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The Finer Points

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  • The Finer Points

    THE FABRIC of the COSMOS, Brian Greene, 2004
    ```(annotated and with added bold highlights by Epsilon=One)
    Chapter 12 - The World on a String
    The Finer Points
    With the description I've given so far, it might seem baffling that any physicist would resist the allure of string theory. Here, finally, is a theory that promises to realize Einstein's dream and more; a theory that could quell the hostility between quantum mechanics and general relativity; a theory with the capacity to unify all matter and all forces by describing everything in terms of vibrating strings; a theory that suggests an ultramicroscopic realm in which familiar space and time might be as quaint as a rotary telephone; a theory, in short, that promises to take our understanding of the universe to a whole new level. But bear in mind that no one has ever seen a string and, except for some maverick ideas discussed in the next chapter; it is likely that even if string theory is right, no one ever will. Strings are so small that a direct observation would be tantamount to reading the text on this page from a distance of 100 light-years: it would require resolving power nearly a billion billion times finer than our current technology allows. Some scientists argue vociferously that a theory so removed from direct empirical testing lies in the realm of philosophy or theology, but not physics. annotation 1: click

    I find this view shortsighted, or, at the very least, premature. annotation 2: click While we may never have technology capable of seeing strings directly, the history of science is replete with theories that were tested experimentally through indirect means. 13 String theory isn't modest. Its goals and promises are big. And that's exciting and useful, because if a theory is to be the theory of our universe, it must match the real world not just in the broad-brush outline discussed so far, but also in minute detail. annotation 3: click As we'll now discuss, therein lie potential tests.

    During the 1960s and 1970s, particle physicists made great strides in understanding the quantum structure of matter and the nongravitational forces that govern its behavior. The framework to which they were finally led by experimental results and theoretical insights is called the standard model of particle physics and is based on quantum mechanics, the matter particles in Table 12.1, and the force particles in Table 12.2 (ignoring the graviton, since the standard model does not incorporate gravity, and including the Higgs particle, which is not listed in the tables), all viewed as point particles. The standard model is able to explain essentially all data produced by the world's atom smashers, and over the years its inventors have been deservedly lauded with the highest honors. Even so, the standard model has significant limitations. We've already discussed how it, and every other approach prior to string theory, failed to merge gravity and quantum mechanics. But there are other shortcomings as well.

    The standard model failed to explain why the forces are transmitted by the precise list of particles in Table 12.2 and why matter is composed of the precise list of particles in Table 12.1. Why are there three families of matter particles and why does each family have the particles it does? Why not two families or just one? Why does the electron have three times the electric charge of the down-quark? Why does the muon weigh 23.4 times as much as the up-quark, and why does the top-quark weigh about 350,000 times as much as an electron? Why is the universe constructed with this range of seemingly random numbers? The standard model takes the particles in Tables 12.1 and 12.2 (again, ignoring the graviton) as input, then makes impressively accurate predictions for how the particles will interact and influence each other. But the standard model can't explain the input — the particles and their properties — any more than your calculator can explain the numbers you input the last time you used it.

    Puzzling over the properties of these particles is not an academic question of why this or that esoteric detail happens to be one way or another. Over the last century, scientists have realized that the universe has the familiar features of common experience only because the particles in Tables 12.1 and 12.2 have precisely the properties they do. Even fairly minor changes to the masses or electric charges of some of the particles would, for example, make them unable to engage in the nuclear processes that power stars. And without stars, the universe would be a completely different place. Thus, the detailed features of the elementary particles entwined with what many view as the deepest question in all of science. Why do the elementary particles have just the right properties to allow nuclear processes to happen, stars to light up, planets to form around stars, and on at least one such planet, life to exist?

    The standard model can't offer any insight into this question since the particle properties are part of its required input. The theory won't start to chug along and produce results until the particle properties are specified. But string theory is different. In string theory, particle properties are determined by string vibrational patterns and so the theory holds the promise of providing an explanation.
    Last edited by Epsilon=One; 10-16-2012, 08:57 AM.

  • #2
    Philosophical Logic is a higher discipline than physics.

    (Return to Annotated Thread)

    Originally posted by Reviewer
    Some scientists argue vociferously that a theory so removed from direct empirical testing lies in the realm of philosophy or theology, but not physics.
    Annotation 1
    YES! Philosophy, particularly Philosophical Logic (Philogic), is a higher discipline than physics. And, ultimately, Science, Theology and Philosophy are One.

    Physics limits itself to that which is quantitative; where as, both micro and macro Reality does not know limits other than the duality of Infinity.

    Reality extends beyond measurement to Infinity (the infinitesimal and infinite) with speeds near motionlessness and the subliminal.

    Originally posted by Reviewer
    I find this view shortsighted, or, at the very least, premature.
    Annotation 2
    Absolutely! Most post-modern, academic, theoretical physicists are myopic. They cannot see beyond their symbolic equations that are often derived from extrapolations; and, seldom is there a concern for “Why?”; only “How.” Physics is an axiom based science without a first postulate. All logic indicates nothing else . . .

    Originally posted by Reviewer
    String theory isn't modest. Its goals and promises are big. And that's exciting and useful, because if a theory is to be the theory of our universe, it must match the real world not just in the broad-brush outline discussed so far, but also in minute detail.
    Annotation 3
    Something of which the metaphysical, enigma riddled, extrapolation created, standard model theory is incapable.

    (Return to Annotated Thread)
    Last edited by Epsilon=One; 06-17-2013, 06:26 AM.
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