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‘Is the end of theoretical physics in sight?’ asked Stephen Hawking in his inaugural lecture in 1979. Although Hawking’s prediction was somewhat premature, the question of whether physics is in fact a completable program remains. Physics may culminate in triumph, with a ‘theory of everything’, or it may peter out in countless minor refinements. Alternatively it may become subsumed under a new, as-yet unnamed, science of complexity, in which physics, chemistry, biology, information theory, computing and nanoscience merge, opening up a new frontier for research and technology. Bang, whimper or takeover – each version of the demise of physics has profound implications for our understanding of nature.
Paul Davies is a theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astrobiologist and author. He is Regents’ Professor and Director of the Beyond Center at Arizona State University. His research has ranged from the origin of the universe to the origin of life, the nature of time, astrobiology and the deep evolutionary roots of cancer. The author of 31 books, his latest is The Demon in the Machine, an explanation for living matter based on information theory.