The introduction defines intelligence, belief, and understanding as it relates to the construction of a scientific theory, Belief plays the role of an intermediary between intelligence and understanding.
There are four main threads that are intertwined throughout the nine c... hapters of the book. The central thread is physics with both its successes and its failures. The second thread is a new theory suggesting alternate paths that could potentially overcome the failures of the present model of physics. A minor thread linking these two threads is the path dependence of theories: what technologies are available and what has been discovered (and what hasn’t) at the time our theories are created. The third thread is the search for a complete theory of the physical universe; a search that Einstein began a century ago. Especially in the last fifty years, the search for a complete theory has been the dominate force driving theoretical physics forward.
The fourth thread pulls the other threads together. Whether the beliefs we hold are good or not, they are an essential part of the way we interact with the world. Intelligence allows us to combine patterns into something meaningful, but belief contains the emotional connection that allows us to choose some combinations of patterns over others. For example, we may note that the momentum of objects appear to be conserved during collisions. If we see this same pattern over and over, we may choose to believe that all collisions between all objects result in the conservation of momentum. Believing in the conservation of momentum is an enormous help in creating theories of physics. It limits what we can and cannot do.
Belief is central to our theories, but how can we know when it is time to replace an old theory with a new one? This difficult question is a minor thread that runs through the book. Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, and others have all tried to provide guidelines as to when it is necessary to leave one theory and start another, but their guidelines, though completely logical, have nevertheless fallen short. We continue to hang on to our theories even while they are failing, even while they prevent the emergence of new theories. We can’t let go of our beliefs.
The first eight chapters develop physics chronologically starting with Planck and Einstein, then moving on to Bohr, Heisenberg, Dirac, and the others responsible for the quantum theory revolution. Alternate paths are suggested in each chapter to show ways to avoid the paradoxes and unexplainable mysteries of physics as it exists today. The ninth and last chapter provides short descriptions of the major problems that remain unresolved and possible ways to fix them. Two appendices provide more detail on the alternate theory.
Interspersed throughout the book are examples from both the natural sciences and the social sciences showing successes and failures in our attempts to leave old theories and begin new ones.The book avoids an overly philosophical discussion of the process of theory creation and destruction in favor of concrete examples that clearly show strengths and weaknesses in modern physics, along with similar failures and sucesses in the theories of economics, psychology, and climatology.
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