“Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that’s not why we do it.” – Richard Feynman
If there ever was a statement that embodied physics, Richard Feynman’s quote would certainly have been it. Physics appears to many as a subject for the most curiously eccentric people, those who focus more on the tiny details of parallel universes to ours, in exchange for a pinch of reality of course. Indeed, it would ostensibly be considered a regressive science by many, as it would seem to be more focusses upon discovering the history behind our universe. Hence, I thought it to be a relevant subject to address since 2 nobel laureates dropped by VJC just 2 weeks ago.
“How can any of the physics that we learn be applied or used in daily life?” A curious member of the audience queried this to Sir Anthony Leggett, a nobel prize winner in physics. “Modern physics has broken many laws set by classical Newtonian mechanics over the last century. The development of quantum mechanics has been especially exciting,” he elucidated with passion clearly burning in his eyes.
“Transfer of information faster than the speed of light via quantum entanglement or even the development of high temperature operating superconductors into extremely powerful electromagnets involve our understanding of how subatomic particles behave at the quantum level.” But that’s just the pragmatic aspect.
Modern physics teases our minds, allowing us to play with ostensibly fantastical ideas such as time dilation as one moves close to light speed and how there are actually 10 parallel universes including ours (feels very much like MARVEL comics). But what is perhaps the most intriguing is the fact that modern particle physics enables us to discover not just the origin of our solar system, but the universe in its entirety. There is some mental attraction between humanity and our past, as history often relieves us of our burden and plagues us simultaneously with our ignorance. Our thirst to understand history, who our forbears were, what the legacy of a particular organization or person was, is certainly no different from this yearning possessed by physicists to comprehend our distant past.
The doubters of modern physics who believe it to be merely wild unconfirmed theories could not be more wrong. Most theories proposed by physicists are usually supported by mathematical equations and models; it is beautiful as to how events in our world can be predicted using mathematics, as numbers bring meaning to the study of physics. However, the doubters are not without a modicum of truth in their claim; Sir Anthony has pushed for modern physics to create stronger experimental basis, harvesting data to either prove or debunk the variety of theories in store. Modern physics certainly has a long way to go before it can transition into an effectively applicable science that physicists envision of.
“Science for me is very close to art. Scientific discovery is an irrational act. It’s an intuition which turns out to be reality at the end of it- and I see no difference between a scientist developing marvellous discovery and an artist making a painting.” – Carlo Rubbia
As Carlo Rubbia famously pronounced the similarities between science and art, one can finally see Feynman’s words in clear light. Physics appeals to us both in a practical and romantic sense, as our heuristic approach towards it enables us to learn ever so much more about the beautiful universe which we call home.