It was really the desire to conceptualize, and understand Einstein's General Relativity that got me interested in physics. That was back in the high school. Years later, when I read Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe] that I felt for the first time in my life I got a glimpse of what the implications of Einsteins four-dimensional space-time model could be.
But the fact is that even as I am catching up with pre-Schrödinger physics, the physics itself is changing. Einstein's model has incompatibilities with the Quantum Model, just like the incompatibility of Maxwell's equations with Newton physics. It was that incompatibility eventually led to Einstein's discovery. Before Einstein, few, if any, could realize that this incompatibility would eventually topple the whol Newtonian physics, and Maxwell's equations would remain the same. Since the quest for a Grand Unified Theory has gone on for decades now with little success, the next theorem might surprise everyone.
At this point in time, however, this new theory did not yet emerge. The String Theory, as Brian Greene claims, is a strong candidate for this position. However, the String Theory has three drawbacks: One is that it lacks the elegance that Einstein's model has, a very simple explanation of the universe. The other problem is that it still is not mature enough; certain questions have never been answered. The third is more sinister - many of the results of string theory point to impossibility of many aspects of the theory. The distances concerned are so small that the act of observing changes the nature of the object, thus making observation impossible for many parts of the theory. The underlying conclusion is that the string theorists may very well have kept chasing their own tails in a land of mathematical equations which have little relevance to the physical world.
Which brings us to my point. I would like to draw your attention to the elementary particles. These are basically the particles which we learned in high school physics: Electrons, Protons, Neutrons. You may have had an exam where you may have had to learn their properties. For example, each one of these particles have "mass" as one property. Proton has, for example 1.672 × 10-27 kg mass. Electron, however is considerably lighter and easier to carry around; it has 9.109 × 10-31 kg mass. If you indeed did have an exam where you had to memorize these two numbers as a teenager, you may have grunted in desperation "Why can't they be just 1 × 10-27 and 2 × 10-31" It would have been much easier to memorize if they had been nice, cooked, round numbers.
And why indeed are they not? In Brian Greene's words, "Why, for instance, does the tau weigh about 3520 times as much as an electron? Why does the top quark weigh about 40200 times as much as an up-quark? These are strange, seemingly random numbers. Did they occur by chance, by some divine choice, or is there a comprehensible scientific explanation for these fundamental features of our universe?"
Now you might think that these questions are absurd, that these are just measured quantities with no significance at all. That could be one approach, but that approach is actually letting go of trying to understand the world. Why does everything fall downwards, and never upwards, one might have asked in the 14th century, and scorned by his peers for the absurdity of the question. However today, we have a comprehensive explanation to the answer of that question, and that explanation is part of the theory allow us to engineer quite a lot of machines, including airplanes.
Another criticism to the validity of my question can come from contemporary physicists, or physics enthusiasts, like myself. This question may seem invalid because physics has actually moved on, and that we have explanations from the mass of proton, i.e. the mass of proton is using its components, 2 up quarks, 1 down quark and and the extra kinetic energy of the quarks and gluons. Or, if you are an adherent to the String Theory, you might say that the mass of these particles are the result of the vibration patterns and tensions of the strings that make up the particle, and the energy cancellations between them. However, both answers bring newer questions: Why do the up and down quarks have masses that seem to be random, and kinetic energies? And if we answer this question with the string theory, then we have to face a new set up questions: Why do the Calabi-Yau shaped spaces explain the current physical properties of these elements, and not any other shape? Why does the M-Theory require 11 dimensions and not 10 or 12? Obviously, the "how" of these peculiarities can be explained. However, "why the universe came to exist with these properties" is a tougher question to tackle.
I intend to not answer the question, only to provide a certain framework. Put yourself, dear reader, in the shoes of the pre-Darwin era biologists. You would see an enormous diversity of life on Earth. You would likely wonder how come this many species came into existence. You could further ask yourself, why many creature do not exist at all? For example, we have beetles with six legs, and mammals with four legs. Why do we not have mammals with six legs, and beetles with four legs? Why do we not have beetles with ten legs? Or, why do we not have giant beetles, and cute small mammals? You would even be fascinated that many of the creatures that do not exist seem horrendous to you, and you could conclude that there has to be a design out there to make sure that humans actually survive as a species.
Even if you had looked at the similarities between these species, and concluded that some species must have evolved from one another, or a common ancestors (after all, you would notice that the four legged critters are the large ones that care for their young, and the six legged critters are the small ones with chitin exoskeletons - they do tend to group, hmm) you would still expect to see all the steps in between. You would surmise that somewhere out there, they should be some elephants with smaller ears, gradually decreasing in size and having slender bodies, and all the range in between. However, it is with Darwin's proposal that we understand why we see "species" and not all different possible combinations of animal features. The fact is that all that diversity at some point existed, but those "in-between" features were outdone, marginalized and disappeared as the animals became "fitter" for their environments.
TED speech by David Deutsch
My proposal is to use the same approach to physics, both in the large and small scale. We tend to draw a clear line between "living" and "non-living", but as we try to understand the particulars, we realize that the line is blurry. For example, the most primitive viruses that have RNA as their genetic material are quite mechanical creatures - they are self-reproducing mechanisms in the molecular scale. You might argue that non-living material is does not create copies of itself, but we actually know that this is a natural phenomenon - crystal molecules do it all the time, by themselves. Now consider this: Just as life on Earth has progressed in a chaotic way over the course of the last hundreds of millions of years, the first matter may have progressed in a similar way - simpler structures giving way to more complex and more stable structures, only because the more stable structures actually stay. These structures may have interacted with each other to create even more complicated, more stable structures, and incorporated the simpler ones into themselves - within the time span of the first few seconds of the Big Bang. And this may be the reason why we see specific features. We do not have a clear-cut explanation or a clear cut theory, because the process is chaotic. Just as we do not have a model to explain how exactly any given species will evolve in any given environment along with other species, we might not have a model to explain the complexity of the elementary particles - whether they be protons-neutrons-electrons, or quarks-leptons-bosons, or just vibrating strings.