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Is Science close to being finished?

  1. Feb 16, 2016 #1
    Imagine The Mathematical and Physical Theory of Everything being discovered. Every natural phenomenon being predicted then detected. The day Humanity knows all.

    Is this day coming soon? If so what will the population do? Will most Scientists and Mathematicians and Physicists loose their jobs?

    Surely this day is coming, surely this is what people are working towards.
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  3. Feb 16, 2016 #2


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    I doubt that.
  4. Feb 16, 2016 #3


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    "Everything that can be invented has been invented."

    - Charles H. Duell, US Patent and Trademark Office, 1899
  5. Feb 16, 2016 #4


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    I do not see a scientifically answerable question here.

    In the mathematical realm, there are incompleteness theorems that indicate that not all statements are decideable. In the physical realm, it is not clear whether we will ever find a theory of everything. In addition, even if we had a theory of everything, that theory might not be very useful. Then too, how would we even know if we did find a theory of everything?
  6. Feb 16, 2016 #5


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    Every few years, there is one of these nonsense popping up. This is no different then the claim of the "End of Science" that have been made repeatedly.

    Of course, this is a silly myth because of a number of things and observations:

    1. Throughout history, whenever we think that we know all there is to know about something, Mother Nature smacks us on the back of our heads. So, shouldn't we learn already from that and not make these kinds of silly proclamation already? How many bruises do you need on your head before you learn your lesson?

    2. There is no such thing as "Theory of Everything". Emergent phenomena assure that very clearly (see Phil Anderson's "More Is Different"). There may be a "Theory of Everything" for Reductionism, but don't fool yourself into thinking that this explains everything.

  7. Feb 16, 2016 #6


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    I believe the flaw in the OP is more basic, with the premise itself:
    Having a TOE does not imply "knows all". Just look at LIGO: GR works fine, so why look for gravitational waves? Because we didn't know they existed until we observed them. And even then, a lot of experiments are a matter of tightening error margins on old ones.
  8. Feb 16, 2016 #7
    I thought we found the answer: 42. :partytime:

    More seriously, IMO the level of complexity generated by any answer will probably exceed the ability of humans to understand it. (Though hopefully the answer itself will be simpler.) Perhaps some modified humans (cyborgs?) will find an answer. But I suspect the answer depends on what you decide to look for. (In math terms, what you choose as axioms.)

    To me the purpose of science is to have fun exploring the universe. It's a journey, not a destination.
  9. Feb 16, 2016 #8
    These responses have surprised me, I should have put this in the general topic area. I must admit I thought TOE did mean "Knows all". All of nature will be observed eventually.
  10. Feb 16, 2016 #9


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    If you observe all of nature, where will you write down your findings?
  11. Feb 16, 2016 #10
    Science is a product of the human mind, an endeavor of, and for, the human mind. It won't ever be finished because the human mind won't ever stop questioning.
  12. Feb 16, 2016 #11


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  13. Feb 16, 2016 #12
    Even if we could write down one equation that describes everything in physics, why would it be simple to solve? The Navier-Stokes equations were introduced in the 1840s and they are still a topic of active research in the mathematics, engineering, and physics communities--and they only describe fluids!

    The point being, we've had plenty of times where we've found equations that describe everything in a certain domain (e.g. Maxwell's equations are the "theory of classical electrodynamics and optics"), but that doesn't mean we haven't spent hundreds of years solving those equations.

    Besides--most people who go into physics do so because physics is freaking cool. You'll never have to worry about physicists not looking for and finding interesting problems to work on.
  14. Feb 16, 2016 #13
    Chemistry: We might perfect our knowledge of the fundamentals, but there's always going to be new compounds that could be invented or new biochemical reactions that could be observed in nature. And if it turns out there are other islands of stability beyond the periodic table, we'd find ourselves with a lot more to do.

    Biology: Even if we manage to classify and study every living thing on planet Earth, there is no reason to believe conclusively that Earth is the only planet that has life on it. There could be planets out there with natural histories completely different from our own, and even if it turns out that life is generally pretty similar throughout the universe, there's still a practically infinite number of planets out there that could have life on them, and that life will need to be studied. And even here on Earth, just a few decades ago people were absolutely certain that nothing lived in the ocean's abyssal zone, and now deep sea research is one of the most active areas of study (because who wouldn't want to devote a lifetime of study to glow-in-the-dark Cthulhu fish?).

    Physics: Don't the incompleteness theorems make a nontrivial theory of everything impossible? I mean, the equation 0=0 technically could be solved to describe anything and everything in the universe, but that doesn't make it useful. Either way, there are still several lifetimes' worth of unsolved problems, and solutions to those problems will probably create problems of their own. And the fact that we've only just now verified the existence of gravitational waves means that huge new areas of astronomy are going to start opening up.

    Engineering: If engineers run out of problems, they create their own. Some of those new problems will require new science or at least new methods. For instance, think about what Oliver Heaviside did for both math and engineering, even though he didn't necessarily discover anything new, the methods and techniques he introduced enabled a great deal of later scientific and technological progress.

    Sociology: A few centuries ago, the early Realists (Machiavelli, Hobbes, etc) were quite certain that they had everything figured out, but they could never have predicted how social and technological changes would shape politics and society in the future. And history never stops being written. In fact, if the "digital dark age" scenario turns out to be true, then history and archaeology could start becoming much more practical sciences.

    And of course, barring radical life extension technology (see Biology, Chemistry), there's going to be an increasing need to find new ways to efficiently teach students to prepare them to work in those disciplines. 200 years ago you could effectively do science with some free time and some books. 120 years ago you would have needed a Bachelor's degree at a minimum. 50 years ago you could do with a PhD. Now, you need a PhD and several years of postdoc experience before you're considered qualified to be a scientific researcher. So the human lifespan places a certain constraint on the speed at which discoveries can be made. We can counter this by organizing into teams of specialists, but if lifespan doesn't change or increases only slowly then the number of years during which an individual person is even able to make discoveries is going to be a significant constraint.
  15. Feb 17, 2016 #14
    I'm sure it will never happen :) Relax
  16. Feb 17, 2016 #15
  17. Feb 18, 2016 #16

    Fervent Freyja

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    This post give me the creeps...

    Even so, with just "knowing all", the problems in the world would still exist. Solutions would need to be derived, tested and applied- that would take centuries. Many people would still decide to remain oblivious to knowledge just as always, and some cultures/regions may not receive that knowledge at all. There are also issues in local and international politics, religious or spiritual ideas, cross-cultural communication, and numerous other issues that would prevent "knowing all" making a real, immediate difference for people. Scientists, mathematicians, and physicists will not lose their place in the world anytime soon.
  18. Feb 18, 2016 #17
    The only way I think science will come to an end is our extinction.
  19. Feb 18, 2016 #18


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    The first step in knowing everything is to know what you don't know!
  20. Feb 18, 2016 #19


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    Thanks for that. I got a good belly-laugh when I saw the title. I mean nothing rude towards you, it's just that people have been asking basically that same question since the days of Aristotle so you're hardly alone in wondering about it. It just hit my funny-bone to see it so you've started my afternoon off with a good laugh and for that I thank you.
  21. Feb 22, 2016 #20
    well we can't say, its like we know we are going to come to a destination but don't know how long, or where it is, the rise in knowledge has been exponential over the past few centuries, Is such a theory possible? I mean, are how does this mathematical theory explain, for example, biology and economics, at the same time? also will it answer the purpose of human and other life? or is this more philosophical? To say there is a central theory for everything? there are clearly subdivisions in sciences..so it must be philosophical?

    I am not very educated in science so, genuinely asking. Also, I believe while we may have all there is to know, there will be still many more technologies to create. Presently, the biggest threat is the self destruction of the human race
  22. Feb 23, 2016 #21
    I do not feel this is an unreasonable question to ask. We know the Universe is massively non-linear and further, that non-linear dynamics can create infinite diversity. Consider the Lorenz attractor (the owl-eyes icon of Chaos Theory), a set of three coupled non-linear differential equations. The trajectory of the solution to that system in phase space NEVER crosses no matter how long you run the system. In one sense then, it has infinite diversity! And that is just three simple equations. The Universe is much more complicated. So if a non-linear world such as ours has the potential to create infinite diversity, why then would we think there would ever come a time when we know everything? :)
  23. Feb 24, 2016 #22


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    Science is definitively not finished.

    That said, most of the big unsolved problems (dark matter, quantum gravity etc) are quite esoteric. Most (but far from all) of the" physics" that we come into contact with in our everyday life is pretty well understood.. We have very good understanding of say what matter is made from, the electromagnetic spectrum, the age of our universe etc.
    We are frequently not able to use this information to understand more complex or emergent phenomena since many problems are intractable if you try to solve them from first principles (understanding atomic physics does not mean that you can solve a protein folding problem), but this does not change the fact that we do believe that we could solve many of these problems in principle (i.e. if we had a big enough computer) using the knowledge we already have.

    Hence, science is not finished. But it certainly different than it was 150 years ago.
  24. Feb 25, 2016 #23
    Still got to figure out this zika virus.
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