This wonderful article from Wired magazine was shared by Ms. K.M., and I have to share it along with a few of (really) high octane comments from my amateur's corner. The article concerns the hunt for the elusive Higgs boson in particle physics, the problems encountered thus far (like not being able to find it or a whole slew of other particles predicted by the Standard Model), and how some physicists are beginning to rethink a lot of very fundamental things. Here's the article:
This brings back memories of the time when, as a college adjunct professor, I taught a class in the history and the history of the philosophy of science. One particularly bright student, as we were discussing the Medieval debates between Nominalism and Realism, brought up the state of quantum mechanics, multiplying particles to explain each observed phenomenon, to the extent that particles were being described not only with the standard litany of attributes - spin, charge, mass, and so on - but with other characteristics like "colors" and "flavors". His observation was that modern physics seemed to be nothing but metaphysics all over again, but this time with equations thrown in for good measure, for an added element of bewilderment. A minority of physicists, like Herr Unzicker in Germany, have complained about the whole proliferation of models, theories and particles, and called it "fairy tale physics."
The bewilderment seems to have hit physicists themselves now in increasing numbers, and for those of us on the amateur benches who have perhaps intuited something awry with the standard model, the admission may or may not be perceived as good news. Here's why, according to the article:
"In the equations of the “Standard Model” of particle physics, only a particle discovered in 2012, called the Higgs boson, comes equipped with mass from the get-go. According to a theory developed 50 years ago by the British physicist Peter Higgs and associates, it doles out mass to other elementary particles through its interactions with them. Electrons, W and Z bosons, individual quarks and so on: All their masses are believed to derive from the Higgs boson — and, in a feedback effect, they simultaneously dial the Higgs mass up or down, too.
The new scale symmetry approach rewrites the beginning of that story. 'The idea is that maybe even the Higgs mass is not really there,' said Alessandro Strumia, a particle physicist at the University of Pisa in Italy. “It can be understood with some dynamics.”
"The concept seems far-fetched, but it is garnering interest at a time of widespread soul-searching in the field. When the Large Hadron Collider at CERN Laboratory in Geneva closed down for upgrades in early 2013, its collisions had failed to yield any of dozens of particles that many theorists had included in their equations for more than 30 years. The grand flop suggests that researchers may have taken a wrong turn decades ago in their understanding of how to calculate the masses of particles."(Emphasis added)
The new ideas being bantered about in some models being proposed, are nothing less than breathtaking if one is accustomed to standard methods including dimensional analysis and so on, for they are doing away with the notions of mass and length at the most primordial level entirely, and hence, with the notion of scale:
"This little-explored idea, known as scale symmetry, constitutes a radical departure from long-standing assumptions about how elementary particles acquire their properties. But it has recently emerged as a common theme of numerous talks and papers by respected particle physicists. With their field stuck at a nasty impasse, the researchers have returned to the master equations that describe the known particles and their interactions, and are asking: What happens when you erase the terms in the equations having to do with mass and length?
"Nature, at the deepest level, may not differentiate between scales. With scale symmetry, physicists start with a basic equation that sets forth a massless collection of particles, each a unique confluence of characteristics such as whether it is matter or antimatter and has positive or negative electric charge. As these particles attract and repel one another and the effects of their interactions cascade like dominoes through the calculations, scale symmetry “breaks,” and masses and lengths spontaneously arise."(All emphases added)
In other words, what is being suggested, to put it crudely, is that mass and dimensionality (length and so on) arise as a result of complex interactions of fundamental electromagnetic principles, charge (and hence spin characteristics), and so on. A little later in the article we have this stunner: does all mass arise in this fashion, regardless of the scale on which one is dealing, from particles to stars?:
"Similar dynamical effects generate 99 percent of the mass in the visible universe. Protons and neutrons are amalgams — each one a trio of lightweight elementary particles called quarks. The energy used to hold these quarks together gives them a combined mass that is around 100 times more than the sum of the parts. 'Most of the mass that we see is generated in this way, so we are interested in seeing if it’s possible to generate all mass in this way,' said Alberto Salvio, a particle physicist at the Autonomous University of Madrid and the co-author of a recent paper on a scale-symmetric theory of nature."(Emphasis added)
More stunners follow, including the idea of "agravity", meaning basically that gravity is a dimensionless thing, giving rise to ghosts in the machine, so to speak:
"A theory called “agravity” (for “adimensional gravity”) developed by Salvio and Strumia may be the most concrete realization of the scale symmetry idea thus far. Agravity weaves the laws of physics at all scales into a single, cohesive picture in which the Higgs mass and the Planck mass both arise through separate dynamical effects. As detailed in June in the Journal of High-Energy Physics, agravity also offers an explanation for why the universe inflated into existence in the first place. According to the theory, scale-symmetry breaking would have caused an exponential expansion in the size of space-time during the Big Bang.
"However, the theory has what most experts consider a serious flaw: It requires the existence of strange particle-like entities called “ghosts.” Ghosts either have negative energies or negative probabilities of existing — both of which wreak havoc on the equations of the quantum world.
“'Negative probabilities rule out the probabilistic interpretation of quantum mechanics, so that’s a dreadful option,' said Kelly Stelle, a theoretical particle physicist at Imperial College, London, who first showed in 1977 that certain gravity theories give rise to ghosts. Such theories can only work, Stelle said, if the ghosts somehow decouple from the other particles and keep to themselves. 'Many attempts have been made along these lines; it’s not a dead subject, just rather technical and without much joy,' he said.
And (at least for this blogger), one of the most interesting suggestions to come out of the current debate is the suggestion that what separates these worlds of hidden particles and "ghosts" is that of a phase transition(or to put it in my amateur's extremely crude terms, that phase is perhaps another aspect of standard dimensionality, a "boundary condition"):
"Meanwhile, other groups are crafting their own scale-symmetric theories. Lindner and colleagues have proposed a model with a new “hidden sector” of particles, while Bardeen, Lykken, Marcela Carena and Martin Bauer of Fermilab and Wolfgang Altmannshofer of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada, argue in an Aug. 14 paper that the scales of the Standard Model and gravity are separated as if by a phase transition. The researchers have identified a mass scale where the Higgs boson stops interacting with other particles, causing their masses to drop to zero. It is at this scale-free point that a phase change-like crossover occurs. And just as water behaves differently than ice, different sets of self-contained laws operate above and below this critical point." (Emphasis added)
Now, where's the high octane speculation in all this (besides that of the physicists with their equations?) Well, I don't know about you, but I couldn't help but think, as I read this article, of the statements made by Ben Rich to the effect that he and his team at the Lockheed Skunkworks had found an "error in the equations", and now they could "take ET home." I couldn't help but think of Dr. Harold "Sonny" White, and his claim that the mass-energy conversion required to create a "space warp" is smaller than first calculated by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre; I couldn't help but think of Thomas Townsend Brown and his whole idea of a coupling of electromagnetism and gravity, and therewith of his experiments with capacitors and dielectrics. Indeed. Stop and think about all those men, in the context of the Wired article, where physicists are toying with the idea of throwing the mass and length components out of the equations, where phase constitutes a boundary condition of some sort, where mass arises as the result of interactions involving spin, charge, and so on.
See you on the flip side.