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

1

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

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

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

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

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
Close
With rendition switcher

Transcript

Question: What is string theory?

David Albert: String theory is a version of quantum mechanics. That is, quantum mechanics is less a completely specific theory than a class of theories, theories that involve this principle of superposition that we were just talking about, theories whose fundamental equations of motion have a certain particular kind of mathematical structure, so on and so forth. So one can enumerate five or six basic principles of quantum mechanics, okay, and these principles allow for a rather wide range of more specific claims of exactly what elementary systems the world is made of and so on and so forth. So string theory is one version of quantum mechanics, one version of a quantum theory. It's a theory whose fundamental ontological entities aren't particles, but these one-dimensional objects, these strings. And that fundamental ontology looks promising for all sorts of reasons, especially in regard to attempts to make a coherent quantum theory of gravitation and so on and so forth.

But in the context of our discussion here, it's one version of a quantum theory. It shares all of the weird properties that we were just talking about, the measurement problem, the principle of superposition, so on and so forth, with every other quantum theory. And these foundational problems, especially the measurement problem, come up in string theory in exactly the same way as they come up in older versions of quantum mechanics.

Question: How might we establish the truth of string theory?

David Albert: We need to smack particles together -- you know, this is of course a -- one doesn't want to anticipate what's going to happen, and maybe tomorrow somebody's going to figure out some much more clever and much cheaper experimental method of distinguishing between string theories and other quantum theories that we have -- but insofar as we know at the moment, the only way of getting a handle on whether or not string theory is true is going to be the very brute-force, very expensive project of building these huge accelerators that are going to smack particles together with such intensity, that is with energies reminiscent of the energies that the particles had in the very early milliseconds of the life of the universe, where the predictions of string theory are going to differ from the predictions of other interesting quantum theories that we have on the table. So it's going to be a matter of doing those experiments.

Question: Is the Large Hadron Collider capable of doing this?

David Albert: It's -- no, even that -- I mean, there may be -- the evidence that we would get even from that, as far as I understand the matter, would still be rather indirect, although there are things that could emerge from those experiments which would be a more comfortable fit for certain string theories than for other theories that we have on the table. But even that evidence is going to be rather indirect. You know, what most people say nowadays is, look, the best evidence we have for string theory is that there is a phenomenon of gravitation, and we don't know any way besides string theory of making gravitation compatible with quantum mechanics.

More from the Big Idea for Sunday, February 16 2014

Scientific Theory

Evolutionary theory is great at explaining things like the loss of eyesight, over time, by cave-dwelling creatures. It's terrible at explaining gain of function. It's also terrible at explainin... Read More…

 

Can We Prove String Theory?

Newsletter: Share: