String theory is a simplified term for the entire field of physics involving strings. Superstring theory refers to the most modern versions of string.
Super String Theory Simplified
You're here because you are sick of hearing the phrase at every turn, on every television documentary about the universe and you've found yourself asking, "just what the hell is string theory, anyway?" String theory is an incredibly complex idea in the realm of particle physics. This means that for most of us, trying to understand it makes our heads explode. So I write to you, in an attempt to help you understand what it is and how it works. String theory, simplified.
String Theory - The Theory of Everything
We live in a universe of mathematical equations. Absolutely everything* in our lives, from the orbit of our sun to the weight of your aunt Betsy, can be explained through math. Mathematics is the universal language. Unfortunately, most of this math is still far beyond our current abilities and comprehension.
Before we can find the answer for, let's say 5*5, we must first understand a more simplified equation; 5+5. The knowledge of the human race may be far beyond these simplified equations, but there is still much to learn.
Theory of Relativity and Quantum Theory
We have two primary theories to explain how the universe works. One of which is Einstein’s theory of general relativity, the other, quantum theory. The most simplified explanation for relativity is that everything in the universe pulls on everything else, because of gravity (explained in simple terms here). If you drop a ball, you know it will fall and hit the ground. This does not work in quantum theory. Delve into the world of subatomic particles and you can no longer predict the movement of that ball. This is a place where things seem to randomly teleport from place to place or even exist in two locations at the same time. The location of an electron for example, can not be pinpointed nor can its next location be predicted. Apply quantum physics to the universe consisting of objects larger than atoms and that ball you just dropped stays right where it's at...then suddenly appears above and behind you.
Aristotle gave us the law of non-contradiction, which states that "two mutually exclusive statements cannot both be true." Both theories might be wrong, but they cannot both be right.
String theory is an attempt to provide us with the theory of everything. This elusive idea will unify worlds both large and small. In doing so, we will no longer have two different theories whose existence disallows the other to exist; but instead have one theory that explains them both.
†Electrons are not known to be made of any subatomic particles such as quarks. Instead, one might consider electrons and quarks to be a sort of equals.
What is String Theory?
In short, string theory tells us that at the most basic level the universe is quite literally made up of tiny strings.
No, that doesn’t mean we’ve all been “sewn together” by some higher force. We aren’t a bunch of walking, talking voodoo dolls. Superstrings are very different from what you probably imagine.
There was a time when atoms were considered the fundamental building blocks of life. Eventually it was discovered that atoms were not fundamental at all. In fact, atoms consisted of subatomic particles (protons, neutrons, and electrons) which then became the new “fundamental.”
Like many scientific theories of years past, this too eventually fell to newer, shinier physics. Scientists discovered that subatomic particles† consisted of even smaller particles called quarks. And now, many believe that “superstrings” are overwhelmingly small objects (I use the term "objects" loosely here) which would be responsible for the existence of quarks and electrons.
What Are Superstrings?
Ok, so everything in the universe is made up of tiny things called strings. Couldn't be any more simplified than that. So what are these theoretical "superstrings?" This is where things get complicated, and average human brains explode.
At its most basic level, superstrings exist in one dimension and carry an intense vibration. The frequency of this vibration determines the physical manifestation of that particular string. In order for string theory to truly unify general relativity and quantum theory, we must give these strings 10 or 11 dimensions with which they may exist.
The reasons for those extra dimensions being necessary can not be simplified in words, but only understood with advanced mathematics - which have no place here. The simple fact is that these extra dimensions allow for string theory to account for all four forces in the universe, including quantum gravity. It just so happens that quantum gravity is believed to be that elusive link between general relativity and quantum theory.
That one tiny link may someday unlock all the secrets of the universe.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Dale Vaillancourt from Burnsville, Minnesota, USA on March 05, 2018:
I learned exactly nothing from reading this.
Anna O'Malley from United States on May 09, 2017:
I really enjoyed this hub
Franz Plochberger on May 12, 2016:
I admire Your energy to to dare to enter that very new area of Physics. You avoid Mathematics in the new 11 dimensions. It's for our human abilities not possible to imagine more then 3 dimensions - with much definitions perhaps 4 dimensions of space-time.
So we will need first much of human language and Philosophy to imagine the 1-dimensional strings in every quark or electron and the related other 11 dimensions.
As Information Scientist I welcome your impact to get into this area in any way - you call it simple. I would say the main door is important!
Jenny Sawyer on January 03, 2013:
String theory always confuses my parents. You've made string theory simplified enough that even they finally have a grasp on it. Thanks, Matt!
Teresa Coppens from Ontario, Canada on March 14, 2012:
I love your simplistic style for such complex subjects. I got a good grasp of string theory from your hub but I do live with a physics major who loves to talk about his work! Great job,
Marisa Hammond Olivares from Texas on March 11, 2012:
Well done and interesting info. I'll need to reread this a few more times to be sure I understand the main idea and points you've presented. This is complex for me, but you've simplified it nicely. Quantum physics is certainly intriguing, but I think I'll stick to teaching English Language Arts. ;)
Thanks for including the video - voted up
Rachel Vega from Massachusetts on March 11, 2012:
Fabulous! String theory is not easily understood, but you've presented scientific facts in a friendly way. I love it. Up vote, interesting, and awesome!!!
Melanie Palen from Midwest, USA on March 10, 2012:
Wow! This is some crazy complex stuff! Some of my friends do a lot of reading on quantum physics and I understand only part of what they say. Thanks for writing it in an easy-to-digest way. :P You've definitely whet(whetted???) my appetite for more schtuff on string theory. :)
Lisa from WA on March 10, 2012:
Great work trying to take such a complicated idea and make it easy for people like me to understand. I still feel a little lost but this helps tremendously. Didn't even make my head hurt!
Michael S from Danville, VA on March 10, 2012:
Fascinating, mattforte. Thanks for piquing my interest. That last statement on the video...wow!
wayseeker from Colorado on March 10, 2012:
I hated science in school, but find myself fascinated by it now that I'm gone and grown. Physics, in particular, holds particular fascination for me. I have always wanted to understand String Theory, and this gives me a great start.
I also appreciate the simple directness and humor you bring along with your writing style. A nice hub, also voted up and interesting!
Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on March 10, 2012:
Nice job taking something so incredibly complex and breaking it down into everyday terms. :) Voted up and interesting.
Melvin Porter from New Jersey, USA on March 10, 2012:
Very interesting hub on a complex subject. I always found this theory fascinating but could never fully grasp the implications of it. Your hub helped me understand it a little better. Thanks. Voted up.
Nordy from Canada on March 10, 2012:
Great hub! I absolutely love quantum physics and have read a few books on it, but have understood maybe only one iota of everything I have read. Still - that iota intrigues me enough to want to keep reading and try to know more. Thanks for writing this hub - I now have two iotas to work with!