On Scientific American’s Cross-Check, blogger John Horgan offers a post entitled “How Physics Lost Its Fizz,” arguing that “Physics, which decades ago seemed capable of answering the deepest mysteries of existence, is now just recycling once-exciting ideas.” That’s true, of course, but what I want to tell you about isn’t John’s thoughts but a comment from one of his readers, identified only as daktari.
The comment is about the need for a new paradigm from time to time to allow continued progress in science, a point of view that I blogged on here. The spacetime model that I talk about in this blog is such a new paradigm, capable of putting the fizz back in physics.
Here’s what daktari says:
yeah, but ... there is a simpler end point than the cognitive limits of physics, and that is simply the limits of each and every paradigm. Every single paradigm seems to explain 'everything' - because it is the new Everything - right up until its limits become apparent. And then is looks like the end of science. "We've gone about as fur as we kin go" as Lord Kelvin put it, more than a century ago. The paradigm runs out of explanatory power, gradually stops posing new questions, and it looks like the end. Again.
There is no way from within a paradigm to just imagine up its successor. It's a whole new way of thinking and understanding, and by definition it is completely invisible and conceptually impossible until it's forced into the world.
People always, always, of necessity see "the way we think of things now" as "the way things really are". And then over and over and over again we learn that we model reality. We don't describe what's "really there", we make a model of it that can fit into our heads. And after a while, the model proves to be inadequate. "No other model is possible!" is an understandable response, but it always turns out to be wrong.
We may have come to 'the end' of the common approach that we're taking to physics, but saying "I just can't imagine anything else" doesn't mean much.
I think we can already intuit, dimly, something we don't understand at all yet, and have no perceptions to even see, even though it's right in front of us. The complexity of biology, even though we can pursue its chemistry and mechanics, doesn't really quite make sense. It's not exactly unnatural, but neither does it quite fit our understanding. It's not just complex; it's a whole different order and kind of complexity from our visible-world understanding.
I'm not moving toward anything supernatural here. Not sidling up to a creator, or intelligent design, though there are perhaps glimpses of the same intuition in intelligent design arguments. Rather, I am suggesting that there is a principle of order that is obscure to us. It is, at present, beyond what we suspect, or know how to look for. But, it may become gradually more and more obvious until someone finally pulls all the pieces together and says "Aha - information actually has physical properties of its own. It coalesces according to a principle we were blind to. And this explains the 'reasons' for physics in a way that the reductionist hunt for the behavior of particles never could". Or whatever.
Something profound in Life is happening that we don't understand. At all. For now, we're a long way from having to confront that lack of understanding - there is no shortage of good problems to solve in biology. But eventually it will become more and more pressing to come to terms with the many odd, incongruous, fundamentally unexplained aspects of life's overwhelming complexity. And it wouldn't surprise me all that much if a new paradigm emerging parallel to physics suddenly throws the whole enterprise into a new light.
We see things the way we see things. It's all we can do. But this illusion, that we see things the only way there is to see things and we just have to keep pounding away at the same model until it encompasses Everything has always been totally persuasive, and has always turned out to be wrong.
"Oh, but not this time. This time we have particle accelerators and emissions spectra and what-all!" Mm. I wouldn't bet on it.
Hands down, its the best, most insightful, spot-on comment I’ve ever read on any blog anywhere, I wonder who daktari is.