The irony of physics: Dreaming of violence with strict rules

The irony of physics: Dreaming of violence with strict rules

Theoretician Janna Levin discusses the evolving relationship between theory and experimental physics. He highlights how physicists navigate the tension between speculative theory and strict adherence to reality – leading to both confinement within known laws, and explosive innovations that have changed our understanding of the Universe.

Levin explores questions about the nature of the cosmos, such as the possibility of multiple universes and the enigma of dark matter. He acknowledges the criticism that theoretical work on things that cannot be seen as many things may not fit the criteria of science, but says that nature may not conform to human definitions.

Levin emphasizes the importance of experimental discoveries, such as the indirect discovery of dark matter through the effects of gravity, in shaping our understanding. Finally, he says that scientific exploration challenges societal constraints, reorienting values ​​and perspectives while emphasizing the profound impact of observing the cosmos.

Janna Levin: Physicists are in the ironic position of thinking creatively and imaginatively about the strictest limits of reality. That can lead to very closed ways of approaching physics so that it only applies to known laws. And that can lead to a kind of creative explosion; and that has been incredibly successful.

The world is very different than we thought it was 100 years ago, and certainly 200 years ago, if even the most brilliant minds, the most brilliant minds 200 years ago, if they had told physicists not to dream, not to think, they would be. naive and petty. And so I believe that there is always a place in science for people who dream visually about things that may not be seen.

We understand that we are not at the center of the Universe, and we understand that our solar system is not alone. When Einstein was working in 1905, he did not know for sure that there were other galaxies. And now as far as the eye can see, there are galaxies. There are as many galaxies in the visible Universe as there are stars in the Milky Way. And the question becomes, and it’s a natural question, “Is this the only time there was a big bang?” “Is this the only Universe, or are there an infinite number of universes?” “Is nature just playing a slot machine?”

And yet, it’s an important question to ask yourself, because some of our pursuits of special laws may be futile if we begin to realize that there are things that are just random seeds. So we have the laws of physics, but maybe the mass of the electron is just a random accident. And so the question arises, “Are we rare in the universe, or possible?” And we can ask those questions, and we can answer them theoretically.

There is a criticism that is often levied against theoretical work because if, by definition, we can never observe many things, some people will argue that, technically, it is not a science. Because as humans, we have come together and decided that there are certain scientific methods that work best, and there is reproducibility as a requirement, and it should be true for all of us, and we all can. these thoughts and concepts, even if somehow the multiverse does not fall into that category. And I think this is one of those extreme cases where we should just shrug our shoulders and say, “Nature doesn’t care if it satisfies our scientific criteria.” That may be the way it is – and we may have to accept that.

There is an element of justice when observational physicists criticize theories that are too far from experiment. And we will always be reminded: Great progress is really driven by experimentation. And I have a lot of respect for those who are entrepreneurs. I’ve spent countless hours walking around some experiments, marveling at the interactions that led to them, the sophistication of the technology, the faith, and the laws of physics that play out on paper. But faith that they are true, and you can build something.

There is a whole history of astronomers going back decades and decades discovering dark matter before the theoretical community was willing to accept the absurdity that most of the matter in the Universe is not made of anything we have ever seen before. Yet it was discovered by something as straightforward as looking at the orbits of the stars around the galaxies, and realizing that there is mass missing, that there is a lot of mass that cannot be accounted for by anything light. We don’t know what it is. We don’t know what it means. If it is only the tip of the iceberg that there is not only black matter, but perhaps the whole of ‘dark reality,’ that world would not be fully visible to us, without our gravitational interactions. And that’s a really rough estimate, a scientific result, and we counselors, we still don’t know what it is.

It’s really the tension between the two that keeps us honest. It is the testers who confirm the findings to keep us moving and control certain methods. And the theories that listen to the experimental experts and follow the findings, use them as pulls and hoists to climb this great mountain, trying to understand the cosmos.

And I think that ultimately, scientists are open to the fact that nature is stranger than fiction. We cannot live in a society that is ignorant, limited, and some of the things that produce us, including feudalism, racism, violence. All these kinds of negative aspects of our primate selves are challenged and put in place when we get this great knowledge. We begin to rewrite our values, our social theories. Once people have the experience of looking into the cosmos, you can’t take away what you saw. And I think it affects all of us, personally and culturally and globally.

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