Thursday, August 11, 2011

Before You Get to String Theory

Analog Fact Article by C.W. Johnson

A look at physics history, and a walkthrough of the development of physics from Relativity to String Theory. Obviously this can't go into enormous depth, and it covers some of the same ground as many popular physics books (Brian Greene's in particular), but that is pretty good for a magazine article. The physics discussion is interesting and I learned something from it. But more important is the writing itself, I found myself taking notes. Maybe it's just nostalgia for college or something, but not all fact articles have me taking notes in a notebook.

Besides the physics itself, Johnson gives readers some crucial advice:
"A Theory of Everything isn't everything. As a scientist, I prefer process over product, and am more interested in the logic and experimental evidence behind a theory than in the final equations. I am always taken aback when I meet students who profess a desire to be String Theorists and yet exude indifference with the story behind string theory."
"What we really need is not more theory but more experiments and observations. Experimental discrepancies led to the blooming of general relativity and quantum mechanics. The clues to the Next Big Theory likely lie hidden in the experimental topics of the Higgs boson, proton decay, neutrino masses, and non-baryonic dark matter. String theory may be the dead end of the quantum-particle-exchange paradigm. Or it may indeed be the fabled theory of everything. But for physicists it's not the Final Theory that matters, but every step of the puzzling, frustrating, and thrilling journey, wherever it may lead us.
It's not a complicated graphic, but the highlights of the article, for me, were the Dirac Sea diagrams as well as the various older ideas from the 1930s that you don't see much discussion of in modern physics texts.
Rating: B+

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