What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

Strung Out on String Theory

February 9, 2011, 12:00 AM

When physicist and Big Think blogger Michio Kaku explains the concept of string theory, the result is downright poetic: “Physics are nothing but the laws of harmonies on a string. Chemistry is nothing but the melodies you can play on vibrating strings, and the mind of God…would be cosmic music. Cosmic music resonating through 11-dimensional hyperspace.” Kaku holds out great hope that string theory will someday provide physicists’ Holy Grail, a Theory of Everything that “will answer the key questions: Is time travel possible? Can you drill a hole through space and time? How was the universe born and what happened before genesis itself?”

But some physicists, including Columbia’s Peter Woit, are far less optimistic. Through a book and blog, as well as a BT interview last year, Woit has waged a skeptic’s campaign against the starry-eyed promises of string theory, arguing that in its current form the theory is a dead end. Because “the problems [with it] are such that you can't even pin it down and say this is exactly what it predicts, so let’s go out and test it,” it’s what he calls (borrowing Wolfgang Pauli’s phrase) “not even wrong.”

Woit adds that the theory’s failure to deliver on its promise—tying together the loose ends of the so-called standard model of physics—has caused a quiet shift in course among many string theorists. “The people who are still interested in it…may or may not explicitly admit that they've given up on the unified theory idea, but they're often doing other things. So there's a very active pursuit of string theory with other applications that don't have anything to do with unification.”

Woit says he doesn’t pretend to have all the answers about the universe’s structure; he just thinks string theory may be a fizzled intellectual revolution. “There's a lot of mathematical structure behind the standard model which is still kind of mysterious and which is not well understood, and I think pursuing that is more likely to get us somewhere than the String Theory Unification idea. Just because you're starting from…a theory which you know is right, and trying to further develop your understand of that theory is maybe a more fruitful thing to do than trying to just throw all that out and start afresh with something more speculative.”

For physicists like Kaku, of course, speculation is part of the fun. Still, with string theory now a quarter-century old, the next generation of physicists will have to decide whether to continue pursuing its elusive threads—or return to the drawing board.


Strung Out on String Theory

Newsletter: Share: