Tag: physics

Physics understanding

Posted by – December 1, 2010

Al Seckel recalls the following story about Feynman:

One day a physicist friend of mine Ron Unz asked if he could be introduced to his hero – Richard Feynman. Ron had an impressive list of credentials behind him – winner of the prestigious Westinghouse Science Award, degrees from Harvard and Cambridge, and a former graduate student of Steven Hawking. (A little aside, Ron was later to briefly gain some fame after he became a multimillionaire and ran briefly against Pete Wilson in the race for the California Senate). In addition to Ron’s impressive credentials, he had developed a rather controversial theory that charge was not conserved. He had published a paper about it in Physical Review and he wanted to discuss his idea with Feynman. I agreed to invite him to one of our private lunch sessions. On the day in question, Ron made a terrible mistake. First of all he showed up in a suit. That was certain to give a bad impression to Feynman. Then I made a mistake, I spilled the beans to Feynman just before lunch about Ron’s ideas. Feynman roared, and declared that he would refuse to eat with anyone that stupid. Feynman turned and walked away. I went back to Ron and told him what had happened. Ron was terribly disappointed, but I told him that I would persist. I went back to Feynman and convinced him to still have lunch with us. Feynman said, Ok, as long as we don’t talk physics. I don’t want to hear anything about it. So I got Ron to join us. No sooner than five minutes into the conversation, Feynman turns to Ron and says, OK, what’s this dopey idea you have in physics? Ron, who is an extremely confident guy, turned and started to explain his theory. Feynman, booming loudly declared, Did you think about this….? Did you think about that…? The response was almost inevitably, No. On it went. I must say, I have never seen such a quick and merciless massacre of another individual in my life. It was sad.

Does anyone understand enough physics to guess at what would be critical objections to the idea that charge is not necessarily conserved? Certainly a strong justification is the same as for other conservation laws, that symmetrical events (as are those we know of involving charge) produce conservation laws (ie. Noether’s theorem), but according to Wikipedia, “The best experimental tests of electric charge conservation are searches for particle decays that would be allowed if electric charge is not always conserved. No such decays have ever been seen” – so it’s not so obvious that experimentalists wouldn’t try to refute it. Why would it be obviously stupid with a moment’s thought that a theory violating this would be really stupid?