Contrary to popular belief, the foundations of physics are facing one of its deepest intellectual crisis. Contrary to popular belief, the foundations of physics are facing one of its deepest intellectual crisis. While applied physics experienced a tremendous development, and several new discoveries from the micro- to macro-cosmos revolutionized our understanding of the physical world, the progress in the conceptual foundations of modern theoretical physics stagnated. On one side the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics (QM) and the standard model (SM) of particle physics, showed to be quite successful theories which were proven to be correct by several experiments. On the other side it is now almost half a century that there is a lack of real progress in the conceptual foundations that are supposed to unify them. Relativity and QM both describe efficiently the world, and yet they seem conceptually incompatible. Relativity is a deterministic theory that describes well the force of gravity, but seems to have nothing to do with electromagnetic and nuclear forces. QM instead is a non-deterministic theory which describes well electromagnetic and nuclear forces, and even unifies them in the SM, but refuses to encompass gravity. It is now known that the SM, even though it is an extraordinarily successful and tested theory, can’t be the ultimate theory of matter. First of all because it contains several free arbitrary parameters, apparently fine tuned for the emergence of life just by an extraordinary coincidence. Moreover, astronomers discovered that dark matter and dark energy make up 95% of the universe, but both came as a surprise since the SM accounts only for the remaining 5%. This suggests that the SM isn’t the whole story and we must go beyond relativity, QM and the SM itself.
However, any attempt to do so in the last four decades failed. Physicists worldwide tried to conceive of new ‘quantum gravity” theories, like superstrings, other supersymmetric theories, canonical quantum gravity, etc. But these led only towards an even deeper crises, since most of it are far beyond any possibility of experimental verification or, those which are possible to detect with present technologies, have been ruled out experimentally. In fact, predictions at low energy seem to be disconfirmed by recent experiments at particle accelerators like the LHC and by cosmological observations, which did not find any evidence that supports theories like superstrings and supersymmetry.
Currently there is a plethora of alternative and exotic new theories, most quite complex and mathematically abstract, which try to solve this problem (e.g. extensions of superstrings as M-Theory, AdS/CFT correspondence, the holographic principle, “multiverses”, etc.). But they resulted in even more strange paradoxes (e.g., black hole information loss, “firewalls”) and overall the net impression is that of a great confusion and incertitude, which clearly signals a deep foundational as methodological crises in theoretical physics. Slowly but steadily it is becoming clear that the last 40 years of attempts to establish a new conceptual foundation that could lead us beyond the SM, went in the wrong direction. Huge financial and human resources were invested for the exploration of theories that probably have nothing to do with what really nature wants to tell us. We are not making any tangible progress towards a quantum gravity theory.
There is a large consensus that it is likely that one of the roots of the problem has to be found in an inadequate way of seeing and conceiving the material world (e.g. our notion of what space-time, matter or forces are, and if these might not be fundamental physical entities but emergent properties). Everything indicates that the basic pillars of physics must be modified and a change of paradigm must intervene. New ideas, insights, and original as groundbreaking intuitions are necessary to get out of the impasse. The only way out seems to involve profound revision of fundamental physical principles.
But there is a big hurdle that stands on the way towards this ideal. The problem might not be only technical, but much more of a sociological, pedagogical, didactical and political nature in our universities. Because our post-modern way of doing science is deeply problematic too. We should seriously question ourselves if there might not be something wrong inherently in our modern way of conceiving research and academic education. What is missing in our present social and academic structures are the free ‘seers’ who, like Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and many others, understood the fallacies of the conventional thinking and foresaw the new paradigm by looking further. Only then we will be able to go beyond the status quo. But present academic systems are precisely that kind of power structures that inhibit the freedom of the ‘seers’ and refuse them free expression. Present colleges and universities allow mainly for scientists spending their careers making incremental additions and subtle changes to existing knowledge, not new paradigm changes. Our academic system has become increasingly authoritarian and accurately expunged the free ‘seer’ and independent thinker.
We urgently need a university system where students can express themselves, everyone with their own unique potential and which is able to liberate talents, individual freedom and everyone’s “inner call”. A system that has no hierarchical structures and encourages free self-initiative. A platform for a free expression of the individual potential and the development of one’s own personality. A place where new forms of learning and teaching are practiced. An environment for a lifelong learning by doing, where a creative learning by teaching is possible, and where everyone can learn to learn. Which means, that it should be a place without any compulsion to learn, where everyone is free to progress by learning what is felt must be learned, and without an academic path forced onto the students from an advisor, professor, institution or generation old bureaucratic laws (a description in more detail of these problems, and a proposal of what this new type of “Free Progress University” might look like, I have outlined here: link).
Only in such a context new and successful directions of research that could lead us towards more profound insights in theoretical physics can be achieved. We propose the formation of an independent group of student, researchers and thinkers, that will study, discuss and teach themselves and others the conceptual foundations and philosophy of QM, relativity, quantum field theories, the standard model of particle physics, and beyond. A free congregation of physicists, mathematicians, philosophers and historians of science, who will work together, but independently from other departments, research teams, colleges or university structures and far from external pressures. A free research center in the conceptual foundations and philosophy of physics, where everyone can study and work freely by applying new conceptual, pedagogical and didactical paradigms.