I AM FASCINATED BY STRING THEORY. Not that I comprehend the complex mathematics of it, but the basic concept is elegant and simple: The smallest constituents of the physical universe may be, not particles like quarks, but inconceivably tiny vibrating “strings” of pure energy. How inconceivably tiny? If a hydrogen atom were the size of our entire Solar System, one of its constituent strings would be about the size of my home office (which is not very large). This is very close to the Planck length of 10-35 meters, which theoretical physicists consider the shortest meaningful length.
In string theory, the smallest sub-atomic “particles”—such as electrons and quarks—are actually strings of energy in different vibration frequencies or resonance patterns. Each different resonance is a different “particle”. This is very much like the different notes produced on stringed instruments such as guitars or violins. Just as altering the frequency of a bowed violin string will produce different musical notes, different sub-atomic particles are produced by varying the frequency of the elementary strings of string theory. (There is a nice animation of this concept here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/elegant/resonance.html).
Stars, planets, oceans, flowers, even the force of gravity and light itself, all the objects and forces of the material universe, are built up from the varying frequencies and arrangements of the elementary strings—the different “notes” of a cosmic symphony. If string theory is true (presently a big if), this is closer to being the literal truth than just a metaphor. The physical universe really is more like the performance of a careful musical arrangement than it is the random play of tiny billiard ball-like particles in standard “atoms and the void” materialism.
Of course saying the material universe is an arrangement of elementary strings of energy at varying frequencies is like saying the sound of a Bach concerto or a Beethoven symphony is an ordered combination of varying frequencies of compression waves. In some sense it is. But the important thing is not how we might pinpoint a primal, irreducible sound.
WHAT IS WONDROUS ABOUT MUSIC, like any creation, is how the form and flow of the whole arises from the Composer’s imagination. The physical universe is a well-ordered and beautiful arrangement and it is inconceivable that this composition is unplanned and random. The beautiful music that is creation springs from the beautiful mind of God. String theory may yet turn out to be a mathematically elegant failure, but whether metaphor or hard science, the universe as symphony is an apt way to imagine God’s handiwork.
I walk on the deeply shaded paths, beneath the full green canopy of the park in early summer. The countless leaves shiver slightly in an imperceptible breeze; but maybe the branches and the trunks, the undergrowth at my feet, and even the patches of blue sky are all trembling, resonating with created primal energy. I do not see the strings but I imagine the music.