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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Standard Model/Halloween Emergency

Tuesday morning and the day is shaping up to be great. Wrote the list, wearing cozy cute clothes, listening to Carla Bruni sing breathy French songs as I write. Today will be lunch with Lucas (Liza) and Henry, sandwiched between a productive day with lots of action items. One smiling moment this morning - emergency text from ex-employee, friend Anna who was having a sewing melt down making a Halloween costume for one of her daughters. Her text, an SOS for help. I am, of course, glad to help her and we will make short work of fixing whatever's amiss. She's a dear friend. I've talked about her before as a role model for everything (except sewing obviously!). Each night she spends eight hours at her mother's bedside monitoring  the healthcare professionals who are rendering care - sad to know that, without supervision, loved ones too often get substandard care. The rest of the 24 hours are monitored by someone Anna hires to keep an eye on her bedridden mother.

And maybe that's a theme for today because just last night at Petterino's, friend Bernie described how difficult it's been for he and Judy to provide 24 hour care for her bedridden mother who lives in their home. They are tethered to the sick woman, having to negotiate and pay babysitters just to get away for a few hours. It's especially hard for them because they are active and vital and would otherwise be out every night singing somewhere or taking in a musical event. I admire their devotion and Anna's too.

OK, reality. Two days ago I described five possible definitions of reality from the simplest test which are things we can experience with our five senses to a much more sophisticated, hard to understand definition in which the only thing that is real is the most elemental foundation on which everything else is based, or put another way, if something's existence depends on something else, it is not real.

Second article in New Scientist, The Bedrock of it All talks about our basic understanding of matter and energy as described by The Standard Model of Particle Physics. Here is a description of The Standard Model from Wikipedia:
The Standard Model of particle physics is a theory concerning the electromagneticweak, and strong nuclear interactions, which mediate the dynamics of the known subatomic particles. Developed throughout the mid to late 20th century, The Standard Model is truly “a tapestry woven by many hands”, sometimes driven forward by new experimental discoveries, sometimes by theoretical advances. It was a collaborative effort in the largest sense, spanning continents and decades. The current formulation was finalized in the mid 1970s upon experimental confirmation of the existence of quarks. Since then, discoveries of the bottom quark (1977), the top quark (1995), and the tau neutrino (2000) have given further credence to the Standard Model. More recently, (2011–2012) the apparent detection of the Higgs boson completes the set of predicted particles. Because of its success in explaining a wide variety of experimental results, the Standard Model is sometimes regarded as a "theory of almost everything".
What's cool about The Standard Model is that the particles like the recently captured Higgs Bosun were predicted back in the '70's. But, according to the article, this model is falling short. Physicists and mathematicians are having to grapple with the fact that the theory, in its present form, can't account for or explain 96% of the universe - things like dark matter, dark energy. It also doesn't account for things we believe to be real like time and gravity. "It is the best model we have of reality, but it is far from the whole story."

Back to the question, "What's real?"  Or, maybe we should ask, "Is anything real?"  Example given is kicking a rock. It's definitely real right? But this thing that feels so solid and real when broken down into its elemental particles is actually very insubstantial. That rock is comprised of just a "handful of different particles, the forces that govern their interactions, plus some rules laid down by quantum mechanics."  Turns out rocks are actually mostly empty space. "If an atom were scaled up so that its nucleus was the size of the Earth, the distance to its closest electrons would be 2.5 times the distance between the Earth and the sun. In between is nothing at all. If so much of reality is  built on emptiness, then what gives rocks and other objects their form and bulk?"  Not a mystery - The Standard Model explains this easily. The basic ingredients of reality are subatomic particles; quarks, leptons, bosons and the newly discovered Higgs particle that imparts mass.

Let's zoom out - I don't want to lose you. The purpose of today's posting and understanding this article is to create a foundational understanding of the Standard Model so that we can understand its usefullness as well as its limitations. It's the limitations of this model where things are getting exciting. As I said before, this model only accounts for 4% of the universe as we know it. Scientists are working like crazy to understand the role of observable subatomic particles that seem to have no purpose (like top and bottom quarks and the heavy, electron-like tau particle.) Seems The Standard Model is in for an overhaul. In the articles that follow, we'll explore some new theories of reality that will blow your mind - there is emerging scientific thought that nothing we experience as real, really is. That, without human consciousness, it all disappears (Article entitled Does Consciousness Create Reality?)  There are even some mathematicians who are starting to suspect that we are a simulation - existing in someone else's reality. (The movie, The Matrix isn't seeming so far-fetched!).

But first I have to take you there - we need to slog through the early foundational articles that explain the science to date, Without having a basic understanding of where the science has been it will be all but impossible for you to embrace and consider some of the new exciting theories - they will strike a false note.  

Challenge today is to stick with me on this subject. I promise you it's about to get good.


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