Thought Experiments

28
Aug

Prize Without Proof? Yuri Milner’s Fundamental Physics Prize

The Nobel Prize may be the most prestigious award in science, but the new Fundamental Physics Prize is by far the world’s most lucrative scientific award, instantly making its first winners this August multimillionaires. But the size of the payout isn’t the only difference between the two prizes: Unlike the Nobel, the Fundamental Physics Prize can be awarded for research that has not yet been verified by experiment. Is it foolhardy to extol work later findings might prove wrong?

The Fundamental Physics Prize is the brainchild of Russian tycoon Yuri Milner, a one-time physics graduate student turned billionaire investor in internet companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Groupon and Zynga. Milner personally selected the inaugural class of nine winners, each of whom received $3 million, roughly three times as much as a Nobel grant.

Although some of the work recognized by this year’s awards has been experimentally verified (for example, the principles of quantum computers are firmly grounded in experiment), others, like string theory, which compares elementary particles to loops of vibrating string, and the holographic principle, which suggests that our three-dimensional reality is a projection of information stored on a far-off two-dimensional surface, live further out on a theoretical limb.

Ideas like these may not get experimental verification any time soon, either. Take string theory. As Fundamental Physics Prize winner Ashoke Sen, a string theorist at the Harish-Chandra Research Institute in India, explains, “Unfortunately the strings are so small that the energy required for seeing these structures is huge, much larger that what we have achieved in the present day accelerators.”

Yet many physicists (including, unsurprisingly, some Milner honorees) argue that unverified ideas, and even ideas that are unverifiable with today’s technology, are prizeworthy—even if future tests should prove them wrong.

“Many of the most important developments in physics involve subjects for which there is little hope of experimental verification anytime soon,” argued cosmologist Alan Guth at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the winners of the Milner prize. Guth invented the theory of cosmological inflation, which suggests our universe expanded staggeringly just a sliver of a second after it was born. This rapid expansion that would help explain, among other things, why the cosmos is so extraordinarily uniform on large scales, with only very tiny variations in the distribution of matter and energy.

In fact, two of the greatest theoretical breakthroughs of the 20th century—Albert Einstein’s theories of special and general relativity—were never honored by a Nobel Prize, said Stanford cosmologist Andrei Linde, another winner of the Fundamental Physics Prize. These ideas changed the world by showing that mass and energy are equivalent and that gravity is a result of mass curving the fabric of space and time. Although Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1921, he was given the prize not for relativity but for describing how light was composed of discrete packets of energy now called photons, because the Nobel committee felt that relativity had not at the time been verified.

“More recently, we have the case of the Higgs particle, with almost 50 years between the theoretical advance and the experimental verification,” Guth added. “If this kind of theoretical work is not respected, then progress in fundamental physics would suffer tremendously.”

Even if theoretical research does lead to a dead end, it can help inform what ultimately prove to be successful ideas, said theoretical physicist Nima Arkani-Hamed at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, a winner of the new prize who has investigated ideas such as extra dimensions of reality and new theories regarding the Higgs particle.

“One of the great developments in physics in the 20th century was the Standard Model of particle physics, which explains particles such as electrons and quarks and gluons,” Arkani-Hamed said. “But before the Standard Model was known to work, there were people exploring lots of other theoretical possibilities that might be consistent with our world. Even if they didn’t pan out, collecting ideas that have a chance of working may help lead to developments like the Standard Model.”

“Wrong” ideas can advance science in other ways, too. “We should keep in mind that Newtonian mechanics was ultimately found to be incorrect, but it nonetheless was a momentous force in driving science forward,” Guth said. “Today there are many developments in physics that are recognized by the community as being important, even though we cannot prove that they are correct.”

As to how the prize-winners might spend their gains, other than paying taxes and mortgages, they often said they were still in shock over the award. “I continue to remind my students that they should not go into physics for the money,” Guth said.

Go Deeper
Editor’s picks for further reading

Fundamental Physics Prize
The official web site of the Fundamental Physics Prize Foundation.

Nature: Theoretical physicists win massive awards
Geoff Brumfield talks with winners—and critics—of the new prize.

New York Times: 9 Scientists Receive a New Physics Prize
Kenneth Chang reports on the announcement of the Fundamental Physics Prize winners.

Tell us what you think on Twitter, Facebook, or email.

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Charles Choi

    Charles Q. Choi has written for Scientific American, The New York Times, Wired, Science and Nature, among others. In his spare time, he has traveled to all seven continents, including scaling the side of an iceberg in Antarctica, investigating mummies from Siberia, snorkeling in the Galapagos, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, camping in the Outback, avoiding thieves near Shaolin Temple and hunting for mammoth DNA in Yukon.

    • Cinemass

      No one should supress nor dismiss theoretical physics as less than science even though the human eye nor technology can see something. Understanding is based a lot on educated speculation and if such premises cannot be readily demonstrated it should deter them from being recognized.

    • Darrell

      You must not discount the greatest prize of all. It is in the billions of dollars and will most likely result in the destruction of the human life on this earth. It is TEA PARTY SCIENCE. It is being driven by greed and stupidity.
      I quote my derivitive of others enlightened thoughts:

      “Stupidity is infinitely more damgerous than evil. WHY?
      Because there are infinitely more stupid people than evil people.”

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/FYJUEE6QUJ5XIPMKRQOLWZZ7ZI steve

        darrell, thinking inside that very small box, what if you inverse it?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rosy-Mota/100000985575131 Rosy Mota

      the strings theories might be correct.and STR and GTR are subproducts of these strings theories,as well as the extradimensions of spacetimes,supersymmetries and SYMMETRIES must be fundamental

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/FYJUEE6QUJ5XIPMKRQOLWZZ7ZI steve

        ok, fundamental in how many ways? after that, i see flaws.

    • Vijay Mishra

      Dear Sir,
      SUBJECT: THEORY OF EVERYTHING

      I invite your kind attention to the above mentioned subject, so as to give you a VERY BRIEF AND TO THE POINT DETAILS of my work for your kind consideration.The Theory attempts to Describe Everything from Big Bang to Origin and Evolution of Life and Intelligence, Defining – Big Bang, Space- Time, Quantum Gravity, Stable Atom, Fission, Fusion, Radioactivity, Black hole, Exploding Stars, Evolution, Life, Death, Natural Intelligence and
      finally…… Artificial Intelligence – USING ONE SINGLE PRINCIPLE AND UNIFIED LAW.

      A. THE DISCOVERY
      Relativity has two meaning.
      1. Compare and Contrast.
      2. Relate and Unify.

      1. The First Compare and
      Contrast Direction, to Measure and Predict was used by Einstein – but both his
      Theories eventually breaks down.

      2. The Second Relate and
      Unify Direction, to Unify was used by Darwin- Resulting in a Model of
      Relativity –Evolution-which is Dynamic and Explains phenomenon’s to this day
      and is conveniently extended into the future.

      B. UTILITY OF THE DISCOVERY TO OTHER SCIENTIST
      Both the group of Scientist, working on-
      1. God Particle.
      2. String Theory
      Are UNKNOWINGLY USING DARWIN’S MODEL BASED ON RELATION AND UNIFICATION and hence unification of different Strings and Explanation of God Particle with pre existent force particle.Einstein’s
      models has finally been dropped.

      C. PRACTICAL UTILITY OF THE DISCOVERY
      Being a T.O.E. it Explains and Defines not only the End product of the universe- viz Natural Intelligence- But also its by-product- Artificial Intelligence and thus
      1. Demonstrate how to enhance Artificial Intelligence.
      2. It being a T.O.E. it hints at the possible cause of CANCER.
      Sir, The Theory is a very wide Subject from End to End- Big Bang to Origin and Evolution of Life and Intelligence- Yet is SIMPLE, LUCID AND ELEGANT as RIGHTLY PREDICTED.It was a bit difficult to compress it, to save your time, I therefore request you to go through my
      web site. http://www.theoryofeverything.in
      .PLEASE FEEL FREE TO ASK ME ANY QUESTION REGARDING THE THEORY WHICH I SHALL BE GLAD TO ANSWER.
      Thanks for your
      kind Attention,
      Warm Regards.
      J.K.Mishra
      09372798156
      vijaymishra234@gmail.com
      202,Dr Venubagadia Apts,
      Khare Town,
      Dharampeth,
      NAGPUR,
      INDIA.

      NEXT SECOND LETTER

      Dear Sir,

      SUBJECT:THEORY-OF-EVERYTHING .
      I invite you to my website- http://www.theoryofeverything.in where in, I have
      made a humble attempt to define,EINSTEINS – ‘MIND OF GOD’
      BODY OF GOD
      And have further attempted to answer his historical remark-
      ‘GOD DOES NOT PLAY DICE WITH US’
      On pure Scientific Principles, Laws and Logic, arriving at a valid Theory of Everything.
      BUT HOW WAS THIS ACHIEVED…?
      This was achieved by following the one and only Conventional and Scientific Method viz-
      1. Unification of Relativity with Quantum.
      2. Unification of Special Relativity with General Relativity.
      3 Unification of Physics with Life Science, or more precisely Einstein with Darwin.
      These three being the basic requirement to arrive at a valid Theory of
      Everything.The Theory Unifies, Einstein’s Special Relativity with General Relativity which was desperately attempted by Einstein during his last days- by further Maturing Special Relativity to arrive at a very New Model of Relativity- Viz Quantum-Relativity- as had been Rightly Predicted.Furthermore
      and Importantly, The New Model of Relativity – Explains the origin and
      existence of ‘ GOD – PARTICLE’ and had very rightly predicted that Even
      God particle is not the ultimate particle, and is dependent on pre-existent
      force- particle for its existence.This prediction being the true Test of its Validity and was made long before its discovery and eventual declaration, which was Later confirmed by the Jury for Nobel prize in physics- 2013
      “THIS PARTICLE ORIGINATES FROM AN INVISIBLE FIELD THAT FILLS UP ALL THE SPACE, EVEN WHEN THE UNIVERSE SEEMS EMPTY, THIS FIELD IS THERE.”
      The New Model of Relativity- ie Quantum-Relativity is a ‘Theory of
      everything’.(Theory of Relativity has to be Theory of Everything and vice
      versa) and therefore explains and defines everything- in the universe form end
      to end- viz BIG BANG TO ORIGIN AND EVOLUTION OF LIFE AND INTELLIGENCE- using ONE SINGLE PRINCIPLE- AND LAW OF PHYSICS- THE ULTIMATE UNIFIED LAW AND THUS DEFINES- Big Bang, Stable Atom, Quantum Gravity, Fission, Fusion, Radioactivity, Evolution, Life, Death, Natural Intelligence
      and even more Significantly… Artificial Intelligence.
      BUT THE BIG QUESTION IS……..
      IS THE THEORY VALID………?
      A TRUE TEST OF VALIDITY OF ANY THEORY LIES IN ITS PRACTICAL APPLICABILITY, IE IN ITS ABILITY TO DELIVER- RESULTS, RATHER THAN REMAIN HOOKED TO ITS THEORETICAL PERCEPTION, DEVOID OF ANY PRACTICAL UTILITY AND SIGNIFICANCE.AND THEREFORE,In
      case of valid Theory of Everything, the true test of its perfection- far
      beyond being merely technically valid lies in the ability to Explain and
      demonstrate not only how, Natural Intelligence Originates, Evolves and Functions elaborating in detail its Constituent components, But also,it’s offshoot-Artificial
      Intelligence its Origin, Evolution and Functions elaborating in details its
      constituent components,Giving repeated Experimental Verification of predicted results.Thus the true test of validity of a successful Theory of Everything lies in its
      ability and applicability to explain both,
      1. Natural Intelligence.
      2. Artificial intelligence.
      But,
      Theory of Everything, being a Theory of Nature – is expected to explain Natural
      Intelligence- then how come a Theory of Nature also explain Artificial
      Intelligence?
      HERE LIES THE TEST OF ITS PERFECTION- FAR BEYOND BEING MERELY
      VALID. Because,A valid T.O.E need to explain not only the Closed System, but also the Open System, Open system being an offshoot of Closed System.
      Natural intelligence- being on offshoot of Closed System.
      Artificial intelligence- being an offshoot of Open System.
      Closed System being the ‘Fish bowl’ whereas, Natural Intelligence being , ‘The Reality the fish in the bowl perceives’-as discussed by Stephen Hawking in his book –‘The Grand Design’. Furthermore, In direction of Evolutionary unfoldment , ‘Feynman’s system’-Maturing to-Closed System, and ‘Game of Life’-Maturing to-Natural Intelligence and T.O.E unifying both these aspects, demonstrating the origin of Living system out of Physical System, or Intelligence out of Closed System, finally explaining what the fish sees through the bowl-Reality, Mirror-Image Reality as wondered by Stephen Hawking, or Distorted Reality as objected by the Italian Government.
      THIS PRACTICAL APPLICATION OF THE THEORY IN ITS ABILITY TO BE APPLIED TO ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE- THAT TOO USING THE SAME PRINCIPLE THAT WHICH IS APPLIED TO NATURAL INTELLIGENCE- THE FINAL END PRODUCT OF UNIVERSE-QUALIFIES THE STANDARDS OF PERFECTION FAR BEYOND MERELY BEING VALID.
      Sir, At a time, when we all are struggling to arrive at a valid T.O.E., but have been
      confronted by a very difficult situation defying Experimental Verification of results-viz-God Particle- born out of Force Particle….Finally ending our journey from where we began …..Eventually arriving at a very discouraging situation reflected in the writings of one of the greatest thinkers of our time-STEPHEN HAWKING-through his book-‘THE GRAND DESIGN ’in chapter ‘THE GREAT MIRACLE’……We do need to sincerely collaborate to arrive at a valid T.O.E.-which was rightly predicted to be SIMPLE, LUCID, AND ELEGANT-capable of finally settling all confusion regarding our Origin, Existence and Future on this planet.
      This being a serious matter of RESPONSIBILITY rather than merely winning Awards and Recognition.
      Thanks for your kind support and interest, I am very eagerly looking forward to.
      Warm Regards,
      J.K.Mishra,
      09372798156
      vijaymishra234@gmail.com
      202,Dr
      Venubagadia Apartments,khare town
      Dharampeth
      Nagpur Maharashtra,
      INDIA.

    • Vijay Mishra

      Dear
      Sir,

      SUBJECT: THEORY OF EVERYTHING

      I invite your kind attention to the above mentioned subject, so as to give you a VERY BRIEF AND TO THE POINT DETAILS of my work for your kind consideration.

      The Theory attempts to Describe Everything from Big Bang to Origin and Evolution of Life and Intelligence, Defining – Big Bang, Space- Time, Quantum Gravity, Stable
      Atom, Fission, Fusion, Radioactivity, Black hole, Exploding Stars, Evolution, Life, Death, Natural Intelligence and finally…… Artificial Intelligence – USING ONE SINGLE PRINCIPLE AND UNIFIED LAW.

      A. THE DISCOVERY

      Relativity has two meaning.

      1. Compare and Contrast.
      2. Relate and Unify.

      1. The First Compare and Contrast Direction, to Measure and Predict was used by Einstein – but both his Theories eventually breaks down.

      2. The Second Relate and Unify Direction, to Unify was used by Darwin- Resulting in a Model of Relativity –Evolution-which is Dynamic and Explains phenomenon’s to this day and is conveniently extended into the future.

      B. UTILITY OF THE DISCOVERY TO OTHER SCIENTIST

      Both the group of Scientist, working on-

      1. God Particle.
      2. String Theory

      Are UNKNOWINGLY USING DARWIN’S MODEL BASED ON RELATION AND UNIFICATION and hence unification of different Strings and Explanation of God Particle with pre existent force particle. Einstein’s models has finally been dropped.

      C. DAY TO DAY UTILITY OF THE DISCOVERY

      Being a T.O.E. it Explains and Defines not only the End product of the universe- viz Natural Intelligence- But also its by-product- Artificial Intelligence and thus

      1. Demonstrate how to enhance Artificial Intelligence.
      2. It being a T.O.E. it hints at the possible cause of CANCER.

      Sir, The Theory is a very wide Subject from End to End- Big Bang to Origin and Evolution of Life and Intelligence- Yet is SIMPLE, LUCID AND ELEGANT as RIGHTLY PREDICTED. It was a bit difficult to compress it, to save your time, I therefore request you to go through my web site. http://www.theoryofeverything.in
      PLEASE FEEL FREE TO ASK ME ANY QUESTION REGARDING THE THEORY WHICH I SHALL BE GLAD TO ANSWER.

      Thanks for your
      kind Attention,
      Warm Regards.
      J.K.Mishra
      09372798156
      202,Dr Venubagadia Apts,
      Khare Town,
      Dharampeth,
      NAGPUR,
      INDIA.