There’s a new paper out on the arXiv this evening, advertising a new concept called “string universality”. The authors argue that in six dimensions, by use of appropriate compactifications, any consistent 6d supergravity theory has a string theory realization. They go on to conjecture that the same might be true in four dimensions. As for the implications of “string universality”, they write:
If it is correct, or even close to correct, that string universality holds in six dimensions, then in this case we seem in some sense to be in the worst possible situation vis a vis low-energy predictions. If every possible consistent theory can be identified from low-energy considerations, and all of these theories can be realized in string theory, then string theory would seem to have no predictive power for low-energy physics…
Not being able to predict anything sounds bad for string theory. But wait, they go on to explain why not only is this not a deadly problem, it’s actually a “strength of the theory”. You see, there’s “symmetry and elegance” to a principle that is consistent with absolutely everything and constrains nothing. Some worrywarts might have problems with such a principle since it can’t be tested, but, just because something can’t be tested doesn’t mean it’s not right, no?
This may seem like a very awkward situation for string theory. It should be emphasized, however, that there is no reason a priori why a theory of quantum gravity relevant at the Planck scale of 1019 GeV should make any prediction for physics at the scale of 1 TeV, 16 orders of magnitude below the quantum gravity scale. String theory is valuable as a framework for describing quantum gravity. If in fact, string theory can be used to provide a UV completion of essentially any low-energy theory whose coupling to quantum gravity does not violate some basic principle like unitary via anomalies, this can be seen as a strength of the theory. There is a certain symmetry and elegance about the notion of a quantum gravity theory which provides for the production of essentially all possible low-energy behaviors in some regime of the theory or region of the metaverse.
If indeed, string theory can give rise to such a wide range of low-energy behavior that predictions at the TeV scale cannot be made precisely, it may bother some scientists that this makes the theory difficult to test. But, on the other hand, this does not make the theory any less likely to be correct. It just makes it more difficult to verify.
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