Over 40 Acclaimed Authors Try to Make Sense of String Theory in New Book

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String theory is a leading candidate for the Theory of Everything--a scientific theory that can explain the workings of all matter and force in the universe. But what does string theory mean to our everyday lives? In a new book entitled Riffing on Strings, over forty acclaimed authors explore the cosmic and cultural resonances of string theory.

Vibrating strings, multiple spacetime dimensions, sparticles, braneworlds. With the tremendous success of books like Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe, string theory has exploded onto the pop culture scene. And string theory may very well see its profile rise even higher when the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland finally comes online in September. This is because results from the LHC could confirm some of the predictions made by string theory. Even so, the non-physicist is bound to ask: just what does string theory mean to our everyday lives? A new book published this month by Scriblerus Press called Riffing on Strings: Creative Writing Inspired by String Theory asks just that.

John Schwarz, the Harold Brown Professor of Theoretical Physics at Caltech, is one of string theory's founding fathers. When asked about the growing public fascination with string theory, he said, "It is very surprising to me that string theory has entered the public consciousness to such a large degree. This is probably due to the effectiveness of a few popularizers and the seeming craziness of the concepts." Theoretical physics has always had a great deal of emotional appeal, dealing as it does with what many people consider to be the fundamental nature of reality. And ever since the awesome--even terrifying--success of the atomic bomb program, the public has come to view physicists as the foremost custodians of these fundamental truths.

Now in the twentieth-first century, many physicists are in hot pursuit of what they call a Theory of Everything. Some consider string theory to be the leading candidate. Editor Sean Miller is a scholar whose research focuses on the cultural currency of string theory. In the Introduction to Riffing on Strings, Miller writes, "Physicists mean something specific when they speak of a Theory of Everything. They certainly do not mean to suggest that string theory can explain why sunflowers lean to the light or why people fall in love." What they do mean is this: string theory promises to reconcile the two great high energy physics theories of the past century into one consistent mathematical formalism. Those two theories are quantum theory, the reigning theory for the workings of the very small--matter and force on subatomic scales--and Einstein's theory of general relativity, which explains with great precision the realm of the very large--the gravitational attraction between massive objects such as planets, stars, galaxies, and the entire universe.

But the insights that string theory offers us about the universe we live in often seem impossibly remote from everyday concerns--the tricky business of getting on in the human-scale world. While physicists may have a great deal of authority with respect to the finer points of differential calculus and collider experiments, that authority diminishes when it comes to making sense of string theory for our everyday lives. And when we do ask what string theory really means in the grand scheme of things, we are bound to discover something altogether telling not just about the cosmos, but about ourselves. We are bound to discover that just as the beliefs we hold about the cosmos are reflected in our social actions, so too are our social actions reflected in our beliefs about the cosmos.

The question then becomes: what new things can we say and feel about the cosmos--and our place within it--through the prism of string theory? "In gathering together the pieces in the collection," Miller said, "we tried to find a balance of perspectives that shows string theory ideas and images in novel and interesting ways. We were very pleased that so many award-winning authors had something insightful to say about string theory, such as Nobel Laureate Sheldon Glashow, accomplished string theorist and popularizer Michio Kaku, sci-fi author Adam Roberts, and playwright Carole Buggé." Others seem to agree. Caltech physicist Dr. Sean Carroll said, "Putting together a Theory of Everything requires a lot of creativity, and more than just a little audacity--qualities which are abundant in this collection of essays, stories, and poems."

For more information on Riffing on Strings visit the Scriblerus Press website at http://scriblerus.net

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SEAN MILLER
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