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Why Smash the Model?

Why Smash the Model?


It is unusual in science to find most experts anxious to destroy the reigning paradigm. This however is the situation in physics where just about everyone is anxious to “break” the “frustratingly successful standard model” (Nature September 11/08 p. 156). This model “describes every known form of matter, from individual atoms to the farthest galaxies” (p. 156) and also three of the four fundamental forces in nature. The data to develop the Standard Model were collected from fancy particle smashing experiments. One might imagine that these scientists would be pleased with such a successful model, but they are not. The mathematics behind the model does not suit their philosophical assumptions.

After World War II, the new particle physicists approached their discipline with certain expectations. Based on the idea that the entire universe developed by chance, physicists believed that some simple processes led to the development of everything. These scientists thus expected that uncomplicated and non-specific mathematical equations should be able to describe the appearance of matter, energy, natural laws, everything. For example, one expert declared in 1985: “The notion that a fundamental simplicity lies below the observed diversity of the universe has carried physics far.” (Scientific American 252#4 p. 84)

Particle physicists initially expected that they would be able to describe matter and energy, at their most basic levels, by a few simple equations. They also expected that nature manifests itself in symmetrical pairs of particles or forces. Imagine their dismay during all these years of study as it became apparent that their results show diversity, not simplicity; arbitrary values, not general “plug in any number” situations; and broken symmetry (things that they expect to be mirror images but which are not). The great hope for the LHC or Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, or from subsequent even larger machines, is that physicists will yet be able to describe nature as simple and symmetrical.                As the scientific world awaits the results from the LHC, the situation with the Standard Model is this: the apparently fundamental particles discovered number at least 37: 18 quarks (6 in 3 “colours” each), 6 leptons, the photon, 8 gluons, 3 intermediate bosons, and perhaps the long sought after Higgs boson. (Also antimatter consists of an equal number of particles). This lengthy list of particles, mostly discovered since 1950, does not fit the scientific idea of simplicity in nature. The above interpretation of nature is called the Standard Model. Concerning this model, one commentator declared in 1985: “By the criterion of simplicity the standard model does not seem to represent progress over the ancient view of matter as made up of earth, air, fire, and water, interacting through love and strife.” (Scientific American cited p. 94). More recently, American physicist Joe Lukken at Fermilab declared: “We had a theory that started out really beautiful and elegant [simple], and then somebody beat on it and made it really ugly [complicated].” (National Geographic March 2008 p. 97).

Another American physicist, Leon Lederman, pointed out that many observations connected with the standard model are very precise and seemingly arbitrary. There is no general law which can predict why the values are as we observe them. It is just as if the values were chosen by God. Thus he declared: “Designing the world this way the Creator would have had to set twenty dials carefully at seemingly arbitrary values.” (Popular Science June 1987 p. 59). This is not what physicists want to discover. So the world waits for the LHC to be come functional, possibly by summer 2009. It had started up in September 2008, but soon suffered crushing equipment failures. The whole project is an interesting insight into how most physicists view our universe. In any case, we know it was designed.

Margaret Helder
June 2009

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