What could Symbolic Interactionism (SI), a non-quantitative sociological theory that has been criticized for not being falsifiable or tested empirically, possibly have anything to do with Quantum Field Theory (QFT), the intricate (but with questionable foundation) mathematical contrivance of the Standard Model, that has been infuriatingly accurate when empirically tested and fortuitous in predicting new “particles”?
Here is a central idea of SI:
The human being must be understood as a social person. It is the constant search for social interaction that leads us to do what we do. Instead of focusing on the individual and his or her personality, or on how the society or social situation causes human behavior, symbolic interactionism focuses on the activities that take place between actors. Interaction is the basic unit of study. Individuals are created through interaction; society too is created through social interaction. What we do depends on interaction with others earlier in our lifetimes, and it depends on our interaction right now. Social interaction is central to what we do. If we want to understand cause, focus on social interaction.
During COVID19, I suppose the above viewpoint can take on an added significance.🤷🏽♂️
And now for a central idea of QFT:
QFT treats particles as excited states (also called quanta) of their underlying fields, which are more fundamental than the particles. Interactions between particles are described by interaction terms in the Lagrangian involving their corresponding fields. Each interaction can be visually represented by Feynman diagrams according to perturbation theory in quantum mechanics.
I had first chanced upon SI, sometime in Fall 1997, during my sabbatical at MIT, when I was aimlessly browsing at Harvard Coop Book Store, unencumbered by obligations or a sense of urgency, a couple blocks from where I was renting a nice apartment (on Garden Street), picking up books at random and cursorily reading passages.
Now in 2020, although it is completely unnecessary for my work in quantum integer programming, but with so much time on my hands (no new movie releases in theaters, and running out of streaming shows and movies, in several languages, from various different countries!), I decided I would replace my nearly four-decades long ritual of “two movies a week” with “two sessions of QFT a week.”
I was particularly pleased that QFT can be viewed in my “maximally inverse” framework:
Vacuum is Plenum.
Yes. Contrary to vacuum being completely empty (and not filled with ether), barren and sterile, a mental construct for QFT is that:
Vacuum is a sparkling ocean, of continual birth and death of virtual particles, for no reason at all.
Gary Zukov thought modern physicists were simply rediscovering Avatamsaka Sutra, especially when studying particle self-interactions using S-Matrix theory that puts emphasis on interactions rather than on particles.
What you see at the top of the post is a Feynman diagram of vacuum:
Out of no-thing, three particles spontaneously flash into existence, before disappearing entirely, vanishing without a trace.
In modern parlance of the Millennials (or is it GenZ?):
It happens literally out of nowhere. OMG.
I am not making this up. Indeed, from the Introduction of a frequently recommended technical textbook (by Lewis H. Ryder, thanks Vikesh!), using Quantum Electrodynamics (QED) as an exemplar:
The reason for the existence of all these particles (he is referring to electrons, photons, muons) is so far unknown, but we may summarize by saying that we have a spectrum of particle states and a field through which these particles interact – an interaction, in short. This treatment and mode of comprehension of electrodynamics provides the paradigm, I believe, for a complete understanding of particle interactions. The idea is simply to apply the same methods and concepts to the other interactions known in nature.
Ironically – who says Nature is predictable (!) – QFT has so far failed in comprehending one of the earliest interactions that has been studied, from classical physics:
An accessible introduction to QFT that is mathematical and philosophical can be found here.
I had mentioned in Pulp Physics that it helps me immensely to think of Physics not as a science but as a religion, where the worship of “Principle of Stationary Action” is sacrosanct.
I am additionally finding that QFT is easier to comprehend while having a dirty Martini (Vodka, shaken not stirred, with olives, straight up and not too dry) and by viewing it as a branch of Sociology:
“Interactionism Theory of Elementary Particles.”
To unify with gravity remains the holy grail. A less ambitious goal is the desire to set QFT on a proper mathematical footing, and not continue to be embarrassed at its shaky foundations.
As we already have
Constructive QFT, Conformal QFT, Topological QFT, Algebraic QFT,
my modest suggestion is to conceive of a couple of new fields (no pun intended 😏):
Sociological QFT, Psychological QFT.