Quantum Electrodynamics

My dear friends,

‘What is Truth?’ said Pilate impatiently.

There is a popular mantra, oft repeated, that we can only be persuaded if what we are told is in accordance with the K.I.S.S. principle, ‘Keep it simple, stupid!’ This has been used with great success in spheres as diverse as marketing and U.S. presidential elections. If you can’t explain it simply, it is simply not believable. Mmm. I wonder?

Some people think that truth should always be simple. Oh that it were so!

Toichiro Kinoshita is an elderly emeritus professor of physics at Cornell University. In his long career he made a particular study of the tiny nuclear particles we call electrons. He devoted years of painstaking research into one particular aspect: why scientists’ predictions of an electron’s magnetic behaviour were always slightly wrong (the anomalous magnetic moment). His mathematical solution was an immense work. The formula alone is thousands of pages long and so complex that it had to wait for the development of new computers capable of doing the calculation. Even now, a typical fast modern computer would still take nearly half a century to process it. However, using powerful parallel computing techniques it has been found that his calculations are able to predict experimental results to an astonishing accuracy of 99.999999999%, which is in fact as accurate as we can measure. 

His mammoth work has become a cornerstone of Quantum Electrodynamics and what is known as the Standard Model of Physics. It has been hailed as ‘the most precise theory of natural phenomena ever advanced”*, and some think it is the closest physicists have come in their search for a Theory of Everything. As a piece of theoretical physics it is exquisite, it is beautiful, it is elegant and it works. But is it simple? Not remotely! 

If we want to seek after truth, why should we think the truth will be simple? The truth may be elegant, enlightening, a thing of beauty and profundity, but there is absolutely no reason to believe the truth will always be simple. 

We must choose: Will you be content to only believe simple things regurgitated for stupid people? Or are you prepared to spend a lifetime in a search for the profoundest of truths? 

Jesus said ‘I am the truth  .  .  .  follow me’. He never said it would be simple.


Jeff Cuttell.

* Brian Greene, The Elegant Universe, 1999. P122; published by Nova at 8.30.


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