In a popular science book, an interesting objection towards the current direction of particle physics was stated. I tried to search for more on this, but got nowhere.
Since I assume this is not an original idea of the book authors', I want to ask what would be a more formal name of this objection, which I can use as a search keyword.
By analogy, consider a piano, as observed by pianologists: creatures that have great facility with sound, but can’t see a piano or feel what shape it is. How would they find out what this musical instrument is made of?
Let’s allow them the ability to throw things at it. Hurling small stones would be rewarded, from time to time, by a musical note. We know this occurs when a stone hits a key, but pianologists would detect only the music. By collecting data, they would find a range of notes, with a nice mathematical structure. Clearly a piano is made from twangons of various frequencies.
Experiments at higher energy would reveal a new and rather different ‘pianicle’: the slamon. (We understand that you get this by slamming the lid shut.) Now it’s got more complicated. Soon the pianino has joined the list, along with the muano, the tauano and much else.
Instead of making everything simpler, new data at higher energies has just muddied the waters. So how do pianologists propose to resolve the many theoretical issues involved? They obtain large government grants to create collisions of even higher energy. This requires erecting an LHC (Large Hotel Collapser) forty storeys high, and pushing the piano out of a top-floor window in the time-honoured fashion of visiting rock stars. The results are impressive, but hard to interpret. Careful analysis decomposes the resulting sound into a cacophony of a hundred or so different twangons, several variants of the slamon … and a bit left over. This bit, obtained by deducting from the overall sound every known component, is of course the long-sought proof of the existence of the Bigg Bashon – which journalists insist on calling the Thud pianicle, a name given to the sound created when a piano encounters a hypothetical field … or maybe a car park.
This proves that a piano has mass.
Because the procedure that confirms the new pianicle is so complex and error-prone, several billion pianos need to be launched into oblivion before the results become statistically significant. They are, and the discovery is published, months after the first experiment hit the headlines.
The big question here, which is where Ian [Stewart] and Jack tend to differ, though not by a lot, is whether particle physicists are misinterpreting the nature of matter in a similar way to pianologists resolutely failing to understand a piano. Bashing things to see what happens can break them into constituent parts, but it can also excite new modes of behaviour that can’t sensibly be thought of as components. Are particle physicists really finding out what matter is made of, or are they just causing it to behave in ever wilder ways?
T. Pratchett, I. Stewart and J. Cohen, The Science of Discworld IV, quoted from a tumblr blog