Thursday, 16 July 2015

pentathlon or gin and conics

The surprise, unsought for confirmation of hitherto theoretical exotic quark combinations from the laboratories of CERN was certainly noteworthy, but I personally had a very difficult time penetrating what the discovery meant. As best as I understand it—and with no reserves about revealing my ignorance or misapprehension, the fact that quarks can be conduced to form up this way for a fleeting instance—it is not a state found in nature outside the lab except perhaps in exploding stars or the mind of God, could led to important insights about what’s called the strong-nuclear force, one of the four fundamental forces that govern physics on a cosmological scale, according to the current Standard Model.

Scientists believe that the four forces, the other complementary ones being electro-magnetism, gravity, and the weak-nuclear force which is responsible for radioactive decay, the glow of half-life, were united a moment after the Big Bang and split into their respective specialities as the Universe cooled. This mysterious and inaccessible strong force creates bonds that are virtually unbreakable but only at an impossibly small range—that gap between quarks, however their arranged, that allows subatomic particles to stick together. With different charges and spin (rotation, like a spinning top) and energy, these components would repel one another rather than form into anything solid or enduring. The hypothetical possibility of pentaquarks was predicted first over a half-century prior and perhaps proves that we’re at least understanding some things right about the way the Universe works and could forward our understanding, through breaking things, of the interstitial matter. Nonetheless, I think it’s not untoward to be a little suspicious about our congratulatory cleverness—physicists say that there is a menagerie of sixty-one elementary particles, some carriers of force and others carriers of substance, that can’t be arranged in a neat manner, unlike say the periodic table of the elements, and the current understanding can’t be explained in very elegant terms. Maybe we are privileged to live on an oasis.  Reality may not be symmetrical and æsthetically pleasing in human terms, of course, and we seem to be in possession of proof of our convictions and progress but there’s yet peril in trying to preserve the appearances. It was the prevailing consensus until the Copernican Revolution of the sixteenth century that the stars and planets turned on complicated system of circles within circles (deferents, cycles and epicycles) to account for the observed backwards motion of planets closer to the Sun than Earth. Two millennia earlier Apollonius of Perga, one of the chief perpetrators of this convention, observed that we wouldn’t have needed to worry with all of these elaborate orrery contraptions if only the Earth weren’t at the centre of the cosmos.