String theory has, even among theoretical physicists, the reputation of being mathematically intimidating. But many of its essential elements can actually be described simply. This article aims to answer a few basic questions. How does string theory generalize standard quantum field theory? Why does string theory force us to unify general relativity with the other forces of nature, while standard quantum field theory makes it so difficult to incorporate general relativity? Why are there no ultraviolet divergences in string theory? And what happens to Albert Einstein’s conception of spacetime?

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