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

From: Alexanian, Moorad <>
Date: Mon Sep 15 2008 - 14:04:33 EDT

I do agree that a TOE may be aesthetically satisfying and even physically and mathematically complete. However, the theory would be so all encompassing that it would be useless to do calculations and so make no predictions. Witness Quantum Chromodynamics a theory for strong interactions where it is very hard to do calculations of physical interesting quantities. Regarding life as an emergent property of purely physical systems, in the September 2008 issue of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, I have a letter titled "Can Science Make the 'Breath' of God Part of Its Subject Matter?" I answer negatively.





From: Don Winterstein []
Sent: Mon 9/15/2008 4:45 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 capabilities.

        ----- 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 Randy).
          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 << <> >> wrote:
            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 galaxy.
            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 14:05:25 2008

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