One of the reasons was that physics today (or at least at that time) was dealing with exotic stuff, away from everyday life. It was not the time of Planck or Curie where within 30 years physics was boiling hot, with key discoveries almost everyday. Just look at the picture from the Solvay confrence where you see names of people you read about in a high school book.
I would hope we are in a stage like in the late XIX century, where everything seemed to be known in physics, with some tiny things still needing an explanation : the Michelson Morley experiment, the uv catastrophe etc.
That said, there is progress happening in physics, not just in certain fields. Quantum information is probably where most the the novel and insightful fundamental work is being done, and spillovers from it are affecting other parts of physics, including cosmology and condensed matter physics. As for experimental progress, there was recently a "quantum gravity in the lab" conference held at Google X , because we are very near the point where we can do experiments that involve both quantum and gravitational phenomena. This line of attack is hopefully going to falsify at least some perspectives on new physics and hopefully lead to some new physics. We will see.
Regarding your hope: I very much doubt we’ll get to experience the following stage in our lifetime.
1. It’s amazing to think just how much steam: just as an example, you could argue that physicists determined the outcome of WWII, and with it the whole path of civilization.
If you're referring to the A-bomb, no. Germany was defeated without it, and the Japanese military didn't really care if civilians were turned to ashes.
You could argue that a combination of events ended the Pacific War, including starvation, no fuel, Russians advancing in the north, the destruction of the Japanese navy by the USA, the destruction of the Japanese army in Manchuria/Russian border, plus the A-bomb.
The Japanese Emperor was a world-class marine biologist and understood the A-bomb in general terms, but had very little influence over the military. He did a radio broadcast and survived retaliation from the military, so he does get credit for that.
Hitler and the Japanese military were die-hard end-of-the-world types. Important to realize when dealing with other tyrants. For them, there is no Plan B or surrender.
Germany was defeated, but the USSR was on a roll.
Without the A-bomb, there’s a decent chance the Soviet Union would’ve pushed the Anglo-Americans out of the continental Europe.
I don't see how that's possible given current uncertainties. We still haven't figured out how to relate quantum mechanics and relativity, haven't fully uncovered the deep structure of matter, and are still debating over strings vs membranes and whatnot. It seems more likely we're still missing something something foundational.
Amusingly, Michelson said in the 1890s "The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote...our future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth place of decimals."
Huh? Paul Dirac did it quite some time ago.
> haven't fully uncovered the deep structure of matter
VERY deep, highly irrelevant to our lives.
I guess he meant general, not special, relativity.
General, not special.
>VERY deep, highly irrelevant to our lives.
1. What a foolish comment. The ability to understand, and one day control, the strong force of matter, is extremely relevant to our lives. Indestructible building materials, space elevators, economic boom from harvesting the asteroid belt, etc. Use your imagination.
2. For the purposes of this comment thread, it's irrelevant whether it's relevant to our lives our not. The assertion was physics is still far from figuring everything out. Nothing to do with our everyday lives.
I wonder sometimes if this suspension of critical thinking about what physics will be able to give us is due to science fiction. SF from the beginning has been promising far more than science could ever deliver. We're now at the point in history all those fantasies have to be put down.
But I bet during the time quantum theory was first being developed it was hard to see how or whether it might be used in actual technology. I'm sure some even dismissed such possibilities. But here we are now using it to inform radio telecommunications tech, and experimenting with quantum entanglement communications and quantum computers.
A hundred of years of having the correct theoretical foundations + hacking and tinkering on them may make possible things that seem exotic or impossible now.
The is point is - finding the correct theory sets off a process of hacking and tinkering that results in useful new technologies at some future time, some of which may not have been foreseeable at the time the theory was discovered. But we have to invest in finding the correct theory, anticipating eventually useful things will come of it, some we can foresee and some we can't.
Reminds me of Jamie Zawinski's "CADT Model" of software development. There seems to be a dynamic in many fields where fixing known problems or finishing a project doesn't seem important to many people.
In software development you have bug trackers. In scientific research you have review articles. These are useful tools that should be used to guide new work. Otherwise you're not doing simulated annealing or whatnot, you're just doing an inefficient random search.
As an ex-physicist with a more experimental background in condensed matters, the real discussions and theories are way beyond me though. Just look at this paragraph from the article:
"Assume we consider two-dimensional Schwinger model with one massless Dirac fermion of charge 2 . More exactly, in addition to the dynamicalcharge-2 fermion, there is a heavy probe charge-1 fermion whose mass can be viewed as tending to infinity. Next, assume that in this model we compactify the spatial dimension on a circle of circumference L, i.e. impose either periodic or antiperiodic boundary conditions on the fermion fields. Then one can show that this model has two discrete Z2 symmetries – one 0-form and another 1-form. These two global Z2 symmetries have generators which do not commute with each other . Thus, only one of these symmetries can be implemented,the other one must be spontaneously broken. Hence, the ground state is doubly degenerate. In other words, we observe in this example (see Appendix on page 15 and also ) the power of the mixed anomalies – the prediction of the projective action of the symmetries and the ground state degeneracy. This is a strong result at strong coupling. Sorry for the pun... After [12, 13, 14] a large number of non-trivial applications has been worked out.Many relevant references can be found in [18, 19]."
My hope is that there will be a revolution in accelerator technology. The LHC is a triumph of collaborative engineering but maybe the next accelerator will be based upon different principles such as wakefield acceleration or miniaturized accelerators. Or we could find different ways of testing high energy physics, more subtle than smashing two particles together!
Maybe it makes more sense to start working towards producing microscopic black holes in space, where results about quantum gravity can be gained .
 https://arxiv.org/abs/0908.1803 , Are Black Hole Starships Possible