Dennis Overbye is a terrific writer, but I have to say, I hate the way that he falls into the lazy shorthand of using “physics” to mean “theoretical particle physics” in this article about a recent conference built around debates about the state of particle physics. He’s got lots of great quotes from Lisa Randall and Lawrence Krauss and others about how things are really bleak on the theory side, and these are barely tempered by enthusiasm from experimentalists.

So, yeah, theoretical particle physics may well appear to be in crisis. But, look, theoretical particle physics is always in crisis. They’ve gone from one sky-is-falling crisis to another for as long as I’ve been following science. They’re like the Democratic party– perpetually on the verge of implosion, even when things are going well.

Don’t attribute the histrionics of a small community of theorists to “physics” as a whole. There are vast swaths of physics that are going along very nicely, thank you– there will be literally thousands of papers presented this March by people whose fields of physics are doing just fine. Many of them would probably be happy to take on smart people who find the future of theoretical particle physics too grim.

“Physics” is not in crisis. Physics as a whole is doing better than ever. A small subset of physicists may be unhappy with the state of their small subfield of physics, but this does not mean that the discipline as a whole is having problems.

Comments

  1. #1 onymous
    January 27, 2010

    Don’t attribute the histrionics of a small community of theorists to “physics” as a whole.

    Also, don’t attribute the histrionics of a handful of people who like to see their names in the papers to the community of theoretical particle physics as a whole.

  2. #2 Bee
    January 27, 2010

    Amen. Couldn’t agree more. The interesting question is though why the not crisis-prone fields aren’t better represented in the media? I’m sure you’ll easily find an answer to that question.

  3. #3 Nick
    January 27, 2010

    To me as a laymen it sometimes looks like theoretical physics is the NBA of physics.

  4. #4 Uncle Al
    January 27, 2010

    Aside from quantized gravitation and SUSY, physics is doing fine. What part of physical theory does not trace back to gravitation or SUSY?

    Chemically and macroscopically identical, opposite parity atomic mass distributions (opposite shoes) are realized as solid single crystal spheres of enantiomorphic space groups P3(1)21 versus P3(2)21 quartz or benzil; or enantiomorphic space groups P3(1) versus P3(2) glycine gamma-polymorph.

    1) Do opposite shoes violate the Equivalence Principle?
    2) Do opposite shoes have divergent /_\H(fusion)…? (benzil, mp. 95 C)
    3) Do niobium-plated Meissner effect-levitated opposite shoes in hard vacuum spontaneously rotate in opposite directions?
    4) Do racemic chiral molecules show spin state population divergence in FT-microwave spectroscopy?

    http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/twistene.png

    Physics is in a desperate crisis. Theory cannot transcend its own content – but experiment can. Somebody should look.

  5. #5 Melanie
    January 27, 2010

    As an experimental particle physicist, I don’t think things are so bleak :) Every day there seems to be new things that neutrinos are useful for…

    This is however, a conversation I’ve heard before from the other side. A lot of experimental physicists in particle physics are frustrated with the theoretical physicists because what they do has been so far from what we do for so long. Basically, if theoretical physics can’t make predictions of things we can actually look for, why are we paying them to write papers? But then there has been a feeling in theoretical particle physics for a long time that the mathematical beauty of the theory was more important than the ability to test it’s predictions…

  6. #6 Bee
    January 28, 2010

    Melanie: What “things [you] actually look for” aren’t theoretical physicsts making predictions of?

  7. #7 onymous
    January 28, 2010

    A lot of experimental physicists in particle physics are frustrated with the theoretical physicists because what they do has been so far from what we do for so long. Basically, if theoretical physics can’t make predictions of things we can actually look for, why are we paying them to write papers?

    That’s funny; I would have said the opposite. The literature has been filling up with predictions for decades now, and we’re just waiting for experimentalists to actually find something. The problem is more a surfeit of ideas — many of them increasingly ridiculous — than a dearth of them.

  8. #8 danny
    March 14, 2010

    Universe/Time = 1/(∞-1)

    where ∞>1

    abstract

    yet another big bang theory. this paper proposes that the big bang was not the beginnings of expansion, but of increasingly complex division of the universe. Further, the physical properties of the universe are emergent properties of data encoding (pattern-forming) potential of increasingly larger natural number sets, or more accurately, one set of increasingly smaller rational numbers.

    The fundamental interactions are the natural result of an increasingly higher count natural number set, which is caused by and being added to by time dividing the sum total of universe more finely in each successive frame.

    quantum fluctuations in particle interactions at the LHC are the direct result of the expansion of the universe’s detail. there is a finite limit to what can be known about the Higgs’ Boson. Infinity is a moving boundary.

    testing

    if the hypothesis is correct, there should be correlations between:

    a) data encoding potential of number using increasingly smaller fractions of 1

    and:

    b) universal constants.

    Values for universal constants should appear as emergent rules governing number set interaction, and so every single one should be derivable from analysis of the increasing information potentials in a system composed solely of rational fractions of 1.

  9. #9 m Goldstein
    December 28, 2010

    Numbers are the Supreme Court of science. However Godel proved that we may not prove everything. There are Physics Foibles!! Physics will never end.

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