Humor, Physics
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Originally posted on April 11, 2008

Wow…
It’s amazing what you can learn by surfing around the net…

For instance, did you know that the closest living relatives of the aardvark are the elephant shrews, along with sirenians, hyraxes, tenrecs and elephants? Nor is the aardvark closely related to the South American Anteater, despite a superficial likeness… And it seems that on the old Pink Panther cartoons they actually did use an aardvark, despite the animal being nocturnal… Although the snout was a bit misrepresented…

Now, I couldn’t care less about aardvarks as much as the next guy, but I thought I needed to start with a somewhat snappier topic than the one I DO wish to talk about, and I didn’t want to lose you in the very first paragraph… So for those of you who got here via a Google search for “aardvarks” (which is how I got the above information, by the way… except for the Pink Panther bit…), I apologize…

It’s okay if I lose you in the second paragraph, though…

I will have still earned my bonus points from the Betty Krocker Skool of Kooking and Disingenuous Interstellar Web-Site Management, as put forth in the Sub-Space memo of Flarkteen the Umlatieth, paragraph 3, sub-heading B, sub-sub-heading 17, sub-sub-sub-heading Q, sub-sub-sub…

You know, why don’t you just Google the memo… (I’ll bet I’m at the top of the list on that one…) And because I earned my points, that means I’ll get to go to the semi-annual bi-annual leadership and electroshock seminar at the lovely Fulton Street Fish Market, garden spot of the entire known sentient universe…

No, really…
It is…

Look it up…
Google it, if you want…
Everyone knows…

But what I do wish to talk about is a tad bit more serious. For years now, I’ve been somewhat vaguely fascinated with the thought of a unified grand theory of everything, as it has been reported in the press with some off and on again regularity… It seems as if some whacky science guys, at one of those whacky fun-loving get-togethers at the Fulton Street Fish Market came up with a theory that would resolve the gap between Einstein’s theory of relativity, which explains how the universe works on a really big scale but breaks down when you get to the teeny tiny scale, and quantum mechanics, which explains how everything works at the small end of the scale but doesn’t work for the really just incredibly large bits… It seems to break down somewhere along the lines of gravitational force…

Boy, I sure hope they don’t screw that one up…

And what do you think they decided to call this theory…?

Wait for it…

String theory…
No, really…

String theory… Like they just went to the junk drawer in their kitchen one day, looking for a rubber band, or one of those twisty-ties, and saw this wad of smallish rope and went EUREKA…
Or Oreck, or one of those other vacuum cleaner brands…

String theory… Also known in its supersized version as Superstring theory, and/or the M-theory…

Do you ever get the impression that what these whacky science guys REALLY need is someone from the marketing department at Betty Krocker to come over and whack them about their whacky heads and shoulders with a wet whacky mackerel? Because if you’re like me and the junk drawer in the kitchen is where you keep YOUR string, then for these whacky science guys to call their unified grand theory of everything the ‘String Theory’ carries certain connotations; a bit of, perhaps, unintended baggage that does nothing to instill the kind of confidence you might wish to instill if, in fact, you actually HAVE discovered the grand unified theory of everything… It in fact instills the thought that perhaps you might want to step away from de-still and rethink the whole process… Or at least get out of the house a little more often…

But I digress…

(Is it wrong to be sitting here giggling as I write this? Aside from the fact of someone of my advanced age giggling at all…)

It turns out that there is less than unanimity across the whacky science guy industry about the whole ‘String’ thing… Now, it may have been less than unanimous from the beginning, but I’m just hearing about it (no one ever tells me ANYTHING), so cut me some slack, will ya?

There’s a book called ‘Not Even Wrong’, written by one of those whacky science guys, that says that the theory is… well… whacky, because it can’t be proved… It can’t even profitably be shown to be possible… Apparently the way the whacky science guy industry works is to come up with a theory, devise some predictions based on that theory, and then test the theory to see if the predictions pan out… Sort of like, say, coming up with a theory of onions, predicting that cutting up onions will cause one to cry, and then going and cutting up onions to see if in fact one does actually start to cry…

According to the whacky science guy who wrote the book, what they came up with was a theory of onions that not only doesn’t accurately predict the crying, it postulates an astronomically large number of onions, each in it’s own unique universe and all with vastly differing physical properties. All of these onions are beyond the realm of observation; they exist in universes we can’t observe because the rules are different there, and the one universe we can observe would require an onion the size of the known universe in order to test the theory… And a REALLY big knife…

According to the whacky science guy who wrote the book (he’s both a physicist AND a mathematician, and on the faculty at Columbia; how whacky is THAT?), in the past, when whacky science guys came up with a theory that couldn’t even be tested, they would smack their whacky science guy foreheads, say ‘What were we thinking?’ and move on to the next thing, which usually involved a darkened corner in the Fulton Street Fish Market… But that’s not what happened with String theory…

Apparently what happened was that so much time and money was spent on this onion that they refused to give up on it, or to admit that the onion might have been a bad idea in the first place, or even to saute the onion and put it over a nice piece of fresh liver…

What they did was to continue to pound the theory for all it was worth, adding ever more complex layers to the theory, sort of like… an… onion… in an effort to justify their time and effort and… jobs…

Wow… Who knew the whacky science guy industry worked just like every other industry in the world? At least, it does in OUR onion…

So, before I go, let’s at least agree that the names ‘String Theory’, ‘Superstring Theory’ and even ‘M-Theory’ (what, are we in a Bond movie? Where’s Moneypenny?) are particularly unimaginative attempts at naming something that should at least sound like what it is… I’m open to suggestions. Feel free to send those cards, letters and emails along with your suggestions. I’ll just get the ball rolling with a few suggestions of my own…

How about the ‘Whoa, were we wrong’ theory…
Maybe the ‘Missed it by a mile’ theory…
Or the ‘I’ve got three more years until I retire’ theory’…

Personally, I prefer the ‘Fred’ theory myself, but I’ve been known to have a whacky idea or two in my time’…

It’s just a theory…
I could be wrong…

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