I believe it is time for physics to step away from contrived models, whether artificial mathematical constructs or ad hoc fits to the data, and search for new unifying principles. We need to better appreciate the magic we have discovered, and all of its limitations, and find new ways to see into and beyond it.

Every term in our formula required a giant leap of the imagination — from Einstein’s description of gravity, to Dirac’s description of the electron and other particles, to Feynman’s formulation of quantum mechanics as a sum over all possible histories. We need to foster opportunities for similar leaps to be made. We need to create a culture where the pursuit of deep questions is encouraged and enabled: where the philosophical richness and depth of an Einstein or Bohr combine with the technical brilliance of a Heisenberg or Dirac.

As I have emphasized, some of the greatest contributions to physics were made by people from very ordinary backgrounds who, more or less through chance, came to work on fundamental problems. What they had in common was the boldness to think for themselves, to see connections everyone else had missed, to play with new ideas and to follow them to their conclusion. And this boldness produced leaps of understanding way beyond everyday experience, way beyond our circumstances and our history, leaps in which we can all share.

When children go to school, we teach them algebra and geometry, physics according to Newton’s laws, and so on, but as far as I know, nobody says anything about the fact that physics has discovered a blueprint of the universe. Although the formula takes many years of study to fully understand and appreciate, I believe it is inspirational to realize how far we have come towards combining the fundamental laws that govern the universe.

In its harmonious and holistic nature, the formula is, I believe, a remarkable icon. All too often, our society today is driven by selfish behaviour and rigid agendas — on the one hand by people and groups pursuing their own short-term interests, and on the other by appeals to preconceived systems that are supposed to solve all our problems. But almost all of the traditional prescriptions have failed in the past, and they are all prone to being implemented in inhuman ways. It seems to me that as we enter a period of exploding human demand and increasingly limited resources, we need to look for more intelligent ways to behave.

*Excerpt from pages 196-197 of The Universe Within © 2012 Neil Turok and CBC.*

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