Science fiction and the theory of everything

Well, they are having another go at cracking the theory of everything – for those that don’t know it’s the unification of all the laws of physics into one big theory. Archimedes (he of the Eureka fame) was probably the first to propose that what happened in nature could be predicted through the use of axioms. Albert Einstein had a go at solving it, but what he published in 1930 was found to be inadequate. Since then many famous names in physics have had a go, only to find themselves nibbling away at the edges. One day, they’ll solve it, but given they’ve taken this long about it, the theory of everything will not be simple!

So what if they actually did succeed and answer all the questions physics has to throw at us?

There would then be no uncertainty about whether or how many parallel universes there were. Nor would there be any uncertainty about how big our universe was, or how many dimensions it really had. The list goes on, but the bottom line would be we would know exactly what the universe was like.

The consequences for science fiction are hugh. The number of worlds science fiction writers could write about would be drastically reduced, otherwise their work would be classed as fantasy. Don’t get me wrong, there would still be zillions of places to set your science fiction story in, and therefore plenty of scope for writers to flex their keyboard over. But the imagination would be more constrained.

But there is a psychological consequence that would have more impact. If we know everything that could happen, then one of the fundamental motivations for writing science fiction, namely exploring the possible ways in which science can change and what it would mean for humanity would fall be the wayside.

The writers would only be left with engineering the universe’s resources within the laws of the physics. True, this could lead to many potential scenarios, which would still make science fiction useful as a debating tool for what we want to do with our futures. But the dreamers amongst the science fiction readers will have wandered off elsewhere.

But there is one get out of gaol (=jail for our American friends), which comes from maths (did I hear a lot of people groan just now?) A solution to any set of equations comprises a single solution that gives the answer combined with any one of solutions that give a zero answer. We could have a whole swathe of answers. What if the the new theory of everything picks the wrong solution for the zero answer?

Yep, you’ve guessed it… we still have the ability to come up with imaginary worlds. Only they’ll be harder to find, both in reality and our imaginations.

So all I can say is that despite the threat of the theory of everything has to science fiction, may science fiction live long and prosper.


4 thoughts on “Science fiction and the theory of everything

  1. I remember when I was a little kid, someone told me that scientists had no idea what the aurora borealis really was. So I made up a ton of stories about what it could be. I felt like there was something magical that existed in our world, that we could see and point at—”It’s RIGHT THERE! Magic!”
    Then when I found out what the aurora borealis actually was, I was heartbroken. I felt like all those stories had gone to waste, and something that looked fantastical was actually mundane and boring.
    So part of me hopes they never figure it all out. And part of me agrees with your last point, that there will still be room for science fiction.

  2. Thank you both for your kind comments…
    Alison – I know what you mean, but I still hope one day to see the aurora borealis for myself.
    Both your comments make me wonder whether I ought to self-publish a set of essays on the subject of the relationship between science and science fiction in its various guises… but first have to understand quantum theory…

  3. I doubt there will ever be a theory of everything for the simple reason no one can explain why the Mickelson Morley experiment got a positive result, even if it was smaller than calculated. Then you have to just look at quantum physics!

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