Maxwell’s mature presentation of his equations emphasized the unity of electromagnetism and mechanics, subsuming both as ‘dynamical systems’. That intuition of unity has proved both fruitful, as a source of pregnant concepts, and broadly inspiring. A deep aspect of Maxwell’s work is its use of redundant potentials, and the associated requirement of gauge symmetry. Those concepts have become central to our present understanding of fundamental physics, but they can appear to be rather formal and esoteric. Here I discuss two things: the physical significance of gauge invariance, in broad terms; and some tantalizing prospects for further unification, building on that concept, that are visible on the horizon today. If those prospects are realized, Maxwell’s vision of the unity of field and substance will be brought to a new level.
This article is part of the themed issue ‘Unifying physics and technology in light of Maxwell's equations’.
Speech presented at Unifying physics and technology in light of Maxwell’s equations, Discussion Meeting at the Royal Society, London, 16–17 November 2015, celebrating the 150th anniversary of Maxwell's equations.
One contribution of 7 to a discussion meeting issue ‘Unifying physics and technology in light of Maxwell's equations’.
- Accepted April 19, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.