The Role of Physics in Progress
I would like to thank the organizers of the conference WHAT
PHYSICS FOR THE YEAR 2000 for the opportunity to express my
thoughts on the matter even as a non scientist, being merely an
PHYSICS AS A YARDSTICK FOR PROGRESS IN GENERAL
Progress should be defined as change toward a more complete
understanding of the workings of nature and a consequently better
survival of mankind through the application of this understanding
as expressed in the use of various machinery and procedures,
whether these be technical, biological, chemical or otherwise.
Physics, in the framework of progress, is concerned with the
elaboration and testing of various hypotheses in its particular
field. These hypotheses should lead to a gradual simplification
of procedures. A deeper understanding of nature will inevitably
lead to more basic knowledge and thereby to a simplification of
A good test for any new hypothesis would be the question: "Does
this hypothesis lead to a more broad understanding of the
phenomena in question", and another "Does this simplify our way
of looking at the matter under consideration". If it doesn't, the
hypothesis should be looked at with a wary eye.
Specialization is the archenemy of the discovery of more basic
knowledge. We specialize too deeply in one field only and thereby
exclude any broader look at phenomena from the very beginning.
By specialization, we limit our field of vision, so to say.
The recent discovery of the phenomenon of cold fusion is an
excellent illustration of this. The phenomenon, which is
undoubtedly of an atomic nature, be it fusion or fission or
another process not yet understood, was discovered almost by
accident and not by a physicist, but by a team of chemists.
The continuing mistrust and even open adversity to the phenomenon of those engaged in "conventional" fusion research is another example of how a discovery that does not fit standard thinking and that requires new theories is treated as an outcast, quasi an unwanted child.
To understand the phenomenon, it will be necessary to integrate, not to separate, the fields of knowledge of biology, chemistry and physics, to gain a broad understanding of the principles underlying these fields.
We must be able and ready to look at and if necessary overthrow
what we consider the basics of our understanding of the physical
universe. If a theory cannot explain and predict certain
phenomena that possess undeniable physical reality, that theory
is not adequate and needs to be replaced by one that will give an
understanding of a broader range of phenomena than the previous
one. And if this involves re-thinking the basic axioms and
postulates that have been held in revenence for generations, it
must neverless be done, lest physics lose contact with the real
Therefore, progress in physics, and progress in general depends
on our willingness to look at and re-think the basics in a way
that specialization will never be able to achieve. Only a clear
understanding of as broad a range of fields as possible on the
part of the scientist will allow new and more basic understanding
of this universe to be reached.
There are those who say progress is bad, technology is
destructive to our environment and therefore, progress should be
halted, the number of individual human beings on this planet
should be limited and we should live in an idyllic but somewhat
backward state of self-limitation.
I do not believe in this particular philosophy. Progress, I
believe, is desirable, as long as it goes in the direction
indicated above, of understanding the workings of nature and
being thereby able to copy nature ever more perfectly and easily.
Such progress will have no deteriorating influence on our
environment such as present fossil-fuel and atomic-steam
technologies have shown to possess.
Correct progress will bring us closer to nature and at the same
time closer to the stars. There are ways to produce the energy
necessary for our survival without disturbing the natural
equilibrium. There are ways to feed many more people than are
presently inhabiting this earth, and still have a functioning
stable eco-system. These ways however pass through a more
complete understanding of nature itself.
Physics can and must take a leading role in achieving this