Posted by Rob on 3 August, 2006 at 7:18 pm. 2 comments already!


By Robert Farrow

Imagine you are an intelligent carp living in a pond. Also imagine you are a scientist. You know nothing for certain of the world beyond the pond and the water’s edge. Many other carp scientists have wondrous theories, but alas, nothing concrete. Perhaps one day it rains, and the carp scientists see lilies on the pond mysteriously move around all by themselves, unaware of the raindrops influence.

Now imagine a world called flatland, where there is length and width but no height. The world is infinitely flat. Say a strange visitor called a ball decided to pay the residents of flatland a visit. To the residents there, the visitor would appear as a slice of a circle whose dimensions constantly changed in size. If the ball picked up one of the residents, he would appear to his flat friends as magically disappearing, and would magically reappear when returned.

When I was younger I use to believe that through physics that man would best understand the mind of God. I did not, and still do not see anything contradictory between physics and religion. On the contrary, various aspects of physics actually confirm the existence of God for me. But as I delved deeper into the strange world of physics, I realized that the world is not only stranger then I imagined, it is stranger then I can imagine.) For instance, the subatomic world is filled with ghostly phantoms where it is impossible to know exact details. Time and length changes as you speed up and slow down. And the universe may be made up of strings and filled with more dimensions then one can imagine. But it gets even weirder. Try to imagine a particle breaking up into two fragments, and imagine later they are even separated by great distances.  Any observation on one of the fragments instantly affects the reality of another fragment. Another interesting fact is that light also has both the properties of a particle and a wave, depending on the observation. Also, light acts like a wave through a vacuum, despite the fact there is no medium to carry the wave. Some of these facts come from a theory the Quantum theory, and Einstein hated it. His celebrated retort “God does not play dice.” is a rejection of the randomness and fuzziness of the Quantum world. Quantum mechanics has been tested for almost a century, and is quite correct. But is it misleading, because our reality is misleading because we too are trapped in a pond? 

Perhaps the ghostlike action at a distance and light duality is the result of viewing a multidimensional world while stuck in three dimensions.  Let us go back to flatland and their science. It does not take a genius to realize the physics in a two-dimensional world will be different then ours. Like carp in a pond, the universe they live in utterly affects their science and their life. Physicists realize this and try to probe into the hidden borders of this world. However, to test most of their theories require energies well beyond the dreams of man for perhaps centuries. These Plank energies are quite unreachable, which begs the question, “Is it really possible for man to really understand this grand and amazing Universe?” Besides, at least to me, what happened before the big bang seems just as much a question of faith as where did God come from.

I have found it amusing the many predictions from amateur scientists predicting one day mankind will one day solve the “Theory of Everything” and there will be nothing left to ask. Personally, a Universe with no questions left to solve is a Universe with no mystery and quite a dull place to live in. I also think it is an underestimation of the grandeur of the Universe and an overestimation of the mind of man. History does not support this assumption. Many particle theorists are surprised and discouraged at the zoo of particles that have been discovered after believing the Standard Model was the end all of particle theory. There has been a plethora of Grand Unified Theories that are no closer to the goal then Einstein’s unfinished papers left on his deathbed in the 50’s. I expect this trend to continue, that deeper we go down the rabbit hole, the stranger and more wonderful the universe will become.  

Again, part of the problem might lie with the fact we live in only three dimensions, and the universe might have as many as 26. This crazy scenario started with the discovery by scientists that many theories become unified when higher dimensions are evoked. For instance, Maxwell’s electromagnetic field equations and Einstein’s equations are found in a theory called Kaluza- Klein, which has the 5th dimension curled up in a little ball. But this is one of the few successes. No one has unified Einstein’s gravity and quantum mechanics. This is the holy grail on physics. Solve this one and you never have to work again. But is it truly possible to understand the true nature of the universe or are we just carp in the pond? Is our understanding of this universe we live in a fiction, a myth, because we are trapped into a small corner of it, or are all the secrets of the universe available to us through the tools of science?

Perhaps it is my romanticism, but I cannot imagine a worse universe then a universe with no mystery. And I do think some things are beyond the mind of man, but not perhaps the mind of God. 

( thanx to Michio Kaku for borrowing the Carp idea.)


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