First aired on Quirks & Quarks (12/11/11)
A hundred years ago in Belgium, some of the greatest minds in science met in an effort to understand the impact that new discoveries in relativity and quantum mechanics were having on physics. Now, scientists are again tracking a revolution in physics.
Theoretical physicist Lisa Randall is at the forefront of this discussion. In her new book, Knocking on Heaven's Door, Randall looks not only at recent advances in physics, but where they might lead.
Randall also spends a good portion of the book defending the role of science in our lives and explaining how science builds on itself. "I think people have a very sometimes misleading view of science, [that we're] just constantly throwing things away and replacing it," she told Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald in a recent interview. "We're not necessarily displacing what came before, we're building on it."
Randall recalled being taught Newton's laws in high school. At the end, she was taught that his laws were wrong. According to Randall, Newton's laws are not wrong, and will work in most cases, but they are not the most fundamental theories.
In terms of measuring the trajectory of a ball, Randall explained, "if we go to very high speeds, the more fundamental theory that emerges is relativity. If we go to very small distances, the more fundamental theory that emerges is quantum mechanics."
These underlying fundamental theories are key for Randall. To aid in the process of understanding physical laws, scientists must make note of their underlying structure. "That's how we build on our theories," she said.
To Randall, science is never a matter of replacing existing ideas, it's "advancing over existing ideas and being able to refine them," she said. With the revolution 100 years ago, Randall pointed out, "they didn't have to throw away all those observations that had been made about the skies."
But what scientists were missing 100 years ago was the underlying predictive framework that exists today. Now predictions can be tested within the framework. "We know that they're right over a certain domain," Randall explained. "The ability to extend beyond that is what science is all about."
Knocking on Heaven's Door
by Lisa Randall
Buy this book at:
From the publisher:
"The latest developments in physics have the potential to radically revise our understanding of the world: its makeup, its evolution, and the fundamental forces that drive its operation. Knocking on Heaven's Door is an exhilarating and accessible overview of these developments and an impassioned argument for the significance of science."
Read more at Harper Collins Canada.