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I read John Hogan’s The End of Science book, and while we are making discoveries and improvements in science all the time; we aren’t discovering things on the fundamental level like fire, gravity, electromagnetism, atoms etc anymore. Why is this so? I don’t believe that the universe is limited in its complexity but all discoveries nowadays seem to be built on the foundations of long existing science. Why aren’t there new “branches”?

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    $\begingroup$ one could also argue that we are discovering so much everyday that no single discovery gets the importance that for example the discovery of fire or electricity had at the time $\endgroup$
    – lucabtz
    Feb 26 at 23:10
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    $\begingroup$ It seems like every time we put a new sort of telescope into commission, the Universe surprises us. Astrophysics is most certainly not at an end. $\endgroup$
    – John Doty
    Feb 26 at 23:14

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In the field of biology, when you can image the atomic structure of protein molecules and then sequence them, you are done. A more powerful microscope will reveal nothing more to you. However, the field is in no way "dead"; there are plenty of things left to understand on the macro level.

In physics, we have hit the limit for accelerator construction and therefore cannot probe smaller distance scales, shorter time spans, and higher energy levels. This is because no one has enough money to build an accelerator bigger than what we already have on hand now. But the field of physics is not dead either: for example, astrophysical studies can be conducted to probe energy levels in the cosmos that are inaccesible to us on earth.

From a physics standpoint, Maxwell's equations contain everything there is to know about electromagnetism on everyday time, temperature/energy, and distance scales. however, the field is not dead: for example, high temperature superconductivity remains an unsolved problem and is the topic of vigorous research.

In summary, all the low-hanging fruit has been scoured out of the orchard over the last 150 years, but the trees still stand and contain fruit that is presently out of reach- until we figure out how to build taller ladders.

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  • $\begingroup$ This makes sense! Thank you. Are the trees endless with fruit or will all be picked someday? $\endgroup$
    – Max
    Feb 26 at 23:35
  • $\begingroup$ @max, some trees cannot be picked clean because the ladders needed can't be built in practice. but note that enough new trees sprout all the time from the seeds that the existing trees drop to keep scientists busy as bees! $\endgroup$ Feb 26 at 23:41
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    $\begingroup$ It's basically just synchrotron physics that has stagnated. $\endgroup$
    – John Doty
    Feb 26 at 23:43
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnDoty, indeed. Once SLAC finished marching up and down its energy span and included every practical projectile and target, it was done... but it was not finished, in the sense that the original beamline has since been broken up into specialized tools for close study of special topics. $\endgroup$ Feb 27 at 0:00

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