West Wing Continuity Guide
path: Home / "The Midterms" / The Theory of Everything * String Theory

As a fictional devise Aaron Sorkin claims that on November 2, 2000 (okay he isn't all that clear about the year) the New York Times reported that the Theory of Everything had finally been articulated. Well it wasn't true in 2000 or any other year that "The Midterms" could have been set in in our universe and on September 2, 2003 the New York Times reported that things in String Theory didn't seem to be that organized.
The article was "One Cosmic Question, Too Many Answers" By DENNIS OVERBYE and the following are some excerpts from this long and involved and very interesting article:
  • "Einstein.... and subsequent generations of physicists have hoped that at the end of their labors there would be one answer --- a so-called Theory of Everything --- that would explain why the details of the world are the way they are and cannot be any other way.... For 20 years, physicists have lodged those hopes in string theory, a mathematically labyrinthian effort to portray nature as made up of tiny wriggling strings and membranes, rather than pointlike particles or waves...."
  • "The hope was that when all was said and done, there would be only one solution to the theory's tangled equations, one answer corresponding to only one possible universe. But recent progress in string theory paradoxically seems to leave physics further than ever from that dream of a unique answer. Instead of a single answer, the equations of string theory seem to have so many solutions, millions upon millions of them, each describing a logically possible universe, that it may be impossible to tell which one describes our own...."
  • "The question of whether strings will provide a unique answer to the universe has been hanging over physicists' heads ever since the modern form of string theory made its triumphal emergence in 1984. That year, Dr. John Schwarz of the California Institute of Technology and Dr. Michael Green, now of Cambridge University in England, showed that thinking of elementary particles as little strings instead of points eliminated troublesome mathematical anomalies from theories that sought to combine gravity with subatomic physics...."
  • "One problem is that string theory requires 10 dimensions of space-time, whereas we appear to live in four. Dr. Strominger remembered being excited when he found a paper by the mathematician Dr. Shing-Tung Yau, now of Harvard and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. It proved a conjecture by Dr. Eugenio Calabi, now retired from the University of Pennsylvania, that the extra dimensions could be curled up in microscopically invisible ways like the loops in a carpet...."
  • "Searching for answers, some theorists have invoked the so-called anthropic principle, which states that our universe has to have laws suitable for life. Otherwise we would not be here to see it. The apparent 'fine-tuning' of this universe is simply an artifact of our own existence here as observers, Dr. Brandon Carter, now at the Paris Observatory in Meudon, argued in 1974...."
  • "But such 'anthropic thinking' is defeatist to many physicists. 'We see this kind of thing happen over and over again as a reaction to difficult problems,' Dr. Gross said. 'Come up with a grand principle that explains why you're unable to solve the problem.' The notion that some problems are unsolvable is discouraging to the younger generation, he said, pointing out that nobody even knows what the final form of string theory will be...."
  • "...it has not been proved that string theory does not have an infinite number of solutions. So far, anything seems possible."
  • "Dr. Kachru suggested that it might be wishful thinking to expect that a 'smoking gun' confirmation of string theory could be found from comparing it to today's universe. The full glories of string theory, he said, manifest themselves only at energies trillions of times what earthbound particle accelerators can produce...."
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