Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray
THEY WERE so sure, they bet billions on it. For decades physicists told us they knew where the next discoveries were waiting. They built accelerators, shot satellites into space, and planted detectors in underground mines. The world prepared to ramp up the physics envy. But where physicists expected a breakthrough, the ground wouldn’t give. The experiments didn’t reveal anything new.
What failed physicists wasn’t their math; it was their choice of math. They believed that Mother Nature was elegant, simple, and kind about providing clues. They thought they could hear her whisper when they were talking to themselves. Now Nature spoke, and she said nothing, loud and clear. Theoretical physics is the stereotypical math-heavy, hard-to-understand discipline. But for a book about math, this book contains very little math. Strip away equations and technical terms and physics becomes a quest for meaning—a quest that has taken an unexpected turn. Whatever laws of nature govern our universe, they’re not what physicists thought they were. They’re not what I thought they were.
Lost in Math is the story of how aesthetic judgment drives contemporary research. It is my own story, a reflection on the use of what I was taught. But it is also the story of many other physicists who struggle with the same tension: we believe the laws of nature are beautiful, but is not believing something a scientist must not do?
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|August 14, 2019|
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