Theories of Everything

Paul Davies. Superforce; The Search for a Grand Unified Field Theory of Nature. Heinemann, 1984.

Paul Davies. God and the New Physics. Dent, 1983.

Superforce offers further examination of the fringes of cosmology and physics. If indeed the whole of the universe can be described, as Davies suggests, in terms of a single 'superforce', it leaves very little room for alleged paranormal forces. Certainly, unless the alleged facts of psychical research can be definitely verified and related mathematically to the general corpus of physical theory, it is most unlikely that the majority of scientists will take much note of them. "

On the other hand, those with a Fortean cast of mind will point out that much of this book is curiously unreflective old-fashioned natural theology, combined with the belief that physics is on the verge of the final discovery; and is very reminiscent of the physics seen at the turn of the last century. Davies equates truth and beauty, without even contemplating the probability that beauty is culturally relative. Nowhere is the possibility of general cultural influences on science discussed; and the old game goes on of rendering God in one's own image in this case as the divine mathematician.

The account of the spontaneous, uncaused emergence of space-time out of a dimensionless void is an interesting modern myth which has some similarities with the evolutionary cosmos of the Polynesian creation chants.

God and the New Physics is an admirable survey of the philosophical and theological implications of the latest frontiers in physics and cosmology, Davies argues that science offers a clearer route to God than religion, about which he says some harsh things. Cosmologists are now searching for a single mathematical formula which would explain the origin of "the universe, mind and everything" from a quantum of fluctuation in a dimensional void.

Davies argues that reality can be perceived at both reductionist and holistic levels, and that the mistakes of classical dualism and materialism lie In their failure to appreciate this. Mind and body are seen not as two separate iterating 'things', but two entirely different concepts, "drawn from different levels in a hierarchy of description". In particular, mind is to be regarded as the higher level description of the pattern of activity within the brain.

Many ideas expressed at the frontiers of modern physics are extraordinary, such as naked singularities as interfaces between the natural and supernatural. John Wheeler's suggestion that a present-day observer could be partly responsible for organising the universe in the remote past, or Davies's concluding speculations concerning a hierarchy of possible extraterrestrial agents, culminating in a 'supreme mind' the universe as a living being (how Charles Fort would have loved that), Clearly these represent speculations 'out on a limb', and I am not sure that many physicists would want to go that far.

Nevertheless it is significant that these speculations are founded on mainstream physics, and are far more imaginative than many of the unimaginative and old-fashioned 'theories' in psychical research and ufology.

Additional speculations occur to me, such as: Some physicists stress the central role of self-consciousness in the organisation of the universe; events 'crystallize' when observed. Some anthropologists stress the importance of social interaction in the development of self-consciousness. Put these two principles together and you have ... ?

If life and mind are emergent properties, then does human society as a whole possess 'higher level' properties, no more accessible to individual human beings than this magazine is accessible to individual neurons?

Wheeler, Davies and others tend to complain about 'paranormalists' abusing their work. But if they really take the speculations such as those in this book even half seriously what possible theoretical objection have they, not only to any number of anomalistic experiences; if they don't take them seriously, but simply put them in to add to the excitement, don't they deserve what they get? --Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 19, May 1986.

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