Friday, October 29, 2010

Theory of Everything: Putting failure to find such a theory to good use

Sure. Why waste a failure?

In "The imperfect universe: Goodbye, theory of everything" (New Scientist, 10 May 2010, Magazine issue 2759), Marcelo Gleiser mourns,
FIFTEEN years ago, I was a physicist hard at work hunting for a theory of nature that would unify the very big and the very small. There was good reason to hope. The great and the good were committed. Even Einstein, who recognised that our understanding of reality is necessarily incomplete, had spent the last 20 years of his life searching for a unified field theory that would describe the two main forces we see acting around us - gravity and electromagnetism - as manifestations of a single force. For him, such a mathematical theory represented the purest and most elegant expression of nature and the highest achievement of the human intellect.

Fifty-five years after Einstein's death, the hunt for this elusive unified field theory continues. To physicist Stephen Hawking and many others, finding the "theory of everything" would be equivalent to knowing the "mind of God". The metaphor is ...
subject to you buying an online subscription to New Scientist.

Maybe it's worth it. I mean, so rich a source of authentic pop culture rebranded as science, how can you resist? If you want to know what politicians and pundits fund and defend and why they do, read NS - on someone else's dime, to be sure.

Why is a theory about the Theory of Everything so important? As soon as you think you've worked everything out, it all changes again. Personally, I'd rather have a sound theory of something in particular.

Gleiser argues, says endorser Stuart Kauffman,
... that there is a profound link in Western science between monotheism and the scientific search for a Theory of Everything. He argues persuasively that we must give up this dream. This may augur a profound transformation in our understanding of the world.”

—Stuart Kauffman, Fellow of the Royal Society, Canada, Author of Reinventing the Sacred

Oh, I see now. Failure to find a theory of everything is repackaged as a reason to give up monotheism. And what if a theory of everything had indeed been found? ... why, wouldn't that be a reason to give up monotheism too?

So, really ...

I can't develop a Theory of Everything because no way could I hope to explain why these people don't get the reason the public doesn't take them seriously. Thus, mine wouldn't be a Theory of Everything.

Comments? Go to Uncommon Descent to comment.

(Note: Also, re Gleiser, back in 2005 he was into the "Who designed the designer?" schtick - as if any series could not just end, as a road ends in a highway.)