If not, it’s big trouble for the present state of materialist, physicalist physics, i.e. the Standard Model, with its supernatural Big Bang cosmogenesis. The Standard Model has perhaps succeeded in unifying the Electromagnetic Force with the Weak Force to become the Electroweak Force, but if a TOE is not logically possible, neither is any future “Grand Unified Theory” (GUT) unification of the Electroweak Force with the Strong Force, much less a TOE unification of such a GUT with the gravity of Einstein’s General Relativity (GR).
It seems that the adventitious quest for an objectivist physicalist TOE has provided a cognitive distraction—to scientists and philosophers of all stripes—from the real work, namely, the noetic integration of matter/form, including the quasi-physical quantum vacuum potential and M-Theory, with their singular nondual ultimately subjective spirit/emptiness ground. This is the real work of the emerging noetic science of matter, mind and spirit of the Noetic Revolution that is now upon us.
The essential mathematical principle of theory incompleteness expressed in Platonic/mathematical realist Kurt Gödel’s two 1931 incompleteness theorems (“On Formally Undecidable Propositions of Principia Mathematica and Related Systems”), and the greatly enhanced 1936 Gödel-Rosser Theorem—which together proved the inconsistency of the logicism (reduction of mathematics to formal logic) of Frege’s brilliant new logic, and of Russell’s and Whitehead’s monumental Principia Mathematica—points to the untenability of any pretense to a mathematical physicalist “theory of everything” (TOE). How shall we understand this?
Gödel’s two proofs are understood by mathematicians and logicians as proof that no complete axiomatic system that is arithmetically expressive enough (Peano’s postulates) to include the properties of natural numbers can prove all of its internal logical/mathematical truths. Or worse (for Russell, Hilbert and logical formalism): all axiomatic systems that are internally self-consistent are inconsistent! Gödel’s two theorems state that 1) any such system is either inconsistent (a proposition and its denial can both be deduced from the axioms), or 2) it is incomplete (there is a true proposition within the system that cannot be deduced from the axioms). Now, any Theory of Everything (e.g. Superstring Theory/M Theory) must be comprised of internally consistent, non-trivial mathematical theorems. Therefore they must be incomplete. So, no logical system can capture all of mathematics, Russell and Whitehead were wrong, and the hope of a logically consistent Theory of Everything is kaput!
Not only are the mathematics of Relativistic Quantum Field Theory (QFT) and Quantum Electrodynamics (QED) incomplete (nonlocality; renormalization, incompatibility with GR’s gravity); and the mathematics of QCD is incomplete (the problem of neutrino mass), but any future TOE candidate is logically necessarily incomplete. Alas, this must include the mathematics of the many component theorems of the post-quantum, post-Standard Model TOE candidates String Theory/M-Theory, and Loop Quantum Gravity. What’s a physicist to do?
Let us here remember that the hope of a physicalist TOE is based in the dubious metaphysical assumption of Scientific Realism/Materialism (Physicalism), which is that all of appearing reality is 1) physical (or reducible to purely physical brain) and 2) somehow exists independently of our sensory, experimental, conceptual and belief systems. That is to say, any physicalist TOE flies in the face of the Postmodern truth of interdependent, perspectival ontological relativity (we cognitively create and reify our realities via our deep background cultural intersubjective concept/belief systems), and begs the question of the epistemic truth of Scientific Realism (an observer- independent, separate “real world out there” (RWOT), and its ontic cohort Scientific Materialism, what there is, is all just physical. Shall we then surrender (wu-wei) our deep, strongly held belief in the metaphysic of Scientific Realism/Materialism?
The current Science/physics Paradigm presents a highly idealized picture or model of the great unbounded whole (mahabindu) of kosmos, reality itself. Philosophy of physics has demonstrated that the fundamental laws of this objectivist physicalist paradigm cannot verify or confirm any actual existence of appearing objects of spacetime reality. Rather, most quantum physicists and cosmologists agree that the laws of physics confirm objects in a particular conceptual model of reality. This model is usually the observer-independent, theory-independent view of Scientific Materialism. Then, in spite of the observer-dependent, theory-dependent anti-realist Copenhagen view of QFT, and the new Quantum Bayesian interpretation of QFT, let alone Buddhist Madhyamaka, the metaphysical leap is made to a purely physical RWOT. Let’s get physicists, philosophers of physics and Buddhist scholar/practitioners in symposia!
Stephen Hawking (The Grand Design, 2010) has at last departed his old paradigm, theory-independent Realism with its hope for a physicalist TOE (in A Brief History of Time, 1996) and has now adopted an anti-essentialist, antirealist theory-dependent view which he terms “positivist,” i.e. it is ontologically relative with no posit or assumption of a theory-independent independently existing reality “out there” at all.
In the intellectual wake of the subjective shock of consistent, alternative non-Euclidian geometries, (which one of them gives us the real reality?), and the radically subjectivist quantum theory with its growing negative impact on the objectivist bias of science, philosophy and culture, we begin to see the inherent ontological relativity and relational interdependence of the knowing, experimenting subject with its object, the data. We see this not only in Modernist physics and cosmology, but in Postmodern biological, cognitive and social sciences as well.
So even in the “hard” sciences, and in philosophy and religious studies as well, steeped as we are in Modernist Scientific Realism/Materialism, still, we increasingly observe the view that reality as it appears to the senses is empty (shunyata) of any absolute, inherent objective existence or attributes (nirguna) independently of a sentient observer/experiencer/experimenter. Rather, we reify our objective realities via conceptual designation.
The quantum theory has greatly facilitated such an ontologically relative perspective. In this relative view reality appears only nominally and interdependently (pratitya samutpada), just as the middle way Nalanda Buddhists have always told. That is to say, appearing reality is observer/theory-dependent, not observer/theory-independent. Subject/object are in an interdependent co-relationship, an intersubjective interrelated co-dependent, co-terminus unity or whole and cannot ultimately be rationally, logically, conceptually or contemplatively separated or deconstructed (Boaz 2012, Wallace 2012, Sheldrake 2012).
Of course, relative-conventionally speaking, subject and object are normally perceived and “known” to be separate. So it is urgent to remember the prior unity. Why? Because if sentient life on earth, and earth herself, are experienced and known by human consciousness to be an interdependent ultimate unity—“we’re all in this together”—our destructive self-sense, the fearful angry aggressive ego-I will be less inclined to abuse another, or to take the life of another, including our earth. Perhaps then we’ll be a bit more kind, and thus a bit happier.
Both Stephen Hawking and Freeman Dyson (and many others) have been disabused of the physicalist TOE cognitive urge thanks to these seminal logical-mathematical proofs of Gödel and Rosser (Boaz 2012, “Post-Quantum Logic” p. 77). Unfortunately, many theoretical physicists and cosmologists still hold to the TOE “hope for a miracle,” thus the evolution of Ed Witten’s brilliant synthetic post-Standard Model super-symmetric M-Theory will continue to evolve, and an elegant, more inclusive theory—if not a TOE—shall surely emerge. Then, when that future M-Theory is eventually surpassed, the unifying elegance of its mathematics will continue to serve, just as some of the “truths” of Copernican, Galilean, Newtonian, Einsteinian and Quantum Field Theory shall all live on in that next more inclusive, but ever incomplete theory on the ultimate nature of consciousness reality being itself. It’s good to remember that we are all instantiations of That.