Energy & Matter
The idea that the "Big Bang" came out of a point source is now being replaced by
the theory that space, time, energy and matter erupted from an event of ultra minute
but nonetheless real dimensions. The dimensionless point source hypothesis is now
seen as an approximation that has to be abandoned for it leads to incongruous mathematics.
Knowledge advances through a series of approximations, each one improving the precision
and usefulness of the preceding one. For example, a simple equation describing how
the volume of a given quantity of a gas will vary with changes of temperature and
pressure can be derived from the model of an "ideal gas" composed of idealised dimensionless
molecules but it can only provide an approximation of the behaviour of real gasses
because real molecules are not dimensionless points. Such an idealised equation can
be useful to predict the behaviour of gasses at relatively low temperatures and pressures
but it fails increasingly as the size and shape of real molecules influence the compressibility
of gasses more and more at higher pressures and temperatures. Fortunately, in this
case we can measure the errors and generate tables of correction factors applicable
to various real gasses.
Most of what we know about the universe was learned relatively recently since the
discovery of quantum mechanics and of the laws of special and general relativity early
in the 20th century. Quantum mechanics does an excellent job of describing the behaviour
of energy and matter at the ultra microscopic scale of fundamental particles. General
relativity is also quite successful in predicting how the force of gravity warps the
very fibre of space-time in the vicinity of mass and rules the universe at the gigantic
scale of the cosmos. Unfortunately, all attempts to merge the mathematics these two
successful theories, have so-far lead to absurd results and to contradictions that
indicate that something is missing.
Quantum mechanics deal with the way that energy exists only in discrete packets, or
quanta, at the ultra microscopic scale of the fundamental building blocks of the universe
rather than in the continuously varying amounts we are familiar with in classical physics.
For example, the single electron of the hydrogen atom flies around the nucleus only in
certain orbits that correspond to specific energy levels. The electron cannot occupy
intermediate orbits but it can jump from one orbit to a higher or lower one by acquiring or
losing a quantum of energy in the form of a photon.
Quantum mechanics describes how the electromagnetic force, the weak force and the
strong force interact with matter. The model on which quantum mechanics is based uses
the same idealised concept of dimensionless points used in the model of an ideal gas.
It presumes that the fermions that make up matter (electrons, quarks and their antimatter
partners), and the bosons that transmit energy (photons, gluons and weak gauge bosons),
are dimensionless entities that differ only by their various attributes such as mass,
charge and spin.
Quantum mechanics works perfectly well with the three above mentioned forces but
it breaks down when dealing with the force of gravity for the hypothesis of entities
of zero dimensions leads to absurdities such as infinite densities, infinite energies
and infinite warping of the time-space continuum.
Science is now in the process of realising that the hypothesis of dimensionless
fundamental particles is only a useful approximation that needs to be replaced by
a more subtle perception of reality. Unfortunately, we cannot, in this case, measure
the errors caused by the simplifying hypothesis of dimensionless points as we could
to correct for the difference between ideal and real gasses. We will have to generate
the required mathematics the hard way.
The idea that fundamental particles might not be dimensionless appeared as early
as 1955 but it was shelved because of the extreme complexity of the associated mathematics.
It was however revived more than a decade later when it became evident that this new
theory was the only way to reconcile general relativity with quantum mechanics.
According to this theory, fundamental particles are the manifestations of the
vibration of extremely small regions of space, various modes of these vibrations
giving rise to all the known fermions and bosons. For example, a particle like
the electron could be the result of a certain mode of vibration of an extremely
small one-dimensional region of space (1.6 X 10-33 cm long). The analogy
with the various modes of vibrations possible in a violin string gave the new
concept its name of string theory. Such a vibrating region could be two ended
like a violin string or looped like an elastic band. The original theory relative
to the vibration modes of a one dimensional string was then extended to cover
vibration modes possible in a two dimensional membrane (called a two-brane) or
in a three dimensional volume called a 3- brane and ultimately in multidimensional
n-branes but the picturesque name of string theory remained. String theory eventually
postulated the existence of six "curled up" dimensions in addition to the four
"extended" dimensions we know, (right-left, up-down, front-back and past-future)
to provide all the vibration modes required to give rise to all the known fundamental
String theory has had its ups and downs due to the enormous difficulty of generating
adequate mathematical procedures to describe vibration modes possible in a universe
of ten dimensions. Progress is nevertheless being made from time to time. In 1985
string theory became superstring theory to account for the integration of the
quantum mechanical concept of supersymetry. In 1996 the theory was given a new
impetus when it was recognised that the five then discovered avenues to a mathematical
solution could be aspects of the same reality rather than contradictory views.
Today, hundreds of physicists and mathematicians are intensely searching for the
breakthrough that will transform the mystery into the obvious.
The mathematical treatment of string theory is still incomplete and the theory
has not yet been experimentally tested. Consequently it is not yet widely accepted
by the scientific community but it is the only theory available that deals adequately
with gravity at the ultra microscopic scale. It is physics' best hope of developing
a Theory Of Everything (TOE) that would open the door to a more profound insight on
the nature of the universe and at a practical level, to inventions and realisations
that still belong to the realm of science fiction.
Some people think that a Theory Of Everything would mean the end of physics but
I think on the contrary that it would be the beginning of a new era just like the
delimitation of the continents was just the beginning of the exploration and exploitation
of our planet's hidden resources. It would rather be the dawn of a new day.