Physics Tomorrow

C W Kilmister and E W Bastin published 'Physics Tomorrow' in Physics Today 2 (3) (1949), 3; 5. It contains ideas both Kilmister and Bastin would continue to develop throughout their careers, and we give a version of the letter below.

Physics Tomorrow

Dr Gamow suggests in his article, "Any Physics Tomorrow?" in the January issue, that theoretical physicists hope that "in nature there are incidental numerical constants, i.e. pure numbers which cannot be derived from purely mathematical reasoning." But reasoning from what premises? Those of pure mathematics have no reference to the physical world; if he means, by arguments called by Eddington "epistemological," we must consider Eddington's unique contribution to this field.

The idea that Eddington's theory was specially constructed to derive "from purely mathematical reasoning" such constants as the fine-structure constant, contains two common errors. Firstly, it forgets that Eddington's theory is an attempt at a very general systematisation of thought and the derivation of the fine-structure constant is but one of its consequences. Secondly, that Eddington repeatedly emphasised that it was based on examination of physical procedure. Anyone who commits these errors is certain to find the theory incomprehensible.

But there is much difference between finding a theory incomprehensible, and stating that no one can understand it; and when the theory stands alone in its field the need is, not to brush it aside as too difficult, but to make the necessary effort to follow it. In fact, "Fundamental Theory" forms, for those disinclined to believe it, a worthy object for disproof.

Last Updated January 2021