This story goes back to Albert Einstein in 1905, called Einstein’s miracle year. In just that one single year, Einstein published four papers, any one of which would have made the career of any other scientist. Hey, I’d be happy to have a sentence or a numerator in one of his equations! But then between 1905 and 1915, Einstein went on to publish numerous other papers on his theory of relativity for which he is the most famous. What is less known is that during the final 30 years of Einstein’s life, his work was mostly unsuccessful. Those are two words you never hear in the same sentence, Einstein and unsuccessful. That was because he put all his efforts behind the holy grail of science: the theory of everything, or the ToE as it is commonly abbreviated.
In recent years, there’s been a proliferation of scientists throwing entire careers into a venture for the ToE. Perhaps you’ve heard some of the big ideas, such as string theory, quantum gravity, branes, the multiverse, and it gets even wilder from there. What’s going on? Researchers used to concern themselves with boring research you never heard of, like the discovery of the Xi_b baryon or an investigation into the double nucleus of the Andromeda galaxy.
I say it has more to do with psychology than physics. It’s like a deep thirst. Once we understand that elements are comprised of atoms, well, it doesn’t just stop there, does it? We want to know what makes up an atom, then what makes up a nucleus, then a quark, and on and on. Where does it end? Not until we know the ToE. Not until we know everything.
You probably get where this is going. The famous mathematician Blaise Pascal described it this way in his book “Pensees:” There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God.
The search for knowledge is in its fundamentals a search for God, for that is the culmination of all knowledge, or the end of science. When we finally reach that pinnacle of humanity, the great ToE, we’ll find that the theology was already there thousands of years ago.