For decades, the world’s leading physicists have toiled in the shadow of Albert Einstein in a seemingly vain attempt to unify the fundamental forces of nature. All have failed…until now. I, The Objective Observer, have solved this great mystery and will now share this knowledge freely with you, the reader. Screw Scientific American.
To be clear, the fundamental forces of nature that physicists have sought to unify are gravity, electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces. Gravity, we are all intimately familiar with, at least those of us that have imbibed one too many fermented beverages and ended up tripping over an apple that some idiot just left lying around after having it bounce off his head. Stupid fig lover. Anyway, simply stated, gravity is an exceedingly weak attractive force between bodies of mass.
Electromagnetism is a much stronger force that holds individual atoms together, forming bodies of mass. Electromagnetism was originally two independent forces, electricity and magnetism, that were eventually unified by one James Clerk Maxwell. Albert Einstein greatly respected Maxwell for this feat and dreamed of unifying the forces of electromagnetism and gravity into one grand “Theory Of Everything”.
Unfortunately for Einstein, his task was made two or three times more difficult with the discovery of the strong and weak nuclear forces. Now, I’m not going to get into much detail about strong and weak nuclear forces because it gets into things like bosons, mesons, baryons, gluons and a bunch of other things that you would just think I made up. Suffice to say that physicists understand and care deeply about them while the rest of the world mainly just worries about paying bills, physical relationships, food, outsourcing and illegal immigration.
Einstein began his quest for a single, grand unified “Theory of Everything”, or at least electromagnetism and gravity, shortly after he completed his work on general relativity in the 1920’s. This work culminated in his “Unified Field Theory” in 1950 and continued until his death in 1955 at the age of 76. Other physicists to take up the charge have included Schrödinger, Glashow, Weinberg and Salam who unified electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force, and most recently by Kaku, Greene, Penrose, Rindler, Connes, Madore, Smolin, Gambini and Pullin…not to mention Higgs. Oops, I just did. Damn.
So then, here’s the kicker. Despite all of these brains, despite all of this history and despite the fact that the general effects and properties of all of these forces are well known and understood, physicists STILL don’t actually know WHAT a force really is. No, really, I’m serious. Now, think about this for a minute. This is like coming home to your 12-year-old son standing in the front yard with a baseball bat, a broken window and a baseball inside your house and not being able to explain what happened. What passes for an explanation is that “fermions” exchange “virtual particles” which mediate the “interaction”. I seriously and truly do NOT make this stuff up folks. Somebody else does. “It’s not my fault dad, the fermions did it!”. Damn you fermions, you’ll pay for my window. I mean, at least they could have come up with a term that doesn’t sound like an alien race from Babylon 5.
So then, back to the unified Theory Of Everything. The grand hope is that the Theory of Everything will simultaneously explain WHAT a force truly is while also providing a single, elegant, mathematical equation that can function as a model of the entire universe. Enter…>drum roll< …string theory. String theory, or, if you prefer M-Theory, was invented to fill the void of good, solid unified models of the universe. In short, string theory states that tiny, undetectable “strings” actually make up all matter, energy and forces in the entire universe. The different ways in which these tiny, and…did I mention undetectable?…strings vibrate and wiggle ultimately determine what force or energy or bit of mass each string becomes. Even better, these tiny, and; of course, undetectable, strings can vibrate in no less than 13 dimensions…THIRTEEN! That’s right folks, forget X, Y and Z; string theory has a dimension for half the alphabet!
Alrighty then, so…there’s just one itsy witsy little problem with string theory. It’s just that it happens to be totally and completely wrong. Well, OK, not totally and completely wrong, just mostly wrong. OK, OK, not even mostly wrong…it’s just one little thing that’s wrong really; one tiny; almost undetectable, thing. They are not actually strings you see, they are REALLY tiny, undetectable flying spaghetti monsters and the different forms of energy and matter are formed by how many and in what manner they wave their noodley appendages. Plus, there are 15, not 13 dimensions and if the math doesn’t come out right, just keep adding dimensions until it does.
So, problem solved, I can now put “Theory of Everything” in the “problem solved” column. I think I’ll move on to more important things like putting cheetahs in prison and catching the episodes of Meerkat Manor that I missed. And now you are like 100 billion times smarter than even Albert Einstein and all without having to read a single dry ass issue of Scientific American.
Originally published September 2006
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