Thought for the Day

Worrying about this [white, Euro-centrisim in Physics] reminds me of the opening sequence of Cameron Crowe’s English-language adaptation of Alejandro Amenábar’s Abre los Ojos, Vanilla Sky. In the scene, Tom Cruise’s lead character David Shelby is driving down a familiar New York City street against the backdrop of Radiohead’s opening track to Kid A, “Everything in Its Right Place.” The song, which Radiohead’s lead singer Thom Yorke has explained is about depression, is an ominous foreshadowing of the dystopian direction that the film goes in. My experience with particle physics has something in common with this juxtaposition. I feel comfortable, extremely comfortable in fact, with how the Standard Model tends to locate particles in their correct mathematical structure, in their right place. But I am also low-key worried, on the regular, that finding comfort in this makes it difficult for me to see the larger physical picture, or perhaps is a refusal to see the larger picture. When I think about this, I too have Radiohead playing in the background.

In my heart, I fight with the history of the Standard Model of particle physics and the motivation behind it, but also every time I think I can’t deal with physics or physicists anymore, it is the Standard Model that makes me stop in my tracks and think, “Wow.” I get lost, in the best possible way, in the math—every single time. I will never get bored of picking up a particle physics textbook and starting from page one. […] I have no love for how my professional community is structured. But it’s also the case that when I think about quarks, I experience the kind of loving hope that is best set to Def Jef’s “Black to the Future”: “We know where we’re goin, because we know where we came from.” Maybe, then, I’m not just a hack for colonial science, but more like Princess Shuri from Black Panther, giving particle physics a new spin and rhythm. This is not to say that the laws of the universe are not universal—but it may be that what we think we know is incomplete and will not be complete until we are able to think beyond how white men are trained to think in a Western educational setting.

— Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, The Disordered Cosmos.

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