June 11, 2014
The (True) Theory of Everything:
David Birnbaum’s Integrated Philosophy
By Mark Davis
In 1988, metaphysicist David Birnbaum entered the arena of cosmology with the release of his book Summa Metaphysica I. Challenging the atheist dogma of Randomness Theory, Birnbaum proposed his competing Theory of Potentialism (see ExaminerPurpose.com). In doing so, he not only split with traditional, mainstream cosmological theory, but further upped the ante by offering an audacious solution to the most universally elusive problem of physics and cosmology alike: The Theory of Everything.
The Theory of Everything (ToE) has long been the holy grail of physicists, cosmologists and philosophers and science as a whole. For physicists, the quest has always been for Unifying Theory – the physical/mathematical model which would illustrate the relationship between the micro (quantum physics) and the macro (Newtonian physics and relativity). For cosmologists, metaphysicists and philosophers, the quest has been even broader – their ultimate answer would go beyond Unifying Theory to incorporate into the explanation thought and existence as well – The Theory of Everything.
While this might sound like a punch line from a Douglas Adams novel, the Theory of Everything is serious business to cosmologists, particularly metaphysicists and philosophers. People less familiar with metaphysics might find it curious that such an unabashed metaphysicist as Birnbaum would be brave enough to step into the ring with physicists. Metaphysics is often times incorrectly associated with ghost hunters or crystal collecting, new age mystics. For the record, this is a gross misunderstanding of an established branch of science.
Metaphysics straddles the line between physics (and more broadly – empirical science), and classical philosophy. Metaphysics is, properly: the branch of philosophy concerned with the fundamental nature of reality that includes ontology, cosmology and epistemology. It is no accident cosmology lies squarely within the realm of philosophy. Why is that?
Quite simply, the “hard” sciences, such as physics, rely on the process of gathering empirical evidence and applying deductive logic to formulate a conclusion. While this is a wonderful tool for science, it has one limitation – it cannot be used in an open system. This isn't usually an issue in science. One can apply boundaries to create a closed system to study. However, cosmology deals with the universe as a whole. And by universe, that means everything. The universe, by definition, has no “outside” the system – or we're no longer talking about the universe.
For cosmology, at some point someone has to step forward and make assumptions and that is simply something a philosopher is far more comfortable doing than a physicist. Formally, we call these assumed truths axioms – a very scientific word, but basically jargon for “informed hunch”. That is not to say anyone gets a free pass from scientific rigor. An axiom needs to stand up to inductive scrutiny. Unlike a deductive conclusion, an inductive conclusion's strength is measured by the amount of supporting evidence it has.
If this still sounds dubious, it might serve to remember that mathematics is part of the formal sciences (a by-product of philosophy, if you will) as opposed to physics, which resides in the physical sciences. If you're using mathematics, or the scientific method for that matter, then you're engaged squarely in philosophy. So have no doubt, metaphysicists belong squarely in the debate on the nature of the universe, likely more so than their instrument carrying physicist cousins – though the true pioneers of cosmology and science tend to be adept at both disciplines. As Einstein famously said, “Nature is the realization of the simplest conceivable mathematical ideas. ... I am convinced that we can discover by means of purely mathematical constructions the concepts and the laws connecting them with each other."
That is exactly what Birnbaum has set out to do with the Theory of Potentialism – identify the structure and nature of the cosmos and, in so doing, seek out the elusive Theory of Everything. For the necessarily inductive test of Potentialism, there are some criteria it must meet for a solid Theory: It must be pervasive in both scale and breadth. It must be valid on both the micro and macro scale. It also must be demonstrable over the breadth of the cosmos – that is, it must be demonstrably valid across the fields of biology, physics, chemistry... in short, universal. Further, to fully encompass ToE from the metaphysical perspective, it must be ontologically inclusive – that is, it must incorporate the nature of being itself. 'How everything is' is not sufficient. The metaphysical Theory of Everything demands the why of being as well.
Summa Metaphysica: The Quest for Infinite Potential
Potentialism's central mechanic is the Quest for Infinite Potential. Logically, it is expressed as Q4P∞→E+. Don't let the nomenclature fool you. It's simply a concise, logical expression of the Theory. Like any new branch of thought or mathematics or science, it comes with its own logical expressions.
On a most basic level, Potentialism identifies inferentially the Quest for Infinite Potential as the prime mover of cosmology. The Q4P axiom states that the universe is in such a state as to naturally be driven towards infinite complexity – infinite in this sense being that there is no state of rest, or sufficient complexity, in this system – rather it is a continual and endless process.
That being said, while the universe is constantly and visibly changing, those changes are not usually profound. Rather, in a quantum sense, the universe continually increases in Potentiality towards the complex, towards transitive moments which Potentialists identify as Extraordinariation – pivotal moments of change in universal complexity.
The concept is easily grasped in terms of the universe's evolution on an astrophysical scale. At the very beginning of the universe when the singularity that was our perceivable universe exploded in a “Big Bang”, the universe reached a critical state of change abruptly and began to spread. Likewise, the formation of the first hydrogen atoms is considered a cosmic moment of Extraordinariation (see Extraordinariation.com).
Potentialism Theory states that the universe eternally, by virtue of its natural Potential, builds towards these moments of Extraordinariation that invariably leave the universe in a more complex state than it was in previously. Looking strictly from an astrophysical perspective, it's fairly obvious this is an inferentially sound axiom. But the true test is whether Potentialism Theory is universally applicable to broader natural and philosophical phenomena if it is to stand as a viable Theory of Everything (see PotentialismTheory.com).
Summa Metaphysica: Unifying Science, Spirituality and Philosophy
One of the greatest shortcomings of cosmological theory is trying to understand the universe scientifically, philosophically and spiritually. It's bad enough trying to merge abstract philosophical concepts with the scientific ones, but trying to merge the spiritual as well has usually been catastrophic. This has left people forced to analyze cosmology through different filters. You can speak about the Big Bang through a scientific filter, leaving the spiritual and philosophical questions of existence behind. Likewise, you can simply regard the universe from a spiritual or philosophical perspective. But, like quantum mechanics and Newtonian physics, these filters don't play nicely together in the same sandbox.
For proponents of Potentialism, this is one of the greatest achievements of Potentialist Theory. Potentialism provides a common ground of understanding where one doesn't have to play scientist by day, philosopher by night and spiritualist with their congregation. We mentioned astrophysics before, but you'll find Q4P works just as neatly as a descriptor of evolution. Those transitive E+ moments of Extraordinariation? Describing the ascendancy of multi-cellular life, the first animals to walk instead of swim, even the rise of humankind all fit just as well into the logical model of Q4P as the birth of atoms and molecules do. It's one of the innate strengths of Potentialism to oftentimes leave someone slapping their heads at the obvious simplicity of the Theory and how well it is applied equally to different universal phenomena.
But where does this leave spirituality? Interestingly, the answer resides in the nature of Q4P. If Q4P is a universal “prime mover”, the source of the Big Bang and what has driven the creation of stars and humankind alike since that time, then there is something beyond just matter and energy and void – Potential itself. You can see where this is headed. But to be clear, Potentialism does not address directly the existence or the nature of the divine. Potentialism is science, not religion. But, for the religious or spiritual, Potentialism offers acceptance and reserves a place for them.
Potentialism does recognize, given the universal nature of Q4P, the natural existence of teleological systems. A teleological system simply means it is purpose driven. It's not nearly as mystical as it sounds. It is just a formal way of stating what we've been seeing all along – if Q4P is pushing the universe towards increased complexity than the universe is, by definition, changing with a purpose (see ParadigmChallenge.com).
It's the nature of this prime mover that leaves room for atheist and religious alike. To the atheist – yes, there is a universal drive of creation, but it need not be a named, bearded man who carves legal code on stone tablets. To the atheist, they may simply look on Q4P as an inherent force in the universe, no more mystical than physics or chemistry – just another rule and nothing more.
By contrast, there is nothing in Potentialism that is in conflict with an intelligent prime mover. You would think this might leave the religious a bit put out, but that is where we step into the realm of spirituality. To the spiritualist, any concrete, irrefutable evidence of the divine is impossible. It creates this untenable paradox: Religion requires faith and faith requires uncertainty. To prove God's existence would disprove it. A bizarre concept to the non-philosophers reading this, but this is generally accepted as fact by most religious philosophers. So, the atheist can be comfortable that there is some force of nature at work that doesn't require classic intelligence, while the religious can be comfortable that the Alpha and Omega exists and they will have faith in its intelligence in whatever form they believe.
Summa Metaphysica: Unifying Micro and Macro Physics
The second big test for Potentialism is that Unifying Theory we previously alluded to. What's true on the micro level should be true on the macro level. There are three points to make on this subject. Firstly, micro and macro physics follow the same rules of Q4P and resultant Extraordinariation. Secondly, there is a difference in the rules between micro and macro physics. Thirdly, it's okay. We'll get to that third one in a bit. First though, a brief look at the similarities between the micro and macro levels of physics.
If Q4P is to hold its soundness we would expect to see transitive moments in complexity at both the micro and macro scales. On a micro level, in the first moment after the Big Bang, there were simply particles. We won't over-dwell on the weirdness of the hadron epoch and other epochs in the first seconds, just suffice it to say there were a lot of little particles having their brief eras in the first fraction of a second. But jumping ahead to the first roughly 3.2 minutes after the Big Bang, we have nucleosynthesis where protons and neutrons begin to combine – again, one of those transitive moments where Potential gives rise to Extraordinariation. These moments continue cyclically as the basic elements begin to form and, yet again, when the elements begin to bond into molecular structures.
Likewise, this Q4P to Extraordinariation is visible on the macro scale of universal history as the primitive plasma cloud of the very early universe, to the matter domination era of 300,000 years after the Big Bang, to 300 million years after the Big Bang when stars and galaxies began to form. It is clear to see, not only the continual evolution of the cosmos towards greater complexity but the distinctive stages of complexity predicted by Q4P when Extraordinariation events occurred.
But what of Unifying Theory? While we've seen that the micro and macro do show clear similarities in how Q4P structures their evolution, there are still vast differences between quantum and Newtonian physics. Why do quantum events tend to follow a binary (on/off) model? Why do Newtonian events tend to follow analogue/wave patterns? Why does gravity not interact on a quantum level like it does on massive scales?
Part of the key is to look backwards through the Extraordinariation events to simpler epochs. Potentialism posits that physical laws had to have a simpler form in an earlier universe. That the fields of physics would diversify and become distinct, with their own governing laws, is actually predicted by Q4P. Hence, when we said it was alright. Just a year ago, physicists would have tossed such an absurd idea off as bunk or a flimsy excuse for science. But times change - and sometimes rapidly. We've only just this year detected quantum gravity waves in the cosmic background radiation. Why is this important and what does this have to do with Unifying Theory? “Quantum” and “Gravity” were just used in the same sentence.
For those without a pony in the game, one of the biggest problems in Unifying Theory is trying to explain gravity. To digress briefly, Einstein discovered quantum physics quite by accident. When he was formulating Relativity, Einstein found it too difficult to include Newtonian physics (which deals with gravity) into his Theory of Relativity. So, he left it out. Relativity was designed in this fictitious universe where gravity didn't exist and he called it the Theory of Special Relativity. A curious aside to this was the discovery of quantum mechanics. But, at the time, Einstein thought little of it because – again – this was a hypothetical universe. Later he incorporated gravity and that became his General Theory of Relativity.
What was not expected was that quantum mechanics really did exist in the General Relativity universe. Yet, quantum mechanics was only supposed to work right in a flat universe. And gravity warps and bends time-space. This is the root of the conundrum. How to unify something that seemingly has no room for gravity with a universe that clearly does have gravity on a macro scale. To unify the micro and macro, there would have to be some presence of gravitational interaction on a micro level.
Flash forward back to current time and the cosmic background radiation. It would appear at first glance, we've finally been able to witness this elusive interaction as gravitational waves have polarized light from this radiation reaching us from near the very beginning of the universe. This tells us that, if confirmed, the micro and macro once interacted more homogeneously. But at some point in the very early stages of the universe, science crossed a threshold and the complexity of these two sciences increased – what we'd call simply an Extraordinariation event.
Summa Metaphysica: Unifying Math and Cosmology
A core principle of Potentialism is its infinitely nested nature. The strength of Q4P as a catalyst relies on its iterative, exponential nature. Think of it like a seed. A seed has the potential for a plant. But the resultant plant can also produce seeds to an entire generation of plants beyond that. So, within that one seed is an infinitely nested series of potentials. This is, by far, a gross simplification of Potentialism – but it suffices as an introduction to the principle. In short, for this to hold true to Potentialists, there should be an abundance, in the natural world, of observable phenomena which display infinite nesting and recursion.
On a mathematical level, this is exhibited by fractal mathematics and integral calculus. For those who think calculus looks like Greek Mad Libs – don't worry, we're not going to inundate you here with equations. What's important is the theory, not the actual grunt work of the equations. Integral calculus is commonly used for area calculations. What makes integral calculus so cool and unique is its ability to calculate areas that are infinitely irregular. Think of it like trying to calculate how deep a pool is in weather that leaves the surface rough. You can ballpark where the top is between waves, but its not exact. Integral calculus gives us a way of determining an area of such a surface not precisely, but infinitely close to precisely. It's so close to precisely so that the difference doesn't matter as it is infinitely small. Interesting side note: this “infinitely close to a number” means there are three zeros in calculus – 0+, 0, and 0-. What's the difference between 0+ and 0? You can't divide by 0 (see ZeroPointPortal.com). There's something to ponder over coffee.
While integral calculus deals with infinities, fractal mathematics deals with the infinitely nested. While you're still processing positive zero, here's another fun mathematical fact to ponder: Let's envision a fractal snowflake. A fractal has an infinitely nested complexity to its geometry. Know matter how small a scale you view it in, you'll always find another angle around the corner. How much of a fractal is a straight line? 0. How long, that is, what is the perimeter of our snowflake? Infinite. While it may encompass a finite amount of area, the fractal itself has an infinite length. No matter what detail you look at it in, you'll just find more and more jagged edges nested within each other.
As you can see, the concept of infinite and infinitely nested passes the test easily for Potentialists when looked at purely mathematically. But formal math isn't natural math. The real test is cosmological. Do these patterns exist pervasively in the real world? In short, yes. Let's look for the infinitely complex in both design and in regards to nesting.
Objects in the world, at every scale, display a naturally infinite complexity in mathematical design. Even a simple leaf follows fractal geometry in its design. It's not a true fractal, granted. That is, if you look at it under a microscope, you won't find tiny versions of the leaf pattern in every spike. But you can find plenty of examples which do so to a few orders of magnitude. But further, there are no naturally occurring straight lines or smooth surfaces in existence. The more you magnify an object, the more irregularities you find. Down at the atomic level you find constantly shifting electrons that preclude anything approaching even a real, solid surface – just wide open space with electrons winking in and out of different spaces, at seeming random, within a predefined space.
More important though (certainly to Potentialism) are the naturally occurring nested complexities that permeate the cosmos. Electrons orbit nuclei, planets orbit suns, stars orbit a galactic core. To Potentialists, there is little random about the universe. Yes, there's some probability involved in exactly where an electron might be around a nuclei or a star might be around a galaxy, but randomness it isn't. Only a fool would fail to see the clear patterns all around them. To the Potentialist, the inherent concepts of infinite and iterative infinite complexities in both formal mathematics as well as physical science are just two more pieces in a sea of evidence for inductively proving Q4P.
Summa Metaphysica: The Common Denominator and the Catalyst
Potentialist theory is just that – theory. But I'd humbly remind the reader of how many sciences share the suffix of “theory”: Special Relativity Theory, Quantum Mechanical Theory, Field Theory, Grand Unification Theory.... I could do this all day. The point is that Theory is how we move forward and evolve our understanding of the universe. And in cosmology, solid inductive reasoning is the name of the game. Potentialism offers a viable understanding of the cosmos that can build bridges, not just between the sciences, but between beliefs as well – unifying not only the micro and macro, but the scientific, the philosophical and even the spiritual under a definition of one uniting concept, both Common Denominator and Catalyst. If something as simple as Q4P∞→E+ gives you pause, just remember what people thought one hundred years ago when they first saw something as simplistic as E=mc². Small equations can bring big change.
Summa Metaphysica: Context
Birnbaum elucidates his theory via his iconic 3-part treatise Summa Metaphysica (see SummaMetaphysica.com): Volume I: Religious Man (Ktav, 1988), Volume II: Spiritual Man (New Paradigm Matrix, 2005) and Volume III: Secular Man (New Paradigm Matrix, 2014). Over a dozen colleges globally including UCLA, Brandeis and Hebrew University (Jerusalem) have assigned the landmark work as a Course Text (see SummaCourseText.com).
Bard College (Upstate NY) hosted a 3 ½ day international academic conference in April 2012 on Science & Religion with the Summa treatise as its prime focus (see Conference1000.com). Over 30 feature articles globally have focused on Birnbaum’s Summa Metaphysica and its Theory of Potential in the past twelve months alone (see SummaCoverage.com).
DAVID BIRNBAUM PHILOSOPHY / METAPHYSICS