A Theory of Everything?


In the euphoria following the first superstring revolution in 1985, some of the less experienced participants in the enterprise thought that we were on the verge of constructing a complete fundamental theory of the physical world. To put it mildly, I found this naive. In this setting, the phrase "Theory of Everything" was introduced and propagated by the public media. This was very unfortunate for several reasons.
The TOE phrase is very misleading on several counts. First of all, the theory is not yet fully formulated, and when it is (which might still take decades) it is not entirely clear that it will be the last word in fundamental physics.
Furthermore, even if the theory is a complete description of quantum dynamics, it seems unlikely that it will also provide a theory of initial conditions, which is another key ingredient required to explain why we observe the particular universe that we do.
But even if a theory of initial conditions is also obtained, there will still be much about this universe that cannot be explained. Many things, such as our very existence, are a consequence of the inherent quantum indeterminacy of nature. I believe that cannot be overcome. Maybe that is just as well, because if we had old-fashioned classical determinism, the future would be fully determined, which would undermine our humanity.
There is also a more mundane sort of unpredictability that is also to be expected. Many of the things that the theory predicts unambiguously in principle could require intractable calculations. Part of the art of physics is to identify those things that can be calculated.
The other reason the TOE phrase upset me is that it alienated many of our physics colleagues, some of whom had serious doubts about the subject anyway.
Quite understandably, it gave them the impression that people who work in this field are a very arrogant bunch. Actually, we are all very charming and delightful.


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| Contents | Resolving Contradictions | Supersymmetry | A Brief History of Superstings |

| Basic Ideas of Superstring Theory | Superstring Revolution, part deux |