The end of science (1925 edition)

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Here's Bertrand Russell from What I Believe:
Physical science is thus approaching the stage when it will be complete, and therefore uninteresting. Given the laws governing the motions of electrons and protons, the rest is merely geography--a collection of particular facts telling their distribution throughout some portion of the world's history. The total number of facts of geography required to determine the world's history is probably finite; theoretically they could all be written down in a big book to be kept at Somerset House with a calculating machine attached, which, by turning a handle, would enable the inquirer to find out the facts at other times than those recorded. It is difficult to imagine anything less interesting or more different than the passionate delights of incomplete discovery. It is like climbing a high mountain and finding nothing at the top except a restaurant where they sell ginger beer, surrounded by fog but equipped with wireless. Perhaps in the times of Ahmes the multiplication table was exciting.

This essay was published in 1925, the same year that Schrodinger and Heisenberg published the first real treatments of quantum mechanics and two years before the Uncertainty Principle. 80 years later we're still chasing a complete theory.


Also, it was published six years before Gödel came along. Back then, logical positivism was the hip thing, and Russell probably believed that the Principia Mathematica had succeeded in formalizing mathematics.

It's funny how Russell predicted the "end of physics" just before a major revolution got underway - I wonder if there's a parallel to the people talking about an "end of history" nowadays?

I'd never read this Russell quote before, but it's interesting how it almost directly channels Leibniz's projected universal dictionary. This which would encode all the facts about the world, and allow rational people to sit down and resolve any dispute with a proof system. (Leibniz envisioned them saying "Calculemus!" as they did this. :-) )

Computer science, positivism, what's the diff?

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