What is it with String theory that makes closet physicists and fantasists like myself so gripped by it? When I say closet physicist I’m exaggerating by at least ten dimensions, which is the number of, dimensions string theorists believe all of the strings of multiverse vibrates in. Something like that, as my dyslexia and number blindness makes any thing involving maths or linking mathematical properties to abstract t concepts difficult. Yes, I am mildly dyslexic – a kind of inability to link the way a word sounds to the way it might be spelt – as if there’s a couple of synapses that just won’t fire – something I’ve struggled with all my life and suffered being labelled a late developer as a child. Unfortunately this also translated into a number blindness, which drove my mathematician father crazy and lead to a horrible inability to even grasp factions. However I am very good on visionally imagining abstract concepts – so the visual idea of a infinite number of universes stretching out – a mattress of valleys and troughs – each universe, equipped with its own set of physics and logic tunnelling through into another valley – is easily conceived to someone with my overworked imagination. It’s just when bombarded with equations and sums for eternal inflation that the intellectual gyroscope starts whirling like a demented kaleidoscope.
But like many, in times of political and historical upheaval I find solace in scientific hypothesis – especially when that hypothesis advocates the notion that a. Our universe are not unique, a concept I would have said was obvious, from the time of Copernicus’s execution, but hey, I’m sure there’s a plethora of bible bashers who would disagree and b. Following that there might be alternatives to the current mismanagement of our own planet that might be a little more egalitarian and evolved.
It’s not so much the idea that string theory will end up the theory of everything and solve annoying enigmas such as black holes and badly behaved atoms as much as the notion that the universe is not alone and that perhaps it isn’t as finite as we once presumed. I guess this might directly relate to one’s own sense of mortality. We all have to die but somehow the idea that my atoms might end up floating out into 10 and not four dimensions is a little more comforting.
There’s a couple of inspiring articles I recommend in the latest two issues of New Scientist – 2/05/09 by Anil Ananthaswamy– which was a far more coherent depiction of the dilemmas and solutions to the theory and very lay person friendly – and one in the 30/5/09 by Jessica Griggs. Both of which had me lying in bed reiterating the plot of Donnie Darko and wondering (in that half-terrified way one does at 4am) whether it wasn’t time for a worm hole to appear at the foot of the bed to transport me up to somewhere where steam airships replace the subway and we all have animal spirits instead of neuroses (although in my case I suspect it would be a neurotic ferret) a la Pullman. Which brings me to my next point – why is it in Sci-fi (or scientific based fantasy novels) the laws of physics all resemble the basic laws of physics here on Earth? As far as I (the dyslexic number blind lay person) can ascertain there is no evidence that this would be the case.
And maybe, just maybe string theory – a bit like industrialisation did for the fiction of H.G. Wells etc at the turn of the 20th century – will open a whole new fictional landscape of astral visitors, alternative travel destinations and esoteric philosophy. Many would argue it has already.