String theory unstrung
Published: 15 August 2006 (GMT+10)
A Nobel laureate recently said that physics is in ‘a period of utter confusion’ and ‘we don’t know what we’re talking about’.1,2 Dr David Gross made these revealing admissions at a physicists’ conference on the quantum structure of space and time, about the quest for a ‘theory of everything’. That is, one that can describe every force and particle in nature.
In particular, string theory is billed as ‘the great hope’, and has generated lots of mathematical equations. ‘But these equations tell us nothing about where space and time came from and describe nothing we would recognize,’ laments an editorial in New Scientist. (Emphasis added.)
The editorial’s subtitle was ‘The hunt for a theory of everything is going nowhere fast. It goes on to explain that when astronomers discovered the accelerating expansion of the universe (which string theory fails to account for), string theorists excused their theory by saying their equations describe all possible universes. But New Scientist rightly challenges that notion, querying that if string theory doesn’t fit the known universe, ‘is it science?’
And New Scientist relays this joke circulating on physics blogs: ‘[W]e can after all, call our universe unique. Why? Because it is the only one that string theory cannot describe.’
Also, even Stephen Hawking has finally realized that a ‘theory of everything’ is a fantasy that founders on Gödel’s incompleteness proof:3 that in any theoretical system as complex as arithmetic or above, there would always be true statements that cannot be proven within the system. (See also Does logic need faith?, Journal of Creation 20(2):123–127, 2006.)
References and notes
- Ideas needed—The hunt for a theory of everything is going nowhere fast, New Scientist 188(2529):5, 10 December 2005. Return to text.
- Baffled in Brussels, New Scientist 188(2529):6, 10 December 2005. Return to text.
- Sample, I., Ultimate equation is pie in the sky, says Hawking, The Guardian, 23 February 2004, 22 June 2006. Return to text.