Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The dream of a final theory

We now for some time what androids may dream of electric sheep from Philip K. Dick, but did you ever know what physicists dream about? Well, at least the ones specializing in particle physics (like Steven Weinberg) apparently dream of a final theory that will explain all that happens in our universe. He tells a history of the theories in physics (and also in natural sciences like chemistry and biology) in his book and how they converge to a still elusive final theory. The book is entertaining not only for the history of ideas in physics, but also for the discussion of the interference that various philosophical ideas had in the progress of science for better or for worse and also for the exposition of the reductionist argument, i.e. that chemistry and biology can be reduced to physical phenomena (that reminds me on how our physics teacher from high-school tried to lure us to his subject: he was telling us that after the discovery of the atom's structure chemistry was reduced to colors and smells of various substances and that we study math to apply it in physics).

Unfortunately our common sense is far behind these theories (although our gadgets rely on these advances in physics), as most people can barely imagine a curved space-time, so these dreams remain quite obscure: imagine that everything around is formed from tiny uni-dimensional strings and their various vibrations result in the matter and energy as we know it. That (string theories, cause there are many of them) is their main dream theme for the last 20 years.
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