M. Southern California – Italy 1995/2009
Curated by Valerio Borgonuovo
July 11 – August 8 – 2009
Galleria Enrico Astuni.
The research project created for the Galleria Astuni premises in Pietrasanta has been designed as a logical continuation of the WOGU Workshop On Grand Unification Pennsylvania – Italy 1983/2009 exhibition, which took place in Milan in February and March 2009. It is a space-time extension of the theoretical-physics conference from which it takes its name.
M. came as an intermediate stage in this programme, taking place in 1995, a crucial year for another congress at the University of Southern California. On that occasion, as well as at the 1983 event, it was the physicist Edward Witten who skilfully overcame the embarrassing impasse that was preoccupying the scientific community, thus giving new impetus to those who were involved in the formulation of a T.O.E. (Theory of Everything). The basic problem was due to the proliferation of significant variants in the string theory, which at that time was the ultimate idea: five apparently irreconcilable visions were significantly undermining the validity of each other.
It was only with the superstring revolution in 1995 that the Type I, Type IIA, heterotic-O, heterotic-E, and Type IIB theories started to appear as mathe- matically equivalent: they were essentially the same melody being played with different instruments.
The M investigation was the result of a special report on the unification of these fields. It took inspiration from the influence of contemporary-physics speculations, extending it out into a broader dimension of knowledge, in an attempt to reveal the equivalent geometries of information in more generic terms.
The aim of the exhibition is not to illustrate, demonstrate or document WOGU but rather to be the visual equivalent of this scientific research. It is a wor- kshop – a visual laboratory. Is appears in the form of a singular installation, Background Inside Platform Through M Influence / Piattaforma a paesaggio di riferimento interno attraverso la M influenza, which reflects on the nature of dualism, a term used to refer to theoretical models that are apparently diverse, but that are actually of the same nature. A walkway consisting of five visible- geometry modules (water / linoleum / aluminium squares) and the geometry of invisible fields of force (electromagnetic levitation fields) appears in the long, narrow space of the gallery. The rhythm of the display, which is accompanied by the specific chromatic identity of the actors on each platform – which are suspended sea sponges – culminates in an equivalent counterpart (photogra- ph) of the same format, but with vertical coordinates in which the potential for absorption is added to by a pentagonal structure made of light. Unlike the natural form of the sponge suspended over the water, it has the power to emerge and not to exist in its own right. What is visualised here is what happens when, in a “theory of everything”, the cone of light that rises up and spreads out suddenly starts thinning out towards a focal point – a zero point from which it bursts out again in the potential indeterminacy of a landscape of dual identity.
But what is this space originally? What is its intrinsic physicality, and what are the values of its ability to contain and transmit data? Particular, the support of gravity is offered as a “non-space space, contemporaneously an ideal theore- tical and non-theoretical landscape” from which, as the loop quantum gravity theory predicts, every possible geometry, quite plausibly including that of the known universe, emerges.
In 1995 Edward Witten started what has been called the Second Superstring Revolution by introducing M-theory to the world. This theory combines the 5 different string theories (along with a previously abandoned attempt to unify General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics called 11D-Supergravity) into one theory. What Witten actually did was to predict that the fact that all these different theories were connected was a result of there being some underlying theory of which they were all approximations. This theory is somewhat vague in nature and has not yet been pinned down.
Additionally, it was found that the equations that required string theory to exist in 10 dimensions were actually approximations as well. The proposed M-theory would need one extra dimension and instead be a theory that takes place in 11 dimensions. Witten has himself compared this idea in simple terms to a general who takes up a position on a hilltop, the extra space-coordinate, to get a better view of the battlefield’s two other dimensions.
The combination is accomplished by knitting together a web of relationships between each of the string theories called dualities (specifically, S-duality, T-duality, and U-duality). Each of these dualities provides a way of converting one of the string theories into another. T-duality is probably the most easily explained of the dualities. It has to do with the size, written as R, of the curled up dimensions of the string theories. It was discovered that by taking a Type IIA string theory that has a size R and changing the radius to 1/R the result will end up being what is equivalent to a Type IIB theory of size R. This duality, along with the others, creates connections between all 5 (or 6, if supergravity is counted) theories. The fact that these dualities existed had been known before Witten came up with the idea of M-theory.
Additional amusement has come for many in guessing what the M might stand for (possibilities include Matrix, Magic, Muffin, Mystery, Mother and Membrane). Regardless of what the M might possibly mean, M-theory has become one of the most interesting and active areas of research in theoretical physics today.