Our universe knows no laws, nor cares for any. Its elements have their intrinsic qualities derived from their origin in what is euphemistically known as the Big Bang.
Laws of Physics are humankind’s attempt to understand, employ and make predictions based on those intrinsic qualities. All such laws are conditional, approximate and subject to continuous improvement and revision from time to time. Hence even if there exists a perennial, omnipotent and omniscient God, such a One would have little to do with these laws.
The so-called laws of Physics work somewhat like this: you pronounce a seemingly incontrovertible law, derived from observations and rather dangerous experiments, that the lion is a carnivore that would eat any animal but not plants. This would be a useful law to guide those who tour forests and open grassy lands where flock flocks. You call it a law though you have no control over the lion’s behaviour any more than you have any control over the law of gravity. The lion, of course, knows no such law – but what you defined and how you defined it is exactly what the lion would do all its life. Even when it is incapable of hunting due to old age and had lost most of its teeth, it would try and ‘obey’ your law without ever being aware of it. You might find a need to modify that law when you find a lion, domesticated from birth, munching on an apple and begging for a pear. I did not domesticate lions, but I did once have a dog who loved boiled rice and milk bread, transgressing the general biological law that dogs are carnivores.
For thousands of years, mankind had lived within short areas of space most of the time; kings and his elite soldiers fought atop elephants and horses while lower ranks trudged along; merchants travelled greater distances on bullocks and horse carts or sailed by wind-blown ships. In 1687, Isaac Newton defined the laws of motion and that of gravity. The properties of matter, velocity and acceleration, that of planets and stars had always been what they were since they formed into what they are after their origin, but Newton’s ‘laws’ made us understand those inherent characteristics and base our actions and predictions on them. No technological achievement since then escaped those laws defined by Newton.
No Bible, Quran, Vedas or Gita or divine men had proposed the laws that Newton, a man considered a heretic by the clergy, posited. Ancient Greeks suggested flying with bundled bird feathers; Indians boasted of flying airplanes and shooting weapons of mass destruction (which made J. Robert Oppenheimer exclaim that what he burst was only the first nuclear bomb of this era), but no God’s spokesman had explained how such things were possible. Indian epics hinted rather appropriately that flying vehicles could only be owned by the richest of demigods, yet they had no idea how such a craft could actually fly. There is nothing on record or in the fossils to show that God – Judeo-Christian, Muslim or Hindu – had any clue as to how those laws worked, let alone could design or administer them. An occasional genius like Aristarchus of Samos (c.310-230 BC) in Greece or Aryabhata of India (5th century AD) shed a narrow beam light on the true nature of the working of planets and stars etc, but their voice of wisdom was ridiculed by their peers or ignored by the men of God and their religions.
Newton’s publishing of Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687)
that enunciated the laws of motion and gravity set off the real technological revolution and an explosion of knowledge and enquiry. The laws were simple and elegant, but they truly reflected his vision of ‘infinite power over nature’ and almost made it possible for future generations to achieve that power with great benefits for mankind on the one hand and calamitous distructive power on the other.
By early 1800s Rail engines came into being; motorised vehicles were plying the roads by the end of the same century. Newton’s law explained why you couldn’t stop a fast-moving vehicle at will – you had to design brakes that wouldn’t stop all too soon. Even the mundane law that a passenger in a car or an airplane should wear seatbelt had its origin in the first law of motion. Rockets were designed, airplanes were flown, meteorological predictions based on air pressure variations were perfected. Men and women designed space vehicles to reach distant planets and beyond, guided by the laws of nature first discovered by the lonesome genius. It appeared as if Newton’s laws, Faraday’s laws spelt out by Maxwell’s equations and a few other theorems, theories or laws propounded by other geniuses were the ultimate. These laws – I use laws, theories and theorems interchangeably which they virtually are – were all that was needed for mankind to touch the heavens and bring about miracles in communication, transportation, medicine and every other area of human needs to enhance the quality of life.
Newton’s applecart was upset (though not overturned) by a German Jew named Albert Einstein when he showed, as early as 1905, that the laws had their limitations at very high levels of mass, velocity and time. The constant inter-relationship of those quantities diverged at higher levels of scale. Time behaved differently when it moved away from forces of gravity. Mass rose and time warped with speed. Speed of electromagnetic waves (which Einstein called speed of light for easy recognition) reached its maximum in empty space, and nothing could exceed that speed; gravity could bend even light waves. Finally, that matter and energy are interchangeable. You do not notice in any of these effects in your everyday life because, as Neil deGrasse Tyson put it, your five senses are poor data gatherers.
Barely had Einstein’s laws – which spawned any number of theories regarding the origin, growth and expansion of the universe – begun to be understood, proved and put into practice by other scientists before a few like Max Born, Werner Heisenberg and Wolfgang Pauli came up in 1924 with the concept of Quantum Mechanics that showed that neither the theories of Einstein nor the laws of Newton worked at very low scales of mass, space and time! Scientists of eminence such as Max Planck, Richard Feynman gave quantitative fillip to the ever-expanding horizon of Quantum Physics. The mystery about the theory turned out to be that it works very well but could be fully explained by none!
It appeared that Quantum physics, Newton’s laws and Einstein’s Relativity theories actually had the effect of undermining each other! On whose side was God, anyway?
So you needed to develop a new theory, a new set of laws that embraced all these theories or laws that went against each other at different quantitative levels. Such a theory would be called the Theory of Everything, a graphic curve or an equation that could explain the behaviour of space, time, matter and energy at all levels of scale. Michio Kaku calls it a theory ‘one inch long.’
Perhaps Stephen Hawking, who was working on it as were others, would have perfected such a theory if he had a lease of life for another couple of years beyond that fortuitous day of 14th March this year (2018).
The mysterious revelations of Quantum Physics – like an electron being found in different places at the same time, the wave function that makes matter behave like waves and makes little things like an electron or photon appear and disappear, entanglement of two distinct electrons or some similar set of elementary sub-atomic particles among each other at great distances – get some religious diehards claiming “this is what our scripture has been saying all along.” Of course they are wrong; religious fantasy of miracles from God has nothing to do with quantum physics. Indian babas needn’t get excited either – wave function as explained by quantum physics does not support a super Guru’s obfuscating claim that all is Maya (illusion); God alone is the Truth.
Scientific (mostly mathematical) enquiry into the behaviour of sub-atomic particles that go by neither Newton’s nor Einstein’s laws but seem to have a mind of their own has led to the hypothesis that such elementary particles are not point-sized spheres, but are more like tiny looped strings. The String Theory is not satisfied with the four dimensions of the universe that are plain as daylight to us – length, width, height and time. You need, say the proponents of this new theory, ten spatial dimensions and time. No, such dimensions have nothing to do with the seven layers of heaven mentioned in the Quran.
The theory also exposes the virtual possibility that we are not just, to paraphrase Stephen Hawking, a minor planet of an insignificant star among two hundred billion stars in an ordinary galaxy among a trillion such galaxies – but that our very universe, with all these trillions and trillions of celestial wonders is but one of the many, many universes out there.
Which jealous monotheistic God or somewhat more tolerant multiple gods of polytheism would have imagined such an enormous and magnificent possibility where hundreds, thousands of universes, for ever expanding, drifting along like soap bubbles in a super space?