This author examines, from an essentialist perspective, what must be involved if we are to have a “theory of everything.” This would include a meeting of the hard and soft sciences, or as Willis Harman put it, “the meeting of science and metaphysics.” James quotes Jared Diamond: “As to the relative importance of hard and soft science for humanity’s future, there can be no comparison…Our survival depends on whether we progress with understanding how people behave” (Diamond, 1987).
This article is dedicated to the late Willis Harman for his outstanding contributions and incomparable leadership during his 19 years as President of The Institute of Noetic Sciences.
“A theory of everything”! No theory could strike a more all-inclusive arc. The questions, then, become: Where and when will a theory be found that includes the unification of the hard and soft sciences? Or, as Wilber (1996) asks, “How close are we to what David Chalmers has called ‘a theory of everything’ – that is, a theory that would unite the hard realities of empirical science with the soft …realities of the interior and conscious domain?” That is the question this brief piece attempts to answer from a bare-bones, essentialist perspective.
Can we reduce a theory of everything to conceptual bite size? Can we replace expansive and amorphous notions about it with specific knowledge of its most fundamental components? If so, we might then be able to think about a “theory of everything” in the most fruitful ways – not just in scientific terms but in everyday language.
When we speak of a theory of everything we mean a theory not of things, but of the laws that govern them. If it were not for the flow of invisible forces in, through, and around objects or “things,” things would appear to be inert. What these forces are, and the invisible or noumenal laws that govern their behavior, is what interests the unified field theorist.
There are two theories that approach being theories of everything; one is physical, the other, half physical and half metaphysical. The physical one deals with matter and energy and their interactions in space-time. The second, which has much greater relevance for our time and topic, appears to involve an extension of the two most fundamental laws of the first. It deals with human bodies and human minds and their interactions in space-time. I shall discuss each of these theories in turn.
But first, let’s start by reducing the hard and soft sciences to their representative sciences. If we were to choose one science to represent hard science, wouldn’t it be physics? And to represent the soft sciences, wouldn’t it be psychology?
When we look to physics to see where it stands in relation to a theory of everything, we find, of course, the unified field theory (UFT) that seeks to unify the four known forces in nature: electromagnetism (light), the weak and strong nuclear forces, and gravity. Electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force have been united and called the “electro-weak” force. Beyond that, as Kaku and Trainer say (1987), “Although quantum mechanics spectacularly united the other three forces [electromagnetism and the weak and strong nuclear forces], it has failed dismally when applied to gravity.” (p. 10). But the title of their book’s first chapter is “Superstrings: A Theory of Everything?” Currently, according to Kaku and Trainer, superstring theory is mathematically unifying gravity and light, general relativity and quantum mechanics. However, no experimental evidence as yet supports this quantum mechanical unification of the electro-weak and strong nuclear forces. Nonetheless, as they say, “superstring theory has emerged as a theory without rival. Although the experimental situation is still up in the air, scientists have enough compelling theoretical results to believe that the superstring theory is the long-sought unified field theory” (Kaku & Trainer, 1987, p. 199). Stephen Hawking agrees with this possibility: “…by the end of the century, we shall know whether string theory is indeed the long sought-after unified field theory of physics” (Hawking, 1988, p. 165).
Today, a more recent development, the Standard Model of particle physics, does in principle describe all phenomena – except, of course, human interactions. Although the Standard Model is incomplete because of a number of random features, superstring theory is thought to be the most fruitful approach to resolving these random features and thus unifying electro-weak, strong, and gravitational interactions. And even though these developments are a long way from including human interactions, science’s ultimate goal is, apparently, to include them. Hawking says “The eventual goal of science is to provide a single theory that describes the whole universe…if there really is a complete unified theory, it would presumably describe our actions” (p. 12). However, of the kind of unified theory he envisions, Hawking says “…a complete unified theory may not make much difference to our chances of survival” (pp. 12-13).
So rather than wait for superstring theory to attempt to rid the Standard Model of its arbitrary features, let’s consider a more fruitful approach to, if not a theory of everything, at least a theory of everything that’s most important to all human beings – a theory fundamental to the permanent healing of our critical human and planetary condition, and perhaps to our survival, after all.
This theory would be more in agreement with Hawking’s sentiment: “What would it mean if we actually did discover the ultimate theory of the universe?…It would bring to an end a long and glorious chapter in the history of humanity’s intellectual struggle to understand the universe. But it would also revolutionize the ordinary person’s understanding of the laws that govern the universe” (p. 167).
What are the two most fundamental laws of physics? “…periodic motion, or oscillation [cyclicality], is perhaps the most widespread order in physics,” says physicist Paul Davies (1984, p. 241). And although only the late David Bohm and a handful of other physicists believe causality plays a role in quantum physics, physicist Robert Jastrow says “If you try to break the structure of cause-effect, then you have nothing; not good philosophy, not good metaphysics, not good science” (Jastrow, in Rayl & McKinny, 1991, p. 48). And Harman says “Science is, above all else, about…causality,” and “…if indeed a metanoia – a fundamental change of mind – is essential at this point in history, the causality issue is right at the heart of it” (Harman, 1989, pp. 4, 7).
So let’s think of periodicity and causality as the two most fundamental laws of physics.
And before discussing psychology, let’s also keep in mind Hawking’s observation that “In practice, what often happens is that a new theory is devised that is really an extension of the previous theory” (p. 10).
What are the two most fundamental laws of psychology? When we turn to standard brand psychology we see that this soft science has not yet evolved into a science that reflects its name, “psychology” – the science of the psyche, soul, or mind. Mainline psychology, therefore, might more accurately be thought of as the true “parapsychology”: the psychology that is “alongside of” the real psychology, that of the soul. Isn’t the most real psychology of the soul that part of psychology which examines the travels, traumas, and permutations of the soul, i.e., past-life research into reincarnation and karma?
And aren’t these laws, these processes, simply extensions of periodicity and causality into the transpersonal human domain – into their fullest universality? As Hawking says of theories in general, isn’t this “an extension of the previous theory”? Yet the great majority of scientists think they believe that periodicity and causality are the two most fundamental invariant laws of science and apply everywhere – except possibly in the quantum world. Are they prepared to recognize these laws as lower level counterparts of reincarnation and karma – the two most fundamental laws of psychology?
Science has intimated that these principles extend far beyond psychology. For example, “…man faintly espies certain apparently stable relationships and recurring events. A consistent isomorphic representation of these relationships and events is the maximal possibility of his knowledge” (Barnett, 1948, pp. 114-115). Aren’t the “stable relationships” he speaks of what we are calling causality-karma, and aren’t the “recurring events” periodicity-reincarnation? And in the files of hundreds of past-life therapists we find hundreds of cases exhibiting a consistent karmic isomorphism – the most dramatic and instructive kind of representation of relationships and events.
Where will the hard and soft sciences meet? Where periodicity and causality meet reincarnation and karma.
Have we already a theory of everything that’s most important? If so, we would then have a single set of laws extending from the hardest science (physics) into the softest (psychology). Moreover, we would get a bonus. Beyond what we would normally think of as a science of psychology, we would link up with the humanities in two significant ways: 1) We would connect with religion in an in-depth, reincarnational, “esoteric” understanding of the “as-you-sow-you-reap” ethic found in the early esoteric histories of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We would thus be conceptually uniting these “Western” religions with the Gnostic religions of the “East,” most notably Hinduism and Buddhism but others as well. 2) We would have, finally, a rational ethic, the karmic ethic, upon which to build more stable societies. The well-known British editor and publisher John Middleton Murray said 70 years ago, during World War II, “Today, when the world is in turmoil, only an understanding of karma makes sense out of madness; tomorrow, only this Law will enable men of goodwill to build on sure foundations a more reasonable world” (Murray, in Humphreys, 1943).
Unification of Science and Ethics
The linkage of physical causality with karma would constitute a unified theory with profound implications. It would create a unification of science and ethics (USE) that could positively impact science and technology as well as the culture as a whole.
Which unified theory would “revolutionize the ordinary person’s understanding of the laws that govern the universe?” (Hawking, 1988). A unified field theory (UFT) in physics or the unification of science and ethics (USE)? The answer is obvious. Although these theories will ultimately merge, the point to keep in mind is that the USE could constitute, as Barnett said, “the maximal possibility of his [humankind’s] knowledge” and thus could radically alter the course of human history in a most positive way.
But do these ideas work? Have they practical application? Millions of people in the Western world would attest to the fact that their discovery of these ideas has been synonymous with finding the meaning of their existence. And tens of thousands have by now made the discovery, from their own experience, that past-life therapy is without equal as a psychotherapy. So successful is this therapy that an analogy can be drawn between it and quantum mechanics: Quantum mechanics is to physics what past-life therapy is to psychology. And as in quantum physics, those who know the evidence for reincarnation find it compelling. “The evidence for reincarnation is so overwhelming that no one with anything close to an open mind can doubt it,” says psychiatrist George Ritchie (1979). And psychiatrist and reincarnation researcher Ian Stevenson, who steadfastly refuses to take reincarnation on faith, also says “A rational man can, if he wants now, believe in reincarnation on the basis of evidence rather than simply on the basis of religious doctrine or cultural tradition” (Stevenson, in Fisher, 1985, p. 17).
Yet, as Willis Harman observed, “There is no way the reincarnation implication and the generally accepted worldview can be reconciled” (Harman 1994, p. 20). The problem may lie with the “generally accepted world view.” To ask “when will this reconciliation occur?” is the same as asking “when will the hard and soft sciences meet?” When a critical number of scientists have extended their minds to recognize the natural extension of the periodicity and causality principles of physics into their fullest universality in the reincarnation and karma of past-life therapy and research, then the hardest science will meet the softest science and periodicity and causality will be seen to be truly universal laws.
“I have come to believe that the time for realization of that dream [the meeting of science and metaphysics] has arrived” (Harman, 1996). Harman liked to think of his own organization, the Institute of Noetic Sciences, as an organization of people devoted to “the meeting of science and metaphysics.” This can also be said of APRT and many other organizations. And where is the most obvious locus of this meeting? Isn’t it where periodicity and causality meet reincarnation and karma?
Ken Wilber implies that of all things great and small, physical and transpersonal, “All interact through karmic association and karmic inheritance.” Have we here a theory of everything?
Working with a chain of words such as “periodicity-causality, reincarnation-karma” is awkward and cumbersome. So let’s coin a single word – “kausality” – to encompass these terms in their largest universal sense. Is kausality a theory of everything? Its overarching umbrella would include the hard and soft sciences, religion East and West, a universal ethic, and all human interactions. Is kausality “the glittering central mechanism of the universe?”
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Diamond, J. Soft Sciences are often Harder than Hard Sciences. Discover, August, 1987.
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Jastrow, R. Quoted in Rayl, A. J. S., & McKinny, M. T. The Mind of God. OMNI, August. 48, 1991.
Kaku, M. & Trainer, J. Beyond Einstein. New York: Bantam, 1987.
Murray, J. Quoted in Humphreys, T. C., Karma and Rebirth (cover). The Wisdom of the East Series [Ed. J.L. Cranmer-Byng]. London: John Murray, 1943.
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Stevenson, I. Quoted in Fisher, The Case for Reincarnation. New York: Bantam, 1985.
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