Touching The Limits Of Knowledge

Cosmology and our View of the World


Theory of Everything and Limits of Knowledge
Lead: Brad Larsen & Adam Fitzpatrick


Summary by Alex deJong

Theory of Everything

In this session the ideas of a complete unification of scientific laws was discussed. The unification of the laws was considered to be the “Theory of Everything.” Past and present “Theories of Everything” were described and discussed. String theory was seen as the front runner for the current theory of everything. However it faces problems with the lack of experimental veracity. This does not disqualify the theory instead it makes it difficult to know if its predictions are accurate. An example of a yet unverifiable prediction of string theory is other universes. The theory of relativity, which limits the transport of information to the speed of light, stipulates that we cannot see outside of our universe making the prediction difficult if not impossible to test or verify. Previous versions of a Grand Unified Theory faced problems, such as singularities with energy of forces exploding to infinite values at very close distances. Currently, any such theory struggles with the inability to achieve high enough energy levels to test for particles needed to explain the unification between the fundamental forces. However, with work being done in particle accelerators around the world several versions of a Grand Unified theory still have backing in the scientific community.

The question finally asked was whether or not it was possible for humans to know everything possible. This included the idea of knowing exactly what the past present and future was, is, and will be like.

However, it seemed as though the existence of seemingly sentient life that could consciously manipulate its environment violated the ability to predict everything that would ever happen. This is because it is seemingly impossible to predict the behaviors of a human at any particular time because they have a conscious thought process and can make decisions. This seemed to violate the possibility of ever knowing everything that will happen because a person could manipulate the environment in a way that is not predictable. Additionally, if the beings were conscious and knew which event was going to happen then they could possibly interfere with the event and therefore throw the entire theory off kilter. Seemingly the existence of unpredictable conscious beings demonstrates that everything is not knowable and that things cannot be predicted accurately.

Also quantum uncertainties were brought up again as problematic for predicting things. For example, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle places limits on the ability to know about both the motion and the position of a particular particle. Based on these constraints, events are considered as having a probability as to whether they will happen or not. Then it is unknown whether or not they will happen or never happen. For instance a coin with both heads and tails that is fairly balanced could be flipped a hundred times without ever landing on heads. This does not violate any laws of probability it is simply an unlikely outcome. Things like these could more than likely never be predicted.

Divine intervention was also a point of contention for not knowing everything that would ever happen. It is possible that the existence of a god or any other divine being could interfere with the ability to predict anything. While they might do something that does not violate any physical laws they simply decide whether or not a certain outcome will happen. Then it goes back to predicting the behavior of a conscious being and as determined that would be impossible.

Therefore, it was concluded that it may not be possible for a theory to predict everything. However, a validation of the unification of physical forces may be possible once more data are collected and tests are performed at the proper energy levels. While it may be possible to define the laws of the universe as one simple statement, that statement would only be able to predict certain events in the future. It will most likely still be limited due to the seemingly chaotic nature of certain events in the universe.