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At Quanta: Are we looking at the end of physics?

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Some say there are no new particles to be discovered but a physicist replies,

Defining progress in terms of discovering new particles or forces is a myopic view of physics. It ignores a large part of the discipline, and vastly underestimates what we can still achieve. In fact, I believe that what we currently know is an absolutely negligible fraction of the physics that’s out there, waiting to be investigated.

The aim of physics is to understand in a precise, mathematical way all manifestation of matter and energy in the universe — and we have barely started to explore this infinitude of possibilities. Claiming that physics is finished is akin to arguing that mathematics ended after the introduction of natural numbers and basic arithmetic, or that chemistry was over with the advent of the periodic table. Learning the rules of chess doesn’t make you a grandmaster.

The truth is, the realm of the smallest particles is not the only place you can find the fundamental laws of physics…

Robbert Dijkgraaf, “Contemplating the End of Physics” at Mind Matters News

Ah yes, the problem of dead-endedness that Sabine Hossenfelder often writes about. As does Columbia mathematician Peter Woit, on the subject of string theory. About Dijkgraaf’s piece, Woit writes,

In a remarkable article entitled Contemplating the End of Physics posted today at Quanta magazine, Robbert Dijkgraaf (the director of the IAS) more or less announces the arrival of the scenario that John Horgan predicted for physics back in 1996. Horgan argued that physics was reaching the end of its ability to progress by finding new fundamental laws. Research trying to find new fundamental constituents of the universe and new laws governing them was destined to reach an endpoint where no more progress was possible. This is pretty much how Dijkgraaf now sees the field going forward.

Peter Woit, “Contemplating the End of Physics” at Not Even Wrong

But surely much of the nonsense around string theory and the multiverse is in part due to a practical failure—the inability to find even a single particle of dark matter or similar evidence for dark energy.

If we actually had something like that, the fundamental constituents and the laws would just have to adjust. Theories would buzz differently.

That’s always the way. Find a duckbilled platypus and the biologists’ theories about ALL mammals just have to adjust.

See also: Post-modern physics: String theory gets over the need for evidence

3 Replies to “At Quanta: Are we looking at the end of physics?

  1. 1
    Eugene says:

    Maybe they should focus on finding the solution to the measurement problem (aka wavefunction collapse). This seems like the most obvious path forward towards new physics, and yet it routinely gets swept under the rug.

  2. 2
    polistra says:

    Parkinson’s Law. Agencies and disciplines are formed to solve a problem. Their job is to insure that the problem gets worse so they will always have exponentially increasing budgets and powers. When the problem accidentally solves itself despite the discipline’s best efforts to magnify it, the discipline shifts to other goals, which are usually trivial or criminal. Trying to obliterate the universe by creating a black hole is criminal, to put it mildly.

  3. 3
    jawa says:

    Biology is becoming the new queen of science, leaving to Physics, mathematics, chemistry, the role of efficient servants.

    Just look around at biology research publications booming overwhelmingly. New research fields popping up all over the biology map.

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