String Theory: When Philosophy Fails

A rational philosophy is a necessity to every aspect of one’s life. Poor philosophic systems can lead to misdirected and often dangerous, self-destructive actions. “All… fields of knowledge and areas of life – from something as abstract as quantum physics to something as trivial as commuting to and from one’s employment – are left unprotected and open to dangerous failures as a result [of ignoring philosophy].”

While philosophic failures in the humanities and social sciences are fairly easy to identify, the realm of the “hard” sciences – i.e. the natural, physical, and computing sciences – are generally held in high esteem among rational philosophers for their adherence to reason. As such, failures in the hard sciences are even more disappointing than if similar mistakes had occurred in a field where they were already expected – political science, for instance. Unfortunately, the field of modern particle physics is rife with such errors – errors which cripple the very foundation of rational philosophy: metaphysics.

Though there are several theories in modern particle physics worthy of discussion (e.g. the notion that electrons can be in two places at once) or physics in general (e.g. multiverse theory or the idea of an infinite universe), the one I want to discuss here is string theory. The proponents of string theory – including Stephen Hawking, the highly popularized shame of modern theoretical physics – hold that subatomic particles like electrons and quarks (the building blocks of protons and neutrons which compose an atom’s nucleus) are actually made of 1-dimensional strings which oscillate fast enough to give these particles shape and volume. All matter, therefore, is not actually 3-dimensional, but is instead 1-dimensional with the appearance of 3-dimensionality.

I want to emphasize that I am no physicist by any standard. I cannot explain the more esoteric points of string theory, and there are many, each just as flawed as the fundamental premise on which it rests. So unsubstantiated are the conclusions of this theory that the physicists supporting it must literally rewrite reality to give string theory even the appearance of scientific fact. While philosophers slept, the rest of mankind woke to discover that its world is but a shadow of a fourth dimension, and that of a fifth, and that of a sixth, and so on until one arrives at 26 dimensions in total (10 according to some theories). This becomes important later.

Examine the argument here:  1-dimensional lines (the “strings”) – things that have neither width nor depth – vibrate perpetually thus composing all that we are able to perceive. This is fundamentally impossible. That physicists – men of science – can even accept the existence of 1-dimensional “objects” at all is truly a mark of the decrepit state of America’s philosophic culture on which its scientific culture rests.

All that exists in the universe does so in three dimensions. Even energy, as a metaphysical concept, only exists in relation to 3-dimensional objects. Energy is nothing more than the movement of atoms and their constituent parts, movement which can manifest itself if various distinct patterns (i.e. heat energy versus sound energy). However, energy cannot be separated from matter, and vice versa. Energy which does not affect matter does not affect reality, and matter which is unaffected by energy cannot exhibit any traits – neither energy nor matter can exist under those parameters, and neither do. String theorists, however, deny this. They purport a world in which energy exists without a subject, in which the notion of matter is an illusion, and in which all that we observe is merely a shadow of some other world. In essence, they purport a universe of unreality.

Metaphysically, there can be no entities which are 1-dimensional, 2-dimensional, 4-dimensional, 10-dimensional, 26-dimensional, or otherwise. Though these concepts are potentially useful epistemologically, they have no metaphysical manifestations. In other words, man can use the idea of different dimensions as a thought tool to assist him in living in the third dimension, but that does not alter the fact that these other dimensions do not actually exist, nor do entities that would fall within these dimensions exist.

For example, take the concept of a square. As a two dimensional object, it has only width and length, but it lacks depth. Because it has no depth, it cannot exist – if it did, it would have mass, but mass would require depth. There is no such thing as the depth of a square being “infinitely small,” a false concept in and of itself. The depth of a square, by its nature, is zero. Thus, there is no way for a square to be observed or interact with reality because, in reality, it is not there. Even so, the concept of a square is useful for geometric purposes, for architecture, for carpentry, for measuring area, etc. But again, it is an abstraction, not an existent entity – the concept only exists in our minds such that we can apply it to reality, but it neither exists in reality nor does our usage of such concepts make it exist in reality. More simply, though square-shaped floor tiles can and do exist, a square itself — a mere shape without an object conforming to that shape — does not. The same applies to 1-dimensional lines, the concept of infinity, and other concepts in purely abstract terms. These things do not exist in concretes.

From what I am able to glean from my limited knowledge of string theory, the particle physicists who support this theory realize this contradiction – the idea of 1-dimensional objects possessing mass (whether the particle physicists supporting the alternative theory that subatomic particles are 0-dimensional recognize the same, I do not know). To remedy this problem, many string theorists merely reject the idea of mass in totality.

Bosonic string theory – the one which supports the existence of 26 different dimensions – holds that mass does not exist, that only forces (i.e. types of energy) exist, and that the physical universe is, in fact, an illusion of disembodied forces interacting with one another. This returns to one of the problems already addressed: the notion of energy – i.e., movement – existing without a subject to move. Such a proposition is impossible and should be discarded along with the relics of medieval “science.” But the problems of string theory are troubling beyond mere logical errors. They are symptoms of something much more dangerous: the return of medieval science.

This is no exaggeration. The philosophic basis of string theory is the exact same as that employed by the alchemists who thought they could turn lead into gold, the astrologers who thought they could deduce the future from the stars, the physicians who thought sickness was caused by an imbalance of man’s “humors,” and kings who thought they ruled by the divine right of God. These are the results of the Platonist school of thought, these are the accomplishments of Augustine, and this is the tradition of Kant, Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche.

Want to know why string theory’s assertion of multiple dimensions, ours merely being the “shadow” of some other dimension, is so important? Because it precisely mirrors the metaphysics of Plato and Augustine, the two philosophers whose doctrines dominated the western world from the fall of the Roman Republic until St. Thomas Aquinas took the first steps in the Italian Renaissance by reintroducing Aristotelian thought in the 13th Century. Plato treated this reality as but an imperfect reflection of another, greater reality. Ultimately, this reality is of no significance – man should disregard it. Instead, man’s life is to pursue that other reality, and share that understanding with others, even to the point of death – this is Plato’s philosophy of forms, as found in Republic.

Augustine’s metaphysics are exactly the same as Plato’s except with a religious twist – the City of God becomes the other reality while the temporal city is the present. Augustine must be given credit for at least telling his readers in The City of God to not totally disregard this reality, but it ultimately did not matter – his emphasis was on the depravity, painfulness, and unreality of this side of eternity. He never treated this life as real, existent, and ultimately worth living. The results which followed were only the logical extensions of those premises. If this reality is unreal, why bother trying to understand it? Or if you do try to understand it, why not appeal to utter impossibilities? After all, no contradiction can be any worse than the one that already dominates: an unreal reality.

This is the contradiction that is currently spreading through the hard sciences. Fortunately, it does not yet dominate by any standards – those who apply the hard sciences to man’s life still recognize the laws of reality and obey them. So far, it is primarily those dealing with obscure theoretical fields that succumb to these errors. This does not make the situation any less dire, as applications are built on theories, and where there are errors in the latter, errors in the former are not far behind.

One can judge every era of human history by its dominant philosophy — the quality of man’s life following directly from it. Those times in history which were ruled by the philosophic descendants (and improvements) of Aristotle have consistently overseen the great upswings in human history – the Hellenistic Era, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution. Oppositely, those times ruled by the philosophic descendants (and further degradations) of Plato have overseen the great descents of man into oblivion – the medieval era, fascist Europe, Soviet Russia.

We are currently in philosophic purgatory, stuck staunchly between the traditions of Aristotle in the form of Enlightenment thought and the traditions of Plato in the form of Kantianism. Like our government which is caught between socialism and capitalism, so too is our philosophic culture caught between Kant (one of the most consistent Platonists so far) and Rand (the greatest improvement to date on Aristotelian thought). And just as there are those who try to find a “happy medium” between these two extremes, there are those in particle physics who attempt to do the same for their own theories, altering string theory such that mass still exists in spite of string theory’s premises which preclude such an assertion. There is no happy medium between reality and unreality. Contradictions, by definition, do not exist.

And this purgatory will not last. Ultimately, the United States and the Western world will be pulled one way or the other. The inevitable conclusions of trying to maintain a mixed economy are already clear. The same is true for the sciences. Those who continue to accommodate the contradictions of one theory by introducing others only assist the decay of science: reality becomes what it is not, contradictions are treated as fact, and man becomes a helpless beast in a world he cannot understand. If we do not solve the errors in our present intellectual culture – and progress is being made toward that end – then this is the ultimate future that we will face. At that point, the superficial errors of string theory will be the least of our worries.


2 thoughts on “String Theory: When Philosophy Fails

  1. Hi Brian,

    Interesting article and string theory is certaintly an area that deserves criticism, particuarly for it’s failure to provide testable results in the 30-odd years that it has been developed but unfortunately several of the points you make either are not factually true are seem to represent a fairly fundamental misunderstanding of string theory or physics in general.

    Firstly I want to address the argument of dimensionality, that 1d objects cannot exist. I’m not actually going to address this directly instead I want to bring up quantum field theory (QFT). QFT is currently the best description of the universe we have, it is the mathematical underpinning of the so-called Standard Model of particle phyiscs. It’s been in the news fairly recently with the discovery of the Higgs Boson by the LHC at CERN. The standard model has accurately predicted the existence of all known particles and it has been used to calculate the strength of things such as the electromagnetic force to an obscene number of decimal places which have been matched exactly by experiment. QFT treats all particles as being 0-dimensional points.

    So really the argument here is that I don’t know whether or not 1 (or 0)-dim particles exists but whether they do or not is irrelevant because when we pretend that they do we get answers that are extremely close, if not identical, to what nature tells us they should be. Making approximations is something physics has a long history of doing, and it often gives answers to otherwise unsolvable problems that are very close to the unapproximated measurement.

    Secondly, I have no idea where you got the idea that string theory doesn’t have mass from but it is most certaintly incorrect. I suspect it’s come from a misunderstanding of how the mechanism for giving particles mass (in both string theory and the standard model) works. Mass is an inherent property of particles, in the same way as electric charge is. As an example. Put a magnet in a magnetic field, it becomes harder to move away from the magnet in the exact same way an object in a gravitiational field becomes harder to more away from whatever is doing the gravitating. Just like how magnetic something is affects how much it’s pulled on by a magnetic field, how “massive” it is affects how strongly it experiences a gravitational field so yeah…. I’m not really sure what you’re arguing with that paragraph but if it’s that things can’t aquire “weight” out of exchange of forces then I’m afraid you’ll have to throw magnetism and electricty out the window as well.

    It’s possible with this that you’ve heard some but not all of the details of bosonic string theory (the dangers of a little knowledge….) whilst it is indeed true that the strings begin as massless, they aquire mass via processes such as symmetry breaking, much like the (experimentally confirmed) W and Z bosons in the standard model.

    Also, the statement that forces are a type of energy is just wrong. Forces are generated when energy is applied in some way, they are not themselves energy, they’re the visible effects of it.

    FInally I want to talk about the idea of higher dimensions. You seem to be (understandably) approaching this in a much more philosophical way than I belive is actually warranted. There has never been a statement that we live in some “shadow” of a higher dimensional universe, quite the contrary in fact. Whilst we only experience the 4 dimensions of space-time, these are the dimensions in which pretty much everything “takes place”. In superstring theory (the viable candidate, bosonic string theory has never been viable due to it’s failure to contain bosons) there are 10 dimensions, not out of some arbitrary choice, but because this is required by the theory to be consistent with reality. But the 6 remaining dimensions arn’t like some locked off extra dimension as is typically pictured, they’re curled up on themselves to the extent that we cannot physically interact with them at a macro scale (in much the same way that until very recently we couldnt interact with individual atoms until the last 20 years).

    Right, rant over. Sorry about that, feel free to ask me anything if you feel I’ve misunderstood something (or havent made myself clear enough)


  2. The problem with string theory is not that it’s the wrong kind of philosophy, but that it is philosophy. Both string theory and philosophy in general are radically non-instrumental discourses (that don’t do anything beyond manipulating apparent symbols. In other words, both disciplines are purely discursive). A radically non-instrumental discourse, when it goes on long enough, becomes semantically meaningless. Everyday language-use is riddled with non-instrumental episodes, but they tend to be brief, sporadic and discontinuous (and are thereby less likely to deviate erratically from standard meanings). The exception is philosophy (and its equivalents in literary, social and political theory; as well as purely discursive fields like string theory).

Tell Us What You Think! (Commenting policy is available on our About page for new users)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s