Saturday, December 03, 2011

Advent calendar #3: Details are missing

In 1958, Pauli and Heisenberg were working an a unified theory which is today still the holy grail of particle physicists. Heisenberg gave a talk about their recent results, appearing confident that they had found a unified theory, only technical details were missing. An eager journalist who sat in the audience spread the news about the "world-equation," very much to Pauli's dismay. In a 1958 letter to George Gamov, Pauli commented on Heisenberg's radio announcement: "This is to show the world that I can paint like Titian. Only technical details are missing," illustrated by an empty rectangle.

This alleged all-explaining world equation came about before Yang and Mill's contribution to physics became appreciated. Looking at the Lagrangian in question today, it doesn't seem to be gauge invariant and with a four-fermion coupling won't fare well in terms of renormalizability.

Pauli's letter can be found in the CERN archive.


  1. So you say we should go back looking for where it went wrong?

  2. String theory offers at least 10^500 empty rectangles. The quantitative improvement is inescapable.

    It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong, Richard P. Feynman

  3. Uncle Al,:)

    Annoyed by Heisenberg's claims that he had a wonderful unified theory (he didn't), Pauli sent his friends a postcard containing a blank rectangle and the text 'This is to show the world I can paint like Titian. Only technical details are missing.' Since no one knows what 'M-theory' is, its beauty is that of Pauli's painting. String Theory: An Evaluation

    One could use "all kinds of words to fill the box" and some would compare it to filling a qualitative square box, as a saying in the painting one is using a "round peg?":)?

    Gordon Brown,"I'm finally beginning to learn how to paint" and that is where we are.

    One gets the jest I think?:)


  4. Exasperated with such elaborate claims the source for Peter and Al is Michio's claim?

    Here is what is missing.:)

    Pauli:When one analyzes the pre-conscious step to concepts, one always finds ideas which consist of "symbolic images." Letter to Markus Fierz (1948)

    Use this to analyze Dirac as well as Feynman and you'll understand exactly what I mean?:)They were geometrical thinkers as well as algebraic examiners.

    Dirac:When one is doing mathematical work, there are essentially two different ways of thinking about the subject: the algebraic way, and the geometric way. With the algebraic way, one is all the time writing down equations and following rules of deduction, and interpreting these equations to get more equations. With the geometric way, one is thinking in terms of pictures; pictures which one imagines in space in some way, and one just tries to get a feeling for the relationships between the quantities occurring in those pictures. Now, a good mathematician has to be a master of both ways of those ways of thinking, but even so, he will have a preference for one or the other; I don't think he can avoid it. In my own case, my own preference is especially for the geometrical way.

    Albrecht Dürer and The Magic Square so see the square box becomes more then a question of symmetry?:)A question mark could have been included?


  5. Hi Bee,

    With Heisenberg having such confidence I’m amazed he was the one to realize the uncertainy principle; or perhaps this was inspired by Pauli only he couldn't identify a place to put it:-)

    ”Uncertainty is the refuge of hope."

    -Henri Frederic Amiel



  6. The Uncertainty is never complete as in String Theory. Usually it follows the Bells curve, Lorentz or Minkowski lightcone. Not even at LHC there is seen complete uncertainty?


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