As a teenger, my interest in physics was prejudiced by a strong affinity with spirituality, especially non-dualism and the notion that I could theoretically, directly perceive the essence of reality. In particular, I felt evangelical about the idea that the unified field must be a field of consciousness, and I occasionally challenged anyone whom I sensed was even partially interested to refute my “proofs” that the unified field must be consciousness itself. When this interest became a full-fledged obsession later in life, I assumed I had a philosophical advantage over “materialist” physicists trying to solve quantum gravity. Since I already knew the result - that the unified field was consciousness, all I had to do was answer a simple question: how does the unified field of consciousness experience diversity and separation within itself? In other words, if I could approach the problem from the opposite direction, knowing the answer already, I would automatically discern the simple and elegant mechanism by which the forces of nature come from and merge back into one thing.
In my attempts to answer this simple question, however, I could not even get off square one. In retrospect I understand that imagining the unified field of consciousness is an impossible task, because the object of imagination is always contained within consciousness. And yet, years of daily pointed concentration and burning feelings of frustration and inadequacy did not dissuade my attempts to make the unknowable into something knowable that I could present to the world. I was pounding my head against a dead end. Meeting my wife had the effect of breaking my myopic focus. Perhaps it is her taste for life’s variety that reawoke my curiosity in physics as-it-is. When you explore the territory (and it really helps to find the good authors) there are all kinds of edges to our understanding of physics. These edges excited me more than any abstract idea of a unified field, especially because I could feel how some of these edges connected together.
There are attainable answers and there are unattainable answers. The difference is whether there is a well-formulated question to begin with. The question “How do the forces of nature arise out of the unified field of consciousness?” is poorly formulated, because consciousness itself only witnesses - it does not interact with anything. Therefore nothing can arise from consciousness, because that arising would necessitate some type of interaction between consciousness and the “thing” arising from it. A well-formulated question is “How does one describe electromagnetism in terms of space and time?”. This has been an unanswered question within physics, and I intuited that there must be an answer, and that it must be profound, because it would require the inclusion of the human subject in the model. An answer to this question would not only be practical, it would resonate with the deepest philosophical matters that fascinate me!
After nearly seven years of working on the problem of describing electromagnetism in terms of space and time, I have found an answer. The most significant development for me along the way was the realization that I couldn’t do it alone, and soon after that realization, my engagement in Meoh connected me with Cadell Last, whose philosophical premise for a mathematical/geometrical inclusion of the human subject into the language of physics was the key concept I needed to make progress with my model. In less than a year, I completed a paper that outlines a model that describes electromagnetism in terms of space and time.
My orientation towards life is radically different now than it was when I first became obsessed with unified field theory. I no longer wish to gain a singular transcendental realization that will transform the world. I understand now that it is only the ways in which we work together that will make a positive impact. Therefore my top priority is the quality of my relationships. I am grateful that with help, I was able to solve a very challenging conceptual problem in physics. The real value of what I have found however, will depend on what use we make of it.
- Ben Werner