Microelectronics pioneer and Caltech emeritus professor Carver Mead says that physics has failed to deliver on the revolution that started early in the 20th century.
Much more work needs to be done to restart that revolution, Mead said, with the goal of explaining in an intuitive way how all matter in the universe relates to and affects all other matter, and how to explore those interrelationships in a way that isn't "buried in enormous piles of obscure mathematics."
That physics is in trouble has seemed obvious for some time. What to do about it, not so obvious. But more or the same doesn't seem sensible.
"Modern science started with an idea that was really given to us by Galileo," he said. "The idea was the isolated experiment. You took something and you very carefully sheltered from all the influences around, and then you were seeing the fundamental physics of that object."
That methodology, he said, served science well and led to tremendous advances. "But now it's holding us back from a deeper understanding of how the universe works."
Here's the passage that got my attention:
Einstein, of course, was mightily influenced by what the ex–patent clerk called Mach's Principle, which Mead explained as the proposition that "the inertia of every element of matter is due to its interaction with all the other elements of matter in the universe."
We haven't fully followed that investigative road, Mead said. "Instead what we've done is we've treated isolated objects as if all their attributes were just given us, and [we] haven't asked where they came from," he said "Things like the inertia of an object, the rest energy of an object, the velocity of light — all those things. We have a list of fundamental constants that we're not allowed to ask where they come from.".
What I'm wondering is this: Is much of the intractable strangeness of contemporary physics an artifact of the process of breaking matter into the smallest possible isolated units, as though any of them ever existed or could exist in isolation?