‘We all agree that your theory is crazy. The question that divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct.”
Modern physics is at a crossroads. Since the time of Einstein, it has pursued a quest to unify the laws of physics using a naïve realist or materialist approach. This viewpoint holds that there is a real world independent of the scientific theorist, that ultimate reality is a material thing (matter) rather than a mind, and that the mind has no influence on the world. Most theorists likely assume that discarding the realist perspective is too crazy. And that’s the problem: modern science will not be able to unify the laws of science working within the box of materialism. Instead, as might be expected, it will need to go outside the box to arrive at a unified theory
Front-page announcements such as the finding of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider, the search for dark matter, and musings over string theory and the multiverse, have masked the basic truth that today’s scientific worldview has reached a dead-end in attempting to assemble an all-encompassing world outlook while operating under the heavy burden of naïve realism.
Lee Smolin, in his book, The Trouble with Physics, in recognizing the conundrums facing modern physics, identifies five problems that any unified theory of physics must solve.
- Combine general relativity and quantum theory into a single theory that can claim to be the complete theory of nature. This is known as the problem of quantum gravity.
- Resolve the problems in the foundations of quantum mechanics, either by making sense of the theory as it stands or by inventing a new theory that does make sense.
- Determine whether or not the various particles and forces can be unified in a theory that explains them all as manifestations of a single, fundamental entity.
- Explain how the values of the free constants in the standard model of particle physics are chosen in nature.
- Explain dark matter and dark energy. Or, if they don’t exist, determine how and why gravity is modified on large scales. More generally, explain why he constants of the standard model of cosmology, including the dark energy , have the values they do.
Dr. Smolin should be credited with articulating in a concise and direct manner the five great problems standing in the way of a unified theory of physics. But in pondering how future scientists may come to solve these mysteries of science, Smolin also reveals the prejudice of the modern scientific theorist: he acknowledges that “physicists have traditionally expected that science should give an account of reality as it would be in or absence. “ Belief in a “real world out there,” he writes, “motivates us to do the hard work needed to become scientists and contribute to the understanding of nature.” In other words, Smolin defines “science” as practice that can only occur if the practitioner assumes a “real world” independent of the observer. Having accepted on faith the very obstacle preventing progress in the first place, it is no wonder that modern scientific theory remains mired in the same old intellectual quicksand. Like a hot-air balloonist wondering why he cannot reach the stars while tethered to a fence post, modern science can make no further progress toward a unified theory until it lets go of the “real world out there.”
In this article, I will do something crazy. I will provide answers to each of these problems and show that a unified theory becomes readily apparent if Mr. Smolin and his university colleagues simply let go of their treasured assumption that there is a real world independent of us.
In considering this assumption, we might first ask, why should the universe obey the commands of the scientific theorist in the first place? Isn’t it true that the world existed before the theorist came on the scene? The job of science is to understand the world as it is, not as scientists assume or wish it should be.
It should not be considered as simply a coincidence that, as shown below, when we eliminate the independent-world assumption, we come upon the outline of a theory that solves Smolin’s five problems
So let us start with the first problem:
Problem 1: Combine general relativity and quantum theory into a single theory that can claim to be the complete theory of nature. This is known as the problem of quantum gravity.
The two fundamental theories of the physical world, general relativity (gravity) and quantum theory, are in fact incompatible. At small scales, the herky-jerky quantum effects conflict with the smooth continuous force of gravity.
This problem, however, is a consequence of the independent-world assumption. This view assumes that there is a world outside of the theorist that must be pounded into a form understandable by the scientific mind. The theorizing mind looks at the assumed physical world and believes that it can understand how it operates. Large masses follow the law of gravity; small masses, at sub-atomic levels, follow the contradictory ways of quantum theory. But suppose there are neither large nor small masses independent of human experience; suppose masses of any size, and in fact, the entire physical world, is a projection of the mind.
Now, for those who believe the mind is incapable of conjuring up a three-dimensional appearance of a world from nothing, consider the simple example of hallucinations. In an hallucination, the mind of one person is able to create a three-dimensional image of a person or object that blends into the natural world. How is this possible? As Oliver Sacks notes in his book, Hallucinations, one remarkable feature of hallucinations is that they appear “compellingly three-dimensional.”
So if the world is a projection of the mind, we would expect this thing called matter – the supposed substance to the physical world – to dissolve into nothing when we tunnel into it. And, interestingly, this is exactly what quantum physics shows: at the root of reality are not things, but energy bundles, wave equations or, in different words, the stuff of which dreams are made. This alternate viewpoint I call the “real dream worldview.”
Turning to gravity, we would expect the physical world, this creation of an infinite mind, to be in the form of a three-dimensional work of art, a grand animation, or computer simulation, where stellar bodies are placed throughout the cosmos to provide a beautiful backdrop to life. (As we will see below, this approach explains the dark matter problem, assuming it is a problem.)
This picture of the cosmos, as the stunning background scenery to life on Earth, does not fit within the mechanical model of modern, materialistic science. Modern science would prefer these stellar bodies to follow the dictates of impersonal, objective laws of nature, though when we consider these laws in detail, we find they must have an internal source. This was also the conclusion reached by two of the greatest thinkers in history, David Hume and Immanuel Kant. David Hume believed the ultimate source to the regularities of nature is our need and belief for those laws. Kant believed the laws of nature are part of the structure of the mind.
Again, if we want to solve the problem of physics we will need to reinvent the box, not work within the same outdated box. This is precisely what Einstein meant when he famously said that we cannot solve the problems of science using the same level of consciousness that created them. The core problem here is that scientists continue to ignore his advice. They continue to use materialism to hammer the physical world into a shape they can understand, not realizing that it is their attitude toward the problem that is standing in the way of a solution.
Problem 2. Resolve the problems in the foundations of quantum mechanics, either by making sense of the theory as it stands or by inventing a new theory that does make sense
This problem is also easily solved through the real-dream worldview. A fundamental dilemma with quantum theory is that at the root of reality we find a phenomenon that does not fit into the naïve realist framework; specifically, we do not find a thing, or a little ball-bearing, but rather, a wave-thing; a substance that changes from a particle to a wave depending on the experiment run. Worse, the identity of this entity seems to depend upon what the conscious observer is looking for: if he tries to find a wave-like feature he finds a wave; if he searches for a particle he finds a particle.
This result demonstrates, to many scientists, that this phenomenon we call a “thing” does not have an identity independent of the observer, because if it did, its character would not depend upon the choice of the conscious observer. The shape of the moon, as Einstein once said, does not depend on how one observes it: we want a real world out there that does not depend upon an observer.
Einstein’s quest to locate an objective world remains the quest of many leading scientists, including Lee Smolin. To them, quantum theory gives an incomplete picture of the physical reality these theorists hope exists out there.
But these theorists miss the point. We know there is an external world because life would not be possible without one. We also know that there is an unbreakable connection between mind and the world, as shown not only by the findings of quantum theory, but also by the placebo effect, psychic phenomena, dreams, and hallucinations. Why should there be a world independent of the observer and who ever said we needed one? Rather, it should be fairly obvious that the dreaming mind strongly desires an external world – since that is point of dreaming – and the fact that the mind has delivered to us the external world desired should be a cause for celebration, not to embark on a mad rush to find another exotic particle.
So quantum theory is a puzzle to the modern scientific theorist because they have considered it from the wrong perspective. It is impossible to have a theory that will describe the “real world” as it would be in our absence because there is no such world. Therefore, quantum theory can only be considered incomplete if theorists apply it to their independent world. Quantum theory tells us there is no independent world, but theorists are not accepting this conclusion. When we eliminate the independent world assumption, however, we find that quantum theory is in fact the true physical science to a dream world.
Problem 3: Determine whether or not the various particles and forces can be unified in a theory that explains them all as manifestations of a single, fundamental entity.
Problem 4: Explain how the values of the free constants in the standard model of particle physics are chosen in nature.
I have combined these two problems because they are essentially the same problem. Smolin’s Problem 3 seeks a unified theory that would combine the four fundamental forces and the 24-0dd particles of the Standard Model into one overarching theory. This seems like a necessary result because it is hard to imagine that the world began as anything but a unity; it just seems too odd that at the very beginning of time there happened to be four separate forces (gravity, electromagnetism, weak nuclear, strong force) and 24 different particles that would later combine to form a picture-perfect universe.
So if the world did begin as a unity, then it must still be a unity and there must be one theory to explain it. On this point we have to remember that one of the chief criticisms of creationism is that it seems ludicrous to suppose that God, or any force, created the existing universe in one fell swoop; some sort of growth or evolution appears essential. But this is the same problem that science confronts when it seeks to explain the universe as resulting from the big bang. Any such explosion, as cosmologists acknowledge, must have had very special initial conditions to have grown into the universe standing before us. So instead of supposing that the God created the entire universe in one miraculous act, cosmologists suppose that some unidentified force created the initial conditions of the big bang in one miraculous act. It’s the same problem in a different form.
Problem 4 asks a similar question: Despite the wide disparity in the strength of the four forces and the masses of the elementary particles of the Standard Model, there must be a natural way to explain them. As Smolin notes, the “constants specify the properties of the particles. Some tell us the masses of the quarks and the leptons, while others tell us the strengths of the forces. We have no idea why these numbers have the values they do; we simply determine them by experiments and then plug in the numbers.”
This problem is actually not a difficult one to solve. All we have to do is to change our perspective and look at the world as coming from us instead of at us. Remember, materialists assume the physical world exists outside of our internal states and then try to imagine how it created itself and human life.
The hierarchy problem of physics asks why is it that the masses of the elementary particles span 13 orders of magnitude? The answer is that scientists look at the world as if it were built from the small to the large, or from the inside to the outside: from a collection of small particles that somehow snowballed in a three-dimensional world.
The opposite perspective explains more and is in fact true: the three-dimensional image came first and the inner parts align because they look up to the whole; another way to express this point is that the melody came to the mind first and the notes follow the melody; in the materialistic worldview, scientists scratch their heads wondering how these synchronized notes – the particles of the Standard Model of physics – all line up to form the matter in the universe. But they are looking at the problem from the wrong perspective: the three-dimensional image of the world came first and the parts align because they look up to the whole. So these two problems are easily solved as well.
Problem 5: Explain dark matter and dark energy. Or, if they don’t exist, determine how and why gravity is modified on large scales. More generally, explain why the constants of the standard model of cosmology, including the dark energy, have the values they do.
Dark matter is the missing mass that cosmologists believe is holding the universe together. It turns out when they apply the law of gravity to the physical appearance of galaxies and other cosmic structures cosmologists reach the conclusion that there should be a lot more mass than meets the eye – in fact dark matter is supposed to make up over 75% of the total mass in the universe.
Dark energy is the repulsive force that is imagined to be accelerating the expansion of the universe. This unknown force was named because cosmologists have been unable to explain why the expansion of the universe seems to be accelerating: to them there must be some hidden background force that is giving the expansion a turbo-boost. Ironically, dark energy is such a significant force that it is thought to comprise almost 75% of the total mass and energy in the cosmos.
But modern scientists know neither the nature nor source of either dark matter or dark energy, thus creating one of Smolin’s five mysteries.
But again both dark matter and dark energy are easily explained through the Real-Dream worldview. Under this view, neither dark matter nor dark energy exist. In the final analysis the three-dimensional picture of the cosmos is exactly that: a three-dimensional, artistic rendition of a cosmos. It is not a world created outside of us by gravity and the other forces. The cosmos follows the laws of the mind before it follows the laws of nature.
The other component of Smolin’s question is explaining why the dark energy has the value it has. This particular question is also known as the cosmological constant problem. Under quantum theory, even empty space has energy, since there is always a quantum uncertainty over the energy value of a vacuum. But if scientists add up the energy value of the vacuum energy in the cosmos they come up with a value that is 10120 greater than the value of dark energy. This is the problem: why is the actual value of dark energy so low?
From what we have covered to this point, the answer should be apparent: dark energy does not exist and modern cosmologists are simply looking at the picture of the cosmos from the wrong perspective. Again, we are looking at an artist’s rendition of the cosmos. The artist is God and we are actors in the drama of God’s quest to understand itself. Physical forces and particles have their values because they are part of a unified, harmonic whole: they align because the grand picture was sculpted first, and the parts trail behind, like the tail of a comet.
So in the end, if the objective is to explain the world as opposed to perpetuating a false assumption, then giving up the “real world out there” is the right thing to do scientifically. But leading scientists are not ready to take this step, believing that it is somehow unscientific to discard a real world out-there, but “scientific” to hold blindly to an unwarranted assumption. Would it not make sense to first adopt the correct metaphysical standpoint and then engage in the practice of science?
And so we patiently wait for the scientific community to discard the “real world out there” and finally set us free to find a true theory of everything.