Modern physics is heady stuff. It seems that we can barely get through a week without being assaulted by the latest astounding physics story, its headlines splashed gaudily over the covers of popular science magazines and, occasionally, newspapers. The public’s appetite for these stories is seemingly insatiable, and there’s no escaping them. They are the subjects of innumerable radio and television news reports and television documentaries, the latter often delivered with breathless exuberance and lots of arm-waving, from unconnected but always exotic locations, against a background of overly dramatic music.
On 8 October 2013, Peter Higgs and Francois Englert were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on the ‘mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles’. Just 6 days later Jim Baggott explained the significance of this work and of the recent discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN in July 2012 to an audience gathered for the Pi-symposium, organised by Fri Tanke (the Swedish publisher of Higgs) at the Hotel Rival in Stockholm.
Earlier today the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced the award of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics to English theorist Peter Higgs and Belgian François Englert, for their work on the ‘mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles’. This work first appeared in a series of research papers published in 1964.
Is Reality Real? First broadcast in the US July 17 at 10pm. Do we live in the “real world,” or is it all in our mind? Our basic assumptions about life and the universe may be false. Is nothing certain? Or is reality real?
This whirlwind tour through physics, neuroscience and philosophy starts with magic: the sleight-of-hand practiced by professional magicians. Perceptual psychologist Lawrence Rosenblum reveals magicians warp reality by exploiting the information processing flaws in our brains. Optical scientist Charles Falco uses a host of machines that peer into the invisible world to prove that humans are aware of only a small part of nature.
But according to scientist and philosopher Jim Baggott, we are constricted both by our perceptions and society: we all live in a “hyperreal” world where simple objects are given the power of life and death – such as the scraps of paper we call “money.”
Neuroscientist Tali Sharot says we our reality is also distorted by something called “the optimism bias,” a twist of the brain that rejects negative information about ourselves. But our limitations are much greater than that. They extend to our understanding of the basic laws of the universe.
Recent findings at the Large Hadron Collider suggest we may be blind to entire dimensions of space and time, says physicist Steve Nahn. David Tong argues there may be much less to reality than we think: we may all be holographic projections! And philosopher Jan Westerhoff cautions, there is another possibility: reality may just be a dream…or the product of advanced computer science!
Science Fantastic: Michio talks to Jim Baggott about the plausibility of a ‘Theory of Everything’. Jim Baggott Ph.D., author of ‘Farewell to Reality: How Modern Physics Has Betrayed the Search for Scientific Truth’ and Professor Michio Kaku discuss modern theoretical physics and the search for a ‘Theory of Everything’, or String Field Theory.
Tonight: science writer Jim Baggott returns to the show to talk about his latest book Farewell to Reality: How Fairy-tale Physics Betrays the Search for Scientific Truth. Baggott has been studying and writing about the history of physics for more than 20 years and has won awards for his scientific research and his science writing. His previous books include A Beginner’s Guide to Reality and Beyond Measure: Modern Physics, Philosophy and the Meaning of Quantum Theory.
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.
Fairy Tale Physics? On Start the Week Allan Little grapples with super-symmetric particles, superstrings and multiverses with the help of Jon Butterworth. But the writer Jim Baggott dismisses many of the ideas of modern theoretical physics as mere fairy tales and fantasy. The sociologist Hilary Rose bemoans the commercialisation of biological sciences and warns against believing the hype. But the world-renowned stem cell scientist Stephen Minger believes recent developments show great promise for the treatments of many life-threatening diseases.
Modern physicists have spent decades struggling to explain the universe with more and more baroque theories. They’re creative and complex—and as Jim Baggott points out in review – Farewell to Reality: How Modern Physics Has Betrayed the Search for Scientific Truth, largely unsupported by experimental evidence. Shining a spotlight on both fact and fancy, Baggott draws the line between valid science and “fairy tale” physics.
Of course, this will be a matter for the Nobel committee and it’s often very difficult to anticipate the way that the committee’s internal debates will go. The announcement of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Physics is scheduled to take place on Tuesday 9 October, at around 11:45 a.m. or later.