When Physics Breaks Down

Firmly convinced – as I am – that modern theories of physics are fundamentally flawed, I tend to cringe when reading articles such as “How Do Gluons Bind Matter?” (Ent, Ulrich and Venugopalan, Scientific American, May 2015, p.42ff). The authors consider the observable properties of the proton (one half of the hydrogen atom, the other being the electron), maintaining that theorists using the Standard Model of particle physics have been unable to explain:

  • The proton mass (only 2% of which is due to the Higgs mechanism)
  • Why it doesn’t fall apart
  • Why it doesn’t leak
  • Why it doesn’t have more stuff inside
  • Why it seems to rotate so much

This list could actually be summarized as follows:

The only thing the Standard Model explains about the proton is its charge.

Note that this is after more than 30 years of theoretical effort, including construction of special-purpose supercomputers. The failure is explained away by the mathematical complexity of the underlying model, quantum chromodynamics. As I see it, however, the conclusions are pretty pathetic. It’s not enough to say “it’s hard and we’ll keep on trying.” At some point, an honest person has to say, “Well, I guess that we need to consider other alternatives.”

I’m going to try to explain why I think the failure is so great using a simple analogy.

Imagine that you have a swimming pool with two boards in it. If you push one board up and down in the water, waves will travel to the other board and cause it to move as well. Think of the boards as particles and the waves as the fields that cause the interactions of fundamental physics.

What happens as the boards get smaller and smaller? Well, there will still be an interaction between them. What we will see, however, is that the waves get to be more tightly packed (their peaks will be closer together). Eventually, though, we reach a limit: when the boards are the same size as the spaces between the water molecules, they become like bats knocking around baseballs. We can no longer describe the interaction between the boards using the model of waves – we have to think of the structure of the water itself to get the right answers.

Einstein actually won his Nobel Prize, in part, for changing his mode of thinking about the interaction between small impurities and water. Microscopic studies of the motion of the impurities showed that they were not swept along smoothly, but seemed to bounce around, as though they were being struck by rapidly moving balls – the water molecules, in fact.

Modern particle theory assumes that the fundamental particles have no discernable structure, and that space is an empty vacuum that does not disrupt the motion of the waves created by the particles. What I have proposed here (see the “New Phyics” page on the banner) is that the vacuum is not empty – it is full of something, much as a swimming pool is full of water. The failure of modern theories to explain the properties of the proton suggest, just as in the case of Brownian motion, that the substance that fills space creates structures comparable in size to that of the proton.

My heartburn comes because the authors of the article propose that the right way to resolve the difficulty in understanding the proton is to build machines that explore the proton at very small scales. This is like trying to study the tensile strength of Kleenex by probing it with a pin rather than a pencil. Tissue paper has lots of little holes, and will pose little resistance to a pin, but significant resistance to a pencil.

There is already plenty of evidence that the Standard Model is wrong. I believe that the machine proposed by the authors will do little to cast light on the situation, while costing the taxpayer a great deal of money.