X-Message-Number: 19160
From: "Brett Bellmore" <>
Subject: Re: Why no fundamental advances in physics? 
Date: Mon, 27 May 2002 14:37:55 -0400

David: "It could be argued that the advance of physics is accelerating, as
it has thru its entire period of development. The question of what is a
*fundamental* advance, however, depends upon your point of view."

True. In my opinion, there are two types of genuine advances in physical
theory. The first is when the theories more accurately predict experimental
results. Seen much of that lately? The second is when a theory, without any
loss of predictive power, becomes substantially *simpler*. I haven't seen
much of that, either, recently.

"The theoretical ability to create universes "in the lab" strikes me as a
pretty fundamental advance, or could certainly lead to one."

Yeah, that would be, if it could be experimentally verified. Big if, at this

Me: "Based on this, physics should pick up again when we can get at those
bits of the universe we can't currently observe."

David: "This is fundamentally a political question. To investigate the
unification of gravity with the other fundamental forces requires an
increase in energy in experiments of about 20 orders of magnitude. This
means big bucks for *big* machines. However government funding for physics,
and basic research in general, is dropping."

I think you're rather over-impressed with the capabilities of our
government, and our engineers, if you think that only political will stands
between us and particle accelerators which can achieve 20 orders of
magnitude higher energies.

"Political leadership today seems to have about a two year vision, the time
to the next election. You can't do physics today on this kind of time line.
This is also why the Soviet Union beat the vastly more technically advanced
USA into space. Probably it will be the Chinese next time, they aim to be on
the Moon permanently by 2010."

Beat us into space, and subsequently collapsed, achieving less in the end. I
expect that the Chinese, too, will either economically collapse, or give up
the totalitarian capacity to devote disproportionate amounts of resources in
to politically favored goals, at the cost of basic support systems.

Me: We've got monkey brains
David: "This notion was firmly rejected at a recent physics lecture at the
Univ. of Copenhagen, "A theory of everything." New graduate students in
physics are not having any more problems understanding the latest theories
than their predecessors did."

Ah, but the ability to understand new theories, (On the part of people who
are already the cream of the crop, yet.) and the ability to originate them,
are quite different matters. I had no problem understanding calculus, but
would I ever have invented it, myself?

If there is a biological limit to current human intelligence, barring
technological intervention, it seems clear that we must bump up against it
eventually. I think we're starting to.

Brett Bellmore

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