Theoretical physicist Brian Greene proposes String Theory as the theory of everything

(published 3/07/18)


Alison Pfaff

Theoretical physicist Brian Greene

Joey Weslo, Sports Editor

Exploding and radiating existence forth into vivacious creation, the entirety of the expansive cosmos can be pinpointed to a singularity 13.82 billion years ago from which the Universe and all its life emanates. Astrophysicists can use our current accepted models of mathematics to conquer the linearity of time and peer back to a miniscule-fraction of a second after the Big Bang. However, then we collide into the seemingly impenetrable static noise where our equations break down, leaving us with a complete lack of understanding of what happened at time-zero. We travel 13.82 billion years only to be stopped tantalizingly close.

General relativity and the incompatible mathematics of quantum mechanics, in all their brilliance, have constrained the ambitions of modern human achievement and trapped our theoretical imagining into complacency. Only a unified theory of everything will reveal the ultimate mysteries of the cosmos to our inquisitive and desirous endeavouring.

Stephen Hawking has with his greatest efforts failed. Albert Einstein died trying, and Isaac Newton was too busy having apples fall on his head. However, what if the entire study of astrophysics is founded upon a false predicate?

Exploring this notion, theoretical physicist, acclaimed mathematician and Columbia University Professor Brian Greene spoke before a before a sold-out lecture presented by the College of DuPage Department of Physics on March 4.

Greene proposed the metaphysics of reality and existence broken down to its smallest particle, is not in-fact point-like as the antiquated sciences postulate, but is in-fact made of one-dimensional vibrating objects closely resembling strings.

Greene is a String Theorist and believes in a theoretical framework that attempts to solve the theory of everything by using the mathematics inherent in the vibration of impossibly-tiny strings embedded inside the quarks which are embedded inside of atoms. The corresponding strings resemble small segments or loops of ordinary strings (open and closed strings).

The theory describes how the strings propagate through space and interact with each other. The mathematics predict the splitting and recombination of strings, which correlate to particle emission and absorption. These interactions give rise to the interactions between particles which dictate the nature of reality. The mass charge and properties of particles are determined by the vibrational state of the sub-quarkian strings.

Greene doesn’t dismiss general relativity which is the physics of large astronomical objects, or quantum mechanics, which is the physics of subatomic particles. Instead Greene shifts those theories to accommodate this burgeoning theoretical field.

To demonstrate the disparity in his theory, Greene displayed Einstein’s homogeneous space-time as a blanketing dimension pervasive throughout existence. However, the mystery materializes when this dimension is inspected upon a microscopic level. “Every atom should self-destruct within a fraction of a second using Einstein’s equations,” Greene said.

Greene points out using Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, “On a microscopic realm, uncertainty reigns supreme. There is a fundamental uncertainty built into the structure of reality.”

Almost unobservable on large scale, the theory postulates the degree of uncertainty increases as you become more microscopic. “The micro-world has a fundamental jittery quality, frenetic and turbulent quality. Therefore, there are features of the micro-world which we can never observe with complete certainty.” He describes this mathematical uncertainty as “the wild undulations of space.”

However, Greene believes the tiny filaments of vibrating strings pacify the jitters of reality and make their undulations more mathematically constant to be observed.

“When you spread everything out it dilutes its properties,” he said. “When you apply string theory to point-particle physics, the wild undulating jittery properties are diluted and calmed, allowing the math to come together and work. ”

Accurately observing these uncertain undulations would, “create one working package solving the puzzle of relativity and the quantum world.”

The problem is, these proposed strings vibrate in countless mathematical deviations and are too tiny even for the most powerful microscope ever built, the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Current predictions depict the strings at 10^-35 meters across.

According to Greene, “If you were to take an atom and magnify it to as large as the observable Universe, under that scale of magnification, a string would be roughly the size of a tree. A tree to the entire observable Universe, is as a string is to the atom. This is why string theory remains hypothetical.”

Because of its currently unobservable nature, string theory has many critics. However, because string theory unifies gravity and particle physics under a self-contained mathematical model describing all fundamental forces and forms of matter, Greene believes in the necessity of continued exploration into the theory.

The mathematics of one of the many vibrational states of string theory corresponds to the graviton, a quantum mechanical particle that carries gravitational force.

The theory also requires the existence of extra-dimensions of space-time to uphold its mathematical consistency.

The current accepted model of physics describes the three familiar dimensions of up/down, left/right, forward/backward, and the extra temporal dimension of earlier/later. Thus, one would currently describe space-time as four-dimensional.

However, in superstring theory, the version of string theory that incorporates a theoretical idea called supersymmetry, the math postulates six extra-dimensions of space-time in addition to the current four.

Greene has spent an extensive amount of his mathematical career working on mirror symmetry to explain the wild predictions of supersymmetry. Mirror symmetry establishes the situation where two Calabi-Yau manifolds (the craziest shapes you will ever see) appear different geometrically but are equivalent when utilized as the extra-dimensions predicted by string theory.

“These higher-dimensional shapes are richly intertwined and folded in on themselves, “Greene said. “If the calculations are correct, this is what the microscopic fibers of space should like.”

Greene believes dimensions come in two “flavours.” There are easy to see, big dimensions and curled-up, hidden dimensions. His math predicts tiny dimensions all around us that are so small we do not perceive them. The math shows these extra-dimensions hidden as higher-dimensional geometric manifolds.

Greene demonstrated this by rolling up a piece of paper so tight that from a distance it appears a one-dimensional plane. However, when closely observed you can in fact see the tiny geometric curve of the paper.

The shapes of these extra-dimensions capture the vibrations of the strings and resonate in particular ways defining the string’s properties. Greene likens it to an instrument such as a French Horn being shaped to perfectly resonate and manipulate sound waves. These vibrational properties determine the qualities of the measurable Universe.

The current obstacle is our mathematics do not show the exact shape of these higher-dimensions. Greene suggests this is because there isn’t one correct shape.

“Maybe there are infinite universes with infinitely different shapes to their extra-dimensions, and we just happen to be in the Universe with the shape that gives rise to the physical parameters that allow stars to shine, planets to form, and life to exist,” Greene said.

These hidden dimensions could be all around us, we just don’t have the technical proficiency to observe them yet.

However, Greene pointed out the burden of observational proof has never prohibited the theoretical imagining of physicists dreaming of solving the Universe’s deepest mysteries. When Newton’s universal law of gravitation was revealed in his revolutionary 1687 Principia, Einstein didn’t hesitate to use the math, not observational evidence, to formulate his 1915 general theory of relativity solving how gravity works.

Instead, Einstein waited for a solar eclipse to observe how the light waves emitted by distant stars are warped by the gravity of our sun. Einstein further predicted in 1916 gravitational waves rippling through the fabric of the Universe, which comes in contact with everything in its wake stretching and compressing their geometric form.

Predicting these waves would stretch and compress Earth less than the width of an atomic nucleus. “Einstein himself believed gravitational waves could never be measured,” Greene stated.

Einstein’s theory had to wait about a century before an experimental team called LIGO detected a gravitational wave emitted by two distant black-holes colliding 1.3 billion years ago.

“The collision created a tidal wave through space, so immense the energy released was 50 times the combined output of every star in every galaxy in the observable Universe.”

The team won this year’s Nobel Prize in physics for their efforts and proved that, with patience, advancing technology will eventually prove Greene’s theories testable.

Greene remains resilient in his hopes one day his theories will find their validity and open up the fundamental secrets to the nature of the Universe and reality, redefining the capacity of humanity’s infinite imagination.

“If we were to establish any of these features of reality, from finding evidence of extra-dimensions, to proving string theory, it would be among the greatest achievements of our species,” Greene pronounced. “That to me is what makes string theory a risk worth taking.”

*Professor Brian Greene is the author of The Elegant Universe, Icarus at the Edge of Time, The Fabric of the Cosmos, and The Hidden Reality; as is co-founder of both the annual World Science Festival and the online learning platform