In his insightful book "The Trouble With Physics" Lee Smolin made the case that something has gone wrong with physics, the queen of science, over the last 40 years. In Smolin's view the last generation of effort in theoretical physics (at least those who study "fundamental physics") has stalled.
After centuries in which each generation uncovered some deeper and more elemental character of physical reality than the last (gravity, electromagnetism, statistical physics, relativity, quantum theory) the endeavor has lost its momentum. In the 40 years since the basic elements of the standard model of particle physics was put in place no deeper insight into the roots of the model have been discovered. Quantum Gravity, the holy grail of theoretical physics uniting the twin pillars of Einsteins' General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, remains elusive. Despite its elegance and mathematical insights String Theory has not yet lived up to its promise of a theory of everything. The values of the 20 constants, which the standard model demands be put in by hand, remain unexplained by a deeper law.
For Smolin the requirement of invisible higher dimensions, which form the hallmark of string theory ,is part of this failure. If you need to invent invisible realities to make a theory work then, he argues, you are not explaining, you are explaining away. The same point can be made about the ideas of the multiverse - the universe of unobservable other universes - which are now a standard feature in many cosmological models.
These "crazy" ideas of modern physics (extra dimensions, extra universes) make many physicists nervous. They sound so much like plot devises from a Star Trek movie. Where are the close ties to experiment that form the hallmark of empirical investigation? Shouldn't physics and all of science be about the facts of this world, not the mathematical imaginings of some other possible worlds?
These conundrums are part of the dissatisfaction that have led some scientists to step entirely outside the box and ask what are we missing? What basic cherished principle are we holding onto and, in the process, holding ourselves back. It is from this vantage point that some are asking if the idea of physical law itself must be revised. It is from this vantage point that some are willing to ask what would Law without Law look like?
The Great Pant Rip Episode of 2012
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