But supersymmetry might always have been an illusion, according to Sabine Hossenfelder, a theorist at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Study. She emerged last year as one of the most vocal critics of modern physics, with a provocative new book, “Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray.”
Dr. Hossenfelder argues that physicists have gone off course by exalting mathematical elegance. “They believed that Mother Nature was elegant, simple and kind about providing clues,” she wrote. “They thought they could hear her whispering when they were talking to themselves.”
Particle physicists contend that they merely have been following time-honored and successful principles. They chased the Higgs boson for half a century, and nearly gave up before nature finally coughed it up.
Meanwhile, the cosmologists, a notably fractious group, have agreed on their own standard model of our particular universe.
According to them, atoms — the stuff of you, me and the stars — account for only 5 percent of the cosmos by weight. Dark matter, of which we know nothing except that its collective gravity sculpts and holds the galaxies together, amounts to 25 percent.
The remaining 70 percent is dark energy, pushing everything apart; we don’t know anything about that, either. We only know that this “dark sector” exists because of the effect of its gravity on the luminous universe, the motions of stars and galaxies.
A theory that leaves 95 percent of the universe unidentified is hardly a sign that science is over.
Maybe we don’t understand gravity after all, some astronomers say. “I worry that we deify Einstein too much,” Stacy McGaugh, an astronomer at Case Western Reserve University, told Gizmodo in June.