Symmetry Breaking vs. Composition

If there is one consistent feature in the intellectual progress of physics, it has been the principle of looking inside of things to explain complexity. The Greeks proposed a simple quartet of elements: earth, air, fire and water. The formulation reflected not only the properties of matter, but also concerned itself with human personality and our reaction to experience.

The practical interest in materials was placed on a narrowly objective basis with the categorization of the elements, a practical exploration that culminated with Mendeleev's initial Table of the Elements. The initial structure of the table recognized similarities among the elements in the way they composed with each other. This was eventually explained by the theory of electronic orbitals, following the development of quantum mechanics.

While this explained chemical interactions, the masses and isotopic variations of the elements were still unexplained. This was the province of nuclear physics, and was understood when it was realized that the nucleus was composed of protons and neutrons.

Then physicists began banging things together to make new forms of matter. Again, a great diversity of byproducts was identified. It was finally realized that much of the baryonic diversity could be explained with the hypothesis that they were composed of quarks.

The principle of symmetry breaking was a departure from the tradition of looking inside to explain complexity. Even worse, symmetry breaking has led us into burgeoning complexity that contradicts one of the fundamental principles of scientific investigation. Occam's razor holds that, when choosing between two hypothesis, always prefer the simpler one. Even if it is incorrect, it will at any rate be easier to refute - and refutation, at least in science, is generally productive.

The challenge is to focus, as did Mendeleev and his successors, on the patterns that run through our observations. When the patterns are defined, then we have a compass to guide us in construction of a new theory.

The most obvious pattern is the pattern of three. Consider: