String theory, Not.
Since I picked up Hawking's A Brief History, I have been looking for a book to continue the story of how humanity as a whole understands the Cosmos, which fundamentally, is a question of "what is space and time?" and "what is the mechanism behind the phenomenon of gravitation?"
Smolin starts with a great overview of how our understanding of the cosmos has improved since Einstein - especially in the field of particle physics. In recalling the recent developments since particle physics, he admits that virtually no significant breakthrough of our understanding of physics has occurred as astronomical observations continue to collect data, which obviates the need for a new unified theory of gravity.
The core of his frustration is not directed at other physicists but the way the current academic culture does not allow young students to question the assumption of their predecessors. His main argument is that, for the past two decades, this culture stagnated young physicists' ability to use their creative and imaginative curiosity to explore various possible ways to explain the same phenomenon of gravity and spacetime.
Though he talks little about the psychosocial background of Einstein's time, I can't help but draw the parallel between the examples he gives of "outsiders" and how Einstein's difficulty obtaining an academic position allowed him to think outside of his own contemporary physics dogma at the turn of the 20th century.
Taking this idea further, Smolin asserts that new breakthrough theories might come not from academic groups but from creative and independent thinkers outside of the established academic discipline of physics.
To put this into perspective of our living world, the year 2011 turned the world upside-down by the upheaval of masses to challenge the status quo as information becomes more and more transparent in the unsustainable philosophy in the areas of politics and economy.
Though I try to distance myself from the pop-spiritualism with all its "Age of Aquarius" nonsense, 2012 actually does appear to be a good candidate for a "miracle" year for physics as well as other fields of human activity. This year may be when we, as individuals, feel the large-scale events of technical singularity unfold.
This year, the world of physics just might be surprised by an obscure yet brilliantly creative mind that brings us to a new era of understanding of our cosmos - and teach us an important lesson in the way we should support the brilliant minds of our future.
I'm waiting for a Gregori Perelman of the physics world to submit his landmark article on arXiv with my fingers crossed.
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