The state of Physics today


Link: Einstein Has Left the Building – New York Times.

Today, government spending on physics research has stagnated, and the number of Americans pursuing doctorates has plunged to its lowest level since the early 1960’s. Especially as represented by best sellers like “A Brief History of Time,” by Stephen Hawking, and “The Elegant Universe,” by Brian Greene, physics has also become increasingly esoteric, if not downright escapist. Many of physics’ best and brightest are obsessed with fulfilling a task that occupied Einstein’s latter years: finding a “unified theory” that fuses quantum physics and general relativity, which are as incompatible, conceptually and mathematically, as plaid and polka dots. But pursuers of this “theory of everything” have wandered into fantasy realms of higher dimensions with little or no empirical connection to our reality. In his new book “Hiding in the Mirror: The Mysterious Allure of Extra Dimensions, from Plato to String Theory and Beyond,” the physicist Lawrence Krauss frets that his colleagues’ belief in hyperspace theories in spite of the lack of evidence will encourage the insidious notion that science “is merely another kind of religion.”

The key quote is that last phrase… I’ve been worried for a while that we as a society are slowly replacing the priesthood of the Church with a priesthood of physics shamans and MD witch-doctors. Certainly the massive temples we build to the study of the atom and to the big business of medicine dwarf any of the medieval cathedrals built as monuments to the study of divine revelation.

I don’t know if there’s anything that going to change the present course we’re on other than people starting to realize that phenomenology as a “be all, end all” for our world-view is deeply unsatisfying.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...