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The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
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Evolution and the Theory of Everything

Alexandra Mnuskin

Alexandra Mnuskin
February 9, 2005
Story of Evolution—Paper #1

Evolution and the Theory of Everything

Is evolution a story of random chaos that somehow produces order on a grander scale? In his book What Evolution Is, Ernst Mayr argues that evolution is made up of chaotic chance events that with time produce an orderly, diverse world of species that seem to be perfectly fitted for their environment. Like the story of evolution, the story of modern physics tells of disorder on a microscopic, quantum level which makes up the orderly and predictable world of large matter. It is possible however, that order is present even in the seemingly disordered realm of both evolution and quantum mechanics, and that man kind has simply not yet understood the order that is present even amidst the apparent chaos of natural selection and the quantum world.

Mayr argues that evolution is essentially a result of chance. There are many unpredictable factors that account for the process of natural selection. The mutation of genes is a random occurrence. The environment an organism is in may induce a certain gene to be apparent in a certain way. An unexpected change in the environment makes a certain phenotype more advantageous for the environment, and an environmental catastrophe may, by chance, wipe out a part of the population with a certain phenotype.

Yet despite all the randomness of natural selection, Mayr's story of evolution tells of an extraordinary diversity of species that seem to have fine-tuned adaptations for various environments over a long period of time. Mayr describes in detail the controversy about whether it is chance or necessity that is the driving force of evolution. He concludes with the idea that even though species appear to be perfectly adapted for their environment "every attribute is ultimately the product of variation, and this variation is largely a product of chance" (Mayr, 2001, p.229)

Mayr's theory of evolution echoes the two principles of modern physics, quantum mechanics and general relativity. Together the two explain all worldly phenomena with two completely opposing theories—one for the miniscule world of quantum mechanics and the other for the time and space fabric making up our tangible world. As noted by Nobel laureate Richard Feynman "Things on a small scale behave nothing like things on a large scale" (McKie, 2004, p.1). The world of quantum mechanics is very much like the randomness of natural selection that drives evolution. These tiny and random particles that exist in a world of chance do make up the well ordered world of stars, planets and galaxies; just as the random fluctuations of natural selection make up the order of evolved species.

Einstein's principle of general relativity joins together gravity and the time and space continuum and is essential for understanding the movement of our planets and galaxies. On the opposing front is quantum mechanics, applicable to the inconceivable world of electrons and sub-atomic particles. Here in this strange world governed by chance, particles and fields jump between different possible values, photons can behave both as waves and particles and "the microscopic realm is a rolling frenzy, awash in a violent sea of quantum fluctuations" consistent with the uncertainty principle that governs the quantum world (Greene, 2003).

Modern physics has no way of combining these two opposing theories. It is impossible to use quantum mechanics to explain the movement of large objects of the universe, and likewise impossible to predict the behavior of quarks using gravity. We are left with a conundrum. Are we, as Mayr proposes, to accept the fact that uncertainty and certainty are part of the same world? That on a smaller level the universe is random and only appears to be ordered on the larger scale? Noted physicist Brian Greene argues that "it is hard to believe that the deepest understanding of the universe consists of an uneasy union between two powerful theoretical frameworks that are mutually incompatible. We have one universe and therefore should have one theory" (McKie, 2004, p.2)

Albert Einstein like Greene, was convinced that there was a congruity to the universe, that a law applicable to one aspect of our world must be applicable to the other. He embarked on a solitary quest to unite all the laws of physics into one law, one story: "a theory of everything". In this last endeavor however, he proved to be unsuccessful. Isolated from the physical community Einstein wrote to a friend: "I have become a lonely old chap who is mainly known because he doesn't wear socks and who is exhibited as a curiosity on special occasions" (Greene 2003).

Now, however, fifty years after Einstein's death, physicists are once more trying to peace together a story that would encompass all theories, and join together the apparent disorder present on a microscopic level with the orderly world of the cosmos. This "holy grail" of modern physics has taken by storm much of the physical community, a large portion of which is becoming convinced that an all encompassing theory is indeed truly possible (Greene, 2003).

At the heart of the matter are strings. Tiny threads of energy making up the smallest chaotic particles like quarks and electrons. All of the forces that are observed throughout nature, gravitational, electromagnetic, strong nuclear and weak nuclear could all be explained on an even smaller level than quantum mechanics. String theorists proclaim that these seemingly opposing forces are all merely reflections of the different ways strings can vibrate. As noted mathematician and one of the first pioneers in String Theory Michael Green explains, "You can think of the universe as a symphony or song—for both are made up of 'notes' produced by strings vibrating in particular ways" (McKie, 2004 p.2). String theory affirms that the apparent randomness of particles is in fact, manifestations of the patterns of the vibrations of a string. The vibrations of a string also account for the larger forces of this universe. Thus string theory encompasses all matter and all forces into one whole story unified by the oscillations of strings (Greene, 2003).

It is not the purpose of this paper to go into the details and problems of String Theory. Suffice to say the theory in its present state is toeing the line between actual science and philosophy. Not only have there been no concrete proofs in support of the hypothesis, but the mathematics of the idea delves into an almost surreal world of multiple dimensions that appear to be something out of a science-fiction novel (McKie, 2004).

However unbelievable the theory may be, the very possibility of it creates profound implications for Mayr's story of evolution. There is a possibility that we simply do not understand the world of chaos enough to observe the logical rules that govern the game of evolution. In its essence, String Theory contradicts Mayr's account of evolution refuting utterly any idea of intelligent design. He declares that "the beliefs of creationists are in conflict with the findings of science" (Mayr, 2001 p. 4)

Despite his acceptance of Quantum mechanics, Einstein proclaimed: "an inner voice tells me that it [Quantum mechanics] is not yet the real thing. The theory says a lot, but does not really bring us closer to the secret of the 'Old One.' I, at any rate, am convinced that He is not playing at dice" (Greene, 2003). The idea that intelligent design is not in conflict with science is therefore not a new one. There may yet be found rules that govern the most chaotic of particles, the most unpredictable of mutations. Through Sting Theory we may yet discover a unity of principles in the physical world as well as in the story of evolution.

Greene, B. (2003, July). The Theory of Everything [Online]. Available:

Mayr, E. (2001). What Evolution Is. New York: Perseus Books Group.

McKie, R. (2004, July). As Long as a Piece of String. New Statesman [Online],

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