Zombie theories

When you look for something and don’t find it, the explanation might be that it is not there. At least, that is the case up here in the High Doganate. I have, for instance, satisfied myself that there is no woolly mammoth living in these rooms, no dodo ensconced on the balconata, no blue whale swimming in my tub, nor even an hippo wading. The case is more subtle with fermions and bosons — I am actually persuaded by the Standard Model of Physics that they must be here, though I cannot spy even one. And who knows what other subatomic particles. Many superatomic, indeed supermolecular particles I have been able to detect under a magnifying glass, but without announcing it to the world. Only last February I acknowledged in this space the possibility of gravity waves; and a Higgs’ Boson may have passed through without my noticing.

To be frank with you, gentle reader, I do not have the (U.S.) 13.25 billion that was required to detect this last; and may not have, unless PayPal contributions increase substantially. … (Hint.) … Nor, really, do I find space up here to fit another Large Hadron Collider. The one a little west of Lake Geneva in Europe will have to do for the foreseeable future.

I do not know what it has cost them to not find any other particles, but so far more than a billion a year.

Through the pop science media, I heard the fanfare that accompanied the possibility that the LHC community had found one such particle, in May. Since, the bump they discovered in the data has disappeared. They begin to forget, but at the time — ancient history now, three months ago — the world’s fund-providers were being told, with uncontainable excitement, that they were on the verge of nailing the first evidence of something beyond the Higgs’ Boson (which was predicted in the Standard Theory). The “holy grail” (as they like to call it, in celebration of themselves) was at hand. Visions of Supersymmetry abounded.

Now we are told we will have to wait, and in view of the complexity of their undertaking, possibly forever. Dark matter, dark energy, dark this and dark that filling the “96 percent” of the universe which the Standard Model cannot account for, must continue to tease.

Here is where it gets rather sad. All this expensive equipment, and several millennia of research-person lives, are premissed on a hope of showing that something from the last half-century of theoretical physics corresponds to “real.” Whole multiverses depend on it, to say nothing of the string theories. The very idea that pretty math is an infallible predictor of pretty events might be on the line.

Except, it isn’t.

Sometime during the 1960s, the age of “zombie theories” burst upon the planet. The previous scientific revolutions (say: Alexandrian, Mediaeval, Copernican, and Victorian), in which theory was adapted to the explanation of phenomena that had been observed, have been succeeded by an “evolution” wherein pure theory enjoys a life of its own. In the craved new world of particle physics, we have propositions as undisprovable as the tenets of Darwinian biology: the “plausible” ever more fully detached from the “demonstrable.” We have desert mirages that could be pursued indefinitely.

Galileo and Kepler both, to my recollection, distinguished the world on paper from the world of sensory observation, insisting upon the priority of the latter. Today, we have what could be politely described as a “semantic shift” — an inversion in the sciences that, at least to me (and who else writes these little squibs?) resembles the inversion of our moral values.

Which is to say, hard testable fact dissolving into somebody’s utterly unsubstantiated “theories.”