Friday, 7 March 2008

Physics is losing the plot

Physics seems to know less now than it did 20 years ago.

I started reading New Scientist again about a year ago - we subscribed to it to encourage my son who is taking Physics A Level. My perception is that the stories that physics is telling about the world don't have the conviction they did 20-30 years ago. Back then, we had sets of elementary particles in neat symmetry groups The models predicted particles that we'd look for with bigger accelerators. In astrophysics the universe was expanding following the big bang, and we just needed to find out how much matter there is in the universe to find out whether it would expand for ever or whether it would slow and reverse, back to the big crunch.

Today, New Scientist is full of debate about whether string theory really consitutes a valid model since some say it's not testable, and wierd debates about many-universe theories. Then in this week's issue there is debate about dark energy and dark matter, which, we are told, must account for 96% of the universe. We've never detected dark matter, and, listen to this:
The uncomfortable truth is that the more detailed our observations of the universe, the more confusing the dark matter picture becomes. Sometimes there is too much dark matter [...] Other times, we see too little dark matter.
The time must be right for a genuine paradigm shift, in Kuhn's sense.

And, of course, I think that it has got something to do with information.

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