The Problems of Physics
In the previous chapter, we saw that many important aspects of a wide variety of everyday systems can be understood by thinking in terms of simple programs. But what about fundamental physics? Can ideas derived from studying simple programs also be applied there?
Fundamental physics is the area in which traditional mathematical approaches to science have had their greatest success. But despite this success, there are still many central issues that remain quite unresolved. And in this chapter my purpose is to consider some of these issues in the light of what we have learned from studying simple programs.
It might at first not seem sensible to try to use simple programs as a basis for understanding fundamental physics. For some of the best established features of physical systems—such as conservation of energy or equivalence of directions in space—seem to have no obvious analogs in most of the programs we have discussed so far in this book.
As we will see, it is in fact possible for simple programs to show these kinds of features. But it turns out that some of the most important unresolved issues in physics concern phenomena that are in a sense more general—and do not depend much on such features.
And indeed what we will see in this chapter is that remarkably simple programs are often able to capture the essence of what is going on—even though traditional efforts have been quite unsuccessful.