“Never let anyone drive you crazy; it is nearby anyway and the walk is good for you.”
So, I’ve had an inspiration – nay, an epiphany. A revelation. Based on the weekly Boston area physics colloquia calendar – which includes Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Tufts, Brandeis … you know, a nontrivial and likely representative collection of first tier institutions – it is evident that theoretical particle physics is dead. Billions of dollars and euros and yuan and yen were spent on machinery intended to keep it alive, but the machinery failed to do so. Indeed, it hastened its demise. But that’s not the revelation. I’ve already covered the demise of particle physics.
Let’s recap. Big machines, intended to throw light on particle physics, as defined and envisioned by the mainstream, did nothing of the sort. On the contrary, the machines threw shade on their hopes and aspirations, a shade so deep that mainstream theorists wandered around quite blindly for a time, and then the survival instinct kicked in, and they rearranged their thinking. A lesson had been learned.
The lesson, sadly (here’s the revelation), is that evidence, if neutral or negative, is a bad thing, and given our inability to predict how evidence may turn out, we should migrate our intellectual efforts to areas that are largely immune to the vagaries of evidence, like black holes, dark matter, dark energy, and just about anything that involves the word “quantum” (even better if it also includes the word “interpretation”). That is safe ground indeed, and no amount of currency is likely sufficient to produce enough clear evidence to render these memes incontrovertibly pointless. Seven out of ten of the Boston area colloquia of this recent week were devoted to topics of this sort. The other three, by people resisting the poseur drift, were hard science topics that have half a chance or more of proving impactful some day.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“—so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
Concurrently, Nobel Prizes in physics are being strewn about, like garlands at a druidical rite, to work on black holes, thereby highlighting the notion that this research area is a safe harbor where one can wait out the experimental storm that sank the good ship Particle Physics, which roved too far out to sea in search of treasure (Nobel doubloons).
The theoretical black hole Nobel was awarded to 89 year old Roger Penrose for his Singularity Theorem. (And 87 year old Steven Weinberg also recently got a prize … ok, we’re all thinking the same thing, but let’s just not go there; it is what it is. I’m doomed never to even reach 80, so all the numerous prizes waiting in the wings for me will be awarded posthumously.) Singularities, like probabilities outside of the range 0 to 1, are mathematical hints that you’re doing something wrong. Penrose’s theorem, it would seem, proves that. Still, in the absence of a valid quantum theory of gravity with which to dispel geometric infinities, singularities are a juicy way for theoretical prima donnas to get those in control of the klieg lights to turn their brilliant illumination in their direction. Say cheese!
This reminds me. You know Hell? You know, it’s where you get dumped if you’ve been really really naughty during your life. Well, I now know what Hell is. It’s being locked in a room with two 10 year olds listening to them debate what happens when the unstoppable object runs into the immovable object … for all of eternity. Remind you of 2020 trends in theoretical physics? Huh? Does it?
But never mind all that. An academic helper of SWMBO recently confessed to her that – although he is as confirmed a Trekkie as you’re likely to encounter anywhere – if he had to spend the rest of his life rewatching just two TV series, he’d choose the superb animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Firefly, a series that was cancelled, but seamlessly concluded with the film Serenity. This young man is wise beyond his years. This is a brilliant choice. I say this with complete confidence, for I have already spent many contented hours watching and rewatching both, and will likely sneak in a few more viewings before I depart. At present, however, I am (re)working through the Ghibli catalogue – a safe harbor for a troubled mind.