Touching The Limits Of Knowledge

Cosmology and our View of the World


Theory of Everything, Lead: Dave McCarron & Jared Troutman


Summary by Donn Avery:

Theory of Everything

The theory of everything is a hope that we will find how the four fundamental forces that we know today were at one time, possibly, all in a perfectly balanced state forming a balanced Universe. However, just as a mirror is broken into many pieces, the Universe was broken into pieces as well, which gives us many different pieces. Four of the largest pieces to that previous mirror are Gravitation, Electro-Magnetism, The strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force. Now we see these four forces acting on each other in sometimes opposing and sometimes supporting each other. So currently, some are attempting to put together the pieces of the broken mirror to see what the universe might have been like before the big bang.

Will we understand everything, the "Theory of Everything" is finally completed? One problem with attempting to fully understand how the universe works, however, is that we arenŐt sure if we are actually altering the system by being in it. Since the universe apparently existed before us, we have no way of knowing how it worked without our presence and the related complexity. The problem is that we will never really be able to know what the universe as a system was like without us, since even simply observing it requires our presence. Another problem is that we still donŐt even completely understand how the four fundamental forces work now. For instance, we canŐt figure out why dark matter only reacts to gravity and none of the other three.

Another way to understand the importance and limits of the theory of everything is to look at is as the rules of a game. Just as the players of a game all have to obey the rules, the "players" in the universe, everything from galaxies to quarks, must also obey the rules that have been set up since the beginning of time. For example, a batter must run from first, to second, and to third base before he can run home. Similarly, before a car can travel from NY to LA, it must go through other places before it arrives at the destination. These rules keep things happening in a predictable way, but they do not dictate how the game will turn out. You know that the batter will run to first base, but you donŐt know if he will make it before he is thrown out, nor do you know if the car will break down before it will make it to Chicago.

However, does this theory of everything really matter? How will it help us, if we do someday achieve the answer to what the universe was like even just prior to the Big Bang? Some believe that it would bring security to our knowledge of how things work today, since if we knew how things were before, it would give us a more complete picture of how things are in general. For instance, if we understood how the four fundamental forces acted when they were together, then we could understand better how they all are working against and with each other now. This also could possibly help improve our lives just as all scientific knowledge does, by leading to new technologies. Some also believe that it would give deeper meaning to what we see, and therefore would allow us to appreciate the beauty of the universe we live in. This however, isnŐt always true since a rainbow is equally as beautiful whether you know how it is formed or not. And conversely, some believe that knowing will destroy the beauty of NOT knowing, but again, a rainbow is not any less beautiful when you understand it.

Either way, we are still a long way off from understanding how this incredible universe that we live in works, and until we do, we can all still appreciate looking up at the stars.

April 20, 2001