Whilst reading “A Journey through the Universe: Gresham Lectures on Astronomy” by Ian Morison it struck me how many unanswered questions, uncertainties and conflicting theories we have regarding our universe‘s composition. As science progresses with the discovery of new constraints and laws, it’s becoming much harder to cope with the intricacy of our universe as we know it. As I see it, our universe is a very complex entity and no one person could retain knowledge about its entirety. So, do our brains, a product of this universe, have the capacity to understand it?
There are many setbacks concerning our understanding of the universe, especially the conflict between highly regarded theories and laws that govern its existence. For example, one problem encountered is the fact that we cannot combine Einstein’s Theory of Relativity with the more modern Quantum Theory. The main obstacles physicists faced when combining the two theories was the difficulty of incorporating the fourth force, gravity, into the Standard model of quantum mechanics, along with the other 3 forces and all 17 of the elementary particles. The fundamental incompatibility of these areas of cosmology represented by quantum mechanics and general relativity is yet to be solved, however we should ask ourselves what if our brains have no means of ever comprehending a combination of the many theories out there? There are so many different ways of describing the totality of the cosmos so how will we ever reach the desired “Grand Unified Theory”?
Although the idea that our brain capacity limits our understanding of our universe is a bleak one, I find the concept of our universe being totally uncomprehensive very exciting. It allows the possibility that whilst humans are imprisoned in only 3 spatial dimensions, unbeknown to us, there could be millions of other dimensions out there. It offers concepts such as the Multiverse; parallel dimensions and alternate realities to our own, which is mind-blowing.
History has shown us that human limitations do not always impact great scientific discoveries, however eccentric they may have seemed at the time. Many of the far-fetched concepts that scientists proposed in the past, which were considered improbable by human logic of that time, have gone on to form the well-known scientific theories of today. For example, in 1543, Copernicus proposed the first heliocentric model of the solar system, which strongly opposed the prevailing astronomical model of the cosmos at that time – the Ptolemaic system. Even Tycho Brahe, an arguably accomplished astronomer of his time, rejected the Copernican model, thereby showing that new concepts are difficult for humans to understand.
Ultimately, we may live in a universe that is so beyond our comprehension that we shall never be able to reconcile the Theory of Relativity and the Quantum Theory into one unifying “Grand Theory”. Or maybe we are simply not quite there yet? The nature of humanity is, however, to explore and therefore I think that even if the end goal is unreachable, we must still strive to attain it.
Maidstone Grammar School for Girls
“My name is Molly Haigh and I am currently studying for A levels in Art, Maths, Physics and Spanish at Maidstone Grammar School for Girls. I have always had an interest in Astrophysics, which was heightened further whilst undertaking an Oxford University module titled ‘Exploring the Universe’. There are still many interesting unanswered questions regarding this subject, which is one of the reasons why I hope to study this exciting branch of physics at University.”