"I wish I understood string theory": The song

It's the saddest song in the world, if you're a physicist. Musician Jonathan Mann offers a plaintive lament from the heart of a right-brained layperson.



  1. How about, “I Wish I Understood Why an Idea (That is Not Really a Theory) is so Popular with Scientists even Though There is no Test to Prove or Disprove It”.

    I’d like that song.

  2. Right there with ya, man. If we add some bolognaise theory we might end up with a flying spaghetti monster though, which would bring ultradense physics, satirical religious farce and ancient eastern philosophy into a thematically complete, neatly counterpointed right-brained conceptual whole.

  3. There are some things about which it is not true to say that every man has a right to his own opinion. I do not have the right to an opinion about acausality in the small world, or about black holes or other universes beyond black holes in the large world, for I cannot do the mathematics. Physics, deep and beautiful physics, can be spoken only in pure, unaccented mathematics, and no other language exists for expressing its meaning, not yet anyway. Lacking the language, I concede that it is none of my business…Lewis Thomas, Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Night Symphony.

  4. I’d have to add that most physicists don’t understand string theory either, only the string theorists really do ;)

    1. I very much doubt that string theorists understand string theory. If they did, modern physics would be very different.

    1. Well, yeah, but some things really are exceptionally difficult for some people – multi-dimensional differential equations take more than just lots of reading to truly understand.

        1. I don’t think it’s that easy. I can’t believe that the problems I have in remembering which is left and which is right are solely down to not learning it properly when I was small enough for it to make a significant difference.

          All I know is that I know enough science to know that I don’t understand science, and enough art/music to know that I don’t understand art/music. Now that really sucks.

  5. Great song. The only thing that could improve it would be that instead of OH-OH-OH in the chorus, he had written OH-OH-ONE-OH.

  6. Why?

    String theory is wrong so what’s the point in understanding it?

    Go forth and do something important with your time.

  7. Gareth Branwyn assigned me to read a 480 page book about particle physics, string theory, branes & stuff. I paid close attention and was only completely bewildered by about 3 things. But after all that I have only the sketchiest outline of the subject. Maybe enough to sound knowledgeable to a drunk, ignorant person.
    But it was entertaining.

  8. skip string theory – wrap your brain around E8 theory of everything. At least that can be tested – Do the predicted missing particles appear in LHC under right circumstances?

  9. pah! You’ve all missed the Whole Point of the Song! What part of the entire song is actually possible? He’s just fishing for an invite to the LHC…

  10. If something cannot in principle be made coherent then it isn’t worth investigating, it’s just theology. And given how in their latest book Mlodinow and Hawking basically claim that the laws of physics somehow reached back before the big bang and invented themselves I think the connection to theology is complete.

    Maybe Einstein was right after all.

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