation -Dr. Paul Manheim's nonlinear time "window into other dimensions"- proposes an infinite number of universes, each with their own laws of physics . By replacing the point-like particles with strings, an apparent but untested consistent quantum theory of gravity emerges. Moreover, it may be possible to "unify" the known natural forces (gravitational, electromagnetic, weak nuclear and strong nuclear) by describing them with the same set of equations."
The ultimate judge of any physical theory should be comparison with experiment, and the degree to which a scientific theory is use Karl Popper's phrase: Falsifiable. Woit duly underscores string theory's ultimate weakness : "Not a single experimental prediction has been made, nor are there any prospects for this to change soon." He adds a pithy remark by Feynman: "String theorists don't make predictions, they make excuses." Woit uncovers cases of dishonesty and outright fraud, such as the episode in 2002 involving the brothers Bogdanov.
In The Physics of Star Trek, Lawrence Krauss summarized the ultimate problem with string theory is that "Yes, Virginia there may be extra dimensions in the universe," but a quantum theory of strings cannot be made mathematically consistent with four or five or six dimensions. "It turns out that such theories can exist consistently only in 10 dimensions, or perhaps in 26!"
Like Star Trek's Reginald Barclay after he was zapped by a Cytherian probe and had a momentary IQ of 1200, wouldn't it be grand if we could debate Albert Einstein on the holodeck about which of these two possibilities make it more likely to incorporate quantum physics in the theory of general relativity.
Tomorrow's Galaxy Insight will feature legendary physicist David Deutsch and M-theory -a proposed "master theory" that unifies the five superstring theories. Drawing on the work from a number of string theorists, Edward Witten of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton suggested its existence in 1995, and used M-theory to explain a number of previously observed dualities.
Posted by Casey Kazan.
BBC Super-String Theory -A breathtaking video about the Grand Unification Theory for the universe and its implications on our understanding of the universe's nature