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Another Crisis in Physics!

"Most theorists working in particle physics

are in a state of confusion"

June 6, 2015
Standard Particles constitute the known "stuff" of matter and force.
SUSY (supersymmetry) is extra "stuff" that physicists desperately believe
MUST exist.
by Kumar David
A wonderful thing about science is that the greatest and best take time off
to write popular books and articles, conduct seminars, or go on lecture
tours to take science to the people, especially school and college kids.
Einstein and Edington popularised Relativity from early days. The formers
"Relativity: The Special and General Theory", was in the words of the
author, "intended to give an exact insight into the Theory of Relativity to
readers who, from a general scientific and philosophical point of view, are
interested in the theory, but not conversant with the mathematical
apparatus" and was written in December 1916 just 13 months after
presenting General Relativity to that historic meeting of the Prussian
Academy in Berlin. From 1920 to 1927 Edington wrote five popular books
with titles like "Space, Time and Gravitation", "Stars and Atoms" and his
acclaimed "The Theory of Relativity and its Influence on Scientific
More recent was a wonderful series of popular essays in the magazine

Natural History, later published as books by W.W. Norton Co. and Penguin
Books, by palaeontologist and neo-Darwinian evolutionary biologist the
late Stephen Jay Gould, who has done so much to captivate readers to an
amazing diversity of topics relating to evolutionary biology, fossils, the
pandas thumb, flamingos smile and A Dullard Named Darwin. He will
always be remembered as the stoutest defender since bulldog-Huxley of
Darwin and his impeccable methodology.
Quantum physics is more difficult to simplify because its results are hidden
in the realms of probability (No one can be sure where a particle is, but
there is such and such a probability that it may be in such and such a
location!). More confusing is the wave-particle duality; an elementary
particle cant make up its mind; it moves like a wave on a lake or a bullet
from a gun, it all depends on when, how and how many of them you look
at. Such oddities aside, quantum physicists have brought out hundreds of
popular books and videos - from the excellent to the mediocre - to explain
concepts, sans mathematics, to non-specialists. "Schrodingers Cat" by
John Gribbin tops my list of popular quantum books while Hawkings "Brief
History of Time", a best seller, deals with cosmology (Hawkings "Theory of
Everything" is, comparatively, second class).
The point I am making is that whether it is the physical or the life sciences
(I have not given examples from medical science and genetics but very
readable non-specialist accounts exist) there has been this fruitful sharing
between leading scientists and millions of science interested readers.
Has modern physics
flummoxed itself?
The last time the term crisis in physics was used was at the end of the
Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century when attempts to gauge the
movement of the earth through the celestial aether and to measure the
speed of light relative to moving bodies confounded everybody. Finally,
Hendrik Lorentz got the equations right in the late 1890s, but it was a
mathematical gimmick called a Transformation. Einstein in 1905 overthrew
the paradigms of classical physics and proposed a new space-time
framework (Special Relativity); a new view of space and time which
transformed the conceptualisation (meaning) of the Lorentz
Transformation. It was a paradigm shift, not a gimmick; a philosophically

consistent new physics. The crisis seemed happily resolved.

But soon there were hiccups; the wave-particle duality I mentioned, and
quantum uncertainty (Heisenberg says you cannot observe the location
and motion of a particle - conjugate quantities - with 100% certainty at
the same time; the more precise one measurement, a fundamental law
called the Uncertainty Principle says the less certain the other). More
recently there has been what I call the subjectivity canard. (I am in good
company, Einstein said the same thing; "God does not play dice with the
universe"). To put it in extreme solipsist terminology, the canard declares
that the material universe exists only if a conscious observer is taking a
peek at it; otherwise one cant be sure it exists at all! Did the dinosaurs
exits; does Haleys comet exist after it goes beyond all possible
observation; when did Keplers Supernova, first spotted in 1604 but 20,000
light years away, actually explode only when Kepler looked up? Search
me, I dont know how the solipsists will respond, but it will be eerie and
unreal. (If you are a fanatic, ask Gamini Kulatunga; I have but cant
fathom his profundities, or make head or tail of his reference sources). But
leave all this to one side; we have managed to get along for some time
despite these unresolved conundrums.
But things seem to have gone hugely out of control in the last decade both
in particle physics and cosmology. South African born Neil Turok (his
parents were white liberation fighter members of the ANC) is a
distinguished academic physicist. He has been professor at Princeton and
Cambridge, won awards and collaborated with Hawking and Roger
Penrose, and is now Director of the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo where
Canada hopes to match the worlds best physics research. This is what he
* Theoretical physics is at a crossroads right now. In a sense weve
entered avery deep crisis.
* You may have heard of some of these models. Thereve been grand
unified models, thereve been super-symmetric models, super-string
models, loop quantum gravity models.Well, nature turns out to be simpler
than all of these models.
* If you ask most theorists working on particle physics,theyre in a state
of confusion.

* The extensions of the standard model, like grand unified theories, they
were supposed to simplify it. But in factthey made it more complicated.
* The number of parameters in the standard model is about 18. The
number in grand unified theories is typically 100. In super-symmetric
theories, the minimum is 120. And as you may have heard, string theory
seems to predict 10 to the power of 1,000 different possible laws of
physics.Its called the multiverse.
* Its the ultimate catastrophe: that theoretical physics has led to this
crazy situationwhere the physicists areutterly confusedand seem not to
have any predictions at all.
* We have to get people to try to find thenew principles that will explain
the simplicity.
I will not attempt to rephrase, I am not a theoretical physicist, but I will
add that a web search threw up opinions sympathetic to Turoks critique
but I could not find a single top ranking scientist rubbishing it. To quote
from the May 2014 issue of Scientific American.
"It is not an exaggeration to say that most of the worlds particle physicists
believe that super- symmetrymustbe truethe theory is that compelling.
These physicists long-term hope has been that the LHC would finally
discover these super-partners, providing hard evidence that supersymmetry is a real description of the universe. Indeed, results from the
first run of the LHC have ruled out almost all the best-studied versions of
super-symmetry. The negative results are beginning to produce if not a
full-blown crisis in particle physics, then at least widespread panic".
Super-symmetry remains experimentally unverified, but physicists hang to
it in a desperate attempt to resolve the bewildering confusion of particles
and mediate between arrays of incompatible theoretical models. Simply
stated the assertion is that a super-partner MUST exist for every known
basic particle and force. But the first run of experiments on the $10 billion
Large Hardon Collider (LHC) in Geneva, which it was hoped would produce
them, drew a blank. No super-partners were found. The physics of the
infinitesimally small has been thrown into crisis; physicists panic and hang
their heads in confusion.

Trouble at the Big End

Cosmology is the science behind astronomy, the observational side, and
considers the really big. Here too advances in recent decades have been
spectacular but the deeper they probe the more confusing it gets. Some of
it simply flies in the face of stout fellow and good companion of everyday
life, common-sense. They tell us that 85% of matter in the universe is
Dark Matter which no telescope can see or ordinary bloke like you and I
experience. They call it a mysterious form of matter their words, not
mine. But how are they so sure it exists? Well the motion of observable
stars and galaxies cannot be fully explained unless something additional,
something mysterious, is also pulling. What to do? Hey presto postulate
"an ineffable effable, effanineffable, deep and inscrutable singular" matter.
The Greeks and the Hindus gave the names of gods to stuff they couldnt
make head of tail of, now physicists call it Dark Matter and Dark Energy;
why not lump them together and call it a Dark God?
Dark Matter is inferred from the aforesaid mysterious gravitational effects
on visible matter, but it I also inferred from what is known as gravitational
lensing. Gravitational lensing is known to laymen as the bending of light by
huge masses when it passes by. Light from distant galaxies or pulsars is
bent (actually blurred) more than can be accounted for by visible matter
on the wayside on the road to here. Something else is doing that extra bit;
gravitational lensing is the second piece of evidence to postulate the
existence of Dark Matter. It must also be the case that Dark Matter is not
uniformly distributed throughout the universe (if so it could have no net
effect) but is lumpy, being heaped up in just the places cosmologists need
to heaped it up so as to demystify their observations!
The story doesnt end there; hold your breath! Fully 95% of the
mass+energy content of the universe is Dark Stuff; 85% Dark Matter and
the other 10% a bloke called Dark Energy. You would have heard of the
expanding universe; its getting bigger all the time. In the 1990s
cosmologists got another shock (they seem to be getting shocks every few
decades starting from what Galileo did to the Church) when they
discovered that it was expanding faster and faster (accelerating
expansion). The way to juggle the equations to get round this distemper
was another piece of Black Magic. If a mysterious form of energy with
appropriate properties could be conjured up, it could be made to take the
blame for the acceleration. Eureka, thus was born Dark Energy!

(Cosmologists dispute details; some say the ratio is 68% Dark Matter to
27% Dark Energy. Whatever, they are determined to keep us in the dark).
It gets weirder and weirder; Stephen Hawking has from the grotesque
wisdom of his equations now proposed a multiverse; an infinity of parallel
universes of which ours is just one. Stout fellow common-sense will scoff,
and I ask, at what point does counter intuitiveness demand that we
mistrust theoretical extravagances? True, we cant see electromagnetic
waves but every one of us puts a mobile phone to an ear blissfully
unschooled in Maxwells Equations. True, Pasteur was laughed at for the
germ theory; "Whoever saw a germ crawling up the wall!" But still, there
are limits arent there? Nice topic for a chat over two fingers of single malt.
Posted by Thavam