The Emperor’s New Clothes

The king of science – physics – is in trouble. The theoretical physicists need our help. Who are we? It’s us: society, philosophers, and amateur physicists. The academics need to be kicked in the butt by common-sense people who don’t care a hoot about this or that prematurely awarded Nobel Prize in Physics. Why? Not because academics are consuming tax payer money. No. Society should invest even more in fundamental research. However, we should invest in the right people: in research that helps us to find truth. Physicists need to be jolted because they are totally ‘Lost in Math.’ They stopped trying to provide proper explanations. They fell in love with the queen of science: mathematics. They hype up canonical nonsense and can’t answer straight questions. When you ask why, they wax lyrical. They mumble about great mysteries that we – simple men – should not even try to understand. 99% of what’s being published in academic journals – if not more – just keeps on expanding mathematical models that do not contribute to the advancement of our understanding of reality. The academic review process has become an academic co-optation process: “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” All of the creative stuff happens outside of academia now.

The search for a Great Unification Theory has led to Great Confusion. Physicists agree on that, and not only in private: the ‘Lost in Math’ quote is the title of Sabine Hossenfelder’s latest book. She is a highbrow academic. Not some amateur. Not like me. At least she’s honest: her book is a very good account of the current discontent within the academic community. Lee Smolin also documents that sinking feeling within the scientific community: “Houston, we have a problem.” I contacted several other theoretical physicists: they all complain about the current mindset, but fail to offer an alternative. The cartoon shows why.

Physicists who dare to speak out against the mainstream gurus are sidelined. One of the theorists I admire most – because he’s one of the very few people who work on realist interpretations, models of what electrons and photons actually are and other sensible stuff – told me arXiv had reclassified most of his past papers from the Quantum Physics to the General Physics category, where they attract little attention. Let me ask you: how can we possibly say anything sensible about the interactions between photons and electrons if we don’t even try to think about what an electron and a photon might actually be? The Heisenberg interpretation of quantum mechanics has become the Heisenberg Diktatur. The time is ripe for a revolution.

I want to support that revolution because physicists themselves won’t make it happen. Why? I am not sure. I produced a book, assembling all of the theoretical pieces that do make sense but are not being looked at because they are too simple – read: not fancy enough. Pieces that contribute to what everyone is waiting for: a sensible realist interpretation of quantum mechanics. I only invested time in the manuscript because the venerable Institute of Physics had offered me a publication contract after I had sent them some of my papers, but then they reneged on it – after checking my credentials. I have four university degrees (BAEc, MAEc, BPhil and a MSc research degree) but, yes, I admit I am not a professional physicist. I am not part of the in-crowd. I then turned to World Science Publishing. The editor-in-chief, Dr. K.K. Phua, looked at the manuscript overnight and wrote me the next morning: “Your new book looks good and we are interested to publish it.  Our physics editor will take care of your project and she will discuss the details with you separately. We look forward to a close collaboration with you.” Dr. K.K. Phua is a high-energy physicist: PhD and DSc (University of Birmingham), Founding Chairman, World Scientific Publishing, Founding Director Emeritus, Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Singapore, Adjunct Professor, National University of Singapore (NUS), Fellow of American Physical Society (APS), Fellow of Singapore National Academy of Science (SNAS). He wrote that email on 5 April 2019. A jealous reviewer then torpedoed publication. He acknowledged he had read one chapter of the book only but that was enough for him to authoritatively conclude that I was just “casually playing with disparate formulas to try to build up credibility.” Wow ! Now that counts as a scientific comment, does’t it? Would you please care to point out any error, dude? Reviews aren’t supposed to be based on sentiment, are they?

I have a wonderful day job (I work as a consultant in the development business) and so I don’t need money. I also don’t need to get papers published. But I do want to get my ideas out. I want to highlight the sorry state of physics: The Emperor Has No Clothes. I first explored the QED sector. Neatly organized but weird. I then explored the QCD sector too. That sector is not neat: it is terribly disorganized and, therefore, even weirder ! Why should we assume a force must be mediated by some particle – gauge bosons? Messenger particles? Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman! Quantum field theory resembles the 19th-century aether theory: we don’t need it. We don’t need it for the QED sector: Maxwell’s Laws – augmented with the Planck-Einstein relation – will do. We also don’t need it to model the strong force (QCD). The quarkgluon model – according to which quarks change color all of the time – does not come with any simplification as compared to a simpler parton model. I also think the weak force is everything but a force. Forces involve charges. The electromagnetic force is a force between electric charges. These charge are positive or negative, so that’s like black-and-white TV. The strong force is related to the color charge. That’s color TV. Sort of. Much more difficult to analyze. Think of the three-body problem. But the weak force? What’s the weak charge? Flavors? No. Surely You’re Joking, Messrs. Glashow, Salam and Weinberg! A force keeps stuff together. Something that causes stuff to fall apart is no force.

Am I too skeptical? Perhaps, but I am in good company. It’s not just Einstein. The whole first generation of quantum physicists – all of them: Schrödinger, Dirac, Pauli and Heisenberg, all the Great Geniuses – had become skeptical about the theory they had created. Why? Various reasons—we’ll explain them. In 1975, Dirac wrote the following about the perturbation theory he himself had contributed to: “I must say that I am very dissatisfied with the situation because this so-called ‘good theory’ [perturbation and renormalization theory] involves neglecting infinities. […] This is just not sensible mathematics. Sensible mathematics involves neglecting a quantity when it is small – not neglecting it just because it is infinitely great and you do not want it!” The Wikipedia article on Dirac, from which I am quoting here, notes that “his refusal to accept renormalization resulted in his work on the subject moving increasingly out of the mainstream.”

Dirac’s criticism in regard to the theory he himself had created is very sensible: if one has to calculate a zillion integrals all over space using 72 third-order diagrams to calculate the 12th digit of the anomalous magnetic moment, or 891 fourth-order diagrams to get the next level of precision, then things start feeling fishy – especially if there are easier common-sense explanations around. When the first ideas on the notion of quarks came out, he wrote the following: “Now there are other kinds of interactions [i.e. other than electromagnetic], which are revealed in high-energy physics and are important for the description of atomic nuclei. These interactions are not at present sufficiently well understood to be incorporated into a system of equations of motion. Theories of them have been set up and much developed and useful results obtained from them. But in the absence of equations of motion these theories cannot be presented as a logical development of the principles set up in this book. We are effectively in the pre-Bohr era with regard to these other interactions.” (Principles of Quantum Mechanics, 4th edition, p. 312)

These words were written in 1958, but they ring true today as well ! There are alternatives – a simpler parton model will do – but they get no attention: not fancy enough. With the benefit of hindsight, I think it’s not overly brutal to say that the likes of Dyson, Schwinger, Feynman, Pais and Gell-Mann – the whole younger generation of mainly American scientists who dominated the discourse at the time – lacked a general: they kept soldiering on by inventing renormalization and other mathematical techniques to ensure those weird divergences cancel out, but they had no direction. As mentioned above, these distinguished scientists all received Nobel Prizes for their ‘discoveries’, so there is a vested interest now in keeping the mystery alive: no academic will want to hurt his or her career by trying to prove Nobel Prize winning physicists wrong !

Think about the following: isn’t it strange that the only bosons we can effectively observe – photons (and I mean real photons, not those imaginary virtual photons that are supposed to mediate the electromagnetic force) – lack essential bosonic properties? Think of it: as a boson, it’s a spin-1 particle. The theoretical values for its angular momentum are, therefore, ± ħ or 0: three possibilities. However, real-life photons don’t have a zero-spin state. Never. This is one of the things in mainstream quantum mechanics that has always irked me. All courses in quantum mechanics spend like two or three  chapters on why bosons and fermions are different – spin-one versus spin-1/2, and then they delve into these spin states – but when it comes to the specifics – real-life stuff – then the only boson we actually know (the photon) turns out to not be a typical boson because it can’t have zero spin. In fact, it’s what made me think of an alternative explanation of one-photon Mach-Zehnder interference. I can give you other examples because I did an online MIT (edX) course on quantum mechanics and jotted down all the things that don’t make sense. Of course, the assistants told me to just stop asking questions: one is not supposed to try to understand these things. All we can do is calculate. I don’t mind calculations, but I do mind mindless calculations on models that represent theoretical particles that don’t exist.

You’ll say: there is no alternative, right? John Stewart Bell proved there is no other explanation. Hidden variables theories won’t do the trick. Maybe. Maybe not. My take on Bell’s Theorem reflects Einstein’s reaction to young wolfs, when they would point out that his objections to quantum mechanics (which he usually expressed as some new  thought experiment) violated this or that axiom or theorem in quantum mechanics: “Das ist mir wurscht.” It’s German for: I don’t care. I don’t care about Bell’s Theorem either. It is what it is: a mathematical theorem. As such, it respects the GIGO principle: garbage in, garbage out. So we should just boldly go where Bell’s Theorem tells us not to go. In fact, John Stewart Bell himself – one of the third-generation physicists, we may say – did not like his own ‘proof’ and thought that some “radical conceptual renewal”[1] might disprove his conclusions. We should also remember Bell kept exploring alternative theories – including Bohm’s pilot wave theory, which is a hidden variables theory – until his death at a relatively young age (62 years).

I’ll use this blog to de-construct some myths. We will talk about many things. Arguments in standard physics textbooks (on weird (a)symmetries, for example, or on these strange conservation laws) are rubbish. But I am getting ahead of myself here. I need to prove stuff. I will. Stay tuned ! And be critical ! Don’t take BS. The Emperor has no clothes. There is no Great Mystery. Reality is comprehensible. End of rant.

PS: You should not think of ‘deconstruction’ as some negative approach. It is a philosophical term. It refers to a thorough rational analysis of what makes sense, and what doesn’t. It’s about tracing the origin of ideas, about researching the genealogy of concepts and approaches. That’s what I want to do. The alternative theory is already out there. I don’t need to invent it. But, yes, for new ideas to take root, we need to de-construct mainstream dogma. As for the domain name site title, I wanted it to refer to ‘ideas’, but ‘ideas’ was – obviously – already taken, so I took what I could get: ‘ideez’. As for the .org top-level domain, I am not an organization. It’s just me. An amateur researcher. However, one of the theoretical physicists I’ve been in touch with said the following about that: “An amateur researcher has many very important advantages over an academic researcher: more freedom, curiosity, unbiased thinking, no deadlines, no bureaucracy etcetera… The list is long !” I couldn’t agree more. I think I can leverage those advantages. I’ve served in weird places and in weird roles. We are all one-man organizations now, aren’t we? 🙂

Do I have an idea of how the alternative should look like? Yes. Instead of a Great Unification, we need a Great Simplification. We should not seek to unify the forces but acknowledge they are fundamentally different: they are associated with very different charges and so there is nothing we can do about that. But we should get rid of the idea of force-carrying particles. A description in terms of charges, field and oscillations of charges will do. And we should also recognize that (elementary) particles are not pointlike. The anomalous magnetic moment of an electron is easily explained by introducing a form factor, for example.

Unfortunately, the idea of force-carrying particles – also known as messenger or virtual particles – is deeply engrained in quantum mechanics. These particles are referred to as bosons. They are, somehow, supposed to transfer momentum, energy, or spin – and whatever else that might be relevant – between matter-particles (fermions). I think boson theory is a naïve successor to 19th century aether theory: aether theories are not consistent with Einstein’s relativity theory and, hence, they had to be abandoned. That was easy, because everyone realized they were superfluous anyway. I think boson theory is equally superfluous: the weak force isn’t a force, and we don’t need gluons to model of the strong force. The Higgs boson – which is supposed to explain mass – is a scalar: some number. That doesn’t add anything to our understanding of what might be going on.

You’ll say: there is evidence for them! The theorists who predicted their existence and the experimentalists who confirmed their predictions got Nobel Prizes for that. I am a naysayer here: all of these famous experiments only yield signals that are consistent with the boson hypothesis. All bosons – except for the photon – remain ghost particles: one may believe in their existence, but we will never actually see them.

You’ll say: we may not be able to prove them, but we need them, don’t we? No. We don’t. We don’t need to hypothesize their existence. There are simpler theories. Classical field theory will do. Simpler theories are better but, unfortunately, don’t get Nobel Prizes. Worse, they’re actively being suppressed.

Do I have ‘proof’ for that? No. But mainstream physicists don’t have proper proof for their theories either: these ‘signals’, ‘signatures’ or ‘traces’ of these ghost particles aren’t proof. And Occam says my logic makes more sense. Mainstream quantum mechanics tells us that elementary particles have properties such as spin, angular momentum, energy and mass, but these are mysterious intrinsic properties of pointlike objects. However, simple scattering experiments tell us that elementary particles (think of electrons and photons) do have some size and – more importantly – a structure. Occam says that’s enough to discredit the mainstream approach.


[1] See: John Stewart Bell, Speakable and unspeakable in quantum mechanics, pp. 169–172, Cambridge University Press, 1987. J.S. Bell died from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1990 – the year he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Physics, but the Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously so he did not get it. While acknowledging Bell’s genius and regretting his untimely death, I feel it’s good his No Go Theorem is not associated with a Nobel Prize: it would have enshrined current dogma. It’s about time the Nobel Prize Committee members start awarding physicists that challenge – rather than confirm – the status quo. Indeed, I have doubts on some of the Nobel Prize awards – including the one for Higgs and Englert after the experimental ‘confirmation’ of the ‘reality’ of the Higgs particle. Why the hurry? Read my post on Smoking Gun Physics !