The End of Physics?

When communism collapsed, people spoke of the "End of History." Some now speak in a similar way of the "End of Physics." They claim that all the fundamental issues are understood; that all the great questions are answered. Others suggest that even if some fundamental issues remain outstanding they are essentially abstractions, irrelevant to human aspirations. So, are there any burning problems left for physicists to tackle or should physicists accept with grace the close of their science?

Questions about the end of physics are not new. In 1890, buoyed by centuries of successful applications of Newtonian mechanics and the electromagnetism of Faraday and Maxwell, eminent voices proclaimed physics at an end. The decade to follow, however, overturned this exuberance. Radioactivity, x-rays and the discovery of the electron opened up a new world. Soon after, physics reached new heights as it developed the two revolutionary pillars of 20th century physics: Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity, another of Einstein's pivotal contributions to modern science.

So, will man's hubris be capsized again? To grasp where physics might go it is necessary to know how far it has come. Physics emerged in the 16th century as a quantitative, mathematically based set of laws through which humans could comprehend the inanimate world. Mysteries that confounded the ancients were replaced by an ever more concise set of principles so that the flight of projectiles, the fall of an apple, the orbit of the moon, and the trajectories of planets could be quantitatively accounted for.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

To read this article from our archive, please log in or register now. After entering your email, you'll have access to two free articles every month. For unlimited access to Project Syndicate, subscribe now.


By proceeding, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, which describes the personal data we collect and how we use it.

Log in;

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.