Last month Stephen Hawking, the physicist who suggested in his book A Brief History of Time that scientists were on the verge of discovering a theory of everything, changed his mind. We may have to make do with never understanding the universe completely, he now contends.
A theory of everything would be the ultimate in scientific determinism and the equation would be so powerful that to know it would be to "know the mind of God", Professor Hawking once famously remarked. His decision to abandon the hunt is outlined in a paper posted online at www.damtp.cam.ac.ukstrtstdirachawking. In "Godel and the End of Physics", Professor Hawking describes how ideas put forward by the late mathematician Kurt Godel all but rule out a theory of everything. Godel developed a series of mathematical paradoxes that could not be proved. If there were such mathematical conundrums, then there must be physical problems, such as understanding the universe, that will also be beyond us, Professor Hawking argues.
"Most people have implicitly assumed that there is an ultimate theory that we will eventually discover. Indeed, I myself have suggested we might find it quite soon," Professor Hawking writes. However, he claims that knowing that some things will forever remain unknown will keep scientists motivated. "I'm now glad that our search for understanding will never come to an end, and that we will always have the challenge of new discovery.
Without it, we would stagnate," he adds.