String theory is a very beautiful theory. It explains the immense diversity of the Universe in terms of a single concept: the vibrational modes of strings. It is not a coincidence that string theory also possesses an immense amount of symmetry. Unfortunately, this symmetry is something that I cannot easily explain, since it involves abstract operations on the mathematical constructs of the theory. Suffice to quote Chris Quigg in Scientific American who recently described string theory as the most symmetrical theory ever devised.
One of the themes of this talk was meant to be the interplay between aesthetics (or art),
and physics. What is interesting in this context is the fact that string theory has yet to make any solid, falsifiable
predictions. Despite its underlying elegance and simplicity, it is very, very difficult
to do physically relevant calculations with string theory. For the time being, the
driving force behind string theory is mainly aesthetic, and not truly scientific. It is therefore pushing the boundaries between science and art. In this sense too we have come full circle, back to the ancient Greeks and their notions of the role that symmetry and Harmony play in the Universe. The question is, does string theory reveal something fundamental about the world around us, or is it a new form of ``epicycle''.
Despit this cautionary note, I think that theoretical physics has made great strides
in recent years. I have tried to convey my feeling that the discoveries of Physics have
not just technological value, but also aesthetic value.
To close, I would like to share with you what I find to be a very moving and accurate
description of the way modern theoretical physics has progressed in recent years. We seek, ultimately, to find the keys that unravel the mysteries of the Universe...