Sunday, October 3, 2010

String Theory and Theology

Cover of "Parallel Worlds: A Journey Thro...Cover via Amazon
Today I was a worship associate for a service at the James Reeb Unitarian Universalist Congregation for the second time. The topic was "String Theory and Theology."
I researched and read all I could over the course of about a week and a half. Several days in, I realized I wasn't going to understand string theory well enough to write anything about it in time to make a presentation by the end of the week! So I decided to do readings instead.
The book I studied most was Parallel Worlds by Michio Kaku. Donald and I bought a book of his called Hyperspace in the early 1990s when we belonged, briefly, to the Book of the Month Club. We never read it. It looked really cool. We were too intimated by it, I guess, to ever actually crack it and start reading. From what I could see of Parallel Worlds, published in 2005, it seemed to update a lot of stuff from Hyperspace. So I figured that I owed it to the guy to at least read one of his books, considering that I had waited so long on the other one that it might already be obsolete!
Chalice lighting
Grave of George Gamow in Green Mountain Cemete...Image via WikipediaOur opening words come from the physicist and cosmologist George Gamow, born in 1904 in Odessa, Russia, who attempted to escape the Soviet Union by sailing to Turkey on a raft and went on to become one of the originators of the big bang theory of the origin of the universe, which he heroically defended against ridicule for years before it became generally accepted.
Gamow wrote this poem:
There was a young fellow from Trinity
Who took the square root of infinity
But the number of digits
Gave him the fidgets;
He dropped Math and took up Divinity.

Pastoral Thought: "Cosmic Music"
Different levels of magnification of matter, e...Image via WikipediaThe reading is excerpted, abridged and somewhat rearranged from Parallel Worlds: A Journey through creation, higher dimensions and the future of the cosmos, by theoretical physicist Michio Kaku.
The link between music and science was forged as early as the fifth century B.C., when the Greek Pythagoreans discovered the laws of harmony and reduced them to mathematics. They found that the tone of a plucked lyre string corresponded to its length. If one doubled the length of the string, the note went down one octave. If the length of a string was reduced by two-thirds, the tone went up a fifth. Hence the laws of music and harmony could be reduced to precise relations between numbers. “All things are numbers,” they said.
They dared to apply these laws of harmony to the entire universe. They failed because of the enormous complexity of matter.
In some sense, with string theory, physicists are going back to the Pythagorean dream.
According to string theory, if you had a supermicroscope and could peer into the heart of an electron, you would see not a point particle but a vibrating string. If we were to pluck this string, the vibration would change; the electron might turn into a neutrino. Pluck it again and it might turn into a quark. In fact, if you plucked it hard enough, it could turn into any of the known sub-atomic particles.
On a violin string, we can generate all the notes of the musical scale. B flat is not more fundamental than G. In the same way, electrons and quarks are not fundamental – the string is. All the subparticles of the universe can be viewed as nothing but different vibrations of the string.
The “harmonies” of the string are the laws of physics.
The lowest vibration of the string can be interpreted as the graviton, the point particle of gravity. 
As the string moves and breaks and reforms, we find Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
If Einstein had never discovered relativity, it might have been discovered as a by-product of string theory.
Music provides the metaphor for the nature of the universe, both at the subatomic level and at the cosmic level. 
Einstein said his search for a unified field theory would ultimately allow him to “read the Mind of God.” If string theory is correct, we now see that the Mind of God represents cosmic music resonating through ten-dimensional hyperspace.
Closing words
Our closing words are from the philosopher Giordano Bruno, burned to death 1600 for refusing to renounce views such as this.
“Thus is the excellence of God magnified and the greatness of his kingdom made manifest; he is glorified not in one, but in countless suns; not in a single earth, a single world, but in a thousand thousand, I say in an infinity of worlds.”
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