On 4 March 2010, New Scientist magazine published an article entitled "Knowing the mind of God: Seven theories of everything", where Michael Marshall reviewed the most promising candidates for the Theory of Everything, the Holy Grail of theoretical physics. So, what does this report card have to say - is our search for this ultimate scientific understanding going well?
One of the most striking revelations of this article is that all of the profiled candidates are quite different from each other, demonstrating that there is still no fundamental physical or theoretical agreement on the operation of our universe. Each theory is a favorite of one of a number of disparate camps within the scientific community, and each still falls under the general umbrella of our known scientific paradigm, or Standard Theory. Yet, one of the main reasons we seek such a grand theory is that it is expected to provide a clarifying simplicity and understanding that is unknown in today's science (see comparison diagram below), implying that the answer may even lie outside our Standard-Theory umbrella. Indeed, the existence of seven disparate "final theories" after centuries of scientific enlightenment, each just as strongly defended as the others by its supporters, would almost seem to insist on this being the case. No, our search for the final Theory of Everything is arguably not going well. And although we could proceed just as we are and hope for different results, it may be time to step back and consider things from an entirely new perspective.
Mark McCutcheon's controversial book, "The Final Theory", recently released in its second edition, poses a truly unique theory-of-everything candidate called Expansion Theory, which appears to contain all the attributes expected of such a grand final theory. And, perhaps tellingly, it does take a giant step outside our centuries-old science legacy to do so; and, unlike most other candidates, this theory can be tested.
One of the classic qualities of the sought-after final theory is that it should unite all four fundamental forces of nature (gravity, electromagnetism, and both strong and weak nuclear forces); identify a fundamental principle or particle that does this and you are well on your way. According to McCutcheon, a Canadian-born electrical engineer, today's most stable and ubiquitous fundamental particle, the electron, qualifies as just such an entity - provided we make the sizable leap of considering it to exhibit a new principle of constant subatomic expansion rather than endless "charge".
Within the atom, this expansion principle addresses the very subatomic structure and nature of the atom itself, replacing current quantum-mechanical models widely acknowledged as bizarre and paradoxical (which by definition means lacking sensible explanation). And, as explained shortly, the further manifestation of such expanding electrons at both the outer edge of the atom and beyond offers surprisingly simple and compelling explanations for not only gravity and atomic bonds, but also electric charge, magnetism and electromagnetic radiation. Taken together, this singular concept of an expanding electron, rather than "charged", provides potential scientific explanations for all known forms of matter and energy - the very definition of the long-sought Theory of Everything. This certainly qualifies as thinking outside of known science, as may ultimately be required for a final theory, but is it science? As McCutcheon's book shows, to sincerely answer this question it must be equally applied to today's theories as well - there must be no free passes on such important issues.
The sweeping rethink of centuries of our scientific legacy in "The Final Theory" does make its case with surprisingly compelling logical, mathematical and scientific arguments that are exceedingly, if not painfully, rare in works of "alternate science". The core concept is introduced with a new theory of gravity that springs directly from Einstein's famous elevator-in-space thought experiment where standing on Earth is entirely equivalent to being accelerated upward in space, but it replaces Einstein's "warped space-time" conclusion with a much simpler and more literal interpretation. Instead, every atom in the universe expands at a tiny universal atomic expansion rate, contributing to an overall outward expansion of our planet, causing the effect of falling objects as well as the force we feel under our feet.
And, indeed, we do regularly witness the expected results of such an underlying expansion: objects in free space are attracted together as if expanding into the space between them, and are then held together as if continually expanding against each other. If, for example, the Earth were expanding toward dropped objects, rather than somehow pulling them downward, the ground would equally approach all dropped objects, effectively causing them to fall at the same rate - regardless of mass, just as we observe. In such a universe there would be no need for Newton's still-unexplained gravitational force emanating from objects and acting across distances - and neither for Einstein's "space-time".
Intriguing, perhaps, but can this be backed by any solid experimental evidence? Einstein clearly believed Newton had gravity sizably wrong, initially following his own radically different space-elevator intuition before settling on his even more radical "warped space-time" concept, but can it actually be demonstrated that Newton and Einstein were both entirely wrong about gravity? Consider this drop-test example from the book and decide for yourself: Hang one object from another by an elastic band. The elastic initially stretches until its tension is in balance with gravity, but gravity also continues pulling on both objects just the same - always having the same unchanging and unrelenting force - trying to now accelerate both objects downward from this balanced starting configuration. If the upper object is released, gravity is finally free to immediately begin accelerating this entire system and all of its elements simultaneously and equally downward, as it does with all objects.
Crucially, this is very different from manually stretching two connected objects apart by hand then letting go, which removes one or both pulling forces from the system to allow the elastic to snap back. In the gravitational scenario everything should be constantly immersed in an ever-present gravitational field, first stretching the elastic before the drop, then accelerating this entire balanced system as a whole downward, with the objects then necessarily remaining the same distance apart, still separated by the stretched elastic. This is the expected and required result of both Newton's and Einstein's theories of gravity.
But this is not what happens. In practice, the elastic contracts during the fall, pulling the objects together. Yet, as explained above, the contraction of the stretched elastic during free-fall should not occur according to either Newton's ever-present "gravity field" or Einstein's "warped space-time continuum". But it should according to Expansion Theory, since the planet's expansion forcefully stretches the elastic before the drop, but unlike today's gravitational theories, this influence vanishes during the fall, freeing the elastic to contract as everything effectively floats while the ground approaches. This simple experiment would appear to seriously challenge both Newton and Einstein, according to the Scientific Method that states even a single negative result disproves any theory, yet it supports McCutcheon's Expansion Theory.
This raises serious questions about Einstein's theories of relativity, since Einstein's "warped space-time" hails from his General Relativity theory, which in turn follows on from his earlier Special Relativity theory. But could this be so? Consider the famous "Twin Paradox" thought experiment, where a speeding astronaut is said to return to Earth to discover he is much younger than his Earthbound twin. A fatal logical flaw in this "paradox" has been reluctantly but increasingly acknowledged over the years, since "everything is relative" in Special Relativity theory, so either twin could be considered speeding or stationary, removing any absolute age difference. But, should this fatal flaw be pointed out, focus is invariably switched away from Special Relativity since the astronaut underwent actual physical acceleration in his travels, which is exclusively the realm of General Relativity instead. This switch is generally presented as a resolution to the issue - but is it?
First, this switch to General Relativity completely invalidates the still often-claimed support for Special Relativity from both this famous thought experiment and from all related physical experiments, such as speeding particles in accelerators or atomic clocks on circling airplanes or satellites. McCutcheon details how these experiments may indeed have come to lend unwarranted support to Special Relativity. Yet this inescapable conclusion is usually not later acknowledged or discussed, leaving many with the impression that the Twin Paradox and related physical experiments still fully apply to and support Special Relativity theory.