Dead ends

I apologise to my readers for not writing anything here for a month – somehow I feel I’ve said everything there is to say on this subject, but yet again I have been proved wrong. An article in the Guardian yesterday by Sabine Hossenfelder is as clear a message to the general public saying “The Emperor has no clothes” as I have ever seen in such a high profile outlet. You can hear the outrage, but she is 100% correct. I could tell you what she says, but why don’t you read it for yourself?

The argument is, in a nutshell, should you spend trillions on testing modified versions of one mainstream theory that has already been robustly falsified, or should you spend a few million here and there testing thousands of crazy ideas, one of which just might work? To me, the answer is obvious. I was brought up on the proverb about not throwing good money after bad. When things don’t work out, move on. Try something else. Try everything else. But the more bad money you have spent, the harder this becomes. Psychologically, the longer you carry on throwing money at a problem, the harder it becomes to stop.

Peter Woit, as usual, comments on Sabine’s article, disagrees with it, and censors other people’s comments. So I don’t recommend you go there. A bit ironic, really, when no-one takes his ideas seriously either. Except me. I think he has some really good ideas. But he is missing something that I think is important. He won’t listen to me, of course (I know, I’ve tried), so there’s another dead end.

Sabine doesn’t listen to me either, although I think her idea about virtual kaons mediating quantum gravity is a really important idea. You see, neutral kaons are observed in two different forms (or “eigenstates”, to use the technical term), which are easy to distinguish, because one of them has a lifetime nearly 1000 times longer than the other, and their decay modes are completely different. It was observed in 1964 that as the kaons travel through a gravitational field, they change from one eigenstate to another. The standard model has no physical explanation for this, but Hossenfelder’s virtual kaon version of Verlinde’s “emergent” quantum gravity possibly does. She is missing something important, however, and although I have tried to interest her in what I think this something is, so far I have failed.

My models are full of dead ends as well. I fully admit it. But when I hit a dead end, I turn round, look at my mistakes, correct them if I can, or try something else. The strange thing is, though, that every time I throw an idea away, it comes back like a boomerang. It hasn’t hit its mark yet, but it has come back to me ready to be used again. That is how I know my ideas are fundamentally right, even if wrong here and there in the details.


19 Responses to “Dead ends”

  1. mitchellporter Says:

    Welcome back!

    About the kaons, the standard model conception is that they are in a superposition of two kaon states, with the probability amplitude for each state, oscillating at a different frequency.

    The 3×3 matrix of quark yukawa couplings has too many complex numbers for all their phases to be treated as a matter of how you define the complex phases of the quark field wavefunctions. That is, the matrix contains an irreducible complex phase, which means that the matrix changes under complex conjugation.

    When one describes virtual processes affecting the kaon superposition, in which all three quark generations are involved, then one uses the whole 3×3 matrix; and for the time-reversed version of these processes, one uses the complex conjugate of the matrix.

    That’s the standard model explanation of the violation of time symmetry (“CP violation”) that occurs in kaons and other mesons.

    I think Hossenfelder was interested in the idea that quantum-gravitational decoherence might further affect all these phase relations, i.e. that kaons are sensitive enough to exhibit possible quantum gravity effects, not that they are ubiquitously involved in gravitation generally.

    She has an “impostor field” in her model of emergent gravity, are you thinking that the kaons have some special relationship to it?

    • Robert A. Wilson Says:


      As far as the kaons are concerned, I think they are really key to understanding what is wrong with the standard model. I agree with your interpretation of Hossenfelder’s “virtual kaons” – it is not that “virtual kaons” cause quantum gravity – that would be absurd – it is that kaons are sensitive to the gravitational field in ways that ordinary fermionic matter is not.

      My interpretation is that kaon oscillations are associated with interactions with neutrinos, at an energy too low to be detected. This is speculative and may be wrong, but I find it a useful hypothesis. The basic point is that the superposition of kaon states in the standard model is discrete, not continuous, which implies that a particle is involved in the change of state.

      The “impostor field” in my view cannot be anything other than the neutrino field itself. That is where the information lies – and it has to be somewhere!

      CP violation is what happens when kaons travel through a varying gravitational field – as Hossenfelder says, they are sensitive to quantum gravitational effects – and this was already detected in 1964 over a distance of 57 feet, or approximately 2 x 10^-6 radians.

  2. James Arathoon Says:

    I enjoy it when Sabine has a rant. She backs up the Guardian comment with a post on her blog.

    I think that when you start connecting needlessly separated silo’s of theoretical research endeavour (over 100 years of it or more), then you will really know you are on the right track.

    In my opinion there really is a big paradigm shift in theoretical physics coming. Revised thoughts on the mathematical role of symmetry (which you are the expert in) is but one part of the egg mixture which will in due course start covering establishment physics professors faces and their text books. Of course they won’t ever acknowledge this and will retire professing that they were right in their teaching all along.

    • Robert A. Wilson Says:

      Yes, I agree. There are experts now quite openly saying the JWST evidence has already falsified the entire Big Bang model of the universe. My models don’t have a lot to say about that, apart from the fact that they do not require a Big Bang.

      I have always concentrated on the elementary particle side of the problem, and getting the contradictions out of the mathematics of the Standard Model. My current concern is that the mathematics of chirality in the standard model is just wrong. There is an almighty confusion between SO(4) and SO(3,1) in the standard model, which is normally just swept under the carpet. Peter Woit is about the only person I know of who understands this problem, and is prepared to do something about it. He uses Penrose twistors to deal with it, and in the model I am currently working on, so do I.

      The point is that the chiral nature of the weak interaction comes from Pati-Salam SU(2)_L x SU(2)_R, which is a group-theoretical decomposition of SO(4), while the handedness of the Lorentz group is not group-theoretical at all, but representation-theoretic. There is no sensible mathematics that links one to the other, which is why the Standard Model has a big kludge instead. The reason is easy to see: the SM treats mass as more fundamental than energy, whereas it is obvious that energy is more fundamental than mass.

      With this point of view, “spacetime” is best viewed as dual to mass-momentum, not energy-momentum, so becomes Euclidean in quantum mechanics. Euclidean spacetime has a *canonical* decomposition into left-handed and right-handed spinors, whereas Minkowski spacetime does not.

  3. Robert A. Wilson Says:

    The other really fundamental problem in the Standard Model is the Measurement Problem. Physicists have decided they cannot solve it physically, so it is a philosophical problem. It is not, it is a mathematical problem. The question is, which is more fundamental, the continuous or the discrete? Mathematicians are completely clear that the discrete is more fundamental than the continuous. Physicists are completely clear that the continuous is more fundamental than the discrete. Experiment proves that mathematicians are right and physicists are wrong, in this respect, because it is impossible to explain polarisation of light with continuous variables. End of.

    • Robert A. Wilson Says:

      This may be an unorthodox view, but I consider that the most important of Einstein’s famous 1905 papers is the one on Brownian motion. Special relativity was a dead end, but the calculation of the size of an atom was utterly brilliant.

      • Robert A. Wilson Says:

        Oh, you don’t think special relativity is a dead end? In that case, why did the development of theory based on special relativity end in the 1970s, with several important problems still unsolved?

      • Mark Thomas Says:

        Here is a section out of the book ‘The Second Creation’s by Crease and Mann where ‘t Hooft is being asked about combining the quantum with gravity in 1986.
        “Well, a very important discrepancy I’m interested in, like many other people is quantum gravity. Because we still don’t have a good way of reconciling gravitation with quantum mechanics …I’m sure that whenever somebody finds a way to do that, he’ll solve millions of problems in ordinary physics…. Well there simply isn’t a theory. A theory is completely lacking.. People claim that they have ideas of theories about it….But the most fundamental theory, Lagrangian or Hamiltonian, or a proper description of Hilbert space is missing. And so we just switch on gravity, which is a pain in the neck.”
        End of quote.
        Well Special Relativity plays in quantum field theory just where gravity is switched off. No one seemed to want to take it further at the time or today. But I and I know that you know or believe this is wrong as gravity is an actor always. So I believe SR is not a dead end but has a gap or is incomplete. But currently you could say it is a dead end if no one wants to
        continue it to show the importance of the very weak gravity in particle physics. A realization of this possibly would allow some movement forward.

      • Robert A. Wilson Says:

        Well, one reason why special relativity could be described as a dead end is the fact that general relativity is not a generalisation of special relativity. But experiment rather suggests that it is general relativity that is the dead end, not special relativity.

        Another reason is that Dirac’s attempt to introduce special relativity into quantum mechanics hit a brick wall in the 1970s with the development of the Standard Model of Particle Physics, beyond which it has proved impossible to go. Again, you might say it is the SMPP that is the dead end, not special relativity.

        But, in both cases, I believe it is Special Relativity itself that is to blame for the impasse. SR is a good theory of classical electromagnetism, but it does not generalise well to include *any* other forces.

        In Dirac’s case, the basis of the theory is the fact that spacetime (or 4-momentum) is a complex tensor product of a left-handed and a right-handed spinor for the Lorentz group. Unfortunately, this `fact’, the basic assumption of relativistic quantum mechanics, is false. Spacetime is *real*, but this tensor product is *complex*. This isn’t a detail to be swept under the carpet, this is a fundamental error in the entire theory.

  4. Robert A. Wilson Says:

    Incidentally, a boomerang is an excellent example of an invention that came about from empirical observation and experiment, without the “benefit” of modern science – which would have declared, and probably did declare, such an object as a boomerang to be theoretically impossible.

    • Robert A. Wilson Says:

      The art of understanding a mathematical theory lies, in my opinion as a teacher and researcher with more than four decades of experience, in understanding a few key examples, which must be sufficiently complicated to exhibit all the important phenomena, but not any more complicated than that. As Einstein said: “as simple as possible, but not more so”.

      Physicists are rather apt to consider a “spherically symmetric cow” (or black hole, or whatever it may be). Objects in the real universe very rarely, if ever, exhibit anything like spherical symmetry. Any object that exhibits a marked spherical tendency also rotates, thus breaking the spherical symmetry. This phenomenon is of the utmost importance to physics at all scales in the universe, or at least from the atomic nucleus to the galaxy cluster.

      Spherical symmetry is an extremely restrictive condition, which prevents you from accessing a sufficient variety of key examples to understand the underlying theory. But it is completely unnecessary to go to a computer simulation of the motion of millions or billions of stars. It is sufficient to understand a system with three simultaneous rotations, such as the Earth-Moon-Sun system. This is quite complicated enough to exhibit *all* of the important aspects of the fundamentals of physics.

      This is the key example. If you understand why the motion of a spacecraft in this environment is inconsistent with General Relativity, if you understand why the muon gyromagnetic ratio in this environment is inconsistent with the Standard Model, if you understand why the weak force in this environment is left-handed, if you understand why the mass of the W boson is wrong, then you understand enough to build a theory of everything that is as complicated as necessary, but not more so.

      • Robert A. Wilson Says:

        Oh, and it also helps if you understand why, in this environment, in 1973, the proton/electron mass ratio was fixed at 1836.152, and why it has not been allowed to change materially since then.

    • Robert A. Wilson Says:

      My point, in case it wasn’t clear, is that if you understand the physics of a boomerang properly, then designing aeroplanes is child’s play.

  5. Tony Says:

    What is your view on the Amplituhedron and what it means for symmetries in the path integral?

    • Robert A. Wilson Says:

      I haven’t studied the amplituhedron in sufficient detail to have a view on what it means. People whose views I respect take it seriously, but I think it is unlikely that I will ever have the energy or enthusiasm to investigate it properly.

  6. Robert A. Wilson Says:

    You know the real reason why the SMPP is a dead end? It is because it is invariant under the CPT symmetry, whereas the real world is not. Classical electromagnetism is not invariant under CPT. If quantum mechanics is invariant under CPT, then (a) the asymmetry between particles and anti-particles in the real universe can never be explained, and (b) the measurement problem can never be solved.

    It is not enough to mumble hocus-pocus like “spontaneous symmetry-breaking” to explain why quantum symmetries don’t extend to classical symmetries. The CPT symmetry of the SMPP is, quite simply, a bug. My next paper will present a de-bugged version of the standard model of particle physics, in which the asymmetry between particles and antiparticles is explained by the simple fact that negating charge, parity and time simultaneously does *not* give you a quantum universe equivalent to ours.

    • Robert A. Wilson Says:

      I suppose people are going to complain that the CPT theorem *proves* that CPT is a symmetry of quantum physics. What nonsense. A theorem is only as good as the assumptions that go into it, and if you look at the assumptions of the CPT theorem you will see that they are quite arbitrary and not well justified by experiment.

  7. James Arathoon Says:

    Neil Turok, now at Edinburgh, has said on Brian Keating’s You-Tube Channel, that Theoretical (Particle) Physics has been taking wrong research directions for 40 years. Interesting interview. Small step, but about time.

    • Robert A. Wilson Says:

      I made the “mistake” of clicking on this link, and for the next 2 hours and 14 minutes of my life I lost any capacity for free will I may (or may not) previously have possessed. Utterly compelling. A few highlights that I might point out have previously appeared on my blog, independently: for example, all you need to explain the universe is gravity, quantum mechanics and entropy – that’s in my recent post on “Nuclear fusion” – by coupling gravity to quantum electrodynamics, it is possible to explain the broad-brush structure of the universe without a Big Bang, BUT you can’t do it without the second law of thermodynamics. As I discussed yesterday afternoon with an eminent (retired) experimental condensed matter physicist, who agreed entirely. He never tires of telling me how physics is all about coupling different systems together, and explains how the acoustics of the violin is not just a coupling between the strings, the bridge, the front and back plates and the air inside, but also with the air in the room and the walls and the furnishing, so that you cannot even begin to talk about the sound of a violin without taking into account the room it is played in. The same is true on a much larger scale: you cannot even begin to talk about the Compton wavelength of an elementary particle, without taking into account the planet it is living on.

      What Neil Turok has that very few physicists have is a deep and broad knowledge of the whole of fundamental physics, gleaned from his work as Director of the Perimeter Institute, that forced him to think on a grand scale. Wow.

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