The end of physics?

I have heard recently some scientist (sorry, no link) saying that with the Discovery of the Higgs Boson, physical theory is complete.  There’s nothing more to be added to the Standard Model.  We’re done.

Which led me to think about where I’d heard that before.  Oh, that’s right.  When I took Modern Physics back in College, my professor described the state of physics in the late 19th century.  The attitude, he said, was that physical theory was complete.  They could just add a digit or two of precision to physical constants and then we could all go home.

Then two guys by the name of Michelson and Morley, and Hittorf’s discovery of “cathode rays” started a process which turned physics on its ear.  Michelson and Morley weren’t looking for the foundations of new physics.  They were looking to measure the movement of the Earth through the Luminiferous Aether scientists though carried “light waves”.  But what they found was something far more profound.  And the “cathode rays” led to a series of experiments that led to the discovery of the electron and eventually other atomic particles and the “atom” wasn’t so indivisible after all.  Between them, these to branches led to Relativity and Quantum Theory, giving us the Modern Physics.

So, are we on the cusp of the next big revolution in physics?  I think we are.  No telling how long the “hang time” will be at this cusp, but sooner or later (and I really hope sooner) somebody’s going to point at an experimental result and say “what the hell is that?” and we’ll be off with whole new worlds of physical theory to discover.

4 thoughts on “The end of physics?”

  1. IMHO, we'll have to wait a while for a bunch of white-haired eminences in the field to die off so that a new generation of physicists can take things farther.
    Mortality – it is a feature, not a bug.


  2. That “the old ones have to die off” is not as true as some would make it out to be. Max Planck may have made this in a fit of frustration: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” but the actual speed with which “Modern Physics” spread (such that Einstein was the “new kid on the block” in the 1905 when he published his seminal papers but had sufficient “cred” in 1924 that his word alone got people to pay attention to deBroglie's hypothesis).

    Yes, the “old guard” will bring up every objection to the new ideas that they can think of. That's a feature, not a bug. Every theory goes through that and is the stronger for it. If it can't answer the objections, then maybe it's not so valid as proponents might like to think.


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