Postmodern Physics

Editor’s Note: Guest writer Frank Tipler is a professor of physics at Tulane University.

A recent study shows that Shakespeare is no longer a required course for English majors at the overwhelming majority of American elite universities. This is not a surprise: most people are well aware that students are no longer taught the basics in the humanities departments.

Unfortunately, the situation is just as bad in physics departments. At the overwhelming majority of physics departments at American universities, even the most elite, key elements of basic physics are no longer taught. For example, I am aware of no American university that requires, for an undergraduate degree in physics, a course in general relativity, which is Albert Einstein’s theory of gravity. At the overwhelming majority of American universities, including Harvard, M.I.T. and Cal Tech, one is not even required to take a course in general relativity to get a Ph.D. in physics! As a consequence, most American Ph.D.’s in physics do not understand general relativity. If a problem arises that requires knowledge of Einstein’s theory of gravity, almost all American physicists can only look blank. This is in spite of the fact that general relativity has been known to be the correct theory of gravity for almost a century.