In an apocryphal story, a frog dropped in a pan of boiling water jumps out immediately but if put in tepid water that is slowly brought to the boil, by the time it realizes the danger it is too weak to jump out and perishes. The standard model seems to have done something similar last century. It began when Faraday proposed that an invisible field around an electric charge caused it to attract and repel other charges at a distance. This was considered fanciful until equations defined the electromagnetic field but today, fields explain every force in physics. Yet a field is a disembodied force that acts at a distance and Newton, centuries earlier, had issues with this:
“That gravity should be innate, inherent and essential to matter, so that one body may act upon another at a distance thro’ a vacuum, without the mediation of anything else … is to me so great an absurdity, that I believe no man … can ever fall into it. Gravity must be caused by an agent…” (Oerter, 2006) p17
Maxwell derived his equations by imagining ball-bearings twisting in vortex tubes but attempts to develop his physical model failed. Driven by the belief that something physical had to make iron filings move in a magnetic field, field theory came up with the idea that the field created force-carrier particles to do its bidding. Since electromagnetism acted in photon units and Einstein had shown that photons were particles, this worked nicely.
The standard model was born when Maxwell’s equations were interpreted as virtual photon effects made by Faraday’s invisible field. Yet these virtual photons, unlike real photons, couldn’t be independently verified because they come into existence, cause an effect and then are instantly consumed by the act. Agents that can’t be verified contradict science but physicists could see them in the equations. This scientific flaw seemed a small price to pay to carry on calculating, but the pseudo-science temperature had just gone up a notch.
Since a photon is a boson, field theory generalized that all fields act via boson agents. Hence gravitational fields had to work via virtual particles called gravitons that to this day have no real-world equivalent. There is no evidence at all that any such particle has ever existed yet they are accepted by the fallacy that to name a cause is to offer an explanation. To suppose a thing exists just because a theory says so contradicts science, so again the pseudoscience temperature rose as scientific rigor fell.
Then field theory turned to the strong force that binds protons and neutrons in the nucleus. In this next step, massless, charge-less virtual photons were joined by virtual gluons with color charge, so fields could now create charge. Soon after the weak force was attributed to a weak field that generated weak bosons with both charge and mass. Things were heating up so it was essential to show that this virtual particle at least existed. When a match was found among billions of particle accelerator events it was declared “proven”, ignoring established scientific methods for establishing causality.
Finally, to allow virtual particles with mass it was necessary to invent another field with a virtual particle so massive it needed a billion-dollar accelerator to find it. All this, to support the physical realism canon that:
“…the forces of Nature are deeply entwined with the elementary particles of Nature.” (Barrow, 2007) p97
Physics has pasted field upon field to prove this belief until now virtual particles pop in and out of space to cause every effect. They are said to be everywhere making everything happen despite no scientific evidence they cause anything all. Despite being lawful, they are magical, because an invisible field creates them and their effect absorbs them, so by definition they can never be verified. Virtual particles are the scientific version of a blank check and once physics accepted unverifiable causes it couldn’t go back. Each new field invention has weakened physics scientifically until, like the frog in the pan of water heating up, it is now in danger of dying as a science.