Hello skeptics and others,
I recently came across a question on twitter which went as phrased “String Theory, Science of Philosophy?” and I thought, as I had not done much with string theory, that now would be as good a time as ever to tackle this question which comes up with string theory often. But first, a bit of background on string theory.
String theory is the name given to a set of sums which attempt to explain things about the things we observe in particle physics. It is basically the claim that the 3 spacial dimensions and 1 time dimension we observe in our universe, are the left overs and that there are possibly up to 8 other dimensions which are all just packed in very tight so that we cannot see them. To explain this to you, I will use the same method Stephen Hawking has done.
Imagine a plastic drinking straw. From up close, you can easily see that it is a three-dimensional object, with height, width, and breadth. If you back it up to a distance of a few metres, the drinking straw starts to appear as two-dimensional, with only length and breadth, you can no longer make out the depth of the straw. As you back out further to a distance of about 20 metres, you can only observe one dimension, it only has length, and you can no longer observe the width of the straw.
Now, the other 2 dimensions still exist, but you can only make out one from this resolution, so for all intents and purposes, the straw is 1 dimensional. The same is true with the hypothesized extra 8 dimensions of string theory. They still exist, but we cannot observe them because they have been compressed in so small. It is physicists belief that these extra dimensions, ‘strings’, carry along them the elementary particles which create the four fundamental forces, gravitons, photons etc. in the world of particle physics. String theory is also said to be the most favoured path for the elusive Theory Of Everything (TOE).
String theory often comes under attack for a few reasons, being that it makes no specific predictions about the universe, it is no different from other theories about observed phenomena and there is so far no test of the ‘theory’. These criticisms all have legitimate reasons behind them.
It is true that string theory makes no predictions and it is indifferent about what we are already observing in the universe. String theory has not been of any real use to us yet other than jobs for people to do the maths behind string theory. In that way (except the maths), string theory is just like creationism… it makes no predictions or offer a hypothesis to test.
However, I think that just because string theory has not provided any scientific worth so far, it is in no way something we should give up on. It is a theory which has held up to all that maths has to throw at it, so there are no real internal problems with it, but the real question is “Is this how reality really is?” and that question is a long way off. String Theory is a path worth following, as it could be of value to future scientists. At best it is still only a hypothesis… not a theory, and should be treated as such. But it is worth the time and effort to work with and who knows, it may cough up a test for us, and it is worth waiting around for.