No announcement yet.

The First Revolution

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • The First Revolution

    THE FABRIC of the COSMOS, Brian Greene, 2004
    ```(annotated and with added bold highlights by Epsilon=One)
    Chapter 12 - The World on a String
    The First Revolution
    I began graduate school at Oxford University in the fall of 1984, and within a few months the corridors were abuzz with talk of a revolution in physics. As the Internet was yet to be widely used, rumor was a dominant channel for the rapid spread of information, and every day brought word of new breakthroughs. Researchers far and wide commented that the atmosphere was charged in a way unseen since the early days of quantum mechanics, and there was serious talk that the end of theoretical physic was within reach.

    String theory was new to almost everyone, so in those early days its details were not common knowledge. We were particularly fortunate at Oxford: Michael Green had recently visited to lecture on string theory; so many of us became familiar with the theory's basic ideas and essential claims. And impressive claims they were. In a nutshell, here is what the theory said:

    Take any piece of matter — a block of ice, a chunk of rock, a slab of iron — and imagine cutting it in half, then cutting one of the pieces in half again, and on and on; imagine continually cutting the material into ever smaller pieces. Some 2,500 years ago, the ancient Greeks had posed the problem of determining the finest, uncuttable, indivisible ingredient that would be the end product of such a procedure. In our age we have learned that sooner or later you come to atoms, but atoms are not the answer to the Greeks' question, because they can be cut into finer constituents. Atoms can be split. We have learned that they consist of electrons that swarm around a central nucleus that is composed of yet finer particles — protons and neutrons. And in the late 1960s, experiments at the Stanford Linear Accelerator revealed that even neutrons and protons themselves are made up of more fundamental constituents: each proton and each neutron consists of three particles known as quarks, as mentioned in Chapter 9 and illustrated in Figure 12.3a.

    Figure 12.03 (a) Conventional theory is based on electrons and quarks as the basic constituents of matter. (b) String theory suggests that each particle is actually a vibrating string.

    Conventional theory, supported by state-of-the-art experiments, envisions electrons and quarks as dots with no spatial extent whatsoever; in this view, therefore, they mark the end of the line — the last of nature's matryoshka dolls to be found in the microscopic makeup of matter. Here is where string theory makes its appearance. String theory challenges the conventional picture by proposing that electrons and quarks are not zero-sized particles. Instead, the conventional particle-as-dot model, according to string theory, is an approximation of a more refined portrayal in which each particle is actually a tiny, vibrating filament of energy, called a string, as you can see in Figure 12.3b. These strands of vibrating energy are envisioned to have no thickness, only length, and so strings are one-dimensional entities. Yet, because the strings are so small, some hundred billion billion times smaller than a single atomic nucleus (10^-33 centimeters), they appear to be points even when examined with our most advanced atom smashers.

    Because our understanding of string theory is far from complete, no one knows for sure whether the story ends here — whether, assuming the theory is correct, strings are truly the final Russian doll, or whether strings themselves might be composed of yet finer ingredients. We will come back to this issue, but for now we follow the historical development of the subject and imagine that strings are truly where the buck stops; we imagine that strings are the most elementary ingredient in the universe.
    Last edited by Reviewer; 10-01-2012, 10:06 AM.