The End of History (for Physics)?

In a trio of blog posts from 2010 (see here, here, and here), Sean Carroll defends the striking claim that, as far as concerns the basic physical principles that underlie the phenomena of everyday life, physics has been completed.

[T]here’s no question that the human goal of figuring out the basic rules by which the easily observable world works was one that was achieved once and for all in the twentieth century.

That’s right: “once and for all.” If asked for the basic, underlying story about why a table is solid or why the sun shines or what happens when a person flexes a muscle, modern science gives its answers in terms of “the particles of the Standard Model, interacting through electromagnetism, gravity, and the nuclear forces, according to the principles of quantum mechanics and general relativity.” One hundred years ago, explanations by this story (i.e., body of theory) could not be given, because this story did not exist. “But—here’s the important part—one thousand years from now, you will hear precisely that same story.”

I think Carroll is right, and I think the philosophy of structural realism can help to illuminate why. The purpose of what follows is to explain these points.

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