Atle O. Søvik won an international manuscript competition with the book A Basic Theory of Everything, where he presents a theory of the basic building blocks of reality.

Atle Ottesen Søvik

Professor of systematic theology

Current research interest: technology and ethics/philosophy

Has just published the book A Basic Theory of Everything: A Fundamental Theoretical Framework for Philosophy and Science

The book won an international manuscript competition in the category of philosophy and will be published as open access on April 4th.

Tell us about the competition you won!

- I figured that few people will read a 500-page-book anyway, and that nobody will read it unless it is published as open access so that you can read it for free online. However, such publishing costs quite a lot for the author. Then I discovered that the publisher DeGruyter had a competition calling for book manuscripts where the prize was that they published the book as open access at no cost to the author. I submitted and won in the category of philosophy. They also print the book as a regular book, so now interested readers can choose whether they want to buy the book for 134 Euros or download it for free.

What is the book about?

- It is about everything.

Can you be a bit more specific?

- Yes: It is not about everything. But it is about the fundamental structures of the world. The book suggests answers to all the major philosophical questions - including new answers to questions such as how the world is built up, what consciousness is and how consciousness is related to the physical, how free will could arise, what time is, why we have the laws of nature we have, what makes mathematical statements and ethical norms true, what the meaning of life is, or why there is something at all.

Some of the questions discussed and answered in the book:

How does language relate to the world?

What are laws of nature?

What is existence?

What is the self?

How did consciousness evolve?

How can we have free will?

What is time?

What kinds of time travel are possible?

How should we understand E = mc2?

How are particles created and annihilated?

How should we understand quantum mechanics?

Why do we have the laws of nature that we do?

What makes ethical norms true?

What is ethical goodness?

What is the meaning of life?

Why does anything exist at all?

Hvordan er egentlig verden What are the fundamental building blocks of the world? sett skrudd sammen?

- I suggest that everything else can be explained with three basic building blocks, which I call a field, a set of ontological values, and an actualizer. It is based on a widely accepted theory in physics saying that the universe consists of different quantum fields where some basic physical values ​​are actualized according to some field equations. I connect that theory with a new and similar theory of consciousness where there is a qualia field actualizing some basic subjective values. The theory has great explanatory power and avoids some traditional problems about the relationship between consciousness and the physical world. But I need 500 pages to explain how the basic building blocks explain everything else.

Who is the book’s target group?

- The book is perfect for those who have questions about anything. It is even better for readers who are already familiar with some of the problems, but it does not require prior knowledge.

You explain both Einstein’s theory of relativity and quantum physics in the book – does that not require prior knowledge?

- Quantum physics and the theory of relativity are presented quite thoroughly, but you do not need to know more mathematics than Pythagoras to hang along. If you understand that a2 + b2 = c2, or that 32 + 42 = 52 (i.e., that 9 + 16 = 25), then you know the mathematics you need to understand the essence of relativity and quantum physics.

Can the reader trust what a theologian writes about physics?

- Fortunately, I have received good help from experts in physics. Everything I write about physics and biology is standard science - it is the philosophical interpretations that are new. The natural sciences presuppose that there are particles, laws of nature, forces, consciousness, mathematics, etc., but what are these things, where do they come from, why are they as they are and function as they do? These are philosophical questions I suggest answers to. But even if one should not care about my ideas, the book gives an non-expert introduction to how particles, the universe, and the brain work. I think the reader can get a good feeling of understanding the big picture of how things work and how things are related in the world.

How much self-confidence does one have to have to call a book “a theory of everything”?

- You do not need self-confidence at all – it suffices with a lack of self-understanding. Jokes aside - there should be some quality assurance in the fact that large parts of the ideas in the book have already been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. In addition, the whole book is peer-reviewed and won a manuscript competition, meaning that at least some people think it is worth publishing. But I do not know how many I competed against - maybe the other competitors were incompetent?

Is the book a theological book?

- No. It is a purely philosophical book that presents a theory of the world which I argue that the reader should accept on general terms. It is not about God or theology. At the same time, I show how an understanding of the world must include an actualizer to explain that there is anything moving around at all. People of faith can naturally read God into that.

Is the book relevant right now?

- Actually, yes. The book shows that it is possible to have both a naturalistic reductionist approach to our understanding of reality while at the same time defending fairly traditional notions of human views, equality, free will, responsibility, and ethical values. I think this is important in our time when technology development puts such values ​​under pressure, and the book shows how to defend these values ​​also to people who reject God, soul, value realism, etc.

Is it possible to write about such a broad topic without it being superficial and unjustified?

- I wanted to write the book because I discovered that every time I have to work thoroughly with a question, it presupposes a number of interconnected assumptions. I needed to think through how I think things are related. There are very few such books. It is almost always best to dig deep into a specific topic, but often it is also the case that experts on a topic say something wrong because they do not see that they are assuming something false in a related topic. Often philosophers should know a little more science, while scientists should know a little more philosophy. For this reason, there is value in working across disciplines, even if one cannot go in-depth on everything. There is probably something important I do not know that I do not know, but the best chance of learning about it is by contributing with something that others can criticize, so I look forward to learning more.

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