Early Attempts at a Unitary Understanding of Nature

  • James F. Woodward


It is well known that since the turn of the century, and particularly after the development of general relativity theory by Einstein, many attempts have been made to construct a unitary theory of matter and all of its interactions. This work, for the most part, was carried on by a handful of physicists (including Einstein) and was not considered to be in the mainstream of the advancement of physical understanding. In part this was due to a demonstrable lack of success in accomplishing this goal by those so engaged. Particularly intractable was (and is) the problem of interrelating the gravitational and electromagnetic fields in a physically nontrival way. During the past decade or so enthusiasm among physicists for the possible unification of our theoretical understanding of fundamental phenomena has been growing. The work that has inspired this shift in attitude is the ostensibly successful unification of the weak and electromagnetic interactions in the non-Abelian gauge theory of Weinberg and Salam, and the experimental confirmation of key predictions of this theory. The strong and gravitational interactions remain to be incorporated into a fully articulated theory, but many seem confident that this may be accomplished within the foreseeable future. For example, Freedman and van Nieuwenhuizen have recently remarked

In the past 50 years remarkable progress has been made in identifying the elementary particles of matter and in understanding the interactions between them. Of course, many problems remain to be solved; two of the most fundamental ones concern gravitation. First, it is not understood how gravitation is related to the other fundamental forces. Second, there is no workable theory of gravitation that is consistent with the principles of quantum mechanics. Recently a new theory of gravitation called supergravity has led to new ideas on both these problems. It may represent a step toward solving them.1


Gravitational Radiation Detection Circuit Total Solar Eclipse Inertial Matter Pneumatic Motor 
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References and Notes

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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • James F. Woodward
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of HistoryCalifornia State UniversityFullertonUSA

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