M-Theory, the Latest Dream that Stuff is Made Of

I’m re-reading The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene as preparation for writing an online class on the latest cosmological theories as pertains to writers. If you don’t get freaked out by the math, it’s fascinating stuff. And he keeps equations to a minimum, anyway.

What’s fascinating? Well, there’s the idea that all subatomic particles are actually made up of tiny strings of energy stuck into a membrane (the “M” in M-Theory). Except the tiny strings of energy that cause gravity; they’re closed loops that we only sense when they’re next to the membrane, which explains why gravity is such a weak force.

Or the idea that the Big Bang was caused by two of these subatomic membranes banging into each other. It probably happens all the time, and new universes are created all the time.

The math (if you can call it math when it doesn’t actually use any numbers) works, but the postulates themselves are so arcane that no one has actually come up with a way to test them yet. Hence the title of my post. Right now it’s more of a philosophy than something we can prove or disprove.

Will we be able to test these ideas someday? Well, a week or two ago, scientists announced that they had proved part of Einstein’s General Relativity theory, finally getting results from an experiment the group started planning in 1963 (the year before I was born). It showed actual twisting of the depression in space-time created by a planetary mass, due to the Earth’s rotation. Einstein’s paper was published in 1915. So the experiments about M-Theory might take awhile to develop, “awhile” being a euphemism for “a few generations” or even “a couple of lifetimes.”

But the implications for writers…fascinating stuff. Would wormholes be the openings to parallel universes? What about ghosts? Energy bleed over from a different quantum reality? Or maybe strings that have been moved from their proper place in the membrane, unless that’s precognition.

And do the extra dimensions (M-theory has 11) provide a loophole in the cosmic speed limit? I mean, what’s the difference between traveling faster than light in a gigantic universe and traveling slower than light, but through a much smaller universe because you could access the teeny-tiny dimensions where energy strings vibrate? And how would the engineering for that work?

According to the math, reality is a strange place when looked at very, very closely, and writers get to play with what that means. The more I read about this stuff, the more story ideas float into my fuzzy little brain, and they’re not all science fiction stories, either.

You might consider giving the book a try.

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