The Rip Post


 

STRINGS AND ARROWS OF OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE

By Rip Rense
(Originally published in "The Rense Retort," 1999.)

"I've got the world on a string
I'm sitting on a rainbow
Got the string around my finger
What a world, what a life. ..." --Bill Reid

When you're a kid, one of the great cosmic theories floating around is. . . what if we're really just germs? You know -- what if we're just germs on some guy's hand? And what if he. . . picks his nose? Ewwwww.

Well, scientists have outdone the kids.

They have come up with a theory so paralyzingly bizarre as to make you just want to throw in the towel and surrender to "The World's Wildest Police Chases" and a six-pack of Bud.

We're all made of string!

Sounds like a kiddie book. The Girl Who Was Made of String! Or a comic book. The Adventures of Stringman! Or a tenet of a new quasi-religious cult. "Stringanetics!" Feeling disconnected? No more! With "Stringanetics," you're part of ... everything! Just send us 500 bucks, get your teeth capped, and we'll tell you how ...

You remember a while back when Wild Bill Clinton made his State of the Disunion address, and carted out that soppy stuff about how scientists have proven we're all genetically nahnty-nahn-point-nahn-percent thuh SAME? (Now there's an argument for non-conformity.)

Well, make it a hundred.

We're all string! String-a-ding-ding! String along with me, and I'll explain. (Oh, sure, I will.)

Subatomic physics has long been based on the idea that particles meet and exchange energy at specific points in space and time. You know, like on "Blind Date." String theory says uh-uh -- that itsy-bitsy vibrating strings are holding everything together -- everything from zebras to toothpaste -- and that space and time are feeble measurements that don't really exist as we know them. What's more, all these vibrators are weaving in and out of "space/time" like maniac spaghetti. One endless, ever-tying (and untying) Gordian Knot.

Put it this way: Instead of random electrons and quarks zipping around, "exchanging energy," these pushy little strings are out there, running space/time red lights, making illegal left turns, and quivering like hell anywhere, anytime, all the time, everywhere, who cares?

It's starting to sound like the late Frank Zappa, who held that the universe was part of One Big Note, was more or less right. I mean, vibrating strings? God is music! Or at least He likes music.

Even string theorists evoke the musical analogy. Consider this, from the official string theory website, SuperStringTheory.com:

In string theory, as in guitar playing, the string must be stretched under tension in order to become excited. However, the strings in string theory are floating in spacetime, they aren't tied down to a guitar. [Little physicist humor there.] Nonetheless, they have tension. The string tension in string theory is denoted by the quantity 1/(2____'), where ?' is pronounced 'alpha prime' and is equal to the square of the string length scale.

Drooling, yet? Me, too.

Just what are these strings made of, you might wonder? Well, you'll be pleased to know that scientists have made an excellent guess: some unknown fundamental stuff. That should just about clear it up for you.

So let me try to understand this: Instead of particles meeting over space and time, these brash bits of twine wantonly merge in and out of each other, uh ... from yesterday to 20 Billion B.C. to 5022 A.D. to McDonald's to Arcturus to you. They hold everything together. They are everything. Trying to escape their presence is definitely harder than trying to escape the presence of the IRS, or Barbara Walters.

As a result, smart people -- and I mean the leading physicists of our time, not Bill Nye, The Science Guy, or Alan Alda -- say that there probably is a single mathematical formula that can explain, well. ...

Everything.

Meaning that when your parrot squawks, or car alarm goes off, it's related to the crucifixion of Christ, Kellogg's Corn Flakes, and Oprah Winfrey. All tied together with strings. Get it?

What? You're confused? Well, now, maybe this will help. You see, space and time are spiffy measuring devices for machines equipped with ears, eyes, hands, brains. But once you get a little bit outside of the pencil-point in the universe where humans hang out, spiffy becomes iffy. Space and time bend and twist, and play funhouse mirror with you. This has long been known, thanks to Einstein. What hasn't been known is that there really aren't just four or five dimensions, but that, with string theory, there now seem to be uh, er ... 11.

Eleven dimensions. Seven of which seem to be different types of space dimensions. Envisioned by artists, it looks kind of like something painted by Salvador Dali, or the dimension-warping illusionist, M.C. Escher. Come to think of it, Dali's catch-all, time-blurring dreamscapes -- with their melted clocks, horses' heads, Greek statues -- seem a lot closer to universal reality than those nice impressionistic paintings of space-and-time trees and flowers by Monet. (Which are connected, by the way, to Beethoven, tuna sandwiches, and the sun.)

You with me? Sure you are!

What's that, you say? God wouldn't have made us out of string! How, er, cheesy! Well, why wouldn't He? Look what He did make us out of: salt water and a bunch of squishy ugly processing devices like livers and brains. Which is weirder? Besides, God does all kinds of really strange things. For instance, He put Larry King in charge of a talk show.

But wait! It gets better. In order for strings to exist, there have to be a couple of other things first -- theoretical items called fermions, and bosons. What are they, you ask? A fermion is a particle that makes up matter. This is sort of like saying that matter is something that makes up matter. A boson is a particle that transmits force. This is sort of like saying force is something that transmits force.

In other words, nobody knows what, or if, fermions and bosons are. They might have no more substance than a George W. Bush quote. And if fermions and bosons are required to effect strings, then what is required to effect them? At one point does something become? Or does it? Ever look into a mirror, held face-to-face with another mirror, and peer into that infinite darkening distance? I have a theory about that, incidentally. I call it The Dangerfield Theory. I suspect that eventually, at the other end, you see Rodney Dangerfield.

As for the size of the strings, well, physicists do have some exact figures for you!

"The average size of a string," reports SuperStringTheory.com, "should be somewhere near the length scale of quantum gravity, called the Planck length, which is about 10-33 centimeters, or about a millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a centimeter. Unfortunately, this means that strings are way too small to see by current or expected particle physics technology and so string theorists must devise more clever methods to test the theory than just looking for little strings in particle experiments."

In other words, they're smaller than a breadbox.

At times -- er, strings -- like this, I take comfort in the immortal words of Huckleberry Finn, who in moments when he was unable to understand the complex machinations of adult minds, would declare:

"This was too many for me."

Or the immortal utterance of the painter Don Van Vliet, once known to the world as the musician, Captain Beefheart:

"It's all matter, but it doesn't matter."

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