When physicists, struggling to put across a difficult concept to a lay audience, say (or more probably just think): "Oh, if only I could show you the equations, you would understand," this is not what they really mean. Rather, they mean: "You would understand at the same level as I understand." That is, at the level of mathematical formalism. This is not to imply that physicists hide blindly behind the maths (although some probably do), but that they might not acknowledge or even recognize that the mathematics shields them from genuine conceptual questions.Which raises some interesting questions, sparked by the comment quoted in an earlier post:
There is a tendency to wave these questions away as semantic or philosophical, as though such issues by definition cannot be serious. The founders of quantum theory knew otherwise, although some of their dilemmas have still not been resolved. As the philosopher Moritz Schlick said: "It is the mark of the greatest scientific minds that they think out every question they take up right to the end, and the end of every question lies in philosophy."
It is almost as if our universe were fine-tuned to start out far from equilibrium so it could possess an arrow of time. But to a physicist, invoking fine-tuning is akin to saying “a miracle occurred.” For Carroll, the challenge was finding a process that would explain the universe’s low entropy naturally, without any appeal to incredible coincidence or (worse) to a miracle.Is the goal to take the question "right up to the end" as per the Nature editorial or is it to develop a solution that does not involve incredible coincidence, miracle, or fine-tuning?
If the latter, then an inelegant solution, constantly in conflict with evidence, must be preferred to an elegant one that involves any of these elements. That is not only a philosophical question, it is a value choice.
Perhaps sensing something of the kind, the Nature editors go on to suggest that symmetry may not be such an important principle in physics after all:
At the pragmatic level, symmetry has been an immensely fertile tool, and it underpins the notion of a Higgs mechanism for mass. But there is no rigorous justification for relying on it, and it is possible that the LHC might point the way to a new physics that discards it as a ruling principle.Is the point is that the Large Hadron Collider might not find evidence for the Higgs boson (the God particle), in which case, they may well say, with Peter Higgs,
I no longer understand what I think I understand.Not to worry, Dr. Higgs. In the Introduction to The Spiritual Brain, Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard and I said, about neuroscience, "This is a time for exploration, not dogma." You could dust it off for physics too.
"Why should the search for Darwin's "warm little puddle" be publicly funded?" (= Is it a faith-based quest to find a solution that isn't there?)"
"And what if the Large Hadron Collider doesn't find the God particle (= the Higgs boson)?"