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. It is now proposed that something similar happened to the standard model last century.
When Faraday first proposed that an invisible field around an electric charge made it attract and repel other charges at a distance, it was considered fanciful until the equations worked. Today, fields explain every force in physics but 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 created the equations of electromagnetism by imagining physical ball-bearings twisting in vortex tubes but all attempts to develop this into a 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, that virtual photons caused electromagnetic effects worked nicely.
The standard model was born when Maxwell’s equations were explained by virtual photons from a Faraday field. Unlike real photons, virtual photons couldn’t be observed as they come into existence, cause an effect, then are consumed by the act. Science doesn’t normally accept agents that can’t be observed but physicists could see them in the equations. This seemed a small price to pay to carry on calculating but the pseudo-science temperature had just gone up a notch.
As photons are bosons, field theory generalized that all fields use boson agents so gravity had to work by gravitons that to this day have no real-world equivalent. There is no evidence at all that such a particle has ever existed but naming them made them exist in the minds of physicists. To assume a thing exists without evidence because a theory needs it contradicts science, so again the pseudoscience temperature rose a notch.
When the strong field was used to explain how protons bind in a nucleus, virtual photons with no mass or charge were joined by virtual gluons with color charge, so now an invisible field could create charge. Since gluons by definition could never be directly observed, again the pseudoscience temperature rose a notch.
When the weak field was used to explain neutron decay, it needed weak bosons with charge and mass so now there was a field that could create mass. Things were heating up, so this virtual particle had to be shown to at least exist but when a match was found among billions of particle accelerator events it was declared “proven”, although the established scientific method for proving causality was ignored. Adding an invisible cause of mass again raised the pseudoscience temperature.
Finally, to let virtual particles create mass it was necessary to invent yet another field, this time 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 Newton’s belief until now virtual particles popping in and out of space cause every effect. They are said to be everywhere making everything happen despite no direct evidence that they cause anything at all. They are magical because an invisible field creates them and the 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 stop. Each new virtual “cause” weakened physics scientifically until, like the frog in the pan of water heating up, it is now in danger of dying as a science. The age of fairy-tale physics had arrived (Baggot, 2013).