By Rodney Brooks
For one hundred years, most people have found it impossible to understand physics. Examples include Joseph Heller (“writhing in an exasperating quandary over quantum mechanics”), Bill Clinton (“I hope I can finally understand physics before I leave the earth”, Richard Feynman (“One had to lose one’s common sense”), and even Albert Einstein (“fifty years of pondering have not brought me any closer to answering the question, what are light quanta?).
Julian Schwinger’s Insight to Physics
And yet, there is a theory that makes perfect sense and can be understood by any person. This concept, with roots in the 1930s, was ultimately developed by Julian Schwinger, who once had been called “the heir-apparent to Einstein’s mantle”. This accomplishment happened a number of years after Schwinger had already achieved physics fame for solving the “renormalization” problem, defined by the NY Times as “the most important development in the last 20 years” and was duly awarded the Nobel prize.
Still for Schwinger this was not good enough. He believed that Quantum Field Theory, as it stood then, was still lacking. His objective was to feature matter fields and force fields on an equivalent basis. After several years of hard work, he distributed a collection of five papers called “The theory of quantized fields” in 1951-54.
Physicists have been combating a particles-vs.-fields battle for over 100 years. There have been 3 “rounds”, starting when Einstein’s concept of light as a particle (called photon) triumphed over Maxwell’s belief that light is a field. Round 2 happened when Schrödinger’s hope for a field theory of matter was overcome by the particle-like behavior that physicists could not ignore. And round 3 took place when Schwinger’s field-based solution of renormalization was usurped by Feynman’s easier-to-use particle based approach.
For that reason, and others, Schwinger’s final development of Quantum Field Theory, which he regarded as far more noteworthy than his Nobel prize work, has been sadly ignored, and is indeed not known to most physicists– and to all of the general public.
Fortunately there are signs that QFT, in the true Schwingerian sense is reemerging, so in this sense it is a “new” theory There have been numerous books and articles, such as “The Lightness of Being” by Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek, “There are no particles, there are only fields” by Art Hobson, and “Fields of Color- The theory that escaped Einstein” by Rodney Brooks. The last one explains QFT to a lay reader, without any equations, and shows how this terrific “new” theory” resolves the paradoxes of Relativity, Quantum Mechanics and physics that have confused so many people.