All Strung Out?. ‘The 1970s were an exhilarating time in particle physics. After decades of effort, theoretical physicists had come to understand the weak and strong nuclear forces and had combined them with the electromagnetic force in the so-called Standard Model. Fresh from this success, they turned to the problem of finding a unified theory, a single principle that would account for all three of these forces and the properties of the various subatomic particles. Some investigators even sought to unify gravity with the other three forces and to resolve the problems that arise when gravity is combined with quantum theory.
The Standard Model is a quantum field theory, in which particles behave as mathematical points, but a small group of theorists explored the possibility that under enough magnification, particles would prove to be oscillating loops or strands of “string.” Although this seemingly odd idea attracted little attention at first, by 1984 it had become apparent that this approach was able to solve some key problems that otherwise seemed insurmountable. Rather suddenly, the attention of many of those working on unification shifted to string theory, and there it has stayed since.
Today, after more than 20 years of concentrated effort, what has been accomplished? What has string theory predicted? Lee Smolin, in The Trouble with Physics, and Peter Woit, in Not Even Wrong, argue that string theory has largely failed. What is worse, they contend, too many theorists continue to focus their efforts on this idea, monopolizing valuable scientific resources that should be shifted in more promising directions.’
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