RETROSPECT

String Theory

By George Dyson

High-tensile fastenings stand the test of time.

Image Lashing and sewing, among the oldest of technologies, remain competitive with the best. String was not invented — it was discovered: as vines hanging in the tropical jungle, sinews exposed when carcasses were scavenged in the savannah, tendons and baleen fibers appropriated by arctic hunters who took sea mammals apart. Net making is even older: witness the highly evolved spider’s web.

The puzzle is not why did human beings start lashing things together, but why did they stop? We still sew our clothing, sails, and tents, and our surgeons still sew us, but we ...

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