Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What the heck is string theory?

Song for this post: "Science is Real" ~ They Might Be Giants 

I should have been a middle school science teacher:

The topic of string theory came up today in a thread on my sister's facebook. Not shocking. My sisters and I have a bad habit of getting super scientific and super philosophical way too early in the morning. Anyway, a few people who saw it asked me in messages what the heck string theory is.  So, here ya go.  I'm gonna break it down for ya'll:

Ok.  So we know that everything is made up of matter...atoms.  And inside those atoms are little tiny particles.  Some of these sub atomic particles are called bosons and fermions.

Ya with me?


So, up until recently, and I guess still (since it's not a unified theory...we'll get to that later) man has not been able to reconcile Quantum Mechanics with General Relativity.

I know...totally just zoomed straight past the top of your head huh?

Ok let's talk about those tiny particles in the atom again:  bosons and fermions.

General Relativity (think Einstein) postulates that these little guys are total snobs and can't be in the same room as each other.  So not more than one can occupy a quantum state (think dancing your ass off)  at any given time 'cause they're all like, "Me me me! Get outta my limelight yo!"

Quantum Mechanics (actually it's Fermi-Dirac Statistics) says that these little buddies are super social and can party all night together.  So more than one can exist in a quantum state at any given time. It's kinda like So You Think You Can Dance. The contestants are all rad dancers, but it's way more interesting when they have a partner. Dancing alone is suuuuuper boring. You know...kinda like sex.

Ok so that's pretty cut and dry.

Let's move on...

There are some other dudes inside that atom called quarks and electrons.  You probably remember electrons from high school science right?

Well, up until recently, everyone thought these little buddies were really shallow and had nothing to offer a conversation.  They were soooo shallow, in fact, that they weren't even 1 dimensional, they were 0 dimensional.

String Theory gives them a little more credit than that. It says that they are, in fact, 1 dimensional. Damnit they've got something to say! For rlz!

Ok so think of it this way:

You're at a party and there are a whole bunch of electrons on one side of the room and a whole bunch of quarks on the other side of the room. And the bosons and fermions want to hang out with both of them because bosons and fermions like to party. But they can't because the electrons and the quarks are so shallow (remember that 0 dimensional bit) that no one can hold a the party gets super boring and there's no pathway (think of "dimensional" like a string, or a pathway) or "conversation" to connect and UNIFY all the groups of party-goers.

In String Theory, because the party goers are 1 dimensional, the bosons and fermions have a way to cross between the two groups in the room, thus connecting General Relativity to Quantum Mechanics.

Cool shit huh?

Okay. Now, broaden the scope of this:

You've heard of the Higgs Boson right? That teeny little particle that scientists built a HUGE Hadron Collider to find?  Actually, they built a few. So you're probably thinkin', "Hey buddy, why'djya build such a huge piece of machinary for some mircrscopic particle that might not even exist just because some dude did some math and was all like, ''s there?'"

Well, remember how the quarks and electrons are super shallow and are keeping the party goers (bosons and fermions) from having a grand time?  Well, the Higgs Boson (named after the scientist who posits its existence) would be proof that the party started and everyone danced together. Let me say it this way: quantum mechanics and general relativity would finally be a unified theory and, because of that, it'd connect TONS of physics and give us a MUCH greater understanding of where we came from, how we got here, where we're going, whether or not the big bang theory is what really happened; all those questions 20 year old philosophy majors ask when they're trying to impress a girl and get in her pants.

Rad stuff huh?

...And that's why so is mankind.


  1. Yup. <<< Physicist.


    1. ^^ Ya see that ya'll? I just got confirmed by a physicist. BOOM!

      ...yes. Nick is, in fact, a physicist. He majored in physics at UW.

      So there you go.