0171: "String Theory"

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0171: "String Theory"

Postby Matt » Mon Oct 16, 2006 4:50 am UTC

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This works on pretty much every level

It implies that the universe is also made up of slightly larger vibrating spiders
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Postby Peshmerga » Mon Oct 16, 2006 4:53 am UTC

The universe is a series of tubes.
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Postby Ephphatha » Mon Oct 16, 2006 5:00 am UTC

One thing is for sure, the universe is not a giant truck.
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Postby rlo » Mon Oct 16, 2006 5:22 am UTC

The string theory comic doesn't seem quite right:

SF-1: Suppose all matter and energy is made up of tiny, vibrating strings...

SF-2: OK, what would that imply?

SF-3: I dunno.


Isn't the actual implication that we might be able to unify relativity and quantum mechanics with a single theory? Wouldn't it make more sense this way:

SF-1: Suppose all matter and energy is made up of tiny, vibrating strings...

SF-2: OK, how would you test for that?

SF-1: I dunno.


Sorry if this seems hypercritical. I love xkcd.

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Postby Matt » Mon Oct 16, 2006 5:38 am UTC

Suppose your mom is made up of tiny, vibrating strings

I like the idea that the guy figures his theory implies something but isn't sure what it is rather than if he knew what it implied and there was no way to test it. I like it even better if it means he hasn't gotten far enough to know whether it implied anything at all yet. And better yet if he just doesn't care.
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Postby Gelsamel » Mon Oct 16, 2006 5:48 am UTC

Haha awesome. The comics just keep getting better!

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Postby lemurs1 » Mon Oct 16, 2006 6:08 am UTC

Peshmerga wrote:The universe is a series of tubes.


Ha, ha. I laughed as much for this as the comic. Excellent work!

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Postby Hawknc » Mon Oct 16, 2006 7:18 am UTC

//Copyrights 'tube theory'

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Postby SpitValve » Mon Oct 16, 2006 9:43 am UTC

String theory eh? Can't argue with that comic :)

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Postby Marlayna » Mon Oct 16, 2006 10:51 am UTC

I'm sure string theory *must* conclude something testable somewhere, they just haven't reached it yet...
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Postby abcde » Mon Oct 16, 2006 12:16 pm UTC

I hope our universe is null-terminated and whatnot...

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Postby fjafjan » Mon Oct 16, 2006 1:40 pm UTC

hehe, great comic man :D

tho i agree that it does have some rammafication, just no real, erm, evidence, as far as i know anyway
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Music

Postby lft » Mon Oct 16, 2006 2:14 pm UTC

On a romantic sidenote, string theory approaches the old "music of the spheres" concept.

If everything in the universe consists of the same thing, just vibrating at different frequencies, then it doesn't matter what the "thing" is. All that matters is the frequencies, and so, the universe, this whole mess of tangible and intangible entities, would just consist of various arrangements of frequencies.

And then the entire universe could be said to be an enormous ongoing symphony.

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seriously

Postby RAPTORATTACK!!! » Mon Oct 16, 2006 2:22 pm UTC

what DOES string theory imply?
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Team 246 OVERCLOCKED!

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Postby zombie_monkey » Mon Oct 16, 2006 2:22 pm UTC

You know those "science" books with ridiculous names that make you cringe when poeple talk about them? I've never managed to make myself consider it seriously, even though it was widely publicised -- the tone was always too similar to that kind of pseudosience. Now it seems my intuition was right, as it's soon to go out of fashion even among the kind of people who buy such books.

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Postby peri_renna » Mon Oct 16, 2006 3:32 pm UTC

rlo wrote:The string theory comic doesn't seem quite right:

SF-1: Suppose all matter and energy is made up of tiny, vibrating strings...

SF-2: OK, what would that imply?

SF-3: I dunno.


Isn't the actual implication that we might be able to unify relativity and quantum mechanics with a single theory? Wouldn't it make more sense this way:

SF-1: Suppose all matter and energy is made up of tiny, vibrating strings...

SF-2: OK, how would you test for that?

SF-1: I dunno.


Sorry if this seems hypercritical. I love xkcd.


I think it works as it is. I read SF-2's question as "what does string theory predict that current accepted theories don't?" And you'd test the theory by testing those predictions.

My impression was that actually getting any useful predictions out of string theory would require figuring out the equations for it. Which no-one has ever figured out how to do.

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Re: seriously

Postby rlo » Mon Oct 16, 2006 7:15 pm UTC

RAPTORATTACK!!! wrote:what DOES string theory imply?

General Relativity is really good at describing the behavior of large things. Quantum mechanics is really good at describing the behavior of small things (specifically, sub-atomic particles). But the two theories are very different, and actually break down entirely for objects at the point where the theories meet.

String theory attempts to reconcile general relativity and quantum mechanics. It describes everything as 10-dimensional vibrating strings, and from this, supposedly gives rise to both general relativity and quantum mechanics.

Or maybe the strings are 11-dimensional. The big problem with string theory is that it's pretty vague - it looks good in theory, but the math describing it is incomplete, and it hasn't ever been tested, and it's unclear if it ever could be tested.

That's my understanding, anyway. I'm sure someone will correct this where it's wrong.
Last edited by rlo on Mon Oct 16, 2006 7:57 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Jack Saladin » Mon Oct 16, 2006 7:49 pm UTC

I remember someone tried to explain string theory to me once.

Man, that got awkward fast.

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Postby Charodei » Mon Oct 16, 2006 9:52 pm UTC

Brane theory isn't much better. This reminds me of the 'computational linguistics' comic. It's difficult to take either theory seriously when they can't decide how many dimensions there are. To the best of my knowledge, no one has proposed an experiment to find out.

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Postby rlo » Mon Oct 16, 2006 11:01 pm UTC

Charodei wrote:Brane theory isn't much better... It's difficult to take either theory seriously when they can't decide how many dimensions there are.

It's 14 dimensions: three of space, one of time, ten that are folded up so tiny they can't be detected, and then this other one that's made entirely of chocolate.

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Postby tylerni7 » Tue Oct 17, 2006 12:13 am UTC

Don't forget the scientific name for shrinking those dimensions into the 3 spacial dimensions that we see. Compactification, and no, sadly, I am not making that up. Oh and different parts of string theory have different numbers of dimensions. Some are 21, some are 11, and all are crazy.

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Postby Peshmerga » Tue Oct 17, 2006 12:28 am UTC

I don't take much stock into no dimensions.

If I can't eat or fuck it, it doesn't exist.
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Postby rachel » Tue Oct 17, 2006 1:10 am UTC

Peshmerga wrote:If I can't eat or fuck it, it doesn't exist.


If only we all had that outlook. I'm sure if we did the world would be a much better place. Or at least more populated. (Practice safe sex, guys. Pregnancy scares are never fun.)

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Postby lanaer » Tue Oct 17, 2006 1:48 am UTC

rlo wrote:It's 14 dimensions: three of space, one of time, ten that are folded up so tiny they can't be detected, and then this other one that's made entirely of chocolate.


But what kind of chocolate?

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Postby rlo » Tue Oct 17, 2006 3:32 am UTC

lanaer wrote:
rlo wrote:It's 14 dimensions: three of space, one of time, ten that are folded up so tiny they can't be detected, and then this other one that's made entirely of chocolate.


But what kind of chocolate?


Huh. Apparently, this kind!

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Postby Pathway » Tue Oct 17, 2006 4:07 am UTC



They even called it the Internets in that spiffy diagram toward the end!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKTH6f1JfX8

Oh, yeah, and regarding experimental testing of string theory: according to the physics professors I know who work on string theory, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN is going to be able to go further down that road.

By 'know,' I mean 'have classes taught by and occasionally talk to.'

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Postby Charon » Tue Oct 17, 2006 5:00 am UTC

If you assume everything is made up of little strings, you get gravity. *Poof!* You don't have to add it or anything, it just appears. That's really quite cool.

As far as testable predictions go, yeah, well, that's why this comic is funny. But they're working on it. I have nothing but respect for string theory phenomenologists. Those just working on the theory have my respect too, but at the moment they're really more mathematicians than physicists.

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Postby EM-002.rv-L "Tem Cu » Tue Oct 17, 2006 6:08 am UTC

So... The universe _isn't_ populated by gravity faries? They're all _string_ faries?
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Postby SpitValve » Tue Oct 17, 2006 6:40 am UTC

There is one testable prediction of string theory: that protons will decay. They even predicted the half-life.

Current measurements say that either protons do not decay, or their half-life is several orders of magnitude larger (something like 10,000 times) larger than predicted by string theory.

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Postby Gelsamel » Tue Oct 17, 2006 6:46 am UTC

Does that really count as testable?

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Postby rlo » Tue Oct 17, 2006 7:05 am UTC

SpitValve wrote:There is one testable prediction of string theory: that protons will decay. They even predicted the half-life.

Current measurements say that either protons do not decay, or their half-life is several orders of magnitude larger (something like 10,000 times) larger than predicted by string theory.

SpitValve, that's really interesting. You say testable, which presumably means they might be able to one day but haven't yet. Have they figured out a method? What do they need to do to perform the tests?

Gelsamel wrote:Does that really count as testable?

Gelsamel, why wouldn't that count?

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Postby Jack Saladin » Tue Oct 17, 2006 7:10 am UTC

Well, if it's testable why haven't they tested it?

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Postby rlo » Tue Oct 17, 2006 7:26 am UTC

Here are a few short writeups on string theory for laypeople.
Charon, thanks for pointing out that gravity just appears in string theory. I hadn't know that.

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Postby Gelsamel » Tue Oct 17, 2006 7:30 am UTC

rlo wrote:Gelsamel, why wouldn't that count?


I mean sure it's "testible" but is it reasonably testible? It seems as though it would take a massive amount of time to test.

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Postby Air Gear » Tue Oct 17, 2006 8:04 am UTC

rlo: Gelsamel is right about it not really counting as testable, but not quite for the right reason. As I understand string theory, there's a dynamical field variable known as the "string coupling constant" which affects quite a bit. In short, we know the proton decay time is really, really huge at this point...but there's probably a value of the string coupling constant which is consistent with any given finite decay time. That's how I'm understanding it, at least...

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Postby ijmaxwell » Tue Oct 17, 2006 10:53 am UTC

The fun thing about today's theoretical physicists is that it's almost impossible to tell them from cranks, aside from the sort of journals that publish their work.

I mean, really. Eleven-dimensional vibrating strings? Time Cube? Unless you're a theoretical physicist yourself, how do you decide which to believe?

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Postby Ephphatha » Tue Oct 17, 2006 12:16 pm UTC

String theory: It's science and religion together at last!
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Postby myoumyouou » Tue Oct 17, 2006 12:20 pm UTC

Ephphatha wrote:String theory: It's science and religion together at last!


ahahahah, finally, i'm so sick of all these christians, and their not believing in gravity (bonus points for all who got that reference)
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Postby TheTankengine » Tue Oct 17, 2006 2:28 pm UTC

I am by no means a theoretical physicist, and I don't purport to even comprehend the notion of somewhere between 9 and 22 dimensions, or whatever the latest count was. But most of what I DO know about string theory originally came from the NOVA series "The Elegant Universe". I don't know if that is a good thing or not... But anyways, its an excellent-ly produced show and is really quite interesting. I believe this has something to do with it: video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4258041398583592305&q=einstein

Check it out!
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