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European Tribune - Metaphysics of the coming age
Both mathematicians and physicists have chosen to turn away from the import of their own discoveries, in a sort of mental cowardice.  Not the least of the many ironies of our time is that these various limitative results have created rich possibilities, especially for creating clever toys, and the attraction of the toys has served to mask the underlying difficulty.  
I agree that this is a problem, but I have to say that at least in the case of physics up to the 1970's it was not an act of cowardice per se.

The real reason little attention was paid to foundations and students were discouraged from thinking too much about them was that high-energy physics experiment was well ahead of theory for the better part of the 20th century. Progress was astoundingly fast. So fast, indeed, that the whole 80 years of quantum theory are littered with half-cooked models that just about work, despite their mathematical and epistemological inconsistencies. At the same time, the number of physicists expanded greatly as did funding for the discipline, so scholarly reappraisal of decades old advances occupied relatively few people.

Since the 1970's theory has been ahead of experiment but, instead of going back and doing the boring work of revising the foundations, people forged ahead in search of Einstein's unification (talk about platonism and flights forward).

The 21st century will be the century of biology and maybe that's a good thing for physics: funding will drop in real term, fewer people will work in the field and the slower pace of progress will motivate people to look back, reappraise, understand and reformulate quantum mechanics.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jan 2nd, 2008 at 07:18:31 AM EST
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