“The Elegant Universe” by Brian Greene has got to be one of the most interesting books I have ever picked up. Greene is a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University who is widely regarded for a number of groundbreaking discoveries in superstring theory. His book explains and illustrates the fundamental concepts of relativity, both general and special, and quantum mechanics, and then explains how superstring theory is making great strides towards unifying theses models into one all-encompassing theory of everything.
The search for a scientific theory of everything, or T.O.E., has been practically frantic for decades. In essence, a successful T.O.E. would provide one all-encompassing cohesive framework for explaining the properties and behaviors of all matter, all energy, and all forces in all dimensions. We’ve already acquired some very intriguing insights into the nature of motion, acceleration, gravity, matter, space, and time among other things through empirically verifiable experiments, and superstring theory may one day be capable of unifying and making sense of these findings.
The search for a T.O.E. is exciting because, as human beings, we have a real hunger to understand the world around us. We want to know the how and the why, not just the what. If we could establish a fully cohesive, logically consistent T.O.E. that was supported by experimental evidence, we would finally know the how and the why of everything that goes on in the universe, and would no longer need God to explain anything, right?
Well, not exactly… Leaving aside the philosophical discussion about whether our minds would even be trustworthy guides in a materialistic universe, here are some other gaps that such a T.O.E. would not close:
1) Observations that can contribute to science are limited to phenomena observable by the 5 sense organs.
Information about reality is only valid for scientific purposes if we become aware of it through the use of our senses provided by our physical bodies. This is wonderful because it eliminates a huge amount of subjectivism from the scientific process. But it also rules out the possibility of science describing or explaining anything that cannot be observed this way. Therefore any phenomena not observable in any way by any of the senses is beyond the realm of science. Science has no business saying what does or does not exist in this realm. It is inherently limited to a description of the sensory.
Someone might point out that scientists also use logic and math that has not been confirmed by direct observation, but these concepts do follow directly from mathematical and logical concepts that we have observed at work in the real world, and are confirmed by experiment.
The bottom line is that since science does not have authority in the realm of the subjective, it cannot rule out the existence of realities that are not universally observable in the natural world. That’s potentially a big hole in a theoretical T.O.E. Why should we assume that all truths are universally observable in the natural world by the sense organs?
2) Implications of probability waves in quantum mechanics.
The double-slit experiment and other data indicate that all particles exhibit characteristics of both particles and waves, and that the wavelike behavior of a particle, such as an electron for instance, is modeled by the mathematical concept of a probability.
In other words, we absolutely cannot predict where a particle is going to go, we can only give the probability that we will find it at any place at any time. This is not due to a lack of knowledge on our part, this is literally because particles do not behave in an exactly predictable manner. There is actually an element of true, mathematical randomness in their behavior. If the same experiment is carried out the same exact way multiple times, a particle will not behave the same way each time, even with all else equal.
This concept deeply shakes our concept of reality. And for those interested, Heisenberg uncertainty and quantum tunneling make things even weirder. These concepts led Richard Feynman to write of quantum mechanics that it “describes nature as absurd from the point of view of common sense. And it fully agrees with experiment. So I hope you accept nature as She is–absurd.” This is one of the most brilliant physicists since Einstein speaking.
But what if the behaviors of particles aren’t actually random? What if they behave within a certain framework of probabilities so as to maintain order in the cosmos, but leave a certain amount of “randomness” in their behavior for manipulation by a supernatural agent? This concept essentially provides a scientific means for the occurrence of “miracles” which would be departures from the possibilities allowed by classical, but not contemporary physics.
3) The existence of information, matter, energy, time, space, or anything.
Scientists are uncovering an ever growing body of specific information about the nature, behavior, and natural laws of our universe. From universal constants to mathematical formulas of incredible complexity to the information encoded in our DNA that they would claim resulted indirectly from these constants and formulas.
But even if we were to identify all of the information that describes physical existence, we wouldn’t have identified where the information came from, or where the matter came from that it acted on, or where anything at all originally came from. The materialist can choose to assume that it was just always there, and most do believe essentially this.
But notice that not only is the question of why such information and matter “always was” beyond the scope of human science, it also indicates the existence of an eternal, omnipresent, immaterial body of very specific and elegant information that has resulted in fantastic and beautiful complexity, and that this information either already contained or else resulted in consciousness (after all, it has resulted in us.)
Surely even as a cynic, if you know the basic philosophical claims that the Hebrew scriptures make, and you are familiar with contemporary scientific findings, you see that the two are in fact converging rather than moving farther apart.
I hope that in light of these principals, it is clear that while a T.O.E., if it is even possible for us to uncover and uncover reliably with our human minds, would not have authority to speak on matters whose implications are unverifiable by the sense organs, would leave the door open for supernatural agency in our world through probability waves in quantum mechanics, and would explain the behavior of but not the reason for the existence of information or anything else.