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I know that string theory is still under heavy development, and as such it still can't make predictions (or not that many predictions anyways).

On the other hand, it is clear from the number of years this theory has been under development and from the large number of theoretical physicists studying it, that it is considered a good and viable candidate as a quantum gravity theory.

So, what is the evidence that this is true? Why is it considered such a good candidate as the correct quantum gravity theory?

Without wanting to sound inflammatory in the least, it has been under heavy development for a very long time and it's still not able to make predictions, for example, or still makes outlandish statements (like extra dimensions) that would require a high amount of experimental evidence to be accepted. So - if so many people believe it is the way to go, there have to be good reasons, right? What are they?

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Boy are you opening a can of worms with this one. I find the answers are very strong opinions both for and against. At least if you get any string theorists to answer you will see, I suspect. –  inflector Jan 5 '11 at 18:09
@inflector: I disagree. This is a valid and honest question. There are lots of possible theories of quantum gravity (some of them easily seen to be wrong, others not so easily). So why is it that some of them are studied more than others and in particular, why is string theory studied almost exclusively (competing only with a lot smaller LQG camp) as if it was certain it is correct? There is of course a huge number of reasons for this and I for one would love to see those reasons mentioned. –  Marek Jan 5 '11 at 18:42
@Sklivvz: I know some of the reasons (essentially they are beauty, amazing math, correct low energy limits and dualities) but I think I won't post them because we have great string theorists here who can do much better than I can. –  Marek Jan 5 '11 at 18:45
Just to be clear, this post is NOT meant to be a flame bait. If and when a flame arises - close it. –  Sklivvz Jan 5 '11 at 19:00
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1 Answer

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Some random points in support of ST, with no attempt to be systematic or comprehensive. I will not get into a long discussion, if someone does not find this convincing I'd advice them not to work on the subject. I also don't have the time to elaborate or justify the claims below, just take them at face value, or maybe you can ask more specific follow up questions.

  1. ST incorporated naturally and effortlessly all of the mathematical structure underlying modern particle physics and gravity. It does so many times in surprising and highly non-trival ways, many times barely surviving difficult consistency checks. Certainly anyone with any familiarity with the subject has a strong feeling that you get out much more than you put in.

  2. ST quantizes gravity, and that form of quantization avoids all the difficulties that more traditional approaches encounter. This is also surprising: it was developed originally as theory of the strong interactions, and when people discovered it contains quantized gravity they spent years trying to get rid of it, with no success. As a theory of quantum gravity it passes many consistentcy checks, failure of any of them would invalidate the whole framework, for example in providing a microscopic description of a large class of black holes.

  3. ST extends the calculational tools available to us to investigate interesting physical systems, many times the only such calculational techniques available. Again, it does so in novel and unexpected ways. It therefore provides a natural language to extend quantum field theory, to models which include quantized gravity, and (relatedly) models with strong interactions. Many calculations using that language are simpler and more natural than other methods, it seems therefore to be the right language to discuss a large class of physical systems.

  4. ST contains in principle all the ingredients needed to construct a model for particle physics, though this has proven to be more difficult than originally thought. But, in view of the above, even if it turns out not to provide a model for beyond the standard model physics, it is certainly useful enough for many physicists to decide spending their time stuying it.

Of course other people may have their own reasons to find the subject interesting, I'm only speaking for myself.

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I've always been a fan of Brandenberger-Vafa's argument for the existence of four large spacetime dimensions: Large, wrapping strings grow in energy as expansion occurs so prevent expansion energetically. In more than four dimensions, the string worldsheets don't meet generically and therefore don't interact to break apart and reduce energy, thus forbidding expansion. In four or fewer dimensions, the worldsheets meet and large strings decay. Heuristic, but beautiful. –  Eric Zaslow Jan 6 '11 at 6:26
Yeah, that's a beautiful idea, the devil is always in the details though. –  user566 Jan 6 '11 at 14:56
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