How the fear of failure hinders physicists' search for the Theory of Everything

How the fear of failure hinders physicists' search for the Theory of Everything
30 May 2024 J.W.H

Sam McKee: It's been over a hundred years since the heyday of physics exploded with Albert Einstein, Max Planck and others, sending us into a modern world of chaos from our previously ordered universe. This brilliant generation of physicists ultimately peeled back the layers of the universe, and the atom, to reveal a world stranger than fiction.

From the origins of quantum mechanics, the theory that governs the microworld of atoms and particles, the holy grail of physics has found a theory of everything – combining quantum mechanics with Einstein's general theory of relativity, which applies to the universe on huge scales.

But we still don't have a tried and tested theory of everything. I believe that fear of failure is a gigantic part of the problem.

Creating a theory of everything is not basic. It involves creating a single structure that combines the fundamental forces of our universe, while accounting for all fundamental constants and quantities, as well as every subatomic particle. The reward for whoever answers this ultimate question is eternal glory that will be recorded in the annals of humanity.

There was a great hunger in Einstein's generation to solve this problem. In fact, Einstein worked on the theory of everything on his deathbed – for which he was ultimately ridiculed.

Einstein's contributions to physics were so great that he remains a superstar today. However, physicists Arthur Eddington, Hermann Weyl and mathematician David Hilbert were not so lucky, and some faced much more sedate consequences.

Take Eddington, perhaps the greatest scientist you've never heard of. The Cambridge astronomer and physicist proved Einstein right in his work by analyzing the solar eclipse of 1919, which catapulted Einstein to fame. Eddington also wrote the first English books on the theory of relativity, and then did the same on Georges LemaÃtre's Big Bang theory.

He also wrote a book on quantum physics, and with his groundbreaking work on stellar physics (stellar physics), he became the most popular science writer of the 1920s and 1930s. However, he is little known today because of his intense pursuit of fundamental theory.

Published posthumously, his attempt was immediately rejected for its incredible failure. Derided as numerology (the belief in a mystical connection between numbers and events), his strange interest in the power of certain numbers was ridiculed by other scientists. And as many eminent astrophysicists have pointed out, it has added no value since its publication.

Eddington's stunning final defeat was a powerful warning of the price of failing to achieve his goal. The last decade of his life, spent pursuing his theory of everything, ended up causing sedate damage to his legacy.

Albert Einstein tried and failed. wikipedia, CC BY-SA

modern generation

The generation of physicist Richard Feynman (1918-88), following that of Einstein and Eddington, lost interest in the theory of everything.

Feynman and his colleagues found glory in modern subatomic discoveries and theories and in the applications of physics to chemistry and biology, leading to several Nobel Prizes. Ridiculing those who had tried and failed before them may have been one of the reasons.

This exorbitant price of failure ultimately rose with the glory of interwar physics. In a period of unparalleled success, failure was more ruthless. This was not an encouragement for the juvenile and brilliant minds of today to address the most vital issue.

Even today, attempts to create a theory of everything are ridiculed. String theory, for example, is such an attempt and was scorned by Nobel laureate Roger Penrose as not being “real science”.

He is not alone. Physicist Stephen Hawking believed that a version of string theory called M-theory was the best option for a theory of everything. However, the theory has difficulty making predictions that can be tested experimentally.

A juvenile scientist today may wonder, if Einsteinx, Eddington and Hawking couldn't solve this problem, who would? Indeed, many doubt whether this will be achieved. Is it even necessary when we can pragmatically do without it?

It's no surprise, then, that many physicists now prefer to avoid the term “theory of everything” in favor of less impressive alternatives such as “quantum gravity.”

Financing and career development

Beyond the high cost of failure, other problems lurk. A brilliant juvenile mind may stare down a dead-end career in search of a theory of everything. What academic progress can you expect at the beginning of your career, if desired? Who will provide significant financial resources to juvenile, unproven researchers pursuing a seemingly impossible goal in the near future?

It is likely that solving the Theory of Everything will ultimately require massive cooperation. Ironically, despite the warnings of Eddington and others, this may be a task for senior physicists. Francis Crick devoted his attention to trying to solve the problem of consciousness in his later years, although without success.

We need cooperation. But perhaps we are looking at the prospect of a theory of everything coming only from those who have achieved so much that they can afford the potential embarrassment and will benefit from the benefit of the doubt. This is unlikely to arouse the enthusiasm of energetic juvenile minds who might otherwise tackle the problem.

In trying to solve the ultimate problem, we may have inadvertently created a monster. Our academic framework for advancing research is not conducive to this, and history has painted an unpleasant picture of what happens to those who try.

Yet the greatest progress has always come from people willing to take risks.

Sam McKee, Lecturer and Researcher in Philosophy of Science, Manchester Metropolitan University

This article has been republished from Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read original article.

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  • J.W.H

    About John:

    John Williams is a Reincarnationist paranormal Intuitive freelance writer...he is living proof of reincarnation existence, through his personal exploration, he has confirmed its authenticity through visits to the very lands where these events transpired.

    Through guided meditation/s using hemi-sync technology he has managed to recollect 3 previous lives to his own, that go back to the Mid to Late 19th century.

    JWH - "You are the GODS! - Inclusion of the Eternal Light of Love and you shall never die”.

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