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What is M-Theory?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 21, 2024
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In J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit trilogy, a series of magical rings were forged from gold, each holding incredible power for the one who wore it. To keep the powers balanced, there was one ring that ruled them all, more powerful than the others because it unified them. M-Theory is the unifying theory of superstrings that explained multiple superstring theories to actually be different ways of looking at the same theory. In that sense, M-Theory is “the one theory that binds them all,” and did so by revealing an 11th dimension to the beautifully elegant theory of superstrings.

Superstring theory holds that particles, previously thought of as tiny balls of energy, are actually minute wiggling strings. Although strings are smaller than any subatomic particle we are able to detect or measure, they make up all matter in the universe. The unique vibration of strings determines what kind of particle is created, each having a different vibratory signature.

String theory is particularly important because it unites the quantum world of the infinitesimally small with the world we know through our senses. Superstrings also unites all four forces in the universe: the strong and weak nuclear forces, electromagnetism and gravity. Einstein spent his entire life seeking a unifying field theory, or “The Theory of Everything.” M-theory is the first mathematically sound theory to do this.

Before M-Theory, superstring theory held that there were ten dimensions. The three we know about, and six more dimensions forming extremely small “curled up” points existing everywhere within space/time. The strings of superstring theory exist within these six-dimensional shapes. Time made a total of ten dimensions. But soon several conflicting theories arose that all seemed to prove string theory. This was a conundrum, because if the theory was correct there should not be conflicting theories, but one definitive theory. M-Theory turned out to be that single theory that united all the others.

M-Theory proposed an 11th dimension that mathematically rid the theory of any further anomalies. In this 11th dimension a string could acquire enough energy to expand infinitely into what scientists call a floating membrane. According to the theory, our universe exists on a floating membrane, along with infinite parallel universes on their own membranes. From this foundation, it was further found that (mathematically) gravity might “leak” into our membrane from another nearby membrane, accounting for its relatively weak force in comparison to the other forces. M-Theory and superstrings succeeded where The Standard Model did not, unifying all forces in the universe with one, elegant theory.

By introducing the 11th dimension, M-Theory successfully united the “competing” theories of string theory. Scientists saw the different theories were actually multiple ways of approaching the same theory, akin to the old proverb about the blind men each touching a different part of an elephant offering seemingly conflicting observations. M-Theory also provided another crucial aspect of the puzzle in that it explained how the Big Bang might have occurred, with two membranes colliding. The energy produced from such a collision is mathematical consistent with what we know from existing science.

Because string theory predicts phenomena we cannot presently measure such as tiny strings, extra dimensions and multiple universes, some scientists reject it outright. Others find the mathematical elegance of the theory proof in itself that it must be correct and expect M-Theory and superstrings to eventually be validated.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1003230 — On May 24, 2020

Every theory always starts with "so in the beginning, there was...." but how did it get there?

Beyond our little human minds to comprehend.

By anon349490 — On Sep 26, 2013

Your design for a plane engine doesn't work. Hold on, it might work in five dimensions. No, six. No, how about 11? Yeah, that's the ticket.

But there's a problem with 11 dimensions, sir. What?

That's more than there are.

You can't throw a dart at the wall and draw a bull's eye around it and call that anything but ad hoc.

By anon282024 — On Jul 26, 2012

@Elama: Putting string theory on a par with Tolkien'S work is giving it way too much credit. At least Tolkien's fiction was good fiction. The only thing 'string theory math' proves is that math can be made to prove anything if you structure the formula properly. Alternate universes don't materialize because someone has structured a math formula that can only work if they say they do exist. Einstein was right (he just didn't have the whole picture visualized). If string theorists want credibility, they should be focusing on the universe that, for sure, does exist.

I have to chuckle every time someone posts that they finally understand string theory. Right! There is enough chaos in this universe without making up more. Shake your heads boys. There are going to be a lot of red faces when you're proven wrong.

By anon168942 — On Apr 19, 2011

Nice article. This is the the eighth one I've read and it's the first that put everything together in an understandable, logical order.

By anon153832 — On Feb 18, 2011

well since there's always a negative in life how about a negative dimension?

By anon147427 — On Jan 29, 2011

within one second there's an infinite amount of break down, an infinite number of points in time within one second. so what about two seconds?

By anon147395 — On Jan 29, 2011

Reply to 110848: When gravitational force exerted by one object tries to attract another object, there is a third object exerting its force on it as well. We have to keep in mind that there are innumerable objects- planets, asteroids, stars,etc.- in the universe, each tryin to pull and being pulled by others. So the forces cancel out somewhere.

And yes, the second point you've stated could be true as well.

This whole space is as insane and funny as we could perhaps never imagine. There might be things that are beyond human understanding.

By anon128346 — On Nov 19, 2010

Einstein proved that "Love" is not caused by "Gravitational force."

By anon111796 — On Sep 18, 2010

You say "Gravitational force" = "God"

Believers say "God" = "Love"

I say "Love" = "Gravitational force"

There's your explanation.

By anon110848 — On Sep 13, 2010

Okay! Way back when I was studying vector analysis the end result was always a "Resultant Vector". So is the "Law" of Gravity in our universe just the Mathematical Result, in our Universe, of the totality of the multiple laws of gravity in all other possible universes? And what actually keeps these multiple universes from smashing into each other more often? Or do they actually collide quite often in the "grand scheme" of things but our "perception" of "time" warps our ability to recognize this?

By QuantumNuke — On Aug 04, 2010

Are Wormholes possible in M Theory?

As I understand M theory, our universe is on a vibrating membrane (brane). There are a large (maybe infinite) number of other "branes", each separated from each other by a distance of less than the diameter of a proton. When any two branes collide, a "bang" (as in "Big Bang") occurs at the site of the collision. If this is true, then these branes must be stacked together like philo dough (though not actually touching each other).

It seems that a wormhole would only be possible with the top or bottom branes on the stack, and then only if the whole stack doubles back on itself. What am I missing? --QuantumNuke

By anon100134 — On Jul 28, 2010

Reading this make me feel odd. I'd been thinking along the same lines with some things added. One being: if E=MC2 would that mean that the denser the energy field, ie matter, the greater the gravity field.

This would have one of two possible effects. One: the super-strings would pull apart and leave a hole in universe or two: the super-strings would pull together and tangle up so as that they make one mega-string that would look like a ball of yarn. Your thoughts on this? Aolgar

By anon98399 — On Jul 23, 2010

I am still not clear how gravity "leaked" into our membrane from other nearby membranes.

According to Einstein, when one ball (for ex. earth) is kept on a sheet (here membrane), it creates a depression and thus anything will roll towards it which creates what we call gravity. However when we see a ball rolling on an inclined plank, we say that is because of gravity -- so I find both observations interdependent! What is the actual reason for gravity?

By anon76902 — On Apr 12, 2010

I don't think they've gotten to where the first membrane came from. They are working from The Big Bang backward, so mathematically, M-Theory fits as to where *our* universe came from, or what could have caused *our* Big Bang.

And yes, there has to be other dimensions. It is a mathematical requirement of the theory.

And there is no way of knowing the answer to your last question at this point.

By anon75518 — On Apr 06, 2010

where did the first membrane and strings come from?

Would there have to be an other dimensions? Will each of these membranes rupture and destroy the universe with in? Thanks HR

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