String Theory and the Universe

“Let’s get physical, physical, I wanna get physical, let’s get into physical”
– Olivia Newton John

I’m not much of a gambler. In fact, on a recent trip to Las Vegas, I was actually sitting in my room watching a Nova special on PBS about physics. It was sort of a “Physics for Dummies” type of show, which means I really knew a little more about physics after watching than before.

It really was informative, putting things like the Theory of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics into terms that even I could understand. They did a history of Albert Einstein and how he researched and developed the Theory of Relativity. Einstein, like most people, did his best work before he turned 26. After that, he just sort of rehashed the same thing over and over. That was 1916 and due to limits in technology at that time and because he eventually just became a stubborn old man, he was never able to expand on his theories.

In the 1920’s, a group of scientists, however, thought there was more to physics that what dear old Albert had been able to identify. Whereas Einstein dealt mostly with gravity, time and the speed of light, this group was talking about atoms and particles and sub-particles, things that I haven’t pondered since I was still an “active” child of the 60’s.

Now that I thought I almost knew what I was talking about, I called my brother, Prof. K. “Kranky” Krankfield and said, “I’ve got a question for you. What is more valid – the Theory of General Relativity or the Theory of Quantum Mechanics and are they truly tied together with the Unified Theory of Physics known as the String Theory?”

After one of those moments known as a pregnant pause, he said, “Why are you asking me this question?” to which I answered, “Because you’re the only rocket scientist I know that I can call on my cell phone, ask a question like this and actually almost get an answer.” And, I did almost get an answer.

Prof. Kranky evidently is a quantum mechanic. Without going too much into detail, because he did and I got lost, he said that the Theory of Relativity is fine for when you’re studying stars and planets and heavenly bodies (Pamela Anderson excluded.) Quantum mechanics was used to study the smallest things in the universe leading to discoveries like lasers, fiber optics, nuclear weapons and my bank account. According to Pro-K (he’s a DJ on the side), Quantum mechanics was a much more practical area of research.

What intrigued me the most about quantum mechanics was that the guys who developed this theory said that anything that could possibly happen did in parallel universes. OK, all us science fiction fans, we understand what this is all about. For the rest of you, though, the explanation is that in some universe somewhere:

JFK was not assassinated.
The Macarena was never recorded.
The Eagles won the Super Bowl 6 of the last 8 years.
Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh were never born.
The Urkel character was played by Carroll O’Connor.
Neither Bush ever became president.

When presented with these theories, our old friend, Albert Einstein, had one retort. “God does not play dice with the universe.”

Dice! Wait a minute. Maybe, just maybe, Las Vegas is actually the nexus of the Quantum Mechanics gambling hall. And maybe, if the Theory of Quantum Mechanics really is valid, I can walk out of my room with a couple of bucks, go down to the casino and come back in a half hour $3 million richer with Halle Berry on one arm and Rosanna Arquette on the other. Why not? Who’s to say that it’s not this universe that it happens in!

Well, half an hour and $100 later, I figured out I was not in the universe I’d hoped I was in. No Halle or Rosanna. No millions of dollars. I did get a drink and a smile from a cocktail waitress, though.

So just think, the next time you play Rock, Paper, Scissors, in another universe it just might be Rock, Paper, Machine Gun. For real.