QR4.5.6 The Last Standard Model

In the second century, Ptolemy’s Almagest let experts predict the movements of the stars for the first time based on the idea that heavenly bodies, being heavenly, moved around the earth in perfect circles, or circles within circles (epicycles). It wasn’t true but it worked and Ptolemy’s followers made it work for centuries. As new stars were found they altered the model making it more complex and themselves more expert. This ancient “standard model” only fell when Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Newton developed a valid causal model to replace it. The standard model of physics and the standard model of Ptolemy have a lot in common, as both are:

1. Descriptive. They both describe what is but fail to successfully predict new things. Descriptive models identify patterns, ideally in the form of equations, but this is the first step of science not the last. The end goal of science is a causal model that truly predicts.

2. Parameterized. Ptolemy’s model let experts choose the free parameters of epicycle, eccentric and equant to fit the facts and the standard model of today lets experts choose the free parameters of field, bosons and charge.

3. Retrospective. Ptolemy’s model defined its epicycles after a new star was found, just as today’s standard model bolts on a new field after a new force is found.

4. Barren. Descriptive models only interpolate so the Ptolemaic model would never have deduced Kepler’s laws and likewise today’s standard model will never deduce that matter is made of extreme light.

5. Complex. Medieval astronomers tweaked Ptolemy’s model until it became absurdly complex just as the equations of today’s standard model fill pages and those of its string theory offspring fill books.

6. Normative. The Ptolemaic model was the norm of its day so any critique of it was an attack on the establishment, and likewise today any standard model critique is seen as an attack on physics itself (Smolin,2006).

7. Wrong. Ptolemy’s model mostly worked, even though planets don’t move in circles around the earth, and likewise the standard model mostly works, even though virtual particles don’t exist.

When the medieval church pressured Galileo to recant they didn’t ask him to deny the earth went around the sun but to call it a mathematical fiction, not a reality description. Today, physicists volunteer the same about quantum theory, that it is just a mathematical fiction, but what if quantum reality really does exist, just as the earth really does go around the sun?

In research methodology, after describing patterns comes finding correlations and finally attributing causes (Rosenthal & Rosnow, 1991) The standard model is a descriptive model that failed to evolve into a causal theory because physics denies the existence of what quantum theory describes, for as Bohr put it:

There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract quantum mechanical description.” Newton, p244

The denial of meaning at Copenhagen led Everett fantasize about many worlds (Everett,1957) and Witten to go it alone with string theory mathematics, neither of which led anywhere. The choice to prefer equations over meaning halted the scientific growth of physics, as physics abandoned science when it abandoned meaningful causes. To fill the gap, it had to invent magical particles that pop out of empty space to cause the equations. The standard model, as a naive descriptive paradigm ruled by acausal equations that are leading nowhere, is essentially a scientific dead end in the history of physics.