Theoretical physics

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Visual representation of a Schwarzschild wormhole. Wormholes have never been observed, but they are predicted to exist through mathematical models and scientific theory. LorentzianWormhole.jpg
Visual representation of a Schwarzschild wormhole. Wormholes have never been observed, but they are predicted to exist through mathematical models and scientific theory.

Theoretical physics is a branch of physics that employs mathematical models and abstractions of physical objects and systems to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena. This is in contrast to experimental physics, which uses experimental tools to probe these phenomena.

Physics Study of the fundamental properties of matter and energy

Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its motion and behavior through space and time, and that studies the related entities of energy and force. Physics is one of the most fundamental scientific disciplines, and its main goal is to understand how the universe behaves.

A mathematical model is a description of a system using mathematical concepts and language. The process of developing a mathematical model is termed mathematical modeling. Mathematical models are used in the natural sciences and engineering disciplines, as well as in the social sciences.

Abstraction in its main sense is a conceptual process where general rules and concepts are derived from the usage and classification of specific examples, literal signifiers, first principles, or other methods.

Contents

The advancement of science generally depends on the interplay between experimental studies and theory. In some cases, theoretical physics adheres to standards of mathematical rigour while giving little weight to experiments and observations. [lower-alpha 1] For example, while developing special relativity, Albert Einstein was concerned with the Lorentz transformation which left Maxwell's equations invariant, but was apparently uninterested in the Michelson–Morley experiment on Earth's drift through a luminiferous aether.[ citation needed ] Conversely, Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize for explaining the photoelectric effect, previously an experimental result lacking a theoretical formulation. [1]

Science systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge

Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.

Experiment Scientific procedure performed to validate a hypothesis.

An experiment is a procedure carried out to support, refute, or validate a hypothesis. Experiments vary greatly in goal and scale, but always rely on repeatable procedure and logical analysis of the results. There also exists natural experimental studies.

A theory is a contemplative and rational type of abstract or generalizing thinking, or the results of such thinking. Depending on the context, the results might, for example, include generalized explanations of how nature works. The word has its roots in ancient Greek, but in modern use it has taken on several related meanings.

Overview

A physical theory is a model of physical events. It is judged by the extent to which its predictions agree with empirical observations. The quality of a physical theory is also judged on its ability to make new predictions which can be verified by new observations. A physical theory differs from a mathematical theorem in that while both are based on some form of axioms, judgment of mathematical applicability is not based on agreement with any experimental results. [2] [3] A physical theory similarly differs from a mathematical theory, in the sense that the word "theory" has a different meaning in mathematical terms. [lower-alpha 2]

Theorem In mathematics, a statement that has been proved

In mathematics, a theorem is a statement that has been proven on the basis of previously established statements, such as other theorems, and generally accepted statements, such as axioms. A theorem is a logical consequence of the axioms. The proof of a mathematical theorem is a logical argument for the theorem statement given in accord with the rules of a deductive system. The proof of a theorem is often interpreted as justification of the truth of the theorem statement. In light of the requirement that theorems be proved, the concept of a theorem is fundamentally deductive, in contrast to the notion of a scientific law, which is experimental.

An axiom or postulate is a statement that is taken to be true, to serve as a premise or starting point for further reasoning and arguments. The word comes from the Greek axíōma (ἀξίωμα) 'that which is thought worthy or fit' or 'that which commends itself as evident.'

A mathematical theory is a mathematical model that is based on axioms. A theory can be a body of knowledge, and so in this sense a "mathematical theory" refers to an area of mathematical research. This is related to, but distinct from, the idea of mathematical models. Branches of mathematics like group theory and number theory are examples of this.

A physical theory involves one or more relationships between various measurable quantities. Archimedes realized that a ship floats by displacing its mass of water, Pythagoras understood the relation between the length of a vibrating string and the musical tone it produces. [4] [5] Other examples include entropy as a measure of the uncertainty regarding the positions and motions of unseen particles and the quantum mechanical idea that (action and) energy are not continuously variable.

Archimedes Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer

Archimedes of Syracuse was a Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer. Although few details of his life are known, he is regarded as one of the leading scientists in classical antiquity. Generally considered the greatest mathematician of antiquity and one of the greatest of all time, Archimedes anticipated modern calculus and analysis by applying concepts of infinitesimals and the method of exhaustion to derive and rigorously prove a range of geometrical theorems, including the area of a circle, the surface area and volume of a sphere, and the area under a parabola.

Pythagoras ancient Greek philosopher and mystic

Pythagoras of Samos was an ancient Ionian Greek philosopher and the eponymous founder of Pythagoreanism. His political and religious teachings were well known in Magna Graecia and influenced the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, and, through them, Western philosophy. Knowledge of his life is clouded by legend, but he appears to have been the son of Mnesarchus, a seal engraver on the island of Samos. Modern scholars disagree regarding Pythagoras's education and influences, but they do agree that, around 530 BC, he travelled to Croton, where he founded a school in which initiates were sworn to secrecy and lived a communal, ascetic lifestyle. This lifestyle entailed a number of dietary prohibitions, traditionally said to have included vegetarianism, although modern scholars doubt that he ever advocated for complete vegetarianism.

Oscillation repetitive variation of some measure about a central value

Oscillation is the repetitive variation, typically in time, of some measure about a central value or between two or more different states. The term vibration is precisely used to describe mechanical oscillation. Familiar examples of oscillation include a swinging pendulum and alternating current.

Theoretical physics consists of several different approaches. In this regard, theoretical particle physics forms a good example. For instance: "phenomenologists" might employ (semi-) empirical formulas to agree with experimental results, often without deep physical understanding. [lower-alpha 3] "Modelers" (also called "model-builders") often appear much like phenomenologists, but try to model speculative theories that have certain desirable features (rather than on experimental data), or apply the techniques of mathematical modeling to physics problems. [lower-alpha 4] Some attempt to create approximate theories, called effective theories , because fully developed theories may be regarded as unsolvable or too complicated. Other theorists may try to unify, formalise, reinterpret or generalise extant theories, or create completely new ones altogether. [lower-alpha 5] Sometimes the vision provided by pure mathematical systems can provide clues to how a physical system might be modeled; [lower-alpha 6] e.g., the notion, due to Riemann and others, that space itself might be curved. Theoretical problems that need computational investigation are often the concern of computational physics.

In science, an empirical relationship or phenomenological relationship is a relationship or correlation that is supported by experiment and observation but not necessarily supported by theory.

Complexity characterises the behaviour of a system or model whose components interact in multiple ways and follow local rules, meaning there is no reasonable higher instruction to define the various possible interactions.

Bernhard Riemann German mathematician

Georg Friedrich Bernhard Riemann was a German mathematician who made contributions to analysis, number theory, and differential geometry. In the field of real analysis, he is mostly known for the first rigorous formulation of the integral, the Riemann integral, and his work on Fourier series. His contributions to complex analysis include most notably the introduction of Riemann surfaces, breaking new ground in a natural, geometric treatment of complex analysis. His famous 1859 paper on the prime-counting function, containing the original statement of the Riemann hypothesis, is regarded as one of the most influential papers in analytic number theory. Through his pioneering contributions to differential geometry, Riemann laid the foundations of the mathematics of general relativity. He is considered by many to be one of the greatest mathematicians of all time.

Theoretical advances may consist in setting aside old, incorrect paradigms (e.g., aether theory of light propagation, caloric theory of heat, burning consisting of evolving phlogiston, or astronomical bodies revolving around the Earth) or may be an alternative model that provides answers that are more accurate or that can be more widely applied. In the latter case, a correspondence principle will be required to recover the previously known result. [6] [7] Sometimes though, advances may proceed along different paths. For example, an essentially correct theory may need some conceptual or factual revisions; atomic theory, first postulated millennia ago (by several thinkers in Greece and India) and the two-fluid theory of electricity [8] are two cases in this point. However, an exception to all the above is the wave–particle duality, a theory combining aspects of different, opposing models via the Bohr complementarity principle.

Relationship between mathematics and physics Mathematical Physics and other sciences.png
Relationship between mathematics and physics

Physical theories become accepted if they are able to make correct predictions and no (or few) incorrect ones. The theory should have, at least as a secondary objective, a certain economy and elegance (compare to mathematical beauty), a notion sometimes called "Occam's razor" after the 13th-century English philosopher William of Occam (or Ockham), in which the simpler of two theories that describe the same matter just as adequately is preferred (but conceptual simplicity may mean mathematical complexity). [9] They are also more likely to be accepted if they connect a wide range of phenomena. Testing the consequences of a theory is part of the scientific method.

Physical theories can be grouped into three categories: mainstream theories , proposed theories and fringe theories .

History

Theoretical physics began at least 2,300 years ago, under the Pre-socratic philosophy, and continued by Plato and Aristotle, whose views held sway for a millennium. During the rise of medieval universities, the only acknowledged intellectual disciplines were the seven liberal arts of the Trivium like grammar, logic, and rhetoric and of the Quadrivium like arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the concept of experimental science, the counterpoint to theory, began with scholars such as Ibn al-Haytham and Francis Bacon. As the Scientific Revolution gathered pace, the concepts of matter, energy, space, time and causality slowly began to acquire the form we know today, and other sciences spun off from the rubric of natural philosophy. Thus began the modern era of theory with the Copernican paradigm shift in astronomy, soon followed by Johannes Kepler's expressions for planetary orbits, which summarized the meticulous observations of Tycho Brahe; the works of these men (alongside Galileo's) can perhaps be considered to constitute the Scientific Revolution.

The great push toward the modern concept of explanation started with Galileo, one of the few physicists who was both a consummate theoretician and a great experimentalist. The analytic geometry and mechanics of Descartes were incorporated into the calculus and mechanics of Isaac Newton, another theoretician/experimentalist of the highest order, writing Principia Mathematica. [10] In it contained a grand synthesis of the work of Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler; as well as Newton's theories of mechanics and gravitation, which held sway as worldviews until the early 20th century. Simultaneously, progress was also made in optics (in particular colour theory and the ancient science of geometrical optics), courtesy of Newton, Descartes and the Dutchmen Snell and Huygens. In the 18th and 19th centuries Joseph-Louis Lagrange, Leonhard Euler and William Rowan Hamilton would extend the theory of classical mechanics considerably. [11] They picked up the interactive intertwining of mathematics and physics begun two millennia earlier by Pythagoras.

Among the great conceptual achievements of the 19th and 20th centuries were the consolidation of the idea of energy (as well as its global conservation) by the inclusion of heat, electricity and magnetism, and then light. The laws of thermodynamics, and most importantly the introduction of the singular concept of entropy began to provide a macroscopic explanation for the properties of matter. Statistical mechanics (followed by statistical physics and Quantum statistical mechanics) emerged as an offshoot of thermodynamics late in the 19th century. Another important event in the 19th century was the discovery of electromagnetic theory, unifying the previously separate phenomena of electricity, magnetism and light.


The pillars of modern physics, and perhaps the most revolutionary theories in the history of physics, have been relativity theory and quantum mechanics. Newtonian mechanics was subsumed under special relativity and Newton's gravity was given a kinematic explanation by general relativity. Quantum mechanics led to an understanding of blackbody radiation (which indeed, was an original motivation for the theory) and of anomalies in the specific heats of solids — and finally to an understanding of the internal structures of atoms and molecules. Quantum mechanics soon gave way to the formulation of quantum field theory (QFT), begun in the late 1920s. In the aftermath of World War 2, more progress brought much renewed interest in QFT, which had since the early efforts, stagnated. The same period also saw fresh attacks on the problems of superconductivity and phase transitions, as well as the first applications of QFT in the area of theoretical condensed matter. The 1960s and 70s saw the formulation of the Standard model of particle physics using QFT and progress in condensed matter physics (theoretical foundations of superconductivity and critical phenomena, among others), in parallel to the applications of relativity to problems in astronomy and cosmology respectively.

All of these achievements depended on the theoretical physics as a moving force both to suggest experiments and to consolidate results — often by ingenious application of existing mathematics, or, as in the case of Descartes and Newton (with Leibniz), by inventing new mathematics. Fourier's studies of heat conduction led to a new branch of mathematics: infinite, orthogonal series. [12]

Modern theoretical physics attempts to unify theories and explain phenomena in further attempts to understand the Universe, from the cosmological to the elementary particle scale. Where experimentation cannot be done, theoretical physics still tries to advance through the use of mathematical models.

Mainstream theories

Mainstream theories (sometimes referred to as central theories) are the body of knowledge of both factual and scientific views and possess a usual scientific quality of the tests of repeatability, consistency with existing well-established science and experimentation. There do exist mainstream theories that are generally accepted theories based solely upon their effects explaining a wide variety of data, although the detection, explanation, and possible composition are subjects of debate.

Examples

Proposed theories

The proposed theories of physics are usually relatively new theories which deal with the study of physics which include scientific approaches, means for determining the validity of models and new types of reasoning used to arrive at the theory. However, some proposed theories include theories that have been around for decades and have eluded methods of discovery and testing. Proposed theories can include fringe theories in the process of becoming established (and, sometimes, gaining wider acceptance). Proposed theories usually have not been tested.

Examples

Fringe theories

Fringe theories include any new area of scientific endeavor in the process of becoming established and some proposed theories. It can include speculative sciences. This includes physics fields and physical theories presented in accordance with known evidence, and a body of associated predictions have been made according to that theory.

Some fringe theories go on to become a widely accepted part of physics. Other fringe theories end up being disproven. Some fringe theories are a form of protoscience and others are a form of pseudoscience. The falsification of the original theory sometimes leads to reformulation of the theory.

Examples

Thought experiments vs real experiments

"Thought" experiments are situations created in one's mind, asking a question akin to "suppose you are in this situation, assuming such is true, what would follow?". They are usually created to investigate phenomena that are not readily experienced in every-day situations. Famous examples of such thought experiments are Schrödinger's cat, the EPR thought experiment, simple illustrations of time dilation, and so on. These usually lead to real experiments designed to verify that the conclusion (and therefore the assumptions) of the thought experiments are correct. The EPR thought experiment led to the Bell inequalities, which were then tested to various degrees of rigor, leading to the acceptance of the current formulation of quantum mechanics and probabilism as a working hypothesis.

See also

Notes

  1. There is some debate as to whether or not theoretical physics uses mathematics to build intuition and illustrativeness to extract physical insight (especially when normal experience fails), rather than as a tool in formalizing theories. This links to the question of it using mathematics in a less formally rigorous, and more intuitive or heuristic way than, say, mathematical physics.
  2. Sometimes the word "theory" can be used ambiguously in this sense, not to describe scientific theories, but research (sub)fields and programmes. Examples: relativity theory, quantum field theory, string theory.
  3. The work of Johann Balmer and Johannes Rydberg in spectroscopy, and the semi-empirical mass formula of nuclear physics are good candidates for examples of this approach.
  4. The Ptolemaic and Copernican models of the Solar system, the Bohr model of hydrogen atoms and nuclear shell model are good candidates for examples of this approach.
  5. Arguably these are the most celebrated theories in physics: Newton's theory of gravitation, Einstein's theory of relativity and Maxwell's theory of electromagnetism share some of these attributes.
  6. This approach is often favoured by (pure) mathematicians and mathematical physicists.

Related Research Articles

In physics, the fundamental interactions, also known as fundamental forces, are the interactions that do not appear to be reducible to more basic interactions. There are four fundamental interactions known to exist: the gravitational and electromagnetic interactions, which produce significant long-range forces whose effects can be seen directly in everyday life, and the strong and weak interactions, which produce forces at minuscule, subatomic distances and govern nuclear interactions. Some scientists hypothesize that a fifth force might exist, but the hypotheses remain speculative.

History of physics aspect of history

Physics is the fundamental branch of science. The primary objects of study are matter and energy. Physics is, in one sense, the oldest and most basic academic pursuit; its discoveries find applications throughout the natural sciences, since matter and energy are the basic constituents of the natural world. The other sciences are generally more limited in their scope and may be considered branches that have split off from physics to become sciences in their own right. Physics today may be divided loosely into classical physics and modern physics.

Mechanics is that area of science concerned with the behaviour of physical bodies when subjected to forces or displacements, and the subsequent effects of the bodies on their environment. The scientific discipline has its origins in Ancient Greece with the writings of Aristotle and Archimedes. During the early modern period, scientists such as Galileo, Kepler, and Newton laid the foundation for what is now known as classical mechanics. It is a branch of classical physics that deals with particles that are either at rest or are moving with velocities significantly less than the speed of light. It can also be defined as a branch of science which deals with the motion of and forces on objects. The field is yet less widely understood in terms of quantum theory.

Physicist scientist who does research in physics

A physicist is a scientist who specializes in the field of physics, which encompasses the interactions of matter and energy at all length and time scales in the physical universe. Physicists generally are interested in the root or ultimate causes of phenomena, and usually frame their understanding in mathematical terms. Physicists work across a wide range of research fields, spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic and particle physics, through biological physics, to cosmological length scales encompassing the universe as a whole. The field generally includes two types of physicists: experimental physicists who specialize in the observation of physical phenomena and the analysis of experiments, and theoretical physicists who specialize in mathematical modeling of physical systems to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena. Physicists can apply their knowledge towards solving practical problems or to developing new technologies.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to physics:

Quantum gravity (QG) is a field of theoretical physics that seeks to describe gravity according to the principles of quantum mechanics, and where quantum effects cannot be ignored, such as near compact astrophysical objects where the effects of gravity are strong.

Theory of relativity physical theory

The theory of relativity usually encompasses two interrelated theories by Albert Einstein: special relativity and general relativity. Special Relativity applies to all physical phenomena in the absence of gravity. General relativity explains the law of gravitation and its relation to other forces of nature. It applies to the cosmological and astrophysical realm, including astronomy.

Theory of everything hypothetical single, all-encompassing, coherent theoretical framework of physics

A theory of everything, final theory, ultimate theory, or master theory is a hypothetical single, all-encompassing, coherent theoretical framework of physics that fully explains and links together all physical aspects of the universe. Finding a TOE is one of the major unsolved problems in physics. Over the past few centuries, two theoretical frameworks have been developed that, as a whole, most closely resemble a TOE. These two theories upon which all modern physics rests are general relativity (GR) and quantum field theory (QFT). GR is a theoretical framework that only focuses on gravity for understanding the universe in regions of both large scale and high mass: stars, galaxies, clusters of galaxies, etc. On the other hand, QFT is a theoretical framework that only focuses on three non-gravitational forces for understanding the universe in regions of both small scale and low mass: sub-atomic particles, atoms, molecules, etc. QFT successfully implemented the Standard Model that describes the three non-gravitational forces: strong, weak, and electromagnetic force.

Computational physics Numerical simulations in physics via computers

Computational physics is the study and implementation of numerical analysis to solve problems in physics for which a quantitative theory already exists. Historically, computational physics was the first application of modern computers in science, and is now a subset of computational science.

Philosophy of physics

In philosophy, philosophy of physics deals with conceptual and interpretational issues in modern physics, and often overlaps with research done by certain kinds of theoretical physicists. Philosophy of physics can be very broadly lumped into three main areas:

Mathematical physics Application of mathematical methods to problems in physics

Mathematical physics refers to the development of mathematical methods for application to problems in physics. The Journal of Mathematical Physics defines the field as "the application of mathematics to problems in physics and the development of mathematical methods suitable for such applications and for the formulation of physical theories". It is a branch of applied mathematics, but deals with physical problems.

In physics, action at a distance is the concept that an object can be moved, changed, or otherwise affected without being physically touched by another object. That is, it is the nonlocal interaction of objects that are separated in space.

The deductive-nomological model, also known as Hempel's model, the Hempel–Oppenheim model, the Popper–Hempel model, or the covering law model, is a formal view of scientifically answering questions asking, "Why...?". The DN model poses scientific explanation as a deductive structure—that is, one where truth of its premises entails truth of its conclusion—hinged on accurate prediction or postdiction of the phenomenon to be explained.

In physics, aether theories propose the existence of a medium, a space-filling substance or field, thought to be necessary as a transmission medium for the propagation of electromagnetic or gravitational forces. Since the development of special relativity, theories using a substantial aether fell out of use in modern physics, and are now joined by more abstract models.

Physics beyond the Standard Model Theories attempting to explain the deficiencies of the Standard Model, Quantum field theory and general relativity

Physics beyond the Standard Model (BSM) refers to the theoretical developments needed to explain the deficiencies of the Standard Model, such as the strong CP problem, neutrino oscillations, matter–antimatter asymmetry, and the nature of dark matter and dark energy. Another problem lies within the mathematical framework of the Standard Model itself: the Standard Model is inconsistent with that of general relativity, to the point where one or both theories break down under certain conditions.

Classical mechanics sub-field of mechanics, which is concerned with the set of physical laws describing the motion of bodies under the action of a system of forces

Classical mechanics describes the motion of macroscopic objects, from projectiles to parts of machinery, and astronomical objects, such as spacecraft, planets, stars and galaxies.

Branches of physics sub-field of study of physics

Physics deals with the combination of matter and energy. It also deals with a wide variety of systems, about which theories have been developed that are used by physicists. In general, theories are experimentally tested numerous times before they are accepted as correct as a description of Nature. For instance, the theory of classical mechanics accurately describes the motion of objects, provided they are much larger than atoms and moving at much less than the speed of light. These "central theories" are important tools for research in more specialized topics, and any physicist, regardless of his or her specialization, is expected to be literate in them.

Superfluid vacuum theory Theory of fundamental physics

Superfluid vacuum theory (SVT), sometimes known as the BEC vacuum theory, is an approach in theoretical physics and quantum mechanics where the fundamental physical vacuum is viewed as superfluid or as a Bose–Einstein condensate (BEC).

In physics, a non-relativistic spacetime is any mathematical model that fuses n–dimensional space and m–dimensional time into a single continuum other than the (3+1) model used in relativity theory.

References

  1. "The Nobel Prize in Physics 1921". The Nobel Foundation . Retrieved 2008-10-09.
  2. Theorems and Theories Archived 2014-08-19 at the Wayback Machine , Sam Nelson.
  3. Mark C. Chu-Carroll, March 13, 2007:Theorems, Lemmas, and Corollaries. Good Math, Bad Math blog.
  4. Singiresu S. Rao (2007). Vibration of Continuous Systems (illustrated ed.). John Wiley & Sons. 5,12. ISBN   978-0471771715. ISBN   9780471771715
  5. Eli Maor (2007). The Pythagorean Theorem: A 4,000-year History (illustrated ed.). Princeton University Press. pp. 18–20. ISBN   978-0691125268. ISBN   9780691125268
  6. Bokulich, Alisa, "Bohr's Correspondence Principle", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  7. Enc. Britannica (1994), pg 844.
  8. Enc. Britannica (1994), pg 834.
  9. Simplicity in the Philosophy of Science (retrieved 19 Aug 2014), Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  10. See 'Correspondence of Isaac Newton, vol.2, 1676–1687' ed. H W Turnbull, Cambridge University Press 1960; at page 297, document #235, letter from Hooke to Newton dated 24 November 1679.
  11. Penrose, R (2004). The Road to Reality. Jonathan Cape. p. 471.
  12. Penrose, R (2004). "9: Fourier decompositions and hyperfunctions". The Road to Reality. Jonathan Cape.

Further reading

Bestselling three-volume textbook covering the span of physics. Reference for both (under)graduate student and professional researcher alike.
Famous series of books dealing with theoretical concepts in physics covering 10 volumes, translated into many languages and reprinted over many editions. Often known simply as "Landau and Lifschits" or "Landau-Lifschits" in the literature.
A set of lectures given in 1909 at Columbia University.
A series of lessons from a master educator of theoretical physicists.