It’s the name Richard Wagner, famed German opera composer, gave to his concept of the ultimate artistic synthesis–the successful integration of music, theater, visual arts, and poetry. Some argue that opera in general is an expression of this concept, but Wagner insisted that all artistic elements must be present constantly and simultaneously. His sprawling epic, Der Ring des Nibelungen, is his crowning achievement in this regard. It actually required him to build his own opera house in order stage it.
Wagner’s “string theory”–this common thread that ties the arts together–is not unlike “string theory” in the context of the scientific community.
I’ve touched on string theory in a few other posts: Musical Geometry and Music’s Hidden Dimension. String theory gets its name from the theoretical “fabric” that forms the essence of reality as we know it. Scientists postulate that the most basic elements of the universe are tiny vibrating strings, and the frequency at which they vibrate dictate the type of particle they imply. This, of course, is a very basic reduction of a very complex theory, but it does imply that existence is a result of cosmic music. These strings are the violins and harps of being.
String theory came about as a proposed solution to the inherent incompatibility of quantum physics and relativity: Relativity is a set of rules that have been proven to govern the celestial, and quantum physics is a set of rules proven to govern the tiniest of subparticles… but the two sets of rules don’t agree with one another! Reality cannot be understood by using both sets of rules together. String theory is one attempt to reconcile the two, and provide the holy grail of scientific effort: the so-called “Theory of Everything.” It would be the common thread tying together quantum physics and relativity.
For more information on string theory, check out the unbelievably accessible book The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene.