Why is physics in the doldrums today?


The great academic betrayal
Der große akademische Verrat
La grande trahison d'universitaire
La gran traición académica
Grote academisch verraadt
Il guasto accademico grande

Essays on:
Physics in the Twenty-First Century

Read the Series Introduction


Bibhas De

Copyright 2006 by Bibhas R. De



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Contrary to all the fancy talk you hear and the elegant smokescreen you see, physics exploration today is completely bogged down – dead in the water. The establishment physicists will not tell you this, and their promoters in the Media will not tell you this. There is great vested interest at stake here – and I mean actual, monetary interest and survival instinct - beyond lust for fame and adulation. Even if there were honest elements within the establishment, they would not rock their sailboat because they are trapped between fear of Purgatory and lure of Sweden.

Just ask yourself this: When was the last time an original theoretical or experimental physics discovery was made that, by today, has translated to some significant benefit for mankind? The answer: Not in last several decades. Modern Physics is only about a hundred years old. And for nearly half that time, it has delivered no significant tangible benefits to mankind.

The original physics discoveries underlying some of the spectacular technological advances you see today – space exploration, medical imaging, the communication revolution etc – are several decades old, or older. We are speaking here of a single seminal physics discovery, and not its continued development and unfolding ramifications – which may continue to occur in the hands of physicists or engineers or computer scientists. Thus, if a fantastic new application of Magnetic Resonance Imaging is found today, the seminal physics idea is still Nuclear Magnetic Resonance of yesteryear. Likewise, laser was discovered only once. All subsequent applications, all different types of lasers, etc, are derivative developments. So the point is that even though developments and ramifications may be continuing uniterrupted, the wellspring of seminal ideas behind them dried up decades ago. It is as though a star died fifty years ago, but we continue to see its light.

Contrast this fact on the ground with the continuous stream of news of great achievements in physics: some atom-smashing lab achieves some great result which will solve some great need for mankind; some bigtime professor has a bigtime idea which elevates mankind a little closer to God; et cetera et alis and so on and so forth and suchlike. It is always Happy Talk Today, Jam Tomorrow. Always the mirage, never the oasis.

Let us here take just one concrete example of a tangible benefit the society has been eagerly expecting from physicists: Magnetically confined plasma fusion reactor. Both the science and the technology involved here are old and well-established. A man who was born when this idea was conceived listened to music from a hand-crank gramophone. Today his grandchild uses an iPod with facility. Where does fusion energy stand, correspondingly? Well, let me put it this way: They also make music. It’s called siren song. They used to play it on a gramophone then; today they play it on an iPod. The same song.

Such glaring 'non-performance' by a branch of the sciences is a most curious phenomenon in the annals of human history. Yet this point has never been brought to the fore as such. Do you know of any other branch for which the above is true?

It is unthinkable to me that, if a hard science is being developed in the proper way – figuring out the unambiguous objective truth at each step – then it will not occasionally benefit the human society in some tangible way. Indeed, physics has done so for a time, and the other sciences continue to do so. Physics has since been diverted.

It has been diverted, and bastardized.


An activity that is currently in full swing is the great selling of physics – but not in the way you think. If the pursuit of physics were in financial trouble, the community might undertake a campaign to convince the taxpayers of the need to support solid, beneficial physics. But that is not what is happening. What is happening is merchandizing of physics to attend to personal finances. The product line consists of books, TV programs, lectures etc – ostensibly designed to educate the masses. Generally, a physicist grooms himself like this. He finds an esoteric area of physics – akin to mathematical philosophy – and then makes ‘discoveries’ within that field. (This is like holding a knighthood from Fredonia). These discoveries have nothing whatsoever to do with advancing physics, and can never be tested as to their correctness. But they stand as discoveries by force of suggestion and repetition – such as in book jackets. And of course the academic community and the big publishing houses and the mass media are fully complicit in this hoodwinking of the public.

Why hoodwinking? Because this is the only view of physics the public is being exposed to – by the collective efforts of the main academic players, their supporting cast, the big universities, the media, the big publishing houses, PBS TV etc. No other views of current physics exploration can be expressed to the public. Indeed the above collective is controlling what the public thinks of physics exploration the same way a dictatorial monarchy controls the societal affairs.

All this boils down to a remarkably clever money-making formula: Fake physics –> fake discoveries -> fake name and fame –> real merchandise. The closest thing Wall Street has in such making of hard cash out of the concocted intangible may be the highly esoteric Hedge Funds.

Have you seen the big fat 2005 book about classic mathematicians (equations and all), published under the loudly proclaimed name of a physics celebrity who merely wrote a page-and-a-half long introduction? The entire book is written by others. All of it has been published previously. This is a mere compilation. This shoddily produced book has poor quality paper with ink bleeding through, and letters so small sometimes that you need a magnifying glass. Yet it selling so well that even the public library of my small village proudly displays a copy. Imagine how many copies must have sold! (The book has not moved from the “New Books” shelf of the library in a long time). Educating the masses? Perhaps, but I rather think of the old adage: Make hay while the sun shines.

How clever indeed! The society has all but forgotten about the responsibility of physicists to deliver something to it. Instead, the lay public interested in physics are only too happy to walk into Barnes and Noble, swipe their credit cards, and proudly walk away with that slick sublime tome that will soon adorn their coffee tables. They then feel at one with the universe somehow. They feel they have a piece of Modern Physics. How diabolically clever! When I meet people today and the subject of physics comes up, it is all about String Theory, the Age of the Universe, Big Bang etc. That is today the public’s entire identity of ‘Physics’. But these no more reflect advancement in Physics than alien autopsy represents advancement in Medicine.

No layman today is interested in the plasma fusion energy as a leading physics topic, for example. And Electromagnetic Theory? “I thought this was a very old subject!”.

Thus, physics is being developed in a direction where the new results would be free from scientific scrutiny (testability). There is then no customary “wait period” for the gestation and consummation of the ideas - a period that can be years or decades. Instead, these results can immediately and directly be delivered to the masses. The trucks laden with hardbound books and DVDs can roll out right away. The delivery is made under the guise of enlightening the public on newfound truths, whereas in fact it amounts to clever commerce. What exactly is the extreme urgency of intensively and extensively educating the masses on extra space dimensions?

A greatly debased and denatured version of physics has been systematically brought about. This version is based on application (or violation) of the laws of physics to areas as esoteric as one can dream up, as distanced from doing any good to mankind as one can flee, and as free of scrutiny as a tax-exempt organization. To support this enterprise, its heroes are being given godlike attributes. The academics, and the academics alone, are responsible for this bastardization of physics.


Let us imagine that the civilization progresses (or regresses) on eight cylinders, not in any particular order:

CYLINDER 1 - Agriculture, Chemistry, Biology, Medicine
CYLINDER 2 - Physics
CYLINDER 3 - Conservation, Ecology, Zoology (caring for the animal world)
CYLINDER 4 - Earth Sciences, Environmental Sciences
CYLINDER 5 - Technology, Computers, Space Exploration
CYLINDER 6 – Governance and Military
CYLINDER 7 - Arts and Letters, Philosophy and Aesthetics
CYLINDER 8 - Religion and Faith, Social Development

If I have left out any important facet, it could probably be included in one of the above categories. The net power developed depends on how the eight cylinders are attuned.

Now, we can get a better perspective. If you look at the world around you, you should quickly come to the conclusion that all of the above cylinders are developing power, except physics. The physics cylinder has bad spark plug, bad distributor wire, bad piston ring, and the cylinder needs honing.


The academics will tell you what behooves them to tell you: This is the nature of physics - tangible benefits will be few and far between. I agree: Since the main talent of the academics is mathematics and omphaloskepsis, this statement remains true as long as physics is in their hands. Since they keep outside ideas suppressed, you never know what might have been.

Yet, the posturing by the physicists before the public today would make the late-night Infomercial pitchmen pale in comparison. This circus helps keep the glaring issue of their societal inadequacy very carefully hidden from public view.

There is a tacit premise that normally does not come up because it normally does not get tested: The society places an implicit trust in the academics to do right by it. It has now definitely come up, with respect to how the pursuit of physics is conducted. For decades now, we have seen this community tolerate and condone unseemly self-aggrandizing by players from among them, doing a highly public celebrity dance. While these players have done little or nothing to advance the cause of physics, they are being posited as the verdant, growing tip of twenty-first century physics. What we see is great posturing of greatness and genius - pretend discoveries and fake progress. What we see is physics marching to the drumbeat of the Media. Not only does this circus-like activity occupy the center stage today, but it crowds out those poor slobs who attempt to pursue fundamental unresolved questions of physics that are not considered fashionable. This is the great academic betrayal.

The physicists today are blinded to the above situation by their limitless arrogance and hubris and narcissism - the way a musk deer is entranced by his own fragrance.


The homilies delivered by the academics on their ways are quite enlightening. On one hand, the merchandizers of physics from amongst them receive instant gratification. How do you justify fame and fortune before the ideas have even been tested, much less consummated? Well, you see, it is like this: The public needs to be made a part of the ongoing process of scientific exploration. The spark of genius should not be withheld from them a minute longer than you can get it to them. This way, they follow scientific development in its fullest beauty as it is happening … the excitement, the thrill of it all...etc etc etc.

But how about the toilers outside or in the fringes of the establishment who are trying to address the unresolved bread-and-butter issues of physics? Well, you see, you have to look to history. Science is self-correcting. If the idea is correct, sooner or later it will emerge as such. (Actually, later rather than sooner.) The discoverer of the idea may be dead and gone – and may have died an obscure and broken person – but his idea will prevail. How very fair indeed. So, gratification must be deferred – even to the hereafter. Posterity will record the name of the discoverer. Not to worry.


If you are a scientist other than a physicist, or a science enthusiast, you are following the developments in physics from the Media – the likes of PBS, the daily newspapers, etc. What are the crowning glories of today’s academic physics discoverers? Here are some examples:

- Theory of the Time Machine (as in Eloi and Morlock)
- Theory of Teleportation (as in “Beam me up, Scottie!”)
- The parallel universes (as in the Martian Chronicles)
- The practical Invisible Man (as in “Eat your heart out, H. G. Wells!”)

Boy do they got moves! They got more moves than Madonna!

What are the contemporary physics discoverers contributing to solving mankind’s predicament (the energy crisis, global warming….)? If you leave aside the never-ending stories, then here is the answer:

- nothing, nil, nihil, nichts, nix, nada, null, oh, aught, cipher, cypher, goose egg, naught, zero, zilch, zip, cero, shunyo, …

So the question you might ask them is:

-Hey Mon, what good are them fancy moves of yours to us then?! Why are you making them moves?!


But you misjudge them. You do them an injustice. You see, they do have a grand scheme for saving mankind, and that’s what they are working on all along, unbeknownst to us. You misjudged our great saviors.

You see, the position of the physics establishment with regard to the problems facing mankind was spelled out by their lead academic in Hong Kong in June 2006:

- Get the heck away from this planet and colonize space, and do it pronto! This planet will no longer be livable.

So the plan is to teleport you to a parallel solar system; they will do it in a time machine so that you do not age during the travel; and they will hold you invisible upon your arrival there until they are sure the coast is clear (No Morlocks around). Only then will you proceed to Customs and Immigration. They are working from a hidden script - everything they are discovering is aimed at saving humankind. (I do not know if the animal world will be included - Noah-style). O how we misjudge them great benefactors of ours!


What has happened in physics is easier to analyze if you expand your vision. In any field of human endeavor, when a group of people struggling over a period of time achieves genuine and spectacular success, swarms of others move in, seeking one or more of fortune, fame and thrill. These are not necessarily the best people to have come into this field. They try to arrange things to suit their own talent and abilities, and circumscribe things according to their own intellectual horizons. Thus they cause a budding science to be developed in their own limited vision. Think, for example, of developers moving into your favorite, desolate and tranquil seacoast resort of yesteryear. A source of great joy and limitless inspiration is turned into a place of brisk commerce. There are places today where public access to the beach has been blocked off for miles on end by rows upon rows of concrete monostorsities.


Can a community of intelligentsia as a whole go wrong? The answer is yes. It happens by ushering in a culture of declivity. This culture is ushered in by the leaders, and promulgated when the young generation follows the leaders. History offers many such examples (starting with biblical times), recognizable as such in hindsight. The trick is to learn from history, and then recognize a phenomenon as it is happening.

Over the centuries, great work of great meditative thinkers justifiably earned the physics community unquestioned respect and unchallenged privilege in the eyes of the society. Today’s physicists are cashing in those family jewels, rather than preserving or adding to them. They are riding on the momentum of fame, without own power. There has not been a single discovery in the past half a century that can be classified “great”. Is physics fresh out of such secrets, or are we out of physicists who can uncover such secrets?

If all this confuses you, good. This means that it is time to return to some home truths.

In the following, I dispel for you many false impressions that have been carefully created by the physics establishment in the public eye and public mind, with the aid of the science media and the mass media. Once you disabuse yourself of these false impressions, a beneficial painter will endow you with "The Eyes" that let you see to see:


Physics is objective, the course of physics is subjective
At the present time, this objectivity and this subjectivity are intermingling
So the very nature of physics is dependent on human aspirations

Sayers of Law are not Givers of Law
Practitioners of physics are not explorers of physics
Logical thinking is not meditative thinking

When Sayers of Law judge Givers of Law, progress is reset to 000
When practitioners berate explorers, progress is reset to 000
When logicians overrule meditative thinkers, progress is reset to 000

Mathematics is not physics
High mathematics is not high physics
More mathematics is not newer physics

Mathematical thinking is not physics thinking
High mathematical thinking is not high physics thinking
More mathematical thinking is not newer physics thinking

Physics ideation has little to do with mathematics
Deep physics ideation has even less to do with mathematics
Meditative physics ideation has nothing to do with mathematics

Original thinking and shock-jock thinking are not the same thing
Private ideation and letting it all hang out in public are two things
Any great discoverer of physics had a constituency of one: Himself

Hundreds of papers in the resume do not necessarily equal progress
In almost all such cases, this is reckless killing of our great trees
Great discoverers of physics each have a short list of short original papers

Cutesy quantum experiments do not necessarily add any value
Trying to realize science fiction ideas is not the goal of physics
Rushing your wares to APS March Meeting does not equal advancing physics

Physics at the smallest dimensions is knowledge for knowledge’s sake
Physics at the grandest dimensions is knowledge for knowledge’s sake
The selective crowding of above two fields is a sad evasion of societal benefit

Mathematics is not cosmology
High mathematics is not high cosmology
More mathematics is not newer cosmology

‘Exoticising’ of physics is not advancing physics
‘Fancification’ of physics is not advancing physics
‘PBSization’ of physics is not advancing physics

Being declared a Genius by a complicit group is not the same as being a Genius
Being given the highest decoration by a complicit group is not the same as being the highest
Being likened to God’s body parts by a complicit group is not the same as being Godlike

Beating up on cranks and crackpots does not advance physics
Keeping outsiders out of Physical Review journals does not advance physics
Publishing highfalutin drivel from insiders in Physical Review journals does not advance physics

Personality cult and fancy titles do not equal good physics
Fancy talk and tall tales do not advance physics
Pretty boyish- and beautiful mind-posturing does not advance physics

New York image consultants cannot advance physics
Media hype cannot advance physics
Big money and big machines do not equal great physics

Smashing the heck out of atoms is not in itself progress
Hanging never-ending stories around above is not in itself progress
Anointing the above stories sequentially is not in itself progress

Dismissing questions about the foundation of physics is the physics of evasion
Since your Omphaloskepsis doesn't get physics no place, your midriff must not be all that interesting
When progress is reset to 000, you go back to the Foundation

A working antenna purports to demonstrate new classical physics
Some mathematical crud seeps out of Black Holes
Only a weird community would totally ignore the first and rally round the second

People have proposed serious extensions of basic Electromagnetic Theory
People have proposed mathematical universes bumping against each other's butts
Only a weird community would totally ignore the first and rally round the second

So, physics is in the doldrums because –

Mathematicians have invaded physics like swarms of locusts invade a golden, undulating ricefield
Or, like developers invade a tranquil seacoast resort
Quantum theorists are exoticising physics the way an ecdysiast exoticises dancing
Quantum experimentalists are wildly beating their drums to above gyrations
This is the greatest Weirdorama on the Earth
Or at least that is how I see it
Progress it is not

[Source:], []

O-range joos...o-range joos...gimme gimme gimme some o-range joos...

You are not allowed space to do the necessary, if unglamorous, physics today
If your idea ain’t sexy, then you ain’t nobody
This is why physics is in the doldrums

Posted 10 April 2006

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