Science is grinding to a halt

An eminent professor told an audience in a pub last night that the age of scientific discovery is over.

Russell Stannard, a high energy particle physicist, was speaking to an audience at Scibar, a monthly scientific moot, at the Port Mahon pub in Oxford, Oxfordshire.

He was presenting ideas from his book, the End of Discovery, which will come out in paperback in March next year.

Stannard said: “There will come a time when science will grind to a halt.” He said that fundamental science, uncovering the basic laws of nature, will come to an end when we humans discover all that is open to us to understand.

There are three problems, said Stannard. Human intelligence evolved to avoid predators and to find mates. There are practical problems with high end nuclear physics. He said whenever people build a new accelerator, physicists discover unexpected things. They would have to build a particle accelerator the size of a galaxy to understand all and everything. And the third point, he said, is “there are questions that we’re never going to be able to answer”.

He described some of the unanswerable questions.

  • “The brain is a physical object and many people liken it to an elaborate computer. But unlike a computer the brain is conscious.” What is consciousness?
  • Free will versus determinism is a problem too. “Will a scientist be able to to predict what I do [in the future]? That doesn’t match with our decision to make a choice – it is the free will versus determinism question”.
  • “Why is there a world in the first place? Why is there something rather than nothing?”
  • “If the world was chaotic, there’s nothing to explain. Certain things happen and other things cannot happen because of the Laws of Nature. But why are there any laws at all?”
  • He asked if mathematics was something human beings invented or something we discovered. “No-one has ever answered that question.”
  • He said that for all of us to be here, many many conditions had to be satisfied. The chance of life happening on earth, and satisfying those conditions were “practically zero”.  We find ourselves in one of these freak universes.
  • “This raises yet another problem. How do you prove that there are universes other than our own?”
  • And the Big Bang. Cosmologists are able to describe the tiniest fraction of a second after the Big Bang. “At the instant of the Big Bang there is no chance at all of a cosmologist seeing it.” There was neither space nor time before the Big Bang. “The cause of the Big Bang as a quesion doesn’t make sense, it’s meaningless”.
  • Does the universe go on forever? Where is its border and where does it stop?  That’s another unanswerable question, he said.
  • He said that no one knows what the smallest unit of distance or time is.

We asked Professor Stannard the question about string theory that can’t be answered. “How long is a piece of string?”  He laughed, but couldn’t answer.

Children, he said, naturally rebelled against what their parents did. His children, for example, are not scientists. He has 16 grandchildren. When a new one is presented to him, he revealed that he secretly whispered in its ear E=MC2.

He believes that the intelligence of people is actually going down, because the more intelligent people have fewer children than the dumbos.  Which actually, we reflect, is not very intelligent of the intelligent people.