Why Theoretical Physics ?

In Uncategorized on July 21, 2010 by Sukrit

I was just reading the book- Ideas and Opinions of Albert Einstein when i came upon his view of choosing science as a vocation given the poorer prospects. Here’s an excerpt :

One of the strongest motives that lead men to art and science is the escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one’s own ever shifting desires. A finely tempered nature longs to escape from personal life into the world of objective perception and thought. This desire may be compared to the townsmen’s irresistible longing to escape from his noisy, cramped surroundings into the silence of high mountains, where the eye ranges freely through the still ,pure air and fondly traces out the restful contours apparently built for eternity.

This is certainly the sentiment i agree to; echoed so beautifully above. Ofcourse in the pursuit of new frontiers of science one is pursued by the unstiflable desire to reach out to the cosmos and grip them in the palm of his hand; to have within the reach of man the dominion of God. This is the stimulant that drives people with a scientific attitude towards Theoretical Physics.

Ever so often, in the unending passage of time, the worth of theoretical physics is called into question. Most such opinions can be ascribed to the short sighted views of unimaginary people. What’s the use of String Theory ? To such people Alexander Graham Bell’s answer when questioned about the usefulness of his invention should suffice – “What is the use of a new born baby ? ” The same dogmatic approach was used by the denouncers of The Theory of Relativity. They called too complex, abstruse and too fantastic ! A look around is enough to quiten them down. From satellites to our daily lives GR is now indispensable.

But amongst all this fruitless clamour there remains a valid point : How “Universal” are the so called universal laws propounded periodically by physicists ? Can these same laws predict human behaviour ? Predict the motion of substances ? Motion of a single molecule of a gas ? The answer is No. These situations are too complex and are not part of the physicists universe. Some use this example to point out the decline of the pursuit of “practical science” into hypothetical realms. This results from misinterpretation. Physicists call their laws ‘universal’ because of their fundamental nature. By accurately predicting and understanding the behaviour of subatomic particles , they have wrested a secret of nature; the secret recipe used by nature to build bigger blocks. These same general laws can be used to describe the human behaviour, if a big enough oven can be found – An intellect powerful enough to perform the necessary computations.

However this criticism succeeds in being a guiding light to scientific pursuits; bringing science back on track. This is much evident in today’s research atmosphere. String Theory is being criticized all round for its fancifulness and also the minor issue that nobody knows what it is about. This criticism is important since it helps in preventing partiality being ensued into science. Alternate theories must receive their due share of attention and research grant.


PS: The above are just wanderings of my mind when reading the book Ideas and Opinions. it is not meant to be a polished post. Certainly not final .

PPS: Thanks Sanskar for the song- Don’t fear the Reaper

La, la la, la la

La, la la, la la


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