Physicists have a habit of depicting their discipline as “beautiful” or “elegant”, where an outsider might be forgiven for seeing no more than an endless morass of equations. In an ideal world, those equations would be unnecessary; the ultimate goal of physics – and science generally – is to describe the world as simply as possible.
One hundred years ago, one person brought physics a great step closer to that goal. Amalie “Emmy” Noether transformed how we think about the universe. Despite the hairy mathematics, her great first theorem can be described conceptually in just a short sentence…
Symmetries give rise to conservation laws.
This simplicity masks a penetrating insight. It provided a unifying perspective on the physics known at the time – and laid the groundwork for nearly every major fundamental discovery since. (1)
We believe in symmetries. So, we believe in conservation laws. It all starts from a simple thought and “unquestionable” axioms follow. Things we call “Principles”. Things we use to build theories. Things we use to build our lives upon. And yet our lives could change the very second we change the axioms. Our lives could seize from ever existing when we change our “principles”.
You are powerful.
Ideas are powerful.
Words are powerful.
Change a little phrase and the whole cosmos could fall apart…