Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Massacre of Theories, or, Supersymmetry on the Rocks

Perhaps I was too quick to dismiss the significance of the Higgs Boson results from CERN. According to Nature, there is already a growing wave of theoretical publications flowing from the data. The results, meager though they seem, may exclude whole classes of physical theories. They are especially hard on the models known as "supersymmetry":
However, for those who have spent their careers pursuing a more powerful extension of the standard model called supersymmetry (SUSY), the data offer scant succour. The theory predicts a suite of particles that are ‘super-partners’ to all the known particles, along with several types of Higgs boson. Many theorists regard SUSY as the most promising route to a broader theory of particles and forces, and a possible solution to puzzles such as the nature of cosmic dark matter.

But the LHC has yielded few signs of SUSY. Aside from a handful of tantalizing observations, the Higgs boson seems to match the standard model’s predictions perfectly. Under the weight of the LHC’s hard evidence, SUSY and other beloved theories are feeling the strain. “There’s going to be a huge massacre of theoretical ideas in the next couple of years,” predicts Joe Lykken, a theoretical physicist at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois.
This cheers me, because I have an empiricist's dislike of supersymmetry and all other such theories based only on the elegance of the mathematics. This is how physicist Brian Greene defended sypersymmetry in his bestseller, The Elegant Universe:
. . . from an aesthetic standpoint, physicists find it hard to believe that nature would respect almost, but not quite all of the symmetries that are mathematically possible.  Of course, it is possible that an incomplete utilization of symmetry is what actually occurs, but it would be such a shame.  It would be as if Bach, after developing numerous intertwining voices to fill our an ingenious pattern of musical symmetry, left out the final, resolving measure.
Which makes me gag. I therefore delight in thinking that nature has spit in the eye of all these aesthetes, and reminded them that the world is what it is, not what would be pleasing to us.


Unknown said...

Tangentially, a Massacre of Theories would be a nice addition to one of those "Murder of Crows" lists.

John said...

You may recall, from our previous conversations, that a group of graduate students is known as a "complaint." To this I wish to add that a group of federal employees should be known as a "grievance" and a group of teenagers as a "rampage," and that, of course, a group of archaeologists is a bunch of drunks.