Jan 30, 2022

How Mathematical ‘Hocus-Pocus’ Saved Particle Physics

Posted by in categories: mathematics, particle physics, quantum physics

“It is what I would call a dippy process,” Richard Feynman later wrote. “Having to resort to such hocus-pocus has prevented us from proving that the theory of quantum electrodynamics is mathematically self-consistent.”

Justification came decades later from a seemingly unrelated branch of physics. Researchers studying magnetization discovered that renormalization wasn’t about infinities at all. Instead, it spoke to the universe’s separation into kingdoms of independent sizes, a perspective that guides many corners of physics today.

Renormalization, writes David Tong, a theorist at the University of Cambridge, is “arguably the single most important advance in theoretical physics in the past 50 years.”

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