Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Twilight of the Standard Model

I consider physics to be one of the great spiritual triumphs of modern society. In a way, quantum physics is like coming full circle - a reintroduction to mystery in the universe. Indeed, if the point of civilization is to come to know our place in the physical universe, Science (with a capital S) could be said to be one of the great triumphs of the coming-of-age of humanity.

But then, it is not as though Science sees physics as a spiritual triumph, but more a triumph over nature. Thinking so, it cannot see that Science is in part responsible for the proliferation of nuclear material: in major facilities next to people, nuclear tipped missiles, and out of the barrel of guns (depleted uranium bullets). Phlatlets, chemicals, GMO and nano-particles released into the biosphere with near-total abandon. The wanton use of antibiotics threatening new plagues, while industrial methods dependent entirely upon fossil fuels threaten the exhaustion of the land, waters and air. The machinery of quantum mechanics looks to turn the entirety of the earth into a wasteland.

Which the news last week, that the Higgs Boson is semi-officially discovered, "giving" mass to the universe as we know it, under the standard model of physics, should have been considered another great triumph. Alas, word is, the discovery of the Higgs was supposed to open up new vistas of ethereal landscape, in the elucidation of dark matter, gravity, angular momentum, the "vacuum catastrophe". It was not meant to be a dead end. To reiterate, the standard model of physics, and the elucidation of the Higgs, does not account for that mysterious substance referred to as dark matter, or gravity, or why anything in this universe spins or spirals, or why quantum physics suggests that empty space is in fact denser than matter by an order of magnitude running to infinity. Consider again the devastation wrought by the fruit of Science, and then you might begin to comprehend, that the standard model of physics can be seen as a dismal failure.

Scientists are still hopeful. They are doubling the energy of their Hadron Collider, ever attempting to unlock the mysteries of the universe by FORCE. Meanwhile, the earth and it's people languish, under ever increasing aggression, as a million and one ideologies seek to silence every other, as every one and their mother attempts to catch, grab and hold what they can of what remains of the once abundant earth, among a population growing exponentially in a way that would not have been possible without Science. And only a very few on the margins are dedicated to healing.

Do you suppose it is mere coincidence, that the twilight of the standard model of physics arrives, at the same time humanity appears to have reached the carrying capacity of the earth, at the same time war is threatened everywhere, as if we are preparing for one last great conflagration, at the same time the financial system seems on the verge of collapse? Does it surprise you that the fiercest of new "superbugs" should arise out of hospitals? Does it surprise you that the "green revolution", the proliferation of industrial agriculture, should threaten famine unforeseen at any point in human history? Should it surprise you that in a time when their are so few jobs to be had, they are making machines to replace people in many of the jobs that remain? It should not surprise you, if you have not made a god out of the technology wrought by the ingenuity of humans. It should not surprise you, if you are unconvinced that scientific progress is an unequivocal good, for the betterment of humanity. It should not surprise you if you do not believe that Science is the be-all, end-all of human understanding.

Science will never unlock the full mystery of the physical universe, as long as it is assumed that to understand a thing, you must destroy it, as they do so energetically with the Hadron Collider, as they do with cells by tearing them apart. Science is an extension, at this point, of the will to power, of the will to dominate. Science has driven spirit from life, and in so doing, has stultified. Making of the material universe material ONLY, scientists have closed themselves off to themselves. By banishing the irrational, they have closed themselves off to the full breadth of life. In short, scientists need to get HIGH.

Which I think accounts for some of the recent attempt to de-stigmatize cannabis here in America, a kind of unconscious awakening to the fact that what passes for answers in this culture of high tech this-and-that, are not answers at all, but more like gratification of our basest desires, our most cruel assumptions about what life is and what life is about. Consider that modern Science has desired to understand every material thing in the universe, except that most useful of all plants here on earth, except any plant or fungi that can be considered hallucinogenic. Which is to say, Science has closed itself off to the full breadth of the universe of the mind. To claim the mind as a weak and flawed piece of meat, elecro-chemically active but otherwise inert, is to diminish it and humans and life, in a self-similar way as Religion (with a capital R) cut human consciousness away from the earth (which is precisely why the only thing on this earth as rigid as a fundamentalist for God, is a dogmatic scientific atheist.)

More and more, I do hear scientists talking sense. Referring to the human body as an ecosystem, a kind of mirror of the earth outside. It should follow then, that you cannot poison the body of the one and expect it to thrive, any more than you can poison the body of the whole and expect it to support abundant life. Four hundred years after Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes', Sir Isaac Newton, et al, elucidated for us the scientific method, Science is beginning to comprehend the bombast, the crudity of it's ways. Too little too late? We shall see. At the same time I hear some Scientists talking about mimicking Nature, I hear others talking about bio-engineering, as a solution to climate change (and really every other problem there is), which is just more of the same over-weening hubris, a fundamental lack of ability to self-reflect. A most paternalistic and immature desire to control everything.

I wonder sometimes if most of what has been wrought, will have to be lost, before we awaken to the error of our ways? If most of that has arisen from the ingenuity of men (mostly), will have to be lost, before we will accept that the universe and life is considerably more mysterious than we like or care to believe? I wonder too if Science will help lead to the total destruction of the earth and biosphere upon which the species depends, and there will never be anything like a search for understanding, by any human, ever again?

It is not merely the twilight of the standard model of physics. It is the twilight of the standard model of everything human.

Embrace the mystery.


John D. Wheeler said...

As my friend in college liked to say, if physicists wanted to study music, they would drop pianos off buildings and analyze the recordings of the sounds they make when they hit the pavement.

William Hunter Duncan said...

LOL! Well put, John! Apropos.

Martin said...

Well and timely said, William. I'm not a Luddite by any stretch, BUT methinks we've pushed our
western 'scientific' worldview far too far for far too long.

I'm currently re-reading (for the umpteenth time) a book I picked up back in the early 80's; "The Stone Monkey, an alternative, Chinese-scientific, reality" by Bruce Holbrook. I recommend it.

Nick said...

Great post. Makes me wonder if our science is actually a trojan horse for western society. Newtons mechanistic clockwork world ordering fit well with the spiritual model of a paternalistic centralized god. Relativity and quantum mechanics definitely do not, the universe looks much more subjective and interdependent than any believer in western culture could comfortably admit. I suppose the next question is will we see a 21st century revival in the systematic suppression of science as western culture tries to close pandoras box?

freeacre said...

"... physics suggests that empty space is in fact denser than matter by an order of magnitude running to infinity."

Huh? I'm still stuck on that part. I never heard that before. Jeez.

Science has gotten so out of balance do to domination by the patriarchies that have ruled for the last several thousand years. Hopefully, after it all hits the wall, the heart and the feminine will renew our connection with our Mother, the Earth, and all her children.

There may not be much left to live with if the trapped methane is unleashed from the oceans and the arctic tundra, and it kills us all.

After that, we might all be looking from a more non-physical perspective which will make quantum physics easier to understand.

This is my first visit to your site. I'm going to have to read your previous posts to catch up.

William Hunter Duncan said...


(for the umpteenth time)? I may have to read that one!


You are seeing, and feeling a 21st century revival of a more systemic perspective of the universe. It is a question whether not humanity, still mired in Newtonian/Cartesian mechanistic perspective, will destroy the earth before that revival takes hold.


The "vacuum catastrophe" is physics telling scientists that the void, empty space, is denser than matter by an order of magnitude running to infinity - and scientists, pretending that never happened. How very human.

An age, or Aeon, of greater balance between the feminine and the masculine is coming, I just don't know that it will fully arrive for another 200 years or so. Which means those alive now who see it coming, must prepare, that it will be...

Martin said...

Re: "umpteenth" - well, I may have exaggerated a bit. It's been quite awhile since the last read, so "umpteenth" may be more like "fourth".