Column: Superstring theory is Bunsen burner good


There’s an old theory among high school boys that science is only fun if it involves a Bunsen burner and a variety of different items that will explode over said Bunsen burner. Singed eyebrows. Good times.

Sadly, few of us continue to have access to Bunsen burners as we get older.

Thus, science begins to fade away from our daily life, replaced by even more mundane school subjects like finance, keyboarding and button pressing (OK, maybe button pressing isn’t exactly a school subject, but it should be).

This is terrible. We should pay more attention to science.

Scientists gave us the atom bomb, cable television and Michael Jackson’s nose. We should definitely be keeping close tabs on these guys.

One of these guys is Leonard Susskind, a physicist at Stanford and the founder of superstring theory. Susskind was on the radio the other night, having a good old science talk with WGN-personality Milt Rosenberg. Typically, this will send the average person straight to the slumber party in his or her mind. But superstring theory is to science what caffeine is to coffee.

This theory states, to my best recollection, that the universe is made out of yarn. Tiny, tiny yarn.

Now, that’s a far cooler idea than the old fuddy theory that everything is made out of particles that can be turned into bombs. Or the even older, fuddier theory that everything is made out of phlegm, bile, blood and some other gross substance. Ewww.

No, this whole superstring thing has it right. Everything is made out of yarn. Even yarn is made out of yarn. Wait a second. I just blew my own mind.

Susskind also talked about the Anthropic Principle, which sounds like a cool heavy metal band, but is actually an idea that holds that the universe is the way it is so that humans can be here to see it’s the way it is.

If gravity was 10 times stronger, we wouldn’t exist. If protons didn’t exist, we wouldn’t exist. Thus, those things are the way they are so that we can exist and observe that’s how they are.

In other words, toast is the way it is so that we can put butter and jelly on it.

This is fascinating stuff. Not Bunsen burner fascinating, of course. But fascinating nonetheless.

Now, it’s possible some of the explanations in this column aren’t exactly the way Susskind explains this stuff is his new book, “The Cosmic Landscape.”

But if the explanations weren’t the way they were, then this column wouldn’t exist to make those explanations. OK. My brain is officially attempting to escape from my skull.

Maybe I should have stuck with Bunsen burners.

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