RE: [asa] LHC, TOE, and the limits of knowledge

From: Alexanian, Moorad <>
Date: Mon Sep 15 2008 - 09:00:53 EDT

The issue of emergent properties, e.g. life, consciousness and
rationality, is shrouded with mystery. In physics, emergent properties
are all purely physical in nature and some nonphysical concept such as
wetness, say, refers to the interaction of humans with fluids and thus
is not a purely physical concept.



From: Don Winterstein []
Sent: Monday, September 15, 2008 4:46 AM
To: Alexanian, Moorad
Cc: asa
Subject: Re: [asa] LHC, TOE, and the limits of knowledge


Good theory enables one to predict a limited range of behaviors of
known, isolated systems. Theory doesn't allow anyone to predict much
about the real world, because the real-world "system" is not known and
not isolated. The TOE would express all fundamental interrelationships
among the world's fundamental physical entities, but it wouldn't allow
anyone to predict many practical consequences. In particular it's very
unlikely that the TOE could do better than the science we already have
by way of predicting "emergent properties."


You can't predict life from knowledge of a cell's physical constituents,
nor can you predict consciousness from a knowledge of brain structure.
Both life and consciousness may be emergent properties of purely
physical systems. (I like to believe that, although I have a single
experience in a long life that argues to the contrary.) If they are
simply emergent properties, they tell us something about what physical
entities are capable of. But the TOE will not be able to predict those





        ----- Original Message -----

        From: Alexanian, Moorad <>

        To: Don Winterstein <> ; Iain
Strachan <>

        Cc: ASA <>

        Sent: Sunday, September 14, 2008 4:39 AM

        Subject: RE: [asa] LHC, TOE, and the limits of knowledge


        It seems to me that the aspiring TOE would be written down in
mathematical language. How would one then derive notions of
consciousness, life and rationality from it? Would the theory predict
the existence of those who created the theory? Could there ever be such
a powerful bootstrap? I doubt it!
        -----Original Message-----
        From: on behalf of Don Winterstein
        Sent: Sun 9/14/2008 2:45 AM
        To: Iain Strachan
        Cc: ASA
        Subject: Re: [asa] LHC, TOE, and the limits of knowledge
        A true TOE would apply at all possible ranges of space-time and
energy. We certainly would never be able to test it at all those
ranges, so our faith that it is a TOE would need to come from other
indicators. If in some formalism we were to suddenly see clearly how
all known physical phenomena were interrelated--the role of dark
matter/energy, how QM is compatible with gravity, etc., we would be
tempted to call that formalism the TOE; and if it seemed to make
believable predictions about what goes on in the inaccessible ranges,
and if we could find nothing wrong with it over a respectable period,
we'd call it the TOE.
        Having the TOE in our possession would not mean God does not
exist. Perhaps it was always God's intent that humans discover the key
to the physical universe. Who can say that's not a big reason why he
made us?
        Nevertheless such divine intent would fit uncomfortably with
much of traditional Christian teaching and emphasis. Where is it
written that Christians are supposed to make progress in understanding
the physical world? The Christian emphasis instead is on loving God and
one's neighbor, setting the mind on things above, all the while living
in expectation of ultimate fulfillment at the Second Coming.
Fulfillment that the TOE would bring is wholly other.
        So while TOE does not imply God does not exist, the very idea
generates a certain amount of dissonance with traditional Christianity.
          ----- Original Message -----
          From: David Clounch<>
          To: Iain Strachan<>
          Cc: ASA<>
          Sent: Saturday, September 13, 2008 8:40 PM
          Subject: Re: [asa] LHC, TOE, and the limits of knowledge
          Lisa Randall, in her book on brane theory (Warped Passages)
discusses at the end her paper, the RS2 paper (written with
??Sundstrom??). The RS2
          paper apparently proposes some tests which can possibly
actually be tested by the LHC. This would give us an indication of
which string theory may be correct. (Hope I'm not mischaracterizing this
          Its got to do with why we need a collider that has at least
10^16 times higher energy than (the LHC? than the Higgs boson? I don't
remember) in order to be able to test string theory. But Lisa found a
possible way around that.
          I cannot claim I understand everything in the book, and its
over 500 pages, but I'd say its well worth wading through. I especially
enjoyed what Lisa said about the theory of scientific theories and the
limits of knowledge. It jived with my engineering and physics
background. Which is something the ASA discussion on such theories
usually doesn't jive with hardly at all.
          Best Regards,
          Dave Clounch
          On Wed, Sep 10, 2008 at 12:47 PM, Iain Strachan
<> >>
            It's possible my physics is too rusty to make the following
speculations valid, but I'd be interested to hear what folks think.
            Physicists have for a long time talked about the TOE (Theory
Of Everything), and I wonder if the belief that we are somehow close to
a TOE is based on atheistic precepts.
            Thinking about the LHC and what it hopes to achieve made me
think about this - and I think it shows possibly that we are always
going to run up against limits that we'll never be able to explore.
            What started me thinking was all the headline stuff about
the Big Bang and that the LHC is the "Big Bang" experiment; and that it
will create conditions and energies that were present in the first
trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. That may seem an incredibly
small time, but it occurs to me that in physics that is actually an
incredibly long time.
            So we're talking about the first 10^-12 of a second of a
universe that has lasted 10^18 seconds - around 30 orders of magnitude
longer than this period of time.
            However, the smallest possible unit of time, as I recall, is
the Planck time of 10^-43 seconds, which is an even more impressive 31
orders of magnitude shorter than a trillionth of a second. So, on a
logarithmic scale of digging back to the Big Bang, we're not even
half-way there!
            It's my understanding that Physics changes radically when
scales change by many orders of magnitude (e.g. 8 orders of magnitude in
velocity is required for Newton's laws to break down and relativistic
effects to come into play).
            Hence it seems to me that the next step will likely only
peel the next layer off the onion - and we have no way of knowing what
unanswered questions are present in the layers below, or what complex
and rich physics that we know nothing about took place hidden in those
31 orders of magnitude. We would only be able to theorise based on what
we know of what happened after them.
            Since higher energies could only be produced by larger and
larger accelerators, it seems to me that such knowledge, in the sense of
empirical verification, will be forever out of our reach. We might
build an accelerator the size of a country; hardly one the size of the
planet, and impossible to build one the size of the Solar System, or the
            Now, perhaps I'm missing some vital piece of modern physics
that makes us sure that we're near the last layer of the onion and that
we WILL have a TOE in the near future, but I feel sceptical about this -
laws tend to break down when velocities, energies are pushed to
previously unknown limits.
            Non timeo sed caveo
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Received on Mon Sep 15 09:01:52 2008

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