Saturday, July 09, 2005

A Theory of Everything, Occam's Razor, and Baseball

A theory of everything
is a theory of theoretical physics and mathematics that fully explains and links together all known physical phenomena (i.e. "everything"). Initially the term was used with an ironical connotation, to refer to various overgeneralized theories....Over time, the term stuck in popularizations of quantum physics to describe a theory that would unify the theories of the four fundamental interactions of nature.

There have been numerous theories of everything proposed by theoretical physicists over the last century, but as yet none has been able to stand up to experimental scrutiny or there is tremendous difficulty in getting the theories to produce even experimentally testable results. The primary problem in producing a TOE is that quantum mechanics and general relativity have radically different descriptions of the universe....

There is...a philosophical debate within the physics community as to whether or not a "theory of everything" should be seen as the fundamental law of the universe. One view is the hard reductionist view that the TOE is the fundamental law of the universe and that all other theories of the universe are a consequence of the TOE. Another view is that there are laws which Steven Weinberg calls free floating laws which govern the behavior of complex systems, and while these laws are related to the theory of everything, they cannot be seen as less fundamental than the TOE. Some argue that this explanation would violate Occam's Razor if a completely valid TOE were formulated.

Occam's Razor notwithstanding, I'm in favor of "free floating laws" which, taken together, are the theory of everything, but which otherwise seem to operate independently. Baseball serves as a metaphor:
  • There are rules for determining the "quantum events" of a game (e.g., balls, strikes, walks, strikeouts, errors, hits, runs, and outs).
  • The quantum events of each team's innings determine the outcome of each game, which is another quantum event (a team either wins or loses a game).
  • Another set of rules determines how wins and losses determine the standing of each team relative to the other teams in its division.
  • Yet another set of rules determines how a team's position in its division affects its advancement to post-season play.
  • A final set of rules determines the outcome of post-season play, in which individual games are decided by the quantum events of the first and second bullets.
Distinct sets of rules determine microcosmic outcomes (e.g, individual events in a game) and macrocosmic outcomes (e.g., the winner of the World Series). But those distinct sets of rules are connected systematically. Perhaps physicists should try to understand the connectedness of the various laws of physics instead of seeking a single law that explains all physical phenomena.