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Theory of Everything

Entry 591, on 2007-08-21 at 21:57:50 (Rating 1, Science)

I love the Internet. It allows me to follow strange sequences of ideas and links from one place to another, often across multiple services such as email, the web and news feeds. The subject for this blog entry started as a news item on the Telegraph which I followed through various web links until I found myself at the Wikipedia entry for the "Theory of Everything".

This name started out as a rather sarcastic and derogatory term applied to any area of research in fundamental physics which was much too wide to get any real results. But now it has evolved into a real description of the "holy grail" of physics: a theory which incorporates quantum physics and relativity and explains all the fundamental forces, particles, and interactions in the Universe. And yes, we don't have one and, judging by the rate of progress over the last century, we won't have one in the near future!

Strangely, the name "Big Bang" started this way too. It was first used by Fred Hoyle, a noted supporter of the opposing Steady State model, as a critical term for the theory that later became officially known by that name.

The original story I followed was titled "Physicists have 'solved' mystery of levitation" and described the reverse Casimir effect. I knew about the Casimir effect, which is a force between two closely placed objects due to quantum effects, but I didn't know there was a reverse effect which forced objects apart. According to Wikipedia this is a real effect.

Then there was the claim that this might be able to be used to levitate a human. I still think that's pushing credibility a bit, because the effect only works at extremely small distances, but at least the whole idea is feasible in principle.

So it was an interesting example of something that seemed impossible (because I didn't know about the reverse effect and couldn't see how there could be a one) then seemed possible (because the reverse effect was described at Wikipedia) then seemed impossible again (because how could it be applied in the macro world where quantum effects aren't evident). Well isn't quantum physics fun!


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