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Is it worth it to persue fundamental Theoretical Physics? no strings

  1. Apr 28, 2013 #1
    Here's my battle plan:
    Learn (the principles) of verified models for fundamental physics.
    QFT, GR, Standard Model, etc.

    Try to think of what I don't know and what I'd like to experimentally test.

    I think I'd prefer to get a regular job and research physics in my free time, rather than be forced to listen to unverified ideas, which I believe can limit creativity.
    EDIT: Of course I'm open to criticism and other ideas in 'concrete' areas. I just think string theory could influence me like someone giving a 'hint' for a math problem, I find it hard not to think of the hint.

    I'm looking at Perimeter institute for Quantum information theory, but it is early days.

    I'm sure there are people in similar situations, so I'd like to hear what you guys do.


    I don't believe I'm a crank, in case it comes off that way.
    Doing two BScs one in mathematical physics other in pure math + care about experiment and scientific method (more than ZFC).
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 28, 2013 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    The last physicist to do anything like your #2 with a high degree of success and visibility was Enrico Fermi. You're arguing that you are so smart, you can do what Fermi never could: do this part-time, and without exposing yourselves to other people's ideas that may challenge your own.

    How plausible is this?
  4. Apr 28, 2013 #3
    Thanks for your reply.

    I don't think I am 'so smart.'
    I guess I implied that, I'm sincerely sorry.
    I think all humans are pretty much the same level of learning capability (excluding those with mental problems) :).

    I'm not assuming success. I think anyone trying to find out something unknown faces the risk of failure.

    What I meant was, I'd like to start off with my own thinking. I would definitely be open for criticism, I just think that if I'm 'exposed' to some of the ideas of string theory I might not be able to get them out of my head.
    Like trying a maths question when someone gives you a hint, its hard not to use the hint for me.

    Personally I think 2 is a good way of deciding what to do next, though. e.g. I don't know what dark matter is. I'd like to look into that. (Not assuming that I'll make any progress).

    I fear that I may be forced into string theory or similarly unverified areas, which seems restrictive to me.
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2013
  5. Apr 29, 2013 #4
    If you want to do fundamental physics then I think that the only option is string theory . Most research is done in string theory .All other approach are not well developed and can likely lead to blind ends Also string theory is not restricted . Ideas from string theory are applied to condensed matter physics and to understand string theory you should understand quantum field theory which is fundamental to condensed matter physics too . String theory is the natural extension to gauge theory (think about gauge/gravity duality) so it provides insight into gauge theory of particle physics . It's not an isolated area any more
  6. Apr 29, 2013 #5
    No. Most theoretical physics is not done in string theory. I don't know where you got this.
  7. Apr 29, 2013 #6
    I meant physics beyond the standard model that's how to unify quantum mechanics and gravity
  8. Apr 29, 2013 #7
  9. Apr 29, 2013 #8
  10. Apr 29, 2013 #9
    To my knowledge, it's been Supersymmetry when I still was in the field (which was not so long ago). But it's already debatable whether physics beyond (or replacing) the Standard Model is the only fundamental physics. Statistical physics or Thermodynamics, for example, doesn't nessessarily even have to use Quantum Mechanics. Yet it is, in a sense, much more fundamental than Particle Physics or the Standard Model. Similar things can be said for Algebraic Quantum Field Theory, Quantum Computing or Non-linear Dynamics.

    On a not-fully-related note: Personally, I am not even conviced that it is purely due to natural human intuition to assume that Particle Physics and Astrophysics are the "most fundamental" field of Physics. I have the suspicion that at least part of this trend is due to the excellent Particle Physics PR, which they had to establish after the SSC desaster.
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2013
  11. Apr 29, 2013 #10


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    Isn't this kind of like saying: Here's my plan for becoming a billionaire:
    1. Study the standard models in micro- and macro-economics.
    2. Start a business and rake in the cash.

    Chances are, if you haven't spent much time learning the "verified models of fundamental physics," you don't have much of an idea of what it really means to be a theoretical physicist working on these kinds of problems.

    That's okay.

    I suspect a lot of people go into physics thinking along similar lines... they enjoy popular physics books or documentaries, they enjoy asking big questions, they enjoy the physics that they have studied and they have romantic ideas about the path to becoming a theoretical physicist... that one just has to obtain a PhD and one will be handed a job in an ivory tower challenging the secrets of the universe with one's intellect.

    As you study, you'll develop a more realistic view on how physics works. You'll mature academically and become interested in questions and opportunities that you were never even aware of prior to entering the field and in that sense you may just become a physicist. It's important to keep in mind there are a lot more people educated in physics than there are actively researching professional physicists.
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