Quantum physics and Einstein’s theory of relativity have both been very successful in describing aspects of the real universe and have been experimentally tested many times, and yet they are incompatible with each other under the conditions believed to have existed in the early universe. Scientists have been struggling for decades to reconcile them, and to come up with a “Grand Unified Theory” or “Theory of Everything” that would explain all of the known forces as different aspects of a single fundamental field.
Marcelo Gleiser, a philosopher and professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College, argues that the quest for a Theory of Everything is misguided. For one thing, he says, the idea of a TOE depends on the assumption that we can know everything and measure everything – yet we are actually very limited in our ability to perceive and measure reality. He goes on to trace our desire for a unified theory to many centuries of living with a monotheistic faith.
Gleiser also says that a reductionist approach cannot ultimately explain everything – that new laws will emerge from one level of complexity to the next. So for example, knowing how neurons work can only go so far in understanding the human brain.
I heard Gleiser interviewed, along with novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson, by Krista Tippett on her show “On Being”. Listen to it here.
Gleiser writes about his ideas in his book A Tear at the Edge of Creation.
J.A. Goska has written a review of it on Amazon that both summarizes Gleiser’s ideas and critiques them, while providing a lucid account of the scientific field of knowledge Gleiser is tackling – well worth reading.