I want to make a prediction, albeit one about which I harbor profound doubts that it will ever be verified by experiment or experience (it may simply never be recognized). Ok, focus (talking to myself here – I have a propensity to ramble … and there I go again).

So, right, here’s the deal. Let’s suppose some deity, or maybe the purported conscious universe communicating via a rock or burning bush or someat – or maybe just a super advanced bunch of aliens hovering in a spaceship above the earth, their scientific acumen and trustworthiness attested to by the fact that they’ve navigated to the earth from somewhere far far away … so, anyway, one of these things – or something else the opinions of which we should find it difficult to contest – it hands us on a silver platter a correct and complete TOE, blithely assuming we have the background to understand it, and are willing to give it a go.

So, right, here’s the deal – the real deal. I predict that by the vast majority of theoretical physicists this TOE would not be understood. Furthermore, while some few might have a notion of what it means, there is a 100% chance the TOE will contain concepts at odds with their cherished prejudices about how the universe should be described. The end result of all this generalized befuddlement and disaffection will be a tacit agreement to ignore this new TOE, to carry on tapping away at things that by mutual consent we label legitimate veins of truth.

Some might grab bits of the TOE from the silver platter on occasion and incorporate them into their own work, but without attribution, for the deity, or consciousness, or alien race, will have made the huge mistake of not publishing in a respected journal, and even worse, will not have the TOE listed in the arXiv, either because they didn’t bother trying, or because the arXiv gatekeepers saw their unusual and far too mathematical notions as unworthy and disruptive. (After all, the purported TOE doesn’t have a single Feynman diagram (all hail QFT!), so, crikey … there you are.)

Thanos was an idiot

So, let’s assume the TOE provider is an alien with the temperament of Thanos, and as punishment for our oblivious adhesion to orthodoxy decides to turn half of humanity to dust. The actual fictional Thanos did this to all life throughout the universe, and 5 years after having done so we saw an aerial view of a sports stadium – I think it was a baseball stadium in New York, so who cares … but anyway. The stadium looked unused, overgrown and rundown, for having lost half of humanity has caused … what did it cause?

1972. In the year 1972 the population of the earth was half what it is today. Was there no baseball in 1972? I seem to recall that there was baseball. I recall it. It was only 48 years ago. I was alive then. So, had the Avengers not mucked up his plans, Thanos’s big finger snap biocide would on the earth, within his lifetime, have been completely undone and the population back to where it is now. What an idiot. And anyway, he went off afterward to a seemingly uninhabited planet and became a contented farmer at peace with the universe. He could have done that without the whole finger snap incident. (And those 5 years later humanity was exceptionally mopey and depressed. Really? Think back to World War I and the 1918/19 flu epidemic that followed. Tens of millions died. Was all that horror followed by the Mopey 20s? Nay nay, it was followed by the Roaring 20s, a time of exuberance and invention. Anyway, just saying – human nature, right?)

In any case, if you’re handed a TOE on a silver platter by an alien – or even a deity – with the temperament of Thanos, act obsequious and grateful, and don’t go ignoring it until later, when the entity is well out of earshot.

All your hearts now seem so far from me
It hardly seems to matter now
And the nurse will tell you lies
Of a kingdom beyond the skies
But I am lost within this half-world
It hardly seems to matter now
Play me my song
Here it comes again
Play me my song
Here it comes again
Just a little bit
Just a little bit more time
Time left to live out my life
Play me my song
Here it comes again
Play me my song
Here it comes again

Discontented blather

Ethan Siegel, science guy for Forbes magazine, wrote an article entitled: No, The Universe Is Not Purely Mathematical In Nature. I couldn’t let this pass, so supplied the following comment everywhere I encountered the article, and comments were allowed:

“This by and large relates to the interface between reality and sentience – in this case, human. Delete all sentience from the universe and very little changes; the universe goes on as it had, despite there being nothing in the universe trying to understand. There are rules, and they are not based on magic. There are mathematical concepts that transcend any requirement of sentience to think them up. Prime numbers is a simple example. The universe isn’t going to quit working just because no sentient being is testing its validity, and mathematics underlies how it works, and even why it exists.”

I generally like Ethan’s posts, but he is mainstream, accustomed to thinking … well, here’s a quote from Sydney Coleman I encountered on LinkedIn:

“The career of a young theoretical physicist consists of treating the harmonic oscillator in ever-increasing levels of abstraction.”

The poster agreed with this, as did many of the commenters. The point is, Ethan’s view of what constitutes physics, and what constitutes mathematics, … ah, I see I’m about to go down a very well trodden path. So, uh, yeah … Thanos. What an idiot.

Here’s a quote from a recent Scientific American blog about scientific advances – especially the big ones:

“In fact, it may be necessary for pioneers to face the headwind of rejection for a while, or their idea might eventually be credited to the mainstream. An innovator has to persevere through an initial denial phase, as Weiss did, during which the mainstream rejects the idea so publicly that the proposer can later wear the rejection as a badge of honor. Under more typical circumstances, when a new idea is simply ignored, there is a real danger that mainstream proponents will claim it for themselves after introducing some cosmetic variations to its presentation.”

Over the last 20 years I’ve seen ominous signs that history is trending in this direction regarding my own work in theoretical physics. Is this hubris? Pshaw! My ideas are fundamentally correct, so no. (My PhD advisor used to say I had a hotline to god, so there you are. I have the silver platter to prove it.) People aware of my work are occasionally inspired, seemingly, not to build on its intractable ideas, but inspired by its Gestalt – by the idea that there could be an algebraic foundation to a TOE hitherto undiscovered and unincorporated – so they construct their own. It becomes a hobby among many fringe theorists – like being a ham radio enthusiast, or a computer hacker. Whatever. Cosmetic variations indeed.

How does one prepare oneself psychologically for this looming chunk of ineluctability? What are we even talking about? Who says things like “looming chunk of ineluctability”, and what does this refer to? I’m leaving. My Victory Garden isn’t going to grow itself.