Saturday 4 September 2010

The Most Annoying Things Ever #1 - The Universe

I read an article in The Times this week about String Theory and M-Theory by Stephen Hawking.  It was written in a nice easy to read style but it still lost me at 'String'.  Stuff like this thrills me, that we're getting closer to finding an answer to the creation of the Universe that doesn't include a God, but it kills me that I can't  understand the concepts.  It's so high brow that if you climbed the brow and fell, you would die.  That's like, well high, I think you'll agree.

It's not like I couldn't, I suppose, study this stuff but well, I can't really deal with the subatomic world even in it's simplest forms.  I like my science big, 'Ohhhh look it's a planet!!' not small, 'Ohhhh look it's some really really small string'.

The Universe is just too bloody complicated.  So complicated that not having a degree in String Theory makes it almost as hard to believe as the whole, 'It's God that made it innit!' brigade.  I used to quite like two theories that were nice and easy to get to grips with.  One, that it was infinitely big and had just always been here.  Or, that it was in a constant state of birth and dying.  BANG then BUST.  I could pretty much get my head around those.  But they weren't right.  Boo!  String Theory and now M-Theory feel out of reach... like God I guess.

You can sort of see why people get seduced by the whole 'creationist' theory because it's just really easy to get to grips with.  Just don't dig too hard, 'Ohhhh look some dinosaur bones....oh.....?' because you'll soon be questioning it all.

And 'questioning it all' leads, apparently, to unfathomable bits of string with dimensions folding off of them in curls and it's these that will lead us to one theory (there's currently a lot of different string theories) that will define it all.  Maybe.

I can imagine a future where we fight wars over who's String Theory is best.

The 'M' in M-Theory?  No one knows what it stands for.  How brilliant is that?  All these super brainy scientists and no one can remember what the 'M' is for.  They probably went down the pub, started putting the Universe to Rights, came up with a great name for their new theory, then shortened it when they wrote the name down on a beer mat and were too out of it the next day to remember what it stood for.  Or something.

I'm happy that the scientists are doing this stuff.  Chuffed to bits that the meaning of our existence might soon be drilled down to a massive equation.  Really I am, I get that there's beauty in maths at its highest level, I don't think it takes the magic out of it at all, in fact it is all quite exciting.  Brilliantly though it does remove God, which in the long run is going to be better for all of us.  Although removing something that was never there in the first place is very human thing to have to do huh?
'The Earth is at the centre of everything and if you don't agree you shall all die by stoning!  Actually hang on, looks like it's not at the centre... of anything really, sorry about that.  Dust yourself off old chap, no harm done.  Best see a nurse about that cut though.'*
It's just a shame that those of us with a C in GCSE maths and a B in Science are really just going to have to take their word for it all.  Sound familiar?  I'm not saying I don't believe in M-Theory.  I just wish I knew what the fuck it was.  Which brings me back to my earlier point about actually trying to understand it.  I really admire Hawking for trying his best to make it all sound simple and easy to digest.  His writing is great and it is easy to follow and even on some level, engage with.  The trouble is that the theories are just out of reach.  Too dense, too full of equations that look like this...

The Universe according to M-Theory does have one redeeming feature though.  Apparently there are 10 dimensions.  They assumed there were nine but found one last week in a bin in Coventry, but hey, 10D!!  Now that's a TV I might buy.

*Possibly not a real quote.


  1. One small point. Can you really refer to Stephen Hawking's article as his "writing"? At most it would be his "dictation" or "talking". Surely?

  2. The 2nd and 3rd equation is missing the other equation in front of it. You may need that other wise its wrong. There is one other string not discovered or at least not published.