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Q: If we find a “Theory of Everything” will we be done?

By Posted On/July 5, 2010

Posted in Interesting

Physicist: Not even close.

One could even make the argument that finding the theory of everything (often called “unified field theory”) is just the start of the real science. The theory of everything (TOE) will finally tie together all of the fundamental forces, describe the behavior of every type of particle, and explain in fine detail how space and time behave in all cases.

We’ve seen unifying theories before (not the unifying theory) and they don’t generally answer questions on their own, but merely provide tools to explain things later on down the line. For example; in several strokes of the quill Newton unified the “make apples fall” force with the “swing planets around” force under the umbrella of “universal gravitation”.

With universal gravitation (which says that gravitational force is: , where M and m are the different masses involved) you can quickly explain why the Moon goes around the Earth, why all orbits are elliptical, and even why planets, Stars, Moons, and the Earth are round.

What you can’t explain, without buckets of math (and often as not: computer power), are things like phase lock, Lagrange points, and why many galaxies have spiral arms. Even worse, you can’t actually solve problems involving 3 or more objects. You can exactly write down how two objects will orbit each other, but as soon as there are three, the best you can do is approximation. This is called the “three body problem”, and it’s likely to remain unsolvable forever.

So, a theory of everything, while it would be able to describe the details of how all forces and particles interact on all levels, would still only be a set of equations. And having the equations is pretty different from having the solutions to those equations, and really different from understanding the implications of those solutions.