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Eleven Dimensions

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  • Eleven Dimensions

    THE FABRIC of the COSMOS, Brian Greene, 2004
    ```(annotated and with added bold highlights by Epsilon=One)
    Chapter 13 - The Universe on a Brane
    Eleven Dimensions
    So, with our newfound power to analyze string theory, what insights have emerged? There have been many. I will focus on those that have had the greatest impact on the story of space and time.

    Of primary importance, Witten's work revealed that the approximate string theory equations used in the 1970s and 1980s to conclude that the universe must have nine space dimensions missed the true number by one. The exact answer, his analysis showed, is that the universe according to M-theory has ten space dimensions, that is, eleven spacetime dimensions. Much as Kaluza found that a universe with five spacetime dimensions provided a framework for unifying electromagnetism and gravity, and much as string theorists found that a universe with ten spacetime dimensions provided a framework for unifying quantum mechanics and general relativity, Witten found that a universe with eleven spacetime dimensions provided a framework for unifying all string theories. Like five villages that appear, viewed from ground level, to be completely separate but, when viewed from a mountaintop — making use of an additional, vertical dimension — are seen to be connected by a web of paths and roadways, the additional space dimension emerging from Witten's analysis was crucial to his finding connections between all five string theories.

    While Witten's discovery surely fit the historical pattern of achieving unity through more dimensions, when he announced the result at the annual international string theory conference in 1995, it shook the foundations of the field. Researchers, including me, had thought long and hard about the approximate equations being used, and everyone was confident that the analyses had given the final word on the number of dimensions. But Witten revealed something startling.

    He showed that all of the previous analyses had made a mathematical simplification tantamount to assuming that a hitherto unrecognized tenth spatial dimension would be extremely small, much smaller than all others. So small, in fact, that the approximate string theory equations that all researchers were using lacked the resolving power to reveal even a mathematical hint of the dimension's existence. And that led everyone to conclude that string theory had only nine space dimensions. But with the new insights of the unified M-theoretic framework, Witten was able to go beyond the approximate equations, probe more finely, and demonstrate that one space dimension had been overlooked all along. Thus, Witten showed that the five ten-dimensional frameworks that string theorists had developed for more than a decade were actually five approximate descriptions of a single, underlying eleven-dimensional theory.

    You might wonder whether this unexpected realization invalidated previous work in string theory. By and large, it didn't. The newfound tenth spatial dimension added an unanticipated feature to the theory, but if string/M-theory is correct, and should the tenth spatial dimension turn out to be much smaller than all others — as, for a long time, had been unwittingly assumed — previous work would remain valid. However, because the known equations are still unable to nail down the sizes or shapes of extra dimensions, string theorists have expended much effort over the last few years investigating the new possibility of a not-so-small tenth spatial dimension. Among other things, the wide-ranging results of these studies have put the schematic illustration of the unifying power of M-theory, Figure 13.1, on a firm mathematical foundation.

    I suspect that the updating from ten to eleven dimensions — regardless of its great importance to the mathematical structure of string/M-theory — doesn't substantially alter your mind's-eye picture of the theory. To all but the cognoscenti, trying to imagine seven curled-up dimensions is an exercise that's pretty much the same as trying to imagine six.

    But a second and closely related insight from the second superstring revolution does alter the basic intuitive picture of string theory. The collective insights of a number of researchers — Witten, Duff, Hull, Townsend, and many others — established that string theory is not just a theory of strings.
    Last edited by Reviewer; 09-28-2012, 07:26 PM.