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Is Scope of Classical Physics decreasing?

  1. Nov 7, 2013 #1
    Hi guys,
    Just ran into a debate with friends about this topic. We were discussing whether the scope of pure sciences (in particular, Classical Physics)decreasing over time? Has it decreased till date? The fact that newer questions posed now a days are tougher than the times of Newton and Einstein, is also debatable. But does this mean that the scope of this field has decreased and we are currently unable to achieve breakthrough discoveries as made by Einstein and Newton (and the thousands of them alike) which have a lasting impact on the society..fundamentally changing the way we live?

  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 7, 2013 #2
    I feel it's a tough question to answer - decreasing in respect to what?

    I also don't quite understand the scope of your question (no pun intended) - your topic says "classical physics", but reading your post it seems to me you may mean science/physics in general and with "newer questions" you seem to imply modern physics (please correct me if I misunderstand you or be more specific :smile:).

    Nevertheless, I will answer from a general/modern physics perspective;

    Of course, human knowledge have accumulated over time - we have learnt more and more. But new discoveries/theories/models also open new frontiers with new questions/problems.

    Two examples that I immediately think of is 1) the dark matter hypothesis (particle physics/astronomy/cosmology) and 2) the accelerated expansion of the Universe (cosmology). But there are more examples.

    Another thing worth mentioning is that our experimental capability also is a factor when testing new models/theories, examples;

    1. Quantum gravity - very hard to test; the effects are expected to be very, very weak.
    2. String theory - very hard to test; limited by how powerful particle accelerators we can build.
    3. Dark matter - expected to be hard to detect; hopefully progress will be made in this field during the next decades.

    The point I'm trying to make is that our scientific progress also depends on our experimental (and observational) capabilities. Again, if I misunderstood your intended scope, please say so :wink:.
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2013
  4. Nov 8, 2013 #3
    Thanks for picking up the discussion, Dennis!
    Scope in the sense, scope of discovering something really big as - Newton's laws..they have had a lasting impact on human life altogether. The main point which I want to stress is the impact of the discovery. So in older days as I interpret, there were more chances of discoveries that have more impact on society. Though for example, the discovery of perhaps graviton/Higgs Boson may be the biggest breakthrough, but the impact it would make is rather less than the discoveries in the past. This is what I meant by scope. What we were really interested is the scope of discoveries in Fundamental Sciences (Ex: Classical Mechanics, Mathematics) has decreased or not. As more and more problems are solved, is there a saturation state that we are tending to...saturation state as in..the number of problems we solve are decreasing with time? If we are saturating does this directly imply that the scope of making bigger discoveries decreasing?

    The point which you mentioned is validation of our theories with experimental evidences. That is surely difficult and the breakthroughs will be huge. But I think the scope would not include our capabilities.
    Correct me if am wrong somewhere.
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2013
  5. Nov 8, 2013 #4
    I would tend to think that a 'discovery' has a minimal immediate impact upon society. Rather the application through new technological advances and manufacturing processes that build one upon the other has a greater impact.
  6. Nov 8, 2013 #5
    I ain't no genius but I would attribute those great impacting discoveries to well quite frankly virgin territory where there was much to discover due to the fact there weren't as many at it. Nowadays you got tons of scientists and specialization with many paths. Yea I agree eventually humanity would hit diminishing returns but I don't feel that it is here yet. I am of the opinion we have become so sophisticated that the questions are getting ever more complex.

    Possible proof of my point with the fresh territory and less minds. There was probably only like three guys actually making progress on the questions of their time in regards to this field....Newton...Hooke and Leibniz.

    Naturally there was plenty of debate within the academic institutions but Newton went off and got crap done. Of course you had others in maths and philosophy for example Descartes etc but you could probably list everyone involved with this stuff. As in it wouldn't be a gigantic list, likely to do with education being the sole preserve of the wealthy. I'm ranting a bit. Paraphrase...Less education, less folks, more polymaths and less discovered.

    I also feel with specialization there are merits but I think we are missing those polymaths who can make connections others don't seem to get to as in slower due to networking problems and maybe no bazinga moments. But hey just a lay man's opinion take it with a grain of salt.

    You see the odd genius I mean on the news who passed all this jazz really early by that the basis maths, then physics and whatever the hell else they into I reckon philosophy has maybe some merit metaphysically speaking and not the god crap. Our brains and space etc.

    Them types are usually tipped for nobel prize etc and maybe they will get it but it will only matter to physicists because everyone else won't have a clue what the hell it means because it will be obscure and the applications will take forever to trickle down. But I still reckon they need to be individualists and not go with the flow totally and once again that polymath crap.
  7. Nov 8, 2013 #6
    Thanks John and 256bits...256bits, I completely agree to your point. It is the technology that needs to be developed to make a useful product. But I still am not able to get the answer to the question posed..that are we running out of great problems to be solved? Or are the methods becoming insufficient?
  8. Nov 8, 2013 #7


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    I tend to look at these from the perspective of scale. The early discoveries were made with simple observations. Later discoveries needed either a microscope to see things very small or a scale to weigh things very light... or a telescope to see things very far.

    The most recent discoveries needed equipment that is far more sensitive to see the very smallest, lightest, heaviest, farthest objects. In these realms, classical physics is not the dominant player anymore and so we must rely on General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics.

    The uncertainty principle begins to set boundaries on what we can observe so now we must look at doing different kinds of experiments or making different kinds of observations to see deeper and try to tease out the true nature of things. It is here where we will learn new insights and progress science.

    On a similar track, our math must expand into new areas which can only be done by looking at outstanding problems and trying to get around their roadblocks. The new math may in turn give us a new way of looking at into physical phenomena that we currently don't understand.
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