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Not giving up on symmetry

The idea of symmetry proved very powerful. Giving it up would mean giving up on naturalness - the idea that the universe has to be exactly the way it is for a reason.

But inside black holes, the speed of light (which grounded Einstein's work) will not play a vital role in the future. "The speed of light can't remain constant if space-time is crumbling," says physicist Stephon Alexander.

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MORE IDEAS FROM THE SAME ARTICLE

The relationship that mattered most to Einstein's ideas was symmetry. Scientists describe symmetry as changes that don't really change anything. More complicated symmetries have led to the discoveries from neutrinos to quarks.

We often think of things as the heart of reality. But most often the relationship is more important, not the stuff.

Einstein's special theory of relativity applies only to steady, unchanging motion through space-time, not accelerating motion like an object falling toward Earth.

The most fundamental aspects of nature stay the same.

After Einstein, the pull of symmetry became more powerful.

Many insights of Albert Einstein are now part of popular imagination: black holes, time warps, and wormholes show up in movies and books.

Albert Einstein did not think about symmetry when he wrote his first relativity papers in 1905. He was considering several seemingly unrelated puzzles and connecting the dots.

Symmetry, as it is understood, seems not to answer the biggest questions in physics. In some cases, symmetries show the underlying laws of nature that do not show up in reality.

Unified space-time starts to make sense if we think that the speed of light is a relationship between the distance traveled over time.

Duality is a closely related idea to symmetry. Wave-particle duality has been around since the beginning of quantum mechanics. But newfound dualities have shown interesting relationships. For example, a three-dimensional world without gravity can be mathematically equivalent to a fou...

From the 1950s, invariances took on a life of their own. New symmetries, known as "gauge" invariances, became productive by requiring the existence of everything from W and Z bosons to gluons.

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