My Introduction to Quantum Field Theory

Fields of Color by Rodney BrooksWhen I was 14, I read Arthur Eddington’s The Nature of the Physical Universe. I remember how delighted I was to learn that a desk is not a solid piece of furniture. If one could possibly look closely enough, said Eddington, further than the strength of any microscopic lense, you would see that it is made up of atoms so small that we can hardly comprehend their tinyness. These atoms in turn are made of in fact, tinier nuclei, and these in turn are comprised of particles called neutrons and protons, with tiny electrons whizzing about in orbits like mini solar systems. “So that is what the world is made of!” I thought, and this was my intro to physics. Of course it didn’t occur to me then to wonder exactly what these electrons, protons and neutrons are comprised of.

A long time later, as a graduate student, I enrolled in a three-year lecture series at Harvard University by Julian Schwinger. The timing could not be better! Schwinger’s advancement of Quantum Field Theory (QFT) had matured and he was about to publish a magnum opus, “A theory of the fundamental interactions”. I sat mesmerized, as did others.

“As Schwinger stood at the blackboard, writing ambidextrously and speaking mellifluously in well-formed sentences, it was as if God Himself was handing down the Ten Commandments. The equations were so elegant that it seemed the world couldn’t be built any other way. From the barest of first principles, he derived all of QFT, even including gravity. Not only was the mathematics elegant, but the philosophic concept of a world made of properties of space seemed to me much more satisfying than Eddington’s mysterious particles. I was amazed and delighted to see how all the paradoxes of relativity theory and quantum mechanics that I had earlier found so baffling disappeared or were resolved.” – Rodney Brooks

In the 50 years that had passed since my university student days, I have seen hardly any mention of QFT. Instead I have observed a bombardment of publications and posts that keep restating the paradoxes that people are expected to accept. Far from giving the public an understanding of nature, these popular books and posts have actually brought confusion and incomprehensibility.

The mission of my book, Fields of Color, is to give the public the very same sense of satisfaction that I felt in Schwinger’s lectures. I am also trying to eliminate the paradoxes of physics that stop so many individuals from understanding the natural world. I really hope that my endeavours will bear fruit and that the audience will come away from the book feeling that nature is not mysterious or paradoxical, but is understandable and indeed makes perfect sense. For more information about the book, click here: Fields of Color