12 February 2005
Physics: Everything's Not So Neat Anymore
Not terribly long ago many physicists were beginning to think that most of the major fundamental problems involved with understanding the universe were, if not totally figured out, at least well on the way to solution. There was even a fairly ballyhooed book written to that effect.
Personally such talk sounded as unlikely to me as similar statements that were made about 100 years ago - before the discovery of subatomic particles, quantum phenomena, etc. There is (was?) something called the "Standard Model" pf physics, which organized all the known subatomic particles of various sorts into a nice, neat cohesive package, with the loose ends neatly trimmed off.
Unfortunately for the theories, pesky discrepant and contradicting discoveries kept popping up, to the point were the orthodox "Standard Model" is starting to look as creaky and problematic as the earth-centered solar system idea did at the time of Copernicus and Galileo.
What's the significance of this to anything else? Only the fact that historically whenever a radically new model of theoretical physics springs forth, there is also an explosion of new technologies that have the effect of changing civilization in ways that were unimaginable (outside of perhaps Sci-Fi!) just a little while before. One need only recall the revolutions in nuclear science, and electronics in the 20th century and compare the state of things now compared to 100 years ago to see what is meant.
What will be the new technological breakthroughs? Applications of gravity generation and control? Teleportation? (Beam me up, Scotty!) A way to build F.T.L. (faster-than-light) propulsion systems? (Warp drive!) Time travel? Zero-point or free energy? Believe it or not, ALL OF THESE ARE POINTED TO BY ASPECTS OF CURRENT BLEEDING-EDGE PHYSICS. (Sheesh - I haven't even mentioned nano-tech and bio-tech yet!)
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to imagine the changes ahead of us if even ONLY ONE of these possibles works out. Hold onto your hat, we're in for an exciting and wild ride!