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It's time to stop searching for a grand plan that explains the Universe and accept that Nature is imperfect, argues Professor Marcelo Gleiser.

Supersymmetry: computer models predict the Higgs-boson particle will decay into two jets of hadrons and two electons. The question is: does the Higgs-boson particle even exist? (Source: CERN)
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Einstein spent the last thirty years of his life looking for the unifying force, as did the brilliant pioneers of atomic physics, Heisenberg, Pauli, and Schrödinger.

Following in their footsteps, I grew up a Platonist, fascinated with the idea of unification: the idea that all the forces of nature are but different expressions of a single force. So, I went to graduate school in England to pursue this intellectual Holy Grail and worked on superstring theories, the epitome of the unification dream.

But as the years passed I watched with growing apprehension as hundreds of my colleagues published papers on ideas so far-removed from reality that they couldn't (and still can't) be tested: papers proposing six invisible dimensions of space curled up in a ball a trillionth of a trillionth of a billionth of an inch; or proposing that there are an infinitude of universes out there popping in and out of existence throughout eternity, ours being only one of them; papers suggesting that whenever a measurement is made, reality forks into separate paths, each a different universe.

Were they playing intellectual games? Were they delusional, pursuing a fantasy? Had they lost their sense of commitment to their true vocation, the description of natural phenomena? Were they even physicists?

Surely, there are natural laws, and they reflect observed patterns of organised behavior. But are these laws the true blueprints of physical reality? Or are they logical descriptions that we create to represent it?

I realised that the order we see in Nature is the order we seek in ourselves. And this can be a dangerously misleading game to play.

What have we learned in the past decades about our origins? That the Universe is expanding at an accelerated rate, that time had a beginning, that the reason we exist at all can be traced back to a fundamental imbalance in the way the particles of matter interact with each other, that only due to random mutations life can thrive and adapt. We have learned that Nature relies on imperfections in order for atoms, people, and galaxies to exist.

Misguided by perfection
Gradually, it became clear to me that scientists — and seekers of perfection from all walks of life — have been courting the wrong muse. Neither symmetry nor perfection should be our guiding principle, as they have been for millennia.

We don't have to look for the mind of God in Nature and try to express it through our equations. Imperfect Nature has plenty to offer, if we are willing to embrace its message.

The search for an all-embracing theory of Nature inspired by beauty and perfection is misguided, rooted in the monotheistic culture that has for so long dominated Western thought.

Superstring theory and the widespread belief that it represents the truth of all existence, is the scientific equivalent of a Jewish-Christian-Muslim God that designed the cosmos, a theory based on mathematical symmetry as an expression of Nature's perfection. Even if God is hidden from the equations (and He certainly is), the mythic equivalent of "all is one" persists.

The time has come to shift our focus. A new way of thinking about the natural world is emerging that emphasises change and transformation rather than stasis and perfection.

The Universe is asymmetric
Over a century ago, after examining the spatial structure of biomolecules, the building blocks of living matter, Louis Pasteur exclaimed, "The Universe is asymmetric!"

Modern particle physics and cosmology have corroborated this view, proving that the matter comprising all that exists, from atoms and galaxies to people, arises from fundamental asymmetries in Nature.

We have found that without asymmetries and imperfections the Universe would be filled with nothing but smooth radiation. Stars, people, everything emerges from fundamental imperfections writ deep into Nature's code.

History has taught us that any radical shift in our cosmic view comes with consequences for society. This new take on science will have a liberating effect, freeing us from old-fashioned and vile 'wars' between science and religion.

People must understand science for what it truly is: a very human narrative that evolves as we discover more about the physical world. What science does offer, however, is a spiritual path to embrace Nature: we are creatures of the cosmos, a cosmos that has no particular plan for us.

We have probed into other worlds in our cosmic neighborhood, only to realise how rare and precious life is. We live in a precarious oasis in a universe that is violently hostile to life. Accepting this will elevate us to a new moral plane that celebrates and protects what we have, while we still have it.

String theory ties us in knots › Opinion (ABC Science)

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Perhaps the universe is not simply the way it is. Perhaps it is the way it is because by being that way it forces and encourages us to bend our minds to understand it.
Perhaps the universe simply wants to understand itself. And become to be.
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