In 1915, Albert Einstein published his theory of gravity, better known as general relativity, revolutionising physics as it was then understood. The theory was remarkable in its genius: it reworked Newton’s theory of gravity to demonstrate that gravity is a geometric property of a four dimensional fabric known as spacetime. Therefore, gravity has the ability to bend not only space, but time itself (previously thought to be constant).
The predictions made by general relativity differ significantly from classical physics, but have been confirmed in all observations and experiments to date. There’s just one problem. At around the same time as Einstein was unleashing this revolution on the physics world, another new theory, quantum mechanics, was making headway in the world of chemistry. The new theory proved that the chemical bonds between atoms were examples of electrical forces. In short, the whole universe was being held together by electromagnetic forces.
Einstein found these twin forces – gravity and electromagnetism – deeply alluring. He set out on a 30 year quest to formulate a Unified Field Theory which would account for both of them within the same model. It was a quest doomed to failure. Nearly a century on, the quest to come up with this Unified Theory has become the holy grail of modern physics.
An article by Corey S Powell published in The Guardian in 2015, gives a good overview on the fundamental incompatibility between general relativity and quantum mechanics:
At present physicists have two separate rule books explaining how nature works. There is general relativity, which beautifully accounts for gravity and all of the things it dominates: orbiting planets, colliding galaxies, the dynamics of the expanding universe as a whole. That’s big. Then there is quantum mechanics, which handles the other three forces – electromagnetism and the two nuclear forces. Quantum theory is extremely adept at describing what happens when a uranium atom decays, or when individual particles of light hit a solar cell. That’s small.
Now for the problem: relativity and quantum mechanics are fundamentally different theories that have different formulations. It is not just a matter of scientific terminology; it is a clash of genuinely incompatible descriptions of reality.
Basically you can think of the division between the relativity and quantum systems as “smooth” versus “chunky”. In general relativity, events are continuous and deterministic, meaning that every cause matches up to a specific, local effect. In quantum mechanics, events produced by the interaction of subatomic particles happen in jumps (yes, quantum leaps), with probabilistic rather than definite outcomes. Quantum rules allow connections forbidden by classical physics. This was demonstrated in a much-discussed recent experiment in which Dutch researchers defied the local effect. They showed that two particles – in this case, electrons – could influence each other instantly, even though they were a mile apart. When you try to interpret smooth relativistic laws in a chunky quantum style, or vice versa, things go dreadfully wrong.
Relativity gives nonsensical answers when you try to scale it down to quantum size, eventually descending to infinite values in its description of gravity. Likewise, quantum mechanics runs into serious trouble when you blow it up to cosmic dimensions. Quantum fields carry a certain amount of energy, even in seemingly empty space, and the amount of energy gets bigger as the fields get bigger. According to Einstein, energy and mass are equivalent (that’s the message of E=mc2), so piling up energy is exactly like piling up mass. Go big enough, and the amount of energy in the quantum fields becomes so great that it creates a black hole that causes the universe to fold in on itself. Oops.
When I read this recently it reminded me of something I had read not all that long ago. And then it occurred to me.
This is from a book called Sefer Yetzirah in Theory and Practice, by Aryeh Kaplan.
Why did God create a physical world? God created the universe to bestow good to His creation, but this good is purely spiritual. This being true, what need is there for a physical world? Before we can answer this question, we must first ask another question: What is the difference between the material and the spiritual?
We speak of the material and the physical as two different concepts. We know that the spiritual is not material. But precisely what is the difference? The answer should be obvious. The main difference between the material and the spiritual involves space. Physical space only exists in the physical world. In the spiritual, there is no space as we know it.
Although concepts of distance and closeness exist in the spiritual realm, they do not have the same meaning as they do in the physical world. In a spiritual sense, closeness involves resemblance. Two things that resemble each other are said to be spiritually close. Two things that differ, on the other hand, are far apart in a spiritual sense.
This has very important implications. In the spiritual world, it is utterly impossible to bring two opposites together. Because they are opposite, they are, by definition, poles apart.
[…] It was for this reason that God created the concept of space. Spiritual things can be bound to the material, just as, for example, the soul is bound to the body.
Two opposites can then be brought together by being bound to physical objects. In the physical world, space exists, and two objects can literally be pushed together. Furthermore, two spiritual objects can even be bound to the same material object.
Thus, for example, man has both an urge for good and an urge for evil […]. In a purely spiritual sense, these are poles apart. Without a physical world, they could never be brought together in a single entity. […]
The fact that good and evil can exist in the same in the same physical space also allows good to overcome evil in this world. Here again, this is only possible in a physical world. In a purely spiritual arena, good could never come close enough to evil to have any influence over it. In the physical world, however, good and evil can exist together, and good can therefore overcome evil.
The Sefer Yetzirah is the oldest kabbalistic text. Some – including all early commentators – have attributed it’s authorship to the Patriarch Abraham, making it thousands of years old.
Perhaps I merely have an overactive imagination, but it seems startlingly clear to me that the two physics theories are incompatible for one simple reason: they describe the fundamentally different worlds of the physical and the spiritual.
It is only in the modern era, following the enlightenment, that we think of the physical world as the ‘real,’ or more importantly the only world. Earlier scientists such as Newton were very well aware that there was more to existence than the material world. Kabbalah teaches that there are four worlds – from top to bottom: Atzilut (Emanation / nothing), Beriyah (creation / something from nothing), Yetzirah (formation / something from something) and Asiyah (action / completion) which is the physical world that we inhabit. The others are the realms of ideas, of imagination, of consciousness, and of energy. These worlds interact, as anyone who has ever had an idea which they turned into a physical reality will know.
It seems to me therefore that while general relativity describes perfectly the material realm which we all know and understand through our senses, quantum theory describes just as admirably the spiritual world, which we can only know through conceptualisation.
That is why particles which are alike can be paired and interact instantaneously no matter how far apart they are in space, or, indeed time. The key here is the sentence in Kaplan’s text which reads: “In a spiritual sense, closeness involves resemblance.” Electrons may not be close on the material plane, but they are spiritually close in that they resemble one another. They can therefore have cause and effect upon one another in the spiritual plane, no matter how far apart in the material plane.
This model also accounts for the difficulties encountered when trying to blow up the quantum or shrink down the relative. The key here is to understand that God is everything, that there is nothing but God, and that He split Himself in order to carve out the material in order that He could be in relation to it. This is the Big Bang: something from nothing, expanding outwards.
I’ve long held this idea that God is energy. And so we see, in quantum physics, that “Quantum fields carry a certain amount of energy, even in seemingly empty space.” If we conceptualise this instead as ‘God (or the spiritual realm) is in everything, even in seemingly empty space,’ then it would make sense that one could not expand this to fill the physical world as to do so would necessarily obliterate it, exactly as the mathematical models predict. Expanding the God of the infinitely small to fill the realm of the material universe would, in effect, be to undo the split that He caused in order to carve out the material realm. Everything would be unified in the whole, which would be God. For the material world, that would look very much the Big Bang in reverse, which another way of saying a black hole big enough to cause the universe to fold in on itself.
Conversely, ‘Relativity […] when you try to scale it down to quantum size, eventually descend[s] to infinite values’ can be re-rendered as: the material, when returned to the spiritual (God), becomes infinite (also God, because if He is all there is, He is also infinite).
It is important to understand here that in a very real sense there is no such thing as ‘matter.’ Atoms aren’t physical objects, they are negative energy fields orbiting positive energy fields, with a great deal of energy-filled nothingness in between. This means that everything, from you to the chair you’re sitting on, to the computer you’re reading this on, to the sun in the sky, is nothing more than energy which we, through our senses and thoughts, perceive as matter. In other words, God really is all there is.
My prediction is that scientists will never be able to reconcile quantum theory and general relativity within the material world, because God – as we all know – doesn’t exist in the material world in the same way that we do. Even we don’t, really, we just think we do. As CS Lewis once put it, trying to find God in the world is like trying to find a character named William Shakespeare in one of his plays – he is the author, not the creation. Therefore he runs through it – Shakespeare is present in every single word, having written them – but cannot be found within it.
Only when we throw off the cul-de-sac we wandered into with the enlightenment will we once again see the universe for what it is: multidimensional, and multi-layered. Spiritual and material combined.