Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Pushing Strings

While some skeptical scientists have had the temerity to question the speculative “Science of the Gaps” inherent in Superstring Theory and its Multiple Universe progeny, they have not abandoned the notion of a GUT. The August, 2006 issue of Scientific American reports that Alain Connes of the Coll├Ęge of France in Paris, wants to expel Rube Goldberg from the discussion altogether. In place of the physical reconciliation of the macro/micro paradoxes of general relativity and quantum mechanics, Connes’ proposes a mathematical solution. By use of what he calls “noncommutative geometry,” Connes aims to replace the Cartesian definition of space with an altered geometry that recognizes the peculiarities of quantum theory and the spacetime implications of general relativity.

Unlike its Superstring predecessor, Connes’ mathematical model removes the requirement for actual infinities that have dogged its Superstring alternatives. Where “[Super]string theory cannot be tested directly … noncommutative geometry makes testable predictions.” According to Connes, his approach not only better “reflects reality,” it allows physicists to “peer into the complexity” of physics to reveal the “hidden jewels” behind it.

The physics and mathematics behind both Superstring Theory and noncommutative geometry are literally beyond the ability of most of us to comprehend. Superstring Theory may be headed for the ash heap of history. Connes’ new geometry may be its replacement. Time will tell. But the implications of each are the same.

The existence and emergence of the entire ensemble of forces and particles that comprise our universe does not in itself explain the synergy with which the different components of the system operate. This nature, a nature described so well by the language of GUT mathematics, is, says Max Tegmark in the same article noted above, “an abstract, immutable entity existing outside space and time” that allows for the orderliness and invariant properties we observe in nature. It is “something bordering on the mysterious” that has “an eerily real feel” to it and satisfies “a central criterion of objective existence.” Stephen Hawking asks where such characteristics as mathematics, and the laws of physics and chemistry, could have originated. Even the supreme atheist Bertrand Russell once remarked that mathematics holds both truth and supreme beauty.

The astounding implications of these cosmological theories have driven naturalistic scientists to infinite ends in their many and varied attempts to explain them away. But they are not going away. Theories come and go but the implications of those theories remain steadfastly in place.

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