In “The problem with physics,” Princeton’s Tony Rothman writes, “Most physicists and students have lost sight of the fact that physics is not a Divine Truth” (ABC News, August 4, 2011):
Unfortunately, many of my colleagues — particularly those who write textbooks — present physics as a towering, seamless basilica, ignoring the gaps in our hodge-podge of skewed models. In fact, what is presented as a shimmering cathedral often more closely resembles a hastily erected shanty-town.
Newtonian mechanics is at the bottom of everything, then one should be able to derive the second law of thermodynamics from Newtonian physics. But this has never been accomplished satisfactorily: the incompatibility of the second law with the other fundamental laws is perhaps the greatest paradox in all of physics.
Remember “Darwinism is as sure as the law of gravity”, beloved of the Darwin in the schools lobbyist? Well,
Even something as fundamental as Newton’s law of gravity is ultimately an approximation. Textbook authors dutifully write down the famous law without remarking that it results in infinite forces when the two attracting objects get infinitely close together. Never mind that infinite forces are a sure sign that your theory has gone up in smoke: in the current crop of textbooks sitting on my desk, not one mentions the obvious pathology.
He cites several other paradoxes, commenting,
One can hardly challenge the predictive success of modern physics, but one should remember that one is describing nature, and not always understanding it.
A critical point, because if description is not understanding, it certainly isn’t prescription either.
Which makes you wonder why people like Hawking (and Mlodinow) pretend such certainty about such great things.
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