Hollow Theories


This is the way theories end
Not with a bang, but a whisper.

(Adapted from T. S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men)

Lately, we are witnessing a strange state of affairs in modern physics where hope has given place to a state of unrest. A shiver of weirdness seems to have crept under some famous physicist’s pillows giving them bad dreams. Like Joesph Conrad’s character of Kurtz trapped in the Heart of Darkness they have been heard whispering “Oh, The Unnaturalness, The Unnaturalness!”

Have the Dreams of a Final Theory become a Waking Nightmare?

Perhaps it is most discouraging that this situation occurred immediately after success with one of the most expensive experiments in the history of physics – the search for and discovery of the Higgs Boson at the LHC. Yet, this success brought with it the more mundane absence of what many physicists hoped to find!

In sum, the whole business has perhaps turned out to be similar to the case of old gold-miners who expected to find a whole cave filled with gold and what they got instead was just a handful of shiny flakes of metal from a nearby river.

The physicist’s gold was the widespread expectation of evidence for Supersymmetry also nicknamed SUSY. There were several reasons for high expectations that SUSY might be real. Key were the speculations by various theoreticians on how to address important cosmological problems such as the origin of Dark Matter and Dark Energy. Another reason is the many “God given” parameters of the present Standard Model and their fine tuning, otherwise known as the problem of Naturalness.

Sadly, the fountain of new supersymmetric particles have not turned up in the LHC experiments. Subsequently, several more blows were dealt to the SUSY idea up to the point that any attempt to resuscitate it now appears rather hopeless. Part of the story is summarized in this blog as well as in a recent high precision measurement of the electron dipole moment.

Of course, future experiments may turn out unexpected result only that our poor gold miners may now need accelerators of the order of the solar system to perform them!

Be it as it may, one certainly feels a bit of a melancholy in the atmosphere for all the studies, doctoral theses and career hopes invested in SUSY. One finds it appropriate to say a most poetic farewell to the extinct SUSYsaurus utilizing the verses of Ozymandias, the 19th century poem by Shelley

And on the pedestal these words appear:
My name is SUSYmandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.