Science & Religion #10: Strings and SpiritsBy: Mike S
To get where we’re going in today’s post, picture Flatland as an extremely large piece of paper on which A Square could travel in any direction essentially forever. Now picture that same piece of paper curved back on itself in a 3rd dimension to make a very large tube. If the tube is big enough, it will still seem to A Square as if it is a 2-dimensional world which still goes on forever. Now picture the tube getting smaller, like a straw. Now, if A Square traveled in one direction, he could end up back where he started. Because he lived in a 2-dimensional world and couldn’t perceive the 3rd-dimension in which things “curled”, it would seem improbable and hard to explain, but his world would still be 2-dimensional. Now, picture the tube getting smaller and smaller still. Picture it so small that the radius of the tube is extremely tiny. Instead of appearing to be a tube, Flatland would now become Lineland. A Square would instead be A Line. Interestingly, all of the other varied inhabitants of Flatland would appear similar. A Triangle and A Circle would also appear to be lines, very similar to A Square. This is quite simplified, but hopefully it makes sense. Now, hang on to this thought.
Next, picture a journey home from Great-great-great-grandma’s for Christmas (she lived as long as some of the Old Testament patriarchs). You might walk around the corner. You might travel even faster and drive home. Or you might go a lot faster and fly. These are all normal experiences in today’s world. But if you go really, really fast, strange things happen. We’ll cover them in much more detail in a future post, but as you go closer to the speed of light, time slows down and mass increases. Gravity warps things on the massive cosmic scales we encounter in the universe. There are equations in General Relativity that show how this happens, which have been tested and found to be very accurate.
Now picture your inheritance from Great-great-great-grandma. You come from a very large Utah family. As things got divided more and more through the generations, your portion got smaller and smaller. But you still knew where that penny was in your pocket. But if things kept going and got really, really small, strange things also happen there. We’ll also go through this in a future post, but when things get down to the atomic level, quantum effects take over. On a simple level, this means that we don’t really know where anything is, but just where it “probably” is. Equations for Quantum Mechanics have also been defined and tested, and are also very accurate.
Now, picture the guitar that you got as a gift from Great-great-great-grandma. When you pluck a string, it makes a note that is related to the length of the string. There are also harmonics that correspond to higher notes. Only certain harmonics can exist – ones that divide the string into an integer number of divisions. For example, the note ‘A’ is 220 Hz. On the ‘A’ string, the higher harmonics are 440 Hz, 660 Hz, 880 Hz, etc., formed by essentially dividing the string in half, in thirds, in quarters, etc. Different combinations of these harmonics are what determine sounds of a guitar vs an oboe vs an organ, etc (plus other transients, but that makes things too complex). But the important point is that only defined harmonics are possible, and that the different combinations of harmonics make the unique and different sounds.
For a final concept before we combine all of these points, scientists like to simplify explanations. People knew about electricity for a long time, and people also knew about magnetism. Eventually, scientists found that these two forces were intimately related, a fact that made possible motors, generators, and most of modern life as we know it. We know about forces that work at the very, very small quantum level to hold atoms together. And we know about gravity, that works at the very, very large cosmic level to hold stars and solar systems and galaxies together. For nearly a century, brilliant minds from Einstein on down have tried to find a theory that accounts for all of this. Can there be a theory that works for daily life, for the very big, AND the very small?
Enter string theory. Explaining this could take books, but to start, lets go back to the example at the beginning of this post where A Square turned into A Line. While he is a line, each point can be seen as, in reality, a tiny circle. But if the circle was so small that it was below the level that he could even measure it, it would seem to be just a point. Now, imagine that each little circle started vibrating. Just like a guitar string, it could only vibrate at certain frequencies. The interesting thing is that the nature of the “particle” at each “point” could be determined by the frequency at which the “circle” vibrated. For purely illustrative example, imagine that a vibration at 220 Hz meant that point was an electron, 440 Hz was a proton, and 660 Hz was a neutron.
Whew. Hanging in there? Quick intermission.
So, here’s the essence of String Theory. String theory was created to have one set of equations that combines quantum mechanics with general relativity, and everything else in between. It relates all forces and particles to each other, from the very small to the very big, from the subatomic world to the universe, from quantum effects to general relativity. To do it, it suggests that our world is essentially a 4-dimensional (3 dimensions of space & the dimension of time) representation of a 10-dimensional space (or 11-dimensions in some versions). The 6 dimensions that we can’t perceive are, like in the example above, compacted down into a special shape. So every single “point” in our universe is actually a “curled up” 6-dimensional shape. And as in the example above, there are certain allowable “vibrations” of this shape. The particle or force that exists at any given point is determined by the vibrations at that point.
It goes into much, much more, and this is a very brief summary of a complex theory, but that’s it in a nutshell. At this point, string theory is just that, a theory. So far it fits with observations, but so do many other things that are “retro-fitted”. Its true power will be if it can be used to make predictions that are confirmed, which is the basis of the scientific method. There are suggestions that the LHC may generate energies high enough that string theory can be confirmed. There are also experiments being suggested that can see echoes left over from the Big Bang that could also confirm string theory’s predictions. For now, it’s a generally accepted but not confirmed Theory of Everything.
So, what does this have to do with anything and why is this on a religious blog?
What do we know about Matter from a religious sense? We talk about intelligences and spirits and physical bodies. We are told that the earth has a spirit. We learn about spiritual creations and physical creations. Joseph Smith taught about spirits being made of finer matter and bodies made of coarser matter. We are told that the natural eye can never see the spiritual world. We suggest that our spirits are “inside” us. We hold up gloves on hands to our Primary classes. But what does all of this REALLY mean?
Back to the beginning. In Abraham 3, we are told about Intelligences. These are organized into Spirits. As spirits, I assume that we were multi-dimensional beings because we are told that we met with each other and had councils and developed in intelligence. In Ether, we are told that the spirit of Christ had the same form as His physical body would one day have. We are told that the earth and animals and everything were created spiritually. And this spiritual creation somehow influenced the physical world in which we live.
So now imagine spirits as information. This posting, for example, is really just bits of information. In reality, it has no physical form. This post may be stored as bits of magnetism on a server somewhere. It may exist as changing signals in a wire or broadcast over the air. A microprocessor in your computer or phone may translate the information into video memory. And a video processor may physically turn on or off different pieces of your screen so you can read it. So the information influences what you see on a physical screen, but you can’t technically see the information. It is “software”.
Perhaps spirits exist in some of these “higher” dimensions. When we enter mortality, spirits are “compressed” into these curled up 6-dimensions in some process we don’t understand. This allows for many things to make sense:
- Spirits can be “inside” us: Given this theory, spirits are inside us and can subtly influence us. We can have different spirits yet all appear similar in a human form. As in Flatland, a circle, a triangle and a square all appear to be “just” lines in Lineland, but the curled up shapes still retain the information from the higher dimensions and affect the “vibrations” at each point. Seen this way, our spirits could be “inside” our physical bodies by influencing the “vibrations” at each point.
- Everything, including the earth, can been seen to have a spirit: If EVERYTHING in the universe is determined by vibrations of underlying strings (including all particles and all forces), and if spirit/intelligence is seen as the information contained in these vibrations, then everything can been seen as having a “spirit”.
- Fine & coarse matter: At the current time, we cannot see these strings. They are so small they are beyond detection. We can only see the results of their vibrations as represented in the physical world we perceive. This can easily be seen as “fine” and “coarse” matter (see for example, D&C 131)
- Natural eye can’t perceive: See point above
- Spiritual creation / physical creation: A software analogy works well here. Creating things spiritually involves organizing information/intelligences into a rough blueprint. It is kind of like writing the code for a program. The code might be written in different languages. Different people might work on various subroutines. But it can all be organized. Eventually, the code has to be “run”. This could correspond to the physical creation. The physical creation wasn’t exact. We are told that the Gods would work on something, and then watch to see that things were working properly before going on to the next step. This sounds a lot like debugging. And the physical universe in which we live is the running program. The information contained in the spiritual world defines the vibrations of strings in our physical world, which influences everything.
Whew again. A lot to chew on, but I couldn’t break it down into smaller parts.
This is obviously non-testable but it is very fascinating. Given the basic assumption that we are getting closer to a knowledge of “truth” rather than further away suggests that something like string theory may be a description of reality. And while the role of religious leaders throughout the ages isn’t necessarily to reveal scientific truths, there are some fascinating hints on this topic. Over 150 years ago, Joseph Smith talked about finer and coarser matter, intelligences, organized intelligence as spirits, etc. Several millennia ago, the Bible talked about physical and spiritual creations. In Hinduism, the most ancient religion still around, the universe is said to be woven out of vibrations entering string, with God making the universe vibrate. In Buddhism from 500 years before Christ, there is talk about 10 dimensions. In Kabbalah, there are teachings that God emanated in 10 dimensions, with all 10 dimensions represented in the “point-string” of the letter yud. These are all brief glimpses, but it is fascinating that they all correlate with string theory.
In summary, according to this theory, the spirit world is in a different set of dimensions that we cannot see. Our spirits existed in these dimensions where we developed, learned, and interacted. As a part of mortality, the dimensions in which our spirits exist are “curled up” to enter physical bodies constrained to our physical world with its 3 physical dimensions plus time. While we cannot see our spirits, they do influence the “vibrations” of the curled-up dimensions and therefore influence us in mortality. There is some uncertainty in mortality by definition, so the role of spirits being here is to learn how to control things. When we die, we return to the spirit world outside these physical dimensions. And finally, exaltation is becoming a full, higher dimensional being that we cannot fathom, describe or even conceive. In an exalted world, the “curled-up” dimensions uncurl and we exist in a glorious existence, beyond comprehension.
- Does this explanation of String Theory make any sense?
- Are there better ways of describing spirits “inside” us than this?
- If not in a different dimension(s), where do you picture the spirit world as existing?
- How else do you see the earth as “having a spirit”?
- Isn’t it interesting that hints of “reality” from all of these different faith traditions point toward what we are now starting to “discover”?