Worlds in 11 Dimensions

Humans hunger to know how the universe works. Physicists are beginning to answer some of the most fundamental questions about the nature of nature. But why should physicist have all the fun as nature's mysteries are beginning to be understood? Brian Greene, himself a physicist and mathematician, wants to share the excitement with non-technical people. Just don't get sidetracked by the physics and the mathematics, he advises. Follow the logic but not the details of the math and physics and practically anyone can appreciate the beauty of our elegant universe.

Brian Greene is a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University. He earned degrees at Harvard and Oxford Universities and taught at Cornell before moving to Columbia. Credited with his own ground breaking discoveries in superstring theory, he is committed to general audiences sharing the delight physicists take in solving nature's toughest puzzles. Professor Greene offers non-technical people a chance to grasp the basics of superstring theory, hidden dimensions and the quest for the ultimate theory in his book, The Elegant Universe.      

The search for the Theory of Everything has whetted the appetites of scientists throughout the twentieth century, including Albert Einstein. But they just didn't have enough information to solve the problem, according to Dr. Greene. Until recently. Now a century of experiments and observations have helped break down the barriers to understanding the most fundamental workings of nature. It starts with incredibly tiny loops of vibrating energy called strings. Strings make up quarks and electrons, from which everything else in the universe is made. So can a string do all that? Think of how the variation in vibrations among violin strings create different sounds. Now compare that to these tiniest of strings, whose varying vibrations create profoundly different results which -- ultimately -- determine the shape of the universe.      

If you feel as if you are Alice in Wonderland listening to talk of strings and superstrings, you're in good company. An entirely new language is gradually being created with which to understand what experiments are beginning to confirm. It's taken us a hundred years to begin to grasp the basics of Einstein's special and general relativity and even Einstein was uncomfortable with quantum mechanics and the probability that came with it.      

But gradually, new ways to think are emerging among theorists and mathematicians. Experimenters have lagged behind because our technical ability to probe the very smallest and very largest phenomenon has impeded us. But even that is changing as higher and higher speed accelerators are built. And cosmologists are looking to the Big Bang as the ultimate experiment. Physicists and mathematicians, long at odds, are beginning to take inspiration from each other. They are also beginning to embrace a new science in which two apparently contradictory theories can, in fact, be complimentary. And yes, some of it seems very, very weird.      

When you hear world class physicists talking about the music of the spheres, don't tune them out. People like Brian Greene are committed to helping us all hear that music, grasp what is becoming more clear to physicists, cosmologists, and mathematicians alike as they plumb the very depths of nature's most closely held secrets.


Why is the universe the way it is? Today's scientists are finding answers. And you don't have to be a rocket scientist to share in the discoveries.

[This Program was recorded in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]

Brian Greene


    ... string-theory physicist. Both a practitioner and teacher, Brian Greene is professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University. He earned degrees from Harvard and Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. Dr. Green is widely regarded for his own ground breaking discoveries in superstring theory. He lectures worldwide to both general and technical audiences and is the author of the very readable book The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory.


Conversation 1

Brian Greene describes to Paula Gordon and Bill Russell how scientists are working to understand the universe with theories that are applicable everywhere, everyplace, everywhen. Dr. Greene explains why Albert Einstein, who also had this goal, did not reach it. Noting possible overlaps between the psychological and the physical, Dr. Greene describes physicists' "theory of everything."


Conversation 2

Dr. Greene describes our day-to-day experience as a thin veneer covering the true workings of the universe. He distinguishes theories & theorists from experiments and experimenters. He explains how they must work together in spite of unfortunate divergences at the end of the 20th century.ÊHe tells us just how small "tiny" is. Dr. Greene shows how today's theories require a monumental restructuring of the way we think about things and gives examples. He explains how string theory brings together quantum theory and general relativity. He describes how the idea of dimensions has changed and gives examples. He defines string theory. He describes quarks and electrons (which make up everything) as little loops of vibrating energy -- strings -- which, like violin strings, vibrate in different patterns.


Conversation 3

Dr. Greene explains how the ideas of modern science cut to the core of human nature. He suggests why language about beauty is appropriate in physics. He balances the impulse toward the aesthetic with the requirement ultimately to judge theories with experiment-based facts. He tells us why he named his book The Elegant Universe. Dr. Greene addresses criticisms of string theory. He explains why the Large Hadron Collider being built in Geneva, Switzerland, is important. He gives a glimpse of why physicists are excited about what's ahead. He describes why cosmology's consideration of the Big Bang is likely to be THE arena in the next 10 years. He suggests the Big Bang is the experiment which may allow physicists to describe the evolution of the universe from the beginning of time until now. He tells why some of string theory's harshest critics have moderated their views.


Conversation 4

Dr. Greene links humans, music and theories of the universe. He gives a short course on quantum mechanics and describes how the world fundamentally evolves according to rules of probability. He describes how profoundly science has changed in the past century, predicting those at the end of the next century may find our own current scientific world views parochial. He offers lessons from the history of science on how ideas evolve. With caveats, he tells how everything points toward super string theory being a final explanation of the fundamental workings of the universe. Dr. Greene sums up two separate revolutions in string theory, one in the mid-1980s, one that began in 1995.


Conversation 5

The vast cultural divide between mathematics and physics is starting to close. Dr. Greene explains why and how. He gives an example of how mathematics offers physicists new perspectives and tools. He considers whether all mathematics ultimately will have some relevance to physics and explains why mathematicians are beginning to turn to physicists for inspiration. One of the key ideas of modern science, Dr. Greene assures us, is that two different physical theories can both accurately describe the same phenomenon and compliment each other. He uses his own theoretical discoveries as an example. He poses one of science's deepest questions: Why does the universe have the properties that we see in the world around us and are they explainable? He describes how string theory offers hope of a framework for explaining fundamental attributes of the universe.


Conversation 6

Dr. Greene expresses confidence that non-scientists can understand physics' ideas and concepts. He bows to a basic human need to understand how the universe is put together, confident that as science starts to answer fundamental questions, people hunger to know what science is saying. He gives us a glimpse into the Second Superstring Revolution and M Theory.




We are grateful for Brian Greene's commitment to sharing science's astonishing discoveries with those of us who are not technically trained and glad for his appreciation of the beauties of his discipline that Dr. Greene makes accessible to us all.

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The Elegant Universe is published by W.W. Norton and Company.

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