Physics has undoubtedly changed the way we perceive our planet and the mysterious cosmic hob nob which lies beyond. What started as Earth being the centre of the Universe centuries ago, gave way to a graceful notion of a heliocentric solar system by Copernicus. This was further authenticated by a genius whom we owe the very reason of why we don’t fall off the surface of Earth. Sir Isaac Newton as we know him and his famous apple can be credited for the idea which governs the gravitational forces of not only the things on earth but every single mass in the entire universe. Gradually with the emergence of electromagnetic and nuclear forces on the scene, physicists all around the world were faced with a new challenge to allow all fundamental forces and elementary particles (bosons) to be explained in terms of a single theory or in other words a ‘Theory of Everything’.
Going by the records, the first successful attempt can be credited to James Clerk Maxwell who showed that electricity and magnetism were actually different manifestations of the same underlying phenomenon – electromagnetism. Later, Einstein explained that gravity (under theory of general relativity) and electromagnetism (under theory of special relativity) is a consequence of the unification of space and time into an entity we now call spacetime. Since then, physicists have successfully unified the strong and weak nuclear interactions together with quantum electrodynamics to form the Standard Model of quantum physics. However, the current obstacle to a fully unified field theory is to explain gravity with the above model of electronuclear force or in other words to unify quantum physics with general relativity.
Well as far as religion is concerned, there have never been any half measures. All major religions talk about one and only one true God, the unique force that controls the entire cosmos. Hinduism for instance is a colourful encyclopedia of millions of Gods and Goddesses but still describes the existence of only one supreme cosmic spirit, the param Brahma. The numerous gods may be considered as mere manifestations of the divine form which allows Hindus to respect its’ presence in any shape or size. And talking of shapes, according to ancient Hindu scriptures, all elementary composition in this universe is explained as:
Shatapatha Brahmana (18.104.22.168) – “Sun and rest of the universe are woven in string. What is that string that is Vayu.” (Vayu here refers to ether which is all pervading)
Kathashruti (2.2) – “Vayu has entered the universe and taken the shape of every object in the universe”
These small little snippets which talk about strings as building blocks of composition are really interesting. Not because you can imagine all matter to be woven fabrics but because the foremost theory in present-day physics which is trying to pave the way for a unified field theory is – you guessed it right- “The String Theory”.
To be understood completely this theory requires 10 or 11 dimensions and not just 4 (three-dimensional space and time). What’s more hard to comprehend is the belief that the extra hidden dimensions are curled up at micro levels. Now, not only is this difficult to visualize but mathematically impractical too because it would require an all new mathematical model to solve probably.
Roger Penrose, a mathematical physicist at Oxford University, believes that if a “Theory of Everything” is ever developed in physics to explain all the known phenomena in the universe, it should at least partially account for consciousness. Consciousness today is no longer just the purview of mystics like Deepak Chopra but scientists all over the world are seeking to explain how brain functions produce that illusion of a out-of-body experience. Some notable scientists like the late Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, and his colleague Christof Koch believed that different aspects of consciousness like visual awareness are encoded by specific neurons but there are many others with different views.
Since almost every religion talks about consciousness as the destination to the one absolute truth and meditation as the right path to tread, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that all our spiritual leaders have had their taste of the theory of everything in this universe. Perhaps physics can one day explain all of this. Or maybe on the other hand we might actually need a conscious mind to make sense of the pursuit in the first place.