15 February 2014

What's the matter?

"When a stranger, hearing that I am a physicist, asks me in what area of physics I work, I generally reply that I work on the theory of elementary particles. Giving this answer always makes me nervous. Suppose that the stranger should ask, “What is an elementary particle?” I would have to admit that no one really knows." Steven Weinberg in What is an Elementary Particle?

"Just what are electrons, quarks and so on, though? The best we can do at this stage is simply to refer to the mathematical equations that they satisfy..." Roger Penrose in What is Reality?

"So, what is an electron? An electron is a particle and a wave; it is ideally simple and unimaginably complex; it is precisely understood and utterly mysterious... No single answer does justice to reality." Frank Wilczek in The Enigmatic Electron


Elephant's Child said...

If the stranger knows enough about physics to ask what area you work in, they are way ahead of the pack. I suspect for most people an eye glaze and shuffle is a more common response.
And isn't it amazing how much we don't know. Personally yes, but on the broader scale too.

Andrew MacLaren-Scott said...

Amazing what we do know, but also what we don't now; but then there are the things that we know that we don't know, but presumably also the things we don't even know that we don't know... (as Donald Rumsfeld almost said once)

Claude said...

As I discovered, in my late fifties, and never recovered from it:"I know too much to know so little."

Andrew MacLaren-Scott said...

Knowledgeable ignorance