Friday, December 14, 2007

Gell-Mann on beauty & truth in physics

TED video with Murray Gell-Mann (16 minutes, originally from March 2007)
What do great theoretical physicists do with experiments that contradict their crisp theories? Well, they laugh at them, of course. ;-)

Gell-Mann, who is in a great mood, explains that a colleague of his, Albert Einstein, was often asked by journalists: What about the experiment of D.C. Miller that contradicts relativity (whoever is D.C. Miller)? Einstein said: it will go away.

Well, Feynman and Gell-Mann were better: they had a theory that contradicted seven experiments. It was a pretty theory and it had to be right. Of course, Feynman and Gell-Mann were right and the experiments were wrong.

Gell-Mann explains that the laws of physics are mathematically beautiful and universal. Symmetry is important but there are more refined reasons why beauty is important in physics. One of them is the similarity of the mathematical description of different layers of the onion of natural laws.

Hat tip: Asymptotia
See also: Google talk by Gell-Mann

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