Physics vs. Metaphysics
The pursuit of scientific research over the past century, not least by physicists, has given us unprecedented knowledge of the universe on scales from the submicroscopic to the cosmic. That new knowledge reflects observations and experiments which can only be meaningfully interpreted via the two reigning theories of modern physics, relativity and quantum mechanics. In many of their central features, these arcane mathematical theories describe nature as behaving in ways that flagrantly defy the common sense every human being acquires through his own direct experience of the world. But common sense has been forced to yield before the power of the new science not only to demonstrate that such bizarre behavior goes on but to exploit it in the otherwise incomprehensible devices, from nuclear bombs to computer chips, that characterize the late 20th century.
The new physics would seem to have triumphed, then, in both theory and practice. In the post-World War II period, the promise of new levels of material benefit—and the exigencies of military competition—were enough to guarantee public support of pure scientific research. This involved the construction of ever more ambitious and expensive particle accelerators that could delve deeper and deeper into the core of the nucleus, and space probes able to venture farther and farther into the depths of the galaxy. In recent years, however, much of the power of those motivations has waned, and science has lost the hearts and minds of many non-scientists (if it ever really had them).
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