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What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
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RECENT POSTS IN THIS TOPIC

John Millar: on 10/31/09 at 21:30pm UTC, wrote I would tend to agree with Ari's definition. A Theory of Everything should...

Ari: on 10/28/09 at 5:44am UTC, wrote Greetings, Thank you for your comments. I agree that the proof relies on...

Jonathan Dickau: on 10/9/09 at 1:37am UTC, wrote Greetings, I just read your essay, and I'm not sure whether I like it or...

Ari Stophrenic: on 10/2/09 at 11:59am UTC, wrote Essay Abstract Since the beginning of civilization, the ultimate...


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FQXi FORUM
May 28, 2020

CATEGORY: What's Ultimately Possible in Physics? Essay Contest (2009) [back]
TOPIC: On the Non-Existence of TOEs by Ari Stophrenic [refresh]
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Author Ari Stophrenic wrote on Oct. 2, 2009 @ 11:59 GMT
Essay Abstract

Since the beginning of civilization, the ultimate goal of science has been to discover one theory that is capable of both describing and predicting all physical phenomena in the Universe. Over the centuries since that time, many theories have been presented as candidates for the Theory of Everything (TOE), but as yet not a single theory has been successful in describing all of the known laws of physics. In this paper, we outline a proof that TOEs cannot exist, and that at best we can search for approximations to the full laws of nature.

Author Bio

Studied physics formally as an undergraduate student, before shifting careers. Continued to take graduate courses informally in physics and mathematics.

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Jonathan J. Dickau wrote on Oct. 9, 2009 @ 01:37 GMT
Greetings,

I just read your essay, and I'm not sure whether I like it or not. I feel you may be on to something, in the belief that there will always be something to learn, and in the assertion that there is no one theory which adequately explains all observable aspects of our universe. Perhaps there never will be, or can be.

I tend to feel like there is too strong a focus on finding one theory which, by its rightness, excludes all other theories - which we can call a Theory of Everything. I wrote in my contest essay that we should instead try to link up useful pieces of theory, as a more fruitful approach to ultimate unification.

But although the proof was clever, it was only the clever way you defined some of the important terms - that allowed you to make a proof which appears valid. This does not clearly show that a TOE (as it is more commonly defined) is a strict impossibility, nor will it keep people from trying.

I do like that you allowed for many possible TOEs to coexist, in your formulation. I tend to believe that when several different theories all point to a similar result, this generally indicates there's something of note, worthy of further investigation. So; I feel that though there may be no absolutely valid TOE, there may be any number of practical TOEs that describe our universe well. Why settle for just one, right?

Good Luck,

Jonathan J. Dickau

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Ari wrote on Oct. 28, 2009 @ 05:44 GMT
Greetings,

Thank you for your comments.

I agree that the proof relies on how one defines a TOE. I tend to think that if it is meant to be a theory of everything, then there should be nothing in it that needs to be measured or selected. For example, string theory is suggested as a possible theory of everything, but it still includes selecting symmetry groups and arbitrary valued parameters. To me, that means that even if it describes everything, you still need another theory to explain why each parameter takes the values it does. That is really why I define TOEs that way - so that the theory actually describes everything with no further input.

Of course as you say, there could be several theories which all approximate reality even if there is no final theory of everything.

Good luck to you to.

Ari Stophrenic

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John Millar wrote on Oct. 31, 2009 @ 21:30 GMT
I would tend to agree with Ari's definition. A Theory of Everything should by virtue of its name predict EVERYTHING in the Universe. To me that should include the value of every coupling constant. I don't think a TOE can be a TOE if it relies on measuring these things.

Just my two cents worth.

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