Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Move over, Einstein

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Move over, Einstein

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: "The Accidental Universe: Science's Crisis of Faith" by Alan Lightman, in Harper's, Dec. 2011.

THEORETICAL PHYSICISTS USED to dream of producing a "theory of everything" that would relate the two principal breakthroughs of 20th-century physics: quantum mechanics and Einstein's general theory of relativity. They hoped such a vision would show that the workings of the universe can be explained by a few fundamental parameters and laws of nature.

That goal is increasingly thought to be chimerical, observes Alan Lightman, a physicist at MIT. Advances in new areas of investigation have cast doubt on a linchpin for a "theory of everything': the assumption that our universe is the only one out there. More and more physicists are open to the idea that we may be part of a "multiverse" that contains "many different self-consistent universes, with many different properties; he writes.

One of the new areas of investigation, string theory, holds that the smallest units of energy are "extremely tiny one-dimensional 'strings' "that operate in extra dimensions. Adherents now believe that the "string landscape" predicts a practically infinite number of possible universes, each with different sets of properties. …

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