Theory of Everything
Posted on August 9th, 2010

Akila Weerasekera

What is ultimately possible in science? Is it possible to construct a theory of everything (final theory of Nature)? Complete unification implicitly assumes total knowledge of the universe. But can such knowledge be obtained by science and technology? How do we define “ƒ”¹…”everything’? Is what we perceive as the universe today everything? What if what we perceive as the universe today changes in hundred years? If so what will happen to the validity of the theory of everything? Does this “ƒ”¹…”everything’ have an independent existence (from us)?

 Western scientists assume that there is an origin, a linear progression and an end to the universe, or at least their so called equations and theories seems to imply. They believe that if there is an origin there must be a first cause and for many years and for many scientists including Isaac Newton, the first cause was God. Even today science has yet to explain the problem of the first cause (classical general relativity leads directly to the big bang singularity and quantum field theory leads to a quantum vacuum).

 It is said that scientist’s description of physical reality is mainly based on the relationship between reductionism and symmetry. Scientists believe that all questions about nature can be answered through these twin paradigms of science, and then it follows that they should ultimately lead to a final, complete description of natural phenomena: a theory of everything that encompasses the most embracing symmetry principle within a reductionist framework, or a “final theory”. Today western scientists (physicists) are said to be on a quest to constructing this “final theory” of nature.

 Throughout the history many cultures pondered about the mystery of creation. Almost every culture that we know of, past and present, has tried to make sense of our origin. Through their narratives, creation myths define the beliefs and faith of a community. There is an underlying fundamental assumption to this belief: there is an absolute reality out there that transcends everything that exists in the world that has the power to create everything (God, gods). This assumption is not drastically different from scientist’s assumptions of the universe.

 Sixteenth century mathematician Johannes Kepler believed he could come up with a fundamental theory of everything (his first cause was God). He thought he could come up with a model of the universe based on geometry. At the time they saw only six planets in the night sky, so for him the universe constituted of six planets and the sun. With this knowledge and using five platonic spheres he was able to describe the “universe”.  What is the fundamental mistake he made? The mistake was his assumption, which was that what he knew of the world then was all there was to know. Even today, many of the so called final theories assume that what we know of the world now is all there is to know. However, this does not mean that in time we will be able to know everything about the world. It means that our knowledge of the world can change with our perception of the world.

 Some believe our knowledge of reality depends on a fundamental way on our measuring devices. These, in turn, are subject to technological and, at a deeper level, to quantum mechanical limitations. Since we cannot measure all there is, we cannot know all there is. Thus, the boundaries of measurement set the limits of physics and of our explanations of physical reality. According to science we can always improve the accuracy of our measuring devices, but never beyond what is allowed by the Heisenberg relations.

This view assumes the existence of an objective physical reality and the limitations to know of it is attributed to measuring devices. Also, in science every equation embodies an implicit conceptual structure. Science needs a structure upon which to operate. It cannot explain the first cause because it cannot explain itself.  It should be clear now that science is mainly operates on (human) assumptions and that usually these assumptions lead to contradictions.

 We (constructive relativists (CR)/paticcasamuppadins) believe that the need for unification or an ultimate theory has roots beyond reductionism and symmetry. We say that concepts such as origin, linear progression and end are products of Judeo-Greek-Christian chinthanaya ( chinthanaya is identified here as that which binds different aspects of a culture, such as language, arts and crafts, music, science etc., into a whole-a concept put forward by professor Nalin de Sliva).  The Judeo-Greek-Christian chinthanaya has given the western scientist tools such as abstractness and anthropocentrism to create abstract concepts in an anthropocentric world. We see this as the main reason for the non-western scientist’s inability to create abstract concepts. In other words chinthanaya is the reason Newton came up with the concept of gravity by seeing apples falling to the ground and the reason Dharmadasa could not come up with such a concept even though he saw coconuts falling to the ground.

 A culture that revolves around Nibbana (anicca, dukka anatma and paticcasamuppada) can never construct theories such as the big-bang theory or the evolution theory. Our theories will not tend to have an absolute beginning or an end and will not converge into one (ness). Also, CR theories will have a cause and effect (hethupalavadi) platform and a cause for a particular problem (scenario) will not be limited to one and therefore results will not necessarily be one and hence interpretation of results (reasoning) for such a problem is not limited to Aristotelian two-fold logic but will be extent to Buddhist four-fold logic. (Science sees cause and effect as a linear progression because of the concept of time and Buddhists see cause and effect as a network of interrelationships). With this approach there is no need for unifications or final theories and more consistent theories could be developed.

 We also say that the limitations for a final theory are not uncertainty principles of quantum mechanics or problem of first cause, but the mind itself. The world is nothing but a creation of the observer (mind), and the world is same as the knowledge of the world. In this approach it is not assumed that a world exist independent of the observer who attempts to gather “information” of an already existing world.  The observer creates the knowledge of the world, and hence the world is relative to the culture, sense organs and the mind of the observer. The world is a conceptual creation of the observer. Therefore, a final theory of everything in an absolute sense is meaningless.

 Akila Weerasekera

One Response to “Theory of Everything”

  1. gunarat Says:

    Akila, congratulations on writing this perceptive feature.

    Perhaps, your mentor Nalin de Silva also ought to participate in this forum.

    I am an unabashed paticcasamuppadin.

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