Check the basement for pods

The other night after my Toastmasters meeting I went out for a drink with a couple of my fellow speakers. That’s when the weirdness happened—I got deeply involved in a discussion of physics. I realize that this may not qualify as weird in some people’s universes. In mine, however, it is against the basic laws I work with on a daily basis.

I’ve never been particularly fond of science, and some bad experiences in high school sealed the deal for me. When people start to discuss deeply-scientific principles I tend to get bored and excuse myself politely from the conversation. (Did you know there was a polite way to run screaming from a room? I’ve done it.) The other evening the topic was string theory. I’ve heard of it—I read and write some science fiction, and my friends are not nearly as science-phobic as I tend to be. I’ve known it only as something I did not want to discuss.

The topic revolved around the fact that string theory was something that might explain the reason that certain other forces in the universe, like gravity and electromagnetism, sometimes contradict. String theory, according to my friend, was attempting to provide a unified theory of everything. I like the notion of that, and I also liked the fact that the discussion did not stay on hard science. My friend is not a scientist himself. We talked about the controversy surrounding this theory. Some scientists will not accept it as science, because it cannot be proven in the way that some other sorts of science can be. String theory seems logical according to mathematics, but that’s not quite the same.

I enjoyed the discussion and the questions it raised. How do you prove something is true? Is something false because it cannot be proven? Is something unproven automatically a religion, because it must be taken on faith? We discussed many of these things and more. I’m glad I allowed myself to be led along the path of science. I’m still not a convert, but if I had stopped listening at the words “string theory” I would have never gotten to the rest of the discussion. As a bonus, I learned a tiny bit about something I did not know. In this case, that’s just the right amount.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

155. Next time a discussion veers into a topic that bores you, stick with it for a few minutes. Perhaps there’s something intriguing along the way.

Link, should you desire it:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/String_theory

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