A theory of everything … has physics gone too far?
Science’s hunt for a unifying account of how the world works requires us to entertain everything from hidden dimensions to multiple universes. But are these ideas based on fact or fiction? Jim Baggott and Mike Duff debate the limits of physics
The discovery of the Higgs boson was a triumph for the standard model of particle physics. This is the theory that describes reality at the level of elementary particles and the forces between them and which helps us to understand the nature of material substance. But we know the standard model can’t be the whole story. There are lots of things it can’t explain, such as the elementary particle masses, the existence of dark matter or dark energy, and it takes no account of the force of gravity. There are no clues in the available scientific data about how these problems might be solved, and theorists have been obliged to speculate. But, in Farewell to Reality, I argue that in their ambition to develop a “theory of everything”, some theorists have crossed a line. The resulting theories, such as superstring theory (or M-theory), are not grounded in empirical data and produce no real predictions, so they can’t be tested. Albert Einstein once warned: “Time and again the passion for understanding has led to the illusion that man is able to comprehend the objective world rationally by pure thought without any empirical foundations – in short, by metaphysics.” Now, metaphysics is not science. Yet a string of recent bestselling popular science books, supported by press articles, radio and television documentaries, have helped to create the impression that this is all accepted scientific fact. Physics has gone too far. (via A theory of everything … has physics gone too far? | Science | The Observer)