This is the second and final part of what this column wanted to delve into last time (“Looking for God to Decode His Mind”, 8 April 2018). We saw there Stephen Hawking’s dissatisfaction with the Einstein-alone interpretation of gravitation – the force we are so familiar with but yet a force that remains an enigma till date despite the best of intrepid physics theories armed by the power of pure mathematics. Hawking’s daring agenda of blending Einstein’s general theory of relativity with quantum mechanics remains unfinished. (We have already discussed both general relativity and quantum mechanics in the layman’s language in the 8 April 2018 article.)
Hawking, nevertheless, appeared in sheer desperation as he repeated the word ‘God’ umpteen times in his classic A Brief History of Time and envisioned a Theory of Everything (ToE) that would explain all the four fundamental forces of nature on one platform and that would thus help us decode the mind of God if any. How far this grandiose project has gone, working cosmologists and particle physicists can inform us better. But here lies the quest that has profound ramifications for the mother of all questions and curiosities: Does God exist?
The question can be divided into two:
(1) Assuming there is God, why did he create the universe?
(2) If there is no God, who created the universe that is so extremely complicated that theory after theory is failing to decode its secrets?
Let us begin with the assumption that there is God who created the universe with a divine purpose as philosophers (not of the atheistic variety) would have us believe. This leads us to yet another perplexity: What is the divine purpose or plan? There is no clear-cut answer, except for the renderings of Eastern mystics as they say God is the Ultimate Reality or Absolute Truth and we all are his manifestations in different forms; if one were to be a perfect yogi, he would see the maya (a Sanskrit word for illusion) that this matter-form universe is and he would go beyond to become one with the Ultimate. This is beyond ordinary comprehension. The argument put forth in the Vedanta school of thought is that the expression of the yogi is beyond words; it is an experience which has to be experienced, not explained as it cannot be explained – this does not belong to the domain of reason or intellectual analysis. This does not satisfy the physicist or mathematician in his avatar as cosmologist.
This brings us to the mathematical quest for the divine plan or purpose of God if any. Assuming the material universe we experience is a plan of God, it must be subject to the axioms of mathematics – the physical world has so far been explained, the unexplained in it apart, by mathematics, and step by step the unexplained too is being explained. There is no reason to believe that after a certain point in the physical/material world, mathematics will fail, because mathematics is a continuum of human logic. Things that were in the domain of pure philosophical conjecture at one point of time, are now in domain of mathematics.
Take the simple case of lightening or thunder. It was God’s fury, said man in remote past. Now we know it is simple electricity. Take one more simple case. Man in the past came across a material as he searched for food as a nomad. He picked it up. As he began to move in his search for food, he came across another material. When he sat for a while for rest keeping the two materials close to each other, he was startled to see that the two materials attracted each other! He would separate them a bit and try to place them that way. They would again attract each other. Well, one was magnet, the other one was iron. Later, man discovered a property called magnetism, a hugely intriguing one. Still later, he found out that electricity and magnetism were not different phenomena but manifestations of the same phenomenon called electromagnetism. Classical physics tells a Class XII science student today that you cannot think of electricity and magnetism as two distinct phenomena. They are simply two different variants of the same thing. Strangely, electric current (or flowing electrical charges) produces magnetic effects, and a changing magnetic field produces electrical current. These were maddeningly baffling at one point of time. Now we all know it is so simple. And then you have laws governing electromagnetism, elegant laws, but for all this, mathematics is an indispensable tool. This is classical physics.
There are many magnetic phenomena that were left to God before quantum physics rocked the world in the early part of the 20th century, thanks to ingenious minds like Werner Heisenberg, the German physicist who shook the very foundation of our worldview with his ‘mystical’ Uncertainty Principle (this we discussed last time in this column). But remember, this principle is based on pure mathematics. Without the rigour of a stream of pure mathematics called topology, you cannot do anything in quantum mechanics. Which means, ban topology and the whole world of quantum mechanics crumbles, our idea of the world as we know it today breaks into pieces.
I shall not go into topology in the layman’s language here because it is not possible to do so except to say that it is a branch of mathematics in its purest form which deals with geometrical and spatial properties of matter that do not change under the impact of deforming forces, such as twisting, bending etc. But I must add here that without topology (a rapidly expanding domain with incredible applications in the physical world), quantum mechanics is impossible. In other words, mathematics in its purest form has come to the aid of man in his quest to understand the world about him. It is coming to his aid more and more each passing day. Here lies the hope of topology cracking God itself!
But can we then not talk of topology not cracking God but rather the absence of God? Take the case of Hawking again. He was a great votary of ToE. He believed there is a ‘grand design’ to this universe but it has nothing to do with God. One must say that with continual breakthroughs in physics, science, or rather physics, is inching towards ToE, and since all these breakthroughs could not be without aid from topology, the grand pillar of ToE must be one of topology in its varied avatars. So what did Hawking have to say about God? Here it is.
There was confusion about Hawking being a believer in God after the publication of A Brief History of Time in which the word ‘God’ finds mention in several places, with him discussing what it would mean if we were to discover why we and the universe exist. He wrote, “It would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God”. Did he believe in God then? Later, in an interview to El Mundo, he gave a broad hint of him being a total atheist when he said his statement about God in his classic book had been misconstrued and what he rather wanted to say in his book was that there would not be any need for God to play his role in the dynamics of the universe. A self-sustainable universe, that is.
A radical take on the matter could be: if God created the universe, how much free will had he in his discretion; why would he choose to design the universe this very way we see or experience it; how is it that God should decide to create the universe at that particular moment – Big Bang – when before it there was no time at all as we now know; and even if God did create the universe at the moment of Big Bang, does he have any power now to interfere with the laws he ‘created’? Let us wait for ToE to tell us that awesome story.