Dissertation, University of Western Ontario (2019)
Science is a process, through which theoretical frameworks are developed, new phenomena defined and discovered, and properties of entities tested. The goal of this dissertation is to illustrate how high-energy physics exemplified the process of theory construction from the 1950s to 1970s, and the promising ways in which it can continue to do so today. The lessons learned from the case studies examined here can inform future physics, and may provide methodological clues as to the best way forward today. I examine the discovery of parity nonconservation in weak interactions, the emergence of Yang-Mills theories as the foundation of the standard model, and contemporary precision testing of quantum electrodynamics. In each of these cases, I examine the details of the physicists’ practice to draw conclusions regarding the epistemology behind successful episodes of theory construction. I reconstruct the methodology of each episode in order to find generalizable lessons to apply to contemporary issues at the frontiers of the search for a theory of quantum gravity. In order to understand the many moving parts in each case study, I introduce a new terminology to distinguish the “parts” of a scientific discipline, inspired by the literature on scientific modelling. These terms—theoretical framework, dynamical model, phenomenological model, experiment, and mathematical tools—are meant to aid in investigating other quantitative scientific disciplines beyond high-energy physics. Ultimately, high-energy physics is at its best when various avenues of theoretical ideas are being pursued, spurring the development of new mathematical techniques to use as tools, and new ideas are quickly and vigorously tested experimentally. Proliferation of new ideas in response to theoretical developments is characteristic of the era of construction of the standard model, and is still ongoing in precision testing of quantum electrodynamics today.