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Hawking: No 'Theory of Everything'

CmdrTaco posted about 4 years ago | from the you-all-been-punked dept.

Science 465

Flash Modin writes "In a Scientific American essay based on their new book A Grand Design, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow are now claiming physicists may never find a theory of everything. Instead, they propose a 'family of interconnected theories' might emerge, with each describing a certain reality under specific conditions. The claim is a reversal for Hawking, who claimed in 1980 that there would be a unified theory by the turn of the century."

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Old news (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33750956)

sounds an awful lot like what Buddha said 2500+ years ago

Re:Old news (1)

greyline (1052440) | about 4 years ago | (#33751258)

First Nirvana.

In other news... (4, Funny)

djupedal (584558) | about 4 years ago | (#33751556)

...Theory of Everything held a press conference today, stating "There is no Stephen Hawking."

When asked what the implications were as to whether or not there could ever be a Stephen Hawking, ToE replied "The door is open for a Stephen Hawking in the future, but it can only be a possibility if graphene birds fly out of my lily white butt..."

The hand of Godel? (3, Interesting)

Hatta (162192) | about 4 years ago | (#33750964)

Godel proved that all formal systems are either incomplete or inconsistent. Perhaps that's what we're dealing with here.

Re:The hand of Godel? (5, Insightful)

abigor (540274) | about 4 years ago | (#33751104)

Godel used the term "formal system" to specifically mean a recursive axiomatic system that can do arithmetic. I don't think it really applies here.

Re:The hand of Godel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33751146)

It might. Is the universe equivalent to a Turing machine?

Re:The hand of Godel? (1, Informative)

abigor (540274) | about 4 years ago | (#33751262)

No.

Re:The hand of Godel? (1, Interesting)

tomhudson (43916) | about 4 years ago | (#33751546)

Prove it.

It may just be a matter of scale - we simply aren't able to take a large enough view. A turing machine, if you only look at one small part of it, is no longer turing-complete. And the presence of a turing-complete machine doesn't mean the enclosing reality suddenly is turing-complete. Think babushka dolls, as in Soviet Russia, Turing completes YOU!

Re:The hand of Godel? (1)

TheAlgebraist (1900322) | about 4 years ago | (#33751266)

It doesn't apply for an even more basic reason. We don't require a theory of everything to be complete, only consistent. Moreover, most physicists would be happy with "just" a theory that hasn't been proved to be inconsistent.

You forget important addition to Goedel's theorem (3, Informative)

Cyberax (705495) | about 4 years ago | (#33751182)

You forget important addition to Goedel's theorem. Namely: "all philosophical consequences of Godel's theorem are bunk" (including this one).

Regarding your comment: there ARE complete and consistent formal systems. For example, real number theory is complete.

You can't have consistent, complete system if it's _complex_ _enough_ to describe integers.

Re:You forget important addition to Goedel's theor (1)

Guignol (159087) | about 4 years ago | (#33751588)

What are you talking about ?
"all philosophical consequences of Godel's theorem are bunk" sounds fair but as you state probably falls in the undecidable set of assertions :)
but "real number theory is complete" ? are you confusing the "Gödel completeness" with the "Set completeness" (in the way that all Cauchy sequences are convergent in the same Set (unlike, say, rational numbers)) ?

Re:The hand of Godel? (5, Interesting)

w0mprat (1317953) | about 4 years ago | (#33751396)

We work on the assumption that the laws of physics are perfect and complete, and we are just trying to reveal them. The laws of physics could work well enough but actually be incomplete and consistent as you point out. They could even bebe crappy, bloated and buggy with lots of missing chunks, unused bloat and even errors.

If the laws of physics emerged naturally, for example budding off from a parent universe, and subject to a process of evolution I would expect theories of everything to be 'just good enough' and barely work rather than somehow perfect and elegant and mystical. Much like the junk DNA, apendix and mens nipples that rides along with us because evolution didn't really have pressure need to get rid of them.

I would say we should by default expect a theory of everything a whole basket of seemingly clumsy unweildy theories that barely fit together - after all they only need to be just good enough for us to be here and not any better. If we expect flawless elegant unified symmetry and beauty, then we'd need to demonstrate why (without invoking God to explain etc).

Researchers have been seduced by subjectively elegant and simple equations all the way back to F=MA ... these worked well enough, but were ultimately wrong, the truth was more complex and nuanced, but now we're finding the universe is fuzzy, clumsy and possibly buggy (inflation, possible variations in c, other weirdness).

Celebrity physicist troll train (-1, Troll)

oldhack (1037484) | about 4 years ago | (#33750976)

It's always these guys on the sideline talking up bullshit. You don't see the guys at Fermi or LHC spewing these nonsense.

Tell the bastards to shut the fuck up and get back to work until they actually generate some *real* results.

Re:Celebrity physicist troll train (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33751012)

"Tell the bastards to shut the fuck up and get back to work until they actually generate some *real* results. "

This is what I tell the Space Nutters. 40 years of paintings, posters, bad sci-fi, crappy movies and not a single ant has colonized anything more than a tin can in LEO.

Re:Celebrity physicist troll train (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about 4 years ago | (#33751064)

They already reached Leo? [wikipedia.org] :-)

Re:Celebrity physicist troll train (1)

KarrdeSW (996917) | about 4 years ago | (#33751130)

More importantly, who dropped a tin can there... and is there a string attached leading to another galaxy?

Re:Celebrity physicist troll train (3, Funny)

guyminuslife (1349809) | about 4 years ago | (#33751226)

String Theory says there is.

Re:Celebrity physicist troll train (5, Informative)

Sonny Yatsen (603655) | about 4 years ago | (#33751050)

He's a theoretical physicist. Theories ARE his results.

Re:Celebrity physicist troll train (2, Insightful)

oldhack (1037484) | about 4 years ago | (#33751176)

It's about time they rethink this artificial theoretical/experimental barrier if all the "theories" being cooked up are so far out of the realm of verification that they might as well move to philosophy department.

Re:Celebrity physicist troll train (2, Funny)

XxtraLarGe (551297) | about 4 years ago | (#33751334)

It's about time they rethink this artificial theoretical/experimental barrier if all the "theories" being cooked up are so far out of the realm of verification that they might as well move to philosophy department.

Maybe they should call themselves theoretical metaphysicists....

Re:Celebrity physicist troll train (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33751342)

Can't move it there. According to Hawking, philosophy is obsolete(I forget what term he exactly used, but it was in his recent book.)

Re:Celebrity physicist troll train (1)

bhagwad (1426855) | about 4 years ago | (#33751408)

There's no "they" who created the barrier. Everyone does what they want - different talents are required to be a good experimental physicist and the same is true for the theoretical physicists.
How would you rather have it?

Re:Celebrity physicist troll train (4, Funny)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 4 years ago | (#33751606)

It's about time they rethink this artificial theoretical/experimental barrier if all the "theories" being cooked up are so far out of the realm of verification that they might as well move to philosophy department.

I mean, it wouldn't it be surprising if they were given advanced degrees like "Doctor of Philosophy" or something like that?

Re:Celebrity physicist troll train (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33751060)

What sort of people do you think predict the as yet unobserved particles that Fermi and LHC people are looking for? Though I doubt Hawking is right on this one, not many besides you would say he was on the sidelines anyway.

Re:Celebrity physicist troll train (1)

Dunbal (464142) | about 4 years ago | (#33751066)

Tell the bastards to shut the fuck up and get back to work until they actually generate some *real* results.

      Thou shalt not brute-force the universe. All Fermi and LHC is good for is inventing a new particle to explain the unexpected behavior of the month.

Re:Celebrity physicist troll train (1)

Threni (635302) | about 4 years ago | (#33751094)

> You don't see the guys at Fermi or LHC spewing these nonsense.

Those guys are technicians, aren't they? They get to prove or disprove the really smart guys work, right? ie is there Hawking radiation or not. And get that copper shielding clean - they big guys are coming round later.

Re:Celebrity physicist troll train (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 4 years ago | (#33751142)

Science would die without the people that popularize it; Hawking, Dawkins, Sagan, Asimov, etc. Normal people don't really care that the LHC might find the Higgs Boson, especially younger people who might be just starting to take an interest in science and technology. Without good science fiction, good popular science books, and lots of media attention there would be next to no new scientists and engineers in a generation. Besides, it's not like Hawking hasn't ever published [wikipedia.org] new [wikipedia.org] research [wikipedia.org] , just to name a few.

Re:Celebrity physicist troll train (1)

oldhack (1037484) | about 4 years ago | (#33751242)

That's just not true. What teenage boys, and even more girls, wouldn't dream of working with gigantic hard-on busters?

Re:Celebrity physicist troll train (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33751288)

"Without good science fiction, good popular science books, and lots of media attention there would be next to no new scientists and engineers in a generation."

When did sci-di start as a genre? Were there any engineers or physicists or scientists before? Now I've heard it all; we only have technology because of sci-fi? That's retarded. We got sci-fi because we got technology.

Re:Celebrity physicist troll train (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about 4 years ago | (#33751512)

It's always these guys on the sideline talking up bullshit. You don't see the guys at Fermi or LHC spewing these nonsense. Tell the bastards to shut the fuck up and get back to work until they actually generate some *real* results.

Science isn't just "we got these results, and it means this." It's important to hypothesize out loud with peers sometimes, to get input, at very preliminary stages. For one thing, proving that there may be no theory that explains everything strikes me as very difficult to prove, though I have no concept of the math involved. Having more people make suggestions might better help him prove it? If it can't actually be proven, Hawkings saying it might cause some researchers to not waste as much effort going after a theory of everything, maybe now they're absolutely convinced it's just around the corner. If you're a physicist starting your career, you might not want to invest everything into finding a theory of everything. Realigning the field is something only a prominent scientist like Hawkings can do.

The guys at Fermi or LHC might be too focused on what they're doing at the moment to think in depth about larger issues like this. In many biological labs, the major theories that are mostly or completely unproven are usually thought up by the PIs, the more senior scientists with years of experience who write grants but don't do much lab work, wheras the postdocs and grad students are the ones doing the labwork, who haven't been in the field for as long and haven't had as long to make those big predictions.

There are plenty of exceptions to that of course. But it's not too surprising to me that the physicists who are "on the sidelines" are the ones who are coaching and calling plays.

Re:Celebrity physicist troll train (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about 4 years ago | (#33751544)

Er, just to clarify, that wasn't to say that the scientists at LHC or Fermi are less senior or long-term thinkers than Hawkins. Maybe some of them were saying there's no theory of everything, but were too busy working on getting the LHC running to make a press release.

TOE (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33751000)

Saying that there is not a TOE is against my religion. Saying that we can't achieve a TOE because of our own limitations is, I guess, OK.

Tsk tsk! (1, Funny)

bigspring (1791856) | about 4 years ago | (#33751002)

What a flip-flopper! This guy would make an awful president. Bush/Cheney 2004!

Re:Tsk tsk! (1)

mandark1967 (630856) | about 4 years ago | (#33751200)

Considering his lack of muscle control, "flip flopper" is a pretty apt description.

Re:Tsk tsk! (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about 4 years ago | (#33751460)

+1 funny!

Any non-flip-flopping scientist isn't a scientist at all. If your theory is disproven, you discard it. Physics isn't theology or politics.

At any rate, I think Jimmy Carter (held a degree in engineering) proved that you shouldn't elect a guy that's too smart. Any scientist worth his salt would make an incredibly bad President.

Re:Tsk tsk! (1)

Captain Splendid (673276) | about 4 years ago | (#33751530)

Any scientist worth his salt would make an incredibly bad President.

I dunno. I'd happily take 4 years of "incredibly bad" in order to inject a little pragmatism into things.

Re:Tsk tsk! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33751596)

Hey, Carter may have been a terrible president, but every one since then has been even worse.

Re:Tsk tsk! (1)

SplashMyBandit (1543257) | about 4 years ago | (#33751602)

Gave ya +1 Insightful. But you might want to look at India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (PhD from Oxford) or Germany's Angela Merkel (PhD quantum chemistry). Both very smart and did/doing great jobs. Maybe it's only the US that can't get it right (too many corporate/miltary hands on the tiller?) or the fact that Jimmy Carter's degree wasn't even a PhD (I say that holding one, and in the spirit of "The Big Bang Theory").

Frist (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33751014)

There is no first post, just a family of interconnected posts

Oblig (4, Funny)

gmuslera (3436) | about 4 years ago | (#33751016)

xkcd [xkcd.com]

Re:Oblig (1)

Dyinobal (1427207) | about 4 years ago | (#33751172)

My thoughts exactly.

Re:Oblig (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33751206)

xkcd hasn't been obligatory in years, stop posting it

Re:Oblig (1)

blair1q (305137) | about 4 years ago | (#33751394)

Nor has going anonymous.

Re:Oblig (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33751452)

I believe the parent only say obligatory because of the fact that there is an xkcd about it, which can be said of most topics posted on slashdot. I agree, obligatory might not be applicable, but there's no refuting the fact that Randall Munroe seems almost prescient in his comics, even if he's just pointing out the obvious. Hell, just on this post, I can think of three xkcd's: http://xkcd.com/386/ [xkcd.com] http://xkcd.com/301/ [xkcd.com] http://xkcd.com/14/ [xkcd.com]

Re:Oblig (5, Funny)

blair1q (305137) | about 4 years ago | (#33751366)

You know, it's no longer necessary to actually link to xkcd from /.

Just mention the number.

We'll laugh just as hard.

Re:Oblig (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33751450)

*golf clap*

Braver than I

Re:Oblig (1)

AkiraRoberts (1097025) | about 4 years ago | (#33751466)

45678

unified theory by the turn of the century (4, Funny)

Culture20 (968837) | about 4 years ago | (#33751030)

"The claim is a reversal for Hawking, who claimed in 1980 that there would be a unified theory by the turn of the century."

I think the turn of the century reversed his claim for him.

Linux not work on 48 cores? (1)

Latent Heat (558884) | about 4 years ago | (#33751070)

Feh, the next thing you are going to tell me is that Linux won't work with 48 or more cores!

Re:unified theory by the turn of the century (1)

NotBorg (829820) | about 4 years ago | (#33751240)

There's a Soviet Russia joke in there somewhere.

Re:unified theory by the turn of the century (1)

confused one (671304) | about 4 years ago | (#33751326)

Did he specify which century?

Re:unified theory by the turn of the century (2, Interesting)

jd (1658) | about 4 years ago | (#33751514)

Actually, no. I was at the talk and he actually stated that every time people predicted the end of physics, something new was discovered that revolutionized the field; that in this light he was going to predict the end of physics and the discovery of a theory of everything. As far as I'm concerned, he has achieved his objective. Something new has indeed been discovered and it does appear to have revolutionized the field.

To those who think Hawking is beyond his prime, I'll say maybe. No scientist likes to give up working in their field and Hawking has far fewer reasons than most to want to. One major contribution he can make is in describing how he models the physics in his mind. The depth of his mental agility is staggering and knowing how he achieves it would be extremely valuable. We know a little of Einstein's method, but it needs a team - I'd suggest at a minimum a physicist, an analyst trained in extracting specifications from experts whether or not the expert knows what the specifications are and an expert in thinking techniques. The idea would be that the physicist is the only one who knows what would be meaningful to ask and how to understand the answers, the analyst is the only person trained in using examples to unveil the underlying mechanisms and methods, and you still then need someone to turn this model into something that can actually be used by others.

Past His Prime (3, Insightful)

Wannabe Code Monkey (638617) | about 4 years ago | (#33751068)

I certainly hate to say it. And I certainly don't think I'm any smarter. But, Hawking is past his prime. It seems like he's been saying stuff recently just to say stuff. Maybe it's for attention, maybe it's because he knows extraordinary claims will sell headlines and his books/documentaries, or maybe it's because he actually believes in them. However, after his comments on active SETI being dangerous and now this... I don't know, it's like watching an amazing baseball player, past his prime, coaching a crappy minor league team. It's hard to criticize because I was never as good as he, and even now I couldn't manage a Denny's, but I don't really want to watch him either.

Re:Past His Prime (5, Funny)

amicusNYCL (1538833) | about 4 years ago | (#33751134)

It seems like he's been saying stuff recently just to say stuff.

Totally. He just likes to hear his own voice.

Re:Past His Prime (4, Interesting)

Wannabe Code Monkey (638617) | about 4 years ago | (#33751188)

Totally. He just likes to hear his own voice.

Now you're making me wish that I hadn't commented in this discussion just so I could mod you up. Although if I had never commented, then you wouldn't have been able to reply to me and I wouldn't have been able to mod you up anyway. Maybe some smart scientist could help us out with this paradox.

Re:Past His Prime (4, Funny)

smooth wombat (796938) | about 4 years ago | (#33751522)

Just invent a one-way time machine. Then you could mate with all the women you wanted when men become scarce (after the giraffes have long since ceased to rule the planet) then move forward in time, wait for the last photon to decay, see the Big Bang take place, take a potshot at Hitler and as the current time approaches, slow down enough to see the comments appearing, wait for someone else to make the joke then mod them up!

Of course you have to hope this universe isn't 10' higher than the previous universe.

Re:Past His Prime (4, Insightful)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about 4 years ago | (#33751228)

It happens. James Watson, who was part of the team that discovered the structure of DNA, has been saying crazier things for years. [wikipedia.org]

My favorite was his presentation on why men liked butts. Certainly funnier than his comments on race.

Scientists sometimes don't age well. We probably age better on average than rock stars, but then again people pay don't take what rock stars say as seriously as scientists.

Re:Past His Prime (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33751238)

I think he's become very bitter, and hateful of humanity, being stuck in that chair his whole life.

He's certainly a comitted pessimist, with all his doom and gloom "humanity has to die because it's bad, and I deduce all life in the universe to be evil".

Though it's becoming clear his arguments are coming from ideology, and not from physics or science.

Re:Past His Prime (1)

mwvdlee (775178) | about 4 years ago | (#33751260)

Is seems that the prime for any prodigal scientist is somewhere between the age of 20-30.

Exceptions to this rule certainly exists, but most of the well-known scientists produced their best work somewhere around that age.

Not just prodigal scientist, but pretty much all of humanity has their "creative" peak at that time, it just shows a lot more with the exceptionally gifted.

Regarding Hawking specifically, it seems rather unlikely that he can keep up with more recent science considering his disabilities; reading in itself is a much more laborious process.

Still, when he says there will never be a "theory of everything", I'm sure he's put a lot more (and better) thought into it than 99.99% of the reactions to his statement will be, including mine.

Re:Past His Prime (1)

poly_pusher (1004145) | about 4 years ago | (#33751482)

You mean prodigious. Prodigal means something entirely different. Ya know, the prodigal son. However, I have heard that early in his life, Hawking could have been described as both prodigal and prodigious.

Re:Past His Prime (1)

blair1q (305137) | about 4 years ago | (#33751426)

he was making a joke about SETI

in this, he's reflecting on the fact that from what he knows about GUTE, he doesn't know if there's a way to get there from here, and he thinks he knows there's no way to get there from here

Re:Past His Prime (3, Insightful)

deodiaus2 (980169) | about 4 years ago | (#33751454)

The comment about Hawkins being past his prime is really ugly, especially coming from you. I think Hawkins is honest enough to say that he does not know or understand something if he doesn't. Hawkins refered to himself as being lazy in his early years in college, so he does admit some of his shortcomings. Ronnie Reagan was often ignorant of the facts, but he said them with such conviction that even people who knew had to go back to check their references before retorting. We survived Ronnie, so I'm more inclined to trust Hawkins.
It might be that it takes a lifetime to learn enough physics in order to make a statement like that. Also, as someone said, the theory of everything might fall into Godel's incompleteness type of problem. Quantum physics is a patchwork of knowledge without enough theory to explain itself. Or the theory could be beyond Human understanding.

Re:Past His Prime (1)

qoncept (599709) | about 4 years ago | (#33751472)

For a scientist, Hawking sure has been making a lot of grandoise claims without a lick of evidence. What blows my mind is that people keep reporting on them.

I know I'm talkin about Hawking but... (0, Troll)

geekymachoman (1261484) | about 4 years ago | (#33751082)

... There are theories around that he probably didn't read, because of scientific prejudice towards the material.. I read a few, that are considered by scientific community as garbage, without them reading it and keeping an open mind / being skeptical.

The book is called My Big Toe, a physicist. Written by Thomas Campbell. So if someone is interested in this kind of stuff, I suggest you read it, not because of my recommendation, but because you would have one more concept/idea to keep an eye for, and try to prove or disprove what is written there, therefore help the 'movement' evolve.. make room for new ideas and concepts that will push us forward.

Being closed minded and full of prejudice doesn't help, never did.

Wisdom from DS9 (5, Insightful)

MBGMorden (803437) | about 4 years ago | (#33751086)

I'm reminded of a scene from DS9. Sure it's fiction, but it always held some sway with me:

Bashir: "Trevean was right. There is no cure. The Dominion made sure of that. But I was so arrogant, I thought I could find one in a week!"
Jadzia: "Maybe it was arrogant to think that. But it's even more arrogant to think there isn't a cure just because you couldn't find it."

Hawking a smart guy, but he by no means knows everything. Throwing in the towel and declaring that there is no right answer simply because he hasn't found it just doesn't hold much water with me. We might not figure it out for 100 years. We might figure it out tomorrow. We might NEVER figure it out, but simple logic says that there is a unified equation. It might not be simple or pretty, but if the universe operates on a consistent set of physical laws, it's out there.

Re:Wisdom from DS9 (1)

uncanny (954868) | about 4 years ago | (#33751218)

i think part of the problem is that he was going for something too big, impossible really. He was looking for an answer to life, the universe, and everything, while that's a nice thing to want, it's a little large for even his huge brain. I think him "throwing in the towel" is good because now he is focusing on finding something that is a little more realistic to find in our lifetime.

Re:Wisdom from DS9 (1)

SargentDU (1161355) | about 4 years ago | (#33751222)

Wouldn't be neat if it turns out to be something like a DNA string with certain parts inert for different scales of measure?

Re:Wisdom from DS9 (1)

Your.Master (1088569) | about 4 years ago | (#33751246)

Although I expect there is a unified equation, I don't see how simple logic says any such thing (not without the argument also being easily overturned). At best, incredibly complicated logic says that, but I'm not convinced that's even true.

Re:Wisdom from DS9 (5, Insightful)

electron sponge (1758814) | about 4 years ago | (#33751250)

"The universe is not required to be in perfect harmony with human ambition." - Carl Sagan

Re:Wisdom from DS9 (5, Insightful)

guyminuslife (1349809) | about 4 years ago | (#33751256)

Simple logic says a lot of things, some of which it turns out are not true.

Re:Wisdom from DS9 (1)

euxneks (516538) | about 4 years ago | (#33751344)

[...]but simple logic says that there is a unified equation.

Can you elaborate? The only thing I can think of is a bigger "Game of Life" type thing... Is that what you mean? Seeming complexity from simple equations?

Who's throwing in the towel? (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 4 years ago | (#33751552)

Saying that we may never find a TOE no more means that everyone should stop looking for one than saying we would find one before the turn of the century means everyone who wasn't looking one should stop what they were doing.

Both of Hawkings' statements were based on where he saw physics heading at the time. He was confident that we would find a TOE, and now he thinks that we may not.

Either way, physicists are going to continue to make theories, predictions, and observations and try to match them. They will go where the evidence directs them. If the universe is amenable to a TOE, then great. If it isn't, the it isn't, and so be it.

It might not be simple or pretty, but if the universe operates on a consistent set of physical laws, it's out there.

You're making a lot more assumptions about the universe than that it is merely consistent. How do you know the universe isn't best described by "a family of interconnected theories.. with each describing a certain reality under specific conditions"? Maybe gravity at the quantum scale really is different than gravity at other scales. Maybe these interactions can't be described by a single set of equations.

Re:Wisdom from DS9 (5, Insightful)

MortimerGraves (828374) | about 4 years ago | (#33751626)

I wonder if it may be an example of Clarke's First Law:

"When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is probably wrong."

What kind of semantic bullshit is this? (2, Interesting)

RobinEggs (1453925) | about 4 years ago | (#33751092)

Instead, they propose a "family of interconnected theories" might emerge

Which, if you read them all at the same sitting and follow all the connections, just might read like one big...unified theory.

This seems very, very close to a distinction without a difference.

Re:What kind of semantic bullshit is this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33751202)

No, it's not. A family of connected theories would support each other, but there would be gaps that none of the theories cover. A "theory of everything" would have no gaps.

Re:What kind of semantic bullshit is this? (1)

cfulton (543949) | about 4 years ago | (#33751248)

It is not simply a question of semanitcs. If you read the article, there is a good description of what they mean by interconnected theories.
They use the example of a goldfish in a curved bowl. The fish would experience a curvature of light as its reality and while it wouldn't be accurate to someone outside the bowl, to the fish it would be.
It is more like each theory is true dependent on your point of view. So, there isn't one theory, but several and the one that needs to be applied is dependent on the physical situation in question.

Re:What kind of semantic bullshit is this? (5, Informative)

onionman (975962) | about 4 years ago | (#33751414)

Instead, they propose a "family of interconnected theories" might emerge

Which, if you read them all at the same sitting and follow all the connections, just might read like one big...unified theory.

This seems very, very close to a distinction without a difference.

No, there is a very important difference. Hawking is stating that there may be "locally everywhere solutions" without a "global solution." This is a very important concept in advanced mathematics. Go read about the mathematical terms "sheaf" and "local-global principle."

Hawking is essentially saying that there very well may not be one single theory which explains everything. Instead, there may be a bunch of theories, each of which is valid only in certain areas, and which agree with one another where they overlap, even without a global solution.

For a simple example which many readers may already be familiar with, consider the complex logarithm (e.g. the natural log on the complex numbers). To make it well defined, you must make a "branch cut" and decide which branch you want to take. Different branches agree where they overlap, but there is no single global solutions... just a patchwork of solutions that agree where needed (blah, blah lift to a covering space). Pick up a book on complex analysis for details.

Emergence might be infinite... (5, Interesting)

RyanFenton (230700) | about 4 years ago | (#33751126)

I don't actually mind if this is the case. What it means then, is that new properties of aggregated matter emerge as you go up, and up in scope and scale, and that there does not have to be a set relationship on what rules must emerge.

Other than aesthetics, those emergent rules don't have to carry a thread of logic visible at all scopes. Rather, you just need to have the large number of interactions actually occur in relationship to eachother to see the combined effect, with many aspects unforeseeable by only observing the elements many magnitudes smaller.

Whether this might make the universe a more or less beautiful puzzle to figure out is open to interpretation.

Ryan Fenton

Please read this! (1)

professorguy (1108737) | about 4 years ago | (#33751378)

Everyone should read RyanFenton's post. This is a beautiful and deep analysis and, while it may be true or false, is a reasonable way to reconcile the current state of art.

Nicely done sir. I will ponder your words for weeks to come. A post like this can lift my entire assessment of humanity.

Re:Emergence might be infinite... (2, Interesting)

entrigant (233266) | about 4 years ago | (#33751380)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the very idea of emergent phenomenon the result of a complex system emerging from less complex interactions? I was always under the impression the idea of a "theory of everything" is to isolate those simple interactions that all emergent behavior stems with the idea being that perhaps, in time, the emergent behavior can be predicted or even constructed.

Perhaps emergence can go both ways.. somehow? There is no base set of rules, and no matter how far in either direction you look you find more? I don't know, but it does seem that was we increase scale the trend is one way. The larger scale systems that we can explain are explained by smaller scale systems (at least from our point of view) and not vice versa.

In the end and for all we know we may be so far from the truth that if and when we do discover it it will look nothing like what we currently understand. We have no scale or basis for comparison. I find it amazing anyone would even attempt make claims as to what "the end" of knowledge looks like.

Excuse me, Dr. Hawking? (5, Funny)

Theory of Everything (696787) | about 4 years ago | (#33751136)

I'm right here. I promise I do exist. Really.

Re:Excuse me, Dr. Hawking? (3, Funny)

neo-mkrey (948389) | about 4 years ago | (#33751208)

I'm torn -- do I give you +1 Funny or +1 Informative?? Ooops, seeing as I have now posted, you will get neither.

Re:Excuse me, Dr. Hawking? (1)

RLiegh (247921) | about 4 years ago | (#33751286)

mind blown, bricks shat.

Re:Excuse me, Dr. Hawking? (2, Funny)

toddles666 (814422) | about 4 years ago | (#33751608)

My mind would have been blown if his UUID was 42...

Re:Excuse me, Dr. Hawking? (1)

gangien (151940) | about 4 years ago | (#33751384)

yeah but with that UUID you were certainly not hear when the turn of the century happened.

Re:Excuse me, Dr. Hawking? (2, Informative)

gangien (151940) | about 4 years ago | (#33751416)

here*

aaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggggg

Re:Excuse me, Dr. Hawking? (1)

blair1q (305137) | about 4 years ago | (#33751464)

but are you unified? or just loosely connected?

check an x-ray before you answer...

Just a result of age (4, Interesting)

Troggie87 (1579051) | about 4 years ago | (#33751160)

As scientists age they become somewhat jaded, it happens to a lot of people. Hawking has seen a problem he thought was about to be solved get ever more complex while little new progress has been made. I don't blame him for changing his stance. I had a professor during my undergrad who had been a part of some of the first fusion research, and he would occasionally bring up that he didn't think it was possible. According to him, "the kids today are trying what we tried and couldn't get to work back then" (Paraphrased). Maybe doubting there is a solution to the problems you have struggled with all your life is the best way to find peace as your life winds down?

Oh, on a personal opinion note, I doubt we will ever find a *provable* theory of everything. Eventually someone will put together something that relates a lot of complex fields, but I suspect it will be something ad hoc and beyond the practical limits of humanity to test. (*cough* string theory variant *cough*)

Re:Just a result of age (1)

jschen (1249578) | about 4 years ago | (#33751594)

Oh, on a personal opinion note, I doubt we will ever find a *provable* theory of everything. Eventually someone will put together something that relates a lot of complex fields, but I suspect it will be something ad hoc and beyond the practical limits of humanity to test. (*cough* string theory variant *cough*)

One can never prove a theory of everything, but one can validate the theory against all observables. If multiple theories emerge, all of which satisfy everything observed, then I would favor the simplest one (hopefully not a theory with more variables than there are atoms in the universe). Furthermore, the more complex one must predict something different from the simpler one, or else they would be fundamentally the same. So that would lead to a testable hypothesis to choose between different theories of everything.

Personally, I think a "theory of everything" with so many variables that it cannot be falsified (some string theory, for example) is a waste of time. Look at relativity. It's a paradigm changer, yet so simple that it can be expressed by a few basic assumptions. We need more theories of that sort, giving us deep insight into reality without throwing in tons of fudge factors.

Ugh! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33751210)

I just ordered a copy of Hawkins' 'A Grand Design', and now you're telling me that it's already outdated ? Before I even got the chance to actually read it ?

What if he's right... (1)

fropenn (1116699) | about 4 years ago | (#33751292)

does that imply a limitation of the human mind? A problem with one or more of our theories? Or just a result of the incredible complexity of our universe?

stephen hawking is a hypocrite (0, Troll)

Kristopeit, Mike Da. (1905342) | about 4 years ago | (#33751296)

the theory that there is "no theory of everything" is in itself a theory of everything.

Re:stephen hawking is a hypocrite (1)

uncanny (954868) | about 4 years ago | (#33751376)

kinda like how people say athiesm is a religion?

Re:stephen hawking is a hypocrite (0)

Kristopeit, Mike Da. (1905342) | about 4 years ago | (#33751542)

kinda like how i said it.

Re:stephen hawking is a hypocrite (1)

Halifax Samuels (1124719) | about 4 years ago | (#33751446)

So you're theorizing that the theory of a theory is itself a theory.

...

Just checking. I wanted to make sure I didn't read that with any more stupid than you wrote it with.

Re:stephen hawking is a hypocrite (1)

blair1q (305137) | about 4 years ago | (#33751476)

but it excludes all theories of everything, and is therefore nonexistent itself

Re:stephen hawking is a hypocrite (1)

Kristopeit, Mike D. (1900570) | about 4 years ago | (#33751582)

which is why he is a hypocrite... at least in this dimension

So... (1)

northernfrights (1653323) | about 4 years ago | (#33751462)

Does this sort of negate his accomplishment of predicting Hawking Radiation 30 some years ago which was recently observed in a lab, thereby eliminating his chance of winning a Nobel Prize?

I mean, my physics teacher would have given me a pretty bad grade for getting 1 out of 2 questions right.

Stephen Hawking is SUCH an A-hole. (1)

Guerilla Antix (859639) | about 4 years ago | (#33751554)

-Stephen Colbert

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