The news headlines all over the word: the scientists of the CERN large Hadron Collider confirmed that the discovery of the ultimate elementary particle, the Higgs boson, will considerably transform our understanding of the universe. Reconciling Einstein’s general relativity and quantum physics, the string theory describes the matter in creating a model as a musical instrument. Priscilla Clark, from the Elementary Particle Physics Faculty of the University of Minnesota, and harp player in her spare time, explains to us the discovery:
CelticHarpBlog: Hi Priscilla. It’s difficult to understand the meaning of this revolution when not a scientist. Could you tell us what’s happening?
Priscilla Clark: The discovery of the Higgs boson is a major step in our understanding of the universe. Till now, we used to oppose matter with an emptiness that can't be measured. This emptiness we now see is full, confirming the popular saying “Nature abhors a vacuum”. No one can say that a glass is half empty or half full since we know now that matter is everywhere.
When I look at the sky, the earth, plants or particles in my laboratory, I can see the same thing since everything is built from the same small bits of energy. As well as the same string vibrating in different ways releases different harmonics, the different vibrations of those energy bits give the fundamental characteristics to the particles, such as mass or electric charge. The difference between two things is determined according to the vibrations of the strings. We're now able to measure Pythagoras’s music of the spheres. The string theory shows that the universe is a huge cosmic symphony.
CHB: How many strings in this theory?
PC: This is all speculation. Everything has gone so fast since the formulation of the theory, or, I should say: theories since five of them where officially admitted within the scientist community. We don’t know how many strings there are in this theory but there are more than we thought in the beginning. Till the 20’s, the world was known with only four dimensions: the three spatial dimensions and, thanks to Einstein, the time dimension. Going from three to four dimensions was, at that time, a revolutionary idea; more adventurous than describing a world with eleven or thirty dimensions like today! In the 90’s, hypothetical suppositions described the world with ten dimensions and, then, in 1995, Ed Witten revealed the “M” model, with eleven dimensions. Witten's constant was considered as the limit of the number of dimensions which couldn’t be broken. Since the 2010’s, the new discovery at the Fermilab and, more recently, the discovery of the Higgs boson at the CERN Collider has just exploded this limit. The world looks more like an instrument of thirty, or thirty-four strings, rather than Einstein’s four string violin.
CHB: thirty or thirty-four strings, the world is therefore a Celtic harp?
PC (enthusiastic): Right spot on!
CHB: How could we envision those dimensions?
PC: Even when accustomed to living in a three-dimensional world, our brains still can’t see distances very well so trying to experience thirty dimensions is just impossible. Let’s take an example: From a distance, we see harp strings in two dimensions, like lines straight between the soundboard and the top of the instrument. If you were as small as an ant, you would be able to turn around those strings, in the three dimensions. Our perception of the real world is always distorted.
CHB: Does this revolution matter to us as musicians?
PC: The tuning fork is raised from 440 Hz to 496 Hz as a direct consequence of this theory. Since almost thirty years now, we're aware of this number, when John Schwarz and Michael Green resolved the gravity anomaly of the theory; that was in 1984! Although we knew it, the pitch didn’t change at all since the tuning fork was set at 440 Hz at the London international meeting in 1953. In order to compensate the insignificant raise of the pitch since the Baroque time, the tuning fork should strongly be raised in the next few years.
A more spectacular consequence is the making of new type of strings. At the present time, we play on open strings, attached on one side of the soundboard and on the other side to the top of the harp. This theory unveils the possibility of a new kind of strings without endings, like a circle, called closed strings. Making such strings is going to be a true technical feat for the harp makers.
The first harp with closed strings is not made yet despite the request for courses is already important in music schools. Apart from in a few privileged institutions which could afford to recruit two specialised teachers, in the other music schools, the one teacher will be asked to give lessons on both harps, something quite awkward since not only he will have to learn a new instrument but he will have also the task to create a new technique as well as a new repertoire.
CHB: Thank you Pricilla for your clear explanations and for pointing out the musical consequences of this theory.
PC: my pleasure.