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What is the biggest most fundamental question in all of physics?

by jadrian
Tags: biggest, fundamental, physics
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Feb20-12, 02:54 AM
P: 17
I think, as in so many areas, there's a convergence between physics and philosophy. Philosophers in the past have argued that unless there is some uncaused cause external to the universe, then the universe must be causa sui and have persisted through infinite time up to now. The notion of an uncaused event is anathema to physics, as is the notion of belief in some unseen metaphysical entity. Therefore, physics and a philosophical perspective both demand that there is no spontaneous ex nihilo creation. It is contrary to the foundational principles of physics that the universe should have just popped into existence with a cause. So there is no such thing as t<0. If something else caused our universe, then its contours will surely one day be divined just as surely as we are now probing the contours of events 14 billion years ago.

And in any case, it's not really a question for philosophers because that sort of speculation was the preserve of philosophers centuries ago. Nowadays philosophers tend to be interested in things like logic, language, and the mind. The real heirs of that sort of philosophy are modern theoretical physicists.
Feb20-12, 04:03 AM
P: 94
I think " why is there something rather than nothing " or make a universe out of absolutely nothing, says it all you could also add where does God fit in as well
Feb20-12, 04:05 AM
P: 28
Quote Quote by Drakkith View Post
Physics is a huge area with many different things being researched and discovered all the time. I'm not sure there is an argument like the one you are asking about.
I think you put it well. There is no consensus in physics about "the fundamental question".

Particle physicists would argue that it's something like "how to combine relativity and QM", which would then hopefully lead to the "theory of everything" governing the behavior of all fundamental particles (and then, some think that string theory is the answer to that). This is of course often heard in popular media.

On the other hand, a condensed-matter or non-linear physicist, for example, would argue that understanding phenomena is more important than understanding specific cases. Like broken gauge symmetry which underlies both superconductivity and the Higgs mechanism. With this view, it is hard to formulate a single "ultimate question".

Nobel Laureate Robert Laughlin's nice book "A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down" is an excellent critique of the common particle-physics view.
Feb22-12, 10:36 PM
P: 62
Who was the physicist that said "after the big bang is the job of science, before the big bang is the job of theologists." Not an exact quote, but hopefully someone can make the connection. Ive read it somewere, a while ago.
Claude Bile
Feb24-12, 06:17 AM
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1. Why don't General Relativity and Quantum Physics agree?

2. How did Justin Beiber ever become popular?

Feb24-12, 06:47 AM
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PF Gold
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"String theory" still needs an experimental basis. I would say that the most important fundamental problem is combining quantum theory and relativity- the "unified field theory".
Feb24-12, 07:14 AM
P: 149
well extend it to what is fundamental problem in physics NOW?
That would definitely be GUT/UFT
or add FTL travel to conquer space.

ANOTHER age of successful space exploration and beyond will bring in new phenomenons.
Feb24-12, 07:33 AM
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sophiecentaur's Avatar
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Whatever question you formulate, its answer will not be the answer to 'everything'. Why do I say that? Because, however long we take and however much we pool our own personal awarenesses, there is a limit to the degree to which we can analyse and understand ourselves.
I guess the best we can do is to come to terms with that basic situation but not to 'just give up'. Keep swimming or we drown.

And could someone explain to me why 'Space' and its conquest are supposed to be, in some way, the ultimate goal? That always sounds to me too much like the Wild West and Cowboy movies. The really important stuff is going on Inside our Heads.
Feb24-12, 08:02 AM
P: 149
Conquest of space will provide fuel to the brain we have. Fuel to open new vistas to our thought processes.
Well i am not going to believe that everything is inside our head after the clear evidence of evolution of beings and creation of our brain from chemicals.
Its difficult to imagine EVEN THAT to be hollogram created by brain.
Where would evolution/bigbang and everything outside that fit in?
There might be no end to curiosity but at least I cant remain without thinking.
Feb24-12, 09:10 AM
DennisN's Avatar
P: 484
what is the biggest most fundamental question in all of physics?

Wonderful question! However, I refuse to give only one answer, so here comes ten :

1. Can Quantum mechanics be joined with Relativity?
2. What is the most correct interpretation of Quantum mechanics?
3. When will QM & Relativity be replaced with even better theories? Will they? The history of science seems to say yes...
4. Why does the arrow of time point in only one direction?
5. What is the origin of mass (Higgs?) and how does the interaction of gravitation work (gravitons?)?
6. What is the origin of charge? Can it in any way be related to energy? Why does it not care about relativity?
7. Do the electron and/or the quarks have any substructure?
8. What is the true nature of vacuum? Is it empty or not?
9. Are there more spatial dimensions than three? How could we find out? Can we ever?
10. Is there only one Universe? Can we ever answer that question?

Here is a good link too: Open Questions in Physics.
Feb24-12, 12:09 PM
P: 308
hmmm - to me, it boils down to "what is a field?"

since there is basically no-thing there (ie, all fundamental particles are point particles with no volume, just properties), and the idea that "particles" are simply excitations of a given field, and since, from what i can tell, there is no understanding of what a field actually is or how it operates (virtual particle exchange explains pretty much nothing at all), i would say that is my most basic question.
Feb24-12, 12:18 PM
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sophiecentaur's Avatar
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You make the very important point that it's YOUR most basic question and that's the point. We all have different ones - which makes life interesting.
Feb24-12, 12:20 PM
P: 27
Does this TI-36X Pro make me look fat?
Feb24-12, 01:23 PM
P: 1
I can't tell you what the most puzzling question in physics is now, but I can tell you what it will be probably like in a year or so.

"And now? How do we cope with this?"

You have to picture some distressed faces saying that.
Feb24-12, 01:46 PM
DennisN's Avatar
P: 484
"And now? How do we cope with this?"
At least I think there are some distressed faces today saying "Why didn't we check if that cable was properly connected?".
Feb27-12, 05:05 AM
DennisN's Avatar
P: 484
I just want to add that I think jnormans question is a really good one too;
hmmm - to me, it boils down to "what is a field?...[]"
Feb27-12, 05:49 AM
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That presupposes that a field has to be anything more than a way of explaining an effect.
If someone said that a 2kg mass and a 2kg mass, when added together, give you a 4kg mass, would you think to ask the question "what is arithmetic?". Is the arithmetic part of the Physical World around us or just a tool with which we can predict certain things? Using the concept of Fields to explain and predict could be thought of as just the same as using arithmetic for a similar purpose.

There can't be a hierarchy of significance to the questions that arise in Science because they only exist in the context of all the others.

This thread is a bit like the final question on 'Any Questions" and other discussion panel programmes. Not as trivial, of course, but it's not unlike "what Christmas present would you want to give your favourite politician and why?"

Just listen to the Guru Feynman about the "Why" question. I think he gets it just right - in a nicely grumpy way.
Feb28-12, 06:10 AM
DennisN's Avatar
P: 484
I agree with most of what you say above, sophiecentaur. Science deals more with "hows" than "whys". But it seems it is in our human nature to first ask the question "why" and then try to explain/model "how", regardless of if "why" has been/can be answered or not (this is no criticism of science from me, it's just an observation of human nature ). And I agree Feynman was great, but he was still just one scientist among others, though. The field question (as jnorman originally formulated it) is a reasonable question IMHO. I see it as related to questions of the nature of vacuum;

"It [the field] occupies space. It contains energy. Its presence eliminates a true vacuum." (Wheeler)

"The fact that the electromagnetic field can possess momentum and energy makes it very real... a particle makes a field, and a field acts on another particle, and the field has such familiar properties as energy content and momentum, just as particles can have". (Feynman)

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