Here’s a look at baseball on physics research. High-energy theory was a field with vast achievements during the 20th century and its success was propelled by a series of physics geniuses who secured support and funding from a succession of seven decades of particle colliders. . These colliders shattered matter together and discovered particle after particle emerging from the explosions. Geniuses built the Standard Model to explain particles. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), located in Switzerland, was the cornerstone of their time, finding the final particle required – the Higgs boson – to complete the model.
Today, these geniuses are almost all gone and their successors are bogged down in various forms of mathematical supersymmetry. You’ve heard of some of his ideas: string theory, M-theory, D-branes, etc. Everything is fun to read. But the problem is, it’s not. Explain anything. High energy theory has become highly academic and mathematical. Einstein postulated a four-dimensional spacetime because he needed four dimensions to make sense of the world as we see it. String theory requires 11 dimensions – or maybe 10, 12 or 26. Maybe some are chttps://news.google.com/https://news.google.com/https://news. google.com/https://news.google.com/urled up. Why? Because interesting things happen in abstract math, apparently.
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Supersymmetry is not a tight, efficient theory, knit together to explain observations. It’s a convoluted mess of mathematical models that could potentially explain anything, or nothing at all. Sabine Hossenfelder, a theoretical physicist who has worked in the field, gives an excellent assessment of the situation. She doesn’t fire shots. A giant particle collider can’t really test supersymmetry, which can scale to fit almost anything.
This brings us to the LHC and its hypothetical successor, call it LHC++. The LHC has found the Higgs. However, it has nothing to say about supersymmetry or string theory. Sabine stresses that no result from the LHC can ever eliminate supersymmetry. Worse still, the LHC++ couldn’t rule it out either. The only hope for a huge new collider would be to stumble upon a new and unexpected particle.
It’s not a bad idea, in a vacuum. Science sometimes advances when scientists come across entirely new and unexpected phenomena. Ethan Siegel argues for the construction of LHC++ for this reason. He feels that the arguments against her are dishonest or made in bad faith. However, he is wrong on this one. Economic and scientific sense pleads for a different approach.
A significantly more powerful LHC++ will cost tens of billions of dollars. It is quite possible that the price will inflate to $100 billion. Spending so much money on a machine to take pictures in the dark is a mistake. When you don’t have much to do and your resources are limited, it’s better to aim for the problems you to know are over there. Those things will lead you to new discoveries. The groundbreaking success of 20th century physics was launched in this way.
Many leading scientists of the late 1800s speculated that physics was nearly complete. Only a few mysteries remained. Two of these known mysteries were the nature of black body radiation and the constant speed of light. Both phenomena have been studied and measured, but could not be explained. Einstein and others focused on finding solutions to these outstanding issues. The answers lead directly to the development of quantum mechanics and relativity: two of the fundamental theories of modern physics.
There are currently many known problems in physics. $100 billion could fund (literally) 100,000 small physics experiments. There may not be enough physics laboratories on Earth to perform so many experiments! Ethan points out that we are pushing boundaries such as billionths of a degree temperatures in new experiments. It’s a big quest: it can be done by a handful of researchers, using only a tiny fraction of the funding freed up by not building LHC++. Some of the 100,000 experiments could search for possible physics beyond the Standard Model in smart ways that don’t require the annual GDP of a small nation.
Conversely, that $100 billion could be pooled and spent on a giant project to solve a known real-world problem. Perhaps we should send the money and associated technical talents to solve fusion energy. ITER, the world’s most promising fusion machine, is a colossal (and off-budget) experiment. And yet, 100 billion dollars could finance between one and five other ITERs. Or, it could fuel hundreds of alternative efforts to create practical fusion energy.
The money and intellectual resources that would be invested in a larger LHC could be put to much better use in solving one, a few or more known scientific and practical problems in the world. Along the way, new and unfamiliar physics would certainly appear, as it always does when tackling previously unsolvable problems. The only good argument in favor of the LHC++ could be the employment of intelligent people. And for string theorists. It just doesn’t fit.