On Strings and Perspectives

This week has been really interesting. IISER Pune is hosting the eighth edition of the biennial Indian Strings Meeting. For the uninitiated, string theory is one of the many different approaches to a theory of quantum gravity (a theory which can consistently describe quantum mechanics and classical gravity within a common framework). A slightly technical introduction to string theory is this very well-written piece What every physicist should know about string theory by Edward Witten.

From a general point of view, (perhaps) more fascinating are the dialogues that have been established between physics and mathematics as a result of the research in string theory (and quantum gravity, in general) in the last five to six decades. A number of problems in both these areas have seen significant contributions coming from the other side – hugely motivating new insights into interesting solutions. These dialogues have largely been possible because of the different perspectives each of these topics have offered to the other.

Talking of perspectives, I recently chanced upon this TED talk by Roger Antonsen where he very beautifully describes how taking different perspectives helps us improve our understanding and why this ability has an inherent universality.

Ed Witten, who stands tall among the giants in the field of string theory, would undoubtedly classify as one of the finest interpreters to have facilitated the dialogue between physics and mathematics. He is the only physicist till date to have been awarded the Fields Medal, the most coveted prize in mathematics. His works, apart from leading new directions to string theory, have also made enormous impacts on pure mathematics.

Though string theory has its share of proponents and adversaries, even its detractors would agree that these different perspectives and the resulting conversations have helped reinforce the idea that the whole of science is but one single adventure.

The presentation slides from the talks at the Indian Strings Meeting 2016 are available online and can be accessed here.

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