Physics is the science of inanimate matter. Cosmology is that part of this science that deals with the universe as a whole. It is the oldest and the youngest branch of physics. It is the oldest because the heavens were studied in the ancient times, in Greece and in Asia. It is the youngest because it has been re-invigorated in recent times due to observations with new, high resolution astronomical instrumentation (such as the Hubble telescope) and theoretical analyses in the context of current thinking in particle physics and relativistic dynamics. Voluminous works have been written on the order of the night sky. (The Greek word, ‘Cosmology’, means ‘order’ (logos) of the cosmos.) Astronomical laboratories have been constructed since the ancient times to study this order. Examples are the Stonehenge monument, built by the ancient Britons thousands of years ago, and similar ancient astronomical viewing sites in India, China, Australia, Peru, Mexico, and from other cultures in the different corners of the world, designed by the ancient and aboriginal peoples to see the star formations and their locations, the locations of the sun and the moon, at the different times of the year. In these ancient viewings, there was no magnification.
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Do we see any major paradigm changes coming in the 21st century in physics – changes of fundamental ideas that underlie the material world? My answer is: Yes. It is because the leading ideas of contemporary physics are in conflict. The fundamental bases of the two revolutions of 20th century physics – the quantum theory and the theory of relativity – are both mathematically and conceptually incompatible!1 The main paradigm that has dominated 20th century physics has been that of the quantum theory. Yet the theory of relativity has given many correct predictions since its inception at the beginning of the 20th century. It must then be incorporated into all of the laws that underlie physics.
The subject, “unified field theory”, has been frequently referred to in the scientific literature over the past centuries. Yet it is not generally understood what this means and why it is significant for science. My purpose in this essay is to explain what a unified field theory refers to, for the lay readers of science as well as the professional physicists.
The human race has understandably been fascinated over the ages with the universe. From the periods of ancient Greece and Asia, a primary pursuit has been the observations of the stars and planets of the night sky – the subject of astronomy – and the speculations to understand them.
Whenever a new theoretical approach, that is foundational in physics, is proposed to explain some natural phenomenon, in any subject from elementary particle physics to cosmology, it is usually rejected by the establishment with this argument: This idea cannot be true because it violates a particular principle. But what is this principle other than a dogmatic, absolute assertion about the underlying truths of physics.
Some of these principles are a true accounting and some are dogmatic assumptions that imply that there will be no change henceforth in physics. It is this attitude that stifles real progress in science. I will now list some of these principles and comment on them individually.
Over the past century and to the present time, science fiction writers have often used the theme of time travel in their stories – H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine, the recent film, Back to the Future, the TV series, Star Trek, etc. – to name a few.
This is all right so long as it is emphasized that these stories are purely science fiction, written for the purpose of entertainment. They are not works that pursue scientific truth!
A unique occurrence in the History of Physics was the confluence of two simultaneous scientific revolutions in the 20th century – the theory of relativity and the quantum theory. Based on these developments, it is interesting for the future of physics that when examined in terms of their conceptual and mathematical bases, these theories are incompatible. On the other hand, each of these theories requires an incorporation of the other to proceed toward its completion. This is the dilemma we face in these early decades of the 21st century: Which of the two theories should be abandoned and which should be maintained?
Erwin Schrödinger wrote an interesting essay entitled:”What is Life?”1 He calls for a different type of physical force to explain the maintenance of a living organism in terms of ’negative entropy’.
There has been voluminous writing on the subject of time, since the earliest ancient periods. One interesting dispute between the scientists and philosophers, on the one hand, and the theologians on the other has been this: Is there a beginning of time? It is the question that is the focus of this essay.
What will be the most significant paradigm change in 21st Century Physics? In my opinion it is the holistic model of matter, in its replacing the atomistic model.