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Physics: Just Warming Up…

April 11, 2014

John Horgan writes:

Some idiot over at National Geographic just wrote a column titled “Science Is Running Out of Things to Discover,” and the commenters are hammering him.

Yeah, I’m the idiot, and I thought I’d use this blog for a follow-up.

First of all, notwithstanding the headline, my National Geographic column is really about physics, not science as a whole. The news peg is a short letter in Nature on how it’s taking longer and longer for scientists to get Nobel Prizes for their work, especially in physics…”

In his 1967 book The Character of Physical Law Feynman wrote: “We are very lucky to live in an age in which we are still making discoveries. It is like the discovery of America—you only discover it once. The age in which we live is the age in which we are discovering the fundamental laws of nature, and that day will never come again. It is very exciting, it is marvelous, but this excitement will have to go. Of course in the future there will be other interests. There will be the interest of the connection of one level of phenomena to another—phenomena in biology and so on, or, if you are talking about exploration, exploring other planets, but there will not be the same things we are doing now.”

Tyranosopher observes:

To predict something, one ought to have reasons valid in the future. Here two reasons are in evidence to claim the end of physics:

1) the delay between idea and Nobel is increasing, and, 2), as Feynman said, one discovers America only once (actually it was three or four times, but never mind).

Neither do have any theoretical validity looking forward: both reasons are empirical, and look backwards.

For example Haroche in Paris got the Nobel for the new method of seeing light, without disturbing it, with atoms. Such fundamentally new Quantum technique could well bring a revolution, tomorrow, if a deviation from the rules of the Copenhagen Interpretation of physics is detected.

Ditto for the global entanglement experiments. Quantum entanglement has been partly checked up to 15 kilometers. But certainly not up to 15 parsecs. Any deviation, any time, from the Copenhagen Interpretation, would shatter all of fundamental physics. It would not make it completely false, it would just indicate another universe of knowledge and fundamental discovery beckons.

As the present Standard Model of High Energy Physics explains no more than 5% of the mass-energy out there, one can guess that twenty times more than what we know remains to be discovered in the rough sketch of what is to be known in physics that we have.

Lord Kelvin thought we understood 95% of physics, at least, and that there were only “two little black clouds at the horizon” (the UV catastrophe and the Blackbody radiation). To explain them, Planck suggested in 1899-1900, the Quantum emission of radiation, and his constant.

Now we know, for sure, that we understand just a little patch, no more than 5%.

In pure theory, non linear effect are a mystery, from hypersonic flight, to thermonuclear fusion, to the Navier-Stokes equation… Thus begging the question that may be all this non-linearity, if it were sorted out, would have a huge impact on the foundations of Quantum theory.

Physics is not finished, it barely got started.

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