More is Different !!

More is Different !!

The hype about discovery of Higgs boson easily competes with Facebook IPO as the most overrated event of 2012. London Independent reports -

Discovering the so-called Higgs boson particle would be one of the greatest achievements in science, rivaling the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953 and the Apollo moon landings of the 1960s and 1970s.

We beg to differ, and here is why.

In the earlier half of 20th century, physicists believed that if they could find an unifying theory for various physical forces (quantum mechanics, electricity, magnetism, gravitation), everything else in nature could be explained trivially. The trend toward unification started with Maxwell’s seminal publication of four equations unifying electricity and magnetism (1861-62). Einstein spent much of his later life trying to unify quantum mechanics, gravitation and electromagnetics, because unification of all theories was the most important problem in physics. Afterward, two other subatomic phenomena - weak and strong nuclear interactions - got added to the wish list. Discovery of Higgs boson in 2012 does provide one important piece of the unification puzzle, but is unification the most important problem any more?

Understanding developed since 1950s changed the sentiment of physicists toward the merits of unification. The first major surprise came, when Bardeen, Cooper and Schriefer explained superconductivity in 1957. Prior to that, Feynman tried unsuccessfully for years to understand superconductivity from first principles. BCS theory made it very clear to him and others that superconductivity could not be trivially derived from the basic theory of quantum electrodynamics.

If there is one article that you can read to understand how the attitudes of physicists toward grand unification changed from the early part of 20th century to later, it is ‘More is Different’ by P. W. Anderson. The whole article is highly readable and follows from his discoveries in broken symmetry, but we would like you to especially reflect on the pre-closing paragraph -

The arrogance of the particle physicist and his intensive research may be behind us (the discoverer of positron said “the rest is chemistry”), but we have yet to recover from that of some molecular biologists, who only try to reduce everything about the human organism to “only” chemistry, from the common cold and all mental disease to the religious instinct. Surely there are more levels of organization between human ethology and DNA than there are between DNA and quantum electrodynamics, and each level can require a whole new conceptual structure.

Professor Anderson received Nobel prize in physics for his discoveries in localization and antiferromagnetism, but one of his biggest achievements (in our opinion) was to help shut down this monster project to look for, you guessed it right, Higgs boson.

Written by M. //