Video Of The Week: String Theory

This past week, my son Josh asked me to explain String Theory to him. That was a tough task because I don't know much about String Theory myself. But with the help of Google and Wikipedia, we worked through most of the basic concepts in about an hour and he had the guts of a five minute talk he planned to give at school the next day. Phew.

The next day I asked Zander, our resident physicist at USV, about String Theory. He pointed me to a TED Talk by Brian Greene. Which I just watched. And Zander is right, if you have 20 minutes and want to get the essence of string theory down, watch this video. It is great.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Matt A. Myers

    Saturday Morning Science with Fred Wilson replacing Bill Nye The Science Guy.I’m okay with it.

    1. Vineeth Kariappa

      Am not. But, whos countin?

      1. Matt A. Myers

        A mathematician.

    2. Robert Holtz

      Hey, Bill Nye is going to be in this season’s line up of Dancing with the Stars! LOL We should nominate Fred for the season after. Heck, they already had Wozniak. Are you a good dancer, Fred?

      1. Matt A. Myers

        That would be a first, I imagine..

  2. Kirsten Lambertsen

    I love physics! This is even more fun than Fun Friday for me ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. fredwilson

      me too. and it seems like josh does too, which of course brings me even more joy than physics.

      1. Kirsten Lambertsen

        Yay for Josh! I might be overly romantic about it, but I think the physicists are going to save us.

        1. Robert Holtz

          You’re right. To a great extent, they already have. Plus, what’s so terrible about being overly romantic? ๐Ÿ™‚

      2. Dave Pinsen

        Is he in college now? Does he plan to study physics there?

        1. fredwilson

          He’s a senior in high school. Not yet sure what to study in college. I am hoping for science or engineering but he may also consider math or CS or econ.

          1. Cam MacRae

            Can he sample in his first year or does he have to commit to a major?

          2. fredwilson

            i guess it depends on where he goes

    2. Anne Libby

      Kirsten, do you of any basic sources that explain the physics of time travel?

      1. Kirsten Lambertsen

        You have no idea how much I love that question. I probably love physics the way a dog loves a laser pointer. I would point you to “Through The Wormhole” if you’re as much of a ‘dog’ as me.

        1. Anne Libby

          Thank you!

          1. Kirsten Lambertsen

            Where in time would you like to travel? ๐Ÿ™‚

          2. Anne Libby

            Ha, recently watched Primer on Netflix…

      2. Richard

        Lisa Randal’s (amazing physicist) book warped passages is good.

    3. Richard

      With calculus, even better. (Richard Feynman)

  3. Mike Zamansky

    He’s giving a talk as part of MoMath’s “Math Encounters” lecture series – Wednesday October 2, 7PM – “String Theory and the Mathematics of Hypespace.” –

    1. fredwilson

      that’s awesome. i will see if Josh wants to go with me. thanks for the tip Mike. I hope you are well.

      1. Robert Holtz

        Fred, maybe you don’t know this about me but I advise and represent famed physicist, futurist, and co-author of string theory, Dr. Michio Kaku. He has several NY TIMES bestselling books dedicated to the subject, and appears on television, radio, and print on many subjects including string theory, hyperspace, and the multiverse. I look after certain of his business and intellectual property interests along with booking his paid public appearances through a company we co-founded. It is exciting that Josh takes an interest in physics. I never would have expected a post on string theory at AVC but I’m kind of delighted. If there is ever anything I can do for you along these lines of connection, please do not hesitate to let me know. Have a great weekend!

        1. Eran Galperin

          His book “HyperSpace” was one of my favorites growing up, and a big influence on me studying physics in college. I recommended this book to anyone I know, he is an amazing writer.

          1. Robert Holtz

            Nice of you to say, Eran. Hyperspace was a big influence on me too. My favorite part of that book was the idea of imaginary two-dimensional beings called “Flatlanders” — a neat analogy to wrap one’s head around the idea of dimensions that are plainly all around us but yet just beyond our immediate ability to perceive. That concept has helped me understand hyperspace better than any other explanation anyone else has ever offered. Thanks again for sharing.

        2. Dave W Baldwin

          Appreciate the work you guys do. I have always thought that the suggestion @mattamyers:disqus gives regarding the edges of undiscovered should be a regular feature.

        3. Dave W Baldwin

          Another look at this is what those unseen dimensions contain that we also do see, but yet we do. Instead of physical matter begetting physical, we go into the mind where different thoughts bounce and when you have a group, different thoughts (visions) bounce simutaneously delivering a new thought….. and so on ๐Ÿ˜‰ That is the realm of AI that will completely change the world.

          1. Robert Holtz

            Well said indeed. I agree with you in every way and on all levels. ^^

  4. danlevy

    Brian Greene is giving a talk on String Theory on October 2 at the Museum of Mathematics in NYC:…(Described: Please note, this presentation is designed to be accessible and engaging to a general audience. As a rule of thumb, it would best be enjoyed by participants age 12 and up.)

  5. Cam MacRae

    Great video and a wonderful diversion from watching the AU election tally. I wonder if string theory can explain our new senate?! :)The Wikileaks Party polled about 1.18% of the first preference group vote (50% counted) in Victoria which won’t be nearly enough to see Julian Assange achieve quota for a senate spot, no matter how preferences resolve themselves.I’m amazed that the informal vote is so low at 5% given the senate ballot paper in my state was 3ft long and had 97 candidates in 40 groups. Democracy, eh?

  6. James Ferguson @kWIQly

    The cool thing about physics is that its like a loving relationship or a sport. The deeper you go the more there is to marvel at, the better the tools you have to understand the clearer are the anomalies, and the clearer the anomalies the more you want to find out.And the beauty – these streams run so deep that when you find your footing it breaks away into something yet deeper.

    1. Kirsten Lambertsen

      Well said.

    2. Girish Mehta

      Very nicely stated.โ€œI do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.โ€ – Issac Newton.

  7. vruz

    If you can find the time, Greene’s book “The Hidden Reality” is well worth it. If you only have the time to read one chapter, make that one be the one about the Holographic Principle.Greene may not be as charismatic as Carl Sagan was, but in this field of study his eloquence in bringing these concepts in the easiest possible terms to laypeople is second to none.If you would like to know more, Leonard Susskind’s lectures and talks on String Theory, M-Theory, and the Holographic Principle give the Internet a whole lot of added value.…Or this quick update on the story so far about Hawking, Susskind and Maldacena:

    1. Fernando Gutierrez

      I was just thinking about Carl Sagan when I was watching the video.

      1. vruz

        Yep, he’s sorely missed.

    2. fredwilson


      1. vruz

        Thanks Pete. That’s an excellent one for those particularly interested in the philosophical problem of creation.

        1. Pete Griffiths

          I don’t buy the Anthropic Principle – but I love the book. ๐Ÿ™‚

        2. Pete Griffiths

          Btw for those interested in the problem of creation – this video is essential viewing – it’s an inspiring talk by Leonard Krauss.

  8. JimHirshfield

    Did someone say String Cheese Incident?#notphysics

  9. Fernando Gutierrez

    Explaining something to someone else who is not as literate as you about the matter is one of the most difficult exercises you can make. And this guy does it amazingly well.I love when scientists spend their time making their knowledge accesible to others. It shows they care. It also shows they understand. As Eisntein said “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself”.

  10. Dale Allyn

    I enjoyed that. Thanks.

  11. Fernando Gutierrez

    I love the anecdote about Kaluza reading a treaty about swimming and then going into the ocean. It maybe not true, but it’s great anyway! There’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path (Morpheus, from The Matrix)

    1. sigmaalgebra

      Not the same but similar: For a while as a child Ihad chronic middle ear infections (didn’t causepermanent damage to my hearing), was advised not togo swimming, so didn’t learn to swim.Then as a B-school prof at Ohio State with aterrific swimming pool open until midnight eachnight (until some budget cuts), I got a copy of thebook on swimming by the famous Indiana Universityswimming coach James Edward “Doc” Counsilman, readit, and started in. It was a good book, and I madegood progress until the budget cut closed the pooltoo early in the evening to give me much of anopportunity to learn.

      1. Fernando Gutierrez

        That’s cool! I had never heard of someone learning to swim in a book!

  12. William Mougayar

    So, what’s the difference between a Physics Law and a Physics Theory?

    1. Dale Allyn

      A theory is a vey strong opinion based on experimentation, and usually replication. A theorem is a theory that has been “proven”.A “law” is a principle, such as gravity, which is recognized in a unified manner, and is not subject to argument (generally).

    2. David Semeria

      A law has been proven to be true, a theory hasn’t.The real question is: what does ‘proven’ actually mean?Apart from the so-called Universal Laws (eg the relationship between a circle’s circumference and its diameter) all other laws are, by definiton, only ‘temporarily’ proven.A good example is Newtonian mechanics. At the time, people believed in its universality. But then Einstein came along and showed it doesn’t work when things are whizzing around at near light speeds.

      1. William Mougayar

        thanks, and to @samedaydr:disqus and @daleallyn:disqus !

      2. SubstrateUndertow

        Is that to say that every good scientists is a doubting Thomas ?Doubting Thomas’ adviceis probable just as important for the rest of us !”Keep your window of doubt wide open, even your most sacrosanct conclusions should never be elevated to a status level above โ€œworking conclusionsโ€. That window of doubt is your portal to freedom from self delusion. Enlist and develop your โ€œthird eyeโ€ to police that window as if all our lives depended on it.”

        1. David Semeria

          That’s why most scientific experimentation is aimed at disproving theories rather than confirming them.

      3. Girish Mehta

        Yup…laws in physics are theories supported by experimental observation (sometimes for a long time), until further observations that disprove them. Hypothesize – Project implications – Experimentally verify. A classic 60 second video by Feynman on this point.…New laws build upon the previous ones they disprove (Newton’s comment about standing on the shoulders of giants).

        1. David Semeria

          Feynman is one of my heroes.I hadn’t seen that video before.Many thanks, great share.

          1. Girish Mehta

            You’re welcome..

          2. sigmaalgebra

            I lost it with Feynman when in his ‘Lectures onPhysics’ he said that a particle about which we knownothing is equally likely to be everywhere in spaceor some such (without walking to a bookshelf in mydining room and getting the book). Sorry Richard,no such probability distribution can exist.More generally, my main interest in college wasphysics, but too soon I lost it with the subject asthe physics profs made total messes out of themathematics. From the math I’d studied carefully, Icould see that when physicists did such math, it wasa total train wreck.So, I went off to get the math for physics. There Ifound that the graduate math departments didn’t wantto let me pursue such a course of study so got a joband studied on my own. I learned some math well,e.g.. exterior algebra, measure theory, modernanalysis, linear algebra, numerical linear algebra,multivariate statistics.With more study of math, I got an applied math Ph.D.Still I didn’t know all the math I wanted to knowfor physics, but I kept at it. Then my wifeentered a long, eventually, fatal illness (well knownhere at AVC); I had a career in applied math andcomputing but still didn’t get to all the math forphysics. Yup, Cartan’s ‘Differential Forms’ is nowavailable in English, and I have it and sometimes useit to go to sleep! Yup, that’s where get to use somemultilinear algebra.I got a recent, famous text on quantum mechanics,and right away it appears that the author doesn’trealize just what does and doesn’t form a Hilbertspace. Bummer. I should get my money back. So,again I’m torqued at the math of physics.I’ve listened to Greene over and over, and always Ileave as hungry as when I started but frustrated.E.g., how to connect these ‘tiny’ strings with thequantum wave functions of often enormous spatialextent? Greene doesn’t mention that.Greene keeps talking about ‘dimensions’ — okay,anyone who has studied linear algebra, point settopology (e.g., Kelley) and compactification (yes,looking up the spelling on Google shows connectionswith string theory!), functional analysis, and justsimple stereographic projection can see howdimensions can ‘curl up’, but that alone is prettyempty. Sounds like Greene is trying to ‘amaze’people who didn’t study even the elementarymathematics.I don’t get much out of Greene.Then I read some more physics and was forced to dostochastic integration not via, say, Karatzas andShreve but via some intuitive Feynman thing of a rowof imaginary plates full of holes as generalizationsof Young’s double slit experiment — more badly donemath, bummer.If my startup works, should I spend time on physicsor music? I’m torqued at physics; that’s a big,smelly barn that needs to be shoveled out, and Idoubt if I can do that. Or, it’s getting fairlyclear that not only did I struggle to get the mathfor physics straight, so did most physicists, and,indeed, accepting doing sloppy work with math notwell understood is part of a ‘hazing ritual’ inphysics. So, maybe music!Besides, a pretty girl would more want to go to amusic concert than a physics lecture!

          3. pointsnfigures

            you would love the site, social network of international kids doing math and physics problems.

          4. sigmaalgebra

            I failed to communicate clearly:My undergraduate degree was in math, but I also hadnearly also a major in physics. My math honorspaper was mathematical physics, close to some workof E. Wigner, group representation theory forquantum mechanics.I hadn’t heard of so just looked atit: My background in exterior algebra, functionalanalysis, measure theory, Fourier series andintegrals, stochastic processes, grouprepresentations, and more puts me a bit remain interest in physics is at the’professional’ level, Ph.D. and beyond, andresearch.I already know more about the math of physics thanmany Ph.D. physicists, e.g., all the physics profs Ihad as an undergraduate.Also, I can’t approve of for students:The site makes a pervasive mistake, take some goodstudents and waste their time with a lot ofperipheral, busy-work, time-wasting, ‘brain-teaser’nonsense instead of getting on with the main line ofwork — calculus, linear algebra, advanced calculus,differential equations, measure theory, probability,differential geometry, generalized results inLagrange multipliers and extremum results, classicalmechanics, Maxwell’s equations, special relativity,general relativity, quantum mechanics, particlephysics, etc.

          5. pointsnfigures

            It’s different. It takes problems and you find a level. Then you work with students from all over the world to get better and learn.

        2. Pete Griffiths

          Very often they don’t ‘disprove’ them but rather extend and develop them.Newtonian Mechanics wasn’t so much ‘disproved’ as revealed to be a special case.

          1. Girish Mehta

            Yes…meant to convey that sentiment in the last sentence (viz. new laws build upon the previous ones, and Newtons comment about “standing on the shoulders of giants”). Agree with how you put it, Thanks.Newton’s letter to Robert Hooke – “”What Des-Cartes did was a good step. You have added much several ways, & especially in taking ye colours of thin plates into philosophical consideration. If I have seen further, it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants.”

    3. Richard

      Lots of Math

    4. SubstrateUndertow

      I’ll bite !What’s the punch line ?:-)

      1. William Mougayar

        None…I was just showcasing my ignorance and looking for clues.

  13. mark

    I believe that results from the LHC have cast significant doubt on supersymmetry and therefore string theory, although this physics is beyond me and I may just not be understanding it correctly.….Basically, they found that a vary rare particle is occurring at a rate that is predicted by the standard model but not supersymmetry.

  14. Esayas Gebremedhin

    i have seen this video some years ago, but today my understanding of what is inside of the atom has changed completely thanks to alternative sources. the atom is actually the universe appearing in an incredibly small size and what we call universe is an atom for an entity that is looking at it from outside (as above so below). this incredible fractal principle is repeated in both directions towards infinity: we are just in between. only alternative sources give you a clue, for current science has not discovered this fact yet.string theory and quantum theory are all a very limited pespective on a universe from top down. the atom is just a tiny universe.

  15. Brian Kurth

    Warps, curves and space. Sounds like a startup to me! ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. tyronerubin

    You should try this…

  17. Dan Goldin

    I remember loving his book, The Elegant Universe, when it came out. If you enjoyed the video you should add it to your to-read list.

  18. andyidsinga

    love that you added that “phew” in there ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. jason wright

    a nice presentation of string 2008 i visited CERN’s facility outside of Geneva (not too far outside, i was able to stroll back to town at the end of that day). The first hour was a lecture given by a distinguished French physicist (i forget his name, sorry), a primer, a dummies guide to particle physics and the basic workings of the LHC……..and then we took a journey in an elevator, and a journey inside the LHC machine. It was a long day. the last hour was tiring, but it was worth going. the theory became more real by being there.i didn’t just read it in a book or watch a YouTube video. it became more real by being there. i recommend the journey.I’m waiting for this one to be completed. if it works it could change our world. i look forward to that journey; CERN, where Tim Berners-Lee worked when he conceived of the world wide web.

  20. Niv Dror

    I love this! Last week I found myself wondering about String Theory as well, out of the blue, and the internets have directed me to Brian Greene’s documentaries as well. String Theory is one of those concepts that you should at least be aware of what it stands for, but far too complicated to have any sort of expertise in!

  21. SubstrateUndertow

    This particle physics stuff is all so frustratingly convoluted and over my heard I like to wave it all off with a simplifying analogy.The sub-atomic world generates an energy-packet-field-fabric who’s integration gradients, who’s causal funnels, who’s self-referential homing-beacons, who’s strange attractors drive it inexorably towards complexity-seeking behaviours.Those complexity-seeking behaviours are expressed as deeply nested sub-processes exhibiting syncopated-iterative-persistence at and between every level and can even include syncopated-iteratively-persistent patterns of sub-harmonic level-mixing crosstalk.What integration gradients, what causal funnels, what self-referential homing-beacons, what strange attractor drive this universal complexity-seeking fabric?That strange attractor is an emergent dynamic at the intersection of mutually interdependent, mutually adaptive, mutually reenforcing, mutually self-referential energy packet synchronicities.It is these mutually interdependent, mutually adaptive, mutually reenforcing, mutually self-referential, systemically-networked synchronicity-driven probability-funnels that drive the inevitable emergence of complexity/consciousness at every platform-layer of the reality stack. Everything else that falls short on this systemically-networked, self-referential, self-selecting, self-reenforcing synchronicity-scale simply dissipate as non-iterative noise.That strange attractor, that systemically-networked synchronicity-driven probability-funnel is expressed as a fractal cascade all the way up the reality platform-stack until it permeates the social and economic instantiated synchronicity layers we humans inhabit.Natural language, maybe even mathematical language may not be capable of resolving the self-referential-synchronicities that play out at the sub-atomic fundamental-particle level but at social/economic levels it is language-game on!Organic process literacy is all about developing narratives, metaphor and lexicons that adequately simplify our shared visualization of the self-organizing-dynamic as universally recurring instantiations of organically networked-synchronicities.To amplify synchronicity is to amplify the universal strange attractor and thus accelerate our universal teleologic trajectory towards increasing complexity/consciousness.Big-Data-Silos operated as public utilities and accessed via open-standards based APIs is pivotal to amplifying, accelerating and multiplying the signal paths available for the conductance of social/economic synchronicities.We are wasting the organizational scope/range/bandwidth of the new medium by allowing the old guard elites to replicate power-amplified, top-down, oligarchic control structures transcribed over from the old mediums.The internet offer up an organically unlimited organizational fabric including distributively-synchronized social/economic governance control structures.Yet we presently find ourselves in a cul-de-sac where we are busy building out the internet Upside-DownSadly, at the end of the day, the scope of organizational fabric that can be supported by the internet is ultimately constrained by financing options.

  22. kpolo

    Psalm 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of the LORD and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”I wonder how many of the commentators below believe in God and would look at the amazing intricacies of the universe – from sub-atomic particles to the DNA and say there is an awesome creator vs. ridicule such a notion.

    1. pointsnfigures

      there are great scientists that believe in God. however, one of the basics of religion is faith. Scientists never have faith. Hypothesis testing doesn’t consider it.

      1. Andre

        Faith is philosophical value but some very religius people also use the technology products as well as ateists, should them keep the faith and be back two thousand years ago.So this idea to me translated by Percy Shelley, 4 August 1792 โ€“ 8 July his poetry, you can read.I FEAR thy kisses, gentle maiden; Thou needest not fear mine; My spirit is too deeply laden Ever to burthen thine. I fear thy mien, thy tones, thy motion;Thou needest not fear mine; Innocent is the heart’s devotion With which I worship thine.and my suggestion that he uses some natural dimension in expressing fair mind, even for strong faith, not being to much would see my example considerable to your point?

  23. kidmercury

    this video relates to many subjects covered in advanced kookology.while i don’t want to imply a singular opinion set amongst those who have gone deep kook, here are some common concepts:1. we live in a multi-dimensional universe2. one of the ways we can tap into free energy, which has already been achieved and suppressed, is by extracting energy from other dimensions3. in the opinion of some, aliens and angels are beings that mostly live in other dimensions4. as the solar system moves through the galaxy which in turn moves through ever-expanding space, it interacts with different dimensions. this in turn impacts us, our consciousness, and our physical reality. in some schools, this is largely what the mayan calendar and other forms of cycle analysis are about; they are forecasting points in time which dimensions will interact in new and meaningful ways. this is also seen as an explanation for climate change and why the electromagnetic field is weakening, among other changes in the natural world. 5. meditation and prayer, and the chakra system, are ways of interacting with other dimensions. 6. acceptance of other dimensions is the key to understanding the science behind time travel and teleportation, both of which have already been achieved but are suppressed. 7. if all of this is true, the three laws of thermodynamics are not wholly true.point #2 regarding energy is the most important one. a civilization that can obtain free energy will either (1) eradicate poverty entirely or (2) blow itself up. hopefully we will demand the free energy solutions that exist and use it to eradicate poverty and create greater prosperity for all.

  24. Matthew Laffer

    Fred, thank you for sharing. Consider looking into Kabbalah’s ten serifot “tree of life” and enjoy the astounding similarities with 10 superstring theory. Perhaps it can accelerate the great work that is being performed now. While centuries old, ten serifot covers the six compactified or hidden dimensions of space time that we don’t see in our four dimensional space time and thus the compliment of six plus four dimensions. There are numerous other similarities between Kabbalah and string theory. Thanks again for your insightful blogs and the curating and sharing of others content.

  25. john

    Stanford Physics Professor Leonard Susskind has an online video course on String Theory here http://theoreticalminimum.c…targetted at middle aged physics enthusiasts. It is part of his lecture series courses on Physics entitled “The Theoretical Minimum”http://theoreticalminimum.c…

  26. Mark Essel

    Grabbing it now, heads up to any video fans who use iOS, TitanPlayer is handy to cache any web video locally for offline or low / variable connectivity. I use it all the time when I’m out walking between wifi nodes or when LTE drops to really bad 3G.

  27. James Slifierz

    Great timing on AVC as I just finished reading Lee Smolin’s Time Reborn. The topics of time and string theory are overlapping and worth the read.