It’s too soon to declare supersymmetry a tragedy

Well, maybe one more before I leave…

Tom Siegfried, last heard from telling us that Belief in multiverse requires exceptional vision, now has two new pieces at Science News (here and here) arguing that the failure of the LHC to see SUSY is not really a big problem for SUSY proponents. You see, it’s only a problem if you believe physics theories should be simple and if you believe in naturalness. According to Siegfried, what the LHC is telling us is that you just have to give up on one of these, with your choices now:

  1. Give up on simplicity. Just announce that SUSY is fine and solves the naturalness problem, but we’re not seeing it because it’s not the MSSM (which adds more than a hundred parameters), but something really, really complicated, so complicated that it manages to show up in such a way that the LHC experiments can’t see any evidence of it. Believe this, and you can still believe in SUSY, no need to face the tragedy of an idea you’ve done so much to promote getting killed by heartless experimentalists.
  2. Give up on naturalness and have the exceptional vision to believe in the multiverse. Then you can fine-tune your SUSY particles up to very high energies and make them unobservable. Again, you’re free to keep believing in SUSY, writing articles and books about it, etc., despite the negative experimental results. The advantage of this option is that you don’t need to make your SUSY complicated, it can just be the MSSM, so you keep simplicity. Of course, once you accept fine-tuning, you could get a whole lot more simplicity really easily: just throw out SUSY and stick to the SM….
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12 Responses to It’s too soon to declare supersymmetry a tragedy

  1. Justin says:

    Woit,

    While I sympathize with you on supersymmetry, the death of the theory does raise an interesting question: if not supersymmetry, then what? So, if you were a young researcher who is tired of the obsessive pursuit of a theory which has been experimentally made very unlikely, then what might this student work on if he/she wants to do particle theory?

  2. Peter Woit says:

    Justin,
    That one’s a FAQ I don’t have time to write about now. And also, no satisfying answer. It’s not hard to come up with interesting things that we don’t understand about QFT, and personally I think we have just scratched the surface of the relation of QFT to mathematics, but there aren’t ideas around that give a clear path to making progress on getting beyond the SM. In general I think students have to rely on finding advisors who can guide them to interesting things to work on, but while doing this, best to be aware that this is now a difficult business and that lots of people don’t have any promising ideas to work on.

  3. svik says:

    Is not that the discovery “that all is fine tuned” and we don’t need the extra baggage.

    But what does it mean?

    Even predators and prey must be fine tuned to work as it does.

    Have a good trip. Watch out for the bugs. Keep small bill for bribes.
    My coworker was there a year ago…. building schools, etc.

  4. Shantanu says:

    Justin,
    As Peter recently mentioned its surprising why very few people are working on asymptotic safety. almost no one is working on QFT in curved space time. but probably there are more examples.

  5. Anon says:

    Hi Justin — The hierarchy problem is not the only challenge for particle physicists — for example there is the strong CP problem.

    There may be a larger lesson that LHC is teaching us – that the mainstream thinking among high energy physics community need not be natures thinking for addressing outstanding problems. Also that the mainstream thought process can be delusional.

    Thus putting the faith in SUSY for hierarchy and axions for strong CP, as the mainstream particle physics community does, may not necessarily be the direction a young and bold researcher should take today. Historically nature has not necessarily endorsed mainstream scientific thinking. Just because the present day particle physics appears mathematically more sophisticated, it doesn’t mean big names in the field aren’t being mislead and aren’t misleading.

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  7. CU Phil says:

    FWIW, the recommendation given by some very well-regarded HEP faculty here to several very smart undergrads as they went off to grad school was “don’t do HEP theory”. So there’s that.

  8. Tom says:

    believe believe believe is the most used word … so why not believe in an old man sitting behind the clouds?

  9. vmarko says:

    This is, IMO, the most convincing argument for SUSY from Siegfried’s article:

    “After all, isn’t a supernova better than a nova? Supermodel better than a model? Superman better than Clark Kent?”

    Unbelievable.

    Best, :-)
    Marko

  10. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks to all for the suggestions about the trip. Leaving soon, so will shut off comments for the duration.

  11. Kavanna says:

    “Super,” indeed. Supersymmetry may yet be proved right, but implemented in some way, both the symmetry and its breaking, that we never thought of. Certainly, the whole approach so far has been driven by two considerations that might be a tad myopic: the need to solve the weak-grand/gravity hierarchy problem, and the assumption that everything is understandable in perturbation theory or extensions thereof.

    Maybe the hierarchy problem and grand unification are collaterally solved by something else that’s driven by some other consideration, like the cosmological constant — just to pick something not completely random.

    It is good to hear that senior HE theorists are turning students away from string theory and related problems. Certainly, the way misguided senior theorists have dominated the field for the last 20+ years has been destructive. At this point, we should want only those few who are both really determined and not under the sway of a generation-and-a-half of failure. Those not interested in “high” theory should try astrophysics or something else where mind and sense are connected. Let’s encourage everyone to leave the Platonic never-never land of mental masturbation.

  12. Kavanna says:

    P.S. I don’t mean to denigrate mathematics with that final remark. Math doesn’t have to be connected directly to counting and measuring in the real world. But as Peter has often pointed out, to qualify as serious, the math should be rigorous and precise, whether it has an obvious immediate application or not.