The Theory of Everything

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He woke suddenly. So suddenly that he was still aware of his dream. Unlike other times, when after waking slowly, he had been sure that he'd had a marvelous dream but couldn't remember what it was. This time he could remember. He had seen the Theory of Everything that explained all the puzzles of quantum theory. Schrodinger's cat was no longer a paradox. The spooky action at a distance of quantum theory was no longer spooky. The contradictions between general relativity and quantum theory disappeared in this new theory of everything that replaced both general relativity and quantum theory but left all their successes intact. And its basic equation was simple enough to write on a T shirt.

With growing excitement, he quickly got out of bed, being careful not to wake his pregnant wife, still sleeping soundly by his side. He left the bedroom, and walked quietly past the room in which his two-year-old son was sleeping. He went to the small alcove in the apartment rented from the university where he was a post doc, a junior member of a team working to build a quantum computer. There he sat at his desk and made sure with pencil and paper that the details of the theory of everything all checked out. He turned on his computer and prepared to write a paper on the Theory of Everything. He realized this was an important discovery, not just to physicists, and so thought of sending it to an important general science journal such as Science or Nature. But he wanted to communicate his discovery as quickly as possible to his fellow physicists, and with the realization that they never read anything but physics journals, decided to send it to prestigious physics journal. After all, the only time he looked at Science or Nature was when his wife, a post doc in biological sciences, drew his attention to something in one of them.

He set to work. The title was obvious, "The Theory of Everything ", but the rest of the article required some care in its presentation. He realized that the theory had practical consequences because it gave a clear account of quantum entanglement, and so showed which approaches to quantum computing would work and which ones would not. He had gone to sleep earlier that night while worrying about a particular problem with the team's approach to quantum computing. And as had sometimes happened before, he had awoke with a solution to the problem. But this time, the solution was not just a solution to his particular problem, but a theory of everything that showed the team's approach could not work, in much the same way as the theory of thermodynamics had ruled out perpetual motion. He put some of his ideas on this in the discussion section of the paper.

Finally the paper was finished. He sat back to think for a minute before he clicked on "send ". What would this discovery do for him? Importantly it had gratified his curiosity, and that was why he did research. Throughout his brief research career, he had done curiosity driven research, even though some of it would have practical consequences if successful. But he realized that his Theory of Everything would mean the end of the team working on quantum computing, and that would be the end of his post doc. His career would not proceed as he had planned. He had expected the grant for the quantum computer to be easily renewed, in spite of their lack of success so far, as the team leader was a famous and influential physicist . Then he would easily get his appointment extended, and after that expected to get a tenure-track appointment, even if at a provincial university, and eventually achieve tenure and so finally have some security for his growing family. But the publication of this paper would put an end to those plans. He would have to apply for a grant to work on something else, and even if successful that would take time. And what would he work on? His theory of everything solved all the problems he knew about. He would have to turn his attention to applied physics. After all, his wife was always drawing his attention to problems in biology needing the attention of a physicist. So he could apply for a grant to work on one of those problems. But unfortunately he had no track record in that field. Grants were only awarded to those who had already published in the field of the grant. His publications would not count. After the publication of this paper, he would also be competing against many other unemployed physicists since the Theory of Everything would end the problems they worked on too.

He could not sacrifice his family in this way. After all, he had satisfied his curiosity. He knew the answers even if he did not tell others.

He reached forward and clicked on "delete".

About the Author: 
I am a theoretical physicist at the Australian National University.