Sunday, March 14, 2010

How wrong about the future can you be? III

I now discuss a second of the four articles I introduced in an earlier post.
This article is one I know that Phil Anderson likes to rant about.

Brian Pippard, The Cat and the Cream, 1961
A banquet speech given at a conference on superconductivity held at IBM's new lab at Yorktown Heights, and later published in Physics Today.
Here are a few choice quotes:

the era of the great breakthrough is over..... I have found that when I suggest to senior physicists that the end of physics as we know it is in sight, they tell me, "That's just what everybody was saying in 1900". Now this may be a justification for optimism, but let's first ask whether the historical parallel is sound. I think in many ways it is.

....If you don't believe me, ask yourselves this question: Apart from the field of fundamental particles, what is the most recent discov- ery in physics that still remains in essence a mystery? I think I might remark that in low-temperature physics the disappearance of liquid helium, superconductivity, and magneto-resistance from the list of major unsolved problems has left this branch of research looking pretty sick from the point of view of any young innocent who thinks he's going to break new ground.

....but with the new IBM Laboratory, and all those other labs that we represent, plugging along assiduously doing research, ten years is going to see the end of our games as pure physicists,....

Note, that the same time Pippard was giving this talk his very own Ph.D student, Brian Josephson was making a discovery that led to elucidation of spontaneously broken symmetry, macroscopic quantum tunneling, .....

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