Through physics we create models or patterns that describe and predict how nature works. These are our natural laws. Written down as mathematical formulae with explicitly defined terms, they specify the relationships between forces and matter that govern and predict the workings of our physical world. In this sense they are unequivocal and strikingly accurate.
Situated on our tiny planet tucked away in the suburbs of the universe, we can be forgiven for taking a parochial view, believing that the world we experience is commonplace in the universe, whereas it is the contrary. So, physics is often about exploring phenomena that occur elsewhere in the universe or once occurred: plasma, fusion, the vacuum, the big bang, the birth and death of stars. In this way we come to understand more about ourselves and our world.
Through creativity and imagination, physicists extrapolate the patterns they discover over vast distances, times and phenomena. We find that what keeps you seated in your chair, governs the movement of the heavens as gravity, that light is the same phenomenon as electricity and magnetism, that space and time are one.
By careful thought and experimentation, we discover that nature is quite different to how it first seems to our limited senses and we are struck by marvellous and counter-intuitive discoveries......that our universe expanded from a single unimaginably dense point, that the chair upon which you are seated is mostly empty space, that two once related particles can be separated by galaxy-like distances and remain instantaneously correlated.
These ideas affect how we think about ourselves. They bring a sense of power, not only do we discover nature, we can realise its full potential to satisfy our own ends.
Thankfully, there is a balancing entry. We have come to understand that we are a tiny though remarkable point of consciousness on a vast stage of time and space. We are struck with awe by what we find and the growing sense of what we don't know and we humbly accept that the human brain itself and our position in the middle of the experiment may impose unknowable limitations upon what we can ever know.
Geraldine Cox, April 2011.