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    The Quote Of The Week - Philip Anderson, Against HEP
    By Tommaso Dorigo | November 29th 2013 07:55 AM | 18 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Tommaso

    I am an experimental particle physicist working with the CMS experiment at CERN. In my spare time I play chess, abuse the piano, and aim my dobson...

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    "We haven't the foggiest idea what drives the new high-temperature superconductors, or what makes a snowflake, or how the mind or the economy works. What is more, nothing high energy physics can do will ever be of the slightest direct help in solving these overwhelmingly hard problems"

    Philip Anderson, The Case Against the SSC, 1987
    (Anderson was one of the theorists who are credited for discovering the "Higgs mechanism" in the early 1960s. He is a 1977 Nobel laureate in Physics for his studies of the electron structure of magnetic systems)

    Comments

    AdS/CFT computations already helped a lot in understanding various strong coupling problems of plasma and fluids (AdS/QCD being probably the most famous one), so this quite unexpected connection between string theory and old condensed matter problems might actually surprise Mr. Anderson a lot. There are infinitely many ways new research (especially theoretical one) might help clear up old problems or show new ways of thinking to tackle them. Denying this only shows one's lack of imagination.

    That being said, even bigger problem with the quote is comparing the understanding of mind and superconductors. The latter will very probably be completely understood and perhaps pretty soon. The former, on the other hand, is a much much harder problem and it's not obvious how HEP could be of help. But we might still be surprised.

    Cheers,
    Marek

    Actually, if you believe Kurzweil's latest book, it would appear that AI researchers have a pretty good idea how the mind works, and are well along in their efforts to reproduce it in silicon.

    Hank
    Or any of his last 10 books. Unfortunately, 'computers will get better + magic' isn't a formula. Neither AI nor neuroscience have improved much in 20 years.
    Vladimir Kalitvianski
    Tommaso, you know lots of elementary particles. But, tell me, when you speak of them, what do you mean, non observable bare particles with weird properties or dressed, real particles whose solutions are still unknown?
    dorigo
    How do you observe an ice cream Vladimir ? Your eyes detect light scattered from it. We observe elementary particles, bare ones, in much the same way. I don't see why you question the reality of the latter and eat the former without blinking.

    Cheers,
    T.
    Vladimir Kalitvianski
    Tommaso, I just do not believe in bare particles, and you apparently do. Maybe you can explain in two words how and why non-interacting bare particles interact? If they interact, why does one call them non-interacting?
    John Hasenkam
    What is more, nothing high energy physics can do will ever be of the slightest direct help in solving these overwhelmingly hard problems"


    The concept of spin was developed in the 1920s. At the time it was interesting and had explanatory power but no practical implications. Today it is fundamental to the most powerful and valuable biomedical imaging: MRI.
    "We haven't the foggiest idea what drives the new high-temperature superconductors, or what makes a snowflake, or how the mind or the economy works. What is more, nothing high energy physics can do will ever be of the slightest direct help in solving these overwhelmingly hard problems"

    I find these emergence worshippers like Anderson and Laughlin annoying. They like to ignore the obvious predictive power of simple field theories based on symmetries and posits that everything in the world has to be as messy and complicated as solid state physics, because... I don't know, frustration? Of course one cannot understand the dynamics of complex systems just by figuring out the basic rules of the game, tell me something I didn't know... Did people claim that we would understand the economy or high temperature superconductors by discovering what drives electroweak symmetry breaking?

    And I would add: "...nothing high energy physics can do will ever be of the slightest direct help in solving the question of what is matter made of' (and not just what is matter disintegrated to, which is a totly different question)"

    /* We haven't the foggiest idea what drives the new high-temperature superconductors */

    I dunno about "we", but I do explain the HT superconductivity with compression of conductive electrons within atom lattice. The electrons are compressed by their attraction to the hole stripes like the hungry hens to the feeders and they're forming an islands of superconductive phase during this, so-called Mott orbitals. When their repulsive forces overlap, the electrons will become insensitive to the potential barriers of the lattice, because the highly chaotic motion of electrons during this increases probability of quantum tunneling through these barriers between orbitals.

    While this approach is very rough, it still enables to design both solid state, both artificial superconductors from scratch. We can for example cover thin wire with insulator layer of high dielectric strength and after then we can apply high voltage to it. The electrons will be attracted to surface of wire and they will form an artificial superconductive layer there, which can be controlled by this voltage on and off..

    This model is supported by two findings of room temperature already - this one of J.F.Prins and Joe Eck.

    @Eyal
    " And I would add: "...nothing high energy physics can do will ever be of the slightest direct help in solving the question of what is matter made of'

    Why? That is silly, we know what matter is made of.

    Vladimir Kalitvianski
    Alex, can you explain me the physics of an electron in empty space (I mean, free from influence of walls, etc., but coupled to virtual particles)? Do you have an exact solution to it if it interacts with electromagnetic field and electron-positron field? At least qualitatively, can you describe how such an electron looks like?
    Dear Vladimir,

    Of course I don't have this solution. The fact that I do not understand analytically the exact dynamics of the electron and photon fields , and at a deeper level, the quarks and QCD, does not change the fact that we can say with very high confidence that matter is in fact made up of the quanta of these fields. The most recent confirmation of this is probably the calculation of various hadron properties by lattice QCD. Which are the correct ingredients of the lattice theory was determined by high energy experiments. Thus, High energy physics yields our understanding of what matter is (mainly) made of. I am the last person to deny that there is much more to matter than knowing these building blocks and their rules of interaction. The chess analogy is apt - knowing which pieces exist and what are the rules, is not enough to be a grandmaster.

    Vladimir Kalitvianski
    Dear Alex,

    Thank you so much for your honest answer. Right, experiment gives us ideas of what the things are made: electrons, nuclei, quarks, leptons, etc. They are "physical" entities to a great extent. What bugs me is their interaction. I see we write a wrong interaction for physical entities, but we do not want to recognize it. Instead we say this interaction is right, but the particles are "bare" (wrong, in other words). This cheating covers our non understanding. So, I see we are close to a better understanding, but we need another decisive step forward (or backward, it depends) because we have gone in a wrong direction of accepting an alien "bare particle ideology". We were not going to discover "bare" particles when we were introducing interaction between physical particles. We were going to obtain dynamics of occupation numbers of physical particles and nothing else. That is why I think we are in some error with their interaction.
    I must admit that I do not know what you mean by "bare particle ideology".
    Yes, there are no bare electrons - so one finds that one can treat the "photon cloud" around the electron perturbatively by combining virtual and real corrections (Bloch-Nordsieck, KLN theorem) or even calculate photon distribution functions for the electron as we do for the proton. That means that we have an approach to the problem in the context of perturbation theory, and can in fact extract ultra high precision predictions by using inclusive observables of an electron with a number of photons. That may not be total understanding, but it is not nothing, wouldn't you agree?

    I must admit that I do not know what you mean by "bare particle ideology".
    Yes, there are no bare electrons - so one finds that one can treat the "photon cloud" around the electron perturbatively by combining virtual and real corrections (Bloch-Nordsieck, KLN theorem) or even calculate photon distribution functions for the electron as we do for the proton. That means that we have an approach to the problem in the context of perturbation theory, and can in fact extract ultra high precision predictions by using inclusive observables of an electron with a number of photons. That may not be total understanding, but it is not nothing, wouldn't you agree?

    Vladimir Kalitvianski
    Yes, I agree. Still, this "photon cloud" must be taken into account exactly rather than perturbatively only to be later summed up exactly. In this respect our approach is at least not optimal. You may find what I mean in my simple paper "Atom as a "Dressed" Nucleus" on arXiv. At the end there is a section about an exact solution for a "dressed electron".

    Concerning "bare particle ideology", it is accepting bare particles as the "fundamental building blocks" whose properties and interactions are discovered by us due to our correct insight into unknown.
    Not sure it's quite accurate to say Anderson is one of the theorists "credited" for discovering the Higgs mechanism. Anderson's idea was in the context of condensed-matter physics. And yes...Higgs references Anderson's idea in the famous 1964 PRL. But the person who deserves the credit is the one who realizes that the "Anderson mechanism" applies in a relativistic context -- i.e. Higgs, Brout, Englert, Kibble, etc.