Elegant Chaos

October 5, 2011
I remember a day in eighth grade when our science teacher, hoping to kill some time at the end of the school year, showed the class a video attempting to explain String Theory. As one might expect, the vast majority of the 14-year-old class found the experience thoroughly confusing and was quite bored within the first half hour of the film. I, however, discovered something profound amidst the confusing graphical representations of relativity and the strange Greek squiggle-filled equations that flashed across the screen. Here at last was a bit of education that I could relate to: a concrete representation of how the world worked, or, perhaps, how we thought it worked. The serene blanket of space-time as depicted in the film was like a piece of the universe I could hold onto and experience firsthand. Science was elegant—here is the issue and this is the solution that we have come up with. But it was not the wholly theoretical solution itself that was fascinating to me: Whether or not it made sense, String Theory attempted to explain the entire universe in a single, simple equation. That attempt alone held the theory in high regard in my mind.

If Science described the world at large, Writing, then, described one’s thoughts and opinions. More contemplative and less logical, perhaps, but almost a Science in its own right. My first serious exposure to the world of words was when my eighth grade homeroom teacher instructed us to write a paragraph about ourselves. It was near the beginning of the year, when neither teacher nor student really understood the other yet. As usual, I did not finish on time, and turned in half a paragraph. Turned out it didn’t matter, because the teacher then proceeded to explain why every last paragraph she received was utter garbage. Fifty percent of the paragraphs opened with “I was born…” or something equivalent, and a well-written paragraph, the teacher said, must grab the audience’s attention straight away. It must center around a specific topic—like the teacher’s own paragraph, which focused on her work as a teacher. Results were not immediate, but before too many class sessions I started to realize just how powerful writing was. Words fade, but writing endures. Before that day it was something you did for a grade; now it is a language, a means of capturing a moment with such elegance and precision that it could last literally forever.

Soon I realized the predicament I faced. Much like the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics were seemingly in direct conflict, as described in the String Theory film, my two different worlds of writing and science seemed to have no time for each other. They were two separate entities—the ordered and logical, the expressive and emotional. I tried not to think of it, but I knew eventually one would have to take dominance over the other.

I would like to say that my life at this point was tragically split down the middle; that I was simply overwhelmed by this conflict. I would like to say that I had no time to finish the numerous epic novels I started because I was busy deriving brilliant scientific theories that would alter the course of science as we know it. The truth is that I have started a grand total of one epic novel and that the only scientific theory I have ever come up with was proved almost certainly false mere hours after its conception. To be honest with myself, I spend more time playing video games than I do doing those things.
Back to String Theory. An elegant, one-size-fits-all equation to every aspect of the universe. Unifying the two conflicting concepts of relativity and quantum mechanics. Was this what I needed? An elegant solution unifying science and literature? Here I am, writing about science. Not exactly the solution I was looking for. Before I know it I’ll be analyzing the science of writing. That’s not it, either.

Here’s the thing about String Theory: It doesn’t really make sense. There’s no way to prove it right, and yet no way to prove it wrong. It is a theory seemingly coming from nowhere. The concept is radical, bordering on the edge of silly. And yet if we suspend our disbelief for a moment, its applications change the way we look at science. It’s intriguing. It’s captured some of the greatest minds in history. It’s productive.
What can I conclude from all of this? That my life makes no sense? That it in fact both makes sense and does not until one makes an observation on the system and it collapses into one event or the other? That there are really eleven spacial dimensions, not just three? Perhaps, like relativity and quantum mechanics, science and literature are not necessarily separated by a deep, dark void of confusion so long as one is willing to suspend his disbelief for a while. Perhaps Science’s most appealing aspect is also that of life: That, from the midst of utterly nonsensical and hopelessly uncertain mayhem, a man can pull out random bits of information and make an attempt to explain them. That, should he fail, it is the attempt itself that matters. Perhaps once the dust settles and the rubble falls one can at least pretend to make sense of the confusion. Once that happens, it should be possible to establish some sort of order and take control. I figure life doesn’t really have to make sense. It just has to be productive.

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This article has 3 comments. Post your own now!

ThePaleBluDot said...
Oct. 17, 2011 at 12:59 am

You got a few facts wrong.

1:  " String Theory attempted to explain the entire universe in a single, simple equation." There are many equations for the Ed Witten's M-theory, which is similar except he replaces three dimensional strings with branes.

2. "But I knew eventually one would have to take dominance over the other." It it doesnt. They deal with different domains of science. Only when combined usage (studying black holes or singularities) do they conflict.

&nbs... (more »)

CobaltMayhem replied...
Oct. 20, 2011 at 5:54 pm

I can sort of see why you think it's a bit disorganized, especially since you don't really see where it's going until halfway through the essay. 

However, I suggest you read the third paragraph more carefully. When I said, "I knew one would have to take dominance over the other" I was reffering to my personal worlds of writing and of science; not relativity and quantum mechanics. 

Thanks for the feedback though.

JohnSmith said...
Oct. 10, 2011 at 10:34 pm
Although the essay has a great topic, you may want to stay more on topic and work on the organization of your essay.
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