A Gift to Us?

Professor Jim Peebles is the 2019 Nobel Laureate of Physics. I have had the pleasure to meet him and hear him give talks in the field of Cosmology, or the study of the shape, history, and future of the universe.

In a recent talk Professor Peebles made an interesting comment about the study of science in general. He asserted that “nature operates by rules we can discover.” He went on to say that there was never a guarantee that it would have turned out to be that way.

Scientists do seem to work with a kind of blind faith that the universe is knowable, and without necessarily realizing how exciting it is that so much of science is that way.

After all, we know enough physics now to launch rockets that explore space. At the same time, there is a lot of physics that we still do not fully understand, such as how gravity works.

When I give a talk I see that this weakness often seems to surprise people. Gravity is the easiest force of nature for the public to understand, while electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces, are more abstract concepts.

The person who has come the closest to understanding gravity is Professor Albert Einstein. Einstein’s model is formalized in his General Theory of Relativity, “GR.”

Einstein’s view of gravity is that objects can propagate ripples in spacetime, analogous to ripples on the surface of water. The most recent test of GR is the first detection of these “gravitational waves.” Although GR may not be sufficient ultimately to understand all of gravity, we appear to be on the right path.

In sum, perhaps the fact that we can investigate nature and learn so many of its secrets is a kind of gift to us? What do you think?