ColGlobe At The Spoof

Saturday, November 17, 2007

M-Theory made simple

For anyone who has lived under a rock for the past 20 years, there is a mathematic theory that many claim could well be the Theory of Everything, the Grand Unified Theory, and a waste of time.
The math seems to work. Except that it's math that had to be developed for this particular set of thoeries (there are something like 6 versions), and it gets kinda fuzzy about halfway through the first couple of sub-equations.

But let's look at it from the layman's point of view, and those who are interested can do the math later while driving in the rain.

String theory allows quantum mechanics (the math of things extremely small) and relativistic theory (the math of things really big) to be grouped into a single mathematic framework. Really smart people have been looking for a way to do this since the discovery of higher math, and the technology to give really smart people far too much free time on their hands.
But for M-theory to work, there are a few small conditions that must be met:
A] four dimensions aren't enough room to work in. The general opinion is that there are actually either 8 or 11 dimensions, but some variations offer as many as 26. In layman's terms, an extra dimension is where socks go that are put in the washer, but never come out.
B] All those dimensions make it impossible to have a single solution to any given problem. This is easily solved by adding paralell universes. For every possible solution to any possible problem in any possible moment in time, there exists a universe where that solution happened.
C] A few other things, but none as awesome as the first two.

Scientists with much less free time on their hands shrug and say "can you show us how this is proven in an experiment?" The M-theory folks smile and point out that if the experiment is performed, the result can't be proven to be valid because we might not be in a universe where the experiment can work.

What is really scary is that I believe them. If anything that can be imagined exists, then the very act of performing such an experiment would taint the experiment beyond usability. Some call this the "observer effect" which says that the very act of observing a thing has an effect on that thing's behavior. In truth, M-theory is the observer effect on steroids. At any given moment, each of us may or may not flip out of this particular universe, and into another that looks exactly like this one, except that some things are different. Possibly only one small difference.
What about the universe we leave behind? Simple, another version of us that's not quite the real us, but could possibly be more real than we are, flips in to fill the void. Let's look at the socks in the washer again. You know that you put in an even number of socks, but now you have an odd number. You've searched everywhere, in case you dropped it, but the sock is not to be found. To those familiar with M-theory, the solution is obviously simple. The sock simply doesn't exist in this universe anymore. In a different dimension of another universe, some poor bloke is always wondering where that extra sock came from.
Note that these side-by-side universes act as balancers for one another, exactly as a mathematic equation balances each side of the equal(=) sign. It's elegant, and simple enough for anyone to grasp. Nothing is ever gone, it is simply gone somewhere else.

All those people who have just disappeared for all those years, never to be heard from again? Yup. They flipped to another universe. Or-- and this is where you have to be careful-- they didn't disappear at all, but you flipped to place where they aren't at. Nothing can possibly be lost... but it can pop to somewhere else. We've all had experiences where something that couldn't be found was found, and this seemed to be the only logical answer.

How does all this flipping and popping happen? Simple. Most people think of the smallest thing to be a tiny little point. M-theory, and most of it's variations, say that instead of a tiny little point, the smallest bit of matter is something that looks like a thread. Sometimes, it resembles a piece of string (hence, string-theory), and sometimes it resembles a hoop, or loop.

Now, these extremely tiny things are constantly vibrating. Most explanations of the theory compare these vibrations to a guitar string, which makes different tones when vibrated in different ways. Next we add in some newtonian physics, and call the result super-symmetry. In layman's terms, this means that everything balances out. Newton said something to the effect of "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." Apply this not only to motion, but to everything that exists, in every dimension, and every universe.

Now, it is almost painfully obvious that when the string assigned to the space-time location of that sock vibrates, the sock moves to either a different space, or a different time. (Oh! There it is! I could have sworn I JUST looked there, and didn't see it!) Elementary, my dear Watson.

M-theory is beautiful. It requires the same quiet acceptance as most popular religions. You can't prove it was a miracle, but your faith tells you so, and therefore you must have faith that it was, indeed, a miracle. I can't pull the sock back from where it went to show you that it was there, because once it is here again, it won't be there any longer. Just go with me on this and smile agreeably.

Now, this is where things get a little spooky. We have just turned expessible science into nothing more than the power of faith. Those who want a thing badly enough, and have learned to be in tune with the strings, can make it happen. The trick is to learn to be in tune with the strings, which are both too small to measure, and larger than our entire universe, all wrapped up in one. In fact, some strings could be a series of entire universes. You can't see them or feel them or smell them or hear them, but they are responsible for everything you see, feel, hear, taste, or smell.
The really smart guys are going to be getting all the girls, except for the guys who live in the universes where they get none of the girls, and all the variations in between.

In fact, it would be logical to say that even the theory itself won't be valid in at least as many universes as it is valid in. Oh, the details would change also.. some variants would not contain any dimensions at all, while others would have an infinite number of dimensions.

So you see. It can't be tested or proven. The act of trying to test or prove it will be influenced by the testing or proving. And if you get a bad result, it could be because you're in a universe where the bad result is the correct answer. And everything is like that. Each key that I press as I write this has an infinite number of results in an infinite number of dimensions scattered across an uncountable amount of universes. In some of them, I wasn't happy with what I typed.

And that, dear reader, is M-theory in a nutshell. It is a faith for the faithless, and science for the non-scientific. It is also a complete breakdown of systems. Anarchy on a scale that defies all comprehension. It could be the theory of everything, or it could be a hoax that defies definition because there simply isn't anything to it to define.

Only you can decide. Are you in tune with the strings?

For the real String theory, visit The Elegant Universe
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