A Theory of Everything

I saw a fascinating documentary on BBC 4 yesterday, about the search for a Theory of Everything in modern physics. About 90% of it went over my head, but I was at least fascinated by the search for a theory which explained both the very big - black holes, supernovas, the Big Bang etc - and the very small - sub-atomic particles, Quantum mechanics, etc.

I was struck by the beauty and poeticism of some of the attempts at the TOE, such as the symmetry theory, which suggests the universe started to grow as a perfect, symmetrical orb, before breaking into multiplicity and confusion, in which the universe was a riot of different and sometimes opposing forces. That theory reminded me of Gnostic or neoplatonist ideas of how the godhead began as one, but then fell into duality and confusion.

Even more inspiring to the imagination was string theory, or the idea that all of existence is connected along threads, and these threads send out vibrations, like the strings on a guitar, not just through the three dimensions we are aware of, but possibly through as many as 11 or 13 dimensions, and through multiple universes. Trippy!

I don't begin to understand how these physicists arrived at such bold statements as claiming there are 11 dimensions, or how you could possibly set out to prove this.

But nonetheless, let's say that physicists do eventually discover a TOE, perhaps in the near future...It strikes me it wouldn't really be a theory of everything unless it also explained consciousness, and not just consciousness, but higher and lower states of consciousness, and how our consciousness relates to these multiple dimensions and these cosmic vibrations, both how it is affected by them, and how it, in turn, can affect them.

Some New Age figures (such as Ken Wilber) are, of course, far ahead of me and are already working in this area, or at least are using advanced physics as a springboard for their own metaphysical speculations and theories, of going with the Cosmic Flow etc.

It also strikes me how similar this effort is to the Medieval and Renaissance study of alchemy. We find it difficult now to imagine why so many great minds devoted much of their lives to alchemy, why they locked themselves away in dank basements and struggled (always in vain!) to turn lead into gold, usually bankrupting themselves in the process.

But the reason alchemy and Renaissance magic in general was so enticing to the Renaissance scholar was precisely because it seemed to offer a Theory of Everything - both of the movement of the planets (the macrocosm) and the movement of our souls (the microcosm). It connected the human psyche with the cosmos, and suggested that by exploring the one, we also explored the other. 'As above, so below', as alchemists put it.

And it didn't just combine planetary movement with emotional movements. It also synthesized this with a proto-Jungian theory of archetypes and dream imagery, of how the Cosmic Mind speaks to us through images.

Alchemy is, of course, discredited now as a theory of the external universe, though it still retains some credibility as a theory of subconscious imagery, thanks to Jung's rehabilitation of Renaissance magic.

But I wonder if it will ever be possible to combine psychology with physics? I have sometimes thought the movements of the mind, its dissociations and re-unifications, are best understood as laws of physics, or natural laws. Jung spoke of the psyche obeying natural laws. So too did the Stoics, for whom physics and ethics were inextricably linked.

Well, this is the first post to muse on the matter. We must consider further on another date.