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Doubts and unease

  1. Aug 27, 2004 #1
    I'd like to preface this by saying that I have limited knowledge in physics, and have not even studied it to degree level yet. But still, bare with me.

    I have recently found that I find myself with growing unease whilst browsing the Internet or through my weekly New Scientist subscription... There seem to be a growing number of physics articles which trouble me, and I cannot help but feeling something is wrong somewhere.

    Let me start with one example - The Higgs Boson. Many millions of dollars, euros and pounds are being spend on the search for this particle, this mysterious entity. But when reading about the basic principle I was concerned. Why should there be one particle which gives everything else a mass? The idea of a Higgs field worries me less, but when it comes to the Higgs Boson I often find myself thinking that something isn't right. Why would one particle be massive, and yet others have no mass at all without being subjected or connected somehow to this special particle? I probably do not know enough to be correct even in the questions I outline above, but perhaps you will see my point.

    Another example is Dark Energy - the mysterious force which supposedly accounts for the expansion of our universe, it is a 'negative energy' if you will. This seems to be an overly imaginative explanation. I am not saying that we should not be imaginative in our ideas, but... for example, when I first read about and understood general and special relativity the ideas immediately felt right, and felt correct. They felt as if they were crazy - but real, and somehow beautiful. When I read about dark energy, I felt that someone somewhere had merely come up with an idea to explain away a problem which doesn't match our theories which our obversations. The idea feels somehow ugly.

    I'd feel a lot more comfortable if scientists stopped trying to explain away anomolies or things we do not understand with outlandish ideas which are simply stuck on to the existing theories to save ditching them... I'm sure we'd make more progress by thinking more about the theories we already have. My view is this: don't create concepts or entities purely to keep existing theories viable - try to work the anomolous or unknown obversation into the theory itself, instead, or maybe start working on a new theory entirely.

    Does anyone else feel the same?

    Feel free to correct any of my (likely basic) mistakes, and I'd love to here any arguments for dark matter which weren't just concocted to try and keep our standard model viable.

    :: Ben ::
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2004
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  3. Aug 27, 2004 #2


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    Having a training within classical mechanics, I cannot but to sympathize to some extent with your sentiments.
    I, as well, think that certain ideas I hear about seems rather outlandish and far-fetched.
    However, on the background I do have, I know that much physics is stimulated by refining/twisting mathematical models already existing (and, which has been "proven" to be useful) in directions which appear "natural" to the physicist due to his familiarity with the existing model, and by the "nature" of the model.

    That is, a physicist rarely starts all over again; rather, he tries to build that superstructure on accepted models which seems, to him, to offer the best insights at "lowest cost" ("cost" meaning roughly the amount of trouble he'll be having in deriving something "useful", "worthwhile")

    Due to my lack of knowledge of the existing, "water-proof" models in modern, theoretical physics I cannot say for certain if those physicists proceed in a similar manner (and thus derives the, to me, "outlandish" ideas); I sincerely hope they do, but at times, I am not entirely convinced..
  4. Aug 27, 2004 #3


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    That is why so much effort [and $] is spent looking. Not finding the Higgs boson, after coming up with and executing an experiment where it is 'required' to introduce us itself to us would deal a serious blow to theoretical foundations. On the other hand, finding it would be a huge triumph and compelling evidence we are on the right track [not to mention how swell that nobel would look in your display case].

    The case for dark energy is less clear. There are cosmological models that can survive without dark energy or creating havoc with underlying theory. Dark energy just happens to be the best fit model at present.

    Science, like just about any other human endeavor, is about probabilities. Building upon past success has proven economical and effective. Theory is like an automobile. When it breaks down, you need only find and replace the defective parts.
  5. Aug 27, 2004 #4


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    What if I show you an example where, particles such as an electron, appears to behave as if it is at least 200 times more massive than what it supposed to be?

    The point here being that we KNOW how, in certain systems, the "self-energy" many-body interaction with a quantum field CAN, in fact, "create" mass, or the apparent mass. In condensed matter system, this is called an effective mass. You have this right in the semiconductors of your modern electronics. It us using the VERY same mechanism that Peter Higgs took to formulate the Higgs field in which particles (that have mass) are being dragged throught such a field.[1] So maybe such a thing appears mysterious to you, but for those of us in condensed matter, we would say "what's the big deal?" It is a common thing.

    You need to separate out between what is an ad hoc phenomenological explanation to something that is based on First Principle calculation and derivation. Dark energy is a popular, but far from an accepted, explanation to account for the experimental observation. By no means is it a done deal! You are simply latching on to what the popular media such as your New Scientists (yuck!) like to tout. Do not be confused between what is being sold to you there, and what is really being done by people in the field.

    Really? I hope you tell that to a few of the quacks around here, especially in the TD section. They seem to think scientists are stuck with the rigidity of conventional ideas and do not want to work out of the box.


    [1] http://www.physicsweb.org/article/world/17/7/6
  6. Aug 27, 2004 #5


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    I think a lot of people feel some degree of skepticism about the Higgs boson since it's been hypothesized, but not yet produced.

    Looking for it strikes me as a positve step though, not a negative one.

    With the long history of the cosmological constant being zero, then non-zero, then zero again, I personally can't get too excited about dark energy. But I really haven't kept up with the current research.

    Meanwhile, I think that observation is again important here for the advancement of science, and I am saddened by the current plans not to refurbish the Hubble.
  7. Aug 28, 2004 #6
    As I said - I know very little of the physical sciences. I'm only just at A2 level, not even to degree standard. So, yes, it seems mysterious to me... but hopefully, then, it shall become "a common thing" when I have had the chance to study condensed matter. :wink:

    I shall try not to, in future, though it is not easy for people like myself to find out what IS really being done by people in the field.

    I can't decide if that was sarcastic or not... I think I probably explained myself badly. I don't mean at all that we should stick to conventional theories - in my opinion the big bang is a good example of an area in which we've got complacent and perhaps should be thinking further afield rather than continuing to accept the existing ideas - but I don't feel that crazy ideas should be used to save an otherwise disproven or defeated theory, unless they work well with the theory. Don't save a theory with a crazy idea, unless it fits. I didn't mean to say we shouldn't stray out of the box - surely some if not all of the greatest scientific breakthroughs came about through people who didn't follow convention?

    I agree with you here... The Hubble can still do a LOT of good science. It's a pity that it'll just be left to waste.
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