I recently sent the following letter to the New Scientist. I doubt they will publish it but I did think it worth putting on my blog. So here it is.
Dear Sir/Madam, I recently attended the webinar with Michio Kaku talking about the Theory of Everything and the issue of how we reconcile the Standard Model with Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. I have been fascinated by this issue for some time and, on listening to Michio Kaku, a thought struck me. Michio was talking about on the one hand, the detailed and somewhat messy – and now potentially disturbed – Standard Model and on the other, the simple and elegant Theory of Relativity. He disliked the fact that the Standard Model seemed messy and too complicated – full of details. He much preferred the simplicity and elegance of the Theory of Relativity and was hoping the connecting theory might be equally simple and elegant. When he was describing one being on the left of the screen and the other on the right and also talking about “on the one hand… and on the other…”, I thought about the two hemispheres of the brain. The left brain is concerned with detail, with understanding the world by putting together the sensory information to form a model. The right brain is more concerned with the big picture – conceptual thinking or pattern recognition. A friend of mine who has been studying the brain for decades gave a talk on the oppositions within the brain and described the difference between looking (a left brain function) and seeing (a right brain function). When we are looking at the detail of something like a tree for example, we cannot see the wood (hence the expression “can’t see the wood for the trees”). When we are seeing the wood, we cannot look at the detail of the tree. If someone is seeing the wood and you ask them, “what is the shape of the bark on that Oak?” they cannot see it, it doesn’t work. If someone is looking at the bark on the Oak and you ask them to see the wood, they cannot. It occurred to me that both are accurate. There is the individual detail of looking, and the left brain’s capacity to organise a model of this detail, but whilst we are doing this we cannot stand back to see the wood. Both are true but separate functions. What unites them is our consciousness: our ability to synthesise the two apparently contradictory functions. I wonder if the search in its current form will fail to find a theory of everything because one already exists but it is not in the form that Michio Kaku and others are looking. I wonder if the the answer lies (as is often the case) in a shift in perspective? If, as many are now suggesting, the universe is a reflection of our individual minds on a far larger scale, a universal mind, then, as it is in our individual experience, our consciousness cannot be found by examining all the physical detail of the brain. A tree examiner might conclude there is no such thing as consciousness, it is a fantastical nonsense – all conceptual and no substance. Someone seeing a wood might die from the frustration of trying to get a tree examiner to stop trying to get to wood from the detail – how could they explain wood in terms of physical detail? It would make no sense and it would not work for a tree examiner. Nor would the physical detail work for a wood seer. Yet our ability to synthesise the two by standing in the middle and using our consciousness is one of our greatest assets.
One response to “The Theory of Everything”
Brilliant Nick. Proud to know you.