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No More Big Ideas? Try These On for Size

Neal Gabler, a journalist at the Norman Lear Center of the University of Southern California, recently published in the New York Times the opinion that our society “no longer thinks big,” that there are no more “intellectually challenging thoughts,” and,

if a Marx or a Nietzsche were suddenly to appear, blasting his ideas, no one would pay the slightest attention, certainly not the general media.…

Gabler is wrong on all counts. Not only have truly big ideas been advanced recently, but the mass media (apparently not the New York Times) have been discussing them.

Gabler must be channeling Oswald Spengler, who wrote in his Decline of the West:

In physics as in chemistry, in biology as in mathematics, the great masters are dead, and we are now experiencing the decrescendo of brilliant gleaners, who arrange, collect, and finish-off, like the Alexandrian scholars of the Roman age (pp. 424-425). [emphasis added]

Spengler wrote these words in 1918, and it would be almost impossible to write a more incorrect description of physics in 1918.  All the great masters dead? Albert Einstein, the second greatest physicist of all time (only Isaac Newton was superior), was then at the height of his powers and had published his general theory of relativity just three years before. All the great masters dead?  Charles Murray, in his fascinating book Human Accomplishment, has complied a list of the twenty greatest masters of physics in human history. Of these twenty, eight (Einstein, Rutherford, Bohr, J.J. Thomson, M. Curie, Fermi, Heisenberg, and Dirac) were alive in 1918.

“Einstein rewrote physics.”  So he did, but it took a while before even his contemporary physicists accepted his rewrite. Quite a few of us are trying to rewrite physics today. I myself in 2005 published a Theory of Everything (TOE) in a leading British peer-reviewed physics journal. Many other physicists have done the same. (My theory is the correct one!)

The general public first became aware of Einstein the year after Spengler wrote his nonsense. This occurred when Sir Arthur Eddington confirmed Einstein’s prediction of a shift in the apparent positions of the stars near the Sun. I and my fellow TOE constructors are still searching for our Eddington. My own TOE predicts that the cosmic microwave background radiation should consist not of photons, but of pseudo-photons that will not interact with electrons and protons of the wrong spin. A simple experiment would show this. I in fact claim that this property has already been seen in the large number of ultra high energy cosmic rays (on the photon theory, these shouldn’t exist), and in the fact that cosmic microwave particles pass through galactic cores twice as easily as they would if they were photons (technically, this is called the “Sunyaev-Zel’dovich anomaly”).  Similarly, Einstein had shown before Eddington that his theory explained precisely an unexplained anomaly in the position of the planet Mercury.

Ellerslie /Shutterstock