Tuesday, May 28, 2013

geometric unity and the observerse


guardian | There are a lot of open questions in modern physics.

Most of the universe is missing, for example. The atoms we know about account for less than 5% of the mass of the observable universe - the rest is dark matter (around 25% of the mass of the universe) and dark energy (a whopping 70%). No one knows what either of these things actually is.

At the subatomic scale, we know there are three families of fundamental particles - called "generations" - and each one contains two quarks, a neutrino and a negatively charged particle (the lightest being the electron). But why are there three generations in the first place?

And the big one: why do the two pillars of 20th century physics, quantum mechanics and Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, not agree with each other?

Solving these problems, the last one in particular, has been the goal of many generations of scientists. A final theory of nature would have to explain all of the outstanding questions and, though many (including Albert Einstein himself) have tried, no one has come close to an answer.

At 4pm on Thursday at the University of Oxford, the latest attempt to fill the biggest holes in physics will be presented in a lecture at the prestigious Clarendon Laboratory. The man behind the ideas, Eric Weinstein, is not someone you might normally expect to be probing the very edge of theoretical physics. After a PhD in mathematical physics at Harvard University, he left academia more than two decades ago (via stints at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem) and is now an economist and consultant at the Natron Group, a New York hedge fund.

He may have an impressive CV, but Weinstein is in no way part of the academic physics community. He will speak in Oxford at the invitation of Marcus du Sautoy, one of the university's most famous and accomplished mathematicians who also holds Richard Dawkins's former academic position as the Simonyi professor of the public understanding of science. Weinstein and du Sautoy met as postdoctoral mathematics students at the Hebrew University in the 1990s.

Weinstein has been working on his ideas to unify physics for more than two decades, but he only shared them two years ago with du Sautoy, who since then has been keenly studying the mathematics. "I get so many letters and emails to me explaining big theories of the universe and I don't take them all so seriously," says du Sautoy. "Eric's been telling me the story of his ideas and what I immediately found appealing about them was the naturalness of them. You don't have to put in extraneous things. There's a beauty about it that gives you a feeling that there's a truth about it."

4 comments:

umbrarchist said...

We have a problem with our attitude about science. Many people seem to think science is what we have figured out and it is all correct. Real science is the process of discovering and figuring things out which adds to that body of knowledge and sometimes finds things wrong with what we thought we knew.

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