Wednesday, October 3, 2012

String Theory: WTF it is and Why you should not care

My friend, Ashi, and I were discussing the movie Cloud Atlas and before we knew it, we started talking about parallel dimensions and time and space. After a brief discussion, we agreed that Tom Hanks is looking mad old, but we disagreed that parallel dimensions are a reality. “All that stuff is just science fiction.” Ashi said.
“No, it’s not. It’s called String Theory!” I replied.
“What exactly is String Theory?” she asked.
I realized I didn’t know, myself, so I just replied “Actually, I’m not sure. I think it’s a kind of pasta.”

String Theory in Action
I decided to do some research and knew exactly who to ask: a senior theoretical particle physicist at the California Institute of Technology, a.k.a Sheldon Cooper. I found a YouTube video titled “Sheldon and Raj String Theory Montage” and knew without a doubt this would answer all my questions:

After watching the video, the only thing I learnt was that String Theory is a lot similar to computer science classes in CMU. I then spent the next 2 hours watching episodes of Big Bang Theory. I spent another hour watching youtube videos of babies and puppies and soldiers coming home from war. I laughed. I cried. YouTube is a great way to take a bi-polar journey of yourself!
Finally, I remembered I had Brian Greene’s book “The Elegant Universe” gathering dust on my bookshelf. I went straight to the chapter “String Theory: the Basic Idea”. Here is what it said:
According to String Theory, if we could examine particles with a precision many orders of magnitude beyond our present technological capacity, we would find that each is not pointlike, but instead consists of a tiny one-dimensional loop. Like an infinitely thin rubber band, each particle contains a vibrating, oscillating, dancing filament that physicists have named a string. This is a tremendous achievement, but it is only part of the reason string theory has generated such excitement.
If by “excitement” they mean “confusion”, then yes – this theory has certainly generated a lot of it. I spent an entire afternoon trying to imagine what an ‘infinitely thin rubber band’ would look like. The truth is, the origin of String Theory is something that a bunch of stoned Physicists came up with.
“Oh dude, we smashed a shoe and an inhaler in the particle accelerator today and we found another particle!”
“OMG, what should we name it? Let’s see…so far we got: Muon, Up, Down, Top, Bottom, Charm, Strange and Blue-Ivy.”
“Hmm…we’re running out of Celebrity Kid names. Why do we keep discovering new particles? Does it ever end? What is the meaning of life? Why is the pizza taking so fucking long?”
“Yo, let’s just say all these particles are made up of vibrating strings. The unique vibration of the string will determine the particle it makes up.”
“Yeah! And each vibrating string is made up of tiny, itty bitty, jiggling Jell-O shots. The way it jiggles determines the vibration of the string!”

String Theory - Simplified.

In conclusion, both celebrities and scientists are birthing new shit that they cannot explain, so they just settle in giving them ridiculous names.  What’s interesting though, is that because String Theory, affectionately known as the “Theory of Everything or T.O.E”, explains everything about the universe, it's also a major bummer.
Reductionists (aka KillJoys, Prophets of Doom, etc.) love this T.O.E because all the wonders of life can now be explained through vibrating rubber bands.
Are feelings of joy, sorrow, boredom nothing but chemical reactions in the brain—reactions between molecules and atoms that, even more microscopically, are reactions between some particles which are really just vibrating strings?
In response to this, Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg replies:
At the other end of the spectrum are the opponents of reductionism who are appalled by what they feel to be the bleakness of modern science. To whatever extent they and their world can be reduced to a matter of particles and their interactions, they feel diminished by that knowledge. I would not try to answer these critics with a pep talk about the beauties of modern science. The reductionist worldview is chilling and impersonal. It has to be accepted as it is, not because we like it, but because that is the way the world works.
If you didn’t have the patience to read the above ramble, the answer to the question was: “Yes.”
So there you have it: String Theory. If you’re depressed, just remember: for now at least, it’s just theory.
What is Darth Vader doing in Hawaii? String Theory can explain this.


  1. This science @#$% makes my head hurt. You are too smart to be my friend.

  2. Don't be silly Alena: who said we were friends? Also, anytime you think I'm smart, just remember the time I sent an email to our entire company by mistake about re-enacting Roman Holiday.