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In the context of Pirsig's classic Zen and the ART of Motorcycle Maintenance, his Guggenheim sponsored LILA, the subsequent formation of the LILA squad of quantum physicists and Dan Glover's LILA's Childthe trouble with physics by Lee Smolin states ...

"how is it possible that string theory, which has been pursued by

more than a thousand of the brightest and best-educated scientists,

working in the best conditions is in danger of failing ?"

What I believe is failing is not so much a particular theory but a style of doing

science that was well suited to the problems we faced in the middle part of the

20th century but is ill suited to the kinds of fundemental problems we face now

The standard model of particle physics was the triumph of a particular way

of doings cience that came to dominate physics in the 1940's. This style is

pragmatic and hard-nosed and favours virtuosity in calculating over

reflection on hard conceptual  problems. This is profoundly different from

the way that Albert Einstein, Neils Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin

Schrodinger and other 20th century revolutionaries did science.

Their work arose from deep thought on the most basic questions

surrounding space, time and matter, and they saw what they did as

part of a broader philosophical tradition, in which they were at home.


"I sometimes ask myself ... how did it come that I was the one to develop the theory of relativity. The reason, I think, is that a normal adult never stops to think about problems of space and time. These are things he has thought of as a child. But my intellectual development was retarded, as a result of which I began to wonder about space and time only when I had already grown up. Naturally I could go deeper into the problem than a child with normal abilities."

                                                                           Albert Einstein



In the approach to particle physics developed by Richard Feynman, Freedom Dyson and others, reflection on foundational problems had no place in research. This freed them from the debates over the meaning of quantum pysics that their elders were embroiled in and led to 30 years of dramatic progress.


"Schwinger's quantum electrodynamics and Feynman's may have been

mathematically the same, but one was conservative and the other

revolutionary. One extended an existing line of thought. The other broke

with the past decisively enough to mystify its intended audience.

One represented an ending: a mathematical style doomed to be fatally

over-complex. The other, for those willing to follow Feynman into

a new style of visualization, served as a beginning. Feynman's style 

was risky, even megalomaniacal"

        James Gleick, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman


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Michael : catalyst-producer

over 3 years later

Michael said

During the Middle Ages there were all kinds of crazy ideas, such as that a piece

of rhinoceros horn would increase potency. Then a method was discovered for

separating the ideas–which was to try one to see if it worked, and if it didn't work,

to eliminate it. This method became organised, of course, into science.

And it developed very well, so that we are now in the scientific age. It is such a

scientific age, in fact that we have difficulty in understanding how witch doctors

could ever have existed, when nothing that they proposed ever really worked–or

very little of it did.

Richard Feynman - ”Cargo Cult science”

Leave Your Wise and Insightful Comment


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Comment by Michael Grove on May 24, 2014 at 17:28

Richard Feynman is one of the few who have written about the experience of realising a

previously-unknown law of physics and even being aware that one is the first person in

history to have understood it. The deeply cherished and valued nature of these unsurpassed

experiences is a sign of how deep is the human longing that they meet.

Tom McLeishFaith & Wisdom in Science | A theology of Science p 177

Comment by Michael Grove on February 21, 2020 at 10:34

In 1966 hilarious prankster and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman spoke to the National Science Teachers Association. The topic: What is Science? Feynman, a famously out-of-the-box thinker, didn't give a definition — he described a process. He told attendees how he learned to do science, giving a detailed overview of formative experiences and underscoring their intellectual value. One of the patterns that emerged is that a mystery can be more valuable than the solution. 

When introduced to the mathematical concept pi, Feynman couldn't comprehend it. "But this was a great thing," he said, "and the result [was] that I looked for pi everywhere." When trying to determine why birds pecked at their feathers, he guessed wrongly, but his father revealed the true answer, and Feynman learned something new. And so "the point of this is that the result of observation, even if I were unable to come to the ultimate conclusion, was a wonderful piece of gold, with marvelous results."

With that in mind, read this article with an invisible asterisk, partly because scientists may solve some or all of these mysteries one day — maybe today! But more importantly because failing to solve these mysteries is a journey of discovery in itself.

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