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Is a theory of “almost” everything the best we can do?

What think you?

P.-M. Binder of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Hawaii at Hilo
thinks that David Wolpert, writing in Physica D (Wolpert, D. H. Physica D 237, 1257–1281 (2008) has demonstrated “that the entire physical Universe cannot be fully understood by any single inference system that exists within it”:


In proving his theorems,Wolpert defines U as the space of all world-lines (sequences of events) in the Universe that are consistent with the laws of physics. He then defines strong inference as the ability of one machine to predict the total conclusion function of another machine for all possible set-ups. Finally, he uses ‘Cantor diagonalization’ (Box 1) to prove, among others, the following two statements:


(1) Let C1 be any strong inference machine for U. There is another machine, C2, that cannot
be strongly inferred by C1.
(2) No two strong inference machines can be strongly inferred from each other.

The first of these statements posits that there is a portion of ‘knowledge space’ (that inferable by C2) that is not available to any C1 machine. The second is a statement about the non-equivalence of inference machines; it implies that, at most, only one machine at one instant in time can infer all others. The two statements together imply that, at best, there can be only a ‘theory of almost everything’.

Memo to LaPlace’s demon: Get a job, Mr. Know-it-all.

Citation: Nature 455, 884-885 (16 October 2008) | doi:10.1038/455884a; Published online 15 October 2008

A provocative contribution to the logic of science extends the theorems of Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing, and bears on thinking about prediction, the standard model of particles, and quantum gravity. (paywall)


Also just up at Colliding Universes:

Quantum mechanics and popular culture: Artist’s kit offers chance to produce trillions of new universes

Alfred Russel Wallace on why Mars is not habitable

How can extra dimensions of space be detected?

“When I say it, it’s science, when he says it, it’s religion!”

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One Response to Is a theory of “almost” everything the best we can do?

  1. Honestly neo-Darwinian psychology and logic is used as a sort of “theory of everything.” If somebody saves someone else it is because our genes have evolved so that a species will survive better if a person sacrifices himself to save others. If a bird has certain colors it is maintained that this is because it has a survival advantage or because it helps to attract mates. Then, on such things as why people people laugh it can be postulated that it evolved because without laughter man would become too depressed and commit suicide, resulting in extinction. Other things, such as sarcasm, evolved not because it is useful, but rather as a “fluke” in the brain. Essentially it is just a by-product of the brain. (I heard somebody suggest this on a forum one time.)

    However, the neo-Darwinian theory-of-everything has some problems. Mainly: not much testing has been done on it. But when it is, such as testing to see if butterflies developed “eye spots” to scare off predators, it gets debunked. (BTW, thanks for sharing the info on the butterfly on your blog, that’s where I got that information.)

    I would hardly be surprised if the mass of evolutionary thinking will be shown to be wrong. I mean, honestly, the ideas behind it make sense, but making sense does not make it right. Think of the neo-Darwinian (or at least atheistic) thinking on religion, that it essentially evolved within humans because of the fear of death. Well, they haven’t tested that, and further it could be shown to be completely false.

    Hey, do you know of any more tests on neo-Darwinian psychology/thinking? I’ve read your stuff on the butterfly eye spots, the peacock feathers, and the monarch butterfly in its relation to a similar looking butterfly. But if you know of more, that’d be awesome!

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