Over a century ago, physics left the safe haven of classical mechanics seeking a promised land that explained how light moved and gravity acted at a distance. Digging deep, physicists discovered relativity and quantum theory by imagining causes they couldn’t see, like quantum waves, quantum collapse, time dilation and curved space. Equations that worked in non-physical ways led to the modern world of transistors and satellites but rather than exploring the non-physical further, physics settled down in the semantic desert of physical realism, a place where no new theories grow. Nothing grows in this place so what puzzled Einstein and Feynman over fifty years ago still puzzles us today.
Modern physics has now been stagnating for over fifty years. As the physicist Smolin explains, The Trouble with Physics (Smolin, 2006) is that it has given itself over to ungrounded theories that can never be tested. Trying to understand quantum reality has been abandoned so some busy themselves with books and TV shows to explain what they don’t understand themselves while others rally the troops with papers on strings, multiverses and supersymmetry that are Not Even Wrong (Woit, 2007). Even the weeds of error don’t grow in this desert!
Physicists, like a baker with no bread, now occupy themselves by selling novelties, writing scientific papers on white holes, eleven dimensions, time travel, closed time loops, WIMPs, wormholes, heavy sterile neutrinos, super-particles that hint at the next revolution in physics, but it never comes. In a recent New Scientist cover story, the authors speculate that axiflavons from a hypothetical flavon field will solve physics problems and conclude:
“Its thrilling stuff, if for the moment it is only conjecture” New Scientist, August, 2018, p31
But conjecture without evidence isn’t science, as Hossenfelder explains:
“Instead of examining the way that they propose hypotheses and revising their methods, theoretical physicists have developed a habit of putting forward entirely baseless speculations. Over and over again I have heard them justifying their mindless production of mathematical fiction as “healthy speculation” – entirely ignoring that this type of speculation has demonstrably not worked for decades and continues to not work. There is nothing healthy about this. It’s sick science. And, embarrassingly enough, that’s plain to see for everyone who does not work in the field.”
For decades now, physics “breakthroughs” have turned out to be mirages, with papers titles like:
In such writings, “may” is the operative word. The last fifty years of physics can be described as maybe WIMPS, maybe strings, maybe supersymmetry, maybe a multiverse, maybe time travel and so on. The fizz has gone out of physics so much that some despairingly suggest The End of Physics because:
“… for the first time in the history of science, we could be facing questions that we cannot answer, not because we don’t have the brains or technology, but because the laws of physics themselves forbid it.”
But how can the laws we invent prevent us from understanding reality? What held back physics in the nineteenth century was its claim to already know all the answers so is that we already know all the answers really a valid argument for the end of physics? What is stopping knowledge isn’t nature but the dogma of physical realism.
Physics is wandering in the desert of physical realism, the naïve belief that we see all there is, and if it stays there, the next fifty years will be as barren as the last. It is looking for answers in the wrong place, like the man who looked for the keys he lost in the forest under a lamp post because “The light is better here.” By denying quantum waves, physics abandoned humanity’s greatest discovery, that a non-physical quantum reality generates the physical world.
Theories without evidence have no reality roots. No data supports string theory’s 10500 variants but thousands of papers have been written on it. Instead of building castles in the air, why not start anew from the data ground? Quantum realism proposes reinventing physics from the data ground-up.