Brian Greene Still Thinks String Theory Has Promise

30 years of work on string theory without experimental verification has not deterred Columbia theoretical physicist Brian Greene. He’s still betting on string theory. Money quote from his January 2015 article in Smithsonian magazine:

I’m gratified at how far we’ve come but disappointed that a connection to experiment continues to elude us. While my own research has migrated from highly mathematical forays into extra-dimensional arcana to more applied studies of string theory’s cosmological insights, I now hold only modest hope that the theory will confront data during my lifetime. 

Even so, string theory’s pull remains strong. Its ability to seamlessly meld general relativity and quantum mechanics remains a primary achievement, but the allure goes deeper still. Within its majestic mathematical structure, a diligent researcher would find all of the best ideas physicists have carefully developed over the past few hundred years. It’s hard to believe such depth of insight is accidental.

I like to think that Einstein would look at string theory’s journey and smile, enjoying the theory’s remarkable geometrical features while feeling kinship with fellow travelers on the long and winding road toward unification. All the same, science is powerfully self-correcting. Should decades drift by without experimental support, I imagine that string theory will be absorbed by other areas of science and mathematics, and slowly shed a unique identity. In the interim, vigorous research and a large dose of patience are surely warranted. If experimental confirmation of string theory is in the offing, future generations will look back on our era as transformative, a time when science had the fortitude to nurture a remarkable and challenging theory, resulting in one of the most profound steps toward understanding reality.

I don’t know. Maybe.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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