My 40+ years as a starving artist maverick theoretical physicist has been punctuated by synchronicities – three big ones in particular.
As a graduate student I attended a Harvard colloquium, given by a visiting professor from Yale, on the octonion algebra and color SU(3). Feza Gürsey was leading research into this connection at Yale. At the time I was already enamored with the quaternion algebra, and that colloquium sealed my fate.
It is curious – synchronous – that it should have happened when it did, for the enthusiasm for this idea at Yale was short lived, dying miserably under the onslaught of powerful mainstream voices for whom such abstract thinking was anathema. That colloquium at Harvard occurred at the peak of Yale’s participation in this subject. Not long thereafter, Feza, desperate to salvage his reputation as a respected Ivy League theorist, bowed to mainstream pressure, bitterly, and there would be no more colloquia on the subject stemming from Yale.
Why do I say bitterly? Because some few years thereafter I visited Feza at Yale, told him I had begun researches involving the octonions, and was roundly chewed out for my effrontery. His attitude was to me, of course, disappointing, but it had utterly no effect.
“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” Or in my case, not fortune, but rather addiction. Still, it has always struck me as curious how exactly “at the flood” I encountered this “tide”. That Harvard colloquium jumpstarted my researches into the Division Algebras, and I was no longer able to be dissuaded.
Meanwhile, and simultaneously, Lie groups had been shown to be not only successful, but unavoidable, and the mainstream began its pretty enthusiasm with GUTs, the first in a long series of post Standard Model attempts to cadge an invite to Stockholm.
The mainstream’s biggest brains poured their energies into this effort (getting an invite to Stockholm, that is; GUTs eventually succumbed to Nature’s intractable unwillingness to bend to the needs of humans) for 40+ years, beginning their efforts just as I was beginning mine. Synchronicity. Naturally, as rank outsider, working on applying abstract algebraic notions to HEP, my efforts languished, nourished only by my pathological obsessiveness. Did this rankle? Does the Pope do cosplay?
Meanwhile, the mainstream went into party mode, gleefully patting each other on their collective backs, replacing GUTs with supersymmetry, and – unable to restrain themselves – promoting string theory as the be-all and end-all … someday. And loops, and some other footnotes.
Meanwhile, after more than 40 years howling from the wilderness, I burned out. Fortunately this occurred not long after I officially retired and started collecting SS. And, as the Russian said in RED, “Time passes. When you get older things seem less important.” Indeed.
Simultaneously – the last synchronicity – the LHC was put on the stand and was unable to confirm or deny that the mainstream’s decades old group think was correct – or even on the right path. So, yes, it was unable to deny, and the diehards immediately began clamoring for more energy. Vindication was just around the corner. That the LHC could not confirm their theories was irrelevant. Who knows? Maybe they’re right.
But the blush was off the peach, and the world at large, who followed such matters, became disillusioned, and not just with noisy string theorists, but elementary particle theory in general. Science media began to drift more and more to quantum everything, and black holes. (A recent New Scientist cover boldly asked, “Does anything exist?” Fucking ‘ell. Maybe their readers were unaware of a century of pointless quantum interpretation debates.)
And the Boston Area Physics Calendar has drifted in a similar direction, dominated by hard physics talks and quantum stuff. Even “String Theory Seminar” series, established by many universities in the misty past to reinforce their bona fides, now use that slot for topics decidedly not stringy.
Still, the point of this screed is this: Is there associated with these synchronicities some semblance of cause and effect? And if so, given the general timeline, as I recollect it, is the fate of mainstream physics tied to mine? Specifically, did mainstream HEP die because I lost interest in promoting my own ideas, and ceased all work in the field?
Well, it pleases me to think this connection exists, for my next big existential event is likely to be my death of cancer, and while the disease is presently being held at bay, DOOM, I am assured, is inevitable. Someday. Thinking that my fortunes are entangled with the HEP mainstream ameliorates this dark mass over my head. Perhaps their DOOM will follow closely on my own. How this will be manifested is unclear, but that it will be … ooh, that’s a pretty cloud.