Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Man Who Killed Science

The day after string theory was proven, all graduate programs in physics lost their funding. A week later, they were all demolished. Masters and PhD students were forced to find alternative subjects. Some became mathematicians, some went into computer programming. Most became engineers.
With the sudden drop of graduate students, PhDs started scrambling for teaching positions in universities that still taught menial, or ancient, physics: Newtonian, Einsteinien. Because physics departments couldn't handle the excess faculty, pink slips were found in numerous mailboxes and slipped under office doors.

Dear Jon Doe, PhD.:
We had been hoping that during this difficult period of reorganization we could keep all of our employees with the University. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
It is with regret, therefore, that we must inform you that we will be unable to utilize your services after Monday the 16th. We have been pleased with the qualities you have exhibited
during your tenure of employment with us, and will be sorry to lose you as an employee of the Blank University Physics Department.
Please accept our best wishes for your future.

It wasn't easy for Dr. Norris to prove string theory. It had taken the better of seven years working late nights and rising early in the morning, putting strain on his family life, worrying his wife. And then it ended and Dr. Norris finally came home early.
"I've done it. I've done it. All I need to do now is publish the paper and present it at the Conference. It's a sure Nobel," he exclaimed as he walked in the door and found his wife putting dinner on the table. He took her by the waist and spun her around.
"Years from now, children learning to write five paragraph essays will look me up in the World Book Encyclopedia and title their biographical papers 'My Hero, Richard Norris.'"
He smiled at her and brought her close.
"This is my biggest achievement. It'll be our big break into the world of rich, high society. How does that sound?"
And he kissed her.

"Norris Unifies Universe" "X University Professor Speaks at Conference" "PhD unravels String Theory" "String Theorist on Larry King" "Nobel Prize Expected" "Dr. Norris to Speak"

September 22nd came around. Honorary degrees, memberships to elect societies, came as a rain of flowers.
"My friends and fellow scientists. Unifying the nature of physics has been a long endeavor. Since the Greeks, mankind has tried to explain the world around them, and until recently, science has been split between quantum mechanics and general relativity. But now we have done it. We no longer have to struggle. The universe is one. It is finished."
Another Nobel Prize in Physics.

It was the last Nobel Prize to ever be given in physics. Because that's when the departments started shutting down.
Six months after his acceptance speech, Richard Norris was found in his office.
"Hey, Richard."
"Hey Stephen! What's up?"
"I was just stopping by to say goodbye."
"Goodbye? Why?"
"The university is downsizing some more. Three PhDs is too much for the univerisity to pay. Alan and I have been laid off. They're probably keeping you just because you're you."
"But you've been here for so long! Twice as long as me! Surely they can see your worth to the University!"
"Richard. That's just how it is. The world's changing now."

Richard was sitting in his den, reading the Tribune. Peering around the paper, he sees the bright eyes of his wife in his son's face.
"Daddy. Today in school, the teacher asked us to write a sentence about what we want to be when we grow up."
He pushes his paper into his father's lap.
"I want to be a physicist, just like you."

It has been 56 years since I won the Nobel Prize in Physics. I have lived the excitement of discovery, and the lethargy of completeness. My co-workers, my mentors, my students have all gone a different way, and even, I, in the end was forced to retire due to lack of subject. A new generation has grown up with all the answers, without any mystery to add to the curiosity of the universe. I know that none of you blame me. After all, I was just adding to out understanding of the world, just like Newton, just like Einstein, just like every scientist before me. But unlike the great men of the past, instead of adding new genius to science, I ended it. I know that no one in this world will say this to my face, so instead, I will say it now: I killed science. Because of my naivity and pompousness, physics is dead. There is nothing left to do.

It is finished.

Three years later, Dr. Norris went to his grave. Three hundred years later, science was ancient history.

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