I’m not sure either of these stories from the past week is particularly important in and of itself, but since I try and keep up on trends in theoretical physics, and two is a trend, here’s some news from two of the greats of the field:
- There’s an interview here (via John Baez) with Gerard ’t Hooft about his role as “ambassador” for the Mars One project, which plans to send people on a one-way trip to Mars in 2023. This will be financed with an associated reality TV show, and already 40,000 people have signed up for a chance to get to go.
- Stephen Hawking has even more radical ideas, which he talked about in a visit to Cedars-Sinai in LA last week. He believes humanity is guaranteed to trash this planet, so our best hope is to use M-theory to find a way to move on to another one:
For him, the answers to the largest and tiniest questions lie in M-theory.
“To understand the universe at the deepest level, we have to understand why is there something rather than nothing,” Hawking said, speaking through a computer program that converts his eye and cheek movements into spoken speech. “Why do we exist? Why this particular set of laws, and not some other? I believe the answers to all of these things is M-theory.”
The theory, he said, combines multiple ideas about math and physics. It suggests that there are multiple dimensions or universes, and offers solutions for the behavior of super-massive black holes and the properties of the fabric of space-time. M-theory is a work in progress, but Hawking said he believes that it’s the most promising lead to a unified theory.
The payoff to solving M-theory, Hawking said, is understanding where we fit in — and, perhaps, how we can thrive.
“We must continue to go into space for humanity,” Hawking said. “We won’t survive another 1,000 years without escaping our fragile planet.”
Update: On Tuesday Hawking gave a talk to students at Caltech, with a report here that includes smuggled audio of the talk. Evidently Hawking told students that they don’t need God, but they do need M-theory and anthropics:
During his talk, he cited M-Theory — a wide-ranging and as-yet-incomplete explanation of the universe that attempts to unite the factions within String Theory — as the only workable theory going forward that can explain the true nature of the cosmos.
M-Theory suggests that the multi-dimensional “strings” of the universe are bound together by a strange material sometimes called membranes, but also known by other names. It suggests that matter, space, time and every possible history exists simultaneously across dimensional planes that were created out of nothing at the moment of the Big Bang some 13.8 billion years ago. Only in very few of these dimensions can a species like humanity come into being.