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How Mathematical ‘Hocus-Pocus’ Saved Particle Physics

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In the 1940s, trailblazing physicists stumbled upon the next layer of reality. Particles were out, and fields — expansive, undulating entities that fill space like an ocean — were in. One ripple in a field would be an electron, another a photon, and interactions between them seemed to explain all electromagnetic events.

There was just one problem: The theory was glued together with hopes and prayers. Only by using a technique dubbed “renormalization,” which involved carefully concealing infinite quantities, could researchers sidestep bogus predictions. The process worked, but even those developing the theory suspected it might be a house of cards resting on a tortured mathematical trick.

“It is what I would call a dippy process,” Richard Feynman later wrote. “Having to resort to such hocus-pocus has prevented us from proving that the theory of quantum electrodynamics is mathematically self-consistent.”

Justification came decades later from a seemingly unrelated branch of physics. Researchers studying magnetization discovered that renormalization wasn’t about infinities at all. Instead, it spoke to the universe’s separation into kingdoms of independent sizes, a perspective that guides many corners of physics today.

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water molecules, droplets and a wave

You don’t have to analyze individual water molecules to understand the behavior of droplets, or droplets to study a wave. This ability to shift focus across various scales is the essence of renormalization.

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Click the link below for the article:

https://www.quantamagazine.org/how-renormalization-saved-particle-physics-20200917/

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