Max Planck’s concept of absolute units, that is, units constructed from fundamental parameters that appear in universal and immutable laws of physics, invites a question: Are there such laws?

Absolute units have their natural home in a program whose roots go back to Pythagoras: to calculate the major properties of the physical world we observe in terms of a few input parameters. (He declared, “All things are number.”) Given a system of absolute units, we can express all other physical quantities as pure numbers, which we must aspire to calculate theoretically.

Twentieth-century physics marked, in large part, the triumph of that Pythagorean program. We discovered and validated powerful standard models of fundamental physics and cosmology, which suffice to accommodate all existing observations. The standard models contain a few tens of numerical parameters. Many of those parameters are pretty esoteric, having been introduced only to describe the properties of short-lived particles...

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