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From a 2022 review by a philosopher, of a 2021 book I haven't read by a physicist, quoting from a 1998 book I haven't read by a physicist:

What’s Eating the Universe is undoubtedly a very interesting book. Davies presents a concise summary of the latest state of research in cosmology and elementary particle physics, and shows us the links between exact science and many significant philosophical problems.

Physicists can explain the evolution of the universe as far back as the first split second. It’s one of the greatest scientific achievements. So far, it has not been possible to combine quantum mechanics with general relativity and formulate a “theory of everything” (TOE, or quantum gravity). However, in A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking has written that “if we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason - for then we would know the mind of God”. Davies would probably agree with that view.

P.s. Hawkings said in 2014 “What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God’ is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an atheist.”

P.p.s. Paul Davies had a controversy where he apparently compared scientists belief in immutable laws to religious faith, but seems to have complained he wasn't directly equating them.

P.p.p.s. I didn't intend this question to be about religion or faith Vs science at all. I find it strange that Hawkings was misleading in his popular book (saying God. Also saying 'we and the universe exist' as if separate), and then I think misleading in his later statement in the opposite way (because if we don't know why there's a universe, how do we know there wasn't a mental creator of it, given that we have evidence that minds which can create things can evolve within a universe).

P.p.p.p.s to qualify as a physical 'theory of everything', should it also explain phenomenal consciousness? (why and where qualia), and might that help know why there's a universe?

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  • OT: I'm with you on Paul Davies. Any scientist who believes there are immutable laws is like a religious fundamentalist. The so-called laws aren't laws at all: they are a set of observations which evolve over time. Newton wasn't wrong, but incomplete. It's almost as though that kind of scientist has transferred the history of science to themself; and they personally control nature. Earlier, there was a pivotal moment when it was realised that planets orbit the sun, not the earth, and I wonder whether another fundamental shift in understanding is yet to come, that simplifies something. Oct 17, 2023 at 18:39
  • We might never discover that there is a determinate causal total "at all," or an ensemble of such cosmoi, or perhaps even weirder things besides. But so "proven," "everything," and "why there is a proof of all these things" are demanding tasks to set ourselves; we are minded to be cautious about our ability to achieve them in some ultimate and permanent manner. Oct 17, 2023 at 20:25
  • Reading more of the Davies controversy, he seems to be a deist who suspects we're the only life in the universe, plus he can't imagine how we could get qualia out of just atoms (what about some form of panpsychism). I think he wants the existence of the 'laws' themselves to be given more scientific attention because he suspects they've been set specifically here for us to develop.
    – Yop
    Oct 17, 2023 at 21:57
  • A “Theory of Everything” would unify all four forces under a single framework. As such, this question belongs on Physics.SE, since so few here are qualified to even discuss this subject. I’d note: a TOE has nothing to do with qualia. TOEs are an issue for particle physics and cosmology, Quantum Physics and General Relativity.
    – Hokon
    Oct 17, 2023 at 23:57
  • Per Wikipedia Hawkings later said that a ToE is impossible.
    – Brian Z
    Oct 18, 2023 at 0:11

3 Answers 3

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If we had a correct theory of literally everything then yes it would by definition explain the origin of the universe, consciousness, and every other problem. However, the term Theory of Everything has a narrower scope than its literal meaning suggests. Physicists would be happy to claim they had a theory of everything if they could find a single formulation that accounted for quantum mechanics and general relativity, and that wouldn't necessarily shed light on what, if anything, happened before the Big Bang.

On a separate note, I do not know why Stephen Hawking held the view that a TOE should be understandable by everyone. It seems patently obvious that most of theoretical physics is anything but easy to understand, even in general terms.

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  • He said understandable "in broad principle". The unanswered question is what clues would that give us to why there's a universe.
    – Yop
    Oct 19, 2023 at 20:10
  • @yop thanks, yes I'd spotted that. I think my objection to what he said is that if you make the principles broad enough for everyone to understand, most of what is important to understand gets lost. Oct 19, 2023 at 20:38
  • I assumed you had just left it out. What's important could be e.g. spacetime isn't fundamental but emerges from something else, which could have obvious implications for why universe.
    – Yop
    Oct 19, 2023 at 20:44
  • @yop, yes, agreed. There could be all kinds of unexpected findings which might or might not shed light on why the Universe exists. I think the key point from the perspective of your question is that in the world of physics the success criteria for the declaration of a TOE don't necessarily include the ability to explain why the Universe exists. Oct 19, 2023 at 21:27
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Yes. A theory of how will not necessarily explain why. Why not nothing? It would be simpler. Was the transition from nothing to something spontaneous?

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By formulating a theory - by definition - you admin that you do not know how something works, because if you knew, you would not need a theory, you would just know. A theory is just a representation, not an explanation. And a representation is always abstract; you cannot account for everything. A "true" "theory of everyting" would consist of knowing simultaneously every state of everything in the world. Only then you would know the why's.

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