Why string theory has been unfairly maligned – and how to test it

WHEN Joseph Conlon As a student in the early 2000s, he avoided popular science talks on string theory because he wanted to explore it on a technical level, without bias. A few years after the “second revolution in string theory”, theoretical physicists felt that they were perhaps on the verge of unraveling the deepest workings of reality, perhaps even of proposing a theory at all. As he explored mathematics, Conlon was captivated.

String theory suggests that everything is made up of one-dimensional strings (see “String Theory: An Introduction,” below), and also predicts a wide range of possible universes – around 10500, for those who take notes. Whatever you think, it's fair to say that string theory has not generated the testable predictions that many hoped for. Today, it has the reputation of being unverifiable, even unscientific. One critic of string theory called it “not even wrong.”

But for Conlon, now a physicist at Oxford University, the excitement never waned. He says string theory remains a potential avenue for uniting the incompatible ways we think about gravity and the quantum world, to create a unified theory of quantum gravity. He also claims that his field has been unfairly maligned and that his detractors apply double standards. He even insists that string theory makes predictions that we could eventually probe with future astronomical observations.

Here, Conlon narrates New scientist about the enduring joys of string theory, why it's too early to dismiss it, and why we…

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