In Scientific American, Leonard Susskind is profiled as the “Bad Boy of Physics”: "Leonard Susskind rebelled as a teen and never stopped. Today he insists that reality may forever be beyond reach of our understanding" (Peter Byrne, June 21, 2011),
Stanford University physicist Leonard Susskind revels in discovering ideas that transform the status quo in physics. Forty years ago he co-founded string theory, which was initially derided but eventually became the leading candidate for a unified theory of nature. For years he disputed Stephen Hawking's conjecture that black holes do not merely swallow objects but grind them up beyond recovery, in violation of quantum mechanics. Hawking eventually conceded. And he helped to develop the modern conception of parallel universes, based on what he dubbed the "landscape" of string theory. It spoiled physicists' dream to explain the universe as the unique outcome of basic principles. Physicists seeking to understand the deepest levels of reality now work within a framework largely of Susskind's making. But a funny thing has happened along the way. Susskind now wonders whether physicists can understand reality.
Is this a pattern or what?
Having built the huge meringue of evolutionary psychology out of his study of ants, Wilson then disowned the theory, leaving hundreds of enraged colleagues out to get him. Some think it a sign of the weakness, not the strength, of present-day science that vast, implausible theories can – in the fashion world’s terms – "totally dominate," and then the founder himself says, "Ah … naw," leaving the lesser devotees to their own devices.
And now James Shapiro is going around openly dissing Darwin from a non-bad boy establishment position. Maybe John Horgan was right about the "end of science" – or maybe it’s time for fresh thinking about science: Does it exist, as Lewontin seems to think, to front atheism?
Denyse O'Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain.