Physicists War Over a Unified Theory

Date: Wed Dec 05 2001 - 11:40:34 MST

The NY Times has an article reprinted on Slashdot at
about new directions in understanding the fundamental physics of the

Moving away from the classical conception of physics as embodied
mathematics, with a single equation underlying all physical phenomena,
the new approach sees the so-called fundamental particles and fields as
emergent phenomena from an underlying chaos.

Solid state physics abounds with virtual particle-like objects: phonons,
which are like particles of sound; holes, which are virtual positively
charged electrons; magnons, polarons. Some even have charges of 1/3
the electron, coincidentally the same as quarks. Is it possible that
our conventional particles are just as "quasi" as these abstract ones,
emerging from some underlying reality that we don't perceive directly?

It seems to me that this ties in to Stephen Wolfram's upcoming book,
"A New Kind of Science",, which also
deemphasizes the use of classical mathematical equations as a method to
understand the universe, in favor of more complex tools that are built
out of chaos theory.

It's exciting to see a possible new paradigm being born for fundamental
physics. Even the early work is leading to specific models for universes
with particles and fields that have some resemblance to our own. Needless
to say the string theorists are miffed as up til now they have been the
only ones who could make such claims. But string theory has been around
for quite a while now and has yet to produce our universe. Maybe this
new approach, still in its infancy, will hit closer to the mark.


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