Theory of everything

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Boulder, Goldsworthy, Glenstone

Boulder, Goldsworthy, Glenstone


The stream is burbling at the bottom of the hill outside the three little pigs houses: one with a globe inside, the other an empty square room and the third with a hole in the wall. The three little pigs listen to the water sounds but their perception of reality differs. When Einstein met Tagore, when Bohm met Krishnamurti, did they agree on what universe we live in? 



I read Lee Smolin’s book like a journey into reality, a historical search for answers, an invitation to take a pause and dwell on a theory of everything. With remarkable clarity of expression, he urges us to demonstrate the utmost lucidity when tackling the idea of a theory of everything, Einstein’s unfinished revolution. Are we the ones who will figure it out or is the dream beyond today’s reach? “There is,” Smolin writes, “a subtle but key difference between the idea that quantum mechanics is the theory of everything, and the hope of extending quantum theory to include the whole universe.” (p. 27). 


Holes, Goldsworthy, Glenstone

Holes, Goldsworthy, Glenstone


As I alluded in the introductory remarks, I think of this blog as a notepad meant to gather my own stream of consciousness. My thought process needs a lot of unwinding and rewinding in order to move forward, like the story of The Little Engine That Could. And so I took another look at earlier posts in light of Smolin’s book and recall Helmut Fink and Hajo Leshcke conclusions that the existence of a quantum state of the whole universe can only be a metaphysical idea



Claude Shannon, writes Smolin, defined information as a channel that carries “a message from a sender to a receiver”. “The Universe as a whole is not such a channel of information”  (p.189). In a highly compartmentalized Universe, cut into pieces, we are acutely aware of our tragic sense of isolation as individual beings and as a collective whole. In order for the sender and the receiver to communicate with each other, they need to share the same “language, by means of which they give meaning to a sequence of symbols” and therefore, the shared semantics need in a way to operate on the same frequency.



“In principle,” writes Smolin “system quantum mechanics applies to must be a subsystem of a larger system” (p.26) and given “the quantum state of an isolated system at one time, there is a law that will predict the precise quantum state of that system at any other time” (p.31). In his own search for a new theory, he writes that “we need to back off from our models, postpone conjectures about constituents, and begin again by talking about principles” (p.227). With that in mind, he identifies five principles and proposes three hypotheses, one being the irreversibility of time. 


Realists show a willingness to accept what is. Somehow I can’t. Drawn by the unexplainable and the theoretical pathways I forget to bring my feet back on the ground as I dream of hidden variables and what lies beyond. Against all odds, I am still struggling with the overarching principle of time.  I see time as having no independent reality. It is neither an absolute nor a universal constant. Since time is relative, its raison d'être disappears. Time is non-existent. Each moment in time offers its own version of reality as if space-time were cut into slices and each slice represented a universe. For us, humans, the intangible past is relegated to the archives of our selective memory and our vanished memories are signals sent in the present moment by our brain cells. Could we call into question even the principle of temporal locality?

...temporal locality is deeply woven into many of the key results on which our present understanding of the interpretation of quantum theory is founded, and unpicking it would require a radical reinterpretation of the significance of those results.

Emily Adlam

Room, Goldsworthy, Glenstone

Room, Goldsworthy, Glenstone


Smolin mentions Julian Barbour’s proposal that “Reality is just the vast collection of moments” (p.202). But that vast collection of moments -- the collective whole -- are loops of temporalities incorporated in some more stringent actual conditions such as the setting of our own solar system which displays neither the compactness of many Kepler planetary systems nor planets intermediate in size between Earth and Neptune. There is a gap -- whether it be temporal, physical or conceptual -- between the observable reality and the unobservables. “Science” which “sees itself as an actor in the interplay between man and nature” (p.92) attempts to fill the gap by making us realize what actually is. 

The universe consists of nothing but views of itself, each from an event in its history, and the laws act to make these views as diverse as possible.

Einstein's Unfinished Revolution, Lee Smolin, p.271


In his defense of realism, Smolin cites Roger Penrose. “The sudden change of the wave function is not, as some hold, due to an update in our knowledge of where the particle is; it is a genuine physical process” (p.139), an effect of gravity. But for Bohr, neither particles nor waves are attributes of nature. “They are no more than ideas in our minds, which we impose on the natural world”(p.84).  Science is not about nature. “It does not and cannot give us an objective picture of what nature is like” (p.85). In a sense, science translates reality using “tables of numbers which represent the interactions with the atom, but not the atom directly” (p.89). 

Each picture is legitimate when used in the right place, but the different pictures are contradictory and therefore we call them mutually complementary

Einstein's Unfinished Revolution, Lee Smolin, p.93

Against the proponents of an anti-realist view of the Universe, Smolin quotes another realist Carlo Rovelli for whom“reality consists of the sequence of events by means of which a system on one side of a boundary may gain information about the part of the world on the other side” (p.198) as if a narrow window could be opened from one level to the next of a structured reality. 

...once we accept that the universe may be generically nonlocal across both time and space, it becomes at least plausible that quantum theory as we know it is simply the local limit of a global theory which applies constraints across the whole of space and time.

Emily Adlam


Historians have a deterministic approach to History. Scientists have a deterministic view of the physical world. Theorists, for their part, have a probabilistic vision of the future. Clueless about our distant past and future, we remain all the more convinced of the interconnectedness of the universe.  Should a theory of everything be deterministic? A theory that would create a picture of an integrated and interconnected Universe may well be deterministic. But if randomness were a quintessential part of the Universe, a theory of everything would ultimately be probabilistic. 

...could it mean that every random discovery is part of a larger scheme of things meant to guide us through the maze of the unknowable?



If we take a realist approach to the workings of the Universe, Smolin concludes that so far, none of the well-developed options such as the pilot wave theory, the wave function collapse, retrocausality and superdeterminism are “convincing” (p.205). The thing is that in order to invent a theory of everything, we ought to go deeper and the further we travel in time and space, the deeper we need to go as if we were extending our arms hoping to catch something that still remains beyond our reach. A theory of everything may in a sense be in constant evolution.

If the Universe were a macro-state, new comets and asteroids would be "hidden variables" coming into play, whose measurements are pieces of a puzzle. Consciousness is set to understand whether those encounters are the result of true randomness or the outcome of a deterministic pattern.



Self-reflection takes the form of a dialogue between an eagle and a condor on ways to close the communication gap between the different elements of reality. Have we become the people we have been waiting for and the keepers of the dream

The history of the universe, according to an energetic causal set model, consists of events which are each the causes of future events, to which they transfer some energy and momentum.

Einstein's Unfinished Revolution, Lee Smolin, p.261

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