The more advanced the topics I deal with in physics, the more stark I observe the divergence from philosophy and mathematics to be. While one seems to drill right down to the bedrock of all things existential, the other assumes disturbingly abstract overtones, often requiring multiple interpretations to seem to possess any semblance of meaningfulness.
This is where the strength of the mind is tested: an ability to make sense of fundamental concepts in various contexts and to recall all of them at will so that complex associations don’t remain complex but instead break down under the gaze of the mind’s eye to numerous simple associations.
While computation theory would have us hold that a reasonable strength of any computing mechanism could be measured as the number of calculations it can perform per second, when it comes to high-energy physics, the strength lies with the quickness with which new associations are established where old ones existed. In other words, where unlearning is just as important as learning, we require adaptation and readjustment more than faster calculation.
In fact, the mathematics is such: at the fringe, unstable, flitting between virtuality and a reality that may or may not be this one.
One could contend that the definition of mathematics in its simplest form – number theory, fundamental theories of algebra, etc. – is antithetic to the kind of universe we seem to be unraveling. If we considered the example of physics, and the divergence of philosophy from theoretical physics, then my argument is unfortunately true.
However, at the same time, it seems to be outside the reach of human intelligence to conceive a new mathematical system that becomes simpler as we move closer to the truth and is ridiculously more complex as one strays from it toward simpler logic – not to mention outside the reach of reasoning! How would we then educate our children?
However, it is still unfortunate that only “greater” minds can comprehend the nature of the truth – what it comprises, what it necessitates, what it subsumes.
With this in mind: we also face the risk of submitting to broader and broader terms of explanation to make it simpler and simpler; we throw away important aspects of the nature of reality from our textbooks because people may not understand it, or may be disturbed by such clarity, and somehow result in the search seeming less relevant to daily life. Such an outcome we must keep from being precipitated by any activity in the name of and for the sake of science.
On Monday, I attended a short lecture by the eminent Indian particle physicist Dr. G. Rajasekaran, or Rajaji as he is referred to by his colleagues, on the Standard Model of high-energy physics and its future in the context of the CERN announcement on July 4, 2012. While his talk itself straightened a few important creases in my superficial understanding of the subject, two of its sections continues to nag at me.
The first was his attitude toward string theory, which was laudatory to say the least and stifling to say the most. When asked by a colleague of his from the Institute of Mathematical Science about constraints placed on string theory by theoretical physics, Rajaji dismissed it as a political “move” to discredit something as exotic as the mathematical framework that string theory introduced.
After a few short, stunted sniggers rippled through the audience, there was silence as everyone realised Rajaji was serious in his allegation: he had dismissed the question as some political comment! Upon some prodding by the questioner, Rajaji proceeded to answer in deliberately uncertain terms about the reasons for the supertheory’s existence and its hypotheses.
Now, I must mention that earlier in his lecture, he had mentioned that researchers, especially of high-energy/particle physics, tended to dismiss new findings just as quickly as they were ready to defend their own propositions because the subject they worked with was such: a faceless foe, constantly shifting form, one moment yielding to one whim, one serendipity, and the next moment, to the other (ref: Kuhn’s thesis). And here he was, living his words!
The second section was his conviction that the future of all kinds of physics lay in the hands of accelerator physics. That experimental proof was the sole arbiter for all things physical he summarised within a memorable statement:
God is a mathematician, but even he/she/it will wait for experimental proof before being right.
This observation arose when Rajaji decided to speculate aloud on the future of experimental particle physics, specially considering an observable proof of the existence of string theory.
He finished ruing that accelerator physics was an oft ignored subject in many research centres and universities; now that we had sufficiently explored the limits and capabilities of SM-physics, the physics to follow (SUSY, GUT, string theory, etc.) necessitated collision-energies of the order of 1019 GeV (the “upgraded” run of the LHC in early to July 2012 delivered a collision energy of 8,000 GeV).
These are energies well outside the ambit of current human capability. It may well be admitted at this point that an ultimate explanation of the universe and all it contains is not going to be simple, and definitely not elegant. Every step of the way, we seem to encounter two kinds of problems: one cardinal (particle-kinds and their properties) and metaphysical (why three families of particles and not two or four?).
While the mathematics is “reconfigured” to include such new findings, the philosophy acquires a rupture, a break in derivability, and implications become apparent ex post facto.