Your Little TOE
… a simple Theory Of Everything
Your Little TOE… Do you believe that a single theory, say, a brilliant equation, a religious belief or a universal philosophy that puts the whole shebang together in a single basket of truth, a Theory of Everything, might explain the whole mess – or miracle, depending on how you feel about the results?
by David Stone
A Roosevelt Island Daily News Feature
Or is that too grand for any intellect less than the mind of God? What if all it took to resolve science’s greatest puzzle was your little TOE…? Can a Theory of Everything settle the framework for good?
Modern science hopes to agree on a Theory of Everything, but I am not so sure. If you’re big on soothing closures, you’re probably with the scientists, but closure has limits, closed cases.
A closed case between us and this energetic universe is a happy illusion.
We’ll Never Get There, But…
That’s why I made up my own simple, easy, little TOE.
But first, why is mainstream science so eager to land one?
Until a century ago, when Einstein, Planck, Shrodinger and a handful of others upset the apple cart, we had a TOE we were happy with. It just went by another name.
In simple terms, most of us called it “God.” And God was flexible, wore so many funny hats, it explained war, peace, love, hate and horseradish.
God had a plan, and if it didn’t make sense all the time, that was okay. Because it wasn’t supposed to. God is ineffable, a mystery. Get it?
In that way, whatever we couldn’t figure out had an explanation: God! Who cares if the old master would never sit still long enough to be defined?
The Day They Uprooted God
Then, in a revolutionary turn of discovery, physicists dug into the mysteries we were not expected to understand and began giving us answers we didn’t want to questions we didn’t ask, spoiling the fun.
Our comfortable Theory of Everything dwindled as big minds began to expose a more complex world with a quirky foundation dependent on chance, not destiny or, sadly, our handy old friend, God.
To be honest, many groundbreaking physicists, their colleagues and students were sure that a fuller understanding of what they discovered would reinstate God of a sort, a bit different, but certainly something that made better sense out of the initial chaos.
That is, the new physics would produce a new big ToE. That conviction is what’s cause so much trouble – because it never happened.
In a hundred years, they couldn’t find their hoped for ToE.
They have, nonetheless, refused to be humble about it and just hand things over to philosophy or back to the churches. Some, like Richard Dawkins, (See The God Delusion) aren’t very nice about it either.
But does it really matter?
What Everyone Is Upset About
You might think the big questions are just playground fixtures for the likes of Spinoza, Kant and Woody Allen. But when you undermine the foundations on which a culture has built its self-identity, you damn well better have tools to shore it back up.
Religion of all sorts, except maybe Buddhism, has been badly shaken by the scientific revolution.
Polarized now, the two competing explanations for why there is something rather than nothing and if it ultimately means anything are more likely to fling hash at each than to discuss ingredients.
Each seems to think the other must be fundamentally wrong.
The conflict, as you can imagine, is not good for either because, to exist, they both have to deny truths the other clings to. Different kinds of truths, yes, but truths just the same.
Religions, for example, refuse to believe that we are insignificant cogs in a mechanistic universe, and science won’t accept anything else.
There are exceptions, of course, and enlightened souls on both sides willing to concede that nobody knows for sure and we should leave the lights on.
Nevertheless, hot winds from the arguments are inclined to blow those lights out.
A Short Video – Theory of Everything
Why Philosophy Passes in the Battle for a ToE
Maybe you noticed that I left philosophy off the battlefield above. I did. On purpose.
One reason is that the earliest and most adventurous quantum physicists assumed all along that philosophy needed to be brought into play to resolve the conflicts raised by the unexpected world of tiny things with bizarre laws being exposed.
Some, like Shrodinger and Einstein, got mystical and even, gasp, religious about it.
The big noise, a roar really, that popped up when religion asserted itself kept a lid on some of that and what Shrodinger and Einstein really meant is still debated (and badly misquoted on Facebook), but the fact is that many pioneers were far from comfortable with a meaningless, mechanistic, scientifically satisfactory universe.
The other reason is that, for centuries, religion and philosophy have been siblings. Only recently, they stopped getting together at reunions.
A Big ToE We Can Share
So, you would think, with all the bright minds of physics from Max Planck up through the wide-eyed theorists of the Fundamental Fysiks (not a misspelling — they were hippies, contrary by nature) Group, somebody would have come up with a convincing theory of everything, a great big ToE, by now.
But they haven’t, and they can’t.
Here’s why in two parts.
Why Nobody Can Find Their Big ToE
First, a workable Theory of Everything must resolve the conflict between the major ideas that revolutionized science in the last hundred years.
The embarrassing thing is, Einstein’s relativity theory is incompatible with quantum theory, and the grandaddy of modern science did not mind saying so.
“God doesn’t throw dice,” Albert said, although only Facebook posters fully understand what this means.
For the scientific community, the most senior citizen, with colleagues, published a thought experiment known as ERP (Einstein, Rosen, Podolsky) that refuted the basic tenets of quantum physics.
The mainstream is still mad at him for it…
Nonetheless, a theory of everything that sticks must embrace Einstein and all those other guys he ticked off.
Happily, there is a candidate: Superstring Theory, more commonly known as string theory and is often confused with something about playing with cats.
You will probably happy to learn that I am not going into a long explanation of string theory. The simple story is that, it resolves conflicts by describing the foundations of the quantum world as consisting of vibrating strings.
If this does not clarify anything for you, sit right down here and have a drink with me. I don’t get it either.
But how about this? There are at least five different string theories out there, but in my view (and I bet yours), they create as many questions as they settle.
Here is the big problem in a nutshell, although not Stephen Hawking’s nutshell.
The most respected theory, the one scientists think most likely to get it right, requires thirteen dimensions. If you’re keeping a scorecard, that’s ten more than what we happened to have now.
And get this. Nobody knows what those extra dimensions are. After all, once you are done with height, depth and width, as modern theatergoers know, there does not seem to be anything else.
That’s the trouble with theories. They are theories because they are not complete assemblies of provable fact. Important stuff sometimes gets left out.
What makes the nine dimensions a real bummer all around is that, given that we don’t know what they are, we don’t know even what to look for.
Try to prove that, buddy. Sober, I mean.
Compact Dimensions in Superstring Theory
My Little ToE, Simple and Easy
In my opinion, philosophers have it easy. When we philosophize, we stir the mechanism of debate.
Intellectual neurons heat up, synapses spark, and most of us who love philosophy cannot shut up.
I promise to keep my little ToE, my simple, easy Theory of Everything, brief.
The first key to understanding my theory is what perplexes about Superstring Theory. It is the consensus best idea we have but falls short in dimensions available to us by 75%, roughly, depending on your string theory of choice.
The other bedazzling element is quantum theory itself.
Even though we walk on dry land without bumping into trees, usually, quantum theory tells us that reality is a soup of potential things that spring to life when you and I, birds and flowers, Bob Dylan and Tommy Tune, bump into them.
It got worse when John Bell, of Bell’s Theorem fame, demonstrated non locality or entanglement, if you prefer a more poetic term.
What Bell showed us is that, once connected, particles remain intimately connected even when they are light years apart. In human terms, this means that your twin aunts, Minnie and Missy, will act in perfect, instant coordination forever, even though they hate each other so much they moved to different galaxies.
The puzzle? If no time elapses between their perfectly coordinated actions when they are light years apart, there is no way of knowing how they continue to be hopelessly hooked together.
Einstein says the speed of light is the fastest in the universe. Nothing can exceed it. So, how did Minnie and Missy overcome the gap?
Don’t even ask about quantum leaps. You may never sleep again.
But maybe the smartest explanation is the humblest. Here’s where my little ToE comes in.
My Little ToE, Ta Da!
What if all the trouble is caused by our stubborn unwillingness to say, “We just don’t know,” and adding that we may never know. Do we have to know all that? Really?
Isn’t it possible that the vagaries of quantum physics aren’t caused by randomness at all? Does it make sense to you that the fundamental world just might seem so odd because we can’t see everything going on? Might our partial blindness be giving us too little to count on?
With the exception of deep thinkers, evolution brilliantly prepares us to survive in a world where we do not walk into concrete walls or the jaws of saber-toothed tigers. It never designed us to detect all the interlocking fun of the quantum world because no need existed.
Our challenges, including viruses and my remote control, are massive by comparison.
That is what old Mother Nature, evolution to you and me, trained us for. All our skills and senses were developed to master things much grander than quarks and photon, things, for example, that make a difference in our daily lives.
My simple, easy theory of everything says that we do not see anywhere near all of what is around us, the stuff actually making us up, just as it makes up maple trees and Elton John.
Once we except that, no problem with extra dimensions exists. They are there, doing whatever, and as far as I can tell, they are not offended by our failure to nod, wink or buy fresh fruit from them.
And faith is a no-brainer…
My little ToE says this: we are what nature designed us to be. We were never built to be an all-seeing, all-knowing creature, aware of everything.
Heck, I can’t even figure out Rubik’s Cube or how to cook fish. What do I need the seventh dimension for? Or the tenth and eleventh? They are there. We get along, like neighbors with a great big fence between us, going about our own business privately and without interference.
Does this leave room for God and faith? For God, of course, it does, but it doesn’t guarantee anything. It just leaves that option open.
And faith is a no-brainer. Everything we do depends on our faith that what we know is enough to keep us out of danger and what we don’t know won’t destroy us.
How could you get up early to feed the cats without faith or order Chinese food on the phone? You assume, without ever thinking about it, that just about everything works and works well.
Everything in our lives is based on faith and always has been. Without proper scientific explanations, the world still turns. We had faith in that long before we learned to measure its rotation.
So, take it easy. Trust. My little ToE covers it all, even all those invisible things we don’t know and never will.
Solvay Conference in 1927
Independent of science and religion, each of us has our own Theory of Everything that keeps us going with confidence from day to day.
You’re welcome to share mine.
We probably never will know everything, but we always know enough.
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