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Was that end of theoretical physics?

  1. May 5, 2009 #1
    * In 1928, PHYSICIST and nobel prize winner Max. born told a group of visitors to gottingen university "physics , as we know it, will be over in six months".His confidence was based on recent discovery by DIRAC of the equation that governed the electron.It was thought that a similar equation would govern the proton , which was the only other particle known at that time and that would be end of theoretical physics. however the discovery of neutron and of nuclear forces knocked that one on the head, too. my question is how could it say that physics could be over and how did neutron save the physics?
     
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  3. May 6, 2009 #2

    Chalnoth

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    The point of this statement was that if we discovered a theory of everything, and found it to be accurate to the last detail, then there is some worry that the work of physicists who work on fundamental theory would be complete: there'd be nothing left to do, and they'd be out of jobs.

    Of course, the worries of Max Born here were, as we now know, unfounded at the time. When we delved into the behavior of these things, we found even more complex and beautiful behavior that has still not been resolved to satisfaction. In fact, all of the hints we have to what a fundamental theory might look like seem to indicate that finding a final theory of everything may potentially be impossible: all we can ever do is approximate. This may sound somewhat depressing, and in a way I agree. But at the same time, it means that the quest for learning may well be endless. And since I very much enjoy the quest for learning, well, that doesn't sound so bad.

    Stephen Hawking came to UC davis a few years ago and gave a public lecture that I very much enjoyed on this very topic, in fact. In it he argued that even if we do find a theory of everything, in actuality our work as physicists will still continue. His argument was based upon Goedel's incompleteness theorem, wherein Goedel shows that any mathematical system that satisfies certain criteria of complexity is either inconsistent or incomplete. Since we by fiat demand that mathematical systems are consistent, all mathematical systems of a certain complexity must, therefore, be incomplete: there is always more work to do in discovering the implications of such mathematical systems. Therefore, even if we do discover the theory of everything, there will always be work in discovering the implications of that theory. At least, that was Hawking's argument.
     
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