Table of Contents
.......The Elegant Universe
THE ELEGANT UNIVERSE, Brian Greene, 1999, 2003
```(annotated and with added bold highlights by Epsilon=One)
Chapter 5 - The Need for a New Theory: General Relativity vs. Quantum Mechanics
Quantum Field Theory
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Over the course of the 1930s and 1940s theoretical physicists, led by the likes of Paul Dirac, Wolfgang Pauli, Julian Schwinger, Freeman Dyson, Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, and Feynman, to name a few, struggled relentlessly to find a mathematical formalism capable of dealing with this microscopic obstreperousness. (Epsilon=One: The formulas are quite simple, v=εP², the Pulsoid Theorem; and, C² = 2v² - s², the Brunardot Theorem. Then solve for ε, the Elliptical Constant.) They found that Schrödinger's quantum wave equation (mentioned in Chapter 4) was actually only an approximate description of microscopic physics—an approximation that works extremely well when one does not probe too deeply into the microscopic frenzy (either experimentally or theoretically), but that certainly fails if one does.

The central piece of physics that Schrödinger ignored in his formulation of quantum mechanics is special relativity. In fact, Schrödinger did try to incorporate special relativity initially, but the quantum equation to which this led him made predictions that proved to be at odds with experimental measurements of hydrogen. This inspired Schrödinger to adopt the time-honored tradition in physics of divide and conquer: Rather than trying, through one leap, to incorporate all we know about the physical universe in developing a new theory, it is often far more profitable to take many small steps that sequentially include the newest discoveries from the forefront of research. Schrodinger sought and found a mathematical framework encompassing the experimentally discovered wave-particle duality, but he did not, at that early stage of understanding, incorporate special relativity. 4

But physicists soon realized that special relativity was central to a proper quantum-mechanical framework. This is because the microscopic frenzy requires that we recognize that energy can manifest itself in a huge variety of ways—a notion that comes from the special relativistic declaration E = mc². By ignoring special relativity, Schrödinger's approach ignored the malleability of matter, energy, and motion.

Physicists focused their initial pathbreaking efforts to merge special relativity with quantum concepts on the electromagnetic force and its interactions with matter. Through a series of inspirational developments, they created quantum electrodynamics. This is an example of what has come to be called a relativistic quantum field theory, or a quantum field theory, for short. It's quantum because all of the probabilistic and uncertainty issues are incorporated from the outset; it's a field theory because it merges the quantum principles into the previous classical notion of a force field—in this case, Maxwell's electromagnetic field. And finally, it's relativistic because special relativity is also incorporated from the outset. (If you'd like a visual metaphor for a quantum field, you can pretty much invoke the image of a classical field—say, as an ocean of invisible field lines permeating space—but you should refine this image in two ways. First, you should envision a quantum field as composed of particulate ingredients, such as photons for the electromagnetic field. Second, you should imagine energy, in the form of particles' masses and their motion, endlessly shifting back and forth from one quantum field to another as they continually vibrate through space and time.)

Quantum electrodynamics is arguably the most precise theory of natural phenomena ever advanced. An illustration of its precision can be found in the work of Toichiro Kinoshita, a particle physicist from Cornell University, who has, over the last 30 years, painstakingly used quantum electrodynamics to calculate certain detailed properties of electrons. Kinoshita's calculations fill thousands of pages and have ultimately required the most powerful computers in the world to complete. But the effort has been well worth it: the calculations yield predictions about electrons that have been experimentally verified to an accuracy of better than one part in a billion. This is an absolutely astonishing agreement between abstract theoretical calculation and the real world. Through quantum electrodynamics, physicists have been able to solidify the role of photons as the "smallest possible bundles of light" and to reveal their interactions with electrically charged particles such as electrons, in a mathematically complete, predictive, and convincing framework.

The success of quantum electrodynamics inspired other physicists in the 1960s and 1970s to try an analogous approach for developing a quantum-mechanical understanding of the weak, the strong, and the gravitational forces. For the weak and the strong forces, this proved to be an immensely fruitful line of attack. In analogy with quantum electrodynamics, physicists were able to construct quantum field theories for the strong and the weak forces, called quantum chromodynamics and quantum electroweak theory. "Quantum chromodynamics" is a more colorful name than the more logical "quantum strong dynamics," but it is just a name without any deeper meaning; on the other hand, the name "electroweak" does summarize an important milestone in our understanding of the forces of nature.

Through their Nobel Prize–winning work, Sheldon Glashow, Abdus Salam, and Steven Weinberg showed that the weak and electromagnetic forces are naturally united by their quantum field–theoretic description even though their manifestations seem to be utterly distinct in the world around us. After all, weak force fields diminish to almost vanishing strength on all but subatomic distance scales, whereas electromagnetic fields—visible light, radio and TV signals, X-rays—have an indisputable macroscopic presence. Nevertheless, Glashow, Salam, and Weinberg showed, in essence, that at high enough energy and temperature—such as occurred a mere fraction of a second after the big bang—electromagnetic and weak force fields dissolve into one another, take on indistinguishable characteristics, and are more accurately called electroweak fields. When the temperature drops, as it has done steadily since the big bang, the electromagnetic and weak forces crystallize out in a different manner from their common high-temperature form—through a process known as symmetry breaking that we will describe later—and therefore appear to be distinct in the cold universe we currently inhabit.

And so, if you are keeping score, by the 1970s physicists had developed a sensible and successful quantum-mechanical description of three of the four forces (strong, weak, electromagnetic) and had shown that two of the three (weak and electromagnetic) actually share a common origin (the electroweak force). During the past two decades, physicists have subjected this quantum-mechanical treatment of the three nongravitational forces—as they act among themselves and the matter particles introduced in Chapter 1—to an enormous amount of experimental scrutiny. The theory has met all such challenges with aplomb. Once experimentalists measure some 19 parameters (the masses of the particles in Table 1.1, their force charges as recorded in the table in endnote 1 to Chapter 1, the strengths of the three nongravitational forces in Table 1.2, as well as a few other numbers we need not discuss), and theorists input these numbers into the quantum field theories of the matter particles and the strong, weak, and electromagnetic forces, the subsequent predictions of the theory regarding the microcosmos agree spectacularly with experimental results. This is true up to the energies capable of pulverizing matter into bits as small as a billionth of a billionth of a meter, the current technological limit. For this reason, physicists call the theory of the three nongravitational forces and the three families of matter particles the standard theory, or (more often) the standard model of particle physics.
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Table of Contents
.......The Elegant Universe