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Secular salvation: Sacred rhetorical invention in the string theory movement

Brent Yergensen, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


String theory is argued by its proponents to be the Theory of Everything. It achieves this status in physics because it provides unification for contradictory laws of physics, namely quantum mechanics and general relativity. While based on advanced theoretical mathematics, its public discourse is growing in prevalence and its rhetorical power is leading to a scientific revolution, even among the public. By presenting a history of continual discovery of extra dimensions, string theory proponents draw upon key thinkers in physics such as Theodor Kaluza and Albert Einstein and frame them as pioneers for the emergence of string theory. ^ Popularization of string theory is grounded in the employment of rhetorical forms of sacredness. Proponents of the theory present a history of the theory as a linear progression of scientific discovery, culminating in specific events that establish the theory as significant scientific discoveries. In the presentation of the theory, string theory supporters engage in strategic romanticizing of the key people and events surrounding they theory. The contradictory conventional paradigms of physics make up the problem string theorists set out to solve in public discourse. The result and theoretical foundation of this study resides in the rhetorical potential by which the sacred becomes a translatable resource for popular science in the presentation to public audiences. ^ This exigency of division is the first step of persuasion and is expressed in a discourse of division. Because of division, unification is the goal of physicists and the term becomes rhetorical term for the theory's proponents. ^ Arguments for string theory as the Theory of Everything are grounded in rhetorics of faith, prophecy, theoretical Armageddon, and Millennial peace. The religious nature of the rhetoric, upon closer examination, gives us something unique in the string theory narrative: a secular salvation. Rhetoricians justify the importance of unification, which then allows the appeal for the Theory of Everything to be the conclusive argument. The implication is a secularized salvation story. ^

Subject Area

History of Science|Language, Rhetoric and Composition|Physics, Theory

Recommended Citation

Yergensen, Brent, "Secular salvation: Sacred rhetorical invention in the string theory movement" (2011). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3449523.