Best-Of Advice

On supersymmetry

What do you think they’re saying in Supersymmetry?


Supersymmetry is a lament. The lyrics are a simple expression of the pain one feels after the loss of a loved one (real or imagined), but what makes the song particularly beautiful is that it relies on a poetic interpretation of the principle of supersymmetry in particle physics to help convey the emotion of grief.

Okay, first a little science. According to the Standard Model, there are only two types of elementary particles: fermions and bosons. Fermions are matter particles. They are the physical stuff of the universe. Bosons are force particles, and they’re responsible for phenomena such as light, gravity, and magnetism. I’m aware this is a dramatic oversimplification, but the distinction between fermions and bosons is essentially the distinction between the material and the ethereal.

This is where the poetry comes in. Supersymmetry is a theoretical extension of the Standard Model that predicts a corresponding boson for every fermion and vice-versa. In other words, every matter particle has a corresponding force partner, and every force particle has a corresponding matter partner. Supersymmetry links them. It is an elegant scientific principle that poetically bridges the divide between the material and the ethereal.

That’s what this song is about, a deep yearning for the material to be linked with the ethereal, and anyone who’s gone through the grieving process will understand the emotion behind the opening lines of the song:

I know you’re living in my mind
It’s not the same as being alive
I know you’re living in my mind
It’s not the same as being alive
Supersymmetry

After the loss of a loved one, keeping them alive in your memory is a profound experience. You are still a part of the material world, but they no longer are. They exist only in an ethereal sense, in your mind, and through countless intangible forces that can for brief moments feel very real.

And you desperately want them to be real. You want to stay linked to that person. You never want them to leave you, even though they are already gone. That’s what this entire verse is about:

It’s been a while since I’ve been to see you
I don’t know where, but you’re not with me
Heard a voice, like an echo
But it came from you
Supersymmetry

The idea of supersymmetry is repeatedly invoked as a conceptual metaphor for what it’s like to still feel linked to someone who no longer exists. With one simple word, the song manages to encapsulate existential grief, one of the most powerful emotions in the human condition.

I know it may seem a bit esoteric, but it’s really quite beautiful.

Standard

5 thoughts on “On supersymmetry

  1. Ralph Dratman says:

    Thank you for a very easy-to-follow explanation of the physics. I recently read that the LHC experiments on supersymmetry have so far found nothing whatsoever to support that theory. “Supersymmetry,” one recent article headlined, “is dead.” I am sorry to bring such sad news.

    • Radio says:

      My understanding is that supersymmetry isn’t totally dead yet. It’s potentially just a lot weirder than we thought it would be. For an ideal, simple theory of supersymmetry, the Higgs boson would need a mass of 115 GeV. For the multiverse theory, the Higgs boson should be about 140 GeV. The Higgs boson has been measured to be 125 GeV. Soo, no one’s really won yet, and particle physics is at a bit of an impasse right now.

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