Monday, July 28, 2014

How does science progress? An assessment from the twenty-first century

The twentieth century was the century of change, as technological innovation created unparalleled progress. Science came to be viewed as the only possible tool capable of solving the problems of modern man. Radical and groundbreaking ideas, such as general relativity or quantum mechanics literally started a new framework of understanding and a wave of discoveries. But even for physicists, it was difficult to accept these radical concepts at first. Even Einstein and Schrodinger have struggled with quantum mechanics, and an experimental proof was necessary for a full acceptance of general relativity.

But how does science progresses? Accumulation of scientific data prepares the stage for rare conceptual jumps. However, uncertainty in a field often leads to consideration of unreasonable solutions. For example, in the nineteen-century aether was invented to explain the spread of gravity and electromagnetism. Radical ideas test the accepted vision of reality, which attracts few practitioners. The Pioneers have to fight against the old ideas at every level to get their voice heard. However, once accepted, the theory becomes a magnet. Scientists eagerly flood to the field to explore and develop it further. The new approach can be cross-examined against accepted traditional understanding, exponentially increasing its applicability and importance. With concerted effort, a more detailed picture of the field emerges, and lead to new discoveries. The new field develops in leaps and bounds, as the hypothesis is exploited in countless applications within related disciplines. As the theory becomes a common understanding among scientists, the field stabilizes around its rules, and methods, which gradually reduces the field's flexibility. Here and there some experiments begin to question the basic understanding of the theory. However, the well-developed field shows rigidity to new ideas and resist change. Tests that do not support, or might contradict the theory, are packaged with increasingly fantastic, extravagant explanations

The ideas that led to great jumps in scientific thinking have often come from outside, from someone who is not bound by the restraints of a traditional understanding of the field. For example, Galileo was a college dropout, Goldbach was an amateur mathematician, Einstein a patent clerk and Michael Faraday, a pioneer of electromagnetism, was a bookseller. Satyendra Nath Bose, a mathematician, published in theoretical physics and made deep studies in chemistry, zoology, and anthropology. Bosons are named in his honor. Leibniz was a lawyer and a diplomat but remembered from his studies in mathematics, physics, and technologyGreen's theorem is named after George Green, who introduced and formulated a mathematical theory of electricity and magnetism with only one year of formal education.  

The beginning of the twenty-first century is a chaotic time in physics. Quantum mechanics is still just as unapproachable toward traditional logic as it was in Einstein's day and its mysterious implications became the more baffling, the more one tries to understand it. Unification of general relativity and quantum mechanics is still nowhere in sight. An increasing number of problems cannot be explained by the Standard Model. The Higgs boson was the answer to Standard Model's inability to explain particle mass. The 40 years search culminated in finding an enormously massive a bump, but even after five years, nothing more (such as mass) has been found out about the particle. However, inconsistencies with the Standard Model was not remedied by this hugely publicized finding. The Higgs boson is a particle (or particles) of a Higgs field that grants mass via interaction. The proposed operation is immensely complex and hard to understand even for physicists. Do we really need such a complicated mechanism in the twenty-first century, when people's attention span is short even for television? The twenty-first century is beginning to look like the end of the nineteen century, where an aether-like medium is now called the Higgs field. Theoretical physics is waiting for a new, radical idea.

Some new ideas about physical reality and a possible path toward unification of general relativity and quantum mechanics are presented in my book, find it on Amazon.

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