Nautilus

The Quest for Unity Is Not Something Physics Is Cut Out to Do

If physics is understood as a descriptive mode of explanation, free of the unifying quest, the angst of not knowing it all is exorcised.Image by Andrew J. Hanson / Indiana University.

In physics, we like theories that are simple and broad-ranging. By “simple,” physicists usually mean a mathematical theory that rests on as few postulates as possible; by “broad-ranging,” we mean theories that can describe a wide class of phenomena, even when apparently not related. A quintessential example is Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Resting on a handful of simple principles, it successfully describes planetary orbits in this (and any) solar system, black holes, gravitational waves, and the expansion of the universe.

When theories are simple and broad-ranging, physicists call them “beautiful.” Nobel laureates Steven Weinberg and Frank Wilczek have compared such theories with Mozart’s musical compositions, masterful

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus13 min readSociety
Why We Keep Playing the Lottery: Blind to the mathematical odds, we fall to the marketing gods.
To grasp how unlikely it was for Gloria C. MacKenzie, an 84-year-old Florida widow, to have won the $590 million Powerball lottery in 2013, Robert Williams, a professor of health sciences at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, offers this scenar
Nautilus3 min readPsychology
Presenting the Scrabble Luck Calculator: Are you as good at Scrabble as you think?
Scrabble is a volatile game. It’s not uncommon for underdogs to make tournament upsets. Why? Luck. It plays a large role in Scrabble, and efforts to remove it, by changing tile values, for instance, have mostly been in vain. Still, Scrabble skills ma
Nautilus14 min read
WeChat Is Watching: Living in China with the app that knows everything about me.
It’s 9 a.m. on a typical morning in Chengdu and I’m awakened by the sound of my phone alarm. The phone is in my study, connected to my bedroom by sliding doors. I turn off the alarm, pick up my phone, and, like millions of people in China, the first