Length, Height, and Breadth

Image by flickr user martinak15Imagine that reality is as strange as string theory predicts. String theory calls for ten perhaps eleven space-time dimensions where strings and membranes vibrate to generate the particles and ultimately all emergent phenomena of the natural world. The dynamics of such a universe quickly escapes our ability to describe it with ordinary language or to conceive of it at all. A theory that successfully predicts the behavior of the universe is good, but a theory that precisely describes nature while it simultaneously inspires our imaginations would be best. String theory wallows in that cross roads of imagination and science such that if you don’t know what string theory is yet you aren’t just missing science you are missing critical modern culture.


Issues of interpretation are not uncommon in science. “People slowly accustomed themselves to the idea that that the physical states of space itself were the final reality” Einstein said. He was commenting on the fundamental principle of his theory of general relativity wherein the distribution of energy and matter determines the geometry of space time. Einstein spoke to the public with precise words. Here he is stating that the reality we experience is given by space-time itself. He is also suggesting a larger kind of scientific realism where there is an objective world independent of our capacity to know it. In this view reality is a purely physical manifestation of the natural laws of physics. Yet, the underlying dynamics of nature are not directly accessible to human perception, as Einstein said it, “imagination is everything.”


“Should overwhelming evidence gathered using a diversity of methods confirm the existence of a phenomenon in the world, it ought to be taken to be objectively real; for example, that the universe consists of three spatial dimensions: length, height, and breadth” states Sean Miller in his 2013 book Strung Together. The existence of extra dimensions is prescribed by the formalism of string theory (in M-theory there are ten dimensions of space and one of time). This claim contradicts current theories. String theory will attain the status of scientific knowledge only if predictions like this can be validated. String theory makes such sweeping claims about our universe that it is a so called theory of everything. Though regardless of whether or not string theory is strictly correct our imaginative understanding of what it means may continue to progress.

I wrote this piece for 3 Quarks Daily where I am a regular Monday contributor. Read the rest of how string theory and culture intersect with imagination…

Write a Comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>