Philosophers aim to help resolve crisis in physics

Researcher Karen Crowther reckons critical thinking can assist with the hunt for the theory that can describe “everything”.

Image of celestial bodies floating in space surrounding the gravitational pull of a black hole

Physicists struggle to establish a theory that describes what goes on inside a black hole. Illustration: ESO/L. Calçada/

Despite a number of major advances in recent years, such as the first photo of a black hole in 2019 or the discovery of the Higgs boson particle in 2012, physicists are still searching intently for a revolutionary new theory.

In 1915, Albert Einstein presented his general theory of relativity. Quantum physics was completed in the early 1970s with what is known as the Standard Model, which describes all elementary particles and interactions – with the exception of gravitational force.

“Physicists are now hunting for a theory that can combine the two and so describe everything. They are attempting to develop a theory of quantum gravity,” says Karen Crowther.

Originally from Australia, Crowther is a philosopher of science at the Centre for Philosophy and the Sciences at the University of Oslo, Norway. She has immersed herself in the philosophy of physics, and her ambition is to aid physicists with resolving their major crisis.

From physics to philosophy

Portrait of Karen Crowther
Karen Crowther is studying the philosophy of physics. Photo: UiO.

It all began with formulae, X’s, square roots and laws.

“When I was a student of physics, I was captivated by harmonic equations and theories that could predict things correctly. But when I took a closer look, I realised that there are many questions left unanswered, and that many theories are incomplete. That bothered me.”

Luckily, an attentive teacher pointed Crowther in the direction of philosophy of science.

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