In the wake of my recent post on faith and science (see here) comes this interesting reflection in the New York Times from astrophysicist Adam Frank. In a blog post titled, "I Was Promised Flying Cars," Frank takes note of the mystery that still permeates the scientific enterprise. Beginning with the wry observation that we still don't have flying cars, Frank continues:
You may think that the absence of such cars speaks to a failure of engineering or distorted incentives in the marketplace. But the humbling truth is that we don’t have these vehicles because we still don’t know, even in principle, how to directly manipulate gravity. Indeed, the cars missing from our skies should serve to remind us that, to a degree rarely appreciated, we have surprisingly poor control over most of nature’s fundamental forces.
Physicists have compiled a comprehensive inventory of all the ways things can pull or push on other things, a complete itemization of nature’s forces. They’ve found just four.Advertisement
Those four, of course, are gravity, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force. For Frank, when "it comes to electromagnetism, we have powers that are almost godlike," but with "the other three, we're not even close."
Mystery in science? Yes, and also humility before a startlingly magnificent -- and magnificently intelligible -- universe.
"The lesson here," says Frank, "is that for all our technological powers, we are still constrained by the deepest structures underlying physical reality." Read the rest, here.