The holy grail for 21st century physics is to produce a unified theory of everything that can describe the world at every level, from the tiniest particles to the largest galaxies. Currently the strongest contender for such a theory is something called M-theory. So what is this supposed mother of all theories all about?
Some things are so familiar to us that they are simply expected, and we may forget to wonder why they should be that way in the first place. Sex ratios are a good example of this: the number of men and women in the world is roughly equal, but why should this be the case? A simple mathematical argument provides an answer.
A traditional view of science holds that every system — including ourselves — is no more than the sum of its parts. To understand it, all you have to do is take it apart and see what's happening to the smallest constituents. But the mathematician and cosmologist George Ellis disagrees. He believes that complexity can arise from simple components and physical effects can have non-physical causes, opening a door for our free will to make a difference in a physical world.