When we as scientists study relativity or quantum mechanics, we most times forget that there is a raging war between these two great theories for the soul of physics.
And most times, it is when we take our time to reflect on the fundamental problems of physics that we come to remember that quantum mechanics and relativity are at war for the soul of physics.
Historically, these two theories developed independently and most of their founding fathers were at first oblivious of a coming war between the two theories.
In the early 1900s, when Max Planck and others laid the foundation of quantum mechanics and Einstein and others laid the foundation of relativity, most of them except for Einstein knew that they were really creating a crisis in physics, and in fact, the deepest crisis in physics ever.
It was after they had created these two theories that they realized that the two theories were wide apart and that they had divided the single path of physics which had hitherto been based on the continuity principle.
The newly created forked road of quantum mechanics and relativity led to two different views of the universe and they applied to two different respective domains.
Quantum mechanics, on one hand, is concerned about the world of small particles, and in this world, quantum mechanics informs us that reality is discrete, that the former classical notion of the continuum ends at the boundary of the atomic world.
While relativity, on the other hand, is concerned about the world of big objects, and in this world, relativity informs us that reality is continuous. So, the discrete nature of reality that quantum mechanics proposes does not apply in relativity.
Now, I said except for Einstein that most of the founders of quantum mechanics and relativity were oblivious of the rising war between these two theories because shortly after Einstein published his theory of general relativity in 1916, he knew that there would be a need for quantum mechanics to “modify not only Maxwellian electrodynamics, but also the new theory of gravitation.”
Einstein felt that this modification was necessary to explain the obvious stability of the atomic world despite the fact that the rotating electrons in an atom should be radiating electromagnetic and gravitational waves, and thus, should collapse into the center of the atom.
However, it was Matvei Bronstein, a Russian physicist, who as most historians of physics opine, that understood the depth and almost intractability of the problem first when he concluded that “The elimination of the logical inconsistencies… requires a radical reconstruction of the theory, and in particular, the rejection of a Riemannian geometry dealing, as we have seen here, with quantities which are unobservable in principle, and perhaps also the rejection of our ordinary concepts of space and time, replacing them by some much deeper and nonevident concepts.”
I have talked about Matvei Bronstein in one of my earlier articles. So, Bronstein conclusion proved to be true because every effort to quantize gravity failed and even Einstein’s attempt to find the unified field theory failed.
The nature of the conflict between quantum mechanics and relativity went deep and the depth of the problem was unnoticed at first.
And when it was noticed, it was underestimated. But when our predecessors focused on the problem and proceeded to unify quantum mechanics and relativity, they realized how intractable the problem was and some began to consider that there was really no such unification or that it was not needed.
Those that felt that such unification was not needed felt that since the two theories explained their respective realms accurately, there was no need to pursue any unification. We could just continue to traverse both theories to explain the universe.
This skepticism for the resolution of the problem can be seen in the historical neglect and mockery Einstein received from his contemporaries because of his search for the unified field theory, even Schrödinger is recorded to have referred to Einstein as a fool for continuing his pursuit for the unified field theory.
This was because, earlier, Schrödinger himself had also pursued the theory using Einstein’s method, so he felt Einstein should have seen that it was a dead end.
But the need for the unification of physics remains and primarily for the same reason it was sought for, which is that nature is obviously unified. When we look around, we see the obvious unity of nature.
So, our predecessors felt that quantum mechanics and relativity cannot continue to stand as two separate theories. We need to unify them to have a single theory of physics.
However, if we look at most of the unification approaches, we see that the aim is to quantize gravity. And this is because of the quantized nature of the other three fundamental forces of modern physics.
In modern physics, there are four fundamental forces, which are the electromagnetic force, the strong force, the weak force, and gravity. The first three forces are quantized in modern physics, so most physicists consider that gravity shouldn’t be any different.
This is the major thought that defines most of the approaches to unify quantum mechanics and relativity, and it is to quantize gravity like the other three forces. This aim is very dissimilar from Einstein’s approach.
To Einstein, the unification of physics entails the unification of just light and gravity, so just two forces are considered or taken into account. He did not aim to quantize gravity as he was of the opinion that quantum mechanics was incomplete.
So, his focus was on relativity and on unifying light and gravity on the background of the theory. However, one can think that in the latter end of his life, he may have sought to quantize gravity as it is said that he later incorporated quantum mechanics into his search for a theory of everything.
The story goes on in physics of the many failed attempts to unify physics even though Einstein’s attempt is the most prominent. But the story of the many failed attempts to unify physics, some of which, I believe, did not find their way to the public tells us all of the final battle for the soul of physics and the final unity of all things.
The battle between relativity and quantum mechanics is the final battle for the soul of physics because the resolution of this crisis would lead to the discovery of the unity of the macro and micro realms which are the only two divides of the universe.
Also, I take the unity of physics to be the final unity of all things because of the cosmic purpose and importance of science. At the base of all the disunity and divisions in the world is our incomplete and ununified understanding of the universe.
We cannot proceed to see the unity of all other facets of life and the human society without first seeing the unity of the universe. The knowledge of the unity of the universe is the first illumination that leads to all others.The knowledge of the unity of the universe is the first illumination that leads to all others.Click To Tweet
So, it is of world importance that the battle for the soul of physics does not continue and that we resolve the problem.
The final battle between quantum mechanics and relativity is of philosophical import as it is the reflection of the other battles of opposites raging in the world today.
We want to know the heart of physics and what constitutes the unified picture of the universe. The opposing theories in a battle for the soul of physics represent the opposite sides of the various warring philosophies in the world.We want to know the heart of physics and what constitutes the unified picture of the universe.Click To Tweet
So, the final resolution of the problem and the entrance of peace for physics is also the entrance of peace for the world. And this battle for the soul of physics has divided the scientific community into physicists who have more faith in quantum mechanics and those who do for relativity.
This situation has led to different approaches and theories that aim to unify physics and we all want to know which theory, whether quantum mechanics or relativity or a beautiful blend of both theories would win the soul of physics.
I must inform you of why it could be either quantum mechanics or relativity. It could be either theory because of their underlying basis or philosophy.
Those physicists on the side of quantum mechanics aim to quantize gravity. This is what quantum gravity really means and it is basically to give us a quantum picture of gravity. Many physicists believe that if they can achieve that, then they would have unified physics.
The other physicists are in Einstein’s camp and their aim is not to quantize gravity but to explain atomic physics using relativity. This was Einstein’s special approach and I don’t know of any prominent physicists or group applying this approach today, however, it could be that one exists.
So, Einstein’s approach may be a historical approach. And I believe why it is historical or majorly historical is because of the advancement of quantum mechanics to proposed two more forces, which are the weak and the strong forces besides the electromagnetic force and gravitational force.
But Einstein’s approach relies only on unifying light and gravity which are the only two forces that relativity recognizes. Thus, this approach may seem inappropriate and out of touch with the frontier of physics or the discovery of the other two fundamental forces.
But a second thought could be one that considers the possibility that relativity is a theory in its own right and that is different from quantum mechanics.
So, relativity can in its own right deny or ignore the other two fundamental forces of quantum mechanics, the weak and the strong forces, and focus only on light and gravity.Relativity can in its own right deny or ignore the other two fundamental forces of quantum mechanics, the weak and the strong forces.Click To Tweet
This is because these two forces are outside the concern of relativity and what really matters is if relativity can proceed to give us a more penetrating understanding of the atomic world while ignoring the weak force and the strong force.
If such an approach was successful, then it should come around to explain the nature of the atomic world and why quantum mechanics is the way it is. That is, such an approach would explain on a continuous basis of reality why the atomic world appears discrete and where the discrete behaviour comes from.
I must inform you today and in this article that this path to the unity of physics is the true path to the soul of physics and the unity of all things. Relativity is the sole theory that unifies all of physics without the assistance of quantum theory or a synthesis with quantum mechanics.
So, this article is not an inconclusive discussion of the topic or a suggestion of any possible recommendation. Rather, it is the final presentation of the truth, which is that relativity has won the battle for the soul of physics.Relativity has won the battle for the soul of physics.Click To Tweet
And with relativity, we find a simpler and complete understanding of the universe that does not involve the weak and the strong forces. This realization in itself is of profound importance to physics because it leads to another new discovery.
What is this new discovery? This new discovery in relativity is that the weak equivalence principle and the strong equivalence principle are equivalent.
This discovery by relativity and which is missing in all of physics reveals to us the error of the weak and the strong forces and why they don’t exist in the universe.
So, relativity does not incorporate the weak and the strong forces of quantum mechanics nor does it validate it, rather it denies and confronts the existence of these forces.
Relativity only recognizes the electromagnetic and the gravitational forces and it explains the whole universe on the basis of these two grand forces.
This achievement by relativity ends the long battle for the soul of physics. It brings us to the Holy Grail and to the grand jewel of our craft, which is the final illumination and knowing of the true and eternal laws of the universe.
Until next time,
I will be here.
– M. V. Echa