Murray Gell-Mann is a legend in his own lifetime. He is responsible for much of our current insight in the quantum fields and has proved to be a flexible thinker, helping to keep String Theory in sight when the physics community wanted to lose it under the carpet, and teaming up with another philosophical physicist, Richard Feynman, to unlock chiral formations typifying the weak interactive force, and a whole host of other particle phenomenae which spilled through the door from these modes of thinking. Reading an excerpt of his book The Quark and the Jaguar, I found that, like me, he is also a lifelong birdwatcher and lover of the natural world.
String theory was unpopular because it was complicated. The nature of the laws described by it are entirely energetic, they have no definable form and there is no telling how deep the rabbit hole goes in terms of where strings can lead. Strings are simply pieces of energy which link together to form everything, and they vibrate (oscillate) in and out of an undefined number of dimensions. Literally everything comes down to being energy when we get to the most fundamental level of what the Universe is, and extra dimensions offer the mathematician no favours. Getting addicted to constraints and constants is very much part and parcel of relying on mathematical formulas to work things out, and that's why the physics community wanted to tuck string theory into the annals of history as a quirky idea that didn't come to anything. Much better for everyone that it wasn't probed too deeply. Gell-Mann and his co-thinkers thought otherwise; thus String Theory is with us today as a reluctantly swallowed pill of quantum dynamics.
I've no idea what this formula means; hopefully someone will tell me. It was tucked in a corner of Google Images when I searched for Beauty and Truth Quark. Beauty and Truth were the original names for the Bottom and Top Quarks, and today I find joyfully that my consternation at the dumping of their birth certificates is shared by international research facility SLAC in the USA, home to the longest linear accelerator in the world, who tweeted to me that they too prefer the original Beauty and Truth labels for these vitally important particles. With SLAC's support, I feel that a resurrection of Beauty and Truth may be imminent, and not a nanosecond too soon.
We need a renaissance of thinkers like Gell-Mann and Feynman to help us out of the Dark. The advent of Dark Matter Hunting has proved too much for theorists whose faith rests in symmetry and standard models. This represents a new world of physics to come closer to the nature of who and what we are - the physics that means something to humanity at large. I know from my attendance of many conferences just how closely scientists like to guard their chests. The time has come for a new wave of exploration to emerge, one we can all take part in by finding out how deeply physics applies to our lives. Two of the most basic needs in human nature are Beauty and Truth, and however inconvenient this might be, it means that the laws binding together the sum of our parts are laws we, too, need to understand. When we do, we can equate the sum of our histories more logically, so that the strange charm of beauty and truth can show us new ways of being that just might be enough to turn our planetary future around. Miracles are there to be had in quantum physics. We, and the planet we live on, need one big time miracle right round about Now.
Kathy Ratcliffe has studied quantum mechanics since 1997, leads a life surrounded by birds and animals, and is a stalwart fan of Stargate SG1.