Synthesis: The Scientific Method
Slide 4 of 24
The ultimate purpose of Physics is to identify
patterns and common elements in diverse natural phenomena and bring them together within a single UNIFIED, elegant framework called a theory.
This slide shows a particularly good representation of what is commonly called the scientific method. The fact that the process is circular, has neither beginning nor end, is perhaps the most important aspect of the diagram. One must observe nature, look for patterns,
bring them together into a conjectured unified and simple framework which can be used to devise experiments and further observe nature. These observations will hopefully confirm the conjecture to a
degree, but will also ultimately tell you where it breaks down, and force you to revise, reformulate etc....
The portion of the scientific process most often stressed in classrooms is the bottom left hand side of the diagram: it is this very crucial part of the process that ultimately distinguishes scientific research from purely aesthetic endeavours. Physical theories can be incorrect. There must be a way of testing them (comparing their predictions to observation) and potentially ruling them out or they do not even qualify as physical theories. A scientific theory, it is said, must be falsifiable A piece of art on the other hand can be described in many negative ways, but to the best of my knowledge ``incorrect'' is not one of them.
My experimentalist colleagues may tell you that the real beauty of Physics is in this lower left hand side of the diagram. However, this talk will be given from the very biased point of view of a theorist. I will therefore focus on the part of the diagram that I personally find most compelling: the upper right
hand corner. This represents the process of finding connections between and thereby synthesizing diverse and sometimes apparently contradictory phenomena into a simple and elegant framework. (Hence the title ``Finding Harmony in Discord''. ) When viewed in this light, the task of a Physicist is not very far removed from that of the artist: it requires observation, insight, creativity and a skill with appropriate tools. Instead of a paint brush, or a chisel, the tool that theoretical Physicists use is mathematics. However, it is important to stress that although a working knowledge (and love) of mathematics is necessary to do Physics, it is not needed to appreciate its creations, just as one does not need to be able to play the piano in order to appreciate a Sonata by Beethoven. Nonetheless, the ability to use the math does open up new levels of appreciation and understanding in much the same way that learning to play Beethoven's sonata might. Let me therefore show you in what sense I find the mathematics itself beautiful. I will use a rather trivial example, that may be familiar to some of you. Don't worry if you find the next transparency somewhat horrifying: you are meant to...