Man has always been known to have an insatiable quest for knowledge. However, one controversial line of thought has recently emerged from the confines of the physics community. It is the idea that perhaps we are almost at the point in science where we have reached the absolute limit of our understanding.
According to Harry Cliff of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, during a TED talk conducted in Geneva, Switzerland, “For the first time in the history of science, we could be facing questions that we cannot answer.” Thus, the next few years will be a time for the human race to find out whether we can still increase our understanding of nature or not anymore.
The focus of Cliff’s argument is what he considers the two numbers which are the most dangerous in the Universe. The existence of all matter, life and structure on earth and in the universe, and all of life in the cosmos depends on these two numbers. In fact, according to Cliff, if these numbers are just slightly different from what they are now, the whole universe would be without life and totally empty.
According to Cliff, the dangerous number one is the strength of the Higgs field. The Higgs field is a largely undefined invisible energy field that is different from the magnetic fields of the cosmos. As particles hover around the Higgs field, they increase in mass until they eventually turn into the subatomic particles – protons, electrons and neutrons. Thus, without the Higgs field, there is nothing that would exist now.
Based on the two theories that explain the cosmos, theory of quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of general relativity, the Higgs field is expected to perform one of the two crucial tasks in physics. Either the Higgs field is turned off, which means that its strength value is zero and it cannot give mass to particles, or it is turned on, which means that it will have an absolutely enormous value. However, what physicists observe is that its value is very weak, almost a trillion times weaker compared to when it is fully on. A slightly lower value than this would mean the disappearance of all matter.
Aside from the strength possessed by the Higgs field, dangerous number two is the strength of dark energy. Considered “the worst theory that has been predicted in the history of physics,” the dark energy is nothing but the energy of the vacuum or the energy of the empty space in the universe. This dark energy is essential for the ever growing expansion of the universe.
Theoretically, strength of dark energy should be 10120 times the strength of the one being actually observed in astronomy. The problem is that this number is actually extremely difficult or almost impossible to comprehend. This extremely large number would mean that the dark energy is very much strong enough to just rip the entire Universe apart anytime. As there is no force that can obviously cancel its huge value, then that is really a pretty bad prediction.
However, the problem now is that it is extremely frustrating that our current theories of the universe and our calculating instruments cannot possibly explain why the Higgs field operates at this strength or why the dark energy has not ripped us apart until now. Thus, perhaps, we come to the conclusion that the reason that we do cannot know further is, as Cliff said, “because the laws of physics do not allow it.” Perhaps, then, as Socrates once said, there is really nothing that we know.