Dear Commons Community,
I have just finished reading The God Equation: The Quest for a Theory of Everything, by Michio Kaku, professor of physics here at the City University of New York. It is a good read and covers a lot of ground in reviewing the major theories that have propelled theoretical physics for centuries concluding with string theory or as the subtitle suggests, the theory of everything. I found the background material on Isaac Newton (gravity), Albert Einstein (relativity), and Planck/Bohr (the quantum) excellent and well-presented for a general audience. Kaku saves most of his book for string theory or the theory of everything. Some theoretical physicists agree with the importance of string theory – others not so much. A major issue and one that Kaku points out is that there is “no solid testable evidence” for string theory and we are not likely to have one for decades. Below is an excerpt from the introduction of The God Equation which lays out its focus and thrust.
Try it if you have any interest in this subject matter.
The leading (and to my mind, only) candidate is called string theory, which posits the universe was not made of point particles but of tiny vibrating strings, with each note corresponding to a subatomic particle.
If we had a microscope powerful enough, we could see that electrons, quarks, neutrinos, etc. are nothing but vibrations on minuscule loops resembling rubber bands. If we pluck the rubber band enough times and in different ways, we eventually create all the known subatomic particles in the universe. This means that all the laws of physics can be reduced to the harmonies of these strings. Chemistry is the melodies one can play on them. The universe is a symphony. And the mind of God, which Einstein eloquently wrote about, is cosmic music resonating throughout space-time.
This is not just an academic question. Each time scientists have unraveled a new force, it has changed the course of civilization and altered the destiny of humanity. For example, Newton’s discovery of the laws of motion and gravity laid the groundwork for the machine age and the Industrial Revolution. Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell’s explanation of electricity and magnetism paved the way for the illumination of our cities and gave us powerful electric motors and generators as well as instantaneous communication via TV and radio. Einstein’s E = mc2 explained the power of the stars and helped to unravel the nuclear force. When Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg, and others unlocked the secrets of the quantum theory, they gave us the high-tech revolution of today, with supercomputers, lasers, the internet, and all the fabulous gadgets in our living rooms.
Ultimately, all the wonders of modern technology owe their origin to the scientists who gradually discovered the fundamental forces of the world. Now, scientists may be converging on the theory that unifies these four forces of nature—gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the strong and weak nuclear forces—into a single theory. Ultimately, it may answer some of the deepest mysteries and questions in all of science, such as:
· What happened before the Big Bang? Why did it bang in the first place?
· What lies on the other side of a black hole?
· Is time travel possible?
· Are there wormholes to other universes?
· Are there higher dimensions?
· Is there a multiverse of parallel universes?
This book is about the quest to find this ultimate theory and all the bizarre twists and turns of what is undoubtedly one of the strangest chapters in the history of physics. We will review all the previous revolutions, which have given us our technological marvels, starting with the Newtonian revolution, leading up to the mastery of the electromagnetic force, the development of relativity and the quantum theory, and the string theory of today. And we will explain how this theory may also unravel the deepest mysteries of space and time.
However, hurdles remain. For all the excitement generated by string theory, the critics have been keen to point out its defects. And after all the hype and frenzy, real progress has stalled.
The most glaring problem is that, for all the flattering press extolling the beauty and complexity of the theory, we have no solid, testable evidence. (Kaku, pp. 3-5)